On Aug. 11, Russia named its new stealth fighter the Su-57, but despite having a name, a finalized design, and a tentative date for its delivery, it already looks like a huge disappointment.
Russia first flew the Su-57 in 2010, demonstrating that it would enter the race towards fifth-generation aircraft after the US revolutionized aerial combat with the F-22, and later the F-35.
But in the years since, the Su-57 has failed to present a seriously viable future for Russian military aviation. Russia already fields some of the most maneuverable planes on earth. It has serious firepower in terms of missiles and bombs, and long-distance bombers and fighters. But what Russia doesn’t have is a stealth jet of any kind.
While Russian media calls the Su-57 an “aerial ghost,” a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft for the US called it a “dirty aircraft,” with many glaring flaws that would light up radars scanning for the plane.
Additionally, two of the plane’s most fearsome weapons, the Kh-35UEm a subsonic, anti-ship cruise missile, and the nuclear-capable BrahMos-A supersonic cruise missile, can’t fit in the internal weapons bay and must hang from the wings, as the Diplomat’s Franz-Stefan Gady reports.
Since a stealth plane needs every single angle of the jet to perfectly contour to baffle radars, hanging weapons off the wings absolutely kills stealth.
But stealth is just one of the Su-57s problems. The other is the engine. Unlike US stealth jets that have new engines, the Su-57 currently flies with the same engine that powers Russia’s last generation of fighters.
Additionally, Majumdar reports that Moscow will only buy 12 of the planes by 2019 and perhaps never more than 60 in total.
Though Russian media boasts the Su-57 can be piloted remotely and handle extreme G forces, the combination of a lack of stealth and a lack of truly modern propulsion has caused critics to say the plane is fifth-generation “in name only.”
Whatever the plane’s performance is, the low buy numbers out of Moscow indicate that the budding Su-57 is already a flop.
California National Guard CH-47 Chinook involved in Creek Fire rescue operations (YouTube)
The situation in California has worsened as 25 separate wildfires are currently burning across the state torching property and stranding fleeing citizens. Overwhelmed, California firefighters summoned National Guard and USN helicopters to aid in the extraction of hundreds of individuals trapped by the flames.
Over the holiday weekend, many people went to the Sierra National Forest, staying at the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, a popular camping spot. The “Creek Fire,” which reportedly started Friday night, quickly began spreading and trapped over 200 people. The fire was aided by record-breaking temperatures and accompanying dry air and winds.
Massive “Creek Fire” Threatens Town of Auberry – RAW Footage
Raw footage from ON SCENE TV on September 8, 2020.
Ch-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks began responding to the area to evacuate the trapped campers. The rescues began Saturday night and went into Sunday morning. In total, helicopter crews rescued 214 people, several of whom were severely injured. It was reported that the helos were within 50 feet of the flames while loading people on.
Outside of Fresno, wildfires trapped more people as they were trying to escape the burning forest, in the areas of Lake Edison and Chinese Peak.
On Monday night, National Guard and U.S. Navy helicopter crews were dispatched to the area to conduct rescue operations. Heavy smoke thwarted rescue attempts and helicopters were kept at bay until flight conditions improved.
Helicopters were able to access the area by Monday night and began extracting those trapped by the flames. Equipped with night vision, helicopter crews flew through the darkness, rescuing 35 more people, some of whom were reported to have had injuries. Rescue flights continued throughout the day on Tuesday, rescuing another 148 people as the inferno ripped through the California forests.
At the time of this report, some 385 people and 27 animals have been saved from the wildfires by the helicopter crews. It is unknown how many people are still trapped.
Cal Fire’s firefighters have been fighting these aggressive wildfires non-stop since Saturday. One firefighter has already been killed. Three others were injured when their remote fire station was overtaken by the fire. Fourteen firefighters were at the location and were forced to deploy their emergency shelters. The three firefighters injured suffered smoke inhalation and burns. They were airlifted to Fresno; two are stable and one is in critical condition.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, this year so far 87 wildfires have burned, resulting in 4.7 million acres burned; 2.2 million of those acres have been in California. This is a new worrisome record for California, as experts say that peak wildfire season has not yet arrived.
A US defense bill would bar delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey until the US government provides an assessment of the relations between Washington and Ankara — a move that comes over the objections of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and underscores growing tensions between Turkey and its NATO partners.
The conflict with Turkey — which fields NATO’s second-largest army and hosts important NATO infrastructure — stems largely from its decision to buy the Russia-made S-400 air-defense system, one of the most advanced systems of its kind on the market.
NATO officials have cautioned Ankara about the purchase, saying the missile system would not be compatible with other NATO weapons and warning of “necessary consequences” for acquiring it. Using the F-35 and the S-400 together could compromise the F-35 and expose sensitive information.
Turkey plans to buy roughly 100 F-35s and has already received two of them. The country’s defense industry has also taken an active role in the jet’s development, with at least 10 Turkish companies building parts for it.
S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
But the measure agreed upon by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on July 23, 2018, would bar Ankara from getting any more F-35s until the Pentagon delivers a report on how the measure would affect US-Turkey relations, what impact Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 will have, and what the effects of Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program would be for the US industrial base, according to Bloomberg.
The bill also includes a statement calling on Turkey to release “wrongfully detained” US citizens Andrew Brunson and Serkan Golge.
The Defense Department has 90 days to submit its assessment. The defense bill, which allots 7 billion for fiscal year 2019, still needs final approval; the House is expected to vote this week and the Senate could do so in early August 2018.
Mattis also urged Congress not to block Turkey from acquiring the F-35, telling legislators in a July 2018 letter that doing so would cause an international “supply chain disruption” that could cause delays and additional costs.
“If the Turkish supply chain was disrupted today, it would result in an aircraft production break, delaying delivery of 50-75 F-35s, and would take approximately 18-24 months to re-source parts and recover,” Mattis said.
In the letter, Mattis said the Trump administration was pressuring Turkey over the S-400 as well as the detention of US citizens on charges the US has called exaggerated. He also acknowledged lawmakers’ concerns with Turkey’s “authoritarian drift and its impact on human rights and the rule of law.”
Mattis has cautioned lawmakers against sanctions on other partners, like India or Vietnam, for buying Russian weapons, including the S-400, arguing that they need to time to shift away from that weaponry. The compromise reached by US lawmakers would let Trump waive sanctions on countries doing business with Russia if the country in question is working to distance itself from Russian defense and intelligence firms.
An F-35A Lightning II team parks the aircraft for the first time at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Feb. 8, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The dispute over the S-400 purchase comes amid broader friction between Turkey and its partners in NATO — tensions that Turkey has helped stoke by boasting of the S-400’s abilities to target NATO aircraft.
Erdogan has said he pursued the Russian-made system because NATO countries declined to extend deployments of their Patriot air-defense systems and would not sell Turkey a comparable system. Erdogan has also expressed frustration with the EU over its response to a coup attempt against him in 2016 and accused the bloc of “messing us about” on issues like visas and Syrian migrants.
The US’s support for Kurdish fighters in Syria has also created tension with Turkey, which recently said it would not abide by Washington’s request that other countries stop buying oil from Iran.
While tensions with NATO may push Ankara to consider new relationships, it remains closely entwined with the trans-Atlantic defense alliance and its defense industry is reliant on Western firms. Turkey could expand dealings with other non-US partners in Europe, but it’s not clear those countries or the US would assent to such a shift.
Turkey’s warming relations with Russia and Erdogan’s crackdown have already alienated some in the US.
“Turkey may be an ally, but it is not a partner,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former director of policy planning for the State Department, said in September 2017.
Featured image: President Donald J. Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Last week an Oregon judge ruled that Jamie Shupe, an Army vet, can legally be considered “nonbinary.”
Up to that point, Shupe considered himself female, although he doesn’t identify with either sex.
“It feels amazing to be free from a binary sex classification system that inadequately addressed who I really am, a system in which I felt confined,” Shupe said.
Shupe was male at birth, but he started transitioning to a female in 2013, more than a decade after retiring from the military as a sergeant first class.
“Oregon law has allowed for people to petition a court for a gender change for years, but the law doesn’t specify that it has to be either male or female,” said civil rights attorney Lake J. Perriguey, who filed the petition, according to CNN.
“The law just says, ‘change.’ Historically, people have asked for a gender change from male to female and the other way around, but Jamie is the first to ask for the gender of “nonbinary,” Perriguey said.
It’s unclear what the ruling will have nationally, but it certainly has the potential to complicate the Pentagon’s already-challenging gender integration efforts. Special operators are just now adjusting to the idea of having females in their ranks. Are they ready for nonbinaries?
The Army is fast-tracking an emerging program to engineer a longer-range artillery cannon able to out range enemy ground forces by hitting targets at more than twice the distance of existing artillery.
The service is now prototyping an Extended Range Cannon Artillery weapons with a larger caliber tube and new grooves to hang weights for gravity adjustments to the weapon — which is a modified M777A2 mobile howitzer.
Existing 155m artillery rounds, fired with precision from mobile and self-propelled howitzer platforms, have a maximum range of about 30km; the new ERCA weapon is designed to hit ranges greater than 70km, Army developers said.
“When you are talking about doubling the range you need a longer tube and a larger caliber. We will blend this munition with a howitzer and extend the range. We are upgrading the breach and metallurgy of the tube, changing the hydraulics to handle increased pressure and using a new ram jet projectile — kind of like a rocket,” a senior Army weapons developer told Warrior Maven in an interview.
The modification adds 1,000 pounds to the overall weight of the weapon and an additional six feet of cannon tube. The ERCA systems also uses a redesigned cab, new breech design and new “muzzle break,” the official explained.
“The ERCA program develops not only the XM907 cannon but also products, such as the XM1113 rocket assisted projectile, the XM654 supercharge, an autoloader, and new fire control system,” an Army statement said.
As part of an effort to ensure the heavy M777 is sufficiently mobile, the Army recently completed a “mobility” demonstration of ERCA prototypes.
The service demonstrated a modified M777A2 Howitzer with an integration kit for the mass mock-up of the modified XM907 ERCA cannon at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
“Their [user] concern is that when the self-propelled program is done they will be left with a towed cannon variant that they can’t tow around, which is its number one mode of transportation,” David Bound, M777ER Lead, Artillery Concepts and Design Branch, which is part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, said in an Army statement.
The ERCA is currently being configured to fire from an M109a8 Self-Propelled Howitzer, using a 58-Cal. tube; the existing M109a7, called the Paladin Integrated Management, fires a 39-Cal. weapon.
ERCA changes the Army’s land war strategic calculus in a number of key respects, by advancing the Army’s number one modernization priority – long-range precision fires. This concept of operations is intended to enable mechanized attack forces and advancing infantry with an additional stand-0ff range or protective sphere with which to conduct operations. Longer range precision fire can hit enemy troop concentrations, supply lines and equipment essential to a coordinated attack, while allowing forces to stay farther back from incoming enemy fire.
A 70-kilometer target range is, by any estimation, a substantial leap forward for artillery; when GPS guided precision 155mm artillery rounds, such as Excalibur, burst into land combat about ten years ago — its strike range was reported at roughly 30 kilometers. A self-propelled Howitzer able to hit 70-kilometers puts the weapon on par with some of the Army’s advanced land-based rockets — such as its precision-enabled Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System which also reaches 70-kilometers.
In a modern threat environment, wherein near-peer and smaller-level rivals increasingly possess precision-guided land weapons, longer-range C4ISR technology and drone weapons, increasing range is a ubiquitous emphasis across the Army and other services. Russia’s violations of the INF treaty, new S-500 air defenses, new Armata tanks and fast growing attack drone fleet — all point to a growing need for the US to outrange and outgun potential adversaries.
In fact, senior Army developers specifically say that the ERCA program is, at least in part, designed to enable the Army to out-range rival Russian weapons. The Russian military is currently producing its latest howitzer cannon, the 2S33 Msta-SM2 variant; it is a new 2A79 152mm cannon able to hit ranges greater than 40km, significantly greater than the 25km range reachable by the original Russian 2S19 Msta – which first entered service in the late 1980s, according to data from globalsecurity.org.
Early 2018, statements from the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation said that 2S19 Msta-S modernized self-propelled howitzers were fielded near Volgograd, Russia. The 2S19 Msta-S howitzers are equipped with an automated fire control system with an increased rate of fire, digital electronic charts, ballistic computers and satellite navigation systems, the report says.
Therefore, doing the simple math, a 70km US Army ERCA weapon would appear to substantially outrange the 40km Msta-S modern Russian howitzer.
(photo from Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)
While senior Army weapons developers welcome the possibility of longer-range accurate artillery fire, they also recognize that its effectiveness hinges upon continued development of sensor, fire control and target technology.
“Just because I can shoot farther, that does not mean I solve the issue. I have to acquire the right target. We want to be able to hit moving targets and targets obscured by uneven terrain,” the senior Army developer said.
Multi-domain warfare is also integral to the strategic impetus for the new ERCA weapon; longer range land weapons can naturally better enable air attack options.
Operating within this concept, former Army TRADOC Commander Gen. David Perkins and Air Force Air Combat Command Commanding General James Holmes launched a new series of tabletop exercises several months ago — designed to to replicate and explore these kinds of future warfare scenarios. The project is oriented toward exploring the kind of conflicts expected to require technologically advanced Army-Air Force integration.
In a previous Pentagon report, Holmes said the joint wargaming effort will “turn into a doctrine and concept that we can agree on.”
Such a development would mark a substantial step beyond prior military thinking, which at times over the years has been slightly more stove-piped in its approach to military service doctrines.
Interestingly, the new initiative may incorporate and also adjust some of the tenants informing the 1980’s Air-Land Battle Doctrine; this concept, which came to fruition during the Cold War, was focused on integrated air-ground combat coordination to counter a large, mechanized force in major warfare. While AirLand battle was aimed primarily at the Soviet Union decades ago, new Army-Air Force strategy in today’s threat environment will also most certainly address the possibility of major war with an advanced adversary like Russia or China.
Jumping more than 40 years into the future beyond AirLand Battle into to today’s threat climate, the notion of cross-domain warfare has an entirely new and more expansive meaning. No longer would the Air Force merely need to support advancing armored vehicles with both air cover and forward strikes, as is articulated in Air-Land Battle, but an Air Force operating in today’s war environment would need to integrate multiple new domains, such as cyber and space.In fact, the Army’s new Operations 3.0 doctrine already explores this phenomenon, as it seeks to pivot the force from more than a decade of counterinsurgency to preparedness for massive force-on-force warfare.
After all, drones, laser attacks, cyber intrusions and electronic warfare (EW) tactics were hardly on the map in the 1980s. Forces today would need to harden air-ground communications against cyber and EW attacks, network long-range sensor and targeting technology and respond to technologically-advanced near-peer attack platforms, such as 5th-generation stealth fighters or weaponized space assets.
In a concurrent related effort, the Army is also engineering a adaptation to existing 155mm rounds which will extend range an additional 10km out to 40km.
Fired from an existing Howitzer artillery cannon, the new XM1113 round uses ram jet rocket technology to deliver more thrust to the round.
“The XM1113 uses a large high-performance rocket motor that delivers nearly three times the amount of thrust when compared to the legacy M549A1 RAP,” Ductri Nguyen, XM1113 Integrated Product Team Lead.” “Its exterior profile shape has also been streamlined for lower drag to achieve the 40-plus kilometers when fired from the existing fielded 39-caliber 155mm weapon systems.”
Soldiers can also integrate the existing Precision Guidance Kit to the artillery shells as a way to add a GPS-guided precision fuse to the weapon. The new adapted round also uses safer Insensitive Munition Explosives.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
While most drones require an operator to control them, the ones in DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program fly themselves. Although not perfect in its current phase, the program’s first flight test exceeded expectations.
“We’re excited that we were able to validate the airspeed goal during this first-flight data collection,” said Mark Micire, DARPA program manager. “The fact that some teams also demonstrated basic autonomous flight ahead of schedule was an added bonus. The challenge for the teams now is to advance the algorithms and onboard computational efficiency to extend the UAV’s perception range and compensate for the vehicle’s’ mass to make extremely tight turns and abrupt maneuvers at high speeds.”
Advancing algorithms and extending perception range. That’s what we thought.
Now watch this video of DARPA’s first test flight:
The M1126 Stryker is a beautifully designed vehicle. It’s packed with 16.5 tons of high-hardness steel to shield the passengers from direct attacks and a unique underbelly design to help defend against IEDs. Many are outfitted with remote weapon systems, allowing troops to engage the enemy without fear of snipers. It even has one of the most state-of-the-art fire-extinguishing systems in the world in case the worst happens.
With all that protection, it seems strange that someone decided a bunch of steel bars around it would make great armor…
It also works great for extra storage space for things you don’t mind losing. (Photo from U.S. Army)
Though it might look flimsy, the simple fence design is an excellent counter considering how explosives blow up. Having thick, reactive armor works wonders against conventional fragmentation rounds, but HEAT (High explosive, anti-tank) rounds are designed specifically to burst through it.
Take a standard RPG-7 single-stage HEAT round for instance: The explosion isn’t what makes it deadly. By forcing the explosion into a narrow cone, it’s used to blow a hole through whatever it hits. It’s the molten copper follows and uses the pathway cleared by the explosion that’s truly deadly.
In comes what we’ve been calling “fence armor.” This type of armor is actually called “slat armor” and has been used since the World War II on German panzers. The Germans needed an extra layer of defense from Russian anti-tank rifles and low velocity, high explosive rounds. They added steel plates. set a few inches away from the actual shell of the vehicle, so when it’s hit, the cheaper plates would be hit and the copper would have time to cool, causing minimal damage.
This method of stopping common HEAT rounds is still used today by armies going against enemies with RPGs. While slat armor isn’t 100% effective (no armor is, truly), it does have up to 70% effectiveness, which is remarkable for a solution that costs nearly nothing, is an addition to existing armor, and doesn’t negatively affect the mission.
Though nowhere near as effective, even ISIS tried to Mad Max their vehicles. Note, for this to work, slat armor needs to be a few inches away from the vehicle, it should cover vital spots, and shouldn’t be welded on (since the point of it is to be destroyed and swapped out).
B- for effort. F for forgetting that missiles drop down — not across — at three feet above ground. (Image via Reddit)
An unmanned US military space plane has landed at NASA’sKennedy Space Center following a mission lasting more than two years.
The , which looks like a miniature space shuttle, touched down May 7, causing a sonic boom as it landed on a runway once used for space shuttles which have been mothballed.
The sonic boom caused dozens of nearby residents to take to Twitter, with one saying her house “shook” and her dog had “gone into a frenzy”.
Exactly what the space plane was doing during its 718 days in orbit is not entirely clear, with the US Air Force saying the orbiters “perform risk reduction, experimentation and concept-of-operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.”
The cost of the mission – the fourth and longest so far – is classified.
The Secure World Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes the peaceful exploration of space, says the secrecy surrounding the suggests intelligence-related hardware is being tested or evaluated aboard the craft.
At 29 feet-long and with a wingspan of 15 feet, the Boeing-built craft is about a quarter of the size of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s now-retired space shuttles.
This mission began in May 2015, when the plane set off from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas 5 rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.
Its first mission was eight-months-long from April 2010, its second from March the following year lasted 15 months.
A third took off in December 2012 and ended after 22 months.
Another mission is scheduled later this year.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, sonic booms used to be common in the area during the 30 years of NASA’s manned space shuttle programme, with landings at the Kennedy Space Center preceded by a loud double boom.
But the last of those shuttles landed nearly six years ago.
There is also a type of rocket – SpaceX’s Falcon 9 – which produces sonic booms and these were last heard earlier this month.
But officials had refused to confirm the return date for the , so its arrival was not expected by residents.
And now, Al Qaeda is planning to challenge ISIS in its stronghold — Syria.
American and European officials told The New York Times recently that Al Qaeda has started moving veteran operatives to Syria as the group plans to escalate its fight with ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh), which operated under the Al Qaeda umbrella until the two groups split off and became rivals.
And though ISIS has been grabbing most headlines with its gruesome propaganda machine and bold proclamations about building a “caliphate” that will take over the world, Al Qaeda has been quietly focusing on its strategy to be the last group standing when the dust settles.
Al Qaeda is now “taking an opportunity off of what ISIS did” to make itself a main focus of the West’s fight against terror, Ali Soufan, the CEO of strategic-security firm The Soufan Group, said earlier this month at a national-security conference at Fordham University in New York.
“What ISIS did made so many people in the Muslim world think, ‘Al Qaeda are the good guys. ISIS are the bad guys,'” said Soufan, a former FBI special agent who has investigated high-profile terror cases.
“Even when you hear some people testifying on Capitol Hill that, ‘It’s OK. Let’s support al-Nusra or let’s support Ahrar al-Sham because they probably will fight ISIS’ — well al-Nusra is … an official affiliate of Al Qaeda in Syria,” he continued, referencing the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is fighting ISIS for control of territory in Syria.
While ISIS has made a show of its excessive violence — through beheading videos and other propaganda distributed online in several languages — Al Qaeda has been more cautious. The group holds the same brutal ideology to which ISIS subscribes, but it’s been more patient with winning over the Syrian population.
“You can see Al Qaeda taking advantage thinking strategically,” Soufan said. “ISIS is not thinking strategically. ISIS is just doing crazy stuff, a lot of violence, trying to bring a lot of people in.”
And while ISIS has lured thousands to its territory with its violent advertising and declaration of the “caliphate,” or pseudo-state ruled by a strict interpretation of Islamic law, recent reports indicate that fighter defections within the group are increasing and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS territory has slowed. On top of that, the group has been losing territory without gaining much new land.
“ISIS is becoming like a smoke screen. We’re all looking at ISIS all the time. ‘Oh, look, ISIS, they did a video, or they put out another thing of Dabiq,'” Soufan said, referring to the group’s English-language online propaganda magazine.
He added: “They are technically more advanced than Al Qaeda, but I think Al Qaeda is looking into the long term.”
Al Qaeda’s strategy seems to be predicated on waiting for Syrians to slowly come around to the idea of Islamic rule. That lowers the chance of a successful uprising if Jabhat al-Nusra is able to establish Syria as an Islamic “emirate” — land that would be controlled by the group and run under strict Islamic law, similar to ISIS’ so-called caliphate.
Charles Lister, a fellow at the Middle East Institute who has written a book on the insurgency in Syria, said at a recent event in Washington, DC, that Al Qaeda has sought to grow not just acceptance of its rule in Syria, but also support from the general population. He also assessed that Al Qaeda is playing a long game.
“This is an organization that has spent the last five years growing durable, deep roots in Syrian opposition and revolutionary society,” Lister said. “ISIS, on the other hand, has shallow roots. It hasn’t deigned to acquire popular support — it controls populations.”
Al Qaeda’s emirate might now come sooner rather than later — The Times reported that the Al Qaeda operatives being funneled into Syria have been told to start creating a headquarters in Syria and to lay the groundwork for establishing an emirate. The emirate would be in direct competition with ISIS.
Eric Schmitt wrote in The Times that Al Qaeda establishing an emirate in Syria would mark a “significant shift.” Al Qaeda has so far resisted declaring an emirate — it’s part of the group’s long-term strategy to avoid acting too hastily before leaders feel confident that fighters could hold the territory they seize.
Syrians on the ground seem to have been expecting this for a while.
Ahmad al-Soud, the commander and founder of the Syrian rebel group Division 13, told Business Insider earlier this year that “Nusra’s stated goal throughout all of Syria from when they first started until today is to turn Syria into an Islamic emirate.”
“They don’t want any other armed group in Syria except for them, and they want to turn it into kind of what Afghanistan was under the Taliban,” al-Soud said. “Once they … get rid of all the other groups, [Jabhat al-Nusra] can finally duke it out between them and ISIS for who’s the worst.”
Schmitt notes in The Times that “establishing a more enduring presence in Syria would present the group with an invaluable opportunity” because it would “not only be within closer striking distance of Europe but also benefit from the recruiting and logistical support of fighters from Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.”
With the collapse of the ceasefire in Syria, the timing might be good for Al Qaeda to increase its presence there. The ceasefire — between the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and the rebels who oppose his rule — never applied to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, but it allowed the Syrian government and its allies to focus its fire on jihadists rather than moderate rebels.
Additionally, the West seems to have focused mostly on hitting ISIS in Syria — US officials are emphasizing operations to drive ISIS out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq and deprive them of more territory.
The dysfunction in Syria provides the perfect vacuum for Al Qaeda to move in and exploit.
Al Qaeda’s position is, “Let’s create a lot of these vacuums where there is no strong government, and let’s operate under a different name.” Bin Laden actually, before he died, in his letters, he was telling Al Qaeda, “Do not use Al Qaeda’s name. I do not want anyone to use Al Qaeda’s name, because the moment you use Al Qaeda’s name, the West and the locals are going to come and they’re going to beat you up.”
Al Qaeda has done this in Syria with Jabhat al-Nusra, which is always referred to as such rather than simply “Al Qaeda.”
India’s Navy is considering adding to its fleet of P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, as the country shifts its military posture toward its southern approaches out of concern about Chinese naval activity.
India’s Naval Chief Adm. Sunil Lanba told India Strategic magazine that aerial-surveillance capability was an important part of navy operations, and the country’s Defense Ministry has said the P-8I is able to provide “a punitive response and maintaining a watch over India’s immediate and extended areas of interest.”
New Dehli made its first purchase of the aircraft in 2009, not long after the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, during which attackers arrived by boat. India bought eight P-8I aircraft at the time, deploying them in 2013. It followed that with a purchase of four more in 2016, buying them at the 2009 price.
“A number of measures have been taken since ’26/11′ to strengthen maritime, coastal, and offshore security by the concerned agencies in the country,” Lanba said, including expanding maritime security forces’ capabilities, enhancing surveillance in maritime zones, and streamlining intelligence-sharing.
While Lanba did not say how many long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, like the P-8I, the Indian navy would ultimately require, his predecessors have said as many as 30.
The P-8I, which is India’s variant of Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon aircraft, has some of the most sophisticated anti-submarine-warfare technology available, including Raytheon and Telefonics systems that provide 360-degree radar coverage. The plane also has a magnetic anomaly detector, which searches for shifts in the earth’s magnetic field created by a submarine’s hull.
The aircraft can carry Harpoon anti-ship missiles, depth charges, Mk-54 torpedoes, and rockets. The Indian variant also has specific communications software and Identify Friend or Foe abilities, allowing it to interoperate with Indian naval and air force systems. They can also data-link with Indian submarines to share information about target vessels.
‘Our Navy is fully capable and ever ready’
Anti-submarine warfare has become a focal point for the Indian military, and the U.S. and India have held talks about related technology and tactics. Both countries have become increasingly wary of Chinese naval activity, particularly Chinese submarines, in recent years.
China has also expanded its infrastructure in the region, including a presence at ports in Djibouti, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
India has been tracking Chinese submarines entering the Indian Ocean since 2013, and a 2015 U.S. Defense Department report confirmed that Chinese attack and missile submarines were operating there.
In mid-2016, Indian naval officials said they were sighting Chinese subs four times every three months on average.
“As a professional military force, we constantly evaluate the maritime security environment in our areas of interest. We lay a lot of stress on Maritime Domain Awareness,” Landa told India Strategic when asked about hostile submarines operating in the Indian Ocean.
“Accordingly, we are fully seized of the presence and likely intentions of all extra-regional forces operating in the Indian Ocean,” Landa said. “Our Navy is fully capable and ever ready to meet any challenges that may arise in the maritime domain.”
‘A tectonic shift’
Some sightings of Chinese subs have taken place around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which sit near the Malacca Strait, through which more than 80% of Chinese fuel supplies pass.
New Delhi started deploying P-8I aircraft and spy drones to the islands in early 2016, with plans to develop enough infrastructure and maintenance capabilities there to support a division-level force of about 15,000 troops, a fighter squadron, and some major warships. Other reports suggest India is considering installing an “undersea wall” of sensors in the eastern Indian Ocean.
Growing activity in the Indian Ocean, as well as the ocean’s centrality to global trade and India’s own security, have led New Delhi to shift its focus to the country’s 4,700-mile southern coastline, where security and energy infrastructure are concentrated.
“This is a tectonic shift in India’s security calculus, that it has to protect its southern flank,” Brahma Chellaney, a strategic-studies professor at the Center for Policy Research, told The New York Times in July 2017, around the time of the Malabar 2017 naval exercises between the U.S., India, and Japan.
India has done naval patrols and anti-submarine warfare exercises with partners in the region — in November, India, the U.S., Japan, and Australia announced the creation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, defense partnership. New Delhi has also looked to expand its military, spending tens of billions of dollars on foreign fighter jets, armored vehicles, and naval vessels.
Subs have become of particular interest for India in light of growing Chinese naval activity in the region, according to India Strategic.
The Kalvari, the first of six diesel-electric attack submarines designed by a French firm and built in India, was commissioned in December. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the Kalvari a marquee example of the “Make in India” initiative, which aims to develop India’s domestic arms industry through collaboration with foreign firms.
The navy, citing concerns about China, has called for a third nuclear-powered carrier that incorporates U.S. technology and is pushing ahead with plans to acquire such a carrier at an expected cost of nearly $25 billion.
The plan includes a component of 57 fighter aircraft, for which U.S. F-18s and French Dassault Rafales are being considered. Aircraft acquisitions may push the price higher.
The expense of acquiring such a ship has given India’s Defense Ministry pause, however, though others have argued that aircraft carriers are the best way to counter threats around the region.
“As India does not have a policy of overseas basing, a carrier force remains the only suitable alternative for a regional power like India to conduct out-of-area contingencies,” retired Indian Vice Adm. Shekhar Sinha wrote in December 2016.
The Indian navy has one operational carrier, INS Vikramaditya, which is a Russian Kiev-class carrier-cruiser overhauled by Moscow for the Indian navy between 2004 and 2013. The Vikramaditya operates Russian-made aircraft, including MiG 29K fighters, which India has asked Russia to “ruggedize” for carrier operations. The INS Vikrant, which is India’s first domestically built carrier, is under construction.
In what appears to a sign of the Indian navy’s move toward the U.S. and away from Russia, American naval officials from a joint working group were invited aboard the Vikramaditya in late October to assess ways to transition Indian carriers to U.S. naval operational concepts, according to India’s Business Standard.
In May, images emerged of American commandos working with the Kurdish YPG rebel group in Syria. Among other things, the pictures highlighted an increasingly popular military method of transportation for special operators – the pickup truck.
Though the Pentagon has spent millions on purpose-built military trucks for its elite troops, U.S. Special Operations Command has a separate project specifically set up to buy more discreet, civilian-style vehicles. Based on readily available models, the top commando headquarters dubbed them “Non-Standard Commercial Vehicles,” or NSCVs
“The NSCV provides … a low visibility vehicle capability to conduct operations in politically or operationally constrained permissive, semi-permissive or denied areas,” U.S. Army Col. John Reim explained in a briefing on May 26 at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Florida. At that time, special operators had a combined fleet of more than 500 Fords, Nissans and Toyotas, with the bulk already deployed around the world.
Commonly referred to as “technicals,” armed pickup trucks are generally associated with terrorists, insurgents and small military forces rather than American troops. When Chadian soldiers piled into these types of vehicles to fight Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddaffi in 1987, observers quickly dubbed the conflict the “Toyota War.”
Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11th, 2001, the Pentagon has been working with contractors to develop and field these improved civilian vehicles. After arriving in Afghanistan in 2002, Army Special Forces soldiers were famously spotted riding a red Toyota Tacoma pickup on at least one occasion.
We don’t know whether this or other similar trucks spotted in the field were part of the formal NSCV project. The Army’s special operators only got their latest versions ready to go in September 2014, according to the one review of the ground combat branch’s special operations plans.
In principle, the truck’s main job is to allow elite troops to better blend in overseas. On top of that, the upgraded pickups and sport utility vehicles offer a number of distinct advantages over specially upgraded Humvees and mine-resistant MRAPs.
The most obvious benefit is that the NSCVs are simply smaller and lighter than their military cousins. A basic Toyota LandCruiser Model 78 weighs approximately 4,700 pounds, depending on year and starting configuration.
An up-armored Humvee can be over 11,000 pounds. In comparison, Oshkosh’s “light” M-ATV mine-resistant vehicle is positively gargantuan at over 32,000 pounds.
One 1999 Army manual tells Special Forces troops to “carefully consider weight” when using modified Humvees. “An overloaded vehicle handles poorly, consumes fuel at a higher rate, lacks power, and will experience more maintenance problems.”
The handbook specifically says the M1114 up-armored Humvee is a poor choice for desert operations because of its size. Heavy military vehicles can easily sink and become trapped in sand and other soft ground.
The Humvee’s ever growing size and weight is why the U.S. Marine Corps purchased a number of Growler “internally transportable vehicles” that could squeeze inside the confines of their unique MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors. With similar concerns, the Army has become increasingly interested in smaller military trucks, such as the Jeep J8, for airborne and airmobile troops.
For special operators, even if the added armor and other gear doubled the weight of an NSCV, it wouldn’t be half as big as the MRAP. With payload capacities up to 2,500 pounds, when riding in the plain looking trucks, elite troops don’t necessarily have to leave behind critical gear. The pictures from Syria showed commandos in full kit on pickups armed with weapons like the .50 caliber M2 machine gun and 40-millimeter Mk 47 automatic grenade launcher.
In addition, the upgraded civilian trucks retain their relatively small dimensions. This means the pickup trucks can fit into the main cabin of the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s MH-47 transport helicopters.
All of the modified commercial vehicles can easily drive on and off the Air Force Special Operations Command’s specialized MC-130 cargo planes. These four-engine transports can airdrop unarmored versions, too.
So, unlikely MRAPs, elite troops can quickly get the trucks where ever they might be needed. It’s no surprise that special operators brought NSCVs with them into the complex and hostile Syrian battlefield.
And the commercial starting pattern makes the trucks less of a hassle to maintain in remote areas. American special operations forces routinely work with friendly troops driving similar vehicles – which the Pentagon has often supplied in the first place.
With their NSCVs, the special operators can go where their allies can go and share many necessary supplies. In training exercises, the elite troops could share valuable lessons learned from their own experiences. The otherwise innocuous trucks present a less obvious target to terrorists or criminals when American commandos travel abroad.
Now, the Pentagon is looking to expand and extend the project. On July 18, the top commando headquarters hired the Battelle Memorial Institute to help develop new versions.
The $170 million contract covered modifications to Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger pickup trucks, as well as Toyota Land Cruiser sport utility vehicles, according to the original synopsis the Pentagon posted online in October 2015. Battelle had previous experience supplying the armored NSCVs to the Pentagon, according to Reim’s presentation.
The work outlined in the latest contract included upgrades to the vehicles’ suspensions, armor plating and bulletproof windows and space for communications gear, radio signal jammers and other military equipment. If the defense contractor keeps to the agreed upon schedule, Battelle should deliver the first 20 pickups and SUVs for tests by January 2016.
The Pentagon expects to buy just over 511 of the trucks over the course of their seven-year deal with Batelle. However, Reim’s bullet points said that the contract could cover more than 550 vehicles, some 20 vehicles over what the officer said was needed to achieve “full operational capability.”
These new vehicles are set to replace SOCOM’s existing modified trucks over the next three to five years. Whatever happens, American commandos are prepared to fight their own “Toyota War” for years to come.
After the close of the Great War, the former race-car driver got into business. At first, it was automobiles and racing but he returned to aviation and ran Eastern Air Lines. In Feb. 1941, he was riding on one of the company’s planes when it crashed on a hill near Atlanta.
Rickenbacker was severely injured in the crash. His pelvic bone, a leg, and multiple ribs were broken and an eyelid was torn.
In spite of his injuries and the fact he was pinned down by a dead body and the wreckage, he took control of the situation and sent a group to call for help. He kept everyone safe and calm for the nine hours it took for rescue workers to arrive and get him out of the wreckage.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t done with plane crashes. In 1942 Rickenbacker had mostly recovered from his earlier crash, though he continued to limp. The Army Air Force asked the aviation pioneer, then 52 years old, to consult on operations in the Pacific theater.
With a $1 a day salary, he set out for a tour of the Pacific. He first visited Hawaii en route to bases from Australia to Guadalcanal. On a B-17 with 7 other men, Rickenbacker departed Hawaii for Canton Island, but the B-17 got lost en route.
Rickenbacker again took command, even though he was technically outranked by a colonel who was accompanying him as an aide. Floating in the ocean on three smalls rafts, the Army airmen were subjected to extreme cold at night and blistering heat in the day.
Despite these small successes, Sgt. Alexander Kaczmarczyk died on the 13th day. He had been returning to Australia after recovering from illness and had drank a large quantity of seawater on the escape from the plane. The added toll being soaked with sea water and exposed to extreme temperatures for nearly two weeks overcame him.
A few days later, on the 17th day, the group spotted a scout plane flying about 5 miles away. Efforts to flag it down failed, as did attempt to flag down the next six planes that appeared over the the two days after that.
Luckily, the plan worked. One raft found land where the natives and an English missionary nursed them while waiting on doctors to arrive. The other dispatched raft was spotted by a Navy patrol plane who picked them up. The survivors told the Navy where to look for Rickenbacker’s raft.
Rickenbacker had lost 40 pounds, developed a number of sores from the salt water, and was severely dehydrated, but he spent only two weeks recovering in a Navy hospital before insisting on completing his mission.
The Coast Guard has been on patrol since 1790, and it has often had to do a lot with very little in the way of assets. Now, some of the assets it does have may be relatively useless.
According to a veteran Coast Guard officer who published his concerns in Proceedings magazine, a number of the major cutters (those over 210 feet in length) are “ill-equipped—and often ill-suited—to handle the challenges and dangers in their areas of operation.” Furthermore, one 210-foot cutter was in dry dock for six months, with two more months at the pier when it should have deployed, due to “unplanned maintenance.”
Drills for the crew are focused more on damage control than maritime law enforcement.
“By continuing its over reliance on the cutter—specifically, large cutters measuring 210 feet and longer—the Coast Guard has fallen behind and become a stagnant force in the maritime domain,” write Lt. David Allan Adams, Jr. “This is, of course, not because of a lack of effort by the hardworking Coasties stationed on cutters, but rather because the white hull fleet is well over 50 years old and ill-equipped—and often ill-suited—to handle the challenges and dangers in their areas of operation.”
Even the newest Coast Guard cutters, the Legend-class National Security Cutters that are replacing the Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters, have had issues, with a 2016 report from McClatchy news service noting that the new ships suffered four cracked cylinder heads a year.
“Junior officers stationed on cutters can testify to the poor material condition of the cutters and the disillusionment cutter life can instill,” Adams wrote. “The life of a JO is not about conducting law enforcement or conning the cutter — as promised at recruitment — but more about routing and correcting memorandums, being held accountable should an inspection go poorly, and striving to perform in the arena in which the JOs’ future is truly held: the underway wardroom.”
The problem has been widespread. A 2014 NJ.com report noted that 34 cutters and 37 patrol boats were unable to deploy for a combined total of 1,654 days. The Coast Guard has also been very short on icebreakers, with one of its most capable vessels in that mission stuck at the pier.
The Coast Guard, of course, has a substantial job, with a mission to secure America’s maritime borders, which run six times the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, and it does so with two-thirds of the personnel of United States Customs and Border Protection.
The Coast Guard is planning to build 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters to replace the aging medium endurance cutters, a deal expected to cost $10.5 billion, roughly $420 million per vessel. By comparison, a Freedom-class littoral combat ship sets taxpayers back $362 million.