On April 8, 1942, the Japanese captured the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. The next day, the U.S. surrendered the peninsula to the Japanese, leaving the approximately 75,000 Filipino and American troops on Bataan to the mercy of their captors, who forced the brutal 65-mile trek to prison camps known as the Bataan Death March.
The Japanese Imperial Forces’ attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941 is perhaps the most infamous attack of a much larger campaign unleashed on U.S. and Allied Forces across the Pacific. The day after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched an invasion against the Philippines, capturing the capital within a month.
Over the following months, U.S. forces fought desperately to hold the islands, but by April 6, they were fighting against overwhelming odds as defensive lines were destroyed or ordered to withdraw before they could be fully occupied. Crippled by disease, starvation, and lack of supplies, the U.S. defense was deteriorating.
On the morning of April 8, the U.S. was fortifying new positions on the Alangan River in an attempt to form one last safe space from which to fight when Japanese planes began hitting the line and forced the withdrawal of the infantry and tanks on the right side of the line.
That night, the U.S. dug a final line of defense at the Lamao River only to discover that the Japanese already held ground on their flank.
Forces were redistributed to try and stem the tide, but U.S. Navy sailors were sent to destroy the remaining stockpiles of ammunition and other material before it could be captured. The siege of Bataan was essentially over — and the Japanese had won.
The next day, U.S. forces surrendered and the Japanese forced the survivors, including 12,000 Americans, on the cruel march to the prison camps in San Fernando. Thousands of prisoners died along the way at the hands of their captors, who starved, beat, and bayoneted the marchers. Thousands more would die from disease, abuse, and starvation in the prison camps.
Featured Image: This picture, captured from the Japanese, shows American prisoners using improvised litters to carry those of their comrades who, from the lack of food or water on the march from Bataan, fell along the road.” Philippines, May 1942.
With the apparently successful test of an ICBM by North Korea, questions arise about what can be done about the regime of Kim Jong Un. This is understandable. After all, he did threaten Sony over the 2014 movie “The Interview.”
Also, the whole humanitarian crisis thing.
According to an op-ed in the Washington Times, there are some high-tech options that could shut down the North Korean threat. Investigative reporter Ronald Kessler stated that the Pentagon was looking at a cruise missile that could fry electronics. He reported that the Pentagon is also exploring micro-robots capable of delivering a lethal toxin to the North Korean dictator.
The cruise missile is known as the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project, and it comes from Boeing’s Phantom Works — a lesser-known advanced aerospace projects division than the Lockheed Skunk Works. The missile uses microwaves to knock out radios and other electronic equipment. Boeing released a video about a 2012 test that you can see here.
Kessler also mentioned the use of insect-sized robots as potential weapons. While assassinations are currently prohibited by an executive order signed by President Gerald R. Ford, such a policy could be reversed by President Trump “with a stroke of the pen.” The advantage of using the micro-drones to bump off Kim Jong Un would be the fact that no American lives would be put at risk for the operation.
FoxNews.com reported that since the North Korean test, the United States tested the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense system in Alaska. The system continued a perfect record on tests when a battery stationed in Alaska took out a missile launched from Hawaii. Two launchers from a battery of six have been deployed in South Korea.
Three veterans of the war in Afghanistan are returning to the country later this month with the hopes of unifying Afghans around international competition.
While working as a civilian contractor in 2008, Jeremy Piasecki — who grew up playing water polo in Fallbrook, California — took on the nearly impossible task of establishing a men’s national water polo team in Afghanistan. It wasn’t easy, especially considering most Afghans don’t know how to swim and there are just 12 pools in the entire country.
Water polo is a physically aggressive game. Teams work to throw a ball into their opponent’s goal, while preventing their opponent from doing likewise. Piasecki first got the idea to teach locals about it while working near Kabul as a civilian about seven years ago.
While aboard a military base, he recalled seeing a swimming pool devoid of water and filled with trash. He convinced the Afghan base commander to clean it up, and began teaching Afghans how to swim and play the game.
“It was the first ever water polo team in Afghanistan,” Piasecki told The Times.
Today, the team is officially sanctioned by the Afghanistan Olympic Committee and is currently training under American coaches. They continue to train and “will take their first steps toward representing their country — one deserving of more positive athlete role models — in international competition,” according to its official website.
Afghanistan was banned from the Olympics in 1999 while under Taliban rule. It was reinstated in 2002, but has had only a few athletes make it onto the world stage since, where they have competed in sprinting and Taekwondo (Afghan Rohullah Nikpai won Bronze in 2008 and 2012).
In 2010, Piasecki met Dan Huvane and Lydia Davey while on joint duty in Stuttgart, Germany for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe, and bonded over a shared desire to help the Afghan people. Now all three are trying to bring together a new team — of Afghan women.
“I promised myself that someday we would launch a women’s team,” Piasecki said in a statement. “I’m glad to start delivering on that promise.”
Joined by American Water Polo Coach Robbie Bova, the three Marine veterans will fly to Kabul next week and hold tryouts for 125 Afghan women, select and begin training a core group of 30 promising athletes, and — if all goes to plan — establish a network of teams throughout Afghanistan while building a team that can compete internationally by 2020.
The group faces a variety of challenges. Kabul only has one pool that women can use, and the country is still very dangerous, especially for women wanting to engage in any kind of sport.
“During my deployments in Afghanistan, I have witnessed sport played out on the international stage serve as a tremendous rally point for the people of all factions and ethnicities – a desperately needed sign of hope and pride,” Dan Huvane, a U.S. Marine reserve lieutenant colonel and communications consultant who is participating in the project, said in a statement. “Alongside those stories, I have seen the women of Afghanistan defy systematic oppression and outright death threats in order to be bold pioneers.”
To fund travel for coaches, provide uniforms and equipment, and help with weekly training sessions, the team established an IndieGoGo campaign. You can check it out here.
At first glance, the Personally Procured Move (or PPM) Program (what used to be called DITY move) may seem to be more trouble than it’s worth. After all, you have to take care of your own moving arrangements and expenses, rather than letting the government do it for you. But if you do a little planning and put forth a bit of effort, doing a PPM offers several advantages over a normal military move, like these:
Money, Money, Money. In the PPM Program, you receive a government payment of 95 percent of what it would cost the government to move you. In addition, you receive the standard travel allowances for you and your family. If you end up spending less than the 95 percent payment the government provides, you get to keep the rest. This may sound difficult, but if you take advantage of moving company discounts and other special offers, you’ll find that you can make money for yourself. You should especially consider a PPM if you have a limited amount of items that need shipping or moving — you may be able to take care of all the packing and transport yourself.
Time, Time, Time. When you receive orders to move to another area, you’re authorized permissive TDY or travel time in order to take care of all your moving arrangements. If you make a PPM, you’ll receive additional time to handle your move — time that you can use to relax if you’re efficient about planning your move.
Total Control. While it’s nice to do without the headaches of planning a move, many military personnel had less-than-ideal experiences when the government took care of their moves. With the PPM program, you’re in control every step of the way, from deciding which moving services you want to how much of the actual move you want to handle yourself.
If you’re ready to take advantage of the PPM program make sure you follow each of the steps outlined below:
Step 1. Apply for the PPM move by scheduling an appointment with your base Personal Property Transportation Office (PTO).
A PTO representative will cover all factors of the program in detail, and provide you with all forms and instructions you need. Foremost among these is the DD Form 2278 (Application for Move and Counseling Checklist). Other forms you may need to fill out or provide include:
Standard Form 1038 — Advance of Funds Application and Account (for advanced operating allowance).
Certified empty weight ticket for each shipment with name, your Social Security number and signature of weight master.
Certified loaded weight ticket for each shipment with name, your Social Security number and signature of weight master.
Original DD Form 1351-2 — Travel Voucher or Subvoucher (ask your PTO representative if you have specific questions about this form)
Copy of registration for your boat(s) and/or trailer(s) if applicable.
Only after applying for and being authorized for a PPM move can you proceed with the move. If you make a partial PPM move (i.e., only shipping a certain amount of household goods), make sure you work out all the details with your PTO representative. Note that you will not receive full government payment for your PPM move until after your move.
Step 2. Decide on your type of move.
Will you be doing this all yourself? Will you have packers help? Will you have a moving company take care of the actual transport? Nail down these arrangements as soon as possible.
Step 3. Arrange for any rental equipment or moving services you need.
You can either do it all yourself, have a professional handle tasks, or some of both. Packing materials can be purchased from commercial suppliers.
Step 4. Confirm your insurance coverage.
Make sure you are up to date on your car and accident insurance. If you use a trailer, check your auto insurance policy to make sure you’re covered. State laws regarding liability for accidents during a PPM move vary, so if you’re involved in an accident while performing a PPM move, you should contact the legal office at the military installation nearest the accident site as soon as possible.
Step 5. Pick up your operating allowance from your local disbursing office.
Step 6. When your vehicle (whether you own it or are renting) is ready, calculate the total weight of what you are moving.
You should weigh your vehicle both fully loaded and unloaded. This is extremely important, as your PPM payment will be based on this weight ticket. To calculate the weight of your shipment, follow this formula:
Loaded Weight = Your vehicle with a full tank of gas + all of your property loaded + no drivers or passengers inside
Empty Weight = Your vehicle with a full tank of gas + no drivers or passengers inside
Loaded Weight – Empty Weight = Net Weight of Property
Each weight ticket should have the following information:
Name, grade, Social Security number
Name/location of scales
Date of weighing
Weigh Master’s signature
Legible of weights
Step 7. Get receipts for all moving expenses.
All costs associated with the move are not taxable, and will be deducted from the allowance you receive from the move to determine your actual financial profit. Only your profit will be taxed, so be sure to keep track of everything to maximize your profit. Authorized expenses include:
Payment for rental vehicles/trailers
Moving equipment (including hand trucks and dollies)
Gas and oil expenses
Highway tolls, weight tickets and any other transportation expense directly related to the PPM move
Step 8. Make your move, and submit your settlement.
Once you complete your actual move, you have 45 days to submit a claim for full payment of your PPM allowance. This should include the following:
Empty and loaded weight tickets (two copies of each)
Although the F-35 Lightning II regularly makes headlines for all the wrong reasons, Air Force pilots at Edwards Air Force Base in California have begun weighing in on the jet’s capabilities, and it’s good news.
US Air Force Lt. Col. Raja Chari, director of the F-35 integrated test force and commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron, said that the F-35’s automated systems free up the pilot to focus on mission planning in an interview with Defense News.
“Each plane is its own command and control platform,” said Chari, who also has experience flying a legacy platform, the F-15.
“You don’t have to do as much stick and rudder, just getting to and from, because there are so many automated modes to use on the F-35 … [It] is almost as easy as breathing.”
US Air Force Maj. Raven LeClair, also of the 461st flight test squadron, raved about another unique aspect of the Joint Strike Fighter, the “glass” or dual touch-screen display which is highly customizable by individual pilots.
“It’s the Burger King jet,” Chari said of the F-35’s versatile setups. “You can have it however you want, your way.”
Combined with the F-35’s helmet, which employs six infrared cameras positioned around the plane to allow pilots to see through the jets’ airframe, F-35 pilots have an unprecedented awareness of the entire battle space.
“In this plane it’s 360 degrees and a much larger range of stuff that you are looking at so that you are not just thinking about what your particular jets doing, but now you are looking at other elements in a national strike package,” said Chari.
“So whether that’s looking at ground targets or emitters or air targets, you are building a much bigger picture than the traditional planes.”
Chari also spoke highly of the F-35’s ability to fly at a high angle of attack, or with its nose pointed up, saying that pilots are learning to use this quality to perform close-in flight maneuvers.
Not only are pilots touting the F-35’s next-gen capacities, maintainers are big on the plane’s internal diagnostic system.
Though critics have claimed that the Joint Strike Fighter’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), a system that internally tracks and diagnoses problems with each part of each plane worldwide, could be wiped out by a single server failure, maintainers told Defense News that the claim is ludicrous.
“We’ve had that happen multiple times, and we can still use ALIS,” said RJ Vernon, supervisor of the Third Air Force about server failures affecting the F-35. In the event of a long-term server failure, the worst-case scenario would be that maintainers have to track the parts manually, which they already do with legacy fighters.
On the whole, Lockheed Martin contractors and Air Force technicians agree, the ALIS is a big help.
“It tells you everything you need to know instantly,” Vernon said. “ALIS reduces our troubleshooting drastically, it makes my job very easy.”
Air Force Staff Sgt. Cody Patters, who as worked on the A-10 and F-16s, said the F-35 was far easier to work on. His only complaint was waiting on the computer to load new tasks.
“We could teach you in 15 minutes,” Patters said of the user-friendly interface.
Additionally, the F-35 was built with maintainers in mind. The time they save working on the plane will translate to millions of dollars in savings over the life of the program.
For example, the panels of the plane allow easy access to maintainers, like the nose that comes off in a single piece. Also, the weapons bay doesn’t require cleaning, because the missiles are launched with air pressure instead of explosives that leave behind residue.
“Our jobs are drastically easier because of the way the jet takes care of itself,” concluded Patters.
The F-15 Eagle has been around in one form or another since entering service with the United States Air Force in 1973. It has an excellent combat record of over 100 air-to-air kills with very few combat losses.
But at the same time, the world’s not been standing still. Russia has developed the Su-27/Su-30/Su-33/Su-35 family of Flankers, and they are proving very deadly. China has the J-11/J-15/J-16 family of Flankers as well.
Boeing, though, hasn’t thrown in the towel. The F-15SE, or F-15 Silent Eagle, is a stealthier version of the legendary Eagle. This is accomplished by putting the many weapons that the F-15E Strike Eagle can carry into conformal bays, thus eliminating their radar signatures.
With reports that the Air Force is planning to retire the F-15C/D Eagles, the air superiority mission could now fall almost entirely on the F-22 Raptors — and with the production line stopped at 187 of those planes, the Silent Eagle could help fill the gap. In any case, the F-15SE could be an option for folks who can’t afford — or don’t want to wait for — the F-35.
Take a look at this video from FlightGlobal on the F-15SE, an Eagle that could be around for a long time.
Saudi forces who have been fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen will now have to find some alternative sources for precision-guided munitions and intelligence.
That’s because the United States is cutting back on some support for Riyadh due to high-profile strikes that have caused civilian casualties.
According to a report by CBSNews.com, the United States will continue to provide aerial refueling assets for the Saudi-led coalition, and will step up intelligence sharing on threats to the Saudi border.
American training for the Saudi-led coalition is also being adjusted to address concerns about the civilian casualties in the war, which has been raging since March 2015. Other military sales, including a sale of CH-47 Chinook helicopters, will be proceeding as well.
The decision to reduce American support for the Saudi-led coalition came about after the White House ordered a review in the wake of reports that an air strike hit a funeral hall, killing over 100 civilians. Last month, a professor at Columbia University claimed that US personnel aiding Saudi-led anti-Houthi coalition could be guilty of war crimes.
This past October, Houthi rebels were responsible for threeattacks on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) using Noor anti-ship missiles, an Iranian copy of the Chinese C-802 anti-ship missile. The destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) fired Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles at radar stations controlled by the Houthi in response to the attacks on USS Mason.
The former U.S. Navy ship HSV 2 Swift was damaged in an attack off Yemen as well, prompting the deployment of USS Nitze, USS Mason, and USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) to the waters off Yemen.
Single Barrel whiskey was first sold in 1997 and was such a success that the distillery created the ‘By The Barrel‘ program a year later.
“Over the entire span of when the program has existed, the US military is the largest purchaser. It has been represented by base exchanges, individual units, as well as other on-base military entities like Officers’ Clubs,” Arnett told Business Insider.
The buyer samples whiskey from 3 handpicked barrels along with the expert. After the tasting, a buyer selects a barrel and then later receives the empty barrel along with approximately 250 bottles.
The bottles are individually numbered and personalized with a custom metal hang tag. The top of the barrel is also engraved before it is shipped to the buyer.
And in the distillery’s Single Barrel room, the buyer gets their name engraved on a plaque.
Those who buy more than one barrel are given a medallion on their tablet.
MacDill Air Force Base’s plaque reflects the purchase of 7 barrels of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel whiskey.
A little bit about Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel
According to Arnett, Jack Daniel’s derives all of its’ color and most of the flavor from the handmade charred oak barrels.
Single Barrel whiskey sits on the highest level of the distillery’s barrelhouses where temperatures can reach up to 120-degrees Fahrenheit, the fluctuations in temperature give this whiskey the most interaction with the barrel, and therefore a darker color and more robust flavor.
The following four bottles show the impact time and temperature have on each whiskey product. The first bottle is whiskey directly from the still, next is Jack Daniel’s Green Label kept on the lowest floor of the barrel house, Old No. 7 comes from the middle floor, and Single Barrel Whiskey is kept on the top floor of the barrelhouses.
“Secretary of Defense James Mattis” is going to be hard to type after he spent so many years as “Marine Corps Gen. and Angel of Death James ‘Chaos’ Mattis,” but we’re going to have to type it because he is now, officially, in place as the Secretary of Defense.
His public affairs staff recently saw fit to share images from Mattis’s first day with the rest of a grateful nation. Here are seven of the best:
1. Mattis emerges from his vehicle for his first full day and is met by his old peer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford.
2. Mattis and Dunford enter the Pentagon. Reports of them growling “urrr” to let everyone know that the Devil Dogs had arrived have not been confirmed.
3. Mattis was met by senior leaders of the military branches on his way to his office. At least two are rumored to have sworn fealty.
4. A bunch of senior staff lined the halls and were all, “Dude, it’s real. Mattis is back, and he’s in charge this time.”
5. They followed him towards his office, possibly worried that he would disappear in a poof of smoke if they looked away.
6. Mattis spoke with his undersecretary and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Paul Selva, neither of whom were bitten during the encounter.
7. The Pentagon’s “Top 4” then met to discuss how totally sweet it will be to have Mattis in charge.
During my first week in Ranger Battalion, I joined my platoon during a live fire. I wasn’t even allowed real bullets because I was so new. For a portion of the exercise I was on a hill watching the training of another platoon. I was in earshot of an old Ranger first sergeant. The Rangers in training were assaulting a constructed plywood building and were preparing to conduct an explosive breach on the plywood door. The team leader quickly applied the charge with double sided sticky tape and stepped back into the stack, pulling both detonators. “Failed Breach, Failed Breach!” was yelled. It was obvious the detonation cord was faulty.
Before anything else happened, the team leader barreled full speed into the plywood door, obliterating it from the hinges, and providing an entry point into the building. Without any hesitation, all three members of his team followed their leader right into the breach. The training mission went on and was completed successfully. The company commander was scowling about the breach technique but the first sergeant was grinning from ear to ear and bellowed, “That’s some good ole fashioned Rangering right there!” The company commander stopped scowling.
I didn’t know much then, but I knew whatever this Rangering was, I wanted to try it and whatever a Ranger was, I wanted to be it. There’s a big difference between telling your friends, your family, or even your recruiter you want to be a Ranger, and then suddenly seeing a defining act of Rangering in front of you. It was an automatic sensation of knowing that you want to join the pack and you want to be the wolf. Rangers were never sheepdogs, they have always been wolves hunting the herd of treachery and I wanted to hunt.
We all touched down in a C-17 on a faraway land. Many of us landed in the C-17 by soaring over the mountains or screaming into the desert. Rarely did anyone go but once; in fact, many of our brothers are still going. What is special about Rangers is that on each of the thousands of deployment hours is someone who went to war months ago and is back again. A man, a team, a platoon, a battalion fully knowing the hazards of their chosen profession.
Running the gambit, sparking the fight, reliving the horror, noting the beauty, enduring the sacrifice, all this is symbolized by a simple scroll on your right sleeve that may as well be tied to your heart. There was a transformation taking place within me, within us all. Rangering made me hear the sound of valor and see the light of courage. The sound I could hear as I followed the drums of war and the light I could see in the enemy across the street.
Although this Rangering was a lifestyle, it came with the price of vanquishing what boyish innocence remained in my gaze upon the earth. I was now grown in ways that I could not possibly understand. It was magical and despicable what we were capable of. We flew across night skies, landed in fields, slinked over walls, eviscerated doors, and introduced ourselves to those souls who had lost the evening’s lottery in scumbaggery.
Whenever I returned from a mission, danger or not on that night, there was levity in the brotherhood. We had such little time to ourselves for being anything beyond Rangers and do anything beyond Rangering that when we did – it created exuberance for life that could not be contained. There was never a day without Rangers that I did not smile or laugh.
It’s for this reason that now when I look back, though I hated certain parts, though I despised endless training, though I constantly made other plans for outside of the military; I now feel nostalgia for those times with honorable men, I now feel pride in our shared struggle for our piece of war. I miss being John Wayne when everything was black and white. I miss being a note on the album Appetite for Destruction; I miss seeing the whites of the unsuspecting eyes. Goddamn it, a platoon of Rangers could do anything!
The irony is that for all the Regiments glory, it’s not built for you to stay. So for me, and those like me, we fade back to which we came or we populate other military units. A small number stay, but the glory days of war hammer team leading and SpecFour Mafia mayhem, seem to disappear as the burden of leadership widens and the loss of lives grows vast. It was great while it lasted and the irony of that is that we all could have gone back had we really wanted to.
If it was so great, then why didn’t we? Probably because at this point it is better to tell these incredible stories, it’s good to drink this beer with war in the rear view, and it’s okay I never had a last shoot out at the Alamo. Rangering created more brothers than I ever could have wanted, but the pain of burying a brother is still the pain of burying a brother, no matter how many stand behind you. I still have the Ranger Creed. I still have my friends. I still have the sorrows of war; I still hear the sirens of action. And every now and then I can still be the teeth in the night, I can still laugh when things really suck, I can still run in short shorts.
“Rangering” was something I did, but I will always be a Ranger; you just have to look at my soul now instead of my sleeve.
Hostage rescue is one of the most dangerous missions special operations troops can be assigned to.
One of the big reasons: You have to pull your punches, lest you accidentally kill the people you’re there to rescue. You have to be very stealthy, or you will be detected and the bad guys will kill the hostages. You must move quickly, or the bad guys will kill the hostages.
But it’s hard to find people who want to be in the middle of training for hostage rescue. The answer, according to one DoD release, may be to use robots.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians with the 27th Special Operations Wing conducted some hostage rescue training using the robots this past December – and some of it was caught on video:
The A-10 is justifiably celebrated for its tank-killing prowess.
After all, it destroyed 987 tanks and a metric buttload of other Iraqi stuff during Desert Storm, and its GAU-8 got a lot of use, including some Iraqi helicopters who felt the BRRRRT! But the Air Force once planned for a tank-buster with a gun that made the A-10’s GAU-8 look puny.
The Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly was intended to be a close-air support plane to bust up tanks and bunkers in front of the infantry. Beechcraft, ironically, is best known for civilian planes like the King Air.
To accomplish that mission, it was given a powerful armament. In the nose was a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a powerful T15E1 75mm automatic cannon. It had a pair of twin .50-caliber turrets as well (one on the top, one on the bottom), and the ability to carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs, according to MilitaryFactory.com.
Yeah, you read that right. The Army Air Force in World War II was developing a specialized tank-buster that was two and a half times bigger than the GAU-8. Of course, a 75mm gun had been used on variants of the B-25, but the XA-38’s gun was essentially a semi-auto.
The plane had a top speed of 376 miles per hour, a range of 1,625 miles, and a crew of two. With all that performance, it had a lot of promise when it first flew in May of 1944. But that promise was never seen by the grunts on the ground.
The XA-38 project never got past the two prototypes, because a different aviation project took up all the engines that the Grizzly was designed to use. The Wright GR-3350-43 engines were needed by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which in 1944 was needed to bomb Japan.
One prototype was scrapped, while the other’s fate remains unknown.
Zukunft reiterated that point time and again during an Aug. 24 speech to members of the Alaska policy nonprofit Commonwealth North in Anchorage.
He recalled a conversation he had with then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice when Rice asked him what President Barack Obama should highlight shortly before the president’s extended trip to Alaska in late August 2015.
“I said (to Rice) we are an Arctic nation. We have not made the right investments and we do not have the strategic assets to be an Arctic nation and that translates to icebreakers and that’s almost exactly what President Obama said when he came up here,” Zukunft said.
“Fast forward — it’s Jan. 20, 2017, and I’m sitting next to President Trump and as they’re parading by he says, ‘So, you got everything you need?’ I said, ‘I don’t. The last administration, they made a statement but they didn’t show me the money. I need icebreakers.’ (Trump said) ‘How many?’ ‘Six.’ ‘You got it.’
“You never miss an opportunity,” Zukunft quipped.
It’s well documented in Alaska that the US has “one-and-a-half” operable icebreakers. That is, the heavy icebreaker Polar Star and the medium icebreaker Healy, which are in the Coast Guard’s fleet. A sister ship to the Polar Star, the Polar Sea remains inactive after an engine failure in 2010.
Zukunft noted Russia’s current fleet of 41 icebreakers to emphasize how far behind he feels the US is in preparing for increased military and commercial activity in the Arctic as sea ice continues to retreat — a message Alaska’s congressional delegation stresses as well.
“We are the only military service that’s truly focused on what’s happening in the Arctic and what happens in the Arctic does not happen in isolation,” Zukunft said.
He added that Russia is on track to deliver two more cruise missile-equipped icebreakers in 2020.
“I’m not real comfortable with them right on our back step coming through the Bering Strait and operating in this domain when we have nothing to counter it with,” he said.
The Coast Guard’s 2017 budget included a $150 million request to fund a new medium icebreaker, which Zukunft characterized as a “down payment” on the vessel expected to cost about $780 million, according to an Aug. 15 Congressional Research Service report on the progress of adding to the country’s icebreaking fleet.
For years it was estimated that new heavy icebreakers would cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion each, but those estimates have been revised down as the benefits of lessons learned through construction of the initial vessel and ordering multiple icebreakers from the same shipyard are further examined.
The CRS report now estimates the first heavy icebreaker will cost about $980 million to build, but by the fourth that price tag would go down to about $690 million for an average per-vessel cost of about $790 million. That is on par with the cost for a single new medium icebreaker.
Zukunft said the Coast Guard is working with five shipyards on an accelerated timeline to get the first icebreaker by 2023, but how it will be fully funded is still unclear.
“We have great bipartisan support but who is going to write the check?” he said, adding that aside from Russia and China, the United States’ economy is larger than that of the other 18 nations with icebreakers combined.
The Obama administration first proposed a high-level funding plan for new icebreakers in 2013 that has not been advanced outside of small appropriations.
“Our GDP (gross domestic product) is at least five times that of Russia and we’re telling ourselves we can’t afford it,” Zukunft continued. “Now this is just an issue of political will and not having the strategic forbearance to say this is an investment that we must have.”
He also advocated for the US finally signing onto the United Nations Law of the Sea treaty, which lays out the broad ground rules for what nations control off their coasts and how they interact in international waters.
Not signing onto the Law of the Sea, which was opened in 1982, leaves the US little say as other nations further study and potentially exploit the Arctic waters that are opening, he said.
“We are in the same club as Yemen; we are in the Star Wars bar of misfits of countries that have not ratified the Law of the Sea convention,” Zukunft said.