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The latest news from Robert Johnson on Business Insider

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    It seemed to start when Egyptian broadcaster Sheik Khaled Abdullah aired the anti-Islam satire video titled Innocence of Muslims or Life of Muhammad, calling for the outrage of his fellow Muslims.

    Officials at the State Department say that the video was not the real reason for the riots, just an opportune cover for more political purposes

    But Mosa'ab Elshamy told us today that, "Right now there are still clashes between protesters and police, though less intense than yesterday. They were definitely about the video a couple of days ago," Elshamy continued, "but since the clashes started the Salafis have largely disappeared and it's become more about rioting with the police than [it is about] the video."

    Other reports say the rioting isn;t either, but outrage over the American held prisoner Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the "blind sheikh," who was convicted of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1997.

    Elshamy is on the ground in Cairo now and asked we not use his photos here, but direct you to his Flickrpage is here.

    Now: Check out what's happening in Tunisia >

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    The protests that started in Cairo have spread across the world raising havoc in more than a dozen countries in the Muslim world.

    The news today is one of massive chaos: Lots of protests, fires, and reports of killing.


    Sky News reports three have been killed and 28 wounded in riots outside the U.S. embassy in Tunis, a Tunisian journalist Tweets

    She adds presidential security forces have arrived at the "surreal" scene to "prevent a disaster," according to a Google Translation.

    BBC: An American school in Tunis was torched, reportedly after being evacuated. 

    The Guardian's Eileen Byrne says smoke continues to billow from an outbuilding in the American compound there, but that local riot police have kept protesters from storming the main office.

    Here's chilling footage of the flag being removed from the U.S. embassy in Tunis:

    ArabesqueTV reports foreign journalists may have been attacked nearby.


    Buzzfeed's Michael Hastings reports on an appearance by on Piers Morgan suggesting held up paperwork updating security in Benghazi.

    The BBC spoke with a professor who met slain Ambassador Chris Stevens at the State Department's post in Benghazi in the days before the compound was attacked:

    "The security [at the consulate] was not enough. I was there in the morning with Chris around 0915 having breakfast but the security was not just insufficient, there was a big lack of security. He had 4 Libyans, 2 of them in front of the door and 2 inside the small room by the fence. It was very normal security measurements as if you were going to a hotel."

    BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardener reports security at Benghazi was not the same at other U.S. missions:

    "The BBC has been told that the US Consulate in Benghazi which was fatally attacked and gutted on Tuesday was not given the standard security contract offered to most US diplomatic missions in the Middle East. The consulate's walls were breached in just 15 minutes, guards were outgunned and overwhelmed and 4 US personnel were killed, including the Ambassador, Chris Stevens."

    White House spokesman Jay Carney says reports that the U.S. had advance warning of the attacks are "absolutely wrong," according to the BBC.

    Libyan officials say that "many" have been arrested following investigations into the assault that killed ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three staffers—one information officer and two former Navy SEALs.

    Protests kicked off here a day after people gathered in Egypt. 


    USA TODAY: Marines have been deployed to Yemen after attacks escalate at U.S. Embassy.

    Pentagon Spokesman John Little confirms that Marines have been sent into Yemen to reinforce the U.S. Embassy.


    Reuters now reports protesters have been expelled from the U.S. compound in Khartoum.

    "They were all expelled. They didn't get far," the spokesman said when asked about the protesters and how far into the grounds they had reached. He said no embassy staff were injured in the incident.

    Al Arabiya reports three people were killed in front of the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.

    Protestors bussed from German and U.K. embassies to U.S. embassy.

    khartoum embassyThere are reports of three dead at the protests. According to many twitterers on the ground, the three died when a security vehicle ran them over.

    The images from Al-Jazeer are striking.

    Thousands of protestors gathered outside of the German Embassy. Protestors jumped the wall and pulled down the American flag, but police dispersed them with tear gas.

    Recent reports out say that the German Embassy is on fire and has been completely evacuated.


    The Associated Press is reporting that about 15,000 protestors have gathered in the city of Kashmir to protest the video, in what's being called the largest showing yet of any Muslim country. The protestors are shouting 

    Al Arabiya reports 86 have been arrested.

    The State Department and Indian officials are calling for all U.S. citizens to remain out of the city, and if they're visiting the city now, to leave as soon as possible.

    Local authorities there have put about five "separatist leaders" on house arrest, a common tactic during civil unrest.

    "If America is true in its claim of being against any kind of religious blasphemy, then it should lose no time in taking stern action against these enemies of humanity," said a statement from the Jamat-e-Islami, the biggest Islamic group in Kashmir.


    Only a handful of protestors reported here so far, chanting the phrase "Alahu Akbar" or "God is great" outside embassy walls.

    Also, they had printed newsletters calling for the American government to punish the producers of the film.


    A prominent cleric has urged fellow Muslims to remain calm. About 200 showed up outside the embassy to protest.

    “We came here because we want the US to punish whoever was involved with the film,” protester Abdul Jabar Umam told reporters of First Post. “They should know that we are willing to die to defend the honor of our Prophet.”


    Protestors gathered here again today, but reports on the ground are that the protests have become more about violence than the film.

    Hundreds of protestors are in front of the U.S. Embassy. Police are using tear gas, water hoses, and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

    Several peaceful protestors are farther back, in Tahrir Square, praying.


    Forty armed protestors stormed a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Tripoli, police fired on the group, killing one. There were about 3000 protestors in Beirut.


    The protests have broken up after a brief clash with police.


    From Ahram Online:

    In Gaza, thousands of people rallied at demonstrations in Gaza City and the southern town of Rafah, a day after the ruling Hamas party urged citizens to turn out for protests after Friday prayers.

    Protesters waved the flags of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements, and set fire to American flags, chanting "Death, death to America, death, death to Israel."

    Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya, in a sermon during Friday prayers, repeated a call on Washington to apologise for the film, produced in the United States.


    Hundred of protesters have taken to Iraqi streets: From CNN:

    Angry protesters in the Sadr City district of northeast Baghdad carried banners, Iraqi flags and images of radical Shiite and anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as they railed against what they see as an insult to their faith.

    "America is the enemy of the people," the demonstrators shouted Thursday morning. They also yelled out, "Yes, yes to Islam. Yes, yes to Iraq. Yes, yes to Quran" -- the latter referring to the Muslim holy book.


    400 Iranians have gathered outside the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. From Russia Today:

    They're "protest[ing] against the American-made film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad that has sparked outrage in the world's Muslim community. “Death to the United States and death to Israel and death to England!" was heard over a loudspeaker outside the Swiss diplomatic mission, which represents American diplomatic interests in Iran, following the breakup of diplomatic ties in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

    Riot police have cordoned off the are, causing traffic jams around the capital as the crowd voiced support for demonstrations in Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia.  Shouts of "Muslims, unite!" and "Mohammad is God's prophet"were heard.


    Protests have spread to Jerusalem. From yNet:

    Hundreds of worshippers leaving the al-Aqsa Mosque after Friday prayers hurled stones at police officers and rioted near Jerusalem's Damascus Gate.

    The demonstrators, protesting against the anti-Islam film that sparked riots across the Middle East, started marching towards the US Consulate but were blocked by police officers who used shock grenades against them. Several officers were lightly injured by stones. Some protesters were detained.


    Jordanian authorities are cracking down. From AnsaMed:

    The arrest by security forces of well over a dozen peaceful reform activists since September 7, 2012, signals the government's toughening stand toward demands for political reform in the kingdom", Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should release all of those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to expression, association, and assembly, Human Rights Watch added.

    The security services arrested activists in various parts of the country for peacefully protesting or calling for reform, in what appeared a concerted move by security and judicial authorities against opposition groups, said HRW in a statement. Those arrested include eight activists from the southern town of Tafila, two from Karak, and seven from Amman. All were charged under terrorism provisions, which place them under the purview of the military-dominated State Security Court, three lawyers for the activists told Human Rights Watch. All remain in detention. 



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    laser gun DARPA

    Controlling the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum is a major asset in military operations.

    The Marines recently demonstrated their painful "heat ray," a weapon that blasts intruders with a wave beam that targets skin and makes victims feel like they've stepped in front of a blazing oven, but without killing them.

    See the gear >

    It doesn't cause irreversible damage, but will make someone instinctively back off. 

    Modern weapons systems employ radio, radar, infrared, optical, ultraviolet, electro-optical, and laser technologies. 

    "The Russians and the Chinese have designed specific electronic warfare platforms to go after all our high-value assets," said Lieutenant General Herbert Carlisle, the Air Force's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, as reported by Aviation Week.

    The U.S. military is developing cyber-capabilities to gain a tactical edge.

    Electronic warfare consists of three subdivisions: electronic attack, electronic protection, and electronic warfare support.

    According to U.S. military doctrine for electronic warfare planning, electronic attack (EA) involves "the use of electromagnetic energy, directed energy or anti-radiation weapons to attack personnel, facilities, or equipment with the intent of degrading, neutralizing, or destroying enemy combat capability."

    Basically — wipe out the enemy without getting too dirty. 

    The Marine Corps "Heat Ray" raises the temperature of skin by 130 degrees

    But it won't kill you. The Active Denial System (ADS) creates an intense heated sensation lasting 1-2 seconds and is caused by a radio frequency wave, not radiation or microwave.

    “You’re not going to see it, you’re not going to hear it, you’re not going to smell it. You’re going to feel it,” said director of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, Marine Col. Tracy Tafolla.

    The 95 GHz millimeter wave has a range of up to 1000 meters, or 7 football fields. The directed-energy beam only penetrates 1/64th of an inch into the skin.

    As a nonlethal weapon, it can be used for crowd control or determining hostile intent before engaging with lethal weapons. ADS can buy life-saving time.

    This hand-held laser system can temporary blind you

    The Phasr was introduced in 2005 by the Air Force

    As another directed energy weapon, the Phasr employs a two-wavelength laser system that temporarily removes an aggressor's ability to see. 

    It's like opening your eyes in the middle of the night to someone shoving a blinding flashlight in your face. The Air Force casually calls this effect "dazzling" or "illuminating." Whatever you call it, this hand-held device effectively impairs anyone targeted.

    The "Death Ray" can detect and destroy missiles with a deadly laser beam

    The U.S. continues to run test flight experiments on the Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB). So far, they've worked out this killer firing sequence:

    1. The ALTB uses one of its six infrared sensors to detect the exhaust plume of a boosting missile.
    2. A kilowatt-class solid state laser, the Track Illuminator, tracks the missile and determines a precise aim point.
    3. The Beacon Illuminator, a second laser, then measures disturbances in the atmosphere, which are corrected by the adaptive optics system to accurately point and focus the High Energy Laser (HEL) at its target.
    4. Using a large telescope located in the nose turret, the beam control/fire control system focuses the HEL beam onto a pressurized area of the missile, holding it there until laser energy compromises the missile’s structural integrity causing it to fail.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Underwater mines may be one of the most effective ways of disabling an opposing force in the history of warfare, and if Iran feels it has little left to lose it could mine the Strait of Hormuz and choke off a lionshare of the world's oil supply.

    It's an act of war that would also incur untold U.S. casualties.

    Unfortunately the idea has little meaning anymore to the American public.

    Tehran has been threatening to shutter the strait, blow up U.S. vessels, and generally doing whatever the hell it wants for months. 

    When I think of naval mines, I think of Gilligan's Island. There was an episode titled "Mine Hero" where the the first mate stumbles upon a WW II mine doesn't matter. The point is the idea of mines means very little to us today unless you're serving on a naval ship in the Persian Gulf.

    Then, it couldn't really mean much more.

    Marine MineWhen I heard there was going to be a multinational mine clearing exercise in the Persian Gulf September 16 -27, the IMCMEX 12, I submitted my embark request immediately.

    I heard there were only 15 available media spots, but crossed my fingers and we got one. My Visa was approved a couple of days ago.

    So tomorrow I catch a plane for Manama, Bahrain,  home of the 5th Fleet. There, I catch a helicopter to  the USS Eisenhower and spend two days observing carrier maneuvers and taking part in a C-2 takeoff and arrested landing before heading to the USS Ponce.

    The Ponce is a 40-year-old ship outfitted with the newest gear and serves as a staging base for all Mine Counter-measure (MCM) operations in the area. 

    While on the Ponce, and during the exercises, I'll be offered transport on both U.S. and Japanese vessels to document how international forces would deal with a mined Persian Gulf. 

    Hopefully, by the time that's over I should have enough details and photographs to impart how big a concern this really is for U.S. men and women serving in the Navy. In the following days, look for photo essays on the ships I'll be seeing and the maneuvers they'll be preforming.

    When I get back on the 25th I'll be able to offer an insight into what the Iran tensions mean to Navy troops and what the U.S. will do if the Strait of Hormuz does ever get mined.

    Check for updates at the IMCMEX Facebook page >

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    O'BrienI took a few classes at the University of South Florida to wrap up a B.A. after leaving the Army and one of my professors was Georgetown Alumnus Richard O'Brien.

    He taught Conflict in the World and while his passion was apparent from the first class, it took a few weeks for me to patch together random comments to understand what O'Brien had done.

    I remember the day. I'd done some research, asked a couple of questions, and found myself thinking: "Nobody here knows what this guy did." I was right. It had happened years before, but we'd all seen it on the news. I spent several hours with O'Brien after the semester ended and wrote this feature for a South Florida alternative weekly. I'm re-printing it here in its entirety.

    On Dec. 2, 2001, at 1:30 a.m. Richard O’Brien was cold.

    He'd just closed down his favorite Alexandria, Va., pub, and since he'd sold his '55 Cadillac to open a small nonprofit — he was walking home — bracing himself against the wind.

    It may have been the chill off the water, the biting northern wind, or the cognac stashed in his desk drawer,  but for some reason he stopped into his office on the way home.

    It was a last second decision. The massive brick building took up almost a full block and killed the wind as he walked up along side of it and just like that, he decided to stop in, check his email and maybe pour himself a little of the Courvoisier he normally reserved for guests.

    As he climbed the hyper-heated stairway into his office, the chill ebbed and he dropped his coat on the rack before stepping into his small work space.

    SulawesiHis computer was on, a screen-saver aquarium lighting up his desk. He sat down, rubbed his hands together and gave the mouse a nudge, opening his email. The subject line of the most recent message read: “Help us we are being massacred!”

    O’Brien suddenly felt cold all over again. The email had come from a Pastor Snyder in Poso, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

    Snyder and his congregation had fled the city of Tentena, to escape Muslim attackers. Muslims outnumbered Christians in the area, and in the late 1990s a dispute over gold mining concessions led some of the majority to declare jihad on the Christians.

    Christian killings in the islands had become common, and Snyder’s email went on to detail the largest armed attack by the Muslim paramilitaries of the Laskar Jihad ever.

    Stunned, O’Brien rose, walked to a framed piece of paper on the wall by the front door and lifted the frame from its hook. “In Case of Emergency,” it said in bright Photoshopped boldness at the top; beneath it, “Steps for Combating Unfolding Genocide.” All just a theory 'til that point, the steps it listed were about to be put to the test.

    11 YEARS LATER, now a professor at USF Sarasota-Manatee, O’Brien, 45, is married, lives in Bradenton and ran a surprisingly successful grassroots campaign for city council last election.

    He’s a man in love with what he does and what he has accomplished. Self-deprecating about losing his former “Tom Cruise” physique and smiling about the first time he saw his wife, Ani, in Georgetown. He splays the fingers of both hands out in front of his eyes, fans them up and down and remembers, “All I saw was these enormous eyes and long, long lashes.”

    But back in December 2001, O’Brien changed a piece of history. If you haven’t heard of the Christian Sulawesigenocide in Sulawesi, it might be because of the work of O’Brien’s small nonprofit, The Center for the Prevention of Genocide (CPG). What had started as O’Brien’s Georgetown master’s thesis had evolved into a plan for alerting the world to impending genocide.

    O’Brien is part Armenian, which carries with it a collective burden from the early days of the 20th century: In 1915, the Turkish government systematically slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians. The Turkish government denies the episode to this day, but O’Brien’s great-grandmother begged to differ, having watched her husband sliced into pieces, a story O’Brien grew up listening to. This may have been the real reason O’Brien sold his cherished Caddy, was checking his email at 1:45 a.m. on a Monday morning. Genocide is something he takes personally.

    Not that any of this was in O’Brien’s mind when he finally set down the framed piece of paper, the step-by-step guide he had written, on his desk and pulled open the top drawer. Inside lay three pay-by-the-minute phone cards he kept for calling overseas.

    Months before, O’Brien and his partners gave out their contact information to various organizations and individuals in humanitarian circles, telling them, “If you’re in trouble — email us.” There was no way to tell if Snyder’s email was genuine till he spoke with someone in Indonesia who could confirm it. If it were authentic, he would then have to find out if he were the only person outside Indonesia to know about it.

    With the first card he called the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, but it ran out of minutes before he could track down a live person. He burned up the 15 minutes on the second card doing the same thing. Sulawesi is 12 hours ahead of the U.S. — it was early Monday afternoon when O’Brien called the embassy operator, Mary. Carefully, but quickly, O’Brien explained the situation. “Oh my, this is important isn’t it? Let me think,” Mary said, minutes blazing away on the phone card.

    She gave him the number he needed to call the consul general on Surabaya, spitting distance from Sulawesi. The man was out. O’Brien called back 15 minutes later and the man confirmed: Yes, there were 45,000 unarmed Christians left after the first massacre; yes, they were surrounded by about 2,000 Muslim soldiers; yes… And then the phone card ran out of minutes.

    O’Brien called one of his volunteers, asking him to check the global wire services and press reports to see if anyone else had heard. Nothing. O’Brien called fellow CPG board member John Heidenrich, a former State Department subcontractor, and asked him to whom they should send press releases first. “Australia,” Heidenrich said.

    It was 3:45 a.m. when O’Brien drafted a press release, printed it and sent a digital copy to Mark. “We sent Sulawesithat press release to every single major radio station, TV station and print media in Australia,” O’Brien says. “Mark emailed them and I faxed.” At 6:12 a.m. the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broke the story, broadcasting, “Christians in the lakeside town of Tentena are reported to be preparing for a big Muslim attack. Already thousands of Christians from nearby villages have fled to the town in central Sulawesi trying to escape armed Muslim fighters, members of the radical Laskar Jihad, who are reported to be equipped with machine guns, rocket launchers and even bulldozers. A church group which traveled to Tentena last week reports Laskar Jihad manned road blocks, flying flags with the image of Osama bin Laden and the words ‘this is our leader.’”

    The broadcast went out over the Internet and through a shortwave radio transmission in eight languages: Burmese, French, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Khmer, English and Tok Pisin. Wire services around the globe picked up the story.

    O’Brien was checking off items from his handbook. They had confirmed the events with a neutral third party, and the word was out. Now they had to find someone in Washington who cared.

    BY 9 A.M., when the interns started rolling in, O’Brien had already used the shower in the office and put on a clean shirt he kept in his desk. The interns put together packets that contained Snyder’s email, background information, and the press release along with the wire service reports to take to Capitol Hill.

    They plotted an itinerary to hit up every congressman in the House who sat on the Human Rights Caucus or the Appropriations Committee.

    Human Rights, for obvious reasons, but Appropriations because Indonesia was about to receive $120 million in military aid from the U.S.

    O’Brien’s thinking was that $120 million, supplied largely by Christian taxpayers, could convince certain people to take action.

    After a 20-minute cab ride, O’Brien, a couple staffers and 10 interns hit the Capitol. O’Brien targeted congressmen who received substantial donations from the Christian Coalition. His 10th office visit led him to the unlikely throne of Rep. Thomas Cass Ballenger, a man who, for the previous 19 years, had kept a black lawn jockey in front of his home in Hickory, N.C. “Not exactly the poster boy for racial sensitivity,” O’Brien points out in a detailed account of the event he wrote at the time.

    SulawesiO’Brien waited 15 minutes for the congressman to show up with a nod and a “Ya’ waitin’ fo’me?” in his Carolina drawl.

    O’Brien nodded back and sat down in front of Ballenger’s bulwark of a desk. O’Brien gave a “compelling but brief history of the conflict and the immediate jeopardy these people were facing.”

    Ballenger, to his credit, did not yawn.

    “You know who loves this kinda stuff,” Ballenger said, as he slid the folders back across the expanse of his desk to O’Brien, “Tom Lantos and Cynthia McKinney. Those liberals just love this stuff.”

    O’Brien leaned forward and gently pushed the files back across the desk. “Congressman Ballenger,” he said,  “I didn’t come here to see Mr. Lantos or Ms. McKinney. … I came to see you. You have a strongly devout population down there in North Carolina, filled with people that will care deeply about other Christians being massacred, and I know they would be impressed that you cared enough to pick up the phone and get the ball moving with the administration.”

    Ballenger blinked once, twice, and then asked, Where exactly is this place again?”

    Today, Ballenger suffers from dementia and lives in an assisted-living facility. But his 80-year-old wife, Donna, agreed to talk to me about her husband and his work, in that same inviting, Carolina drawl O’Brien heard from her husband that day on the Hill. She expresses surprise when I mention Indonesia, reflects a moment and then says, “Cass was in charge of the Western Hemisphere. Indonesia was outside his domain.”

    Nevertheless, the BBC reported at 5:46 p.m. Mon., Dec. 2, 2001 that the Indonesian government was sending 2,600 troops to Sulawesi. By Wednesday morning more than 4,000 soldiers had shown up in Tentena, the first time in history that Indonesia had intervened in any massacre of Christians.

    O’Brien can’t be sure if Ballenger called the president, Colin Powell or anyone at all, but “Just like that,” he says, “the threat of genocide vanished into thin air.”

    THE CENTER FOR the Prevention of Genocide, however, did not vanish. After that initial burst of success, O’Brien and his staff went on to provide Cold War-era maps to bush pilots in Africa that resulted in eight metric tons of sorghum being dropped by the State Department for starving Nuba villagers.

    They helped bring Darfur from a place known only in diplomatic circles to front pages. They managed people on the ground in a dozen genocide hot-spots around the globe. “Rich lived for helping people,” former intern Stephanie Lawson says, “any place in the world, 24 hours a day it seemed. I have no idea when he ever slept.”

    O’Brien shows me a stack of binders and dossiers, telling me to take anything I need except for North Korea. “We still have assets on the ground there,” he says. I look to see if he’s joking. He isn’t. I skim through the North Korea binder and between accounts of infant cannibalism and gulags are interviews, labeled only by initials and dates, floppy disks wedged inside the cover.

    These days, between teaching classes at USFSM and pursuing political office, O’Brien uses his experience Sulawesiwhere he can. He spent a week in Haiti just after the quake, providing advice on expediting supplies to those in need. When Michael Abramowitz came to Sarasota Feb. 28 to speak on his federal proposal, “Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers,” O’Brien used some local connections to get him to also appear on the New College campus.

    “Abramowitz has an outstanding plan,” O’Brien says, “but it could be done for much less that the $250 million price tag attached to it — much less. I mean, we got by with selling old computer parts and a classic Cadillac.”

    But even for CPG, the money eventually ran out. In early 2004 O’Brien wrote a $19,000 check to cover the organization’s final expenses.

    For the Abramowitz visit, O’Brien prepared an exhibit, assigning bits of his past to professionally prepared displays and posters: more cries for help scrawled on ragged bits of paper; maps; photographs to jar the jaded; records of the Armenian massacre in Italian, a find from some research in Padua, Italy, that he’d stumbled upon in the back of an old book on another topic.

    I call him in the midst of all this, with yet more questions. “I am so sick of genocide,” he says, stressing each syllable and catching me a little off guard. Then I understand he’s answering a question I’d asked weeks before, when, stunned by the scope of his determination, I’d asked: “What prompted all this?”

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    MQ-9 Predator

    The Predator drone is a key tool in the Pentagon's War on Terror, logging more than 1 million miles over scores of countries since its 1995 introduction.

    The drone went from helpful to deadly when it was armed with the Hellfire missile in 2001. It is responsible for taking down dozens of top al Qaeda operatives. 

    More than 350 have been built over 17 years at a cost of around $70 billion and they've been performing 34 strikes a week this year, in Pakistan alone.

    Despite the controversy surrounding their use, and the collateral deaths of innocent civilians incurred during strikes, the use of Predator drones will likely remain a U.S. practice for the indefinite future.

    The Predator can fly nearly 500 miles to a target and linger in the air for 14 hours

    A fully-loaded Predator, like this one, weighs 2,250 pounds

    The Predator has a wingspan of 48.7 feet, stands almost seven feet tall and is 27 feet long

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Heading north on the aircraft carrier Eisenhower about 50 miles off the coast of Iran, it's very easy to forget the problems with Tehran and its nuclear program.

    For several months Iran has been stalling international inspectors looking for access to its nuclear enrichment facilities. Israel has been growing more ardent in its calls for military action against Iran, and the U.S. has been doling out sanctions against Iran hoping the issue will resolve itself.

    Out here under the light blue gauze of this sun-filled sky there is none of that. There are 44 F-18s on the aircraft carrier Eisenhower, along with sundry other aircraft, and regardless of what Iran or Israel do, the Ike's deck and flight crew focus on arming these jets, launching them, and bringing them home all day long.

    All 44 may not be flying today, but it certainly feels like it out here in the Persian Gulf as 4,200 U.S. troops lean into an extended nine month deployment. Out here it is just business as usual.

    Few of the crew I met have time to look up the news on the sluggish Internet connection, or concern themselves much outside of their daily duties.

    IkeThe mission is the same, day in and day out, regardless of what else happens in the world and most crew are too busy to give it much thought.

    That's not true for the ship's command; and when the admiral in charge of the Ike and the ships escorting her briefed us at the end of the day, he told us almost word for word what the ship's captain had said: "The Iranian Navy has been nothing but courteous and polite in all of our interactions with them."

    Apparently those interactions are not altogether uncommon, which is understandable when much of the U.S. Fifth Fleet it steaming just off Iran's coast.

    The admiral had just returned from the first stages of the IMCMEX 2012, the largest marine mine countermeasures exercise in the history of the region. It's why we're here, to check out the exercise later in the week.

    Just before lights out last night, the admiral gets on the ship's public address system and tells the crew that he appreciates their hard work and he's signed them up to join the mine exercise — so they'll be working just a bit harder in the coming days.

    On deck this morning at 8:00 a.m. there was no trace of the admiral's announcement of more work. The crew had already been at work for some time washing the planes, and drying the deck. It was so hot that withing 30 minutes of talking to sailors I could feel the sweat running down my legs and into my shoes.

    IkeI watched a sailor spray an F-18 with some sort of aerosol cleaning product and lean in to wipe it with a sponge.

    "What are you doing?" I ask.

    He stopped immediately and turned to face me with a smile. 

    "Cleaning my jet, sir." He was maybe 5' 2" and all of 19 years old. The average age of the Ike's crew is 22.

    "You don't mind that in this heat?" I ask wiping the worst of the sweat from my eyes.

    "No, sir," he answered with surprising sincerity. "It's like a good thing to do so we can show our pilot we care about the jet — it reflects us. It let's him know how much care goes into this aircraft."

    I'm headed back to Bahrain now. Waiting for a ride back from a helicopter after our plane broke down. Tomorrow is a day of briefings and information on what's to come during the mine exercise later in the week aboard the USS Ponce. 

    The U.S. and its allies hope to show Iran and the world the short work they'll make of any efforts to mine the Strait of Hormuz. From what I've seen there's no doubt American sailors will do their part. 


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    attached image

    There are 10 other media outlets here in Bahrain for the multinational mine clearing exercise (IMCMEX), and today we were briefed on what's going to happen in the next couple of days when we're in the Persian Gulf.

    After meeting the three star admiral in charge of the whole operation, who answered a series of questions and gave us a broad picture of the effort, we were delivered to the U.S. military base in Bahrain and escorted to IMCMEX headquarters.

    High-ranking officers there from Bahrain, Australia and the U.S. outlined what we should expect to see when we fly out to the USS Ponce at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow and get split up among various mine counter measure ships and helicopters.

    This exercise involves more than 30 countries and assets from the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Yemen, Jordan, New Zealand, Estonia, Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Canada. That list was updated at close of business here today a couple of hours ago.

    When the Navy sent us those countries' names, they also sent us Rear Admiral Perry's PowerPoint presentation we saw earlier today on base.

    The briefing is officially unclassified, and after a few pictures, is presented here in its entirety.

    The mine clearing exercise is going to be overseen from the US Naval forces Central Command in Bahrain

    Within headquarters located inside this tent

    The press arrived early today for the briefing

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    I've been in the Persian Gulf covering the huge international mine clearing exercise less than 300 miles from the Strait of Hormuz, and Saturday the Navy dropped the media back off in Bahrain.

    That means you'll be seeing a lot of coverage on CNN, ABC, BBC, and Al Jazeera popping up over the next few days about some of the things that went on out here. The big news organizations all filmed the press conferences, including the one we received Friday morning after we boarded the USS Ponce. The Ponce is the lead ship in the multinational exercise, and the first floating base in the U.S. Navy.

    We were surprised at that briefing when we were shown a list of countries participating in the exercise that we'd not seen before. Unfortunately, our shock must have given us away because a senior public affairs officer, a Navy Captain, promptly asked us not to report any of the names we'd seen that hadn't been released to the public.

    We all agreed, but Saturday aboard the Ponce one of the countries ship's came close enough for me to snap this picture with a telephoto lens. It's the Iraqi patrol boat P-307 sailing alongside the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Gridley. 

    The P-307 was delivered to Iraq in March 2012, carries a 30mm cannon and is manned by crew of 25 sailors. I talked to a Navy officer who told me if I was able to see it, I could go ahead and report it. 

    The P-307 wasn't there long, and right after I snapped the first couple of shots it took a hard left away from the far side of the Gridley, and disappeared into the distance.

    Iraq P-307 IMCMEX

    Iraq P-307

    Iraq P-307 IMCMEX

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    USS Ponce IMCMEX 2012

    Ordered by the U.S. Navy more than 45 years ago and cruising the world's oceans since 1971, the USS Ponce (pronounced pon-say) was given a new lease on life in March of this year.

    It was almost literally pulled from the scrapyard, when CENTCOM Commander General James Mattis cancelled the Ponce's decommissioning and ordered updates fitting its new role in the Persian Gulf.

    Check out the Ponce >

    Almost immediately The Washington Post reported the hastily retrofitted Ponce was to be a commando base for U.S. special forces, but that was quickly quelled by the Pentagon.

    Now listed as an Afloat Forward Staging Base, Interim — the former amphibious assault ship is the first U.S. floating base ever for military and humanitarian operations.

    These are the things I knew before I arrived on deck of the Ponce early Friday morning packed into a MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopter with about a dozen other people from the media, and a handful of Navy public affairs officers.

    What I learned while onboard, is that the Ponce is manned by a limited U.S. Navy crew almost entirely pulled from other commands and serving temporary duty to support the Ponce's mission.

    That mission seems largely to serve in support of the four permanent U.S. mine countermeasure ships in the Persian Gulf, but not entirely.

    The Ponce also stores forward materiel for various branches of the U.S. military, according to civilian crew I spoke with. The ship is staffed largely by civilian seamen and one also told me he believes SEALs are a constant part of the crew.

    When Navy officials were asked about the presence of SEALs onboard, they said they could neither confirm or deny the Navy special force's presence.

    But it makes sense, as the Ponce hosts many different training missions for many different groups within the Navy.

    This week, that training mission is the IMCMEX 2012, reportedly the largest mine clearing effort ever performed in this part of the world.

    Keeping the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Hormuz, safe and free of underwater mines that could hamper commerce is part of the Ponce's objective.

    From what I saw, the military crew is in a state of constant training and readiness for mine countermeasures. From enlisted seamen in the well deck who told me they consistently train with anti-mine hardware, to oceanographers, who hold permanent positions that evaluate data picked up by sophisticated mine sweeping equipment.

    They do it all on a ship that's more than 40 years old, with what the Ponce's Captain Rogers told us was a modest $60 million worth of upgrades.

    To build a new ship to do the same thing, the Captain said, would cost billions. Capt. Rogers was good enough to allow us the run of his ship and personally guided us through spaces never before seen by the public.

    The following photos show some of what we saw.

    The USS Ponce has a long and fabled history that started during the heyday of Vietnam and almost concluded earlier this year

    Snatched from the scrapyard at the last minute, the Ponce was retrofitted to become the US's first ever floating staging base that can support other ships, aircraft, and troops in their own missions

    The only way onto the Ponce is by helicopter or small boat and we took a MH-53 helicopter from Bahrain

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    After months of development, China officially launched its much anticipated aircraft carrier, the Associated Press reports today.

    Named the Liaoning, the ship has yet to carry any aircraft however. Building the planes and teaching pilots to launch them is a high priority, but it's a complex process that will take some time to create and then to master.

    The former Soviet flattop Varyag was languishing in a Ukraine shipyard when picked up for a song by the Chinese in 1998.

    Since then, the Chinese have been hard at work coming up with the missing elements required to turn the ship into a fortress of the sea. The Varyag was missing the propulsion, navigation, and communication systems just to start with, and has been undergoing repeated sea trials over the past months to ensure just limited functionality.

    The ship started sea trials last year  and has J-15s practicing land based carrier takeoffs here in February, but only J-15 replicas on the deck at teh time.

    Now that's it's officially commissioned, the Lianing's first mission will be more training while it patrols China's shoreline and surely lends a presence to the East China Sea and the dispute with Japan over a series of disputed islands.

    Prior to the launch, China was the only of the permanent United Nations Security Council members to not have any carriers. The United States currently has 11 carriers spread across the world. though the USS Enterprise is on its last deployment and scheduled for decommission following its return to the states.

    The Liaoning is the first in a series of three carriers the Chinese expect to roll out over the coming years, with the next two produced domestically based on the technological understanding they glean from their work with the former Varyag.

    Now: Tour the first floating base in the Navy - the USS Ponce >


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    Gen. James Mattis

    It's difficult to explain the power and presence of a General. Not the one, two, or even three star varieties pounding around the world, overseeing bases, troops, and maneuvers, but a full-blown 4-Star Flag Officer.

    Meet "Mad Dog" Mattis >

    A flag officer is someone who's high ranking enough to fly a flag of his or her own above an area of command and can apply to any branch of service, but almost always to someone with at least one star on their uniform.

    There are only 38 4-stars floating about the five branches of the U.S. military and the ones holding positions of prominence and prestige are the closest thing to celebrities the military allows. 

    So when our Navy point of contact in Bahrain stepped in to where the media were waiting for its helicopter ride to the USS Ponce, and said General James "Mad Dog" Mattis was suddenly slated to be aboard, the room picked up an energy it'd been lacking in the heat and delay just a moment before.

    "The Marines on the ground look at Mattis like a superhero," former Marine and BI writer Geoffrey says. "They love him."

    Aside from his reputation and prodigious military accomplishments starting when he entered the Marines in 1972, General Mattis may best be known for his high-flying color and affection for quotes most Americans haven't heard since John Wayne quit the silver screen.

    My personal favorite Mattis quote may be this line he laid down during a meeting with Iraqi military officers in 2003 after sending tanks and artillery home: "I come in peace," he told them. "I didn't bring artillery. But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all."

    General Mattis commands U.S. Central Command, which includes the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia — and all of the Persian Gulf. So when Iran comes up in the news it's Gen. Mattis' business, and this week his business was important enough for him to leave his Tampa, FL HQ and fly into the Gulf for the mine sweeping exercise.

    About 20 or so of us landed on the Ponce in an MH-53 helicopter, about 80 miles off the coast of Iran, and our first stop was the mine exercise command center where we waited for General Mattis.

    Explaining the presence of a general is tough, so I put together this set of photographs to show what it was like waiting for General Mattis to arrive.

    I mean no disrespect, we didn't wait that long and the man commanded the room like no one else. While I took these shots I thought of another rule Mattis drilled into his Marines when they arrived in Iraq in 2003: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."

    The first thing you want to do as a 4-star is fill up the room with junior officers and members of the international press

    Make sure there are some senior officers, but from other navies, like the British to pose in front of maps and make pointing gestures for the TV cameras

    Try to maintain the crowd's patience through cool video feeds of the fleet's location

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    marines camoflage

    Earlier this summer we wrote: "The U.S. Marine Corps has long been known for doing more with less; smaller, more agile, and quick to react, it actually employed that ability when hunting for new uniforms in 2002.

    Check out the new camo >

    Erik German at The Daily tells the story of the Marines and the Army's uniform selections, mentioning a conversation he had with a textile technologist that shows the Marines flexibility and the Army's cumbersome bureaucracy.

    The Marines went to their sniper school at Quantico, Va., and told a couple of their guys to find a good camouflage color for the new uniform pattern. A group of snipers went to the local Home Depot and found the main base color in the Ralph Lauren section of the paint department. The color now called Coyote Brown went into the pattern of their very successful and well-loved MARPAT uniform pattern.

    This was also around the time the Army was sending its troops to Iraq with uniforms and body armor in a variety of mismatched patterns that, in effect, left U.S. soldiers wearing a target for the enemy to fire upon.

    Bedder explains that in response to this and the Marines new uniforms, the general in charge of Army uniform procurement told his staff to pick a color before trials were finished. 

    Five billion dollars, eight years later, and the Army is now doing the whole thing again. Over the next 12 months 1.1 million soldiers will be replacing their uniforms for something called Multicam.

    Hopefully this will work out better for troops, and won't have to be replaced again in a handful of years."

    Now see what direction that new camo may take.

    You just see the big picture and camo helps to confuse the eye

    Except there's someone with a weapon.

    Color schemes are chosen to mimic natural surroundings. 

    It's best that colors are contrasted with dark and light shades so that the wearer blends into the natural reflections and shadows we're used to seeing.

    Pixels disrupt what you see and break up straight lines that do not occur in nature

    Digital patterns re-create shapes found in nature, known as fractals, which we see as mere background noise.

    Pixels break up the fabric into a macropattern and a micropattern, so the design doesn't appear as a solid block. Even when picked up by infrared technology, the human form is broken up and its movements are masked.

    3-D Layering tricks your brain by creating depth and shadows where there may be none and refusing to allow an image to form

    We interpret gradients and layers of color as a textured surface with depth. In this case, the desert.

    ADS explains that the brain is deceived into regarding the fabric as part of the natural environment, rather than a solid flat surface. 

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    We have been covering the secret U.S. drone war and the impending flood of U.S. drones into domestic airspace, but one New York street artist has taken the discussion to a new level. 

    Going by the name "Essam," the artist told ANIMAL New York that he is a 29-year-old art-school grad from Maine who served in Iraq as a geo-spatial analyst.

    Over a two-day span in the last month he and his crew put up about 100 faux NYPD drone ads in various spots around the city to create a mainstream conversation about (potentially weaponized) drones coming to the skies above New York City and whether or not we as citizens want that to happen.

    ANIMAL reports that he is currently being pursued by the NYPD's “counter terrorism squad,” but we'd love to help extend the conversation that's he's having with the public.

    We are the definition of discrete, we'll leave our cell phones behind and meet wherever he'd like, but we're pretty determined to highlight the apparent injustice against him by the NYPD. All while covering the full scope of his work, and its message, in a featured photo essay.

    If you are "Essam" or know someone who knows him, please shoot us an email at or or a shoot Military Editor Robert Johnson a text at 917-715-6472.

    Here's an interview he gave to ANIMAL:

    SEE ALSO: This Heavily-Armed Drone Is Changing The Way America Wages War >

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    Chopper Hormuz

    The US Navy and allies just completed a 12-day mine clearing exercise in the Strait of Hormuz. While the military avoided mentioning the standoff with Iran, the message was clear.

    The allied nations were here and would do anything it takes to keep this critical 21-mile channel open.

    Here's what we saw in the Persian Gulf >

    It was August when I put up a post saying I wanted to attend this week's Persian Gulf mine clearing exercise. 

    After reporting Iran's incessant threats to mine the Strait of Hormuz and choke the global oil supply, I wanted some reality.

    I thought the words out of Iran would have a different meaning 50 miles offshore of the Islamic Republic, and would carry greater weight to the troops sailing through the Strait on a regular basis.

    I expected answers. Some concrete, hang-your-hat-on opinions and experience from U.S. Naval troops that would give face to the threat.

    To that end, I was disappointed. I mean, I should have known better. Known that the lower ranks are so busy performing the mission that they have little time to consider anything else. And the upper ranks aren't going to express anything outside policy: "The Iranian Navy has been nothing but professional and courteous," was the inescapable line last week.

    When I asked why the enlisted troops I spoke to had little awareness of what was happening in the Gulf, one Navy Lieutenant Commander told me, "We need them to be occupied every second of every day." He was referring to keeping sailors from dwelling on home and family and preserving morale, but the effect applies to current events, as well.

    Most sailors had little idea of Iran's bluster. And the few I talked to who were aware, just shrugged and laughed. "Doesn't matter much," they said. "The mission is the mission." In the end, it's still hot and they still get paid. 

    Fear is something that may flicker through the cockpit of an F/A-18 desperate to find its mark on a carrier deck at night, or appear full blown for an instant during one of the disfiguring accidents that plague carrier flight crew, but it rarely settles in for the night.

    Still this fails to explain how complex marine mines are, and how daunting the task of neutralizing them really is. With about a dozen variations, knowing a mine is laid remains only a fraction of the fight. Magnetic, resonant, triggered … there are mines for every occasion.

    Several admirals we spoke with pointed out how it costs as little as $1,000 to $1,500 to create a marine mine that could cause billions of dollars in damage. It's an almost romantic idea; biblical in its David-like ambition, but perhaps unlikely. 

    What officials refer to when they mention this figure and contraption is an animal bladder filled with fuel, placed near the surface of the sea. While not only being easy to identify but difficult to control and ignite, surface mines lack a formidable favor of physics.

    The deeper a mine, the greater the pressure imposed upon it by the water above, which results in a more powerful explosion when it detonates. 

    Just one of many slippery perceptions out here in the Gulf about a device that invites no easy answers.

    If Iran does manage to dump a string of mines into the Strait without the U.S. stopping them, it will take a long, long time to conclude an acceptable risk of passage.

    And as one Navy LT,—an oceanographer—told me, that is what it will come down to: acceptable risk. I pressed him, "So what? Eighty percent, 70, 65 percent secure? What's the number that sends commercial traffic back through the strait? Is it even a number?"

    "I don't know," he admitted. "But, yes, it is a number."

    Acceptable risk. If you're crewing a vessel through the Strait, you may want to check your company's insurance policy.

    As simple as it sounds, the only way to know all the mines are gone is to see that nothing explodes. If one gets missed, chances are someone will find it, but that won't keep the strait from serving global vessels and ensuring tankers make their way to the marketplace.

    But as picturesque as the strait may seem, it could just as easily become ground zero for the planet's next big global conflict.

    Every once in a while there comes a spot on the planet able to wreak all sorts of havoc on the world's plans

    Right now it's the 21-mile-wide Strait of Hormuz, which accommodates a third of the world's oil and faces constant threat from Iran's marine mines

    If this were a novel, we'd say here that 21 miles are all that stands between peaceful commerce and untold havoc

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    F-18, Hornet

    With the F-22 still unfit for combat, and the F-35 probably years away from service, the brunt of U.S. air power falls to the aging F/A-18.

    Having undergone extensive modifications and upgrades since its official introduction in the early 1980s, the F/A-18 comes in several variations — each of them designed to maintain America's air superiority — over any battlefield.

    From the decks of aircraft carriers, to air shows with the Blue Angels, here's a look at the country's premier military aircraft coveted by countries around the globe.

    The government ordered the F/A-18 Hornet in 1973 to replace the hugely popular F-14 Tomcat of 'Top Gun' Fame

    The Hornet is nothing more than a modified version of this prototype YF-17 Cobra

    The F/A-18 has a stronger airframe, better fuel capacity, as well as folding wings and catapult attachments

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    Aside from being killed by the Afghan troops they're tasked with training, the number one cause of death for U.S. troops in Afghanistan is IEDs.

    Improvised explosive devices can be made from virtually anything, detonated in any number of ways, and are nearly impossible to detect. The Taliban managed to lay 16,000 IEDs last year alone, and should exceed that number this year. 

    That means if a servicemember does any work "outside the wire" it's not a matter of if he'll be exposed to a device, it's a matter of when.

    This short, first-person video shows how suddenly that moment comes and what it looks like from the inside looking out. 

    Now: Check out the one-of-a-kind USS Ponce >

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    SEALs Chinook Yeah

    From high-speed low-visibility inserts of specialized SEAL teams to simple ammo drops at middle of nowhere posts in Afghanistan, this beast has been servicing those in service for more than 50 years.

    It's seen combat in so many different countries, if it were a soldier, it'd be one of the most decorated in the unit.

    Boeing is currently celebrating fifty years of CH-47 Chinook production, with the helicopters first rolling off the line in 1962

    The aircraft came to define a number of American conflicts, with unparalleled airlift abilities coming to center stage in every war since Vietnam

    The Chinook is a tandem-rotor helicopter, with each rotor spinning in a different direction to provide stability and maneuvering

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    washington aircraft carrier

    The USS George Washington and the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier strike groups (CSGs), a flotilla of five ships and more than 10,000 Navy personnel are now operating in the conflict ridden South China Sea area.

    The news was announced by the Navy a few days ago, but is now making the rounds in Asian media outlets, and generating as much speculation as it is concern.

    The Washington will be operating in the East China Sea near the disputed Diaoyutai islands controlled by Japan, but claimed by both Taiwan and China.

    The Stennis will be operating south of the Diaoyutai's in the South China Sea, where territorial disputes between China and its regional neighbors have been making headlines for months.

    There is speculation that the carrier assignments could just be coincidence, and while that's possible it's just as likely that the U.S. is doing it's part to fulfill three separate treaty obligations to allies in the region.

    Ralph Jennings at The Christian Science Monitor points out that the U.S. is "obligated by security pacts or acts of Congress to help defend Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines – all located off the east coast of rising military power and US cold-war rival China."

    In addition to the carrier groups, and two air wings comprising about 120 aircraft, Focus Taiwan reports the amphibious assault ship the USS Bonhomme Richard and two escorts are operating in the nearby Philippine Sea.

    Whether the U.S. is looking to reassure Japan, keep China in check, or simply rotating ships around a new schedule, there's little doubt many are taking consolation in the fact that the U.S. generally deploys three carriers to a region when planning for war.

    Now: Check out life what happens on the flight deck of an amphibious assault ship > 

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    When North Korea rained down a barrage of artillery on South Korea in the fall of 2010, killing four people and causing untold damage, neither the South nor the U.S. did much at all. It looks like that type of response is not going to happen again if reports from Yonhap News Agency are correct.

    The South Korean media outlet reports the U.S. Army is sending its  terribly effective M982 Excalibur artillery shells to the South Korean peninsula for use against North Korean artillery batteries.

    The border between the North and South is extremely mountainous, but that protective feature enjoyed by the North will become a thing of the past with delivery of Raytheon's and BAE's Excalibur.

    PAC-3Named one of the greatest inventions of 2007 by the Army, the M982 strikes almost vertically, hits within 13 feet of its target 92 percent of the time, and can be programmed to explode above a target or bury through concrete to find it.

    The Excalibur is used by five other allied countries, is accurate up to 22 miles away, runs about $54,000 to produce, and is guided by both GPS and inertial navigation. This combination guidance system makes the Excalibur exponentially more effective than traditional artillery, and combined with the multiple fuses, exponentially deadly as well.

    In addition to the artillery shells, the Pentagon is also sending additional Patriot-3 (PAC-3) missiles and ATACMS surface-to-surface missiles to U.S. Army bases in the South. The PAC-3 is the most advanced missile in the Patriot lineup and is used largely to take out other incoming missiles.


    At more than 13 feet long and two feet in diameter, the ATACMS is designed to strike deep behind enemy lines at high-value targets like airfields and missile sites.

    In addition to delivering a clear message to North Korea, this ordnance deployment is clearly part of the Pentagon's shift of focus to Asia, away from the Mid-East.

    If this new lineup doesn't cause North Korea to think twice before shelling the South in the future, the next time it happens will undoubtedly play out a whole lot differently.

     A field test video of the Excalibur is below:

    Now: Check out the hidden 5th floor of this Pyongyang hotel >

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