An Iraqi student pilot was killed when an F-16 jet crashed during a training mission in southeastern Arizona, authorities said Sept. 6.
First Lt. Lacey Roberts of the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing said the Air Force has activated a team to investigate the crash, which occurred Sept. 5 about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northwest of Tucson.
The pilot’s identity was not released. His death was the second of an Iraqi pilot flying an F-16 that crashed in Arizona in recent years.
Roberts said the plane belonged to the Iraqi air force and that the routine training mission was being conducted in conjunction with the 162nd Wing, which is based at Tucson International Airport.
The US military is training Iraqi pilots to fly F-16s at the request of Iraq’s government, Roberts said.
In July 2015, an Iraqi brigadier general flying from the 162nd died when his F-16, a newer model recently delivered to the Iraqi air force, crashed during night training near Douglas.
In January 2016, a Taiwanese pilot on a training flight from Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix was killed when his F-16 went down in Yavapai County.
The 162nd Wing is the Air Guard’s biggest F-16 training operation and conducts training missions across military ranges in southern and central Arizona.
The wing has hosted training for allied nations since 1990 and trained pilots from nations such as Iraq, Singapore, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Oman, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
The Air Force is upgrading facilities at bases that house nuclear bombers.
But the Air Force and Strategic Command both say there are no plans to put those bombers on 24-hour alert.
Officials from the US Air Force and US Strategic Command have said there are no immediate plans to put nuclear bombers on 24-hour alert.
Questions about plans for US bombers came after a Defense One report that facility upgrades at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana were part of an effort to prepare for an order to go to 24-hour ready alert with US nuclear bombers.
“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told Defense One, though he and other officials stressed that no such order had been given.
Among the upgrades planned at Barksdale are the renovation of quarters for crews who could man bombers stationed there and the construction of storage facilities for a nuclear cruise missile that is being developed. The B-52 and the B-2 are the only Air Force bombers capable of carrying out a nuclear attack.
While Goldfein is responsible for the Air Force and making sure its forces — including bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles — are trained and equipped for any scenario, Strategic Command makes operational decisions about US nuclear-weapons systems.
US Strategic Command chief Air Force Gen. John Hyten said through a spokesman that he was not currently considering putting bombers on alert.
“There are no discussions or plans for US Strategic Command to place bombers on alert. Any decisions related to the posture of nuclear forces would come from, or through, US Strategic Command,” the spokesman told Breaking Defense. “We constantly train, prepare and equip our personnel to ensure we have a combat-ready force that underwrites strategic deterrence in the 21st century.”
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek acknowledged that base-infrastructure upgrades, exercises, and equipment modernization were all happening but said they were needed to “maintain a baseline level of readiness.”
“We do this routinely as part of our organize, train and equip mission so our forces are ready to respond when called upon,” she told Defense News, noting that a return to alert status was not imminent.
Air Force spokesman Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas also told reporters on Monday that that he had spoken with Strategic Command and Air Force Global Strike Command, which are both responsible for nuclear-bomber missions, and said a 24-hour ready alert was not being considered.
“There’s not any discussions or plans to bring bombers on a 24-hour nuclear alert right now,” Thomas said, according to Military.com.
But, when asked if the facilities being upgraded could support a 24-hour ready alert in the future, Thomas said, “Absolutely they could be,” because they are built for nuclear command, control, and communications crews. (Air Force Global Strike Command set up a new entity at Barksdale to oversee Air Force NC3 operations in April.)
Thomas added that the Air Force routinely upgraded its facilities but didn’t say if similar renovations were taking place at other facilities where nuclear bombers are stationed. He added that the Air Force would be ready to discuss going to ready-alert status, though he stressed that Strategic Command would be responsible for such a decision.
“Right now those discussions are not happening. Could they or would we be ready for them? Absolutely,” Thomas said. “Could we be doing the mission? We could stand that up very quickly. I just don’t want to overplay something.”
The alert facility at Barksdale has been undergoing work since August 2016, and Strategic Command provided some money for the renovations. While the facility could house nuclear-bomber crews, it is more likely to house crews manning the E4-B National Airborne Operations Center planes that are used by the defense secretary and other senior officials during times of emergency.
US has not had its nuclear bombers on 24-hour alert since 1991, and the 2010 New Start Treaty signed by the US and Russia prohibited putting heavy bombers on alert during peacetime.
The Correctional Custody Unit is scheduled to open their doors Feb. 14 at the Brig aboard Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan.
The CCU is designed to provide an alternative to administrative separation for cases involving minor misconduct. The goal of this program is to decrease early discharge rates for misconduct in first term junior enlisted Marines.
“This will provide an opportunity for good Marines to recover from a slight misstep, as well as return to the ranks free of stigma with an opportunity for redemption,” said Chief Warrant Officer Brian Sheppard the Brig Commanding Officer, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan. “Compared to the alternatives such as administrative separation, ‘babysitting,’ restriction, extra duty, and forfeitures, CCU has the capability to really motivate a Marine and produce a far more fit, disciplined, capable, and fired-up Marine back into the ranks.”
Awardees, Marines assigned to the CCU, will spend seven or 30 days under constant surveillance completing hard labor, formal uniform inspections, combat fitness training and values-based relapse prevention training. The curriculum is designed to foster leadership and decision making abilities in order to have a lasting impact that better supports long term restoration.
“Awardee supervision is ongoing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the 30 and seven day course,” said Gunnery Sgt. Loren Ortiz, the CCU staff noncommissioned officer in charge, HS Bn., MCIPAC-MCB Camp Butler, Japan. “There will always be a senior watch stander, and his assigned watch standers on duty from reception to graduation. Weekly counselings will also be conducted and annotated in their weekly progress summary by our assigned corrections counselor. Commands are also highly encouraged to check on their Marines during command visitations.”
CCU wants Marines to graduate the program re-educated, refocused and “re-greened.”
“I hope commanders take an honest look at this alternative because I see this program has great potential to mitigate first term discharges,” said Sheppard. “Restriction is not motivating. Extra duties are not motivating. Those Marines are negatively labeled, and for the most part see these punishments as career ending; this punishment alone is seldom corrective. Instead give the Marine an opportunity. Remove them from that state, send them to CCU, get them re-motivated and remind these men and women why they put their feet on the yellow foot prints.”
The “Mach Loop” in northwest Wales provides a perfect vantage point to watch fighter jets and other aircraft blitz through steep-sided valleys at almost eye level.
Amateur photographer Elwyn Roberts caught what appear to be U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters from the 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath — home to the U.S. Air Force in Europe’s only F-15 fighter wing — making some thunderous passes through the Loop’s snow-capped mountains.
Aviation enthusiasts and photographers flock to the area, nicknamed the Mach Loop after the town at the southern end of the circuit, Machynlleth, where roughly 1,000-meter-tall mountains make it possible for all kinds of aircraft to make low-level passes.
The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the bloodiest in American history with over 7,000 soldiers killed in three days of fighting.
(A single civilian, Mary Virginia Wade, was also killed.)
But if the modern military fought the battle, the costs could easily be much higher as today’s artillery, mortars, jets, and helicopters make every exchange more costly. And the increased range and firing rate of the M16 instead of Civil War rifles would make the missteps of generals even more catastrophic.
A squad designated marksman scans his sector while providing security. (Photo: U.S. Army)
When the two sides first clashed at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, it was largely an accident. Union Brig. Gen. John Buford, the head of cavalry for the North, had sent men to scout the area around the city and they ran into a group of men commanded by Gen. Harry Heth heading into the city to find supplies.
While many Union leaders thought there were only a few rebels in the area, and many rebels thought the Union forces were just a militia group, Buford and a few others suspected the truth. The two major armies in the eastern theater had just stumbled into one another.
But Buford was a pioneer of mounted infantry tactics and ordered his subordinates to prepare for a pitched battle the following day. He spent the bulk of that night getting the lay of the land and planning his attack. But, if he had been in command of modern, mechanized infantry, he wouldn’t have needed to.
Instead, he would have sent his dismounts forward to search out the enemy encampments and would have brought his Strykers up with them. Meanwhile, any UAVs he could wrangle up would be flying ahead, searching out the enemy.
But Rebels with modern communication equipment would have reported the chance engagement in the city to their higher headquarters. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who knew that the Union was pursuing them north, would likely have sent out his own scouts and drones to search for enemy forces.
When each side learned that their enemy was nearby, heavily armed, and deployed near the vital strategic crossroads of Gettysburg, they would have surged all assets to take and hold the key ground.
Buford’s mechanized infantry would likely have taken the same heights that it did in 1863, but this time it would have positioned Strykers with TOW missiles behind cover and sent those armed with machine guns to cover the approaches to the heights. Most infantry squads would dismount and take up defensive positions on the heights.
Meanwhile, each side would begin calling up close air support and alerting the Air Force that they needed air battle interdiction immediately. Unfortunately, when the jets arrived, they would be too busy trying to establish air superiority to start hitting ground targets.
As the duel began to play out in the sky, artillery units on the ground would begin lobbing shells at precision targets and using rockets and howitzer barrages to saturate areas of known enemy activity.
This is what makes it unlikely that Mrs. Mary Wade would be the only civilian casualty of a modern Gettysburg.
The Union forces would likely congregate in a similar fishhook that first night as they did in the actual battle on the second day.
But here is where things would go wrong for the Union. When Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-fated move into the peach orchard, the Confederates would have been able to pin his men down with machine gun fire and then concentrate their artillery fire, wiping out Sickles and most of his men.
Down most of a corps and under fire, the Union would fall back to the heights once again and move forces to defend the flank where Sickles once was.
But Lee might once again make his great mistake of the battle. With a corps ground under his heel and the Union center losing men to guard the flank, he would order Maj. Gen. George Pickett, newly arrived on the battlefield in transports, to push against the seemingly weak Union center.
But as Pickett leads his men across the 1-mile of open ground to the Union center, his men would be cut down. The Union Strykers and Abrams would fire from behind cover and, while a few of them would be taken out by Confederate Javelins, TOWs, and other weapons, they would still wreak havoc.
Gunners on the ridge would open up with M2 .50-cals and M240Bs, walking the rounds on incoming Confederate infantry as they bounded into range. Union artillery would, once again, saturate the area. Fisters would identify command vehicles and pass their locations to helicopters and artillery crews for concentrated destruction.
Missiles would arc back and forth across the Gettysburg fields in the wee hours of July 1. The whole Battle of Gettysburg, fought over a three-day period in real life, would have played out on an advanced timeline with modern-day weapons of war.
But the outcome would likely be the same: Lee’s undersupplied, outnumbered troops would attempt to force the high ground against defenders who reached most of the important terrain first; a false sense of confidence after the Confederates took advantage of Sickles’ mistake would have led them to gamble much and lose it all.
Afghans are slightly more optimistic about the future than they were last year, despite a stagnant economy and near-constant attacks by a revitalized Taliban, according to the results of a nationwide poll released Nov. 14.
The annual survey by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation, released in Kabul, found that 32.8 percent of Afghans believe their country is moving in the right direction, up from 29.3 percent in 2016. Another 61.2 percent said the country is heading in the wrong direction, down from 65.9 percent — a record high — in 2016.
The foundation acknowledged that the slight increase in optimism is “difficult to explain.”
The country has been mired in war since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. The Taliban have regrouped and driven the Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces from a number of districts across the country. An upstart Islamic State group affiliate has meanwhile carried out several attacks targeting civilians.
The foundation polled 10,012 Afghan men and women in face-to-face interviews conducted between July 5 and July 23 in all 34 provinces. The poll has a 1.4 percent margin of error.
“The main finding for this year’s survey, if you look at overall the public perception, it is starting to stabilize in term of how people view the future of Afghanistan and public optimism is increasing in a variety of areas although there are issues around people’s desire to leave the country and live abroad if provided with an opportunity,” Abdullah Ahmadzai, country representative for The Asia Foundation said after announcing the study in Kabul.
The findings marked the reversal of a decade-long downward trajectory, the foundation said. However, most respondents expressed concern about the security and future of the country, and 38.8 percent said they would leave Afghanistan if they had the opportunity, the second-highest number recorded since the survey began in 2004.
“So overall 2017 compared to 2016 shows a trend that is more positive and optimistic compared to last year, where we had the public pessimism at its highest and public optimism at its lowest levels,” Ahmadzai said.
Reactions to the survey from residents in the capital differed. While some didn’t agree with the results, university student Mir Hussain said it makes sense to him that most Afghans are hopeful for the future.
“If we think that our country is not moving forward it is not going to help us, we are not willing to move backward,” he said. “We are optimistic and our country has to move forward.”
Ahmadzai said there are specific reasons why some Afghans are not hopeful for the future.
“When it comes to public pessimism in terms of where they see the country is heading, the main issues are around security, unemployment, or the economic situation and the fact that the unemployment rate is reported to be quite high in the reporting year.”
Ahmadzai said confidence in public institutions has slightly improved, though nearly all Afghans say the country’s rampant corruption affects their lives, consistent with last year’s findings.
Bob Hoover was a U.S. Army Air Forces pilot stuck in a Nazi prison camp in Northern Germany after being shot down in 1944 over Southern France.
He’d spent 16 months as a POW and wasn’t going to stay there one minute longer. So he staged a fight between fellow prisoners, jumped over the Stalag’s barb wire fence, and stole an unguarded Focke-Wulf 190 from the nearby airfield.
He flew to Holland, which had just been liberated by the Allies.
As a child, he was inspired by his parents talking about Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight. By age 15, he started a flying club at his high school. He took a job bagging groceries for $2 a week to pay for 15 minutes flying time. After becoming solo-certified, he began teaching himself aeronautical acrobatic moves.
He joined the Army Air Corps after enlisting in the Tennessee National Guard during World War II and was sent to Army Pilot Training School.
He wasn’t shot down until his 59th mission.
Jimmy Doolittle called Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived,” high praise for a man who had been flying for just 10 years by the time the United States Air Force became an independent branch of service. Hoover became an Air Force legend, joining the ranks of Doolittle, fellow Stalag Luft I prisoner Gabby Gabreski, and Chuck Yeager — to name a few. He flew captured enemy planes and later, experimental airframes in the Air Force, including the P-80, F-86, and F-100 Super Sabre.
Hoover was also Chuck Yeager’s backup (and chase plane pilot) when Yeager broke the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 in 1947.
His time testing aircraft even led Hoover to design technology to advance the development of aviation, including the “Hoover Nozzle” and the “Hoover Ring.”
Throughout his life, Hoover earned numerous awards and accolades, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and the French Croix de Guerre. He was also inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame and Aerospace Walk of Honor. The Blue Angels, USAF Thunderbirds, and Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds inducted him as an honorary member. After awarding him the Living Legends of Aviation “Freedom of Flight” Award in 2006, the nonprofit renamed the award after him the very next year.
Considered a “pilot’s pilot,” Hoover continued to fly in air shows until 2000.
Hoover’s death follows his wife Colleen’s in March. Yeager’s wife Victoria recounted the story of Bob and Colleen’s first date on her website.
U.S. Army officials in Korea announced April 18, 2018, that an Eighth Army memo warning soldiers about potentially “bad Anthrax” vaccinations given on a large scale is “completely without merit.”
The announcement follows an explosion of activity on social media after an April 10, 2018 memo from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment in Korea began circulating on Facebook. The memo was intended to advise soldiers who possibly received bad Anthrax vaccinations from Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Fort Drum, New York from 2001-2007 for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom that they may qualify for Veterans Affairs benefits.
“The purpose of this tasking informs soldiers who received bad Anthrax batches from Ft. Campbell and Ft. Drum from 2001-2007 for OEF/OIF IOT notify possible 100 percent VA disabilities due to bad Anthrax batches,” the memo states.
Military.com and other media organizations reached out to the Army on April 16, 2018, to verify the memo. Eighth Army officials in Korea sent out a statement at 9:33 p.m. on April 18, 2018.
“Second Battalion, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade recently published an internal memorandum with the intent of informing soldiers of the potential health risks associated with the anthrax vaccine based on information they believed was correct,” Christina Wright, a spokeswoman for Eighth Army said in an email statement.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Leon Wong)
“Defense Health Agency representatives have verified the information is false and completely without merit. Once the brigade discovered the error, the correct information was published to their soldiers.”
The Eighth Army’s statement also stated that the “potential side effects of vaccines, including anthrax, are generally mild and temporary. While the risk of serious harm is extremely small, there is a remote chance of a vaccine causing serious injury or death.”
The author of the post — Dee Mkparu, a logistics specialist in U.S. Army Europe, said that it was not clear if the memo was authentic but thought it was important to make the information public.
“This information was gathered from other veterans through Facebook; the validity of this data has not been fully vetted but I felt it was more important to share this as a possibility that to let it go unknown,” Mkparu said.
Mkparu updated his post with 17 potentially bad batch numbers of Anthrax vaccine allegedly found at more than a dozen military installations across the United States as well as Kuwait and South Korea.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Justin E. Yarborough)
“Please get with your VA representative and look into it. Even if it turns out to be false perhaps the Anthrax concerns from so [many] people will bring the issue into the light.”
Francisco Urena, the secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services secretary was quick to call the memo “a fake” in a recent Tweet, advising service members not to share their personal information.
“There is a fake memo circulating social media about a bad batch of anthrax vaccination for VA Compensation,” Urena tweeted. “This is a scam. Do not share your personal information. This is not how VA Claims are filed.”
VA disability benefits are granted for health conditions incurred in or caused by military service, according to the Eighth Army statement.
“The level of disability is based on how a service-connected condition impacts daily life,” according to the statement. “In those rare cases, VA disability or death benefits may be granted.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
The rumor mill is one of the most amazing things about Army service. Conjecture seems to travel through the Private News Network at speeds rivaling any military vehicle. Unfortunately, the PNN is not the most accurate place to get news and there are certain urban legends that show up time and again. Here are five of the rumors that just won’t die.
1. “These soft new soldiers could get a break in basic by just raising their stress cards.”
It seems like every time the Army graduates a class of basic trainees, the rumor pops up that this class was issued the fabled “stress cards.” These legendary pieces of paper would allow soldiers to take a time out if basic was getting too stressful and challenging, but the cards were never supposed to provide a break.
Snopes researched this myth and found an example of cards referencing stress in Navy recruits, while Stars and Stripes found a card that was issued to new soldiers. Neither card allowed for a time out though. The Navy card listed resources stressed sailors could turn to instead of running away or committing suicide. The Army cards served as a reminder to training cadre that recruit stress was real and should be managed.
For both services, there are reports of recruits trying to get out of training by raising the card, but training cadre were not obliged to provide a time out. A 1997 federal advisory committee recommended the use of the cards end due to the widespread misconception that they could be used to take a break.
2. “The Army was drugging us in basic. That’s why we didn’t want to have sex.”
Soldiers in basic may be surprised to find they can go months without sex and not miss it during training. In whispered conversations over dining facility tables, this is blamed on the Army lacing the food or water with saltpeter or other anti-libido drugs.
Stars and Stripes addressed this rumor and every branch of service provided an enthusiastic denial of the myth. In the article, a spokeswoman for the Kinsey Institute addressed the likely cause of soldiers’ lowered sex drive.
“Most people when they are under stress are not interested in sex,” Jennifer Bass told Stars and Stripes. “There are other things going on that are more important that they have to take care of physically and emotionally, and usually those two have to be working together for sexual response to happen.”
The rumor sometimes manifests as the Army drugging deployed soldiers, but the real cause of the dampened libido overseas is probably the physical and emotional stress of combat.
3. “Really, my granddad’s uncle had an M-16 with Mattel right on the grips.”
The story goes that the first shipments of M-16s to U.S. troops in Vietnam had handgrips stamped with the Mattel logo, since Mattel had been subcontracted to make the parts in the first few runs of the new rifles.
While a great story, it’s not true. Snopes thinks the rumor started due to a joke among service members. The M-16 was plagued with problems when it first debuted with U.S. troops. Since it was made of plastic and did not function well as a weapon, troops joked that it was a toy using the tagline of the largest toy manufacturer of the time, “You Can Tell It’s Mattel… It’s Swell!” Mattel also manufactured a toy version of the weapon, likely adding to the myth.
The rifle was originally created by Armalite, and it had been producing the M-16 for export for over three years before the U.S. placed an order in 1962. Armalite had supplied an order to the Federation of Malaysia in late 1959, followed by orders for testing in India and fielding by the South Vietnamese. Manufacturing of the design was licensed out in 1962 to Colt who made the weapons finally delivered to U.S. troops in Vietnam in 1965. Colt, Armalite, and yes, even Mattel, have all denied involvement the toymaker had any part in manufacturing parts for the M-16.
4. “Hollywood doesn’t get our uniforms right because it would be against the law.”
Military movies are filled with annoying inaccuracies, something WATM has been happy to point out on multiple occasions. The rumor when it comes to uniform errors is that federal law prohibits civilians from wearing military uniforms, so Hollywood changes aspects of the uniform to get around the law.
Since actors are allowed to wear the uniform while performing, Hollywood could legally portray the uniform properly just as easily as they display it incorrectly. Typically, movies gets the uniforms wrong because the crew doesn’t know better or doesn’t care. At the end of the day, it’s a costume designer outfitting the actors, not military technical advisors.
5. “Starbucks doesn’t support the troops!”
Many companies have been accused of not supporting the troops for various reasons, but Starbucks seems to be the one who gets criticized the most due to a myth that they openly voiced a lack of support to the Marines. The origin of the Starbucks myth is actually well established. A Marine Corps sergeant heard that some of his peers had requested free Starbucks coffee and been turned down.
The sergeant blasted out an email requesting true patriots boycott Starbucks. Starbucks addressed the accusations, saying that the corporation doesn’t provide free coffee to any organization besides non-profit charities, and the policy wasn’t meant as a comment on military service members. Starbucks employees receive free coffee from the company, and Starbucks allowed its employees to donate this coffee to troops deployed. The company itself just didn’t directly donate any beans.
The originator of the email later apologized, but the myth that Starbucks once voiced opposition to war veterans persists. Starbucks has made a few large overtures to the military community to prove its loyalty. They’ve sent care packages to troops, introduced programs to hire more veterans, and used profits from stores in military areas to fund local veteran charities. In 2014, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced a $30 million donation to support research into PTSD and brain trauma.
Hunkered down in sniper positions on the top floor of an abandoned building in the Syrian city of Raqqa, two Americans and a British volunteer face off against Islamic State snipers on the other side of the front line. The trio, including two who were battle-hardened by experience in the French Foreign Legion and the war in Iraq, have made the war against IS in Syria their own.
They are among several US and British volunteers in the decisive battle against the Islamic State group for Raqqa, the city in northeastern Syria that the militants declared the capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The men joined US-allied Syrian militias for different reasons — some motivated by testimonies of survivors of the unimaginable brutality that IS flaunted in areas under its control.
Others joined what they see as a noble quest for justice and a final battle with the “heart of darkness,” in a belief that violence can only be met with violence.
Taylor Hudson, a 33-year old from Pasadena, compares the fight for Raqqa to the 1945 Battle of Berlin in World War II that was critical to ending the rule of Adolf Hitler.
“This is the Berlin of our times,” said Hudson, who doubles as a platoon medic and a sniper in the battle against the militants. For him, IS extremists “represent everything that is wrong with humanity.”
Syria’s war, now in its seventh year, has attracted foreign fighters to all sides of the complicated conflict.
Islamic extremists from Europe, Asia, and North Africa have boosted the ranks of the Islamic State group, as well as rival radical al-Qaeda-linked groups. Shiite Iranian and Lebanese militias have sided with the Syrian government, deepening the sectarian nature of the conflict that has killed over 400,000 people and displaced over 11 million, half of Syria’s pre-war population.
On the anti-IS side — though far less in numbers than the thousands of foreigners who swelled the IS ranks — most Western foreign volunteers have been drawn to the US-allied Kurdish militia known as The People’s Protection Units, or by their Kurdish initials as the YPG. The US military has developed a close relationship with the YPG and its extension, the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the war against IS.
Some Western volunteers have died in battle — earlier in July the YPG announced that 28-year-old Robert Grodt, of Santa Cruz, California, and 29-year-old Nicholas Alan Warden, of Buffalo, died in the battle for Raqqa.
Since launching the push on Raqqa on June 6, the US-backed forces have conquered a third of the city.
Hudson, who has been fighting in Syria for the past 13 months, said he was moved to tears by stories in the media of Iraqi Yazidi women who were enslaved by IS militants and looked for a way to help. A pharmacy student who learned combat medicine in the field, he said he had treated some 600 wounded ahead of the march onto Raqqa.
The presence of Western anti-IS volunteers in Syria has created something of a conundrum for their governments, which have often questioned them on terrorism charges.
“I am not a terrorist,” said Macer Gifford, a 30-year former City broker in London, who came to Syria three years ago to volunteer first with the Kurdish militia. Now he is fighting with an Assyrian militia, also part of the US-backed forces battling IS militants.
“I am here defending the people of Syria against terrorists,” he added.
Gifford has been questioned by both his British government and by the US government. At home, he has written and lectured about the complex situation in Syria, offering a first-hand experience of IS’ evolving tactics.
He believes the militants can only be defeated by sheer force.
“The Islamic State (group) is actually an exceptional opponent,” Gifford said. “We can’t negotiate them away, we can’t wish them away. The only way we can defeat them is with force of arms.”
For Kevin Howard, a 28-year old former US military contractor from California who fought in Iraq in 2006, the war against the Islamic State group is more personal.
A skilled sniper who prides himself in having killed 12 IS militants so far, Howard said he is doing it for the victims of the Bataclan Theatre in France, where the sister of one of his best friends survived. The Nov. 13, 2015 attacks claimed by IS killed 130 people at Paris cafes, the national stadium, and the Bataclan, where 90 died.
“This is a continuation of that fight, I think if you leave something unfinished, it will remain unfinished for a lifetime,” he said, showing off his 1972 sniper rifle.
On his forehead and neck, he has tattooed the “Rien N’empêche” — or “Nothing Prevents”— words from the song of the French Foreign Legion in which he served, and “life is pain.”
“For me this is a chance to absolutely go to the heart of darkness and grab it and get rid of it,” he added.
From his sniper position on Raqqa’s front line, he peeked again through the rifle hole. For Howard, the orders to march deeper into the IS-held city can’t come soon enough.
The Afghan Air Force has been making major changes in its inventory lately. Once a user of primarily Russian aircraft, the Afghans are switching to American systems — and they’re buying a lot of them.
At present, the Afghan National Air Force is operating four Mi-25 Hind attack helicopters, 40 Mi-8/Mi-17 Hip transport helicopters, 12 A-29 Super Tucanos, 10 UH-1H Iroquois utility helicopters, 24 MD530 attack helicopters, and four UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters. This is already a varied force, with more on the way.
An Afghan Air Force member inspects a UH-60 Black Hawk as air crews prepare for their first Afghan-led operational mission on this aircraft.
(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Erin Recanzone)
The Afghan Air Force has 154 MD530s on order along with 155 UH-60As. This gives them a lot of rotary-wing capability for taking on the Taliban and is a level of force the country hasn’t seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. What few planes and helicopters remained flyable after Soviet support evaporated with the end of the Cold War were taken out by the United States of America. Rebuilding that lost capability has been a long process.
The UH-60A, the baseline version of the highly versatile H-60 airframe, has a crew of three and can haul 11 troops or up to 8,000 pounds of cargo. It entered service in 1979 and has been used internationally ever since. By comparison, the Mi-8/Mi-17 entered service in 1967, has a crew of three, and can hold 26 passengers or up to 8,800 pounds of cargo.
A graduate from UH-60 Mission Qualification Training proudly holds his certificate of training at a graduation ceremony the day before the Afghan Air Force launched its first operational mission with the UH-60A Blckhawk.
(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Erin Recanzone)
One step on that long road to restoring a national force was recently taken when three Afghan Air Force UH-60s took part in a mission to support provincial elections in Afghanistan. The mission took place the day after Mission Qualification Training for the Afghan personnel.
The United States has been fighting the Taliban for almost 17 years, but this mission is a clear sign that the Afghan government is starting to bring more power to the fight.
Watch the Afghan Black Hawks leave for their first mission in the video below.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, conducted a joint air mobility exercise with Airmen from the 21st Airlift Squadron, 60th Air Mobility Wing, Travis Air Force Base, Cali. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Grady Jones, 3rd AMCT Public Affairs, 4th Inf. Div.)
Algorithms are progressing to the point wherein they will be able to allow an Abrams tank crew to operate multiple nearby “wing-man” robotic vehicles in a command and control capacity while on the move in combat.
The Army is preparing to configure Abrams tank prototypes able to control nearby “robotic” wing-man vehicles which fire weapons, carry ammunition and conduct reconnaissance missions for units on the move in combat, service officials said.
Although still in the early stages of discussion and conceptual development, the notion of manned-unmanned teaming for the Abrams continues to gain traction among Army and General Dynamics Land Systems developers.
Algorithms are progressing to the point wherein they will be able to allow an Abrams tank crew to operate multiple nearby “wing-man” robotic vehicles in a command and control capacity while on the move in combat.
Army researchers, engineers and weapons developers are preparing to prototype some of these possibilities for future Abrams tanks, Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Scout warrior in an interview.
“As I look to the future and I think about game-changing technologies, manned-unmanned teaming is a big part of that. There’s a set of things that we think could be really transformational,” Bassett said.
This kind of dynamic could quickly change the nature of landwar.
Autonomous or semi-autonomous robotic vehicles flanking tanks in combat, quite naturally, could bring a wide range of combat-enhancing possibilities. Ammunition-carrying robotic vehicles could increase the fire-power of tanks while in combat more easily; unmanned platforms could also carry crucial Soldier and combat supplies, allowing an Abrams tank to carry a larger payload of key combat supplies.
Also, perhaps of greatest significance, an unmanned vehicle controlled by an Abrams tank could fire weapons at an enemy while allowing the tank to operate at a safer, more risk-reducing stand-off range.
As unmanned vehicles, robotic platforms could be agile and much lighter weight than heavily armored vehicles designed to carry Soldiers into high-risk combat situations. By virtue of being able to operate without placing Soldiers at risk, tank-controlled ground drones could also be used to test and challenge enemy defenses, fire-power and formations. Furthermore, advanced sensors could be integrated into the ground drones to handle rugged terrain while beaming back video and data of enemy locations and movements.
“You don’t need armor on an auxiliary kit,” Michael Peck, Business Development Manager, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Manned Abrams tanks, therefore, could make use of advanced thermal sights, aided by robotic sensors, to locate and destroy enemies at ranges keeping them safe from enemy tank fire. Sensor robots could locate enemy artillery and rocket positions, convoys and even some drones in the air in a manner that better alerts attacking ground forces.
Land drones could also help forces in combat breach obstacles, carry an expeditionary power supply, help with remote targeting and check route areas for IEDs, Army and General Dynamics statements said.
Some of the early prototyping is being explored at the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, Warren, Mich.
Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley has consistently emphasized that manned-unmanned teaming and autonomy central to the Army’s preparations for the future, Bassett explained.
“The Chief has been really candid with us that what whatever we build for the future has that concept in mind that we are laying the architectures in that will support that,” he added.
Thus far in the Army, there are both tele-operated vehicles controlled by a human with a lap-top and joystick as well as platforms engineered with autonomous navigation systems able to increasingly perform more and more functions without needing human intervention.
For instance, TARDEC has developed leader-follower convoys wherein tactical trucks are engineered to autonomously follow vehicles in front of them. These applique kits, which can be installed on vehicles, include both tele-operated options as well as automated functions. The kits include GPS technology, radios, cameras and computer algorithms designed for autonomous navigation.
Also, the Army has already deployed airborne manned unmanned teaming, deploying Kiowa and Apache helicopters to Afghanistan with an ability to control the flight path and sensor payload of nearby drones in the air; in addition, this technology allows helicopter crews to view real-time live video-feeds from nearby drones identifying targets and conducting reconnaissance missions. Autonomy in the air, however, is much easier than ground autonomy as there are less emerging obstacles or rugged terrain.
Air Force Navy Robotics
The Army is by no means the only service currently exploring autonomy and manned-unmanned connectedness. The Air Force, for instance, is now developing algorithms designed to help fighters like the F-35 control a small fleet of nearby drones to conduct reconnaissance missions, test enemy air defenses and carry ammunition.
In similar fashion, Navy engineers are working on an emerging fleet of Unmanned Surface Vehicles able to create swarms of attacks small boats, support amphibious operations by carrying supplies and weapons and enter high-risk areas without placing sailors at risk.
These developments represent the cutting edge of technological progress in an area known as “artificial intelligence.” Among other things, this involves the continued use of computers to perform an increasingly wider range of functions without needing human intervention. This can include gathering, organizing or transmitting information autonomously.
The technological ability for an autonomous weapons system to acquire, track and destroy a target on its own – is already here.
Pentagon doctrine is clear that, despite the pace at which autonomous weapons systems are within the realm of realistic combat possibilities, a human must always be in-the-loop regarding the potential use of lethal force. Nevertheless, there is mounting concern that potential adversaries will also acquire this technology without implementing the Pentagon’s ethical and safety regulations.
At the same time, despite the promise of this fast-emerging technology, algorithms able to match the processing power of a human brain are quite far away at the moment. Engineering a robotic land-vehicle able to quickly process, recognize, react and adjust in a dynamic, fast-changing combat environment in a manner comparable to human beings, is a long way off, scientist explain. Nonetheless, this does not mean there could not be reasonably short-term utility in the combat use of advanced autonomous vehicles controlled by a nearby Abrams tank crew.