For most people, joining the special operations community is just a dream — a fantasy born of countless hours playing video games and watching cool-guy action movies.
To a much smaller group, though, joining the military’s most elite is not boyhood fantasy — it is destiny. It is for those few that this article posted. And since we are not simply dreamers, I thought I’d begin with a sobering question: What makes you think that you will succeed while so many others fail?
Really, think about it for a moment before you simply answer with “because I will never quit.” I’ve heard this same line parroted by some of the most impressive physical studs, to only see them one-by-one drop out. What makes you any different?
It all comes down to mindset.
Sure, be in incredible shape. Yes, be highly competent and motivated. But what it all boils down to — what proves to be the great separator of men — is what is between your ears.
If you are truly committed to joining special operations then you need to understand that preparing your mind for what is coming is even more important than preparing your body. When the pain starts and your body begins to fail you (no matter how fit you are you will reach this point many times over), your dedication, character, work ethic, and toughness will be put to the ultimate test.
I cannot prepare you for this, but what I can do is pull back the veil to give you some practical advice and mental “cheats” to master your pain and misery. Practice the following tips and store them away for the gut-checks that await you.
Imagine your girlfriend hiding her shame at your failure, then keep going. (US military photo)
Good luck to you. Train Hard. Train smart.
Tip #1: Keep your mind busy and distracted so it cannot dwell on the pain.
To focus on the pain is to certainly amplify it. Force yourself to think about something else. Think about fun memories, old flames, funny movies, future planning, pray, sing songs in your head – do anything except be alone with the pain.
Tip #2: Focus on your goal and draw strength from your commitment.
Remember that quitting is not an option. See yourself succeeding through the temporary anguish and draw strength from those that fall beside you.
If this doesn’t work, flip it and imagine your dream slipping away. Ponder the cost of failure. Imagine failing your friends and family who have bragged about you. Imagine having to explain for the rest of your life how you just couldn’t hang on a little longer.
Imagine your girlfriend hiding her shame at your failure.
Tip #3: Revel in the pain.
Convince yourself that the pain feels good or that the whole thing is just a hilarious game. Get furious at the pain if you like. Rebuke your body for being weak and your mind for trying to buckle for something so small as shaky arms from doing pushups. Also, if you can laugh at your misery, it is a great sign that you may survive it (just don’t let the instructors see you laugh or they will take it as a personal challenge to dole out more misery).
North Korea’s military escapades were back in the headlines in December, after state media in the secretive country reported news of two large-scale military drills involving rocket launchers and fighter jets.
In either case, the country’s missile development and huge artillery stocks pose a significant danger to South Korea and the rest of the world.
It is one of the world’s most secretive countries, so the information largely comes from other sources, but the state’s propaganda efforts mean there are plenty of pictures of the country’s colossal military capacity. Take a look.
*Mike Bird contributed reporting to an earlier version of this article.
Margaret Thatcher considered an SAS-style raid to resupply Britain’s besieged embassy in Iraqi-occupied Kuwait, which was running out of water, food, and fuel in the run-up to the Gulf War in September 1990, newly released Downing Street papers reveal.
After his shock invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Saddam Hussein had given the diplomats three weeks to transfer their operations to Baghdad but the British along with other embassies refused to leave.
Percy Cradock, Thatcher’s veteran foreign affairs adviser, was asked to investigate the possibility of using military special forces to resupply the embassy, where four remaining diplomats, including the ambassador, were living behind 3-4-meter (10-12ft) high walls topped with barbed wire.
“Outside, the embassy is under the surveillance of guards. Kuwait City itself is dense with Iraqi infantry. The occupants reckon they have supplies to last 50 days (about the end of October with reduced communications activity). After that they will need water, food, and fuel,” Cradock reported back to Thatcher.
“We looked at the possibility of resupplying of our embassy by means of a military operation. This has been carefully examined in the Ministry of Defense and the military view is that the hazards in relation to benefits would be excessive. Kuwait and its approaches are heavily defended. There are mines on the beaches and plentiful air defense. The sea approaches are patrolled by Iraqi fast boats. We have no available submarine and a sea approach would involve bringing a destroyer or frigate dangerously close to shore,” he said.
A parachute drop was ruled out as impractical and while they could get a helicopter in it was unlikely to get out again, simply adding to the number of people to be fed and exposing the helicopter crew to probably fatal reprisals by the Iraqis.
Another idea considered was asking the Kuwaiti resistance to get local people to drop small quantities of supplies over the walls at night but an initial response indicates this was considered difficult and dangerous.
Nevertheless, the British remained along with the Americans, Germans, and French, who were also cut off from utilities. Nearly two months later a telegram dated 3 November 1990 appeared in the Downing Street file with a note: “From our man in Kuwait.” Signed “Burton,” it reported “regrettably there is little ‘haute’ about my cuisine, at least in these circumstances.
“We have one meal a day, consisting of rice and pasta alternately. We still have quite a lot of tins of tuna and a few of frankfurters, plus a lot of spices, mostly taken from the servants’ quarters.
“Unfortunately we are very short of onions, though we do have garlic, and have only a few tins of tomatoes and tomato paste. We have a little powdered milk left and ‘gram’ powder made from chickpeas, I think, so I can make white sauces. We have used up all our ordinary flour, which means I can no longer make bread, as I did in the early days.”
The besieged diplomat reported that curried tuna and tuna lasagna were both popular, and so was crab in cheese sauce: “Curried frankfurter is rather less so, though ‘sausage chasseur’ is accepted.”
In the event the British embassy held on until 16 December before making its way to Baghdad. The US-led coalition assault, known as Operation Desert Storm, started the following month, in January 1991, to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait.
Developed by some of the same engineers who designed the AR-10 and AR-15 family of rifles, the Stoner 63 was one of the world’s first modular, adaptable assault rifles used by the U.S. military.
It saw only limited fielding, but was popular among Navy SEALs during the Vietnam war. The Stoner could be configured as a rifle, carbine and light machine gun, firing from a traditional M16-style box magazine or from a belt.
The Stoner is surely one of the coolest looking rifles of the conflict, and while beloved by frogmen for years, it was found by some to be too complex and maintenance intensive for general battlefield use.
The Stoner X-LMG. (Photo link from The Firearm Blog)
Dubbed the Stoner X-LMG, the new machine gun fires a 5.56mm round from an open bolt with a piston operating system. Knights says the X-LMG uses a unique configuration that eliminates the buffer, further mitigating recoil and making it easier to control.
The X-LMG has a Picatinny rail for optics, a M-LOK handguard and a collapsable stock that helps the new Stoner come in at a surprisingly light weight of just under 9 pounds.
“The Stoner X-LMG … represents a 2kg weight saving over legacy models (including FN Herstal’s Mimimi LMG) providing operators with a more streamlined solution suitable for close quarter battle and military operations in urban terrain as well as parachute insertion,” according to one defense industry analysis.
Reports suggest the new Stoner is gaining interest among foreign special operations teams, including Dutch and French commandos and paratroop regiments. Knights armament is already popular among U.S. special operators and is primarily known for its SR-25 and Mk-11 rifles for designated marksmen and snipers.
Here’s former Delta Force operator Larry Vickers giving a detailed look at the Knights Armament Stoner LMG — the slightly heavier version of the X-LMG.
After colliding with a civilian cargo ship earlier this year, the USS Fitzgerald sustained over $500 million worth of damage to its structure and systems.
Though the Arleigh Burke-class warship was brought back to port at Yokosuka, Japan, it will likely be unable to transit the ocean in its current condition, officials say.
However, as the Navy and its contractors don’t maintain large maintenance facilities and dry docks in Japan capable of carrying out the repairs the Fitzgerald needs, it will have to somehow be delivered to the United States for fixing.
To bring the Fitzgerald home, the Navy will make use of massive heavy-lift ships, designed to hoist smaller vessels onto a platform and carry them across the world’s waterways. The alternate name of these unique ships — float on/float offs (FLO/FLO) — hints at how they’re able to load and carry ships weighing thousands of tons.
To load a vessel aboard a heavy-lift ship, it takes on water into ballast tanks, submerging its main deck area enough that its cargo can be floated into position, sometimes onto a cradle which will keep it stabilized during transport. When its cargo is in place, the ship releases its ballast and is now able to move under its own power.
This won’t be the first time the Navy has had to use a civilian heavy-lift ship to bring one of its own back to American shores.
In 1988, the USS Samuel B. Roberts, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, was struck by an Iranian mine during Operation Earnest Will. The Roberts was marred with a 15-foot gash in its hull, and its engines were rendered inoperable.
To return the Roberts back to the US, the Navy contracted Dutch shipping firm Wijsmuller Transport to the tune of $1.3 million to provide a heavy-lift ship — MV Mighty Servant 2 — that would carry the stricken frigate back to Newport, RI, where further damage assessments would take place.
Years later, in 2000, the USS Cole, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was damaged on its port side at the waterline during a suicide attack which claimed the lives of 17 sailors and injured 39 more. Though the ship was still afloat in the aftermath of the attack, it was quickly determined that it would not be able to proceed back to mainland America under its own power for repairs.
As such, the Navy contracted a Norwegian company, Offshore Heavy Transport, to sail a heavy-lift vessel to Yemen where the Cole remained after the attack, in order to bring the warship home.
In addition to carting damaged warships around the globe, the Navy’s Military Sealift Command also charters heavy-lift ships to carry its smaller craft to various operating locations in foreign seas, including minesweepers and patrol boats.
A number of these heavy-lift ships are still in service today, save for the Mighty Servant 2, which was lost at sea near Indonesia in 1999. It’s possible that the vessel which brought the Cole back to the United States — the Blue Marlin — could be the same one to return Cole’s sister ship, the Fitzgerald, to America to begin the repair process.
It was recently reported that the move could begin as early as September, depending on when the contract for transport is issued and inked.
Summer blockbuster season is almost officially over (The Atlantic claims it stretches from March to Labor Day), and with that, we here at We Are the Mighty have been talking about our favorite movie soundtracks. Of particular interest are our favorite songs from war movies.
This list was nearly impossible to cull down, because many of the best soundtracks are instrumental compositions (which are great), but don’t exactly scream “turn me up!” So we collected a series of songs (many from Vietnam movies) that are sure to either make you sing along, dance, or cry.
10. “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” Nancy Sinatra – “Full Metal Jacket”
“These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” with the line “Me love you long time” from Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket”, made RR in Vietnam seem way more entertaining than it probably was.
9. “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” Otis Redding – “Platoon”
There’s just something about this song that makes you wanna roll one and kick back on a dock somewhere.
8. “California Dreaming” The Mamas and Papas – “Forrest Gump”
Speaking about rolling one…
7. “Get Around” Beach Boys – “Good Morning Vietnam”
We couldn’t have a list of our favorite songs from war movies without a little Robin Williams. In “Good Morning Vietnam,” Robin Williams’ character boosts morale much like Robin Williams did on his many USO tours.
6. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Bobby McFerrin – “Jarhead”
“Sir, I got lost on the way to college, sir!” Classic.
5. “Brown Eyed Girl” Van Morrison – “Born on the Fourth of July”
Though Van Morrison never intended to release this song on an album when he recorded it, we’re sure glad he did. The Grammy’s were, too, as the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.
4. “Miracles” Coldplay – “Unbroken”
You can’t possibly listen to this song and watch this video and NOT immediately want to watch this movie.
3. “There You’ll Be” Faith Hill – “Pearl Harbor”
I know battle hardened Marines who cry during this. It’s the military version of crying after Old Yeller.
Except for all the beer and BBQ, Vietnam isn’t anything like America for an FNG…and other lessons to be learned from Forrest Gump.
1. “Sgt. Mackenzie” Joseph Milna Mackenzie – We Were Soldiers
This haunting melody perfectly captures “We Were Soldiers” final battle in la Drang Valley.
As the story goes, the singer, Joseph Milna Mackenzie wrote the song just after his wife’s death. He stared at a picture of his grandfather above his fireplace and was overcome with wonder about his grandfather’s final moments before he died on the battle field in WWI. The song, according to Mackenzie, suddenly came to him.
The US Air Force’s flight schools have a reputation for churning out some of the best pilots in the world. But not even with that standing, only 558 in the service’s entire history were ever able to earn the title “Bandit” — the name awarded exclusively to pilots assigned to fly the top-secret F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet.
During the first years of the Nighthawk program in the 1980s, candidate pilots were drawn from a pool of fast-jet pilots. Only fighter or attack pilots with minimum of 1,000 hours were considered for the job, though candidates with 2,000 or more hours were preferred, given their extensive piloting experience.
According to Warren Thompson in his book, “Bandits over Baghdad,” stealth program brass struck a careful balance between recruiting pilots with phenomenal service records and pilots who were known to push themselves to the edge of the envelope — constantly demonstrating their prowess in the cockpit of the latest and greatest multimillion dollar fighters in America’s arsenal.
Early Bandits already in the program, having earned their number, were allowed to refer fellow pilots from other units, based on critical evaluations of their skill and abilities as military aviators. The majority of candidates, however, came from fighter squadrons whose commanding officers were vaguely instructed to cherry-pick one or two of their very best pilots, and send them to Arizona to begin training on a new airframe.
Nobody, including the selectees themselves, had much of a clue what they were about to get involved in.
Further adding to the mystery was the fact that this “new” airframe was actually the A-7 Corsair II, an attack jet which had already been in service with the Air Force for a number of years. Nighthawk program evaluators chose the A-7 for its similarity to the F-117 in terms of handling, cockpit layout and flight characteristics. Upon the conclusion of their flight training, candidates would appear for a final series of check rides and tests in Nevada.
The 162d Tactical Fighter Group of the Arizona Air National Guard handled this segment of the selection phase on behalf of the 4450th Tactical Group. The 4450th was the cover for the Nighthawk’s existence, drafted up by the Air Force as a supposed A-7 flight test unit.
The casual observer, and even other military personnel not read into the Nighthawk program, would merely see this outfit as yet another one of the Air Force’s myriad boring units, though in reality, it was anything but that.
If the candidates survived the A-7 flight course, passed their final tests in their new jet, and were approved by the selection cadre, they were finally told what they were really there for — to be the next breed of American black operations pilots, flying an aircraft the government habitually denied even existed.
The Nighthawk was developed more as an attack aircraft than a fighter, though it was still granted the “F” designation like other fighters the USAF fields today. Built to evade and avoid radar detection, the F-117 was the deadly ghost America’s enemies didn’t see coming or going, even after it was too late and the bombs had already deployed from the jet’s twin recessed bays.
All prospective Bandits were now introduced in-person to their new aircraft at the Tonopah Test Range, a highly-guarded military facility known to play host to some of the most secretive Air Force projects ever undertaken. After strenuous classroom sessions followed by training missions flown in top-of-the-line simulators, pilots were then taken back to Arizona to Luke Air Force Base, where they would train briefly on the F-15 Eagle, learning to perform a ‘no-flap’ landing, which would simulate the Nighthawk’s handling dynamics during approaches and landings.
After passing muster, the candidates were handed the figurative keys to the F-117 and were allowed to fly for the first time. Upon their first solo in the Nighthawk, each pilot was assigned a number and were officially awarded the title “Bandit.” As no Nighthawk was ever built with a twin cockpit, instructors flew near their candidates in chase planes while maintaining constant radio contact. After further nighttime and daytime training missions which qualified pilots to operate their jets in adverse conditions, a battery of tests and evaluations followed.
By this time, the class was severely depleted in size – the starting quantity of candidates diminished over time either because pilots opted out of the program, or were dropped by evaluators and instructors just because they weren’t good enough to fly this next-level aircraft. If the candidate was successful in his very last round of testing, he would be sent for further training to become combat qualified and would be initiated as a permanent member of the Nighthawk community.
Pilots were then sent to an operational squadron, where they would go on to fly daring missions in extreme secrecy around the world, from Panama to Yugoslavia, and onward to Afghanistan and even Iraq. The Nighthawk has since been retired from service, having been replaced by the F-22 in its role as a stealth attack jet, though the Bandit number has been permanently capped at 558, forever sealing the status of these pilots as some of the most elite military aviators in history.
If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn’t dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.
Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a “Tunnel Rat” didn’t have much in the way of defense.
“The most dangerous part would be psyching up to get into the tunnel,” Carl Cory says, a former 25th Infantry Div Tunnel Rat. “That was the part that was most frightening because you didn’t what you were getting into.”
It was the duty of the brave Tunnel Rat to slide alone into the tunnel’s entrance then search for the enemy and other valuable intelligence. Due to the intense and dangerous nature of the job, many Tunnel Rats became so emotionally desensitized that entering a spider hole was just another day at the office — no big deal.
With danger lurking around every corner, the Tunnel Rat not only had to dodge the various savage booby traps set by the Viet Cong, but typically only carried 6-7 rounds of ammunition with him even though the tunnels were commonly used to house up to a few dozen enemy combatants.
With all those physical dangers to consider, the courageous troop still needed to maintain a clear and precise mental state of mind and not let the fear get the best of him.
After completing a search, many American and South Vietnamese units would rig the tunnels with C-4 explosives or bring in the always productive flamethrowers to flush out or kill any remaining hostiles.
On July 17, Air Mobility Command chief Gen. Carlton Everhart ordered all 18 of the Air Force’s C-5 cargo planes at Dover Air Force Base to halt operations and undergo inspections after two of the aircraft had landing-gear malfunctions in less than a 60 day period.
Two days later, Everhart extended the stand-down to all 56 of the Air Force’s C-5s, ordering them all to undergo maintenance assessments.
The ball-screw assembly on the C-5 Galaxy, the largest plane in the Air Force, was causing problems with the landing gear’s extension and retraction, according to Air Force Times.
The C-5’s nose landing gear uses two ball-screw drive assemblies working together to extend and retract, according to the Air Force. If one of the assemblies doesn’t work, the gear can’t operate. (The Dover stand-down came a little over a year after the C-5M Super Galaxies stationed there achieved the highest departure-reliability rate in their history.)
Inspections revealed that the parts needed to fix the malfunctions are no longer made. But, Everhart told Air Force Times, maintenance personnel were able to get the needed parts from the aircraft “boneyard” belonging to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona.
As of September 1, 38 of the Air Force’s 56 C-5s were back in service. By Sept. 4, three of them had been sent to support hurricane relief efforts in Houston.
“Returning the C-5 to service so quickly is a maintainer success story. I can’t say enough about our maintainers’ ingenuity, hard work, and pride,” Everhart told Air Force Times, adding that his command was looking at adaptive techniques, like 3D-printing, to supply parts and predictive maintenance to catch malfunctions before they happen.
The Air Force’s “boneyard” in Arizona (there is more than one “boneyard“) provides long-term storage for a wide array of mothballed or unused aircraft — more than 3,800 as of mid-2016. Though they languish under the desert sun, low humidity in the air and low acid levels in the soil make it a good place to keep aircraft.
It’s not unusual for the Air Force to pull parts, or even entire planes, from the sprawling facility.
In summer 2016, the Marine Corps announced that it planned to refurbish 23 F/A-18C Hornets stored at the base in response to a shortage of usable aircraft. In October 2016, after a 19-month restoration process, the Air Force returned to service a B-52H Stratofortress bomber that had been mothballed at Davis-Monthan.
Name a war, revolution, or revolt during the Cold War that involved the British Commonwealth, Western European nations or their allies and you’ve also named a conflict that had combatants fighting with the Fabrique Nationale FAL.
No wonder the FAL earned the nickname “the right arm of the free world” and became a symbol of the struggle against Communism.
In many ways, it was the West’s answer to the Kalashnikov, albeit one chambered to fire the heavier 7.62 x 51 mm NATO round instead of the AK-47’s 7.62 x 39 mm intermediate round.
Created in the years immediately after World War II, FN eventually produced 2 million FALs (Fusil Automatique Léger or “Light Automatic Rifle”) that were used by the militaries of more than 90 nations.
At one time, the FAL was even the official battle rifle of most NATO-member countries. It was even considered for the role as the United States’ main battle rifle.
Frankly, the FAL was everywhere. For example, consider the Six-Day War in 1967.
A common misconception is the 9mm Uzi was the weapon of choice for the Israeli Defense Forces. Actually, Israeli soldiers carried more FALs than Uzis when facing Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian troops.
Then, there was the 1982 Falklands War. The Argentine Army carried the full-auto version of the FAL; British troops had the semi-auto L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle model of the FAL.
When captured Argentine troops piled their weapons, British infantry and Royal Marines often walked over to the stack and retrieved the full-auto FAL so they could spray more lead at the enemy.
In Argentina, thousands of FALs underwent armory rebuilds in 2010, a sure sign that nation will continue to put the weapon in the hands of its troops.
How the FAL saw the light of day is a story that combines the tactical realities that emerged out of World War II and the politics of who would lead who during the Cold War.
The success of the innovative Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle convinced ordnance officers and weapons designers that era of the bolt-action battle rifle was dead and gone. Lighter cartridges in select-fire assault rifles captured the imagination of weapons designers.
Only the United States fielded a heavy caliber semi-auto battle rifle, the well-regarded M1 Garand .30-06 weapon that Gen. George S. Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” But the future was one that fired full auto – and the Garand did not.
Caliber was also an issue. As weapons designers on both sides of the Atlantic toyed with prototype battle rifles the British tested a 7 mm (.280-caliber) round in the new FAL and liked it.
In the United States, the Army wanted to stick with the .30-caliber round, flatly stating that no other cartridge could hold its own on the battlefield.
With the formation of the new NATO alliance in 1949, generals and civilian planners both talked of the necessity to standardize equipment, weapons and supplies.
“The laudable aim was one that had been much in the minds of many forward-looking military thinkers for a long time,” writes David Westwood, author of Rifles: An Illustrated History of their Impact. “For experience had shown that the United States and Britain often fought side by side, and commonality would be to the benefit of all including soldiers in the field.”
One thing was certain: the British were impressed with the FAL and were willing to choose it over other weapons.
It was deemed the superior firearm to competitors because it was easy to maintain, field strip, and clean. It reassembled without special tools and it was a select-fire weapon – but it fired the lighter round.
The “gravel belly” U.S. generals would accept nothing but a .30-caliber weapon, insisting on the superiority of a prototype called the T25, a forerunner of the M14 that was nothing more than a glorified Garand.
Soon, there was a “Battle of the Bullets” that went as high as the White House and 10 Downing Street. Pres. Harry Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill even held a mini-summit, where rumor has it they struck a quid pro quo – the U.S. would adopt the FAL as its main battle rifle if Britain backed NATO adopting the 7.62 x 51 mm round.
NATO relented and adopted the round. However, the U.S. reneged, developed the M14, which fired the NATO 7.62 mm cartridge, and adopted it as the American military’s main rifle.
In the end, it didn’t matter to FN because NATO countries (including Britain) began snapping up the FAL chambered for the NATO round.
Many consider that combination of weapon and cartridge the quintessential pairing of battle-rifle and bullet during the 20th Century – the FAL went into production in 1953 and FN continued to produce the rifle until 1988. The M-14 fell by the wayside as the main U.S. battle rifle within a few years, replaced by the M-16.
“Regardless of the political activity that went on before its adoption, the 7.62 x 51 mm NATO turned out to be an excellent, powerful military cartridge,” writes Robert Cashner, author of The FN FAL Battle Rifle. “With millions of FALs manufactured and internationally distributed, the rifle played a large part in making the 7.62 x 51mm NATO the success that it was.”
Vietnam is one often overlooked place where the FAL also proved a success. The weapon arrived there in the hands of Australian troops who fought as allies of the United States under the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO).
More than 60,000 Aussies would serve in the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1972, including the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. More commonly known as 1RAR, soldiers in the regiment fought in many significant battles during the war’s escalation in the mid-1960s.
During those the engagements, they often faced well-equipped Viet Cong who carried new AK-47s supplied by the Communist Chinese and East Bloc nations.
Despite its weight and size (the FAL is one of the longest battle rifles of the 20th Century), 1RAR’s troops considered their weapon suited for jungle warfare.
The powerful NATO round would punch through thick foliage, killing their concealed VC opponents. It was also a far more reliable weapon than the early version of the M-16 issued to U.S. forces – the FAL rarely jammed or misfired, two problems that plagued the M-16 for years.
For over 20 years, American warfighters have worn the Joint Services Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) on the battlefield and during training for their CBRN protection. But its days are numbered. Brought into service in the 1990’s and now nearing the end of its shelf life, the JSLIST will be replaced by the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble, Increment 2 (UIPE II) in the very near future. What will UIPE II look like? That’s not certain at the moment, but there are some new technologies and advancements that are likely to have an impact:
Better materials – Anyone who has worn the JSLIST remembers the black powder residue that coated your skin and uniform after taking it off. That’s because it had layers of activated charcoal that consisted mostly of carbon. Nowadays, carbon beads are all the rage and can provide adequate protection at a lighter weight.
Lamination of materials – A recent breakthrough in research proved that removing the air gap between layers of materials can lower the thermal burden on the soldier by a large margin. Picture this…future CBRN suits will most likely be layers of materials. So if you have an outer shell, a carbon bead layer, an aerosol barrier, and a comfort liner sewn together in one suit, the thin layers of air in between those materials will heat up. But laminating them together squeezes out all the air and ends up making the soldier cooler. And not just a little, but a lot. That’s huge.
Undergarments – Using the same concept as lamination, undergarments can keep the warfighter cooler than an overgarment by removing the air next to the skin. Research has shown that wearing an undergarment as close to the skin as possible reduces the heat stress. It will take some getting used to, but the UIPE increment 1 suit consists of an undergarment under the duty uniform and is being fielded now.
Conformal fit – Once again, getting rid of all that air brings the temperature down, so a closer fitting uniform with less material reduces the thermal burden on the warfighter while also reducing the potential for snagging on surfaces as he does his mission.
Better seams and closures – Contamination doesn’t get through a suit unless it has a path and those paths are almost always along seams and closures. Seams and closures are frequently the weakest points that allow particles to get through, but several advancements will counter that.
Omniphobic coatings – Have you ever seen that video of ketchup rolling off a dress shirt? Well, it’s out there and it works. Now think of how effective that concept can be for chemical agents. If 50% of the agent sheds off the uniform and falls to the ground before it has a chance to soak into the suit, that’s half the contamination that can reach the trooper. Omniphobic coatings are still in their early stages of development, but they could be game changers when matured.
Composite materials – Just because you can make a suit out of one material doesn’t mean you should. Future suits will have different materials in different areas, like stretchy woven fabrics in the torso (where body armor is) and knit materials that offer less stretch but more protection in the arms and legs.
Overall lower thermal burden – Here’s where the money is. Almost all of these factors contribute to the one big advantage everyone who’s ever worn MOPP 4 wants to hear – less heat stress – which equates to warfighters being able to stay in the suit and do their jobs longer with a lower chance of being a heat casualty. Break out the champagne.
Flame resistance – Because catching on fire sucks. Most uniforms these days have flame resistant coatings or fabrics, but therein lies the challenge. When you add up all the other technologies, the big question is how do you do it all? How do you coat a suit with omniphobics and flame resistance while also laminating composite materials, making it conformal fitting and lowering the thermal burden while also providing an adequate level of CBRN protection, which is the most important aspect of all? Really smart people are working on that.
A family of suits – Common sense tells us one size does not fit all. The DoD has a history of procuring one suit for everyone, like the JSLIST is now fielded to all warfighters. But slowly that has been changing. Everyone has a different job to do while wearing CBRN suits. Some warfighters need a low level of protection for a short period of time while others need more protection for longer periods. A family of suits instead of one is the answer.
MOPP 4 sucks. It’s just a basic tenet of warfighting. We embrace the suck and drive on, but with the progress CBRN suits have made recently, we won’t have to embrace quite as much suck as before.
Senator Daniel Inouye served in WWII and was seriously injured while attacking a German position along a ridge in Tuscany. He stood to throw a grenade into a machine gun nest, when one of the gunners shot him in the stomach. Inouye ignored the wound and killed the machine gunners with his Thompson SMG.
Instead of getting out of combat, Inouye continued the attack and destroyed a second machine gun nest before collapsing from blood loss. After collapsing, Inouye crawled toward a third machine gun nest to continue the assault. As he prepared to throw another grenade, a German RPG severed his right arm. He used his left hand to remove the live grenade from his dead right arm and tossed it into the machine gun nest.
After destroying three German positions, being shot in the stomach, having an arm severed by an RPG, and nearly being blown up with his own grenade, Inouye got up and ran around the ridge, shooting at the remaining Germans with his left hand. He continued to do so until he was shot in the leg, fell off the cliff, and was knocked unconscious at the bottom.
When he awoke in a hospital, his friends told him what he had done. He replied, “No. That’s impossible. Only a crazy person would do that.”
Across southern Ukraine, US special operations forces trained with Ukrainian special operators and conventional US and Ukrainian naval forces during Sea Breeze 2017, July 10-21.
An annual fixture in the Black Sea region since 1997, Sea Breeze is a US and Ukrainian co-hosted multinational maritime exercise.
This year, Ukraine invited US special operations forces to participate, and US Special Operations Command Europe’s Naval Special Warfare Command operators were eager to sign up for the mission.
This is the first time that special operations forces have operated at Sea Breeze, said US Navy Capt. Michael Villegas, the exercise’s director. “[Their] capabilities are extremely valued by the Ukrainians and extremely valuable to the US.”
Naval Special Warfare Command operators were completely integrated into the various air, land, and sea missions that required their unique warfighting skill set. Exercise Sea Breeze is a perfect fit for special operations forces to train and exercise their capabilities, the exercise’s lead special operations forces planner said. “With the support of the [Air Force’s] 352nd Special Operations Wing, we saw a prime opportunity to support [special operations] mission-essential training with our Ukrainian allies,” he said.
He added that naval special warfare units bring a host of unique capabilities into the exercise scenario, such as rigid-hull inflatable boats; visit, board, search, and seizure expertise; and the strongest direct action capabilities available. However, Villegas noted, capability is only one piece of the puzzle when training alongside a partner nation with shared objectives to assure, deter, and defend in an increasingly complex environment.
“In the spirit of Sea Breeze, we come not to impose what we know or how we operate,” he said. “Here, we come to exchange ideas, train towards interoperability and learn to operate side by side should a conflict arise that would require that.”
Achieving interoperability with partner nations and interservice partners is a common objective at exercises like Sea Breeze. But here, the US special operations forces capitalized on it. “Interoperability is our ability to conduct combined planning, problem solving, and mission execution efficiently to achieve a mutually-defined end state,” Villegas said.
Achieving this end state, he added, hinged on US-Ukrainian integration at the tactical level within the special operations platoons, and at the special operations maritime task group level.
“We have combined with our Ukrainian colleagues to integrate their experience and capabilities within our key positions,” he said. “Starting in the command team and further within our operations, communications, logistics, and intelligence departments, we were fully partnered.”
Down at the platoon level, operators fast-roped from hovering US Air Force CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to US Special Operations Command Europe, conducted personnel recovery training and boarded vessels at sea.
“Whether it was on the range, in the field, or on the water, these men were a pleasure to work with,” said a US special operations forces platoon commander. “The Ukrainians’ attitudes made this exercise a great opportunity to exchange training and create a strong relationship.”
As with any exercise of this size and scope, there were challenges to overcome to make the exercise a success while identifying tactical and technical gaps in partner capabilities. “The first major obstacle we had, but were prepared for, was the language barrier,” the platoon commander said. “Another was that our mission sets differed slightly from our counterparts’.” To remedy this, he said, he found ways to incorporate the skill sets of each unit in ways to accomplish the mission while building relationships to forge a stronger partnership. As the operators returned from a long day, mutual trust emerged through combined hard work, long hours, and mutual respect for each unit’s professionalism.
“You always want to work with a partner force who is motivated, wants to train, and wants to get better, and the Ukrainian [special operations forces] are all of these,” the platoon commander said.
On the pier here, overlooking the Black Sea, Villegas expressed the Navy’s gratitude to Ukraine for inviting US special operations forces to participate in this year’s exercise.
“[Special operations] participation at Sea Breeze is so important for Ukraine and the US Navy and all the other units participating,” he said. “Our hosts have been incredibly friendly, committed, and dedicated. Their hard work has ensured Sea Breeze 17 was a success, and we are truly very thankful for that.”