A screenshot of the cockpit video of Thunderbirds performing the flyover on Apr. 11, 2020.
The U.S. Air Force flight demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, performed an inspiring flyover of the greater Las Vegas area on Saturday, April 11, 2020 in honor of healthcare workers and first responders working during the international COVID-19 crisis.
The flight, which included all six of the Thunderbird F-16s in wedge formation along with at least two camera aircraft accompanying the aircraft, took place at 2:30 PM local Las Vegas time and was watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators who were separated all over Las Vegas by social distancing guidelines.
Local media, aviation photographers around Las Vegas, and the Thunderbirds produced some sensational visuals of the event. Interestingly, the team carried out the flyover in 5 instead of 6 jets because, according to local spotters, one of the F-16s experienced a birdstrike shortly after taking off from Nellis Air Force Base.
One fascinating photo featured on the local Las Vegas Review Journal social media pages showed the Thunderbird formation flying over the famous Luxor pyramid-shaped hotel with five “Janet Airlines” Boeing 737s parked at McCarran International Airport. The aircraft, perhaps the “worst kept secret in the world”, fly personnel to several classified test facilities around the western U.S.
A statement on the official Air Force Thunderbirds Twitter page said, “We salute the healthcare workers and first responders who are at the forefront of our nation’s fight against COVID-19. They are an inspiration for the entire country during these challenging times and it was an honor to fly for them today.”
The Thunderbirds shared their flyover time and route across social media before the flight so people in Las Vegas could view the flyover while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
Nellis AFB, just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, has a long history of supporting the community through triumph and tragedy under the leadership of 57th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Robert G. Novotny. Following the tragic October 1, 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the 57th Wing honored health care workers, first responders, survivors and memorialized victims of the tragedy with two specially painted aircraft, an F-16 and an F-15, wearing the moniker “Vegas Strong”.
First responders around Las Vegas maintained social distancing while watching the Thunderbird flyover.
Brig. Gen. Novotny and the entire 57th Wing, have consistently led the U.S. military’s effective use of social media not only with the public affairs outreach by the Thunderbirds, but through a host of other initiatives that showcase the Air Force mission and personnel performing the Air Force mission every day at Nellis AFB and around the world.
The Air Force is finishing engineering details on an aggressive plan to prototype, test, and deploy hypersonic weapons on an expedited schedule — to speed up an ability to launch high-impact, high-speed attacks at five times the speed of sound.
Recent thinking from senior Air Force weapons developers had held that US hypersonic weapons might first be deployable by the early 2020s. Hypersonic drones for attack or ISR missions, by extension, were thought to be on track to emerge in the 2030s and 2040s, senior service officials have told Warrior Maven.
Now, an aggressive new Air Force hypersonic weapons prototyping and demonstration effort is expected to change this time frame in a substantial way.
“I am working with the team on acceleration and I am very confident that a significant acceleration is possible,” said Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.”
The effort involves two separate trajectories, including the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon and a Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon.
“The Air Force is using prototyping to explore the art-of-the-possible and to advance these technologies to a capability as quickly as possible. We continue to partner with DARPA on two science and technology flight demonstration programs: Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept and Tactical Boost Glide,” Maj. Emily Grabowski, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
A “boost glide” hypersonic weapon is one that flies on an upward trajectory up into the earth’s atmosphere before using the speed of its descent to hit and destroy targets, senior officials said.
The Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon effort involves using mature technologies which have not yet been integrated for air-launched delivery, Grabowski added.
“The ARRW effort will “push the art-of-the-possible” by leveraging the technical base established by the Air Force/DARPA partnership,” she said. “The two systems have different flight profiles, payload sizes, and provide complementary offensive capabilities.”
The Air Force recently took a major step forward in the process by awarding an HCSW prototyping deal to Lockheed Martin.
As the most senior Air Force acquisition leader who works closely with the services’ Chief of Staff, Roper was clear not to pinpoint an as-of-yet undetermined timeline. He did, however, praise the hypersonic weapons development team and say the particulars of the acceleration plan would emerge soon. Roper talked about speeding up hypersonic weapons within the larger context of ongoing Air Force efforts to streamline and expedite weapons acquisition overall.
Roper explained the rationale for not waiting many more years for a “100-percent” solution if a highly impactful “90-percent” solution can be available much sooner. Often referred to as “agile acquisition” by Air Force senior leaders, to include service Secretary Heather Wilson, fast-tracked procurement efforts seek quicker turn around of new software enhancements, innovations, and promising combat technologies likely to have a substantial near-term impact. While multi-year developmental programs are by no means disappearing, the idea is to circumvent some of the more bureaucratic and cumbersome elements of the acquisition process.
The Air Force, and Pentagon, need hypersonic weapons very quickly, officials explain, and there is broad consensus that the need for hypersonic weapons is, at the moment, taking on a new urgency.
A weapon traveling at hypersonic speeds, naturally, would better enable offensive missile strikes to destroy targets such and enemy ships, buildings, air defenses and even drones and fixed-wing or rotary aircraft depending upon the guidance technology available.
A key component of this is the fact that weapons traveling at hypersonic speeds would present serious complications for targets hoping to defend against them – they would have only seconds with which to respond or defend against an approaching or incoming attack.
Along these lines, the advent of hypersonic weapons is a key reason why some are questioning the future survivability of large platforms such as aircraft carriers. How are ship-based sensors, radar and layered defenses expected to succeed in detecting tracking and intercepting or destroying an approaching hypersonic weapon traveling at five-times the speed of sound.
Hypersonic weapons will quite likely be engineered as “kinetic energy” strike weapons, meaning they will not use explosives but rather rely upon sheer speed and the force of impact to destroy targets.
A super high-speed drone or ISR platform would better enable air vehicles to rapidly enter and exit enemy territory and send back relevant imagery without being detected by enemy radar or shot down.
Although potential defensive uses for hypersonic weapons, interceptors or vehicles are by no means beyond the realm of consideration, the principle effort at the moment is to engineer offensive weapons able to quickly destroy enemy targets at great distances.
Some hypersonic vehicles could be developed with what senior Air Force leaders called “boost glide” technology, meaning they fire up into the sky above the earth’s atmosphere and then utilize the speed of descent to strike targets as a re-entry vehicle.
The speed of sound can vary, depending upon the altitude; at the ground level it is roughly 1,100 feet per second. Accordingly, if a weapon is engineered with 2,000 seconds worth of fuel – it can travel up to 2,000 miles to a target, senior weapons developers have told Warrior.
While Roper did not address any specific threats, he did indicate that the acceleration is taking place within a high-threat global environment. Both Russia and China have been visibly conducting hypersonic weapons tests, leading some to raise the question as to whether the US could be behind key rivals in this area.
“We are not the only ones interested in hypersonics,” Roper told reporters.
A report cited in The National Interest cites a report from The Diplomat outlining Chinese DF-17 hypersonic missile tests in November 2017.
During the tests – “a hypersonic glide vehicle detached from the missile during the reentry phase and flew approximately 1,400 kilometers to a target,” The Diplomat report states.
Also, Pentagon is fast-tracking sensor and command and control technology development to improve defenses against fast-emerging energy hypersonic weapons threats from major rivals, US Missile Defense Agency officials said in early 2018.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Military leaders must appreciate the changing character of war, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Nov. 11, 2018, as he returned home from Paris, where he was attending ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford reflected on the anniversary, which signaled 100 years since the end of World War I, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
“I think one of the things with World War I is the character of war hadn’t changed in some time,” he said. We saw … our own experience in the Civil War — machine guns, concertina wire, railroads, communications, and so forth. And I think even 50 years later, it’s pretty clear that leaders didn’t fully appreciate the changed character of war and the introduction of new technologies and how they’re going to change war.”
The general described that costs of subsequent wars has “an enduring lesson for all of us, [and] that one of our responsibilities as a leader is to appreciate the changing character of war, and ensure that we anticipate the changes and the implications of those changes.”
Alliances and partnerships
Dunford said the fact that the United States fought alongside allied countries for the first time during World War I resonates even today, as one of three lines of effort within the 2018 National Defense Strategy involves the nation furthering its alliances and partnerships with other nations.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Ellyn, visit the chapel at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial near the Belleau Wood battleground, in Belleau, France, Nov. 10, 2018.
(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
“If you look back at the 20th century, [in] every conflict we were involved in, we participated as part of a coalition, participated with allies and partners on our side: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the main skirmishes that we had in between,” he emphasized. “And … the NDS recognizes that we certainly don’t anticipate being on any future battlefield without allies and partners.”
During his two-and-a-half days in Paris, the chairman participated in the 100th Armistice Day commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe with President Donald J. Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and some 80 other heads of state.
He also attended ceremonies at World War I gravesites of U.S. servicemen at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near the site of the Battle of Belleau Wood in Belleau, France; and Suresnes American Cemetery outside Paris.
Dunford noted some key leaders of World War I, but emphasized, “For me, World War I is less about an individual leader and more about the individual doughboy. Many of them, [at] 17, 18, 19, 20 years old left home for the first time [and] in many cases came from rural America and never had seen anything outside of their hometown before they found themselves on the battlefields of France. And so what I’ve been mindful of all weekend … [is] just the young faces for every young doughboy lost in France.”
EUCOM Joint Color Guard carry the colors at Suresnes American Cemetery to honor the centennial of Armistice Day, Paris, France, Nov. 11, 2018.
(Photo by Cpl. Kevin Payne)
Dunford found his tour of Belleau Wood on Nov. 10, 2018 – also the Marine Corps 243rd birthday – to be a solemn experience. Before touring the gravesites, he and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly laid a wreath in front of the chapel at Aisne-Marne cemetery, where the names of 1,060 U.S. service members, whose remains never were found, are etched in stone, high on the chapel’s interior walls.
At the hallowed grounds of the American cemetery and the adjoining World War I battlefield – where the Marine Corps played a key role in securing Allied victory and earned distinction for their tenacity during the battle – the chairman said he was moved by the profound loss that takes place in combat: The human toll.
At the 100th Armistice Day commemoration at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, Nov. 11, 2018, Dunford said he was struck by the number of leaders who all came together to replicate what took place when the deadly war came to an end.
“It was very powerful to see them all there … and to have them representing their countries; and frankly, I think in many ways making a commitment never to repeat the mistakes that led us into World War I,” the chairman reflected. “I think it was a reminder probably for all of us, and certainly those senior leaders in uniform, of the responsibility that we have to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
During the thick of the 1991 Gulf War, anti-Iraqi coalition forces were mounting some 2,000 air sorties against Iraqi targets in the Middle East. In retaliation, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired scud missiles at Israel.
The U.S. obviously wanted to keep that from happening.
Now, if you’ve been keeping track, the Israelis don’t take kindly to threats. Or attacks. Especially scud missile attacks. Over the course of 17 days, Iraq fired 39 Scud Missiles at the highly populated coastal cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. An estimated 147 Israelis were killed.
To give you an idea of how Israel tends to retaliate to this sort of thing, the 1972 Munich Olympics attack killed 11 Israelis. In response, Israeli intelligence – the Mossad – launched Operation (no joke) WRATH OF GOD. They hunted down every Arab plotter of the Munich massacre and killed them. For 20 years.
Only the Mossad wasn’t about to wait 20 years to ice Saddam.
In 1992, they came up with Operation Bramble Bush, their plan to assassinate the Iraqi dictator. One agent, Nadav Zeevi, was tasked to find a pattern in Saddam’s movements. Then, the Israelis would track the dictator to where he would spend a longer amount of time. Once Saddam settled into a location, the Israelis would have their revenge.
But instead of an air strike, Israel wanted to mount a “glamorous” commando raid, using Sayeret Matkal special operators in a kill, definitely not capture mission. One version of the proposed raid had commandos launching missiles at Saddam during a funeral.
Israel mounted crazy, balls-out commando raids in the past. Their legendary raid on Entebbe featured a caravan of cars designed to resemble Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s entourage. They flew into Uganda, landed at the airport, drove off to the terminal, killed every terrorist, and then took their hostages to waiting planes in a hail of gunfire.
Unfortunately for history, they had to abort the idea. It was difficult to track Saddam because of the sheer number of his body doubles. Agent Zeevi even thought to just watch the dictator’s mistresses, but the body doubles also fooled the mistresses.
To make matters worse, a dry run in Israel’s Negev Desert went horribly awry. Troops training for the raid in 1992 accidentally fired a live missile, killing five IDF soldiers. The accident led to officials canceling the operation.
They thought they might try again in 1999, waiting until Saddam was in a designated location. 40 operators divided into two groups; one within 200 meters of the location, painting the location as a target, the other six miles away, firing three Midras missiles on that target.
That plan was scrapped because the Americans and British were bombing Iraq anyway. And in the end, they didn’t have to assassinate the dictator. But let their effort be a lesson: just leave Israel alone.
A Russian-born American has been captured in Syria by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. These anti-ISIS fighters have captured thousands of defeated Islamic State militants in the country since the fall of its de facto capital of Raqqa in 2017. To them, this is just one more ISIS prisoner.
They have returned the captured American to U.S. troops in the country and now he will stand trial in the United States.
This is not the first instance of Americans who left to join the terrorist state being captured and repatriated to the United States. Two American women and four children have also been captured and returned to the U.S. since the American intervention in the fight against the Islamic State began.
Thousands of ISIS-affiliated persons have been captured in the former “caliphate.”
The SDF in Syria is a force of American-trained and supported fighters, primarily of Kurdish origin. They have captured thousands of ISIS fighters since the fall of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” and returned many to their countries of origin to face punishment. Most of those returnees come from Europe, who struggles with repatriating the fighters and even with prosecuting them. While the United States stands ready to prosecute the fighter, European countries differ on how to handle returnees.
When the U.S. first started planning for the return of captured fighters, the Trump Administration originally planned to incarcerate them at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Instead, Trump is sending returning ISIS-affiliated repatriates to the civilian court system. In June 2019, American-born wives and children of ISIS fighters were captured by the SDF and returned to the U.S.
The status of ISIS-born children is an emerging controversy.
Those affiliated with the Islamic State but aren’t accepted by their former country of citizenship are more likely to be held in vastly overcrowded prison camps in Syria or held in government jails. European countries are refusing the fighters because their justice systems would require gathering sufficient evidence of wartime crimes (being a member of ISIS isn’t enough to secure a conviction), and if tried, there’s a chance the ISIS fighters could walk free. The United States isn’t facing a huge influx of returning fighters but has a different standard of proof.
In the meantime, much effort is expended by all armed forces in the region in returning families of Islamic State fighters to their countries of origin, many coming from nearby Iraq or far-flung places as far as China and Uzbekistan. As the SDF finishes eliminating pockets of ISIS resistance, they are sure to find more and more survivors to send home, wherever home once was.
President Vladimir Putin hailed new missiles in Russia’s military arsenals but emphasized Oct. 18, 2018, that the country would only use its nuclear weapons in response to an incoming missile attack.
Putin emphasized during an international policy forum in Sochi that Russia’s military doctrine doesn’t envisage a preventative nuclear strike. He said Moscow only would tap its nuclear arsenal if early warning systems spotted missiles heading toward Russia, in which case “the aggressor should know that retaliation is inevitable.”
“Only when we become convinced that there is an incoming attack on the territory of Russia, and that happens within seconds, only after that we would launch a retaliatory strike,” he said during a panel discussion at the forum.
“It would naturally mean a global catastrophe, but I want to emphasize that we can’t be those who initiate it because we don’t foresee a preventative strike,” Putin said.
“We would be victims of an aggression and would get to heaven as martyrs,” while those who initiated the aggression would “just die and not even have time to repent,” he added.
In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television, March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows the Avangard hypersonic vehicle maneuvering to bypass missile defenses en route to target.
The Russian leader also warned that new hypersonic missiles his country developed give it a military edge.
“We have run ahead of the competition. No one has precision hypersonic weapons,” he said. “Others are planning to start testing them within the next 1 to 2 years, and we already have them on duty.”
Another new weapon, the Avangard, is set to enter service in the next few months, he said. In 2018, Putin said the Avangard has an intercontinental range and can fly in the atmosphere at a speed 20 times the speed of sound, making it capable of piercing any missile defense system.
His blunt talk on Oct. 18, 2018, comes as Russia-West relations remain frosty over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.
Putin said he still hopes U.S. President Donald Trump will be able to improve the ties between their countries. He thinks Trump wants “some sort of stabilization and improvement of U.S.-Russian ties” and said Moscow is ready for that “at any moment.”
Putin said his meeting with Trump in Helsinki in July 2018 was positive and they had a “normal, professional dialogue” even though their exchange brought strong criticism from Trump.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, July 2018.
At the same time, the Russian president sharply criticized Washington’s reliance on sanctions against Russia and others, saying the instrument of punishment “undermines trust in the dollar as a universal payment instrument and the main reserve currency.”
“It’s a typical mistake made by an empire,” Putin said. “An empire always thinks that it’s so powerful that it can afford some mistakes and extra costs.”
Building on his defiance and boasts, Putin said Russia had nothing to fear given its defense capability and “people ready to defend our sovereignty and independence.”
“Not in every country are people so eager to sacrifice their lives for the Motherland,” he said.
Drug testing for all applicants for military service is expanding to include the same 26-drug panel used for active military members, the Defense Department’s director of drug testing and program policy said.
The change, effective April 3, 2017, is due to the level of illicit and prescription medication abuse among civilians, as well as the increase in heroin and synthetic drug use within the civilian population, Army Col. Tom Martin explained.
Currently, military applicants are tested for marijuana; cocaine; amphetamines, including methamphetamine; and designer amphetamines such as MDMA —also known as “Molly” or “Ecstasy” — and MDA, also known as “Adam,” he said.
The expanded testing will include those drugs as well as heroin, codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and a number of synthetic cannabinoids and benzodiazepine sedatives, Martin said.
The new standards apply to all military applicants, including recruits entering through military entrance processing stations, as well as appointees to the service academies, incoming members of the ROTC, and officer candidates undergoing initial training in an enlisted status.
Ensuring the Best Enter Military
With drug use incompatible with military service, the expanded testing is meant to ensure readiness by admitting only the most qualified people, Martin said. Incoming service members will be held to the same standards as current military members, who are subject to random drug testing up to three times a year, he added.
“Military applicants currently are tested on a small subset of drugs that military members are tested on,” Martin said. “Applicants need to be aware of the standard we hold our service members to when they join the service.”
About 279,400 applicants are processed for entry into military service each year, with roughly 2,400 of them testing positive for drugs, Martin said. Data indicates that about 450 additional people will test positive using the expanded testing, he said.
The updated policy allows applicants who test positive to reapply after 90 days, if the particular service allows it, Martin said. Any individual who tests positive on the second test is permanently disqualified from military service, he said, but he noted that the services have the discretion to apply stricter measures and can disqualify someone after one positive test.
Current policy allows for different standards for reapplication depending on the type of drug, Martin said. The updated policy is universal and allows only one opportunity to reapply for military service regardless of drug type, he said.
My grandparents valued our nation’s history, and they did everything they could to ensure they passed down their knowledge and understanding of that history to the next generation. So, each summer from 5th Grade through my freshman year of high school, they took my cousins and I on road trips across the United States. Every trip ranged from two weeks to a month, traveling everywhere from the old Civil War battlefields in North Carolina to the cobblestone roads of River Street in Savannah, Georgia.
Even though we were just kids, we soaked up every bit of information we could about our nation’s convoluted and conflicted history. We learned to value our past, and the men and women who made our nation what it is today. For me, those trips laid a foundation I wouldn’t come to fully appreciate until years later … riding shotgun through Afghanistan.
My Grandfather was born in September 1939, too young for World War II or Korea, and too old for Vietnam by the time it came around. Grandpa was a model American though, at least as far as I was concerned. He worked a 30-year career with the phone company, raised three beautiful children, and married his high school sweetheart. He was eventually diagnosed with throat cancer; within a few years of diagnosis they removed all the cancer cells as well as his voice box.
But that didn’t stop him from doing what he thought was right.
Speaking with a mechanized voice box, he told his kids — including my mom — that he wanted to take the grandkids on a road trip to travel and explore our nation that summer. That led to many days and late nights in the passenger seat of my grandparents’ motorhome holding a Rand McNally road atlas while listening to my grandpa speak about his family’s legacy of military service with genuine admiration.
Grandpa told us about his oldest brother — they called him C.F. — who was an Infantryman that stormed Normandy’s beaches on D-Day. His brother Byron drove a tank through Italy, France, and Germany before almost being sent to Okinawa after the war in Europe had ended.
Against all odds, they somehow stumbled across each other during the war. Bryon was sitting on his tank as C.F. walked by with his unit; they were shocked at the sight of each other and took a moment to shower each other with questions before saying their good-byes and good lucks. That story stayed with me for a long time.
And then there was grandpa’s brother-in-law, Curtis. He rode on horseback behind enemy lines to establish communication lines in France during the war.
My grandpa spoke briefly but highly of his father-in-law — my great-grandfather, saying he served in World War I as an artilleryman. He struggled with shell shock; we call that PTSD these days. He’s standing next to an artillery cannon in France in the only picture we have of him.
My mind was doused in imagination; these men … these giants were the igniter. I had known them as kind, old southern gentlemen my entire childhood; my grandfather’s stories forced me to re-envision them as gigantic, unstoppable figures who changed the course of the world. These men were my heroes.
I still cherish every moment we spent together on the road discussing how our robust nation came to fruition, how our 16th President is revered as one of the best Presidents given the circumstances, and how FDR handled one of the greatest conflicts the world has ever experienced. My grandfather spent the waning years of his life passing down this historical knowledge to my cousins and me, and for that he will always be my hero.
From a very young age, I understood that our nation and livelihood was only attainable and sustained because of men like my relatives. Whether it was the moment Japan bombed Pearl Harbor or when Wilson brought us into WW1, these men answered the call willingly and selflessly. They understood what needed to be done to keep our nation’s virtues safe and guarded.
I was born in 1989, so a world-changing event like Pearl Harbor wouldn’t come into my life until a fall morning in 2001. I was in my 7th grade social studies class. Our teacher frantically rolled in the television and turned on the news. We sat as a class and watched one of the two towers burn in front of our eyes. A second plane came into frame, flying directly into the second tower. The gasps and cries in the room that day have never left my mind.
After about thirty minutes, the principal came over the intercom and cancelled classes for the day. I rushed to my bicycle, unlocked it, and pedaled home as fast as I could while images of the second plane crashing into the building devoured my thoughts. The front door of my house didn’t stand a chance; I unlocked it faster than I unlocked my bike, turned on the news and didn’t leave the living room until my mother got home from work.
She asked me if I’d been watching the tragic news all day. “Of course,” I told her. “If whatever happens is still happening when I turn eighteen, then I’m going to go and fight.” It was 2001 and 18 (the minimum age to go to war) was so far off in the distance that my mother didn’t argue. She knew I had a passionate love for this nation and respected the military tradition that our nation, and our family had cultivated.
Time went by. Days became months, months became years, and 2001 became 2005. My grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the same time my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. On October 31, 2007, Julean Hatcher, my beloved grandmother who was the rock for all of us, passed away.
My life had not amounted to anything by that point. I wasn’t actively trying to pursue college … or anything to better myself for that matter. I finally held myself accountable for the oath I made to my mother as a 7th grader in 2001 and signed a contract with the Marine Corps. On Mother’s Day 2008, I left for Parris Island, South Carolina to begin my journey toward becoming a U.S. Marine.
Over the course of recruit training we were told numerous times we weren’t going to go anywhere, that we would go to Iraq if we were lucky. Would I follow in Grandpa’s footsteps and miss the war?
The war in Iraq was nearing its end (or so we thought), but what no one saw coming was President Obama taking office and ordering 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. That changed my life and the course of hundreds of thousands of lives. From my great-uncles to my great-grandfather, to every single man and woman that ever served this nation prior to this moment, I could feel our history was about to be written.
In January 2010, I was sent to Afghanistan as a combat replacement to Route Clearance Platoon 2. I spent the next four months operating in and out of Marjah, Afghanistan looking for and disposing of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Department of Defense
In April 2011, we deployed again to Helmand Province. But this time we were pushing into the now-infamous Sangin Valley, where we met heavy resistance. I spent so many days covered in a salt stained F.R.O.G. top wondering if my lineage would be proud of what we were doing, if they would be proud of the men and women who came after them to fight the good fight. I guess I’ll never truly know, but I’m confident they would be proud of every single one of us who raised our hands, recited that oath, and waved goodbye to family members as we loaded busses headed for war — just like they did.
I spent many days and late nights in the vehicle commander’s seat of a 4X4 MRAP truck building overlays on my map, marking the IED hits, SAF locations, and crater positions for hours on end. I sat there, navigating our platoon all throughout our area of operations, while reflecting on the times I spent with my grandfather learning about C.F. running through a curtain of steel while fighting his way up the Norman beaches. Thinking about Byron maneuvering his tank in just the right way to survive in the throes of battle. Imagining Curtis on horseback, evading the Nazis while setting up communications.
And my great-grandfather in France fighting against some of the worst evil the world had seen.
I couldn’t help but draw inspiration, motivation, and reasoning from my family’s history while fighting my generation’s war. They pushed me to excel and pursue becoming the type of American that might be somewhere … anywhere near the caliber of men they were.
I will always admire my grandfather for teaching me and captivating me with these stories of giant men and women who made a real impact on the world with their actions, all while leaving an impact that resonated to my core, shaped my thought process, and guided me to where I am today. We stand on the shoulders of giants, becoming giants for our children and their children to climb.
The ground-based version of the AIM-120 Sparrow air-to-air missile just got a major upgrade as Raytheon announced that it has successfully tested a new engine and enhanced fire distribution center that gives the system a much longer range and higher maximum altitude, according to a company press release.
Used by militaries around the world, the system is designed to bring down helicopters, jets, and even cruise missiles. Basically, it’s an oozlefinch with an “If it flies, it dies” mentality.
The National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System uses the AIM-120 air-to-air missile, also known as the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, but fires it from tubes parked on the ground. The new version of the missile borrows the engine from the Navy’s Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile.
This new engine, combined with better flight control, allows the AMRAAM-Extended Range to engage targets at a 50 percent longer range and 70 percent higher altitude than it used to be capable of. The exact range of AMRAAM-ER has not been released, but the Evolved Sea Sparrow can engage targets at over 30 miles away when fired from a ship.
Already popular in NATO, the NASAMS is designed for low and medium-altitude air defense. Norway was the first adopter and helped develop it under the name “Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System,” and the system is deployed by U.S. forces and five other countries.
The U.S. uses NASAMS to defend Washington D.C. from aerial attack and typically deploys Patriots, Stingers, and other air defense assets elsewhere in the world.
Just five days before President Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, 10 armed men staged a daring daylight raid on North Korea’s embassy in the Spanish capital of Madrid. They stole documents, computers, and maybe more, making off with the material. The men then handed the material over to the FBI.
In connection with the raid, U.S. authorities have arrested a Marine Corps veteran named Christopher Ahn in Los Angeles, where he is being held pending extradition to Spain.
U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.
The stolen material found its way back to the North Korean embassy some two weeks or so after being stolen in Spain. The arrests only came recently, weeks after the raid itself. Federal authorities say Ahn is a member of “Free Joseon,” a group dedicated to the dismantling of the Kim regime in North Korea. Ahn’s case has been sealed at the request of his lawyer, but federal authorities have also arrested Adrian Hong, the leader of the group.
Now the men who sought to aid the FBI with a trove of stolen North Korean documents and equipment of massive intelligence value are facing extradition back to Spain. Lawyers for the pair are concerned they could end up in the hands of North Korea, though the Justice Department says that scenario is unlikely.
“Extradition treaties generally provide that an individual who has been extradited to another country to face criminal charges cannot thereafter be extradited to a third country without the consent of the original country,” said a U.S. Justice Department spokesperson. The U.S. government has denied any involvement and Free Joseon has sworn that no governments knew of their raid until well after it was over.
According to the group, the assailants were actually invited into the embassy. Once inside, they began to tie up the staff members, cover their heads, and ask them questions. A woman reportedly escaped, which led to a visit from the Spanish police. Someone at the gate told the Spanish Police all was well, but then the thieves drove off, abandoning their vehicles on a side street.
Ahn, the onetime Marine, was formally charged in the raid on April 19, 2019. His fate remains uncertain, but the group’s lawyer had some stern words for the United States government.
“[I am] dismayed that the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to execute warrants against U.S. persons that derive from criminal complaints filed by the North Korean regime,” attorney Lee Wolosky said in a statement.
For example, not every option has to do with use of force. In some cases, the US may just continue business as usual. In other cases, the military may withdraw completely from South Korea.
Below, you can see the same information that Congress has on the US’s military options in North Korea.
7. Maintain the status quo
Simply put, the US military could just continue regular activities and military drills while the State Department works on sanctions and diplomatic solutions to the problem.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because former President Barack Obama spent eight years doing it to limited effect.
On the plus side, this course of action presents a lower risk of elevating the tense situation into a full-blown crisis or warfare. Those against this policy of “strategic patience,” as the Obama administration dubbed it, point out that it has failed for years to stop North Korea from gaining a nuclear weapon or creating long-range missiles.
So far, Trump has stuck to the basic principals of strategic patience but supplemented it with more deployments of aircraft carriers and sometimes frightening threats to “totally destroy” the country with “fire and fury.”
6. Arm the region to the teeth and watch North Korea like a hawk
This option takes the status quo and jacks it up with the US’s scariest, most capable platforms coming to the region and closely monitoring North Korea to make it feel its nuclear program is unwise.
US stealth jets and bombers, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, guided-missile destroyers, and even tactical nuclear weapons could deploy to South Korea and Japan on a more permanent basis to step up the US presence in the area.
Meanwhile, an increased cyber and naval presence would seek to interdict any shipments to North Korea that could further Pyongyang’s weapons program.
Skeptics of this approach point out that North Korea hates US military deployments to the peninsula and could easily see such a move as further justification to continue its weapons program at any cost.
Furthermore, the US can’t simply place these assets in the region — it needs to credibly threaten using them. What happens if a North Korean ship opens fire on US Navy sailors trying to board and inspect its cargo?
5. Shoot down every medium- to long-range missile North Korea fires to restrict its testing
This approach disregards the long-stated US goal of denuclearizing North Korea and goes straight for a more realistic goal of freezing its nuclear-missile program.
Basically, North Korea has to keep testing its missiles to achieve a credible nuclear threat to the US, but to do so it has to test missiles that fly beyond its borders.
If the US and allies shot down North Korea’s test fires, it would deny Pyongyang the testing data it needs to have confidence in its fleet.
But this would require US ballistic-missile-defense assets, like its Navy destroyers, to constantly commit to the region, limiting resources available elsewhere.
Additionally, North Korea could still test shorter-range missiles that put US forces in the region at risk, and it’s unknown how Pyongyang would respond to having its missiles shot down.
This represents the first massively kinetic military response to North Korea.
With limited airstrikes and likely some Tomahawk missile launches from the US Navy, the US military would look to destroy in one quick pass every single known missile launchpad and ICBM manufacturing site.
But the US doesn’t know the full extent of North Korea’s missile-producing infrastructure, and could easily leave behind some secret or underground sites. And while most North Korean missiles are fired from fixed sites, North Korea has developed solid-fueled missiles that can launch from anywhere at virtually any time.
While this strike could conceivably remove the threat to the US from North Korean ICBMs, Pyongyang may very well see the attack as a larger-scale decapitation attack against the Kim regime.
Therefore, North Korea may unleash its full, massive artillery force against South Korea and the US forces there. It may fire nuclear missiles at Japan and South Korea. Experts assess that an all out war could cost 30,000 to 300,000 lives a day, with many of those coming from the civilian populations of the US’s allies in Asia.
3. Complete denuclearization by force
This option stages an even bigger military campaign targeting every known nuclear and missile site across North Korea. Instead of just airstrikes and cruise-missile launches, this type of attack may necessitate US Special Forces pouring over the border to neutralize key North Korean sites.
Because the US does not know the location of every North Korean nuclear and missile site, intense surveillance and guess-and-check work would follow the initial salvo.
This option only increases the already dire risk to the US’s allies.
Although the US military, Secretary of State Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis all say unequivocally that the US does not want or train for regime-change missions in North Korea, the president and the military have to do what’s best for the country at any cost.
If the US assesses that the Kim regime has bad intentions for the people of the US, regime change by military force could come into play.
But the US couldn’t simply kill Kim Jong Un and have the other 25 million North Koreans surrender. North Korea still technically exists under the “forever leader” of Kim Il Sung, who has been dead for decades. Rank-and-file North Koreans inculcated with propaganda would fight on, perhaps even more savagely, after Kim died.
Therefore the military would have to target “not only nuclear infrastructure but command and control facilities, key leaders, artillery and missile units, chemical and biological weapons facilities, airfields, ports, and other targets deemed critical to regime survival,” according to the report for Congress.
“This operation would be tantamount to pursuing full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula, and risk conflict elsewhere in the region,” the report concludes.
The conflict would have every opportunity to be drawn out and grow every bit as bloody as the Vietnam War or the first Korean conflict, and for that reason it remains unlikely.
1. Just walk away
This option represents the polar opposite of all other military possibilities by fundamentally reordering the US’s considerations on North Korea.
Essentially, some believe North Korea pursues nuclear weapons because the US has troops in South Korea and Japan. If the US withdrew those troops, Kim Jong Un wouldn’t feel as pressured and China or the international community could more easily sway him to denuclearize.
But this idea speculates heavily on Kim’s response to a weakened South Korea. Nothing guarantees that Kim would negotiate after gaining the upper hand on South Korea. Additionally, it argues that the US should end its legal troop deployments to Japan and South Korea in hopes that North Korea would end its illegal development of nuclear weapons, which sounds a lot like blackmail.
Additionally, North Korea has long stated one of its goals as reuniting the Korean Peninsula under the Kim dynasty, and if the US ceded to Pyongyang, it just may feel emboldened to do so.
None of the military options provided to Congress offers a perfect solution, and many offer catastrophic solutions.
In the end, North Korea’s rogue leadership and nuclear pursuits exist as political, not solely military options.
In that respect, while the US and allied militaries could certainly defeat North Korea and crush its nuclear program, it would cost potentially hundreds of thousands of lives and open the world to the possibility of nuclear warfare in the 21st century.
Simply put, military solutions don’t solve political problems, but in case of disaster, the US always has options ready.
Performance will be the primary factor in the future if the Defense Department has to resort to a civilian reduction in force, DoD officials said today.
The department revamped the rules for the reduction-in-force process as a result of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016.
That law requires the department to establish procedures to provide that, in any reduction in force of civilian positions in the competitive or excepted service, the determination of which employees shall be separated from employment shall be made primarily on basis of performance.
A reduction in force, or RIF, as it is known, is the term used when the government lays off employees. The RIF procedures determine whether an employee keeps his or her present position, whether the employee has a right to a different position or whether the employee must be let go.
In the past, tenure was the primary factor when making RIF calculations. Now, an employee’s performance rating of record will carry the greatest weight followed by tenure group, performance average score, veterans’ preference and DoD service computation date-RIF.
“The DoD civilian workforce is one of the department’s most important assets,” said Julie Blanks, acting assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. “However, there are times when the department must make difficult decisions that impact our civilians, and in doing so, it is imperative these decisions result in our continued ability to seamlessly execute our national security mission. When circumstances necessitate a RIF, the department must ensure we are retaining our highest performing employees.”
The changes will apply to almost all of DoD’s 750,000 civilian employees. This change in the RIF process only applies to DoD. The government-wide provisions that rank four retention factors by tenure of employment; veterans’ preference; length of service; and performance remain in place for other federal agencies.
Under the new system, if an agency is forced to employ a RIF, employees will be placed on a retention register based on periods of assessed performance of 12 months or more or less than 12 months. The idea is to give an equitable comparison for employees whose performance has been assessed over a comparable period of time.
The first retention factor is rating of record. The rating of record is the average drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four-year period preceding the cutoff date for the RIF.
The second factor is tenure group. There are three tenure groups, with group III being temporary or term employees, these employees will be ranked at the bottom of the retention register below groups I and II.
Tenure group I and II employees are those serving on permanent appointments. Tenure group I includes employees who are not on probation and whose appointments are not career-conditional.
Tenure group II employees are those hired into permanent appointments in a career-conditional or probationary status. In general, tenure group II employees must have three years of creditable service and meet all other stated conditions of their probationary period in order to attain Tenure group I status. Tenure group I will be ranked above employees in tenure group II within each rating of record group.
The third factor is an employee’s average score. In general, an employee’s average score for one performance appraisal is derived by dividing the sum of the employee’s performance element ratings by the number of performance elements. For purposes of RIF, average score is the average of the average scores drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four year period preceding the “cutoff date” for the RIF.
Veterans’ preference is the fourth factor. “Veterans are a key part of the civilian workforce, representing a highly skilled, extremely well-qualified cadre of employees,” Blanks said. “The department firmly believes that highly performing veterans in the civilian workforce will not be disadvantaged by the new RIF policy.”
The final factor is the DoD service computation date-RIF, with those serving the longest having the edge.
DoD officials stress that a RIF is always the last resort for the department. They will do everything they can to mitigate the size of reductions, including the use of voluntary early retirement authority or voluntary separation incentive payments. Agencies will also use hiring freezes, termination of temporary appointments, and any other pre-RIF placement options.
The new DoD RIF policy and procedures are consistent with the implementation of the DoD Performance Management and Appraisal Program. This program standardizes the civilian performance appraisal system throughout the department.
The Air Force’s version of the F-35 Lightning II, the F-35A, has officially been deployed to the Middle East. In the air, the F-35A is supposed to be the most capable variant of the plane, and it has been sent to a base used to generate sorties against ISIS. The base is also well-positioned to support potential U.S. operations in Iran or across the Middle East.
The planes have been sent to the 4th Fighter Wing at Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates. The base is too far from Syria for warplanes to reach it without aerial refueling, so it may seem like an odd place from which to attack ISIS. But with the help of aerial tankers, planes like the F-22 and F-35 can take off from there, refuel in the air, and then hit targets across Iraq and Syria before heading from home.
And the F-35A has all the stealth features and sensors of the other F-35 variants without any of the airframe compromises made by the Marine Corps and Navy to help their versions take off from carriers and amphibious assault ships.
So, while the Marine Corps’ F-35B has already made its first combat sortie against the Taliban, and the Navy is focusing on incorporating the F-35C into its own carrier fleet and those of allies, the F-35A could become a frontline and regular attacker against elements of ISIS and other terror groups when they rear their ugly heads for attacks or training.
U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II arrives for first Middle East deployment
And Al Dhafra is well positioned for potential future fights as well. The base is less than 200 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz, an important trade chokepoint highly susceptible to Iranian interference. And the Iranian capital of Tehran is actually closer to Al Dhafra than Syria is. F-35As and F-22s would be key to defeating Russia-provided air defenses in Iran if America went to war with that country.
Of course, the Air Force has not said exactly what it plans to do with the F-35As at Al Dhafra. The F-35A was declared combat-ready by the flying service in 2016, but the Air Force has focused on improving the plane’s capabilities and commanders’ understanding of it rather than rushing it into combat.
And that makes a lot of sense. The F-35 is famously the most expensive weapons program in history, partially due to just how ambitious the program was from the outset. Its most advanced stealth capabilities, both the passive elements like its coating and physical design as well as its active protections like electronic warfare capabilities, are aimed at advanced adversaries like China.
It’s just not fiscally prudent to spend a lot of expensive F-35 flight hours over Syria where less-advanced airplanes can safely perform. But some stick time there could help season pilots in their planes, allowing them to be more effective in a future fight.
But still, don’t expect to see too many details of too many F-35A missions in combat anytime soon. Even if the Air Force sends them into combat in the coming days, the service will likely want to play the cards close to the chest to prevent Russian air defenses from getting too good of a look at the plane. The more chances that S-400s and similar systems get to look at the F-35, the better their operators will become at tracking and targeting them.
And if the F-35A is flown against Russia or China, we’ll want those operators caught as flat-footed as possible.