Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators - We Are The Mighty
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Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators

Along with announcing Aug. 5 that they would soon be ditching the blue digital camouflage Navy Working Uniform Type I, the U.S. Navy said it will also allow the popular “Don’t Tread On Me” patches for its uniforms and would offer new insignia for its boat driving commandos.


As of Oct. 1, any sailor wearing the woodland digital NWU Type III duds can sport the DTOM flag patch in the same camouflage scheme. SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare Unit sailors, or those specifically authorized to wear the desert digital NWU Type II, may also wear a similarly-camouflaged DTOM patch.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
MCPON answers a question from Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Miguel Ferrer during an all hands call on March 24, 2016. Note the subdued DOTM patch on his left shoulder and the subdued reverse American flag on his right shoulder. (U.S. Navy photo by Lisa Lill, Naval Hospital Beaufort public affairs officer) (Released)

The Navy also says it will allow sailors to wear the reverse American flag, which denotes units deployed in combat overseas, on the Type II and Type III uniforms.

“During garrison and non-tactical exercises or operations, the non-tactical DTOM and Reverse Flag patches may be optionally worn at the discretion of the unit commanding officer and at the expense of the Sailor,” the Navy announced in Navy Administrations Message 174/16. “During tactical deployment exercises and operations, a tactical DTOM and Reverse Flag patch may be worn at the discretion of the unit commander and approval from the Task Force or Joint Task Force Commander.”

The Navy’s permission for sailors to wear the Don’t Tread On Me patches puts to rest a controversy prompted by a Republican congressional candidate two years ago who said SEALs had been barred from wearing the popular patch over fears it had a political connection to the conservative Tea Party.

As the Washington Post reported at the time, the patch is actually a derivative of the First Navy Jack flag used by the Continental Navy during the American Revolution and was authorized by then-Navy Sec. Gordon England for use on ships after the 9/11 attacks.

Reports indicated the SEALs were barred from wearing the DOTM flag patch for a short time after leaders realized there were no standards for the new digital camouflage outfits. Shortly after the controversy erupted, Naval Special Warfare authorized the DOTM wear for Navy commandos. Now the service is giving the go-ahead for all sailors to don the Revolutionary War-era flag.

The new Navy uniform regs also include a revised series of badges for Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen — an effort the community has been pushing for about five years. The three new badges will denote the qualifications and seniority of the individual crewman and will be phased in beginning this month.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
The Navy has updated the Naval Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman insignia with three versions outlining a sailor’s skill and seniority. The new badges will look like these but carry different official designations.

SWCC Basic Insignia: A 2.5 x 1 1/4-inch silver matte metal pin showing a background of a cocked flintlock pistol, a crossed naval enlisted cutlass, and a MK V Special Operations Craft atop a bow wave.

SWCC Senior Insignia:  A 2.5 x 1 3/8-inch silver matte metal pin showing a background of an anchor, cocked flintlock pistol, a crossed naval enlisted cutlass and a MK V Special Operations Craft atop a bow wave.

SWCC Master Insignia:  A 2.5 x 1 3/8-inch silver matte metal pin showing a background of an anchor with a banner and three gold stars, cocked flintlock pistol, a crossed naval enlisted cutlass and a MK V Special Operations Craft atop a bow wave.

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Army relaxes standards on beards, turbans and dreadlocks

Female Soldiers may now wear dreadlocks and male Soldiers whose religious faith requires beards and turbans may now seek permanent accommodation.


Army directive 2017-03, signed earlier this month, spells out changes to Army Regulation 670-1, the uniform policy, for the turban, worn by male Soldiers, the under-turban; male hair worn under a turban; the hijab, which is a head scarf worn by females; and beards worn by male members.

Sgt. Maj. Anthony J. Moore, the uniform policy branch sergeant major inside the Army’s G-1, said the policy change was made largely as a way to increase diversity inside the service, and to provide opportunity for more Americans to serve in uniform.

“This is so we can expand the pool of people eligible to join the Army,” Moore said. “There was a section of the population who previously were unable to enlist in the Army. This makes the Army better because you’re opening the doors for more talent. You’re allowing people to come in who have skills the Army can use.”

Female Soldiers have been asking for a while for permission to wear “locks,” or dreadlocks, Moore said.

“We understood there was no need to differentiate between locks, corn rows, or twists, as long as they all met the same dimension,” Moore said. “It’s one more option for female hairstyles. Females have been asking for a while, especially females of African-American decent, to be able to wear dreadlocks, and locks, because it’s easier to maintain that hairstyle.”

The Army directive says that each lock or dreadlock “will be of uniform dimension; have a diameter no greater than 1/2 inch; and present a neat, professional, and well-groomed appearance.”

All female Soldiers can opt to wear the dreadlocks, Moore said.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Spc. Harpal Singh, with Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, watches as his fellow Soldiers go through the Slide to Victory obstacle at the Fort Jackson Confidence Course. (Photo Credit: Robert Timmons)

The Army has granted waivers to Sikh Soldiers since 2009 to wear a turban in lieu of issued Army headgear, and allowed those same Soldiers to wear the turban indoors when Army headgear would normally be removed. Moore said for those Soldiers, the waivers were permanent, but that it was unclear Army-wide that this was the case. That is no longer true, he said.

The new policy is that religious accommodation for Soldiers wanting to wear the turban needs to be requested only once, and that the accommodation will apply to them for their entire Army career.

In an Army directive dated Jan. 3, then-Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning made official the policy regarding the wear of turbans, beards, hijabs, and under-turbans.

“Based on the successful examples of Soldiers currently serving with these accommodations, I have determined that brigade-level commanders may approve requests for these accommodations, and I direct that the wear and appearance standards established in … this directive be incorporated into AR 670-1,” Fanning wrote in the directive.

“With the new directive, which will be incorporated into the Army regulation, religious accommodations are officially permanent for Soldiers,” Moore said.

Also a change: whereas in the past requests for such accommodation rose to the Pentagon before they could be approved, permission can now be granted by brigade-level commanders. Bringing approval down to that level, Moore said, speeds up the approval process dramatically.

That was the intent, Moore said. “They are trying to speed up the process for the Army and for the Soldier.”

Moore said the same religious accommodation rules apply for those Soldiers seeking to wear a beard for religious reasons, and to female Soldiers who want to wear a hijab as well.

If brigade-level commanders feel it inappropriate to approve the accommodation for some reason, he said, then they can recommend disapproval, but it must be channeled to the GCMCA for decision. Under the new policy, requests for religious accommodations that are not approved at the GCMCA-level will come to the secretary of the Army or designee for a final decision.

Still at issue for Soldiers is wear of a beard in conjunction with a gas mask.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
A Marine makes sure his gas mask has a proper seal to keep contaminants away from his face. Beards can inhibit a proper seal. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

“Study results show that beard growth consistently degrades the protection factor provided by the protective masks currently in the Army inventory to an unacceptable degree,” Fanning wrote in the Army directive. “Although the addition of a powered air-purifying respirator and/or a protective mask with a loose-fitting facepiece has demonstrated potential to provide adequate protection for bearded individuals operating in hazardous environments, further research, development, testing, and evaluation are necessary to identify masks that are capable of operational use and can be adequately maintained in field conditions.”

Moore said that until further testing is completed, and alternatives are found to protect bearded Soldiers in environments that are affected or are projected to be affected by chemical weapons, Soldiers with beards may be told to shave them in advance, with specific and concrete evidence of an expected chemical attack.

If a chemical warfare threat is immediate, Moore said, instructions to shave their beards would come from higher up, at the General Court-Martial Convening Authority-level — typically a division-level commander.

Likewise, Soldiers who seek religious accommodation to wear a beard will not be allowed to attend the Army schools required for entry into chemical warfare-related career fields, Moore said.

For wear of the beard, Moore said, the new directive allows for beards to be as long as the Soldier wants, so long as the beard can be rolled up and compressed to less than two inches from the bottom of the chin. Additionally, for those Soldiers wearing a beard under a religious accommodation, the rules for wearing a mustache are also new. Mustaches may extend past the corners of the mouth, but must be trimmed or groomed to not cover the upper lip.

Maj. Kamaljeet Kalsi, a civil affairs officer in the Army Reserve’s 404th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Dix, New Jersey, is a Sikh Soldier who wears both a turban and a beard. He said he welcomes the new policy change as an indication that the Army is now looking to both accolade his faith, and to open its doors to talent in the United States that might have been previously untapped.

“It means a lot to us,” Kalsi said. “And not just to Sikh Americans, but I think Americans that value religious freedom and religious liberty, and value diversity. I think it means a lot to all of us. To me it says the nation is moving in a direction that the founders intended, a pluralistic democracy that represents all. I think we’re a stronger nation when we can draw from the broadest amount of talent, the broadest talent pool. And it makes us a stronger military when the military looks like the people it serves.”

Capt. Simratpal Singh, with the 249th Engineer Battalion prime power section, said the policy is for him about acceptance.

“On a personal level, it means that I can serve freely and without having to worry about any stipulations or constraint,” he said. “That’s all I want: is to serve in the U.S. Army just like any of my peers.”

Because the next edition of AR 670-1 is expected to be published next month, the Army will not be able to include the new rules. But Moore said Soldiers can expect to see these most recent changes in the AR 670-1 that comes out at this time next year.

 

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This is the biggest predictor of success in military special ops

Creating a fool-proof selection program as well as finding the right entry requirements to test candidates is something the military, police, special ops, and fire fighter worlds constantly seek to perfect. I recently was asked the following question by a few friends who are either active duty or former Tactical Professionals (aka military, special ops, police, swat, and fire fighters):


Do you think there will ever be a measurable test or metric to predict the success of a candidate in Special Ops programs?

My unqualified short answer is… maybe? I think there are far too many variables to test to create a measurable metric to predict success in selection programs or advanced special operations training. Now, this does not mean we should stop looking and creating statistical analyses of those who succeed and fail, or testing out new ideas to improve student success. There is no doubt that finding better prepared students will save money, time, and effort, and it’s worth remembering that much of the entry standards are based on those studies. The ability to measure someone’s mental toughness (aka heart or passion) may be impossible, but there are groups making great strides with quantifying such intangibles.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
U.S. Navy SEALs exit a C-130 Hercules aircraft during a training exercise near Fort Pickett, Va.

Recently, Naval Special Warfare Center (BUD/S) did a three-year study on their SEAL candidates attending Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL Training. If you are looking for the physical predictors to success, this is about as thorough of a study as I have ever seen to date.

The CSORT — Computerized Special Operations Resiliency Test is another method of pre-testing candidates prior to SEAL Training — while still in the recruiting phase. The CSORT is part of the entry process and has become a decent predictor of success and failure with a candidate’s future training. Together with the combined run and swim times of the BUD/S PST (500yd swim, pushups, situps, pullups, and 1.5 mile run), a candidate is compared to previous statistics of candidates who successfully graduated.

Can You Even Measure Mental Toughness?

This is a debate that those in the business of creating Special Operators still have. In my opinion, the “test” is BUD/S, SFAS, Selection, SWAT Training, or whatever training that makes a student endure daily challenges for a long period of time. The body’s stamina and endurance is equally tested for several days and weeks, as is one’s mental stamina and endurance (toughness) in these schools. The school IS the test. Finding the best student — now that is the challenge.

Related Articles/ Studies:

Here is a study on general “Hardness” with respect to Army SF graduates.

Some other intangible qualities of successful special operators.

Some Science of Mental Toughness.

Building Blocks of Mental Toughness.

Training to Think While Stressed. Thinking under pressure is a common trait of successful operators.

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com’s Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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This is what a $17 million investment in laser technology gets the US military

The US Defense Department is making another multi-million dollar investment in high-energy lasers that have the potential to destroy enemy drones and mortars, disrupt communication systems, and provide military forces with other portable, less costly options on the battlefield.


US Senator Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and longtime supporter of directed energy research, announced the $17 million investment during a news conference Wednesday inside a Boeing lab where many of the innovations were developed.

The US already has the ability to shoot down enemy rockets and take out other threats with traditional weapons, but Heinrich said it’s expensive.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
The Sodium Guidestar at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Starfire Optical Range resides on a 6,240 foot hilltop at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. The Army and Navy is developing its own laser weapons systems. Photo from USAF.

High-energy lasers and microwave systems represent a shift to weapons with essentially endless ammunition and the ability to wipe out multiple threats in a short amount of time, he said.

“This is ready for prime time and getting people to just wrap their head around the fact that you can put a laser on something moving really fast and destroy it … has been the biggest challenge,” said Heinrich, who has an engineering degree.

Boeing has been working on high-energy laser and microwave weapons systems for years. The effort included a billion-dollar project to outfit a 747 with a laser cannon that could shoot down missiles while airborne. The system was complex and filled the entire back half of the massive plane.

With advancements over the past two decades, high-powered laser weapons systems can now fit into a large suitcase for transport across the battlefield or be mounted to a vehicle for targeting something as small as the device that controls the wings of a military drone.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
USS Ponce conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research-sponsored Laser Weapon System. Navy photo by John F. Williams.

“Laser technology has moved from science fiction to real life,” said Ron Dauk, head of Boeing’s Albuquerque site.

The company’s compact laser system has undergone testing by the military and engineers are working on a higher-powered version for testing next year.

While the technology has matured, Dauk and Heinrich said the exciting part is that it’s on the verge of moving from the lab to the battlefield.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
A target truck disabled by Lockheed’s ATHENA laser. Photo from Lockheed Martin.

Another $200 million has been requested in this year’s defense appropriations bill that would establish a program within the Pentagon for accelerating the transition of directed-energy research to real applications.

Heinrich said continued investment in such projects will help solidify New Mexico’s position as a leading site of directed-energy research and bring more money and high-tech jobs to the state.

Boeing already contributes about $120 million to the state’s economy through its contracts with vendors.

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Navy puts plans to buy more ships and planes on hold

The Navy’s 2018 budget request is out – and it looks like more new ships and aircraft are going to be on hold for at least a year. However, if this proposal holds up, the recent trend of short-changing training and maintenance will be reversed.


According to a report by BreakingDefense.com, the Navy will get eight ships: A Ford-class aircraft carrier (CVN 80, the new USS Enterprise), two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, a littoral combat ship (or frigate), two Virginia-class submarines, a salvage tug, and an oiler.

Aircraft procurement will include two dozen F-35B/C Lightning II multi-role fighters and 14 F/A-18E/F Hornets. Despite reducing the F-35C buy by two aircraft, the Navy still expects to be on pace to achieve initial operating capability with the carrier-based variant of the Joint Strike Fighter in 2019.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) receives fuel from the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204) during a replenishment-at-sea in the western Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams/Released)

The big focus on the fiscal 2018 budget, though, is restoring readiness. The Navy is getting a $1.9 billion increase in a category known as “Other Procurement, Navy.” This fund is used to purchase new electronic gear, and more importantly, spare parts for the Navy’s ships and aircraft.

The biggest winner in the budget is the operations and maintenance account, which is getting a $9.1 billion boost to a total of $54.5 billion. This represents roughly a 20 percent increase, with no category getting less than 87 percent of the stated requirements. Most notable is that Navy and Marine Corps flight hours have been funded to “the maximum executable level” – breaking a cycle of shortchanging training.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
A F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115 conducts a touch-and-go landing on Iwo To, Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James A. Guillory)

The Navy and Marines have been hard-hit with readiness issues, particularly in terms of aviation. Last year, the Marines had to pull a number of F/A-18 Hornets out of the boneyard to have enough airframes for training. The Marines also had to carry out a safety stand-down after a series of mishaps in the summer of 2016. Even after the stand-down, the Marines lost four Hornets from Oct. 1, 2016 to Dec. 7, 2016.

“We tried to hold the line in our procurement accounts,” Rear Adm. Brian Luther, the Navy’s top budget officer, told BreakingDefense.com. He pointed out, though, that under Secretary of Defense James Mattis, “the direction was clear: fill the holes first.”

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This coding boot camp is a great way to get started with a tech career

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
(Photo provided by Paul Dillon)


Coding boot camps are programs that teach programming skills. Typically, these boot camps are short (12 weeks to 7 months), often intense (sometimes requiring 90 hours/week), and usually designed to teach beginners enough so that they can become professional junior software developers.

And, the demand for their graduates is robust and growing. According to Dave Molina, a former U.S. Army captain, and the founder and executive director of Operation Code, a non-profit online, open source coding program for active duty military, veterans, and their families, “There are over 200,000 computing jobs open annually in the U.S., with 30,000 of those jobs filled by computer science graduates; however, that number is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2020. Meanwhile, we have 250,000 U.S. military personnel that exit the service annually, many of whom possess the discipline and aptitude to fill those jobs, if they had some training in computer coding skills.”

These are generally good paying jobs. Rod Levy, the founder and executive director of Code Platoon, a non-profit coding camp in Chicago for veterans, states that “starting salaries for graduates coming right out of the boot camp are about $65,000, rising to about $100,000 after five years of experience. Placement rates for graduates are high.”

So, why are coding boot camps a good option for veterans?

Levy lists several reasons: “As we know, veterans often struggle ‘translating’ their military experience to a civilian audience. Coding boot camps solve this problem by giving veterans job-ready skills that are well understood in the job marketplace”, he said.

“Even more important”, Levy added, “successful software developers typically need to work well in teams, demonstrate grit and resilience, and have to be able to systematically problem-solve. These characteristics are often found in veterans.”

Molina supports this view. He said, “Military veterans have the right set of skills to become programmers. Technical expertise, emotional resilience, psychological persistence, and teamwork—these are the qualities found in our best and brightest and they are the qualities of the best programmers.”

There are coding boot camps to serve about every veteran’s needs. These various coding boot camps are distinguished by the following characteristics:

  • Level of intensity. “Immersive” is around 60 – 80 hours a week; “full-time” can be 30 to 70 hours a week; “part-time” is typically 10 to 30 hours week.
  • In-person or remote. In-person means you spend the majority of the training on-site, with instructors and fellow students on premises. Remote means you do the training on your computer at home regardless of location.
  • Technology stack. Most coding boot camps teach web development or mobile development. Web development means you learn to write applications for the web—some focus on the Ruby on Rails, Python, Node.js or .NET. Mobile development means developing native apps, for example on iPhones or Androids. The most popular technology stacks being taught are Ruby on Rails, Python/Django, Full Stack Javascript, C#/.Net, and Java.
  • Internships/Job Placement. This one is obvious. Coding boot camps that offer internships and/or have high job placement rates for entry-level software developers should be given serious consideration.
  • Population focus. A few coding boot camps serve specific populations and look to tailor their programs to those populations, as well as creating a “safe” space where members of those populations may feel more comfortable. There are coding boot camps just for women, minorities and veterans, to name a few. Obviously, veterans should choose a boot camp that caters to their specific needs, when possible, and leverage their New GI Bill wherever possible.

Given all of these various aspects of coding boot camps, what should a veteran look for in choosing a coding boot camp? At a minimum, veterans should consider the following items when selecting a boot camp:

  • Different boot camps are meant to serve different interests. Remote online boot camps, like Thinkful.com, are much more convenient than in-person boot camps, such as Code Platoon, where you have to move to Chicago for a few months. The trade-off for that convenience is that it may be very hard to stay motivated, understand the material thoroughly and ask your peers and instructors questions. In-person boot camps, on the other hand, offer the immediate feedback and support that can be missing in remote programs, although they may not be located near when the veteran lives or works. Consequently, they may be much more expensive to attend.

A representative list of code schools and scholarship information can be found on the Operation Code website at the following link: https://www.operationcode.org/code_schools

  • If your goal is to learn skills for a new career in programming, look for a program that will put you through at least roughly 1,000 hours of coding/instruction, at an absolute minimum. Whether this is in an immersive 12-week program at 80 hours a week, or a year-long program at 20 hours a week is up to you; but 1,000 hours of focused, directed learning in programming is the bare minimum needed to become a competent programmer.
  • The choice of technology stack is often a source of much discussion, with trade-offs discussed around the number of jobs versus the learning curve needed for various languages. In the end, there are many jobs in each of the languages/stacks that are being taught. Always look for a coding boot camp where the programming stack is in substantial demand, with many jobs available immediately upon graduation.

Cost is an important consideration that the veteran needs to keep in mind in selecting the right code camp to meet their needs. Most coding schools offer scholarships to veterans to help to defray the costs. At Code Platoon, for instance, the tuition is $13,000 for the full program. However, all veterans accepted into the program receive a scholarship of $10,500, bringing the total cost of the program to the veteran to $2,500. Travel expenses to and from Chicago, and living expenses while attending the program in Chicago, are extra.

There is no charge for Operation Code programs and services for active duty military, National Guard and reserve troops, veterans, and their spouses. Information on conference scholarships can be found on the Operation Code website: https://operationcode.org/scholarships.

What about using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend one of these coding camps? Currently, 5 code schools across the country accept the New GI Bill: Sabio (Los Angeles), Code Fellows (Seattle), Galvanize, RefactorU and SkillDistillery (Colorado).

Most coding schools, however, are not eligible to receive GI Bill funds. Code Platoon hopes to be eligible for GI Bill funding within a year. Each state has its own authorizing agency that approves programs for participation in the New GI Bill, with two years of school operating experience generally required. More information on this subject can be found on the Operation Code website at https://operationcode.org/code_schools.

Internships, mentoring partners, and job placement are all important considerations for the veteran in selecting a coding camp. Code Platoon, for instance, pairs its students with two industry partners, who work with the student during the entire program.

Operation Code offers its military veteran members ongoing software mentorship through its Software Mentor Protege Program, where its members get help with their code, pairing online in a peer-to-peer learning environment with professional software developers for lifelong learning and understanding in an inclusive and nurturing environment.

And, most coding schools help their graduates with job placement assistance, upon completion of their programs.

It is obvious that veterans need to consider a lot of things before applying to a coding camp.

The different types of programs, whether on-site or online, need to be determined. The reputation of the coding camp, the success of its graduates, costs, potential use of the GI Bill, scholarships, internships, mentoring and job placement assistance all need to be carefully researched.

But, one thing is perfectly clear about obtaining the skills necessary to be a successful computer programmer. It offers the opportunity to have a lasting career in a growing, well-compensated field that’s going to change the world.

And, what could be better than that for veterans and their families?

Watch this introduction to Code Platoon:

And now watch this introduction to Operation Code:
Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Paul Dillon is the head of Dillon Consulting Services, LLC, a firm that specializes in serving the veteran community with offices in Durham and Chicago. For more visit his website here.
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A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft see first action in Afghanistan

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
An A-29 Super Tucano taxis across the airfield at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan. The light air-support aircraft will be added to the Afghan air force in the spring of 2016. | U.S. Air Force photo by Nathan Lipscomb


A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft manned by Afghan pilots trained in the U.S. have conducted the first close air support missions by fixed-wing aircraft ever flown for the fledgling Afghan Air Force, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said Thursday.

“They are beginning to take their first strikes,” guided to targets by Afghan forward air controllers on the ground, Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland said in a video briefing from Kabul to the Pentagon.

Cleveland did not say where or when the first A-29 strikes took place or describe the effectiveness of the missions, but U.S. and Afghan officials previously had said that combat missions by the turboprop aircraft were expected to begin in April.

Four of the A-29s arrived in Afghanistan in January and another four have since flown in to a military airfield near Hamid Karzai International Airport outside Kabul, according to Cleveland, the new deputy chief of staff for communications for the U.S. and NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

A U.S.-funded $427 million contract calls for a total of 20 A-29s to be delivered to Afghanistan by 2018.

Eight Afghan Air Force pilots completed training late last year on the A-29s with U.S. pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. The A-29s, which were designed for close air support, carry a 20mm cannon below the fuselage, one 12.7mm machine gun under each wing and can also fire 70mm rockets and launch precision-guided bombs.

The A-29s began arriving in Afghanistan nearly five years after the Brazilian firm Embraer, and its U.S. partner Sierra Nevada Corp., won a Light Air Support competition with the A-29 against the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6B Texan II, leading to contract disputes and delays in the program.

Last month, the A-29s working with Afghan tactical air controllers conducted live-fire training exercises outside Kabul. At a following ceremony called the “Rebirth of the Afghan Air Force,” Maj. Gen. Wahab Wardak, commander of the Afghan Air Force, said he expected the A-29s to begin conducting airstrikes in April.

Although Cleveland did not say where the first A-29 strikes were carried out, Afghan Defense Minister Masoom Stanikzai said last month that the aircraft would likely be used first in southwestern Helmand province, where the Afghan National Security Forces have been struggling to contain the Taliban in the region that is the center of Afghanistan’s opium trade.

“Helmand is not a rosy picture now,” said Cleveland.

Even so, he contradicted news reports that the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, former headquarters of British forces in the region, was about to fall. In February, 500 troops from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division were sent to Helmand as force protection for U.S. Special Operations troops advising and assisting the Afghans.

Cleveland said that the Afghan forces, backed by nearly daily U.S. airstrikes, were making progress against newly-emergent Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, allied Afghan insurgents in eastern Nangarhar province.

“We do think that they are being contained more than they probably were last fall,” he said, but “we do think that they still pose a real threat. And based on their past performance, they’ve got the ability to catch fire very quickly. So we do want to continue to have constant pressure on them.”

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Mattis starts his review of US nuclear arsenal

Secretary of Defense James Mattis officially started the U.S. Department of Defense’s review of the country’s nuclear arsenal Tuesday, according to the Pentagon.


President Donald Trump directed Mattis to conduct a review after taking office in January. The full-scope review comes as concerns over the aging nuclear arsenal are growing in both the White House and Congress.

“In National Security Presidential Memorandum 1, dated Jan. 27, the president directed the secretary of defense to conduct a Nuclear Posture Review to ensure the U.S. nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, effective, reliable and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies,” said Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White in a statement.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will lead the review in cooperation with “interagency partners,” according to White. A final report will be issued at the end of the year.

The review comes at a time when the U.S. is facing increased nuclear threats. North Korea continues to advance its nuclear program and has increased missile testing in the last two years. Russia is believed to have violated a decades-old nuclear agreement banning the deployment of intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles. The Russian military is engaged in a military modernization program that includes both its strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.

A significant portion of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal is based on designs from the 1960s and 1970s. The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Military Strength rated the U.S. nuclear arsenal “strong,” just one step down from “very strong,” but leaders within the military, the White House and Congress are concerned over the aging arsenal.

“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” said Trump tweeted in December.

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

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The US military took these incredible photos this week

The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:


NAVY:

Never forget

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by USN

The guided-missile destroyer USS Carney departs Mayport for its new homeport of Rota, Spain, Sept. 6.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John S. Smolinski/USN

ARMY:

Soldiers, assigned to 7th Infantry Divisionand 10th Mountain Division, part of Train, Advise and Assist Command – South, test their strength and endurance with an ammo-can carry during the Bayonet Mile II, a series of team-oriented combat skills tests conducted by Soldiers from the U.S. and theAustralian Army on Kandahar, Afghanistan, Sept. 6, 2015.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by Lt. Col. Bill Coppernoll/US Army

Soldiers, assigned to United States Army Europe – USAREUR, U.S. Army Africa, KFOR Multinational Battle Group-East, and NATO line up for a 12-mile ruck, their final test prior to earning the U.S. Army Europe Field Medical Badge, Grafenwoehr, Germany.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by Capt. Jeku Arce/US Army

AIR FORCE:

An F-22 Raptor pilot from the 95th Fighter Squadron based at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., gets situated in his aircraft prior to taking off from Ämari Air Base, Estonia, Sept. 4, 2015.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane/USAF

Airman 1st Class Stefan Alvarez, a 3rd Combat Camera Squadron photojournalist, loads 5.56 mm ammunition into an M4 magazine in preparation for the next drill during Advanced Weapons and Tactics Training Sept. 4, 2015, in Converse, Texas.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by Senior Airman Colville McFee/USAF

MARINE CORPS:

A Critical Skills Operator with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command uses a torch to cut through a metal door to gain entry on a building during Marine Special Operation School’s Master Breacher’s Course at Stone Bay aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Aug. 5, 2015.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by Sgt. Scott A. Achtemeier/USMC

1st Lt. Keith G. Lowell administers OC spray during the OC Spray Performance Evaluation Course on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Aug. 27, 2015. This course is part of the Non-Lethal Weapons Instructor Course, which is only offered once a year to all service members on Okinawa.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by Cpl. Thor Larson/USMC

COAST GUARD:

U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego ASTs run pilots and aviation crews through Shallow Water Egress Training at Naval Base Point Loma. The training is conducted in a controlled environment to prepare flight crews on how to safely exit an overturned helicopter in the water.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by USCG

Aircrew members from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak deploy two weather data-collecting probes from an HC-130 Hercules airplane above the Arctic Circle.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Photo by PA3 Lauren Steenson/USCG

NOW: More awesome military photos

OR WATCH: Where were the US fighters on 9/11?

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Why tech execs want to ban robot weapons

Artificial intelligence experts shook up the tech world this month when they called for the United Nations to regulate and even consider banning autonomous weapons.


Attention quickly gravitated to the biggest celebrity in the group, Elon Musk, who set the Internet ablaze when he tweeted: “If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea.”

 

The group of 116 AI experts warned in an open letter to the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons that “lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare.” Speaking on behalf of companies that make artificial intelligence and robotic systems that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, they wrote, “We feel especially responsible in raising this alarm.”

The blunt talk by leaders of the AI world has raised eyebrows. Musk has put AI in the category of existential threat and is demanding decisive and immediate regulation. But even some of the signatories of the letter now say Musk took the fear mongering too far.

What this means for the Pentagon and its massive efforts to merge intelligent machines into weapon systems is still unclear. The military sees a future of high-tech weapon systems powered by artificial intelligence and ubiquitous autonomous weapons in the air, at sea, on the ground, as well as in cyberspace.

The United Nations has scheduled a November meeting to discuss the implications of autonomous weapons. It has created a group of governmental experts on “lethal autonomous weapon systems.” The letter asked the group to “work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies.”

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
United Nations General Assembly hall in New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons photo by user Avala.

Founder and CEO of the artificial intelligence company SparkCognition, Amir Husain, signed the letter but insists that he is against any ban or restrictions that would stifle progress and innovation. He pointed out that the campaign was organized by professor Toby Walsh of the University of New South Wales in Australia, and was meant to highlight the “potential dangers of autonomous weapons absent an international debate on these issues.”

The industry wants a healthy debate on the benefits and risks of AI and autonomy, Amir told RealClearDefense in a statement. But a blanket ban is “unworkable and unenforceable.” Scientific progress is inevitable, “and for me that is not frightening,” he added. “I believe the solution — as much as one exists at this stage — is to redouble our investment in the development of safe, explainable, and transparent AI technologies.”

Wendy Anderson, general manager of SparkCognition’s defense business, said that to suggest a ban or even tight restrictions on the development of any technology is a “slippery slope” and would put the United States at a competitive disadvantage, as other countries will continue to pursue the technology. “We cannot afford to fall behind,” said Anderson. “Banning or restricting its development is not the answer. Having honest, in-depth discussions about how we create, develop, and deploy the technology is.”

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

August Cole, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and writer at the consulting firm Avascent, said the concerns raised by tech leaders on autonomous weapons are valid, but a ban is unrealistic. “Given the proliferation of civilian machine learning and autonomy advances in everything from cars to finance to social media, a prohibition won’t work,” he said.

Setting limits on technology ultimately would hurt the military, which depends on commercial innovations, said Cole. “What needs to develop is an international legal, moral, and ethical framework. … But given the unrelenting speed of commercial breakthroughs in AI, robotics, and machine learning, this may be a taller order than asking for an outright ban on autonomous weapons.”

But while advances in commercial technology have benefited the military, analysts fear that the Pentagon has not fully grasped the risks of unfettered AI and the possibility that machines could become uncontrollable.

“AI is not just another technology,” said Andy Ilachinski, principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses. He authored a recent CNA study, “AI, Robots, and Swarms: Issues, Questions, and Recommended Studies.”

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
USMC photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins

Defense has to be concerned about the implications of this debate, he said in an interview. AI is transforming the world “to the level of a Guttenberg press, to the level of the Internet,” he said. “This is a culture-shifting technology. And DoD is just a small part of that.”

Another troubling reality is that the Pentagon has yet to settle on the definition of autonomous weapons. In 2012, the Department of Defense published an instruction manual on the use of autonomous weapons. That 5-year-old document is the only existing policy on the books on how the US military uses these systems, Ilachinski said. According to that manual, a weapon is autonomous if “once activated, it can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human.”

Policies and directives are long overdue for an update, he said. “We need to know what AI is capable of, how to test it, evaluate it.”

He noted that the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory panel, published two studies on the subject in 2012 and 2016 but provided “no good definition of autonomy or AI in either of them.” These are the Pentagon’s top experts and “they can’t even get it straight.”

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
USAF photo by Master Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.

Something about Musk’s warning strikes a chord with scientists that truly understand AI, Ilachinski observed. When Google’s Deepmind created a computer program in 2015 that beat the world’s Go champion, it was a landmark achievement for AI but also brought the realization that these algorithms truly have minds of their own. “This is an issue of great concern for DoD.”

There are areas within AI that scientists are still trying to wrap their heads around. In advanced systems like Deepmind’s AlphaGo, “you can’t reverse engineer why a certain behavior occurred,” Ilachinski said. “It is important for DoD to recognize that they may not able to understand completely why the system is doing what it’s doing.”

One reason to take Musk’s warning seriously is that much is still unknown about what happens within the brains of these AI systems once they are trained, said Ilachinski. “You may not be able to predict the overall behavior of the system,” he said. “So in that sense I share the angst that people like Elon Musk feel.”

On the other hand, it is too late to put the genie back in the bottle, Ilachinski added. The United States can’t let up because countries like China already are working to become the dominant power in AI. Further, the Pentagon has to worry that enemies will exploit AI in ways that can’t yet be imagined. Anyone can buy a couple of drones for less than a thousand dollars, go to the MIT or Harvard website, learn about AI, download snippets of code and implant them in the drones, he said. A swarm of smart drones is something “would have a hard time countering because we are not expecting it. It’s very cheap and easy to do.”

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This is how Osama bin Laden trained Somalis in the “Black Hawk Down” incident

In 1997, CNN’s Peter Arnett, Peter Bergen, and news photographer Peter Jouvenal interviewed Osama bin Laden at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. They spent little more than an hour with the man who would become the world’s most wanted terrorist (and eventual casualty of a SEAL Team 6 raid).


At that time, however, bin Laden was just known as a “major financier of terrorism,” although he had already masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, a bombing in Riyadh in 1995, and one in Dhahran in 1996. He ran terrorist training camps in Sudan as well as Afghanistan and essentially declared war on the United States. Few in the West took notice of the interview or bin Laden’s declaration.

Bin Laden held the U.S., through its support for Israel and the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, responsible for the deaths of Palestinians, Iraqis, and Lebanese Palestinians. He also called the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia an “occupation.” He declared the jihad against U.S. troops and would not guarantee the safety of American civilians. These are all things he always admitted and openly discussed.

What was different about the Bergen interview was that bin Laden discussed how his network trained Somalis to fight Americans when the U.S. intervened in the Somali Civil War. In Bergen’s book Holy War, Inc., he recalls what bin Laden said about the “Black Hawk Down” incident:

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators

“‘Resistance started against the American invasion because Muslims did not believe the U.S. allegations that they came to save the Somalis. With Allah’s grace, Muslims in Somalia cooperated with some Arab holy warriors who were in Afghanistan. Together they killed large numbers of American occupation troops.’ He exulted in the fact that the United States withdrew from the country, pointing to the withdrawal as an example of the weakness, frailty and cowardice of the U.S. troops.”

In 1993, an al-Qaeda commander named Abu Hafs went to Somalis to scout how U.S. troops were most vulnerable. Bin Laden was openly living in nearby Sudan at that time. During the Battle of Mogadishu (the one depicted in the 2001 film “Black Hawk Down”) on October 3 and 4, three U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were taken down by RPG fire. U.S. officials told Bergen that the accurate use of RPGs by Somali forces was not a skill they would have learned on their own. Journalist Mark Bowden confirms this in his book Black Hawk Down.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators

The most powerful weapons warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid had after the U.S. decimated his tanks and larger guns were RPGs. Arab Mujahideen veterans of the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan trained Somalis to shoot down helicopters. The Arabs taught Aidid’s forces to target tail rotors. The Mujahideen addressed the inaccuracy of RPGs by replacing the detonators with timing devices so they would explode in mid-air and thus wouldn’t have to hit the rotor directly.

The Arabs also taught the Somalis to wait until the helo passed over in order to hit the aircraft from behind. Somalis would hide the tube of the RPG inside trees, in holes in the streets, anything except aiming from rooftops. Helos could spot the RPGs well before they could be aimed and fired.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators

Bergen notes bin Laden’s multiple assertions of having a “military commander” in Somalia.  That commander, Haroun Fazil, was in Mogadishu during the “Black Hawk Down” incident. He also notes that members of bin Laden’s network trained members of forces that were rivals of Aidid’s, in favor of anyone fighting the Americans.

The leader of the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab recently confirmed that three al-Qaeda operatives were aiding the Somalis at this time: Yusuf al Ayiri, Saif al Adel, and Abu al Hasan al Sa’idi. Al Ayiri was killed by Saudi security forces in 2003, and Al Sa’idid died in a suicide attack against Americans in Afghanistan. Saif al Adel is still alive, believed to be hiding in Pakistan. He masterminded the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat in Egypt, fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, and temporarily took bin Laden’s place after he was killed.

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Watch this huge guided missile destroyer turn on a dime

The Arleigh Burke class of guided-missile destroyers is huge – and they are some of the most powerful ships in the world.


These 9,000-ton ships are armed with a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 vertical-launch systems (with 90 to 96 cells), two triple 324mm torpedo tubes, and a 20mm Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System. Some even carry two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
USS Gonzalez at a more sedate pace. (US Navy photo)

But sometimes, the firepower ain’t the solution. Far from it, in some cases. Say the Iranians are up to their usual… antics. That is when the destroyer will need to move.

The ship can go fast – over 30 knots, thanks to her gas turbine propulsion. She also can turn – and for a ship this big, she turns on a dime.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
USS Farragut (DDG 99) comes out of a high-speed turn. (US Navy photo)

Do those turns matter? You bet they can. The fast turn can help avoid one of those “fast attack craft” the Iranians use. If a torpedo is fired, the turn can also buy time once the ship’s AN/SLQ-25 Nixie goes off.

Torpedo seekers do not have a long range, so the turn at high speed can allow the ship to escape an attack.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
What can happen when a torpedo hits: South Korean and American officers walk past what os left the ROK Navy corvette ROKS Cheonan (PCC 772). A non-contact homing torpedo or sea-mine exploded near the ship March 26, 2010, sinking it, resulting in the death of 46 ROK Navy sailors. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Jared Apollo Burgamy)

You can see the destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) make one of these high-speed turns in this video below. Making such a turn does take practice – mostly because if the gear ain’t stowed right, there is likely to be one hell of a mess. But a mess to clean up is much better than a torpedo hit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Vih4tGmqjs
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Take a moto break with these 11 photos of U.S. military fighters breaking the sound barrier

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
An F/A-18C Hornet breaks the sound barrier. | US Navy


At a speed of about 767 miles per hour, depending on temperature and humidity, a moving object will break the sound barrier.

It was not until World War II, when aircraft started to reach the limits of the sound barrier — although without successfully breaking the barrier into supersonic speed — that the term came into use. Now, More than 70 years later, military aircraft can routinely break through the barrier and travel at incredible speeds.

The pictures below demonstrate the still amazing visual effects that occur as military aircraft punch through the sound barrier and travel faster than sound itself.

An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 113 breaks the sound barrier during an air power demonstration over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
US Navy

An F/A-18 Super Hornet assigned to the Kestrels of Strike Fighter Squadron 137 breaks the sound barrier during an air power demonstration above the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
US Navy

An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 113 breaks the sound barrier during an air power demonstration over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
US Navy

An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Bounty Hunters of Strike Fighter Squadron 2 breaks the sound barrier during a fly-by of USS Ronald Reagan.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
US Navy

An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 113 breaks the sound barrier during an air power demonstration over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
US Navy

An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 113 breaks the sound barrier alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during an air power demonstration.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
US Navy

US Air Force Thunderbirds pilot Maj. Williams performs a Sneak Pass during the Boston-Portsmouth Air Show at Pease Air National Guard Base.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
US Air Force

An F/A-18F Super Hornet from the Black Aces of Strike Fighter Squadron 41 breaks the sound barrier during an air power demonstration for participants of a tiger cruise aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Crossley | US Navy

Capt. Norbert “Smurf” Szarleta, commanding officer of Carrier Air Wing 17, breaks the sound barrier in an F/A-18F Super Hornet strike fighter during an air power demonstration aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Chief Petty Officer Augustine Cooper | US Navy

An Air Force F/A-15 Strike Eagle reaches the sound barrier during the San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Cpl. Salvador R. Moreno | USMC

An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 113 breaks the sound barrier over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during an air power demonstration.

Navy announces new patches and insignia for sailors and special operators
Petty Officer 2nd Class James Evans | US Navy

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