Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rejoiced when retired Gen. James “Warrior Monk” Mattis was picked for the top job at the Pentagon by President-elect Donald Trump.
The hard-charging Marine is known for his tenacity both on and off the battlefield. He expects the same tenacity among those who serve under him (just ask Col. Joe Dowdy).
But the Mattis love can get a little out of hand.
So we tried to come up with a few ideas of what the Pentagon employees might expect now that Mattis could be next Secretary of Defense.
1. The “Run, Hide, Fight” active shooter policy will be simplified.
The Department of Homeland Security prepares citizens to respond to an active shooter scenario using the phrase “Run. Hide. Fight.” Which is great… for DHS. James Mattis’ DoD won’t run. And they definitely won’t hide.
2. Incoming employees must submit a plan to kill everyone in their work section.
One of the former General’s most colorful quotes goes:
“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
Mattis isn’t going to be the kind of SECDEF that won’t put his money where his mouth is.
And it’s unwise to continue to use a nickname for someone who doesn’t like it, especially when that person is known to enjoy shooting “some assholes in the world who just need to be shot.”
6. No more sauerkraut in the cafeteria.
The place still stinks to high hell from Robert Gates’ Reuben sandwiches. From now on, everyone will be required to drink three small glasses of fruit punch-flavored pre-workout drink Mattis invented, known as “The Blood of Our Enemies.”
British WWII Veteran Roy Vickerman, 90, and Nora Jackson, 89, are getting married after breaking up seventy years ago.
They first met back in 1940, Roy was the new kid in Nora’s high school. According to Vickerman, he was enamored from the moment he laid eyes on her.
“When the teacher told the class there’s a new boy from London, all the faces turned towards me but the only one I saw was Nora,” Vickerman said in a recent interview with ABC News “I thought to myself, she’s the girl for me.”
They were engaged in the summer of 1944 – one week before Vickerman would depart for Normandy. He made it through D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, but never made it to the alter.
Roy served with the famous Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) and Britain’s Highland Light Infantry. In 1945, a bullet from a Nazi sniper shattered a bone in his lower leg that required reconstructive surgery.
His visible wound wouldn’t prevent him from walking down the aisle with his fiance, but his invisible wounds would. He developed ‘shell-shock’ or what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) from the war.
In 1946 Vickerman had called off their wedding due to the hard time he had transitioning into civilian life after his service.
“Nora stayed with me as long as she could,” he told the Daily Mail, “but in the end I wanted to be on my own and she gave me the ring back.”
The two went their separate ways. Vickerman went on to become an architect and Nora worked at a local factory. They each got married and had children. Neither of them heard from the other for seven whole decades.
Last year, Vickerman dialed Graham Torrington’s “Late Night Love” show on BBC radio and reminisced on air about his long lost love. He told the host he wished he could ask her forgiveness for leaving her. The show’s producer ended up tracking down Jackson’s home address. Their homes were only two miles apart, but amazingly had never had run into each other over the years. Vickerman, a widower for four years, hesitated to reach out to her for a week.
“I didn’t want to intrude if Nora had a husband,” he said, “but one day, I just thought, ‘No, I’ll just go get some flowers and tell them I’d like to ask how Nora is and that I’d like to apologize to her for what happened.”
It turned out there was no man in her life for him to be concerned about. Jackson’s husband had passed away 12 years ago.
“Nora came to the door and put her arms around me and gave me a kiss,” he told ABC News “She told me, ‘Oh Roy, I thought I’d never see you again,’ and then she gave me a kiss and said, ‘Hold me.'”
Jackson, who admits to have dreamed about Vickerman, told her side of the story to the Telegraph,
It’s a really lovely story, there’s no doubt about it. It’s so clear in my mind. I heard the bell and I opened the curtain a little bit. I was so taken aback. I knew him straight away but I never thought I would see him again. He had changed a lot but I could still recognise him. We put our arms around one another and we went into the living room and sat and talked for hours. It was a shock to see him because it had been such a long time but it was lovely. It was just like old times.
Four hours into their reunion, he finally went outside to tell the cab driver that he would be staying. They have seen each other every day since. And on March 26th, Vickerman’s 90th birthday, he proposed to her with the same ring he used 72 years before. She said yes.
They couple is planning to get married this summer. “It would certainly do for me if we could wed in a week! We certainly do believe fate brought us together again,” he added. “I’m sure it was the will of God.”
Each of these enclosures was a virtual fortress, and the Germans had spent months preparing their defenses. They practiced moving through the hedges, selected areas for machine guns and anti-tank weapons, and practiced firing from trees into nearby enclosures.
Perhaps most importantly, they had planted stakes near the most likely routes of American troops and had mapped the locations of the stakes by coordinates, allowing defenders to quickly and accurately call fire onto the advancing Allies.
Compounding the problem was the irregular shape of the enclosures. The rows weren’t laid out in a proper grid. Instead, they were roughly rectangular as a whole, but with a variety of sizes even among adjoining fields. And all of these fields were connected primarily by thin wagon trails that wound through the irregular enclosures.
All of this combined to form a defender’s paradise and an attacker’s hell. In the first days of the Battle for the Hedgerows, American troops would assault an enclosure at full speed, attempting to use velocity and violence of action to overwhelm the defenders. German machine guns pointed directly at these openings cut them down instead.
While the German defenses in the hedgerows greatly delayed the American advance, the Allies did eventually find a way to breakthrough. At first, armored and infantry units had worked largely independent of each other. The tanks had tried to stay on the move to avoid German anti-tank weapons and artillery while the infantry had slowed down to try and avoid ambushes.
Whenever the Pentagon sends troops abroad it’s about demonstrating resolve, reassuring allies or confronting potential opponents – or some combination of all three. But for the A-10 Warthogs and their crews in the Philippines, their biggest message might be one for critics back home.
On April 16, the U.S. Air Force announced that four of the venerable ground attack jets would remain in the Philippines after taking part in the annual Balikatan training exercises with Manila’s forces. Three HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and an MC-130H Combat Talon II tanker would round out the new air contingent at Clark Air Base.
“The Air Contingent will remain in place as long as both the Philippines and the United States deem necessary,” MSgt. Matthew McGovern, the Operations Division Manager for the Pacific Air Force’s public affairs office, told We Are the Mighty in an email. “Our aircraft, flying in and around the South China Sea, are flying within international airspace and are simply demonstrating freedom of navigation in these areas.”
The deployment at Clark is one part of a deal between Washington and Manila called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Signed on April 28, 2014, the arrangement opened a number of Philippine military bases to American troops and outlined plans for increased cooperation between the two countries’ armed forces.
The EDCA would “help strengthen our 65-year-old alliance, and deepen our military-to-military cooperation at a time of great change in the Asia-Pacific,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told reporters during a visit to the Philippines on April 14. “In the South China Sea, China’s actions in particular are causing anxiety and raising regional tensions.”
As Carter noted, Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea is the major concern for the Philippines and its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Effectively claiming the entire body of water as its sovereign territory, China policy has brought it near close to skirmishing with Manila’s ships.
In 2012, the Philippines found itself in a particularly embarrassing stand-off with unarmed Chinese “marine surveillance” ships near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, less than 250 miles west of Manila. While Beijing’s vessels ultimately withdrew, they blocked the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar – an ex-U.S. Coast Guard cutter and the largest ship then in the Philippine Navy – from moving into arrest Chinese fishermen.
Since then, Chinese authorities have used their dominant position to harass Philippine fishermen in the area. More importantly, Beijing began building a series of man-made islands – complete with air defenses, ballistic missile sites and runways able to support fighter jets and bombers – throughout the South China Sea to help enforce its claims.
“Countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with China’s land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarization in the South China Sea,” Carter added in his comments in Manila. “We’re continuing to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”
So, it’s no surprise that the A-10’s first mission was a show of force over the Scarborough Shoal, which China refers to as Huangyan Island and claims as its own. With plans to develop the narrow strip of land into a tourist destination, Beijing was incensed to see the Warthogs fly by.
“This threatens the sovereignty and national security of the relevant coastal states, as well as the regional peace and stability,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense said in a statement according to People’s Daily, an official organ of the country’s Communist Party. “We must express our concern and protest towards it.”
Though originally built to blast hordes of Soviet tanks in Europe, the blunt nosed attackers are a threat to small warships and other surface targets. The aircraft’s main armament is a single, massive 30-millimeter cannon that can fire up to 70 shells per second.
On top of that, the straight-winged planes can carry precision laser- and GPS-guided bombs and missiles. On March 28, 2011, Warthogs showed off their maritime skills when they destroyed two Libyan patrol craft during the international air campaign against the country’s long time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
After the Pentagon announced the Warthog would stay in the Philippines, the Air Force released shots of the jets sitting at Clark, each loaded with targeting pods, training versions of the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile and an AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile. Northrop Grumman’s LITENING pod has a laser designator and a powerful infrared camera that can also double as a surveillance system if necessary.
Over Scarborough, the A-10s sported a LITENING on the right wing and an AN/ALQ-184 electronic jamming pod on the left. All four Warthogs, along with two of the Pave Hawks, went out for the initial maritime patrol.
But the Warthogs made an even bigger statement just by flying the mission at all – and not to officials in Beijing, but to critics back home. The deployment comes as the Air Force continues to move forward with plans to retire the low- and slow-flying planes without a clear replacement available.
To hear the flying branch tell it, the aircraft are inflexible, dated Cold Warriors unable to survive over the modern battlefield. Unlike multi-role fighter bombers like the F-16 or up-coming, but troublesome F-35, the A-10 is only good at one thing: close air support for troops on the ground.
The A-10 “is a 40-year-old single-purpose airplane,” then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in February 2014. “There’s only so much you can get out of that airplane,” Air Force Gen. Herbert Carlisle, chief of Air Combat Command, declared more than a year later.
The Warthogs’ trip to the Philippines stands in stark contrast to these claims. According to the Air Force itself, the A-10s and HH-60s will fly missions providing air and maritime domain awareness and personnel recovery, combating piracy and otherwise keeping anyone from denying access to “the global commons” in the South China Sea.
The flying branch didn’t randomly pick the A-10 for the job either. “Selecting the A-10C and HH-60Gs for this mission was strategically and economically the right decision,” Brig. Gen. Dirk Smith, PACAF’s director of air and cyberspace operations, told Air Force reporters after the detachment stood up at Clark.
“PACAF considered multiple options for what aircraft to use, however, the A-10Cs were the right choice for a number of reasons,” McGovern explained further. “A-10Cs also have a proven record operating out of short and austere airstrips, provide a flexible range of capabilities, and have a mission profile consistent with the air and maritime domain awareness operations the air contingent will conduct.”
The Warthog’s ability to stay airborne for long periods of time was another point in its favor. Of course, the fact that the jets were already in the Philippines for Balikatan didn’t hurt.
Still, the A-10 is cheap to operate in general. Compared to around $20,000 per flying hour for the F-16 or more three times that amount for bombers like the B-1 and B-52, the Air Force has to spend less than $20,000 for every hour a Warthog is in the air.
“With a relatively small investment we were able to deepen our ties with our Philippine allies and strengthen our relationship,” McGovern added. “The aircraft involved in subsequent deployments will be tailored to airfield capability and capacity and desired objectives.”
In February, the Air Force announced plans to start retiring the A-10s by 2017 and have the entire fleet gone by the end of 2022. Hopefully deployments like the one to the Philippines will show both the Chinese and the Pentagon that the Warthogs still have a lot of fight left in them.
With the rhetoric about global trade deficits heating up on the campaign trail, it might appropriate to momentarily shift our focus away from the asymmetric threats of the Taliban and ISIS and look at the world of conventional warfare. Here’s how the world’s three most powerful militaries stack up in 4 major categories:
1. Stealth fighters
While America holds the current stealth jet lead with the only fielded fifth-generation fighter, Russia and China are both gunning for it. There are only 187 F-22s, and the F-35 that is supposed to be joining them is running into all sorts of problems in the test phase, including the hi-tech helmet that is supposed to put all kinds of info in the pilot’s visor that doesn’t work right yet.
Russia is developing only one stealth fighter but it has capabilities that some put on par with the F-22. The T-50 will likely enter service in late 2016 or early 2017. Also known as the PAK FA, it’s less stealthy than the Raptor but more maneuverable. The F-22 would likely get a jump on the Russians in a war, but would be in serious trouble if it was spotted first.
Likely winner: As long as the other planes are still more hypothetical than real, the F-22 remains the clear victor. Still, Raptor drivers can’t rest easy knowing that multiple aircraft are being developed with the primary mission of bringing them down, and those planes are being developed with engineers who have the F-22’s schematics.
Russia is developing the prototype T-14 on the Armata platform, but right now it relies on the T-90A, which is still an awesome tank. One even survived a direct hit from a TOW missile in Syria. Originally fielded in 2004, the T-90A features an autoloader, reactive armor, a remotely-operated machine gun, and a 125mm cannon. The crew can fire anti-tank guided missiles from the main gun.
Like Russia, China fields a few varieties of tanks and has new ones in development. It’s go-to for tank-on-tank engagements is the Type 99. It features a 125mm smoothbore gun with auto-loader that can also fire missiles. The tank has been upgraded with reactive armor and is thought to be nearly as survivable in combat as Western or Russian tanks.
Likely winner: Strictly looking at the gear in a one-on-one fight, it’s a draw. But America has more top-tier tanks and a better history of training crews, plus (Ukraine notwithstanding) U.S. forces have more recent combat experience than their rivals.
3. Surface ships
With the largest Navy in the world, America has any surface fight in the bag if it happens in the middle of the ocean. The crown jewels are the Navy’s 10 full-sized aircraft carriers and 9 landing helicopter docks. But the Navy’s technological advantages and sheer size might not be enough to overcome China’s missiles or Russia’s diesel subs if it had to fight in enemy waters.
Russia still struggles with force projection, but the launch of Kalibr cruise missiles at ground targets in Syria proved that Russia has found a way to give even their small ships some serious bite. An anti-ship version of the missile is thought to be just as capable and, if fired in a large enough salvo, may be able to overcome U.S. ship defenses like the Phalanx. Russia also fields the Club-K missile system, a land-attack and anti-ship cruise missile system that can be hidden in shipping containers.
Likely winner: The U.S. Navy is still the undisputed champ across the world but it would take heavy losses if it fought China or Russia at home. A full-scale invasion might even fail if planners aren’t careful.
Likely winner: The U.S. submarine fleet wins for both power projection onto land and sub-on-sub combat, but the gap is narrowing. Chinese and Russian innovations and the rapid construction in new shipyards will make the ocean a more dangerous place for American submariners.
The Army is likely catching a lot of grief lately, after a news story reported that Pentagon data showed Joes are fatter than their brethren in other services.
But are they really?
According to the head of the new Defense Health Agency, the way the military measures obesity using the so-called Body Mass Index might be a bit behind the times.
“I know that Navy has looked at this in terms of modifying what they say is a healthy weight and a healthy body mass and I think that’s appropriate,” said Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, Director of the Defense Health Agency told WATM during a breakfast meeting with reporters Oct. 20.
“Do I have any indication that [obesity] is hurting readiness? No,” Bono added. “But I would actually say that is one of the hallmarks of being in the military is that we’re always ready.”
According to the services, a Body Mass Index of 25 or over is considered unsat (the BMI is determined by a simple calculation of height and weight). The National Institutes of Health define obesity as a BMI of 30 or over.
A 44 year-old male who weights 215 pounds and is 74-inches tall has a BMI of 27.6, for example. That’d be considered “clinically obese” to the DoD.
Some in the services argue measuring weight standards using the BMI is a blunt instrument, putting perfectly fit and healthy servicemembers on notice for not being up to snuff.
And while she’s all in favor of modifying how the level of fitness to serve is calculated, Bono is concerned about the overall trend on obesity, with the Pentagon reporting nearly 10 percent of its troops are overweight. And Bono recommended healthier choices in chow halls, regular exercise (not just for the PFT), and stopping smoking.
“My job is to make sure I’m enabling the department to have the healthiest troops possible,” Bono said. “I struggle with encouraging troops to make healthier choices — even when we activate servicemembers with health data or scary pictures of what smoking can do to you they still persist in those behaviors. I don’t know what the right answer is.”
Since 9/11, almost 58,000 American troops have either been killed or wounded in the war on terrorism. And according to the Pentagon, each of those casualties qualifies for the Purple Heart medal — whether awarded in person or posthumously.
But it turns out that most of those pinned with the distinctive badge would wear an actual medal that’s been in DoD stocks for over 70 years.
How is this possible? Believe it or not, according to a Dec. 2003 report by HistoryNewsNetwork.com, the military had over 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock at the time, even after suffering almost 81,000 killed in action and nearly 257,000 wounded in action between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
How did the Department of Defense end up with so many spare Purple Hearts on hand? The answer goes back to 1945.
We may remember it as the year the war ended, but back then, the question was how it would end.
The United States was planning for the invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall. The fight was expected to be very nasty. A 1998 article in Air Chronicles cited one estimate of 394,859 casualties. The Department of Defense ordered nearly half a million Purple Heart medals to award to casualties.
According to a 2015 post at HotAir.com, Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu involving 14 divisions of troops, was slated to take place on Nov. 1, 1945. Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu with 25 divisions, would have begun four months later.
Thanks to a pair of airplanes named Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the invasion of Japan never took place. Many of the implements used to win World War II were either scrapped, sold off, or disposed of. But the medals were kept. The book “Blood Trails” by Christopher Ronnau described how Vietnam vets received Purple Hearts originally meant for use two decades earlier.
HistoryNewsNetwork.com reported that in 2000, the government finally ordered the production of more Purple Heart medals, but only to re-stock what was then known as the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.
On May 2 and 4, 1972, two SR-71 Blackbirds overflew Hanoi, North Vietnam at noon. The first plane broke the sound barrier, causing an ear-splitting sonic boom over the city. Fifteen seconds later, the other Blackbird did the same thing.
Prisoners at Hoa Lo developed a code-tapping language to communicate with each other. Capt. James Stockdale, who was the senior ranking officer at the prison, taught many incoming POWs this code. It kept the men sane and their spirits up.
Communicating with Washington was trickier. Three months into his captivity, Stockdale was allowed to write to his wife, Sybil. Two months later, he was allowed to write again. When she received the letters, she found them confusing. Nicknames and references to their mutual friends were wrong.
Sybil gave the letters to Naval Intelligence in San Diego who figured out he was using doublespeak – deliberately misleading language –to let his superiors know he was not being treated well in North Vietnam. With her cooperation, the CIA and Office of Naval Intelligence decided to use her correspondence back to her husband as a way to communicate with the prisoners.
Her first letter included a Polaroid of her with a secret message sandwiched between the sheets of photographic paper. It explained the process of using invisible ink to send messages to the CIA. He listed the other POWs with him and detailed the abuses inflicted on American prisoners there.
The new communication policy allowed the prisoners and the CIA to trade a wealth of information, so much so that the prisoners were actually able to assemble a small shortwave radio, which was eventually discovered during an inspection).
In 1969, two prisoners, Air Force Captains John Dramesi and Edwin Atterberry, escaped from the prison at Cu Loc but were recaptured the next day. Massive reprisals from their captors followed, and thus the prisoners’ leadership determined the retribution was too much and escape attempts should only be made with a “high likelihood of success and assurance of outside assistance.” That’s when they came up with the Red River plan.
Members of the escaping POW group sent their plan to the U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird approved the plan in January 1972. By May, everything was in place. The sonic booms were a go.
Despite a few setbacks, members of SEAL Team One and Underwater Demolition Team Eleven used SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDV – mini-submarines) and HH-3A helicopters to patrol the coastline throughout May and June looking for escaped POWs. They never found any.
As the senior ranking officer, Stockdale forbid any escape attempts. He judged the plan too risky and the threat of reprisals too harsh. (Prisoners were often killed during these reprisals). The would-be escapees were frustrated by the policy, but they obeyed.
Article III of the Code of Conduct for prisoners does say American POWs should make every effort to escape captivity. Article IV, however, prohibits any action that would cause harm to other captured personnel. So Thunderhead was terminated.
The POWs would communicate with Washington throughout the war. Eventually, another radio was smuggled in, which gave POWs a direct line from the camp to the U.S. Seventh Fleet commanders aboard ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.
In January 1973, 591 POWs were repatriated back to the United States. For his leadership among the prisoners and work to galvanize the resistance to their captors, Stockdale received the Medal of Honor from President Gerald Ford.
U.S. fighters scrambled Friday against Syrian aircraft that dropped bombs near American special operations forces on the ground in the northeast in an incident that was the closest the U.S. has come to combat in the wartorn country.
Syrian air force Su-24s made by Russia departed the areas over the contested city of Hasakah before the U.S. warplanes arrived but Pentagon officials made clear that the Syrians would risk attack if they returned.
U.S. and coalition troops were on the ground near the bombing in their train, advise and assist role, according to Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
“The Syrian regime would be well advised not to do things that would place them at risk,” he said. “We do have the right of self-defense.”
No U.S. or coalition troops were injured in the bombings, which were close enough to pose a threat, he said.
Davis said he could not confirm that the incident in the skies over Hasakah was the closest the U.S. has come to combat in Syria but added that “I’d be hard-pressed to think of another situation like it.”
President Barack Obama has barred combat for U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Syria but the ban stops at self-defense.
Davis said that two Syrian Su-24s conducted bombing runs over Hasakah, where there have been clashes in recent days between Syrian regime forces and Kurdish militias backed by the U.S.
American officials immediately contacted the Russians through communications channels set up by the two militaries under a memorandum of understanding, Davis said. “The Russians said it was not them,” he said.
The U.S. then scrambled fighters but Davis said the action was not an “intercept” since the Syrian aircraft were leaving the scene.
“Verdun” is the game that might give your great-great-grandfathers flashbacks if they were around to see it. It’s World War I complete with the poison gas, artillery barrages, and machine guns that made the war infamous — basically, everything that could kill a doughboy except for the trench foot.
Your character can die from a single bullet, even if it’s not a headshot. It’s “Dark Souls” with wool uniforms.
But like “Dark Souls,” the constant death and challenging gameplay is part of what makes “Verdun” a lot of fun to play. You can create and join squads with your buddies and make your way through the trenches and “over the top.”
Each squad has four positions. The corporal can rally his men forward and call in artillery, mortar, or gas attacks. The rifleman is a standard infantryman who charges forward into the breach. Machine gunners can cut down waves of attackers or clear enemy trenches. Finally, grenadiers blow the enemy away with explosives.
The squads change a little depending on what nationality the group leader chooses. The American Expeditionary Force is represented by two squad options: the U.S. Marine Corps or the 82nd Infantry Division that later earned fame as the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II.
Squads from each nationality have different standard weapons with unique qualities as well. For example, you can’t reload e German rifle until you’ve discharged every round. And some weapons require that you manually open the bolt before reloading, just like they’re real-world counterparts.
The two teams, each made up of a balanced number of squads from the Central and Entente powers, fight back and forth for control of the trenches. Since everyone is so fragile and there are so many bullets flying around, players should expect to die a lot.
This creates a game that is a grueling scrimmage between two sides with dozens of players. Seriously, players will go through squads like an actual World War I general.
These long matches help players get invested in the outcome of each competition, even if they aren’t invested in their short-lived characters. And there’s a sense of accomplishment after clearing and holding a trench manned by stubborn defenders. Actually, there’s a sense of achievement that comes with staying alive through more than three enemy encounters in a row.
There’s also a growing feeling of dread when your team is pushed further and further back until you’re fighting in your reserve trench and the enemy breaks through.
The graphics aren’t exactly stunning by current standards, but they’re good enough to immerse players in the combat. And the look of spreading gas wafting through a trench or a mortar explosion throwing a player aside is good enough to make stomachs clench.
“Verdun” is currently available on Steam and is being released for Xbox 1 and Playstation 4 on August 30.
Appearing May 3 before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Shulkin told lawmakers the VA had compiled a list of 1,165 vacant or underused buildings that could be closed, saving the federal government $25 million annually.
Shulkin didn’t specify which facilities would close and local VA officials didn’t return messages seeking comment that afternoon.
Shulkin, a deputy holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration whom Congress then unanimously approved to run the VA earlier this year, said Congress needs to determine how the facilities would be closed. He suggested the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure — or BRAC — process might be a good model.
But Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R- Nebraska, urged him to never “use the term BRAC because it brings up a lot of bad memories” and sets up the VA “for a lot of controversy.”
President Donald Trump seeks $78.9 billion in discretionary funding for the VA, a 6 percent increase from the 2017 fiscal year level. Trump’s budget plan requests $3.5 billion to expand the Veterans Choice Program, which enables veterans to receive certain kinds of treatment outside of the VA system.
If enacted, Trump’s proposal also would add $4.6 billion in funding to spur better patient access and greater timeliness of medical services for the agency’s more than 9 million patients.
Shulkin said the VA authorized 3.6 million patient visits at private-sector health-care facilities between Feb. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 — a 23 percent boost compared to the previous year.
With more than 370,000 employees, the VA has the second-largest workforce in the federal government. Shulkin said it must become more efficient at delivering services to veterans. Some of the most entrenched problems are in the appeals process for veterans who have lodged disability claims following their military service.
Currently, the VA has nearly 470,000 such cases pending appeal. For cases awaiting action by the Board of Veterans Appeals, the typical wait time is six years for a decision. The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that hosted Shulkin on May 3, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, termed the appellate system an “absolute mess.”
Shulkin conceded that it “undoubtedly needs further improvements” and urged Congress to legislate reforms and streamline the process into a “modernized” system. The longer Capitol Hill waits to fix the process, he said, “the more appeals will enter the current broken system.”
Ongoing U.S.-China tensions in the South China Sea regarding Chinese artificial island-building are leading many at the Pentagon to sharpen their focus upon the rapid pace of Chinese Naval modernization and expansion.
While Chinese naval technology may still be substantially behind current U.S. platforms, the equation could change dramatically over the next several decades because the Chinese are reportedly working on a handful of high-tech next-generation ships, weapons and naval systems.
China has plans to grow its navy to 351 ships by 2020 as the Chinese continue to develop their military’s ability to strike global targets, according to a recent Congressional report.
The 2014 U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission recommended to Congress that the U.S. Navy respond by building more ships and increase its presence in the Pacific region – a strategy the U.S. military has already started.
Opponents of this strategy point out that the U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers, the Chinese have one and China’s one carrier still lacks an aircraft wing capable of operating off of a carrier deck. However, several recent reports have cited satellite photos showing that China is now building its own indigenous aircraft carriers. Ultimately, the Chinese plan to acquire four aircraft carriers, the reports say.
The commission cites platforms and weapons systems the Chinese are developing, which change the strategic calculus regarding how U.S. carriers and surface ships might need to operate in the region.
These include the LUYANG III, a new class of Chinese destroyer slated to enter the fleet this year. These ships are being engineered with vertically-launched, long-range anti-ship cruise missiles, the commission said. The new destroyer will carry an extended-range variant of the HHQ-9 surface-to-air missile, among other weapons, the report says.
Furthermore, the Chinese may already be beginning construction on several of their own indigenous aircraft carriers. China currently has one carrier, the Ukranian-built Liaoning. It is not expected to have an operational carrier air wing until sometime this year, according to the report.
The Chinese are currently testing and developing a new, carrier-based fighter aircraft called the J-15.
Regarding amphibious assault ships, the Chinese are planning to add several more YUZHAO LPDs, amphibs which can carry 800 troops, four helicopters and up to 20 armored vehicles, the report said.
The Chinese are also working on development of a new Type 055 cruiser equipped with land-attack missiles, lasers and rail-gun weapons, according to the review.
China’s surface fleet is also bolstered by production of at least 60 smaller, fast-moving HOBEI-glass guided missile patrol boats and ongoing deliveries of JIANGDAO light frigates armed with naval guns, torpedoes and anti-ship cruise missiles.
The commission also says Chinese modernization plans call for a sharp increase in attack submarines and nuclear-armed submarines or SSBNs. Chinese SSBNs are now able to patrol with nuclear-armed JL-2 missiles able to strike targets more than 4,500 nautical miles.
The Chinese are currently working on a new, modernized SSBN platform as well as a long-range missile, the JL-3, the commission says.
While the commission says the exact amount of Chinese military spending is difficult to identify, China’s projected defense spending for 2014 is cited at $131 billion, approximately 12.2 percent greater than 2013. This figure is about one sixth of what the U.S. spends annually.
The Chinese defense budget has increased by double digits since 1989, the commission states, resulting in annual defense spending doubling since 2008, according to the report.
Some members of Congress, including the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., are advocating for both a larger U.S. Navy and a stronger U.S. posture toward China’s behavior in the region.