Political Flight Fight: Trump Yanks Pelosi’s Plane In Tit For Tat Move As Melania Jets To Florida

With the U.S. government in the throes of the longest shutdown of any kind in American history, politics in Washington have become even more acrimonious than usual. In the latest drama, Republican President Donald Trump informed Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Representative from California who is presently Speaker of the House, at almost the very last moment that a U.S. military aircraft will no longer be available to take her on a planned trip to Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Trump alerted Pelosi to the decision in a brief letter on Jan. 17, 2019, delivered on the same day she and her delegation were scheduled to leave to meet with NATO officials in Belgium and U.S. military forces in Egypt and Afghanistan. In fact, members of her delegation were on a bus heading to an air force base right outside of Washington, D.C. when they found out.

Though the President does not refer to it specifically in his message, the missive is clearly a direct response to a letter from the Speaker the day before, in which she had effectively disinvited him from the Capitol to give a State of the Union address at the end of the month. Both of these letters cite the shutdown as the primary reason behind their respective cancelations.

The full text of Trump's letter is as follows:

Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan, has been postponed. We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over. In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate. I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown. Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would be your prerogative. 

I look forward to seeing you soon and even more forward to watching our open and dangerous Southern Border finally receive the attention, funding, and security it so desperately deserves!

As this drama was playing out, plane spotters online watched as a C-32A bearing a callsign commonly associated with First Lady Melania Trump took off from Andrews Air Force Base right outside of Washington, D.C. and began flying an otherwise typical route to Southern Florida. Throughout his presidency, Trump and his family have made regular trips to his resort at Mar-a-Lago, costing taxpayers millions and stretching security resources thin.

The shutdown has been going on since Dec. 22, 2018, after Trump informed the leadership of his own party in Congress that he would not sign any funding bill that did not include additional money for a new border wall. Republicans and Democrats had looked set to pass a bipartisan deal that did not include the wall funding. In January 2019, the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and have since reiterated their intent to reject any new measure that gives extra funds for the wall and border security enhancements beyond the $1.6 billion they had previously agreed to.

Though it seemed to be a political decision in part, in her letter regarding the State of the Union address, Pelosi had rightly cited how demanding such an event is on the Secret Service and other federal security services, some of which are now working without pay due to the shutdown. A State of the Union address involves putting the President, the Vice President, both chambers of Congress, and a host of other officials, dignitaries, and private citizens all under the same roof, which presents massive security concerns, especially for a government that is not running at full capacity.

Trump's citing of the shutdown in his own retaliatory decision is spurious, since the U.S. military is presently fully funded. U.S. military aircraft have performed dozens of so-called Special Air Missions shuttling high-level government officials around since the shutdown began, including Melania's latest trip to Florida.

A spokesperson for Pelosi specifically highlighted that that the President had flown to Iraq during the shutdown, as did a delegation led by Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York. On Jan. 17, 2019, Trump did cancel plans for a delegation to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland later this month, which would have used military airlift to get there.

The exact chain of events leading up to the cancelation of Pelosi's trip are somewhat muddy. It appears, on the most basic level, that Trump simply ordered the U.S. military to withhold the airlift support in his capacity as Command in Chief.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense had originally tasked the Air Force's 89th Airlift Wing, the U.S. military's premier VIP air transport unit, which is situated right outside of Washington, D.C., to fly Pelosi to her destinations, according to Military Times. "The tasking has been turned off," an unnamed defense official told that outlet, confirming that there were aircraft otherwise available for the trip.

Despite Trump's letter, that individual did not specify whether the order had come from the White House originally. Another anonymous senior administration official later confirmed this was the case, but insisted that the decision was part of a broader decision to ban congressional delegations from using military aircraft going forward until the end of the shutdown, according to ABC News.

The timing seems particularly suspect for this to have been a more general decision. Especially considering that members of Pelosi's delegation were on a bus bound to Andrews when they found out the trip had gotten canceled.

Of course, Trump has no legal authority to restrict Pelosi's personal movement or to prevent her from traveling to fulfill her Congressional duties. As he notes in his own letter, she is more than welcome to fly commercially to any of the destinations in question. But this might not be an option for the Speaker for security reasons.

It's not clear what type of plane Pelosi was scheduled to use for this particular trip, but it would likely have been one of the 89th's four C-32As, commonly known as Air Force Two, or a C-40, which are Boeing 757s and 737s in U.S. military specific configurations respectively. The Wing is also responsible for flying the two heavily modified VC-25A used as Air Force One, which are specifically set aside for the presidential airlift mission, as well as various smaller business jets. All of these planes have varying degrees of secure communications capabilities and many have directional infrared countermeasures systems to help protect the plane against heat-seeking missiles.

One of the 89th Airlift Wing's C-32As, at center, flanked by a pair of smaller C-20 aircraft.

These features may not have been necessary for traveling to Belgium, but flying commercial would simply not offer the security guarantees, either in terms of the plane's specific defensive capabilities or airport security on the ground at any one stop, for such a high ranking American official flying to Egypt or Afghanistan.

Just on Dec. 28, 2018, a roadside bomb killed three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian tour guide who were visiting the pyramids at Giza, outside the Egyptian capital Cairo. Egyptian authorities blamed the attack on ISIS-affiliated terrorists based in the Sinai peninsula. That same group claimed responsibility for blowing up Metrojet Flight 9268 after it left Sharm El Sheikh International Airport on October 2015.

Egyptian authorities move the wreckage of a tour bus after it hit a roadside bomb outside of Cairo in December 2018.

Afghanistan poses even greater dangers and much of the country is an active war zone. When then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis arrived in that country for a visit in September 2017, he did so, as most senior U.S. officials do, in a secretive, unannounced fashion.

It was good that he did, too, because the Taliban quickly rallied their forces in and around the country's capital Kabul to launch a brazen attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport just hours after he touched down. The city is so dangerous that regular U.S. government workers in the city use a special helicopter service to make the five minute trip from the airport to the U.S. Embassy every day.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his staff exit a contractor-operated helicopter at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan after making the brief trip from Hamid Karzai International Airport during a visit in July 2018.

So, while Trump cannot specifically prevent congressional delegations from traveling abroad, or anywhere for that matter, halting access to military aircraft can only make those trips difficult, if not impossible to plan. Beyond the basic security concerns, a lack of military airlift support could make these trips a virtual non-starter for the Speaker of the House specifically, too.

Under U.S. law, if the President dies or is otherwise incapacitated, and the Vice President is unable to assume their duties, the Speaker is the next in line to take over the role of the country's chief executive. What this means is that Pelosi, like Trump himself, is at the mercy of security assessments when making decisions to travel due to her position as the third individual in line to ensure a so-called "continuity of government" in a crisis.

Until the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Speakers of the House had flown commercially just like any other member of Congress. Since then, however, it has been the standing practice to provide them with military aircraft to both ensure their safety and make sure they remain in constant, secure contact in case of any contingency.

Today, it is the House Sergeant at Arms, who Representatives elect at the start of each new Congress, who determines the risk associated with particular trips and recommends the Speaker use military aircraft based on those assessments. They are also the one who then makes the request to the U.S. military to provide those aircraft as necessary.

There is no apparent formal requirement that the Speaker must follow this advice, though. For domestic trips, past Speakers, including Pelosi, have regularly flown on commercial airlines domestically. But for longer trips outside the United States, where connectivity and security becomes a major issue, it's unlikely that a commercial option would be well advised, if feasible at all.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi exists a U.S. military Cessna UC-35 aircraft during a visit to U.S. Africa Command in Germany in 2010.

Pelosi is no stranger to these issues, either. After she first became Speaker of the House for the first time in 2007, her critics accused her of abusing the use of military planes to fly to and from her home in California, among other locations, and for using the more expensive C-32s rather than smaller aircraft.

Reports and official records subsequently confirmed that as of the end of 2008, she only used a C-32 once, when smaller planes were not available. In 2009, additional documents showed that she actually used military aircraft for travel less than her predecessor, Illinois Republican Dennis Hastert and often times flew commercial domestically.

In at least one particular instance, there was a particularly contentious debate within the Air Force itself about whether or not to meet a request from the Speaker's office to have the plane reposition from San Franciso International Airport to Travis Air Force Base, which was closer to her home in the Napa Valley, but outside of the Congressional District she represented.

An Air Force official made clear that this was not possible and that the White House and the Secretary of Defense only approved operations to and from Washington, D.C. and the airport in San Francisco, adding that even repositioning the plane nearby would cost thousands of dollars. Eventually, this conflict was solved by allowing the jet to fly direct to Travis, making only one stop and obviating the need for any repositioning.

It's hard to believe that Trump, or at least members of his staff, aren't aware of the complexities of having the third person in line for the Presidency travel overseas and to a war zone. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders essentially admitted to ABC News later in the day that trying to limit Pelosi's movement was the plan all along.

“We want to keep her in Washington," Sanders said. "If she leaves she guarantees that the second round of paychecks to workers won’t go out," she added, an implicit threat from Trump to block some number of future funding bills if Pelosi does seek alternative transportation for her trip.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks at a press conference on Jan. 17, 2019, after Trump effectively canceled her planned overseas trip.

All this is a very worrisome development for Trump and Pelosi, and any of their political opponents. To be playing tit-for-tat politics with the U.S. national security apparatus sets a dangerous precedent going forward and it's not even the first time the Trump Administration, in particular, has reportedly used this kind of leverage to block political opponents from visiting sensitive locations overseas. At the same time, multiple administration officials have been placed under investigation for using federally owned or paid for aircraft for non-essential business.

Beyond simply eroding basic norms, Trump's last-minute decision also disrupts all the other associated planning that would have gone into the trip, including sorting out various security and logistics issues, among others. U.S. officials in Belgium, Egypt, and Afghanistan had no doubt made extensive preparations to receive Pelosi and her entourage. There's no way to get the massive amount of wasted man-hours back and the money spent on various items and services may now be sunk costs, as well.

All this also draws attention to Pelosi's decision to leave Washington, D.C. during the longest government shutdown in history. Although her stops in Europe and the Middle East are clearly important, the situation at home is becoming increasingly dire. As such, jetting off overseas why federal workers can't pay their rent and face financial ruin probably isn't what most would consider "good optics."

With no end to the shutdown in sight, it, unfortunately, seems very possible that we will see more of these tit-for-tat political maneuvers, none of which do anything to resolve the current impasse, get the U.S. government back up and running, and ensure hundreds of thousands of federal employees get their paychecks on time.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

NASCAR Champ Martin Truex Jr. Will Race Against Little Brother at Daytona 500

Ryan Truex, the younger brother of 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., will compete against his older brother in the 2019 season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. The younger Truex will drive the No. 71 Tommy Baldwin Chevrolet, the race team announced Wednesday.

"I am very thankful to TBR and Tommy Baldwin for this opportunity and can't wait to get to Daytona and back in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car,” Truex said in a press release from TBR. "The pressure is on to make it into the race, but Tommy is a true racer, and I know he will put everything into the car to give us a great shot.”

Truex raced part-time in the Cup Series in 2013 and 2014. Twenty-three of the 26 series races in which he has competed came as a driver for the now-defunct BK Racing in 2014. His career-best Cup Series race finishes, to date, were three 31st-place finishes at Auto Club Speedway, Richmond Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway, all in 2014.

Truex raced full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2018 as driver of the No. 11 Kaulig Racing car, but he lost that seat to Justin Haley during the offseason. Truex made the Xfinity Series playoffs last season but was eliminated in the opening round and wound up 12th in the standings at season’s end. He drove for Kaulig Racing for only one season after making the move from Hattori Racing and the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series after the 2017 season.

In all, Truex has competed in 72 Xfinity Series races between 2019 and 2018, including a race at Daytona International Speedway for Tommy Baldwin Racing. He finished 31st in that race.

Tommy Baldwin Racing competed in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series between 2009 and 2017. Alex Bowman [right] drove the No. 7 TBR Chevrolet in 2015.

"I'm excited to have Ryan back in a Tommy Baldwin Racing car," Baldwin said. "We had success at Daytona in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in the past. I've known the Truex family a very long time, and it's special that we'll be able to compete in the Daytona 500 together, and hopefully, more races as the year goes on. We are still in search of a primary sponsor that we're hoping to put together in time to give TBR a great run this year.”

After competing as a car owner in NASCAR’s top series from 2009 through 2017, the former crew chief closed his race team ahead of the 2018 season. But he expects to return on a part-time basis this season and hopes to eventually return his Tommy Baldwin Racing team to full-time status in the Cup Series. He has yet to announce his team’s schedule and driver lineup for the 2019 season, beyond the Daytona 500.

Former Employees Sue GM After Nooses and ‘Whites-Only’ Bathroom Signs Surfaced at Ohio Plant

Nine employees have filed a lawsuit against General Motors that alleges an "underlying atmosphere of violent racial hate and bullying" at the company's Toledo Transmission Plant in Ohio.

Former managerial staff Marcus Boyd, Derrick Brooks (a former Marine), and seven other employees filed the suit, which alleges that plant managers, union officials, and GM corporate did nothing substantial to address a worsening climate of racial harassment, intimidation, and even rumors of planned violence over a 14-month period at the Toledo plant—not the Lordstown plant that GM will abandon, contributing to the elimination of 14,000 jobs.

Boyd and Brooks each told CNN that they took jobs at the plant to support their families. Boyd, who was an experienced manager in a different industry, was put on the job despite reportedly receiving no position-specific training, while his white colleagues were trained before starting in their positions. He thought nothing of it but claimed to have noted glares from his mostly white subordinates on his first days on the job.

Many of the employees reportedly demonstrated a disdain for Boyd, ignoring his instruction, and calling him slurs behind his back. When Boyd took the problem of his unruly underlings to management, they reportedly brushed it off and told Boyd to deal with the problem himself. Boyd attempted to do so but was soon thereafter told by one of his subordinates, "back in the day, you would have been buried with a shovel."

He took the comment to management and officials of the local United Auto Workers chapter, who reportedly instructed him to drop the matter in order to "get along."

Around this time, Boyd, Brooks, and the even others noticed many of their white coworkers referring to someone called "Dan." Dan allegedly turned out not to be a plant employee, but a coded acronym for "Dumb-Ass Nigger." Even those outside this circle of black workers were reportedly on the receiving end of harassment, as a white woman (whose relationship is unknown) seen walking with Boyd found "nigger lover" written on her pizza box.

The plant's atmosphere worsened when Boyd turned down a worker's request for vacation. This worker responded by getting angry and brandishing a large clutch assembly as an improvised weapon—illegal in many places—at Boyd, who again reported the incident. The employee's only punishment was the loss of a single day's pay.

"You have management people in high places, and union officials in high places, that work together to protect people ... that are white," Boyd said.

Intimidation ramped up from there. Brooks stumbled across a noose in his work area, and an additional four were found around the plant. When Brooks confronted an employee suspected of hanging the noose, the employee reportedly tried to gaslight him.

"That's not a noose used for hanging, it's a noose maintenance operators use to tie off a line," the employee allegedly told Brooks, who didn't buy it.

"Being in the military I know plenty about knots, and I know there is no reason whatsoever to tie a knot like that other than to use it for hanging a person," Brooks told CNN.

The nooses were reported, but GM's response was to swap the plant's ropes out for yellow chains, print an article about harassment in the employee magazine, and hold a training day which Boyd, Brooks, and others claim to only have addressed violence, not the intimidation they report.

Boyd and Brooks reached their breaking point when they heard rumors that eight white employees planned to tail Boyd out of the factory with a gun—right around the time that Brooks found gun magazines on his desk. Their families pled them to quit for their safety, and so they did.

Local United Auto Workers chapter president Dennis Earl denied there being any unfair treatment at the Toledo Transmission plant.

"Punishments were equal across the board," Earl alleged. "If he feels management was being more lenient—I don't see that. I've never seen that. It's pretty colorblind, if you ask me. Do I believe people are a little too sensitive these days? Absolutely. What passed 20 years ago doesn't pass today."

Several unspecified employees reported the plant to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which concluded in March of 2018 after a nine-month investigation that General Motors did indeed uphold an environment of racial hostility.

"GM did not deny that these things were taking place," stated OCRC regional director Darlene Sweeney-Newbern, who described the plant's environment as one of the worst she'd seen in her career. "They simply said, 'hey as soon as we heard of these things we moved in and we took action.' That is not what we found in the investigation."

The environment in Toledo Transmission Plant may be summed up by what a former UAW chapter president reportedly told Sweeney-Newbern, whom she quoted saying "there was never a black person who was lynched that didn't deserve it."

The Drive contacted the UAW for a statement, and we will update when we receive comment.

"Every day, everyone at General Motors is expected to uphold a set of values that are integral to the fabric of our culture," said the automaker in a statement. "Discrimination and harassment are not acceptable and in stark contrast to how we expect people to show up at work. We treat any reported incident with sensitivity and urgency, and are committed to providing an environment that is safe, open and inclusive. General Motors is taking this matter seriously and addressing it through the appropriate court process."

GM confirmed to The Drive that it received complaints of "offensive behavior" at the Toledo plant in 2017, and that it "issued a strong communication" advising against such behavior. Additionally, it confirmed that it held an anti-discrimination seminar at the Toledo plant as well as others.

Batshit Iranian Regime Wants Their People To Think They Invented The Space Shuttle

The Iranian government has an incredible appetite for putting forward hyperbolic technological claims and has little shame about backing them up those with outright laughable proof. It's one thing to claim that a 'new' indigenously produced fighter aircraft that is at best a clone of a 50-year-old design is equivalent to America's front-line fighters or even making the erroneous proclamation that Iranian industry has reproduced an equivalent of the RQ-170 unmanned flying wing stealth drone that fell into their hands in 2011, but making it seem like Iranian scientists developed the freakin' Space Shuttle is a whole other level of bozo behavior.

This is exactly what the Iranian government, and the fanatical Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in particular, is directly implying in a huge graphic that is currently displayed in Tehran's Valiasr Square. The billboard is running in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution that saw the ousting of close American ally Mohammad Reza Shah and the installation of a hardline theocratic government under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Talk about cultural appropriation!

The timing of this display is especially laughable considering the so-called Iranian Space Agency just failed yet again at putting a satellite into low-earth orbit.

The ridiculous propaganda play makes you feel sorry for average Iranians who have to live with such childish hyperbole from a government in which they have very limited ability to reform through the democratic process.

Above all else, the billboard shows how warped the propagandists within the regime really are. There seems to be no technological claim that is too outlandish to present to the masses.

In related news, we have obtained an exclusive intelligence report that shows that Iran is now working on a much more ambitious program, one that is sure to be a major source of national pride once it heads out on its first five-year voyage. Here's a snapshot of the craft from the intelligence dossier we received through undisclosed sources:

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

Here’s All You Need To Know About The New Missile Defense Review That Was Just Released

After more than a year of delays, the U.S. military has finally released its long-awaited Missile Defense Review. The report outlines plans to improve and expand the United States' existing missile defense shield, as well as add additional layers with space-based sensors and interceptors, technology to track and defeat hypersonic weapons, unmanned aircraft with lasers to shoot down threats, and missile-hunting F-35 stealth fighters, among others.

The Pentagon officially released the unclassified version of the review at a rollout event led by President Donald Trump, who has become a major advocate for missile defense, a well as Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and other senior officials, on Jan. 17, 2019. The U.S. military had originally expected this report to be ready before the end of 2017.

"Missile defenses are a key element of our strategy given this proliferation of offensive ballistic and cruise missiles and emerging hypersonic weapons technologies that markedly raise threats to regional balances and to our major allies and partners," Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan wrote in a preface to the review. "Our missile defense systems constitute a cornerstone of our efforts to deter a missile attack by a rogue state on the U.S. and make a clear contribution to our alliances."

Given how long it's taken for the Pentagon to release the final review, the bulk of the content has already emerged in budget documents and other public forums. Still, the report further cements the U.S. governments intention to pursue these policies and technologies and we've broken down the key points below:

Policy priorities

  • U.S. Missile Defense Shield remains focused primarily on countering threats from smaller potential opponents, such as North Korea and Iran.
  • Traditional nuclear deterrence remains the primary means of responding to existing and future strategic threats from larger potential adversaries such as Russia and China.
  • The U.S. government has no plans to limit developments of missile defense technologies to focus purely on smaller actors.
  • The Missile Defense Shield is a component of an over-arching deterrent posture in that it helps ensure the ability of the United States to respond to a massive attack on the homeland.
  • There is also a call for continued and expanded regional focuses, as well, including greater cooperation and coordination with allies and partners, especially in the face of the growing proliferation of ballistic missiles.
  • The MDR has requirements for various components of the U.S. military to complete a number of studies within the next six months to better formalize and streamline command and control and identify services or other agencies within the Department of Defense to lead efforts to respond to particular threats.
  • The new MDR adds an entirely new emphasis on potential non-ballistic threats posed to the homeland and to U.S. forces deployed abroad, with particular attention on cruise missiles.
    • The 2010 MDR focused almost exclusively on ballistic threats.
An infographic from the MDR showing existing and future missile defense threats around the world.

Near-term technical developments

  • Expanding the SM-3 Block II interceptor's capabilities to allow it to engage intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, as well as intermediate- and medium-range ballistic missiles, or IRBMs and MRBMs.
    • At present, the SM-3 Block IIA is primarily focused on engaging IRBM and MRBM type threats, though the Missile Defense Agency has long indicated its hope that it would also be able to conduct mid-course intercepts against higher and faster-flying targets.
  • Add 20 more Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) to the overall Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) portion of the U.S. Missile Defense Shield, which is situated in Alaska, for a total of 64.
  • Continue development of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle, or RKV, to replace the existing Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, or EKV, on top of the GBI.
    • Previous reports have indicated that the U.S. military will begin deploying RKV-equipped interceptors in 2020.
    • The RKV, like the EKV, is a kinetic weapon designed to destroy an incoming ballistic missile by smashing into it.
    • The EKV has struggled in testing since the late 1990s and only intercepted a target representative of an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time in May 2017.
  • Installation of Lockheed Martin's advanced Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) in Alaska to support the GMD system. This radar is set to be operational by 2021.
  • Improving existing land-based radars and adding additional sites in Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific by 2023.
    • These new radars will have improved capability to spot and track ballistic missiles during the mid-course portion of their flight trajectory when they have "gone cold" in the vacuum of space and are harder to monitor.
  • New space-based sensors to track ballistic missiles during mid-course flight, as well as additional satellites, positioned closer to the United States, or its territories or other interests abroad, to monitor those weapons in the latter stages of their trajectory.
    • Both systems, the first of which could be ready by 2023, will be able to cue surface-based interceptors or other weapons to engage those threats.
    • The latter satellites will also provide a critical "kill assessment capability" to determine whether an intercept is successful and whether personnel on the ground need to re-engage.
  • The deployment of additional and improved Patriot, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ships, and Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense sites around the world to respond to more localized ballistic and cruise missile threats, such as those from Iran and North Korea.
    • To support this the U.S. Army will submit a report within six months outlining the total number of THAAD units required to satisfy those requirements and the resources necessary to meet that goal. The U.S. Navy will similarly provide a review of the timeline and required resources to make all of its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Aegis BMD capable.
    • The Navy will also prepare a plan for how to activate the Aegis Ashore test facility in Hawaii as an operational site in an emergency situation.
  • Further fielding of more mobile and readily relocatable missile defense systems and the further integration of those capabilities with conventional maneuver forces to protect them ballistic and cruise missile threats during both offensive and defensive operations.
  • Improving interoperability of U.S. missile defense systems with those of allies and partners.
A very general overview of the existing U.S. Missile Defense Shield as it exists today.

Novel missile defenses

  • In line with the annual National Defense Authorization Act for the 2019 Fiscal Year, the MDR calls for exploration of space-based anti-missile weapons, potentially including physical interceptors or directed energy weapons, a concept you can read about in more detail here.
    • Congress has already demanded that the U.S. military place such a system into operation "at the earliest practicable date," though this does not guarantee any such system will ever be feasible.
    • "We’re going to study it and we’ll see whether or not it’s feasible," an unnamed U.S. defense official told reporters at pre-briefing on the MDR on Jan. 16, 2019.
    • That study will be due within six months, according to the MDR.
  • A laser-armed unmanned aerial vehicle that would be able to engage ballistic missiles during their initial boost-phase right after launch, a concept you can read about more here and here.
    • During this phase of flight, ballistic missiles are particularly vulnerable since they are moving relatively slowly and are generating a large thermal signature making them easier to track and engage.
  • Further exploration of potentially using the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a boost-phase ballistic missile defense platform.
    • The MDR asks the Air Force to produce a report within six months detailing how it would go about integrating a missile defense capability into the F-35.
    • This is a concept that has been around for some time, but gained renewed traction at the height of tensions with North Korea in 2017.
    • Though likely feasible at its most basic level, we at The War Zone have previously explained in detail why this concept will be extremely expensive and applicable only in a very narrow set of circumstances, calling into question whether it would ever be a worthwhile expenditure of resources.
  • The development of systems to track and potentially defeat hypersonic weapons, which are only becoming an increasing threat.
    • The MDR requires the Missile Defense Agency to outline the resources required for a program to meet those goals within six months.
    • This plan would leverage existing work the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have already done and would likely act as a follow-on or otherwise related effort to DARPA's present Glide Breaker program.
  • The MDR calls on U.S. Strategic Command to produce a sperate study within nine months assessing the present state and future requirements for early warning and engagement regarding hypersonics, as well as more traditional ballistic and cruise missile threats.
  • A timeline in the MDR says the goal is to be able to demonstrate advanced space-based systems, laser-armed unmanned aircraft, and hypersonic defense options by 2030.
A very general timeline of certain planned U.S. Missile Shield developments through to 2030.

All told, this review has been in the works for so long that little inside is outright new. The biggest single takeaway is the expanding definition of missile defense to more cohesively include non-ballistic threats, including cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons. Concerns about the threat of cruise missiles, especially to the homeland, have waxed and waned over the years, but advanced developments among America's near-peer competitors have surely contributed to the resurgence of interest in countering those weapons.

There renewed emphasis on new space-based systems, especially potential space-based weapons, is also significant. If the U.S. military goes ahead with plans to put weapons of any kind into orbit, it seems almost certain to prompt controversy and pushback. At the same time, without any existing arms control agreements regarding the deployment of conventional weapons in space, and with potential opponents, such as Russia and China, developing more robust anti-satellite capabilities, it's easy to see how it could provoke an arms race.

Expanding and improving the U.S. missile defense shield will require significant time and resources, as well. At present, it's unclear whether or not the next defense budget will be smaller or larger than the last.

When the budget request for the 2020 Fiscal Year comes out later this month, we will likely get an even better picture of how fast the U.S. military expects to move in implementing the plans the MDR has outlined for the next decade or so.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

Ford Executive Hints at Possible Super Duty Off-Road Brute, Could Compete With Ram Power Wagon

Ram likes to brag that its Power Wagon heavy duty truck is the most capable off-road pickup on sale. The automaker just debuted the new 2019 version at this year's Detroit Auto Show. Until now, no other manufacturer has offered a competitor to the truck, but it looks like Ford might have something in the works.

The folks at AutoGuide scoured through some audio of Ford's Jim Farley talking at the Global Auto Industry Conference and came across an important nugget of information. “Everyone loves the Raptor. With the new Super Duty, we got another new version that no one’s ever seen; not a Raptor, but something different,” Farley said.

What could that "something different" be? It could very well be a Power Wagon competitor, though that's not officially confirmed. With the 2018 Power Wagon starting at $52,845 before delivery, there's surely money in making one.

The Drive reached out to Ford for clarification of Farley's remarks, but the manufacturer didn't offer any comment.

Ram announced recently that it’s also going to go after Ford's Raptor with the off-road focused, supercharged TRX. Turnabout is fair play, which makes the idea of Ford trying to sneak in on Power Wagon turf logical to us. If it believes the market is big enough, we can certainly see Ford getting in on the game.

Recently, Ford confirmed that we are going to see a refreshed 2020 Super Duty at some point this year, and we wouldn't be surprised if we saw it sooner than later, since it wasn't at Detroit and waiting for a show like State Fair of Texas just seems too far away. Ford has the off-road chops, as evidenced by Raptor and the upcoming Bronco, to build a solid competitor in this space.

While this is surely speculation at this point, it's unlikely that Farley was referring to a heavy duty sports truck. We'll know soon enough, most likely. Question is, would you buy a Ford Super Duty off-road brute?

2020 GMC Sierra HD Denali Teased Ahead of Potential Chicago Auto Show Debut

Let’s face it, the all-new 2020 Chevy Silverado HD has a face that only a mother could love. If you like the idea of a Duramax diesel with more than 900 pound-feet of torque, but don’t want to be seen driving the Silverado HD, a mechanically identical truck with a more handsome face is on the way. GMC just dropped its first teaser image of the all-new 2020 GMC Sierra HD Denali.

2020 GMC Sierra HD

We only catch a small glimpse of the truck's face, but it actually tells us quite a bit about what the whole thing will look like. There are obvious styling cues lifted from the new GMC Sierra 1500 which we think is a good thing, especially compared to the Chevy. Being the Denali model, it has a fancy chrome grille and will likely come with pretty wheels and a lovely interior.

One big question on our mind is: will the HD variant of the new Sierra offer the trick six-function MultiPro tailgate? GMC just released an ad making fun of all tailgates that aren’t the industry-exclusive MultiPro gate—does that mean every big pickup with a Denali badge going forward will have it?

We’ll find out the answer to that and many other questions when the 2020 GMC Sierra HD Denali makes its official debut. We think an unveiling is likely either at or before the Chicago Auto Show next month. We reached out the GMC asking when to expect the truck and were told it's coming "coming late summer 2019." With the new Silverado HD having such a controversial front end, we can’t help but wonder if the more toned-down GMC will actually outsell its traditionally more high-volume Chevy brother.

NY Governor Cuomo Wants Total Reform for Stretch Limo Regs After 2018 Incident Killed 20

Governor Andrew Cuomo (NY-D) announced safety reforms regarding limousines and large passenger vehicles Tuesday to be included in the 2019 executive budget.

The proposed adjustments are largely focused on protecting the public from unsafe vehicles, giving Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles authorities more power to do so, and holding those who don’t adhere to the new standards more accountable. Cuomo’s reforms are in wake of last year’s tragic limo crash in Schoharie County which left 20 people dead and became the deadliest domestic transportation accident since 2009.

“This crash was a horrific tragedy that shocked this state to its very core,” said Cuomo. “We are advancing reforms that will give aggressive new powers that will allow authorities to take dangerous vehicles off the roads without delay, hold unscrupulous businesses accountable and increase public safety in every corner of New York.”

The statutory reforms comprising Cuomo’s proposal include:

  • A full ban on registering remanufactured limousines and prohibiting their use in New York State
  • Requiring drivers to have a commercial driver’s license with a special passenger endorsement, should they choose to use it as a for-hire vehicle with eight or more passengers
  • Making it a felony to remove an out of service sticker from a DOT inspector without having the vehicle re-inspected and cleared by the DOT, and raising the penalty for doing so to a maximum fine of $25,000 per violation for anyone caught operating an uncleared vehicle
  • Implementing more stringent registration suspension and vehicle impoundment authority, which would also give the DOT Commissioner the power to immediately suspend a driver’s operating authority if circumstances are deemed to directly jeopardize the health, safety, or welfare of the public
  • Authorizing both the DOT and DMV authority to seize suspended license plates
  • Making it a felony for a vehicle owner or operator to remove or tamper with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard tag or vehicle inspection sticker
  • Ensuring that vehicle impoundment happens for felony violations purposes and that multiple violators are subject to the civil forfeiture of their vehicle
  • Making it mandatory for inspection stations to report an attempt at unauthorized inspection to the DMV
  • Establishing new criminal penalties for an illegal, faulty DMV-regulated inspection
  • Prohibiting U-turns for larger vehicles on every road in the state
  • Eliminating seatbelt exceptions for limousines, taxis, buses, liveries, and school buses
  • Creating a $120 DOT inspection fee for any relevant vehicles

In addition to Cuomo’s concerns about vehicle safety in the state, his state budget proposal includes a new congestion toll on vehicles heading below 60th Street in Manhattan starting in 2021, as the revenue being lost could assist in subway upgrades and repairs, according to Syracuse. Additional infrastructure concerns regard repairs of highways, airports, and rail station facilities such as Penn Station.

Ultimately, establishing more stringent regulation on these vehicles, businesses, and drivers is likely to keep people on their best operating behavior, and thereby logically raise a certain amount of safety. Whether or not these proposed penalties are the most effective method of preventing another tragic accident like last year’s deadly limo crash is uncertain. Imposing stricter seatbelt laws, preventing larger vehicles from making U-turns, and curbing illegal inspection rates, however, genuinely seem like honest efforts to keep people safe and businesses alert.

Portland Residents Say They’re Replacing Car Trips With More Scooter Rides

Scooter sharing was one of the most hyped transportation stories of 2018, but now the city of Portland, Oregon is putting some numbers to the phenomenon. The city's Bureau of Transportation released data from a pilot program testifying to scooter-sharing's popularity.

During the four-month pilot, Portland residents took 700,369 trips covering 801,887 miles on 2,043 scooters from three companies: Bird, Lime, and Skip. In a citywide survey conducted by DHM Research, 62 percent of residents surveyed said they viewed scooters positively at the end of the pilot. That sentiment was higher among residents under age 35 (71 percent), people of color (74 percent), and those with annual incomes under $30,000 (66 percent).

Furthermore, 34 percent of Portland residents and 48 percent of visitors surveyed said they used scooters instead of driving a personal car or using a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft. However, only six percent of people surveyed said they actually got rid of cars because of the availability of scooters, while another 16 percent considered it.

The explosion in popularity of shared scooters from companies like Bird and Lime was a boon to investors (Bird and Lime are reportedly each worth $2 billion), but cities were left unprepared for the waves of scooters flooding their streets. To keep things under control, Portland required companies to participate in its four-month pilot under strict rules. The city also removed all scooters from its streets after the pilot ended in November, so officials could analyze data.

Scooter companies didn't always follow the rules. One requirement was for each of the three companies participating in the pilot to deploy 100 scooters in East Portland, a lower-income neighborhood with poor access to public transit, and offer lower fares to residents. But while scooters proved popular with low-income residents (about six percent of rides originated in East Portland), the companies did not meet all of their obligations, according to the New York Times. In addition, scooters often exceeded the speed limit of 15 miles per hour set by the city, the paper reported.

Rider injuries have been another area of controversy for scooter sharing. The data did show that scooter-related injuries rose during the pilot program, but most injuries were not severe. Scooter-related injuries accounted for about five percent of traffic crash emergency room visits during the pilot period, and the Portland Bureau of Transportation said it received 43 reports of collisions during the pilot period.

Portland capped the number of scooters at just over 2,000, divided among the three participating companies. Gabriel Scheer, Lime's director of strategic development, told the New York Times that the cap made it difficult to determine how many scooters were actually needed. But he added that capping the number of scooters forced Lime to refine its operations and focus on deploying scooters where they were likely to attract the most riders.

A second pilot, this time lasting one year, is expected to start in spring, although Portland hasn't said how many scooters will be deployed. The results will likely be scrutinized by investors as well as Uber and Lyft, which are slowly building up their own scooter-sharing operations.

Chevrolet Kills ‘Real People’ TV Ads Amid Controversy About Reliability Claims

The "Real People, Not Actors" line of commercials from Chevrolet have been around for quite some time now. Some of them were original, such as the one with a real-life bear in it. Others were funny, like the Lego Batman one. But most recently, they've just been plagued with cringe-worthy lines and now even controversy.

The latest ad makes reliability claims that shock the real people in the commercials. The reliability claims have also shocked several manufacturers like Ford, Toyota, and Honda, who have challenged the claims and the validity of the spot.

According to Jalopnik, Chevrolet employed a market research company called Ipsos to conduct the reliability survey. With a fairly small sample size and the potential conflict of the brand hiring a firm to conduct a survey that makes its employer look good, it's understandable why claims would be challenged.

According to The Detroit News, Chevrolet has decided to pull the ad from the rotation nationwide. Chevrolet said in a statement that it "stands by the reliability claim and the ad remains in the brand’s toolbox but we have decided to take it out of the regular rotation at this time to launch new Silverado creative."

The commercial is currently "Unlisted" on YouTube, and the brand said it'll eventually pull the commercial there, too.

Ford's Mike Levine, Product Communications Manager for North America, tweeted earlier;

While this doesn't mean that the Real People commercials are going away anytime soon, it looks like people behind the commercials will be paying more attention to the claims in the future.