Russia’s hypersonic missile program has been plagued by failed tests, but it still has potential. The Yu-71 would be able to fly unpredictable patterns to its targets at speeds of 7,000 miles per hour, piercing air defenses. While the U.S. also has a hypersonic program, the U.S. missiles are designed for conventional warheads while Russia’s call for nuclear capabilities.
Russia is also jointly-developing the BrahMos II hypersonic cruise missile with India.
3. A stealthy, heavy-lift strategic bomber
The PAK-DA is expected to be subsonic with a range of 7,500 miles and capable of carrying a payload of about 30 tons. It’s a huge step down from Russia’s original plans for a hypersonic bomber, but it may be stealthy enough to get cruise missiles into range against carriers and other targets.
4. An “off switch” for enemy communications and weapons guidance
While the S-300 is in the news right now, the S-500 would be two generations beyond it. The S-500 is expected to be capable of engaging five to ten ballistic missiles at once and even hitting low-orbit satellites. It will be able to move between engagements, avoiding counter attacks.
Russia’s carrier prospects are dicey, but if the ship makes it to the sea it will be much better than their current carrier. Roughly the same size as a U.S. Nimitz carrier, it would have 4 launching positions and an air wing of 80-90 aircraft.
In a recent interview with Business Insider, Justin Bronk, a research fellow specializing in combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute, revealed why the F-15, originally introduced four decades ago, is still more useful than either the F-22 or the F-35 in certain situations.
The F-15 is a traditional air-superiority fighter of the fourth generation. It’s big, fast, agile, and carriers lots of weapons under the wing where everyone can see them. For that last reason, it’s terrible at stealth, but the other side of the coin is that it’s perfect for intercepting enemy aircraft.
Bronk says that when it comes to interception, a plane must “get up right next to the aircraft, fly alongside, show weapons, go on guard frequency, tell them they’re being intercepted, that they’re on course to violate airspace, and to turn back immediately.”
An F-22 or F-35 shouldn’t, and in some cases, can’t do that.
The major advantage of fifth-generation aircraft is their stealth abilities and situational awareness. Even the best aircraft in the world would be lucky to lay eyes on any fifth-generation fighter, which means they can set up and control the engagement entirely on their terms.
But while this paradigm lends itself ideally to fighting and killing, interception is a different beast.
The advantages of the F-22, and particularly of the F-35, diminish greatly once planes get within visual range of one another. Also, fifth-gens usually carry their munitions inside internal bomb bays, which is great for stealth but doesn’t really strike the same note that staring down an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the side of an F-15 would.
Simply put, a fifth-gen revealing itself to a legacy fighter would be akin to a hunter laying down his gun before confronting a wild beast.
“Fifth-gen fighters are not really necessary for that … other, cheaper interceptors can do the job,” Bronk said.
Furthermore, interception happens way more frequently than air-to-air combat. A US Air Force fighter most recently shot down an enemy plane in 2009 — and it was the Air Force’s own wayward drone over Afghanistan. Interceptionshappenallthetime, with the Baltics and the South China Sea being particular hot spots.
The fifth-gens, however, make sense for entering contested airspace. If the US wanted to enter North Korean or Iranian airspace, it wouldn’t just be to show off, and according to Bronk, the aircraft’s stealth and situational awareness would afford them the opportunity to slip in, hit their marks, and slip out undetected, unlike an F-15.
In interception situations, it makes no sense to offer up an F-22 or an F-35 as a handicapped target to an older legacy plane. F-15s are more than capable of delivering the message themselves, and whoever they intercept will know that the full force of the US Air Force, including fifth-gens, stands behind them.
Another bullet slammed into the rocky slope beside journalist Mike Boettcher. The Taliban sniper fired again, sending another large-caliber bullet whizzing between the Americans who were scattered among the boulders. Boettcher kept his camera rolling but worried his son Carlos might have been hit. The father-and-son team was embedded with soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, but getting good footage was now the last thing on his mind.
Eventually the paratroopers forced the sniper to displace, and Mike and Carlos Boettcher were reunited, both unscathed.
“I told you don’t leave my side! This is a damn war zone, Carlos,” Mike can be heard screaming off-camera.
When it comes to documentaries about the war in Afghanistan, Restrepo still reigns supreme. But while the award-winning documentary from Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington is the most acclaimed film of its kind, The Hornet’s Nest is a must-watch for anyone seeking a closer look into America’s longest war.
Mike Boettcher describes the documentary as a “real-life narrative feature.” The feeling that his film is more than a documentary comes from the added drama of Mike and Carlos’ strained relationship. Their final attempt to bond amid the war that surrounds them provides an additional storyline that unfolds like a scripted feature film.
Between 2010 and 2011, the duo embedded with three Army brigades and one Marine battalion on their deployments to Afghanistan. While the filmmakers survived their extended stay in Afghanistan, 44 members of the units they embedded with did not. The combat footage they recorded is as intense as any existing documentary, but the audio surpasses them all. The sounds of bullets snapping and whizzing overhead are so clear it’s hard to believe they weren’t created in a studio and added during editing.
While the combat footage is jarring and the Boettchers’ relationship is compelling, it’s the documentary’s ending that transforms The Hornet’s Nest from an average film to a must-watch. The Boettchers were present at the Battle of Barawala Kalay Valley: a two-day mission that devolved into nine days of heavy fighting. Before the Americans prevailed, six US soldiers were killed in action.
The entire battle unfolds in the film’s final act, concluding with an emotionally devastating battlefield memorial service. The final scene provides a rare glimpse into one of the most sacred military traditions. As the final roll call is read and the surviving soldiers fight to keep their bearings, it becomes difficult to watch. The heart-wrenching conclusion serves as an uncomfortable reminder of the steep cost of the war in Afghanistan.
As the U.S. starts to forward-deploy more of its F-35 Lightning, China and Russia have been putting the finishing touches on their own batches of fifth-generation aircraft — and they all express vastly different ideas about what the future of air combat will look like.
For the U.S., stealth and sophisticated networks define its vision for the future of air combat with the F-22 and F-35.
For China, the plan is to use range to take out high-value targets with the J-20.
For Russia, the PAK-FA shows that it seems to think dogfighting isn’t dead.
Here’s how the F-35 stacks up to the competition.
The F-35 Lightning II
An F-35B begins its short takeoff from the USS America with an external weapons load. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
The U.S.’s F-35 isn’t an airplane — it’s three airplanes.
And it isn’t a fighter — it’s “flying sensor-shooters that have the ability to act as information nodes in a combat cloud universe made up of platforms, not just airborne, but also operating at sea and on land that can be networked together,” retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told Defense Aerospace Report in November.
In a discussion with four F-35 pilots that was also produced by Defense Aerospace Report, a clear consensus emerged: The difference between an F-35 and an F-15 is like the difference between an iPhone and a corded wall phone. Phones of the past might have had crystal-clear call quality and the ability to conference call, but the iPhone brought with it unprecedented networking and computing capability that has changed life as we know it.
That said, the F-35 doesn’t offer any significant upgrades in range, weapons payload, or dogfighting ability over legacy aircraft, while its competition does.
The Chengdu J-20
China’s Chengdu J-20 has one thing in common with the F-35 — it’s not a fighter.
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Business Insider that the J-20 is “not a fighter, but an interceptor and a strike aircraft” that doesn’t seek to contend with U.S. jets in air-to-air battles.
Instead, “the Chinese are recognizing they can attack critical airborne support systems like AWACS” — airborne early-warning and control systems — “and refueling planes so they can’t do their job,” Davis said. “If you can force the tankers back, then the F-35s and other platforms aren’t sufficient because they can’t reach their target.”
On the J-20’s stealth, a senior U.S. low-observable-aircraft design engineer working in the industry told Business Insider that “the J-20 has many features copied from U.S. fifth-gen aircraft; however, it’s apparent from looking at many pictures of the aircraft that the designers don’t fully understand all the concepts of LO” — low-observable, or stealth — “design.”
The real danger of China’s J-20 lies not with its ability to fight against U.S. fighters, but with its laserlike focus on destroying the slower, unarmed planes that support U.S. fighters with its long range and long-range missiles, thereby keeping them out of fighting range.
Shenyang J-31 (F60) at the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
China’s J-31 looks a lot like the F-35, and one Chinese national has pleaded guilty to stealing confidential information about the F-35 program.
That said, the J-31 suffers from China’s inferior composite-materials technology and its inability to build planes in the precise way a stealth airplane needs to be built. Additionally, there’s reason to suspect the avionics in the Chinese programs significantly lag the F-35.
But the J-31, like the J-20, still poses a significant threat because China has developed long-range missiles, which combined with their ground-based radars and radar sites in the South China Sea could potentially pick off U.S. stealth aircraft before the F-35s and F-22s could fire back.
Davis told Business Insider that the J-31 doesn’t just seek to compete with the U.S. militarily, but that the J-31 “very clearly is an F-35 competitor in a commercial sense.” Nations that weren’t invited to participate in the F-35 program may seek to buy China’s cheaper and somewhat comparable J-31.
A fleet of J-31s in the hands of Iran, for example, could pose a serious threat to U.S. interests abroad.
The PAK-FA/T-50. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)
Russia’s PAK-FA, also known as the T-50, has been criticized as being fifth-generation “in name only,” but as Russia proves time and time again, it doesn’t need the best and most expensive technology to pose a real threat to U.S. aircraft.
The PAK-FA’s greatest failure is in the stealth arena. While the PAK-FA has some stealth from the front angle, “it’s a dirty aircraft,” said a person who helps build stealth aircraft, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the work.
But stealth represents just one aspect of air combat, and the Russians have considerable counterstealth technologies. So while the PAK-FA fails to deliver the stealth or total networking capacity of the F-35, it is a fighter — and a damn good one.
The U.S.’s F-22 has 2D thrust-vectoring nozzles at the engines and is the most agile plane the U.S. has ever built. The PAK-FA has 3D thrust-vectoring nozzles and is even more agile.
Additionally, the PAK-FA can be armed to the teeth with infrared missiles that focus on heat and ignore the U.S.’s stealth. So while the U.S.’s fifth generation hinges on controlling the battle from range and at the jump-off point, Russia’s PAK-FA seems to focus on close-up fights, which the designers of the F-35 didn’t concentrate on.
The first F-35 to arrive at the 33rd Fighter Wing was on display during the aircraft’s official rollout ceremony on August 26 at Eglin Air Force Base. (The first F-35 to arrive at the 33rd Fighter Wing was on display during the aircraft’s official rollout ceremony on August 26 at Eglin Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
China and Russia have both shown the world something new in their fifth-generation aircraft. No longer will these rising powers look to advance the capabilities they currently have — they will actively seek to enter new areas of aerial combat.
Both Russian and Chinese entries seem to focus on key weak points in the U.S.’s force structure by using specialized aircraft.
But the U.S. doesn’t specialize. The F-35 does everything well and seeks the informational high ground with massive computing power, all-aspect stealth, and the ability to network with almost every set of eyes and ears in the U.S. military.
The F-35 has limited range and ability for close combat, but unlike the Chinese and Russian fifth-gens that try to score kills on their own, the F-35 plays like a quarterback, sending targeting information to any platform available.
As the F-35 software develops, pilots will be free to take on more demanding missions, but China’s and Russia’s fifth-gens will still be confined to relatively narrow ones.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced Wednesday that Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire D. “Skip” Wells, Sgt. DeMonte Cheeley and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith would all receive the award.
The announcement comes the same day the FBI announced that the Chattanooga shooter, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was “inspired by a foreign terror organization.” It’s not clear what organization Abdulazeez, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Kuwait, might have been emulating.
“Following an extensive investigation, the FBI and NCIS have determined that this attack was inspired by a foreign terrorist group, the final criteria required for the awarding of the Purple Heart to this sailor and these Marines,” Mabus said in a statement, referring to Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
“This determination allows the Department of the Navy to move forward immediately with the award of the Purple Heart to the families of the five heroes who were victims of this terrorist attack, as well as to the surviving hero, Sgt. Cheeley,” he added.
On July 16, Abdulazeez first attacked a military recruiting office in a drive-by shooting, then traveled to a nearby Navy Reserve center, where he shot five Marines, a sailor and a police officer before he was killed by police.
Cheeley, the Marine recruiter who survived a gunshot to the back of the leg, returned to work the same month, Marine Corps Times reported.
The shocking and tragic attacks inspired a wave of concern over the security of military recruiting facilities and prompted Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to call for better training and “physical security enhancements” to protect the military personnel working at such facilities.
“Although the Purple Heart can never possibly replace this brave Sailor and these brave Marines, it is my hope that as their families and the entire Department of the Navy team continue to mourn their loss, these awards provide some small measure of solace,” Mabus said. “Their heroism and service to our nation will be remembered always.”
The United Kingdom’s Navy is experiencing a big manpower shortage brought on by years of intentional recruiting shortfalls. As a result the British approached the U.S. to help fill the gaps, but the needed help came from the Coast Guard not the Navy.
The first time the Royal Navy used American Navy personnel it resulted in the War of 1812. Now, more than 200 years later, the discussion is much more amicable. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul F. Zukunft explained the situation at a recent event:
“Sixteen years ago, the Royal Navy was looking at budget challenges and they figured that one way they could meet budget is if they bring in no new personnel accessions,” Zukunft said. “They did that for three years. So now, over 16 years later, you’ve got this big hole in the Royal Navy in sea-going ratings, engineers and electricians.”
The Coast Guard agreed. The Royal Navy will soon host 36 enlisted men and women from to support its Type 23 Frigate operations. The UK needed machinery technicians and electrician’s mates first and foremost. This is actually not the first collaboration, as the Royal Navy and U.S. Coast Guard have been longtime partners, especially through Joint Interagency Task Force South, a key counter-trafficking task force in the Caribbean.
When Adm. Zunkunft asked Lord Zambellas why he didn’t ask for sailors from the U.S. Navy, the First Sea Lord replied: “Well, you have old ships, we have old ships. Yours aren’t under warranty, ours aren’t under warranty. When they break, far away from home, the first thing you do is call is the duty engineer to come down and fix it. You don’t call a contractor.”
It was less than two years ago — December 2015 — that the last barriers barring women from certain combat positions finally fell. Now, the new play “Bullet Catchers” envisions a not-so-distant future where women and men officially serve together in the same infantry unit.
“It’s been a 70-year journey for women to fully integrate into all branches, units, and occupations of the military,” said Lory Manning, who served in the Navy for 25 years, starting in the late 1960s.
For Manning, the armed forces offered a different path at a time where options were limited for women. “I did not want to be a schoolteacher and I wanted out of New Jersey,” she recalled by phone. “The Navy seemed like a good opportunity – for travel especially.”
She explained that it has been a piecemeal process to lift the restrictions. For example, in 1992 women were allowed into combat aviation, said Manning, a fellow at the Service Women’s Action Network, known as SWAN. According to the organization’s website, there are “nearly 2.5 million service women in the US.”
The nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sheer number of women deployed during those two conflicts means women (and men) who were not in combat roles saw combat, she said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, over “300,000 women have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq,” according to a SWAN report dated Feb. 1, 2017. More than 1,000 women were wounded, and 166 were killed during combat operations, the report noted.
“Now, even though they fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are officially allowed to fight,” Manning said.
Sandra W. Lee, who plays two roles in “Bullet Catchers,” saw combat in Iraq although she was assigned to civil affairs, she told Chelsea Now in a phone interview. Lee joined the army in response to 9/11, she said, and served from 2002 to 2010.
Civil affairs focuses broadly on rebuilding a country’s infrastructure, and in Iraq, Lee explained she worked on rebuilding schools. Her unit did train in combat, and Lee said she went along with another division as they conducted security sweeps and raids, and looked for weapons caches.
“We would fill in a lot,” she recalled. “We did a lot of missions that were not part of our job description. But being a solider, that is in the job description.”
Lee, who was in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, said that while driving in the country, her convoy was hit four different times by roadside bombs. She said she has a brain injury that stems from those incidents. She was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PSTD. Lee said she was raped by another solider during her deployment.
Her experiences inform how she plays Até, which in the play is the goddess of war and a warrior. Being a woman in the military, Lee explained, there is a perception that females are not good enough and “you have to prove yourself in order to join their ranks.”
Due to her brain injury, Lee was somewhat apprehensive about contributing to the writing of the play but said she put her voice into Até, whose character was a “shell” when she joined the production last December.
“The nice thing about this process it was a group effort,” she said.
Indeed, the co-creators of “Bullet Catchers,” Maggie Moore and Julia Sears, sought input from the actors for the play, which was a collaborative endeavor. “It felt like a writer’s room for a lot of the process,” Sears, who is also the play’s director, said by phone.
The actors were given writing assignments, Sears said, such as writing the fairytale version of their character’s arc in the play, or being challenged to write five minutes of theater within a half hour. “They have so much ownership over what they’re making,” Sears said.
Moore and Sears were the final editors but the actors had a part in shaping their characters, like Lee with Até. Moore, who is also the play’s associate director, said the actors found their voices as writers. While Moore and Sears were honored to be the leaders, she said, the play belongs to the collective. “We all jumped off the cliff together,” Moore said by phone.
Neither Moore nor Sears served in the military. The genesis of the project stems from when Moore was working at the Washington, DC-based Truman National Security Project in early 2015, she explained. Sears and Moore have been friends since college, and followed the news of whether the last restrictions on combat positions would be lifted. Sears thought the story of women fighting for recognition in combat would be an excellent story, Moore said.
Sears and Moore interviewed 35 veterans and current service members – an about even mix of women and men. The veterans had fought in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Sears said. The interview process took about three months, Sears said, with Moore and her then listening and transcribing the interviews. From there, they started to narrow down stories and characters, Sears said.
A bullet catcher is “army slang for an infantryman,” according to the play’s website, and Moore said, “It’s kind of a badge of honor to be a bullet catcher.”
Some women are going through infantry training right now, she said, and “we’re seeing the movement towards the world we built in the play becoming a reality.”
“Bullet Catchers” follows the journey of “the first official mixed gender infantry unit in the US Army, from training to deployment,” according to the play’s website. Moore said it was important to highlight a diversity of experience and so the play’s characters run the gamut from private to lieutenant colonel.
Jessica Vera plays Maya de los Santos, who, in the play, is a lieutenant colonel and the first female commander of a forward operating base, Vera explained by phone. Vera described Maya as a leader, someone who not only sees the opportunity before her, but also the weight of that level of responsibility.
While Vera has no military experience, her father was an Army Ranger, her older brother was in the Army Cavalry and is currently serving in the Air Force. Growing up in a military household has informed how she plays Maya, she said.
One of the play’s first scenes is Maya picking up her wife, Jordan, a civilian, and taking her over the threshold after getting married. Lee, the veteran, also plays Jordan in the play, and said Vera helped to shape Jordan’s character. While the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been officially abandoned, Lee said, “There’s still a stigma. It depends on who your command is.”
On the other end of the military spectrum is character Joan Boudica, played by Emma Walton. Joan is a private and is brand new to the experience, Walton explained by phone. Joan is part of the reserves and is randomly picked for special training and is deployed, she said. “It’s a coming of age story for her,” Walton, who has no military experience, said.
Walton said women have been in the military for a long time – flying planes and protecting the country like men are. “We’re excited to show it,” she said. “The rest of America thinks that they’re nurses, they’re doing paperwork. That’s just not true.”
Sears, the director, said she hopes the play spurs a myriad of conversations for the audience, including a larger discussion of women in leadership roles. “We’re hoping that this story — as specific and nuanced [as it is] – can still have reverberations for woman and anyone who has tried to move the needle of gender integration in general,” she said.
Ten female lieutenants completed the first step in becoming U.S. Army infantry platoon leaders on Wednesday by graduating from the first gender-integrated class of Infantry Officer Basic Leader Course.
Twelve women started the 17-week course at Fort Benning, Georgia, and 10 met the standards to graduate alongside 156 male classmates.
“The training of an infantry lieutenant is a process until they step in front of that rifle platoon, and this is but the very first step in that process,” Lt. Col. Matthew Weber, battalion commander of the course, told reporters Wednesday at Fort Benning. “It’s a critical one because we are very much focused on training and preparing the soldiers, the lieutenants, to ultimately lead a rifle platoon.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter in December ordered all military jobs, including special operations, opened to women. His directive followed a 2013 Pentagon order that the military services open all positions to women by early 2016.
Army officials maintain that it hasn’t taken long for gender integration to become the norm in training.
“We have been integrating women into the military for years; they have fought and bled beside us for years,” said Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning. “This is an important moment, but this is something that is in many ways business as usual.”
Fort Benning officials would not release the names of the 10 female graduates. Their next stop is Ranger School, Weber said.
Then, whether they are successful or not, they will go into other courses, including Airborne School, Striker Leader Course and then Mechanized Leader Course — a process that will take about a year to complete.
“Once they have completed all those courses, then we will have deemed them fit to lead whatever type formation out in [Forces Command] and they will depart Fort Benning,” Weber said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has directed that gender-integration first focus on leaders at those two installations, Wesley said.
“We are priming the pump and enabling success by initially focusing on two installations and then ultimately they will start to migrate out to other installations,” he said.
Griest and Haver are following the same path.
Griest, a military police officer from Connecticut, was granted transfer to the infantry branch April 25, 2016. Haver, an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot from Arizona, has been approved to transfer into the infantry, and “we are still awaiting final word on when that is going to come down,” said Brig. Gen. Peter Jones, commandant of the Infantry School.
“Upfront, I will tell you this makes us a better Army and the reason it makes us a better Army is that this whole issue has driven us — it has been a forcing function, to ensure that we had the right standards aligned to each occupational specialty in the Army,” Wesley said.
Establishing gender-neutral standards has been the “culmination of two years of different work done by Training and Doctrine Command, with physical scientists looking at what is the physiology of moving weight and what is the difference between infantrymen and field artillerymen?” Jones said.
“We have the scientific data that shows these are the propensity skills that you have to do and the physiology to do those.”
Benning officials maintain that gender integration has not lowered standards.
“There has been no change in the standards,” said Infantry Officer Basic Leader Course Command Sgt. Major Joe Davis. “There is no change in the course … we are in the business of producing leaders. It doesn’t matter if they are male or females.”
Best Last Stand: Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, “Anthropoid”
Operation Anthropoid was the Czech government-in-exile’s plot to kill SS General Reinhard Heydrich – the man who designed Hitler’s extermination of Europen Jews. Two Czech agents do the job and are tracked down in a cathedral by what seems like a battalion of Nazi soldiers. They and other members of the Resistance opt to not surrender.
Best Depiction of a Veteran Who Still Fits in his Old Uniform: Hugo Weaving, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Weaving plays Tom Doss, father of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who earned the medal of honor as a medic in WWII. In the film, he uses his status as a WWI veteran to get access to a general, but first he has to get in his old uniform. You know, for dramatic effect.
The elder Doss was at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. Since Hacksaw Ridge takes place in 1942 when the younger Doss enlisted, we have to give credit to Tom Doss for being able to fit in that thing 24 years later.
I’ve only been out for eight years and I doubt I could get my blues pants up to my waist.
Best Trailer: “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
No military movie was as anticipated as “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” the film adaptation of Ben Fountain’s book of the same name. Ang Lee’s movie looked spectacular but was received to mixed reviews.
Viewers may disagree but the one thing you can’t argue about is how great this trailer is.
So if you don’t like the movie, think of this as a trailer for the book. The book is really good. Really, really good.
Best Acting: Steven Lang, “Beyond Glory”
Most actors get an award nod for playing one role, but if WATM were handing out actual statues, we’d give Steven Lang eight of them for “Beyond Glory.” The actor travels around the world, for troops and civilians, telling the story of 8 Medals of Honor, as the guys who received them.
Go ahead, try to watch this movie without getting goosebumps. If you can, then check yourself into the nearest psych ward, because you might not be capable of feelings.
Breakout Performance by a Duo: John Krasinski and David Denman, “13 Hours”
The two men from the NBC series “The Office” reunited on the silver screen in 2016 as Jack Silva and Dave ‘Boon’ Benton in this obscure indie hit. They portray two security contractors working for the U.S. State Department in Libya in a plot to bring down Hillary Clinton. Or something. I don’t know, I don’t follow politics.
Krasinski’s career as an operator clearly began while he was an Air Force pilot at Joint Base Hickam-Pearl Harbor, when he asked Chris Kyle to teach him how to be operator AF.
Best Villain: The Sharks, “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage”
It’s hard to blame the Japanese submarine for sinking the Indianapolis. the Pacific War was still a war, after all (besides, the skipper of the Japanese boat came to Capt. McVay’s defense at his court-martial). What you can blame are the sharks who ate the survivors of the ship’s sinking.
For the days they spent waiting to be rescued, the sailors of the Indianapolis just hung out, waiting to be gnawed on like some shark’s pickled chum.
Best Combat Action Sequence: Mel Gibson “Hacksaw Ridge”
Leave it to the guy who brought you a medieval combat scene where someone gets hit in the face with a hammer to bring you World War II combat that tosses body parts around like confetti.
Nothing says “war is terrible” like showing the worst parts of it. Mission complete, Mel Gibson. On that note…
Best On-Screen Improv: This guy from “Hacksaw Ridge”
Using what’s left of your Battle Buddy like Captain America uses his vibranium shield isn’t exactly in the Army field manual, but the guys who wrote that weren’t writing it at Okinawa. If your Battle is supposed to save your life, then this guy did the right thing.
Best “Eat Pray Love”-style war movie: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”
That movie would have been waaaaaaaay different if Julia Roberts went to Afghanistan instead of, say, Italy.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” even calls itself “the most American white lady story I’ve ever heard” in the middle of the movie. Special props to WTF for having Margot Robbie explain the “Desert Queen” principle, a longtime staple of deployment lore.
Best Director Who Actually Looks Like He’s In Combat: Michael Bay, “13 Hours”
I’m starting to believe everything Michael Bay does features explosions. Like, when he goes to get coffee or to the post office, a car down the street explodes. Most of us will never have a work photo take that looks this cool.
Drill Sergeant of the Year: Vince Vaughn, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Many cinematic instructors have come and gone over the years, from ones as memorable as Gunny Hartman to the less memorable Merwin Toomey.
You can decide where Vince Vaughn’s Sgt. Howell falls in the pantheon, but for 2016, he’s tops.
Kaj Larsen with VICE News went on an airborne operation with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team and filmed a 360-degree video of what it’s like to climb onto the plane and conduct a jump from 1,000 feet.
Check it out below. Computer users can click and drag in the video to look around. Phone users should play the video full screen and then turn their phone to look in different directions.
When American intelligence detected the massive buildup of North Vietnamese troops that preceded the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh in 1968, Gen. William Westmoreland gave the base priority access to all American airpower in theater, leading to Operation Niagara and a “waterfall of bombs.”
Khe Sanh was the westernmost base in a strong of installations along the crucial Route 9 in late 1967. It was in the perfect position to block North Vietnamese Army forces and other fighters moving in from Laos or other NVA areas.
But Westmoreland believed that Khe Sanh was crucial to victory and worth heavy investment despite its relatively small size as home to one Marine regiment and 5,000 support troops. To ensure the Marines could hold out against anything, he ordered improvements to infrastructure on the base and the installation of thousands of remote sensors in the surrounding jungle.
By the first week of January 1968, sensors and reconnaissance data made it clear that the NVA was conducting a massive buildup in the area of the base. All indications were that the North Vietnamese wanted to recreate their success at Diem Bien Phu in 1954 when a prolonged siege led to the withdrawal of French forces.
Artillery rounds were stockpiled at the base and intelligence was collected. The intel cells were able to get a good idea of where Communist forces were concentrating forces, artillery, and command elements. They were also able to track tunneling efforts by the North Vietnamese trying to get close to the base.
And the North Vietnamese were able to get close — in some cases within a few thousand meters.
On Jan. 21, 1968, the North Vietnamese launched a simultaneous attack against Khe Sanh itself and some of the surrounding hills. Their massed forces would eventually number 20,000, more than three times the number of the 6,000 defenders.
The U.S., with a mass of intelligence and stockpiled weapons, went on the offensive against the North Vietnamese. Artillery shells shot out of the base against pre-identified targets, and a waterfall of bombs started pouring from B-52s.
Initially, the bombs were dropped relatively far from the base. The B-52s tried to stay three miles out, but the communists figured out the restrictions and moved their fighters in close, forcing the B-52s to operate closer to the base and making the ground pounders rely more heavily on strike aircraft and the AC-47 gunship.
Of course, not everything went smoothly for the Marines and their support. An enemy artillery strike by the North Vietnamese managed to hit the ammo dump, destroying 90 percent of the stockpiled rounds in a single hit.
Look for the names of active military units and installations on race car windshields during Friday’s Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway. In a show of appreciation for the United States Armed Forces, NASCAR XFINITY Series teams will replace the “XFINITY” logo with those of the 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Marine Raider Battalion, the USS New York (LPD-21) and other military units and installations from all five branches. (Yes, NASCAR remembered the Coast Guard.)
NASCAR: An American Salute is an expression of respect and gratitude for those who have served and continue to defend the United States. Last month, NASCAR together with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race teams honored 40 fallen service members with 600 Miles of Remembrance, a similar tribute during Memorial Day Weekend. Unlike many other major sporting events and leagues who “honor” the Armed Forces and those who serve, NASCAR is not being paid by the U.S. military to do so.
“NASCAR’s long-standing tradition of honoring the U.S. Armed Forces will never waver – it is woven into the fabric of our sport,” said Brent Dewar, NASCAR’s chief operating officer. “We have a unique opportunity to pay tribute to the military units and bases integral to preserving our country’s freedom.”
Several teams have direct connections to the units displayed on their race cars. Driver Brendan Gaughan’s windshield will read “23RD STS,” representing the U.S. Air Force’s 23rd Special Tactics Squadron from Hurlburt Field in Florida. Gaughan is one of a handful of civilians recognized as an Honorary Member of the Combat Control Association.
Elliott Sadler’s windshield will recognize Fort Campbell for JR Motorsports employee Lee Langley, who served for six years at the Army base as an infantry team leader in the 101st Airborne. Ty Dillon and Brandon Jones both work with Hope 4 Warriors and will honor 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines and 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, respectively, from Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Justin Allgaier will honor the U.S. Air Force 469th Flight Training Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. One of Allgaier friends is Major Robert Harms, one of the pilots serving in that unit.
“I always look forward to getting a chance to pay homage those who serve our country at Daytona each year,” Allgaier said. “This year there’s a personal tie for me as I get to display the squadron of one of my friends. We love that we’re able to support our military, but a sticker or event will never be enough to give them all the credit they deserve.”
Photos released this week by Agence France-Presse feature American special operations troops wearing the patches of the Syrian Kurdish YPG. The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, are part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who are rapidly advancing toward the de facto ISIS capital at Raqqa.
While friendly forces’ proximity to Raqqa should delight those fighting against ISIS, one ally is not at all pleased with the photos. The Turkish government sees the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is an internationally-recognized terrorist organization and has been fighting the Turkish government for independence since 1984.
While the United States recognizes the PKK as a terror group, it disputes Turkey’s claim that the YPG is a Syrian extension. Still, Tukish President Erdoğan was probably surprised to see photos of U.S. forces wearing the YPG insignia. The U.S. spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve wrote it off as esprit de corps:
.@MarcShlikoff US Special operators will often wear patched from their partner forces as a sign of #partnership#TalkOIR