Whisper is a mobile app that allows users to post anonymous messages (called “Whispers”) and receive replies from other users who might be interested in what they have to say. The messages are text superimposed over a (presumably) related photo to illustrate the point.
Whispers are questions, statements, or confessions. The app categorizes them especially for groups and subgroups of culture. Active duty, veterans, and civilians post military-related messages of all kinds, but some stand out as especially funny, nonsensical, and/or a little naive.
The first time WATM rounded up the best Whispers, they were mostly confessions about what people do in – and to – the military. This time around we found people who haven’t even joined yet are ready to sham, skate, and chase some tags.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Two Israeli F-35 “Adirs” fly in formation and display the U.S. and Israeli flags after receiving fuel from a Tennessee Air National Guard KC-135, Dec, 6, 2016. The U.S. and Israel have a military relationship built on trust developed through decades of cooperation.
Airmen, assigned to the 366th Fighter Wing, perform diagnostic checks on an F-15E Strike Eagle at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Dec. 3, 2016. Their particular F-15E was gearing up to deploy to the annual Checkered Flag exercise hosted by Tyndall AFB. Checkered Flag is a large-force exercise that gives a large number of legacy and fifth-generation aircraft the chance to practice combat training together in a simulated deployed environment.
U.S. Soldiers assigned to Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division fire a M777 A2 Howitzer in support of Iraqi security forces at Platoon Assembly Area 14, Iraq, Dec. 7, 2016. Charlie Battery conducted the fire mission in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, the global Coalition to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
Ukrainian Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 80th Airmobile Brigade fire a ZU-23-2 towed antiaircraft weapon before conducting an air assault mission in conjunction with a situational training exercise led by Soldiers from 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Nov. 28, 2016 at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center. This training is part of their 55-day rotation with the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine. JMTG-U is focused on helping to develop an enduring and sustainable training capacity within Ukraine.
MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Dec. 11, 2016) Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexis Rey, from Stratford, Conn., conducts pre-flight checks on an EA-18G Growler assigned to the Zappers of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 130 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Dwight D. Eisenhower, currently deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.
MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Dec. 10, 2016) Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy Parrish, from Apopka, Fla., signals to the pilot of an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Sidewinders of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 86 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Eisenhower, currently deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.
A Marine participates in a field training exercise during Exercise Iron Sword 16 in Rukla Training Area, Lithuania, Nov. 29, 2016. Iron Sword is an annual, multinational defense exercise involving 11 NATO allies training to increase combined infantry capabilities and forge relationships.
Combat cargo Marines grab a short nap in the well deck of USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) December 1, 2016 before the ship prepares to receive amphibious craft during Amphibious Ready Group, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise off the coast of Onslow Beach, North Carolina. The Marines worked nearly 20 hours the previous day on-loading and securing equipment and vehicles to Carter Hall. These Marines were assigned the combat cargo billet as a part of ship taxes and come from a myriad of military occupational specialties native to the Marine units aboard the ship.
An aircrew aboard a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., prepares to take the load of a 14,000 pound buoy that washed ashore just south of the entrance to Tillamook Bay, in Garibaldi, Ore., Dec. 12, 2016. The Army aircrew assisted the Coast Guard in recovering the beached buoy that normally marks the navigable channel into Tillamook Bay.
Coast Guard Cutter Munro crewmembers render honors to the national ensign during colors at an acceptance ceremony for the Munro on December 16, 2016 on the ship’s flight deck at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
A 77th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. performs maintenance on an F-16 Fighting Falcon Dec. 15, 2015, on the flightline at Tyndall AFB, Fla. The F-16 is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to- surface attack.
Airmen deliver fuel to coalition bases in Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Dec. 16, 2015. OIR is the coalition intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
A U.S. Army Soldier, assigned to 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, conducts night airborne operations at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 8, 2015.
Soldiers, assigned to 1/25 SBCT “Arctic Wolves”, U.S. Army Alaska, transport equipment using snowshoes and ahkio sleds during an arctic mobility squad competition in the Yukon Training Area, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Dec. 10, 2015.
YOKOSUKA, Japan (Dec. 17, 2015) Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Godson Bagnabana, from Gadsden, Alabama, erects an inflatable snowman on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
SASEBO, Japan (Dec. 18, 2015) Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ty Connors, forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) public affairs officer (enlisted), explains the meaning behind the holiday wreath to Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Chief Petty Officer Hirosahi Nishitani in the hangar bay aboard Shirane-class destroyer JDS Kurama (DDH 144). Bonhomme Richard is the lead ship of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and is forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan, in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
Santa’s got to work off those cookies somehow.
Marines with the Maritime Raid Force, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepare to jump from a UH-1Y Huey during helocast training at Kin Blue, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 2, 2015. Once the Marines jumped into the water, they swam to the waiting Combat Rubber Raiding Craft which brought them to shore.
The crew will be highlighting their recent efforts patrolling the Eastern Pacific to deter illegal maritime activity.
Cutter Stratton crews conducted pursuit boatcrew training while in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
Ronald Reagan probably helped save a number of lives on the front lines — and not because he was a big hero. In fact, Reagan’s eyesight was so bad, they kept him in the United States. But despite not being fit for front-line duty, Reagan still played his role for Uncle Sam.
While Reagan’s eyesight made him next to useless for combat, he did end up being involved in doing training films, one of which involved recognizing the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Friendly fire has long been a problem — ask Stonewall Jackson.
In this training film, “Recognition of the Japanese Zero,” Reagan portrayed a young pilot who had just arrived in the Far East. The recognition angle is hammered home, and not just because of the friendly-fire problem.
Reagan’s character studies silhouettes drawn by a wounded pilot who hesitated too long — and found out he was dealing with a Zero the hard way.
Even with the study, Reagan’s character later accidentally fires at a P-40 he misidentifies, greatly angering the other American pilot. However, when he returns, he takes his lumps, but all turns out okay when the other pilots realizes there is a Zero in Reagan’s sights from the gun camera footage.
Reagan’s character explains that he stumbled across the Zero, then after a dogfight (not the proper tactic against the Zero, it should be noted), Reagan’s character shoots down the Zero.
There’s a happy ending as the earlier near-miss is forgotten and the kill is celebrated.
The film is also notable in that it revealed to American pilots that the United States had acquired a Zero that had crashed in the Aleutians. The so-called Akutan Zero was considered one of the great intelligence coups in the Pacific Theater, arguably second only to the American code-breaking effort.
So, see a future President of the United States help teach American pilots how to recognize the Zero in the video below.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, military surplus gear is like a box of chocolates — you never know what’s inside until you open it up and look.
For one lucky buyer, Nick Mead, who owns a tank-driving experience business in the United Kingdom, a $38,000 purchase of a Chinese-built Type 69 main battle tank off of eBay was a bargain, since he scored $2,592,010 of gold that had been hidden in the vehicle’s diesel tank! That represents a net profit of over $2.55 million.
According to militaryfactory.com, a battle-ready Type 69 main battle tank is armed with a 100mm gun, a 7.62mm machine gun, and can be equipped with a 12.7mm machine gun. The tank has a crew of four. Over 4,700 of these tanks were produced by China.
But this tank, while produced by China, was exported to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Saddam bought as many as 2,500 Type 59 and Type 69 tanks. While many were destroyed during Operation Desert Storm, this one survived the BRRRRRT!
The tank is believed to have also taken part in the original invasion of Kuwait. During the occupation of that country, Iraqi forces looted just about everything that wasn’t blasted apart. That included gold and other valuables.
Mead discovered the gold when checking out the tank after he’d been told by the tank’s previous owner that he’s discovered some machine-gun ammo on board. Mead then discovered the gold hidden in the fuel tank.
Currently the five bars of gold, each weighing about 12 pounds, are in police custody as they try to trace the original owners.
Shortly after the surviving forces of the Battle of Crete had evacuated, the British landed agents from the Special Operations Executive, also known as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, to advise and assist the resistance and conduct intelligence gathering. Crete was heavily garrisoned and an important part of Germany’s plans both in the Mediterranean and Russia.
Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, the German general commanding the 22nd Airlanding Division and assigned as the military governor of Crete, had a reputation for brutality that earned him the nickname “the Butcher of Crete.” The British decided to hatch a plan to get rid of him. However, they wanted to do more than just kill him; they wanted to strike fear into the hearts of the Germans everywhere.
Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain William Stanley Moss conceived the plan to kidnap General Müller at the Club de Chasse in Cairo in 1943. Along with two members of the Cretan resistance, George Tirakis and Manoli Paterakis, they planned to infiltrate the island, link up with other members of the resistance, abduct the general, and then get off the island. They intended to do all of this while foregoing bloodshed. They also wanted to make the Germans believe it was a British-only operation to avoid reprisals against the local Cretans.
Because, as we mentioned, Müller was an a-hole… even more than your average Nazi.
Everything was set to begin on February 4, 1944. The four men took off from Cairo and flew towards Crete ready to parachute onto the German-held island and begin their mission. Unfortunately, once over the drop zone, only Major Fermor jumped because of bad weather. The rest of the team tried a dozen more times before finally deciding to attempt a landing by sea. This was finally accomplished on April 4, but during the time between when Maj. Fermor landed on the island and the rest of the team arrived, General Müller was replaced by General Heinrich Kreipe. The British forged ahead with the abduction of Kreipe.
Fermor, dressed as a shepherd, reconnoitered the general’s daily routine and finalized the plan to take the general. On the night of 26 April, the four man team, with Fermor and Moss dressed as German Military Police, set up a fake checkpoint to catch the General’s car as he returned to his quarters for the night. When the general’s car stopped Fermor and Paterakis grabbed Kreipe while Moss clubbed the driver with a baton and with the help of Tirakis, pulled him from the car. While the Cretans moved General Kreipe to the back seat Fermor and Moss took up positions in the front seat impersonating the general and his driver.
The group then headed off to make their escape, successfully passing through 22 other checkpoints. After an hour and a half, Moss, the two Cretan members of the team, and the general left the vehicle with Fermor to abandon. He left the car on a beach on the north side of the island along with documents indicating that the kidnapping had been carried out by British Commandos and that the general had already been removed from the island as well as a note indicating how sorry they were to have to leave behind such a beautiful car.
The group rendezvoused with Fermor and began their trek to the south side of the island for the extraction back to Egypt. By the next day, the Germans issued a proclamation notifying the civilians on the island that if General Kreipe was not returned in three days reprisals would begin. Meanwhile, German troops scoured the island and planes took to the air to search for the group. The group evaded the Germans and hiked across Mount Ida while Fermor and Kreipe recited the poetry of Horace. The team finally reached the southern coast and was picked up by a British Motor Launch on 14 May 1944. They returned to Egypt where General Kreipe was interrogated before being transferred to a POW camp in Canada.
Major Fermor was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Moss was given the Military Cross. General Kriepe was finally released by the British in 1947. In 1950, after censorship from the war had eased, Moss released his account of the operation in a book called Ill Met By Moonlight which itself was turned into a movie in 1957. Finally, in 1972 Kreipe was reunited with his kidnappers on a Greek TV show.
A photo of Piper, the famous bird-chasing dog who keeps the runways clear at Michigan’s Cherry Capital Airport, won the 2016 Shutter Shootout and claimed the top prize as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Photo of the Year.
Piper and his handler, Airport Operations Supervisor Brian Edwards, work as a K9 Wildlife Control team at Traverse County’s Airport. The pup works in all conditions and recently returned to the job after a foot injury.
The Coast Guard’s Shutter Shootout is a social media-driven online competition to showcase Coast Guard men and women from around the world who captured remarkable photographs of rescues, patrols, operations and training days. The contest is a March Madness-type bracket competition. You can see other entries and previous winners on the Coast Guard’s Shutter Shootout blog.
Piper and Edwards’ work keeping the runways clear is documented on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.Piper even has his own website: http://www.airportk9.org/
A force of 55,000 Marines and sailors, fighting with a Canadian army brigade, went ashore to bolster a U.S. ally threatened by an invading neighbor and criminal unrest.
And when the dust settled, the Marine Corps-led forces won, succeeding in helping unseat the well-equipped invaders and restoring a semblance of peace and security for its ally.
But it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park — and that was by design.
During Large-Scale Exercise 2016 that wrapped up Aug. 22, more than 3,000 troops across three southern California bases and a larger “virtual” force faced off against a conventional enemy whose military, cyber and communications capabilities matched or were better than those of the U.S. and its allies.
The exercise, the largest MEF-level command battle drill since 2001, involved Marines and sailors with Camp Pendleton, California-based I Marine Expeditionary Force and a contingent of Canadian soldiers at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. It marks a shift from the heavy metal conventional threat of the Cold War era to the 21st century hybrid warfare, where military troops face formidable cyber and electronic warfare threats from highly-capable enemies and state actors across the warfare spectrum.
“For years, we have been able to physically outmatch our opponents on the battlefield. As we look forward, we see potential adversaries out there that we will not be able to physically outmatch,” Col. Doug Glasgow, director of I MEF’s information operations cell, said in an Aug. 21 interview at a tent complex at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station that served as the MEF’s command post.
“We have to think harder about how we are going to conduct the maneuver warfare that our doctrinal publication told us we would have to do against these potential adversaries that match the strength and the technology and that have been watching us for years,” he said.
That doctrinal pub, Warfighting, dubbed “MCDP 1,” includes a section addressing the mental and moral effects of warfare.
“The true thing I think we’re after is to potentially reduce the amount of resources — whether that’s time, blood or money — involved in defeating the enemy and in getting after the enemy commander’s will and want to fight,” Glasgow said. “Rather than brute force applications where you hit the enemy head on, we want to present the enemy with dilemmas.”
Such large scale exercises train MEF commanders and staff to plan and deploy units to operate and fight as a Marine air-ground task force, likely with coalition forces. Each MEF does the senior-level command exercise about every two years. I MEF, the Corps’ largest operational command, hadn’t trained to fight a conventional war against a peer-type opponent since 2001, even though it’s directed to prepare for the full range of military operations, with the focus on the highest end of major combat operations.
The exercise also evaluates how I MEF commands and operates with its subordinate command headquarters, including the 23,000-member 1st Marine Division.
The exercise, coordinated and overseen by the MAGTF Staff Training Program at Quantico, Virginia, put I MEF through the ringer and incorporated forces and threats including a sizable cyber component, both offensive and defensive.
“It was a struggle for dominance in the network, which our guys were successfully able to prosecute against a pretty effective, well-trained ‘red team,’ ” said Col. Matthew L. Jones, I MEF chief of staff.
Near the end, the MEF purposefully shifted into a scenario of lost comms and data, forcing Marines to use voice and single-channel radios entirely, “which is actually the first time we’ve done this in a MEFEX in the last three years,” Jones said. “They’ll just have to find different ways to pass their information.”
Surprise, confusion and disruption are key warfighting tools. In a high-tech battlefield, that could involve killing or interfering with communication, computer networks and satellites so the enemy can’t talk with superiors or coordinate subordinates.
Deception remains a tactic, too, using modern technologies that could even include social media. Officials don’t want to talk specifics; a good portion of what they’re doing remains under wraps.
“We want to leave him in a state where to continue the war is not to his best [interest],” Glasgow said. “We are trying to get to his will quicker than just trying to destroy all of his formations where he’s got nothing left in formations to fight.”
But that won’t mean heavy tanks, mortars and missiles will be shelved.
“We will continue to be very kinetic, and the Marine Corps will continue to be very lethal,” he added.
Glasgow heads the G-39, a newly-formed experimental cell under the MEF’s operations office that one officer described as “sort of like IO on steroids.” Information ops used to be an arm of the MEF’s fires-and-effects coordination center working lethal and non-lethal fires, but it wasn’t always fully staffed, Glasgow said. The prior MEF commander, Lt. Gen. David Berger, who’s slated to lead Marine Corps Forces Pacific in Hawaii, established the new cell — the first in the Marine Corps and in line with “J/G-39” offices at The Joint Staff and at combatant commanders.
The staff of 14 Marines are expert in areas including electronic warfare, military information support operations (formerly psychological operations) and offensive cyber ops.
“Most of those authorities are held at the national level, so we try to coordinate to have effects that will help the MAGTF,” said Glasgow. “We are not actually the executors, but we bring the expertise of what’s available and how to get that hopefully pushed down to the MEF.”
The cell also coordinates related capabilities including civil affairs, public affairs, military deception and physical security and seeks to measure the impact of the human dimension. With no longer a clear physical force advantage, in some cases, “how do we go after the will of a near-peer enemy?” Glasgow said. “So we’ve been thinking about it. We don’t have the answers. … But we’re exercising it. We are learning a lot of lessons.”
On June 16, 1963, Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space.
In the 60s, cosmonauts had to eject from their landing capsules at 20,000 feet during reentry and parachute to earth. A skydiving enthusiast with over 100 jumps, Tereshkova was well equipped to handle the task. After 18 months of training, Tereshkova spent more than 70 hours in space aboard the Vostok 6 — more than any other human at the time.
During her 70.8 hour flight, she made 48 orbits around the Earth, and still today she remains the youngest woman to fly in space (she was 26 years old) and the only one to fly a solo space mission.
After her Vostok mission, she never flew again.
The 1960s would take space exploration from a dream to a reality as the Space Race pitted the United States against their Cold War antagonist the Soviet Union. While the U.S. would indeed meet President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing an American on the moon before 1970 (though he wouldn’t live to see it) and, as a bonus, beat the Soviets to the moon, there was one critical way the Americans fell behind: including women in the space program.
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, wouldn’t make her first space flight until 20 years after the Soviets sent women into space.
Tereshkova was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union and, later that year, she married astronaut Andriyan Nikolayev. Their daughter Elena, was a subject of medical interest because she was the first child born to parents who had both been exposed to space. Elena grew up to be a healthy adult and became a doctor, but the effect of space travel on the human reproductive system remains of keen interest to scientists as humans plan deeper excursions into space.
On June 27, the Department of Veterans Affairs released finalized plans to provide emergency mental health coverage to former service members with other-than-honorable administrative discharges.
“Suicide prevention is my top clinical priority,” Secretary David Shulkin, who is also a physician, said in a VA news release. “We want these former service members to know there is someplace they can turn if they are facing a mental health emergency — whether it means urgent care at a VA emergency department, a Vet Center, or through the Veterans Crisis Line.”
This is the first time a VA secretary has implemented an initiative specifically focused on this group of former service members who are in mental health distress, the release stated.
Effective July 5, all Veterans Health Administration medical centers will be prepared to offer emergency stabilization care for former service members who present at the facility with an emergent mental health need.
Under this initiative, former service members with an OTH administrative discharge may receive care for their mental health emergency for an initial period of up to 90 days, which can include inpatient, residential, or outpatient care, the release stated.
During this time, VHA and the Veterans Benefits Administration will work together to determine whether the mental health condition is a result of a service-related injury, making the service member eligible for ongoing coverage for that condition.
Since Shulkin announced his intent in March to expand coverage to service members with OTH administrative discharges, the VA has worked with key internal and external stakeholders, including members of Congress, Veterans Service Organizations and community partners on the issue, the release stated.
Veterans in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.
As the U.S. starts to forward-deploy more of its F-35 Lightning, China and Russia have been putting the finishing touches on their own batches of fifth-generation aircraft — and they all express vastly different ideas about what the future of air combat will look like.
For the U.S., stealth and sophisticated networks define its vision for the future of air combat with the F-22 and F-35.
For China, the plan is to use range to take out high-value targets with the J-20.
For Russia, the PAK-FA shows that it seems to think dogfighting isn’t dead.
Here’s how the F-35 stacks up to the competition.
The F-35 Lightning II
An F-35B begins its short takeoff from the USS America with an external weapons load. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
The U.S.’s F-35 isn’t an airplane — it’s three airplanes.
And it isn’t a fighter — it’s “flying sensor-shooters that have the ability to act as information nodes in a combat cloud universe made up of platforms, not just airborne, but also operating at sea and on land that can be networked together,” retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told Defense Aerospace Report in November.
In a discussion with four F-35 pilots that was also produced by Defense Aerospace Report, a clear consensus emerged: The difference between an F-35 and an F-15 is like the difference between an iPhone and a corded wall phone. Phones of the past might have had crystal-clear call quality and the ability to conference call, but the iPhone brought with it unprecedented networking and computing capability that has changed life as we know it.
That said, the F-35 doesn’t offer any significant upgrades in range, weapons payload, or dogfighting ability over legacy aircraft, while its competition does.
The Chengdu J-20
China’s Chengdu J-20 has one thing in common with the F-35 — it’s not a fighter.
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Business Insider that the J-20 is “not a fighter, but an interceptor and a strike aircraft” that doesn’t seek to contend with U.S. jets in air-to-air battles.
Instead, “the Chinese are recognizing they can attack critical airborne support systems like AWACS” — airborne early-warning and control systems — “and refueling planes so they can’t do their job,” Davis said. “If you can force the tankers back, then the F-35s and other platforms aren’t sufficient because they can’t reach their target.”
On the J-20’s stealth, a senior U.S. low-observable-aircraft design engineer working in the industry told Business Insider that “the J-20 has many features copied from U.S. fifth-gen aircraft; however, it’s apparent from looking at many pictures of the aircraft that the designers don’t fully understand all the concepts of LO” — low-observable, or stealth — “design.”
The real danger of China’s J-20 lies not with its ability to fight against U.S. fighters, but with its laserlike focus on destroying the slower, unarmed planes that support U.S. fighters with its long range and long-range missiles, thereby keeping them out of fighting range.
Shenyang J-31 (F60) at the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
China’s J-31 looks a lot like the F-35, and one Chinese national has pleaded guilty to stealing confidential information about the F-35 program.
That said, the J-31 suffers from China’s inferior composite-materials technology and its inability to build planes in the precise way a stealth airplane needs to be built. Additionally, there’s reason to suspect the avionics in the Chinese programs significantly lag the F-35.
But the J-31, like the J-20, still poses a significant threat because China has developed long-range missiles, which combined with their ground-based radars and radar sites in the South China Sea could potentially pick off U.S. stealth aircraft before the F-35s and F-22s could fire back.
Davis told Business Insider that the J-31 doesn’t just seek to compete with the U.S. militarily, but that the J-31 “very clearly is an F-35 competitor in a commercial sense.” Nations that weren’t invited to participate in the F-35 program may seek to buy China’s cheaper and somewhat comparable J-31.
A fleet of J-31s in the hands of Iran, for example, could pose a serious threat to U.S. interests abroad.
The PAK-FA/T-50. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)
Russia’s PAK-FA, also known as the T-50, has been criticized as being fifth-generation “in name only,” but as Russia proves time and time again, it doesn’t need the best and most expensive technology to pose a real threat to U.S. aircraft.
The PAK-FA’s greatest failure is in the stealth arena. While the PAK-FA has some stealth from the front angle, “it’s a dirty aircraft,” said a person who helps build stealth aircraft, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the work.
But stealth represents just one aspect of air combat, and the Russians have considerable counterstealth technologies. So while the PAK-FA fails to deliver the stealth or total networking capacity of the F-35, it is a fighter — and a damn good one.
The U.S.’s F-22 has 2D thrust-vectoring nozzles at the engines and is the most agile plane the U.S. has ever built. The PAK-FA has 3D thrust-vectoring nozzles and is even more agile.
Additionally, the PAK-FA can be armed to the teeth with infrared missiles that focus on heat and ignore the U.S.’s stealth. So while the U.S.’s fifth generation hinges on controlling the battle from range and at the jump-off point, Russia’s PAK-FA seems to focus on close-up fights, which the designers of the F-35 didn’t concentrate on.
The first F-35 to arrive at the 33rd Fighter Wing was on display during the aircraft’s official rollout ceremony on August 26 at Eglin Air Force Base. (The first F-35 to arrive at the 33rd Fighter Wing was on display during the aircraft’s official rollout ceremony on August 26 at Eglin Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
China and Russia have both shown the world something new in their fifth-generation aircraft. No longer will these rising powers look to advance the capabilities they currently have — they will actively seek to enter new areas of aerial combat.
Both Russian and Chinese entries seem to focus on key weak points in the U.S.’s force structure by using specialized aircraft.
But the U.S. doesn’t specialize. The F-35 does everything well and seeks the informational high ground with massive computing power, all-aspect stealth, and the ability to network with almost every set of eyes and ears in the U.S. military.
The F-35 has limited range and ability for close combat, but unlike the Chinese and Russian fifth-gens that try to score kills on their own, the F-35 plays like a quarterback, sending targeting information to any platform available.
As the F-35 software develops, pilots will be free to take on more demanding missions, but China’s and Russia’s fifth-gens will still be confined to relatively narrow ones.
The United States has increased its military posture in the region to back up the threat of force. A U.S. submarine designed to carry 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles entered a South Korean port on April 25. The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group is also heading to the region and conducting naval exercises with Japan and South Korea. And the United States this week began to move part of the THAAD missile defense system to its deployment site 250 kilometers south of Seoul.
Rain of fire
However, analysts say an actual U.S. strike is a risky proposition. A surgical U.S. missile strike to take out one or multiple nuclear or missile sites would likely not be sufficient to destroy or degrade North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals, which are reportedly in numerous fortified underground sites across the country.
“It might involve artillery attacks on Seoul or elsewhere along the demilitarized zone (DMZ.) It might involve covert operations, but they have several levels of escalation to go before they get to nuclear or even chemical weapons,” said John Schilling, a missile technology specialist with 38 North, a North Korea monitoring website run by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington.
North Korea has more than 21,000 artillery weapons, positioned mostly along the inter-Korean border, that could put in jeopardy the lives of 25 million people that live in and around Seoul, the South Korean capital located 56 kilometers south of the border.
An assessment of North Korean military capabilities by Strafor, an intelligence analysis organization in Texas, notes the North’s artillery arsenal includes 300mm multiple rocket launcher systems that can “rain fire across” Seoul and beyond. “A single volley,” a Strafor report said, “could deliver more than 350 metric tons of explosives across the South Korean capital, roughly the same amount of ordnance dropped by 11 B-52 bombers.”
While the North has not yet demonstrated it can successfully mount a miniaturized nuclear warhead on a missile, U.S. and South Korean officials have said they believe Pyongyang has a nuclear Nodong missile that can fire a one ton warhead a distance of up to two thousand kilometers, which would put all of South Korea, most of Japan and parts of Russia and China in range.
“I think the majority of people now believe they can put a warhead on top of a missile that can hit targets in Northeast Asia. But when you get to the much longer range they need, such as hitting the United States, I think, we don’t know for sure. But most people would believe that it is a work in progress,” said Joel Wit, the co-founder of 38 North and a senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS.
In addition to the 10 to 20 nuclear warheads North Korea is believed to have, its missiles could also be armed with deadly chemical weapons from suspected stockpiles of sarin nerve gas.
A Nodong is a single stage liquid fuel rocket based on scud missiles developed by the former Soviet Union. Some of North Korea’s most recent tests were solid fuel Musudan missiles that have an estimated maximum range of three thousand kilometers, which could potentially reach targets in Japan and as far away as U.S. military bases in Guam.
The more than 28,000 U.S. forces in Korea and 50,000 troops in Japan would also be possible targets for any North Korea retaliatory strikes.
Analysts say any North Korean counter strike would draw a quick response from the United States, South Korea, and Japan that could further escalate the conflict, draw in China, and lead to a second Korean war.