It’s been four months since mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka) started in Belarus. Police have arrested thousands and judges have convicted hundreds. People across different professions, including journalists and entrepreneurs, now have personal experience with political repression. Alexander Vasilevich (Aliaksandr Vasilevich), a gallerist, co-owner of an advertising agency, and co-founder of the digital newspaper “The Village Belarus,” is one of the businessmen targeted by the authorities. In a special report for Meduza, journalist Alexey Shumkin tells Vasilevich’s story.
Key point: With the right, highly manuverable, high-tech projectile artillery could eliminate missiles. However, that is a hard feat and may be hard to make commonplace.
In an amazing first, an artillery cannon took out a cruise missile.
An M109 Paladin 155mm Howitzer made history recently by shooting down a fast-moving maneuvering cruise missile with a “hypervelocity projectile” able to travel at speeds up to Mach 5, according to an Air Force announcement. Historically, armored vehicles such as tanks, howitzers or infantry carriers have not operated with an ability to destroy fast-moving, long-range cruise missiles, yet the successful demonstration breaks new ground.
The shoot-down, which took place at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, destroyed a “surrogate” Russian cruise missile target using the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).
In development for several years now, ABMS represents an Air Force technical initiative to engineer a “meshed” network of otherwise disconnected sensor “nodes” throughout a theater of combat operations. While an Air Force program, the effort is intended by all estimations to inform the Pentagon’s broader Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) technological system.
The concept with JADC2 is to integrate sensor-to-shooter capabilities across air-land-sea-space and cyber domains in real-time, decreasing latency, expediting attacks and bringing new dimensions to “joint warfare.”
“Future battlefields will be characterized by information saturation. One of the key objectives of this onramp was to present a dizzying array of information for participants to synthesize, just like they would see in a real operation,” Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in an Air Force report.
Firing a hypervelocity projectile (HVP) from an artillery cannon is a concept which has been under-development for many years, dating back to Roper’s time directing the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. The origins of the HVP can be traced to the Navy’s Rail Gun developmental effort as well as initiatives intended to explore firing the HVP from deck-mounted guns on Navy surface ships.
Due to its ability to reach speeds of up to 5,600 miles per hour, the hypervelocity projectile is engineered as a kinetic energy warhead, meaning no explosives are necessary. It can travel at speeds up to 2,000 meters per second, a speed which is about three times that of most existing weapons. The weapon brings such force, power and range that could hold enemies at risk from greater distances and attack targets with the kinetic energy force equivalent to a multi-ton vehicle moving at 160 miles per hour, developers have said.
The success of the shootdown, Roper added, relied upon the integration of AI-enabled data-analytics increasingly able to gather, organize, analyze data with great reliability in a near instantaneous fashion. So not only will air-sea-and land targeting sensors have an ability to exchange information across otherwise disparate information systems, but AI-enabled algorithms can gather the data, perform near real-time analytics and efficiently distribute organized information where needed. Longer-range sensors also further enable this technical possibility, allowing for bombers in the air, surface ships, fighter jets, drones and land-based command and control to operate across previously inaccessible vast distances.
“This compelled commanders and operators to trust data analytics and artificial intelligence to understand the battle. Valuing data as an essential warfighting resource, one no less vital than jet fuel or satellites, is the key to next-gen warfare,” Roper said.
AI-empowered algorithms can gather information and bounce new data off of a nearly limitless database to establish comparisons, identify items of relevance, perform analyses, solve problems and efficiently organize problem-solving “data.” The success of this relies upon a number of variables, including increased reliability of algorithms programmed to identify patterns, recognize essential indicators and provide the necessary context. This will let American forces act quicker than before and hopefully quicker than any adversaries.
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. This first appeared earlier this year and is being reposted due to reader interest.
On 4 October, the city of Stepanakert, the capital of the unrecognized self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, got hit by an artillery strike, with an Armenian MoD representative warning of civilian casualties inflicted during the attack.
With the current clashes in the Nagorno-Karabakh region continuing for a week now, the defense ministries of both Armenia and Azerbaijan have presented new videos from the conflict zone.
The two vids were posted on YouTube on 4 October, both lauding the exploits of their troops in the manner of previous such releases.
The footage published online by the Armenian side allegedly depicts a group of Azerbaijani troops coming under fire and fleeing in the vicinity of Madagiz.
On 3 October, the Azerbaijani side announced that it had successfully captured the village of Madagiz, though forces of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic disputed that claim.
The video shared by the Azerbaijani side allegedly shows Azerbaijani soldiers raising their country’s flag over a captured Armenian position.
The city of Stepanakert, which serves as the capital of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, sustained heavy shelling, with the Armenian MoD representative warning of civilian casualties inflicted during the attack.
The uplifting tale of the COVID-19 sports era has been of superstar athletes making substantial monetary or lifestyle sacrifices to reboot leagues and tournaments in bio-secure hubs and provide a sense of normality for isolated fans.
And then there was Novak Djokovic, the man who craves the world’s love and affection like few others but who has somehow found himself captain of Team Pandemic.
Djokovic began his US Open campaign with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Damir Dzumhur that was routine in its ruthless execution, although somewhat bizarre to anyone other than fans of professional wrestling, who are accustomed to combatants entering the venue wearing masks.
Without the constant nattering of the New York crowd there was only the squeak of sneakers on the slick hard court, something that might yet trigger the temperamental Djokovic should he find himself in a tight contest.
But as Djokovic began the quest for an amazing 18th grand slam title, his literally contagious idea of fun during the game’s interregnum had us less interested in the state of his forehand than whether his water bottles were filled with hydroxychloroquine.
In case you missed it, when the world shut down Djokovic returned to his native Belgrade and thought of ways he could endear himself to a sporting public that continues to hold him at arms-length.
In Djokovic’s human petri dish, large crowds mingled without masks, players high-fived at the net and celebrated in a sweaty shirtless nightclub conga line with the not-altogether unpredictable result that Djokovic and several others contracted COVID-19.
Given Novak had become No-vax after expanding on his anti-vax theories and his wife Jelena had shared a kooky 5G conspiracy theory video on Instagram before the Adria Tour, the subsequent outbreak should have been somewhat chastening.
But undaunted, the now COVID-free Djokovic somehow dictated his own terms to play the US Open, which was desperate to have one of the Big Three present after the withdrawals of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. This included occupying a mansion while other players were isolated in a hotel.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything like that,” Djokovic told the New York Times recently.
“And I know the [United States Tennis Association] did their best in order to provide accommodation and organise everything and organise these bubbles so the players can actually compete and come here, but it’s tough for most of the players, not being able to open their window and being in a hotel in a small room.”
Tennis is used to the lunatics running the asylum. But Djokovic’s power play is particularly contentious given his long-term support for Justin Gimelstob, the former ATP board member and powerbroker who was booted from the sport after he pleaded no contest to a felony assault charge.
It is unknown if the controversial Gimelstob is still pulling strings behind the scenes. But Djokovic has made his rebel association men-only, having long been on the barefoot and pregnant side of tennis’s equal prize money debate.
So, in a nutshell, only COVID-19 itself has done as much to make itself as unpopular as Djokovic during the pandemic; just the latest chapter in a career that is becoming something of a cautionary tale.
Call it the Parable of the Third Wheel, the story of the man who so badly craves the kind of public affection showered upon his beloved contemporaries, Federer and Nadal, that he constantly finds ways to besmirch his own reputation.
It seems a lifetime ago that Djokovic came back from two sets to one down to beat Dominic Thiem in this year’s Australian Open final, which was a one-stop shop for all the virtues and vices that have made the Serbian one of the most accomplished and divisive athletes of his era.
Amid the incredible feats of endurance and counter-punching at Melbourne Park were the dubious time-outs, seemingly deliberate time-wasting tactics, a hand placed inadvisably on a chair umpire’s foot and the now predictable altercation with the crowd who cheered for his underdog opponent.
In his first-round match in New York, there was only a minor scuffle with the chair umpire over towel protocols, Djokovic now seemingly more cautious about communicable diseases than in his infectious conga-line days.
Should Djokovic triumph at the US Open, there will be no public on hand to witness the 18th title that would leave him just one behind Nadal and two behind Federer on the grand slam honour roll.
Perhaps that is just as well.
The notoriously judgemental New York fans have borne the brunt of the US’s horrific COVID-19 disaster. You cannot imagine they would give Djokovic the rapturous reception he craves.
Facebook and Apple are not really the best of friends and have often accused each other of being wrong on many issues. Facebook, however, has now openly accused Apple of being an ‘enemy’ of small businesses. The social media giant launched a new events feature where businesses can create pain online events. Fidji Simo, vice president, head of Facebook App, in a blog said that the company requested Apple to reduce App Store ‘tax’ but they refused.
“We asked Apple to reduce its 30% App Store tax or allow us to offer Facebook Pay so we could absorb all costs for businesses struggling during COVID-19. Unfortunately, they dismissed both our requests and SMBs will only be paid 70% of their hard-earned revenue,” said Simo in the blog post.
Facebook has clarified that it will not make any money out of these events “at least till next” year. Simo further said that, “For transactions on the web, and on Android in countries where we have rolled out Facebook Pay, small businesses will keep 100% of the revenue they generate from paid online events.” In other words, Google too has decided to not take any fee from these events on Facebook.
Facebook clearly is painting Apple as a ‘villain’ — a company who isn’t willing to reduce App Store fees to help small and medium businesses. In fact, in an image shared of the app by Facebook clearly mentions that “Apple takes 30% of this purchase” on the iOS version. On the Android version of the app, users will see the message “Facebook doesn’t take a fee from this purchase.”
Apple has been under pressure from several big name app developers to reduce the App Store fees. Epic Games, developer of Fortnite, has sued Apple for banning the app on similar grounds as well. It will be interesting to see if and how Apple does react to Facebook’s cloaked criticism.
Confidence and trust generated by the Victorian government’s early success in bringing the virus under control has been eroded by frustration, dismay and in some cases, anger that, having emerged briefly into the light, we are back in the long, dark tunnel of the pandemic.
The economic cost, according to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, is $1 billion for every additional week Australia’s second largest city spends in lockdown. The human toll, in disease, family dislocation and death, will not be known for months.
Yet, despite these catastrophic consequences, no one has accepted responsibility for what went wrong. As one former senior public servant put it: “This is the biggest bureaucratic and political f— up with the most dire consequences probably in Victorian history but there has been absolutely no accountability.’’
The terms of reference of the Coate inquiry include the decisions and actions of government agencies, hotel operations and private security companies, resulting in returned travellers passing the virus on to quarantine guards who, unwittingly, took it home to their families and spread it through their communities.
Its intent will become clearer on Monday when Justice Coate, a retired Country Court judge and former president of the Children’s Court of Victoria and counsel assisting Tony Neal, QC, tender their opening statements.
The inquiry, due to report by September 25, is constrained by narrow terms of reference and a short time frame. In an unusual arrangement, Mr Neal will be instructed by lawyers provided by the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office, after Justine Coate satisfied herself there was no conflict of interest in government lawyers interrogating government officials on matters of government policy. It is not known whether the inquiry will call any government ministers as witnesses.
As a starting point, it must answer a question that has plagued the entire Victorian response to the pandemic – who exactly is in charge?
Mr Andrews has repeatedly said that, ultimately, he is accountable for the decisions of his government. Mr Eccles’ description of his new bureaucratic structure, in his interview with Institute of Public Administration president Gordon de Brouwer, suggests this is not a platitude.
As the pandemic crisis has unfolded, the bureaucracy was reorganised into what Mr Eccles called “missions”: health, economic and social imperatives framed in response to the pandemic. These include the health emergency, business continuity and the eventual economic recovery and restoration of government services.
Each mission is led by a departmental secretary who, according to Mr Eccles, is “directly accountable to the Premier’’. This has further centralised decision making in the Premier’s office and makes traditional lines of Westminister accountability – where ministers carry the political can for anything that goes wrong in their departments – difficult to apply.
Sources experienced in emergency management say that in Victoria, a bigger problem lies beneath the political tier. For any crisis response to be effective, there needs to be a chief operator – a senior civil servant or expert seconded for the purpose – who is responsible for managing everything. In Victoria, it is not apparent who this is.
Mr Andrews this week described the virus as a cunning and wicked enemy. Who is commanding the state’s defences against it?
Is it Brett Sutton, the Chief Health Officer who, under Victoria’s rolling state of emergency in force since March, has extraordinary powers to order the closure of businesses and direct people to stay home?
He has already disavowed the decision to hire private security guards to staff the quarantine hotels, saying it was neither his idea nor one he supported. Government sources confirmed the Professor Sutton has a largely advisory role.
Is it his boss, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kym Peake? Is it Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp?
As a former deputy commissioner of Victoria Police, Mr Crisp has tackled the aftermath of the Black Saturday fires, the Christchurch earthquake and the Queensland floods.
Under the Emergency Management Act, Mr Crisp has responsibility for co-ordinating the response to and recovery from any major emergency. In practice, it is unclear where Emergency Management Victoria – an organisation created to fill the crisis co-ordination vacuum exposed by the 2009 fires – fits into the pandemic response.
Last month a “high priority” request to the federal government for 850 Australian Defence Force personnel to bolster the state’s hotel quarantine arrangements was personally signed by Mr Crisp and approved by the ADF. Within hours of Canberra agreeing to the request, it was rescinded by the Victorian government.
John Cantwell, a retired major-general in the Army who was seconded to the Brumby government to lead the recovery from the Black Saturday bushfires, says he cannot tell who is running Victoria’s response.
“My role was to be the co-ordinator, the facilitator and the front man for the whole response,’’ he says.
“It had a straight echo from my military experience, where someone has to be responsible. You can’t divvy it up and hope they will talk and share and co-ordinate. It just doesn’t happen.
“As an outsider looking in, I don’t get a sense there is a single minister responsible for this. And even within their realms of responsibility, my perception is there has been a bit of shirking of responsibility by significant players. I have heard no one talk about a single entity that co-ordinates this. Perhaps they are sight unseen.”
When asked this question by The Age, a government spokesperson said: “There are thousands of people working hard every day to save lives and support Victorians as we fight this deadly pandemic.”
Career bureaucrats familiar with emergency management do not doubt this but say there is a central piece missing.
“You have got to have someone who is unambiguously in charge of everything the government is trying to do,’’ explains one. “If there is no one person, that would normally be regarded as a recipe for dropping things, being slow to respond and having mistakes made.”
Within Labor, there are also growing concerns. “What we are seeing is an absolute failure of emergency management,’’ one party insider says. “The Premier himself calls it a public health bushfire but there has been no central co-ordination.’’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is publicly backing the Victorian response, remarking this week that within national cabinet, “there was a great sense of solidarity in supporting Victoria because this could occur in Queensland, it could occur in Western Australia, it could could occur in Tasmania, NSW, in any other place.’’
Privately, the federal government is perturbed about what is happening in Victoria, where earlier in the pandemic, the state government was reluctant to accept Canberra’s help. That help has now arrived in the form of deputy chief health officers from Queensland and Western Australia, the Commonwealth’s Chief Nurse, Allison McMillan, and a contingent of 1000 ADF troops that Andrews agreed to this week.
As Victoria retreats from its earlier, tentative steps to re-open the economy and bunkers back into stage three restrictions, the overwhelming burden of the pandemic response remains on DHHS workers.
David Davis, the minister for health under the Baillieu and Napthine governments, says the pandemic has exposed structural deficiencies in the Department of Health and Human Services created, in part, by the government’s decision to merge two separate bureaucracies back into a single mega department.
He believes the department is simply too big and complex to manage and attempts to do so have been hampered by the Premier’s tendency to direct its operations through his own office.
“The department and minister have comprehensively mismanaged the COVID response,’’ Davis says. “Part of this is the competence of senior bureaucrats including the minister and the secretary but part of this goes back to the merger of the department into an unwieldy and poorly structured behemoth.
“It is pretty clear that Premier Daniel Andrews is exerting personal control and interfering in the key technical decisions that must form the basis of a scientific and co-ordinated response.”
Others who have worked within DHHS defend its structure and point out that, in a public health crisis, organisational charts have little relevance to how decisions are made, invariably in very quick time, when confronting changed circumstances on the ground.
In times of peace, let alone a pandemic, it would be a difficult task to track decision making and accountability through the reporting lines of the sprawling DHHS, an organisation with a $27 billion budget and more than 11,000 employees.
Ms Peake, a smart, talented bureaucrat appointed to the role with limited management experience, is normally sandwiched between five ministers she answers to and 10 deputy secretaries who report to her.
Professor Lindsay Grayson, an infectious diseases expert, wrote last week that Victoria’s health department was “one of the worst-funded and dysfunctionally organised’’ in the nation.
Whether Victoria is paying a terrible cost for that dysfunction is now a matter of vital importance.
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Chip Le Grand is The Age’s chief reporter. He writes about crime, sport and national affairs, with a particular focus on Melbourne.