The A-10 Warthog is the only aircraft built for a close air support (CAS) mission. It was literally designed around its distinctive 30mm gatling gun. The gun is more than 19 feet long and weighs more than 4,000 pounds. The distinctive sound made by the weapon (aka the BRRRRRRRRRT – created as rounds fire faster than the speed of sound), is music to the ears of the troops on the ground, so much so, the plane sometimes called “the grunt in the air.” A-10 pilots often find themselves providing support at Danger Close distances.
“They love this airplane,” says one Air Force A-10 pilot, referring to units on the ground. “They trust us. For them to trust to do that is very gratifying.”
Recently, the John Q. Public blog, run by retired Air Force officer Tony Carr, came across a video he suspects was produced by the Air Force’s Combat Camera units, lauding the A-10, its crews, its pilots, and the capabilities of its support for ground troops.
“ComCam is perhaps alone in its possession of the unique combination of access and capability to create something this close to the mission with such superior production values,” Carr writes. “A ComCam airman risked mortal danger to make this film and tell this story, getting immersed in a firefight along the way (you’ll see him drop his camera and hear him discharge his weapon in the video).”
Combining ground combat footage with access to the aircrews who run and fly the Warthogs, Carr believes the video has “unmistakeable importance,” but wonders if the video is being suppressed by senior Air Force leaders for political reasons.
The controversy stems from the Air Force’s repeated attempts to retire this relatively young fleet of aircraft. The A-10 first appeared in the Air Force arsenal in 1972 and was used with great effect in Operation Desert Storm. Comparatively, the Air Force’s B-52 fleet was first introduced in 1955 and is still in service.
“It’s not a political statement,” says a pilot in the theater. “I’m not saying air interdiction isn’t important … but the benefits [of close air support] are right there.”
The Air Force aims to replace the A-10 with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a trillion-dollar weapons system that is the most expensive in history, which is extremely over-budget and experiencing an uncanny number of development setbacks. While retiring the A-10 would save many billions of dollars annually, that money would likely go to further developing the F-35. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III says the F-35 is designed “for the whole battle space” and would replace the A-10’s CAS capabilities.
“When you’re talking to a 19-year-old man with a rifle, who’s scared on the other end of a radio,” another Air Force A-10 pilot says in the video. “You know he doesn’t care about fiscal constraints, ‘big picture’ Air Force policy, the next fancy weapons system coming down the pipeline. He cares about being saved right then and there.”
The heartfelt, informative A-10 video is below, and is worth a watch for anyone with an interest in the importance of close air support.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
U.S. Air National Guard Senior Airman Jeremy Johnson, 138th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Tulsa, OK, performs routine maintenance on an F-16’s critical components, Oct. 27, 2016.
A New York Air National Guard HC-130 Combat King II assigned to the 102nd Rescue Squadron lands on a dirt landing strip at Fort Polk, La., during Southern Strike 17, Oct. 27, 2016. SSTK 17 is a total force, multi-service training exercise hosted by the Mississippi Air National Guard’s Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., from Oct. 24 through Nov. 4, 2016. The exercise emphasizes air-to-air, air-to-ground and special operations forces training opportunities. These events are integrated into demanding hostile and asymmetric scenarios with actions from specialized ground forces and combat and mobility air forces.
Soldiers from 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade’s armament team, load ammunition and fuel at the forward rearming and refueling point before AH-64D Apaches conduct an aerial gunnery exercise, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., Oct. 26.
U.S. Army Paratroopers Spc. Jordan Myer (Left) and Pfc. Justin Gilbert (Right) assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, firing rounds for training during exercise Silver Arrow Oct. 27, 2016, in Adazi, Latvia. The U.S. Army is participating in exercise Silver Arrow. Silver Arrow is a two-week long Latvian led exercise, which joins foreign Armed Forces units, in order to develop relationships and leverage Allied and partner nation capabilities preserving peace through strength. The exercise is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a U.S. lead effort being conducted in Eastern Europe to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the collective security of NATO and dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region.
Petty Officer 3rd Class (AW) India Campbell fires a .50-caliber machine gun during a live-fire exercise on the fantail of the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). The live-fire exercise provided Weapons Department and Security Department personnel with small-arms proficiency training for the .50-caliber and M240B machine guns. Ronald Reagan, the Carrier Strike Group Five flagship, is on patrol supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, Platoon 503, embarked aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), descend a rope from an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, assigned to the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, onto the flight deck of the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) during a fast-rope and helicopter, visit, board, search and seizure (HVBSS) exercise. Barry is on patrol with Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) in the Philippine Sea supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Marines assigned to Bravo Battery,”Black Sheep,” 1st Battalion 12th Marine Regiment, dig holes to support the recoil of an M777A2 Howitzer during a direct fire training exercise, part of Lava Viper 17.1, at Range 13 aboard the Pohakuloa Training Area, on the big Island of Hawaii, Oct. 16, 2016. Lava Viper is an annual combined arms training exercise that integrates ground elements such as infantry and logistics, with indirect fire from artillery units as well as air support from the aviation element.
Three MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, fly west above the Pacific Ocean during scheduled flight operations after departing USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), Sept. 26, 2016. VMM-262 is the Aviation Combat Element for the 31st MEU, and features a variety of fixed-wing, rotary-wing, and tiltrotor aircraft.
Coast Guard Cutter Ocracoke sits at the pier at Naval Station Newport as the sun sets on Oct. 25, 2016, during the Coast Guard 1st District Cutter Roundup held in Newport, Rhode Island. The Ocracoke is an 87-foot patrol boat based in South Portland, Maine.
Coast Guard cuttermen from units across the First District train in The Damage Control Wet Trainer “Buttercup” in Newport, Rhode Island, Monday. Oct. 24, 2016. The junior enlisted crewmembers were together in Newport for a Cutter Roundup, a week-long event to unite, train, and prepare the First District’s cutter fleet.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A U.S. Air Force F-16 “Thunderbird” sits on the flight line during sunrise at the 177th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard Base in Atlantic City, N.J., Aug. 23, 2017. The Thunderbirds, an Aerial Demonstration Squadron, performed at the Atlantic City Air Show, Thunder over the Boardwalk, in Atlantic City, N.J., Aug. 22-23, 2017.
The propellers of a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft spin in the center of Hurricane Harvey during a flight into the storm Aug. 24, 2017 out of Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and Italian Army Paratroopers Folgore Brigade, descend onto Juliet Drop Zone in Pordenone, Italy, August 23, 2017. The combined exercise demonstrates the multinational capacity building of the airborne community and the airborne allied nations collectively. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projecting ready forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Commands’ areas of responsibility within 18 hours.
Soldiers selected by 1st Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, as Soldiers of the month while deployed with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti, were offered the opportunity to participate in a limited AT4 live-fire exercise at a range along the southern coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura, Aug. 22, 2017. The AT4 is a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon which is disposable after just one use, making it a special opportunity to fire one.
USS Constitution fires off a 40 mm 200 gram round from one of her saluting batteries. Constitution fires one round from her saluting battery twice a day to signify morning and evening colors.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians, assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Five (EODMU 5), dive in Apra Harbor, Guam, Aug. 20, 2017. EODMU-5 conducts mine countermeasures, improvised explosive device operations, renders safe explosive hazards, and disarms underwater explosives such as mines.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Matthew Flanagan, a cannoneer, attached with 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, Kilo Battery, Gun 3, fires the M777A2 Howitzer at Yausubetsu Training Area, Japan, August 23, 2017. The purpose of the Northern Viper training exercise is to maintain interoperability and combat readiness within the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Lance Cpl. André T. Peterson
Marines with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) rappel from a Bell UH-1 Iroquois on Camp Pendleton, Calif., August 24, 2017. 1st ANGLICO is conducting training to prepare Marines for future deployments.
An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew medevac a man experiencing symptoms of heart failure approximately 60 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana, August 24, 2017. The helicopter crew arrived on scene at approximately 11:30 a.m., hoisted the man and transported him to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero in stable condition.
Three people were rescued by a boatcrew from Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook near Highlands, New Jersey, on August 19, 2017. Their nine-foot John boat capsized sending them into the water.
This is Warrior Wednesday — a new, ongoing series where we’ll highlight military members who performed heroically in combat but are relatively unknown in the broader community. Put simply, these are stories of bravery that need to be told.
During the initial invasion of Iraq on March 25, 2003, then-1st Lt. Brian Chontosh responded to an enemy ambush on his convoy in a way most would expect to see only in a Hollywood action movie. After being attacked by Iraqi forces with mortars, automatic weapons, and rocket-propelled grenades — and caught in the kill zone — Chontosh directed his driver to go straight toward the enemy position as his .50 cal gunner fired.
But wait, there’s more. From his citation for the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award:
He then directed his driver into the enemy trench, where he exited his vehicle and began to clear the trench with an M16A2 service rile and 9 millimeter pistol. His ammunition depleted, First Lieutenant Chontosh, with complete disregard for his safety, twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack. When a Marine following him found an enemy rocket propelled grenade launcher, First Lieutenant Chontosh used it to destroy yet another group of enemy soldiers.
“I was just doing my job, I did the same thing every other Marine would have done, it was just a passion and love for my Marines, the experience put a lot into perspective,” Chontosh told Marine Corps News at his award ceremony.
When it was all over, Chontosh had cleared 200 meters of the enemy trench, killed more than 20 enemy soldiers, and wounded several others. Still, he didn’t want to take all the credit — instead commending the Marines with him that day for saving his life.
“They saved my life, multiple times that day, during the ambush,” Chontosh told Stripes. “That’s all them. If it wasn’t for them, I would be the lieutenant who would be reported as … a case of what not to do.”
Do you know someone we should highlight for the next Warrior Wednesday? Email us info [at] wearethemighty.com with their name, rank, award received, and any other information you think is relevant.
The Navy won’t file criminal charges stemming from the drowning death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace in SEAL training.
The San Diego County medical examiner had ruled the 21-year-old sailor’s May 6, 2016, death in a swim tank in Coronado a homicide, saying in a July 2016 autopsy report that the “actions, or inactions, of the instructors and other individuals involved were excessive and directly contributed to the death.”
Navy Cdr. Liam Hulin, director of the Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command, reviewed the findings of a Naval Criminal Investigative Services probe and determined that Lovelace’s drowning “was not the result of a crime and will not pursue criminal charges against any personnel in connection with the death,” according to a statement issued on April 10 to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Lovelace family,” said Hulin in the statement. “No loss of life in training is an acceptable loss.”
A safety review into the incident that had been put on pause by the criminal investigation will now begin, according to the Navy.
The 21-year-old Lovelace died during Combat Swimmer Orientation, a test that takes place in the first week of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training to assess a SEAL candidate’s swimming abilities.
Students tread water and perform what the Navy says are survival skills that include removing a swim mask, uniform, and their boots.
The county medical examiner’s autopsy report revealed that a SEAL instructor repeatedly dunked Lovelace and that the student’s drowning was exacerbated by a heart condition.
“To honor those who have fallen in combat we must provide the most realistic and operationally relevant training possible. To honor those who have fallen in training we must effectively mitigate the risks of that training,” said Capt. Jay Hennessey, Commander, Naval Special Warfare Training Center.
“[Naval Special Warfare] training has been refined over more than 50 years, informed throughout by lessons learned in combat overseas as well as in training at home. We learn not only from our successes, but also from operational and training failures, mistakes and accidents. While these tragic occasions are infrequent, they greatly impact our small close-knit force and magnify the responsibility we feel to our teammates who have paid the ultimate price.”
U.S. Navy SEALs splash into the water from a combat rubber raiding craft attached to an 11-meter rigid hull inflatble boat, during a capabilities exercise, at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek – Fort Story. (U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Gary L. Johnson III.)
The medical examiner’s probe indicated that Lovelace suffered from an anomalous coronary artery, which might have contributed to sudden cardiac death during the intensive training exercise. Although Lovelace appeared conscious when pulled out of the pool, witnesses said his [skin] had turned purple, his lips blue.
Navy officials have long contended that the medical examiner’s homicide ruling meant only that Lovelace died “at the hands of another” and did not necessarily suggest a crime had been committed.
Lovelace was from Crestview, Florida. Navy officials briefed his father in Florida on April 8.
“We have maintained contact with the Lovelace family,” said Naval Special Warfare spokesman Capt. Jason Salata. “Our primary point of contact, is Seaman Lovelace’s father. He is designated as his official next of kin, as a courtesy the Navy has also reached out to Seaman Lovelace’s siblings and offered counseling and other services. As part of the prosecutorial review of this case, the father’s input was carefully considered.”
In an email to the Union-Tribune, Salata said that the criminal probe followed Pentagon protocols standard to any death that occurs in training. Led by the Navy Region Southwest’s chief trial counsel, a team of prosecutors with no ties to the SEALs reviewed the probe’s findings before they were forwarded to Naval Special Warfare’s commanders.
When asked by the Union-Tribune if any SEAL instructors would receive letters of reprimand or counseling statements for their role in the incident, Salata wrote that no other action “is being taken on anyone in connection with the case.”
Students in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL class 279 participate in a surf passage exercise during the first phase of training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Surf passage is one of many physically strenuous exercises that BUD/S class 279 will take part in during the seven weeks of first phase. (U.S. Navy photo by Kyle Gahlau)
Salata said that the Navy intends to make the probe’s findings public once criminal investigators close their case.
Lovelace was only in the first week of a student’s six-month odyssey to become a SEAL. A notoriously difficult course, only about a quarter of the candidates make it through without dropping out.
In the wake of his drowning, Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command paused the program to review and reinforce protocols for pre-training briefs, emergency action, and all in-water instruction procedures, Navy officials told the Union-Tribune.
The Navy added instruction on the signs and symptoms of water training injures and lifesaving procedures.
Today, two additional safety observers are in the water with the class, plus two safety swimmers at the water’s edge to remove struggling students quickly. The instructor-student ratio now is one to seven; it was one to 10.
In 2016, 75 students could be in the water at one time. Now, no more than 49 can enter the pool.
He was at least the fifth SEAL student to die during training over the past three decades.
In 1988, John Joseph Tomlinson, 22, from Altoona, Pa., died of hypothermia near the end of a 5 1/2 -mile ocean swim off Coronado in the 17th week of the 25-week course.
Ten years later, Gordon Racine Jr., 25, of Houston died during a pool exercise in his first month of training.
In 2001, Lt. John Anthony Skop Jr., 29, of Buffalo, N.Y., died during a “Hell Week” swim.
Three years later, Boatswain Mate 1st Class Rob Vetter, 30, died at a Coronado hospital days after he collapsed during a conditioning run in the second week of the program.
China and Japan have a long and violent history between each other that’s resulted in a deep-seated mistrust, and in recent years two of the Western Pacific’s greatest powers have been preparing for what would likely be the flashpoint of World War III if it got out of hand.
China and Japan are in a battle of wills over the China Sea that could become a real battle as they build up their militaries, as Defense One wrote in September. But, what would a knock-down fight between Japan and China look like?
China currently has a much larger and stronger military than Japan. It has an active military of over 2.3 million people and a drilling reserve of another 2.3 million. All those troops are equipped with approximately 3,000 aircraft, 14,000 armored vehicles and tanks, and 714 ships.
The Chinese military has also been increasing its military presence in the most likely area that the two countries would fight, the South China Sea. That area of the Pacific is crucial to Japanese trade. Since Japan is an island nation, China could cut off most commercial trade with Japan and force shortages of food and materiel in the country.
But, Japan is no slouch. It could quickly muster over 300,000 fighters to defend the Japanese islands against attack. And it has over 3,500 armored vehicles and tanks with 1,590 aircraft and 131 ships backing them up. While these numbers pale in comparison to China, they’re still large enough to mount a strong defense of Japan’s homeland.
Unfortunately, Japan’s forces likely aren’t big enough to maintain open sea lanes and trade routes if China tried to blockade them. But Japan fields a relatively small military because it has an ace up its sleeve: a mutual defense agreement with the U.S.
America acts as a guarantor of Japanese forces, meaning that a protracted war would likely lead the U.S. to join the fight. America boasts the world’s most capable military and it is skilled at expeditionary warfare, projecting power across vast seas to far away areas.
If a war broke out in the South China Sea, that expeditionary strength would be vital. The American Marine Corps and Navy would send Marine Expeditionary Units to flash points and strategic priorities. Each MEU contains thousands of Marines — ready to fight tooth and nail — plus the logistics necessary to support them and the armored and air assets needed to protect them.
The Navy would likely dispatch a carrier group to provide additional air support, giving the Marines their capabilities such as increased electromagnetic warfare assets, better surveillance, and a lot more bombs and fighters.
Meanwhile, the Army maintains a 4,000-soldier airborne brigade combat team in Alaska which is capable of airdropping their forces onto strategic islands to reinforce Marines or to establish blocking positions and defenses ahead of predicted Chinese advances.
If called upon, the paratroopers are also prepared for joint, forcible entries. These are operations where the Army and Air Force work together to seize an enemy-held airfield, kill and capture all of its defenders, and then begin using the airstrip for American operations.
But China has the defenses in place to make an American intervention costly. First, it has militarized man-made islands in the South China Sea and built mutually supporting bases on them, significantly increasing the costs in blood and ships to an attacker if China has to defend them.
There is some optimism that the war will never take place. While a recent Pew Research Center poll shows that China and Japan still deeply distrust one another, the countries still maintain an extensive trade relationship. Plus, each side is capable enough to make a war too bloody and expensive for the other side to benefit.
“What we’ve found so far is it revolutionizes the way we fight,” Love told Military.com. “It used to be a squad would be dispersed out over maybe 100 yards, so the squad leader couldn’t really communicate with the members at the far end because of all the noise of the weapons. Now they can actually just communicate, and be able to command and control and effectively direct those fires.”
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the division’s gunner, or infantry weapons officer, said the Lima companies in two other battalions — 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, and 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines — now had silencers, or suppressors, on all their rifles, including the M27 infantry automatic rifles. All units are set to deploy in coming months. The combat engineer platoons that are attached to these units and will deploy with them will also carry suppressed weapons, he said.
Suppressors work by slowing the escape of propellant gases when a gun is fired, which drastically reduces the sound signature. Used by scout snipers and special operations troops to preserve their stealth, the devices are also valuable for their ability to minimize the chaos of battle, enabling not only better communication but also improved situational awareness and accuracy.
“It increases their ability to command and control, to coordinate with each other,” Wade told Military.com. “They shoot better, because they can focus more, and they get more discipline with their fire.”
The noise of gunfire can create an artificial stimulus that gives the illusion of effectiveness, he said. When it’s taken away, he explained, Marines pay more attention to their shooting and its effect on target.
“They’ve got to get up and look, see what effect they’re having on the enemy because you can’t hear it,” he said.
He added that suppressors were already in common use by near-peer militaries, including those of Russia and China.
Wade said he is working on putting suppressors on the Marines’ M249 light machine gun and M240G medium machine gun, using equipment from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. The third and final objective will be the suppression of the .50 caliber heavy machine gun, he said.
As the units conduct training and exercises with suppressors, 2nd Marine Division is collaborating with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to collect and aggregate data. Weapons with suppressors require additional maintenance and cleaning to prevent fouling, and the cost, nearly $700,000 to outfit an infantry battalion, might give planners pause.
But Wade said he will continue to gather data for the next year-and-a-half, following the units as they deploy. And he expects the idea to have gained significant traction among Marine Corps leadership by then, he said.
“When I show how much overmatch we gain … it will have sold itself,” he said.
The Air Force has deployed the B-52 heavy bombers originally designed to carry nuclear weapons into the heart of the Soviet Union have begun using precision weapons against ISIS terrorists.
The planes are operating out of Qatar and began their mission by taking out an ISIS weapons storage facility in northwestern Iraq. The bombing missions will help Iraqi Security Forces and Peshmerga fighters push back ISIS forces.
Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, announced the deployment of the B-52s to Iraq and Syria during the Air Warfare Symposium 2016, said CNN.
The Air Force has been hard pressed to keep up the constant strikes against ground targets in ISIS’s so-called caliphate. The heavy bomber mission was being conducted by B-1s, but the “Bones,” as they’re popularly called, were pulled from the mission and returned to the U.S. for maintenance and upgrades. B-1s from the 28th Bomb Wing out of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota flew 490 sorties in six months last year and dropped 3,800 munitions on 3,700 targets, according to CNN.
The B-52s there now are not as technologically advanced or sleek as the B-1s they’re replacing. The youngest B-52 in the inventory rolled off the line in 1962, but they’ve been upgraded numerous times in the last few decades. These upgrades have taken the B-52 from the nuclear deterrence role through carpet bombing in Vietnam to precision strike. Currently, the Air Force is planning to fly them until at least 2040.
Modern B-52s carry the same Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods used by many F-16s, A-10s, B-1s, and other precision aircraft. The Sniper Pod was first deployed to combat in 2005 and allows pilots to accurately detect and engage targets from long ranges.
The B-52 can carry up to 70,000 pounds of munitions including precision bombs, missiles, mines, and cruise missiles.
Nestled inside infantry units moving against the enemy is often a single artilleryman who is arguably one of the most lethal fighters on the battlefield — the forward observer.
These soldiers, usually assigned to a Forward Support Team (the FiST), are known as “FiSTers” and are the eyes and ears for naval artillery and artillery gun lines across the world.
The fisters carry inside their helmets knowledge of every gun capable of reaching their areas of operation, including how fast the weapon can fire, what kinds of rounds it has at its disposal, and what effects those rounds have on targets.
They use this knowledge to support the infantry and other maneuver units. When the friendly element finds and engages the enemy, the fister gets to work figuring out how to best bring artillery to bear.
Often, this involves getting the machine gunners and riflemen to corral the enemy into a tight box that can easily be hit with airburst artillery, causing shrapnel to rain down on the enemy dismounts.
If enemy armored vehicles are rolling towards the line, the forward observers can call down specific rounds for penetrating a tank’s top turret armor or for creating a smoke screen to block friendly vehicles from view.
Many observers go through training to learn how to best use weapons deployed from helicopters, jets, and other aerial platforms. This allows them to start targeting enemies with hellfire missiles and the 30mm cannons of A-10s and AH-64s.
Marine observers and Army observers trained in joint fires can call for help from naval ships. While the Navy has decommissioned its massive battleships, there are still plenty of cruisers and destroyers packing missiles and 5-inch guns that are pretty useful for troops ashore.
It’s the forward observers that get those missiles and shells on target.
Forward observers direct the fires of all the big guns that can’t see their targets. And that’s what makes them so lethal.
Duke Robotics, a Florida-based defense contractor, developed the TIKAD sniper drone, and recently sold some to the Israeli military.
They’re also pitching it to the Pentagon.
The drone is capable of being fitted with a sniper rifle, grenade launcher, a machine gun, or a variety of other weapons, Defense One and Popular Mechanics reported.
It was used successfully by the Israelis but it only stayed airborne for about five minutes due to weight problems, Defense One reported. The TIKAD drone, however, has overcome previous weight and recoil issues.
The co-founder of Duke Robotics, Israeli military veteran Lt. Col. Raziel “Razi” Atuar, said the drone — which is flown and shot by an operator at a distance — will save civilian and soldier lives because it is more precise, as opposed to Reaper, Predator or Switchblade drones that fire missiles.
“You have small groups [of adversaries] working within crowded civilian areas using civilians as shields. But you have to go in. Even to just get a couple of guys with a mortar, you have to send in a battalion and you lose guys. People get hurt. The operational challenge, it bothered us,” Atuar told Defense One.
“Big military drones traditionally have to fly thousands of feet overhead to get to targets, but these smaller drones could easily fly down the street to apply violent force,” University of Sheffield Professor Noel Sharkey told the BBC.
“This is my biggest worry since there have been many legal cases of human-rights violations using the large fixed-wing drones, and these could potentially result in many more,” Sharkey said.
Mary Wareham, of Human Rights Watch, also voiced similar concerns.
Sharkey also told the BBC that he worries about the TIKAD drone, which private citizens can purchase from Duke Robotics, being copied by terrorist groups like ISIS.
“It won’t be long before everyone has copies,” Sharkey told Popular Mechanics. “Some of these will be a lot less stable and less precise. We have already seen ISIS employ small commercial drones for strikes with explosives.”
ISIS has been known to use drones for surveillance, guidance and even for dropping bombs.
In the 1950s and 60s the U.S. Air Force tested flying rockets and ramjets powered by nuclear reactors.
If it weren’t for breakthroughs in chemical propulsion that occurred at about the same time, the nuclear missiles based throughout the U.S. and Europe could well be nuclear warheads sitting atop nuclear reactors.
At its most basic level, rockets and ramjets work by superheating air and propelling it out the back of the engine. Conventional rockets and ramjets use chemical combustion to heat the air. The nuclear engines were designed to superheat the air using a heat exchanger hooked to a nuclear reactor.
The research into the rocket engines was dubbed “Project Rover,” and the ramjet research was dubbed “Project Pluto.”
Project Rover’s initial successes allowed NASA engineers to briefly consider nuclear power for the first manned missions to the Moon, but the vibration problems were not worked out in time. Rover’s engine then got the nod for a possible mission to Mars, but the mission was canceled. Without any immediate mission requirements, Rover was declared a technical success and shut down.
The nuclear rocket engine idea has been revived a few times since then, mostly when engineers start to seriously strategize manned missions to Mars. It was also briefly revived as a method of getting the Strategic Defense Initiative ballistic missile shield into orbit.
Project Pluto was even more successful from a technical standpoint. Each ramjet test reactor achieved every one of its major goals, and a number of the tests were declared flawless.
Like the Rover, all the tests were conducted on the ground. Also like Project Rover, Pluto was shut down in favor of chemical propulsion. America had found a way to strike the Soviet Union from across the world without having to fly nuclear reactors over their own land and troops.
Both concepts and their accompanying research are mothballed, waiting for a mission to potentially revive them.
After polling members of the U.S. Air Force community, the service announced the name of the upcoming B-21 would be Raider on Sept. 19. Unlike the stealth bomber’s crowd sourced moniker, most of the flying branch’s planes get their official nicknames through a much less public process. In usual circumstances, some aircraft even get more than one.
On March 9, 2012, the Air Force announced Commando II as the formal name for the specialized MC-130J transport. For five months, crews had called the plane the Combat Shadow II.
“This is one of the first name changes we approved,” Keven Corbeil, a Pentagon official working at Air Force Materiel Command told Air Force reporters afterwards: “I think ‘Commando’ had historical [significance].”
The Air Force leads the shared office within Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base that approves all official aircraft and missile designations and their nicknames. According to records that We Are The Mighty obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the Air Force’s top commando headquarters felt both Combat Shadow II and Commando II had important significance. These were not the only names in the running either.
Starting in 1997, the flying branch had explored various options for replacing the MC-130E Combat Talon and MC-130P Combat Shadow. Both aircraft first entered service during the Vietnam War.
With the Combat Talons, aerial commandos could sneak elite troops and supplies deep behind enemy lines. The Air Force Special Operations Command primarily used flew the Combat Shadows to refuel specialized helicopters, though they could also schlep passengers and cargo into “denied areas.”
The Air Force’s new plane would take over both roles. For a time, the flying branch considered a plan to simply rebuild the older MC-130s into the upgraded versions.
More than a decade after the first studies for a replacement aircraft, the service hired Lockheed Martin to build all new MC-130s based on the latest C-130J aircraft. Compared to earlier C-130s, the J models had more powerful engines driving distinctive six-bladed propellers, upgraded flight computers and other electronics and additional improvements.
A basic C-130H transport has a top speed of just more than 360 miles per hour and can carry 35,000 pounds of equipment to destinations nearly 1,500 miles away. The regular cargo-hauling J variant can lug the same amount of gear more than 300 miles further with a maximum speed of more than 415 miles per hour.
So, on Oct 5, 2009, the Maryland-headquartered plane-maker started building the first of these MC-130Js. By the end of the month, the Air Force was already debating the plane’s name.
Four months earlier, Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, then head of Air Force Special Operations Command offered up three possible nicknames: Combat Shadow II, Commando II and Combat Knife.
“The MC-130J mission will be identical to the Combat Shadow mission,” the top commando headquarters explained in an email. “The MC -130E already has its namesake preserved in the MC -130H, Combat Talon II.”
Keeping around well-known monikers is important both to Air Force history and public relations. The nicknames are supposed to both reflect the plane’s mission and help make it catchy during congressional hearings and interviews with the media.
Combat Shadow II would easily convey to lawmakers and the public that the plane was the successor to existing MC-130s. And otherwise, there wouldn’t be another Combat Shadow anytime soon.
Dating back to World War II and when the Air Force was still part of the U.S. Army, Commando II had different historic relevance. Largely obscured from common memory by the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Curtis’ C-46 Commando was a vital contributor in the China, Burma India theater.
“The Commando was a workhorse in ‘flying The Hump’ (over the Himalaya Mountains), transporting desperately needed supplies from bases in India and Burma to troops in China,” the Air Force noted in the same message. “Only the C-46 was able to handle the adverse conditions with unpredictable weather, lack of radio aids and direction finders, engineering and maintenance nightmares due to a shortage of trained air and ground personnel and poorly equipped airfields often wiped out by monsoon rains.”
Though a Commando hadn’t flown in Air Force colors in more than four decades, the name fit with the air commando’s dangerous missions in unknown territory. In addition, the type had a storied history flying covert missions for the Central Intelligence Agency with contractors such as Air America.
The last option, Combat Knife, was a reference to the codename for the first unit to get the original MC-130E Combat Talon. In 1965, the Air Force created the element inside the 779th Troop Carrier Squadron at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.
As the unit evolved, it took over responsibility for training all Combat Talon crews. On Nov. 21, 1970, one of the group’s MC-130s flew into North Vietnam as part of the famous raid aimed at freeing American troops at the Son Tay prison camp.
As Lockheed began building the MC-130Js, Air Force Special Operations Command decided to try and have it both ways. In another memo , the top commando headquarters proposed calling the aircraft set up to replace the MC-130Ps as Combat Shadow IIs, while the planes configured to take over for the MC-130Es would become Combat Talon IIIs.
The only problem was that there weren’t really two different versions. The entire point of the new plane was to have a common aircraft for both missions.
This solution wasn’t really what Air Force Special Operations Command wanted for the newest member of its fleet. As early as March 2009, the elite fliers had argued in favor of Commando II if they had to pick a single moniker.
“If the MC-130J will ultimately take on both the Talon and Shadow missions, then perhaps ‘Commando II’ is a nice compromise,” the vice commander of Air Force Special Operations Command Wurster in a hand-written note. “I like it better regardless!”
Censors redacted the officer’s name from the message.
On Oct. 25, 2011, Wurster’s successor Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel asked Air Force Materiel Commando to change the name to Commando II. Over the course of the debate, air commandos had also put Combat Arrow into the running.
Until 1974, Combat Arrow was the nickname applied to the Air Force’s Combat Talon element based in Europe. Combat Spear was the moniker for the element flying missions in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, during the same period. However, the MC-130W – a less intensive upgrade of the MC-130H Combat Talon II – had already gotten that nickname.
With new plans to eventually replace the Combat Talon IIs with MC-130Js as well, Fiel wanted “a new popular name that embodies the broader lineage of special operations force aircraft,” according to his message. “[Commando II] best reflects the multimission role of the aircraft and the units that will fly them.”
The officials responsible for naming agreed with Fiel’s request. They no doubt appreciated his suggestion of a new, single name.
Since then, the Air Force has clearly considered the matter settled. No one is likely interested in going through another drawn-out debate to change the MC-130J’s nickname anymore.
The USO was formed on Feb. 4, 1941 as the nation prepared for the possibility that it would get dragged into another World War. Now, 75 years later, the USO serves America’s warfighters with an estimated 10 million “connections” every year in the form of entertainment tours, homecoming celebrations, care packages, and more.
Here are 7 facts about how the USO got where it is today:
1. The USO began at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
With the “War in Europe” spreading in the early 1940s, President Roosevelt knew he might soon have a massive military that would need morale assistance. He asked six private organizations — the YMCA, the YWCA, the National Catholic Community Service, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Traveler’s Aid Association, and the Salvation Army — for their help.
Rather than just draw straws or split up areas on a map, the six organizations combined into a sort of entertainment Voltron that focused on one demographic, the troops.
2. The first services were USO shows and free Coke, both of which continue today
As the Army and Navy grew in preparation for the war, the most urgent mission of the USO was giving service members the feeling and tastes of home. The USO began a partnership with Coke (that continues to this day) and started bringing in talented soldiers and entertainers to perform for crowds of troops.
3. The USO had a break in service
In 1947 the occupying forces in Europe and Asia were shrinking and the USO was granted an “honorable discharge” from service by President Harry S. Truman. The Korean War kicked off in 1950 and the USO was back in service by 1951. It wasn’t until after American forces were withdrawn from Vietnam that the USO officially dedicated itself peacetime operations as well as wartime.
4. Bob Hope performed at the first USO center in a combat zone
While the USO is now known for setting up shop in combat zones, no large USO facilities existed in contested areas during Korea or World War II. The first was in Saigon, Vietnam where Bob Hope performed a Christmas Special in 1964. He would perform a Christmas special for U.S. troops nearly every year until 1973, most of them in Vietnam.
5. The USO is headquartered in the Bob Hope Building
Bob Hope had a long and enduring relationship with the USO. He first performed with them a few months after their formation and before World War II even started. He continued to headline tours and recruit other entertainers through World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War in addition to smaller conflicts and peacetime performances.
In 1985 the USO moved into a new headquarters building that they named for the performer in recognition of his hard work and dedication to the organization.
6. Stephen Colbert’s stint in the Army was in partnership with the USO
While a lot of people remember when Stephen Colbert “enlisted” in the U.S. Army in 2009, not everyone remembers that his week-long trip to Iraq was a USO tour. Colbert filmed his show from the country for that week and allowed Gen. Ray Odierno to shave his had.
7. The longest-running USO tour is a Sesame Street experience
The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families has run since 2008. In 2014, it celebrated a milestone as it reached its 500,000 military family member. The show has been performed over 1,000 times at more than 140 military bases worldwide.
(h/t to the USO’s interactive timeline where much of the information for this article was found. Check it out to learn more about USO history and see additional photos.)