During the spring of 2003, the first medivacs were returning to Camp Pendleton from the battlefield of Iraq. Karen Guenther, a Marine Corps spouse who’s husband was deployed at the time, was working at the Naval Hospital on Camp Pendleton, and saw firsthand the needs of the wounded arriving there.
Guenther immediately realized most of them were in need of basic health and comfort items, so she enlisted the help of some fellow military spouses and began assembling “welcome bags” full of toiletries, phone cards, and other items intended to make life better for the wounded Marines.
“We went out to local churches and Boy Scouts and had everybody help,” said Wendy Lethin, one of the first to join Guenther’s effort. “Everybody was very generous, but we realized there was much more than welcome bags needed.”
During this same time, the spouses learned of parents of wounded Marines sleeping in their cars while visiting hospitals because they could not afford to stay at local hospitals, and they also helped to provide an adapted vehicle to a Marine whose wife was having difficulty lifting him into their truck
“That was kind of the idea for the Semper Fi Fund,” Lethin said.
Guenther gathered her group of spouses around her kitchen table in her house aboard Camp Pendleton and started brainstorming what they should do to get their collective arms around all of the needs that they saw rapidly emerging. They researched existing non-profits and were surprised that there didn’t seem to be any that were doing what they had in mind.
“We had the right group at the right time,” Lethin said. “We read all kinds of books on non profits and did our research. And we agreed to the ideals and tenants of the organization that still guide us today.”
As stated on the Semper Fi Fund’s website, the organization’s mission is to provide immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 wounded, critically ill and injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their families, ensuring that they have the resources they need during their recovery and transition back to their communities.
The Fund’s first official donation came for the Lighthouse Christian Church in Oceanside, California. The entire donation was given to the first three wounded Marines referred by the hospital with the thought that even if that was all that was raised it would at least help those three and their families at a difficult time in their recovery. Little did the organizers realize that that donation would be the first of many.
In the 12 years since the Semper Fi Fund has transformed the lives of thousands of wounded service members and their families. The Fund now has a dedicated staff supplemented by hundreds of volunteers around the world.
“I’m proud of what we do and how we do it,” Lethin said. “It’s a sacred duty to be able to do what we do.”
The Fund’s next major event is the “InVETational,” a charity golf tournament hosted by comedian and actor Rob Riggle (who, among other roles, is currently playing Col. Sanders in KFC commercials). Riggle is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who served as a public affairs officer in Afghanistan. The tournament will take place at Valencia Country Club in Los Angeles on Dec. 5.
“We are so excited that Rob is doing this for the Semper Fi Fund,” Lethin said. “He has the heart of our mission. He’s a Marine who knows the power and good of what we do.”
“I was so pissed off I went to DEFCON 5” or a similar phrase in the lexicon means you are at the highest level of anger, but it doesn’t make any sense when you explore what DEFCON really means.
DEFCON, the shortened-version of “Defense Readiness Condition,” is a five-level scale of alert status that the U.S. uses to determine nuclear readiness. In essence, the number next to DEFCON tells everyone how close we are to getting into a nuclear shooting war.
So where did it come from?
The need for DEFCON came from the Cold War. In 1958, with the U.S. pointing all of its nukes at Moscow — and Russia doing exactly the same back at Washington — the Air Force created the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to provide early warning and defense against nuclear threats.
Though it has somewhat changed over time, the DEFCON system was proposed by NORAD in 1959. It created a system of “five different alert levels with detailed, if ambiguous, descriptions and expected actions by military forces at each threat level,” according to the Encyclopedia of the Cold War.
The levels are primarily used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff or commanders of joint commands, and can be in force military-wide, though they are usually only applied to specific units. But unlike the saying of “going to DEFCON 5,” the worst possibility is at level one.
What are the levels and what do they mean?
There are five DEFCON levels, which signify varying conditions of readiness. They are:
DEFCON 5: Normal peacetime readiness. All is calm, the skies are blue, and we aren’t even thinking about nukes.
DEFCON 4: Above normal readiness. The U.S. slightly increases intelligence and strengthens security measures.
DEFCON 3: Air Force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes. There’s an increase in force readiness above normal readiness and things are heating up. Troops start fueling up missiles and bomber crews are getting ready.
DEFCON 2: Air Force is ready to deploy and engage in less than six hours. Things are getting really serious and we are one step away from pushing the button. The missiles are ready to go and waiting on the order, and bomber crews are in the air near their targets.
DEFCON 1: Maximum readiness. Nuclear war is imminent, so you should probably get into the bunker.
Have we ever gone to DEFCON 1?
Nope, but we came pretty close.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. Strategic Air Command was placed at DEFCON 2 while the rest of the military was at DEFCON 3. What that meant for military units: On Oct. 22, 1962 SAC ordered its B-52 bombers on airborne alert. Then as tension grew over the next day, SAC was ordered to remain ready to strike targets inside of the Soviet Union.
“Pilots flew these nuclear laden airborne alerts, commonly known as Chrome Dome missions, for 24 hours before another air crew assumed the same flight route,” wrote Air Force journalist Stephanie Ritter. “Chrome Dome ensured that a percentage of SAC bombers could survive an enemy surprise attack and that the U.S. could retaliate against the Soviets. At the height of the air alerts, SAC produced 75 B-52 sorties a day.”
In addition to the flying sorties, more than 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles were placed on alert, waiting for the president’s order to launch. Luckily that didn’t happen.
U.S. forces were brought back to DEFCON 4 on Nov. 20, 1962. Though it has been placed at DEFCON 3 a few other times, the only known readiness level of 2 was during the missile crisis.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, military surplus gear is like a box of chocolates — you never know what’s inside until you open it up and look.
For one lucky buyer, Nick Mead, who owns a tank-driving experience business in the United Kingdom, a $38,000 purchase of a Chinese-built Type 69 main battle tank off of eBay was a bargain, since he scored $2,592,010 of gold that had been hidden in the vehicle’s diesel tank! That represents a net profit of over $2.55 million.
According to militaryfactory.com, a battle-ready Type 69 main battle tank is armed with a 100mm gun, a 7.62mm machine gun, and can be equipped with a 12.7mm machine gun. The tank has a crew of four. Over 4,700 of these tanks were produced by China.
But this tank, while produced by China, was exported to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Saddam bought as many as 2,500 Type 59 and Type 69 tanks. While many were destroyed during Operation Desert Storm, this one survived the BRRRRRT!
The tank is believed to have also taken part in the original invasion of Kuwait. During the occupation of that country, Iraqi forces looted just about everything that wasn’t blasted apart. That included gold and other valuables.
Mead discovered the gold when checking out the tank after he’d been told by the tank’s previous owner that he’s discovered some machine-gun ammo on board. Mead then discovered the gold hidden in the fuel tank.
Currently the five bars of gold, each weighing about 12 pounds, are in police custody as they try to trace the original owners.
North Korea says its seriously considering a plan to fire nuclear-capable missiles at Guam, according to state-run media.
A spokesman for North Korea’s military told KCNA that it would carry out a pre-emptive operation if there were signs of US provocation.
The warning comes after President Donald Trump warned North Korea it would be met with “fire and fury” if it continued to threaten the US in a marked escalation of rhetoric.
The statement from North Korea mentioned using the Hwasong-12, the intermediate range missile tested in May. North Korea said at the time the missile can carry a heavy nuclear warhead, and independent analysis seems to fit with their statement.
The US military keeps a continuous presence of nuclear-capable bombers in Guam, which would make it an attractive target for a nuclear strike. North Korea specifically mentioned these bombers “which get on the nerves of DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above Korea.”
CNN’s Jim Sciutto says that the US flew two B1-B bombers over Korean Peninsula Mon out of Anderson AFB in Guam, part of “continuous bomber presence.”
But the US maintains a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile interceptor in Guam specifically made to protect from medium-range missiles. THAAD has performed well in test conditions but never intercepted a shot fired in anger.
Earlier, Pyongyang said it was ready to give Washington a “severe lesson” with its strategic nuclear force in response to any US military action.
Lockheed Martin’s mysterious “Skunk Works” experimental division has become famous for game-changing aerospace breakthroughs. The SR-71 Blackbird; the F-117 Nighthawk; the U-2 Dragon Lady; and the F-80 Shooting Star all were pioneering designs that came from this legend of research and development.
Now, joining those game-changing planes could be the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System, or ARES.
According to BreakingDefense.com, ARES is a joint product between the Skunk Works and Piasecki Aircraft, an aerospace company out of Pennsylvania. The prototype tiltrotor drone, which features a 41-foot wingspan, a combat radius of 175 miles, and a top speed of 170 knots, is slated to take flight sometime next year.
One other item of note is that the smaller payload will actually increase the tactical mobility of deployed troops.
“You could take a big Chinook or a [CH-53] and very efficiently drop 10,000 lbs. of stuff on a small unit, but then they’re no longer mobile,” Piasecki Aircraft CEO John Piasecki, told BreakingDefense.com, comparing the new logistics model that ARES could bring about to ordering products online using a smart phone. The Piasecki Aviation website on ARES notes that larger versions of the ARES could be designed, along with versions capable of operating off of ships.
ARES is not the only game-changer that could take flight next year. Bell Helicopter is introducing a pair of tiltrotors — the V-280 Valor and the V-247 Vigilant. The former is a manned tilt-rotor seen as a potential replacement for the UH-60 Blackhawk and the AH-64 Apache that has a crew of four and can carry 14 troops. The latter is an unmanned aerial vehicle that could see applications for the Marine Corps and the Navy.
Boeing and Sikorsky have teamed up to produce the SB-1 Defiant as a competitor to the V-280. The Defiant is based on the X2 prototype and the S-97 Raider, and features a pair of contra-rotating rotors on top and a pusher propeller that provide increased speed and range compared to conventional helicopters.
Compared to these protoypes, the H-13 Sioux helicopters seen delivering wounded personnel to the 4077th in the opening credits of M*A*S*H could very well look like a Sopwith Camel placed next to a F-16.
The U.S. Army continues to test a lightweight tracked vehicle known as Ripsaw that’s now being pitched to the consumer market as a “luxury super tank.”
A handful of the Ripsaw Extreme Vehicle 2, or EV2, products made by Howe and Howe Technologies Inc., based in Waterboro, Maine, are undergoing evaluations at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey to assess how they could be used in future combat operations. Indeed, on Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, head of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, rode in one of the vehicles with a driver as part of a demonstration.
The company describes the 750-horsepower, optionally manned vehicle — which is capable of reaching speeds of almost 100 miles per hour and costs roughly $250,000 — as a “handcrafted, limited-run, high-end, luxury super tank developed for the public and extreme off road recreation.”
For one, it’s too light. At 9,000 pounds, the EV2 is closer in size to the Humvee than a tank. For example, the Army’s M1A2 Abrams main battle tank tips the scales at more than 70 tons. Indeed, the Ripsaw isn’t even in the same weight class as an M1126 Stryker Combat Vehicle or M2/M3 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
Also, it doesn’t carry the same firepower. The EV2 is designed to accommodate the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, which can mount any number of weapons — including the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, Mk19 40mm automatic grenade machine gun, M240B 7.62 mm machine gun and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. By comparison, the M1A2 tank’s main armament is the 120mm L/44 M256A1 smoothbore tank gun.
Finally, it doesn’t have any armor to speak of, just an aluminum frame with gull-wing doors. So it’s really more of a tracked DeLorean than a tank (see picture below).
Even so, the manufacturer says the Ripsaw is the “fastest dual tracked vehicle ever developed.”
And that may be why, several years after the vehicle was featured in “Popular Science” magazine in 2009, the Army remains interested in seeing how it might incorporate the EV2 into its combat formations. The service has tested the technology for at least a year — a soldier in 2016 operated a Ripsaw from a M113 Armored Personnel Carrier trailing a kilometer away, according to a press release at the time.
Here at Military.com, we’re fascinated by the technology and reaching out to the Army to learn more about how officials are evaluating this slick ride, which is almost guaranteed to get more popular in the months and years ahead.
That could be the response from more Marines and even other military service members of this Millennial generation, as fewer troops are claiming a religion than those of previous decades.
Earlier this month, Gen. Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, issued an all-hands message to encourage his men and women and Navy sailors assigned to their units to take note of their own “spiritual fitness.”
“During this time, I ask each of you to reflect on what you and the Marines and sailors you lead are doing to achieve and maintain an optimal level of strength and resilience. Your leaders and chaplains at all levels stand ready to engage with you in this task,” Neller, a veteran infantry officer entering his second year as the service’s top general officer, wrote in the Oct. 3 message. “By attending to spiritual fitness with the same rigor given to physical, social and mental fitness, Marines and sailors can become and remain the honorable warriors and model citizens our nation expects.”
The general’s mention of honorable warriors and model citizens – most Marines serve four to eight years and then return to civilian life – harkens to a generation ago. In the 1990s — with a military facing force cuts, ethical scandals and retention concerns — then-commandant Gen. Charles Krulak often spoke with Marines about the importance of integrity, having a “moral compass” and courage to do the right thing.
It wasn’t specifically directed at religion or spirituality but took a broad, holistic approach at building better “citizen-soldiers.”
In this generation, will that challenge to look inward at their spirituality, however they define it to be, resonate with Millennial Marines? And, if so, how?
If religious affiliation is any measure of that, military leaders might well be worried.
Last year, the Pew Research Center found that fewer Americans were identifying as religious. In its 2014 Religious Landscape Survey, the Pew Research Center found that 70.6 percent of Americans identified with a Christian-based religion, with “Evangelical Protestant,” “Catholic” and “Mainline Protestant” the top groups. Almost 6 percent claimed non-Christian faiths – Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu, for example.
But almost 23 percent in the survey of 35,000 Americans said they were unaffiliated – known as “nones” – or nonbelievers, and 15.8 percent of them claimed no ties even to agnostics or atheists. That was a significant change from 2007, when 16 percent identified as “nones.”
The biggest group, 35 percent, among “nones” are Millennials, considered those born between 1981 and 1996, and “nones” as a whole “are getting even younger,” Pew found. It’s also an age group — 20 to 35 — that’s well represented within the military services.
So how will today’s Marines receive this latest message?
The Marine Corps hasn’t detailed just what the push for spiritual fitness will entail, but it’s described as part of leadership development and a holistic approach to overall fitness along with physical, mental and social wellness. The service’s deputy chaplain, Navy Capt. William Kennedy, said it wasn’t a program but “an engagement strategy to enable leaders at every level to communicate the importance of faith, values and moral living inside the Marine Corps culture of fitness.”
“Spiritual fitness is for everyone,” Kennedy said in an email response to WATM. “Every Marine has a position on matters of spirituality, belief in a higher being and religion. The individual Marine chooses if and how they will grow in spiritual fitness, enabling them to fulfill their duties successfully while deployed and in garrison.”
Scott said the Navy’s top chaplain Rear Adm. Brent Scott sent a letter to all Marine Corps’ chaplains, challenging them to “engage their commanders and the Marine Corps in conversations on spiritual fitness.”
A non-profit group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has criticized the Corps’ plan as an attempt to push religious, if not Christian, values on all Marines.
Mikey Weinstein, the group’s founder and president and a former Air Force lawyer, has threatened to sue the Marine Corps to stop it from mandating spiritual fitness training for every Marine rather than having it be voluntary. Weinstein told Military.com last week that the service’s plan to include spiritual fitness with some training and education courses is “nothing more than a Trojan Horse for fundamentalist Christians to proselytize to a captive audience.”
“If they call this ‘mental fitness,’ that’s great,” Weinstein told WATM. But while Marines are regularly tested in physical fitness and military proficiency, he said, “who gets to decide what Marines are spiritually fit?”
While troops can be required to sit through legal discussions with a judge advocate or medical training with medics, they can’t be required to attend teachings or preaching by unit chaplains, he said, citing separation of church and state. If the Marine Corps sets mandatory lectures, testing or measuring tools or classes that discuss things like faith or “a higher power,” for example, that will push it into religious beliefs and violate the constitutional prohibition against religious tests, Weinstein said.
“If they do it, they’ll be in court,” he said.
In 2010, MRFF threatened to sue the Army when it pushed out a similar assessment program on spiritual fitness for soldiers, and Weinstein said the service eventually revised it.
But “spiritual fitness” remains a popular concept around the military — a phrase that might seem to avoid any specific religion to many but still retains an element of a belief. The Air Force considers it one of its comprehensive fitness pillars, along with mental, physical and social. And spiritual fitness is often mentioned in programs to help build resiliency among troops, including those grappling with combat or post-traumatic stress and even in programs to strengthen relationships among military couples and families.
Navy chaplain Kennedy described spirituality generally as something “that gives meaning and purpose in life.” It also might “refer to the practice of a philosophy, religion or way of living,” he said. “For some this is expressed in commitment to family, institution or esprit de corps. For others, it may apply to application of faith.”
Military chaplains have the duty to advise commanders and service members on “spiritual matters.” They “are required to perform faith-specific ministries that do not conflict with the tenets or faith requirements of their religious organizations. Additionally, chaplains are required to provide or facilitate religious support, pastoral care and spiritual wellness to all service members, regardless of religious affiliation,” according to a July 2015 Defense Department Inspector General report on “rights of conscience protections” for troops and chaplains.
Weinstein, who said he’s Jewish but “not that religious,” said his group isn’t anti-religion and counts 48,000 active-duty troops among its members, with 98 percent who affiliate with a religion. Many supporters don’t want the military services telling them what or whether to believe, he said, adding that “thousands of military people [say] that’s my personal business.”
But is spiritual fitness inherently a part of something religious, or is it separate from a religious belief?
It may depend on who is defining it. A spiritual fitness guide briefing slide by the U.S. Navy Chaplains Corps, whose members advise Navy and Marine Corps units, describes spiritual fitness this way: “A term used to capture a person’s overall spiritual health and reflects how spirituality may help one cope with and enjoy life. Spirituality may be used generally to refer to that which gives meaning and purpose in life. The term may be used more specifically to refer to the practice of a philosophy, religion or way of living.”
Would having no religious affiliation or belief render one without spirituality? For some Leathernecks, the Marine Corps itself is like a religion, with its own spirituality that “non-believers” – like POGs or people-other-than-grunts – can’t understand.
The Marines’ own institutional bible, so-to-speak, the warfighting publication “Leading Marines,” stated in its 1995 edition: “This manual is based on the firm belief that, as others have said in countless ways, our Corps embodies the spirit and essence of those who have gone before. It is about the belief, shared by all Marines, that there is no higher calling than that of a United States Marine.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to correct attribution from the Marine Corps Deputy Chaplain.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Sailors spell out #USA with the American flag on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in honor of the nation’s upcoming Independence Day weekend.
Sailors run after chocks and chaining an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced) on the flight deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48).
Marines assigned to Force Reconnaissance Platoon, Maritime Raid Force, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepare to conduct a high altitude high opening (HAHO) jump from a CH-53 Super Stallion during category 3 sustainment training in Louisburg, North Carolina.
Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, watch the sunset as the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima sails through the Suez Canal.
An F-22 Raptor from the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 199th Fighter Squadron increases altitude shortly after takeoff at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
U.S. Airmen assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron Armament Flight perform an inspection on an F-16 Fighting Falcon 20mm Gatlin gun at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
Soldiers, assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo, help load a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter onto a United States Air Force C-17 at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, for transport to Fort Bragg, N.C.
A Soldier, assigned to 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, conducts explosives-detection and bite training with his working dog, Andy, on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
Soldiers, assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, conduct a patrol during Exercise Marne Focus at Fort Stewart, Ga.
U.S. airstrikes and special operations raids killed more than 35 ISIS military commanders in the run up to the Mosul offensive, which is proceeding according to plan, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday.
Carter also joined with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in stressing that the anti-ISIS campaign in Syria will be accelerated to encircle and then retake the self-proclaimed ISIS capital of Raqqa in northeastern Syria, in concert with the Mosul offensive.
Last week, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, made similar remarks on a coordinated campaign against both Mosul and Raqqa. Votel stressed the “simultaneous application of pressure” on Raqqa and Mosul.
In opening remarks at an anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Paris, Carter said that the U.S. had been steadily targeting the Islamic State leadership in and around Mosul, “including many of the highest in the last 90 days. In fact, you might say the most dangerous job in Iraq right now is to be the military emir of Mosul.”
The efforts focused on “mid-tier leaders, which our special operations forces and our air forces have done remarkably well. We have caused a lot of confusion in the ranks of the defenders in Mosul by targeting a lot of mid-tier leaders there,” Carter said.
The strikes against the leadership “are going to pay off in the coming weeks” in the Mosul offensive as the Iraqi Security Forces press into the city itself, he said.
Carter said he expects to see moves against Raqqa to commence even as the advance on Mosul continues. “We want to see isolation operations begin, oriented at Raqqa, as soon as possible. We’re working with our partners there to do that, and so there will be some simultaneity to these two operations. We’ve long anticipated that.”
Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, overall commander of U.S. and allied efforts in Iraq and Syria as commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, was on board with the need to pressure ISIS in both Mosul and Raqqa, Carter said.
“While Mosul may be in the headlines, it’s not the only operation underway,” Carter said. He noted that Army Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas III, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, joined the anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Paris, which also focused on protecting Europe and the U.S. against the ISIS terror threat once Mosul and Raqqa have fallen.
Thomas has been put in charge of preventing ISIS’ “external operations,” Carter said. “That’s another critical issue that we’ll discuss today — our ongoing and intensive efforts to counter ISIL’s external operations,” he said, using another acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“We are killing the ISIL terrorists who plot and would carry out such operations, impeding their movement across borders, and hindering their ability to use the Internet to spread ISIL’s hateful ideology,” he said.
Carter would not rule out that more U.S. and coalition troops might have to be deployed to the region to prevent an ISIS resurgence. He said that more trainers and advisers would be needed to prepare the Iraqis for a continuing counter-insurgency effort against ISIS and to train more Iraqi police and border control personnel.
Both Carter and Le Drian said that the Mosul operation is generally proceeding according to plan. “And while we know it will continue to be a tough fight — indeed, we’ll probably see more resistance as the fight goes on, and almost certainly as our partners approach the core of the city — I’m confident the Iraqi Security Forces will succeed,” Carter said.
On the outskirts of Mosul on Tuesday, Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service units advanced to within two miles of the eastern city limits after pushing through the Christian town of Bartella and paused to allow other forces to move into place, Reuters reported.
At the Pentagon on Monday, U.S. military officials said that the advancing force consisted of about 20,000 Iraqi Security Forces and about 15,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. ISIS is estimated to have 3,000 to 5,000 fighters to defend the city where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the creation of a “caliphate” in June 2014.
During the George H. W. Bush Administration, the Navy and Marine Corps were pursuing two revolutionary aircraft. One was the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor intended to replace the CH-46 Sea Knight. The other was the A-12 Avenger, the planned replacement for the A-6 Intruder, the classic attack airplane made famous in the book and movie Flight of the Intruder.
Early on in the first Bush Administration, the Berlin Wall fell, thanks in no small part due to the Reagan defense build-up and more covert efforts (Peter Schweizer’s Victory tells that tale). For the world, the collapse of communism was a good thing. But for the V-22 and A-12, things started to get rough, as a “peace dividend” was eyed by politicians inside the Beltway. Then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney soon put both aircraft projects on the chopping block — the V-22 because of developmental test failures that resulted in several high-profile mishaps, and the A-12 for massive cost overruns well before a single airframe was ready to launch.
Congress acted to save the V-22 (over Cheney’s objections). The Marines then stuck with the plane during a lengthy RD effort. What the Marines got as a result of that decision was a game-changer, particularly when compared to the CH-46 Sea Knight, as the included graphic from the Government Accountability Office shows. The V-22 can carry half of a Marine infantry platoon almost 400 miles from its base at speeds of up to 275 knots. Compare that to the CH-46E’s 184-mile combat radius, and top speed of 166 miles per hour, and the fact it could carry only a third of a Marine infantry platoon.
Marines found the V-22 to be effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Air Force Special Operations Command proved their version’s mettle in a raid against ISIS in Syria. To put it bluntly, the V-22 proved Cheney wrong, while the Marines and AFSOC were rewarded for their perseverance and faith in the new technology. In fact, the V-22 could even add a new mission not planned for in the initial specs: Aerial refueling.
As we know from history, the A-12 Avenger was not so lucky. Trying to make a point with his budgeteers about fiscal responsibility, Cheney made that cut stick.
So what did the Navy lose out on? For starters, let’s look at the plane the A-12 was supposed to replace.
The A-6 Intruder was an all-weather attack plane that was designed to carry a large bomb load (up to 18,000 pounds). At the time it was designed, stealth technology and smart bombs weren’t in the picture. But the plane gave valuable service, both during the Vietnam War and Desert Storm, as well as also seeing action in smaller conflicts like the 1986 clashes with Libya and Operation Preying Mantis in 1988.
While the Avenger’s actual performance will not be known, some estimates are available, including a range of just over 900 miles, a top speed of 578 knots, and a bomb load of 5,000 pounds. Notable in this is that the plane was also slated to carry two AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AGM-88 HARMs for self-protection in addition to its bombload.
But the real game-changer was its stealth technology. The A-12, like the F-117, B-2, and F-22, would be able to evade detection by most radars, and deliver precision-guided weapons on to targets. Would it, like the V-22, have been able to do more? Again, we will never know.
These days, developing a new combat aircraft takes longer than it used to, as the F-35, V-22, and F-22 have proven. Part of it is because that to survive in a modern environment, the aircraft is, in one sense, a flying computer, running as much on software as it does jet fuel. There is a major implication to this. When your laptop has a software hiccup, it’s an inconvenience. When a software hiccup happens on a modern combat plane, it means the loss of an airframe, and possibly the pilot as well. So, the required level of reliability gets higher, and reaching that level of reliability will take longer and cost more money.
In an age where both Russia and China have become more hostile to the United States, and their militaries are bringing new weapons systems on line, one has to wonder if the presence of the A-12 would have helped.
What’s the difference between pirates and patriots? A government to be loyal to, of course. Such was the case during the age of sail, when warring nations would literally hire pirates and other captains to raid enemy shipping.
When officially endorsed by a belligerent nation, pirates were issued a Letter of Marque – the marque being a pledge to fight for one nation…at least for the time being.
Such was the case with England’s “Sea Dogs,” hired by Queen Elizabeth I to raid gold-laden Spanish treasure fleets sailing from the New World. Capturing a ship meant money for both the ship and her crew as well as the Marque-issuing government.
The Catholic King Philip of Spain was determined to flip Protestant England back to Catholic control. The English Protestants and their Queen were having none of it. For some 19 years, the two countries were bitter rivals, fighting a series of battles on both land and sea that saw little else but money change hands.
For the crews who shared the prize money, life was harsh. Disease and starvation were common among sailing crews at the time. For the Sea Dogs’ commander, a few good prizes could make them rich. One pirate would become the second highest-earning pirate of all time.
That Sea Dog was Sir Francis Drake, a Protestant captain with a distaste for Spanish Catholics. Perhaps one of the greatest English leaders of the age, Drake led the expedition that defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 and took his piracy tour to the Pacific for the first time in history.
The Spanish put a price on his head that would be the modern equivalent of almost $7 million.
Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and the war ended the next year. Drake would also not survive the war, dying of dysentery after attacking Puerto Rico. Though the peace restored the status quo, the war was a disaster for Spain.
Embracing the Sea Dogs was a disaster for England as well. After the war, they joined the raiders of the North African coast, continuing their anti-Catholic piracy careers alongside the Turkish corsairs of the Barbary States.
The United States has increased its military posture in the region to back up the threat of force. A U.S. submarine designed to carry 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles entered a South Korean port on April 25. The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group is also heading to the region and conducting naval exercises with Japan and South Korea. And the United States this week began to move part of the THAAD missile defense system to its deployment site 250 kilometers south of Seoul.
Rain of fire
However, analysts say an actual U.S. strike is a risky proposition. A surgical U.S. missile strike to take out one or multiple nuclear or missile sites would likely not be sufficient to destroy or degrade North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals, which are reportedly in numerous fortified underground sites across the country.
“It might involve artillery attacks on Seoul or elsewhere along the demilitarized zone (DMZ.) It might involve covert operations, but they have several levels of escalation to go before they get to nuclear or even chemical weapons,” said John Schilling, a missile technology specialist with 38 North, a North Korea monitoring website run by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington.
North Korea has more than 21,000 artillery weapons, positioned mostly along the inter-Korean border, that could put in jeopardy the lives of 25 million people that live in and around Seoul, the South Korean capital located 56 kilometers south of the border.
An assessment of North Korean military capabilities by Strafor, an intelligence analysis organization in Texas, notes the North’s artillery arsenal includes 300mm multiple rocket launcher systems that can “rain fire across” Seoul and beyond. “A single volley,” a Strafor report said, “could deliver more than 350 metric tons of explosives across the South Korean capital, roughly the same amount of ordnance dropped by 11 B-52 bombers.”
While the North has not yet demonstrated it can successfully mount a miniaturized nuclear warhead on a missile, U.S. and South Korean officials have said they believe Pyongyang has a nuclear Nodong missile that can fire a one ton warhead a distance of up to two thousand kilometers, which would put all of South Korea, most of Japan and parts of Russia and China in range.
“I think the majority of people now believe they can put a warhead on top of a missile that can hit targets in Northeast Asia. But when you get to the much longer range they need, such as hitting the United States, I think, we don’t know for sure. But most people would believe that it is a work in progress,” said Joel Wit, the co-founder of 38 North and a senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS.
In addition to the 10 to 20 nuclear warheads North Korea is believed to have, its missiles could also be armed with deadly chemical weapons from suspected stockpiles of sarin nerve gas.
A Nodong is a single stage liquid fuel rocket based on scud missiles developed by the former Soviet Union. Some of North Korea’s most recent tests were solid fuel Musudan missiles that have an estimated maximum range of three thousand kilometers, which could potentially reach targets in Japan and as far away as U.S. military bases in Guam.
The more than 28,000 U.S. forces in Korea and 50,000 troops in Japan would also be possible targets for any North Korea retaliatory strikes.
Analysts say any North Korean counter strike would draw a quick response from the United States, South Korea, and Japan that could further escalate the conflict, draw in China, and lead to a second Korean war.