Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35 - We Are The Mighty
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Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Lockheed Martin announced the F-35 program in 2001. Since then, hundreds of billions of dollars and 15 years of testing have brought the program to where it is today — on the verge of becoming the world’s premier fighter/bomber and the future of the US Air Force, Marines, and Navy.


But while the idea of launching a single, advanced, stealthy plane for all three service branches seemed good on paper, and ultimately won approval from US military planners at the highest level, it was never the only option.

Also read: The Pentagon wants a half-billion more dollars for the F-35

Former US Navy Commander and aviator Chris Harmer, also a senior naval analyst for the Middle East Security Project at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider that the F-35 only really holds a single advantage over the Cold War-era legacy aircraft it’s set to replace — stealth.

“The F-35 is very capable in a very specific way. The only thing it does that legacy can’t do is stealth,” said Harmer.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Lockheed Martin photo

Indeed the F-35’s low observability and integrated stealth design are central to the plane’s mission and tactics. Throughout its development, the F-35 notoriously lost to older legacy fighters in up-close dogfights. Combat-aviation expert Justin Bronk told Business Insider flat-out that the F-35 could “never in a million years” win a dogfight with an advanced Russian or British plane.

However, defense officials never planned for the F-35 to revolutionize dogfighting, but rather aerial combat as a whole. The F-35, nearly impossible for enemy aircraft to spot, can simply shoot down foes from long distance before they’re ever close enough to really dogfight.

But according to Harmer, who has spent much of his life around carrier-based aircraft, the F-35’s advantages begin and end with stealth. Harmer suggests that instead of building the F-35, the US simply should have updated existing aircraft, like the F-15, F-16, and F-18.

These platforms — proven, legacy aircraft — could easily be retrofit with the advanced avionics and helmet for targeting that set the F-35 apart.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
An air-to-air view of two F-15 Eagle aircraft armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. | McDonnell Douglas photo

“For a fraction of the cost for F-35 development, we could have updated legacy aircraft and gotten a significant portion of the F-35 capabilities.” said Harmer. The F-18 for example, has already undergone extensive reworkings, and the F-18 Super Hornet, which is 25% larger than the original F-18, has a smaller radar cross section than its predecessor and is one of the US’s cheaper planes to buy and operate.

However, an F-15, the Air Force’s best air-dominance fighter, with fifth-generation avionics and targeting capability, still lacks the integrated stealth design of an F-35. Stealth must be worked into the geometry of the plane and simply won’t do as an afterthought. In today’s contested battle spaces, a legacy fighter, no matter how you update it, still lights up brightly and clearly on an enemy radar and is therefore less survivable to the pilots — something US military planners have refused to accept.

“The only advantage of the F-35 is to go into highly contested airspace,” said Harmer, adding that the US has “literally never done that.” Additionally, the US already has another fifth-generation aircraft with an even better stealth in its inventory — the F-22. In fact, when the US does discuss operations in the world’s most contested airspaces, it’s the F-22 they talk about sending.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
The US already has a super-stealthy fighter — the F-22. | US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook

“There are other, less expensive ways to address highly contested airspace — cruise missiles, standoff weapons, radar jamming,” Harmer added.

But the F-35 ship has sailed. Despite a very troublesome development, the program is now at or very near readiness with all three branches.

“As a practical matter, the F-35 is a done deal; we’ve incurred the ‘sunk cost’ of the R D, and neither the USAF or USMC has any intentions of buying any more legacy airframes.”

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3 things to know about Sig Sauer and the future of Army handguns

For nearly 10 years, the Army has been on the search for a replacement to the Beretta M9, which has been in the hands of soldiers since 1985.


In a press release, the Army announced they had awarded a $580 million contract to Sig Sauer for the Modular Handgun System, “including handguns, accessories and ammunition.”

1. The military already uses Sig Sauer weapons

The new contract is not the first time Sig Sauer has outfitted members of the armed forces. After losing the Army bid to the Beretta M9 in 1984, the SIG-Sauer P226 was adapted by the Navy SEALs as the MK25 to replace the 9 mm SW M39 pistols. The MK25 was built with corrosion-resistant parts, a necessary requirement when serving a SEAL.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
A Coast Guard member is seen firing a Sig Sauer P229R DAK pistol at an indoor range located on Joint Base Cape Cod, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi)

Related: This suppressed pistol was custom made for Navy SEALs

Additionally, though the Army has widely issued the M9 to most soldiers, Military Police and members of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) often use the SIG-Sauer P228, a smaller version of the P226, known for its compact style and designated as the M11.

The Coast Guard adapted the SIG-Sauer P229R DAK after their M9’s bit the dust in 2004. As many Coast Guardsmen carry and use weapons on a daily basis while policing the nation’s borders, the wear and tear on the handgun took a toll quicker than the other branches. Because the USCG falls under the Department of Homeland Security, the branch was able to use non-Geneva compliant JHP ammunition with a non-NATO standard caliber (40SW).

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
A soldier fires an M9 pistol. | U.S. Army photo

2. The P320 was named ‘Handgun of the Year’ by an NRA magazine

The P320 is rumored to be the handgun the Army will model their version after. One of the biggest complaints by soldiers about the M9 is its grip size, which is a significant problem for small-handed users. The P320 handgun can be ordered with changeable grips, which would accommodate all soldiers and can changed without incident in the field.

The Sig Sauer P320 was recognized in June 2016 as the Handgun of the Year by the National Rifle Association publication ‘American Rifleman.’ If the Army has chosen to model its next signature weapon after the SIG-Sauer P320 handgun, the upgrades, accessories, and features are numerous, and will provide soldiers a much more modern and up-to-date feel than the current M9.

3. Sig Sauer beat out nine other bids for the lucrative contract

The Army is poised to expand its numbers as the incoming presidential administration has indicated a larger military is on the horizon, a good sign for the pistol company. The $580 million contract extends through 2027 and includes the cost of weapons, ammunition, and accessories. The win showed Sig Sauer coming out ahead of other prestigious gun makers, including Glock, Beretta and Smith Wesson.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Tehran warns the US about waging ‘economic war’ against Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has said during a meeting in Tehran with Germany’s foreign minister that Iran thinks the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015 is worth saving despite current tensions.

“We still believe in saving the deal, and Germany and the EU can play a decisive and positive role in this process,” Rohani’s office quoted him as saying during his June 10 meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned after his talks with Maas that countries waging an “economic war” against Iran by conducting and supporting U.S. sanctions cannot expect to “remain safe.”

“One cannot expect an economic war to continue against the Iranian people and that those waging this war and those supporting it remain safe,” Zarif said on June 10.


A Marine general led a fictional Iran against US military – and won

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Related: A Marine general led a fictional Iran against US military – and won

Zarif said U.S. President Donald Trump “himself has announced that the U.S. has launched an economic war against Iran” after Washington in 2018 unilaterally withdrew from the agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from building nuclear weapons.

“Whoever stars a war with us will not be the one who finishes it,” he said.

“The only way to decrease tensions in the region is to stop the economic war,” Zarif said, adding that Germany and the European Union could have an “important role” to play in defusing the tensions.

For his part, Maas said Germany and other European countries want to find a way to salvage the deal. But he said there were limits.

“We won’t be able to do miracles, but we are trying as best as we can do to prevent its failure,” Maas said.

Also read: After lost court battle, US ends friendship treaty with Iran

“There is war in Syria and in Yemen, fortunately not here,” Maas said. “We want to do everything we can to keep it that way” for Iran.

“Nevertheless, the tensions here in the region are worrying, and we fear that single events can trigger developments that end in violence, and we want to prevent this under all circumstances.”

Ahead of his trip, the German minister expressed hope that the talks would help both sides find “constructive ways” to preserve the Iran nuclear agreement, while Zarif said he wanted to know “what exactly the partners have achieved to rescue” the accord.

The Western European signatories to the nuclear pact — France, Britain, and Germany — have been trying to salvage it after the United States withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.

Trump argued that the terms of the agreement were not tough enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and that the accord did not address the country’s ballistic-missile program or its role in conflicts around the Middle East.

The European signatories of the deal share the same concerns as Washington over Iran’s ballistic-missile development and regional activities.

Maas called Iran’s ballistic-missile program problematic during a visit to the United Arab Emirates on June 9.

In response, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said that European officials “are not in a position to question Iran’s issues beyond the nuclear deal.”

Iran denies it supports insurgent activity and says its nuclear program has been strictly for civilian energy purposes.

Related: Secretary of State visits Baghdad to warn of ‘imminent’ Iranian threat

In May, Tehran announced it was suspending several commitments under the nuclear deal, and threatened to step up uranium enrichment if European countries did not act to protect it from the effects of the U.S. sanctions.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington and its allies in the Persian Gulf have flared up in recent weeks, with the United States beefing up its military presence in the Middle East, citing “imminent threats” from Iran.

Tehran has rejected the U.S. allegation.

In Vienna, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said on June 10 that Iran had followed through on a threat to accelerate its production of enriched uranium.

Departing from his usual guarded language, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano also said he was “worried about increasing tensions” over Iran’s nuclear program.

“I…hope that ways can be found to reduce current tensions through dialogue,” Amano said as he opened a meeting of the agency’s board of governors.

Featured Image: Vladimir Putin meets with Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif, 2014 (Kremlin Photo).

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 5 best beards in military history

The Pentagon can resist all it wants, but beards have made a comeback.

The Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society even conducted a study to explore how individuals with (or without) facial hair are perceived by others. Women rated men with facial hair as more attractive and appearing healthier than those who were clean-shaven — and now male service members want change.


Today’s military men, however, are just going to have to rely on the uniform to gain an edge over civilians — since the advent of the gas mask, facial hair has been strictly regulated by the military. There are certain exceptions, however, such as a new regulation that will allow service members to wear a beard for religious reasons or operations where a beard could help service members blend in better with the local population.

But until the U.S. military embraces the beard, it’ll remain a rare sight on our warriors.

All the more reason to admire the best military beards in history.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

(Electronic Arts)

“Cowboy”

In 2002, Scott Nelson photographed a U.S. Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan as they began to amp up their pursuit of terrorists in the the area. One of the soldiers photographed goes by the nickname “Cowboy” — and he’s been rather shrouded in mystery ever since.

Nonetheless, it could be argued that he has the OG operator beard — so much so that Danger Close Games used his likeness as inspiration when finding and outfitting the model for their Medal of Honor game.

Something about the tactical environment makes this otherwise-too-long-in-my-opinion beard completely okay.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Guess why he’s on this list.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside

No list of military facial hair would be complete without the man whose whiskers were so incredible that the world named a patch of facial hair after him.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Prince Harry and an American wounded warrior in a wheelchair shake hands at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto.

Prince Harry of Wales

The pictures of the bearded prince in his flight suit at the 2015 Battle of Britain Flypast are why I am now in full favor of allowing beards in uniform.

Harry served from 2005-2015, even secretly deploying on combat missions in Afghanistan before his location was publicized and he was pulled out for security reasons. He’s the epitome of cool, he fully recognizes the meaning and importance of service, and he’s proof that a military beard can still look professional.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Refined AF.

Ulysses S. Grant

The man led the Union to victory and served two terms as president. That is the beard of victory right there.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Magnificent.

Maj. Gen. George Crook

Crook cut his teeth fighting Native American tribes in Oregon before the Civil War. When he was called on to serve the Union, he used the same tactics in the face of the rebel enemy. His beard is exactly the kind you’d expect from a man the Apaches called “Grey Wolf.”

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Articles

Head of US Marine Corps aviation: The F-35B is ready to go to war right now

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, discusses the future of Marine aviation at AEI in Washington, DC, on July 29. | AEI.org


When asked on Friday if the F-35B could fly combat missions to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the US Marine Corps’ head of aviation said, “We’re ready to do that.”

Noting that the decision to deploy the fifth-generation jet into combat would come from higher command, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation said that the F-35B is “ready to go right now.”

“We got a jewel in our hands and we’ve just started to exploit that capability, and we’re very excited about it,” Davis said during a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on the readiness and future trajectory of Marine aviation.

Davis, who has flown copilot in every type of model series of tilt-rotor, rotary-winged, and tanker aircraft in the Marine inventory, said that the F-35 is an airplane he’s excited about.

“The bottom line is everybody who flies a pointy-nose airplane in the Marine Corps wants to fly this jet,” Davis said.

Last summer, then Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford declared initial operational capability (IOC) for 10 F-35B jets, the first of the sister-service branches.

“There were a lot of people out here in the press that said, ‘Hey, the Marines are just going to declare IOC because it would be politically untenable not to do that,'” Davis said.

“IOC in the Marine Corps means we will deploy that airplane in combat. That’s not a decision I was gonna take lightly, nor Gen. Dunford,” he said.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
An F-35B flies near its base at MCAS Beaufort in South Carolina. | Lockheed Martin

Ahead of IOC, Davis said that the Marine Corps “stacked the deck with the F-35 early on” by assigning Top Gun school graduates and weapons-tactics instructors to test the plane.

“The guys that flew that airplane and maintained that airplane were very, very, hard graders,” he said.

Davis added that the jet proved to be “phenomenally successful” during testing: “It does best when it’s out front, doing the killing.”

The Marine Corps’ first F-35B squadron is scheduled to go to sea in spring 2018.

Meanwhile, the US Air Force could declare its first F-35 squadron combat-ready as early as next week.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Best medics ever: These docs gave absinthe

Everyone wants something from their friendly neighborhood medic: opiates, tourniquets, a quick peek at that rash on their junk. But French Foreign Legion troops could get an additional bit of medicine from their quartermaster or doc: absinthe or quinine-laced wine.

So, was it just that the French knew how to party better than any other army? Or was it that the Legion just gave zero sh*ts and did whatever it wanted?


Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

The female mosquito sucks so hard.

(Center for Disease Control)

Well, the French propensity to drink and the Legion’s outcast status both played roles. At that time, the wine that was part of a soldier’s daily ration was increasing while most other militaries were cutting back. The reason being that France thought drinking that wine was a good way to cut down a troop’s chances of contracting malaria.

Quinine was known to have anti-malarial effects as far back as the late 1600s when King Charles II was successfully treated with it. Slipping it into the wine of legionnaires and others operating in tropical heat (in places like Africa and Mexico) just made sense.

The artemisia genus of plants, of which wormwood is a member, is a traditional medicine in China for the treatment of parasites in general and malaria in particular, among other ailments. Legion use started with infusing wormwood into wine, and legionnaires who developed a taste for it found they could get a similar fix back in Paris with a new drink known as ‘absinthe.’

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Absinthe looks pretty sweet, but stop burning off all your booze, man.

Absinthe is named for its iconic ingredient, wormwood, which has the Latin name, artemisia absinthium. The drink was invented in 1792 and mass production began in 1797.

Once absinthe became popular, it made as much sense to give that to the troops directly as it did to infuse issued wine with the herb, though the higher costs of absinthe likely limited how much troops got. An article in The Drinks Business gives a barracks rate of 5 centimes for the cheapest wine, 15 centimes for a more popular one, and a stunning 40 centimes for true absinthe.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

“The Green Muse” was the lady who visited you and gave you all your good ideas when you were all messed up on absinthe. She’s also known as the “Green Fairy,” but prefers Samantha, if anyone would ever bother to ask.

(Albert Maignan)

Ballers on a budget were only sucking down absinthe when they received it in their ration — that is, if they didn’t sell it instead.

Still, it must’ve made the quartermaster pretty popular. Any medics in charge of giving out anti-malarial pills should feel free to take on a new nickname: The “Green Fairy” of absinthe lore.

No takers? Weird.

Articles

That one time the Army drugged three soldiers and locked them in a room

In May 1962, four soldiers walked into a makeshift communications outpost outfitted with maps, food, medicine, and a chemical toilet. For the next 72 hours, the men would attempt to operate as a normal communications team while cameras rolled. Oh, and three of them were high on a powerful hallucinogenic drug.


Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Credit: US Army via The New Yorker

It reads like a reality TV show, but it was an actual experiment conducted by U.S. Army researcher John Ketchum. An Army colonel who retired in 1976, Ketchum spent most of his career researching potential chemical weapons, primarily weapons made from drugs like LSD and PCP.

Ketchum wanted to test the effects of another drug called 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, or BZ. BZ was originally developed as an ulcer drug but was scrapped when it started causing hallucinations and mental distress. Army tests indicated BZ would lower a soldier’s ability to perform simple tasks like an obstacle course. In 1962, the Army was ready to see how it would affect operations.

That May, they allowed Ketchum to create the fake outpost and drug the volunteers. The experiment began on a Friday morning and continued for 72 hours.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Credit: US Army via The New Yorker

During these 72 hours, the men responded according to the quantity of the drug they had received.

The leader of the group, identified only as L in Ketchum’s book, was given a placebo and spent most of his first 36 hours keeping the soldier who received the highest dose from hurting himself.

H and C, two soldiers who received low doses of the drug, spent the first day trying to get it out of their system with opposing methods. H began doing pushups repeatedly, while C went to sleep. Neither approach seemed to accelerate recovery and it took both men 24 hours to recover. Despite their recovery, neither H or C would help L much with their military tasks. But, they did help supervise Pfc. Ronald Zadrozny, an Army intelligence soldier who got the largest dose.

Zadrozny received a delirium-inducing dose of BZ. Within two hours of his arrival, he needed the assistance of L to stand up, and he would push people away who tried to help. He said he didn’t want to be treated like a little kid, according to Ketchum.

The Army wasn’t content just leaving the men in the room. The team had missions, primarily compiling information radioed and called into the outpost, before they needed to relay information to a fake rear headquarters. L would handle nearly all of these tasks while H and C read or slept. Zadrozny, once he could stand and walk around, spent most of his weekend staring into camera lenses whenever they were exposed or attempting to leave the locked area.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Credit: US Army via The New Yorker

He would pace the walls of the outpost, checking for exits. Then he would grab his hat and jacket, put them on, tell the rest of the men goodbye, and attempt to leave through the door. Every time he found it locked, he would get confused and try the handle for minutes. He attempted escape through the medicine cabinet until H pulled him away. Finally, he’d begin another repetition, starting by putting on his hat and jacket and saying goodbye to everyone.

In his book, Ketchum wrote that it was only after hours of this process that Zadrozny finally put it together. He tried the door a final time and turned to the room, telling the rest of the subjects, “We’re trapped!” H then looked up from a magazine and told the room, “He’s getting better.”

The whole time Zadrozny was trying to find a way out, the one sober member of the team was getting engrossed in a game against the research team. The researchers had scripted the radio calls the drugged soldiers would receive, but they ran out of script and had to start improvising. Signal soldiers assigned to the researchers came up with a plot involving a chemical train that was going to be ambushed and crafted a nonsense code for it using poker terms like “The Dealer.” L spent the latter half of the exercise trying to figure out what “Full House” meant and who “The Dealer” was as a fictional train came barreled towards its death.

Eventually, the drugs wore off and the 72-hour experiment ended. The team was released back to the barracks and left with some truly odd stories of the Cold War.

Ketchum would go on to test BZ in an open air environment, but the weapons were never deployed in combat. As further tests showed, maintaining effective concentrations of the gas in a real world scenario proved difficult and military opinion eventually swung away from the use of drugs as weapons.

(h/t to The New Yorker‘s , who discovered many of the archive documents from Edgewood and wrote stories about this and other experiments at the arsenal.)

NOW: Watch a soldier return from Afghanistan to surprise a total stranger

OR: 5 Army myths that just won’t die

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army astronaut may be first prosecuted for space crime

The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.

(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)


The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)

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First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.

The two women are going through a divorce that also includes a contentious custody dispute.

You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.

When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.

Well, for that, Stone points to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967. (It’s more commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.)

Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.

And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

(NASA/Roscosmos)

And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.

So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.

If a U.S. attorney brings charges against McClain, it would be under Title 18 U.S. Code § 1028 Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information. The maximum punishment for a single offense under that law is 30 years, but McClain’s actions, as reported in the press, would constitute a relatively minor offense under the code.

If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.

And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.

But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.

Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)

popular

Visiting the tombs of these 6 dictators makes a great summer getaway package

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died in March 2013, the government there declared its intention to have the body embalmed and put on permanent display. It was to be preserved and placed in La Planicie Barracks, a military museum near Venezuela’s presidential palace, Miraflores. Unfortunately for Venezuela’s Chavistas, the body decayed much too quickly and had to be interred instead.


No matter what people in other countries may think of Chavez, the Venezuelans mourned Chavez for seven days and staged an elaborate state funeral. His body laid in state for public visitation before being buried. The Venezuelan president was not the first world leader whose body was to be embalmed and displayed for posterity. Many have come before him, mostly dictators. You can be your own judge of whether Chavez belongs in that group while you’re planning your world tour to visit these others (who most definitely are in that group) preserved for the world to see.

1. Vladimir Lenin, Russia – Died January 21, 1924

 

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Lenin changed the 20th century and beyond with the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II and the founding of the Soviet Union. He set Russia on the path from being beaten up by any emerging world power (looking at you, Japan) to being one of two countries to ever be considered a superpower. The “Red Terror” under his reign is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of Russians. Still, after his 1924 death, his body was encased in glass and set up in Moscow’s Red Square where it lies today.

2. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam – Died September 2, 1969

Ho Chi Minh is the founder of the People’s Republic of Vietnam. Many in our audience may know Ho Chi Minh as a “son of a bi*ch” with “the blue balls, crabs, and the seven-year itch.” Before the war in Vietnam, however, Ho fought with the OSS against Japanese occupation in Indochina and expected an independent Vietnam after WWII. He even quoted Thomas Jefferson during his Independence Day speech to millions of Vietnamese onlookers.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Ho is also responsible for purges of non-communist members of the Viet Minh who helped bring him to power, as well as an estimated 173,000 killings during Vietnamese land reforms. He ruthlessly put down peasant rebellions and tortured and killed political enemies. His body lies in state in a granite mausoleum modeled after Lenin’s in Hanoi.

3. Mao Zedong, China – Died September 9, 1976

The only question left about Chairman Mao is how many people really died as a result of his leadership. From the Chinese Civil War to the Long March to the Cultural Revolution to the Great Leap Forward, Mao is estimated to be responsible for upwards of 78 million Chinese deaths. Mao Zedong is literally the worst thing to happen to humanity in all of human history.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

His remains are in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, across from the Forbidden City, which is iconically adorned with a large painting of his image.

4. Ferdinand Marcos, Philippines – Died September 28, 1989

Marcos served first in the Philippines’ House of Representatives and then in the Senate before being elected President in 1966. He was re-elected in 1969, just one year later a tide of unrest washed over the island nation. Marcos responded by declaring martial law and beginning a rule by decree. For over twenty years, Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines like a king. His armed forces brutally suppressed dissent. He imprisoned tens of thousands of political opponents and Marcos himself embezzled state funds for personal use.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

A contested election in 1983 turned from a transition of power into a revolution. Supporters of opposition leader Corazon Aquino, the wife of assassinated anti-Marcos Senator Benigno Aquino, took to the streets of Manila and began to occupy government buildings and broadcasters. Marcos, under advice from the White House, fled to Hawaii, where he died in exile. His embalmed body lies in a refrigerated crypt at the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in the Philippine city of Batac.

5. Kim Il-Sung, North Korea – Died July 8, 1994

The founder of North Korea and Korean War aggressor Kim Il-Sung died in 1994 after 46 years of unchallenged rule. Technically, he is still the president, as he was granted the title of “Eternal President” by constitutional amendment after his death. The regime even instituted a new “Juche” calendar beginning with the year 1912, the year of Kim’s birth.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
The body of late North Korean President Kim Il Sung is displayed in Pyongyang, North Korea. (KCNA Photo)

His body is draped in a Korean Worker’s Party flag at the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum in the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang. He is expertly angled so the massive, baseball-sized calcium deposit on his neck is not visible to the general public.

6. Kim Jong-Il, North Korea – Died December 17, 2011

Kim took over for his father in 1994, right after his death. North Korea thus became the first secular, Communist dictatorship with a line of hereditary succession. The younger Kim ruled for just under 20 years, dying in 2011 of a suspected heart attack while berating subordinates over the construction of a power plant.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Kim Jong-Il’s reign oversaw some of the worst years of the North Korean regime, including the disastrous four-year famine that killed upwards of 3.5 million people. As a result, he is often depicted in North Korean artwork with waves from a stormy sea crashing on rocks, symbolic of his “stoicism” in weathering the storms. He is also at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.

BONUS (Not a Dictator): Pope John XXIII, Vatican City – Died June 3, 1963

Pope John XXIII was not a dictator, really. Not in the accepted sense of the term, although the Pope does have nearly-autocratic rule in the Vatican (the Holy See is his religious jurisdiction, as a head of state, he oversees the Vatican City). Unlike the aforementioned dictators, this Pope has a history of liberalizing the Church, focusing on human rights and the needs of the poor. While officials were moving his body out of a Vatican crypt, they popped open his coffin and found him very well-preserved. He is now coated with a thin layer of wax and is on display at St. Peter’s Square.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
John XXIII interred in the Altar of St. Jerome.

In his early career before becoming Pope, John worked to help refugees (mostly Jewish) flee the Nazis. He intervened directly numerous times to ensure the safe passage of Jewish people out of Europe. His Papacy began on October 28, 1959 as he oversaw the Church’s recognition of the Jewish people as faithful and apologized for anti-Semitism on the behalf of the history of the Catholic Church.

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These are 10 of the longest-serving weapons in the US combat arsenal

As far as weapon systems are concerned, having the best available can be key to success on the battlefield.


But with rapid changes in technology, some weapons come and go rather quickly. Other times, weapons are so well designed and so effective, they stay in service for decades.

Here are 10 of the longest-serving weapons ever used by the United States military.

1. M1903 Springfield .30 Cal Rifle

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
U.S. Marines with M1903 rifles and bayonets in WWI France, 1918. (Imperial War Museum photo)

The M1903 was one of the first rifles to use the famous .30-06 round and was the standard American infantry rifle during World War I. Although officially replaced by the M1 Garand in 1937, it was still in service due to insufficient numbers of Garands. The Springfield .30 cal was retained as a sniper rifle through the Korean War and even into Vietnam before finally being retired after over 60 years of service.

2. M1911 .45 Cal Pistol

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s maritime raid force fires an M1911 .45 caliber pistol at a range in Jordan during Eager Lion 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

 

The M1911 is a creation of the legendary gunmaker John Browning, and it endured in service for over 100 years. The pistol became an icon for its strength in battle and by those who used it. The M1911 was phased out in favor of the Beretta M9 9mm pistol in the late 1980s but has stayed in service with Marine Special Operations units and is now designated as the M45.

3. M1919 .30 Cal Machine Gun

 

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
A Navy machine gunner of the Riverine Force in Vietnam using an M1919 being fed by an upside-down M-13 link belt. (DoD photo)

The M1919 was another one of John Browning’s successes. An air-cooled version of the M1917 that served U.S. troops well in World War I, it saw extensive use in World War II and Korea. The M1919 was phased out in favor of the new M60 in the late 1950s. However, the Navy, having a surplus of the weapons, converted many to 7.62 mm and used them on gun boats patrolling the rivers of Vietnam.

4. M2 .50 Cal Machine Gun

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
LCpl. Paul Rodas mans a .50 caliber machine gun as part of the security force during an exercise in the Central Command AOR. The 24th MEU is on their six-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy Photograph by PH2(SW) Michael Sandberg)

The “Ma Deuce” is a weapon system loved by the troops who use it and feared by those it targeted. The gun was designed near the end of World War I, too late to see service, and entered full production in 1921. Also designed by John Browning, the weapon is so well-built that in 2015 a 94 year old example was found still in service. Though numerous other designs have been proposed, the military has no plans to stop using the M2 anytime soon.

5. B-52 Stratofortress

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Munitions on display show the full capabilities of the B-52 Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Horstman)

The B-52 was designed to deliver nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. Despite never having to conduct this mission, the B-52 has been the workhorse of conventional bombing campaigns for more the 60 years. The Air Force plans to keep it in service into the 2040s.

6. M60 .30 Cal Machine Gun

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Staff Sgt. Clarence Neitzel of the 173d Airborne Brigade mans an M60 machine gun on Hill 875 outside of Dak To on November 22, 1967. (U.S. Army photo)

The M60 entered service in 1957, just in time to see heavy use in the jungles of Vietnam. The M60 served as the standard machine gun for the U.S. military until the 1990s when the M240 was adopted. However, more than 50 years later, the M60 continues to serve with some SEAL teams and as helicopter armament.

7. M14 .30 Cal Rifle

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Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Marcus Wrice fires an M14 rifle during a weapons qualification aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicolas C. Lopez)

The M14 had a short service life as the standard American infantry rifle from 1959 to 1964 when it was replaced by the M16. But the rifle never left service and was the basis for the M21 and M25 sniper rifles before making a serious comeback during the Global War on Terror when it was upgraded to the M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle.

8. M16 5.56 mm Rifle/ M4 Carbine

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Sergeant Christopher L. Mc Cabe fires his rifle during monthly range training on May 15, 2008. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Thomas J. Griffith)

Since replacing the M14 in 1964, the M16/M4 family of rifles has become the longest-serving standard rifle for the U.S. military. Despite its troubled beginning, the M16 and M4 have earned a hard-fought reputation as reliable and effective weapons. Despite numerous attempts to replace it, no competition has yielded a better rifle.

9. LGM-30 Minuteman Ballistic Missile

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
An unarmed LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test Feb. 20, 2016, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford)

The Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile has served as part of the U.S. nuclear triad since entering service in 1962. The Minuteman was the first ICBM to employ multiple independent reentry vehicles, allowing each missile to deploy three separate warheads for greater chances of target destruction. The Air Force, responsible for the missiles, currently operates 450, down from the peak of 1,000 during the 1970s.

10. M61 Vulcan 20 mm Cannon

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
An AC-130A Spectre gunship’s 20mm Vulcan cannon ammo belt. This is the earlier belted M61. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The M61 is the United States’ primary armament for fixed-wing aviation. After entering service in 1959, the gun saw extensive use in Vietnam by all branches fighting in the skies. The gun was credited with shooting down 39 MiGs during the war. After over 50 years of service, the M61 is still found on American fighters and in the Navy’s Phalanx CIWS.

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This author writes military fiction that isn’t too far from the truth

He’s a war strategist and a business owner, a bestselling author and an expert on mercenaries and robots. And for much of the past week, he was a major defense-conference headliner invited to share ideas with the region’s top brass as well as grunts on the ground.


New America Foundation senior fellow Peter “PW” Singer is probably best known as the co-author of “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War,” a 2015 thriller that mixes fact and future to describe how the United States, Russia, and China might battle on the ground, at sea, in the air, and throughout cyberspace.

But he’s also an international thought leader sought out for his views on espionage, technology, and politics.

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Singer during his speech at the 2016 World Travel Tourism Council Global Summit 2016. (Photo via WTTC)

In his keynote speech at the AFCEA C4ISR Symposium in San Diego, Singer shared his thoughts on “Visualizing the Future of War Through Fiction.”

But it was his time away from the conference that telegraphed his importance to the military — five briefings at local Marine and Navy facilities, including a pow wow with Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller and hours observing war games off of Camp Pendleton’s Red Beach.

Based in Washington, D.C., Singer, 42, was hosted throughout the week by consulting giant Deloitte.

“It’s been exciting to see the impact the book has had,” Singer said during an interview. “It’s doubly amazing to me because I’ve written nonfiction books that have had a pretty good range of readership in the military, but nothing that compares to this. And I think it shows the evidence of what storytelling can do by dropping people into a world, into future scenarios, where they see themselves.”

It’s not the first piece of fiction to find relevance in the military.

The Martians in H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” unleashed the Heat-Ray on humanity, what today would resemble the lasers or directed energy weapons joining America’s military tool kit. Wells also predicted atom bombs and nuclear proliferation, the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, and a form of communication akin to email.

Also read: Here’s who would win if Russia, China, and America went to war right now

In 1992, Air Force officer Charles Dunlap Jr.’s provocative essay “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012,” told in the form of a letter from Prisoner 222305759, triggered debate throughout the services about the importance of preserving traditional military-civilian relations and protecting the Constitution.

The commandant’s reading list for enlisted and officer Marines includes a dozen works of fiction, including Jim Webb’s Vietnam War classic “Fields of Fire” and Phil Klay’s”Redeployment,” poignant writing about Iraq. A pair of Singer’s books share space on the commandant’s shelf: “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution” and “Ghost Fleet,” which was co-authored by August Cole.

“Ghost Fleet” doesn’t mirror other novels on the list.

Its mix of cutting-edge technology and fast-paced plot was inspired by Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising.” Clancy’s novel so excited strategists and policymakers in 1986 that many feared he had divulged too many secrets about America’s revolutionary weapon systems and how they might be employed in battle.

Clancy’s fiction franchise inspired video games. Singer also has worked as a consultant on the popular “Call of Duty” series.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Call of Duty: WWII. (Promotional image by Activision)

“Tom Clancy was a big influence on us, but the obvious difference is that in the Clancy books the technology always works perfectly,” Singer said.

“In the real world, it doesn’t. And in a lot of the science fiction I love as well, like (William) Gibson’s ‘Blade Runner,’ it doesn’t either. And that’s both because technology never works perfectly in the real world and also because there’s this thing called ‘people.’ People are working against the technology.”

“I think what we’ve done in large part expresses what people in the Navy are actually saying. And that comes from the fact that the interviews for the book were with Navy ship captains, you know? Enlisted sailors. A Marine fighter pilot. Special operations. Whatever. So when someone in the book says, ‘The Littoral Combat Ship? More like ‘Little Crappy Ship,’ that’s not us making it up. That’s someone in the Navy, in the real world, who said that.”

Phil Carter, an Army combat veteran of Iraq who now directs the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C., said Singer is an essential thinker because of his unique ability to comprehend the spirit of a new age of war, where battles take place on the Internet and in dusty villages. He described the novel as catnip to commanders.

Also read: A war with China in 2025 would be bloody and unwinnable

“Science fiction really has a hold on military officers in particular,” Carter said. “And Peter Singer taps into that. His nonfiction and his fiction are like a smarter, hipper version of Tom Clancy, and that really appeals to guys like me who grew up reading Tom Clancy and are now in the military living it.”

Critics grouse that “Ghost Fleet” suffers from some of the same literary problems that plagued Clancy — thin characters, wooden dialogue, and a story that turns on an unlikely event, with the authors too often sacrificing cogent analysis for a quick turn of the page.

“Peter does a great job bringing attention to very complicated issues such as the future of war, but ‘Ghost Fleet’ should be used as a point of departure on the subjects and not the last word. It helps to stimulate a more robust debate inside the services and among policymakers,” said Erin Simpson, a top national security consultant who co-hosts “Bombshell,” a hit podcast that also has excited the Beltway’s defense community.

And then there’s China. A recent review in the People’s Liberation Army’s Daily newspaper complained that Singer and Cole were trying to paint Beijing as an enemy.

“But our agenda isn’t to say that there will be such a war,” Singer said. “If there’s a political lesson from it, for geopolitics, it’s the idea that the kind of conflict (of) states fighting states was thinkable for much of the 20th century. The two world wars that happened versus the third World War, the fear of it throughout the Cold War.

“But then for the last generation, it’s been unthinkable. And now it’s thinkable once more.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

A Soviet pilot defected with a top-secret fighter 42 years ago

1430 Hrs. Local, Sept. 6, 1976. Sea of Japan near Hakodate Airport, Hokkaido Prefecture.

Jet fuel burned faster than he calculated as he pressed lower under the overcast, down to the gray black waves only 150-feet above the Sea of Japan. He hauled the heavy control stick left, then corrected back right in a skidding bank around a fishing vessel that came out of the misty nowhere in the low afternoon cloud cover. White vapor spiraled long “S”s from his angular wingtips in the violent turn nearly touching the wave tops.

That was the second fishing boat he had to bank hard to miss at nearly wave-top level. Rain squalls started. The huge Tumansky R-15 jet engines gulped more gas by the minute. This plane was not made to fly low and subsonic. It was built to fly supersonic in the high altitude hunt for the now-extinct American B-70 Mach 3 super-bomber that was never put into service.


He had to find the Japanese Self-Defense Force F-4 Phantoms that were no doubt in the air to intercept him. If they didn’t shoot him down first, they would lead him to Chitose Air Base where he may be able to land safely. If his fuel held out. But the Japanese Phantoms were nowhere to be found.

So, he hauled the stick back into his lap and the big, boxy Foxbat clawed through the clouds in its last, angry climb before succumbing to a fuel-starved death.

Eventually, he found an airport. Hokodate Airport. A 6,000 foot runway. Not long enough for his MiG-25 though. He’d make it work. On final approach to Hokodate he nearly collided head-on with a 727 airliner. It was better than ditching where he’d lose his biggest bargaining chip. His top secret airplane. He managed a rough landing, running off the end of the runway, climbing out of jet, and firing his pistol in the air when curious Japanese began snapping photos of the incident from a roadway.

It was, as I recall, the biggest thing that had ever happened in my life. I was 15 years old then.

We raced to the hobby shop on our bicycles to consult with the older men who owned the store. What would this mean? Was it real? Would there be a model of the MiG-25 released soon? We poured over the grainy newspaper photos, the best we had ever seen, again and again. We could not believe it, but it was real. The most exotic, highest flying, fastest, most secretive fighter plane on earth had just fallen into American hands. We got our first look at the mysterious MiG-25 Foxbat.

Flight Lieutenant Viktor Ivanovich Belenko, an elite MiG-25P pilot of the Soviet Air Defense Forces, had defected with the most secret operational combat aircraft of the era.

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U.S. analysts initially the believed the MiG-25 was a highly maneuverable air superiority fighter with sophisticated lightweight jet engines. The reality was the MiG-25 had massive, heavy engines and was made of mostly simple materials using vacuum tube technology

(The Koku Fan)

What happened in the aftermath of his defection 42 years ago influenced aircraft design, dispelled myths about the Soviet Union, angered one nation and offered relief to another while leaving a third in an awkward diplomatic bind. It was one more minor tear in the tapestry of the Iron Curtain as it slowly unraveled around the edges, like a loose thread that continues to pull out longer and longer.

“What did they think and [what do we] think now? Traitor! Military pilots consider it a huge disgrace for the Air Force of the USSR and Russia.” That is what the administrator of the most active social media fan page for the Russian Aerospace Forces told TheAviationist.com when we asked them what Russians think of Viktor Belenko today. While the Iron Curtain has come down, the hardened attitudes about Belenko betraying the state remain. The Russians still hate Viktor Belenko for stealing their most prized combat aircraft at the time.

In the U.S., “secret” units have been operating Russian MiGs and Sukhois quietly over the American west for years. But Belenko’s defection in 1976 with a Foxbat, the NATO codename for the MiG-25 (the Russians don’t call it that), was an intelligence coup that not only provided technical data and benchmark insights for decades to come, it also provided a core-sample of Communist life in the Soviet Union.

According to Belenko, things were bad in the Soviet Union. In the 1980 chronicle of Belenko’s defection, “MiG Pilot: The Final Escape of Lieutenant Belenko”, author John Baron wrote of rampant alcoholism within the ranks of the Soviet air force. Living facilities at bases in the eastern Soviet Union were poor since some of the bases the MiG-25 operated from had not yet been upgraded to accommodate the larger ground crews needed to maintain the aircraft. Food quality for enlisted maintenance crews was so bad the men refused to eat. While food for officer/pilots like Belenko was much better, when Belenko reached the United States after his defection he mistakenly ate a can of cat food and later remarked that, “It was delicious. Better than canned food in the Soviet Union today!”

But Belenko entered a netherworld when he defected from Russia. While U.S. President Gerald Ford granted Belenko asylum in the U.S. and the Central Intelligence Agency gave him a stipend and built a life for him as a pilot and consultant in the U.S., neither side could fully trust the turncoat. When Belenko arrived in Japan he was given the book by Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch”. Despite his oath of military service to the Soviet Union, Belenko feared and was repulsed by the deep social injustice of Communist Soviet Russia. He had seen people inside the Soviet Union suffering like Denisovitch from poverty, hunger, and oppression. Belenko wanted out. And so, he stole his Foxbat, flew it to Japan and never looked back.

In a footnote to Belenko’s defection with the MiG-25P Foxbat, I did get my scale model airplane kit shortly thereafter. The Japanese hobby brand Hasegawa had sent photographers to Hokodate Airport to photograph the MiG-25 before it was concealed, examined by the U.S. and Japan, and shipped back to the Soviet Union in pieces. Within months of the MiG-25 landing in Japan, Hasegawa released a 1/72nd scale plastic model kit of the MiG-25 complete with decals for Viktor Belenko’s aircraft. It sold for U.S.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Japanese hobby brand Hasegawa obtained photos of the MiG-25 at Hokodate Airport before it was covered and quickly produced an accurate 1/72nd scale plastic of the aircraft.

(The Squadron Shop)

Viktor Belenko continues to live in the United States according to most sources. He was photographed in a bar in 2000 where he was recognized, photographed and spoke openly to people about his experience defecting from the former Soviet Union. In 1995, he had returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and safely returned to the U.S. afterward. Belenko told an interviewer he had enjoyed going on fishing trips in the U.S. with test pilot and fighter ace General Chuck Yeager.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Viktor Belenko adapted well to life in the U.S., flying for the U.S. military and enjoying U.S. culture. He even got married in the United States.

(SeanMunger.com)

There have been other famous defections by military pilots, including a shadowy attempted but apparently failed defection with a Soviet Tu-95 “Bear” heavy bomber. Author Tom Clancy rose to prominence on his breakout fictional novel “The Hunt for Red October” about a Russian captain defecting with a Soviet nuclear powered missile submarine. One of his fictional characters in the book even refers to the Belenko defection saying, “This isn’t some pilot defecting with a MiG!”. But fictional accounts aside, now that the Iron Curtain has long since come down it is unlikely we will ever see a defection from any country like Viktor Belenko’s.

Featured image: Photos of the then-secret MiG-25 Foxbat were taken from a nearby road before it could be covered.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

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That time the Nazis built a gigantic plane that could haul 95,000 pounds of gear

The Nazis concocted all sorts of weird military technology, but the Me 323 Giant was certainly one of the biggest.


With six engines over a 181 foot wingspan and the ability to haul 95,000 pounds of gear, the Giant was an incredible aviation feat. Doors in its nose opened up and allowed tanks, artillery, and personnel to hop inside and be transported up to 675 miles away. But it was also a big, slow, flying elephant with wings.

The Me 323 was helped answer a question plaguing the Germans early in the war: How do we get a bunch of tanks, troops, and artillery across the English channel and take London?

As Tyler Rogoway details at Foxtrot Alpha, in 1940 the Luftwaffe gave aircraft manufacturers Junkers and Messerschmitt just 14 days to come up with a proposal for an aircraft that could pull off such a feat. Junkers had a tough time coming up with a usable design and Messerschmitt was eventually chosen to spearhead the concept, which became the Me 321.

Though the Germans ultimately cancelled their planned invasion of Britain, called Operation Sea Lion, the Me 321 was used extensively on the Eastern Front. But the large cargo glider was riddled with problems, though it did see some success when used in Russia.

In 1941, German transport pilots were asking for something better than the Me 321. Only 200 of them were built, and while a bunch were scrapped, at least a few were upgraded to what would become the Me 323. It was the largest land-based transport aircraft of World War II, according to the Daily Mail.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

From Foxtrot Alpha:

The final production configuration of the Me323 had a high wing made of wood and fabric that was braced near the center of the wing and fuselage. The fuselage was built out of a tubular metal skeleton with wooden cross-beams and fabric covering. The cockpit sat high atop the aircraft’s bulbous nose, which was a clam-shell door design, allowing it to open wide for outsized cargo to be loaded and unloaded. The cargo hold was cavernous for the time, measuring 36 feet long, 10 feet wide and 11 feet high, which is very roughly the size of a first generation C-130’s cargo hold. All said, the Me323 could carry a wide variety of items. For example, it could haul a pair of four ton trucks or 52 drums of fuel or 130 fully outfitted combat troops.

Just because it could lift a lot didn’t mean it could do so quickly. The Giant’s maximum speed was a paltry 135mph at sea level, and that figure got only worse as it climbed. This was helped somewhat by replacing wooden propellers on early models with metal variable pitch propellers on later ones. A crew of five was used on most missions, which included two pilots, two engineers and a radioman. During flights through areas that were of high risk, the radioman and the engineers could man three of the aircraft’s five MG 131 machine guns, although dedicated gunners were often carried for these higher-risk missions, allowing the crew to concentrate on flying and navigating, while still employing all five guns against Allied fighters. The Giant’s five .51 inch machine guns were located on the aircraft’s upper wings and in the nose and tail.

So how did the Giant fare? Not so great, as it turned out. In 1943, a fleet of Giants was dispatched to airlift supplies to German troops in Tunisia, since the sea lanes were littered with Allied ships. Hitler didn’t really think this one through, since a gigantic bullseye of a target flying at 135 mph wasn’t exactly the best solution.

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Sure, the Me 323 had gun ports with machine guns and some German fighter escorts to defend against attacks, but that didn’t seem to matter on April 22. According to World War II Today, of the 27 Me 323 aircraft that attempted the hop from Sicily to Tunisia, 22 were shot down in the Mediterranean.

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

The good news, of course, was that the crashed planes made really awesome diving spots about 70 years later. But the bad news: The fleet of Giants got so beat up that none were capable of flying around summer 1944, according to Foxtrot Alpha. No intact Me 323 survives today, although the German Air Force Museum has a main wing on display.

Here are some more photos of what it was like:

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35
Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

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