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Swedish Prime Minister rides tank



In recent months, the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea has drawn attention due to the Swedish government’s paranoid fear of a Russian invasion. Recently, the formerly demilitarized island has been visited by the Swedish Prime Minister, Defense Minister and a top US general in an attempt to bolster its image as an impregnable bastion.

Unproven accusations and unfounded fears have spurred Sweden into re-establishing a military presence on its largest Baltic island, which has a population of 55,000 and was previously described as a possible gateway for Russian “aggression,” however ridiculous it may sound. On Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven visited the island in the company of Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist to collect reports from the Swedish Air Force as well as Navy and Army personnel and to bolster Gotland’s defense profile.

“We want to send a signal to anyone who has any intention of attacking our territory that it will be very, very painful. When you are about to defend your territory, you do it properly. Nobody will come here unbidden,” Stefan Löfven said, as quoted by the Swedish newspaper Expressen.

To prove his point, Löfven himself took a ride in a RG32 armored vehicle and a Stridsvagn 122 tank, which is the Swedish version of the German Leopard tank. However, the image of Löfven clad in a tank crewman’s helmet provoked mockery from Swedish social media users. “Beware, Russians, you stand no chance against Löfven,” a user tweeted, hinting at Sweden’s fears of a Russian ‘invasion.’

Most of Gotland’s regiments were retired in the early and mid-2000s, and military operations have been largely put at rest since then. The 2015 defense agreement, however, ruled that troops will once again be permanently stationed on Gotland. In 2016, the first regiment was stationed on the Baltic island on a rotating basis to speed up the rearmament process. Once again, deteriorating safety in the Baltic Sea region and Russia’s aggression were cited as the reasons. Stefan Löfven admitted that removing Gotland’s defense was erroneous.

“I have always thought that Sweden generally plunged itself too far into the disarmament process. <…> Now we see the need to increase our defense capability, we intend to adhere to our non-alignment policy through increasing our own defense capability and expanding cooperation with other countries,” Stefan Löfven told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

Even Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said the visit was of great importance, stressing the significance of the recent decision to enhance the Swedish Armed Forces budget with an extra 500 million SEK ($56mln) in 2017.

“What we do on Gotland, and adding extra money to our spring budget, is a clear signal that Sweden has an ambition to defend the island. We realize Gotland’s strategic value, the fact that the control of the island is crucial for the control over the Baltic Sea and airways in connection with the Baltic States. Gotland is also important for Finland and mainland Sweden,” Peter Hultqvist said.

Earlier this week, US General David G. Perkins visited, among other things, the Tofta shooting range outside Gotland’s capital Visby, local news portal Hela Gotland wrote.

“Gotland is an unsinkable ship and has a strategically important position in the region. It’s not only important for Sweden to have a good defense here. We have a common vision of peace,” David G. Perkins told Hela Gotland.

General Perkins’s visit to Gotland may be seen as a prelude to a large-scale defense exercise with NATO forces scheduled later this year. Swedish Army Chief Karl Engelbrektson called the US “an important and strategic partner.”


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The Israeli Military May Soon Allow Women to Fight in Tanks



Israel has begun an experimental program to see whether women should be allowed to fight in tanks. The move comes as Russia has decided to allow women to pilot military jets, and the U.S. Marine Corps graduated its first female armor officer in April.

The Israeli project is using female soldiers who just finished their basic training. “For the past two weeks, 15 women have been participating in the program, testing their ability to operate tanks, including lifting shells, loading them, driving and firing,” an Israeli military spokesman told the Jerusalem Post earlier this month.

“The focus of the program is to examine the physical abilities of these troops who are divided into teams, each led by a male soldier in command of a Merkava Mark III tank – the most numerous model in front-line service,” the Post said. “Throughout all phases of the program, the women will be accompanied by experienced tank commanders, doctors, nutritionists and fitness experts.”

However, the Israel Defense Force test is also notable because of what it is not. Rather than mixed-gender crews, the tanks will be operated by female-only crews. The IDF has also said that the female-only tanks will not be committed directly into combat zones, but rather will be used for border security.

Why is the IDF considering women as tankers? The answer is not feminism but desperation. “The Armored Corps, in recent years, has become one of the least popular units for recruits because it is said to have the worst service conditions and fewer weekends off than other corps,” the Post pointed out.

Already the project has drawn fire. A former top Israeli commander says female tankers “would undermine in a very dangerous way the delicate and sensitive balance in an already volatile area of the IDF.” Much of that volatility is coming from ultra-Orthodox soldiers who object to serving alongside women.

“If we put two people into a closed box, there’s no way something won’t happen,” warns former IDF chief rabbi Yisrael Weiss. “We can’t put a couple, a man and a woman, a male soldier and a female soldier, into a closed box for a week and expect that nothing will happen. You’ll get a little tank soldier in another nine months.”

Israel is unusual in that women as well as men are subject to the draft, though about 50 percent of women qualify for exemptions on grounds such as religious belief, while about 25 percent of men get the same exemption. Women have long been employed in support roles, such as training snipers—even when women themselves are not employed as combat snipers. The Israeli Air Force graduated its first female fighter pilot in 2001.

The IDF already has women in combat units, notably the Caracal infantry battalion. But unlike regular tank crews or the women in the pilot project, Caracal is a co-ed unit where women serve in combat alongside men.

For the United States, the issue about women tankers isn’t so much religious belief as in Israel, though some of the opposition does seem to be rooted in American conservative dogma that a woman’s place isn’t in the turret. But for both the United States and Israel, the real question will boil down to how well women can do the job. Though tankers get to ride rather than walk to work, it’s still a physically demanding job to change a broken track or load shells. And, as the IDF rabbi pointed out, it is putting young men and women into a confined space—though not a very romantic one.

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North Korea Building Their First Nuclear Submarine



North Korea launched a new ballistic missile from submarine

Japanese media outlets are reporting that North Korea is clandestinely building a nuclear-powered submarine that they hope to have operational by 2020. The reports come from an anonymous but “informed” source.

Japanese newspaper Sekai Nippo claims that the “informed” source “familiar with the North Korea situation” told them that the DPRK has been clandestinely building the nuclear submarine, which would be a massive leap forward from the current DPRK Navy, which may maintain a fleet of 50 to 60 diesel-electric submarines.

The source went on to claim that Chinese and Russian engineers have been lending their expertise to the DPRK at North Korea’s Nampo Naval Shipyard, in North Korea’s manufacturing capital.

While nuclear submarines are significantly more difficult and expensive to produce than conventional diesel-electric ones, they are also faster, more powerful, more versatile, and have a wider range since they can stay underwater for much longer without needing to resurface and refuel.

Nuclear submarines are often paired with ballistic missiles, and they can greatly increase a nation’s power projection and are a stealthier launch method than firing from a ground-based silo. Analysts have suspected that the DPRK is interested in nuclear submarines for this reason, as Pyongyang has greatly bolstered their missile program in recent years.

In the US Navy, nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles form part of the Nuclear Triad, which guarantees the ability of the United States to return fire in the event of a sudden nuclear strike, since finding and destroying all missile submarines before they can launch their missiles is effectively impossible.

Since 2014, North Korea has test launched their Pukguksong-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) at least six times. An operational Pukguksong-1 could be loaded into a nuclear submarine, which could then maneuver into international waters and fire a missile that would be nearly impossible to intercept. The Pukguksong-1 could also hypothetically be equipped with a small nuclear warhead.

The US military has been closely monitoring the North Korean navy after what they suspect was an “ejection test” of the Pukguksong-1 in August. In May, think tank 38 North claimed that satellite imagery identified what appeared to be a test site for SLBMs at Nampo.

As the US bloc continue to ramp up military and economic pressure on North Korea, Pyongyang has given no indications of blinking. “The increased moves of the US and its vassal forces to impose sanctions and pressure on the DPRK will only increase our pace towards the ultimate completion of the state nuclear force,” said their state news agency in a Monday press release.

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