The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment is widely considered to be the best unit of its kind in the world. Known to recruit only the best pilots the US Army has to offer to fly its MH-60 Black Hawks, MH-6 Little Birds and MH-47 Chinooks, the 160th routinely flies in support of America’s most elite troops — Green Berets, Delta Force operators, Army Rangers, and the like.
Not much is actually known about the 160th, and for good reason — it’s still a special operations unit, as its name suggests. But even this outfit is still too “public” for some of the most clandestine missions the Army and Joint Special Operations Command wishes to send its elite operators on.
So the Army stood up an aviation unit that hides deep in the shadows
This outfit is most commonly referred to as “Flight Concepts Division,” though its name has changed many times in the past in order to preserve its cover. Though very little is known about the unit today, we can still infer its role and capability based on what little the Army has released on the Division’s past.
Originally founded as a special ops unit unto itself,first known as SEASPRAY — a highly classified aviation outfit with a number of fronts and covers to protect its identity from public view. Thousands of pilots, cherry-picked from around the Army, were invited to try out for SEASPRAY, but only a handful were selected to continue with the recruitment and training process. Once training was complete, these pilots would go on to fly top secret missions across the world, especially in Central and South America, in support of American special operations objectives.
However, in the mid-1980s, SEASPRAY was disestablished by the Army in the wake of a scandal, its components dispersed and moved to other units to fulfill a similar role.
By the 1990s, the Army had moved chunks of SEASPRAY over to Delta Force, standing up Echo (E) Squadron to support Delta operators with aerial surveillance, insertions and extractions on missions. Pilots and aircraft were transferred over and brought into the fold quickly, receiving further training in assisting Delta assault troops in taking down hijacked cruise ships, inserting operators behind enemy lines and other risky missions.
According to Sean Naylor in his book, “Relentless Strike,” E Squadron pilots were trained and rated to fly a variety of foreign aircraft, including Russian military helicopters popular in the Balkans at the time of the crises there in the mid-to-late ’90s, allowing them to blend in and fly virtually unnoticed. As time passed, whoever, E Squadron’s effectiveness grew so much that brass within Joint Special Operations Command wanted to excise it from Delta Force and stand it up as its own separate unit once more.
Fast forward to the late 1990s, and Flight Concepts Division came into play. Earlier known by a number of other covers and fronts, such as Aviation Technical Services, Quasar Talent and Latent Arrow, this unit provided immeasurable support for “black operations” troops in the Balkans, ferrying them into and out of combat zones surreptitiously without anybody the wiser.
Flight Concepts Division still remains an active unit today with a vague name and an equally obscure mission description. What it actually does in support of American special operations is anybody’s guess, especially while it operates in the shadows cast by its big brother unit, the 160th SOAR. Its aircraft are masked, painted with civilian markings and otherwise kept out of sight, its pilots and aircrew indistinguishable from the average pedestrian on any of America’s streets.
But those who serve with the division are more than likely the best of the very best, the cream of the crop – the elite black ops aviators called upon by Joint Special Operations Command and the president for top secret missions we’ll not hear of for decades to come.
Somewhere, probably in front of a brightly lit screen with Weird Al playing in the background, a bunch of pencil-pushing scientists are writing long formulas on whiteboards, looking at the formulas thoughtfully, and then trying to use all that science to make you nearly invulnerable to firearms.
Body armor saves lives, but it destroys knees.
(U.S. Army Sgt. Kiara Flowers)
Current body armor is great against most rifle, submachine gun, and pistol fire, but it’s far from perfect. It’s heavy, adding as much as 40 pounds to troops’ loads, and it cracks under repeated hits. Against high-velocity and high-caliber rounds, it will typically give way, allowing the rounds to pierce the target anyway.
And all of that’s without taking into account that the armor, when working perfectly and when hit by rounds it’s designed to stop, can’t absorb all the impact. Most of it gets transferred to the target, just over a larger surface, sometimes resulting in broken bones or internal bleeding.
So it could definitely deal with some serious improvements. And that’s where the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology comes in. They have projects in the works that could give rise to futuristic body armor.
Researchers are modeling impacts with 10,000 or more particles that, as they rub together, could absorb the energies of bullets, shrapnel, or blasts that would otherwise kill a soldier.
(Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, MIT)
One of the most exciting is possibly the “Superelastic Granular Materials for Impact Absorption.” Yup, it’s a boring title. This is science. They name stuff with “descriptive” titles instead of entertaining ones. But, basically, this is looking at how to give troops high-tech, wearable beanbags.
The idea is that a bunch of grains of elastic material or crystals can be packed into the armor and, as the armor is hit, the energy is dissipated by these objects through friction and “intra-particle martensitic phase transformation.”
That last phrase is about a fairly complicated scientific process, but it’s the same process that metal goes through when it’s tempered. At its most basic level, the microstructures of certain metals change when heated or placed under extreme stress. So, if a bullet hits a material that will go through the martensitic transformation, then that material will absorb energy as it changes, possibly saving the soldier who doesn’t have to absorb that energy instead.
This is a time-lapse image of a silica particle striking polymer materials. Watching the polymers at this micro-level requires sophisticated equipment, but allows researchers to get a much better idea of how these materials absorb impacts.
(Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, MIT)
Another project is looking at what materials future body armor should be made of. What will hold the superelastic granular materials? That’s the purview of “Design Testing of Polymers for Improved Soldier Protection.” They’re looking at current materials used in body armor and other applications and seeing how they respond to shock and impact.
The hope is that, with a proper understanding of how these materials work at the most microlevels, MIT can figure out how to synthesize even better materials for protecting troops. And these guys want the nitty gritty details on how the materials take hits, watching the materials and measuring their electromagnetic properties when microparticles are fired at them.
One of the specific things they want to know is what materials give up hydrogen atoms when hit and which ones take hydrogen atoms when hit, allowing them to blend materials together so they quickly create hydrogen bonds and crystalline structures when stressed.
One of the projects looks at how different nanocomposite materials react to different stresses.
The shockwave from an explosion travels through different tissues and different parts of cells at different rates, and so it causes the tissues and cells to deform, ripping them apart, potentially killing the soldier. And, that can happen even when zero shrapnel or heat hits the target.
If that shock can be mitigated—especially if it can be mitigated in extremely strong, light materials like graphene—then explosive weapons would lose a lot of their power against troops wearing new armor.
3rd Cavalry Regiment soldiers during a reconnaissance patrol in Iraq in November 2018.
(U.S. Army 1st Lt. Timothy Durkin)
If all the projects come to fruition and engineers are able to blend all the results together, we could see a revolution of body armor. Instead of simply using hard materials to stop attacks like we have for centuries, we could use flexible materials to create armor that moves like clothing and, if we’re really lucky, weighs about the same as traditional fabrics.
But when these fabrics are hit by blasts or by gunshots, the fibers harden themselves and stop the threat, crystalline structures packed inside of the armor absorb the energy, and the whole thing is cost-effective because we’ve figured out cheap ways to create the fabrics.
But it will likely take decades to create final products and get them to the field.
Until then, you’re just going to have to ruck with ballistic plates. Sorry.
As we made our way from Saigon to Buon Ma Thuot (or as I knew it, Ban Me Thuot) the low lying farm lands turned into gently rolling foothills covered with coffee fields being tended by local farmers living along the edges, just as the rubber plantations had been during my time before.
Night began to fall and we ran into a series of storms at the edge of the Central Highlands – my mind flipped and I remembered how darkness and rain actually became a good thing as they masked movement and noise and helped us deceive the enemy as to where we were and what we were doing.
The rain slackened as we approached Ban Me Thuot and the city streets were covered in arches of lights – there must have been a festival or something, but everyone joked it was a gala reception for my return. The wide avenue we entered on led us to the central roundabout with a centerpiece that had a majestic arch with a T-55 Soviet Tank celebrating the “liberation” of the city by North Vietnamese forces.
After a bit of confusion finding a hotel we settled on one directly on the roundabout and then wandered over to the monument. Some local teenagers were taking pictures of each other and then asked if we would take a group photo for them. People are the same the world over – enjoying life and making the most of it.
I marveled at how much BMT had grown and flourished over the years and how it has become a very metropolitan area now as opposed to the small sleepy city I remembered.
The next morning we drove out to East Field where our camp had been. The camp was long gone, the buildings torn down and the jungle had reclaimed the site. The small dirt and oil airfield that was adjacent to the camp has become a regional airport, much like those in any small city in the US. The hill southeast of the camp that we used for a radio relay sight was clearly visible and brought back memories that are recounted in the video. Some of them funny and some of them a bit scary. The red clay dirt is still there – I think I’ve still got a pair of jungle fatigues with that clay imbedded in them at home in Fayetteville.
As I stood near where our camp had been, with butterflies in the background, memories came back of past times – as a friend said the other day, some good and some bad. That’s what life is made of, good and bad memories and it’s how we deal with them that counts.
Everyone gets Facebook friend requests from strangers. We used to worry about them being identity thieves. Nowadays, those strangers might be spooks.
Many experts agree cyberspace is the battleground of the future, and for good reason. We see that future playing out in many ways, even now. There are real cybersecurity threats out there, as the recent hacking of the Office of Personnel Management demonstrates. Experts estimate the cost of information lost to hackers could be as high as $4.6 billion.
This isn’t The Pirate Bay sharing films and music via free torrent downloads. This is actual damage from ideological foes like ISIS and North Korea. China alone accounts for 70% of intellectual property theft. One Air Force counter strategy took a play from Russia’s playbook: create an online army of trolls.
Russian trolls pump out 135 comments, 50 news article posts, and maintain 6-10 Facebook and Twitter accounts per 12-hour shift. But Russia uses actual humans to do this work, while the Air Force commissioned software to allow one service member to control the same number of online identities, accounts known as “sock puppets,” toward purposes not specified.
In 2010, Air Force contractors took bids for developing this software on FedBizOps (which is a real government website, despite sounding like a subsidiary of Cash4Gold) as legally required for potential contractor opportunities. According to the contract synopsis the Air Force wanted:
“50 User Licenses, 10 Personas per user. Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.”
That’s 500 people spreading disinformation and propaganda, much more than the mass emails your parents send to all their friends.
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has the same technology. It might even be better than the Air Force’s request, as CENTCOM’s can fool geolocating services, allowing for misinformation and propaganda (or anything else the software could provide) from anywhere in the world.
“This contract supports classified social media activities outside the U.S., intended to counter violent extremist ideology and enemy propaganda,” said Commander Bill Speaks, the chief media officer of CENTCOM’s digital engagement team.
In contrast, the Air Force’s guidelines for actual humans posting on blogs and social media is actually pretty well constructed.
One of the original bidders for the software was the now-defunct HBGary, whose CEO infamously bragged he was able to take down hacker collective Anonymous, the same collective who subsequently dumped HBGary’s secret documents onto the Internet, where it was found HBGary had developed similar software as a part of the U.S. government’s ongoing not-so-secret supervillain plan to destroy the Wikileaks website.
Whatever the persona technology was for, it was launched in March 2011, presumably in support of Operation Earnest Voice. For the record, it would be illegal for the Air Force or CENTCOM to use “sock puppet” accounts against American citizens.
Kelly Johnson wasn’t the first man to build an airplane, nor was he the first to push the limits of what an airplane could do, but few men have played a more vital role in shaping mankind’s ascent into the skies.
According to the latest expert estimates, human beings just like you and I have been walking on earth for over 200,000 years. That figure gets even tougher to wrap your head around when you consider that a mere 200 years ago, mankind had yet to develop matches or typewriters. A century ago, we didn’t have antibiotics or movies with sound. These, along with countless other advancements, played a roll in a technological revolution that continues to this day, like a snowball rolling down hill, enveloping everything in its path.
Of course, mankind didn’t come by these incredible advancements by accident (most often, anyway) and behind each groundbreaking technology is a man or woman, dedicated to solving the problems of their day, and to getting out in front of those coming tomorrow. Nowhere is this human-driven rapid advancement of technology more prevalent than in one of our species most recent civilization-altering breakthroughs: aviation.
Lockheed engineer Kelly Johnson with famed aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. (Lockheed Martin)
In 1903, the Wright Brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk. Less than forty years later, the first B-29 took to the skies with a pressurized cabin and a wingspan that stretched further than the length of Orville Wright’s entire first flight. A mere 19 years after that, Yuri Gagarin flew in space.
There’s no doubt that countless hands, hearts, and minds played vital roles in our rapid progression from the steam engine to the SpaceX Starship, but even amid this sea of engineers and aviation pioneers, some names stick out. Because while millions may have helped mankind reach the sky, some men’s contributions stand head and shoulders above the rest; Men, like Kelly Johnson.
Forged in the fires of World War II
Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers changed the world in Kitty Hawk. The son of Swedish immigrants, Johnson would win his first prize for aircraft design at the age of 13. By the time he was 22 years old, he was working as an engineer at the legendary aviation firm Lockheed.
At 28, Kelly Johnson’s role at Lockheed would bring him to London, where the island nation was preparing for the onslaught of Nazi Luftwaffe fighters and bombers that were to come just three years later in the Battle of Britain. The British were unconvinced that such a young man could produce an aircraft that could turn the tides of an air war, but the fruit of Kelly Johnson’s labor, dubbed the P-38 Lightning, would go on to become one of the most iconic airframes of the entire war.
Steve Hinton flies “Glacier Girl,” a P-38 Lightning dug out from 268 feet of ice in eastern Greenland in 1992. The aircraft was part of a heritage flight during an air show at Langley Air Force Base, Va., on May 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)
At the start of the fighting in Europe, many Allied air units were still operating bi-planes. By the end of World War II, Kelly Johnson and his team delivered the United States its first ever operational jet-powered fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Johnson had been tasked with building an aircraft around the new Halford H.1B turbojet engine that could compete with Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. In just an astonishing 143 days, Kelly had gone from the drawing board to delivering the first operational P-80s.
Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star (WikiMedia Commons)
The original Skunk Works
It was during World War II that Kelly Johnson and fellow engineer Ben Rich first established what was to become the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works. Today, the Skunk Works name is synonymous with some of the most advanced aircraft ever to take to the skies, but its earliest iteration was nothing more than a walled-off portion of a factory in which Johnson and his team experimented with new technologies for the P-38, developing the first 400 mile-per-hour fighter in the world for their trouble, in the XP-38.
XP-38 (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Later, Kelly’s secretive team again came through with the P-80, and again with the design and production of the C-130 Hercules, which remains in service for the U.S. and a number of other Air Forces around the world today. Then, in 1955, they received yet another seemingly impossible assignment: The United States needed an aircraft that could fly so high it could avoid being shot down, or potentially even detected.
Soviet Radar and intercept fighters of the era were limited to altitudes below 65,000 feet, and the highest any American aircraft could reach was just 48,000. In order to continue keeping tabs on the Soviets, the Air Force solicited requests for an airplane that could fly at an astonishing 70,000 feet with a long 1,500 mile fuel range.
Clarence L. Kelly Johnson, chief designer at Lockheeds secret Skunk Works facility, initially designed the U-2 around the F-104 Starfighter fuselage. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works responded with a design that they claimed could fly as high as 73,000 feet with a range of 1,600 miles, based on the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, a slender and supersonic intercept fighter. The Air Force rejected his design… but it caught the attention of America’s secretive spy agency, the CIA.
President Eisenhower wanted eyes on the Soviet nuclear program, and Johnson’s unusual aircraft design with long slender wings and no retractable landing gear seemed like it could do the job, despite its shortcomings. Johnson and his team were given a contract to design and build their high-flying spy plane, and in just eight months, they delivered the U-2 Dragon Lady.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
In order to test this incredible new aircraft, Kelly Johnson needed a remote air strip, far from the prying eyes of the American public. He chose a dry lake bed in Nevada for the job, and it proved particularly well suited for testing classified aircraft. Eventually, that little airstrip and accompanying hangars and office buildings would come to be known popularly as Area 51.
Taking spy planes to the next level
The U-2 may have been an immense success, but just as aviation advancements were coming quickly, so too were air defenses. In 1960, Soviet surface-to-air missiles finally managed to get a piece of a CIA operated U-2 flown by pilot Gary Powers. The aircraft was flying at 70,000 feet, higher than the Americans thought could be spotted or targeted by Soviet radar, when it was struck by an SA-2 Guideline missile. Powers had to ride the Dragon Lady down from 70,000 feet to 30,000 feet before he could safely eject, and as the secretive spy plane plummeted to the ground, Kelly Johnson and his team at Skunk Works were already developing a platform to replace it.
With spy satellites still more than a decade away, the United States needed a new aircraft it could rely on to keep tabs on the Soviets. It would need to not only fly higher than the U-2, but faster–much faster, so even if it was detected, no missile could reach it.
SR-71 Blackbird (NASA)
Johnson and his team designed a twin-engine aircraft with astonishing capabilities in the A-12, which then led to the operational SR-71 Blackbird — an aircraft that retains the title of fastest operational plane in history to this very day. Lockheed’s SR-71 could sustain speeds in excess of Mach 3.2, flying at altitudes higher than 78,000 feet. During its 43 years in service, the SR-71 had over 4,000 missiles fired at it from ground assets and other aircraft. Not a single one ever found its target.
Another aviation revolution
Kelly Johnson and the team at Skunk Works were on the cutting edge of speed and power, but as the Cold War raged on, it was Johnson and his team that recognized how the battle space was shifting. For years, the United States had focused on developing aircraft that could fly ever faster and ever higher, but with the advent of computer-aided engineering, yet another technological leap was within Lockheed’s grasp.
Johnson and his team needed to develop an aircraft that could defeat detection from not only enemy radar, but also other common forms of detection and targeting, like infrared. Using the most advanced computers available at the time, Skunk Works first developed an unusual angular design they dubbed “the hopeless diamond,” as it seemed unlikely that such a shape could ever produce aerodynamic lift.
Undaunted, development continued and by 1976, they had built a flyable prototype. The aircraft was called Have Blue, and it would lead to the first operational stealth aircraft ever in service to any nation, the legendary F-117 Nighthawk.
Have Blue flying in testing (WikiMedia Commons)
The F-117, or “stealth fighter” as it would come to be known, played a vital role in America’s combat operations over Iraq in Desert Storm and elsewhere, but this program produced more than battlefield engagements. The technology developed for the F-117 directly led to America’s premier stealth fighters of today: the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The latter of those two is expected to serve as the backbone of America’s air superiority strategy for decades to come.
Kelly Johnson (Lockheed Martin)
“The damn Swede can actually see air.”
In total, Kelly Johnson had a hand in the design and development of some 40 aircraft for commercial and military purposes, with seemingly countless awards and credits to his name for his engineering prowess. The man had a genuine affection for his work, to the degree that he turned down the presidency of Lockheed on three separate occasions to retain his role within the Skunk Works he helped to found.
Kelly’s boss at Lockheed, Hall Hibbard, once exclaimed, “The damn Swede can actually see air,” as he tried to understand how one man managed to play such a pivotal role in so many aircraft, and in turn, in how the Cold War unfolded. Finally, Kelly retired in 1975, but remained a senior advisor to Skunk Works for years thereafter.
He passed away in 1990 at age 80, just one year before the United States, with all its incredible military technology, would emerge the victor of the Cold War.
The submarine fleet will welcome two new Virginia-class fast attack subs, the USS Colorado (SSN 788) and the USS Washington (SSN 787). While new Virginia-class subs typically feature the latest and greatest tech in submarine warfare, everything from improved sensors to better acoustic camouflage, the specifics are classified for obvious reasons.
5. New night-vision goggles will let troops see thermal signatures better
One toddler helped inspire a company that now helps hundreds of military children deal with one of the most stressful times of their lives: seeing their parents leave for deployment.
“It doesn’t have to be sad,” said Bridget Platt, the founder and CEO of Daddy’s Deployed and wife of a Marine Corps aviator. “And that’s what I wanted to do. Create this story where [kids] are the star even if their family is separated at the time.”
Founded in 2012, Platt’s company creates custom-designed children’s books that explain where mom or dad are going, what they’ll be doing, and how they’ll stay in touch through tools like Skype. The first book she ever created was for her own daughter, with pictures of the family literally cut out and glued onto the pages.
But her inspiration came three years before, while working with a two-year-old girl named Claire at the child development center on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
“She was perfectly behaved, would eat every meal, play outside, and she shared. She was potty-trained and would nap everyday,” Platt said. “And then her dad deployed and all of that changed. She started having accidents. She wouldn’t eat. She would literally cry out for him at naptime. And I remember thinking that somebody has to do something to help these kids but I was just too far from it at that point. We were newlyweds. We didn’t have any children so I couldn’t wrap my head around what that concept might be.”
Once she had her own children, and with the help of her brother — a Harvard Business School graduate — she put together a business plan, copyrighted a logo, and brought on a great illustrator to help with creating the book’s artwork.
Now, parents can go on the Daddy’s Deployed website (there’s a Mommy’s version as well) and order their books, after putting in their information such as their name and rank, branch of service, what kind of job they have, and their children’s names. In about three weeks, Platt and her team will send back a personalized book with the family drawn into their own story.
“The whole point of it is that when the kids open page one they see their family in the story,” Platt said. “They see themselves in the story. They see their dog in the story. So that they know that it’s this happy, brightly colored vision of what their life could be or is going to be.”
Beyond the custom books relating to deployments, Platt told We Are The Mighty she has plans to expand her offerings. The company recently launched a book about military moves, and it is currently looking into selling eBooks and other interactive materials, such as audiobooks where the deployed parent can read the story to their loved ones.
“My favorite thing is when people first look at the book that didn’t know about the company beforehand,” she said. “The most common thing that is said to me is, ‘why didn’t I think of this?’ And that shows me that there was a problem and we are answering it. And that is the best thing. My response is always the same: ‘I’m really glad you didn’t.’ But in my mind I’m like, ‘Yes! Thank you for saying that.'”
On January 28 Secretary Bob McDonald put his name to the draft master plan for the future of the West Los Angeles VA campus, a year after the agency won a settlement in a class action lawsuit brought before the courts to reverse years of encroachment on the campus. In his remarks at a ceremony marking the signing, McDonald spoke about the accomplishments of those involved in crafting the plan, crediting the veterans who’d assisted along the way.
“We know this is a team sport,” McDonald said of the process. “It has to be done collaboratively.”
The effort that gave McDonald confidence that the master plan he was signing incorporated enough input from local vets involved collaboration on a massive scale. Marine vet Mike Dowling, We Are The Mighty‘s director of outreach, and Anthony Allman of Vets Advocacy helped organize a number of veteran service organizations to get membership mobilized to create the focus of the draft master plan.
Under the guidance of Dowling and others, dozens of VSO reps met weekly after work for six months hammering out formal comments while carrying the message back to their membership to make sure the direction behind the plan was as comprehensive as possible.
Vets Advocacy, the organization formed to settle the litigation and implement the settlement agreement, created a website, www.vatherightway.org, as the primary tool to inform veterans and get their input. The site allowed veterans to learn the history of the campus and the associated encroachment issues, see the schedule of the 12 town hall events, and — most importantly — conduct a survey that asked veterans for their opinions about how the campus could better serve the veteran community. More than 1,000 vets commented and those recommendations were filed to the Federal Register, the official government record of the plan.
That result was no small feat. Veterans answered the call to see to their own well-being in the same way they might have tackled an objective during their time on active duty. It was hard work, and the vets were proud of the fact that they might actually make a difference and be part of the solution.
But during his speech McDonald also credited the leadership of UCLA for their part in making the campus better for veterans, which struck many of the veterans in attendance as odd. The university was arguably the worst offender in terms of encroachment by virtue of the fact that Jackie Robinson Stadium — home to the Bruins’ baseball team — was illegally built on VA property. What those vets didn’t know at the time was that McDonald was about to sign a document that outlined the terms of an “enhanced use” land agreement that would allow UCLA to continue to use the stadium for another 10 years, at least.
Curiously, the VA remained mum while UCLA issued a press release that outlined several million dollars worth of veteran initiatives that the university intends to carry out in the years to come in return for keeping the stadium.
Some veterans who were active in the draft master planning process expressed concerns that history is in danger of repeating itself by allowing the VA to sign deals with third parties without oversight or veteran buy-in for reasons that have no bearing on the VA’s mission.
“It feels like the VA put the cart before the horse by agreeing to terms before the enabling legislation passes and before any vets saw the deal,” said Seth Smith, a UCLA alumnus and Navy vet. “That timing leaves a bad taste in vets’ mouths. It’s a step in the wrong direction in terms of regaining the Los Angeles community’s trust.”
Richard Valdez, a Marine veteran and chairman of the VSO coalition in Los Angeles, said concerns from vets like Smith are premature because the agreement between the VA and UCLA is not legally effective and requires passage of the Los Angeles Homeless Veterans Leasing Act, which is expected this spring.
“Veterans need to understand that what was just signed isn’t a contract,” Valdez said. “It’s merely an agreement in principle.”
That fact notwithstanding, vet advocates who put a lot of work into the draft master plan question the VA’s timing and wonder why they weren’t given a heads up that the signing of terms with UCLA was going to happen. But VA officials were unflinching when asked about the circumstances surrounding the arrangement.
“We do everything with veterans in mind,” said Vince Kane, the director of the VA’s National Homeless Center. “And we got a good deal for them.”
Veteran expectations about the magnitude of change on the campus may have also been shaped by the language in the federal court’s findings in the original lawsuit (Valentini v. McDonald), which stated that all of the enhanced use land agreements on the VA campus were illegal. That may have led veterans to believe that the agreements would be terminated indefinitely (and even that the stadium might be demolished) in favor of more pressing priorities. After all, where does a Division I baseball stadium fit among the needs of homeless veterans and patients?
Valdez thinks that those who thought that would happen were naive. “Enhanced use leases are a fact of life, and that’s not going to change,” Valdez said. “If we have an issue within that reality, that’s where the vet community needs to focus.”
Dr. Jon Sherin, a physician who ran mental health services for the West Los Angeles VA hospital and serves as a senior member of the Vets Advocacy team, recommended that veterans remain vigilant and not grow cynical. “The work isn’t over,” he said.
“The master plan itself is a monumental achievement on behalf of the vet community,” Dowling said. “No matter what happens, vets in LA set an example for communities across the nation in coming together to take our future in our own hands.”
Kiessling, who works at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, gave Business Insider his personal views on North Korea, which do not represent the Pentagon’s official stance.
“If you’re really concerned about an ICBM from anyone, go back and look at history for what everyone has ever done for ICBMs,” said Kiessling. “All early liquid ICBMS are siloed.”
Through a painstaking analysis of imagery and launch statistics from North Korea’s missile program, Kiessling has concluded that the road-mobile, truck-based missiles they show off can’t actually work as planned, and may instead be purposeful distractions from a more capable missile project.
In a paper for Breaking Defense, Kiessling and his colleague Ralph Savelsberg demonstrated a model of the North Korean ICBM and concluded its small size made it basically useless for reaching the US with any kind of meaningful payload.
History suggests that building a true liquid-fueled ICBM that can be transported on a truck presents huge, if not insurmountable problems, to designers.
“The US and the Soviets tried very hard and never managed to reach a level of miniaturization and ruggedness that would support a road-mobile ICBM,” said Kiessling, referring to the minaturization of nuclear warheads needed to fit them onto missiles.
ICBMs that use liquid fuel, as North Korea’s do, are “very likely to crumple or damage the tankage” while being carted around on a bumpy truck.
“While it may not be impossible, it’s bloody difficult and extremely dangerous” to put a liquid-fueled ICBM on a truck, according to Kiessling.
Instead, the US, Soviets, and Chinese all created silo-based liquid-fueled missiles, as the static missiles are more stable and less prone to sustaining damage.
But there’s no evidence of North Korea building a silo for missile launches, and Kiessling said that could be due to a massive deception campaign that may have fooled some of the world’s top missile experts.
Kiessling thinks that North Korea has actually been preparing for a silo-based missile that combines parts of the Hwasong-14, its ICBM, with its space-launch vehicle, the Unha. Both the Unha and the Hwasong-14 have been tested separately, and Kiessling says they could easily be combined.
This analysis matches the comments of Mike Elleman, a senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who told Business Insider he saw the Hwasong-14 as an “interim capability” that North Korea was using to demonstrate an ICBM as quickly as possible.
Elleman believes that North Korea well develop a “heavier ICBM” that “may not be mobile,” but can threaten the entire continental US and carry a heavier payload, including decoys and other penetration aides.
But other prominent analysts disagree with Kiessling’s model, saying he incorrectly judged the size of the Hwasong-14. To that, Kiessling says that North Korean imagery, which has all been purposefully released by a regime known to traffic in propaganda, is geared towards deception.
“One of the hardest problems imaginable is to find something you’re not looking for,” said Kiessling, of a possible missile silo in North Korea.
“If I was in the place of Kim Jong Un, and I wanted to have a cleverly-assembled ICBM program, I’d do it the way everyone else does it,” said Kiessling, referring to silo-based missiles. “But at the same time, you run a deception program to distract everyone else from what you’re doing until you’re done.”
A silo would also prove an inviting target for any US strikes on North Korea, as the target can’t hide once its found. If the US were to find out that North Korea hadn’t succeeded in miniaturizing its warheads enough to fit on its mobile missiles, a smaller-scale strike against fixed targets may seem like an attractive option.
Air Force leaders are leaving no stone unturned in their search for the best industry practices and innovations to consider in rebuilding Tyndall AFB, Florida, which was devastated by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
To that end, members of the Tyndall Program Management Office, along with Air Force experts, industry and community leaders participated in an AFWERX-sponsored workshop June 25-26, 2019, in Las Vegas to rebuild the installation as a “base of the future.”
“The purpose of involving AFWERX was to assist us in moving much more quickly and agilely when it comes to the rebuild,” said Brig. Gen. Patrice Melancon, Tyndall PMO executive director in charge of the rebuild effort. “The point was to connect innovators to get after infusing innovations. At AFWERX, we came together to brainstorm the art of the possible for the rebuild.”
Hurricane Michael damaged nearly 480 facilities and the Air Force estimates the cost to rebuild at about .25 billion, with approximately 0 million spent so far.
“Let’s face it, we are basically building an entire base,” Melancon added. “The entire military construction budget is about .8 billion, which traditionally is the military construction program for the entire Air Force. We are going to do this all at one base in basically two fiscal years in terms of (contract) awards.”
Col. Jefferson Hawkins, Tyndall Air Force Base 325th Fighter Wing vice commander, leads a discussion during a recent workshop at the AFWERX facility in Las Vegas, June 25-26, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Veronica Kemeny)
The workshop also featured TED talks, problem-solving and collaborative group sessions led by AFWERX facilitators. Attendees discussed bringing best practices from industry and streamlining acquisition processes.
Col. Jefferson Hawkins, vice commander of the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall AFB, was an attendee at the workshop and appreciated the ideas shared.
“What a great step forward for Tyndall’s rebuild,” Hawkins said. “AFWERX created both open thought and open dialogue. The ideas and conversations generated and relationships built will be pivotal to our future success.”
The time spent at AFWERX facilitated outside-the-box thinking.
“The work and innovation we are exploring to rebuild Tyndall can be used as an example of how we build the 21st century air base in the Air Force,” Melancon said.
“Technologies such as frictionless entry or a fast-pass lane at a gate where you swipe your ID card or possibly use your fingerprint to go through a secured gate is technology in the commercial space that we need to leverage for our benefit.”
Brig. Gen. Patrice Melancon, Tyndall Air Force Base Program Management Office executive director and Renee Richardson, director of Acquisition Operations for the Air Force Installation Contracting Center, work together during an innovation exercise during a recent visit to the AFWERX facility in Las Vegas.
(U.S. Air Force by Veronica Kemeny)
Tom Neubaurer, Bay Defense Alliance president, whose organization works with Tyndall leadership and Program Management Office to ensure the preservation of the mission at the base, also attended the AFWERX workshop and expressed his optimism about the rebuild.
“Clearly, we have an amazing opportunity to partner with our military neighbors and build a great American defense community around the base of the future,” Neubauer said. “By working together now, we will reflect proudly on all that is accomplished in the years ahead for a better Bay County and for national defense.”
Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Energy John Henderson reaffirmed the Air Force’s commitment to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base during a second industry day held this past May to inform industry about the work that lies ahead. A third industry day is tentatively scheduled for August that will provide further updates on the innovative ideas submitted through white papers and what has developed during the AFWERX visit.
The focus and commitment of the 325th FW and PMO is to assess facility damage, determine usability and preserve capability.
A 20-year-old Lance Cpl. of Britain’s Coldstream Guards was right on target in December 2013. His quick shooting prevented a major offensive by Taliban fighters when he hit the trigger of an enemy suicide vest – with a round from his L115A3 rifle.
The UK’s Telegraph reported that his unit was hundreds strong during a joint patrol with Afghan counterparts in Helmand Province, near Karakan. They came under heavy fire from a Taliban ambush. The commanding officer of the 9/12 Royal Lancers, Lt. Col. Richard Slack, did not give the name of the sniper, but acknowledged his decisive action.
“The guy was wearing a vest. He was identified by the sniper moving down a tree line and coming up over a ditch,” said Slack. “He had a shawl on. It rose up and the sniper saw he had a machine gun. … They were in contact and he was moving to a firing position. The sniper engaged him and the guy exploded.”
It was the lance corporal’s second shot of his tour. When he hit the vest’s trigger, the man exploded, taking out five more of his fellow fighters. He was 930 yards away.
The sniper’s first shot killed an enemy machine gunner during the same engagement. That shot was from more than 1,400 yards away.
When the smoke cleared, British forces found a second vest containing 44 pounds of explosives.
Holly Watt of the Telegraph called it “one of the dwindling number of gun battles between British forces and the insurgents.”
Creating a fool-proof selection program as well as finding the right entry requirements to test candidates is something the military, police, special ops, and fire fighter worlds constantly seek to perfect. I recently was asked the following question by a few friends who are either active duty or former Tactical Professionals (aka military, special ops, police, swat, and fire fighters):
Do you think there will ever be a measurable test or metric to predict the success of a candidate in Special Ops programs?
My unqualified short answer is… maybe? I think there are far too many variables to test to create a measurable metric to predict success in selection programs or advanced special operations training. Now, this does not mean we should stop looking and creating statistical analyses of those who succeed and fail, or testing out new ideas to improve student success. There is no doubt that finding better prepared students will save money, time, and effort, and it’s worth remembering that much of the entry standards are based on those studies. The ability to measure someone’s mental toughness (aka heart or passion) may be impossible, but there are groups making great strides with quantifying such intangibles.
Recently, Naval Special Warfare Center (BUD/S) did a three-year study on their SEAL candidates attending Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL Training. If you are looking for the physical predictors to success, this is about as thorough of a study as I have ever seen to date.
The CSORT — Computerized Special Operations Resiliency Test is another method of pre-testing candidates prior to SEAL Training — while still in the recruiting phase. The CSORT is part of the entry process and has become a decent predictor of success and failure with a candidate’s future training. Together with the combined run and swim times of the BUD/S PST (500yd swim, pushups, situps, pullups, and 1.5 mile run), a candidate is compared to previous statistics of candidates who successfully graduated.
Can You Even Measure Mental Toughness?
This is a debate that those in the business of creating Special Operators still have. In my opinion, the “test” is BUD/S, SFAS, Selection, SWAT Training, or whatever training that makes a student endure daily challenges for a long period of time. The body’s stamina and endurance is equally tested for several days and weeks, as is one’s mental stamina and endurance (toughness) in these schools. The school IS the test. Finding the best student — now that is the challenge.