Now, the WHOLE Story of That One Time an Iranian Patrol Plane Buzzed an American Flattop

Iranian P-3 was performing special recon maneuver

Sometime probably in the summer of 2012, a P-3F patrol plane belonging to the Iranian air force flew real close to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as the flattop sailed in the Persian Gulf.

It wasn’t until an Iranian Website published photos of the incident that outsiders even knew the close encounter had taken place. The Iranian site’s photos told the story from the P-3 crew’s point of view.

Then, snapshots from the carrier, posted to, began to show us the event from the American perspective.

And now, thanks to some anonymous tipsters, we can complete the story with some context—plus photos taken by the pilot of an F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter that ultimately escorted the P-3 away from Abraham Lincoln.

It apparently went down like this.

Navy photo

The four-engine, 1970s-vintage P-3F—one of four operated by Iran—approached Abraham Lincoln at low altitude. The encounter obviously took place in international waters, where both the ship and plane have every right to be.

“The P-3 looks like it is executing a standard surface reconnaissance maneuver known as an ‘eight-point rig,’” a former American P-3 pilot tells War is Boring.

Navy photo

“The maneuver is meant to yield an eight-perspective photo set of the contact—i.e., quarters, beams, bow and stern perspectives,” the pilot continues.

“This maneuver was used regularly on merchant ships to establish the contact’s name, home port, flag, hull type, deck cargo, course and speed—and photos,” according to the aviator.

Navy photo

The P-3 appears to have avoided pointing its nose at Abraham Lincoln, instead tracing a sort of square around the 1,000-foot vessel. That’s on purpose, the pilot says. “The maneuver is meant to avoid a threatening head-on approach of the contact.”

“Although,” the pilot adds, “I always thought the proximity was threatening to a military ship.”


Abraham Lincoln vectored a Super Hornet fighter to intercept the P-3, which apparently had climbed to a higher altitude after its low passes.


The Iranians snapped photos of the American jet flying just to starboard and under the P-3’s wing.

Navy photo

And, hopefully keeping one hand on the stick, the Super Hornet’s pilot shot photos of his own.

Navy photo

They include one very meta snapshot that shows the Iranian P-3 crew holding their cameras up to one of the patrol plane’s observation windows—aircrews from rival nations photographing each other photographing each other.

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Next Story — As Other Countries Build Better Tanks, Britain’s Challenger 2 Falls Behind
Currently Reading - As Other Countries Build Better Tanks, Britain’s Challenger 2 Falls Behind

A Challenger 2 tank fires during an exercise near Basra, Iraq in 2008. DoD photo

As Other Countries Build Better Tanks, Britain’s Challenger 2 Falls Behind

The United Kingdom will spend millions upgrading its tanks but it might be too late


The British Challenger 2 tank is becoming obsolete in the face of new threats such as the Russian T-14 Armata. But the United Kingdom is preparing to embark on an upgrade program to keep up with advances in armored warfare.

Britain doesn’t have many other options. For one, the Challenger 2 will remain in service until at least 2035 because it’s too expensive to replace. “We have got issues with the tanks we’ve got and if we don’t do something about it we will have issues,” Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of the British Army General Staff, said last year.

To be sure, an upgraded Challenger 2 — itself a heavily redesigned version of the 1980s-vintage Challenger — can remain an effective and lethal tank. And it has a good combat record. The only problem is that it’s unlikely to receive the upgrades it needs the most because of cost.

So the British tank of the 2020s and 2030s might not be that different from the current one.

Here’s what we know about the proposed upgrade to the Challenger 2.

Britain will start awarding the first contracts in October, and an array of U.S. and European arms manufacturers want in on some $800 million worth of improvements for more than 200 Challenger 2s — the bulk of the British tank fleet.

The biggest possible upgrade — emphasis here on possible — will be to the Challenger 2’s turret. The tank’s current configuration also lacks an independent thermal sight for the commander, drastically limiting the crew’s ability to hunt for enemies at night. A new thermal sight is almost guaranteed.

Then there’s the Challenger 2’s gun.

A British Challenger 2 tank in Germany in 2012. U.S. Army photo

See, the Challenger 2 has a fairly weak gun — known as the L30A1 — when compared to other modern tanks as described by the Below the Turret Ring blog.

The reason for this is because it has a rifled barrel, characterized by interior grooves that add spin to the shells as they travel down the length of the gun.

But modern tanks do not need such barrels, as almost all now rely on fin-stabilized rounds that maintain aerodynamic stability without the need for rifling. And with smoothbore barrels, you can create more pressure and impart more velocity, which means more penetrating power.

The Challengers and India’s Arjuns are the only two main battle tanks in the world still with rifled barrels.

Now consider that Russia is building new, heavily-armored tanks, and the Challenger 2’s gun appears to be somewhat of an anachronism. Especially now that Russian developments are also spurring a new French-German tank known as Leopard 3.

“The [British] Army now has control of its budget, priorities and requirements,” Ben Barry of the International Institute for Strategic Studies told Defense News in January. “Secondly, we have a resurgent Russia and finally the advent of operationally fielded active protection systems makes direct fire anti-armor guns and the tank much more important.”

But another concern for the British Army is that a new gun will require a redesign of the Challenger 2’s turret, as the current one’s internal storage space cannot fit enough of the ammunition fired through smoothbores.

Whether Britain actually will replace the gun depends on who wins the contract. An international consortium led by BAE Systems — a British company — has not proposed a new gun, while German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall has proposed to swap out the L30A1 with the versatile, high-velocity smoothbore L/55 as fitted on the Leopard 2.

That is in addition to a host of other improvements.

But there are economic weighing against Rheinmetall — particularly following Brexit with a shaky future for the British economy. The British government might prefer to buy British than spend millions more pounds — which have declined against the euro — on German guns.

And Britain might view a new gun and turret as too expensive, in any case.

The proposed upgrades from the BAE Systems-led team (which includes the U.S. company General Dynamics) are also far more modest than Rheinmetall’s. They include adding a thermal imager for the tank commander, improving the fire-control systems, gun-control systems and electronic interfaces.

The good news for the British Army is that the government is funding research into active-protection systems — which can disrupt incoming guided weapons before they strike — for the Challenger 2 as part of a separate program. But we won’t know whether the Army will adopt these defense systems until 2018.

But otherwise, unless there are any surprises, expect the new Challenger 2 to look a lot like the old Challenger 2.

Next Story — That’s Weird — Russia’s Best Fighter Jets in Syria Are Flying With Crappy Missiles
Currently Reading - That’s Weird — Russia’s Best Fighter Jets in Syria Are Flying With Crappy Missiles

A Russian air force Su-35. Vitaly V. Kuzmin photo

That’s Weird — Russia’s Best Fighter Jets in Syria Are Flying With Crappy Missiles

The Kremlin possesses air-to-air missiles which match American ones, just not very many


While Russia has deployed advanced warplanes to Syria including the Sukhoi Su-30SM, Su-34 and Su-35S, those jets are seldom seen carrying Moscow’s latest air-to-air weapons.

More often than not, the Su-30SM Flanker-H and Su-34 Fullback are spotted armed with Soviet-era R-27 semi-active radar and infrared-guided medium range air-to-air missiles.

It is only on occasion that Su-35S Flanker-E fighters are spotted with active-radar guided R-77 RVV-SD missiles — which are roughly the equivalent of the American-made Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM.

The reason Russian fighters are seldom spotted with advanced air-to-air weaponry are two-fold, explained researcher Mikhail Barabanov, editor-in-chief of the Moscow Defense Brief, which is published by the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

One reason is that Vympel R-77 RVV-SD missiles are still comparatively rare in Russian air force service. The second reason is that the Kremlin does not consider an air-to-air confrontation with U.S. and allied forces to be likely.

“In the Syria RVV-SD missiles are used on Russian A.F. planes, but again, due to resource savings, not always. Rather, they are hung to show others — the USA and Turkey — that they have them,” Barabanov said.

“Why do they not hang them permanently? The Russian A.F. obviously does not believe in the possibility of confrontation with the United States in the air. So why waste resources on bogus threats?”

A Russian air force Su-34. Vitaly V. Kuzmin photo

While the Russian air force possesses active-radar homing missile technology, it only has a small number of those weapons in service. Barabanov said:

“The RVV-SD missiles are just beginning to reach de facto initial operational capability in the Russian air force — it is necessary to provide training, etc. As with all aircraft missiles, the RVV-SD is a limited resource in terms of the number of takeoffs and landings onboard an airplane. At the end of this limited resource, it is necessary to send a missile to be repaired for life extension. Therefore, during peacetime, flying airplanes with expensive new missile[s] does not make sense.”

Because Russia does not have vast stocks of RVV-SD missiles in service and its perception that the United States does pose a likely threat, Moscow is making use of the vast arsenal of R-27 missiles it inherited from the Soviet Union.

“The Russian air force has vast numbers of old R-27 family missiles in warehouses — a resource which also expires. Therefore, they do not regret using those and actively fly with them in peacetime,” Barabanov said.

While the Soviet Union developed the original variant of the R-77 during the 1980s, the Russian air force did not buy that version of the weapon following the collapse of the USSR due the lack of funding. However, Vympel did develop a less capable export variant of the R-77 called the RVV-AE, which it has exported to a number of countries around the world.

“The R-77 (Izdelie 170) missiles started serial production in the Kiev ‘Artem’ plant [in what is now an independent Ukraine] in the late 1980s with an initial batch of 200 missiles, all of which have long been used for tests in the Soviet/Russian A.F. This missile is no longer relevant because of its obsolescence,” Barabanov said.

“The Russian developer of this missile — Vympel in Moscow — has since the late 1990s serial produced an export version of this missile under the designation RVV-AE using foreign components and with reduced performance. The Russian air force does not buy the RVV-AE missile.”

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Russia resumed development of a R-77 variant for its own use.

“For the Russian air force, since 2000, Vympel — now KTRV Corporation — developed a new version of the R-77 missile under the designation RVV-SD (Izdelie 170–1),” Barabanov said. “The first contract for their purchase was signed by the Ministry of Defense of Russia in 2009 — along with the first contract for the Su-35S fighters.”

But it was not until 2011 that the Russian air force received its first RVV-SD missiles — and the service does not yet have enough of the new weapons in its inventory.

“Deliveries started around since 2011,” Barabanov said. “Since then, there were two major contracts for the RVV-SD missiles — in 2012 and in 2015 — with the last being worth 13.175 billion rubles with delivery expected in 2016–2017. With that purchase, there is now a sufficiently large number of RVV-SD missiles.”

This article originally appeared at The National Interest.

Next Story — Colombia’s Peace Deal Means the Cocaine Trade Is Wide Open
Currently Reading - Colombia’s Peace Deal Means the Cocaine Trade Is Wide Open

Colombian scout sniper. U.S. Marine Corps photo

Colombia’s Peace Deal Means the Cocaine Trade Is Wide Open

Local, regional and international players could step in and get rich


This article originally appeared at InSight Crime.

A peace agreement between Colombia’s government and the country’s largest rebel army has been reached, and while the end of the five-decade old civil war has immense political and social implications, it’s not clear what is going to happen to the criminal economies that have sustained thousands of rebels.

The agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government came after almost four years of negotiations. And although the formal agreement will not be signed until next month, there are already questions about what happens to an immense criminal economies present where the FARC operates.

At the top of this pyramid is the cocaine trade. President Juan Manuel Santos stated during his nationwide address following the signing of the accords Aug. 24, that as part of the agreement “the FARC have committed to breaking the link” with drug trafficking.

But while the president talked about Colombia starting a new chapter of peace, InSight Crime is looking at the new criminal chapter that will begin once the FARC leave the stage.

The importance of the FARC in the world cocaine trade is hard to underestimate.

They control up to 70 percent of the coca crops in the country (which total between 96,000 and 159,000 hectares depending on whether you use figures from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime or the White House) and thus around 40 percent of the total world supply of cocaine.

The FARC also have a monopoly in their areas of influence on the trade in coca base, the sticky paste that is later transformed into powdered cocaine. A decent chemist can turn a kilogram of high quality coca base into a kilogram of crystalized cocaine, ready for export.

Dueling pro- and anti-FARC graffiti. Bixentro photo via Flickr

Many FARC units, or “fronts” as they are called, trade cocaine as well as coca base. At least seven FARC fronts are involved in the export of cocaine and directly feed the world drug market. In sum, it is safe to say that the FARC are the single most important organization in the world cocaine trade.

A series of signatures in Havana is not going to bring an end to this trade. But there is going to be a seismic shift in the supply side dynamics of illegal drugs in Colombia.

While cocaine provides the bulk of the rebels’ earnings, the criminal economies under the FARC control are not restricted to illegal drugs. They also control illegal and legal gold mining activities and systematically extort thousands of individuals and businesses.

InSight Crime estimates that the total worth of the criminal economies in areas currently under FARC influence is in excess of a billion dollars annually. Of this, the guerrillas used $300 million for war, but another $300 million ended up in the pockets of individual FARC members, their families, friends and associates; and the rest went to other criminal actors that worked alongside the FARC.

To break the “link” to the drug trade and end the fighting, the agreement calls for the creation of 23 zones (formally called “Transitory Hamlet Zones for Normalization”) and eight camps where demobilized rebels will concentrate.

But will all their commanders leave their lucrative areas? And what will happen to the all the FARC’s criminal economies when and if the armed fighters leave these territories?

U.S. Coast Guardsmen offload $93 million in seized cocaine in South Florida. U.S. Coast Guard photo

We at InSight Crime are exploring five different scenarios, all of which could come to pass:

1. Elements of the FARC proclaim themselves as dissidents and stay in the field using the FARC name. This has already been seen with the First Front.

2. Colombia’s remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), receives a massive boost from criminal income currently under FARC control, especially in more than 60 municipalities where the two guerrilla armies co-habit.

There might also be a significant transfer of FARC fighters and weapons to the ELN as many decide that the peace agreement does not appeal to them, and they opt to remain in the “revolutionary struggle.”

3. A new generation Colombian transnational organized crime (TOC) syndicates — known in Colombia as the BACRIM (after the Spanish words “bandas criminales”) — absorb FARC elements and territory. These groups were born after the last peace agreement in 2006, between the government the paramilitary army of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

4. Elements of the FARC are seduced by international TOC, which are key players in the international cocaine trade.

Foremost among these are Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel; Brazil’s mighty prison gangs of the First Capital Command (PCC) and the Red Command; Venezuela’s “Cartel of the Suns;” and European mafias, such as Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta along with the Serbian and Albanian mafias, which are stepping up their involvement in the cocaine trade.

Many of these organizations, particularly the Mexican ones, already have direct links with FARC fronts (like the 57th, the 29th, the 30th and 48th) and could offer local FARC leaders money, weapons, communications equipment and anything else they might need to retain their military capacity and territorial control — anything to maintain the flow of cocaine.

5. Elements of the FARC that have been collecting extortion money (“taxes”) from the drug trade and from mining proceeds decide to stay in business and keep the proceeds for themselves. This we call the “FARCRIM” option, a mirror of the BACRIM born from the AUC. These groups would likely form organized criminal syndicates in their areas of influence.

In the aftermath of the AUC demobilization, some 36 BACRIM were formed. There was a wave of violence unleashed as these different groups fought each other for control of the most important criminal real estate. Today there is one dominant BACRIM, the Urabeños (who call themselves the Gaitanista Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AGC).

The Urabeños have more than 2,500 armed fighters. Working alongside them is a host of smaller regional organized crime groups.

There may well be another wave of violence as the underworld recomposes itself around the FARC’s formal departure from the lucrative criminal economies they control. Yet today there is a form of “Pax Mafiosa” in the country, with very little fighting between criminal actors, who now prefer to cooperate and share the profits than fight for control.

The FARC are already part of this world, providing BACRIM and TOC with coca base and cocaine. These relationships are unlikely to die with any agreement in Havana. They will more likely evolve and give birth to a new generation of criminal actors, some of which will inevitably have FARC roots.

This is not new to Colombians where illegal actors have been regularly recycled in the past. When the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) demobilized in 1991, several elements stayed in the field, and one is still active in the Norte De Santander Department along the border with Venezuela, deeply involved in the drug trade.

Other EPL fighters joined the prototype paramilitary group known as the Peasant Self Defense Force of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU). The ACCU gave birth the paramilitary army of the AUC. The AUC demobilized and gave birth to the BACRIM.

The question is can the government prevent or at least minimize the risk of a new generation of criminal actors being born from the FARC?

Peace will have untold benefits for Colombia. But it will also provide a new set of opportunities for criminal actors keen to take over the criminal economies that the FARC currently control. As long as the criminal economies remain intact, someone will take them over.

This article originally appeared at InSight Crime.

Next Story — ‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’ Is About the Wars We Fight at Home
Currently Reading - ‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’ Is About the Wars We Fight at Home

They deserve it, trust me. SquareEnix capture

‘Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’ Is About the Wars We Fight at Home

Eidos takes on social justice and class war


Two years ago it was paradise. Today it’s a nightmare.

Workers never finished the lavish Dubai hotel and its ruins spiral on the Arab League’s man-made beach like the bones of some leviathan that washed ashore to die in the sun.

Two years ago, during The Incident, the augmented construction workers building the place went insane and flew into a rage, using their buzzsaws to rip apart everyone around them.

No one cleaned up the place after The Incident. Corpses litter the crumbling construction site. The desiccated skeletons of indentured workers who bought their fancy construction augments on loan from mega-corporations rest next to the bodies of the unaugmented they tore apart in a blind fury.

Adam Jensen steps over the corpses, doing his best not to disturb the dead. He isn’t here for them. He works for Interpol and he’s here to stop an arms deal. An old merc named Shepard is here to unload a crate of military grade augmentations — super-powered limbs that can turn a human being into a walking tank.

If the sale goes through, the augments could upset the delicate balance of power in a world already on the brink of collapse.

This is the world of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. It’s 2029 and the augmented — once seen as the next step in human evolution — are hated, feared and persecuted. Developer Eidos crafted a great game here, but more than that, they’ve managed to make something rare — a big-budget video game that works as smart and interesting social commentary.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is the latest entry in the long-running and critically acclaimed Deus Ex series. It’s the fourth game in the series and the first in years to feel even remotely close to the original game.

The world of Deus Ex is a cyberpunk dystopia in the vein of Bruce Sterling, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. In the early 2020s, tech companies developed augmentations — cybernetic implants to improve the human condition. The blind could suddenly see, the legless could walk and the handless could touch.

One catch — the human body isn’t meant to take on so much metal and carbon fiber. To keep their bodies from rejecting the implants and extensions the augmented require constant injections of a drug called Neuropozyne.

Tech companies made billions, turned Detroit into a new Silicon Valley of augmentation manufacturing and people began to augment themselves, not just to make up for deficiencies but to improve their lives.

But everything went to Hell during The Aug Incident in 2027. At the end of the previous Deus Ex, a madman managed to take control of the augmented population. It’s a convoluted story, but the bad guy managed to force the augmented of the world to attack everyone in their vicinity.

Fifty million people died in one day. The augmented who survived came out of their murderous fugue state to learn they’d killed friends and loved ones. Now, two years on, the billion-dollar tech companies have collapsed, the world treats the augmented like second-class citizens and Neuropozyne is in short supply.

Mega-corporations and the literal Illuminati vie for control of the world while augmented activists agitate for basic human rights and terrorists on both sides use murder and fear to keep the populace on edge. It’s a horrifying, prescient and well-rendered setting.

The story follows Adam Jensen, the trench-coat-wearing, gravely-voiced protagonist of the previous entry. Jensen is a typical generic video-game protagonist. He looks as if he walked off the set of The Matrix, he’s more powerful than any of the other characters and his sunglasses are grafted onto his face. Literally.

But dark and brooding generic video game protagonists aren’t the reason people play Deus Ex. This game is about exploring a semi-open cyberpunk world and unraveling labyrinthine conspiracies with a rich combination of stealth, trickery and brutal combat. On that front, Mankind Divided delivers.

The level design is incredible, allowing players a wide range of options for tackling an objective. Want to creep through a warehouse murdering every gun-toting gangster you see with the flick of a nanoblade? Do it. Want to avoid it all together and sneak through the vents until you reach your objective? Go for it. Want to hack a gun turret then carry it around like a horrifying aug-tank? Yeah, you can do that, too.

The gameplay is great but Mankind Divided’s story and setting set it apart from other big-budget video games. The Deus Ex series is about conspiracies — and conspiracies make for great video-game plots.

The baroque and labyrinthine leaps of logic required to believe in a group such as the Illuminati makes perfect fodder for the kinds of stories a video game tells and the way they tell them. It works well for Mankind Divided, whoes bizarre main campaign plays out like a convoluted Alex Jones nightmare.

The mean streets of Prague. Edios capture

The real draw of Mankind Divided is the social commentary. In this world, the augmented are second-class citizens. Cops harass them. They live in ghettos designed to separate them from the normal population. The United Nations is talking about putting them on a permanent registry.

I’m not going to draw direct parallels between any of the social issues going on in society now, but publisher SquareEnix and developer Eidos certainly have. Games critics and bloggers took shots at both in the months leading up to the game’s release for exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement and South African apartheid.

In the game’s promotional material and the game itself, augmented protesters wear t-shirts and carry signs that read “Aug Lives Matters.” Some of the game’s literature calls the segmentation of augmented humans a mechanical apartheid.

It’s strong language that raises the hackles and makes people uncomfortable. Good. That’s what art should do. It should challenge assumptions, start conversations and even, maybe, change people’s mind. Eidos decided to use the language of a current social movement to create an emotional shortcut to its fictional social ill.

There’s an argument for that being a cheap tactic — but it’s certainly effective. It made reviewers, gamers and bloggers uncomfortable, which means Eidos is doing something right. What I find stranger is that many who have reviewed the game feel the social commentary falls flat.

They’ve argued that aug lives don’t matter because augs are dangerous. The Aug Incident happened and the persecuted people are, in fact, more powerful than normal humans. But not so fast. Adam Jensen, the player character, is certainly a murder-machine, but he’s the exception, not the rule.

Many people with augmentations got them to replace lost limbs, damaged eyes or broken body parts. It’s not just legs to make you run faster and arms to make you throw farther. People augmented their hearts and lungs to negate the effects of degenerative diseases. Construction workers took out loans for augmented limbs to remain competitive in their field. The terminally ill got augs to save their lives.

Two years ago, the world saw them as men and women on the bleeding edge of human advancement. Now they’re pariahs. Worse, they’re all addicted to Neuropozyne. If they don’t have it, their bodies will reject their augmentations and they’ll die. The drug is hard to come by now that the tech sector has collapsed. The drug’s user base often doesn’t have the cash to pay for the expensive treatment.

On top of that, the augs carry the shame and pain of The Aug Incident. Fifty million people died and they weren’t all normal. Aug turned on aug, too. Friends killed friends. Family slew family. The psychological trauma of waking up with your plastic hands covered in your wife’s blood must be immense.

But it’s okay to treat them like shit because they can jump higher than normal humans. It’s okay to herd them into camps and separate them from society because there’s a chance they’re dangerous. People are dangerous. Period. And making them feel like they’re the other doesn’t make them less so.

Mankind Divided understands that.

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