Results are what make a weapons system great, not just technology.
In the case of fighter aircraft, it’s all about the kills, and with that as the main selection criteria, here’s WATM’s list of the 18 greatest fighters of all time:
1. Fokker Triplane
The iconic aircraft behind the World War I success of Manfred von Richthofen’s Flying Circus was actually designed after a Sopwith Triplane crashed behind German lines in 1917. The Fokker Triplane was relatively slow and hard to see out of, but it possessed an impressive turn rate that “The Red Baron” leveraged towards his war total of 80 confirmed kills.
2. Sopwith Camel
The Sopwith Camel had a more powerful engine and more firepower than the German fighters it went up against, and although the big engine made it hard to handle, in the hands of an experienced pilot the fighter was very lethal. The Sopwith Camel accounted for 1,294 air-to-air kills, the most of any model during World War I.
3. Mitsubishi Zero
At the outset of World War II in the Pacific, the Zero owned the skies, including those over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Zero was primarily carrier-based, highly maneuverable, and could fly long range. Because of this the Japanese enjoyed a 12-to-1 kill ratio over the allies during the first few years of the war.
Often incorrectly called the “Me 109,” the Bf-109 remains the most produced fighter aircraft in history and was one of the Luftwaffe’s air-to-air workhorses. The Bf 109 was flown by the three top-scoring German fighter aces of World War II, who claimed 928 victories among them. Through constant design improvements and development by German engineers, the Bf 109 remained lethal in the face of allied technical advances throughout the war.
5. Focke-Wulf Fw-190
The Fw-190 was generally considered superior to the Bf-109 because of it’s bigger engine (a BMW inline 12) and greater firepower. Some of the Luftwaffe ‘ s most successful fighter aces flew the Fw 190, including Otto Kittel with 267 victories, Walter Nowotny with 258, and Erich Rudorffer with 222.
6. P-51 Mustang
The P-51 Mustang was a solution to the clear need for an effective bomber escort starting in 1943. General James Doolittle told the fighters in early 1944 to stop flying in formation with the bombers and instead attack the Luftwaffe wherever it could be found. The Mustang groups were sent in well before the bombers in a “fighter sweep” as a form of air supremacy action, intercepting German fighters while they were forming up. As a result, the Luftwaffe lost 17 percent of its fighter pilots in just over a week, and the Allies were able to establish air superiority. (Wikipedia)
7. P-38 Lightning
In spite of the fact that the twin-boom design limited roll rate performance, the P-38 tallied impressive kill numbers in the Pacific and the China-Burma-India areas when piloted by America’s top aces like Richard Bong (40 victories) and Thomas McGuire (38 victories).
8. P-47 Thunderbolt
In Europe during the critical first three months of 1944 when the German aircraft industry and Berlin were heavily attacked, the P-47 shot down more German fighters than the P-51 (570 out of 873), and shot down approximately 900 of the 1,983 claimed during the first six months of 1944. In Europe, Thunderbolts flew more sorties (423,435) than P-51s, P-38s and P-40s combined. Indeed, it was the P-47 which broke the back of the Luftwaffe on the Western Front in the critical period of January–May 1944. (Wikipedia)
The Spitfire achieved legendary status during the Battle of Britain by racking up the highest victory-to-loss ratio among British aircraft. Spitfires were flown by British aces Johnnie Johnson (34 kills), Douglas Bader (20 kills), and Bob Tuck (27 kills). The Spitfire was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft and was the only British fighter to be in continuous production throughout the war. (Wikipedia)
10. F4F Wildcat
The first of the Grumman “Cat” series, the carrier-based F4F was slower, shorter ranged, and less maneuverable than the Japanese Zero. However it’s ruggedness and the development of group tactics like the “Thatch Weave” allowed the Wildcat to ultimately prevail, tallying a nearly 7-to-1 kill ratio over the course of the war.
11. F6F Hellcat
The F6F was designed to improve on the Wildcat’s ability to counter the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and help secure air superiority over the Pacific Theater. Hellcats were credited with 5,223 kills, more than any other Allied naval aircraft.
12. F-4U Corsair
Know to the Japanese as “whistling death,” Corsairs claimed 2,140 air combat victories and an overall kill ratio of over 11-to-1. Legendary F4U pilots include Marines Joe Foss, Marion Carl, and Pappy Boyington.
With the Chinese entry into the Korean War, the MiG-15 began to appear in the skies over Korea. Quickly proving superior to straight-wing American jets such as the F-80 and F-84 Thunderjet, the MiG-15 temporarily gave the Chinese the advantage in the air and ultimately forced United Nations forces to halt daylight bombing until the F-86 arrived to level the air combat playing field.
14. F-86 Sabre
The F-86 was the U.S. answer to the MiG-15 that had dominated the skies over Korea in the early part of that conflict. Engagements in MiG Alley between the two aircraft were numerous, and that period is considered by many as the glory days of air-to-air warfare between jet aircraft. F-86s ended the war with a 10-to-1 kill ratio over the MiG-15s they faced.
15. F-4 Phantom
The F-4 was the fighter and attack workhorse for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps for several decades and Phantom crews were the last to attain “ace” status in the 20th Century. The most noteworthy event happened on May 10, 1972, when Lieutenant Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Lieutenant (junior grade) William P. Driscoll shot down three MiG-17s to become the first American flying aces of the war.
One of the most widely used fighter aircraft in history, MiG-21s tallied impressive kill numbers during the Vietnam War, the Iran-Iraq War, and the India-Pakistan and Egypt-Israeli conflicts.
17. F-14 Tomcat
The Tomcat didn’t make this list because of it’s long service as the U.S. Navy’s front-line carrier-based fighter (in spite of the fact that “Top Gun” remains the greatest military movie of all time), but because the Iranian Air Force had more than 160 kills with it during the Iran-Iraq War.
18. F-15 Eagle
Eagles made dogfighting history during Operation Desert Storm, primarily because of their superior weapons suite, including state-of-the-art (at the time) identification capability. F-15s had 34 confirmed kills of Iraqi aircraft during the 1991 Gulf War.
Known for an ability to keep flying after taking multiple rounds of enemy machine gun fire, land and operate in rugged terrain, destroy groups of enemy fighters with a 30mm cannon and unleash a wide arsenal of attack weapons, the A-10 is described by pilots as a “flying tank” in the sky — able to hover over ground war and provide life-saving close air support in high-threat combat environments.
“It is built to withstand more damage than any other frame that I know of. It’s known for its ruggedness,” A-10 pilot Lt. Col. Ryan Haden, 23rd Fighter Group Deputy, Moody AFB, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The pilot of the A-10 is surrounded by multiple plates of titanium armor, designed to enable the aircraft to withstand small-arms fire and keep flying its attack missions.
“The A-10 is not agile, nimble, fast or quick,” Haden said. “It’s deliberate, measured, hefty, impactful calculated and sound. There’s nothing flimsy or fragile about the way it is constructed or about the way that it flies.”
A-10 Thunderbolt II, affectionately known as the Warthog, has been in service since the late 1970s and served as a close air support combat aircraft in conflicts such as the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Allied Force in Kosovo, among others.
Having flown combat missions in the A-10, Haden explained how the aircraft is specially designed to survive enemy ground attacks.
“There are things built in for redundancy. If one hydraulic system fails, another one kicks in,” he said.
If the aircraft loses all of its electronics including its digital displays and targeting systems, the pilot of an A-10 can still fly, drop general purpose bombs and shoot the 30mm cannon, Haden explained.
“So when I lose all the computers and the calculations, the targeting pod and the heads up display, you can still point the aircraft using a degraded system at the target and shoot. We are actually trained for that,” he said.
Unlike other air platforms built for speed, maneuverability, air-to-air dogfighting and air-to-air weapons, the A-10 is specifically engineered around its gun, a 30mm cannon aligned directly beneath the fuselage. The gun is also called a GAU-8/A Gatling gun.
“The 30mm cannon has 7 barrels. They are centered the way the aircraft fires. The firing barrel goes right down the center line. You can point the aircraft and shoot at the ground. It is designed for air to ground attack,” Haden explained.
Armed with 1,150 rounds, the 30mm cannon is able to fire 70-rounds a second.
Haden explained the gun alignment as being straight along the fuselage line without an upward “cant” like many other aircraft have. Also, the windows in the A-10 are also wider to allow pilots a larger field of view with which to see and attack targets.
The engines of the A-10 are mounted high so that the aircraft can land in austere environments such as rugged, dirty or sandy terrain, Haden said. The engines on the A-10 are General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofans.
“I’ve seen this airplane land on a desert strip with the main gear buried in a foot of sand. On most planes, this would have ripped the gear up, but the A-10 turned right around and took off,” he added.
There have been many instances where A-10 engines were shot up and the pilots did not know until the returned from a mission, Haden said.
These aerodynamic configurations and engine technology allow the A-10 to fly slower and lower, in closer proximity to ground forces and enemy targets.
“The wings are straight and broadened. The engines are turbofan. They were selected and designed for their efficiency, not because of an enormous thrust. We have a very efficient engine that allows me to loiter with a much more efficient gas-burn rate,” Haden said.
Close Air Support
By virtue of being able to fly at slower speeds of 300, the A-10 can fly beneath the weather at altitudes of 100 feet. This gives pilots and ability to see enemy targets with the naked eye, giving them the ability to drop bombs, fire rockets and open fire with the 30mm cannon in close proximity to friendly forces.
“We shoot really close to people. We do it 50-meters away from people. I can sometimes see hands and people waving. If I get close enough and low enough I can see the difference between good guys and bad guys and shoot,” Haden explained.
The aircraft’s bombs, rockets and cannon attack enemies up close or from miles sway, depending on the target and slant range of the aircraft, Haden added.
“We deliver the munitions by actually going from a base position – then pointing the jet at the ground and then pulling the trigger once we reach the desired range,” he explained.
The A-10 uses both “Lightning” and “Sniper” pods engineered with infrared and electro-optical sensors able to find targets for the pilot.
“The aircraft uses the same targeting pod as F-15E and F-16. However, most of the fighters can’t transition between the two targeting pods and we can, based on our software,” Haden said.
The A-10 carries a full complement of weapons to include Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAM GPS-guided bombs; its arsenal includes GBU 38s, GBU 31s, GBU 54s, Mk 82s, Mk 84s, AGM-65s (Maverick missiles), AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and rockets along with illumination flares, jammer pods and other protective countermeasures. The aircraft can carry 16,000 pounds of mixed ordnance; eight can fly under the wings and three under-fuselage pylon station, Air Force statements said.
A-10 Avionics Technology
Pilots flying attack missions in the aircraft communicate with other aircraft and ground forces using radios and a data-link known at LINK 16. Pilots can also text message with other aircraft and across platforms, Haden added.
The cockpit is engineered with what is called the CASS cockpit, for Common Avionics Architecture System, which includes moving digital map displays and various screens showing pertinent information such as altitude, elevation, surrounding terrain and target data.
A-10 pilots also wear a high-tech helmet which enables them to look at targeting video on a helmet display.
“I can project my targeting pod video into my eye so I can see the field of view. If something shoots at me I can target it simply by looking at it,” he explained.
During the early months of combat in Operation Enduring Freedom, in a battle known as “Operation Anaconda,” Haden’s A-10 wound up in a fast-moving, dynamic combat circumstance wherein U.S. military were attacking Taliban fighters in the Afghan mountains.
During the mission in March of 2002, Haden was able to see and destroy Taliban anti-aircraft artillery, guns and troop positions.
“We could see tracer fire going from one side of the valley to the other side of the valley. We were unable to tell which was from good guys and which was from bad guys. Using close air support procedures in conjunction with our sensors on board, we deconstructed the tactical situation and then shot,” he said.
The Future of the A-10
Many lawmakers, observers, veterans, analysts, pilots and members of the military have been following the unfolding developments regarding the Air Force’s plans for the A-10. Citing budgetary reasons, Air Force leaders had said they planned to begin retiring its fleet of A-10s as soon as this year. Some Air Force personnel maintained that other air assets such as the F-16 and emerging F-35 multi-role stealth fighter would be able to fill the mission gap and perform close air support missions once the A-10 retired.
However, a chorus of concern from lawmakers and the A-10s exemplary performance in the ongoing air attacks against ISIS – has lead the Air Force to extend the planned service life of the aircraft well into the 2020s. Despite the claim that other air assets could pick up the close air support mission, advocates for the A-10 consistently state that the platform has an unmatched ability to protect ground troops and perform the close air support mission.
Sending the close-air-support aircraft to the bone yard would save an estimated $4.2 billion over five years alone, Air Force officials previously said.
The overall costs of the program including life cycle management, sustainment and upkeep had made the A-10 budget targets for the service, however many lawmakers pushed back on the plans.
There have been many advocates for the A-10 among lawmakers who have publically questioned the prior Air Force strategy to retire the aircraft. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. and Sen. John McCain have been among some of the most vocal supporters of the A-10.
Capt. Dustin Ireland fires a missile as his A-10 Thunderbolt II breaks over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex April 24 during live-fire training. | U.S. Air Force photo Master Sgt. Robert Wieland
On several occasions, Ayotte has challenged the Air Force decision to retire the plane.
“The A-10 has saved many American lives, and Senator Ayotte is concerned that the Air Force might prematurely eliminate the A-10 before there is a replacement aircraft—creating a dangerous close air support capability gap that could put our troops at risk,” an Ayotte official said several months ago.McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, welcomed the news that the A-10 might remain longer than the Air Force had planned.
“I welcome reports that the Air Force has decided to keep the A-10 aircraft flying through fiscal year 2017, ensuring our troops have the vital close-air support they need for missions around the world. Today, the A-10 fleet is playing an indispensable role in the fight against ISIL in Iraq and assisting NATO’s efforts to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe,” McCain said in a recent statement.
Also, the A-10 has been performing extremely well in ongoing attacks against ISIS, creating an operational demand for the durable aircraft and therefore reportedly informing this Air Force decision.
“With growing global chaos and turmoil on the rise, we simply cannot afford to prematurely retire the best close air support weapon in our arsenal without fielding a proper replacement. When the Obama Administration submits its 2017 budget request in the coming weeks, I hope it will follow through on its plan to keep the A-10 flying so that it can continue to protect American troops, many still serving in harm’s way,” McCain added.
Although the continued existence of the A-10 is assured well into the next decade, the debate about what, if anything, might be able to replace it is quite likely to continue.
When the B-52 is over 60 years old, and a large number of F-15 Eagles are over 30, it seems surprising that the Air Force is looking to replace a plane that won’t even be in service for twenty years until later this year.
However, according to an Air Force News Service article, the Air Force is looking to replace the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, which didn’t achieve its initial operating capability until December 1997 according to an Air Force fact sheet. This plane is an all-seeing eye that looks for and tracks ground targets, using the AN/APY-7, a 24-foot long synthetic aperture radar, according to a Northrop Grumman data sheet.
So, why is this system, which isn’t even old enough to drink, suddenly planned for replacement? The answer is in the airframe.
The E-8, like the E-3 Sentry, is based on the Boeing 707, a jet that first flew just over 59 years ago. With the exception of Omega Aerial Refueling Services, nobody operates this aircraft commercially.
Furthermore, according to a 2015 FlightGlobal.com report, the E-8s were produced by acquiring second-hand 707s. A September 2016 Air Force report noted that those second-hand 707s had as many as 60,000 flight hours before they had been purchased for conversion.
One JSTARS that had to be written off was built in 1967, according to DefenseTech.org.
In other words, these are old airframes and they’ve had a lot of use – even before the Air Force gave the 16-plane fleet over 1 million flight hours collectively (as of this past September). That is an average of 62,500 flight hours per plane — meaning that some of the E-8 aircraft could have in excess of 120,000 total flight hours.
That’s the equivalent of 5,000 days in the air.
What is the Air Force looking towards in replacing the E-8C? The JSTARS recapitalization project is likely to involve a smaller jet. According to a 2014 report by Aviation Week and Space Technology, Northrop Grumman is testing a new JSTARS based off a Gulfstream V business jet.
Boeing’s web site is touting a version of the 737 jet as its entry, attempting to partially piggyback on experience with the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon.
It’s no secret North Korea has a pretty big chip on its shoulder. They have to do everything bigger, more ridiculous, and more grandiose than every other country on the planet.
In an effort to prove their superiority to the world (but mostly to themselves), they put everything into that external image. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their armed forces. If we’re comparing armies to cars, the Korean People’s Army is pretty much the Pontiac Aztek of the world’s fighting forces. That doesn’t stop them from peacocking their insane special forces on the internet.
There was a time when the only Westerners who sported tattoos were sailors.
Tattoos in Western culture can be traced back to Captain James Cook’s visit with the Maori people in the 1700s. His crew decided to get them as souvenirs, and the Western tattoo culture started from there, according to Steve Gilbert in his book Tattoo History.
Traditional sailor tattoos symbolized experiences such as travel, achievements, rank, status, significant life events, superstitions, and more. These are a few examples of the meaning behind traditional sailor tattoos:
Anchor: associated with the Boatswain’s Mate rate or Chief rank, but also symbolizes safety and stability
Dragon: associated with service in Asia
Nautical Star: symbolizes the North star and guide for a safe return home
Lighthouse: symbolizes safe passage to home port
Old sailor or captain: symbolizes life experiences
Rudder: symbolizes control of a destiny
Sailor tattoos fell out of style for several decades but made a comeback thanks to pop culture. Today, sailor tattoos are more popular than ever — and not just with sailors. Celebs, musicians, sorority girls, homemakers, techies — everybody’s getting inked.
Here are some of the coolest Navy-inspired designs recently sighted around the web:
If North Vietnamese bombers were coming to strike a remote CIA radar station and helicopter landing zone filled with Air Force volunteers, there are certain weapon platforms that would be expected to respond. Maybe some fighters or some air defenders on the ground.
But probably no one would expect a couple of CIA operatives in a helicopter to chase down the bombers and shoot one down using an AK-47.
So, guess what happened on Jan. 12, 1968?
The North Vietnamese sent four AN-2 Colt biplanes to bomb Site 85, a radar station in the mountains of Laos used partially as a staging base for rescue and special operations helicopters. The station’s primary role was to guide bombers headed into missions against Hanoi, Vietnam.
On Jan. 12, Ted Moore was flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter owned by “Air America,” a CIA front company, to Site 85. When he and his crewman arrived at the site, he saw two of the biplanes circling the station as the other two conducted bombing runs.
Moore began chasing one of the bombers that was actively taking part in the attack. His crewman, Glenn Woods, grabbed an AK-47 and began firing it at the cockpit of the fleeing bomber.
All four of the bombers bugged out, and Moore and Woods kept chasing and firing on the bombers.
After about 20 minutes of chase, the first bomber crashed just inside of the North Vietnam border and a second one crashed into a ridge just a few minutes later. The other two bombers escaped without incident. A CIA ground team later searched the wrecks and found bullet holes in both.
The two Americans were credited with the only plane kill by a helicopter in the war. An artist named Keith Woodcock later painted the scene in “Lima Site 85.”
The remote radar station operated for another two months before a ground assault by North Vietnamese commandos was able to force its way to the summit. The site was overrun in the greatest single ground loss of U.S. airmen in the war.
In a 1989 incident, the Air Force crew of a B1-B bomber found itself unable to lower the front landing gear during a training flight and was forced to execute an emergency landing in the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Investigators later blamed a hydraulic failure, but the crew in the air just knew that they had to reach the ground safely. The Air Force routed the plane to a dry lakebed in California that was often used for landing the space shuttle.
The dust of the Rogers Dry Lake bed is more likely than most surfaces to allow for a safe skid, reducing the risk to the crew and plane. The full landing is visible from a few angles in this video from airailimages:
Military humor is famously dark and mean, and we’ve got the videos to prove it. From MRE bombs to machine gun wake-ups, here are 9 of the best military prank videos on the internet. Feel free to share your favorites on our Facebook page.
Warning: There’s some foul language in nearly every video. Use discretion with your volume settings.
1. MRE bomb wake-up
2. Funny but dangerous grenade prank
4. Flash bangs are not toys.
5. The spoon prank, but with soldiers.
6. Airman gets a physical over the phone.
It’s hard to hear the audio in this video due to a bunch of drilling, but the story is that the airman has been convinced he can get a physical over the phone as long as he gets his heart rate up for the doctor’s stethoscope to hear through the phone. His giggling staff sergeant was obviously not convinced.
As President Joe Biden was addressing the nation Wednesday after swearing in as the 46th U.S. president, a quiet moment was captured 110 miles away from the nation’s capital.
A journalist with The News Journal in Delaware saw a lone person in a blue uniform kneeling over the grave of the president’s late son, Beau Biden, who died in 2015 at the age of 46.
“No one else was around on this cold, windy afternoon except for a few people doing outside work at the cemetery,” Patricia Talorico, the News Journal reporter, wrote about the moment. “… The person in the uniform bowed their head and clasped their hands. The image brought tears to my eyes.”
The person captured in Talorico’s viral photo, which was shared by tens of thousands on social media, has not been identified. Talorico said that while the journalist in her wanted to ask the person’s identity and see why they were there, she “knew it was a time to be respectful.”
“I drove away,” she said, adding, “Some things in life you just let be.”
Beau Biden, a lawyer who served in the Delaware National Guard, is buried at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church cemetery in Greenville, Delaware. In 2008, he deployed as a major to Iraq, where he served on the staff of Biden’s defense secretary nominee, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin.
Before Biden left Delaware this week ahead of his inauguration, he spoke at the Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center, which is named for his son.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I only have one regret: He’s not here,” Biden said of his son, fighting back tears. “Because we should be introducing him as president.”
The person at Beau Biden’s grave kept their head bowed before and after Biden’s roughly 20-minute inauguration address, clasping their hands, Talorico wrote.
Biden, who said in a 2019 speech that he suspects his son’s cancer was caused by exposure to burn pits in Iraq, is expected to expand medical benefits for veterans who became sick after being exposed to environmental toxins.
“President-elect Joe Biden has made clear that our nation’s most sacred obligation is to take care of the members of our military and their families, when they’re deployed and when they return home,” Leo Cruz, Biden’s military and veterans issues campaign director, told McClatchy after the November election.
As the Marine Corps looks to prepare for future conflicts and expand key highly skilled communities, the service will consider adding a new primary military occupational specialty: 0521, Military Information Support Operations.
A briefing document obtained by Military.com proposes expanding what is now a free, or additional MOS, into a primary MOS and increasing the total number of MISO Marines from 87 to a steady state of 322. The enlisted-only MOS would be composed chiefs of sergeants and staff sergeants, with a tapering senior enlisted leadership structure.
MISO, which has also been called psychological operations, or PSYOP, aims to influence emotions and behavior by targeted messaging and information distribution. It requires an understanding of the people and cultures with whom Marines will interact and how they are affected by various communication strategies. Humvees equipped with loudspeakers that blast messages to communities, leaflet information campaigns, and one-on-one meetings with local leaders all fall under the umbrella of MISO.
Currently, the Marine Corps deploys its small community of MISO Marines in teams of two to four aboard Marine expeditionary units and its special purpose Marine air-ground task forces for Africa and the Middle East. They also support elite operations at Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and assist in major exercises and sometimes with larger Marine force operations.
The MISO MOS brief, prepared in October 2015 by Col. Drew Cukor, commanding officer of Marine Corps Information Operations Center in Quantico, Virginia, which contains the MISO program, notes that U.S. adversaries have seen success in exploiting the “information environment” to their own advantage.
“[Marines] may win physical battles but still lose because of failure to fight effectively in the cognitive dimension,” Cukor notes.
Creating a MISO primary MOS would allow the Corps to get more value from the investment it makes training its Marines, the brief notes. Currently, about 30 Marines a year complete a 17-week training course at Fort Bragg, N.C. at a cost of $12,000 per student, plus another $5,000 per Marine to obtain a required Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance. Total training costs add up to more than $600,000, according to the brief.
However, few MISO Marines remain in the community, with 80 percent choosing to end active service following their three-year tour in the free MOS.
In an award-winning Dec. 2015 essay published by the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine, Marine Sgt. Dion Edon, a MISO Marine, said that those in his community tended to seek out other opportunities after their three-year tours because there was little incentive to stay.
“The Marine Corps loses an Army Special Operations Forces–trained Marine to the civilian contracting world, Army SOF, or the fleet, where their MISO-specific knowledge is unavailable,” he wrote. “The MISO MOS should become a primary MOS with warrant and limited-duty officer opportunities so that the Marine Corps can retain its investment in behavioral experts who can support senior-level staff with technical expertise and advice.”
Edon, who recently returned from a deployment supporting the 15th MEU as a MISO noncommissioned officer, also proposed giving MISO Marines more regionally focused and language specific training, and incorporating them further into Marine Corps planning and wargaming operations.
He quoted 15th MEU commanding officer Col. Vance Cryer, who said the addition of the MISO capability aboard the MEU had resulted in a “much more refined” approach to the integration of intelligence with operations.
“The MISO mission and support provides me [with] critical context, insight, and validation of various levels of information for use in the planning and execution phases,” Edon quotes Cryer as saying in the essay. “As a key part of a networked organization, it provides timely, value-added tools that enable asymmetric advantages to the MEU or MAGTF level of operations.”
Expanding the community would also better allow MISO Marines to meet high operational demand and increase the number of MISO personnel available to serve within each Marine expeditionary force and at MARSOC, Cukor’s brief shows.
Officials with Marine Corps Information Operations Center declined requests for an interview because the plans were pre-decisional.
But the deputy commandant of Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Lt. Gen. Mark Brilakis, told Military.com that preliminary decisions could be made as soon as this fall regarding how to develop the MISO community.
“In MISO, within those specialties and capabilities, I think those are some of the things that we’re going to be wrestling with to determine whether or not the Marine Corps needs more structure, whether it becomes a primary MOS, whether it becomes an expanded MOS, or whether it becomes a series of MOSs, depending upon the specific specialties,” he said. “So if individuals are interested in MISO and expanded realm of information operations, etcetera, then they should stand by, because I think more will come out of this.”
He noted that Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has directed Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, to conduct a study that defines where the Marine Corps needs to be in 2025 and whether the force is properly organized to address future challenges.
“One of the larger discussion areas is in cyber, information, deception, psychological operations, where is the Marine Corps with those capabilities, that structure, that capability inside the force,” he said. “So there will be a fairly robust discussion about where we sit today, and where we may want to go tomorrow.”
Brilakis declined to speculate whether the Corps could add even more MOSs, but said many decisions had yet to be made.
This push for a MISO primary MOS comes as Neller pushes to expand certain Marine Corps communities, including information and cyber warfare. He told an Atlantic Council audience in February that the Corps had two options in light of this objective: to ask for an end strength increase, or to restructure, perhaps shrinking other communities such as infantry, to realize growth in others.
A new documentary, “National Bird,” exposes the secret drone war being carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere from the ground level of the strike and from the perspective of three military operators who used to pull the trigger.
“When you watch someone in those dying moments, what their reaction is, how they’re reacting and what they’re doing,” Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, says in the film. “It’s so primitive. It’s really raw, stripped down, death.”
Though unmanned systems have been used for many years to carry out surveillance, it wasn’t until after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks — on February 4, 2002 — that a drone was armed and used for targeted killing. That 2002 strike apparently killed three civilians mistaken for Osama bin Laden and his confidantes, a theme that went on to play out again and again.
Armed drones have operated since in Afghanistan and many other countries in which the U.S. is not at war, including Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. They have been used to strike militants and terror leaders over the years — a program accelerated under the Obama administration — but it has come at a deadly cost, with thousands of innocent civilians killed, to include hundreds of children.
“I can say the drone program is wrong because I don’t know how many people I’ve killed,” Linebaugh says.
Linebaugh and two others, introduced only by their first names Daniel and Lisa, tell equally compelling stories from their time in the military’s drone program. The film gives them a chance to shine a light on what is a highly secretive program, which officials often describe as offering near-surgical precision against terrorists that may someday do harm to U.S. interests.
Instead, the three offer pointed critiques to that narrative, sharing poignant details of deaths they witnessed through their sophisticated cameras and sensors. The most disturbing thing about being involved with the drone program, Daniel said, was the lack of clarity about whom he killed and whether they were civilians.
“There’s no way of knowing,” he says.
Though the testimony of the three operators is compelling, the documentary’s most important moments come from a visit to Afghanistan, where the documentary showcases a family that was wrongly targeted by a strike. It was on February 21, 2010, when three vehicles carrying more than two-dozen civilians were hit by an Air Force drone crew.
“That’s when we heard the sound of a plane but we couldn’t see it,” one victim says.
Filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck mixes witness statements with a reenactment of overhead imagery and voices reading from the transcript prior to the strike. A later investigation found that the operators of the Predator drone offered “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting of what they saw.
During the incident, the drone operators reported seeing “at least five dudes so far.” Eventually, they reported 21 “military-age males,” no females, and two possible children, which they said were approximately 12 years old.
“Twelve, 13 years old with a weapon is just as dangerous,” one drone operator says. The operators never got positive identification of the people below having weapons.
That’s because the group consisted only of innocent men, women, and children, according to the documentary. Twenty-three Afghan civilians were killed, including two children aged seven and four.
“We thought they would stop when they saw women, but they just kept bombing us,” the mother of the children says.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of U.S. forces in the country, apologized for the strike. Four officers involved were disciplined.
The documentary cuts through the defense of drones as a “surgical” weapon that only kills the bad guys. As many reports have made clear, the US often doesn’t know exactly who it is killing in a drone strike, instead hazarding an “imperfect guess,” according to The New York Times, which is sometimes based merely on a location or suspicious behavior.
That imperfect guess has often resulted in the death of innocent locals — or, as was the case in 2015, the death of two men, an American, and an Italian, who were being held hostage by militants.
As Daniel points out in the documentary, the presence of drones on the battlefield has only emboldened commanders, who no longer have to risk military personnel in raids and can fire a missile instead. That viewpoint only seems to be growing, as the technology gets better and drones continue to proliferate around the world.
The drone may continue to be the “national bird” of the U.S. military for a long time, but perhaps the documentary can start a conversation around their use and whether they create more terrorists, as has been argued, than they are able to take out.
“Not everybody is a freakin’ terrorist. We need to just get out of that mindset,” says Lisa, a former Air Force technical sergeant, in the documentary. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of their door and it was a sunny day, and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something was going to fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”