The commandant of the Marine Corps paid tribute to a staff sergeant killed by Islamic State rocket fire in Iraq last week, shedding new light on the circumstances surrounding the loss.
Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, 27, a member of Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was killed by indirect fire March 19 at a new artillery outpost near Makhmour, Iraq, shortly after he and a small element of Marines had detached from the MEU in order to support the small post.
Speaking at a Marine Corps Association awards dinner near Washington, D.C. Thursday night, Gen. Robert Neller said three other Marines wounded in that same rocket attack were due to arrive back in the United States that evening, headed for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Reflecting on Cardin’s loss, Neller did not prevaricate about a fight that US officials still refuse to describe as a combat operation.
“The loss of a Marine is sad, but I thought about it: He was leading his Marines in combat,” Neller said. “They were in indirect fire and he made sure everybody got in the bunker, and he just didn’t make it in time. Is that sad? That’s sad. But if you’re going to go, you want to go in the fight.”
During a briefing to reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said the circumstances of Cardin’s death, the second combat death since the coalition fight against Islamic State militants began, does not change the nature of the operation or indicate an increase in the Marines’ ground combat role.
“This is not a fundamental shift in our approach to support the Iraqi forces,” he said. “This happens to be what was the most appropriate tool that the commander assessed needed to be in that particular location.”
In his talk, Neller encouraged Marines to remain sharp, reminding them that the Corps was forward deployed all over the world to remain ready and train for future fights.
“[Cardin’s] death, and the things we see every day, from the attacks in Brussels by those murderous cowards that we’re fighting, that’s part of our world today,” he said. “So whether [The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] continues to use terror to intimidate us and kill innocents, at the same time other adversaries, as they have since we’ve been engaged in the Middle East, are developing their capabilities to challenge us on future battlefields.”
Neller also fired a shot across the bow at another geopolitical threat, hinting that Marine Corps leaders were eager to answer the saber-rattling of Russian president Vladimir Putin with a show of force.
About 1,800 Marines, he said, had recently wrapped up a massive cold-weather exercise in Norway, Operation Cold Response.
“It’s the biggest exercise we’ve done in Norway in some time,” he said. We were working to repopulate our [pre-positioning equipment] in the caves, and the Norwegians were happy to see us and I’m sure our Russian friends were paying attention. Mr. Putin has done us a great favor.”
Becky R. asks: Why do they use 21 guns in the 21 gun salute?
The 21-gun salute that we know today has its roots in the ancient tradition of warriors demonstrating their peaceful intentions by resting the point of their weapons on the ground.
The notion of making a soldier’s weapons useless to show that he came in peace continued even as warfare changed over the centuries. Gunpowder and cannons became commonplace among militaries and private forces, both on land and at sea around the 14th century. In order for a ship entering a foreign port to show those on shore that they came in peace, the captain would have his crew fire the guns. This rendered the weapons inoperable for a period of time, with early guns only being capable of firing a single shot before crews needed to reload them.
Traditionally when a British ship entered into a foreign port, it would fire its guns seven times. The reason for the seven shots is widely debated to this day. One theory states that the majority of the British ships at this point only carried seven guns and so firing seven shots became the standard to signal those on shore that the ship was now unarmed. Ships carried enough gunpowder and ammunition to reload multiple times, but beyond symbolism, the idea here was that the lengthy process of reloading would allow the soldiers onshore more than enough time to disable the ship with their own weapons if needs be.
Another proposed theory for the number seven relates to the Bible. After creating the world, the Bible states that God rested on the seventh day (or for the seventh “event”- there is some debate over the “day” vs. “event” translation). So it has been theorized that the number could have been chosen in reference to its Biblical significance, perhaps of resting with the ship coming to port after a long journey. Yet another theory stems from the pervasive superstitious nature of sailors combined with the historic notion in certain regions that the number 7 is sacred, and that odd numbers are lucky and even unlucky. In fact, for a time it was common to use an even number of shots to signify the death of a ship captain when returning from the voyage the death occurred on.
Whatever the underlying reason, the guns onshore would return fire as a form of welcome once the incoming ship finished firing the seven rounds. However, the shore bound guns fired three rounds for every one fired by the incoming ships, putting the total number of shots fired at twenty-one in these cases. As with the “7” number, it’s not known precisely why in the regions that used this number scheme that they chose a 3 to 1 ratio. What is known is that as time went on where this was practiced, it became traditional for the ships themselves to start firing off 21 shots as well, perhaps due to the ships becoming larger and being equipped with more guns, with the captains ostensibly preferring a 1 to 1 salute.
This then brings us to when firing the 21 shots became considered a type of official salute, rather than a symbolic way to indicate peaceful intentions. This seems to have started around 1730 when it became a recognized salute to British government officials. Specifically, the British Navy allowed its ships and captains the option to perform the 21-gun salute as a way to honor members of the British Royal Family during select anniversaries. About eighty years later, in 1808, the 21-gun salute officially became the standard salute to honor British Royalty.
While the British Navy adopted the 21-gun salute in 1808 as the standard, other nations, such as the United States, didn’t adopt it until much later. In fact, the United States War Department decided in 1810 to define the “national salute” as having the same number of shots as there were states in the nation. That number grew every year that a new state joined the Union. Needless to say, this quickly became a cumbersome way to salute the United States and its dignitaries.
That said, the United States did make the “Presidential Salute” a 21-gun salute in 1842, and in 1890 officially accepted the 21-gun salute as the “national salute.” This followed the 1875 British proposal to the United States of a “Gun for Gun Salute” of 21-guns to honor visiting dignitaries. Essentially, the British and French, among other nations, at this point were all using 21 guns for their salutes, but the U.S. system required many more shots for their dignitaries. Besides needing to fire off more cannons, this also potentially signified greater honor to the U.S. dignitaries than to those of other nations. Thus, the British proposed a 1 for 1 shot, with 21 being the number, which was accepted by the U.S. on August 18, 1875.
The 21-gun salute still represents a significant honor today. In the United States, the 21-gun salute occurs to honor a President, former president, or the head of foreign state. It can also be fired in order to honor the United States Flag. The salute also occurs at noon on the day of the funeral of a President, former President, or President-elect along with on Memorial Day.
You may have noticed that there’s no mention of the 21-gun salute occurring during military funerals and that’s a common misconception. Known as the “3 Volleys,” the salute that occurs during soldiers’ funerals follows a battlefield tradition where both sides stopped fighting so that they could remove their dead from the field. The series of three shots, or volleys, let the other side know that the dead had been taken care of and that that battle could resume. Therefore the number of volleys is more important than the actual number of shots. Even the United States Army Manuel’s section on the Ceremonial Firing Party at a funeral named the number of riflemen as between five and eight, rather than an exact number.
When ships were engaged in battle during the 14th century, the common practice was that the captured or defeated ship needed to expend all of its ammunition in order to make it helpless in the presence of the other ship and signify surrender.
A 62-gun salute was fired upon the birth of Prince George of England. The 21-gun salute was increased to 41-guns because the guns were fired from a royal park or residence and an additional 21-guns were added in order to pay respect to the city of London.
Russia has warned the US that its military and allied Syrian forces are ready to attack a key US-held base near the borders of Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, US defense officials said in a CNN report published on Sept. 6, 2018.
The Kremlin is said to have accused the US-led coalition base At Tanf of protecting nearby militants, with Russia delivering two warnings in the past week, CNN said, citing US officials. At Tanf, from which a coalition of dozens of US troops and Syrian rebels launch operations against the Islamic State terrorist group, is seen as a critical location within the scope of Iranian, Syrian, and Russian influence in the region.
“We have absolutely advised them to stay out of At Tanf,” a US official told CNN. “We are postured to respond.”
“The United States does not seek to fight the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing it support,” another official added. “However, if attacked, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition, or partner forces.”
US troops would not need permission from superiors to defend themselves if attacked, which the US reiterated to the Kremlin, CNN reported.
A state-sanctioned attack by Russia could spark a flashpoint conflict in the region. Tensions were raised in February 2018 after dozens of Russian mercenaries were killed during a failed assault on a US-held position near the city of Deir al-Zor.
Russian forces have not recently been seen amassing their troops; however, the US military is still on alert, officials said. Senior military officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are aware of the warnings, CNN said.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
(Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
Russia’s warnings come amid a looming assault by Syrian and Iranian forces against the city of Idlib, where Syrian rebels have been cornered. Russia delivered an ominous warning in August 2018 that some experts saw as an indication that the Syrian government might indiscriminately use chemical weapons against the city.
The US followed with a threat of its own, warning Syrian President Bashar Assad that if he “chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately.”
“President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.
Featured image: Members of 5th Special Forces Group (A) conducting 50. Cal Weapons training during counter ISIS operations at Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has spent the last two years transforming how it interacts with veterans, taking the best ideas from all over (including the business world) to upgrade your customer experience. Here are nine improvements — big and small — you may not believe.
1. A new call number that’s easy to remember.
Can’t remember which of our more than 1000 phone numbers to call? Me neither. Now, we only have to call one phone number: 1-844-MyVA311. The number will route you to the right place. If you do know the right number to call, you can still call that number.
2. Someone to actually answer your call.
The only number I can ever remember is number for disability claims and other benefits. Believe it or not, people are actually answering the phone now, on average in under five minutes. Employees in some of our contact centers report veterans temporarily forgetting why they called because they are stunned by how quickly someone answered the phone.
3. One call does it all.
Veterans in crisis are no longer asked to hang up and dial the Veterans Crisis Line. This month our medical centers, benefits line and MyVA311 will automatically connect callers to the Veterans Crisis Line if they “press 7.”
4. Total online resource.
Working toward one website and logon – Vets.gov – that now lets you discover, apply for, track, and manage the benefits you have earned, all in one place. One site, one username, one password. Track the status of your disability claim, apply for your GI Bill, and enroll in health care, on a site that’s mobile-first, accessible (508 compliant) and designed based on Veteran feedback. All Veteran-facing features will be migrated to vets.gov by April 2017!
5. Now you can actually find your service center.
Have you ever tried to use the VA.gov facility locator? If you have, you know it was essentially an address that you had to copy and paste into Google maps and hope for the best.
Now, we have one on Vets.gov that uses Google maps — and provides an initial set of VA services at those facilities. Try it here.
Additionally, maps are notoriously bad at being accessible to screen readers, but the Vets.gov facility locator is accessible and has been tested with blind and low vision veterans.
6. There’s an app for that.
Veterans can call or text the VCL with just one click from a mobile device using vets.gov.
7. No more waiting.
When you’re sick or in pain, you really want to see a doctor that day and now you can. Same-day appointments in our clinics are available when a provider determines a veteran has an urgent or emergent need that must be addressed immediately.
8. Claims are processed faster.
In 2012, some received disability claim decisions after more than two years. Now, after a series of people, process and technology changes, claims take an average of 123 days to complete. But VA is taking it a step further, looking at how it can improve veterans experiences around the compensation exam.
9. Taking out the middleman.
Need hearing aids or glasses? No need to see your primary care physician just to get a referral. Go ahead and make an appointment directly with both optometry and audiology.
These are just nine ways the VA is joining the modern world to better serve you. Watch for more.
Shortly before 5 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2019, residents of north London were awoken by an extremely loud “bang.” Many took to the internet to raise concern, with some Londoners believing that the noise was an explosion, or something to that effect.
People even reported their cars and homes shaking.
The city is already on high alert after a stabbing on the London Bridge left two victims dead and three injured on Nov. 29, 2019.
However, the Royal Air Force and the local police confirmed that the noise wasn’t an explosion after all — it was a sonic boom resulting from RAF Typhoon jets breaking the sound barrier.
“Typhoon aircraft from RAF Coningsby were scrambled this morning, as part of the UK’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) procedures, after an aircraft lost communications in UK airspace,” an RAF spokesperson said in a statement to CNN, “The aircraft was intercepted and its communications were subsequently re-established.”
You can hear the sound in videos captured by surveillance cameras across the city.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The White House issued a stern warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad on June 26 as it claimed “potential” evidence that Syria was preparing for another chemical weapons attack.
In an ominous statement issued with no supporting evidence or further explanation, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the US had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”
He said the activities were similar to preparations taken before an April 2017 attack that killed dozens of men, women, and children, and warned that if “Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
The White House offered no details on what prompted the warning and spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she had no additional information.
Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn’t appear to be discussed in advance with other national security agencies. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon, and US intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals.
The officials weren’t authorized to discuss national security planning publicly and requested anonymity.
A non-governmental source with close ties to the White House said the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east or south of the country, where government troops and their proxies have faced recent setbacks.
Assad had denied responsibility for the April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held Idlib province that killed dozens of people, including children. Victims show signs of suffocation, convulsions, foaming at the mouth, and pupil constriction.
Days later, President Donald Trump launched a retaliatory cruise missile strike on a Syrian government-controlled air base where US officials said the Syrian military had launched the chemical attack.
It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president months before.
Trump said at the time that the Khan Sheikhoun attack crossed “many, many lines,” and called on “all civilized nations” to join the US in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria.
Syria maintained it hadn’t used chemical weapons and blamed opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory. Russia is a close ally of Assad.
The US attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war. Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict.
Earlier on June 26th, Trump had dinner with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and other top officials as he hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House.
Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked earlier that day about the need to secure a cease-fire in Syria, fight extremist groups, and prevent the use of chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, followed up Spicer’s statement with a Twitter warning: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Asaad, but also on Russia Iran who support him killing his own people.”
Less than an hour after Spicer issued the statement, Trump was back to tweeting about the 2016 campaign, denouncing investigations into potential collusion between Moscow and his campaign aides as a “Witch Hunt!”
Margaret Corbin isn’t a household name. She should be. Born in Pennsylvania, Margaret was orphaned at age five when Native American raiders killed her father and took her mother captive (she never came home). Margaret survived because she was visiting an uncle at the time of the attack. In 1772, she married a Virginia farmer named John Corbin. Three years later, her husband joined the First Company of Pennsylvania Artillery for service in the Continental Army. Margaret wasn’t about to sit on the sidelines. She decided to follow her husband to Fort Washington, New York, where she spent her days cooking, doing laundry for soldiers, and tending to the wounded.
On November 16, 1776, 4,000 British and Hessian troops attacked Fort Washington—the last American stronghold on Manhattan. Margaret followed her husband onto the battlefield. Corbin was a matross, which meant he was in charge of loading the cannon. After her husband’s partner was killed, Margaret started loading so her husband could keep firing. Things only went downhill from there. John Corbin was killed instantly when a Hessian bullet struck him in the heart. Did Margaret give in to despair? Nope. She started firing the cannon alone. Other soldiers marveled at her excellent aim. Unfortunately for her, the British and Hessians did too. Desperate to take her out, they soon started targeting her with their cannons. The Battle of Fort Washington ended in a crushing American defeat. Margaret’s cannon was the last one to stop firing.
Once the smoke cleared, Margaret was found in critical condition on the battlefield. She was wounded in the chest and jaw and her left arm was almost severed. Her fellow soldiers took her to a hospital in Philadelphia, but she never fully recovered from her injuries (she was unable to use her arm for the rest of her life). She later joined the Invalid Regiment at West Point.
Margaret’s injuries made it difficult for her to bathe and dress herself. On 26 June 1776, the state of Pennsylvania awarded her $30.00 in recognition of her bravery. Since this wasn’t enough for her to retire to a life of luxury, Margaret stayed at West Point until her death in 1800. According to contemporary accounts, her favorite pastimes included smoking her pipe and chatting with the soldiers. In 1779, Margaret received a lifetime disability pension of one-half pay from the Continental Congress—making her the first woman in U.S. history to receive a pension from Congress for military service. In 1782, she married a fellow wounded soldier. Sadly, he died a year later. Still struggling to pay the bills, she requested a rum ration—which was often given to soldiers. The government approved her request. Although she resented the fact that she had only been granted half-pay, she was happy about the rum.
Margaret wasn’t a stranger to controversy. During her tenure at West Point, she was called “Captain Molly by the locals, but Dirty Kate behind her back.” According to the National Woman’s History Museum, the Philadelphia Society of Women had planned to erect a monument honoring Corbin soon after the battle. “However, when they met with her they discovered that she was a rough woman who was poor and drank too much and decided to cancel the monument,” the museum notes. Although she never got her monument, three commemorative plaques honoring the Revolutionary war heroine can be found in the area near the Fort Washington battle site.
In 1926, her story resurfaced when the New York Daughters of the American Revolution found her records in the West Point archive. Determined to find her grave, the DAR enlisted the help of a retired riverboat captain who claimed that his grandfather helped with the burial in 1800. On April 14, 1926, Margaret’s remains were re-interred with full military honors at the cemetery of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The Air Force has just escalated its response to efforts by the airlines to hire away military pilots. They’re throwing huge retention bonuses to the pilots and boosting flight pay to $1,000 a month.
According to a report by BreakingDefense.com, the flight pay boost will add an additional $1,800 a month to the paychecks of officers. Enlisted men will see their flight pay go from $400 to $600 a month, a 50 percent increase, and taking their pay up $2,400 a year.
“We need to retain our experienced pilots and these are some examples of how we’re working to do that,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in an Air Force release. “We can’t afford not to compensate our talented aviators at a time when airlines are hiring unprecedented numbers.”
In addition to announcing the increased flight pay, Secretary Wilson announced the creation of an “Aircrew Crisis Task Force” under Brig. Gen. Michael G. Koscheski. This task force’s formation is a sign that the pilot shortage the Air Force is facing has not improved. The Air Force release noted that at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, the Air Force was short 1,555 pilots overall, including 1,211 fighter pilots.
The Air Force is looking to bring back 25 retired pilots to fill staff positions through the Voluntary Rated Return to Active Duty program, allowing pilots who are still current to be returned to front-line duties. The staff positions are non-flying, but retired pilots could have sufficient expertise to handle them.
This past June, the Air Force increased its Aviation Bonus cap from $25,000 a year to $35,000. These bonuses are paid to pilots who commit to stay past their service commitment for up to nine years.
The Air Force was also seeking to reduce the number of non-flying assignments for pilots, including headquarters positions and developmental opportunities. The Air Force is also trying to reduce additional units and add more flexibility for Airmen with families and children.
The US Air Force announced that the last squadrons of the legendary B-52 Stratofortress have concluded their operations against ISIS in the Middle East and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and have returned home to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
“Following two years of B-52 squadrons employing nearly 12,000 weapons on Islamic State and Taliban targets across U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, the venerable BUFF flew its last mission April 7  before turning over the bomber duty reins to the newly arrived B-1B Lancer,” an Air Force spokesman said in a statement.
The bomber, nicknamed the BUFF for “Big Ugly Fat Fellow,” has been in service with the Air Force for 63 years, the last two of which it served as US Central Command’s go-to bomber.
Almost 12,000 weapons were dropped over the course of 1,850 missions on ISIS and Taliban targets. On average, B-52 aircrews recorded 400-450 hours in a single six to seven-month deployment, which is nearly three times the traditional 300 hours usually flown by B-52 crews.
A number of new records were also made. The 23rd Bomb Squadron celebrated its 100th birthday in June 2017, with 400 consecutive missions without any maintenance delays, breaking the previous record that was set during the Vietnam War’s Operation Linebacker II in 1972.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele)
In September of that same year, the B-52 surpassed the B-1 Lancer’s record of 761 consecutive missions without a maintenance cancellation by 73 missions, increasing the record to 834.
A B-52 dropped 24 precision guided munitions during a 96-hour air campaign against Taliban training and narcotics facilities in Feburary 2018, breaking the previous record (which was also set by a B-52) for the most smart bombs dropped on the Taliban.
American commanders have huge respect and admiration for the B-52 and its aircrews. “The BUFF did a fantastic job crushing ISIS on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria,” Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the commander of US Air Forces Central Command, said.
“Some would say it’s a cold war relic,” Lt. Col. Paul Goossen, the commander of the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, said. “But it’s such a versatile airframe that it keeps being reinvented and it keeps showing its usefulness and its relevance in every war that America finds itself in.”
US Central Command’s future bombing operations in its area of responsibility will be conducted by B-1 bombers.
A completed, comprehensive Navy analysis says producing more Virginia-Class attack submarines on a much faster timetable is “achievable” and necessary to ensure future undersea dominance for the U.S. — in an increasingly contested strategic global environment.
The current or previous status quo had been for the Navy to drop from building two Virginia-Class boats per year to one in the early 2020s when construction of the new Columbia-Class nuclear armed submarines begins.
The completed study, however, maintains that the Navy and industry can produce two Virginia-Class boats and one Columbia-Class submarine per year, increasing the current plan by one Virginia-Class boat per year.
Navy leaders have consistently talked about an expected submarine shortfall in the mid 2020s and that more attack submarines were needed to strengthen the fleet and keep stay in front of near-peer rivals, such as Russia and China.
The study found that sustainment of the two-per-year Virginia-Class submarine production rate during the procurement years of the Columbia-Class SSBNs is achievable and that it provides significant benefit to the Navy and the SSN (Attack Submarines) force structure, Navy officials told Scout Warrior.
Maintaining a two-per-year Virginia Class build-rate will help the Navy reach its goal of 66 SSNs, as identified in the December 2016 Force Structure Assessment, Navy officials added.
Increasing production will, to a large extent, rely upon the submarine-building industry’s capacity to move up to three submarines per year.
The Virginia-Class Submarines are built by a cooperative arrangement between the Navy and Electric Boat, a subsidiary of General Dynamics and Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.
Each industry partner constructs portions or “modules” of the submarines which are then melded together to make a complete vessel, industry and Navy officials explained.
Virginia-Class Attack Submarine Technology
Virginia-Class subs are fast-attack submarines armed with Tomahawk missiles, torpedoes, and other weapons able to perform a range of missions; these include anti-submarine warfare, strike warfare, covert mine warfare, ISR, anti-surface/ship warfare and naval special warfare, something described as having the ability to carry and insert Special Operations Forces.
Future Virginia-Class submarines provide improved littoral capabilities, sensors, special operations force employment, and strike warfare capabilities, making it an ideal platform for the 21st Century security environment, Navy developers said.
Compared to prior Navy attack subs like the Los Angeles-Class, the Virginia-Class submarines are engineered to bring vastly improved littoral warfare, surveillance and open ocean capabilities, service officials said.
For instance, the ships can be driven primarily through software code and electronics, thus freeing up time and energy for an operator who does not need to manually control each small maneuver.
The Virginia-Class submarine are engineered with this “Fly-by-Wire” capability which allows the ship to quietly linger in shallow waters without having to surface or have each small move controlled by a human operator. With this technology, a human operator will order depth and speed, allowing software to direct the movement of the planes and rudder to maintain course and depth.
Also, unlike their predecessor-subs, Virginia-Class subs are engineered with what’s called a “Lock Out Trunk” – a compartment in the sub which allows special operations forces to submerge beneath the water and deploy without requiring the ship to surface.
Unlike their “SSBN” Columbia-Class counterparts to be armed with nuclear weapons, the Virginia-Class “SSN” ships are purely for conventional attack, Navy officials said.
Development of Virginia-Class submarines are broken up into procurement “Blocks.” Blocks I and II have already been delivered.
The Block III subs, now under construction, are being built with new so-called Virginia Payload Tubes designed to lower costs and increase capability.
Instead of building what most existing Virginia-Class submarines have — 12 individual 21-inch in diameter vertical launch tubes able to fire Tomahawk missiles – the Block III submarines are being built with two larger 87-inch in diameter tubes able to house six Tomahawk missiles each.
Although the new tubes were conceived and designed as part of what the Navy calls its “Design for Affordability” strategy to lower costs, the move also brings strategic advantages to the platform, service officials say. Specifically, this means that the submarines are constructed such that they will be able to accommodate new technologies as they emerge – this could mean engineering in an ability to fire upgraded Tomahawk missiles or other weapons which may emerge in the future.
The Block III Virginia-Class submarines also have what’s called a Large Aperture Bow conformal array sonar system – designed to send out an acoustic ping, analyze the return signal, and provide the location and possible contours of enemy ships, submarines and other threats.
Virginia-Class Block V – Virginia Payload Modules
For Block V construction, the Navy is planning to insert a new 84-foot long section designed to house additional missile capability. “Virginia Payload Modules.”
The Virginia Payload Modules, to come in future years, will increase the Tomahawk missile firepower of the submarines from 12 missiles up to 40.
The VPM submarines will have an additional (approximately 84 feet) section with four additional Virginia Payload Tubes (VPTs), each capable of carrying seven Tomahawk cruise missiles, for a ship total of 40 Tomahawks.
The idea is to have additional Tomahawk or other missile capability increased by 2026, when the “SSGN” Ohio-Class Guided Missile Submarines start retiring in larger numbers.
Early prototyping work on the Virginia Payload Modules is already underway and several senior Navy leaders, over the years, have indicated a desire to accelerate production and delivery of this technology – which will massively increase fire-power on the submarines.
While designed primarily to hold Tomahawks, the VPM missile tubes are engineered such that they could accommodate a new payload, new missile or even a large unmanned underwater vehicle, Navy officials said.
The reason for the Virginia Payload Modules is clear; beginning in the 2020s, the Navy will start retiring four large Ohio-class guided-missile submarines able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles each. This will result in the Navy losing a massive amount of undersea fire power capability, Navy officials explained.
From 2002 to 2008 the U.S. Navy modified four of its oldest nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines by turning them into ships armed with only conventional missiles — the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia. They are called SSGNs, with the “G” designation for “guided missile.”
For the first time, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing will open its aperture for recruiting Air Force pilots into the U-2 Dragon Lady through an experimental program beginning in the fall of 2018.
Through the newly established U-2 First Assignment Companion Trainer, or FACT, program, the 9th RW’s 1st Reconnaissance Squadron will broaden its scope of pilots eligible to fly the U-2 by allowing Air Force student pilots in Undergraduate Pilot Training the opportunity to enter a direct pipeline to flying the U-2.
“Our focus is modernizing and sustaining the U-2 well into the future to meet the needs of our nation at the speed of relevance,” said Col. Andy Clark, 9th RW commander. “This new program is an initiative that delivers a new reconnaissance career path for young, highly qualified aviators eager to shape the next generation of (reconnaissance) warfighting capabilities.”
The FACT pipeline
Every undergraduate pilot training student from Air Education and Training Command’s flying training locations, during the designated assignment window, is eligible for the FACT program.
A U-2 Dragon Lady pilot, assigned to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, pilots the high-altitude reconnaissance platform at approximately 70,000 feet above an undisclosed location.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Ross Franquemont)
UPT students will now have the opportunity to select the U-2 airframe on their dream sheets just like any other airframe.
The first FACT selectee is planned for the fall 2018 UPT assignment cycle and the next selection will happen about six months later.
After selection, the FACT pilot attends the T-38 Pilot Instructor Training Course at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, before a permanent change in station to Beale Air Force Base, Calif.
For the next two years, the selectee will serve as a T-38 Talon instructor pilot for the U-2 Companion Trainer Program.
“Taking on the task of developing a small portion of our future leaders from the onset of his or her aviation career is something we’re extremely excited about,” said Lt. Col. Carl Maymi, 1st RS commander. “U-2 FACT pilots will have an opportunity to learn from highly qualified and experienced pilots while in turn teaching them to fly T-38s in Northern California. I expect rapid maturation as an aviator and officer for all that get this unique opportunity.”
After the selectee gains an appropriate amount of experience as an instructor pilot, they will perform the standard two-week U-2 interview process, and if hired, begin Basic Qualification Training.
After the first two UPT students are selected and enter the program, the overall direction of the FACT assignment process will be assessed to determine the sustainability of this experimental pilot pipeline.
Broadening candidate diversity
Due to the uniquely difficult reconnaissance mission of the U-2, as well as it’s challenging flying characteristics, U-2 pilots are competitively selected from a pool of highly qualified and experienced aviators from airframes across the Department of Defense inventory.
A mobile chase car pursues a TU-2S Dragon Lady at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., Jan. 22, 2014.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings)
The selection process includes a two-week interview where candidates’ self-confidence, professionalism, and airmanship are evaluated on the ground and in the air while flying three TU-2 sorties.
Traditionally, a U-2 pilot will spend a minimum of six years gaining experience outside of the U-2’s reconnaissance mission before submitting an application.
As modernization efforts continue for the U-2 airframe and its mission sets, pilot acquisition and development efforts are also changing to help advance the next generation of reconnaissance warfighters. The FACT program will advance the next generation through accelerating pilots directly from the UPT programs into the reconnaissance community, mitigating the six years of minimum experience that current U-2 pilots have obtained.
“The well-established path to the U-2 has proven effective for over 60 years,” Maymi, said. “However, we need access to young, talented officers earlier in their careers. I believe we can do this while still maintaining the integrity of our selection process through the U-2 FACT program.”
Developing the legacy for the future
FACT aims to place future U-2 warfighters in line with the rest of the combat Air Force’s career development timelines to include potential avenues of professional military education and leadership roles. One example would include an opportunity to attend the new reconnaissance weapons instructors course, also known as reconnaissance WIC, which was recently approved to begin the process to be established as first-ever reconnaissance-focused WIC at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
U-2 pilots prepare to land a TU-2S Dragon Lady at sunset on Beale Air Force Base, Calif., Jan. 22, 2014.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings)
“This program offers FACT-selected pilots enhanced developmental experience and prepares them for diverse leadership opportunities, including squadron and senior leadership roles within the reconnaissance community,” Clark said.
The FACT program highlights only one of the many ways the Airmen at Beale AFB work to innovate for the future.
“Beale (AFB) Airmen are the beating heart of reconnaissance; they are always looking for innovative ways to keep Recce Town flexible, adaptable, and absolutely ready to defend our nation and its allies,” Clark said. “(Senior leaders) tasked Airmen to bring the future faster and maximize our lethality — to maintain our tactical and strategic edge over our adversaries. This program is one practical example of (reconnaissance) professionals understanding and supporting the priorities of our senior leaders — and it won’t stop here.”
Well, it looks like cluster bombs won’t be riding off into the sunset any time soon. The Pentagon has officially decided to hold off on enforcing a planned ban on the weapon system, which previously set to take effect on January 1, 2019.
According to a report by the Washington Post, the decision was made by “senior Pentagon leadership” and ensures that the systems will continue to be purchased. This same ban would have also restricted rockets used by the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, as well as versions of the BGM-109 Tomahawk, AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon, the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), and the MGM-164 ATACMS II.
A Nov. 30 memo, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, stated that “adversaries and potential adversaries have developed advanced capabilities and operational approaches specifically designed to limit our ability to project power.” As a result, the DOD decided to reverse the ban to avoid “military and civilian casualties” caused due to “forfeiting the best available capabilities.” It should be noted that, under certain circumstances, cluster bombs can do things that “smart bombs” can’t.
The decision drew criticism from Senator Patrick Leahy, who said, “on the eve of that deadline, the Pentagon has decided to go back on its commitment, just as it did after pledging to develop alternatives to antipersonnel landmines more than two decades ago.” Leahy and Senator Dianne Feinstein had sponsored legislation to codify policy from the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions into law.
Harrowing video posted to Twitter shows Royal Australian Air Force pilots navigating through a thick haze of orange smoke that prevented them from completing rescue missions in the bushfire-plagued towns of Mallacoota and Merimbula.
As of Tuesday morning local time, there were over 130 fires burning across the country, the worst of which are burning in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.
Australia’s air force commander, Air Vice-Marshal Joe Iervasi, posted a video of the horrifying conditions that pilots are facing as they attempt rescue missions into towns and areas devastated by the disaster.
Australia’s Navy on Friday began evacuating some of the thousands of tourists and residents still trapped in Mallacoota because conditions on land were so dire.
But Iervasi’s video demonstrated that smokey conditions also made it challenging to conduct rescue missions from the air.
“Our people are highly trained professional, but not always able to complete the mission on first try,” he wrote.
On Monday local time, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged a billion bushfire recovery fund, which will assist in rebuilding devastated areas over the next two years.
“This money will go towards supporting small businesses, supporting local councils, providing mental health support, investment in social and economic infrastructure, as well as providing environmental protection and protection for native wildlife, which has been so badly hit by these tragic fires,” Morrison said at a press conference.
Celebrities have also pledged and raised millions of dollars for relief efforts, though rescue missions on the ground remain challenging and dangerous.
Weather conditions have been increasingly hot and dry in some areas, breaking heat records, which exacerbate fire conditions.
Bushfires have also now become so big that they are generating their own weather through pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which create their own thunderstorms that can start more fires. And two major fires burning on either side of the Victoria-New South Wales border are inching closer to one another, which may result in what officials are calling a ‘megablaze‘ that could balloon to 1.2 million acres in size.
Additionally, thick blankets of smoke from nearby fires have filled major cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra with hazardous air.
“The fires are still burning and they will be burning for months to come,” Morrison told reporters on Monday.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.