Here’s Proof a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Can Hold Its Own Against a Mercedes-AMG GT R

In case you haven’t heard, sinkholes aren’t the only threat to the Chevrolet Corvette. Sales of the quintessentially American sports car have dwindled recently, leaving some to wonder whether the ‘Vette was headed towards its own extinction level event. That’s probably not going to happen, but it remains true that the C7-generation Corvette is criminally underappreciated—especially considering how it can stack up against—and even defeat—some of the finest supercars Europe can offer.

All right, so half of you reading this are rolling your eyes, while the other half are cheering “hell yeah” and high-fiving a bald eagle drinking a Bud Light. But don’t take it from us—instead, check out this head-to-head battle between an $80,000 Chevy Corvette Z06 and a $160,000 Mercedes-AMG GT R staged by Sport Auto on a racetrack in France. Spoiler alert: The Corvette Z06 punches far above its price point.

Despite one costing twice as much as the other, the two have more in common than one might think at first. They’re both two-seat sports cars with big engines sending power to the rear wheels. The AMG is obviously a little fancier and features a dual-clutch transmission and active rear steering, but the 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 (650 hp, 650 lb-ft of torque) in the Z06 is actually more powerful than the smaller twin-turbo V-8 (577 hp, 520 lb-ft) in the Mercedes.

Riding on identical Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 tires, the two squared off in damp conditions on a track called the Ring of the Rhine in France. In the end, the Corvette actually came out on top by two-tenths of a second with a blistering 0:58.12 flying lap, despite the driver having to wrangle its old-school seven-speed manual transmission. Even more impressively, the ‘Vette is just six-tenths of a second off the time set by a Lamborghini Huracan Performante on the same track.

There’s just one caveat. In an identical test between the Mercedes and Chevrolet conducted by Sport Auto last year at the Hockenheimring in Germany, the AMG came out on top. So while there’s some variance in the result depending on the track, one thing’s for sure: The Corvette is still one of the better performance deals out there.

Porsche Will Keep the 911 GT3 Naturally Aspirated for ‘as Long as We Can’

In response to previous reports to the contrary, a Porsche exec has spoken up and reassured us that the company’s beloved 911 GT3 will indeed keep the naturally-aspirated, manually-shifted torch going for at least the foreseeable future.

Speaking to Australia’s Drive (no relation), Porsche GT motorsport boss Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser refuted previous media reports of the next-generation “992” GT3 going turbocharged and PDK-only. “A normally aspirated engine still fits a sports car,” Walliser told Drive. “You cannot achieve the same with a turbocharged engine.”

Walliser added that the industry-wide shift towards forced induction “is mainly driven by emissions regulations” and that special Porsches like the GT3 will remain turbo-less for as long as said regulations will allow. “The uniqueness comes from the normally aspirated engine,” said Walliser said. “As long as we can do it, we will do it.”

As for a manual transmission, an option that returned to the 2018 model year GT3 by popular demand, it sounds like the three-pedal setup is here to stay with Walliser saying that it “matches very well” to the car’s high-revving, 4.0-liter flat-six. According to the motorsport head, half of all new GT3s sold in the U.S. (or a quarter of all GT3s sold anywhere) were manuals.

We’ve reached out to Porsche for further comment and will update this story if we get a response.

Uber vs. Waymo Trial Over Self-Driving Car Tech Starts Today

After almost a year of legal maneuvering, the trial between Uber and Waymo over self-driving car tech starts today. The case centers on whether Uber used stolen Waymo trade secrets to improve its own autonomous-car program, and could decide the futures of two of autonomous driving’s biggest players. Here’s what you need to know.

Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project, filed its bombshell lawsuit against Uber in February 2017. The suit alleges that engineer Anthony Levandowski stole 14,000 computer files while he was an employee at Waymo, and eventually passed them on to Uber.

Levandowski left Waymo in late 2015 to form self-driving truck startup Otto with Lior Ron, another ex-Waymo employee. Uber bought Otto in August 2016, and Levandowski was brought on board to help lead Uber’s self-driving car program. When Waymo filed its lawsuit, Levandowski exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. But because he refused to help fight the lawsuit, Uber eventually fired him.

The judge overseeing the case, William Alsup, has said Waymo must prove not only that Levandowski stole files, but that Uber actually used them in its own self-driving car program. Evidence presented so far hasn’t cast Levandowski or Uber in the most flattering light, but it’s still unclear if Waymo will be able to make a convincing case.

In October, Waymo successfully lobbied for the release of a due diligence report conducted ahead of Uber’s acquisition of Otto. This was a key document because it showed what Uber executive might have known about the alleged trade-secret theft before bringing Levandowski onboard. The report said Levandowski began meeting with Uber officials while he was still a Waymo employee, and that investigators found what looked like Waymo documents on Levandowski’s iPhone. But it didn’t provide conclusive proof that Uber planned to use stolen documents.

Over the past year, Uber’s self-driving car program has stagnated as the company has fought the lawsuit and a number of other scandals, which also triggered a management shakeup. CEO Travis Kalanick resigned in June and was replaced by former Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in September. Meanwhile, Waymo steadily expanded its self-driving car program, overtaking Uber in certain metrics.

Uber needs to win in court to get its self-driving car program back on track, while Waymo seeks vindication for what it believes is trade-secret theft. There’s a lot at stake, as self-driving cars are expected to massively disrupt the auto industry, and potentially generate trillions of dollars in revenue in decades to come. The case could also have a broader impact on the tech industry, where employees tend to jump from one company to another frequently.

Faraday Future recently filed a suit against Evelozcity, an electric-car startup founded by one of its former executives. In China, Baidu is suing an autonomous-driving startup founded by a former employee. As in the Waymo vs. Uber case, both Faraday and Baidu allege that ex-employees took trade secrets with them on the way out the door. The trial between Waymo and Uber could set a precedent for how these types of cases are handled.

The lawsuit has also transformed Uber and Waymo from competitive rivals into bitter litigants. The two companies have been at each other’s throats for a year, and that acrimony could continue after the verdict if the losing side decides to file an appeal. The case could become an indefinite distraction from Uber and Waymo’s main goal: eliminating human drivers.

There’s a Welsh-Made Hydrogen Car Coming This Summer

Wales isn’t exactly known for being a hot-bed of automotive innovation. The only people I’ve heard of from Wales are Catherine Zeta-Jones, Garreth Bale, and my buddy Luke. Yet deep in the countryside there’s a company called Riversimple Motion that’s created a hydrogen car they say will be ready for enjoyment this summer. It’s called the Riversimple Rasa, and according to the BBC, it’s set to begin real-world trials on the streets this summer.

The company is based in Llandrindod Wells and crowdfunded about $1.4 million last year to start the project. There will be a second round of funding in February and the company has already secured $2.26 million from the European Union. Their pie-in-the-sky idea is a model where customers pay a monthly fee for a car and all of the maintenance, insurance, and fuel that it takes to run it.

The company’s first car, the Rasa, is a small two-seater made of carbon fiber that only weighs 1,278 pounds. It’s powered by hydrogen and comes with fancy butterfly doors. Four in-hub motors are powered by the hydrogen fuel cell, capable of moving the Rasa up to 60 miles per hour. Its tank fits 3.3 pounds of compressed hydrogen, which is good enough for a range of up to 300 miles.

The company said that up to 10 of the cars will take part in a testing phase that will last about a year. There are already a ton of applicants applying to be part of the lucky group. Over 900 drivers have asked to be considered as beta testers for the car as well. Refueling could be a problem as currently there are only four hydrogen filling stations accessible to the public in all of the UK. For the testing, Riversimple is adding a refueling point in the city of Abergavenny.

If all goes well this summer, the next step for the company is to set up a production factory and hire 220 workers.

Rinspeed Snap Concept Is an Autonomous Electric Box on Wheels

You can always count on Rinspeed to arrive at an auto show with some sort of unusual concept car, but lately, the Swiss firm has become more focused on how autonomous driving will change car design. The Oasis concept had all of the comforts of a living room, and now Rinspeed has come up with an autonomous electric box called the Snap.

Debuting at CES 2018 in January, the Snap’s rectangular body can actually be removed from the chassis and replaced, much like the General Motors Autonomy concept from the early 2000s. Rinspeed this modular setup will allow the powertrain and running gear to be easily replaced when new technology becomes available, or when components wear out. The body can be continuously mated to new chassis as needed.

The body also has deployable legs, allowing it to stand on its own as a stationary structure. Rinspeed says it could be used as a camper or even a mobile office. The interior is basically just a collection of seats and touchscreens. Iris scanners identify individuals, Minority Report-style, bringing up personal preferences for things like music and destinations. Rinspeed also designed a small robot that can run errands for the people onboard.

The Snap features an electric powertrain supplied by ZF, along with four-wheel steering for increased maneuverability in urban traffic. It’s also designed to be autonomous and uses six external projectors to communicate with other road users and pedestrians. They display messages such as “right of way granted” to let people know what the Snap is doing. It’s a relatively straightforward substitution for the hand gestures and eye contact human drivers use to communicate.

Like all Rinspeed concepts, the Snap isn’t destined for production. It was just built to demonstrate some new ideas. But given the potential changes that could be wrought by autonomous driving and ride sharing, it’s theoretically possible that future cars could morph into mobile boxes like the Snap. No one said cars have to continue looking like cars.

Tesla’s Giant Australian Battery Farm Is Now Online

A massive Tesla battery farm is now online and storing electricity from wind turbines in the Australian state of South Australia, according to the local government. Tesla CEO Elon Musk lived up to his “100 days or it’s free” promise for the installation of the system, with work completed just 63 days after the contract was signed.

The 100-megawatt installation is the largest of its kind in the world, according to the South Australian government. It will provide electricity to the grid generated by wind 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of whether or not the wind is blowing, a government press release said. That’s the advantage of coupling renewable energy with battery energy storage.

While renewable-energy sources like wind and solar are only available intermittently, energy storage allows the electricity generated from those sources to be available whenever it is needed. When wind and solar power are available, a surplus of electricity is produced. That excess power can be stored in battery packs for later use.

The South Australian battery array isn’t the first utility-scale energy-storage project, but it was started under somewhat unusual circumstances.

After a massive blackout in September 2016, the state government began looking at energy storage as a way to provide more reliable power from renewable sources. Lyndon Rive, Tesla’s vice president of energy products and Musk’s cousin, subsequently visited South Australia and said Tesla could solve the state’s energy problems in 100 days. Entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brooks then tweeted at Musk asking if the Tesla CEO was serious. Musk said if Tesla didn’t install the system in 100 days from signing a contract, it would be free.

The battery packs were delivered a few weeks ago, but the system had to undergo testing to ensure it could interface with the grid before going live. The battery farm will draw power from the Hornsdale Power Reserve wind farm near Jamestown, South Australia, which is operated by renewable-energy company Neoen.

Installation of such a large battery farm is a major step forward for energy storage. If the system lives up to expectations, it could serve as an example for other projects, providing a boost to renewable energy and helping to decrease use of fossil fuels for electricity generation.

Science Confirms: New Tesla Roadster Will Be the Greatest Getaway Car Ever

You’ve just robbed a bank in Los Angeles, the cops are bearing down on you from all sides, and you need to get out of the country pronto. Mexico it is. In the alley behind the bank sits a $3 million Bugatti Chiron hypercar and a $200,000 Tesla Roadster electric sportscar. Both can reach a top speed of 250 miles per hour. Assuming the highways at are free and clear (I know, I know, it’s just a thought experiment) which vehicle do you choose to make your getaway?

If the calculations executed by the engineers at Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Mechanical Engineering are correct—and they usually are—the Roadster is the way to go, by far. The reason: With the throttle pinned, it’ll leave the Boog by the side of the road.

Assistant Professor Venkat Viswanathan and graduate researcher Shashank Sripad, both experts in battery-electric vehicle technology and veteran critics of Tesla’s preliminary performance claims, spent some time this weekend crunching the available numbers for us on the new Roadster in order to predict the totality of its capabilities. Working from the scant data provided by Tesla CEO Elon Musk during the unveiling last week—including 0-60 mph and 0-100 mph data, with the key gaps being the car’s total weight and it aerodynamics—the scientists were able to pull together a compelling Roadsterpedia for the new machine to entice our imaginations.

To start, the Roadster will have a powerful 200 kWh battery and a range of 620 miles, according to Tesla’s announcement. What can you start to learn from that? A lot about the vehicle’s weight, for one thing. “This is very close to the watt-hour per mile of a Model S sedan,” Sripad says, noting that the Model S packs a 100 kWh battery—half that of the Roadster—in its most aggressive performance trim. “But the Roadster has much better aerodynamics, as claimed by Tesla’s website, so the Roadster’s weight must be similar to or higher than the Model S.”

They also note that the Tesla Model 3 compact sedan has an 80 kWh battery pack that weighs about 480kg. The engineers assume that Tesla has produced an additional 20 percent improvement in the pack’s specific energy, probably due to better packaging materials. (Their reasoning there is that improvements of that magnitude in the chemistry of the battery itself is very difficult, and not yet feasible.) So the Roadster’s battery pack likely weighs between 1,980 and 2,200 pounds, and the whole vehicle around 4,400 pounds, assuming the battery pack takes up about 45 to 50 percent of the total vehicle weight.

In terms of performance capabilities from the Roadster’s battery, the key metric to watch is “normalized discharge current,” or C-rate, which helps estimate how much power the battery cells are capable of providing and how fast. “Each cell has a given capacity, and the C-rate at a given discharge current equals its capacity,” Sripad explains. “So C-rate tells you how much ‘discharge stress’ each cell undergoes.”

To reach the claimed 0-60 time of 1.9 seconds, for the Roadster would need a much lower C-rate compared to a Model S P100D—the current top-performing Tesla sedan—in order to distribute as much power as possible to the car’s electric motors. The Roadster will have twice the battery capacity, thus half the C-rate. (That is, it won’t have to work as hard to generate power as the smaller battery pack in the P100D.) So the Roadster can get to 60mph faster than a P100D because it has more cells to draw power from. To get to 100 mph in 4.2 seconds, the Roadster uses similar C-rates that the P100D uses to get to 60 in 2.5 seconds. In short the Roadster’s battery in “Plaid mode”—its fastest guise—will draw current at roughly the same rate as the P100D in Ludicrous mode, its own top end. Plus, it’ll likely generate close to 1,500 HP to do it, compared to the P100D’s 760 HP.

So what does this all mean in terms of choosing our getaway vehicle? The vehicle dynamics model Viswanathan and Sripad developed based on the battery capacity, the car’s weight, and its known performance data suggest that the Roadster is capable of maintaining 250 mph for between 25 and 30 minutes. A Bugatti Chiron, on the other hand, would run out of fuel in its 22-gallon tank at the same top speed in just 9 minutes. So leaving downtown Los Angeles, the Boog will peter out after just 38 miles—a bit more if running at its claimed top speed of 261 mph, which the Roadster can possibly equal. That’ll put it somewhere near Irvine, while the Roadster can make it about 130 miles, or all the way to the border, before running out of juice.

Interesting side note: The new Roadster’s performance precisely doubles that of its predecessor, the Tesla Roadster manufactured between 2008 and 2012 and based on the Lotus Elise chassis. Acceleration jumps from a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds to 1.9, while top speed goes from 125 mph to 250 mph. (Pricing also doubles quite neatly, from a base of $100,000 to a base of $200,000.) Using similar logic, the original Roadster could sustain its modest top speed of 125 mph for about 15 minutes, Sripad says, meaning it would get about as far as Disneyland before the cops caught up.

Watch Two Time-Attack Subaru WRXs Visit Hoonigan and Play

By now, serious car enthusiasts who haven’t seen a Hoonigan Daily Transmission video before must have been living under a rock. Cool people with cool cars do silly things in their cars at the Hoonigan Donut Garage. In one of the latest episodes, two time-attack Subarus, putting out almost a combined 1,000 horsepower, stopped by to play.

Markos Mylonas and Sally McNulty of Snail Performance are the two who brought the Subarus. If you were following Hoonigans Female Driver Search a few months ago, you will recall that McNulty was a strong competitor in the driver search and held her own. Mylonas’ Subaru is a 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX which in the video he claims puts out about 580 hp. His WRX has a chassis mounted rear wing which is was able to stand on without breaking. McNulty’s Subaru is also a WRX, a 2007 Subaru Impreza WRX good for 406 hp. You get some great beauty shots of the WRXs.

The reason the pair was in town was to attend Super Lap Battle, which Hoonigan’s Brandon Kado and Vinny Anatra also attended.

Eventually, as with all Hoonigan guests, the pair was peer-pressured into some silliness with their cars. Being that the cars are all-wheel-drive you cannot simply rip some donuts in the small space that the Donut Garage has between the dock and the containers. So they “space raced,” which is basically a drag race from the beginning of a container to the end.

I won’t exactly spoil how it happens, but if you are going to break your performance car, you might as well do it on a YouTube channel that has more than a million subscribers. I think it worked out for them in the end and Mylonas and McNulty were able to attend Super Lap Battle and compete.

If you want to get the details on how the Subaru broke, check out Hoonigan’s video below.

Night Vision Goggle-Wearing Taliban Are Terrible News for Afghan and US Forces

New reports suggest that the Taliban are increasingly using Russian-made night vision equipment, underscoring the group’s increasing sophistication relative to Afghan government security forces. This could even threaten historical advantages that American and other coalition elements have enjoyed at night, especially as they renew closer cooperation with Afghanistan’s troops in the field, part of still largely undefined strategy to finally break the insurgents after more than 16 years of war.

On Nov. 13, 2017, Afghan officials told The New York Times that night-vision equipped Taliban, aided by an insider, had murdered at least eight policemen as they slept at their station near the city of Farah, capital of the province of the same name in Western Afghanistan. It is one of the latest in a string of bold and deadly attacks by the insurgents on government outposts in traditionally secure areas that began in October 2017.

“Night-vision equipment is used in ambushes by the insurgents and it is very effective,” Afghan Major General Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the country’s defense ministry told The Times. “You can see your enemy but they cannot see you coming.”

Understanding this advantage, the U.S. military has long seen the value of light-enhancing night vision and infrared equipment and developing improved gear has been a priority since World War II. It wasn’t until the first Gulf War that the technology had caught up with the desire to make night vision systems a piece a common kit for even the most lowly infantryman. At present, American combat units have these systems at all levels in order to continue “owning the night.”

The slick video below shows a U.S. Marines and U.S. Army special operations forces training together to conduct operations in low-light conditions at the Marine Corps base at Twentynine Palms, California and gives a good sense of American troops’ nighttime capabilities.

Despite more than a decade American support, the same cannot be said of Afghan troops and paramilitary police. These units routinely lack sufficient night vision systems and what equipment they do have is often in disrepair.

This became particularly apparent after President Barack Obama initiated plans for a significant draw down of forces in Afghanistan in 2011 following an initial surge of personnel. U.S. troops had positioned their outposts and bases and designed their defenses with extensive night vision capabilities in mind.

When Afghan forces who lacked those capabilities took over, they almost immediately found themselves unable to properly maintain those sites against persistent Taliban attacks. In 2012, The Washington Post described how bad things had gotten at one combat outpost in the Jalrez Valley.

“Troops patrolling the area near the base return before dusk because the Afghan army has no provision for night-vision goggles, which the troops borrowed from the Americans when the base was shared,” the newspaper explained. “The patrols – adapted from U.S. counterinsurgency theory – are not as common as they once were, and Afghan soldiers say they are of little consequence.”

Afghan Uniformed Police during an operation in 2013.

The Jalrez district of Afghanistan’s eastern Wardak province was still the site of routine and deadly insurgent attacks three years later. In 2015, the Los Angeles Times noted that the area “includes 12 of the most perilous miles of roadway in the country.”

The night vision issue, or finding some other means for Afghan forces to reliably operate at night when insurgent activity is often most pronounced, is just one of the many hurdles the United States and its allies have to overcome in their latest attempt to help the country’s authorities break the Taliban insurgency. At present, Afghan special operations units, including its special forces, commandos, and the shadowy and elite Ktah Khas battalion, do have ready access to night vision equipment. Unfortunately, this probably also explains why this small proportion of the country’s overall military has reportedly ended up being responsible for nearly 70 percent of all offensive operations across the country.

The problem is bound to become even more glaring as the United States moves to dramatically increase the number of advisory personnel accompanying Afghan units on actual combat operations in order to be better positioned to call in air strikes and precision artillery fire. In the past, American troops, especially special operations forces, have employed infrared strobes to mark their positions for friendly aircraft and other supporting forces.

In June 2014, a U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber accidentally killed a number of U.S. Army special forces soldiers when it mistook them for Taliban troops. In its investigation, the U.S. military determined that one of the major factors in what remains the deadliest friendly fire incident involving Americans in Afghanistan was the inability of the bomber’s targeting system to detect those blinking lights.

Now, the Taliban may be able to spot those beacons and use them to zero in on U.S. and coalition personnel and their Afghan partners. On top of that, Joint operations with Afghan units who have limited situational awareness after dark can only put their American advisers in a riskier position in general, no matter what support is on call. By 2018, there could be almost 16,000 U.S. personnel in country in total.

For years, U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, including special operations forces, have been relying heavily on contractors for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Private firms are presently supplying small Scan Eagle and similarly sized drones, small manned surveillance platforms such as the Beechcraft King Air-based Night Eagle, and tethered aerostats with electro-optical and infrared sensor packages, among other assets to provide persistent surveillance in the country, especially at night. Underscoring the issues with monitoring the Taliban after the sun goes down, unlike more complex systems using the same airframe, Night Eagle has an infrared-capable full-motion video camera as its only sensor.

There is also the suggestion that there is such a concern about Taliban infiltration of Afghanistan’s institutions – in many cases lead to deadly insider attacks – that the United States and its coalition partners are often reluctant to share this information with their Afghan counterparts. One draft U.S. Air Force contract document, dated November 2016, regarding drone surveillance, said that “the contractor shall also provide imagery with all meta-data removed that can be releasable to Afghanistan.” The NATO-led coalition did not respond to a request for clarification about the nature of routine intelligence sharing with Afghan government elements.

At present, the Afghan military lacks any significant number of its own such persistent surveillance systems. The Afghan Special Mission Wing does have a number of Pilatus PC-12s with turreted infrared cameras, similar to the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command’s U-28A, but the regular Afghan Air Force’s A-29 Super Tucanos appear to fly many missions without their own sensor turrets.

In 2018, the United States hopes to help deliver three AC-208 Combat Caravans, a modified Cessna C-208, with a turreted infrared camera, as well as the ability to fire 70mm laser-guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS II) rockets. The U.S. military has already facilitated the delivery of similar aircraft to Iraq and Lebanon.

“That’s going to be their reconnaissance bird. They don’t have any reconnaissance right now,” U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Phillip Stewart, the American officer commander in charge of NATO’s air training mission Afghanistan, told Defense News. “That’s going to be a gamechanger for them.”

It’s not clear how soon the Afghan Air Force would be able to put that capability into action, though. As we at The War Zone have written about in detail before, the service has a long standing shortage of qualified aircrews across the board and has historically had difficulty maintaining more complex systems without significant help from private contractors. It’s unclear how easy it would be to increase the distribution of night vision goggles and similar systems to regular Army troops, as well, given routine reports of units selling their equipment on the black market to make up for lost or stolen paychecks or just to make some additional money in country where the individuals commonly make less than $500 a year.

One of Iraq's AC-208 Combat Caravans with the sensor turret visible below the fuselage. Afghanistan's aircraft will be in a similar configuration.

At the same time, it is clear that the militants and their allies are only getting more sophisticated in their capabilities, which only makes the night-time threats more pronounced and immediate. In addition to the night vision goggles, the group itself claims that it has acquired and is using infrared aiming lasers on their rifles and machine guns, just like American forces, as part of expanding night time operations.

“Usually we are using laser weapons and night visions on night attacks,” Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesperson who the The Times’ reporters spoke to via cellphone, said, referring to the laser aiming devices. “We definitely used night visions and laser weapons for that attack [near Farah] as well.”

A US Army special forces soldier holds a weapon fitted with an infrared aiming laser in Afghanistan.

In August 2017, the group released a slick, 70-minute long propaganda video highlighting its “special forces,” who clearly were aping the style and look – at least according to popular media – of elite American special operations forces. Though these forces are almost undoubtedly less capable their U.S. military counterparts, the presentation did suggest there is increasing level of training and competency among at least some portions of the organization’s forces.

American weapons and equipment, which fighters often take as spoils of war after attack Afghan or coalition units, featured prominently in the video, too. In October 2017, the Taliban nearly wiped out an entire Afghan Army base in a complex attack that featured two captured Humvees the fighters had rigged up as massive suicide bombs, also known as vehicle-based improvised explosive devices or VBIEDs – a separate tactic that has also proven to be especially deadly in the fighting against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The Taliban special forces, also known as Sara Khitta, or “Red Group” in the Pashto language, are among those elements that have begun employing night visions systems, as well. Afghan government special operations forces reported seeing the fighters with the gear as early as August 2016, but the attack in Farah appears to be the first clear confirmation that the group is actively using the equipment. The exact source of the goggles is less clear.

Naser Mehri, a spokesman for governor of Farah province, told The Times that the goggles appeared to be Russian in origin. Major General Waziri said that there was no indication that they had come via the Russian government and posited that the Taliban had likely purchased them on the black market in neighboring Pakistan.

Despite a host of reports earlier in 2017 indicating that the Kremlin might have started actively supporting the Taliban, there has so far not been any conclusive evidence to support this accusation. Russian weapons and other military equipment are not particularly difficult for militants and terrorists to obtain in the region for a variety of illicit sources.

“I want to see more evidence about how deep the support is,” U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis told legislators during a hearing in October 2017. “I need more definition on what is coming out of Russia. I can’t figure it out. It doesn’t make sense. But we’re looking at it very carefully.”

Explosive ordnance disposal technicians from one of Afghanistan's commando units sweep for improvised explosive devices during a nighttime operation.

Determining the origins of the equipment is likely to be part of a larger regional effort to try and identify and neutralize trans-national sources of support for the Taliban. In announcing his new administration’s overarching strategy for improving security in Afghanistan and South Asia, U.S. President Donald Trump highlighted the long-standing issue of the terrorists being able to operate with apparent impunity in Pakistan.

“No, I haven’t seen any change yet in their behavior,” U.S. Army General John Nicholson, who commands all American and coalition troops in Afghanistan, told reporters earlier in November 2017 after a meeting of senior defense officials from NATO member states in Brussels, Belgium. “The United States has been very clear about the direction we want to go and we hope to see some change in the coming weeks and months.”

The United States has been hoping to pressure the Pakistani government to do more on this issue, but it not clear if they are either willing or able to do more to challenge militant groups in their semi-autonomous northwestern tribal regions. Clearing up whether there is an actual link between Russia and the Taliban would also give U.S. officials different leverage to try and upend any active coordination between the group and the Kremlin.

In the meantime, though, the Taliban are increasingly using night vision equipment and despite more than 16 years of American support, it’s just as clear that Afghan units often lack any similar capability. The United States and its allies will have to figure out a solution that they can implement now or run a growing risk of losing ownership of the night to the insurgents.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

Valtteri Bottas Takes Pole Position in Brazil After Hamilton Q1 Crash

A competitive Saturday qualifying round at Interlagos saw one half of the Mercedes F1 duo triumph while the other crashed out early in Q1. Valtteri Bottas leads the field going into Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix as he will start in P1 with Ferrari’s Vettel rounding out the front row. However, fellow Silver Arrow driver and Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton suffered an unusual crash in the first stage of quali, forcing him to start from the back of the grid at tomorrow’s race.

Bottas’ final time of 1:08.322 was just enough to place him ahead of Vettel’s 1:08.360, but in the end, it was the young Finnish driver who had the trump card. As a result, Bottas claimed his third pole position of his career—the first in Brazil. Vettel will sit next to him on the starting line with his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen in third position.

After Q3, Bottas told reporters “I feel good. Still a bit shaky, it’s a good feeling. It was so close between Sebastian in the qualifying, so got a good lap in the end. It’s really good to start on the pole here, we have a good car, it’s going to be a close race still with Ferrari.”

Vettel then added, “I think I chickened out a bit on the brakes on the last lap into Turn 1.” That seemingly minor mistake was enough to knock him down a spot on the grid, and he will have 71 laps tomorrow to make it up.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will complete the second row with Raikkonen as he achieved a best time of 1:08.925. The Dutchman has expressed his optimism about Sunday’s event throughout the week as he finished on the podium here last season as well as claiming the fastest lap in 2016. Verstappen claimed to have issues during Q1, saying “There is definitely something not right with my engine.”

Daniel Ricciardo fell just short of his teammate in qualifying, though a slew of engine changes will earn him penalties, likely knocking him towards the back of the field. Sergio Perez came in closely behind and was then followed by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

The Renault tandem of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz claimed eighth and ninth fastest of the day with Williams’ Felipe Massa finishing tenth in his final Brazilian GP qualifying round.

This is the first time that Lewis Hamiton has exited qualifying in Q1 since Belgium in 2016. He currently holds the record for most pole positions in F1 history with 72.

Bottas’ pole position is the 87th in Mercedes team history.