15-30 June 2018
1. North Korea Could Roll Back on Summit Promises
The summit held in Singapore between President Trump and Supreme leader Kim Jong-Un came with both praise and criticism. Most critics referenced the summit as the legitimization of North Korea’s human rights abuses, citing that they should have been addressed before all else. Those who praised the summit saw it as the first step in moving forward in the denuclearization of the peninsula, which will lead not only to a safer United States but also to a more stable Pacific theater and overall international community. The summit deserves credit where credit is due and recognition for its successes. At the same time, these successes should not overshadow the historical irrationality of the North Korean government nor the looming threat of China.
The possibility of North Korea continuing its production of nuclear weapons is still in the picture and should remain in the sights of the Trump administration. Recently the US saw Iran disregard pieces of their own nuclear deal, as discovered by Israeli Mossad agents in February of 2018, North Korea has the potential to do the same. The pledge to denuclearize was first and foremost on the administration’s to-do list for the summit. Part of the deal in denuclearization included the United States eventual withdrawal of combat troops from the Korean peninsula, something both North Korea and China have wanted for quite some time. The end state of peace is an idealistic goal, some level of tension will always be present in the foreign policy realm between the US, North Korea, and China. In moving forward, the administration should keep in mind that North Korea might be set on a different path than they had agreed to, planning nuclear tests and joint operations with China in secret.
With nuclear weapons, it is possible that North Korea avoids the denuclearization efforts in secret – building test sites underneath their mountainous regions and continuing the development of nuclear capabilities. The recent collapse of the North Korea’s main nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, began to beg the question as to whether or not Kim Jong-Un had reversed his first promise to end nuclear testing. The explosion which rendered the site unuseable was estimated at more than 100 kilotons of TNT, significantly larger than any other test by the North and far larger than needed to collapse the site for diplomatic reasons, which just goes to pose the question ‘why.’
China’s position on the issue should also be taken into account when analyzing the possible long-term outcomes of the Singapore summit and its agreements. China has long strived for the United States to remove themselves from the Pacific theater, starting on the Korean peninsula. Already, the idea of ending the exercises between South Korea and US forces has gained attention and rebuttal. If North Korea is going to start acting as a true international member, the connection between them and China is bound to grow, exemplified in Kim Jong-Un’s recent meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping. China, like Russia, is expansionist in nature, meaning the removal of US troops from the Korean peninsula could mean trouble.
2. U.S. Military to Step Up Operations in African Theaters
In October of 2017, the death of four soldiers assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group brought attention to the African theater of operations and the presence of United States Military personnel located there. Barely a week ago, one soldier was killed and four others wounded in an ambush by Al-Shabab militants in Somalia, again raising public awareness. The results of a raised public awareness can be both good and bad. The general public should know where and why their military members are fighting, but public outcry – stemming largely from a lack of education on why the U.S. chooses to engage in African operations – is often harmful to the military and government leadership as well as the families grieving the sacrifices their loved ones choose to make.
United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM), oversees all the operations which are carried out in the African theater and currently maintains approximately 2000 total soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Composing a significant part of this force are special operations soldiers who have traditionally held the role of trainers, which aid local governments in developing their own military forces. Most of the recent casualties in Africa have come due to “side by side” training mission.
As the United States begins to transition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, further away from combat patrols and operations, the African arena will see growth. Fighting off radicalization and paving the way for local governments to regain and maintain control over troubled areas in their own countries. 53 total African countries are following the mission plan set forth by the US, with a rising radicalization rate, more African countries may choose to follow suit.
3. A New and Improved Army (Part II)
It is no secret that the United States military is attempting to expand into the exoskeleton market. Part I discusses how the military, specifically the Army went about doing so. Amidst the Army developing the third-arm prototype (see also Part I), it has been released that the lower body exoskeleton, ONYX, designed by Lockheed Martin will be received by soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division to begin its development.
The ONYX system itself is a lower-body exoskeleton, “aims to ease the burden and prevent injuries” (armytimes.com, Todd South). The modern soldier continues to suffer from knee, hip, and back pain from the amount of movement being done with added weight in the environments that they’re currently operating in. “The exoskeleton allows a soldier to transfer the weight of the load from his or her frame to the device” (armytimes.com, South). The University of Michigan’s Human Neuromechanics Laboratory completed tests that have shown “reduced exertion” while using the exoskeleton. Keith Maxwell, the senior program engineer for Lockheed Martin’s exoskeleton technologies, stated that “the ONYX device has shown considerable promise in clean environments, the big step will be ruggedizing it for fieldwork.” (armytimes.com).
For the ONYX system to make “the big step” to becoming a more rugged system, the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division located in Fort Drum, New York will be the first to test the system as early as this fall. The system will go through at least three phases of testing. The first phase will be where soldiers have fielded the system and ensure it is comfortable and fits the soldier properly; this is set to last six months. The second phase will begin in 2019 where the developers will start to incorporate parts that make the system faster and quieter, which will also be tested by the 10th Mountain. Lastly, comes the ‘ruggedization’ process that Maxwell was referring to earlier, this process is still unclear. Finally, in 2021, the Army will decide if or when the ONYX system will be fielded across the Army.
It seems as though the Army is making a genuine attempt at the exoskeleton industry, and is continuing to move forward with a number of projects and prototypes to include the TALOS suit being designed for Special Operations Command, the third-arm prototype, as well as prototypes designed to “take robotic vehicles to act as gear mules.” (armytimes.com, South), with the potential for more. When the 10th Mountain fields the ONYX system in the fall of 2018, expect there to be many issues with the system, and more than likely for there to be setbacks. This isn’t to say the ONYX system will be a failure. However, there will be plenty of work in its future before the Army decides to field it.