Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs - We Are The Mighty
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Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs

At some point in their military careers, all servicemembers have said: “I can’t believe we’re paying for this.”


Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Full Disclosure: The author was once sent TDY to Disneyland. That’s not a joke.

From 1975 to 1984, a division of government contractor Litton Industries and two of its executives were accused of defrauding the government of $15 million through grossly inflated prices in its contracts. A 1986 book titled “The Pentagon Catalog” documented some of the Pentagon’s worst buys and the contractor who charged the government for them. It included a claw hammer sold by Gould Simulation Systems to the Navy for $435, McDonnell Douglas’ $2,043 nut, and the same McDonnell Douglas’ $37 screw.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Insert double entendre here.

Other items offered in the catalog include a $285 screwdriver, a $7,622 coffee maker, a $214 flashlight, a $437 tape measure, a $2,228 monkey wrench, a $748 pair of duckbill pliers, a $74,165 aluminum ladder, and a $659 ashtray. And those examples listed above aren’t the only expensive military programs. Those aren’t even the most ridiculous programs the U.S. military implemented lately. Here are a few more things the Pentagon saw fit to buy without shopping around.

 

1. Giant, unmanned surveillance blimps

A live symbol of military spending run amok, in October 2015, a surveillance blimp escaped from its mooring in Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground. The balloon took out power lines as it floated 100 miles over Pennsylvania.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs

Its technical name is the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (or JLENS). It’s part of a $2.7 billion test to see if it can detect all the cruise missiles and aircraft that are constantly bombarding Maryland.

2. Luxury villas in Afghanistan

Complete with private security, the Defense Department spent $150 million on these Afghan McMansions between 2010 and 2014. The villas were built for 5-10 Pentagon employees from the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), a group whose mission includes rebuilding Afghanistan.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Or at least a very small part of Afghanistan. These are the actual Afghan villas built by the TFBSO. (SIGAR Photo)

The $150 million they spent was approximately one-fifth of their operating budget. The villas included queen-size beds, mini refrigerators, and flat-screen TVs with DVD players. All meals had to come with at least two entree options and three side order options. The TFBSO spent $800 million before it was disbanded in March 2015.

3. What should have been the world’s most amazing gas station

The same IG who uncovered the lush Afghan villas, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), found the same task force – the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) – awarded a $3 million contract for a gas station in Afghanistan. The final price tag ballooned to $42.7 million.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
The actual $43 million gas station… At least it’s clean natural gas. (SIGAR photo)

While War on the Rocks disputes the idea that the funds were a waste or overspend, no one in the Pentagon seemed to know about what the Fiscal Times dubbed the Pentagon’s “slush fund.” The discovery of the TFBSO prompted Congress to mandate DoD to be ready for a full audit of its budget by 2017.

4. Hospitals we can’t find

While not part of a DoD program, the locations of hospitals and health centers funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Afghanistan is very important. In October 2105, a U.S. Air Force AC-130 attacked a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Hospital corpsman assigned to Company B, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, cleans a local Afghan elder’s foot to check for infection at a patrol base near Sangin, Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. William J. Faffler)

USAID’s $259.6 million program is a dangerous one, considering all the harm that could come to the health facilities. The SIGAR report that documented the missing hospitals noted the attack on the Kunduz hospital highlighted the need for the military to have GPS coordinates of hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

5. An 80-year supply of V-22 Osprey parts

The Defense Logistics Agency recently purchased spare parts for the V-22 from Bell Helicopter and Boeing at a total cost of $9.7 million. The U.S. military goes through roughly two aircraft frames per year. The DLA purchased 166.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jerry Lowe directs an MV-22 Osprey in for landing on the flight deck of the USS Essex (LHD 2) off the coast of Southern California on Feb. 26, 2000. (DoD photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason A. Pylarinos, U.S. Navy)

This probably means that when the rest of the military is flying hovercraft and Iron Man suits in 2097, the Marine Corps will still be running off of Ospreys. To make matters worse, the IG reports the markup on some of those parts was a whopping $8,123.50, up from $445.60 – as much as eighteen times what the military should have paid.

6. Bomb-sniffing elephants

This one may sound like a crazy Cold-War era scheme that was somehow going to bring down the Iron Curtain, but no. In 2015, Sen. John McCain slammed the DoD for a study trying to find if elephants were more useful than dogs in sniffing bombs. The surprise is that they are but – to no one’s astonishment – they are not as practical.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
At least Hannibal crossed the Alps. What did YOU do, elephant? (Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Army Research Office paid an untold sum of money for this program, even though it’s been well documented that giant rats are more effective and efficient.

7. The Road to Nowhere

Another Afghan boondoggle, Afghanistan’s Highway 1 was funded jointly with American and Saudi money. The 1677-mile stretch of road whose shoddy construction means high maintenance costs on top of construction costs. The $4 billion project also costs $5 million per mile to rebuild or maintain.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Trucks wait to cross the Afghanistan-Iran border in Zaranj, Afghanistan, May 10, 2011. The crossing is part of a busy trade route between Central Asia and the Middle East. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)

Designed to link Afghanistan’s major cities, the highway was of no real use to Afghan civilians and is primarily used by foreign militaries. This last fact means it’s also a bomb magnet, only adding to its deterioration. On top of that, billions of dollars tagged for the project just disappeared.

8. The HQ no one needed…

… to the tune of $25 million, no less. This headquarters office is 64,000 square feet of prime Afghan real estate that three generals tried to kill before it could be built. No dice, though. The new HQ features a 125-person auditorium, special entrance for VIPs, and $2 million worth of furniture.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
(ProPublica photo)

The HQ is in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, with an additional $20 million of infrastructure built around the base to support it, even though U.S. troops left Helmand after the temporary surge in 2010.

9. Warlord Truckers

This should be a reality show, except it’s not a show; it was a program that hired local truckers in Afghanistan to move material with their own trucks.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Afghan truckers make their way towards Friendship Gate, the border crossing in Wesh, Afghanistan, on their way to Pakistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Juan Valdes)

Except twenty percent of that money went to local warlords for protection, which fueled unrest, corruption, and warlordism. It’s kinda like that $37 million bridge from Afghanistan to Tajikistan built by the Army Corps of Engineers, which really just helped drug runners run drugs. Unfortunately, that’s not the first time the military helped spur on an illegal trade.

10. Paying stoners from Florida to be their arms traffickers

It must have been a huge surprise to everyone involved when the Pentagon awarded an actual lowest-bid contract to a few unknown stoners from Miami Beach. These guys were awarded a $300 million contract to deliver arms to U.S. allies in Afghanistan. Instead of shiny new weapons, the guys run old Communist guns from the Balkans and repackage Chinese ammo. It’s the subject of the new Jonah Hill-Miles Teller movie “War Dogs.”

 

“War Dogs” is in theaters August 19th. The U.S. military will be throwing money around like an Afghan warlord long after that.

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Russia just scrambled fighters to intercept an American bomber

Russia has recently been in the news for its aggressive bomber patrols. Well, the United States has apparently flipped the script with the Russians and done a little bomber patrolling of its own.


According to a report by Reuters, at least one Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker was scrambled to intercept a Air Force B-52H Stratofortress that was flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea along Russia’s border.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
An underside view of a Soviet Su-27 Flanker aircraft carrying air-to-air missiles. (DOD photo)

Russia Today reported that the B-52 intercept was followed by Moscow scrambling a MiG-31 Foxhound to intercept a Norwegian P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The Norwegian plane was operating in international airspace over the Barents Sea, a location where Russia deploys its force of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The Russian media outlet also noted that NATO is conducting exercises in Romania.

Russia has carried out a number of similar operations against the United States, Japan, and Europe, prompting their own fighter alerts and intercepts. Russia has usually used the Tu-95 “Bear” bomber capable of firing cruise missiles, like the AS-15, in these missions.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Brittany Y. Bateman

Russia has also intercepted a U.S. Navy aircraft in recent weeks, with the Russian fighter coming to within 20 feet of the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. That encounter was reportedly considered “safe” and “professional” by the Navy. Other incidents, including the buzzing of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78), have drawn protests from the Navy.

The B-52H has been part of America’s arsenal since 1961. According to an Air Force fact sheet, 58 B-52s are in the active inventory, with another 18 in reserve. The B-52 has a top speed of 650 miles per hour, an unrefueled range of 8,800 miles, and can carry up to 70,000 pounds of nuclear or conventional ordnance, including long-range cruise missiles like the AGM-86. It is expected to remain in service until 2040.

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Here’s why sexpionage is so astonishingly effective

Sexpionage is when a government exploits the human weakness of lust in order to gather intelligence. In the past, the Soviet Union used to send Swallows to seduce and blackmail their targets. Once the act is done and compromising evidence is in hand the agent will make a ‘switch’. Other intelligence officers would descend and straight up blackmail the victim. However, the Chinese have developed a new playbook far more effective than their brute force, Soviet predecessors.

Target

During the Cold War, prime targets were powerful officials with access to sensitive information. The Soviets wanted to get right to the point. They were not above sending swallows to seduce every single person with an ID card at a U.S. Embassy in Moscow either. Anyone with access can potentially give you the opportunity to bug the entire building.

In the modern age, all officials and staff are briefed on the dangers of sexpionage. They are aware they are targets. Thus, they’re paranoid and harder to seduce. The Chinese have researched the lessons learned from the past and adapted a new strategy: Hit them while they’re young. The Chinese have been targeting up and coming members in the military, politics and tech world. The junior tech engineers of today are the executives of tomorrow. Mayors turn into congressmen, captains to generals; the Chinese are playing the long game.

The belief is they can influence these minds while they’re still naïve and pave the way for their ascent to power. Of course, blackmailing a politician is a win, but guaranteed influence on how they vote is a bigger one. It’s harder to hate Communist China if your wife is Chinese. They’re not just going for your pants, but your heart and mind too.

Recruitment

Professionals often summarize the motives for espionage with the acronym MICE: money, ideology, coercion, and ego. Spies want to be paid for their work, or believe in the cause, or can be blackmailed, or want the ego boost that comes with leading a double life.

GARRETT M. GRAFF, wired.com

The recruitment playbook has stayed somewhat the same; Find educated, attractive, young women motivated to do anything for their country. If they won’t spy out of patriotism or monetary gain, one must incentivize them – by force. The Chinese government is not above using the same tactics intended for their targets on their own swallows. Additionally, they can be tortured or have their families sent to concentration camps. It worked for the Soviets and it is working for the Chinese.

The FBI has also made a short 28-minute film for college students studying abroad. The Chinese are very interested in grooming sleeper cell agents from early in their careers. When someone gives you a ton of money and women, just because, there *should* be an obvious red flag.

The Chinese will have a spotter as their eyes-on-the-ground seeking out potential candidates. For example, Ministry of State Security often uses employees from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences as spotters. In practice, another person will approach the potential recruit. It will be someone who is not connected to the spotter incase the recruitment is rejected. That third party is burned and disappears. It’s classic tradecraft.

Engage

The target is identified, the spy is willing, time to act – or get caught in it.

Seduce

Swallows will take their victim to a hotel or anywhere they can get some perceived privacy. From this point, modern sexpionage will go one of three ways or a combination of all.

  1. Manipulate
    The swallow will earn the target’s trust and influence their decisions or even recruit the target themselves.

2. Blackmail
The swallow and her handlers could get the drop on the victim before or after sexual acts occur. ‘Do this or we will ruin your career, life and marriage.’

3. Bribery
The target is given money to further ensnare them to betray their country or company.

What makes sexpionage so effective is that it preys on the most powerful human need. We know it, they know it, the Carthaginians knew it. Everyone gets lonely. Anyone with their guard up and can turn down an approach. What would you do when the mole is your wife and the mother of your children, with your guard down? You’re not paranoid if people are actually after you. Beware, the Chinese are playing the long game.

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This soldier fought for pro-Russian separatists before joining the US Army

A former Russian-backed separatist in Eastern Ukraine recently completed U.S. Army training, Thomas Gibbons-Neff of the Washington Post reported Monday.


The 29 year old French-American citizen, Guillaume Cuvelier, reportedly spent his youth in the French far-right before going to Eastern Ukraine in 2014. During his childhood in France, he was a member of a neo-fascist group that broke from the National Front. The association presumably fostered his anti-European union views.

Cuvelier’s assumed the militant name Lenormand and fought for the Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist region of Eastern Ukraine sponsored by the Russian government. A photo WaPo reviewed shows him standing shoulder to shoulder with a militant accused of orchestrating the shoot-down of Malaysian Flight 17.

After arriving in Ukraine, he also set up a unit that declared France is “a slave of the American Empire” and the NATO alliance is a “terrorist military alliance.” Cuvelier appeared to change his tune after going to fight with U.S. backed Kurdish militias in Iraq in 2015. He was eventually kicked out for beating a fellow American volunteer with a rifle. He then made his way to the U.S. to join the Army.

His status in the U.S. military is currently under review “to ensure the process used to enlist this individual followed all of the required standards and procedure,” according to a U.S. Army spokesman’s statement to WaPo.

When confronted with his lurid past, Cuvelier pleaded with Gibbons-Neff not to publish the story saying, “I realized I like this country, its way of life and its Constitution enough to defend it.” He continued, “By publishing a story on me, you are jeopardizing my career and rendering a great service to anyone trying to embarrass the Army. My former Russian comrades would love it. … so, I please ask you to reconsider using my name and/or photo.”

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

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There’s a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan (again)

The U.S. military is getting out of the nation-building business and is now focusing on killing terrorists. That is among the policy changes announced by President Donald Trump in a speech delivered at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, Aug. 21.


“From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America,” he said, while also explicitly refusing to set a timetable or to reveal how many more troops will be deployed.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
A Special Forces soldier takes a rest during a patrol in Afghanistan. (Photo from US Army Special Operations Command)

Trump has already shown an inclination to not micro-manage and to give local commanders authority to make operational and tactical decisions. In April, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb made its combat debut in Afghanistan when it was used to hit a tunnel complex used by the Afghanistan affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The president’s refusal to set a timetable is in marked contrast to the way Barack Obama handled Afghanistan. In announcing a troop surge in 2009, he also promised to start pulling them out after a year and a half. Obama also did not send the full number of troops that then-Afghanistan commander Stanley McChrystal requested.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
The GBU-43 moments before detonation in a March 11, 2003 test. (USAF photo)

President Trump, while not mentioning Obama by name, also criticized the abrupt withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011, saying that the removal of troops created a vacuum and allowed ISIS to rise and take control of a number of cities in Iraq.

President Trump also had harsh words for Pakistan over the existence of safe havens for groups like the Taliban. Perhaps the most notable terrorist provided safe haven in that country was Osama bin Laden, who was killed at a hideout in Abbottabad — a city a little over 30 miles from the capital in Islamabad.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Commandos from the 7th Special Operation Kandak prepare for the unitís first independent helicopter assault mission, March 10, 2014, in Washir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan The mission was conducted to disrupt insurgent activity. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Richard B. Lower/Released)

You can see President Trump’s speech below.

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‘Pin-ups for Vets’ creatively shows appreciation for veterans

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs


When we think about ways to give back to the veteran community and show our appreciation, we often turn to the standard monetary contributions and volunteer opportunities, but there are more creative ways to show our appreciation as well. One example of such an endeavor is the organization Pinups for Vets.

I recently had the founder of Pinups for Vets, Gina Elise, on the Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast, and I was surprised and inspired by what she had to share. Gina started the organization in 2006 as a way to give back to the veteran community. After seeing images of veterans alone in hospital beds, and watching reports on the news of the severe injuries sustained by our troops fighting in Iraq, she became convinced that she had to do something to help raise funds to support our hospitalized veterans.

She had always been a fan of World War II nose art (on the nose of the plane), so decided to use this creative passion of hers to create calendars that could be donated to veterans and raise money for VA hospitals. Now it is a reality, and Gina not only produces the calendars, but brings a group together and goes to donate the calendars at VA hospitals, dressed as the pinups. The organization has donated over $50,000 worth of rehab equipment for VA hospitals nationwide, and has visited over 7,000 ill and injured veterans.

As you would imagine with a group that visits VA hospitals, the stories Gina had to share were touching. She mentioned a man who was in the hospital for a traumatic injury, and how they were talking with him and he responded. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for the fact that afterward they were told that this man had not spoken in over a month.

Navy veteran Jennifer Marshall is a return volunteer for these groups that go to VA hospitals, and shared with me the story of an elderly Navy veteran who cried because she was so happy to have this visit. The video of this touching moment is below:

Jennifer had the following to say about her volunteer experience with Pinups for Vets:

Volunteering with Pin-Ups for Vets means so much to me. On every visit, we see veterans that have not had visitors in days, weeks, or even months. Reconnecting with my brothers and sisters, regardless of era served or branch, is a unique and often beautiful experience. No veteran should ever feel lonely or go without visitors while hospitalized. I do it because not only do I value our veterans, but it makes me feel good as well. I love connecting with other vets and I think volunteer work is essential for anyone who would like to make the world a little brighter.

She also had the following experience to share, which reminds us of the need of young veterans as well:

A visit that sticks out in my mind was when we walked into a room and there were two very young veterans in their late 20s to early 30s. At the hospital, they were surrounded by elderly vets and did not really have anyone to talk to. We spent a lot of time in that room just talking and reminiscing about the service. They were so happy to have company that was around their same age, and it was a really great bonding experience. We signed their calendars and took photos to remember the day by. I still think about that visit often.

Jennifer told me she feels that, through such visits, along with the organizations active social media presence, “people are able to see that there are still veterans who not only appreciate but need the companionship.”

The website for the organization includes thank you letters from the hospitals these volunteers have been able to visit, and reading these was an inspiration in itself. One line from these letters that helped me understand the importance of the visits said their visits make “every day Veterans Day” for their residents.

We don’t want anyone to end up alone in a hospital, especially anyone who dedicated themselves to serving our country. We are fortunate that Pinups for Vets is making an effort, and can see this first hand in the commitment these men and women make to showing these veterans that they care. An example below shows Gina dancing with a veteran, a touching moment that may not change the world, but certainly shows that veteran and the others who see this that people appreciate our service and are making an effort to ensure we are not alone.
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Military officers in WWI were the masters of the word ‘f**k’

There are a lot of words that carry a certain weight when said by the right person at the right time.


And you’ll be sure to remember it if it’s dirty enough.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
As proven by John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight.

American troops are no exception. The only problem is that from the moment we join the service, we get indoctrinated into a world of shouting and expletives.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
We should all get service-connected for hearing loss. Seriously. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

 

It turns out World War I was no different, and it wasn’t even the beginning.

Etymologists – people who study the history of languages and trace word meanings – found it difficult to follow the lineage of the word “f**k” for a long time. The word itself is so taboo in the English language that no one would ever write it down — even for historical documentation.

 

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
And they all have Inigo Montoya tattoos. (MGM/20th Century Fox)

Luckily for us, the Oxford English Dictionary started following it in 1897, just in time for the First World War.

The OED only followed the word’s history but never included it in its dictionary – it was illegal to print in publications by the Comstock Act of 1873. The law stopped absolutely no one from using it in everyday speech, least of all the military troops in the trenches.

Some of the OED’s research includes this line from John Brophy’s “Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918.”

“It became so common that an effective way for the soldier to express this emotion was to omit this word. Thus if a sergeant said, ‘Get your f—ing rifles!’ it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said ‘Get your rifles!’ there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger.”

Sometimes what you don’t say really is as important as what you do.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Somewhere out there, there’s a smug First Sergeant, nodding their head.

The definition of the word itself survived intact from its initial meaning, “to have sexual intercourse with,” and has been similarly pronounced and spelled since its first appearances in the 16th century.

OED found mention of the word as “fuccant” in a “scurrilous” Latin-Middle English hybrid poem, called “Flen Flyys,” about what local monks did with the wives of the nearby town of Ely, and thus why they did not get into heaven.

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The Gripen E is Saab’s attempt to outdo the F-35

A couple of weeks ago, Saab unveiled its next-generation fighter. Dubbed “The Smart Fighter,” it’s aimed at markets not yet cleared to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as reported by the Daily Mail.


Related: One of the F-35’s most expensive features was made possible by flying saucers

With its fly-by-wire avionics and distinctive delta wing design, the Gripen E is similar to its predecessors. The difference is in its increased fuel capacity, 20 percent more thrust, extra pylons for carrying more weapons, and advanced electronics that feed tactical information to the pilot and co-op forces at all times. It’s also designed for quick and efficient maintenance, Saab claims the turnaround time between missions is 10 minutes and that the entire engine can be replaced in an hour. 

Some other Saab Gripen E features:

The fighter’s Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) antennas—called elements—work together or independently to track different targets.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Image: Saab

Its Infrared Search and Track (IRST) system looks for heat emissions from other aircraft, helicopters and from objects on the ground and sea surface without giving its position away.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Image: Saab

Its Electronic Warfare system alerts the pilot when it has been detected by radar, warns for incoming missiles, and used for electronic attacks.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Image: Saab

The pylons give it the flexibility to carry an array of weapons, making it deadlier than previous versions.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Image: Saab

The Gripen’s multi-frequency data links provide situational awareness to other fighters.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Image: Saab

Its Radar Warning Receiver and Missile Approach Warning systems increase the Gripen’s survivability in combat.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Image: Saab

At $85 million apiece, the Gripen E is significantly cheaper than the F-35, making it an attractive alternative for any military.

Now watch the fighter’s unveiling on 360 video:

Saab, YouTube
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Special Operations has been the easy button for far too long

For years and years, Special Operations Forces (SOF) has been the military equivalent of the easy button. And why not? Why commit a large force such as a Brigade in the 82nd with 5,000 soldiers, when you can commit SOF with a much smaller force? And this has been happening for years.

If history is any indicator, Special Operations Forces will be downsized and, more than likely, more troops will be brought home by the Biden Administration. Biden is less likely to pull the trigger on a bomb than Trump was, and will most probably have a more diplomatic approach when it comes to foreign policy.

Well, what about Iran and China? Yes, we always will have countries to worry about, but I don’t see giant troop movements to invade another country and I don’t believe we will anytime soon. I’m not sold on the right’s belief that we are on the cusp of WWIII.

In March 2008, Obama declared of Iraq, “When I am commander in chief, I will set a new goal on day one: I will end this war.”

In many ways, Obama kept his word. He ended Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom — the combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, that Bush had passed down to him — and drastically reduced U.S. troop levels from their peaks in both countries. In the midst of the Arab Spring, the president led a limited military campaign against Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi with the support of the United Nations and a multinational coalition.

The Special Operations Budget

In 2000, our defense budget was a mere $300 billion. Today it’s more than doubled to over $700 billion. I foresee the Biden Administration cutting this by at least 10 percent by the end of his first term.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over. Let’s think about supply and demand. We aren’t graduating as many Green Berets as we used to. Between 2012 and 2014, Special Forces was graduating between six and eight classes per year. That was a healthy number with 600 to 800 Green Berets heading to the Groups. Teams easily had 10 or more operators on them during this time. Nowadays, with only four starts per fiscal year, Special Forces is looking at half of those graduating numbers.

This includes training budgets as well. “Do more with less” has become a popular mantra. Let’s be honest, do special operators have to go to some exotic location to train when they can do it at home? Teams will argue that off-site training is the best (and I agree), but Special Forces soldiers can shoot, move, and communicate at their home base.

Putting a team in the middle of Africa, alone, with little to no support does help build relationships between the team. You get to know each other on a much deeper level. In Africa, my team lived in two tents. I mean, we knew who had sleep apnea for goodness sake. Being that far from anyone also instills a deep connection but you fully rely on each other to do the job, because you are all that you have. But there is a difference between need-to-have and nice-to-have.

Let’s get back to the basics, boys.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno presented 81 green berets at Fort Bragg, N.C., April 30, 2015. 81 U.S. Soldiers and four foreign national soldiers graduated from class 290 of the Special Forces Qualification Course and earn the right to be called a Green Beret. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mikki L. Sprenkle/Released)

Changes to the Special Forces Companies

Special Forces Companies have six teams. That 6th team in the company might go away. If recruiting numbers continue to drop, Groups will be forced to either reduce the size or the number of teams. Some readers may remember when the 6th team was a ghost team, meaning nobody actually worked there.

The Geographic Combatant Command (GCC). There are currently 11 unified combatant commands that ultimately cover the entire globe. Each is established as the highest echelon of military commands to provide effective command and control of all U.S. military forces, regardless of branch of service, during peace or wartime.

The geographic commands have essentially two tasks: war planning and fighting, and military engagement programs. Both tasks are and will always be the Department of Defense and the military’s fundamental responsibilities.

These guys meet every two years and basically hash out the requirements and who can fill them.

The demands of deployments from GCC have not slowed down. However, do we really need SF teams in Africa? What are the current permissions and authorities for Africa? Are teams targeting and fighting against extremist groups?Read Next: Op-Ed: We need to rethink deploying US Special Operations Forces almost everywhere

Special Operations in Africa

If you were to ask the AFRICOM Commander General Stephen J. Townsend, he might say that we are not at war, the Africans are, and that the American population doesn’t have a taste for losing its soldiers in Africa. So the Army created the Security Forces Assistance Brigade (SFAB).

The SFAB concept is intended to relieve the Brigade Combat Teams of the combat advisory mission and enable them to focus on their primary combat mission.

There is definitely a fight in Africa, but we are generally there to advise and assist. Not the answer the Special Forces guy wants to hear. The young, eager captain will basically be trying to figure out how to get on target and get his gun on. Sorry, sir, probably not going to happen.

This would also include Special Forces missions.

SF is a tired force. However, this is currently improving with the mandated dwell times: one day gone away from home, two days at home. I do think that this needs some tweaking; however, generally speaking, after over a year of this being implemented, Group is figuring it out.

For this piece, I won’t go into how the State Department and the geopolitical landscape affects the military, but it’s worth mentioning. Most Ambassadors are State Department careerists. They don’t need some new Captain coming in every six months thinking he’s going to change the world and go kill a bunch of people, making his job tougher.

So Special Forces has fewer people going to selection and fewer people graduating. Our requirements overseas should be slowing down or are being forced to slow down by the mandatory dwell. Teams are either undermanned or borrowing from other teams to fill requirements.

Therefore, for now, a smaller SF force is a good thing. Everything comes in rotations, and I certainly believe within 10 more years, we will be in another conflict, and our numbers will go back up to meet the demand.

But for now, Special Operations cannot be the easy button it once was.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

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8 life lessons from ‘Major Payne’

Although it’s not considered an all-time military movie classic like “Full Metal Jacket” or “Stripes,” the 1995 military comedy “Major Payne” is an entertaining family film (with some salty language). The film stars comedian Damon Wayans as U.S. Marine Corps Major Benson Winifred Payne. Payne is a rough and tough Marine who becomes a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps instructor after being discharged from active duty for not making lieutenant colonel. Payne’s job is to impart confidence and discipline in the rambunctious junior cadets and train them to win a military cadet competition.


The film has some funny and memorable lines – quoted in military training to this day – such as “What we have here is a failure to communicate” and “I’m gonna put my foot so far up your ass, the water on my knee will quench your thirst.” In between laughs, Major Payne bestows some surprising life lessons that apply to current service members, veterans, and society at large.

1. Career transitions are tough – expect setbacks

Major Payne is served his separation papers from the Marines in the beginning of the film. Just a week out of the service, Payne finds himself in jail after a failed attempt to become a police officer by slapping a man senseless during a training scenario.”It’s civilian life, sir. I had a minor setback,” Payne tells his former commander Gen. Decker, played by Albert Hall. Thanks to the help of his former commander, he lands the job as the JROTC instructor.

Lesson: Many people face a career change at some point in their lives. Setbacks are inevitable but it’s important to be patient. It is also important to use your network when looking for a new career.

2. Not everyone is sympathetic; mental toughness goes a long way

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs

The gif above is Major Payne’s most famous quote. He gives his young cadets this verbal tirade as they struggle to complete an obstacle course in the pouring rain. Eventually, the persistence and will of the cadets lead them to overcome the obstacle course and achieve success.

Lesson: Not everyone will be sympathetic to your plight, no matter how difficult things are in your personal or professional life. When faced with challenges, being mentally strong and determined can help overcome any challenge, no matter the level of difficultly.

3. Keep trying to improve

In a classic drill instructor tone, Major Payne tells the young men, “You’re still a shit sandwich, you’re just not a soggy one” following a drill and ceremony routine. In his own unique way, the rough and tough character is acknowledging the effort put in by the boys to improve.

Lesson: Never stop trying to improve. You can always get better.

4. Don’t give up

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs

For Major Payne, failure is not an option. He wants victory at all costs! In order to win the military games, he puts the cadets through hell. He shaves their heads, PTs them all day and makes them run in dresses in front of the whole school. Despite their disdain for the man and his tough training methods, the kids don’t quit.

Lesson: Life will bring challenges. Don’t let that prevent you from achieving your goals.

5. Teamwork is important

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs

The cadets are a ragtag group from the beginning. Despite their differences, they build cohesion, delegate responsibilities and establish a common goal to win the military games.

Lesson: The value of camaraderie is vital in bringing a group of people to work well together no matter their differences. Working effectively as a team will bring success to any project whether you are in the civilian or military sector.

6. Loyalty is crucial

Major Payne is given the chance to return to active duty at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Initially, he chooses to take the job offer and leaves the boys high and dry before the competition. Eventually, his love and loyalty to the cadets brings him back to see his boys in the final event of the competition. He stays on as a JROTC instructor.

Lesson: It seems the thought of loyalty as a core tenet is slipping away to self-interest these days. Being loyal to friends, family or co-workers takes time and sacrifice. Believing in and devoting yourself to someone or something you care about is a great value to have for the rest of your life.

7. Self-confidence is essential

Major Payne instills confidence in all of his cadets, especially the smallest one in the group “Tiger.” He tells him a frightening version of “The Little Engine that Could,” and makes him the drill team leader. This gives Tiger the confidence he needs to trust his abilities. Tiger’s self-confidence shines through as the boys do a drill routine with a classic 90’s hip-hop beat and old-school rhymes. Tiger even breaks it down with the “Cabbage Patch” dance and some vintage Michael Jackson moves. His self-confidence helps him lead the team to victory.

Lesson: Trusting in your abilities will help you accomplish your goals. Believe in yourself.

8. Lighten up

Major Payne is a military badass. He takes his life and his work seriously but he begins to lighten up a bit during the movie. He even has a little fun on the dance floor with some sweet robot moves.

Lesson: There are times in life to be serious, but it’s ok to lighten up. Being able to enjoy life, relax, and not be so uptight can make life more enjoyable. YOLO.

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Iraqi woman becomes Marine on eve of Mosul invasion

As 600 more U.S. troops are headed to help retake Mosul, Iraq, from the Islamic State group, a young woman who escaped that city’s violence is celebrating her new title as a United States Marine.


Amanda Issa escaped with her family from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, because of the rising threat of the Islamic State group. The Issas stayed in a refugee camp in Turkey for almost a year before moving to Michigan in 2011 — a move made for the promise of better education and more opportunities for the three Issa children.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Pfc. Amanda H. Issa prepares for a graduation ceremony Sept. 30, 2016, on Parris Island, S.C. Issa, 21, from Madison Heights, Mich., grew up in Mosul, Iraq, and moved to the U.S. in May 2011. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Carlin Warren)

Amanda, a teenager when she moved to the U.S., remembered the Marines she saw in Mosul during Operation Iraqi Freedom as heroes. Now, a Marine private first class herself, she wears the same Eagle, Globe, and Anchor and has the potential to be a hero for another little girl in her original homeland. She graduated in the top 10 in her high school and went on to earn an associates degree in global studies from Oakland Community College before enlisting in the Marine Corps.

But her journey to become a Marine wasn’t easy. In January she stepped on Parris Island’s iconic yellow footprints only to be injured a month later on a conditioning hike. The injury was bad enough that doctors told her she could be medically separated. Undaunted, she fought back and returned to training and eventually graduated with Platoon 4034, Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, on Sept. 30.

“Now, to be called a Marine is unbelievable,” she said shortly after making the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony. “Yeah, being a U.S. citizen is great, but I came here to be a Marine.”

It is unclear when Marines and other U.S. troops will join Iraqi forces in the invasion of Mosul, one of the last major cities held by ISIS. Defense officials say its up to Iraqi leaders to launch the operation, with several top generals saying Baghdad’s troops will likely be ready by October.

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A Navy SEAL describes what it’s like to receive the MoH

Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward C. Byers, Jr., was on an assault team conducting the rescue of Dr. Dilip Joseph. After a four-hour foot patrol to the target location, a group of special operations volunteers hit the suspected building.


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Senior Chief Edward Byers, a Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Byers distinguished himself multiple times in the moments that followed, sprinting to the building after a guard spotted the team 25 yards out, fighting against multiple enemies while trying to fix a problem with his night vision and find the doctor, and protecting the doctor with his own body while engaging multiple hostile targets.

He was later honored with a well-earned Medal of Honor for his actions.

In this video from the Navy’s All Hands Magazine, Byers talks about a seldom explored part of becoming a Medal of Honor recipient, the actual process of learning you will receive the award. From scheduling and receiving the president’s phone call to being inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon.

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This video shows why the British Challenger tank holds the record for longest distance kill

The M1 Abrams series of main battle tank has gotten a lot of the press. Of course, it’s easy to see why people love the Abrams.


But the Abrams, the T-90, the Leopard… they’re not the only main battle tanks out there.

The United Kingdom has developed a series of outstanding main battle tanks. In fact, just as the British invented the tank in World War I, they also invented the main battle tank when they introduced the Centurion in the last days of World War II.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
A Challenger 1 tank during Desert Storm. (Wikimedia Commons)

In essence, today’s Challenger tank is the direct descendant of the Centurion. What makes it so awesome, though? One item is the Chobham armor. This armor, also used on the Abrams, made a name for itself when it deflected 125mm main gun rounds from Iraqi T-72s from less than 500 yards away.

The Challenger 1 has a 120mm gun, like the Abrams and the Leopard 2. But this version is very different.

The British put a rifled gun in, and it is capable of taking out enemy tanks from three miles away. The British tank also holds 64 rounds for its main gun, compared to 40 for the Abrams and 42 for the Leopard 2.

Blimps, elephants, and 8 other ridiculous and expensive military programs
Britain’s Challenger 2 tank (Photo by U.K. Ministry of Defense)

The Challenger 1 had its origins in a design for the Iranian military, but the mullahs that took over in 1979 cancelled the contract. The tank entered service in 1983, and served with the British Army until 2001, when they were sold to Jordan and replaced by Challenger 2 tanks.

The Challenger 2 features a new rifled 120mm gun and 50 rounds, plus a new hull and engine.

Check out the video below to get a good look into the history of this British tank titan.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTG8sS_2a6Y
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