There’s nothing like government-imposed isolation to bring out the best and the worst in people. It’s time to take a break from the empty shelves, homeschooling, terrifying headlines (and harrowing reality) and the truly unprecedented times we’re currently living in and lighten the load with our favorite memes of COVID-19.
In seriousness, we know these are scary times. We hope you and your loved ones stay safe and well.
It’s the first sergeant’s job to assist the commanding officer in matters of discipline, administrative work, and the unit’s morale and welfare. Regardless of how well this mission is completed in the eyes of the lower-enlisted, earning the rank of first sergeant takes many years of hard work and dedication to the Marine Corps.
Members of the E-8 pay-grade are some of the most interesting and badass Marines you’ll ever meet as you climb through the ranks. They come in several varieties:
Good luck getting your original voice back after all those years of screaming at young recruits.
The former drill instructor
You can easily identify this type of first sergeant. First, listen to how raspy their voice is from years of yelling at recruits during training. This type of first sergeant is outstanding at calling cadences during PT and formation marches — for good reason; they’ve had plenty of practice.
The one that everyone respects
Once you enter the infantry, you’ll begin to judge other Marines and sailors based purely on they the way they look. There’s tons of competition within infantry houses; it’s our way of sizing up those we must outperform. However, there are a few senior-enlisted Marines whose appearances alone will tell you that they’re complete badasses.
You’ll look up to these guys.
1st Sgt. Ambroga Carson Jr, addresses guests during his retirement ceremony on Camp Johnson N.C.
Some Marines hold audiences captive with riveting speeches while others send people drifting off to sleepyland. Those who can keep your attention speak from their diaphragms and sound off like they have a pair. These vocal commanders are used to addressing whole companies of Marines and have tons of epic stories to tell.
The one who knows every freakin’ regulation in the book
An excellent first sergeant knows all the ins-and-outs their job — which is hard. Some troops will (foolishly) try to pull a fast one on the Marine who controls all the administrative work for the entire infantry company. However, these types of first sergeants don’t even have to bat an eye when it comes to Marine Corps policy.
They will rattle off nearly every regulation in the book if you try and test them.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran James LaPorta is “nervous as hell” for season four of the critically-acclaimed NBC drama This is Us because for him, the story couldn’t be more personal.
An infantry Marine with multiple Afghanistan deployments, LaPorta understands the impact of war. He also has some strong opinions about Hollywood’s depiction of it, which he shared for Newsweek when This is Us explored the Vietnam War during season three.
“While Hollywood has improved upon its depiction of military veterans in recent years, the majority of characters produced are still one dimensional. Usually, the audience is delivered a stereotype of either the incredibly heroic service member or the tragically broken veteran who is unable to function. In reality, these are plot vehicles for lazy writing that garner cheap emotional responses and that can contribute to the civilian-military divide that is already occurring,” he wrote.
Many in the military community agree and are quick to condemn military stories in film and television, but it was the Vietnam storyline that first caught LaPorta’s attention. In his opinion, This is Us had figured out the right way to tell veterans’ stories — though he couldn’t have predicted that he would sign on to be part of the team that would tackle the war in Afghanistan.
A war that, in LaPorta’s own words, is “being forgotten even as it’s being fought.”
LaPorta, already a fan of This is Us, was impressed by the Vietnam storyline and its depiction of how our veterans of that war were treated when they came home. LaPorta reached out to This is Us creator Dan Fogleman, who told Newsweek that the story was “not just about combat in war—[it was] about what veterans, and in particular, veterans of that generation, kept from their families, from significant others. Things they may have even kept from themselves at certain times.”
Fogleman invited LaPorta to visit the set and talk with the staff writers, which lead to LaPorta’s involvement on the show. He was hired as a military advisor for season four, which introduces the character of Cassidy Sharp (played by Jennifer Morrison), a soldier who struggles to return home from Afghanistan.
The story comes with pressure to “get it right.” LaPorta didn’t want to depict another military caricature, but the balance between telling an entertaining story and showing what it’s truly like for veterans is a tricky one. For LaPorta, it’s not only personal in that he shares his own experiences, but he also wove the stories of people he served with into this season.
Late post from last night’s @NBCThisisUs premiere. Actor Rich Paul is also a @USMC veteran. His character is Sgt. Lasher, which is also an homage to another #Marine I served with in Afghanistan. Lance Cpl Jeremy Lasher was killed in combat on July 23, 2009
LaPorta not only provided guidance about uniforms and weapons, but he was intent on getting every detail right, down to the proper tourniquets for the military units or the red dye in the beards of Afghan locals. He wanted it to be visually authentic at a minimum.
But he took his role as military advisor further by truly bridging the divide between the military and civilians in the cast and crew. One of the more meaningful ways he did this was by making and gifting memorial bracelets to honor the memories of fallen service members.
Among those who received bracelets were Fogleman and Morrison, the writing team, Executive Producer and Director Ken Olin, and Milo Ventimiglia, who plays a Vietnam War veteran in the show (and whose father was an actual Vietnam War veteran).
It was quite powerful and important to us my friend. Our North Star for her story this season. #ThisIsUshttps://twitter.com/JimLaPorta/status/1176714723280244736 …
When I asked what he was most excited about with this season’s story, LaPorta mentioned that female veterans in particular are underrepresented on-screen. “We’ve seen my story before, in terms of the male infantryman. We’ve seen it. But we haven’t really seen what women go through,” he insisted.
While Cassidy Sharp isn’t based on Kent or any one veteran in particular, she is a character who is serving in a combat zone, which many Americans are surprised to discover is the reality of post-9/11 wars. Female service members are risking their lives every day and their experience is unique.
“As we’re making this storyline, there are actually people fighting these wars,” LaPorta shared. “It’s something I’ll never forget, and I wanted to give the memorial bracelets so the cast and crew can remember that fact, too. It was a way to thank them for telling this story.”
This is not how we expected Cassidy to cross paths with the Pearsons…pic.twitter.com/dVtxFAVwws
ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, Persian Gulf — The hiss and scream of F/A-18 Super Hornets launching from the flight deck is business as usual on this city at sea, where sorties on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria have been launched a dozen or more times a day since early February.
When aircraft loaded with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and 1,000-pound bombs aren’t being catapulted into flight, training and qualification flights commence.
Constant through the action is a sort of deck ballet of positioning, as the 74 aircraft based on the ship are guided onto elevators for maintenance and storage, or moved to make room for the daily C-2 Greyhound delivery of people and Amazon packages.
The routine of life aboard the carrier is perhaps the most conventional element of the unconventional war against ISIS.
American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, mostly special operations and advisory elements, operate in relative secrecy, with few opportunities for journalists to observe them up close.
On the carrier, by contrast, public affairs officers host three or four media visits per month, boarding them in comparatively luxurious “distinguished visitor” berthing, complete with monogrammed bathrobes, and offering them interviews with pilots and unit commanding officers.
Aboard the carrier, multiple sailors said they are on their second deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve — the coalition anti-ISIS fight — and compared the consistency of operations today favorably to the frenetic nature of the campaign when it first began in 2014.
With OIR about to enter its third year next month, the commander of the Bush carrier strike group said he is seeing progress in the fight.
While many strikes continue to target enemy positions in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, where assaults on ISIS’s urban strongholds continue, the carrier’s fighter pilots are seeing more missions to the south, along the Euphrates River Valley. The strikes follow the path of retreating ISIS leaders, Rear Adm. Ken Whitesell said.
“Their vision of a geographic caliphate is coming to an end,” Whitesell told Military.com. “As they move and that unblinking eye stays on top of them, they will be targeted as they move down the valley.”
The number of fighter sorties launched from the carrier daily ranges from 12 to more than 20, plus several EA-18G Growler electronic warfare sorties, said Capt. Will Pennington, commanding officer of the Bush.
Pilots fly punishing eight-hour missions one to three times a week, in addition to daily training and currency flights. But the mission tempo has stayed largely steady since the carrier deployed, and the air wing has yet to be pushed to its limits, he said.
“We’re not surging to make this happen; this is a comfortable pace. We could up it and still get comfortable,” Pennington said.
The fight is proceeding carefully and deliberately from the air in large part because of the complexity of the urban ground battle. In Iraq, where a little more than half of the air wing’s sorties are tasked, the strike mission was simpler before coalition forces arrived in Mosul, he said.
“There were more targets and less complicated aerials,” Pennington said. “Now that the effort is moving forward and being successful … that operation, both from the ground and the air, needs to be carried out with much more prudence, given civilian entanglement.”
In both Mosul and Raqqa, the ground fights have been slow-moving. Coalition troops began their first assault on Mosul in October, and began a campaign to retake Raqqa the following month. Whitesell pointed optimistically to the words of Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Othman Al-Ghanmi, who predicted earlier this month that the fall of ISIS in Mosul would be complete in just three weeks.
It’s not the first time a top official has predicted victory close at hand. But the changing nature of strike targets also gives Whitesell reason to believe the end is near.
In addition to targets including enemy personnel, vehicles and improvised explosive devices, Whitesell said pilots are being tasked with destroying a key source of the militant group’s economic survival: oil wells.
While previously aircraft would target vehicles used to transport the oil, most of those are gone, thanks to the air mission, he said. “Now we get it before it comes out of the ground.”
Whitesell contrasts today’s operational picture to that of 2014, when the Bush became the first aircraft carrier to launch airstrikes on ISIS.
“ISIS had made the push out of Syria and Raqqa, way down, so they had incredible geography. So this carrier was the first striking on the Iraqi assets to stop ISIS at the gates of Baghdad and start moving them back,” he said. “Fast-forward three years to where we are. We’ve got, essentially, a noose tied around the neck of ISIS.”
On a given day, a pilot might be tasked with engaging a specific target over Iraq or Syria, or with flying to a region and remaining “on call,” to be assigned a future target, sometimes with scant notice, by a controller on the ground.
While pilots’ assignments can change at any time during the mission, they generally know the day’s mission set by the time they’re walking to their aircraft on the flight deck, said Lt. Cmdr. “Butters” Welles, a pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 37, the “Ragin’ Bulls.” The squadron flies the F/A-18C Hornet.
Multiple pilots who spoke with Military.com asked that their full first and last names not be used, a subtle acknowledgment of online threats ISIS militants have made on various occasions against U.S. troops and their families.
Welles, who is on his fourth combat deployment, said he still feels the power of the moment when dropping ordnance on a ground target.
It’s a sense similar to other high-stress moments, whether it’s landing on the ship at night or doing something that requires intense attention,” he said. “There’s a sense of time compression, where everything sort of slows down, but you feel like it’s still moving very quickly … it’s definitely a very intense moment.”
At that point, a pilot’s day is far from done. Still ahead are a series of tanker refueling operations, a flight back to the ship, and hours of debriefs. The workday of a pilot with a strike mission can easily stretch to 12 hours or more, the work continuing long after exiting the cockpit.
But after a day in the fight, they return to the ship, where four meals are served daily, gyms and movie channels are available for free time, and routine keeps chaos at bay.
And pilots are well aware of the contrast between the reality of the island-like carrier and that of coalition troops in the gritty, drawn-out ground battles.
“It’s a very different perspective and involvement for us to be up and somewhat detached from what’s going on down on the ground,” Welles said. “So I would say it’s a sense of pride, knowing that we contributed in some way to a very difficult effort on the ground. Because once we’re complete, and we either leave to airborne refuel, or need to go home, then the people we’re talking with are still there in the fight.”
The nation’s top military officer says the thousands of additional US troops President Donald Trump has ordered to Afghanistan will cost just over $1 billion a year.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the US is spending $12.5 billion overall to wage America’s longest war.
About 3,500 more American forces are being sent to Afghanistan as part of Trump’s new strategy. Dunford says the US will “fight to win” by attacking enemies, “crushing” al-Qaeda, and preventing terrorist attacks against Americans. The additional troops will augment the roughly 8,400 Americans currently stationed there.
Dunford says about $5 billion of the total expense is required to support the Afghan security forces.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the United States should remain in the nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration that constrains Iran’s ability to build a nuclear arsenal.
Sen. Angus King of Maine asked Mattis during a congressional hearing if he thinks it’s in the national security interests of the United States to stay a part of the international accord.
Mattis says, “Yes, senator, I do.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (left) and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith
President Donald Trump has called the deal the worst agreement ever negotiated by the United States.
Trump has repeatedly said that he’s inclined not to certify Iranian compliance after having twice found the country compliant at earlier deadlines. Denying certification could lead the US to reintroduce sanctions, which in turn could lead Iran to walk away from the deal or restart previously curtailed nuclear activities.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says Afghanistan security forces are fully engaged in offensive military operations for the first time during the 16-year-old war.
During congressional testimony Oct. 3, Mattis says the Afghan forces are suffering fewer casualties as they continue to improve.
Mattis says more than 3,000 additional US troops are being sent to Afghanistan to reinforce the roughly 8,400 American forces currently stationed there.
President Donald Trump announced in August a plan to end America’s longest war and eliminate a rising extremist threat in Afghanistan.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, lectured Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford at the opening of the hearing. McCain says the Trump administration has failed to inform Congress of the details of the strategy spelled out by Trump.
In October 2018, Airman Magazine sat down for a conversation with Maj. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, Twenty-fourth Air Force commander; Air Forces Cyber commander and Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber commander, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. He is responsible for providing Air Force component and combatant commanders with trained and ready cyber forces to plan, direct and execute global cyberspace operations.
Airman Magazine: In July, the Twenty-fourth AF moved from Air Force Space Command to Air Combat Command. At the same time you moved from AFSPC to ACC. What are the reasons for that restructuring?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: This allows Gen. Raymond, as the Air Force Space Command commander, to truly focus on space operations. The other thing is this brings cyber within Air Combat Command, which has intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; command and control and the air domain. Bringing all these forces together under one four-star MAJCOM (major command) commander, Gen. Holmes, allows him some more flexibility to be able to present forces across the spectrum of operations.
The networks for those operations need to be resilient and they need to be protected. When you bring together the ISR, cyber, information operations, electronic warfare and command and control, that’s a lot under one hat. But it allows us greater integration as we move forward. At the end of the day, this is about multi-domain operations and the more we can bring those together, the more successful we’ll be.
Airman Magazine: How are your responsibilities divided between your three commands? It seems that just the information technology portion alone would be a huge demand on your resources.
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Cyber operations have four or five different lines of effort. One is to actually build the networks, build the applications and build the systems.
Another is to operate and maintain the networks, but also secure and protect them from vulnerability to adversaries. We also defend networks for our maneuver forces and then we have full spectrum operations, which is on the offensive side.
We also have combat communications airmen and engineering installation airmen who extend the network out to a multitude of places, whether that’s tactical basing or at the forward battle edge.
With that said, information technology is still a key part of the cyberspace domain and we are moving forward in the Enterprise IT as a service. We are going to utilize things industry does very well as a commodity type of action activity.
We are going to leverage what industry does great, providing some services and network infrastructure, and re-mission our airmen to do core Air Force missions on the defensive and offensive side, while providing assurance for the many missions the Air Force presents to the combatant commanders on the joint side.
The bottom line is we’re in the cyber operations business — information technology, networks, both operating and defending — and we provide full spectrum operations in this thing we call the cyberspace domain.
Tech. Sgt. Wyatt Bloom uses a spectrum analyzer to check television broadcast network routers at the Defense Media Activity, Fort Meade, Md., July 18, 2012. Bloom is a cyber-transport technician assigned to DMA.
Airman Magazine: Would you explain your duties as commander of the Air Force component at Cyber Command? How is that different from the hat you wear as commander of Twenty-fourth AF and Air Force Cyber?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: This could actually be a dissertation. To break it down a little bit, the Twenty-fourth AF is where we organize, train and equip our airmen. The perfect example is we have an organization down at Hurlburt Field — they train almost every cyber professional. Now we do a lot more than that, but that’s one example of the Twenty-fourth AF piece.
In the Air Force cyber piece, I am charged by the Air Force to present forces to Gen. Paul Nakasone, the U.S. Cyber Command commander, for his missions and functions as the combatant commander.
We provide offensive forces and defensive forces, DODIN (Department of Defense Information Networks) ops cyber professionals and ISR professionals to Gen. Nakasone, so he can perform his mission.
Then the third area is the Joint Force Headquarters side. That’s where Gen. Nakasone has asked us to align to three different combatant commanders to provide additional joint support for their missions.
We have planning elements that are aligned to these three combatant commanders, as well as some cyber teams supporting the commanders’ efforts in defense of the mission. Our teams are able to deploy and employ forces against a particular adversary at the time and place of the combatant command commanders’ choosing.
Our job within Twenty-fourth AF, AF Cyber JFHQC and Cyber Command, is to be ready at a moment’s notice to protect our systems and defend the networks and defend the core missions of our military and our joint war fighters. Then deter, disrupt and degrade an enemy’s ability to perform those functions against us. Part of that goes into making sure that we have persistent engagement, a persistent presence, and a persistent innovation as we continue to move forward.
Airman Magazine: Across the Air Force, joint force, partner agencies and nations, do cyber operations equate to kinetic operations or is that a completely different animal?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say it is not a completely different animal. To be successful in cyber operations and have cyberspace superiority at the time and place of our choosing, we need a team of teams that is internal to the Air Force.
Every single airman in our Air Force needs to be a cyber sentinel. We need every airman to be very conscious of cyber security, cyber hygiene and things that are going on within the cyberspace domain.
We have branched out and are part of several joint organizations that perform functions and missions within the cyber domain. The National Security Agency is a huge partner with us as we perform these missions, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Information Systems Agency and Department of Homeland Security — a lot of different agencies across the board.
We are also great partners with commercial industry and academia because we’re all in the same field and in the same cyber domain.
Within Twenty-fourth AF, we have a United Kingdom representative and an Australian liaison officer, but most of our allies and partners are really up at the Cyber Command level. We leverage those partners through U.S. Cyber Command, NATO and other organizations.
Capt. Taiwan Veney, cyber warfare operations officer, watches members of the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group, from left, Capt. Adelia McClain, Staff Sgt. Wendell Myler, Senior Airman Paul Pearson and Staff Sgt. Thacious Freeman, analyze log files and provide a cyber threat update utilizing a Kibana visualization on the large data wall in the Hunter’s Den at Warfield Air National Guard Base.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: What is it that makes your cyber airmen “cyber warriors”?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Our airmen are absolutely warriors. We have teams in the fight operating constantly: 7 days a week, 365 days a year, Christmas and New Year’s.
If you’ve heard Gen. Nakasone speak recently you’ve heard him say we’re no longer solely responding to network intrusions, we have cyber forces persistently engaged against state and non-state adversaries, actively identifying and countering threats in the cyber domain.
This achieves several benefits at once: first and foremost, it gives us control over the cyber terrain that serves as the foundation for superiority in cyberspace. It also keeps our operators ready and their skills honed and imposes cost on the adversary so they can no longer operate freely without repercussion. There’s already a massive demand signal for our cyber operators that will only increase, so we have to ensure we’re fielding proficient, ready and lethal operators at scale.
Because of this, we are investing not only the readiness of our mission, but also in the readiness of our people. This means examining everything within our scope of control, including the effect the operational tempo of our 24/7/365 mission has on our operators.
Just like you see within the (remotely piloted aircraft) field, cyber can mean long periods away from the sunlight and abnormal sleep hours, and that can absolutely have an effect on people. Any leader will tell you—if you take care of the people, they will take care of the mission.
Airman Magazine: What part does the total force play in cyber operations and defense?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I will tell you, we could not do our job on a day-to-day basis without the total force. The majority of the forces within Twenty-fourth AF are guard and reserve components.
Our engineering installation mission is 85 to 90 percent within the guard. More than 50 percent of our combat communications capability, which extends and expands our capabilities to the tactical edge, is in the guard. We have guard organizations up in Washington. We have some in Rhode Island. We have some here in Texas. I will tell you they provide great day-to-day work.
What’s even more important is the expertise that they bring from their civilian jobs. We have vice presidents of some corporations who are part of our total force as well. Bringing that expertise, leadership, things that the public is good at and things that industry is focused on benefits the military and vice versa. They take lessons learned from the military and take it to their company. So it’s a great yin-yang relationship.
Whether it’s an offensive operation or a defensive operation or even DODIN ops, there has to be a tight tie between all of those as we move forward because the defense learns from the offense and the offense learns from the defense. DODIN ops learn from defense to figure it out where we need to be resilient, where some of our mission critical assets are and how to defend them.
All the computer networks, email, applications and systems in the cyberspace domain are what we call the Department of Defense Information Networks. There are pay applications that we have in the Air Force that are part of DODIN. If you get paid electronically within the Air Force that’s part of the DoD information network.
Airman Magazine: Is it an advantage that those reserve and National Guard personnel tend to have long histories with one unit?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say sometimes it’s an advantage and sometimes it’s not. In some places having continuity is good. I would say having too much continuity isn’t necessarily good in cyber because you want some fresh blood, some fresh ideas.
Airman Magazine: Would a technical track for active-duty cyber operators benefit the force?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Similar to other domains and weapon systems, we have to be proficient to be effective. Since cyber is a technical domain we do need technical expertise.
However as our people gain that expertise and increase in rank and responsibility, we need them to be leaders and lead teams to success while still maintaining credibility in their profession. We, ACC and Headquarters Air Force are working closely together to determine what the right “path to greatness” will look like, in order to build a force that generates maximum lethality.
Cyber warfare operators assigned to the 275th Cyber Operations Squadron of the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group of the Maryland Air National Guard configure a threat intelligence feed for daily watch in the Hunter’s Den at Warfield Air National Guard Base.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: As cyber tools and methods seem to change constantly, ow can the acquisitions process be altered to make sure the Air Force has the best technologies and practices in the cyber domain?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: The Air Force and DoD leadership are laser-like focused on our ability to acquire things in a more agile, fast and relevant way. We have leveraging other authorities, like 804 authorities, to bring on the future faster and to bring innovation faster.
As an Air Force we are becoming more of a software force than a hardware force. The ability to bring the new wave of agile software development operations, DevOps, is going to be key in maintaining our superiority and operating within the enemy’s OODA loop (time it takes to observe, orient, decide, and act).
We’re bringing in individuals who understand the old waterfall model is not the right model because by the time that you set the requirements and start developing to those requirements, the environment, threats and priorities have changed.
If you’re spending weeks, months and years identifying and defining hundreds or thousands of requirements, you definitely can’t meet those requirements in a timely manner. So leverage industry, leverage developers who are innovative, define the left and right limits or requirements.
So you get a three to five-page requirements document, which is much better than a 100 to 200-page document. Let them innovate and come back with a solution and in a much more timely manner—days and weeks versus months and years. Then you iterate and you continue to iterate on that minimum viable product.
Then also leverage some of those techniques to buy the right hardware in a timely fashion and focus on the approval top rate process, to reduce the amount of time to approve either software or hardware for connecting to the network. I know that Dr. Roper, Air Force Acquisition and the chief and secretary are very focused on bringing the future faster.
Airman Magazine: The Air Force is considering launching a cyber rapid capabilities office. How would that benefit the Twenty-fourth AF and the cyber community as a whole?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: The traditional slow-and-steady acquisition model is great for buying a fleet of fifth-generation aircraft, but it isn’t ideal for cyberspace where the landscape is changing constantly and where the state-of-the-art is available to anyone interested in buying. We need to get faster.
The DNA of the Air Force RCO brings agility and flexibility, which drives down timelines and increases capability. Right now we can’t say what form a cyber RCO would take, but will benefit us by getting the right capabilities and weapons at the right time to our operators. We need to respond to malicious cyber activity with greater speed and tempo employing a calculated, “spectrum of risk” framework which is properly delegated at echelon to enable responsible and responsive cyberspace operations in support of assigned missions.
The concept of Fusion Warfare gathers all intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data across all Air Force platforms into the “combat cloud” through and autonomous process where it’s analyzed and combined to create a real time big picture for commanders.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron)
Airman Magazine: What effect will advances in big data research have on cyber operations?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Data is the game changer in our business. If I own the data battle space, then I will definitely be within the OODA loop of the adversary. Being able to leverage quantum computing, artificial intelligence and analysis of big data platforms is really the future of our mission.
There is so much data out there in today’s environment there is no way that you can get through all of it (manually). So you may miss a key data point that would help you make a decision. In a future conflict, being able to have the right data at the right time analyzed at the right tempo is key to success.
We’re putting a lot of effort into better understanding the data, not just from cyber standpoint, but also in logistics, in intelligence and even in personnel. The more we can analyze the data, the better that we can perform education and training, perform timely logistics, perform ISR operations. Every single Air Force core mission is reliant on data to be more effective, more efficient and more successful.
Airman Magazine: Can you talk about Hack the Air Force and its value to the force?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: The first Hack the Air Force iteration was in late 2017, after the successful Hack the Pentagon initiative by Defense Digital Services. When the first hackathon sprint kicked off it took less than a minute for a hacker to find a valid vulnerability. By the end, over 200 holes in our boundary had been patched—and that was just the first iteration.
Hack the Air Force gets after two important focus areas: first, it builds capacity for the Air Force by leveraging expertise from a multitude of places, and second, it leverages innovative thinking to find vulnerabilities we otherwise might not uncover.
Take, for example, the person who won the first hackathon sprint, a 17-year-old high school student from Chicago. Maybe his path won’t lead him to the Air Force, but we were still able to use his talents to make ourselves more resilient. To me that’s a win.
Quynh Tran, right, a Raytheon Corporation software engineer, talks with Capt. Nick Lundin, Product Management lead, about a software coding project May 30, 2018 at Kessel Run, a program within the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, a United States Department of Defense organization, in Boston.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: What lessons can be learned from commercial companies about practices that enable those fresh ideas to come forward?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: There are a lot of great lessons learned from Silicon Valley and I would offer Silicon Valley has also learned from the Department of Defense.
As I’ve said many times over my 33-year career to date, if I came into the military today, compared with a talent level of the individuals that we have now, I would not be as successful as I have been.
The talent today is amazing and our job as senior leaders is how do we unleash that talent? How do we have the right policies and the right directives leveraging the right acquisition authorities and unleash this talent on the hard problems that our force and our nation face today.
The key is getting the right people in the room to determine how best to provide solutions, whether it’s software development, hardware acquisition or cyberspace operations. It’s getting the right people in the room and getting through the bureaucracy, pushing the bureaucracy to the side and being able to unleash the talent.
Airman Magazine: How can, especially when it comes to the cyber domain, the Air Force compete with civilian industry to attract more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: There was always a competition between academia, research labs, commercial industry and the military. We as a military cannot compete from a dollar standpoint.
But where we can compete is with the great things you can do within the DoD, that you probably can’t do within the commercial world. We have great missions coming from the research we’re doing.
Some of the operations we’re doing on a day-to-day basis, you can’t do that on the commercial side. We have opportunities for individuals at a variety of levels to perform things they couldn’t do outside of the military. That’s our calling card.
Airman Magazine: Peer and near-peer competitors have been going to school on us since World War II; how do we offset that advantage?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say every threat is an opportunity. While we have been focused over the last 10 to 15 years on the violent extremist, the latest National Defense Strategy, National Security Strategy and National Cyber Strategy outline strategic competition, peer competitors, and has turned the focus there.
You’ll hear a lot about readiness. Readiness is very important to our chief, very important to our secretary and very important to the secretary of defense. We need to make sure that we have a lethal force. In order to do that, you need to have a ready force.
In order to be ready, you need to have a disciplined force. Especially when there is strategic competition out there and adversaries who on a day-to-day basis are performing actions and operations that are probably right below the level of conflict.
But, I would not want to go and do a mission against a threat with anyone else but the airmen we have in our service today. Our airmen, with our joint partners in the other services, still have the most critical, credible and lethal force in the world.
Airmen with the 68th Network Warfare Squadron monitor Air Force communications to analyze disclosures of critical information and perform data loss prevention at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Oct. 25, 2018.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: You talked about having a disciplined force in order to be lethal. What constitutes discipline in the cyber world?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Discipline is key. I’m not talking about discipline from a uniform code of military justice aspect. This is discipline in processes, discipline in procedures and discipline in command and control. We spent a lot of time going back and trying to figure out what happened on something because there was an undisciplined tactic, technique, procedure or process. We’re trying to leverage discipline to make our force more effective and more capable and build capacity.
Then we come to a readiness standpoint. Readiness, as you know, is made up of personnel, equipment, procedures and training. We are continually leveraging our innovative airmen to improve the training they receive, how we purchase equipment, how we educate our airmen.
Part of all this is proficiency. Proficiency against a violent extremist organization is much different than proficiency against strategic competitors. Our focus continues to be how to maintain and improve the readiness and proficiency against strategic competitors.
We are also leveraging our airmen and technology to be more efficient and more effective.
Leveraging artificial intelligence can decrease the amount of time that our airmen spend doing manual work so they can focus on the higher end discussions of cognitive actions and activities.
For example, manually looking through thousands of pages of data takes a very long time. We have airmen who are leveraging technology, whether it’s using keywords or bringing a couple of technologies together, that can take those thousands of documents and run through them in minutes versus hours, days or weeks.
Then taking what the technology has given you and put the human eye on it — are there any other needles in the haystack?
That’s what our airmen are doing on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s from a data collection standpoint, whether it’s from a cyber operation standpoint, whether it’s looking through logs to see if we have an adversary presence on our networks. Looking through logs to make sure that our user experience is where it needs to be on a daily basis, but leveraging technology to reduce the amount of manual steps.
Airman Magazine: With a kinetic weapon, the effects are apparent and there is an inherent process to be able to determine origin, intent and purpose. The very nature of cyber is to hide the hand that dealt the cards. What kind of challenges does determining attribution pose for a commander?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: So attribution is a very significant challenge. There are not as well defined international norms in the cyberspace domain and therefore a multitude of nations and multitude of criminals and the multitude of other individuals are continuing to push the limits.
It is often very apparent in the other domains, from an effect or an outcome, who the actors are. In the cyber domain, you can have the same type of effects in as in other domains, but it is harder to determine the source, which is really important when you start talking about multi-domain operations.
Cyber is a critical enabler while also a critical operation because cyber can be both supporting and supported within multi-domain operations. As we continue to refine our operations, to refine our tactics, techniques and procedures, we will continue to get better at understanding attribution, understanding the outcomes, and making sure that we refine and define those outcomes and bound the outcomes to meet our mission objectives.
As cyber continues to get more profound and more pronounced in the day-to-day operations, attribution is going to become that much harder.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner, then Deputy Commander of Air Force Space Command, speaks at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, March 6, 2018.
(Photo by Dave Grim)
Airman Magazine: How do you convince people that cyber and space have become foundational to everything that the Air Force, and our society as a whole, does on a daily basis?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I’ll give you a perfect example, the Global Positioning System is operated by Air Force Space Command: not only for the nation, but the whole world. The U.S. Air Force supplies and supports the system and satellites that enable the GPS navigation we use in our cars and on our phones every day, millions of times around the world.
It also provides timing. Every financial transaction is supported by the GPS system. So when you purchase something and put your credit card into that reader, there’s a timing aspect that is being supported by GPS. So the Air Force is supporting billions of activities and actions all the time.
Airman Magazine: The chief of staff and secretary have made it a priority to push command level decisions down to the lowest level possible. How is that manifested in your command?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Its not only because the chief and the secretary say they want it done. We have the greatest airmen in the world and we have the greatest commanders in the world—pushing authorities and responsibility down to the lowest level really enables them to unleash the talent around them and enables us to unleash their talent.
You don’t need higher headquarters micromanaging and directing things on a daily basis. Our commanders are boarded. We have a tradition of great commanders in our Air Force and we need to let them run. We need to let them determine how best to run their organizations and how best to be effective. The more that we can push decision authority down, the more bureaucracy we can eliminate and the more agile, lethal and effective we can be as an Air Force.
From a higher headquarters level and higher commander level, our responsibility is to give the left and right limits to those organizations and then let them run.
If we are in a conflict, especially against a peer competitor, the amount of time it would take to micromanage our tactical-level units would not allow us to be inside the OODA loop of our adversary.
We need to allow our commanders, in peacetime, to train like they are going to fight. To have that authority to perform the mission as they see fit. With more guidance, directives and limitations to that commander, there’s going to be some negative learning, first and foremost, but secondly, the safety of our airmen will be put in jeopardy.
Participants in the joint, multinational exercise Cyber Guard 2016 work through a training scenario during the nine-day event in Suffolk, Va., on June 16, 2016.
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse A. Hyatt)
Airman Magazine: As commander of Joint Force Headquarters Cyber, you’re responsible for cyber affects in campaign plans from U.S. Central Command to U.S. Transportation Command. How does that integration take place?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Aligned to each of those combatant commanders we have an element called the Cyber Operations Integrated Planning Element. We are just now standing those up and they are at the combatant commanders’ headquarters.
They’re kind of our picture window into that combatant commander to enable cyber operations planning to be part of their overall plan. Each combatant commander has either a function or a region they’re responsible for and they have what we call a scheme of maneuver, which is either day-to-day or in conflict. It is the commander’s plan of how to ensure sure we are successful in that campaign.
These planning elements are aligned there so we can be part of that plan and make sure that cyber isn’t just bolted on, but integrated into that plan. Cyber will be one of the first options that are available to that combatant commander below the level of conflict to make sure that we are meeting our objectives.
Airman Magazine: How do you get everyone with a piece of the huge cyber puzzle speaking the same language? How do you communicate capabilities and vulnerabilities to leadership, agency partners and airmen who are not cyber experts?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say today we have the best understanding and the best alignment from the cyber domain standpoint that we’ve ever had with all the strategy documents – the National Defense Strategy, which is underneath the National Security Strategy, the National Cyber Policy and Strategy, the DoD Cyber Strategy and the Cyber Posture Review.
All of these documents are perfectly aligned and it’s a great understanding of the capabilities that we provide, but also the importance of cyber to the multi-domain operations. The education is continual, but I offer that our Air Force leadership understands the cyber domain. They understand how important the cyber domain is to multi-domain operations.
We continue to educate the entire forest. We’re continuing the education process of all of our airmen, from the highest level to the most junior airman and the joint community, but from a joint standpoint and a national standpoint cyber is more understood than it ever has been.
Proposed content viewing page on the Cyber Education Hub, which is being developed at the Center for Cyberspace Research in the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
(AFIT CCR photo)
Airman Magazine: Do you see the Continuum of Learning concept and applications like the Cyber Learning Hub being developed by the Center for Cyberspace Research, Air Force Cyber College and U.S Air Force Academy’s CyberWorx, as aiding in that effort?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: There are a lot of great opportunities with that as cyber continues to be more and more integrated into the day-to-day operations.
We currently have the Air Force Warfare Center where we bring a lot of different mission systems together, integrate them, exercise and train and cyber is a significant part of that.
From an education standpoint we send people to the Air Force Institute of Technology. They not only have general education classes, but we they have Cyber 100, Cyber 200, Cyber 300 and Cyber 400 courses.
We have the 39th Information Operations Squadron, which does our cyber training. Keesler Air Force Base has a lot of our cyber courses. Just as Gen. Raymond over the last year has been working with Air University to make sure we have more space in our professional military education, we’re doing the same thing from a cyber standpoint.
We’re working with Gen. Cotton at Air University and Gen. Kwast at Air Education and Training Command to make sure that we continue to improve the amount of cyber and relevant topics in cyber education in basic military training through professional military education and to highlight cyber, both from a professional and a personal standpoint, because it impacts every part of your life.
Airman Magazine: In that vein, what would you like every airman to be aware of in their daily connectivity?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: One of the biggest vectors that our adversaries use to get into our networks is email. It’s called spear phishing. You can get those at your home and at the office. We continue to educate that you should know who the sender of an email is, that you do not click on links that you’re not certain are good links. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
If you get an email offering a free vacation, there’s probably not a free vacation. That’s probably someone trying to gain access to your personal information or gain access into our Air Force systems to cause havoc and disrupt our ability to do our missions.
Additionally, be aware that our adversaries can put different pieces of unclassified information together, which in the aggregate actually become classified. So you always have to be careful when you’re outside of work, or even inside work, of what you talk about in the open.
You have to monitor your computer systems. Make sure your systems are patched, especially at home, because that is the quickest way for an adversary to exploit your system. Some vulnerabilities have been out there for years. We find that both on the commercial side and the government side — there are systems out there that have not been patched in a long time, even though a patch has been out there.
We’re continuing to leverage technology to make that a little easier, to make sure that we’re updating and protecting all those systems.
Maj. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, Commander, 24th Air Force; Commander, Air Forces Cyber and Commander, Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber is photographed at his headquarters at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Oct. 26, 2018.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: The Air Force places a premium on building leaders. What twists and turns has your career taken that culminated in command of the Twenty-fourth AF?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I’ve had multiple mentors who have taken a special interest in my career. They have said you need to go to this position. I questioned it. I didn’t understand it. But it turns out that developed a place in my leadership that was not refined well enough. We spend a lot of time and energy on managing our talent. What differentiates us from other nations and other militaries is our airmen, whether officer, enlisted or civilian.
Our Airmen are our most precious asset. It is our solemn duty to professionally develop our airmen to the best extent possible. We take special interest in placing them where they professionally develop, while making sure our missions continue to be successful.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The battle to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State terror group is a fight increasingly without front lines.
The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have breached the old city and control about a quarter of the terror group’s de facto capital, say American officials, but holding what has already been seized is proving a struggle.
Disputes between the SDF and some Free Syrian Army militias who have started to participate in the battle isn’t helping the advance, but the biggest obstacle remains the determined defense of IS fighters, who are using similar urban warfare tactics seen in the past nine months in the terror group’s fight to delay the retaking of Mosul by Iraqi security forces.
A month into the Raqqa assault, improvised explosive devices, sniper fire, and the use of an elaborate network of tunnels to mount ambushes — as well as exploiting civilians as human shields — are all being deployed by the militants. IS militants have also been using drones to drop explosives on SDF militiamen.
A watchdog rights organization says in the assault’s first month it has documented 650 deaths — 224 of them civilians.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that relies on a network of activists for its reporting, 311 IS fighters, including a handful of commanders, and 106 fighters of the American-backed “Euphrates Wrath” forces have died so far.
“In addition, airstrikes left hundreds of civilians injured, with various degrees of severity, some of whom had their limbs amputated, some were left with permanent disabilities and some are still in a critical condition, which means that the death toll is still likely to rise,” the observatory says.
Long battle ahead
Despite being only a tenth the size of Mosul, US officials say they expect the house-to-house fighting to last several weeks. Estimates on how many militants remain in the city range from between 2,000 to 3,000. Most of them are thought to be from eastern Syria or foreign fighters drawn mainly from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
According to local activists, some Raqqa-born IS fighters have defected and are providing intelligence to the SDF. Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a Washington-based think tank, and co-author of the book “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” says local fighters have proven less than committed in the battle.
“The Islamic State will likely have to rely on the city’s still likely large population of foreign fighters as well as a new generation of young fighters brainwashed by the group’s ideology who typically fight viciously to the end,” Hassan argues in the current issue of CTC Sentinel, a publication of the West Point military academy.
YPJ and YPG forces work together. (Photo from Flickr user Kurdishstruggle (CC by 2.0)
Despite the participation of experienced, battle-hardened Kurdish fighters, private security advisers say the SDF doesn’t have the same capabilities and training as the elite Iraqi units who have been confronting IS militants in Mosul since August.
“They are spread much thinner,” one European security adviser told Voice of America. “They are also not as well equipped and lack the armor the Iraqis have been able to use,” he added.
Keeping the advance going, and trying to pin the militants into smaller and smaller pockets, is proving grueling, he said.
On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to declare his security forces had wrested the wrecked city from the Islamic State, despite some continued fighting in at least one west Mosul neighborhood. Some US officials are reckoning IS fighters may be able to hold out in Raqqa for up to three months.
In a bid to disrupt the SDF momentum, IS is now more regularly using suicide bombers driving reinforced vehicles packed with explosives — although not to the same degree as seen in the battle for Mosul. Last week, one suicide bomber managed to destroy a forward HQ used by the SDF.
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled, braving mines and savage IS sniper fire. Local activists estimate the number of civilians remaining in the city at about 60,000. They fault the international coalition for failing to have prepared for the handling of large numbers of displaced families.
Civilians have been gathering in nearby camps lacking basic amenities such as healthcare, clean drinking water, and food,” says the activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.
The group has accused the attacking forces of using a scorched-earth strategy, utilizing indiscriminate aerial bombardment in order to force militants to withdraw. US officials admit there have been civilian deaths but say they are doing all they can to minimize casualties among non-combatants.
The Army is preparing for the first official flights of two high-tech, next-generation aircraft now being designed with a wide range of abilities to include flying faster, flying farther without needing to refuel, operating in high-hot conditions and having an ability to both reach high speeds and hover like a helicopter.
The new aircraft are part of an Army-led effort, called Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, aimed at paving the way toward ultimately engineering a new fleet of aircraft for all the services to take flight by 2030.
Construction of two different high-tech, future-oriented demonstrator helicopters is already underway in anticipation of ground testing later this year and initial flight testing next year, Dan Bailey, JMR TD program director, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
“Things are moving along very well. We are on schedule with exactly what our industry partners have planned,” he said.
While some of the eventual requirements for the new aircraft have yet to be defined, there are some notional characteristics currently being sought after by the program. They include an ability to travel at airplane-like speeds greater than 230 knots, achieve a combat radius of 434 kilometers, use a stronger engine and operate in what’s called “high-hot” conditions of 6,000-feet and 95-degrees Fahrenheit.
“We had set 230 as the speed requirement because we wanted to push the technology. We wanted people to bring new ideas and new configurations to the table,” Bailey said in an interview with Scout Warrior several months ago.
A faster, more manueverable helicopter that can fly farther on one tank of fuel would enable forces in combat to more effectively engage in longer combat operations such as destroying enemy targets or transporting small groups of mobile, lethal ground fighters. The new helicopter will also be designed to use next-generation sensors to find enemies on the move and employ next-generation weapons to attack them, Army officials describe.
The JMR TD technology effort will inform a planned program of record called Future Vertical Lift, or FVL, which will design, build and test a series of next-generation aircraft for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
“FVL is a high priority. We have identified capability gaps. We need technologies and designs that are different than what the current fleet has. It will carry more equipment, perform in high-hot conditions, be more maneuverable within the area of operations and execute missions at longer ranges,” Rich Kretzschmar, project manager for the FVL effort, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
.The first flights of the demonstrator aircraft, slated for 2017, will include developmental helicopter/aircraft from two industry teams – Bell Helicopter and a Sikorsky-Boeing team.
TWO HELICOPTER DESIGNS
The Bell offering, called the V-280 Valor, seeks to advance tilt-rotor technology, wherein a winged-aircraft with two rotor blades over each wing seeks to achieve airplane speeds and retain an ability to hover and maneuver like a helicopter.
Bell’s V-280 has finished what’s called a system-level design review where Army and Bell developers refine and prepare the design of the air vehicle.
“They have an air vehicle concept demonstrator that they call the third-generation tilt-rotor. Their fuselage was completed and it is being delivered to Bell for the build-up of the aircraft,” Bailey said.
Along with Boeing, Bell makes the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft which is currently praised by military members for its excellent operational performance in recent years. The Osprey has two rotating rotor blades which align vertically when the aircraft is in helicopter mode and then move to a horizontal position when the aircraft enters airplane mode and reaches speeds greater than 280 knots.
The V-280 Valor also has two propellers which rotate from horizontal airplane mode to a vertical position, which allows for helicopter mode. Bell officials have said their new aircraft will be able to reach speeds of 280 knots. Bell and Army officials explain that their V-280 Valor substantially advances tilt-rotor technology.
“What Bell has done is taking its historical V-22 aircraft, and all the demonstrators before that, and applies them to this next-generation tilt-rotor. It is a straight wing versus a V-22 which is not straight. This reduces complexity,” Bailey explained. “They are also building additional flapping into the rotor system and individual controls that should allow for increased low-speed maneuverability.”
The Sikorsky-Boeing demonstrator, called the SB1 Defiant, uses a coaxial rotor system configuration. This is a design structure, referred to as a compound configuration, which relies upon two counter-rotating rotor blades on top of the aircraft and a thrusting mechanism in the rear.
“To make a rotorcraft go fast you have to off-load the rotor lift onto something else or else you run into problems when you try to reduce the speed of that rotor. Typically, you do that with a wing but Sikorsky-Boeing came up with a lift-offset design,” Bailey added.
The pusher-prop on the back of the aircraft is a small propeller behind the counter-rotating rotor heads. It is what can give the aircraft airplane-like speeds. It operates with what’s called positive and negative pitch, allowing the aircraft to lean up or down and move both forwards and backwards, Boeing officials have said.
The JMR TD program and the follow-on FVL effort will also integrate a wide range of next-generation sensors, weapons and avionics, Army officials explained.
Some of these technologies will include a “fly-by-wire” technology allowing for a measure of autonomy or automation so that the helicopter can fly along a particular course by itself in the event that a pilot is injured or incapacitated. This is the kind of technology which could, in the future, allow for unmanned helicopter operations.
Along these lines, the Army is looking for technical solutions or mission equipment which increases a pilot’s cognitive decision-making capability by effectively managing the flow of information from an array of sensors into the cockpit, Army program managers have explained in previous statements on the Army’s website – Army.mil
Army JMR TD development documents describe autonomous capability in terms of the need to develop a Human Machine Interface, HMI, wherein advanced cockpit software and computing technologies are able to autonomously perform a greater range of functions such as on-board navigation, sensing and threat detection, thus lessening the burden placed upon pilots and crew, Army experts have explained.
In particular, cognitive decision-aiding technologies explored for 4th-generation JMR cockpit will develop algorithms able to track, prioritize organize and deliver incoming on- and off-board sensory information by optimizing visual, 3-D audio and tactile informational cues, prior statements on Army.mil have said.
The idea is to manage the volume of information flowing into the aircraft and explore how to best deliver this information without creating sensory overload. Some of this information may be displayed in the cockpit and some of it may be built into a helmet display, Army officials said.
Manned-Unmanned teaming, also discussed by Army developers, constitutes a significant portion of this capability; the state of the art with this capability allows helicopter pilots to not only view video feeds from nearby UAS from the cockpit of the aircraft, but it also gives them an ability to control the UAS flight path and sensor payloads as well. Future iterations of this technology may seek to implement successively greater levels of autonomy, potentially involving scenarios wherein an unmanned helicopter is able to perform these functions working in tandem with nearby UAS.
Integration is key to the Army’s Mission Systems strategy, as the overall approach is aimed at fielding an integrated suite of sensors and countermeasure technologies designed to work in tandem to identify and in some cases deter a wide range of potential incoming threats, from small arms fire to RPGs, shoulder-fired missiles and other types of attacks, Army statements have said.
One such example of these technologies is called Common Infrared Countermeasure, or CIRCM, a light-weight, high-tech laser-jammer engineered to divert incoming missiles by throwing them off course. CIRCM is a lighter-weight, improved version of the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures, known as ATIRCM, system currently deployed on aircraft.
CIRCM, which will be fielded by 2018, represents the state of the art in countermeasure technology, officials said. Future iterations of this kind of capability envisioned for 2030 may or may not be similar to CIRCM, Army developers have said. Future survivability solutions will be designed to push the envelope toward the next-generation of technology, servcie information explains.
The mission equipment for the new aircraft will be tailored to the new emerging designs, service developers said.
Additional countermeasure solutions proposed by industry could include various types of laser technology and Directed Energy applications as well as missile-launch and ground-fire detection systems, Army officials said.
The new helicopter program is also working with its industry partners to develop a new technology which might improve upon the state-of-the-art Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor, or MTADS, systems currently deployed on helicopters; MTADS sensing and targeting technology provide helicopters thermal imaging infrared cameras as well stabilized electro-optical sensors, laser rangefinders and laser target designators, according to Army statements.
The current, upgraded MTADS currently deployed on aircraft throughout the Army were engineered to accommodate the size, weight and power dimensions of today’s aircraft, dimensions which will likely change with the arrival of a new Air Vehicle built for the new JMR demonstrator aircraft.
JMR Weapons Systems Integration is a critical part of this effort. The JMR aircraft will be engineered to integrate weapons and sensor systems to autonomously detect, designate and track targets, perform targeting operations during high-speed maneuvers, conduct off-axis engagements, track multiple targets simultaneously and optimize fire-control performance such that ballistic weapons can accommodate environmental effects such as wind and temperature, Army documents on the aircraft have stated.
Air-to-Air “tracking” capability is another solution sought by the Army, comprised of advanced software and sensors able to inform pilots of obstacles such as a UAS or nearby aircraft; this technology will likely include Identify Friend or Foe, or IFF, transponders which cue pilots regarding nearby aircraft, Army officials have said.
Technical solutions able to provide another important obstacle avoidance “sensing” capability called Controlled Flight Into Terrain, or CFIT, are also being explored; in this instance, sensors, advanced mapping technology and digital flight controls would be engineered to protect an aircraft from nearby terrain such as trees, mountains, telephone wires and other low-visibility items by providing pilots with sufficient warning of an upcoming obstacle and, in some instances, offering them course-correcting flight options.
Using sensors and other technologies to help pilots navigate through “brown-outs” or other conditions involving what’s called a “Degraded Visual Environment” is a key area of emphasis as well, according to Army officials.
The Army is looking at a range of solutions such as radar, electro-optical equipment, lasers, sensors, software, avionics and communications equipment to see what the right architecture is and how we would integrate all these things together.
PROGRESS THUS FAR
In addition to conducting the first official Army-industry flight of the two demonstrators, the program is working on a Material Development Decision, designed to pave the way for the FVL acquisition program. This effort conducts a thorough examination of all the available technologies and their performance through what is called an “analysis of alternatives.”
A key advantage of a joint FVL program is that it will engender further inter-operability between the services and, for example, allow an Army helicopter to easily be serviced with maintenance at a Marine Corps Forward Operating Base, Bailey explained.
Bell and Sikorsky-Boeing teams are both done with their subsystem critical design review and the components are in fabrication and safety flight testing, Bailey explained.
“Bell has a completed fuselage that is undergoing the nuances of getting landing gear attached to it and holes for wiring. They are complete with their wing build and they are just starting to make it to the engine itself,” Bailey said.
Bell engineers have been mounting the wing to the fuselage.
“It really is starting to look like major components to the aircraft. By May it will likely look like a complete aircraft but it will not have all the subsystems,” he added.
The Sikorsky-Boeing – fuselage is complete as well, Bailey said.
“The transmission, main rotor and hubs have been forged and cast – they are in the process of preparing for final assembly,” he explained.
Both companies we have completed the final design and risk review, which is the government review of their process to say the Army understands the final design and the risks going forward.
“The demonstrators help to inform the feasibility both from the technical and affordability aspects of a future program of record,” Bailey said.
If Kim Jong Un wanted to keep F-35s from being able to roam around his country with absolute freedom, he should have been investing in radar technology or fifth-generation fighters instead of nuclear weapons. Now, his erstwhile enemy to the South is getting some of the latest and greatest tech outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“We, on our part, have no other choice but to develop and test the special armaments to completely destroy the lethal weapons reinforced in South Korea, ” said KCNA, North Korea’s state media outlet.
KCNA says a lot of things, though. Very enthusiastically.
South Korea received its first two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in March 2019 and will have another 38 delivered by 2021. North Korea’s air force consists of very old Soviet-built MiGs and is largely unchanged from the air force his grandfather used. It’s so bad even the North Koreans acknowledge their fleet leaves something to be desired. Now, with South Korea’s acquisition of the world’s most advanced fighter, the North may actually have to make some much-needed upgrades.
“There is no room for doubt that the delivery of ‘F-35A’, which is also called an ‘invisible lethal weapon’, is aimed at securing military supremacy over the neighboring countries in the region and especially opening a ‘gate’ to invading the North in time of emergency on the Korean peninsula,” North Korea said in a statement via KCNA.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their summit at the truce village of Panmunjom.
While Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump are having a very public bromance, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in is largely left out of the media spotlight. When Trump arrived to meet with Kim at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, Moon was on the sidelines while Trump went for a walk in North Korea.
Rapprochement with the United States doesn’t extend to the South in every instance, however. The delivery of the vaunted F-35 prompted the North to issue these stunning rebukes of South Korean defense policy, calling the South “impudent and pitiful.”
“The South Korean authorities had better come to their senses before it is too late, shattering the preposterous illusions that an opportunity would come for improved inter-Korean relations if they follow in the footsteps of the United States,” said North Korea in an official statement.
In the overnight hours of July 5th, $34 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect in the United States. China immediately retaliated with the opening shots of what it called the “biggest trade war in economic history.”
Not to be outdone, the United States is looking at expanding its 25-percent duty on China’s exports by another $16 billion in just a few short weeks — the Trump Administration has, historically, not waited to implement policy or take initiatives. On anything. Ever.
(The White House)
In the hours before the U.S. tariffs were set to go into effect on things like washing machines, solar panels, steel, and aluminum, President Trump spoke of the possibility of even more duties on upwards of 0 billion’s worth Chinese imports. It’s the latest in a long history of tough talk on trade.
Even his most vocal critics will agree that it’s one thing he’s never changed his stance on.
The President’s stated goal in trade restrictions with both allies and ideological rivals is to close the widening trade deficit between what the U.S. imports and what it exports. With China, that trade deficit topped out at 5 million. As of May 2018, the trade deficit was .1 billion, at 5 billion for the year.
A large trade deficit doesn’t necessarily mean the economy is weak or struggling. And tariffs aren’t always the best way of closing that gap. Even the right-leaning Heritage Foundation says there is no correlation between trade deficits and weak economy.
But while the President argues that a trade deficit hinders economic growth and hurts job creation in the United States, his argument runs counter to the widely-held economic belief that the trade deficit tends to grow during periods of strong U.S. economic growth because increased demand brings more imported goods. Consumer goods is exactly where the bulk of the U.S. trade deficit with China is growing.
Another goal for the President and those around him is to stop the numerous unfair and often illegal things China practices in the global marketplace. They have long been known to artificially devalue their currency in order to undermine other countries in the global market, demand trade secrets from corporations in exchange for access to the Chinese market, and to outright steal intellectual property and technology from other countries and firms, to name just a few.
The Trump Administration already placed tariffs on products from certain other countries, like Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. In retaliation, they have implemented tariffs of their own, placing duties on politically-charged goods that target members of Congress — cheese, targeting House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and bourbon, targeting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for example.
Retaliatory tariffs are designed to hit an official’s constituency, making trouble for their potential re-election campaign (though Ryan has opted not to run again). These countries have also targeted the Trump voters themselves, placing fees on red-state products like, soybeans and pork.
Russia has also slapped U.S. steel imports with a tariff of its own.
There’s no single definition of when retaliatory tariffs become a “trade war,” but exchanges in escalating economic pressures, like the recent exchange between the U.S. and China, is a surefire place to start. What Americans need to be prepared for is the passing of costs to the consumer. A rise in the price of steel due to tariffs is going to be passed on to the consumer of cars, for example.
The price of a washing machine has already risen 16 percent in the last few months, while the trade deficit saw the largest three-month reduction in the past ten years. The rising Chinese market is estimated to shrink by as much as one percent in the coming days while the U.S. will look at shrinking just .2 percent. U.S.-bound orders in China have shrunk while shares of Chinese businesses are already down 12 percent over the past few months.
But U.S. allies in Europe have declined to join China in a coalition against the Trump Tariffs.
While economists say no one would criticize the idea of trying to force China to play by the rules, the same economists would tell you they’re uncertain that tariffs are the way to go about it.
Creating a sense of community may look different for each of us. While some Americans enjoy the close proximity of city life, those who live in rural areas welcome the less crowded towns and wide open spaces as signs of home.
Although many rural residents enjoy these perks, the very nature of life in rural communities may unintentionally isolate them from others. Rural Veterans often report lower quality of life related to mental health than their urban counterparts, a challenge exacerbated by a lack of qualified specialists or nearby medical facilities.
Mental Health Month is observed each May to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, mental health and wellness, and suicide prevention. Many risk factors disproportionately affect Veterans, especially those in rural communities with shortages of mental health providers.
As the lead advocate for rural Veterans, VA’s Office of Rural Health implements multiple support programs to help improve the health and well-being of rural Veterans. In 2019, ORH focused on eight critical mental health and suicide prevention programs, including:
Rural Suicide Prevention connects Veterans to comprehensive suicide prevention services and resources through enhanced education, public awareness campaigns, community training, crisis support, firearm safety, and care management for high risk individuals.
Vets Prevail Web Based Behavioral Support provides Veterans suffering from depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder with tools to overcome these challenges. The program focuses on Veterans returning from recent conflicts, like Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
Military Sexual Trauma Web-Based Therapy uses telehealth to deliver specialized mental health care directly to the homes of Veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma.
Clinical Resource Hubs – Telemental Health connects specialists with rural Veterans to ensure access to mental health care services in rural areas.
To find out if these programs and others like them are available in your area, please contact your local VA medical center.
If you are a Veteran in crisis — or you’re concerned about one — free, confidential support is available 24/7. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or chat online.
Admit it — you like seeing the low-level flyovers by Air Force or Navy planes. Especially when they are sleek and just exude the notion that they are flown by pilots who appreciate fast jets and faster… well, you get the idea. But while fighters often have that distinction, the B-1B Lancer has shown it, too can exude that — while still carrying a lot of firepower.
During President Trump’s trip to East Asia, the sailors on three Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers got to see a pair of B-1B Lancers do just such a flyby. The carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) operated with a Japanese “helicopter destroyer” during that time.
Each of these carriers usually operates with four squadrons of strike fighters, either F/A-18C Hornets or F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. That’s a powerful force, but the F/A-18Cs are limited to two missiles like the AGM-84 Harpoon/SLAM or AGM-158C LRASM, while the F/A-18E/Fs can carry four.
F/A-18E Super Hornets, assigned to the “Fist of the Fleet” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 25, fly over the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony Flynn/Released)
By comparison, a B-1B Lancer can carry twenty-four. So, the two Lancers in the video below can deliver the same number of missiles as an entire squadron of F/A-18Cs. In a naval battle with China, eight B-1s with LRASMs could conceivably take out two Chinese carrier groups. What those bombers could do with the AGM-158 JASSM and JASSM-ER to land targets would be equally devastating.
You can see a video of the Lancers doing a flyby of the three carriers and the Japanese “helicopter destroyer” below. The video was taken from a Navy helicopter orbiting the three-carrier formation.