Five days after Hitler ate a bullet in his bunker in Berlin and two days before Germany would ultimately surrender, American and German troops were fighting together side by side in what has been dubbed World War II’s “strangest battle.”
It was the last days of the war on May 5, 1945 when French prisoners, Austrian resistance fighters, German soldiers, and American tankers all fought in defense of Itter Castle in Austria.
In 1943, the German military turned the small castle into a prison for “high value” prisoners, such as French prime ministers, generals, sports stars, and politicians. By May 4, 1945, with Germany and its military quickly collapsing, the commander of the prison and his guards abandoned their post.
The prisoners were now running the asylum, but they couldn’t just walk out the front door and enjoy their freedom. The Waffen SS, the fanatical paramilitary unit commanded by Heinrich Himmler, had plans to recapture the castle and execute all of the prisoners.
That’s when the prisoners enlisted the help of nearby American troops led by Capt. John ‘Jack’ Lee, local resistance fighters, and yes, even soldiers of the Wehrmacht to defend the castle through the night and early morning of May 5. The book “The Last Battle” by Stephen Harding tells the true tale of what happened next.
There are two primary heroes of this—as I must reiterate, entirely factual—story, both of them straight out of central casting. Jack Lee was the quintessential warrior: smart, aggressive, innovative—and, of course, a cigar-chewing, hard-drinking man who watched out for his troops and was willing to think way, way outside the box when the tactical situation demanded it, as it certainly did once the Waffen-SS started to assault the castle. The other was the much-decorated Wehrmacht officer Major Josef ‘Sepp’ Gangl, who died helping the Americans protect the VIPs. This is the first time that Gangl’s story has been told in English, though he is rightly honored in present-day Austria and Germany as a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance.
As the New York Journal of Books notes in its review of Harding’s work, Army Capt. Lee immediately assumed command of the fight for the castle over its leaders — Capt. Schrader and Maj. Gangl — and they fought against a force of 100 to 150 SS troops in a confusing battle, to say the least.
Over the six-hour battle, the SS managed to destroy the sole American tank of the vastly outnumbered defenders, and Allied ammunition ran extremely low. Fortunately, the Americans were able to call for reinforcements, and once they showed up the SS backed off, according to Donald Lateiner in his review.
Approximately 100 SS troops were taken prisoner, according to the BBC. The only friendly casualty of the battle was Maj. Gangl, who was shot by a sniper. The nearby town of Wörgl later named a street after him in his honor, while Capt. Lee received the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery in the battle.
When a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine is wounded, the clock starts ticking on the “golden hour” to save his or her life. The goal the Department of Defense had in the War on Terror was to get a wounded serviceman to definitive care within 60 minutes of being hit.
The term “golden hour” is a carryover from emergency medical care in the United States. The fact is if a wounded serviceman (or any trauma victim, for that matter) is seen at a hospital in the first 60 minutes after the injury, the chances for survival go up. This is why the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen only 8,398 coalition servicemembers killed in action over the 16-plus years that they have been fought, according to icasualties.org.
Why is this the case? According to a report by the Marine Corps Times, the DOD’s “golden hour” policy was put in place in 2009 and had the effect of creating a 98 percent survival rate. To do that, though, the military had to surge medevac and medical assets to the theater of operations.
“Our potential problem is air lift capacity, in certain scenarios we are not going to have enough capacity and so as opposed to right now, we are going to have to hold onto those patients much longer,” Rear Adm. Colin G. Chinn, the surgeon on the Joint Staff, said during a seminar at Marine Corps Base Quantico. He also cited equipment interoperability issues between the services, noting that a wounded Marine treated by a Navy corpsman may end up being treated in Air Force and Army facilities that have incompatible gear.
Chinn noted that the advantages the United States has now may not exist in a conflict with Russia or China. Even North Korea, which has drawn intense focus, could present problems in evacuating wounded troops due to the acquisition of new weapons and military technology.
“We need to be ready now. You fight tonight with what you have,” Chinn said.
The year was 1968 when Mike Vining was a senior in high school. According to his answers on his TogetherWeServed Page, Vining heard about the Tet Offensive and wanted to join the military with the expressed purpose of going to Vietnam.
His service afforded him the opportunity to do two things he likes to do, “work with explosives and climb mountains.” He probably never dreamed he would become Sgt. Maj. Mike Vining: the epitome of the modern American soldier…
1. He’s also the internet’s most casually badass meme.
Maybe it’s the kind eyes. Or the nice smile. Maybe it’s his age the large glasses of a bygone era that make him a grandpa-like figure. But the rank on his sleeve, fruit salad on his chest, the EOD and CIB pinned on his jacket, and Army Special Operations Command shoulder patch give all that away.
There’s much more to the story, and now we all know it.
2. He wasn’t just Delta, he was a founding member.
Then-Sgt. 1st Class Mike Vining joined the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment (Delta) at Fort Bragg in 1978. His first commander was Col. Charlie Beckwith, who started putting together Delta Force the previous year.
According to Vining, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist who was looking for something “more challenging,” he joined because Delta was looking for people with an EOD background. He spent almost 21 years in Special Forces.
3. His military résumé reads like a history book.
He spent two years in Vietnam as an EOD specialist with the 99th Ordnance Detachment, much of that time spent in combat.
Vining was also in Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue hostages held in Iran. He was aboard EC-130E Bladder Bird #4 when one of the RH-53D helicopters crashed into it.
He was also in the invasion of Grenada, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Uphold/Restore Democracy in Haiti.
4. It took 15 years to earn his Combat Infantryman Badge.
Though Vining saw plenty of combat in Cambodia and Vietnam, as an EOD Specialist, he wasn’t eligible for a CIB. Delta never got a chance to engage the Iranians at Desert One. So, despite Delta Force’s rigorous training and autonomy, his first combat action came in 1983 during the Richmond Hill Prison assault during Urgent Fury’s invasion of Grenada.
5. He became infantry twenty years into his service.
“In 1988, I transferred from EOD to Infantry. I figured I stood a better chance making Sergeant Major in Infantry, which worked out for me.”
6. His most significant action came just two years into his career.
His tour in Vietnam with the 99th Ordnance Detachment was one of the stand out moments of his time in the Army.
“[It] was the destruction of a cache found in Cambodia called ‘Rock Island East.’ The cache yielded 327 tons of ammunition and supplies, including 932 individual weapons, 85 crew-served weapons, 7,079,694 small arms and machine gun rounds. The cache contained 999 rounds of 85mm artillery shells which are used for the D-44 howitzer as well as the T-34 tank. I was part of a seven-man EOD team that destroyed the cache on 16 May 1970.”
7. Vining is still active in the veteran community.
Now fully retired, he travels with his wife much of the time. He writes about military and naval history, polar expeditions, and mountaineering postal history. He and his wife have a very active outdoor life of hiking, backpacking, rock and mountain climbing, biking, and skiing.
He is also a life member of the VFW, and a member of the National EOD Association and Vietnam EOD Veterans Chapter. He is also the historian for the National Army EOD Memorial at Eglin Air Force Base.
8. He would do it all over again. And recommends you do, too.
Vining calls his experience “rewarding” and recommends the military as a career to those who recently joined the Army.
“Military service has given me the opportunity to do all the things I like to do: Work with explosives and climb mountains. I have gotten a chance to work with some of the finest people in the military.”
Mike Vining’s awards and decorations are too numerous to list here. Check them out and read about his experiences in his own words on his public TogetherWeServed profile.
On June 20th, at the Paris Air Show, executives with Lockheed Martin Corp. presented the C-130JSOF, a variant of the C-130J Super Hercules built for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, armed overwatch, and on-demand forward aerial refueling, among other features.
Painted a stealthy black, the aircraft is depicted in promotional materials targeting tanks from the air, dropping parajumpers, and swooping low for exfiltration operations.
Tony Frese, vice president of business development for Air Mobility and Maritime Missions for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said the concept for the aircraft variant is built on experience and feedback from customers on how they use the Super Hercules.
“It is in the world of special operations and special missions the true versatility of the C-130J is on display, accrued day after day in life and death situations,” he said. “In more than 50 years, the C-130 has been synonymous with special operations and special missions.”
The United States already uses the C-130 for special operations, with purpose-built American configurations including the MC-130E/H Combat Talon, flown by the Air Force and used for airdrop, special ops helicopter in-flight refueling, and psychological operations, and the MC-130J Commando II, flown by Air Force Special Operations Command.
The new SOF aircraft is the first time a purpose-built configuration has been made available for the international market, Frese said.
Lockheed expects interest from nations in the Pacific and Middle East, he said, and anticipates building 100 to 200 of the aircraft for international buyers. As is standard practice, all international sales of the aircraft would have to be approved by the US government.
While standard configurations of the C-130J sell for roughly $70 million, Frese said this aircraft would likely start in the mid-$80 million range, with more for additional modifications.
“We understand the world we live in today is increasingly unpredictable,” he said. “Our operators, current and potential, tell us they need to support their special ops forces with a solution that is reliable, affordable and effective and, in this case, proven to support special operations in the sky and on the ground.”
Army researchers have discovered that being initially uncertain when faced with making critical mission-related decisions based on various forms of information may lead to better overall results in the end.
Army collaborative research has studied networked teams and asked the following question: “Does the uncertainty regarding shared information result in lower decision making performance?”
The answer seems to be “not necessarily,” as the findings suggest that uncertainty may actually be helpful in certain situations.
This finding may sound counterintuitive, as many algorithms specifically incorporate the objective to reduce uncertainty by removing conflicting or irrelevant data.
Reducing uncertainty is desirable when decision makers are processing high-quality information which is correct, timely, complete and actionable.
Additionally, in automated settings requiring no human input, prior beliefs may not impact decisions and it is not necessary to consider the impact of uncertainty on beliefs.
However, many real-world scenarios do not correspond to this idealized setting and hence more nuanced approaches may be needed.
Army graphic designed by U.S. Army Research Laboratory graphic artist Evan Jensen delivers the key idea that making decisions under uncertainty may not be such a bad thing after all.
“We are continuously flooded with large amounts of unverified information from social and news media in our daily lives,” said Dr. Jin-Hee Cho, a project lead of the trustworthy multi-genre networks with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Research Laboratory’s Network Science Division. “Hence, we may find ourselves unable to make a decision due to too much information as opposed to too little.”
In the context of battlefield situations, different information through diverse channels is available for a decision maker, for example, a commander.
The commander needs to incorporate all opinions or evidence to make a final decision, which is often closely related to time-sensitive mission completion in a given military context.
“Investigating how uncertainty plays a role in forming opinions with different qualities of information is critical to supporting warfighters’ decision making capability,” Cho said. “But, what if we cannot reduce uncertainty further?”
Recently, Cho presented her research paper entitled “Is uncertainty always bad: The effect of topic competence on uncertain opinions” at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ International Conference on Communications.
This research is completed in collaboration with Professor Sibel Adali at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where Cho and Adali have been working together through the Research Laboratory’s collaborative program called the Network Science Collaborative Technology Alliance.
In the paper, the researchers pointed out that although past work investigated how uncertain and subjective opinions evolve and diffuse in social networks, there is little work on directly showing the impact of uncertain, noisy information and topic competence on forming subjective opinions and beliefs as well as decision making performance.
Dr. Jin-Hee Cho, project lead of the trustworthy multi-genre networks with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Network Science Division.
“Information often has multiple attributes that all contribute to decision making in conjunction with the competence, knowledge and prior beliefs of individuals in the given topic,” Adali said. “Many information models tend to oversimplify the problem abstracting out these factors which become quite important in situations involving uncertain, noisy or unreliable information.”
The key motivation of this study is to answer the following question: “When we are stuck with high uncertainty due to noisy, not credible information, how can an individual maximize the positive effect of a small pieces of good information for decision making?”
To study this problem, Cho and Adali extended the subjective logic framework to incorporate interactions between different qualities of information and human agents in scenarios requiring processing of uncertain information.
In their recent research paper, the following lessons are presented as answers to this key problem:
One, as human cognition is limited in detecting good or bad information or processing a large volume of information, errors are inevitable.
However, as long as an individual is not biased towards false information, systematic errors do not cascade in the network.
In this case, high uncertainty can even help the decision maker to maximize the effect of small pieces of good information because the uncertainty can be largely credited by being treated as good information.
Another insight is that less information is better, particularly when the quality of information is not guaranteed.
“A non-biased view is vital for correct decision making under high uncertainty,” Cho said. “You don’t even have to favor true information either. If we are not biased, it allows even small pieces of true information to lead you to the right decision.”
So, when faced with tough decisions on the battlefield, warfighters need not rely solely on one way of thinking and processing information, as the answer they need to successfully make a move or complete a mission could be right in front of them in the form of an uncertain feeling.
Azerbaijani T-72’s lead BMP’s during the military exercises on May 20, 2020. (Photo by Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense/released)
At the end of May, the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense announced the conclusion of their Large-Scale Operational-Tactical Exercises as part of their combat training plan for 2020. The week-long exercises included some 10,000 military personnel, 120 tanks and armored vehicles, 200 missile systems, 30 aviation units, and various unmanned aerial vehicles.
According to a statement from the Azerbaijan MOD, “During the exercise, the combat readiness, planning and operation of various military units will be developed, and the small and large scale capabilities of the strike groups will be checked.” The MOD released a statement at the conclusion of the exercises stating, “According to the exercises leadership’s evaluation, the troops fully achieved the goals assigned during the completed exercises. The military personnel amassed its practical experience and skills in carrying out combat operations and also demonstrated real abilities in the field.”
The Azerbaijani Military Exercises can be likened to exercises held at Fort Irwin, CA and Fort Polk, LA, the U.S. Army National Training Center and Joint Readiness Training Center respectively. Units come to these training centers to validate their planning, tactics, crews, and equipment in preparation for deployment.
However, rotations to NTC and JRTC were cancelled in March due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the Washington Army National Guard and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, NY were on deck for the now-cancelled NTC and JRTC rotations. In lieu of their training exercises, the 81st BCT was made available to Washington state governor Jay Inslee to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2nd BCT remained at Fort Drum to continue to train for their next mission. NTC and JRTC rotations have yet to be rescheduled.
Soldiers train for their worst day of combat in “The Box”. (U.S. Army photo from army.mil/released)
U.S. relations with Azerbaijan began immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991 when the U.S. formally recognized 12 former Soviet republics, including Azerbaijan, as independent states. In March 1992, respective embassies were opened in Washington and Baku. Due to its strategic location in the region, Azerbaijan has been an integral contributor in the War on Terror. The country has provided troops as well as overflight, refueling, and landing rights to U.S. and coalition aircraft in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, at the height of combat operations, over one-third of nonlethal equipment such as fuel, food, and clothing used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan traveled through Baku.
Relations have also been influenced by the ongoing dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In 1988, the local Karabakh provincial government appealed to the Soviet Union to transfer them from the Azerbaijani SSR to the Armenian SSR. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians in the Karabakh region and Armenia held spontaneous mass demonstrations, the first of their kind in the USSR, in support of the appeal. The demonstrations sparked clashes between Azeris and ethnic Armenians in the Karabakh region, which continued through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Clashes turned into a bona fide war in January 1992 when the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament declared the region’s independence and intention to join with Armenia. Formal hostilities ended in May 1994 with a Russian-brokered ceasefire and the de facto independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh/Republic of Artsakh. However, the region is still recognized by most nations as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Consequently, clashes have continued to erupt along the border to this day.
Ethnic Armenians of the Artsakh Armed Forces conduct exercises in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. (Photo by the Artsakh Defense Ministry/released)
The Azerbaijani Military Exercises have raised alarm and garnered condemnation from the Armenian MOD.
“It is noteworthy that the exercises are exclusively offensive in nature, during which massive strikes of missile-artillery, aviation, and high-precision weapons at the operational depth of the enemy will be utilized,” the Armenian MOD stated, calling them, “a threat to the regional security environment.”
On May 20th, the U.S. Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper expressing concern over the Azerbaijani Military Exercises and a 0 million allocation of U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan. The letter was co-signed by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA), Vice Chairs Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) as well as Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jim Costa (D-CA), T.J. Cox (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), James Langevin (D-RI), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ),Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and Juan Vargas (D-CA). The full text of the letter to Secretaries Pompeo and Esper is reprinted below.
Dear Secretaries Pompeo and Esper:
We are gravely concerned about the military exercises reported to be held by the Republic of Azerbaijan from May 18 to 22, 2020. These exercises are dangerous, violate diplomatic agreements and have the potential to destabilize security in the South Caucasus at a time when the COVID-19 global pandemic has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and threatened the health of many more. We strongly urge the Department of State and the Department of Defense to condemn these egregious actions taken by the Azerbaijani military.
Even in normal circumstances, these exercises would be unacceptable due to their offensive nature and the failure to follow diplomatic notification practices. On May 14, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry released information describing military exercises that would take place from May 18 to 22. Azeri reports state that the exercises are expected to include 10,000 servicemen, 120 artillery and armored vehicles, 200 missile systems, 30 aviation units, and various unmanned aerial vehicles. The failure to provide adequate notification as prescribed under the 2011 Vienna Document and the size of the exercises demonstrates Azerbaijani President Aliyev’s intention of further aggravating historical tensions with the Republic of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
We are especially concerned that over 0 million in security assistance the United States has sent to Azerbaijan over the last two years through the Section 333 Building Partner Capacity program has emboldened the Aliyev regime. This taxpayer funding defies almost two decades of parity in U.S. security assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The aid appears to have allowed Azerbaijan to shift resources toward offensive capabilities and further threaten Armenian lives and regional stability as the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues warned in letters sent to you in September and November of 2019.
We cannot allow Azerbaijan to use the global coronavirus pandemic as cover for these dangerous military operations. We urge you to immediately condemn the reckless actions of the Azerbaijani military and to work with our allies and international partners to halt the provocative actions being taken by the Aliyev Regime.
We look forward to your prompt reply to this request.
U.S. Representative Frank Pallone. (U.S. House of Representative Official Portrait, 113th Congress/released)
The following day, May 21, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy announced during a Facebook Live appearance that the Trump administration is ending USAID’s humanitarian Artsakh demining program. In response to criticism over the defunding of the program, Ambassador Tracy underscored the benefits of the demining program and its successes over the past 20 years, but noted that the U.S. is, “preparing populations for peace…to help toward that goal of achieving a lasting peaceful settlement of the conflict.”
For decades, this region and its inhabitants have navigated a tumultuous era of changing borders and armed conflict. The U.S. has had to walk a fine line between these two conflicting nations as they continue to clash, both politically and militarily, over this area in the Caucasus region. This path of attempted neutrality between the two nations may not be an option for the U.S. in the future if tensions continue to rise.
Nagorno-Karabakh Army T-72 tanks on parade. (Photo by the Nagorno-Karabakh Army/released)
Disclaimer: The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and the Republic of Artsakh refer to the same region. Nagorno-Karabakh is derived from the Soviet name for this region and recognized by Azerbaijan and the international community, while Artsakh is the Armenian name for this region and utilized by Armenians to advocate for the sovereignty of the region. The people of the region generally prefer the Republic of Artsakh, but both are technically correct.
In the Air Force, we call them wingmen. In the Army, they’re called battle buddies. In the Marines, they’re swim buddies. Name aside, the idea is simple and clear: Accompany your wingman in all possibly dangerous or questionable situations. You keep your wingman out of trouble or, in some cases, make sure they don’t get in trouble alone.
For the most part, the concept is well understood and regularly executed. There are, however, a few absolutely unacceptable areas of failure when it comes to implementing the concept. Here’s a tough pill to stomach: Sexual assault is, unfortunately, all too common throughout the military.
Having a few good wingmen can play an instrumental role in preventing such behavior. And while, ultimately, only the assaulter is responsible for their actions, it’s up to you, the wingman, to keep a watchful eye. Implementing these techniques will help make the military a safer culture for everyone.
It’s that simple.
(Photo by sholefet.com)
Consent is not optional
If you see any kind of behavior that’s flirting with the line, don’t take (or let anyone take) a chance.
This one’s simple enough, and it deserves to be at the top of this list.
Have a plan.
Establish your team and roles before you go out
It doesn’t matter if it’s just the two of you going out or an entire group, build set of rules for everyone to stick by. Know exactly who is responsible for watching who and make sure everyone has at least one person accountable for their safe return. Set up a triple-check system for when someone is breaking away from the group.
As long as everyone sticks with the established rules and takes care of who they are expected to take care of, everyone will get home fine.
Actual footage of the new Sergeant’s first weekend off.
Know your limits… and your team’s limits
It’s almost as if they issue you a stronger liver and a standard-issue drinking habit upon swearing in. As a result, many of us tend to carry on as if liquor isn’t impairing our judgement and decision-making abilities. Here’s a fact: it is.
Knowing what you can actually handle (and what your buddies can handle) is crucial to having an incident-free night. Know your team.
It is a yes? An undeniable and clear yes? Does it ever become a no? Please understand consent.
Consent should be simple. No means no, and that’s that.
While you’re out partying and sparks fly with someone, typically, there’s some amount of intoxication involved, and that can muddle things up. What might start as a “yes” might morph as the night goes on. It’s simple: When you hear a “no” (or anything that isn’t explicitly a “yes”) stop immediately. Do not slow down and creep on creepin’ on. Do not try to guilt or coerce the other party into continuing. Do not do anything other than stopping. Just stop.
Use your words and have a conversation that may (or may not) lead to a sober and completely consensual hook-up down the line. Or better yet, maybe you’ll leave the conversation with an understanding of one another. Best of all, you’ll come away without inflicting or sustaining any horrifically permanent scars.
To keep it very simple, just remember: No means no.
That’s all there is to it. Nobody should stop you from having a good time, but it’s up to you to be a good wingman and keep your buddies out of trouble.
The fact that there are some private air forces out there flying fighters to train American (and other) pilots may be a surprise. But did you know that there’s also a company that built its own tanker fleet?
Omega Air Refueling has been around for nearly 20 years and claims to be the only company that does commercial aerial refueling. The company was formed in 1999 as a subsidiary of Flight International prior to becoming independent in 2004, and has flown over 5,000 refueling missions since its formation.
According to company reps at the 2017 AirSpaceCyber expo at National Harbor, Maryland, those 5,000 missions have included over 21,000 “plugs” involving over 12 million gallons of fuel.
The first plane the company acquired was a Boeing 707-300 that used to fly for Pan Am. Since then, it acquired two other 707s (losing one in a 2012 crash), and a DC-10. The company has not only provided commercial aerial refueling services to the United States Navy, but it also has helped Australian and British forces make long-range deployments.
All of Omega’s tankers use the probe-and-drogue system. The 707s and the DC-10 trail drogues at the end of hoses. Planes equipped with a refueling probe then fly in, and plug the probe into the drogue to refuel. This can lead to close calls, like some that WATM reported on.
The company’s planes were used to help certify the Navy’s X-47 unmanned combat air vehicle for mid-air refueling. In 2010, Omega helped to fill in when Airbus missed a deadline to deliver KC-30s to the Royal Australian Air Force (the company also turned to the United States Air Force).
Ironically, while the company was founded to help support the Navy and Marine Corps, many of its tanker pilots come from the United States Air Force, which operates KC-135 and KC-10 tankers.
China is touting its improved aircraft carrier capabilities, but one of the biggest obstacles to having the world’s second-most powerful carrier fleet remains its troubled carrier-based fighter — the J-15 Flying Shark.
Striving to build a blue-water navy suitable for global operations, China expects to have four operational carrier battle groups within the next decade. China already has one active carrier, another undergoing sea trials, and another one in development. Experts speculate that while the first two appear to be limited in their combat capabilities, the third carrier could be a “huge step forward.”
In several state media publications, China cheered its carrier-based fighter jet force for achieving “breakthroughs” since its establishment a little over five years ago. Chinese media said Navy pilots have qualified to take off and land the J-15 fighter on the Liaoning, China’s first and only active aircraft carrier. “An elite team among the pilots also has carried out night landings, widely considered the riskiest carrier-based action, and have become capable of performing round-the-clock, all-weather operations,” the China Daily reported Wednesday.
The Global Times ran a video Thursday of Chinese J-15s conducting night operations from the deck of the Liaoning carrier.
The J-15 is far from the most suitable aircraft for carrier operations though. Not only is the plane considered too big and too heavy, with an unarmed take-off weight of 17.5 tonnes as compared to the US F/A-18 Super Hornet’s 14.6 tonnes, but it can be rather unreliable. Problems with the aircraft, especially the flight control systems, are believed to be behind several fatal training accidents, the Asia Times reported.
The weight issues really come into play on a ship like the Liaoning, which uses a ski jump-assisted short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) launch system. This system — as opposed to steam or electromagnetic catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch systems used on US carriers — strains the aircraft and tends to force reductions in operational range, payload size, and sortie frequency.
The J-15, a reverse engineered version of a Soviet-era prototype, is rumored to be getting a new engine, which could boost its capabilities, but a new carrier-based fighter will eventually be necessary. China is reportedly considering replacing the fourth-generation fighter jets with a lighter and more capable aircraft. Nonetheless, Chinese military experts expect the J-15 to “remain the backbone of China’s carrier battle groups in the future,” according to the South China Morning Post.
The J-15 Flying Shark.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the J-15 is the lack of them. As production and deployment rates are low, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army reportedly has only 30-40 of these fighters. The Liaoning needs 24 to form a full combat-ready fighter squadron, and the soon-to-be-commissioned second carrier will need roughly the same amount to stand up a fighter wing.
“As a big power, China needs more carrier-based warplanes to support its naval ambitions, especially with its first home-grown aircraft carrier entering the final phase of sea trials and likely to go into service next year,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told SCMP.
As China works to build up its naval fleet and expand its capabilities, especially those of its carriers, China will need to overcome challenges, such as number of trained pilots, power and propulsion issues, launch system problems, and limited experience with carrier operations.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) just released a glowing endorsement of retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to serve as Defense Secretary.
In a statement released Monday, McCain called the 66-year-old retired four-star general “one of the finest military officers of his generation” who, he hopes, “has an opportunity to serve America again.”
The senator knows Mattis quite well, since he serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. While he was in charge of Central Command and leading troops in Iraq, Mattis testified to that committee regularly.
“I am pleased that the President-elect found General Jim Mattis as impressive as I have in the many years I have had the privilege of knowing him. General Mattis is one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops. He is a forthright strategic thinker. His integrity is unshakable and unquestionable. And he has earned his knowledge and experience the old-fashioned way: in the crucible of our nation’s defense and the service of heroes,” McCain wrote in his statement.
“General Mattis has a clear understanding of the many challenges facing the Department of Defense, the U.S. military, and our national security. I hope he has an opportunity to serve America again.”
Mattis is seen as a top contender for the position at the Pentagon. He met with President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday to discuss whether he might be interested in coming out of retirement to oversee roughly 3 million military and civilian personnel.
Afterward, Trump praised Mattis on Twitter as “a true General’s General” who was “very impressive.”
If he were tapped to be defense secretary, Mattis would need a waiver from Congress to take the position, since it requires a military officer to have been off active duty for at least seven years. Mattis retired in 2013.
Mattis currently splits his time between Stanford and Dartmouth as a distinguished fellow, conducting research and giving lectures on leadership and strategy.
For four months from Sept. 19, 1870 to Jan. 28, 1871, the Prussian Army laid siege to the city of Paris, as part of the Franco-Prussian War. Prior to having all supply lines cut off, the French Ministry of Agriculture furiously worked to gather as much food and fuel as it could, and at the beginning, “livestock blanket[ed] the Bois de Boulogne park on the edge of Paris.”
Apparently insufficient, within less than a month, the Parisians began butchering the horses, with the meat used as you would expect and even the blood collected “for the purposes of making puddings.” By the end of the siege, approximately 65,000 horses were killed and eaten.
Within another month, by Nov. 12, 1870, butchered dogs and cats began to appear for sale at the market alongside trays full of dead rats and pigeons. The former pets sold for between 20 and 40 cents per pound, while a nice, fat rat could go for 50.
As Christmas approached, most of Paris’ restaurants and cafés were forced to close, although a few of its top eateries continued serving, albeit with a markedly different menu. And as traditional meats were becoming increasingly scarce, the formerly impossible became the actual – when M. Deboos of the Boucherie Anglaise (English Butcher) purchased a pair of zoo elephants, named Castor and Pollux, for 27,000 francs.
The enormous animals were killed with explosive, steel tipped bullets fired at close range, chopped up and sold, with the trunks being the most desirable and selling for 40-45 francs per pound, and other parts between 10 and 14.
Prized by the fine dining establishments, for its Christmas feat, the Voisin served elephant soup, and for New Year’s Day, Peter’s Restaurant offered filet d’éléphant, sauce Madère.
The elephants weren’t the only zoo animals featured on these menus, as the Voison also served kangaroo and antelope, while Peter’s also served peacock. In addition, rats, mules, donkeys, dogs and cats were also transformed by their chefs into roasts, chops, cutlets and ragouts.
Ultimately most of the animals in the zoo were eaten, with the voracious Parisians sparing only the monkeys, lions, tigers and hippos. It is thought that the monkeys were left because of their close resemblance to humans, but it isn’t clear why the lions, tigers, and hippos escaped the menu.
In any event, the siege was ended by a 23-night bombardment campaign in January, in which the Prussians lobbed 12,000 shells into the city, killing and wounding around 400 people. The Franco-Prussian War officially ended with the Treaty of Frankfurt on May 10, 1871.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
When Lt. Kara Hultgreen died while trying to land on the USS Abraham Lincoln, the event touched off a national debate about women in combat roles and the military pushing women who weren’t ready into active service. Except Hultgreen was more than qualified to be a naval aviator – she was just a victim of a well-known deficiency in the F-14’s Pratt & Whitney engine.
“Top Gun” doesn’t mention engine deficiencies.
Hultgreen’s mom thought she would be the perfect debutante. Instead, her little Kara set out to be a Naval Aviator, flying the F-14 Tomcat. The goal didn’t stop at the F-14, Kara Hultgreen wanted to be an astronaut one day. But she didn’t start with the Tomcat, she started her career flying the less-pretty EA-6A. She made it to the Tomcat 18 months later.
“Yes, it’s a macho job in a number of ways,” she told Woman Pilot magazine before she died. “But that’s not why I wanted to do it. I did this to become a fighter pilot. It makes me feel no less feminine and it should not make men feel less masculine. The F-14 is a humbling jet and I’ve been humbled.”
Call Sign: “Revlon”
What she meant by being humbled is that Hultgreen narrowly failed her first attempt at F-14 carrier qualification. But she passed easily her second time around, ranking third in her class overall. Tragically, it was a similar event that would result in her death.
On Oct. 25, 1994, she was attempting to land her F-14 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. She overshot the landing area’s centerline and attempted to correct the mistake. Her correction disrupted the airflow into her Tomcat’s left engine, which caused it to fail. This was a known deficiency in that particular engine. What she did next caused the plane to tilt over to the left. When her Radar Intercept Officer realized the plane was not recoverable, he initiated the plane’s ejection sequences. He was fired out, and .4 seconds later, Hultgreen was fired out of the plane.
But by then, the Tomcat had turned over by 90 degrees and Hultgreen was launched into the ocean, killing her instantly.
By the time she died, Lt. Hultgreen had more than 1,240 hours of flying time in the F-14 Tomcat and had landed on a carrier some 58 times, 17 times at night. She was ranked first in defending the fleet from simulated attacks by enemy aircraft and in air refueling, and second in tactics to evade enemy aircraft and in combined familiarization with tactics and aircraft. The Aerospace Engineer was a Distinguished Naval Graduate of Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola.
Yet, despite all of her achievements, training, and preparation, there were some who blamed the military for her death, alleging her superiors overlooked her mistakes in training in trying to beat the Air Force in training the first female fighter pilot. One group, the Center for Military Readiness, claimed to have obtained Hultgreen’s training records in 1995, records which they said would have disqualified her as an aviator.
These records are contradicted by records released from Hultgreen’s family the year prior, however. Her colleagues and fellow pilots praised her performance as a naval aviator and reminded people that 10 F-14 pilots were killed in accidents between the years of 1992 and 1994. Hultgreen once even brought an EA-6A Intruder to a safe landing, despite flying it with crippled landing gear.
On Dec. 30, 1968, Robert Howard was the platoon sergeant for a joint unit of U.S. Army Special Forces and South Vietnamese forces. Their mission was to rescue soldiers who were missing in action behind enemy lines. As they moved out onto their objective, they were attacked by what had to be two companies of enemy troops. 1st. Lt. Howard was wounded by an enemy grenade almost immediately. He lost his weapon to the explosion, and his platoon leader was down.
His luck only got worse from there.
This is how Robert Howard earned his Medal of Honor. It was one of three for which he was nominated. The men who fought with him fervently believed he deserved all three. The battle for which he received the nation’s highest military honor was one hell of a slugfest.
At Kon Tum, South Vietnam, that day in 1968, things went awry from the get-go.
“We took casualties on the insert,” Howard said. “I finally got with the platoon leader and said we need to secure this LZ… I got three men behind me, I remember being fired at and I fell backward and they killed three men behind me.”
One of the helicopters had even been shot down with troops still aboard it. The platoon began taking fire from the flanks, and Howard knew he had to tell his lieutenant the landing zone was hotter than they thought. Just as he got close to his officer, however, the unit was ambushed.
“When I come to, I was blown up in a crump on the ground,” Howard recalled. “My weapon was blown out of may hand, I remember seeing red, and saying a prayer hoping I wasn’t blind. I couldn’t see and I was in a lot of pain.”
When he got his vision back, he realized he was seeing blood. All he could see was flames, and all he could hear was people screaming. He realized the enemy was burning his friends with a flamethrower. His lieutenant was down. For reasons unknown, the flamethrower didn’t burn Howard or his platoon leader, he just walked away.
His hands hurting and bleeding, Howard moved to help get his leader out of there. As he drug his platoon leader out, a round struck his ammo pouch, detonating it. He was hit 15-20 times as he worked to get his lieutenant out. He fought off charging Vietnamese soldiers, dodging bullets and bayonets while protecting his leader.
His platoon was in complete disarray, and he knew he had to get everyone back in order, lest they be overrun and killed.
He dragged his officer out of the area, and once under cover, reorganized the whole unit. Once a firing line was set up, he bounded from position to position, aiding the wounded and directing their fire. For four hours, his effort kept them from being surrounded and killed.
Soon, friendly aircraft were able to join the fight and rescue the wounded. Then the Americans were hit with another wave of attackers. Robert Howard had to direct the U.S. Air Force to strike his own position. As the Air Force hit his position, Howard watched as the aircraft rounds hit the area around him. Thankfully, the attack craft eventually faded into rescue helicopters.
Lieutenant Howard personally kept overwatch until everyone else was aboard. Out of 37 friendly troops, only six survived unharmed.
In all, Robert Howard fought in Vietnam for 54 months, where he was wounded 14 times. For eight of those wounds, he received a Purple Heart. He also earned the Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, and four Bronze Stars. When he retired, he was the most decorated soldier in the Army and was the most decorated of the entire Vietnam War. He remains the only soldier to be nominated for the Medal of Honor three times for three separate actions, all in a 13-month span.
The only thing that could kill Robert Howard was pancreatic cancer, to which he succumbed in 2009, one of the lesser-known heroes of the war in Vietnam.