It’s not often that the Big Army follows the lead of the nation’s smallest fighting force, but the Corps’ recent moves to outfit its infantry grunts with high-technology small arms has gotten the attention of the Army’s top general.
At a recent meeting with senators on Capitol Hill, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers he was seriously considering outfitting front-line soldiers with a new rifle just adopted by the Corps for all its infantry troops.
In 2010, the Marine Corps shocked the services by providing an alternative to the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gun with what was essentially a souped up M4 carbine. The new M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle was made by German firearms manufacturer Heckler Koch — dubbed the “HK416” — and featured a better, longer barrel, a gas-piston operating system and an automatic fire capability.
It is a rifle very similar to ones fielded to SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force.
The Corps argued that precise fire was more effective at suppression than area fire, so the SAW gunner on some missions carried the new M27 instead of the SAW. Fast forward seven years, and the Corps has decided to outfit all its infantrymen with the Gucci rifle.
Now the Army is taking a hard look at the M27 and its advantages of reliability, accuracy and function as a potential near-term replacement for the M4 — which is gas operated and features a 14.5-inch barrel.
“We’re taking a hard look at that and probably going to go in that direction as well,” Milley told lawmakers. He also added that the service is developing a 7.62 round that can penetrate new body armor manufactured by Russia.
The revelation comes as the Army is set to release a years-long study on whether to replace the 5.56 round with a new one in the face of a growing threat from enemy weapons the fire a Russian-made round that can reach nearly double the range of the current M4 chambered in the 1950s-era caliber.
Sources say the Army is also inching toward issuing an “Urgent Needs” request to field more than 6,000 rifles chambered in the heavier, longer-range 7.62 NATO round for troops deployed to battlefields like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The top weapons buyer for U.S. Special Operations Command said Wednesday that the so-called Iron Man suit being developed for elite commandos may not end up being the exoskeleton armored ensemble popular in adventure movies.
It’s been four years since SOCOM leaders challenged the defense industry to come up with ideas for the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS — an ensemble that would provide operators with “more-efficient, full-body ballistics protection and beyond-optimal human performance” as well as embedded sensors and communications tech for heightened situational awareness.
Program officials are about “a year and a half” away from having a TALOS prototype that’s ready to put in the hands of operators for testing, James “Hondo” Geurts, acquisition executive and director for SOF ATl at USSOCOM, told an audience at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium.
When the program began, it captured the public’s imagination and conjured images of high-tech ensembles worn in movies such as “Man of Steel,” “Pacific Rim” and “Starship Troopers.”
“We are on our fifth prototype,” Geurts said. “Will we get everything we want? Probably not. That was never the intent.”
SOCOM officials envisioned TALOS would feature integrated heaters and coolers to regulate the temperature inside the suit. Embedded sensors would monitor the operator’s core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position and hydration levels. In the event that the operator is wounded, the suit could feasibly start administering the first life-saving oxygen or hemorrhage controls.
This is not the first time the U.S. military has embarked on an effort to perfect smart-soldier technology. The Army is now equipping combat units with a secure, smartphone-based kit — known as Nett Warrior — that allows a leader to track subordinates’ locations in relation to his own position via icons on a digital map. The unit leaders can view satellite imagery and send text messages.
The technology has seen combat and given leaders a precise view of their tactical environment, empowering units to operate more decisively than ever before.
But the program’s success did not come easily. Land Warrior, the first generation of this computerized command-and-control ensemble, was plagued by failure. From its launch in 1996, the Army spent $500 million on three major contract awards before the system’s reliability problems were solved in 2006.
When TALOS began, SOCOM said it planned to funnel $80 million into research and development over a four-year timeline. Geurts did not say how much money SOCOM has spent so far on TALOS.
One of the biggest challenges is powering the suit, but also a type of control theory and deep learning, Geurts said.
In just walking, “we take for granted that when we put our arm out, that our foot is behind us to balance it,” he said.
Geurts said the program has had “tremendous hurdles” working with these technologies, but said the effort will likely result in spin-off technologies that can be fielded to operators before TALOS is operationally ready.
“So in TALOS, don’t just think exoskeleton and armor — think of the whole equation,” he said. “Survivability is part of what armor you are carrying, but it’s also a big part of whatever information you have, what is your situational awareness, how do you communicate. So as we are going down all those paths, we can leverage quickly some of the stuff that is ready to go right now.”
Lasers have been a mainstay weapon of science fiction for years. In the real world, lasers haven’t quite reached the operational weapon stage, but have been used for range-finding and guiding weapons like the AGM-123 Skipper, AGM-114 Hellfire, and the Paveway laser-guided bombs. These weapons would home in on a target that was painted with the laser, and were able to hit within ten feet of their aimpoint routinely.
Well, laser weapons that do the damage themselves, as opposed to being mere guidance systems, are getting closer to reality. Earlier this year, the Army tested a laser weapon on the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The Navy had a laser on the afloat staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15, ex-LPD 15), which was in the Persian Gulf. Lockheed’s ATHENA laser was tested last month on five MQM-170C drones. Now, Lockheed has a tactical concept to put a laser weapon system of the H-60 airframe.
The concept system in question is the High Energy Fiber Laser. This is a self-contained pallet system that can make existing H-60s that could equip them with up to a 30-kilowatt laser. That’s the same level of firepower (or is laser-power the better word?) as the ATHENA. That sounds very impressive, and a big step forward. How is this done?
According to information Lockheed provided after a request made at the Association of the United States Army expo in Washington, D.C., the High Energy Fiber Laser is actually a self-contained pallet that can be installed or removed from a H-60 airframe. With the HEFL system on board, the H-60 could defensively counter small threats, including rockets, artillery, mortars, or small UAV.
The introduction of laser weapons on an operation scale is still years away, so for now, zapping annoying Iranian drones and speedboats that harass U.S. Navy forces is still in the realm of science fiction. But that science fiction is coming closer to being science fact.
Scientists believe a 40-million-ton asteroid set to fly close to Earth in 12 years may end up colliding with our planet on a future pass.
The Apophis asteroid will pass within 18,600 miles of Earth on April 13, 2029, which is ridiculously close by space distance standards. Scientists expect the near-miss to disrupt the asteroid’s orbit, making its future path unpredictable.
This means there’s a small chance Apophis could hit Earth on a future pass. Apophis will pass by the Earth again in 2036.
“You can find a full table of objects for which the impact probability is not mathematically zero,” Dr. Richard P. Binzel, a planetary science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who’s involved in research on Apophis, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The table includes Apophis with a probability of 8.9e-6 (less than one chance in 100,000).”
If Apophis did strike Earth, it could create a crater about 1.25 miles across and almost 1,700 feet deep. Such an impact could be devastating, as on average an asteroid this size can be expected to impact Earth about every 80,000 years. It could annihilate a city if it were to directly land on an urban area. The blast would equal 880 million tons of TNT or 65,000 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
“We can rule out a collision at the next closest approach with the Earth, but then the orbit will change in a way that is not fully predictable just now, so we cannot predict the behavior on a longer timescale,” Alberto Cellino of the Observatory of Turin in Italy, told Astrowatch.net.
MIT announced last month that professors and students are designing a space probe mission to observe the asteroid “99942 Apophis” as it passes Earth in 2029. MIT or NASA would have to launch the probe before August of 2026 due to the way orbital mechanics work.
The MIT probe could teach scientists more about the construction of asteroids, providing valuable information about the formation of our solar system. What scientists learn from the Apophis encounter could make it easier to mount a planetary defense in the event an asteroid was ever found to be on an impact course.
Smaller asteroids are much harder to detect and there’s little that could be done to stop a small space rock on course for Earth without early warning. Typically, these rocks are discovered just days or hours before they pass by Earth.
There’s not a shortage of space rocks that put our planet at risk either. Global asteroid detection programs found more than 16,314 near-Earth objects of all sizes — 816 new near-Earth objects were identified so far this year alone, according to International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planets Center.
If your idea of self-care is eating paleo and running ultra marathons, I’ve got news for you – you’re missing out.
Self-care goes way beyond the way you feed or train your body: It’s about health at multiple levels. At its core it requires attention to regulating your nervous system – to regularly giving your brain and endocrine system (your body’s network of hormone-producing glands) the chance to calm down and return to normal levels.
This type of self-regulation is important for your physical and mental performance whether you’re an elite athlete or an everyday person of any age.
Pain isn’t always weakness leaving the body
As a veteran, you know that the military does a great job attaching metrics to physical fitness. Service members are required to pay attention to their physicality, and intensity is emphasized. These are good things in many ways. After all, you can’t see improvement without testing your body’s limits.
However, the military often falls short on the topic of balanced wellness. Many veterans leave their time in service physically broken, with muscular imbalances, and hold fast to the belief that if training is hurting, it’s helping. We might even think that only malingerers, failures, and dirtbags take time to care for themselves.
I’m not here to suggest that you give up your high intensity training. But I am here to say that the whole point of intensity should be about using it to increase your performance in a smart and productive way.
Whether your goal is muscle growth or cardiovascular improvement, attaining your specific training objectives will be easier when you lower your blood cortisol levels (the stress hormones your body produces).
You can do this by practicing self care and something called “mindful movement.”
But isn’t mindful movement for hippies?
Mindful movement is as useful for grunts as it is for POGs as it is for civilians. Here’s what career infantry officer Maj. Gen. Thomas Jones, USMC (Ret.), has to say about it:
“For many years as an infantry officer, I worked feverishly to build resiliency in combat Marines. However, and unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was a civilian that I learned that I was missing the central, necessary ingredient…to crafting resiliency: a thorough understanding of the physiology of stress within the body…I learned that mindfulness enabled me to personally address stressors with positive outcomes.”
Mindfulness is a form of self-care, and what it really means is that you’re paying close attention to your breath and body so you can discover how to care for yourself. For example, if you notice that you have really tight hips, you should work to correct the problem instead of ignoring it. This type of awareness is a very calming thing – we can use breath as a vehicle to connect our (sometimes very) disconnected mental and physical selves, and it can let us know how we need to adjust our training or lives to perform more effectively.
When we’re busy and stressed, paying attention to the needs of the physical body is one of the first things to go. However, we can benefit tremendously from figuring out when we’re not in a rested state and then working to provide our bodies and minds with opportunities to relax.
Why are mindfulness and self-care so good for me?
When we effectively manage stressed out bodies and minds, our levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are lowered. Lowering cortisol is helpful because it improves our brain’s ability to function and our body’s ability to perform.
Alternately, high levels of cortisol encourage your body to seek out and crave simple carbs and store them as fat. Too much cortisol also impairs upper-level cognition in our brains – making it harder to think clearly, experience empathy, and communicate effectively. It can also degrade our physical performance.
Finding ways to lower our stress – even if only for a few moments – has the opposite effect and is incredibly beneficial to us.
So what does a drop in stress hormones feel like? Think about the last time you enjoyed an activity or training – when you took a deep breath in and you just felt that “Ahhh!” feeling – even if you were working hard and running up and down trails. You may find it while running, skiing, doing yoga, getting a deep tissue massage, or even lifting weights. Some people call it a “click,” or a “shift.”
That moment will look different for everyone, but when you find it, take note.
If I want to practice self-care – where should I start?
The first and most important step to practicing self-care is to commit to managing your time so you can structure a plan for success.
Next look at how what you’re doing on a daily basis makes you feel. Tune into that and take notes for a few days. Do you feel depleted at the end of a day? Energized? Hopeless? Keyed up?
Once you have a read on how you’re doing, begin to expand your skills. If you only know one or two tools to make yourself feel better, the good news is that you have lots of room to grow. Continue to do what you already know you like and benefit from, then learn and add in a couple of new options to your wellness program and nutritional choices.
Pay attention to how you’re treating your body with food. Consider taking fast food and soda out of the options column for yourself. If you don’t want to take them out, then look to add items that taste amazing and are healthy. Instead of restricting, add in.
If you feel overwhelmed as you think about all the training and wellness options out there, consider plugging into an organization or non-profit that can teach you helpful skills. As a veteran, if you can imagine a self-care or mindful movement option, a non-profit probably exists that supplies it.
Self Care Resources
Outdoor Odyssey – Funded weeklong retreats for wounded, ill and injured active-duty and veteran warriors, designed to craft a definitive plan for the future with the support of a team. Designed and operated by those who have been there!
Outward Bound – OIF/OEF veterans can enjoy all-expenses paid week-long trips rock climbing, dog sledding, sailing, and more, as they learn the value of compassionate leadership.
Sierra Club Military Outdoors – Power ski, ice climb, whitewater raft and more alongside fellow veterans in some of America’s most stunning backcountry.
Just Roll With It Wellness Retreat – This free three-day retreat teaches self-care and mindfulness practices, gives you the opportunity to connect with other veterans interested in physical and mental health, and includes a travel stipend.
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance”, here.
The Sikorsky-Boeing SB1 Defiant helicopter program will miss its first scheduled flight tests due to “minor technical issues” discovered during ground power tests, officials involved in the program revealed Dec. 12, 2018. The tests were originally scheduled for 2018.
While the aircraft “has been completely built,” discoveries were made in recent weeks during Power System Test Bed (PSTB) testing, said Rich Koucheravy, Sikorsky director of business development for future vertical lift. Sikorsky is partnered with Boeing Co. on the project.
“We’re working those fixes, and our goal will be to get the PSTB back in operation shortly…within the next week or two,” Koucheravy said in a phone call with reporters. Because of the prolonged PSTB tests, the Defiant flight will be pushed back into early 2019, he said.
Randy Rotte, Boeing director of global sales and marketing for cargo helicopters and FVL, said the program must also be certified in 15 unblemished hours within PSTB — which collectively tests the aircraft as a system — before it’s cleared for first flight.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is briefed about the newest invitation, the SB1 Defiant by a Boeing representative at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Convention and exposition show in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2014.
(U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Mikki L. Sprenkle)
The two officials said the unspecified, mechanical issues have not and will not impact or alter the design or configuration of the aircraft, nor should they impact the supply chain.
Program officials previously reported problems with the transmission gearbox and rotor blades.
“Those issues are behind us,” Rotte said Dec. 12, 2018.
The co-developers have been transparent with the Army with the delays, they said. “Only time will tell” if other discoveries during prolonged ground testing will dictate when the flight tests occur, Rotte said.
The news comes one year after Defiant’s competitor, the Bell Helicopter-made V-280 Valor next-generation tilt-rotor aircraft, made its first flight.
In October 2018, the head of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift effort said the service was not worried that the Sikorsky-Boeing SB1 Defiant had not conducted its first test flight yet.
A mock-up of a Bell V-280, exhibited at HeliExpo 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.
But, he added, “we have been in close communication with the Defiant team and understand where they are at and what they are doing.”
Sikorsky, part of Lockheed Martin Corp., and Boeing Co. built the SB1 Defiant, which is based on Sikorsky’s X2 coaxial design.
The Defiant was expected to conduct its first test flight in 2017, but Sikorsky-Boeing officials predicted it would instead conduct its maiden flight in late 2018 at the Sikorsky Development Flight Test Center in West Palm Beach.
Rugen at the time said it was still too early to say whether the service will lean toward the Valor’s tiltrotor or the Defiant’s coaxial rotor design.
“We want the most efficient and the most capable platform,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Violent jihadism as a governing ideology has been a significant feature of the global scene for nearly two decades.
There are certainly differences between say, the nature Al Shabaab’s control over Somalia in the early 2010s, the Taliban state’s governance of Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, and ISIS’s “caliphate” in the present day.
But militant groups spurred by a combination of religious radicalism, violent disenchantment with the existing state system, revisionist philosophies of Islamic history, and a rejection of secularism and Enlightenment value systems have morphed into territorial political units with alarming frequency in recent years.
One such instance was in Mali in early 2012, when jihadists piggybacked on a long-simmering Tuareg autonomy movement — itself empowered by the collapse of Mali’s government in the wake of a shocking military coup — in order to take control of several population centers in Mali’s desert north. Among them was Timbuktu, a legendary center of trade and Islamic scholarship.
The jihadist occupation of Timbuktu was brutal but thankfully brief: In early 2013, a French-led coalition liberated the city after 10 months of militant control. Now, the rule of Al Qaeda-allied militants over the city is the topic of what might be the important movie of the past year.
The hypnotic and visually overwhelming “Timbuktu,” the work of Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako and an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, is an intimate and terrifying inquiry into one of the defining authoritarian ideologies of the 21st century, as told from the perspective of the people who are actually suffering under its yoke. (The film is currently playing in New York and LA and will open in various other US cities in February and March.)
US movie audiences have usually met jihadists through the lenses of American sniper rifles, or lying prone in front of CIA interrogators. “Timbuktu” is hardly the only movie that’s portrayed them as political and social actors. “Osama,” a multi-national production about a girl living in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that won the 2004 Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film, and Iranian director Moshen Makhmalbaf’s highly regarded “Kandahar,” about a Afghan woman who sneaks into Taliban Afghanistan to try to stop her sister from committing suicide, succeed in giving viewers a first-hand look at the societies that jihadists create and the horrors this visits upon the people trapped in them.
In the wake of ISIS’s takeover of a Belgium-sized slice of the Middle East, “Timbuktu” has more immediate resonance than either of those films. The movie opens with a pickup truck of fighters flying a black flag nearly identical to ISIS’s. As the opening credits roll, the fighters eviscerate a row of traditional figurines in a hail of machine-gun fire.
But the firmest sign that jihadist rule is something external, alien, and deeply unwanted comes in the next scene, when gun-toting fighters enter a mud-brick mosque without taking their shoes off. They tell the imam that they have come to wage jihad. The imam replies that in Timbuktu, people wage jihad (which has the double meaning of spiritual reflection and self-purification, in addition to earthly holy war) with their minds and not with guns.
The next hour and a half is a grisly survey of what happened when this 1400-year-old precedent was inverted.
The jihadists ban music — one of the most celebrated aspects of Malian culture — and then whip violators in public. They ban soccer, and then break up a group of children miming a game in silent protest. The jihadists speak a smattering of local languages and broken Arabic; their leader bans smoking only to sneak cigarettes under the cover of the town’s surrounding sand dunes.
In one of the more illustrative scenes, a female fish seller is told by one jihadist that women can no longer appear in public without wearing gloves. She explains to him that she can’t work unless she’s barehanded and then dares the fighter to cut her hands off on the spot.
In “Timbuktu,” the jihadists are power-tripping, thuggish and hypocritical. They are in the city to create a totally new kind of society and revel in their own insensitivity to local concerns.
But crucially they are not entirely outsiders, and some of the film’s most affecting scenes involve a Tuareg who joins with the jihadists occupying the town, a reminder that there are local dynamics at play. Just as importantly, the film hints at the context of state collapse and social chaos that allowed the jihadists to take over in the first place.
The movie’s primary narrative follows a Tuareg herder who accidentally kills a fisherman from a different ethnic group during an argument over his cows’ access to drinking water along a disputed riverbank. The film’s central conflict encapsulates the unresolved questions of ethnicity and resources that kept northern Mali in a state of crisis that the jihadists later exploited.
The herder’s treatment at the hands of Timbuktu’s new overlords depicts the imposition of an an outside ideology. But the killing is itself is a pointed example of how social turmoil can feed into a violent, totalitarian mania seemingly without warning. It harkens back to ISIS’s swift takeover of Iraq this past summer, a national-level instance of the dynamics that “Timbuktu” manages to boil down to an intimate, dramatic scale.
“Timbuktu” has a happy ending. Even if it isn’t part of the movie, the city was eventually liberated from jihadist control. The film depicts a now-extinct regime.
But the nightmare of “Timbuktu” is far from over. The liberation of the areas that ISIS rules will come at some indeterminate future date, and parts of Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are still under the control of extremists whose ideologies are not categorically different from what appears in the film.
“Timbuktu” is maybe the best cinematic depiction ever made of what millions of people around the world are suffering through.
The United States of America has sued Black Nights Wine Spirits to stop the Highland Falls liquor store from using a name confusingly similar to the Black Knights nickname used by the academy’s athletic teams as far back as the 1940s. After four cease-and-desist letters and the filing of the lawsuit on Aug. 8, the store has seemingly conceded.
“We’ve changed the name to Good Nights,” said a man who answered the phone at the store recently. He said Frank Carpentieri, the owner of Frasiekenjes, LLC, the company that runs the store, would not be available for a few days.
The lawsuit, filed by acting US Attorney Joon H. Kim, accuses the liquor merchant of tarnishing the academy’s brands.
The Department of the Army holds several trademarks for “Black Knights” and the West Point crest, so it did not escape its attention when Black Nights Wine and Spirits opened last September on Main Street in Highland Falls, just beyond the West Point gates. The store’s name, the Army says, falsely suggests that the enterprise is “associated with or endorsed and approved by the US Military Academy at West Point.”
The Army drew a line in the sand within weeks of the store opening, mailing a cease-and-desist letter that alleges trademark infringement.
The store then installed a more permanent “Black Nights” sign and placed several items in and around the store that highlight West Point themes.
Besides the alleged abuse of West Point’s goodwill and brand reputation, the lawsuit states that the liquor store defies military policies.
“The Department of the Army is highly concerned with the use of alcohol among its soldiers and is committed to de-glamorizing its use,” the complaint states.
A drone strike killed a suspected al-Qaeda militant in southern Yemen on April 6 as the U.S. steps up its air war against the extremists.
The missile hit al-Qaeda provincial official Ahmed Ali Saana as he was riding a motorbike late on April 5 in the town of Khabar al-Muraqasha in Abyan province, a major target of recent drone strikes, an official said on condition of anonymity.
The Pentagon has confirmed more than 70 airstrikes on al-Qaeda targets in Yemen since Feb. 28.
Yemeni security officials have reported dozens of suspected fighters killed in the strikes on Abyan and the neighboring provinces of Shabwa and Baida.
A commando raid against al-Qaeda in Baida province was the first operation U.S. President Donald Trump ordered after taking office in January.
In March, Trump reportedly gave the CIA new powers to authorize drone strikes against extremist targets in the Middle East independently of the Pentagon.
More than two years of civil war have created a power vacuum that al-Qaeda has exploited to consolidate its presence.
At least 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in March 2015 after Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sana’a and overthrew President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, according to the United Nations.
The U.S. has supported the Saudi-led coalition through weapons sales, air-to-air refueling of jets, and intelligence sharing.
“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,'” Mr. Trump said, describing the general’s view of torturing terrorism suspects. He added that Mr. Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terror suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better.'” He added: “I was very impressed by that answer.”
Torture, Mr. Trump said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”
It amounts to a “remarkable” reversal for the president-elect, as the Times put it. It also somewhat contradicts the position of Trump’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has said that “all options are on the table.” Before he campaigned for Trump, however, Flynn criticized the practice.
The debate over waterboarding in enhanced interrogations has a larger legal barrier than what President George W. Bush faced in the past. While Bush authorized the practice after the 9/11 terror attacks through legal memos, President Barack Obama ordered the practice to stop through an executive order. That order was later codified into law in 2015.
Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in March that the use of waterboarding is “inconsistent with the values of our nation.” Dunford previously served as Mattis’ deputy at 1st Marine Division.
The Army’s troubled program to buy a new standard-issue handgun for soldiers was the subject of renewed debate on Capitol Hill.
During Thursday’s confirmation hearing for retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to become defense secretary in the Trump administration, Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Thom Tillis of North Carolina took turns criticizing the service’s XM19 Modular Handgun System (MHS) program, a $350 million competition to buy a replacement to the Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol.
At a time when Russia is upgrading its service rifle, “we continue to modify our M4s [and] many of our troops still carry M16s, the Army can’t even figure out how to replace the M9 pistol, first issued in 1982,” Ernst said.
The senator, a frequent critic of the program who in 2015 retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, said she and others would joke while in the military that “sometimes the most efficient use of an M9 is to simply throw it at your adversary.”
Ernst blasted the Modular Handgun Program’s many requirements. “Take a look at their 350-page micromanaging requirements document if you want to know why it’s taking so long to get this accomplished,” she said.
She also mocked the stopping power of the 5.56mm rifle round. “Our military currently shoots a bullet that, as you know, is illegal for shooting small deer in nearly all states due to its lack of killing power,” she said.
Tillis went even further by showing up to the hearing with the pistol program’s full several hundred pages of requirements documents wrapped in red ribbon. “This is a great testament to what’s wrong with defense acquisition,” he said, slapping the three-inch-tall stack of paperwork.
In response, Mattis said, “I can’t defend this,” but added, “I will say that at times there were regulations that required us to do things.”
Coincidentally, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was asked about the program earlier in the day at a breakfast sponsored by the Association of the United States Army. Milley was tight-lipped about the effort but hinted the service is making progress.
Beretta, FN Herstal, Sig Sauer and Glock are reportedly still competing for the program after the Army dropped Smith Wesson from the competition last year. We’re hoping these gunmakers will help shed more light on the status of the program next week at SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
Matt Baetz is a comedian, actor, writer, and host and a veteran of six Armed Forces Entertainment and USO tours across the world. He’s performed his standup routine for the troops in Afghanistan, Africa, Bahrain, Cuba, Greenland, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He’s also done numerous television and radio appearances on shows like “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and Playboy Radio. He was awarded Best of the Fest Performer from the NY Fringe Festival for his role in the 2014 play, “Kemble’s Riot.”
“Not just anyone can hack these tours,” Baetz said. “The schedule is demanding and the living conditions are sometimes not the best. But I explain to the talent right up front that, wherever we go, I don’t want them coming right out of the gate and asking whether there’s wifi or complaining about the coffee. We’re there for the people serving away from home.”
Here’s a look at four of the stops on the recent tour:
Today, Armed Forces Entertainment is the single point of contact for the Department of Defense for providing entertainment to troops overseas. More than 60 tours are sent out providing over 600 performances per year to 400,000 soldiers.
Here’s a brief history of the organization:
World War II-1951: The United Service Organizations (USO) Camp Shows program recruited and fielded live entertainment for military personnel. Camp Shows usually consisted of well-known celebrities who were recruited to entertain military personnel serving overseas. For many entertainers, this was their first time performing and traveling abroad. However, the Camp Shows scheduling, which was coordinated by each Service, was considered inconsistent.
1951-1970: Before the establishment of the Department of Defense (DoD) in 1951, the Military Services agreed to provide a single point of contact for the USO. The Secretary of the Army was designated as the administrative agent for the DoD’s relationship with the USO. Operational responsibility rested with the Adjutant General, then transferred to the Commander, U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center. In 1951, Service representatives were assigned to the new Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Office (AFPEO) to administer the fielding of USO Shows, provide shows where the USO Camp Shows were unable, and establish a regularly scheduled program. Units consisted of celebrities, professional artists, college groups sponsored by the American Theater Association (ATA) and the All American Collegiate Talent Showcase (ACTS). The USO and DoD sent thousands of entertainers, celebrity and non-celebrity, to entertain U.S. military personnel, DoD and Department of State civilians, and their family members worldwide. By the end of the Vietnam era, virtually all of the programmed shows were non-celebrity with DoD fielding over half of the units.
1982: USO canceled the non-celebrity program to concentrate on the recruitment and fielding of well-known celebrity entertainment. The DoD directed the Secretary of the Army to assume responsibility for the non-celebrity program. In June, all non-celebrity entertainment units sent abroad were participating in the Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Program overseas, nicknamed “DoD Overseas Shows”. In addition to the non-celebrity program, the AFPEO continued to uphold DoD’s portion of the celebrity show responsibilities with the USO. These shows were renamed “USO/DoD Celebrity Shows.”
1989: The Assistant Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) assumed operational control of the AFPEO with the Secretary of the Army remaining the Executive Agent. This assumption was designed to elevate the AFPEO’s authority, facilitate coordination, and increase program visibility.
1997: The U.S. Air Force was assigned the Executive Agent for providing celebrity and non-celebrity programs to troops serving overseas, creating the jointly-manned office, Armed Forces Entertainment.