The Marine Corps reportedly has a saying: “Hunting tanks is fun and easy.”
Popular Mechanics cited that statement last September, but it’s now more true than ever.
That’s thanks to one cool cluster bomb that can take out 40 tanks in one pass.
A September 2016 report by Stars and Stripes noted that while many countries have signed a treaty banning the use of cluster bombs, the United States is not among them.
The fear of a major Russian ground force carrying out an invasion has long dominated NATO. In the Cold War, they were likely to come through the Fulda Gap. Today, the Baltics are seen as the likely flashpoint.
However, the U.S. has long anticipated that it would need a way to counter a large number of enemy tanks.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, production of the BLU-108 submunitions used by the CBU-97 started in 1992. Ten of these are carried in each CBU-97, and this bomb can be carried by any plane from an A-10 Thunderbolt to the B-1B Lancer. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the debut of the CBU-105 in Operation Iraqi Freedom caused surviving enemy tank crews to surrender.
Designation-Systems.net notes that with the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser kit, aircraft can drop this bomb, now called the CBU-105 from up to ten miles away, and be no further than 85 feet from their aimpoint.
Statistically, the American Presidency is the deadliest job in the world. Over 18 percent of those who’ve held the job have died in office. It’s also arguably the most stressful in the world. Don’t think so? Well, check out these paintings and photos of America’s wartime Presidents before and after their wars:
George Washington – Revolutionary War
Even in a painting, the toll a war takes on the Commander-In-Chief is evident. The first painting was made in 1772. The second was just after the Revolution in 1783. Wigs notwithstanding, the differences between the two men are stark.
Thomas Jefferson – War with the Barbary Pirates
Sure Jefferson was already well-aged by the time he ran for president. He had to go against many of his core beliefs to defend the rights of Americans abroad and to rescue captured U.S. sailors.
James Madison – War of 1812
Unlike earlier engravings of Madison, the portrait on the right was painted to highlight the toll the War of 1812 (then derisively called “Mr. Madison’s War”) took on the president.
James K. Polk – Mexican-American War
The left painting of Polk was done in 1846, just before the start of the war. The daguerreotype on the right was taken just before the end of his presidency. Even though the war had been over for a year, President Polk’s health never recovered from the stress.
Abraham Lincoln – Civil War
The 1860 photo on the left was taken just before Lincoln’s inauguration. On the right, an 1865 photo reveals the strain of leading the Union in the Civil War for four years.
William McKinley – Spanish-American War
The Spanish-American War lasted just a few weeks of 1898. McKinley was President from 1897 until his assassination in 1901. Still, the two photos of the him before and toward the end of his term show that even in 1900, just being the American President takes its toll.
Woodrow Wilson – World War I
President Wilson famously “kept us out of war” in his first term, but events in his second led to the formation of the American Expeditionary Force and U.S. entry into the Great War. Toward the end of his term, while pushing for the Treaty of Versailles, he became unresponsive and suffered a stroke. He was incapacitated for much of 1919.
Franklin D. Roosevelt – World War II
FDR served four consecutive terms, guiding America through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II. It could be argued that he gave his life to the cause. The photo on the left shows Roosevelt as a presidential candidate in 1932, the one on the right was taken the day before his death in 1945.
Harry S. Truman – Korean War
President Truman was 61 when he took office after Roosevelt’s death. He finished WWII and served as President for most of the Korean War, but except for a few more age lines (aka wrinkles), the job didn’t seem to take as much out of the Missouri native. He lived to be 88 and was present when LBJ signed Medicare into law.
Lyndon B. Johnson – Vietnam War
LBJ was in his 60s when he took over for the assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963 but just like many before him, the wartime Presidency did a number on him. The photo on the left is from LBJ’s “midnight address,” where he discussed the Gulf of Tonkin incident that would lead America to war in Vietnam. The second is LBJ in 1972, five months before he died. After he left office in 1969, he went into a self-destructive spiral.
Richard Nixon – Vietnam War
Granted, Nixon had a lot more to worry about than just Vietnam, but five years in the White House still aged the President considerably.
Ronald Reagan – Cold War
President Reagan lived and worked the Cold War for every day of his 1981-1989 term. In his 1980 campaign poster, pictured left, he uses a slogan that is all too familiar for 2016’s presidential election. On the right, in a 1988 photo at the White House, the man who took office in his seventies is significantly more gray but sports the exact same smile.
George H.W. Bush – Panama, Gulf War
Bush 41 came into the office past middle age as well. But the elder Bush had a lot of experience in Washington and in international affairs. He handled the invasion of Panama and the Gulf War so well, it seems like he’s the only one who actually looked better after the Presidency.
George W. Bush – Global War on Terror
The present-day brings us to presidents who spent almost their entire terms at war. President Bush was in office only a few months before the September 11, 2001 attacks altered his plan to preside over the United States. The resulting War on Terror lasted until well after his successor took over. The photo below shows President-elect Bush in 2000 and former President Bush in 2009, after 8 years of war.
Barack Obama – Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, War on ISIL
President Obama spent his entire presidency managing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He campaigned on ending the war in Iraq, then ended up having to send U.S. troops back to fight the Islamic State terrorist organization that rose up there. The War in Afghanistan will be inherited by his successor as well. The photos below show Obama on the campaign trail in late 2008 and at the March 2016 Chief of Missions conference.
The US Navy is currently testing a robotic ship that would be able to autonomously hunt enemy diesel submarines.
Originally conceived as a DARPA project, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) is designed to hunt the next generation of nearly silent enemy diesel submarines.
Diesel submarines are quickly proliferating around the world due to their low cost. Russia recently announced that it has launched the world’s “quietest submarine.”
To accomplish its submarine-hunting mission, the ACTUV project is structured around three primary goals: the ability to outmatch diesel submarines in speed at significantly less cost than existing systems, the system’s ability to safely navigate the oceans in accordance with maritime law, and the ability to accurately track diesel submarines regardless of their location.
Tests of the ACTUV have been promising. Defense One reported in March that during six weeks of testing off the coast of Mississippi the ACTUV was capable of autonomously avoiding randomly moving vessels while navigating around natural obstacles.
The next major test for the ACTUV will be having the drone attempt to trail a submarine while other vessels attempt to block it.
Although diesel submarines are not capable of carrying out open ocean operations for as long or as quickly as nuclear submarines, diesel submarines still present the US with an asymmetric challenge. Significantly cheaper and more quiet-running than their nuclear counterparts, diesel subs can enable navies around the world to harass military and civilian transport along coastal routes.
The threat of diesel submarines could increase, as Franz-Stefan Gady notes at The Diplomat, as the next generation of these vessels will feature propulsion systems and lithium-ion batteries, making them even quieter and harder to detect.
The technical challenges are steep: “Picking up the quiet hum of a battery-powered, diesel-electric submarine in busy coastal waters is like trying to identify the sound of a single car engine in the din of a major city,” Rear Admiral Frank Drennan said in March 2015.
By creating the ACTUV, the US Navy will be able to more accurately track the proliferation of enemy diesel submarines. The transition to using drones for such missions will also ultimately save the Navy considerable resources and manpower.
“Instead of chasing down these submarines and trying to keep track of them with expensive nuclear powered-submarines, which is the way we do it now, we want to try and build this at significantly reduced cost,” DARPA program manager Ellison Urban said at a National Defense Associate Event in Virginia.
“It will be able to transit by itself across thousands of kilometers of ocean and it can deploy for months at a time. It can go out, find a diesel-electric submarine and just ping on it.”
The Russian Su-25 Groch, or “Rook” in Russian, and US A-10 Thunderbolt II, or “Warthog,” are similar in many ways.
They’re both heavily armored. They’re both able to execute extremely low-altitude sorties and bombing raids. And they’ve both even been described as “flying tanks.”
Production on the Su-25, which the US calls the “Frogfoot,” and the A-10 Warthog both began in the 1970s, and they’ve since been used quite extensively.
Check out how the two aircraft match up below:
Production on the Su-25 began in 1978, while the A-10 Thunderbolt II was put into production in 1972.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
The Su-25 has 10mm to 25mm of armor surrounding the cockpit to protect the pilot while performing low-altitude strafes. Similarly, the A-10 Warthog has 1,200 pounds of titanium armor around the cockpit.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
These cockpits have been dubbed “armored bathtubs.”
Su-25s generally carry 250 to 500 kilogram bombs and rockets, while the A-10 are often fitted with precision-guided munitions, like Maverick anti-tank missiles.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
The Su-25s rockets range from “pods containing dozens of smaller 57- or 80-millimeter rockets, to five-shot 130-millimeter S-13 system, to large singular 240- or 330-millimeter rockets,” the National Interest said.
However, the Su-25 can only carry about 8,000 pounds of munitions, while the A-10 can carry about 16,000 pounds.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
Here is a shot of a Russian mechanic loading the Su-25’s 30mm GAU-8 cannon, which can fire 2,500 to 3,000 rounds a minute.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
The A-10 Warthog is armed with a similar 30 mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, Popular Mechanics said, which can fire 3,900 round per minute.
The Su-25 also has a Gsh-30-2 30mm gun holding 260 rounds mounted under the nose. Below is a shot of the 30mm GAU-8 cannon rounds.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
While the Su-25 weighs less than the A-10, it also has a much faster top speed, topping off at 600 mph. Below is a shot of it taking off.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
The A-10’s top speed, on the other hand, is about 439 mph.
At the same time, the Frogfoot has “shorter range and loiter time, can only operate at half the altitude.”
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
The Su-25 has been used extensively in Syria. In March 2016, the Frogfoot had completed more than 1,600 sorties and dropped more than 6,000 bombs in Syria in just 6 months.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
The A-10 has also been deployed to Syria, and in October 2016, ISIS claimed to have shot one down, which the US coalition denied.
The Su-25s have also been used in multiple other conflicts over the past decades, including Macedonia, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
It first saw combat in 1981 in Afghanistan, where it flew more than 60,000 bombing raids and sorties. Su-25s were also used by Russia and Georgia during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.
The A-10 has likewise seen combat in nearly every US conflict since the aircraft’s inception.
While the US plans to retire the A-10 Warthog in 2022, Moscow wants to continue upgrading the Su-25 for years to come.
Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
Four of the Su-25s newest version, the Su-25SM3, which features a SOLT-25 targeting system that allows pilots to better see targets at night and during bad weather, are expected to arrive in Syria in August or September.
It’s also fitted with new precision-guided weapons, such as the RBC SPBE 500-D, which is a 500 kilogram cluster bomb with an infrared-guided, anti-tank bomb that can penetrate 150mm to 160mm steel armor.
Mark Bowden is one of the greatest investigative reporters of our age.
“Black Hawk Down,” his exhaustive work on the experience of U.S. troops in Mogadishu, brought renewed attention to the oft-forgotten story. It also resulted in the film, which remains a favorite of the military-veteran community.
His most recent book, “Hué 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam,” is just as exhaustive and compelling. The book is a master work, five years in the making.
The Battle of Hué was the longest and costliest fight of the entire Tet Offensive. On the morning of Jan. 31, 1968, a coordinated attack from 8,000 North Vietnamese Army Regulars, Viet Cong infiltrators, and Vietnamese civilians quickly captured much of the city in a single night.
American and South Vietnamese troops were woefully outnumbered in Hué. Facing the Communist forces there were the ARVN 1st Infantry Division and 200 of their American and Australian advisors at the MACV compound. By the time the sun came up that day, the Communists controlled the city south of the Huong River – except the MACV compound.
A view from a Marine machine gun position on the outer Citadel wall of Hué City during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
The Marines from MACV would have to go on the offensive, fighting their way across the river to rescue the brilliant and highly-respected ARVN General Ngô Quang Truong and what remained of his 1st Infantry. Then they had to expel the Communists from the area.
Hué would become a case study in urban combat, the first time since the Korean War the Marines would fight in a city like that. The battle lasted almost a month, turning 40 percent of the city’s buildings to rubble and costing the lives of 380 ARVN troops, 147 Marines, 74 U.S. Army soldiers, 8,000 Communists, and more than 5,800 civilians.
It was also the turning point in American popular support for the war.
Bowden’s book covers the history of the war until that point, especially from 30,000-foot view from the White House and General William Westmoreland’s MACV Headquarters. What’s truly unique and fascinating about Bowden’s style is the personal narratives that drive the history of the story.
“Hué 1968” is a gripping tapestry of nonfiction storytelling, with personal stories of people on the ground woven into the history and politics of the war. The enemy is no longer a nameless, faceless mass of targets; the NVA and VC are characters in the story of the war in Vietnam, with names, families, and lives. With these stories comes the understanding of why the McNamara doctrine of “limited warfare” would never have worked against the Vietnamese.
The book gives the eyewitness account of a young Vietnamese girl who turns on the southern regime and becomes a Viet Cong operative just as much as it follows the junior enlisted Marine radio operator Jim Coolican, who was stationed at the MACV compound. Personal narratives from every side of the conflict continue like this throughout the book.
Bowden traces the details of a young VC as he traverses the Ho Chi Minh trail and moves to infiltrate the city. He even painstakingly documents the “logistics miracle” – as one U.S. Navy captain called it – of the Tet Offensive’s movement of men and weapons into South Vietnam.
NVA and VC soldiers assault the city of Hué in South Vietnam, January 1968.
If you know the history of the Vietnam War, you know what’s coming in the Tet Offensive and it keeps you turning pages. No matter how familiar you are, you get to see the war from all sides – the NVA, the VC, ARVN leadership, American troops, American leadership, even Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap’s points of view are covered in remarkable detail.
The fall of Hué was the most successful attack of the entire Tet Offensive and even then the city was retaken by Feb. 24. Both sides bought into their own propaganda. The Communists believed that the South was ready to rise against the despotic Thieu regime and expel the Americans — they just needed a hand to get started.
Viet Cong forces climb on an abandoned U.S.-built Marine Armored Vehicle during the Battle of Hué.
The north came to depend on that uprising for the long-term success of the Offensive. The Americans and South Vietnamese were caught off guard because they thought the enemy was weak and could not launch an attack on that scale, let alone capture a city like Hué.
Until the Tet Offensive, a majority of Americans believed the war was going well and believed government officials who used statistics and body counts to insist that American involvement could soon come to an end. Body counts weren’t the metric used by the Communists. For the north, their success was defined by killing or wounding as many Americans as possible, destroying the ARVN, and inciting a popular uprising in the South.
Marines hold a Viet Cong flag they ripped down from the provincial headquarters in Hué.
The United States claimed a military victory in Hué but Hanoi would never be intimidated by a limited war. The prolonged violence and media bias against the war after the Tet Offensive eroded public support for it as well.
The U.S. began a strategic withdrawal from Vietnam the next year and left completely in 1973. South Vietnam fell to the Communists just two years later. Hué was just the beginning of the end.
Mark Bowden is an award-winning author and correspondent for The Atlantic. He is also a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. Filmmakers Michael Mann and Michael De Luca (who produced the 1995 heist movie “Heat”) purchased the rights to “Hué 1968” and plan to turn the book into a miniseries.
If you’ve ever wondered what President Ronald Reagan would look like while riding a velociraptor, San Francisco artist Jason Heuser has you covered.
With creations ranging from Reagan shooting from the saddle of a dinosaur to Nixon fighting a sabertooth tiger, Heuser has built an impressive art collection of U.S. Presidents being, well, total badasses.
Troops deployed around the world aren’t always saddled with the modern conveniences of a private room. Instead, they get to experience communal living in an open bay that houses anywhere from five or six service members to hundreds of them, each with an entire cot’s worth of space to call their own.
For those unfortunate people who have never lived within spitting distance of nearly everyone they work with, here are six major perks to living in a military bay:
1. Everyone knows your business, and you know theirs.
When everyone is sleeping practically on top of each other, it’s sort of hard to keep anything private. Reading choices, hygiene habits, frequency of urination, everyone knows everything about you. And, this flows both ways. Whether you like it or not, you will know how long and how often your friends poop.
2. You always know which of your buddies are sick
Every cough, sneeze, and snore cuts through the air of the bay like a serrated knife through your dreams, ensuring that you always know who is congested and who has undiagnosed sleep apnea. This allows buddies to update each other on general health matters.
3. You learn all sorts of medical tips, like “Sleep head-to-toe to avoid respiratory infections.”
You’ll learn a lot about human anatomy in a large bay. For instance, humans breathing only a few feet from each other all night will often exchange respiratory diseases. To avoid this, all troops should sleep with their heads and feet on alternating ends of the cots. That way, you get to smell your buddy’s sweaty feet all night instead of picking up his horrendous cough.
4. You have the entire underside of your cot to store stuff.
One of the best things about living in a bay is that you have tons of storage space. Almost the entire underside of your cot can be used for holding duffel bags, rucks, and — for the truly elite — even footlockers. Some units fill the bay with beds and lockable storage, but then you need a key to get into your stuff. Best to just rock the duffel bag with flimsy lock for quick access.
5. Other military specialties divulge their secrets while holding meetings 3 feet from you.
Sleepers will learn a lot more about the Army when they’re frequently awakened by NCOs and junior officers discussing operations near their bunks. Want to learn more about electromagnetic warfare? Be sure to grab a bunk near the EWO. Want to never sleep again? The operations cell usually has bunks at the back.
6. The long treks to the latrines really wake you up in the morning (and at 0-dark-30).
Have trouble waking up without coffee? Many bays don’t have plumbing and the 300-yard walk to the latrines and sinks every morning just to brush your teeth can really get the blood pumping. In the bays with water, you’re sure to get frequent reminders to get out of bed as literally dozens of people start shuffling past your bed on their way to and from the urinal.
When you think about turrets, you likely think about the big ones. Like those on Iowa-class battleships that hold three 16-inch guns, or even the twin five-inch mounts found on cruisers, destroyers, and carriers. Well, in this case, you’d be thinking too big.
Toward the end of World War II, the Navy was deploying a unique turret meant for the legendary PT boats. The purpose was to make them even more lethal than they proved to be in the Philippines and the Solomons.
PT boats had become more than just a means of torpedoing enemy ships. By the end of the Solomons campaign, they were being used to attack barges — not with torpedoes, but with a lot of gunfire. Field modifications soon gave PT boats more powerful weapons, but there was a problem: PT boats didn’t have a ton of space.
The solution to that problem was an electric turret called the Elco Thunderbolt. Elco was one of two companies that made the fast and lethal PT boats (the other was Higgins — yes, the makers of a crucial landing craft made PT boats as well). In addition to making PT boats even more lethal, this new turret would help a number of ships add firepower and reduce manpower.
One early version of this turret featured two Oerlikon 20mm cannon and six M2 heavy machine guns. Other mixes were tested, including four Oerlikon cannon and two M2s or just the four Oerlikons. No matter the loadout, though, these turrets only required one person to send a huge wall of lead at an incoming enemy.
By the time the war ended, the turret found its onto PT boats and some of the older battleships. Afterwards, it faded into history. Today, the Navy uses somewhat similar mounts for the Mk 38 Bushmaster, a 25mm chain gun. Still, the Thunderbolt showed some very interesting possibilities during its brief, but potent lifespan.
Negotiators are working toward a June 30 deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.
Should the negotiations ultimately fail and the talks fall apart, the Obama administration and any future US president will have what Michael Crowley of Politico describes as an awe-inspiring “plan B” — the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP).
According to Crowley, the US has practiced at least three attack runs over the New Mexico desert. These runs have been flown by B-2 bombers and are meant to test the US’ trump card against any attempt to procure a nuclear weapon, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator.
MOP, which is 20 feet long and weighs 15 tons, “boggles the mind,” according to a former Pentagon official who spoke to Politico after watching footage of the tests.
There’s no publicly available footage of the tests, but this footage of a BLU-109 in action gives an idea of how the MOP works. Bunker-buster munitions burst through a target’s defensive layering before the warhead detonates:
The MOP is the world’s largest nonnuclear weapon. Designed to hit hardened targets, bunkers, and locations deep under ground, the MOP hits the ground at supersonic speed after being released from a B-2 bomber. After impact, the bomb can burrow through 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete before detonating.
In the event that negotiations fail, the US is in a position to launch a series of MOP strikes against Fordow, a once secret nuclear facility contained within a hollowed-out mountain and specially hardened against aerial attack. The centrifuges at Fordow are capable of enriching uranium, which could be used for a nuclear weapon.
Destroying Fordow would be a difficult endeavor despite the size and sheer force of the MOP. Politico notes that the total destruction of the facility would likely require multiple B-2s dropping MOPs at the same GPS-designated location to ensure that the bombs would be able to drill through both the side of the mountain and the facility’s hardened shell before detonating.
But the MOP is supposed to be used in exactly these kinds of coordinated strikes. According to The Wall Street Journal, the bomb is designed to be dropped in pairs. The first is meant to clear a path for the second hit, heightening the bombs’ potent penetration capabilities.
Unnamed officials told The Journal that the MOP’s devastation potential is unlike any nonnuclear weapon ever built.
The weapons have been designed by the US to destroy hardened facilities within North Korea and Iran.
Should the US decide to carry out bombing runs against Iranian nuclear sites, the US could run into substantial difficulties.
Russia has announced that it would be willing to sell the S-300 air-defense system, which can hit aircraft at high altitude from a 150-mile range, to Iran.
If Iran were to acquire the S-300s, Tehran would be able to set up a formidable ring of defense around its nuclear sites.
This would make Iranian air defenses much more difficult to overcome, raising the scale and the stakes of any US bombing run against the country’s nuclear facilities.
The MOP is unique for its ability to penetrate enemy defenses, but it is not the largest bomb the US has ever built. That title goes to the T-12 Cloudmaker, a World War II-era bomb that clocked in at over 40,000 pounds.
Somewhere in southern Afghanistan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician spots a glint in the soft dirt. He moves deliberately, but steadily, as he tries to determine if it’s a harmless piece of trash or a bomb. In the back of his mind, the technician can’t help but wonder if this will be the improvised explosive device that kills him.
Since 2003 similar missions have taken the lives of 20 Air Force EOD technicians, when Airmen began diffusing bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With combat missions winding down, EOD is now able to divert attention to its nine other mission sets: aerospace systems and vehicle conventional munitions, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear inventory, UXOs, operational range clearances, mortuary services, defense support for civil authorities, irregular warfare (where EOD teams serve as combat enablers for general forces or special operations), and VIP support.
As the career field shifts into a post-war posture they’re refocusing on these other skill sets. One of these they used to support the Secret Service when two teams from the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron’s EOD flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, worked President Barack Obama’s trip to Orlando, Florida, after the nightclub massacre where 49 people were killed in June. The Secret Service tasked EOD teams to sweep venues for explosives, areas en route to the venues, or on any person or object that could be used to harm the president or VIPs they’re protecting.
“For so many years, we have been going 150 mph,” said Senior Master Sgt. Robert K. Brown, 325th CES EOD superintendent, “so when you slow down to 85 mph, you feel like you’re crawling, even though you’re still going faster than most other people on the highway. We’d been doing that for the 12 years of combat operations, and now I think we feel we’re at a snail’s pace.”
Post-war life at the Tyndall AFB flight, one of 52 active-duty EOD flights Air Force-wide, ranges from responding to flares that wash up on the beach after being dropped by the Navy to mark items in the ocean to the occasional unexploded ordnance. The flight is responsible for assessing, rendering inert or safely destroying everything from small arms to guided missiles, although any EOD flight could be called upon to handle anything explosive in nature up to and including a nuclear incident.
The 325th EOD flight’s primary mission is flightline support for the wing’s four fighter squadrons, but it also provides counter-IED support for several tenant organizations.
By the time EOD Airmen left Afghanistan in 2014, they had completed almost 20,000 missions, responded to over 6,500 IEDs, and received more than 150 Purple Hearts for their actions and service in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also deployed often, with a third of the service’s 1,000 EOD members overseas and another third in pre-deployment training preparing to replace them, Brown said. At times the pace was so heavy that EOD Airmen would often be replaced by the same person who replaced them on their last deployment.
“For some of us old-timers in this particular generation, we’ve had a chance to kind of breathe,” Brown said. “In doing so, that’s given us the opportunity to regroup, restock and prepare for the next iteration of conflict that may or may not be coming. So right now is the best time to share the experiences and prepare the next generation for the hard lessons that we’ve had over these past 12 years.”
The two wars might be over, but EOD remains one of the Air Force’s most dangerous jobs. In addition to the 20 EOD technicians lost in the two wars, about 150 have suffered extensive injuries. It is a continuing evolving because of the constantly changing tactics of the enemy.
“The enemy is always going to try to continually be better than us, so we have to ensure that we never sleep in preparation for any force that we’re going to encounter,” said Chief Master Sgt. Neil C. Jones, the EOD operations and training program manager with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall AFB. “We don’t have the opportunity to make a mistake, so we train relentlessly to never get it wrong.”
During the transition, which has begun gradually in the past couple of years, the focus has been on getting everyone back from deployments and training them in the other nine skill sets to reestablish pre-OIF levels of proficiency. But equally important is the challenge of reducing attrition rates during EOD technical training without lowering the standards, Jones said.
EOD students first attend a 20-day preliminary school at Sheppard AFB, Texas, before they go through the Naval School EOD at Eglin AFB, Florida. An average school day is more than 13 hours, and it takes several years for a student to become a fully functional EOD member and a couple of years longer to be a team leader. About 75 percent of students fail to make it through the course.
Two recent changes to reduce attrition rates are the use of computer tablets for rehabilitation training and the addition of a couple of wounded warrior EOD technicians to help students at the school.
Derrick Victor, a retired technical sergeant who was wounded in his last deployment to Afghanistan when a bomb blast killed one Airman and hurt four others, is one of the new instructors. He’s seen the career field evolve through the wars and is now part of its post-war transition.
“Those two wars obviously changed the way that wars are fought as far as being on the ground and in third-world countries where they have to improvise,” Victor said. “It created a bit of a change from being based on supporting aircraft to things that were improvised. We got very good at that skill set, using robotics and working out all of that kind of stuff.
“Even though those two wars have dwindled down, we know that threat is not going to go away,” he continued. “So, as a whole, the career field is trying to keep that skill set rolling through the generations from those of us for who all we knew was Iraq and Afghanistan to all of these young kids coming fresh out of school, so they don’t have to learn on the fly like we did.”
EOD leadership is also placing a priority on training when Airmen get to their flights after graduation. Because the consequences of mistakes are so severe, the goal is to have those mistakes made in training, Brown said.
“I often refer to it as ‘the good, the bad, the ugly and the stupid,'” he said. “That just refers to what went right, what went wrong, what worked that probably shouldn’t have and what did we do that was just plain dumb, which happens in training. That’s OK as long as we learn lessons from it. But it’s not OK if it’s unsafe. Those are sometimes the hardest parts to learn. We want to make sure that if these guys (make a mistake) in training, they don’t do it when it’s for real. Explosives don’t care about peacetime or wartime.”
Another factor that’s evolving is the way the EOD field trains to recover from both emotional and physical trauma. More emphasis is being placed on instilling resiliency before something happens to an EOD technician in the field, Jones said.
Along with the cultural shift from the war years, the field has also been making major transitions in technology. The robot EOD technicians used in Afghanistan has been replaced by, among others, the Micro Tactical Ground Robot. The world’s lightest EOD robot can be carried by a single Airman, travel at 2 mph, climb stairs and see beyond 1,000 feet. Airmen previously carried 100-pound robots attached to their rucksacks. The new 25-pound robot can be carried on their backs.
“The technology advances that we have out there with the global economy, and more importantly, being able to make things lighter, faster and stronger, have allowed us to develop new tools and techniques and robotic platforms that are much smaller, lighter and leaner than what we had 14 years ago,” Jones said.
Technological progress hasn’t just been in robotics. There has also been a dramatic change in treating traumatic injuries downrange.
“I think one of the biggest things that we’ve seen as far as technology has been in the medical arena. We have changed the way we treat people for trauma,” Jones said. “If we can stop the bleeding downrange and get that Airman alive into a helo and back to a field surgical team, we’re running about a 98 percent success rate of saving their lives. So as our enemy continues to develop with technology to use against us, we will continually use our technology to develop a better way to take care of that threat.”
As much as life changes after years of war, one area that remains constant is the role tragic events play in training new EOD technicians. As sobering as the memories are of losing members of the EOD family, their sacrifice provided important training lessons.
“What our fallen have done is the same as our World War II EOD bomb disposal predecessors – with very brave men going down and disarming German rockets and bombs,” Brown said. “If they made a mistake, we would then know not to take that step, that last step. Unfortunately, a lot of bomb disposal techs died that way, but our fallen have taught us how to be better at this craft; they have never failed.”
When a teenager became seriously ill Tuesday morning on a cruise ship hundreds of miles off the California coast, the call arrived at the 129th Rescue Wing in Silicon Valley. Within hours, the California Air National Guard unit would tally its 1,105th rescue.
From their Moffett Federal Airfield home in Mountain View, Calif., the 129th’s rescue squadrons operate the MC-130P Combat Shadow airplane and the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. When paired with airmen highly-skilled in medical trauma and airborne ops — pararescuemen (fondly referred to as PJs) and combat rescue officers — these squadrons form “Guardian Angel” teams for peacetime or combat rescue at sea or on land.
Peacetime rescues, such as in remote mountainous terrain or vessels in treacherous sea conditions, can be just as high-risk as those in combat zones. Guardian Angel teams can venture 1,000 miles or more into the Pacific, rescues that require multiple aerial refuelings for helicopters and over-the-water parachute jumps into the Pacific to reach victims or stricken vessels.
That was the case in 2014, when Guardian Angels with the 129th were dispatched to rescue a 1-year-old toddler ill at sea; the child was on a 36-foot family sailboat that was sinking 900 miles west of the coast of Mexico due to damaged steering controls. PJs parachuted from an MC-130p turboprop with a raft they used to reach the sailboat.
The Navy joined in the mission, sending the USS Vandegrift to intercept the team, bring the toddler and her family to its medical department, and tow the sailboat to San Diego. The PJs got a ride back to shore, too.
The latest mission this week also was a rescue on the high seas. A 14-year-old passenger on the cruise ship Star Princess reportedly suffered seizures and required immediate but higher-level medical care. The ship was 450 miles off the coast.
The Coast Guard and the Air Force coordinated the rescue, sending two of the wing’s Pave Hawk helicopters — each with a two-person Guardian Angel team — to the cruise ship. But the long distance required those helicopters get refueled en route. A KC-130J Hercules refueler with the San Diego-based Marine Aerial Refueling Transport Squadron 352 launched from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.
“What it takes to coordinate something like this is a massive undertaking, and it has to be done safely. Literally hundreds of people are involved,” Lt. Col. Kathryn Hodge, the mission medical director and flight surgeon, who flew on the mission, said in the news story.
When the Pave Hawks reached the cruise ship, the Guardian Angel PJs hoisted down to the deck, stabilized the teen, and hauled themselves back into the helicopter, along with the teen’s father. With refueling support from an MC-130P for the return flight, the rescue helicopter and team took the patient to Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego.
“It’s always good and you feel really rewarded at the end of the day. But that’s not why we do it. We do it so that others may live and to save lives however we can,” Master Sgt. Sean Kirsch, a PJ, said in the statement. “When you bring a 14-year-old American boy home to receive better medical care and he makes it there and he’s in stable shape or better than we you pick him up, is pretty rewarding.”
The 129th Rescue Wing took on the rescue mission in 1975. In September 2008, the 129th Wing was credited with rescuing 34 people (and 11 dogs) after Hurricane Ike struck the Gulf Coast. The following year, during a combat deployment to southern Afghanistan, the wing tallied more than 180 lives saved.
While its location, aircraft, and higher commands changed over the years, the 129th has maintained its role in rescue and personnel recovery for both state and federal missions.
Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG has faded from its glory days, when it produced many front-line fighters for the Soviet Union. Arturo Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich, co-founders of the design bureau, helped usher in a number of aviation classics, like the MiG-21 Fishbed (11,496 built by the Soviets, plus 2,450 J-7s produced by Communist China).
Sukhoi, another major Russian aircraft manufacturer, responsible primarily for attack planes like the Su-17/20/22 Fitter and the Su-24 Fencer, ended up stealing the show by developing the Su-27 Flanker, which proved to be a better fighter. In this case, ‘better’ means being shot down less often. The Su-27 has demonstrated some superb maneuverability at slower speeds, able to perform demanding, acrobatic maneuvers, like the Pugachev Cobra.
Such precise control is key for taking off from and landing on carriers. The naval version of the Su-27, the Su-33 “Flanker D,” was designed to do just that and first flew in 1987. The Su-33, like the Su-27, is equipped with the AA-10 “Alamo” semi-active radar-guided missile, the AA-11 “Archer” all-aspect heat-seeking missile, and the AA-12 “Adder” radar-guided missile. It also packs a 30mm cannon with 150 rounds. This plane has a top speed of 1,553 miles per hour and a maximum range of 2,287 miles.
The Su-33 made its combat debut over Syria in 2016. The Russian Navy sent the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov to support the regime of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. The plane didn’t fly combat from the Kuznetsov, but instead operated from land bases. In fact, one was lost in a splash landing while trying to land on the carrier.
Despite a relatively tame debut in Syria, the capability of the Su-33 is a worldwide affair. China is currently producing a version of this fighter, called the J-15 Flanker. This lightly modified jet operates off the Liaoning, a Kuznetsov-class carrier. The Chinese are currently building a copy of the Liaoning, and have plans for other, larger carriers that will most certainly operate J-15s.
Learn more about Russia’s carrier-based fighter in the video below:
Phantom Phanatics have loved the F-4, even though the legendary fighter has been out of United States service for two decades. But that may not be an accurate way to think of it. Because theF-4 actually has still been serving – and still has about two months of life left with the United States Air Force.
According to an Air Force release, these Phantoms that have been serving just haven’t been manned – for the most part. QF-4 Phantoms (the Q standing for “drone”) have been providing “live” targets for the testing of air-to-air missiles (like the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM), usually by simulating an enemy aircraft during those tests. Any number of pilots who have used air-to-air missiles in combat can thank those target drones for helping make sure those missiles worked.
How did the Phantom provide two decades’ worth of target drones? Well, it’s not hard when you realize that almost 5,200 were built by McDonnell-Douglas. Now, that includes those that were exported, but even with combat losses in Vietnam (73 for the Navy, 75 for the Marine Corps, and 528 for the Air Force). The Air Force arranged for 324 airframes to become QF-4s. The Navy also used the QF-4 after retiring its last F-4 from USMC service in 1992 – getting another 12 years of service from the “Double Ugly” until the last airframe retired in 2004.
The QF-4s were not the first planes to serve as target drones. The QF-86 Sabre, QF-80 Shooting Star, QF-100 Super Sabre, and the QF-106 Delta Dart have been among former fighters that provided additional service beyond their “official” retirement date by serving as target drones. Even the legendary B-17 had a version that served as a target drone. In fact, just as the F-4 Phantom was replaced in active service by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the QF-4 Phantom will be replaced by QF-16 Fighting Falcons.
The surviving QF-4 Phantoms at White Sands Missile Range will get one more round of maintenance, mostly to remove hazardous materials, and then they will serve as ground targets.
Here’s a video of QF-4s taking a few for the team: