Taiwan on Wednesday accused China of trying to lure Paraguay into switching diplomatic recognition in exchange for coronavirus vaccines as the South American nation struggles with soaring infections.
Paraguay is one of only 15 countries that officially recognize Taipei over Beijing, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory.
Beijing has ramped up pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen because she rejects its stance that the island is part of China.
It has poached seven of Taiwan’s official allies since then – including three in Latin America: Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
On Wednesday Taiwan’s foreign minister said China was trying to woo Paraguay with the promise of badly needed vaccines.
“This is a period of time when we see Chinese ‘vaccine diplomacy’ has been flexing its muscles in many parts of world, especially in central and south America,” Joseph Wu told reporters.
“The Chinese government was very active in saying … if the Paraguay government is willing to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, they will be able to get quite a few million vaccine doses from China,” he added.
“It generated a lot of pressure on the government of President Mario Abdo Benítez and this also generated a lot of pressure on us to find the necessary support,” Wu said, adding that Paraguay’s political opposition was “very willing to link up with China.”
Paraguay has reported 224,000 coronavirus infections and 4,500 deaths in a population of seven million.
Fatalities have risen alarmingly in recent weeks during a fresh wave of infections that have hammered its healthcare system.
There have been violent protests over the government’s response as well as an ultimately failed attempt to impeach Abdo Benítez.
Wu said Taiwan had reached out to countries including Japan, the United States and India on the issue.
India’s government said Paraguay received 100,000 doses of its Covaxin vaccine on March 26.
Paraguay has also received 36,000 doses from AstraZeneca, 4,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and 20,000 of the Chinese Coronavac donated by Chile.
Abdo Benítez has said he hopes to secure enough vaccinations by the middle of the year. He blamed the lack of doses on delays in Covax, a mechanism supported by the World Health Organization to widen access to vaccines.
Washington is also looking at ways to help countries struggling to secure enough vaccine supply, Wu said.
China has been a crucial source of vaccines for many poorer nations especially with wealthier countries snapping up supplies of Western-made doses.
It has previously denied using vaccines as a diplomatic pressure device.
Taiwan – population 23 million – has been hailed as a global success story in containing the virus, with around 1,050 confirmed cases and 10 deaths.
But it has struggled to secure vaccines and has so far only received 117,000 doses of AstraZeneca purchased from the manufacturer and another 199,200 doses of the same vaccine via Covax.
India loses a complex plot as Covid surges back
India is in the grip of a massive second wave of Covid-19 infections, surpassing even the United States in terms of new daily infections.
The current spike came after a brief lull: daily new cases had fallen from 97,000 new cases per day in September 2020 to around 10,000 per day in January 2021. However, from the end of February, daily new cases began to rise sharply again, passing 100,000 a day, and now crossing the 200,000 mark.
Night curfews and weekend lockdowns have been reinstated in some states, such as Maharasthra (including the financial capital Mumbai). Health services and crematoriums are being overwhelmed, test kits are in short supply, and wait times for results are increasing.
How has the pandemic spread?
One word that has dominated discussions about why cases have increased again is laaparavaahee (in Hindi), or “negligence”. The negligence is made out to be the fault of individuals not wearing masks and social distancing, but that is only part of the story.
Negligence can be seen in the near-complete lack of regulation and its implementation wherever regulations did exist across workplaces and other public spaces. Religious, social and political congregations contributed directly through super-spreader events, but this still doesn’t explain the huge rise in cases.
The second wave in India also coincides with the spread of the UK variant. A recent report found 81% of the latest 401 samples sent by the state of Punjab for genome sequencing were found to be the UK variant.
Studies have found this variant might be more capable of evading our immune systems, meaning there’s a greater chance previously infected people could be reinfected and immunised people could be infected.
A new double mutation is also circulating in India, and this too could be contributing to the rise in cases.
Low fatality rate?
In the first phase of the pandemic, India was lauded for its low death rate (case fatality rate) of about 1.5%. However, The Lancet cautioned about the “dangers of false optimism” in its September 26 editorial on the Indian situation.
In a pandemic, the public health approach is usually to attribute a death with complex causes as being caused by the disease in question. In April 2020, the World Health Organization clarified how Covid deaths should be counted:
A death due to Covid-19 is defined for surveillance purposes as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness, in a probable or confirmed Covid-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to Covid disease (e.g. trauma)
It is unclear the extent to which the health authorities across the states of India were complying with this.
Many states have set up expert committees to re-examine and verify Covid-19 deaths after criticism that reported death rates were not accurate. Many states made corrections in mortality figures, and the full extent of undercounting is being actively researched.
District-level mortality data, both in the first wave as well as in the current wave, confirm that the global case fatality rate of 3.4% was breached in several districts of states such as Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat. Case fatality rates in some of the worst-affected districts were above 5%, similar to the 5% mortality level in the US.
What are the challenges this time?
A majority of the cases and deaths (81%) are being reported from ten (of 28) states, including Punjab and Maharashtra. Five states (Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala) account for more than 70% of active cases. But the infection seems to have moved out of bigger cities to smaller towns and suburbs with less health infrastructure.
Last year, the government’s pandemic control strategy included government staff from all departments (including non-health departments) contributing to Covid control activities, but these workers have now been moved back to their departments. This is likely to have an effect on testing, tracing and treating cases. And health-care workers now have a vaccine rollout to contend with, as well as caring for the sick.
In early March the government declared the endgame of the pandemic in India. But their optimism was clearly premature.
Despite an impressive 100 million-plus immunizations, barely 1% of the country’s population is currently protected with two doses. The India Task Force is worried that monthly vaccine supplies at the current capacity of 70 million to 80 million doses per month would “fall short by half” for the target of 150 million doses per month.
Strict, widespread lockdowns we have seen elsewhere in the world are not appropriate for all parts of India given their effect on the working poor. Until wider vaccination coverage is achieved, local containment measures will have to be strengthened.
This includes strict perimeter control to ensure there is no movement of people in or out of zones with local outbreaks, intensive house-to-house surveillance to ensure compliance with stay-at-home orders where they are in place, contact tracing, and widespread testing.
Strong leadership and decentralised strategies with a focus on local restrictions is what we need until we can get more vaccines into people’s arms.
This story originally appeared on The Conversation website and is republished with permission. To see the original, please click here.
A safer, better way to mine rare earths
Rare-earth metals are critical to the high-tech society we live in as an essential component of mobile phones, computers and many other everyday devices. But increasing demand and limited global supply means we must urgently find a way to recover these metals efficiently from discarded products.
Rare-earth metals are currently mined or recovered via traditional e-waste recycling. But there are drawbacks, including high cost, environmental damage, pollution and risks to human safety. This is where our research comes in.
Our team in collaboration with the research centre Tecnalia in Spain has developed a way to use environmentally friendly chemicals to recover rare-earth metals. It involves a process called “electrodeposition”, in which a low electric current causes the metals to deposit on a desired surface.
This is important because if we roll out our process to scale, we can alleviate the pressure on global supply, and reduce our reliance on mining.
Rare-earth metals is the collective name for a group of 17 elements: 15 from the “lanthanides series” in the periodic table, along with the elements scandium and yttrium. These elements have unique catalytic, metallurgical, nuclear, electrical, magnetic and luminescent properties.
The term “rare” refers to their even, but scarce, distribution around the world, noted after they were first discovered in the late 18th century.
These minerals are critical components of electronic devices, and vital for many green technologies; they’re in magnets for wind power turbines and in batteries for hybrid-electric vehicles. In fact, up to 600 kilograms of rare-earth metals are required to operate just one wind turbine.
The annual demand for rare-earth metals doubled to 125,000 tonnes in 15 years, and the demand is projected to reach 315,000 tonnes in 2030, driven by increasing uptake in green technologies and advancing electronics. This is creating enormous pressure on global production.
Can’t we just mine more?
Rare-earth metals are currently extracted through mining, which comes with a number of downsides.
First, it’s costly and inefficient because extracting even a very small amount of rare earth metals requires large areas to be mined.
Second, the process can have enormous environmental impacts. Mining for rare earth minerals generates large volumes of toxic and radioactive material, due to the co-extraction of thorium and uranium — radioactive metals which can cause problems for the environment and human health.
Third, most mining for rare-earth metals occurs in China, which produces more than 70% of global supply. This raises concerns about long-term availability, particularly after China threatened to restrict its supply in 2019 during its trade war with the US.
Recycling is not enough
Through e-waste recycling, rare-earth metals can be recovered from electronic products such as mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicles batteries, once they reach the end of their life.
For example, recovering them from electric vehicle batteries involves traditional hydrometallurgical (corrosive media treatment) and pyrometallurgical (heat treatment) processes. But these have drawbacks.
Pyrometallurgy is energy-intensive, involving multiple stages that require high temperatures, around 1,000℃. It also emits pollutants such as carbon dioxide, dioxins and furans into the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, hydrometallurgy generates large volumes of corrosive waste, such as highly alkaline or acidic substances like sodium hydroxide or sulfuric acid.
Similar recovery processes are also applied to other energy storage technologies, such as lithium ion batteries.
Why our research is different
Given these challenges, we set out to find a sustainable method to recover rare-earth metals, using electrodeposition.
Electrodeposition is already used to recover other metals. In our case, we have designed an environmentally friendly composition based on ionic liquid (salt-based) systems.
We focused on recovering neodymium, an important rare-earth metal due to its outstanding magnetic properties, and in extremely high demand compared to other rare-earth metals. It’s used in electric motors in cars, mobile phones, wind turbines, hard disk drives and audio devices.
Ionic liquids are highly stable, which means it’s possible to recover neodymium without generating side products, which can affect the neodymium purity.
The novelty of our research using ionic liquids for electrodeposition is the presence of water in the mix, which improves the quantity of the final recovered neodymium metal.
Unlike previously reported methods, we can recover neodymium metal without using controlled atmosphere, and at working temperature lower than 100℃. These are key considerations to industrializing such a technology.
At this stage we have proof of concept at lab scale using a solution of ionic liquid with water, recovering neodymium in its most expensive metallic form in a few hours. We are currently looking at scaling up the process.
An important early step
In time, our method could avoid the need to mine for rare earth metals and minimises the generation of toxic and harmful waste. It also promises to help increase economic returns from e-waste.
Importantly, this method could be adapted to recover metals in other end-of-life applications, such as lithium ion batteries, as a 2019 report projected an 11% growth per annum in production in Europe.
Our research is an important early step towards establishing a clean and sustainable processing route for rare-earth metals, and alleviating the pressures on these critical elements.
This story originally appeared on The Conversation website and is republished with permission. To see the original, please click here.
The secret of Taiwan’s Covid-19 success
Taiwan has been widely-applauded for its management of the pandemic, with one of the lowest per capita Covid-19 rates in the world and life on the island largely returning to normal.
Just 11 people have died from Covid-19 in Taiwan since the pandemic began, an impressive feat for a country that never went into lockdown.
At the start of the pandemic, Taiwan was considered a high-risk country due to its proximity to China and the frequent travel between the countries.
With a history of SARS in 2003, which was not considered to be handled particularly well, the Taiwanese government acted quickly to close its borders. It set up a Central Epidemic Command Centre on January 20 2020 to coordinate cooperation across different government ministries and agencies, and between government and businesses.
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has examined further just why Taiwan did so well at conquering Covid-19. The study’s authors, from a range of health institutes and hospitals in Taiwan and the US, compared the estimated effectiveness of two types of Covid-19 policy in the early months of the pandemic: case-based and population-based measures.
Case-based measures include the detection of infected people through testing, isolation of positive cases, contact tracing and 14-day quarantining of close contacts. The population-based measures included face mask policies, personal hygiene and social distancing.
The effects of these policies were quantified by estimating the effective reproduction number (R number).
The R number is a way of rating an infectious disease’s ability to spread. It represents the average number of people to whom one infected person will pass a virus. An R number of greater than 1 means the virus will spread and outbreaks will continue. An R number below 1 means that numbers will fall.
While previous studies in other countries have simulated hypothetical scenarios, this paper combined transmission modelling with detailed real data to estimate effectiveness.
The authors collected data on 158 cases between January 10 and June 1 2020 from the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control. All cases were confirmed by PCR testing. The data related to locally acquired cases, confirmed clusters, and imported cases in people who entered Taiwan before March 21, 2020.
They then compared the outcomes they found in Taiwan with an estimated R number of 2.5, based on the estimated equivalent number in nearby China at the beginning of its outbreak.
The winning combination
The study found that the case-based policies alone, like contact tracing and quarantining, could lower the R number from 2.5 to 1.53. Quarantine contributed the most to lowering the R number.
Case-based interventions could not substantially prevent transmission from one person to another, but could reduce transmission onwards from those secondary cases to a third or fourth person, as long as close contacts quarantined.
Population-based policies like social distancing and face masks, meanwhile, reduced the R number from 2.5 to 1.3.
The authors concluded that it was the combination of case-based and population-based policies, along with widespread adherence, that led to Taiwan’s success in containing Covid. Combining both approaches led to an R number estimated using two different methods to be 0.82 and as low as 0.62. They also found that considerable population-based policies were needed to achieve containment even though the number of circulating infections was small.
Neither approach would have been sufficient alone, even in a country with an effective public health system and sophisticated contact tracing.
What does this mean for other countries?
Acknowledging that all models make assumptions, and this analysis is no different, this paper does confirm that the full suite of public health measures we have been using fairly consistently across the world – to varying degrees of length and stringency – have been necessary.
Though it’s worth noting that the results in the study reflects a time when new variants with greater transmissibility were not a problem.
The authors assumed that testing and isolation occurred simultaneously. This was the case in Taiwan, but not in other countries, for example England, where delays between testing, results and isolation diminish the effectiveness of case-based measures.
Taiwan is an island nation with the ability to control the introduction of new cases through border control, and the authors acknowledge the findings of this study may not be fully applicable to other countries.
This is why the authors focused on the effectiveness of case-based and population-based interventions on local transmission, rather than on border controls on the number of introductions of Covid-19.
The authors conclude that intensive contact tracing is not possible when public health systems are overwhelmed. This never happened in Taiwan due to the success of its strategies, but it did, for example, take place in Ireland in January 2021, which experienced a damaging third wave.
This paper also found similar results for seven-day and 14-day quarantine and suggest that the quarantine period could be shortened. This is being considered by some countries, including the US, but it has not been introduced on a widespread basis to date.
We already knew there was much to be learned from Taiwan’s success in preventing Covid-19 from taking hold. Now, as vaccines roll out and new variants emerge, we have more information about the comparative and combined contributions of public health measures.
This story originally appeared on The Conversation website and is republished with permission. To see the original, please click here.
End of an era, as Cuba’s Raul Castro steps down
It was a good beginning.
US President Barack Obama was moving toward a gentle rapproachment, with Cuba.
The target of fierce sanctions that have lasted since the President John F. Kennedy years, it finally seemed that America was coming to its senses with regard to the Caribbean island nation.
Fidel Castro, a thorn in America’s side for a half a century, was dead. It was time to move on, to a new US-Cuban relationship.
And then along came the mean-spirited Republican presidency, of Donald Trump. He would re-establish sanctions, and, even add more in his final days.
The tourism-dependent island had already been battered by the pandemic; the economy shrunk at least 11% in 2020 according to government estimates.
Each day, Cubans spend hours in long lines to find increasingly scarce food, medicine and other necessities.
This was far from the plan Raul Castro had announced three years ago, as head of Cuba’s all-powerful communist party.
He had envisioned the island on firmer economic footing, thanks to the transition of a new generation of leaderhip.
Things have not worked out exactly according to Castro’s plan. As Castro announced he was stepping down on Friday, his country is deep in crisis, CNN News reported.
It will likely take many more months to know if Cuba’s ambitious, “Hail Mary” plan to develop the island’s own homegrown vaccines will prove successful.
And while the Trump administration enacted some of the toughest economic penalties on the island in decades, so far current President Joe Biden has been reluctant to engage with the communist-run island despite the most significant change in leadership in Cuba in decades.
“Regardless of what administration we have, Republican or Democrat, it’s a good time to engage,” said former Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a rare member of the GOP to push for improved relations, who met with Raul Castro during frequent trips to Cuba, CNN reported.
“It benefits the Cuban people and puts pressure on the Cuban government that they don’t have when we try to isolate them.
“It’s difficult to imagine a more precarious time for the last members of the aging generation that transformed Cuba into a socialist state to finally relax their hold on power.”
Despite deepening uncertainty, Cubans witnessed an historic changing of the guard at this week’s 8th Congress for the Cuban Communist Party, “the supreme body” of the only political party permitted on the island.
The congress started Friday, timed to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Cuba’s victory over CIA-trained exiles during the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Even if the outgoing head of the party’s family continues to wield unquestionable power on the island, once the congress is over, no one with the last name Castro will occupy a senior position of leadership for the first time in over 62 years, CNN reported.
In 2018, Castro stepped down as president, making way for his handpicked successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, to take over running the day-to-day management of the government.
Castro stayed as head of the party, which oversees long term planning, but said Diaz-Canel would likely assume that position too in 2021.
“After that,” Castro said in 2018, “If my health permits it, I will be just one more soldier with the people, defending this revolution.”
His departure brings an end to the era of his famous clan occupying the top leadership on the island. None of the children of Castro’s older brother, Fidel, who died in 2016, hold government posts, CNN reported.
Raul Castro’s son, Alejandro, is a colonel in Cuba’s Interior Ministry and his daughter, Mariela, runs a government center promoting LGBTQ rights.
A son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, heads a sprawling military company that controls state-owned hotels, marinas and infrastructure projects but he maintains a low public profile, CNN reported.
Cuba is one of the countries that has changed the least since the end of the Cold War, even as government officials acknowledge the island desperately needs to adapt.
Finding the path to modernizing Cuba’s economy will now fall squarely on the shoulders of Miguel Diaz-Canel, Castro’s successor as president who is expected to take over as head of the communist party, CNN reported.
Trained as an electrical engineer, Diaz-Canel ran local governments in two provinces before becoming minister of higher education and then vice president and president.
Diaz-Canel is the first Cuban who was born after the 1959 revolution to become president.
Gaining the leadership of the party will further establish the tall, grey-haired technocrat as the political heir to the Castros. But it remains unclear how he differs from his predecessors.
“I believe in continuity,” Díaz-Canel told reporters in 2018 when asked about his vision for Cuba’s future. “I think there always will be continuity.”
Even with all the official talk of maintaining the course, Cuba is changing.
Many in Cuba’s nascent private sector complain openly about the slow pace of reforms, CNN reported.
Artists fed up with official censorship and activists pushing for legislation protecting animal rights have used increased internet access to organize and publicize small protests that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Long food lines and shortages have brought back echoes of the “special period” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Discontent has been fuelled by the spread of the internet and growing inequality.
The Communist Party is made up of 700,000 activists and is tasked in Cuba’s constitution with directing the affairs of the nation and society.
Fidel Castro, who led the revolution that drove dictator Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959, formally became head of the party in 1965, about four years after officially embracing socialism.
He quickly absorbed the old party under his control and was the country’s unquestioned leader until falling ill in 2006 and in 2008 handing over the presidency to his younger brother Raul, who had fought alongside him during the revolution.
Credit: CNN News, CNBC
CIA, DNI won’t discount Covid-19 ‘lab leak’ theory
It can’t be discounted.
In fact, it has grown from conspiracy theory, to a viable, legitimate theory.
During a House committee hearing on global threats, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns both stated that the controversial theory of the novel coronavirus’s origin was still being investigated by America’s spy agencies, Gizmodo.com reported.
Officials made similar comments during a Senate hearing Wednesday.
In so doing, they refused to swear off the increasingly discussed claim that the virus could have actually escaped from a lab — perhaps the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where Chinese scientists are accused of having conducted military experiments involving coronaviruses and animals, Gizmodo reported.
(Foreign diplomats had also previously expressed concerns about the security of this facility.)
“From our perspective, we just don’t know where, when and how the coronavirus was transmitted initially. We have two plausible theories that we’re working on,” said Haines, oversees all 16 US intelligence agencies.
“One of them is that it was a laboratory accident. And the other is that it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals.”
The comments also put intel officials at odds with a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), which asserts that the lab leak hypothesis is “extremely unlikely” and that the virus probably originated in livestock farms in southeast Asia, Gizmodo reported.
During an exchange Thursday between Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and Burns, the CIA director said his agency could not endorse the report’s assessment:
“I think at this point, as Director Haines said, this is something that we’re still analyzing, with the benefit of all of the various sources that the intelligence community can bring to bear,” Burns said.
When pushed, Haines subsequently reiterated the point: “We do not make the assessment that the WHO report made — that it is “extremely unlikely”… that is not our assessment.”
Odd as it may sound, America’s top spies are not alone.
The WHO report was recently criticized by the organization’s own director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said that not enough research had been done on the issue and that “further investigation” was required, Gizmodo reported.
More recently, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Trump, Robert Redfield, said in a CNN interview that he believed the “most likely etiology” was “from a laboratory,” but it’s currently unclear what justifies that more assured assessment.
Clearly, the shadow of doubt has emerged when it comes to China’s official story.
Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, reports have suggested that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) jumped from animals to humans in Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, LiveScience.com reported.
But in the period since, tissue samples from the market’s animals have revealed no trace of the virus. For the virus to jump from animals to humans, the animals have to actually be carrying it.
According to experts at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the live animal market may have been the site of a superspreader event, where one person spread the virus to many other people.
Exactly how it got there, remains a deep mystery.
While there’s a lot of disagreement in the scientific community, in general, what was previously considered an outlandish conspiracy theory has increasingly become a legitimate (or at least tolerable) line of inquiry.
Whether that is due to the power of social media and its penchant for disinformation, or, political reasons, nobody really knows.
Regardless, more and more health experts and government officials have begun to question the initial claims about covid-19’s origins.
Last April, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence made the unusual announcement that it was investigating the “lab leak” claims, though it said it did not believe the virus to be “man-made.”
The action was originally blamed on the Trump administration — which was said to be pressuring the intelligence community to endorse the “lab” theory. However, under Biden, America’s top spies seem to be saying the same thing.
After the WHO report’s release, a cadre of scientists recently called for new, politically neutral investigations into the virus’s origins, so the best we can all do at this point is stay tuned.
Sources: Gizmodo.com, LiveScience.com, World Health Organization
Generation kill: In praise of America’s F-35 fighter
Lockheed Martin’s controversial F-35 Lightning II stealth jet fighter has its detractors and proponents.
Having earned the nicknames the “trillion-dollar mistake” and “the flying super-computer,” among others, it has taken a beating from critics who point to its multitude of teething problems (some of which continue today), soaring costs and its inability to do anything really well.
My buddy and fellow pilot John Desramaux (an aviation expert from Ontario) and I often discuss (a.k.a. argue), over whether Canada should spend billions on the advanced, multi-role F-35, or just add more F/A-18s to its aging fleet of fighter jets.
As far as John is concerned, Canada should “go fifth generation, or go home.”
But is there any evidence — solid evidence — that backs that up?
Red Flag is the premier air combat exercise of the US Air Force.
Over the span of three weeks, around 100 aircraft are tested in a variety of air-to-air, air-to-ground, space, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare scenarios.
It was at Red Flag 2017 that the F-35 platform faced one of its earliest and most gruelling trials.
A subpar showing at Red Flag would have been received by the F-35 program’s critics as a sign of vindication, suggesting that they were right all along to question the fighter’s capabilities and reliability.
But the result was an altogether different one: The F-35, as a defense observer put it, “slaughtered the competition,” killing twenty aggressors for each F-35 downed, Episkopos writes.
According to Episkopos, the F-35 achieved this remarkable kill ratio “in a realistic battlefield setting that included notional enemy air defenses, multiple air threats, and electronic countermeasures (ECM).”
Well, as real as one can get in simulated warfare.
The exercises also served as a live demonstration of the F-35’s sensor fusion feature — that is, its ability to generate a live picture of the battlefield that can be fed to nearby friendly units, Episkopos writes.
“Before, where we would have one advanced threat and we would put everything we had—F-16s, F-15s, F-18s, missiles, we would shoot everything we had at that one threat just to take it out—now we are seeing three or four of those threats at a time,” Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander, told Aviation Week.
“Just between [the F-35] and the [F-22] Raptor, we are able to geolocate them, precision-target them, and then we are able to bring the fourth-generation assets in behind us after those threats are neutralized,” Watkins explained. “It’s a whole different world out there for us now.”
The F-35 contains more than eight million lines of computer code that run on its advanced digital systems, writes Wallace C. Gregson of National Interest.
It processes data onboard, and shares information and its operational picture with ground, sea, and air and other assets. Multiple F-35s across the battlespace can collect exponentially more data and share sophisticated operational pictures.
The F-35 can fight, air to air, air to surface, and air to space, writes Gregson.
It can serve as a firing platform for other weapons as directed. But its real advantage lies in allowing the rest of us to fight, across air, land, sea, undersea, space, and cyberspace, within a highly automated, robust network at an operational tempo that exceeds any opponent.
Nor can the F-35’s success be dismissed as a one-off, as the fighter showcased similarly strong performance at Red Flag exercises in 2019, Episkopos writes.
Referring to the exercises, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein noted that the F-35 was “exceeding our expectations when it comes to not only being able to survive, but to prosecute targets.”
According to data from the drills, the F-35 averaged seven surface-to-air missile system and five air asset kills per mission.
The Italian pilots who participated in the Red Flag exercises were overflowing with praise: “The results we have achieved in these two weeks are almost unbelievable: the statistics do not need comments,” said Maj. Alessandro P.
More recently, F-35 squadrons occupied a prominent battlefield role during Red Flag drills in early 2020, Episkopos writes.
“The F-35 also has an extremely high level of battlefield awareness and can pass that information to other F-35s anywhere in the fight without any pilot interaction,” explained 421st Fighter Squadron Lt. Col. Richard Orzechowski.
“In terms of the amount of information, think fiber-optic versus dial-up internet. That’s a huge advantage.”
Whether the F-35 can shoot down 20 enemy fighter jets in one go, in the chaos of actual battle conditions, remains to be seen.
But there is no question, that it is the most advanced fighter jet on the planet — and any enemy who does not take it seriously, is making a deadly mistake.
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