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These athletes are gearing up for the Warrior Games

Sergeant Ryan Major’s life changed forever in a flash and a bang in November 2006.


While deployed in Iraq, the infantry soldier from Baltimore stepped on an improvised explosive device. He lost both of his legs and several fingers on both hands.

Major, now retired, was one of about 70 wounded soldiers and veterans from across the Army who gathered at Fort Bliss the first week of April to compete in the Army Trials.

The event, which was held at Fort Bliss for the third straight year, is used to determine the Army’s team at the upcoming Warrior Games, an Olympic-style event for wounded, injured and ill service members of all branches. This year, the Warrior Games will be held in Chicago June 30 to July 8.

Army Trials for 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (Dept. of Defense News photo by EJ Hersom)

Participating in adaptive sports helped to get Major out of a serious depression he had fallen into after being severely wounded, he said. Adaptive sports are designed or modified for disabled athletes to compete against others with similar disabilities or injuries.

“Before I got injured I loved competition, sports, and getting into shape,” said Major, who represented the Baltimore Veterans Affairs at the Army Trials.

Participating in adaptive sports “changed my life,” he said.

“It made me more sociable with other veterans who have similar injuries and stories,” Major said.

Sports also helped him to have a more positive attitude about his injuries, he added.

During the Army Trials, Army athletes in wheelchairs, with prosthetic limbs, and some with injuries that weren’t apparent at first glance competed in a variety of events.

They came from more than a dozen installations and participated in track and field, cycling, archery, shooting, wheelchair basketball, and seated volleyball.

Most had compelling stories, like Major, about how participating in sports got them out of a dark place and thrust them into a new chapter in their lives.

2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games Bicycling. (Dept. of Defense photo by EJ Hersom)

Lt. Col. Luis Fregoso was one of the organizers of the Army Trials with the Warrior Care and Transition Program in Arlington, Va. This Army organization oversees the most critical cases of wounded, injured, and ill soldiers and helps them transition back to active duty or to civilian life.

Sports can play a huge role in the healing process, said Fregoso, who is from Los Angeles.

“A lot of soldiers, when they have this life-changing event happen to them, they will get into a dark place,” Fregoso said. “The common theme is they just don’t feel their normal self and start spiraling into a bad area, especially in their mind.”

Sports help them to adapt to their “new normal” and can give them the confidence to tackle other areas in their lives, Fregoso added.

Retired Master Sgt. Shawn “Bubba” Vosburg still has the look of a soldier out on a mission. But he suffers from post-traumatic stress, a traumatic brain injury, and a slew of other injuries up and down his body.

Competing in sports helps to “tie you back to the military,” said Vosburg, who is originally from Colorado Springs, Colo., but now calls El Paso home. He represented Fort Bliss during the recent competition.

“You do so much time in the military, and you lose that when you retire,” Vosburg said. “But (adaptive sports) introduces you to new people whom you consider friends and family, and that family is growing.”

Vosburg credits sports for saving his life and he wants to return the favor to his fellow veterans.

He is working on a master’s degree in social work at the University of Texas at El Paso and wants to help “bring more soldiers out of the dark, like I came out of,” he said.

Also read: Here’s what happens when a wounded warrior uses his arm for the first time in 10 years

Retired Staff Sgt. Isaac Rios was shot multiple times and was hit by a mortar round during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

For many veterans, leaving the service and going back to civilian life is a culture shock and even downright scary, Rios said.

A member of Special Operations Command throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 Warrior Games. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt Ezekiel R. Kitandwe)

Sports, however, helped to give him a new way of looking at life, said the Brooklyn, N.Y., native who represented Fort Bragg, N.C.

“You can’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” Rios said.

Sgt. 1st Class Julio Cesar Rodriguez, of Worcester, Mass, battles depression and an arthritic hip.

Participating in sports, like archery, gives you something to do and something else to focus on besides the darkness clouding your mind, said Rodriguez, who represented Fort Gordon, Ga.

“It taught me to remove those negative, dark items out of my mind and focus on the present and my way forward in the future,” he said.
MIGHTY TRENDING

Slovakia grounds fleet of soviet-made jets after crash

The Slovak Defense Ministry says a Soviet-made MiG-29 military jet from the country’s air force has crashed during a training flight.

The ministry says the pilot ejected before the crash that occurred late on Sept. 28, 2019, near the city of Nitra, about 100 kilometers east of Bratislava.

The ministry said the pilot was hospitalized in a stable and not-life-threatening condition.


Slovakia has grounded its fleet of MiG-29s until an investigation into the cause of the crash is completed.

Slovak Air Force MiG-29.

Slovakia signed a deal in 2018 to buy 14 F-16 military jets from the U.S.-based firm Lockheed Martin as it seeks to replace its aging Soviet-era jets.

The first of the F-16 warplanes are scheduled to be delivered to Slovakia by 2022.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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The controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay has existed longer than you think

Wikipedia


Early Tuesday morning, Obama announced a four-part plan to ensure the closing of Guantanamo Bay, a goal that has eluded the president since he promised to shutter the facility during his 2008 campaign.

The plan would bring some of the 91 remaining detainees to maximum security prisons in the United States, while others would be transferred to foreigns countries. Although Obama called on Congress to lift a ban barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S., the White House has also left open the possibility of unilateral action should Republican lawmakers refuse to cooperate.

“The plan we’re putting forward today isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo,” Obama said to the nation from the Roosevelt Room. “This is about closing a chapter in our history.”

With history in mind, it seems significant that the speech was given on this day, in this venue. Exactly 113 years ago, following the Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt signed an agreement with Cuba to lease parts of Guantanamo Bay to the United States for use as a naval station.

This agreement was actually a follow-up to the Platt Amendment, a 1901 resolution that dictated seven conditions for the withdrawal of United States troops from Cuba, along with an eighth condition stipulating that Cuba include these terms in their new constitution. The amendment gave the United States full control over a 45 square-mile portion of Guantanamo Bay, in order to “enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba.” The deal was officiated on behalf of the Cubans by Tomás Estrada Palma, an American citizen who would become the first president of Cuba.

A cartoon protesting the Platt Amendment | Wikipedia A cartoon protesting the Platt Amendment | Wikipedia

Three decades later, the 1934 Cuban–American Treaty of Relations repealed most provisions of the Platt Amendment as part of FDR’s “good neighbor policy.” The effort, ostensibly intended to give the Cuban government greater sovereignty, made the lease on Guantanamo permanent unless the United States abandoned the base or both countries agreed to terminate the agreement. The new treaty also updated the yearly lease payment from $2000 in U.S. gold coins to $4035 in U.S. dollars. This amount has remained unchanged in the 82 years since.

Since the Cuban revolution of 1959, the Castro government has cashed only one of these checks (this one supposedly by accident), keeping the rest untouched as a means of protest against what they consider an “illegal” occupation. According to the U.S., cashing even one check renders the treaty valid.

The use of Guantanamo as a prison began in 1991, following the overthrow of Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. While the CIA secretly leant support to death squads killing Aristide’s supporters, the White House announced that it would be using Guantanamo as a “tent shelter” for those fleeing violence in Haiti. Of the 30,000 refugees interned at Guantanamo, those who presented discipline problems were held on a site that would later become Camp Xray, also known as the Guantanamo detention camp.

Following Bush Sr.’s disputed decision to send the exiles back to war-torn Haiti, the Supreme Court ruled that the Haitians were not entitled to U.S. rights because Guantanamo Bay fell under the sovereignty of Cuba. Interestingly, this rationale for the United States not technically having sovereignty over the land would come up again, twelve years later, as George W. Bush’s administration argued that Guantanamo prisoners should not be constitutionally entitled to habeas review.

This is all to say that, even before it became an international symbol for the War on Terror, the policies leading to and enforcing the U.S. ownership of Guantanamo Bay have been extremely controversial. As renewed attention is focused on the use of Guantanamo as a terrorist detention center, it’s well worth considering how this small Cuban harbor became a U.S.-run prison in the first place.

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This machine gun could replace the legendary M2 .50 cal for ground units

The M2 .50 caliber machine gun has been a cornerstone of American military firepower for nearly 100 years. Its long range capability coupled with a heavy round combine for a devastating mixture on the battlefield — a weapon powerful enough to destroy a building or shoot down aircraft.


But for troops on the ground, the M2’s advantages come at a severe cost — namely weight. The typical M2 weighs in at a crushing 84 pounds, not to mention the weight of the ammunition itself (which is over 140 pounds for 500 linked rounds). That means despite the M2’s firepower, it’s not a man-portable weapon, requiring a heavy tripod for a mount that makes it more suitable for defensive positions and vehicle-mounted options.

A few years ago General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems proposed an alternative to the M2 and medium M240 chambered in an innovative new caliber. The company argued that its new machine gun came in at nearly 1/4 of the weight of the M2, but delivered a similar knockout punch to bad guys at .50 cal ranges.

Dubbed the “Lightweight Medium Machine Gun,” the new weapon is chambered in .338 Norma Magnum — a favorite of some precision shooters for its ability to reach out to targets at extended ranges while still having enough knockout power to take down the enemy.

While outside experts saw the capability as a game-changer, there really wasn’t any money available to add a major weapons program for ground forces at the time.

The .338 Norma Magnum has a maximum effective range close to the M2 .50 cal at a fraction of the overall weight. (Photo from General Dynamics OTS)

Now, five years later, the Army is in the market for ways to lighten its soldiers’ load and provide increased firepower with a smaller footprint. So there’s a renewed interest in the LWMMG program.

Weighing in at only 25 pounds, the General Dynamics-designed machine gun has a maximum effective range of more than 1,800 yards and can reach out as far as 6,000, according to company documents. The LWMMG in .338 NM has a lot of advantages over the current 7.62mm M240 machine gun as well, the company says.

The General Dynamics Lightweight Medium Machine Gun delivers a ballistic punch similar to an M2 .50 cal with less weight than the current M240. (Photo from General Dynamics Land Systems briefing documents)

“At 1,000 yards the LWMMG is capable of defeating Level III body armor and incapacitating soft skinned vehicles by delivering more than four times the terminal effects of the 7.62mm NATO cartridge,” General Dynamics documents say.

GD has also developed a new “Short Recoil Impulse Averaging” system that the company says delivers the same recoil as an M240 despite the larger .338 NM round.

Some argue that the increased weight of the .338 round cancels out the LWMMG’s advantages for dismounted troops, since 1,000 rounds of 7.62 weigh about as much as only 500 rounds of .338 NM. But new developments in polymer case technology could combine to make the new machine gun a lighter option overall than the M240 while delivering the killer punch at M2 ranges.

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

Federal judge just moved transgender military ban forward

A federal court ruled on March 7, 2019, that the Trump administration’s ban on transgender service members could take effect as courts continue to mull over the issue, bringing the administration even closer to enforcing the policy.

The decision comes after the US Supreme Court lifted two injunctions on the ban in January 2019 to allow it to go into effect. However, due to an injunction in the Maryland case of Stone v. Trump, which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of transgender plaintiffs who are either currently serving in the armed forces or plan to enlist, the ban was never fully implemented.


March 7, 2019’s ruling gives the administration another opportunity to move forward with a policy first proposed over Tweet by the president in July 2017. The ban, which was later officially released by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis in a 2018 memorandum, blocks anyone with a condition known as gender dysphoria from serving in the military. Mattis added that transgender individuals could remain in the military as long as they served “in their biological sex” and did not undergo gender-transition surgery.

The case in Maryland was filed days after the president ordered the Pentagon to not allow the recruitment of transgender people, The Washington Post reported.

In his order on March 7, 2019, US District Judge George Russell III ruled that “the Court is bound by the Supreme Court’s decision,” thereby revoking an earlier order he had issued to bar the administration from implementing the policy, according to The Post.

“I think it’s really disappointing that the government would take such an extreme position,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, told INSIDER. “That the government would say that [our plaintiffs] can’t complete the enlistment process is really unfair and causes a lot of unnecessary harm to people who have been trying to do nothing else but serve their country.”

A Department of Defense spokesperson told INSIDER that there is no timeline yet for when the policy will actually be implemented.

After the Supreme Court’s January 2019 ruling, which allowed the government to enforce the ban while the policy was decided in lower courts, the Department of Justice filed a motion to stay the injunction in Stone v. Trump, asking for an “expedited ruling,”according to The Daily Beast. BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner reported days later that the motion had been filed.

“Consistent with the Supreme Court’s recent action, we are pleased this procedural hurdle has been cleared,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Kelly Laco told INSIDER in a statement. “The Department of Defense will be able to implement personnel policies it determined necessary to best defend our nation as litigation continues.”

President Donald Trump.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Judge Russell’s order was one of four issued against the transgender military ban, according to the Washington Blade. Injunctions in cases filed in California and Washington state were lifted by the Supreme Court decision.

While the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit sided with Trump on the ban, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s injunction is still in place, the Blade explains.

Lawyers challenging the policy told The Washington Post that the injunction in the DC Circuit case remains for at least 21 days after the court issues its final signed ruling, and that the Court of Appeals has yet to act on that.

Block expressed similar sentiment, telling INSIDER that while March 7, 2019’s ruling is a setback, there is still that additional block on the ban that exists from that DC Circuit case.

“The government has been saying in its court files that this is the last injunction preventing them from implementing the plan, but that’s not actually correct,” he said. “Until the mandate from the DC Circuit is issued, it’s still in effect.”

In response to the Maryland court’s ruling, the Department of Defense spokesperson told INSIDER that, “the Department is pleased with the district court’s decision to stay the final injunction against the Department’s proposed policy.”

In terms of the Stone v. Trump lawsuit, Block said that the case is progressing and they are working tirelessly to prove that the ban is unconstitutional. “This is just the government trying to knock down whatever obstacles remain in the meantime,” he told INSIDER.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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27 photos of America’s biggest celebrities when they were in the military

For some of the biggest names in movies, television, and politics, their first big audition was for the United States military.


We collected the best photos we could find of celebrities in uniform that most are used to seeing on a red carpet or elsewhere. Here they are, along with their service branch and dates of service.

 

1. Drew Carey, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 1981-1987

2. Elvis Presley, U.S. Army, 1958-1960

3. Al Gore, U.S. Army, 1969-1971

4. Bea Arthur, U.S. Marine Corps Womens Reserve, 1943-1945

5. Bill Cosby, U.S. Navy, 1956-1960

6. Bob Ross, U.S. Air Force, 1961-1981

7. Chuck Norris, U.S. Air Force, 1958-1962

8. Dan Rather, U.S. Marine Corps, 1954 (was medically discharged shortly after his enlistment)

9. Ed McMahon, U.S. Marine Corps, 1941-1966

10. George Carlin, U.S. Air Force, 1954-1957

11. Hugh Hefner, U.S. Army, 1944-1946

12. Jackie Robinson, U.S. Army, 1942-1944

13. Jimi Hendrix, U.S. Army, 1961-1962

14. Jimmy Stewart, U.S. Army Air Force, 1941-1968

15. John Coltrane, U.S. Navy, 1945-1946

16. Johnny Cash, U.S. Air Force, 1950-1954

17. Kris Kristofferson, U.S. Army, 1960-1965

18. Kurt Vonnegut, U.S. Army, 1943-1945

19. Leonard Nimoy, U.S. Army Reserve, 1953-1955

20. Maynard James Keenan, U.S. Army, 1982-1984

21. Mel Brooks, U.S. Army, 1944-1946

22. Montel Williams, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, 1974-1980

 

23. Morgan Freeman, U.S. Air Force, 1955-1959

24. Paul Newman, U.S. Navy, 1943-1946

25. Rob Riggle, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 1990-2013

26. “Shaggy” (Orville Burrell), U.S. Marine Corps, 1988-1992

27. Tom Selleck, U.S. Army National Guard, 1967-1973

28. Adam Driver, U.S. Marine Corps, 2001-2003

MIGHTY TRENDING

The threatened Philippine war over trash would be hilarious

The Philippine president and authoritarian strongman Rodrigo Duterte has threatened war with Canada over a festering trash debacle. That would be an amazing overreach by the bombastic leader, and it would result in one of the most mismatched military engagements in modern history, if the two sides could even manage to hit each other in any real way.


Before we get into why the fight would be so funny, let’s just take a moment to say that there’s almost no chance that a war would break out. The whole argument centers over a mislabeled batch of trash that Canada paid to send to the Philippines. It was supposed to be filled with recyclables, but someone lied on the paperwork and filled it with municipal trash, including food and used diapers, instead.

That meant that it was hazardous waste, and there are all sorts of rules about shipping that stuff. Canada is working with diplomatic staff from the Philippines on how to bring the material back to Canada. But, for obvious reasons, the people on the islands are angry that Canadian trash has sat in the port for years as Canada tried to ship it back.

But the process is underway, Canada has said it will take the trash back, and there would be no good reason to go to war over the trash even if it was destined to stay there. But Duterte is not that logical of a leader, and he threatened war over the issue even though his staff was already working a fix. His military is, to put it mildly, not ready for that conflict.

Philippine Marines storm the shore during an exercise.

(Petty Officer 1st Class Nardel Gervacio)

First, let’s just look at what forces the two countries can bring to bear. Assuming that both countries were to meet at some unassuming, neutral field, Duterte would still struggle to even blacken Canada’s eye.

Canada is not the military power it once was, but it still has serious assets. Its military is comprised of about 94,000 personnel that operate 384 aircraft; about 2,240 tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery pieces; and 63 ships and boats including 12 frigates, 4 submarines, and 20 patrol vessels.

So, yeah, the top six state National Guards would outnumber them and have similar amounts of modern equipment, but Canada’s military is still nothing to scoff at.

The Philippines, on the other hand, has a larger but much less modern military. Its 305,000 troops operate only 171 aircraft of which zero are modern fighters, 834 armored vehicles and towed artillery pieces, and 39 patrol vessels that work with three frigates, 10 corvettes, and 67 auxiliary vessels.

So, you don’t want to get in a bar brawl with the Philippine military, but you’d probably be fine in a battle as long as you remembered to bring your airplanes and helicopters.

Canada has pretty good fighters, CF-18 Hornets based on America’s F/A-18 Hornet. So we would expect their unopposed fighter sweeps against Philippine forces to go well, allowing them to progress to hitting artillery pieces pretty quickly.

And Canadian ground forces, while small, are not filled with slouches. Their snipers are some of the best in the world, and their infantry gets the job done.

It sort of seems odd that Duterte thinks this would be a good idea. But, if war between two American allies seems scary to you, even if the closer ally is very likely to win, we have more good news for you.

There is essentially no way that Canada and the Philippines can effectively go to war against each other.

We’ll grant that the Republic of the Philippines Navy ship BRP Apolinario Mabini looks cool sailing in an exercise, but if it shows up off your shore, you just remove its batteries and wait it out.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark R. Alvarez)

The Philippines are the ones threatening the war, so they would most likely be the ones who would need to project their military across the Pacific.

They, charitably, do not have the ability to deploy significant numbers of their troops across the ocean to Canada, let alone to open a beachhead against Canadian defenders.

And if Canada decided to launch a preemptive strike against the Philippines after Duterte declared war, even it would be hard pressed to do so. Those 63 boats and ships Canada has? None of those are carriers or amphibious assault ships. None of them are designed to project significant force ashore.

And all of this is without getting into the fact that Canada is a member of NATO. No one in NATO really wants to go to war against the Philippines, but, in theory, Canada could invoke Article 5 and call on the rest of the alliance.

Since the world’s most powerful military is part of that alliance, NATO would probably win a larger war against the Philippines.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army’s new Futures Command will ‘determine victory or defeat’

In an empty office space on the 19th floor of a University of Texas System building in Austin, Aug. 24, 2018, the Army unveiled the location for the headquarters of its new Futures Command, which has the monumental task of modernizing the service’s future force.

For the first time, the Army will place a major command within an urban setting instead of on a military base. The goal is to bring itself closer to technology innovators and researchers in one of the nation’s top growing technology cities.


“We needed to immerse ourselves in an environment where innovation occurs, at speeds far faster than our current process allows,” said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper. “We searched for a location that had the right combination of top-tier academic talent, cutting edge industry and an innovative private sector.”

The Army announced in October 2017 its intent to create a new command that would be responsible for modernization. Initially, some 150 cities were considered as possibilities to house the new command’s headquarters. Eventually, that number was pared down to five, including Austin.

Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper spoke Aug. 24, 2018, in Austin, Texas, during activation of the Army Futures Command.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia)

Ultimately, Austin scored the highest among those remaining five cities. Criteria for the final selection included density of industry and academic talent and proximity to private sector innovation. Austin boasts a growing number of professionals in the science and tech industries and hosts academic institutions with thousands of graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career fields.

“Austin’s already a hub of innovation,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “And [it’s] a business-friendly environment … this will allow our military Department of Defense personnel access to the countless startups and emerging technology entrepreneurs already at work here.”

The Army Futures Command is tasked with, among other things, developing future warfighting concepts, generating innovative solutions through research and development, and building the next generation of combat systems.

Gen. John M. Murray, who served previously as the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-8, has been named director of the new command.

“Our Futures Command will have a singular focus: to make soldiers and leaders more effective and more lethal today and in the future,” said Murray. “This must be a team (effort). It’s about working together to ensure our soldiers have the capabilities they need when they need them, to deploy, fight and win on the modern battlefield against an incredibly lethal enemy.

Gen. Mike Murray, commander of Army Futures Command, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley unfurl the Army Futures Command flag during a ceremony, Aug. 24, 2018, in Austin, Texas.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia)

“We will bring the best talent we can — inside and outside the capital to address the Army’s most pressing problems,” Murray continued. “And deliver solutions at the speed of relevance — at the speed our soldiers deserve. For too long, we have focused on the cost schedule or performance. We must now focus on value.”

For now, the Army Futures Command will lead eight cross-functional teams that are responsible for furthering the Army’s pursuit of six modernization priorities, including long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities, and soldier lethality.

Army leadership said it will take about a year before Army Futures Command reaches full operational capability. The new command is expected to eventually include about 100 military positions and 400 civilian roles.

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley credited the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona with helping spur development of the new command. “He planted the seed,” Milley said.

The Army’s chief of staff said that the character of war is changing, and that private sector innovations in both robotics and artificial intelligence will eventually find their way onto battlefields in the hands of enemies. Army Futures Command will ensure U.S. soldiers also have the best technology.

“We know there’s a multitude of emerging technologies that are going to have, whether we like it or not, impact on the conduct of military operations,” Milley said. “It is this command … that is going to determine victory or defeat.”

Featured image: Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke Aug. 24, 2018, in Austin, Texas, during activation of the Army Futures Command.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

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A-10 vs. F-35 flyoff may begin next year

The future flyoff between the Cold War-era A-10 ground attack aircraft and the F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter will be “very interesting,” a general said.


The A-10 Thunderbolt II is set to go up against the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in a series of weapons tests as early as next year under a stipulation in the latest National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense policy and spending bill.

The legislation also prohibits retirement of the lumbering, low-flying, snub-nosed aircraft popularly known as the Warthog until the Air Force can prove the F-35’s ability to conduct close air support missions on the battlefield.

“It’ll be a very interesting test,” said Pleus, a former F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot who directs the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program’s integration office for the service.

F-35A (one of the three F-35 variant aircrafts) and its weapons suite. | Lockheed Martin photo

“The A-10 was built to deal with tanks in Europe,” he said. “A low, slow, big cannon on the front of it meant to destroy tanks and assist troops in contacts and do [close-air support]” a mission the aircraft has flown more recently in the Middle East against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Pleus added, “CAS is a mission, not an airplane.”

Related: Here’s how Boeing’s updated F/A-18 may compare to the F-35

The cannon the general referred to is the 30mm, seven-barrel GAU-8/A Avenger in the nose of the Warthog. The weapon can hold as many as 1,174 rounds and is configured to fire at a fixed rate of fire of 3,900 rounds per minute.

The F-35 also features a gatling gun, albeit a smaller and lighter one.

The GAU-22/A, a four-barrel version of the 25mm GAU-12/U Equalizer rotary cannon found on the Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harrier II jump set, is designed to be internally mounted on the Air Force’s F-35A version of the aircraft and hold 182 rounds. It’s slated to be externally mounted on the Marine Corps’ F-35B jump-jet variant and the Navy’s F-35C aircraft carrier version and hold 220 rounds.

Related: Watch the Marines’ F-35 fire an 80-round burst from its gun pod

“The A-10 is a great CAS platform in a no-threat environment,” Pleus said, adding it was never meant to be a fast, high-flying aircraft that could maneuver in a contested environment — like in current parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

US Air Force / WATM

The test between the A-10 and F-35 will be structured and certified by the Defense Department’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office, Pleus said. “That plan is something they are still developing” for the comparison testing “to start undergoing in 2018,” he said.

Citing his F-16 experience, Pleus said he would bet the A-10 comes out “as the better CAS platform” in a no-threat environment against the F-35, which performs similarly to the Fighting Falcon. But “as you now start to built the threat up, the A-10s won’t even enter the airspace before they get shot down — not even within 20 miles within the target.”

In that case, the F-35 would be the only aircraft left flying — even against more current versions of fighters.

Pleus said the argument isn’t over whether the A-10 has and can still perform close air support missions. The decision for Air Force leadership and lawmakers going forward, however, is how to distribute the resources to platforms that can do the mission, he said.

“Where are you getting your bang for your buck?” he said. “A single-platform A-10 that only does CAS and can’t do anything else and it has to be in an uncontested environment is probably not a realistic place for us to be continuing funding…for the future.”

The general continued, “If I were to develop that plan you have to show that the close air support is not just in a no-threat environment, because CAS is not always in a no-threat environment.

Pleus said, “When we get to the actual testing I think that’s where you’re going to see the differences.”

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The Army is offering $5K bonuses to join new training brigade

The U.S. Army is authorizing $5,000 bonuses to woo top-performing troops into a new training brigade as the service once famous for shouldering the burden of America’s wars works to meet the growing demand for advisers in places ranging from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan and Africa.


The plan recognizes the new reality of America at war: Army soldiers are more often training and building local security forces rather than doing the fighting for them on foreign soil. It replaces what has been a hodgepodge of programs over the past dozen years with projections for five new, permanent, fully-trained brigades that can be deployed around the world as professional advisers.

“It’s a recognition that this is an enduring requirement for the conventional Army,” Gen. Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Army Forces Command, told The Associated Press in an interview.

A Marine assigned to Task Force Taqaddum (TF TQ) advises and assists designated Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Anbar Province to enable ISF to degrade and defeat Da’esh (an Arabic acronym fro ISIL) and support the Mosul counterattack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Hutchinson/Released)

“Most times we’re falling in on existing institutions that are probably failing, and bringing them up to a certain competency level so they can secure themselves. And we’ve got to be able to do that on a large scale.”

The new program and its signing bonuses also illustrate how the Trump administration has endorsed the Obama administration’s emphasis on working “by, with and through” local forces.

That policy emerged from the deadly and tumultuous years after the 2003 Iraq invasion, when as many as 160,000 American troops were on the ground battling insurgents while struggling to transform a rag-tag mix of often ethnically-opposed Iraqi troops into a functioning fighting force.

U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011. Less than three years later, the Iraqi security forces largely collapsed as Islamic State militants seized control of large swaths of territory. U.S. troops then returned to Iraq, training, advising and enabling the Iraqis to oust IS from the country.

Also read: Here’s how the Army is assisting Iraqi forces in the fight for Mosul

The $5,000 bonus got final authorization on May 3 and is expected to be available beginning in June. The Army has chosen a colonel to lead the first training brigade and he will travel to a number of military posts in the coming weeks to recruit soldiers for the unit. Joining is strictly voluntary.

Since it’s a new program, Abrams acknowledged some soldiers may be reluctant to shift away from current career paths by taking a chance on something they fear may fail or lose support over time.

“There is natural apprehension in the field: ‘Is this a flash in the pan?’ It’s not a flash in the pan,” Abrams said. “The chief is committed and the Army senior leadership is committed, I’m committed. This is going to be an enduring capability.”

The challenge, he said, is getting mid-grade non-commissioned officers to sign up. That’s where the bonus will help.

Of the 529 soldiers in the brigade, 360 will be officers who don’t qualify for the bonus. The rest will be enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers who can earn the extra money.

The objective is to fix some problems created by the current training programs. In Iraq and Afghanistan, chunks of combat brigades have been deployed to serve as trainers and advisers to local forces, often leaving the remainder of their units back at home. Right now, for example, portions of three brigades are in Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers cross an intersection during a routine security patrol in downtown Tal Afar, Iraq (U.S. Navy photo)

“It separates the leaders from those they lead, and it degrades (unit) readiness significantly,” Abrams said, adding that Army leaders have expressed frustrations over breaking units apart to staff the mission.

The plan calls for a military assistance training academy to be created at Fort Benning, Georgia. About 90 civilian and military staff members are being recruited. The first class will begin in October.

Members of what is being called the new Security Force Assistance Brigade will go through a training course of six-to-eight weeks. Almost 200 will receive 16 weeks of intensive language instruction. Others will get an eight-week language course.

More reading: SEAL Team 6 is experimenting with sensory deprivation chambers to learn languages faster

The first brigade could be ready to deploy by the end of 2018, Abrams said, but there has been no decision on where they will go. Iraq and Afghanistan are the most likely locations, he said.

As more brigades are created, they would deploy to other areas of the world. While the Army initially conceived of one base in each geographical military command around the globe, it’s more likely they’ll simply be sent where most needed.

The Army will select soldiers for the second brigade in about a year. All five brigades will be created by 2022.

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These are the changes coming to US Army and Marine Corps infantry arsenals

The M16/M4 rifle platform, long the standard for the US Army and Marine Corps, could soon be set aside, as officials in both service branches are looking at new options for both weapons and ammunition.


Army researchers are reportedly looking at six different types of ammunition of “intermediate calibers,” according to Army Times.

Those calibers fall between the current 7.62 mm and 5.56 mm rounds and include the .260 Remington, the 6.5 Creedmoor, and the .264 USA, as well as other variants that aren’t available commercially, Army officials told the Times.

The search for alternatives for both weapons and ammo comes in response to concerns with the 5.56 mm round and about the M16 and the M4, which has been continuously upgraded and modified since being first introduced in the 1960s.

Related: This sniper rifle company is trying to lighten the M240 medium machine gun

The M16 and M4 and their variants continue to have problems with jamming, an issue the system has dealt with since its introduction. Improvements in body armor have lessened the lethality of the 5.56 round. Groups like ISIS have also made use of large rounds that outperform the US military’s ammo. (Russia is reportedly working on its own assault rifle using a 6.5 mm round.)

According to some research, Army firefights in Afghanistan, where the US has been engaged for more than 15 years, have mostly taken place at distances of more than 300 meters, or about 1,000 feet. At that range, the 5.56 mm round is far less lethal.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Branden Quintana, left, and Sgt. Cory Ballentine pull security with an M4 carbines on the roof of an Iraqi police station in Habaniyah, Anbar province, Iraq, July 13, 2011. Ballentine is a forward observer and Quintana is a platoon leader, both with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kissta Feldner/Released)

At least two studies presented to the US Army have pointed to rounds in the 6.5 mm to 7 mm range as better options.

“Right now the [M16/M4] platform we have is a workhorse and very effective in the hands of a trained soldier or Marine,” Maj. Jason Bohannon, the lethality branch chief at Fort Benning’s US Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, told Army Times.

Going forward, Bohannon said, the Army wouldn’t be able to get more out of the platform and would likely look for a new one.

A report last month from the Marine Corps Times also indicates the Corps is looking to replace the M4 carried by almost every infantry rifleman with the M27, the infantry automatic rifle first introduced in 2010 to replace the aging M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

Currently, each Marine Corps infantry fire team is equipped with one M27, carried by the automatic rifleman.

“Most Marines like it, and so do I,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Marine Corps Times in April, saying M27s have been “the most reliable, durable, and accurate weapons” carried by rifle squads.

Expanding the use of the M27 would be the most recent of several weapons changes.

In late 2015, Neller approved the move from the M16 to the M4 carbine as the primary weapon for Marine Corps infantry. About a year later, the Corps started testing the M27 infantry assault rifle, which offered a longer effective range, better firing, and more resistance to wear.

A senior Marine officer noted the M27’s rate of fire as a point of concern, suggesting the weapon, which carries 30 rounds and can be fired in full-automatic mode, could lend itself to ammo overuse. (Both the M4 and the M27 use the 5.56 mm round, and the US and NATO militaries have an abundance of that caliber stockpiled.)

One drawback to the M27 is the cost of the rifle, which is produced by German gunmaker Heckler Koch and runs about $3,000. The M4, built by Colt Defense and FN America costs less than $1,000.

Outfitting the 11,000 Marines — members of companies and fire teams, but not squad or platoon leaders — who would get the M27 under the new plan would cost roughly $33 million, though a Marine Corps official told the Marine Corps Times that cost was not a primary concern during the evaluation process, and the price may change as the Corps continues to inquire with weapons makers.

“I am considering it,” Neller told the Marine Corps Times of the possible change, “but we have to balance improved capabilities and increased lethality with cost.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Tehran says missing former FBI agent left Iran ‘long ago’

Tehran says that Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, left the country “long ago” and doesn’t know where he is, rejecting a claim by his family saying he died in Iranian custody.

“Based on credible evidence, [Levinson] left Iran years ago for an unknown destination,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said in a statement on March 26.


He added that officials had done everything possible to find out what happened after Levinson left Iran but had found “no evidence of him being alive.”

“Iran has always maintained that its officials have no knowledge of Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts, and that he is not in Iranian custody. Those facts have not changed,” added Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for the Iranian mission at the United Nations.

The Iranian comments come in response to a White House statement saying that the U.S. administration believed Bob Levinson may have passed away “some time ago.”

“Iran must provide a complete accounting of what occurred with Bob Levinson before the United States can fully accept what happened in this case,” White House national-security adviser Robert O’Brien said in a statement about the American, who disappeared in Iran 13 years ago, when he was 58.

Before that statement, Levinson’s family posted on social media that it had received word about his likely fate from the U.S. government.

“We recently received information from U.S. officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody,” the Levinson family said in a statement.

“We don’t know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.

Following the family’s announcement and before O’Brien’s comments, President Donald Trump told reporters that “I won’t accept that he’s dead.”

Levinson had been “sick for a long time” before he was detained, Trump said, adding that he felt “terribly” for the family but still had some hope that Levinson was alive.

“It’s not looking great, but I won’t accept that he” dead. They haven’t told us that he’s dead, but a lot of people are thinking that that’s the case,” he said.

Levinson disappeared when he traveled to the Iranian resort of Kish Island in March 2007. He was working for the CIA as a contractor at the time.

The United States has repeatedly called on Iran to help locate Levinson and bring him home, but Iranian officials said they had no information about his fate.

However, when he disappeared, an Iranian government-linked media outlet broadcast a story saying he was “in the hands of Iranian security forces.”

The Levinson family said he would be alive today “if not for the cruel, heartless actions of the Iranian regime.”

“How those responsible in Iran could do this to a human being, while repeatedly lying to the world all this time, is incomprehensible to us. They kidnapped a foreign citizen and denied him any basic human rights, and his blood is on their hands,” the statement added.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

The 7 people you meet in basic training

1. Baby-Faced Bryan

Photo: playbuzz.com


Congratulations, you’ve just become a parent. In order to survive basic training, you must now not only cover your own ass, but watch out for this guy’s as well. Because if you don’t, your platoon is going to get slapped with mass punishment, and no one wants that. Bryan somehow managed to make it through his young life without developing skills of any kind. He’s the kind of guy who hesitates when you ask him how to spell his own name.

You will watch him struggle to make his bed with his gangly 18-year-old arms and be torn between the desire to help him or to strangle him with his own sheets. But you will help Bryan, because he needs you. And because if you don’t, he will forget his kit, wear white socks to inspection, and make your life a living hell. And who knows, maybe after a few days he’ll start to pick up on things. Totally kidding — you’re probably  stuck with this kid for the long haul.

Something Bryan might say: “Hey … hey guys? Can somebody show me how to shave?”

2. Renaissance Richard

The antithesis of Baby-Faced Bryan, Renaissance Richard is a super-smart, talented, and accomplished guy. Unfortunately for you, this also makes him a bit of an annoying a–hole. Richard is usually around 30, and he won’t let you forget how he managed to be the valedictorian at his private college, build his own house, and become a brain surgeon in the time between high school graduation and now.

Richard can do anything — except keep his mouth shut. He’s the guy who makes a big show of “helping” recruits, and letting everyone know how he would do something. No one asked you, Richard. He’s also notorious for crashing your conversations so he can chime in on things like his opinions on Syria, when all you were discussing is what’s for dinner. Rich is a fine recruit, but your drill sergeant will hate him. Why? The same reason you do: he’s a pretentious a–hole. Nobody wants to work with someone who can’t accept rank and needs his ego stroked.

Something Richard might say: “Sure it would be interesting to invade Easter Island, but you need to consider the political ramifications … ”

3.  The Dreamer

Photo: Black Hawk Down

The Dreamer has wanted to join the military since he first saw “Saving Private Ryan” at an elementary school sleepover. He dreams of not only becoming a great soldier, but the greatest soldier America — and the world — has ever seen. Just a teenager, he’s the guy who gets too distracted by his daydream of running through battle in slow-motion to shine his shoes, and can be heard quoting “Top Gun” and “Band of Brothers” in the DFAC.

The Dreamer’s all talk, and has no real-world experience when it comes to surviving anything more than a Hot Pocket shortage. Because of this, he will often take on tasks that are way too much for him to handle, bringing down your drill sergeant’s wrath on all of you when he fails. Think of him as Baby-Faced Bryan’s annoying half-brother. Eventually he should focus a little more on the task at hand instead of his “military destiny,” but until then you’ll just have to tune him out.

4. Shady Steve

Steve’s a little older than some of the guys in basic training, but you’re never positive what this dude’s age is — and that’s just the way Steve likes it. When pressed about his past, his stories never quite match up, leaving you wondering just what is true (hold up, did he say that he was a parole officer, or was he talking about his own parole?).

You don’t know him at all, but he just seems like the type of guy who decided to enlist because his meth ring went south. One thing you do know for sure is the fact that any outing with Steve quickly devolves into “Hangover”-level catastrophe, so you better steer clear of that. He’s not a bad trainee. And he’s probably not a bad guy — but he’s got your drill sergeant keeping an eye on him, so you probably should too.

5. The Old Dude

This salt and pepper recruit may not actually be that old by civilian standards, but 34 is pretty ancient in basic. And since it took a colonel to approve his age waiver, maybe he should have just stayed home and played Risk instead. Whether he enlisted because the Army’s his last chance to retire before 65 or because of a mid-life crisis is anyone’s guess, but don’t write this guy off right away.

The Old Dude is usually in surprisingly great shape, and that’s because he’s old school. While most of the recruits in their twenties have spent their pre-military lives playing Call of Duty and chowing down on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, he’s been downing raw eggs for breakfast and running five miles a day. Also, The Old Dude has lived a lot longer than you — he’s seen things, and he’s wiser for it. When you need some advice or perspective on life, he’s the person you’ll want to turn to.

6. Gun-Happy Garret

Garret is a simple man. He joined the military because it allowed him to pursue his three passions: shooting, chewing dip, and spitting. Garret does not know that tobacco isn’t allowed in basic. He is furious when he finds out. Garret barely managed to complete his GED, and it shows. You are not confident that he can spell America, and are terrified of the day this neanderthal gets his hands on an automatic weapon.

To your surprise, however, Garret is actually kind of a genius when it comes to weapons. He can disassemble and reassemble his weapon with his eyes closed. He can tell you every part of his rifle and how it works, and help you with your own. Your rifle will never shine quite like his does. He is a weapons savant, and you start to wonder if there’s more to Garret than meets the eye. Trust us, there isn’t. He’s the best mark in the platoon because he spent his childhood shooting mice and raccoons behind a trailer park, not because he’s the chosen one.

 7. The Blue Falcon

This guy. This guy is the absolute worst. If you could combine a weasel and that stoner kid from your Spanish class who would constantly beg you for test answers, you’d have something close to a Blue Falcon. The Blue Falcon of your platoon is lazy, disloyal, and just a textbook pain in the ass. Can’t find your extra pair of socks? Did part of someone’s kit go missing? Check the Blue Falcon’s nest. And God forbid you screw up in front of this guy — he’ll rat you out to your drill sergeant faster than you’ll know what’s happening.

The Blue Falcon’s sneaky, so it sometimes takes a while to know who yours will be. But every unit has one, and they will become the bane of your existence.

Something The Blue Falcon would say: “First sergeant, first sergeant! Private Snuffy is … ”

Associate Editor David Nye contributed to this article.