How an unproven, widely mocked technology scared the Soviets into ending the Cold War. ... For decades, Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)—an ambitious ground- and space-based “shield” to protect the United States from nuclear ballistic missiles—has been mocked and criticized. First proposed by the president in 1983, it was immediately dubbed “Star Wars” by the mainstream media and dismissed as unscientific, infeasible and even counter-productive. The Union of Concerned Scientists, 100,000 members strong, was fierce in its opposition. The Arms Control Association declared that SDI would end arms control, while some Soviets felt SDI would end the world. Domestic critics became furious, and the Kremlin went ballistic. But while Reagan’s critics might not have taken his pet technology seriously, the Russians certainly did. Even though SDI was decades away from being implemented, if not beyond the reach of technology altogether, the threat the shield presented—along with Reagan’s dogged commitment to it—was enough to scare Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev into reforms that would eventually bring down the Soviet Union. In short: “Star Wars” never worked as Reagan wished. It worked even better. And I should know, because I saw it happen.
Why isn't the rest of Asia afraid of China? … Are tensions high in Asia? It certainly appears so. Over the last few months, North Korea has tested missiles and threatened the United States with nuclear war. China spars regularly with Japan over ownership of a group of disputed islands, and with several Southeast Asian countries over other sparsely inhabited rocks in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the United States is in the midst of a well-publicized "pivot" to East Asia, and continues to beef up its military deployments to the region. … Yet as of 2012, military expenditures in East and Southeast Asia are at the lowest they've been in 25 years -- and very likely the lowest they've been in 50 years (although data before 1988 is questionable). While it's too early to factor in recent tensions, as China's rise has reshaped the region over the past two decades, East and Southeast Asian states don't seem to have reacted by building up their own militaries. If there's an arms race in the region, it's a contest with just one participant: China.
During the Cold War, the Soviet military mapped the entire world, parts of it down to the level of individual buildings. The Soviet maps of US and European cities have details that aren’t on domestic maps made around the same time, things like the precise width of roads, the load-bearing capacity of bridges, and the types of factories. They’re the kinds of things that would come in handy if you’re planning a tank invasion. Or an occupation. Things that would be virtually impossible to find out without eyes on the ground. ... Given the technology of the time, the Soviet maps are incredibly accurate. Even today, the US State Department uses them (among other sources) to place international boundary lines on official government maps. ... one unlikely scholar, a retired British software developer named John Davies, has been working to change that. For the past 10 years he’s been investigating the Soviet maps, especially the ones of British and American cities. He’s had some help, from a military map librarian, a retired surgeon, and a young geographer, all of whom discovered the maps independently. They’ve been trying to piece together how they were made and how, exactly, they were intended to be used. The maps are still a taboo topic in Russia today, so it’s impossible to know for sure, but what they’re finding suggests that the Soviet military maps were far more than an invasion plan. Rather, they were a framework for organizing much of what the Soviets knew about the world, almost like a mashup of Google Maps and Wikipedia, built from paper. ... It’s easy now, in an age when anybody can whip out a smartphone and call up a street map or high-res satellite image of any point on Earth with a few taps, to forget how hard it once was to come by geospatial knowledge.
During the Cold War, defense money funded much of Northern California’s nascent tech industry, and the military worked closely with universities and companies to develop electronics, microwave devices, semiconductors, and spy satellites. But the military did not stay connected to the venture capital–fueled tech industry that emerged in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. Until recently, the Pentagon didn’t see this as a liability: The United States enjoyed unmatched technological superiority on the battlefield. That advantage, though, is now dissipating. China and Russia have invested heavily in new systems. ISIS is using hobby-style drones for reconnaissance. Rebels in Syria are using iPads to aim mortars. Equipment like this was once prohibitively expensive. Now you can get a lot of what you need off the shelf. ... As much as Defense Department officials say they want better access to commercial technology, the way the Pentagon functions often makes this impossible. The military has spent decades configuring itself to work with defense contractors to build complicated systems that take years to produce, like fighter jets and aircraft carriers. With its cumbersome rules and processes, the Department of Defense is not set up to race alongside small, agile companies. ... The Pentagon is beginning to realize it must operate differently. Some of the most advanced work in computing, big data, cybersecurity, energy, robotics, and space — all areas the military draws on — is being done by tech companies, not traditional defense contractors. Last year, the Pentagon kicked off a large-scale effort called the Defense Innovation Initiative.
The DOD of course has a long history of jump-starting innovation. Historically, it has taken the megafunding and top-down control structures of the federal government to do the kind of investing required to create important technology for the military. Digital photography, GPS, the Internet itself—all were nourished by defense contracts before being opened up to the private sector, which then turned them into billion-dollar industries. ... Now the flow has reversed. Defense has been caught in the throes of the same upheaval that has disrupted legacy industries, unseated politicians, and upended global dynamics. In the digital age, innovation more often comes from smaller entrepreneurs than from the hierarchical structures that were the hallmark of 20th-century government and business. ... Defense contracting is notorious for bureaucratic lethargy and technological backwardness. And executives are leery of appearing to be too close to the US government while they seek to expand overseas. Put bluntly, they don’t want to alienate potential customers. ... The Valley is a place where brainpower is its own kind of currency, and Carter, who holds a PhD in theoretical physics from Oxford, made an impression on the locals. ... somehow Carter must instill the seeds of a cultural and logistical overhaul that will make the modern military-industrial complex nimble enough to provide the kind of innovation and support its 21st-century fighting force needs.
Hikmatullah Shadman, an Afghan trucking-company owner, earned more than a hundred and sixty million dollars while contracting for the United States military; for the past three years, he has been battling to save much of his fortune in a federal court in Washington, D.C. In United States of America v. Sum of $70,990,605, et al., the Justice Department has accused Hikmat, as he’s known, of bribing contractors and soldiers to award him contracts. Hikmat has maintained his innocence, even as eight soldiers have pleaded guilty in related criminal cases. Several members of the Special Forces who have not been accused of wrongdoing have defended him. In a deposition, Major Jerry (Rusty) Bradley, a veteran Special Forces officer, said, “The only way to right a wrong of this magnitude is to be willing to draw your sword and defend everything that you believe in.” ... Hikmat, who is in his late twenties, looks disarmingly young and gentle. Slim, with a high brow that he often furrows, he countered the charges against him in grave, deliberate English. “The people who did this investigation were sitting in air-conditioned rooms,” he told me. “They don’t know what was happening in the field.” He offered to explain how he had made his fortune. “I was part of the Special Forces family,” he said. “I was trained by them.” ... Before the Americans came, Hikmat lived with his father, a schoolteacher; his mother; and five siblings in a four-room mud-walled house in one of the oldest parts of Kandahar City, in southern Afghanistan. In the summer of 2001, Hikmat was fourteen years old, and he and his friends chafed at the narrowness of life under the Taliban. No one had a telephone, televisions were banned, and there was rarely any electricity. ... He had started a side business selling fruit and soft drinks to the base, and that winter he quit his job as an interpreter in order to work on the business full time. Hikmat told me that a sergeant major at the Special Forces headquarters helped him register it at the main U.S. base, known as Kandahar Airfield, or KAF. On February 25, 2007, Hikmat signed a “blanket purchase agreement” with the U.S. military, an open-ended contract for trucking services. He started with a single rented truck.
His customers include the Defense Department and various spy agencies. He has about 200 people on the payroll, most of whom go to work every day in places where they could very well get shot or blown up--Iraq, Afghanistan, Ghana, Djibouti, Somalia, and Libya, to name a few. They guard buildings, protect VIPs, train foreign soldiers, and do a lot of office work, too: "Our specialty," says Patriot Group COO Rob Whitfield, "is providing sometimes common services in real crappy places." ... As a veteran, Craddock knows about war--what it is to confront bad guys face-to-face, to lose a friend in combat, to endure long separations from family, and then to wonder, once you're out, whether you'll ever again do anything as focused, as intense, as in-your-face important as what you did in uniform. As an entrepreneur, he also knows about business--what it is to risk everything on a proposal that goes nowhere, to be cut off by your banker, to drain your 401(k)--and ultimately what it feels like to succeed in a notoriously corrupt industry that's closely regulated, intensely scrutinized, rife with unsavory characters ("Some of the folks who work for us--I wouldn't want to be on their bad side, consistently"), and beholden like no other to the fickle winds of geopolitics. ... Total Defense Department spending on contractors--including those supplying weapons and R&D as well as services--peaked at $412 billion annually, and is down more than 30 percent since 2009. Among the factors: troop drawdowns, shrinking budgets, and a deteriorating business climate marked by intense congressional scrutiny, stricter oversight in the field, and heightened public distrust. ... Ironically, as spending drops, the relative importance of the private sector grows. Contractors deliver continuing access to talented people the military can't otherwise retain and instant access to short-term skills.
The standard frontier gun at the time was the mountain or plains rifle, a more compact version of the Pennsylvania-Kentucky flintlock muzzle loader, accurate to about two hundred yards. Dependable and powerful, it had one drawback: it took time to properly load—a full minute or close to it, and even longer on a horse, in a fight. Indians knew this and adjusted their tactics accordingly. They would send a few warriors to draw fire; then the entire band would swoop down onto the furiously reloading Anglos. Carrying a pistol or two or three helped, but these single-shot flintlocks were inaccurate at anything but the closest range, and they often snapped, or refused to fire, because of wet powder. And since an Indian could shoot ten to twelve arrows in the time it took to reload, the Anglos were at a serious disadvantage. Until now. ... A Connecticut Yankee who had been raised in a family of some privilege—at least before his father lost the bulk of his fortune—Colt had been fascinated with explosives and firearms since childhood. He’d come up with the idea for his revolver while still in his teens, but he didn’t have the funds for such an undertaking, so he’d hit the road for a few years as the Celebrated Dr. Coult, putting on stage shows demonstrating the wonders of laughing gas. Besides being smart and mechanically curious, Colt was a born huckster, and these shows were popular and lucrative. ... Much later, Colt would write that he burned with a desire to do “what never before has been accomplished by man.” Toward that end, in 1836, at the age of 22, after he’d saved enough money and acquired several investors, and after years of experimenting, he patented a five-shot revolver. ... Firing five shots in less time than one man could reload a flintlock weapon should have guaranteed large orders from the government. But the Paterson, as Colt’s first revolver became known, was fragile and fired a small-caliber ball, and it had to be half-disassembled to reload, so military tests were unimpressive, as were sales. When his company went bankrupt in 1842, Colt had turned to other pursuits, such as underwater mines and waterproof cables.
Docking in a luxury marina is about the only place to catch a random glimpse of Tiger, who moves through the world in a cocoon of his own creation. When he bought his plane, he blocked the tail number from tracking websites: It ends in QS, the standard code for NetJets. Many athletes, by contrast, have some sort of vanity registration, and some even have custom paint jobs; Michael Jordan's plane is detailed in North Carolina blue, and his tail number is N236MJ -- the "6" is for his titles. Jack Nicklaus flies around in N1JN nicknamed Air Bear. Sitting on a tarmac, Tiger's plane looks like it belongs to an anonymous business traveler, nothing giving away its famous owner. He comes and goes quietly. ... He'd long struggled to sleep, and when he wasn't texting or playing video games, he'd read, often military books about lone men facing impossible odds, such as Roberts Ridge or Lone Survivor, or books about theoretical physics and cosmology. The intro to Get a Grip laid out the basic rules of early science, from Newton and Galileo, focused on the concepts of friction and gravity. These had long interested him. Five-year-old Tiger once made a drawing that showed stickmen swinging different clubs, with the clubface sketched, as well as the flight path of the ball, including distance and apex. ... He grew up without siblings or many friends. Tiger and Earl did everything together, hitting balls into a net out in the garage, or spending hours at the golf course, and when they'd finish, Earl would order a rum and Diet Coke, and Tiger would get a Coke with cherries, and they'd sit and nurse their drinks like two old men. The golf pro at the Navy course, Joe Grohman, worried that Tiger didn't have friends his own age until high school. His friends were Earl and Earl's old military buddies. ... Tiger heard the stories and saw the deep love even strangers felt for each other. His entire childhood revolved around these men and their code.
Drones—or remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs), as they are known in the military—have quickly become one of the Pentagon’s tools of choice for precision surveillance and attack, and Holloman is responsible for training new pilots and sensor operators in order to meet swelling demand. This year the base will produce 818 RPA operators, more than double the number of projected F-16 trainees. All told, over 20,000 military and civilian personnel are currently assigned to the RPA program, representing nearly 5% of the Air Force's total capability. ... Base and squadron commanders say the RPA program is on track to become one of the Air Force’s largest divisions. In fact, for the first time ever, drones were responsible for more than half of the weapons dropped by the U.S. on Afghanistan last year. New recruits and pilots transferring to the drone program from other aircraft all pass through Holloman, sooner or later. ... If the pilot of popular mythology is intuitive and independent, the pilot of the RPA era must be analytical and collaborative. He (or sometimes she) must be comfortable multitasking, effective at communicating within and across teams, and capable of continually learning on the job. He or she may have a family to support, and the desire to be present at Little League games and piano recitals. ... Indeed, the daily reality for RPA pilots, as well as sensors, stands in stark contrast to the Maverick of myth. ... The new Maverick represents the future of work in a fully global world dominated by complex machines, complex communications, and fluid, remote teams.
Lower Silesia, in southwestern Poland, is a land of treasure hunters. Until the end of the Second World War, the region—covered by mountains and deep pine forests with towering, arrowlike trees—was part of Germany. In the early months of 1945, the German Army retreated, along with much of the civilian population. The advancing Red Army killed many of the Germans who remained. Nearly all those who survived were later evicted and forced to move west. By the end of 1947, almost two million Germans had been cleared out. ... In order to fill the emptied landscape, the newly formed Polish government relocated hundreds of thousands of Poles from the east. The settlers arrived in vacant towns, walked into empty houses, and went to sleep in strangers’ beds. There was furniture in the houses, but usually the valuables were missing. The porcelain dishes, the silk dresses, the fur coats, the sewing machines, and the jewelry were gone, often hidden in the ground: buried in jars, chests, and even coffins. It was a hasty solution—a desperate effort to cache valuables as people were running for their lives. The owners of these possessions intended to return, but most didn’t. And so on steamy fall mornings, when the new arrivals dug in their gardens or tilled their fields, they unearthed small fortunes. ... There were so few consumer goods available that many of the new residents made a living by trading merchandise stolen from German homes. ... as the end approached and German troops departed, the military allegedly buried gold, jewels, art works, and even futuristic weapons. The most famous story involves a German military officer named Herbert Klose, who worked as a high-level police official in the city of Wrocław. After the war, Klose was caught and interrogated by the Polish secret police. ... In a region where treasure hunting is a pastime, they pride themselves on being the best.
Uganda, in East Africa, is home to 37 million people and one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s perhaps best known for the dictator Idi Amin, who came to power in 1971 and murdered 300,000 of his countrymen during an eight-year reign. Although the country borders tumultuous South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda today is an island of relative political stability. The economy hums. Shopping malls bloom around the capital. Its people, to generalize, are deeply religious, family-oriented, and averse to profanity. Winston Churchill dubbed Uganda the Pearl of Africa in part for its friendly people. ... It’s also one of the leading providers of mercenaries—or “private military contractors,” as the security industry prefers to call them. They are at once everywhere and nowhere. On TV, a company called Middle East Consultants runs advertisements looking for able-bodied young men to send to Dubai. Talk to taxi drivers as you bump along dirt roads in the capital, Kampala, and each has a friend or cousin or neighbor who raves about the fortune he’s made guarding some embassy or joining the war in Iraq. But official numbers and interviews with the kind of multinational companies that go to countries such as Uganda to find soldiers are hard to come by. ... A decade ago, after con men began running employment frauds on mercenary hopefuls, the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development created the External Employment Unit, an agency meant to track men leaving to serve abroad. ... Mercenary remittances surpassed coffee exports in 2009, according to the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development. Interpol’s Kampala bureau conducts roughly 1,000 background checks on Ugandans heading abroad for security jobs every month
Much has been made of Israel’s status as “Startup Nation.” Not even the size of New Jersey, with a population smaller than New York City’s, Israel is home to more Nasdaq-listed companies than any country except the U.S. and China. On a per capita basis Israel boasts more venture capital, more startups and more scientists and tech professionals than any other country in the world. ... To understand these dizzying numbers, you need to understand the mysterious Unit 8200. While no one has ever disclosed how large it is, FORBES estimates the unit has, at any given time, 5,000 people assigned to it, all mandated to deploy the latest technology, often in life-or-death situations, with surprisingly little guidance. ... what’s in 8200′s special sauce? After speaking with more than two dozen 8200 veterans, we narrowed it down to five things that, taken together, provide a pretty good blueprint for Startup Nation–and a pretty powerful cheat sheet on how to launch a successful tech startup. ... Unit 8200 predates Israel’s war of independence in 1948. Starting in the British Mandate period of the 1930s, what was then known as Shin Mem 2 (an acronym of the Hebrew phrase for information service) bugged phone lines of Arab tribes to learn about planned riots. In 1948 it was renamed 515–a random number so that it could be discussed without using words. In 1956, the year of the second war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the name was changed again, to 848. ... Unit 8200′s turning point came when Israel’s did, in 1973, after the Yom Kippur War ... That moment, which led to national soul-searching, resulted in a reboot. The unit would then be known as another random number, 8200. And it would become completely departmentalized, so that various teams in the unit wouldn’t know what other teams were doing. Each squad, like a startup, was pretty much on its own.
The weapon is called a railgun and requires neither gunpowder nor explosive. It is powered by electromagnetic rails that accelerate a hardened projectile to staggering velocity—a battlefield meteorite with the power to one day transform military strategy, say supporters, and keep the U.S. ahead of advancing Russian and Chinese weaponry. ... The Navy developed the railgun as a potent offensive weapon to blow holes in enemy ships, destroy tanks and level terrorist camps. The weapon system has the attention of top Pentagon officials also interested in its potential to knock enemy missiles out of the sky more inexpensively and in greater numbers than current missile-defense systems—perhaps within a decade. ... The future challenge for the U.S. military, in broad terms, is maintaining a global reach with declining numbers of Navy ships and land forces. Growing expenses and fixed budgets make it more difficult to maintain large forces in the right places to deter aggression. ... Railgun research leans heavily on commercial advances in supercomputing to aim and on smartphone technology to steer the railgun’s projectile using the Global Positioning System.
One afternoon this spring at the United Nations in Geneva, I sat behind Wareham in a large wood-paneled, beige-carpeted assembly room that hosted the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a group of 121 countries that have signed the agreement to restrict weapons that “are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately”— in other words, weapons humanity deems too cruel to use in war. ... The UN moves at a glacial pace, but the CCW is even worse. There’s no vote at the end of meetings; instead, every contracting party needs to agree in order to get anything done. (Its last and only successful prohibitive weapons ban was in 1995.) It was the start of five days of meetings to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS): weapons that have the ability to independently select and engage targets, i.e., machines that can make the decision to kill humans, i.e., killer robots. The world slept through the advent of drone attacks. ... Yet it’s important to get one thing clear: This isn’t a conversation about drones. By now, drone warfare has been normalized — at least 10 countries have them. ... LAWS are generally broken down into three categories. Most simply, there’s humans in the loop — where the machine performs the task under human supervision, arriving at the target and waiting for permission to fire. Humans on the loop — where the machine gets to the place and takes out the target, but the human can override the system. And then, humans out of the loop — where the human releases the machine to perform a task and that’s it — no supervision, no recall, no stop function. The debate happening at the UN is which of these to preemptively ban, if any at all.
The medical student told me to use his name. He said he didn’t care. “Maduro is a donkey,” he said. “An a**hole.” He meant Nicolás Maduro, the President of Venezuela. We were passing through the wards of a large public hospital in Valencia, a city of roughly a million people, a hundred miles west of Caracas. The hallways were dim and stifling, thick with a frightening stench. ... Why were hospitals so heavily guarded? Nobody threatened to invade them. The guards had orders, it was said, to keep out journalists. Exposés had embarrassed the government. ... For decades, the country had been ruled by two centrist parties that took turns winning elections but were increasingly out of touch with voters. A move to impose fiscal austerity was rejected, in 1989, with a mass revolt and countrywide looting—a paroxysm known as the Caracazo—which was put down by the Army at a cost of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives. Chávez was an Army lieutenant colonel, from a humble background—his parents were village schoolteachers. He crashed the national stage in 1992, by leading a military-coup attempt. The coup failed, and Chávez went to jail, but his televised declarations of noble intent caught the imaginations of many Venezuelans. He offered a charismatic alternative to the corrupt, sclerotic status quo. After his release, he headed a small leftist party and easily won the Presidency. ... He soon rewrote the constitution, concentrating power in the executive. ... After Chávez barely survived a 2002 coup attempt, the Cubans also sent teams of military and intelligence advisers who taught their Venezuelan counterparts how to surveil and disrupt the political opposition Cuban-style, with close monitoring, harassment, and strategic arrests. ... Polar employs about thirty thousand workers (it is the country’s largest private employer) and is responsible for more than three per cent of Venezuela’s non-oil gross domestic product. Besides corn flour and the country’s top-selling beer, Polar produces pasta, rice, tuna fish, wine, ice cream, yogurt, margarine, ketchup, mayonnaise, and detergent. Yet it operates in an atmosphere of continual uncertainty, its planners and logistics mavens never sure what roadblock or subterfuge the government will toss up next. ... The crisis has a small but crucial constituency, starting with the generals and other high government officials who are thriving financially, mainly through smuggling, graft, and import fraud.
Instead the question is whether something basic has changed in the direction of China’s evolution, and whether the United States needs to reconsider its China policy. For the more than 40 years since the historic Nixon-Mao meetings of the early 1970s, that policy has been surprisingly stable. From one administration to the next, it has been built on these same elements: ever greater engagement with China; steady encouragement of its modernization and growth; forthright disagreement where the two countries’ economic interests or political values clash; and a calculation that Cold War–style hostility would be far more damaging than the difficult, imperfect partnership the two countries have maintained. ... The China of 2016 is much more controlled and repressive than the China of five years ago, or even 10. ... Dealing with China is inescapable. It is becoming more difficult, and might get harder still. ... the assumption was that year by year, the distance between practices in China and those in other developed countries would shrink, and China would become easier rather than harder to deal with.
He compared his forthcoming transformation to that of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. “If you are the President of the country, you need to be prim and proper,” he said. His inaugural speech, in June, was obscenity-free. ... The resolution didn’t last. Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in the deaths of more than three thousand people, drawing condemnation from human-rights groups and Western governments. ... Duterte does not, as he has put it, “give a sh*t” about human rights, which he sees as a Western obsession that keeps the Philippines from taking the action necessary to clean up the country. He is also hypersensitive to criticism. ... Duterte has an eighty-six-per-cent approval rating in the Philippines, but his break with America has proved controversial. Opinion surveys regularly find the Philippines to be among the most pro-American countries. ... Although he styles himself a revolutionary, Duterte seems uncertain about what kind of order will replace the one he aims to overthrow, or whether he will be around to see it. He often intimates that he may not live to finish his term, whether because of overwork and age—he is seventy-one—or something more sinister. “Will I survive the six years?” he asked recently. “I’d make a prediction: maybe not.”
- Also: Reuters - Good Shots 5-15min
Ask any Iraq War veteran about Jersey, Alaska, Texas, and Colorado and you will be surprised to get stories not about states, but about concrete barriers. Many soldiers deployed to Iraq became experts in concrete during their combat tours. Concrete is as symbolic to their deployments as the weapons they carried. No other weapon or technology has done more to contribute to achieving strategic goals of providing security, protecting populations, establishing stability, and eliminating terrorist threats. This was most evident in the complex urban terrain of Baghdad, Iraq. Increasing urbanization and its consequent influence on global patterns of conflict mean that the US military is almost certain to be fighting in cities again in our future wars. Military planners would be derelict in their duty if they allowed the hard-won lessons about concrete learned on Baghdad’s streets to be forgotten.
Investments into a vast network of harbours across the globe have made Chinese port operators the world leaders. Its shipping companies carry more cargo than those of any other nation — five of the top 10 container ports in the world are in mainland China with another in Hong Kong. Its coastguard has the globe’s largest maritime law enforcement fleet, its navy is the world’s fastest growing among major powers and its fishing armada numbers some 200,000 seagoing vessels. ... The emergence of China as a maritime superpower is set to challenge a US command of the seas that has underwritten a crucial element of Pax Americana, the relative period of peace enjoyed in the west since the second world war. ... China understands maritime influence in the same way as Alfred Thayer Mahan, the 19th century American strategist. “Control of the sea,” Mr Mahan wrote, “by maritime commerce and naval supremacy, means predominant influence in the world; because, however great the wealth of the land, nothing facilitates the necessary exchanges as does the sea.” ... The five big Chinese carriers together controlled 18 per cent of all container shipping handled by the world’s top 20 companies in 2015 ... The total size of these investments is difficult to calculate because of sketchy disclosure. But since 2010, Chinese and Hong Kong companies have completed or announced deals involving at least 40 port projects worth a total of about $45.6bn
The SWAT team was created in 2008 and, in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces, conducted raids in Mosul to arrest high-value terrorism suspects. After the American withdrawal from the country, in 2011, the unit hunted down insurgents on its own. ... In the areas it controls, ISIS typically offers Iraqi security forces a kind of amnesty by means of an Islamic procedure called towba, in which one repents and pledges allegiance to the Caliphate. But the SWAT team was not eligible for towba. ... Aside from martial aptitude, there were two principal requirements for recruits: they had to have been wounded by ISIS or its Islamist precursors—either physically, by bullets and blasts, or psychically, by the death of a loved one—and they had to crave revenge. ... For them, the Mosul offensive was merely the continuation of a war that they had been fighting most of their lives. When the men referred to older terrorist groups that had wounded them or killed their relatives—Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Jaesh al-Mujahideen, or obscurer offshoots—they always called them Daesh, the Arabic term for ISIS, even though ISIS, in most cases, did not yet exist. ... The unit was small and lacked logistical support: there was no one to bring them food, water, ammunition, or extra weapons, let alone reinforcements. They didn’t have their own medics, intelligence officers, mechanics, engineers, or bomb technicians. They had no mortar or artillery teams (or any contact with units that did have them). No one on the SWAT team was authorized to request air support. None of the American advisers embedded with the various military divisions seemed to know that the unit existed.
Malhama Tactical isn’t an enormous military conglomerate like the infamous Blackwater (now named Academi). It consists of 10 well-trained fighters from Uzbekistan and the restive Muslim-majority republics of the Russian Caucasus. But size isn’t everything in military consulting, especially in the era of social media. Malhama promotes its battles across online platforms, and the relentless marketing has paid off: The outfit’s fighting prowess and training programs are renowned among jihadis in Syria and their admirers elsewhere. It helps that until now the group has specialized its services, focusing on overthrowing Bashar al-Assad’s regime and replacing it with a strict Islamic government. ... The group’s leader is a 24-year-old from Uzbekistan who goes by the name Abu Rofiq (an Arabic pseudonym that means father of Rofiq). Little is known about him other than that he cycles through personal social media accounts rapidly, using fake names and false information to throw off surveillance efforts. ... Since launching in May 2016, Malhama has grown to do brisk business in Syria, having been contracted to fight, and provide training and other battlefield consulting, alongside groups like the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front) and the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uighur extremist group from China’s restive Xinjiang province.
One of the Cold War’s great mysteries is how the world survived the second week of November 1983. ... That it did is in large part thanks to the actions—or, more accurately, the inaction—of an Air Force officer named Leonard Perroots, who died this January. That it almost did not was a function of Ronald Reagan’s rhetorical and military bellicosity, the Soviets’ fear of that aggressiveness, and a tragicomic degree of misperception. At no other point in history had two nations devoted the level of human, financial, and technical resources that the United States and the Soviet Union did to sussing each other’s intentions. And yet their confusion remained so total that the Soviets mistook a NATO war game for the prelude to an actual attack, even as Reagan thought he was doing his utmost to pursue peace. ... For decades, the U.S. government kept whole chapters of this near-catastrophe secret, but the lessons of that fraught autumn are finally coming into focus. And not a moment too soon.
While Donald Trump was promising last year to drain the swamp in Washington, a long, quiet battle to drain an especially entrenched, money-wasting corner of that morass was reaching a surprising turning point in a courthouse that sits a few hundred feet from the White House. ... Only days before the presidential election, a judge in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ordered the Pentagon to reverse course in a major procurement bidding process. The decision marked the dramatic end of a long first round in what was an unusually bitter and consequential fight for this obscure court. As of press time, the ruling was being appealed through the usual legal channels. ... the dispute’s outcome may now be determined not by the courts, but rather by President Trump and some of his administration’s most powerful players. They are all connected to a controversial company that began an unprecedented battle eight years ago to crash a long-running, exclusive party involving the annual dispensing of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. ... The Army chose instead to favor an updated version of a deeply flawed system created by a team of defense contractors that epitomizes the Washington establishment: Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and others. Over 16 years the system had produced cascading cost overruns, and bills of nearly $6 billion. The result had been a platform that troops in the field and Government Accountability Office auditors agreed was so clunky to use, when it worked at all, that it often sat unplugged and shoved under desks at various outposts. ... Yet the requirements for the new version disqualified what Philippone believed was Palantir’s proven, off-the-shelf platform, which could be supplied to all the troops for about $100 million a year.
The ambition to create the version of the F-35 that I watched on the tarmac at Patuxent River—one that can make short takeoffs and vertical landings—was what got the fighter jet’s development under way in the 1980s. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the Pentagon’s tech arm, began working at the Marine Corps’ behest on an improved version of the Harrier, a crash-prone vertical-landing jet of British design. According to a Pentagon history of the F-35, Darpa quietly sought assistance from a research and development arm of Lockheed Martin known as the Skunk Works. By the early 1990s, the Darpa-Skunk Works collaboration had produced preliminary concepts, and the Marine Corps began pressing Congress for funding. The Air Force and Navy insisted that they, too, needed stealthy, supersonic fighters to replace aging Cold War-era models. Out of this clamoring grew a consensus that the only way to afford thousands of cutting-edge fighters was to build a basic model that could be customized for each service. ... The degree of commonality among the three versions of the F-35—the shared features—turned out to be not the anticipated 70 percent but a mere 25 percent, meaning that hoped-for economies of scale never materialized. A pattern of continual reengineering resulted in billions of dollars in cost overruns and yearslong delays.