This single-engine, twin-blade helicopter became one of the key troop transport aircraft of the Vietnam War. The Huey was durable and could fly into tight spots to drop off and pick up troops where needed.
2. Claymore mines
This directional, anti-personnel mine was used primarily to ambush VC forces and protect U.S. rear areas. Its kill radius of ball bearings boosted by C4 explosive was effective up to 100 meters.
Due to the “front towards enemy” explosive feature, this mine was ideal for the defensive position and could be set up for destruction in a matter of moments.
3. The TOW missile
Short for “Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided,” the TOW was a state of the art missile that could destroy tanks, trucks, and enemy artillery stations with a push of a button.
Due to its versatility, the TOW missile could be successfully mounted on a Huey for both defensive and offensive operations.
4. Grenade launcher
The China Lake Launcher was commonly used by the Navy SEALs in Vietnam due to his lightweight and rapid ability to fire four shells in a short period — making it the ideal weapon for secret missions.
5. F-100 Super Sabre
This well-designed jet was the first fighter to maintain supersonic speed during flight and flew 360,283 combat missions, making it the most efficient and utilized fighter plane on the U.S. side during the Vietnam War.
The KC-135 Stratotanker, one of the oldest aircraft still flying in the US Air Force today, will likely get a life extension thanks to budget and replacement issues according to Gen. Carlton Everhart of Air Mobility Command, adding over 40 more years to its service record which began in the mid-1950s.
By the time this legendary aerial refueler enters retirement and is phased out from the USAF once and for all, it will have served just over 100 years — longer than any other aircraft in American history. Having seen action in virtually every American-involved conflict since 1956, the Stratotanker is easily one of the most recognizable and beloved aircraft flying today with the Air Force.
The KC-135 was, at first, supposed to be replaced entirely by the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus. But thanks to budget cuts and slashes to the projected buy for the KC-46, the Air Force will be left with a shortage of tankers to carry out aerial refueling operations both at home and overseas, severely impacting the service’s ability to extend the range of the vast majority of its aircraft. Instead, the Air Force will be looking to upgrade its KC-135s into a “Super Stratotanker” of sorts, keeping it flying for 40 more years until the branch initiates the KC-Z replacement program to supersede the Stratotanker for good.
Crew members from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron prepare to take off in a KC-135 Stratotanker before performing a refueling mission over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve September 15, 2016. The KC-135 provides the core aerial refueling capability for the U.S. Air Force and has excelled in this role for more than 50 years — and could be on the flightline for another 40 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Douglas Ellis/Released)
The KC-46, the result of the controversial KC-X program, was destined to be a larger longer-range follow-on to the KC-135, featuring two engines instead of four, and greater fuel carriage capacity, allowing for more aircraft to be refueling during a typical mission than what the Stratotanker could handle. However, the program has been constantly plagued with a variety of issues including cost overruns and delays, which ultimately led to the Air Force scaling down the number of Pegasus tankers it originally planned on buying to just 179.
This pushes retiring the KC-135 out of the question, as the Air Force (and Air National Guard) require a greater number of tankers to continue carrying out their mission at home and around the world.
While the USAF will continue with its plans to field the Pegasus, the Stratotanker fleet’s life-extension seems inevitable. At the moment, the Air Force has already begun the $910 million Block 45 extension program, which seeks to keep these 60-year-old aircraft relevant and able to meet the needs of the modern Air Force. As part of the Block 45 updates, all American KC-135s will receive a new glass cockpit, replacing the older analog/gauge cockpits still in use, new avionics and an upgraded autopilot system, an enhanced navigation suite, and much more.
To keep the KC-135 flying for 40 more years, an advanced networking and electronic countermeasures suite would likely be the next upgrade the Air Force will pursue with the aircraft, during or after the completion of Block 45, which will end in 2028. Currently, the USAF estimates that their KC-135s have only used up around 35 percent of their lifetime flying hours, meaning that the aircraft is perfectly capable of flying on until 2040 with regular maintenance and scheduled overhauls.
As of 2014, there are 414 KC-135s in service with the US military — 167 assigned to the active duty Air Force, 180 to the Air National Guard, and 67 in the Air Force Reserve. Once the Air Force finishes procuring its 179 KC-46s, the number of Stratotankers in service will likely drop by 100 airframes, which will be retired to the boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona.
It’s also probable that the KC-135’s current [younger] sister tanker, the three-engined KC-10 Extender, will receive a similar upgrade to keep its smaller fleet flying longer. Eventually, both of these aircraft will see their flying days come to an end with the initiation of the KC-Y and KC-Z next generation tanker programs, still decades away from coming to fruition.
A NATO-led training exercise focused on anti-submarine warfare ASW just kicked off in the north Atlantic.
Naval forces from more than 10 nations, including the US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Norway, and Iceland, will be out in force off the coast of Iceland to hone their skills in hunting down and destroying enemy submarines as part of Exercise Dynamic Mongoose.
Running from June 27 to July 6, the training will feature warships, submarines, and maritime patrol aircraft.
“The presence of NATO in the waters south of Iceland is a a sign of an increased focus on the North Atlantic and will strengthen the Alliance’s knowledge and experience of the area,” Arnor Sigurjonsson Director, Department of Security and Defense, Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, told Naval Today.
The US Navy is bringing in a Los Angeles-class fast attack sub, an Arleigh Burke-guided missile destroyer, one P-8A Poseidon aircraft, and two P-3C Orion aircraft, both of which are designed to hunt down subs and surface vessels from the air.
“We look forward to this training opportunity with our NATO allies and partners,” Capt. Roger Meyer, commander, Task Force 69, said in a statement. “While promoting international security and stability, Dynamic Mongoose will serve to fortify theater ASW capabilities, enhance interoperability, and strengthen alliances within the European theater.”
The exercise comes amid increasing tensions with Moscow, which has complained about NATO’s acceptance of Montenegro into the alliance and Norway’s recent decision to host more than 300 US Marines in its country for at least another year.
Trying to emerge from scandals that shook the agency to its core, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to overhaul what officials admit was sometimes pretty bad customer service.
Quietly, since 2015, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has built a national Veterans Experience Office.
The office’s first steps have been rolling out over 100 community veterans committees nationwide and retraining employees to be less rigid and more customer-focused.
The VA even hired professional writers to redraft the language of 1,200 official letter templates to make them more reader friendly.
“(We) had somehow gotten away from the primary mission of organizing the enterprise through the eyes of the customer,” said Joy White, who leads the office’s Pacific district, which includes California and the West Coast.
“(We did) things that made sense to us, made it easy for us as the VA,” White said. “But, in all of that, we lost the voice of the customer.”
The task at hand: How to change the culture of a massive federal agency that provides everything from medical care to monthly disability checks to funerals.
Some might wonder if — with what’s a famously dense bureaucracy — it can be done. Even new VA Secretary David Shulkin has said it’s a struggle to fire bad apples, including employees who watch porn on the job.
The new Veterans Experience Office’s budget this fiscal year is $55.4 million, up from $49 million last year, “to lead the My VA transformation,” according to a budget document. About 150 jobs now fall under this office’s umbrella.
Two years in, the nation’s veterans organizations are still taking a wait-and-see position.
“We’re not sure how much the VEO has improved the VA to date, but we are encouraged by this initiative and hope to see it succeed,” said Joe Plenzler, American Legion spokesman. “Any effort to improve dialogue between veterans and VA employees and administrators is time and money well spent.”
One vocal critic of the VA said the office has potential but not if it tries to just “paper over” structural issues facing the veterans agency.
“Doing things that are more feel-good measures, but actually don’t address some of the core problems of the VA, could distract from what’s needed to be done,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America.
“That’s the danger I see, potentially, with this office. But I want to say there’s a lot of opportunity here. If this office is managed well and insists that they are here to improve the outcomes for veterans — and not just ‘the experience’ — they could be successful.”
The “veterans experience” campaign started under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the retired Proctor Gamble chief executive brought in by President Barack Obama in mid-2014 following a national scandal over wait times for VA medical care.
McDonald installed a “chief veterans experience officer” in early 2015.
The office reports directly to the VA secretary — now Shulkin, a doctor and health-care executive who is the first non-veteran to lead the agency.
Whether he will continue the “experience” campaign is an open question.
However, in April he named Lynda Davis, a former Army officer and Pentagon civilian executive with experience in personnel and suicide prevention, to head the office. She replaces a former McDonald’s executive, Tom Allin, who held the job for about two years.
Some of the hiring was for “human-centered design” teams. These teams, which include people from Stanford’s prestigious D School, are supposed to re-engineer VA routines that aren’t working.
They produced a “journey map” showing what VA patients experience.
It identifies “pain points” along the way, such as cancelled appointments. It also calls out “moments that matter,” such as the check-in process and whether it’s hard or easy to park.
Two early goals were to establish one consumer-oriented website and one toll-free telephone number for all VA divisions. The result was vets.gov and 1 (844) My-VA311.
The VA is now looking for inspiration from national brands famous for good service. Starbucks, Marriott, and Walgreens are on the list.
“We get the experience that we design. Historically, we haven’t put an emphasis as an organization on customer service. There was no program of record that said ‘this how we do customer service,'” White told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
One change the Veterans Experience Office has led: hiring for customer-service skills, instead of just looking for people qualified for a position.
“We weren’t hiring for attitude,” said White, who said her office identified questions to insert in the VA’s interview process to draw out whether an applicant had customer service aptitude.
In a changing health-care industry, this is a bandwagon that the VA is belatedly jumping on.
Other hospital organizations have rebooted their customer experience in the past decade in response to a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy that now rewards for patient satisfaction, experts said. The power of social media is also a factor.
The Cleveland Clinic was the first major academic medical center to appoint a chief experience officer in 2007. Across the country, hospitals have built grand entrances, opened restaurants intended to draw non-patients and put flowers by bedsides.
“My sense of it is that we live in the age of the empowered consumer,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer center for health policy.
“VA customers maybe have less choice in the matter, but at the same time, there’s a great deal of sensitivity in the broader population about how we treat these people in the VA system.”
The VA’s new customer service motto — Own the Moment — sounds a bit like a commercial TV jingle.
Training is rolling out across the country, including at the La Jolla VA hospital.
The premise: Each VA employee should “own” their time with a customer, the veteran, and do their best to ensure the person gets the help he or she needs.
That contrasts to the like-it-or-lump-it experience that veterans have sometimes complained about in the past.
“We’re moving away from a rules-based organization to a more of what we call a values, principle-based organization,” said Allan Castellanos, the VA employee teaching the La Jolla seminar.
“I call it more like integrated ethics, like doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said.
The employees were shown a video of VA workers going the extra mile to welcome an uncertain new veteran into a clinic.
In another, VA workers allowed the family of a dying veteran to bring his horse onto hospital grounds.
The VA is trying to emerge from bunker mentality after back-to-back national embarrassments.
First, in 2013, the backlog of disability claims rose to mountainous proportions, bringing down the wrath of Congress and the public.
Then, in 2014, news reports revealed that VA medical workers were keeping secret lists of patients waiting for appointments to make wait-time data appear satisfactory.
All of this occurred as the VA struggled to handle a flood of new veterans coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
A few of the ideas being pursued by the Veterans Experience Office have origins in San Diego.
Officials acknowledge that what they are calling Community Veterans Experience Boards — the 152 community boards they eventually want to create nationally — came from San Diego’s longstanding example.
San Diego veterans leaders meet monthly with VA officials here in both closed-door and public sessions.
Additionally, the tragic suicide of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Sears appears to have helped spur a campaign to redraft VA correspondence to make it more user friendly.
Sears shot himself at an Oceanside gun range in 2014 after being rejected for VA disability benefits despite the cumulative effects of several combat tours.
Veterans advocates suggested that the VA rejection letter could have offered advice on where to go for counseling and other assistance, instead of just a “no.”
“That was one of the ‘pain points’ that was identified,” White said, referring to the veteran’s “journey mapping” that her office did. “There was a lot of legalese, when in fact we just want it to be simple and clean.”
They started with the Veterans Benefit Administration’s correspondence and are working their way toward the Veterans Health Administration’s appointment cards.
Veterans Experience Office officials first told the Union-Tribune that they could provide examples of the rewritten letter formats, but later said they weren’t ready yet.
The Veterans Experience Office, headquartered in Washington, now has split the country into five districts and dispatched “relationship managers” to each.
The Veterans Experience Office is now trying to finesse those moments that matter to veterans. In 2017, officials expect to roll out a veterans real-time feedback tool in 10 locations. They also plan to release a patient experience “program of record.”
“Our goal is to build trust with veterans, their family members, and survivors,” White said. “How do we do that? By bringing their voices to everything we do.”
An investigation into events that led to the reliefs of the commanding officer, former executive officer and command master chief of the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge earlier this month implicated 15 other officers and senior leaders on the ship in the scandal.
Cmdr. Sean Rongers, Cmdr. Brandon Murray, and Command Master Chief Richard Holmes, were relieved April 7 by Destroyer Squadron 28 commander Capt. Richard Brawley after an investigation found fireworks were being stored aboard the Bainbridge in violation of Navy instructions and unlawful gambling was taking place among officers, officials said.
A 149-page preliminary inquiry report released to Military.com through a Freedom of Information Act request found the ship’s leaders also failed to get a pregnant officer transferred off the ship in keeping with Navy policy, conducted certain ship maneuvers that endangered gear, and encouraged relaxed uniform guidelines under long underway periods with the sale of “no-shave chits.”
A command climate survey also obtained by Military.com dating from February also found that the ship’s top officers presided over a command marked by exeptionally poor trust in leadership and leadership and organizational cohesion.
According to the February investigation, Rongers, the commanding officer, directed the purchase of just under $1,500 worth of fireworks for a July 4 display aboard the Bainbridge, using funds from the ship’s morale, welfare and recreation account. In April 2015, Rongers directed a subordinate to purchase the fireworks, knowing that the ship had conducted a similar fireworks display in 2013.
The subordinate, whose name is redacted in the report, negotiated a deal with the company Phantom Fireworks to buy the pyrotechnics. An overnight trip was made to purchase the goods, which included fireworks with names like “The Beast Unleashed” and “Swashbuckler 72-shot.”
Some of the fireworks purchased were not available for sale in Virginia, the investigation shows. Then, while the ship was operating in the Virginia Capes area, near Virginia Beach, Rongers dispatched rigid-hulled inflatable boats to pick the fireworks up at Rudee Inlet in a late-night operation.
Rongers told investigators that the fireworks were brought aboard via late-night boat operations in order to avoid force protection measures or other regulations that might have prohibited them coming through the main gate when the ship was pierside in Norfolk, Virginia. He also said he checked with another officer about the legality of using MWR funds for fireworks and got the all-clear. The officer, whose name is redacted in the investigation, denied that Rongers had checked with her.
The fireworks were stored in black trash bags in the ship’s pyro locker, near its barbershop. Ultimately, however, officials from Destroyer Squadron 28 got wind of the fireworks plan when a prospective weapons officer from the Bainbridge raised concerns, saying he had already confronted Rongers and Murray, the executive officer about having them stored aboard ship.
Rongers had the fireworks removed from the ship and loaded into his own car. The MWR funds used to purchase them were never reimbursed, however.
Investigators found that Rongers and Murray failed to do the research needed to ensure the fireworks purchase and display were legal. They violated MWR policy prohibiting funds from being used to pay for “hazardous activities,” according to the report, and Rongers “rationalized” his actions because a fireworks display had taken place before, even though Navy policy prohibits fireworks being stored aboard ship and transported the way that they were.
Rongers did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Military.com.
The gambling accusations stem from a weekly Friday night officers’ poker game that took place in the Bainbridge officers’ wardroom with Rongers and Murray’s consent and participation during the ship’s 2015 deployment. There was a $10 buy-in, and participants played with chips in lieu of money and kept scores and money owed written on a piece of paper.
Concerns arose after an officer was asked to pay a buy-in fee she claimed she was never informed about. A legal officer approached Rongers and Murray with doubts about the legality of the command-sanctioned game, according to the report, but they dismissed these concerns, saying no one was forced to play.
Ultimately, the game was temporarily closed down and replaced by a non-gambling game night with activities like Uno and Risk. However, the game started up again later in the deployment, investigators found.
The investigation also revealed a booming business: the purchase of “no-shave chits” which allowed Navy personnel to grow facial hair or, if female, to wear their hair in a ponytail during long periods underway. At $30 a pop, the MWR raised nearly $12,700 on a single deployment from sale of the chits, the investigation found. The ship’s leaders sanctioned this practice, and Rongers even purchased a chit at one point, documents show. While the practice of selling the chits is fairly common, investigators found, it is not permitted by policy.
Bainbridge leadership also fell afoul of policy when an officer became pregnant. Though regulations stipulate that pregnant sailors need to be transferred off-ship by the 20th week of pregnancy, she was not transferred until some five weeks after that deadline, even though the report shows she repeatedly brought the matter to the attention of her chain of command. Moreover, Murray waited until January 2016 — past the pregnancy’s 20-week point — to inform the ship’s placement officer of the need to transfer the officer, even though he was aware of the situation in November, the investigation found.
Finally, Rongers’ handling of the Bainbridge on breakaways following underway replenishment caused alarm among sailors and led to the loss of some gear, the investigation found. On multiple occasions, witnesses testified, Rongers would conduct the breakaways at high speed, before personnel and gear were secured. In one case, sailors ordered to clear the deck could hear items tumbling around as the ship broke away. Two aluminum drip pans were lost over the course of the deployment, and one “killer tomato” or inflatable naval gunnery target, was struck loose by the wind, but was ultimately recovered.
Investigators faulted many other officers for failing to take appropriate action in light of the improper behavior taking place aboard the Bainbridge. While Rongers and Murray were advised they were suspected of violating articles 92 and 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, violation of a general order and conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman, respectively, 16 others were cited on suspicion of dereliction of duty or violation of a general order.
These include the ship’s chief engineer, the supply corps officer, the weapons officer, the force protection officer, the recreational services officer, the Tomahawk leading chief petty officer and others, though the names of these individuals were redacted.
Investigators recommended that Rongers face non-judicial punishment for directing a subordinate to illegally transport and store fireworks. They also recommended that the ship’s chief petty officers ensure sailors are taught lessons on “misplaced loyalty” with regards to the fireworks incident, since many aboard ship were found to have covered for leadership, rather than adhered to policy.
While the investigation does not cover how problems with the ship’s command affected the rank-and-file, a command climate survey from the time reveals troubling trends. Fifty-three percent of sailors on the Bainbridge rated their trust in leadership unfavorably, according to the survey. On leadership cohesion, 63 percent of sailors gave unfavorable ratings, and 47 percent of sailors rated organizational cohesion unfavorably. Organizational processes received a 52 percent unfavorable rating, and 42 percent of sailors rated their job satisfaction unfavorably.
A spokesman for Naval Surface Force Atlantic, Lt. Cmdr. Myers Vasquez, said Rongers, Murray and Holmes remain assigned to SURFLANT in Norfolk. Vasquez said the administrative process was still ongoing for the sailors named in the investigation and declined further comment.
The fighting in the South Pacific during World War II was vicious. One of the big reasons was how evenly-matched the two sides were. One plane called the Black Cat, though, helped the Allies gain a big advantage – and was an omen of ill fortune for the Japanese navy.
According to the Pacific War Encyclopedia, that plane was a modified version of the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. This flying boat was a well-proven maritime patrol aircraft – sighting the German battleship Bismarck in time for the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal to launch the strikes that crippled the Nazi vessel in May, 1941.
The PBY had also detected the Japanese fleets at the Battle of Midway.
The Catalina had one very big asset: long range. It could fly over 3,000 miles, and was also capable of carrying two torpedoes or up to 4,000 pounds of bombs. The PBY drew first blood at Midway, putting a torpedo in the side of the tanker Akebono Maru. But the long legs came with a price in performance. The PBYs had a top speed of just under 200 mph – making them easy prey if a Japanese A6M Zero saw them.
The planes also were lightly armed, with three .30-caliber machine guns and two .50-caliber machine guns. In “Incredible Victory,” Walter Lord related about how two PBYs were shot up in the space of an hour during the run-up to the Battle of Midway by a Japanese patrol plane. One “sea story” related by Morison had it that one PBY once radioed, “Sighted enemy carrier. Please notify next of kin.”
Planner found, however, that flying PBY missions at night helped keep them alive. During the the Guadalcanal campaign, the first PBY-5As equipped with radar arrived and the first full squadron of “Black Cats” intended for night operations arrived later that year. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s “The Struggle For Guadalcanal,” the “Black Cats” were a game-changer.
These Black Cats did a little bit of everything. They could carry bombs – often set for a delay so as to create a “mining” effect. In essence, it would be using the shockwave of the bomb to cause flooding and to damage equipment on the enemy vessel. They also attacked airfields, carried torpedoes, spotted naval gunfire during night-time bombardment raids, and of course, searched for enemy ships.
Morison wrote about how the crews of the “Black Cats” would have a tradition of gradually filling out the drawing of a cat. The second mission would add eyes, then following missions would add whiskers and other features.
Japan would try to catch the Black Cats – knowing that they not only packed a punch, but could bring in other Allied planes. Often, the planes, painted black, would fly at extremely low level, thwarting the Zeros sent to find them.
On Tuesday Morning, Russian aircraft manufacturer UAC unveiled the nation’s newest stealth fighter, the LTA Checkmate, at the MAKS air show at Ramenskoye airfield near Moscow. While information about this new 5th generation platform has steadily made its way to the media in recent months and some images even found their way onto the internet last week, we now have the most complete vision of this budget-friendly entrant into the stealth competition yet.
It’s important to remember that this new jet is not an operational platform, nor is there any strong indication that a flying tech demonstrator even exists. In other words, capabilities, cost, and even the overall design of this new fighter are all liable to change before this jet ever starts afterburning its way through production (if it ever does). Russia’s struggling economy and limited defense budget all but assure that the nation won’t be able to fund continued development, let alone production, of the LTA Checkmate single-handedly, so the future of this fighter program is largely in the hands of the foreign market. Russian officials have claimed that they invited delegations from 65 nations to come to the event and get a closer look at the fighter for this specific purpose.
According to today’s announcement, UAC believes they can start delivering new Checkmate fighters within five and a half years, with the first fighter for testing slated to be complete in 2023. ROSTEC officials predict orders of 300 aircraft, though they did not specify if they meant domestic, foreign, or total.
If Russia wants to make the LTA Checkmate its first successful stealth fighter on the export market (let alone in the sky), they need to make this jet look capable, reliable, and perhaps most importantly of all, affordable. These focal points were all on display on Tuesday, with mentions of the aircraft’s automated supply chain system and streamlined maintenance processes getting top billing alongside the usual fighter-fare.
And while it’s important to remember that this fighter is actively being marketed (in other words, exaggeration or extreme optimism may well be in play in terms of announced capabilities), it’s also equally as important to remember that Russia has a long and illustrious history of making grandiose claims about new military technology, only for it to fail to meet expectations…or even ever manifest, after the initial headline-grabbing announcements.
So, with a baseball-sized grain of salt, let’s dive into what UAC says their new fighter can do, and why it matters for the future of Russia’s ongoing staring contest with the West.
We’ve already analyzed where the LTA Checkmate fits into Russia’s defense apparatus and what it will take to get the fighter into service in this article. The following will largely pertain to newly announced information.
The LTA Checkmate aims to be the cheapest stealth fighter on the market
To be clear, being budget friendly does seem to be the focus, or at least one of the focuses, of the Checkmate. According to UAC CEO Yuri Slyusar, this new jet will ring in at under $30 million per airframe, making it the least expensive stealth fighter anywhere on the planet by a wide margin (assuming that price holds). While projected operating costs were not specified, a press release distributed during the event also emphasized cost savings in that department.
Of course, $30 million isn’t something to scoff at, but when compared to America’s two stealth fighters, the F-35 and F-22, it’s an absolute steal. The F-22 was the world’s first operational stealth fighter, but was canceled with just 183 of 750 ordered jets built. That massive cut in volume dramatically increased the per-unit price of the fighter to more than $200 million. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has consistently lowered its per-unit cost over the years and now rings in at under $80 million per aircraft, but both Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have been accused of fudging those numbers by the nonpartisan government watchdog, Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
In their analysis of F-35 costs, an F-35A actually costs the taxpayer around $110 million, with the F-35C ringing it at $117 million and the short take off, vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B breaking the bank at nearly $136 million a piece in 2020.
It isn’t as easy to ascertain costs for China’s Chengdu J-20 or Russia’s existing stealth platform, the Su-57, though experts have weighed in on both. The China Power Project established by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that the per-fighter cost of the J-20 could be as high as $120 million, with the Su-57 likely closer to $100 million.
If these numbers are broadly accurate, then the LTA Checkmate would cost less than a third of its least-expensive competition, making it a viable low observable option for nations that can’t drop nine-digit checks on a single piece of equipment.
Russia claims it uses AI to support pilot operations
An ongoing concern for fighter pilots in a high-end fight is managing mental load. Traditionally, a fighter pilot has to keep track of multiple gauges and sensor read outs as well as the terrain, friendly nearby aircraft, the target, and any potential threats. Until recently, pilots had to combine all of this information in their heads, but flying supercomputers like the F-35 streamline the process and free up pilots to focus on the task at hand. Not only did UAC claim the Checkmate fighter would leverage onboard supercomputers, but they went a step further and claimed the aircraft would also use artificial intelligence, or AI, to further reduce the mental strain on its pilots.
This idea isn’t unheard of. In fact, it the was basis behind the U.S. Air Force and DARPA’s Alphadog Flight Trials held last year. The event pitted real human fighter pilots against AI in virtual dogfights, but the stated aim has long been to improve the AI while increasing pilot comfort with the idea. Eventually, the plan is to use AI in the cockpit as a co-pilot of sorts, handling monotonous tasks for the pilot, or even responding to inbound missiles faster than humans are capable of.
However, to date, AI hasn’t found a place in any fighter cockpit, and it seems unlikely that Russia will master the craft by 2023, when the first Checkmate is projected to take to the skies.
It is likely that the Checkmate fighter will leverage its onboard computers alongside some degree of sensor fusion to provide an enhanced awareness of the battlefield, like most fighters of its generation.
It won’t be able to match other 5th-generation fighters in a dogfight
All those cost savings have to come from somewhere, and even with the assumption that claims about the Checkmate will be exaggerated for marketing purposes, its claimed capabilities still fall short of the other jets of its class.
While every other 5th-generation fighter on the planet has a claimed structural limit that exceeds 9gs, the Checkmate claims only 8. G forces are measured in relation to the natural weight of gravity on earth; 1 G is what you experience all the time while walking around, so 9 Gs is literally 9 times that. Here’s an explanation from F-35 pilot instructor and Sandboxx News contributor Major Hasard Lee:
“Right now, as you’re reading this, you’re probably at 1G, or one time the force of gravity. Your weight is what you see when you stand on a scale. I weigh approximately 200 pounds, 230 with my gear on. For most people, the peak G-force they’ve experienced is probably on a rollercoaster during a loop—which is about 3-4G’s. It’s enough to push your head down and pin your arms by your side. Modern fighters like the F-16 and F-35 pull 9G’s, which translates to over 2,000 pounds on my body.”
You can read all about Hasard’s experiences pushing his F-16 to 9 Gs and just what an incredible toll it takes on your body in his article about it here.
Being limited to 8 Gs means Russia’s new Checkmate won’t be able to perform maneuvers as aggressively as other stealth fighters, or even non-stealth 4th-generation jets. Of course, that’s not necessarily a huge problem though. The Checkmate can bank on its low observability when squaring off against non-stealth fighters like the F-16, and this jet probably wouldn’t be sent out to pick fights with F-22s.
The Checkmate fighter has a claimed range of 3,000km (1,800+ miles)
The single-engine Checkmate weighs in at significantly less than the twin-engine Su-57, and in conjunction with its stealthy but high-lift delta-wing design, seems to offer good range. It’s unclear whether its claimed 3,000km range is based on a stripped-down ferry-flight, but that seems likely.
If this range holds true into production, it would give the Checkmate superior range to that of America’s F-35s, the furthest-reaching of which is the carrier-capable F-35C with a maximum range of a bit shy of 1,400 miles in the best of conditions. The F-22 Raptor can beat the Checkmate’s proposed range, but just barely, and with the addition of stealth-killing external fuel tanks.
Russia claims the Su-57 has a combat radius of around 930 miles, which is significant (that suggests a total range of 1,860 miles with a combat load), and it seems the LTA Checkmate is similarly aiming for long-distance operations.
Its claimed service ceiling of better than 50,000 feet is on par with its 5th generation competition, many of which claim operational ceilings of “better than 50,000 feet” without further specifics.
It will be able to carry hypersonic air-to-air weapons internally
According to Tuesday’s announcement, the Checkmate fighter will be capable of carrying three RVV-BD long-range air-to-air missiles internally without compromising its stealth profile. The RVV-BD (also known as the R-37M or by NATO as the AA-13 Arrow) is a hypersonic weapon originally designed to take out tankers, AWACS, and other command and control aircraft from beyond the range of their fighter escorts, or about 124 miles.
Capable of achieving speeds in excess of Mach 6, the missile is believed to leverage an active data link for guidance, supported by the fighter’s onboard computers rather than the pilot, before switching to active radar homing in the final leg of its flight path.
Like the Checkmate itself, the RVV-BD was purpose-built with the export market in mind, and was designed to be easily mated to Russia’s export-iterations of both Su and MiG fighters. It seems logical, then, that the LTA Checkmate would be designed to leverage these weapons, as both stealth fighters and hypersonic weapons are currently considered extremely valuable for national militaries.
That added girth means a lot of added weight too. Depending on the source, the RVV-BD weighs in at between 1,100 and more than 1,300 pounds… meaning a single one of these missiles weighs as much as six Aim-9Xs, or nearly four AIM-120s. The most modern iteration of America’s furthest-reaching air-to-air missile, the AIM-120D, has a reported range of at least 87 miles, though its actual maximum range has never been disclosed. Unlike the RVV-BD, however, the AIM-120 tops out at around Mach 4, well below the hypersonic barrier of Mach 5.
However, storing three of these weapons internally is a pretty tall order. At around 13’9″, the RVV-BD isn’t that much longer than a normal air-to-air weapon, but its 15″ diameter is more than twice that of air-to-air weapons like the AIM-120 carried internally by the F-22 and three times that of smaller, short range weapons like the AIM-9X.
Those RVV-BDs will be housed in the aircraft’s primary weapons bay, with another smaller bay further forward on the fuselage that will likely house smaller defensive air-to-air munitions. Per the display, it seems likely that this new Checkmate fighter will also carry a 30mm cannon, similar to the GSh-30-1 autocannon found in the Su-57. Managing targets and other pertinent information will be accomplished via an all-glass cockpit dominated by one large primary display that’s sure to serve a variety of purposes based on the situation alongside the usual variety of cockpit bells and whistles one might expect of a fighter designed in the 21st century.
This month, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that owns “Sesame Street,” released a new line of educational resources geared toward topics of race. This comes alongside their ongoing platform that is geared toward military families and the unique challenges that they face. Additional programs have been developed around topics of the pandemic and how to talk with kids about COVID-19.
Together with sponsor USAA, the brand compiled a series of content including videos, original songs, downloads that kids can read and/or color and a long list of apps. All of these are free for parents to download and use to more appropriately talk with their kids about tough subjects. There are also add-ons covering specific military topics to give parents and caregivers tips on how to have difficult conversations with kids.
The organization has been providing military-based content for kids nearly for 15 years through their nonprofit branch. However, new material has been added focusing on racial literacy, self-care and coping strategies for kids dealing with racism. It’s their hope to provide kids the knowledge they need to understand big issues, as well as the developmental abilities on how to deal with the feelings that come with them, they said.
“Military and veteran families practice service in everything they do, and they live their lives with purpose – values that help them confront injustices like racism,” Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President of US Social Impact, Sesame Workshop, said. “In a military kid’s world, it’s common to see people of all races and backgrounds living, working, and playing together. Military parents and caregivers can help their children become good citizens of the world by using that unique opportunity to talk openly about racism and celebrate who they are inside and out.”
Topics covered on the website include:
Injuries and care-giving
Military to civilian life
Race-related topics include:
How to talk about race
Being proud of one’s features
Self-love and worth
Dealing with feelings and expression
Sesame Street also offers learning resources on topics that affect civilian families, such as divorce and incarceration, through their program, Little Children, Big Challenges family support services.
Professional development resources are available for teachers, social workers and others who work with children on both topics. Check out the videos, or sign up for ongoing courses, such as webinars and events.
Families can watch the videos, listen and sing along to songs and engage in other ways, such as downloading the free Sesame Street apps (including those associated with the above topics), download PDFs with activities, or play online games. Versions are available in English and Spanish.
The three members of Army Special Forces who were killed earlier this month outside a Jordanian military base were working for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to a report in The Washington Post.
The three soldiers with the Fort Campbell, Kentucky, 5th Special Forces Group were killed while entering a military base in Jordan on November 4. The soldiers, Staff Sgts. Matthew C. Lewellen, 27; Kevin J. McEnroe, 30; and James F. Moriarty, 27, were apparently fired upon by Jordanian security forces at the gate to King Feisal Air Base, where they were deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
According to The Post, the soldiers were working on the CIA’s program to train moderate Syrian rebels. It’s still unclear what the circumstances were surrounding their deaths.
Jordanian military officials said that shots were fired as the Americans’ car tried to enter the base, and a Jordanian military officer was also wounded, according to Army Times. Reporting from the Post seems to suggest that an accidental discharge from the Green Berets inside their vehicle may have led to a shootout, which an official called a “chain of unfortunate events.”
The loss of the three soldiers may be the deadliest incident for the CIA since 2009, when a suicide bomber killed seven members of a CIA team in Khost, Afghanistan.
The CIA often “details” special operations units to operate within its paramilitary force, called Special Activities Division. Some notable examples include the use of Army’s Delta Force in the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and the operation to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which was carried out by Navy SEALs assigned to the CIA.
It has been particularly rough time for the Army Special Forces community. Besides the three soldiers killed in Jordan, there were two others killed in Afghanistan and another killed during scuba training this month.
Iva Toguri had the bad luck of being sent to Japan to take care of her aunt in 1941. While she was there, the Japanese Empire launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, starting the Pacific War with the United States.
The Los Angeles-born Toguri was stuck in a country at war with her home country at age 25. She refused to renounce her American citizenship and was closely watched as an enemy alien. She moved to Tokyo where she took a job as a typist at Radio Tokyo.
By the end of the war she would find herself wanted by the U.S. Army, the FBI and other counterintelligence agencies on charges of aiding the enemy – but that’s not how she saw what she was doing at all.
While working at the Radio Station, she met an Australian prisoner of war, Capt. Charles Cousens. After he was captured in the Japanese invasion of Singapore, his captors learned he had worked in radio before the war and he was put to the task of producing a morale-sapping propaganda show called “Zero Hour” with a handful or other POWs.
He and two other prisoners, U.S. Army Capt. Wallace Ince and Philippine Army Lt. Normando Ildefonso “Norman” Reyes were determined to make the show as lame and harmless as they could, effectively canceling out the enemy propaganda effort. After meeting Iva Toguri, he decided he would bring her in on the joke.
She outright refused to say anything anti-American on the show. Instead they openly mocked the idea of being a propaganda message. When she finally took up the mic in earnest, she lampooned the idea of the show, even explicitly saying things like “here’s the first blow at your morale.” Their Japanese captors didn’t understand the Western humor and double entendres they used.
Toguri even used her salary on the show to get supplies for prisoners held there. She would eventually marry Felipe D’Aquino, who also worked at the station.
Now named Iva D’Aquino, her personality on the show was a character called “Orphan Ann,” but American troops in the Pacific began referring to her (and other Japanese women on the radio) as “Tokyo Rose.”
“Zero Hour” only ran for little more than a year and a half, and her appearances became less frequent as the war turned south for the Japanese. When Japan surrendered, she found herself wanted by almost everyone who had ever heard one of the broadcasts.
When a magazine reporter offered a $2,000 reward for an interview with Tokyo Rose, she actually stepped forward to claim the reward. Instead she was apprehended and accused of treason for aiding the enemy in her broadcasts.
D’Aquino was originally held in jail for a year while the Army tried to gather evidence against her, but nothing she ever said on Radio Tokyo was anti-American. Neither the FBI nor the Army in Japan could find any evidence of treason. The officers she worked with on “Zero Hour” would not say anything against her. She was eventually released.
After trying to return to the United States, public opinion was turned against her by the American media and she was arrested yet again, sent to San Francisco, and put on trial once more, facing eight counts of treason for her work at Radio Tokyo. She was convicted on one count, mentioning the loss of ships on the radio, “on a day during October, 1944, the exact date being to the Grand Jurors unknown.”
There was no evidence of D’Aquino mentioning any ships, and Charles Cousens was present as a defense witness, but she was convicted anyway and sentenced to 10 years in prison. She served six years in a West Virginia reformatory, alongside Mildred Gillars, also known as “Axis Sally.”
For the past few years, DARPA has been working on a system called ARGUS-IR, or Autonomous Real-Team Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Infrared, which can take video over an area that is so super high resolution — 1.8 gigapixels — it would take a fleet of 100 Predator drones to produce the same images.
A PBS documentary last year explored the program, which uses hundreds of cell phone cameras linked together into a sophisticated rig. Mounted underneath an RQ-4 Global Hawk for example, ARGUS could loiter over an area at 17,500 feet and capture images as small as six inches square on the ground, effectively being able to tell the color of the shirt you are wearing.
It’s pretty incredible — and somewhat scary — stuff.
Current infrared systems either have a narrow field of view, slow frame rates or are low resolution. DARPA’s Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Infrared (ARGUS-IR) program will break this paradigm by producing a wide-field-of-view IR imaging system with frame rates and resolution that are compatible with the tracking of dismounted personnel at night. ARGUS-IR will provide at least 130 independently steerable video streams to enable real-time tracking of individual targets throughout the field of view. The ARGUS-IR system will also provide continuous updates of the entire field of view for enhanced situational awareness.
In July, the Air Force made the first step toward making ARGUS a reality with the implementation of the Gorgon Stare Increment 2 pod on the MQ-9 Reaper.
Here’s the view from an ARGUS system from 17,500 feet. It can capture a very wide area.
When an operator wants to zoom in, the system places boxes over cars, people, and other objects and tracks them in real time.
Now check out the PBS Nova documentary on the project:
Federal authorities are investigating dozens of new cases of possible opioid and other drug theft by employees at Veterans Affairs hospitals, a sign the problem isn’t going away as more prescriptions disappear.
Data obtained by The Associated Press show 36 criminal investigations opened by the VA inspector general’s office from Oct. 1 through May 19. It brings the total number of open criminal cases to 108 involving theft or unauthorized drug use. Most of those probes typically lead to criminal charges.
The numbers are an increase from a similar period in the previous year. The VA has pledged “zero tolerance” in drug thefts following an AP story in February about a sharp rise in reported cases of stolen or missing drugs at the VA since 2009. Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff in the VA’s network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics are suspected of siphoning away controlled substances for their own use or street sale — sometimes to the harm of patients — or drugs simply vanished without explanation.
Drug thefts are a growing problem at private hospitals as well as the government-run VA as the illegal use of opioids has increased in the United States. But separate data from the Drug Enforcement Administration obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act show the rate of reported missing drugs at VA health facilities was more than double that of the private sector. DEA investigators cited in part a larger quantity of drugs kept in stock at the bigger VA medical centers to treat a higher volume of patients, both outpatient and inpatient, and for distribution of prescriptions by mail.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R- Fla., said AP’s findings were “troubling.” He urged Congress to pass bipartisan accountability legislation he was co-sponsoring that would give the agency “the tools needed to dismiss employees engaged in misconduct.” The Senate is set to vote on the bill June 6.
“The theft and misuse of prescription drugs, including opioids, by some VA employees is a good example of why we need greater accountability at the VA,” Rubio said.
In February, the VA announced efforts to combat drug thefts, including employee drug tests and added inspections. Top VA officials in Washington led by VA Secretary David Shulkin pledged to be more active, holding conference calls with health facilities to develop plans and reviewing data to flag problems. The department said it would consider more internal audits.
Criminal investigators said it was hard to say whether new safeguards are helping.
“Prescription drug diversion is a multifaceted, egregious health care issue,” said Jeffrey Hughes, the acting VA assistant inspector general for investigations. “Veterans may be denied necessary medications or their proper dosage and medical records may contain false information to hide the diversion, further putting veterans’ health at risk.”
Responding, the VA said it was working to develop additional policies “to improve drug safety and reduce drug theft and diversion across the entire health care system.”
“We have security protocols in place and will continue to work hard to improve it,” Poonam Alaigh, VA’s acting undersecretary for health, told the AP.
In one case, a registered nurse in the Spinal Cord Injury Ward at the VA medical center in Richmond, Virginia, was recently sentenced after admitting to stealing oxycodone tablets and fentanyl patches from VA medication dispensers. The nurse said she would sometimes shortchange the amount of pain medication prescribed to patients, taking the remainder to satisfy her addiction.
Hughes cited in particular the risk of patient harm. “Health care providers who divert for personal use may be providing care while under the influence of narcotics,” he said.
AP’s story in February had figures documenting the sharp rise in drug thefts at federal hospitals, most of them VA facilities. Subsequently released DEA data provide more specific details of the problem at the VA. Drug losses or theft increased from 237 in 2009 to 2,844 in 2015, before dipping to 2,397 last year. In only about 3 percent of those cases have doctors, nurses or pharmacy employees been disciplined, according to VA data.
At private hospitals, reported drug losses or theft also rose — from 2,023 in 2009 to 3,185 in 2015, before falling slightly to 3,154 last year. There is a bigger pool of private U.S. hospitals, at least 4,369, according to the American Hospital Association. That means the rate of drug loss or theft is lower than VA’s.
The VA inspector general’s office said it had opened 25 cases in the first half of the budget year that began Oct. 1. That is up from 21 in the same period in 2016.
The IG’s office said the number of newly opened criminal probes had previously been declining since 2014.
Michael Glavin, an IT specialist at the VA, says he’s heard numerous employee complaints of faulty VA technical systems that track drug inventories, leading to errors and months of delays in identifying when drugs go missing. Prescription drug shipments aren’t always fully inventoried when they arrive at a VAfacility, he said, making it difficult to determine if a drug was missing upon arrival or stolen later.
“It’s still the same process,” said Glavin, who heads the local union at the VA medical center in Columbia, Missouri. The union’s attorney, Natalie Khawam, says whistleblowers at other VA hospitals have made similar complaints.
Criminal investigators stressed the need for a continuing drug prevention effort. The VA points to inventory checks every 72 hours and “double lock and key access” to drugs. It attributes many drug loss cases to reasons other than employee theft, such as drugs lost in transit. But the DEA says some of those cases may be wrongly classified.
“Inventories are always an issue as to who’s watching or checking it,” said Tom Prevoznik, a DEA deputy chief of pharmaceutical investigations. “What are the employees doing, and who’s watching them?”