Posted tagged ‘U.S. military’

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders

August 12, 2017

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders, DEBKAfile, August 12, 2017

Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.

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The transformation of a small, strategic wedge of land between the Syrian, Israeli, Jordanian and Iraqi borders is going forward apace without arousing much interest – even in Israel, where it should cause the most concern, DEBKAfile reports.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, two Russian army companies of Ingushet troops from the northern Caucasus set up a command post in the Syrian village of Tal al-Shahm, 13km from Israel’s Golan border. Its commander, Col. Alexei Kozin, has thus taken charge of Syria’s border with Israel. As DEBKAfile reported last month, his task is to set up 10 control checkpoints along that border.

This border area was designated as one of four de-escalation zones agreed on between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at their meeting in Hamburg on July 7.

According to understandings reached between Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem, the UN separation force (UNDOF) will return to its Fawar base opposite Quneitra as a buffer between IDF and Russian forces. Its past history in this role between IDF and Syrian forces was never exactly impressive.

A piece of diplomacy consistent with this process was contributed by Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, Aug. 11. It was an assurance that Russia would take into account Israel’s interests in Jerusalem in the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

It also fits in with the surprising statement from Washington on the same day, namely, that Donald Trump, although in the midst of a fearsome crisis with North Korea with military overtones, is planning to send his senior adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Israel-Palestinian peace broker Jason Greenblatt, on an early visit to the Middle East to continue this mission.

To see how these disparate elements fill out the whole picture, we turn 70km east from Quneitra on the Syria Golan to the battles ongoing at Sweida in southeastern Syria opposite the Jordanian and Iraqi borders. Russian troops moved into the key town of Daraa, abutting on the Jordanian border on July 13. Like in Quneitra, a month later, they set up command posts to monitor the first de-escalation or ceasefire zone to be set up under the Hamburg accord.

The Russian troops’ assignment was to stop the fighting there and execute the withdrawal of the combatant forces, the Syrian army, Iran, and its foreign Shiite militias, including Hizballah, to a distance of 40km from the border.

But that arrangement never stood up.

Nearly four weeks later, on Wednesday night, Aug. 9, on the same night that Russian troops moved into Quneitra, the Syrian army and Hizballah launched a major offensive in Sweida province. Three days later, by Saturday, they had forced the local rebel forces to retreat into Jordan and seized 57km of Syria’s southern frontier with the Hashemite Kingdom.

Neither the Russians nor the American interfered with the Syrian-Hizballah-led push, although the Russians took responsibility for maintaining the ceasefire, and US special forces were and still are posted to the east of Sweida at Al-Tanf in the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle.

(See attached map)

DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the Syrian-Hizballah offensive violated the ceasefire deal. Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

The Sweida episode demonstrated how the Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah alliance sees its way to using the Trump-Putin ceasefire zones accord as an open door for seizing control of southern Syria and grabbing the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

The Syrian rebel movement is disintegrating at an alarming rate following the “Jubeir earthquake,” as it has become known – another momentous event which Western and Israeli front pages have chosen to ignore.

Last week, Saudi Foreign Mniser Adel al-Jubeir reportedly informed a delegation of Syrian opposition leaders invited to Riyadh that his government was pulling its support from their fighting militias, in the wake of President Trump’s decision to reduce US military action in Syria solely to the war on ISIS – and therefore end US resistance to the Assad regime.

Saudi officials did not deny the report, only termed it “inaccurate.”

But meanwhile, the decisions by Riyadh and Washington to abandon the anti-Assad cause spread like wildfire among Syrian rebel groups. Many responded by laying down their arms and surrendering.

The fate of the rebel movement after six years of cruel warfare against the dictator Bashar Assad should be an object lesson to other recipients of American and Russian promises. Therefore, Lavrov’s pledge to take Israel’s interests in Jerusalem into account should be taken with a pinch of salt. He was most likely shooting a line to allay Israeli skepticism about the prospect of Russian troops keeping Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah troops at bay from its northern border – even through this pledge was underwritten by Washington.

Instead of taking the two powers at their word, Israel need only watch what is going on in the last few hours just across the border at Sweida, to appreciate the value of such promises.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.

U.S. and Guam Shielded From North Korean Missiles by High-Tech Defenses

August 10, 2017

U.S. and Guam Shielded From North Korean Missiles by High-Tech Defenses, Washington Free Beacon, August 10, 2017

Kim Jong Un / Getty Images

Amid growing missile threats from North Korea, American missile defenses based in Alaska, California, and Guam, as well as on Navy ships, are capable of knocking out North Korean nuclear missiles, according to military leaders and experts.

Missile Defense Agency Director Air Force Lt. General Samuel Greaves said Wednesday he is confident current defenses would be effective against Pyongyang’s missiles.

“Yes, we believe that the currently deployed ballistic missile defense system can meet today’s threat, and we’ve demonstrated that capability through testing,” Greaves told a conference in Alabama.

Contrary to critics who say ground-based interceptors and naval anti-missile systems are unreliable, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, a former MDA director, says the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) provides the best protection from a long-range North Korean strike.

Yet other shorter-range defenses such as the land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, and the Navy’s ship-based Aegis SM-3 missiles can knock out medium and intermediate-range North Korean missiles, and if given enough satellite warning could attack North Korea’s ICBM warheads, he said.

“Any interceptor can intercept any missile, given the right parameters,” Obering said in an interview.

“I have high confidence that if we were attacked by North Korea we would be able to defend ourselves.”

President Trump has declared North Korea will not be allowed to develop a nuclear missile capable of striking the United States. On Tuesday he warned that continued North Korean threats against the United States would result in “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

North Korea responded by announcing that an attack on the American Pacific island of Guam is being considered.

On Wednesday, the official KCNA news agency dismissed Trump’s warning as a “load of nonsense.”

“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” the state media organ said.

The heated rhetoric prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to reiterate U.S. military capabilities, including missile defenses, in a statement Wednesday.

“The United States and our allies have the demonstrated capabilities and unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from an attack,” Mattis said.

Noting the unified vote condemning North Korea at the United Nations on Saturday, Mattis said “Kim Jong Un should take heed” of those who agree North Korea poses a threat to global security and stability.

North Korea “must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that Pyongyang “should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

Mattis said Trump was notified of the growing missile threat and his first orders were to emphasize the readiness of both missile defenses and nuclear deterrent forces.

The defense secretary added that the “combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on earth,” and noted that the Kim Jong Un regime’s actions “will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said recently that he is concerned about growing missile threats from both North Korea and Iran and wants better sensors and interceptors for missile defenses.

“I’m concerned about any missile threat that is growing and can either range our allies or the United States,” he said in Omaha last month.

“But when I look at where we need to invest in future missile defenses, I see the most important thing that we have to invest in right now would be increased sensor capabilities because we need to be able to characterize the threat wherever it is on the globe in order to be able to effectively respond to it with defenses.”

Hyten also favors adding sensors in space “because you can’t have access to enough land points in the world to have a full sensor capability, so we need to go to space.”

Next is the need for improved interceptors.

“We have interceptors right now that are good enough to deal with the basic North Korean threat that is out there right now,” Hyten said. “But the threat is maturing fast and we have to improve our interceptor capability fast enough to stay with them.”

The Pentagon is developing an advanced kill vehicle that will be added current interceptors in Alaska and California. New technology is also available to deal with maneuvering warheads.

Hyten said he would favor building space sensors and better interceptors before setting up a third based on the East Coast for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense.

The Pentagon is currently conducting a major review of ballistic missile defense policy that will set the course of current and future defenses.

“There’s a ballistic missile defense review underway right now that will say where we have to go in terms of capacity, whether it’s more in the West, more in the East,” Hyten said.

“But I continue to advocate to make sure we don’t in the discussion on capacity miss the need for improved sensors and improved interceptors that will really enable decisions we have coming out of the review.”

The ground based missile defenses that would be used against a North Korean ICBM include 36 interceptors mainly based at Fort Greely, Alaska with a smaller number located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California.

The interceptors are equipped with kinetic kill vehicles that travel at very high speeds and ram into enemy warheads in space.

Command centers are located in Colorado Springs and Fort Greely.

Obering said the command and control for missile defense is highly automated because of the need to respond very quickly to a missile launch by North Korea that would be spotted by special military satellites focused on North Korea.

Once detected the system predicts an “impact fan” of potential target areas and if the track indicates it is going to hit the continental United States, Alaska or Hawaii.

“If that fan touches any of the defended area that is programed into the Ground Based Midcourse system, the system automatically alerts,” Obering said.

The alert notifies commanders that a missile is inbound heading for a specific area. Then electronic sensors around the world, including radar, begin searching for the missile.

The sensor information is then fed into the fire control system that assesses which data is more reliable and selects an interceptor to attack the warhead.

“The system then determines what would be the most optimum shot, either from Vandenberg or Alaska,” Obering said. “The human has to enable it. It has to say, ‘Ok, you’re authorized to launch.’ But everything else is done automatically.”

For Guam, currently a THAAD battery is deployed to the island and Aegis missile defenses ships also are likely being deployed near the island in the event North Korea would attempt to strike the island.

North Korea has three ICBMs, the Taepodong-2, Hwasong-13, and Hwasong-14. Those would not be used for strikes on Guam. Other medium-range or intermediate range missiles such as the Musudan or Hwasong-12 could be used.

Those missiles can be countered by THAAD and Aegis ships.

Obering said current defenses are capable against North Korean missiles today but need to be upgraded. “We certainly need to add more interceptors, we need to add more sensors and we need to do much more in terms of fielding advanced capabilities to stay ahead of the North Korean threat and the Iranian threat as well,” he said.

The MDA budget should be increased to $10 billion to $12 billion annually, he said.

For example, in addition to using space satellites for warning, satellites should be used for tracking in order to provide more precision for missile defenses.

“When you do that, you get dramatically improved sensor coverage,” Obering said. Space based sensors would bolster the three most effective missile defenses: GMD, THAAD and Aegis.

Another step to increase the lethality of missile defenses would be to use what is called cooperative engagement capabilities—the ability to use multiple tracking and guidance sensors on various missile defense systems.

For example, the Navy’s SM-3 missile has a range greater than the Aegis radar and thus could be extended by using data from other longer-range radar.

“That’s what we mean by an integrated system—the ability to take any sensor and marry it with any interceptor,” Obering said.

Cooperative engagement has been tested several times and more are scheduled.

Obering said missile defenses are proving opponents wrong. Many arm control advocates for decades opposed all missile defenses by arguing the defenses undermined arms control agreements.

“Just imagine where we would have been in the late 1990s and early 2000s if we would have listened to the critics and listened to those who said we don’t need to field missile defenses,” he said.

Without missile defenses, there would be only two options for military commanders: preemptive attacks or retaliation after being attacked.

“And now we have another option and that’s very critical,” Obering said.

House passes NDAA authorizing huge spending boost for Trump’s Defense Department

July 14, 2017

House passes NDAA authorizing huge spending boost for Trump’s Defense Department, Washington ExaminerTravis J. Tritten, July 14, 2017

Senators are now weighing an NDAA authorizing $700 billion in spending, which also blows past Trump’s defense budget and also hikes aircraft, ship and troop numbers.

That bill has not yet made it to the Senate floor but could be considered before senators leave Washington at the end of the month for the summer recess.

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The House on Friday passed a defense policy bill that calls for more ships, aircraft, and soldiers, and authorizes $696 billion in defense spending in fiscal year 2018, well above President Trump’s request.

The House approved the National Defense Authorization Act after days of debate that saw lawmakers block many controversial amendments to the bill, including a proposed ban on transgender medical care for troops and the closure of excess military facilities. The House defeated that in a narrow 209-214 vote.

On Friday morning, the House also shot down a proposal from Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., that would have required the Defense Department to assess the use of violent Islamic religious doctrine to support terrorism. Lawmakers defeated that amendment in another close vote, 208-217, which was followed by cheers on the floor from some Democrats.

A measure creating a new Space Corps military service survived debate and remained in the bill despite opposition from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Air Force leaders and the White House.

Despite these disputes, the NDAA passed easily in a bipartisan, 344-81 vote. Majorities in both parties supported it, and just eight Republicans voted against it along with 73 Democrats.

The House-passed NDAA bill would add 17,000 soldiers to the Army, something requested by the service but unfunded under the president’s budget, as well as authorize purchase of four additional Navy ships, 17 more F-35 fighter jets, and eight more F/A-18 Super Hornet jets. The House bill is comprised of two sections, one that would authorize $631.6 billion in base defense spending, and $65 billion in overseas war spending.

Trump requested a $603 billion defense plan in May that was already an increase over last year’s funding, but still focuses on shoring up existing forces and pushes his promised military buildup into 2019.

The House’s NDAA defense bill must be reconciled with Senate plans, but the vote Friday was another sign the two chambers may push big increases for the military for the coming fiscal year.

Senators are now weighing an NDAA authorizing $700 billion in spending, which also blows past Trump’s defense budget and also hikes aircraft, ship and troop numbers.

That bill has not yet made it to the Senate floor but could be considered before senators leave Washington at the end of the month for the summer recess.

Trump Admin Authorizes Strikes on Iranian-Backed Forces

July 5, 2017

Trump Admin Authorizes Strikes on Iranian-Backed Forces, Washington Free Beacon, July 5, 2017

(Please see also, Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones. — DM)

Syrian regime and pro-regime forces inspect an area recently recaptured from the Islamic State near Aleppo / Getty Images

U.S. forces have been instructed to take all measures needed to protect American interests in Syria, including military measures, as part of a new strategy that comes after top officials in the Trump administration assessed that Iran is deliberately probing American weaknesses and reactions on the Syrian battlefield, according to senior Trump administration officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

Iran-backed forces, including Hezbollah, have already initiated multiple encounters with the United States by violating agreements worked out between Washington and Moscow aimed at preventing the various factions targeting ISIS inside Syria from coming into conflict. This is part of a campaign that analysts inside and outside the White House believe is aimed at testing the Trump administration’s resolve, sources said.

“That was very clearly a process of the Iranians and Hezbollah and [the] Syrian regime probing and testing our limits, and testing how much we were willing to do,” one senior Trump administration official said. “In every case, it was a matter of them testing and probing, and us responding by defending ourselves.”

These clashes were the result of pro-Syrian regime forces, including Iran and Hezbollah, “violating a de-confliction measure that had been worked out with the Russians,” the official said. “The forces violated the measure.”

The Trump administration has instructed U.S. forces to respond to Iranian attacks with force if necessary.

“What they found out very quickly,” said the official, was “us responding by defending ourselves. What was established was that we’re determined to defend ourselves.”

This new strategy is being implemented at the same time the Trump administration turns its attention to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Islamic Republic’s paramilitary force that coordinates operations in Syria and other warzones.

Trump administration officials view the IRGC as being part of “every malignant protrusion of the Iranian regime,” according to one administration official, who said the White House is dually focused on choking off this force.

The actions by U.S. forces are part of a broader pushback against Iran, ranging from battlefield responses to diplomatic action, according to a veteran Iran policy analyst who has been briefed by the White House both on parts of the Syria strategy and on parts of an ongoing Iran policy review being conducted by the administration.

The Free Beacon first reported many details of the review several weeks ago, including actions by the Trump administration to potentially block the sale of U.S. commercial aircraft to Tehran.

“For the first time since the U.S. intervened into the Syrian conflict, American forces have been authorized to do take all measures to defend U.S. interests against Iranian provocations and aggression,” said the source. “This is part of a concrete strategy that has already been implemented in part, and is being bolstered every day, but very senior Trump officials. No more of watching U.S. forces get rolled in Syria, and also no more of thanking Iran after they seize our sailors in the Gulf.

One senior Trump administration official familiar with the Iran policy review said the White House is currently “in the thick of it,” evaluating a range of options to confront Iran’s global terror operations.

The review expands far beyond the landmark nuclear deal, according to the administration officials.

“The tack we’ve taken is not to put the [Iran deal] at the center of the policy,” one senior administration official said. “The goals we set out focus on how to neutralize the threat the Iranian regime poses to the US and its allies in the region.”

U.S. official see the nuclear deal as secondary given Iran’s continued terrorist operations and pursuit of illicit arms. This is why the IRGC’s activities have become a source of concern in the White House.

“You find the IRGC in every malignant protrusion of the Iranian regime,” the senior administration official said. “They’re in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon,” and elsewhere.

As the U.S. plots its course with Iran, the Islamic Republic continues to invest in a massive military buildup that many believe has been partially funded by the economic sanctions relief granted under the former Obama administration.

Iranian military officials announced on Monday that the country will soon implement its own version of Russia’s advanced S-300 missile defense system, which Tehran purchased in a controversial arms deal opposed by many Western nations.

“Steady work efforts are being made on Bavar 373 missile system and a number of tests have been carried out on this system, and these tests will continue until the date of delivery,” according to Iranian military officials, who predicted the system would be perfected by March of next year.

Ignatius: Fighters in Syria Cheer Mention of Trump’s Name

July 3, 2017

Ignatius: Fighters in Syria Cheer Mention of Trump’s Name, Washington Free Beacon, July 3, 2017

 

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said Monday that during his travels in Syria, rebel fighters there cheered any mention of President Donald Trump’s name.

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Ignatius prefaced his comments by warning that he would say something “sympathetic to Trump.” It was only the second airing of the show since Trump touched off a firestorm with his tweets mocking Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

“As I traveled across Syria meeting with Syrian fighters who were trying to take down the regime of Bashar al-Assad, every time the name President Trump was mentioned, there were cheers from the audience,” he said in a clip flagged by Legal Insurrection.

One Syrian Kurdish commander, Ignatius said, colorfully remarked Trump had the equivalent of what would be called “cajones” in Spanish. Ignatius said Trump’s looser approach allowed commanders on the ground to more expeditiously carry out operations.

“More seriously, the big attacks that have taken place around Raqqa, one in particular, a surprise landing by helicopter, I was told, by the top U.S. commanders, would not have taken place if it hadn’t been for President Trump’s decision to delegate military authorities down to the level of command,” Ignatius said. “Under Obama, that would have taken a couple weeks of White House meetings, and they still wouldn’t have made up their mind.”

In March, the U.S. airlifted hundreds of fighters in an attack to help cut off Raqqa, the Islamic State’s proclaimed capital. The New York Times reported this was a result of Trump’s delegating approach.

Trump ordered a retaliatory strike against Syria in April after Assad’s regime killed more than 80 people in a chemical attack. Last week, the White House publicly threatened him with a “heavy price” if he carried out another attack.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Trump’s warning to the Syrian regime to not deploy a chemical weapons attack saved “many innocent men, women and children.”

Men Like These

June 22, 2017

Men Like These, Bill Whittle Channel via YouTube, June 21, 2017

The short blurb beneath the video summarizes:

A former Special Forces soldier in Mosul runs, unarmed, through an ISIS free-fire zone to rescue an Iraqi child. The video illustrates a story that’s not told often enough, but Scott Ott, Bill Whittle and Stephen Green work to remedy that.

Assad and Putin are testing the US in Syria. Trump is answering.

June 19, 2017

Assad and Putin are testing the US in Syria. Trump is answering., Washington ExaminerTom Rogan, June 19, 2017

(Please see also, Missile strike on ISIS turning Iran into a world power. — DM)

The United States remains the world’s sole superpower. Realistic in our appraisal of national interests and prudent in their pursuit, our adversaries must never doubt our resolve.

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On Sunday, an F-18 fighter jet (almost certainly from the Mediterranean-deployed USS George H.W. Bush carrier strike group), downed a Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter jet.

It was the right decision for both tactical and strategic reasons.

For a start, the Syrian jet was bombing United States allies (the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces) on the ground. It was warned, but did not retreat.

Yet it’s not just relevant who the Syrians were bombing, it’s also important where they were doing so. Because the Su-22 was striking targets in north-central Syria, proximate to the Islamic State capital, Raqqa, and a town and dam, Taqba.

That locale matters for two reasons.

First, because the Syrian axis (Bashar Assad, Russia, Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and other associated Shiite militias) are determined to displace U.S./allied forces from that area. The Assad axis recognizes that if it secures Taqba, it can push east of the Euphrates river and degrade anti-regime forces operating there with U.S. protection. As I’ve explained, this area of northern Syria is crucial for the future of the Syrian civil war.

Second, had the U.S. allowed axis forces to displace Kurdish forces from the area, the axis would have been able to disrupt the operation to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State. While the axis argue that they support the U.S.-led effort to defeat the Islamic State, the reality is different.

After all, the axis have vested interests in allowing the Islamic State to survive in some form. While the Islamic State is indeed their enemy, its existence allows the axis to pretend that the choice in Syria is between Assad, and the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Russia, especially, uses this narrative to delegitimate and attack more-moderate U.S.-supported Syrian rebel groups. Ever notice that the Russians always claim they are bombing “terrorists” in Syria? The Islamic State gives them that excuse.

Absent the threat of the Islamic State, the axis powers know that the world would view the Syrian regime much more harshly. Absent international jihadist groups in Syria, the regime would no longer be able to claim “we’re the best of a bad bunch.”

Still, there’s a broader issue at stake here.

This latest axis push against U.S. interests is just the tip of the iceberg. As I noted recently, the axis is also threatening a major U.S. base in south-eastern Syria. Collectively, these efforts are designed to test the Trump administration’s commitment to U.S. interests in Syria. Put simply, by escalating their threat against the U.S., and by dangling the prospect of future U.S. casualties, the Assad axis wishes for the Trump administration to back away from its resistance to Assad’s regime. They believe that, as was the case with President Barack Obama’s red lines, the U.S. can ultimately be compelled to yield.

For that reason, the U.S. response on Sunday was the right one.

A two-person U.S. aircrew in an advanced multirole fighter met a Soviet-era aircraft and outmatched it.

The United States remains the world’s sole superpower. Realistic in our appraisal of national interests and prudent in their pursuit, our adversaries must never doubt our resolve.