This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years - We Are The Mighty
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This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years

Plastic may sound like a terrible idea for stopping bullets and shrapnel, but this plastic is lightweight, modular, and affords all the same protection of current gear. The Army’s Program Executive Officer (PEO) Soldier, the office responsible for cost and scheduling in DoD acquisitions for soldiers’ equipment and protective gear, has been field testing armor weighing only 23 pounds. This new lightweight armor is known as the Torso and Extremities Protection System and is 25 percent lighter that current body armor.


This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Image from PEO Soldier

The key is Polyethylene. The plastic is also replacing kevlar in soldiers’ personal protective armor and in replacing helmets. Furthermore, manufacturers of ceramic plates are also refining the process of making the plates, which will drive the weight down even more.

“The Army is constantly trying to make soldiers’ loads lighter,” Lt. Col. Kathy Brown told Stars and Stripes. Brown is a program manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier. “We are looking at further developing the system,” she said. “We think we can lose more weight.”

The new armor will cost less to produce and will allow troops to wear more or less armor, depending on mission risk and requirements. The new flexibility also offers the wearer increased mobility. For missions with less risk involved, soldiers can wear a “ballistic combat shirt,” a soft armor which protects the upper back, check, neck, and arms under their jackets. Ceramic plates can be added for increased protection.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years

The new armor has been field tested at Army and Marine Corps units across the U.S. for the last two years and has received a 95 percent positive feedback rating from troops who tested it. In addition, the Army tried to take into account all the previous efforts to make armor more comfortable for female wearers. So this armor is designed to be unisex and all-encompassing for both male and female soldiers.

The new armor is expected to be available for Army-wide soldier use in 2019.

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This is how close America came to having nuclear powered rockets

In the 1950s and 60s the U.S. Air Force tested flying rockets and ramjets powered by nuclear reactors.


This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Artist rendering of a modern ramjet missile, the X-51A Waverider. Graphic: US Air Force

If it weren’t for breakthroughs in chemical propulsion that occurred at about the same time, the nuclear missiles based throughout the U.S. and Europe could well be nuclear warheads sitting atop nuclear reactors.

The idea of a nuclear-powered rocket engine actually dates back to World War II. But research didn’t begin until 1955 when teams at both Los Alamos and Livermore national laboratories were tasked with figuring out the basic engineering necessary for the project.

At its most basic level, rockets and ramjets work by superheating air and propelling it out the back of the engine. Conventional rockets and ramjets use chemical combustion to heat the air. The nuclear engines were designed to superheat the air using a heat exchanger hooked to a nuclear reactor.

The research into the rocket engines was dubbed “Project Rover,” and the ramjet research was dubbed “Project Pluto.”

Rover began tests in 1957, and a full-powered test in 1959 was a huge success. This led to an expansion of the program and the construction of new reactors, all of which underwent ground testing. The tests were largely successful, but extreme vibrations in some of the test engines caused a slowdown in progress through the 1960s.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Researchers appraise a Kiwi experimental rocket engine powered by a nuclear reactor.Photo: Los Alamos National Library

Project Rover’s initial successes allowed NASA engineers to briefly consider nuclear power for the first manned missions to the Moon, but the vibration problems were not worked out in time. Rover’s engine then got the nod for a possible mission to Mars, but the mission was canceled. Without any immediate mission requirements, Rover was declared a technical success and shut down.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
The Rover Kiwi-A engine undergoes testing. Photo: Los Alamos National Laboratory

The nuclear rocket engine idea has been revived a few times since then, mostly when engineers start to seriously strategize manned missions to Mars. It was also briefly revived as a method of getting the Strategic Defense Initiative ballistic missile shield into orbit.

Project Pluto was even more successful from a technical standpoint. Each ramjet test reactor achieved every one of its major goals, and a number of the tests were declared flawless.

Like the Rover, all the tests were conducted on the ground. Also like Project Rover, Pluto was shut down in favor of chemical propulsion. America had found a way to strike the Soviet Union from across the world without having to fly nuclear reactors over their own land and troops.

Both concepts and their accompanying research are mothballed, waiting for a mission to potentially revive them.

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Why the US confronted Iranian-backed militants in Yemen, and the risks that lie ahead

In the early-morning hours of October 12, the USS Nitze fired a salvo of Tomahawk cruise missiles at radar sites in Houthi-controlled Yemen and thereby marked the US’s official entry into the conflict in Yemen that has raged for 18 months.


The US fired in retaliation to previous incidents where missiles fired from Iranian-backed Houthi territory had threatened US Navy ships: the destroyers USS Mason and USS Nitze, and the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce.

Also read: Here’s what would happen if U.S. tried to strike Russian-backed targets in Syria

After more than two decades of peaceful service, this was likely the first time the US fired these defensive missiles in combat.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
The guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze underway in the Atlantic | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Steve Smith

“These strikes are not connected to the broader conflict in Yemen,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. “Our actions overnight were a response to hostile action.”

But instead of responding to the attack with the full force of two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the Navy’s response was measured, limited, and in self-defense.

Jonathan Schanzer, an expert on Yemen and Iran at the Foundation for Defending Democracies, said the US’s response fell “far short of what an appropriate response would be.”

“Basically, the US took out part of the system that would allow for targeting, protecting themselves but not going after those who fired upon them,” Schanzer told Business Insider.

Even the limited strike places the US in a tricky situation internationally and legally. TheObama administration has desperately tried to preserve relations with Iran since negotiating and implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to ensure Iran doesn’t become a nuclear state.

But the pivot toward Iran, a Shia power, has ruffled feathers in Saudi Arabia, a longtime US ally and the premier Sunni power in the Middle East.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
The guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett launches a Tomahawk missile. | U.S. Navy photo by Fire Controlman 1st Class Stephen J. Zeller

By taking direct military action against the Houthi rebels, a Shia group battling the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi, the US has entered into — even in a limited capacity — another war in the Middle East with no end in sight.

Iran and the Houthis

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Fighters from the Yemeni rebel group Ansar Allah.

Phillip Smyth of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy told Business Insider that Iran views Shia groups in the Middle East as “integral elements to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”

Smyth confirmed to Business Insider the strong bond between Iran and the Houthi uprising working to overthrow the government in Yemen.

According to Smyth, in many cases Houthi leaders go to Iran for ideological and religious education, and Iranian and Hezbollah leaders have been spotted on the ground advising the Houthi troops.

These Iranian advisers are likely responsible for training the Houthis to use the type of sophisticated guided missiles fired at the US Navy.

For Iran, supporting the revolt in Yemen is “a good way to bleed the Saudis,” Iran’s regional and ideological rival. Essentially, Iran is backing the Houthis to fight against a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf States fighting to maintain government control of Yemen.

“The Iranians are looking at this from a very, very strategic angle, not just bleeding Saudis and other Gulf States, but how can they expand their ideological and military influence,” Smyth said.

Yemen presents an extremely attractive goal for enterprising Iran. Yemen’s situation on the Bab-al-Mandab Strait means that control of that waterway — which they may have been trying to establish with the missile strikes — would give them control over the Red Sea, a massive waterway and choke point for commerce.

The risk of picking a side

The US officially became a combatant in Yemen on Wednesday night. In doing so, it has tacitly aligned with the Saudi-led coalition that has been tied to a brutal air blockade.

The Saudis stand accused of war crimes in connection with bombing schools, hospitals, markets, and even a packed funeral hall.

Internal communications show the US has been very concerned about entering into the conflict for fear that it may be considered “co-belligerents” and thereby liable for prosecution for war crimes, Reuters reported.

Lawrence Brennan, an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School and a US Navy veteran, told Business Insider the “limited context in which these strikes occurred was to protect freedom of navigation and neutral ships” and likely doesn’t “rise to the legal state of belligerence.”

Yet Russian and Shia sources are quick to lump the US and Saudi Arabia together, Smyth added. Just as the US and international community look to hold Russia and Syria accountable for the bombing of a humanitarian aid convoy in Syria, the indiscriminate Saudi air campaign in Yemen makes it “very easy to offer a response” to the cries of war crimes against them, he said.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Yemeni soldiers during a parade in 2011.

Indeed, now Russian propagandists can offer up a narrative that suggests a dangerous quid pro quo narrative, suggesting that the US and Russia are trading war crimes in the region, and to “throw out chaff” and muddy the waters should the international community looks to prosecute Russia and Syria, Smyth added.

Gone too far — or not far enough?

So, while the US has now entered the murky waters of the conflict in Yemen — where 14 million people lack food and thousands of civilians have been murdered — Schanzer says the US may not have done enough.

The Navy “didn’t hit the people who struck them,” Schanzer said. “They’re not looking for caches of missiles, not looking for youth hideouts, not looking to engage directly.”

For Schanzer, this half-measure “seems like it’s not even mowing the lawn.”

But with the US already involved in bombing campaigns in six countries, it is “loathe” to get mired in another Middle Eastern conflict and equally concerned about fighting against Iran’s proxies, whom it sees as extensions of Iran’s own IRGC.

For now, the Pentagon remains committed to the idea that the strike on Houthi infrastructure was a “limited” strike, and that it’s strictly acting in self-defense, which Schanzer said is “not really the way to achieve victory.”

But with just three months left in President Obama’s second term, there is good reason to question if the US’s objective is to help the people of Yemen and end the war, or to simply sit out the festering conflict as it balances delicate regional alliances.

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This is “The World’s Leading Distributor of MiG Parts”

The McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom acquired many nicknames over its storied career: Snoopy, Old Smokey, St. Louis Slugger, the Flying Anvil, and many more. The best, by far, came from the sheer number of Soviet-built MiGs taken down by the plane.

The F-4 was truly an amazing aircraft. Even at the end of its service life, it was winning simulated air battles against the United States’ latest and greatest airframes, including the F-15 Eagle, which is still in service today. Even though it was considered an ugly aircraft by pilots of the time, it’s hard to argue with 280 enemy MiG kills — which is how it acquired its best nickname, “The World’s Leading Distributor of MiG Parts.”

After being introduced in 1960, it was acquired by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Navy as an interceptor and fighter-bomber. In Vietnam, the Phantom was used as a close-air support aircraft and also fulfilled roles as aerial reconnaissance and as an air superiority fighter.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
U.S. Air Force Col. Robin Olds lands his F-4 Phantom II fighter, SCAT XVII, on his final flight as Wing Commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon Thailand in Sept. 1967.

All of the last American pilots, weapon systems officers, and radar intercept officers to attain ace status did so in F-4 Phantom II fighters over Vietnam — against MiGs.


And the MiG fighters flown by the North Vietnamese were no joke, either. The Navy’s Top Gun school was founded because of the loss rate attributed to VPAF pilots — and that’s only the opposition in the air. North Vietnam’s air defenses were incredibly tight, using precise, effective doctrine to thwart American air power whenever possible. Air Force Col. Robin Olds used this doctrine against them in Operation Bolo, the first offensive fighter sweep of the war and a brilliant air victory.

Now Read: This is how triple-ace Robin Olds achieved his perfect victory over Vietnam

Olds found the loss rate to VPAF MiG-21s to be unacceptable when taking command of the 8th TFW in Ubon. With the F-4’s success in Operation Bolo, Olds and the 8th TFW grounded the entire Vietnamese People’s Air Force for months.

The F-4 Phantom II was eventually replaced, but it took a number of different planes to compensate for the absence of this versatile airframe. It was replaced by the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, and F-14 Tomcat. The F-14 was also the most widely produced aircraft, with more than 5,000 built.

Today, the Phantom still out there with the air forces of Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and Iran, and was last seen blowing up ISIS fighters in a close-air support role.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
You don’t have to cheer for Iran, but you can cheer for American-made F-4s still kicking ass.

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15 clichés every military recruit from Texas hears in basic training

Being from Texas bring a certain set of expectations. Some are good, some are funny, and some are just ridiculous.


There are many, but here are 15 clichés every recruit hears at boot camp:

1. “Only steers and queers come from Texas private cowboy, and you don’t much look like a steer to me so that kinda narrows it down” – Sergeant Hartman, “Full Metal Jacket” (1987)

You know how it goes. You get to a new unit and the first thing someone asks is what’s your name and where you’re from. You say, “my name is ____” followed by, “I’m from Texas.” The first thing you get is the Gunny Hartman quote about steers and queers. It doesn’t get more original than that (note my sarcasm).

2. The drill instructor calls you “Lone Star” to single you out.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: Cpl. Caitlin Brink/USMC

What the hell are you doing Lone Star? Why are you out of formation!? This one is worth owning.

3. Everyone calls you “Tex” instead of your name. This usually happens for the first two weeks of boot camp while everyone is still learning names.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: YouTube Screen Grab

“There was Dallas, from Phoenix; Cleveland – he was from Detroit; and Tex… well, I don’t remember where Tex come from.” – Forrest Gump, “Forrest Gump” (1994)

4. Everyone assumes you have a horse back home.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: Reddit

Nope. Too expensive.

5. Everyone from Texas goes hunting.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: @outdoorhunters/instagram

Not really. But we do have a friend that does who’d let us tag along with if we wanted to.

6. The other recruits assume you know your way around a rifle because everyone in Texas has a gun.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years

… because Texas has that open carry law.

7. You eat BBQ for every meal.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: @jdslaugh/instagram

We f–king love BBQ! And, we don’t settle for that nonsense other states call BBQ. Your choice of meat with pepper and salt over misquite is all you need.

8. All Texans are stupid.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: mike_who/instagram

They’re just mistaking our Texan drawl for being slow.

9. You grew up on a ranch.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: @jmd.x/instagram

Where do you think we do all our BBQing, shooting, and hunting? Actually, no. Cities like San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Houston are among the largest in the country. There’s no room for a ranch in the asphalt jungle.

10. You must have an oil well in your backyard.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: @asoto217/instagram

Who do you think we are, the Beverly Hillbillies?

11. You probably have a big truck.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: @lonestar_diesel

If we don’t have one, we really want one. Who doesn’t?

12. People from Texas are the definition of “Murica.”

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: evan_el_jefe/instagram

We’re very patriotic, which is why there’s always a handful of recruits from the great state in your unit.

13. Football is your religion.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: @katytexans_tyfa/instagram

Yes. We go to church every Friday (high school football), Saturday (college football), and Sunday (NFL football).

14. You have long horns over your fireplace or on your vehicle.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: @jon_jp/instagram

Nope. Not so much. It would go well with UT Longhorn gear though.

15. You’re from Texas, so therefore you’re a redneck. Nope, I’m a Texan.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: American Sniper/imdb

“Texans tend to ride horses whereas rednecks ride their cousins.” — Chris Kyle, “American Sniper” (2014)

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5 weapons designed for just one target each

The best weapons work against a variety of targets and in many different scenarios. Sometimes, a specific target is so tough or so-well defended a custom weapon is needed to destroy it. Here are 5 weapons created to destroy a single target or set of targets.


1. The Dutch “floating volcano”

Slaget_vid_Öland_Claus_Møinichen_1686 The explosion that destroyed the Swedish warship Kronan in battle in 1676 was a fraction of the size of the “Hellraiser” ship at the Siege of Antwerp in 1585.

In 1585, Dutch defenders at Antwerp needed to break the Spanish siege they were stuck behind. Targeting a pontoon bridge across the River Schelde, the Dutch defenders created “hellraisers.”

These were two ships completely filled with explosives and shrapnel. When the second ship detonated, it was described as a “floating volcano” that shattered nearby ships and buildings, destroyed the bridge, and threw people into the air for miles.

2. The Nazi Gustav gun

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: Youtube

One of the largest cannons in history, the Gustav gun fired an 800-mm, high-explosive shell nearly 30 miles. A bunker-busting round from the gun could pierce 264 feet of concrete.

The cannon performed well at Sevastapol, Russia, but was designed to destroy the Maginot line in France. When the Nazis made it around the French defenses before Gustav was ready, the weapon was repurposed for its Russian adventure.

Read More: Hitler created the largest gun ever, and it was a total disaster

3. The Ottoman’s 27-ft cannon

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
The Basilica cannon is visible in this modern painting of the Siege of Constantinople. It’s being pulled by the team of oxen on the right. Painting: Wikipedia/Fausto Zonaro

Constantinople had survived 1,000 years of sieges by the time Sultan Mehmed II began eyeing it. To crack the walls of the fortress, Mehmed accepted an offer from a Hungarian cannon expert to build the “Basilica cannon,” a 27-ft-long cannon that fired a 30-inch round.

On April 12, 1453 the cannon was fired for the first time against Constantinople. Its shells obliterated any portion of wall they hit. When Mehmed moved his ground forces in, the city had few defenses left and fell within hours.

4. Germany’s bouncing bombs

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photos: Imperial War Museum and German Army Archives

Developed by Dr. Barnes Wallace, bouncing bombs carried 6,600 pounds of high-explosive as they skipped across the water surface to get past German torpedo nets at well-defended German dams. The bombs reached the dams and sunk along the wall before detonating.

On May 17, 1943, Barnes’ dambusters were dropped from Lancaster bombers, damaging three German dams and flooding nearby towns and railways. Hundreds of laborers were killed and 20,000 workers were pulled from other projects to repair the damage.

5. Germany’s V-3 cannon

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Photo: Wikipedia

The V-3 Cannon was built into the hillside in Nazi-occupied France. It was to have 50 barrels that would fire 600 rounds per hour into London, a target 100 miles from the cannon. It was test-fired in Jan. 1944, but problems with its 9-ft long shells delayed its use.

The prospects for the cannon were dealt a double blow by the Allied invasion on D-day and a Royal Air Force bombing of the cannon a month later on July 6, 1944. The weapon was moved to Germany and fired just 44 rounds during the Battle of the Bulge.

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APRIL 8: Today in military history: The Japanese take Bataan

On April 8, 1942, the Japanese captured the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. The next day, the U.S. surrendered the peninsula to the Japanese, leaving the approximately 75,000 Filipino and American troops on Bataan to the mercy of their captors, who forced the brutal 65-mile trek to prison camps known as the Bataan Death March.

The Japanese Imperial Forces’ attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941 is perhaps the most infamous attack of a much larger campaign unleashed on U.S. and Allied Forces across the Pacific. The day after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched an invasion against the Philippines, capturing the capital within a month. 

Over the following months, U.S. forces fought desperately to hold the islands, but by April 6, they were fighting against overwhelming odds as defensive lines were destroyed or ordered to withdraw before they could be fully occupied. Crippled by disease, starvation, and lack of supplies, the U.S. defense was deteriorating.

On the morning of April 8, the U.S. was fortifying new positions on the Alangan River in an attempt to form one last safe space from which to fight when Japanese planes began hitting the line and forced the withdrawal of the infantry and tanks on the right side of the line.

That night, the U.S. dug a final line of defense at the Lamao River only to discover that the Japanese already held ground on their flank. 

Forces were redistributed to try and stem the tide, but U.S. Navy sailors were sent to destroy the remaining stockpiles of ammunition and other material before it could be captured. The siege of Bataan was essentially over — and the Japanese had won.

The next day, U.S. forces surrendered and the Japanese forced the survivors, including 12,000 Americans, on the cruel march to the prison camps in San Fernando. Thousands of prisoners died along the way at the hands of their captors, who starved, beat, and bayoneted the marchers. Thousands more would die from disease, abuse, and starvation in the prison camps.

Featured Image: This picture, captured from the Japanese, shows American prisoners using improvised litters to carry those of their comrades who, from the lack of food or water on the march from Bataan, fell along the road.” Philippines, May 1942.

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America’s top strategic bomber once had devastating tail guns

The B-52 has been serving in America’s nuclear deterrent arsenal since 1952. But a lot has changed on the BUFF and its mission since it was on the front line against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.


The strategic bomber has gone from being designed to deliver huge nuclear bombs on Russia to dropping precision-guided conventional bombs on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Today, it is far more likely to deliver its nukes using air-launched cruise missiles than a gravity bomb.

But little did most people know that part of its post-World War II heritage equipped the lengthy bomber with tail guns.

The retirement of Chief Master Sgt. Rob Wellbaum is notable since he was the last of the B-52 tail gunners in the Air Force. Most versions of the BUFF had four .50-caliber M3 machine guns – fast-firing versions of the historic Ma Deuce (1,000 rounds per minute, according to GlobalSecurity.org) that were also used on the F-86 Sabre. Two B-52 versions went with different armament options, the B-52B (twin 20mm cannon in some planes) and the B-52H (an M61 Vulcan).

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
This is what a B-52’s tail looks like now, with the M61 Vulcan removed. A sad sight. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the B-52G and H, the tail gunners were in the main cabin, using a remotely operated turret. Earlier models had the tail gunners sitting in a shooters seat in the rear of the plane, providing the BUFF an extra set of eyes to detect SAM launches.

Those tail guns even saw some action. During the Vietnam War, three B-52Ds used their tail guns to score kills. All three of the victims were North Vietnamese MiG-21 Fishbeds, who found out the hard way that the BUFFs weren’t helpless targets on their six.

The B-52s up to the G model ultimately used the MD-9 fire-control system for the tail guns. The B-52G used the AN/ASG-15 for its remotely-operated quad .50 caliber turret while the B-52H used the AN/ASG-21 to guide its M61 Vulcan.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
A F-4G Wild Weasel, the plane involved in the friendly fire incident that prompted the removal of the tail guns and tail gunners from the B-52. (USAF photo)

An incident during Operation Desert Storm, though, would soon change things for the BUFF. A friendly-fire incident occurred when a tailgunner thought an Iraqi plane was closing in. The plane was actually an Air Force F-4G Wild Weasel. The crew of the U.S. jet mistook the B-52G’s AN/ASG-15 for an enemy air-defense system. The Weasel crew fired an AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, which damaged the BUFF. The BUFF returned to base, and was reportedly named “In HARM’s Way” as a result.

Shortly after the misunderstanding, the Air Force announced that the tail guns were going away.

So, for all intents and purposes, a generation has passed since the B-52 had a tail gunner. Gone are the days when a fighter had to watch its steps when trying to get behind the B-52. To get a glimpse at what was lost, check out the video below.

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Russian and NATO pilots are testing each other’s wills in the skies above Eastern Europe

NATO and Russian aircraft and ships have drawn ever closer in the skies and seas around Eastern Europe in recent years, engaging in a kind of cat-and-mouse game that has led to many near misses.


A significant number of these encounters have taken place above the Baltics, where NATO members border a Russia they see as growing increasingly aggressive in its near abroad.

June alone saw several such incidents, including a Russian jet intercepting a US B-52 over the Baltic Sea early in the month, another Russian jet flying within a few feet of a US Air Force reconnaissance jet over the Baltic Sea in mid-June, and a NATO F-16 buzzing the Russian defense minister’s jet later in the month.

Western officials and the research and advocacy group Global Zero — which analyzed 97 midair confrontations between Russian and Western aircraft over the Baltic between March 2014 and April 2017 — have said that Russian pilots are more often responsible for unsafe interceptions; some of which arise from negligence or are accidents, while some are deliberate shows of force.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Russian Air Force Sukhoi T-50s. Photo by Toshiro Aoki.

“What we see in the Baltic Sea is increased military activity — we see it on land, at sea and in the air, and that just underlines the importance of transparency and predictability to prevent incidents and accidents,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told The Wall Street Journal. “And if they happen, it is important to make sure they don’t spiral out of control and create dangerous situations.”

Western officials and analysts believe Moscow is using such incidents as geopolitical tactics, responding to events in Europe and elsewhere, such as in Syria. Russia has denied this and said that recent reports about its abilities and activity in the region are “total Russophobia.”

Both sides are working toward “risk reduction” policies for the Baltics. But the uptick in aerial encounters comes amid increased military activity by both sides on the ground in Eastern Europe.

 

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Army photo by Sgt. Shiloh Capers

Some 25,000 troops from the US and 23 other countries are taking part in the Saber Guardian military exercise in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania this month — the drills are designed as a deterrent and are “larger in both scale and scope” than previous exercises, US European Command said in June. US bombers also traveled to the UK in June in preparation for two separate multilateral exercises in the Baltics and elsewhere in Europe that month.

Those military exercises come ahead of war games planned for September by Russia and Belarus. Those exercises could involve up to 100,000 troops and include nuclear-weapons training.

Neighboring countries have expressed concern that those war games could leave a permanent Russian presence in Belarus — the US plans to station paratroopers in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during them and will adjust its fighter-jet rotation to put more experienced pilots in the area to better manage any encounters with Russian forces.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Lithuanian soldiers and US Marines from the Black Sea Rotational Force engaged opposition forces in a partnered attack during Exercise Saber Strike at the Pabrade Training Area, Lithuania, June 15, 2015. USMC photo by Sgt. Paul Peterson.

The US and NATO have increased troop deployments to Eastern Europe. UK and Canadian forces are headed to Poland, Latvia, and Estonia, and NATO personnel are already in Lithuania. The latter country has called for a permanent US military presence there as “a game changer” to counter Moscow.

In the wake of this month’s G20 summit in Germany, several countries in Eastern Europe are moving to boost their air-defense capabilities, with the US aiding the effort.

In early July, Poland and the US signed a memoranda of understanding for an $8 billion sale of US-made Patriot missiles.

This week, the State Department gave tentative approval to a $3.9 billion sale of Patriot missiles and related equipment, like radars, to Romania.

 

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
A US Army Patriot battery deployed to Southeast Asia (Photo US Army)

Patriot missiles have also been stationed in Lithuania for the first time, albeit temporarily, as part of military exercises focused on air defense and involving five NATO countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said several times that the deployment of defensive missile systems by NATO allies would be a “great danger,” and he has threatened to respond by boosting Russia’s own missile systems.

“The way I view the Patriots deployment is that it also forms part of a broader U.S. response in the region to the upcoming Russian exercise nearby,” Magnus Nordenman, a Nordic security expert at the Atlantic Council, told AFP.

“Air defense has not been a priority for the last 15 years when NATO was busy in Afghanistan, dealing with piracy and peacekeeping,” he said. “There was not much of an air threat but now that Russia is building up air forces, it is different.”

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The Air Force can forget about buying more of the world’s most advanced fighter

No other aircraft or air defense system in the world can touch it.


Stealthy, fast, incomparably lethal, the F-22 Raptor is without a doubt the deadliest and most advanced fighter jet ever built. And the Air Force, after a lengthy congressional-backed review, will not be getting any new Raptors to supplement its undersized fleet.

The Raptor, built by Lockheed Martin, was originally created as a follow-on to the F-15 Eagle, the previous mainstay of the Air Force’s fighter fleet. Taking in the strengths of the Eagle and improving vastly with new capabilities such as thrust vectoring for supermaneuverability built into a platform optimized for stealth, the Raptor was everything fighter pilots hoped for and dreamed of.

It would be able to fly the air superiority mission like no other, while also being able to carry out air-to-ground strikes with ease.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Afterburners lit while an F-22 of the 95th Fighter Squadron takes off from Tyndall AFB. (Photo from USAF)

Initially, the Air Force planned on buying over 750 units to replace its massive Eagle fleet. Over time, that number was drawn down significantly, thanks to evolving missions and changing threat scenarios. By 2009, Congress voted to cap the Raptor’s overall production run at 187, severely below the minimum figure of 381 units the Air Force projected it would need to fulfill the air superiority mission.

According to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, the sheer costs alone makes restarting the Raptor production line, defunct since 2012, completely unfeasible. Revamping manufacturing spaces in addition to rebuilding and redesigning jigs and the tooling necessary to build further Raptors would cost anywhere between $7 to $10 billion, and that’s only the tally on the infrastructure required. Estimates on each Raptor’s flyaway price rang up a whopping $200 million per unit cost, a $60 million jump over the aircraft’s unit cost when its production run ended. The study on bringing the F-22 line back to life was ordered by Congress in April 2016.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
F-22 Raptors parked at Rickenbacker ANGB in Ohio during Hurricane Matthew (USAF)

Though not wholly unexpected, the recommendation to not pursue a restart of the Raptor line will reduce the Air Force’s options in retaining dominance in its air superiority mission. Earlier this year, the service let on that the F-15C/D Eagle will more than likely face an early demise by the mid-2020s, thanks to an expensive fuselage refurbishment deemed impractical by its brass.

Eagles have long served the Air Force as its dedicated air supremacy fighter, excelling in the mission in the 1990s where it first tasted combat in the Persian Gulf, and later in the Balkans. The Eagle fleet was originally to be overhauled and kept in service until the early 2040s, when it would be replaced by a new 6th generation fighter.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
An F-22 Raptor on the flightline at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania, last year (Photo from USAF)

Instead, the Air Force will move on with its plan to refurbish and extend the lives of its F-16 Fighting Falcons, multirole fighters which can also fly the air superiority mission with a considerable degree of success. Critics, however, argue that the F-16 is unequal to the aircraft it seeks to supplant. Smaller, shorter-range, and limited in terms of the amount of munitions it is able to carry, the Fighting Falcon has still served the Air Force and Air National Guard faithfully since the late 1970s and beyond.

A possible byproduct of this news could be the Air Force’s push to develop its 6th generation fighter on an accelerated timeline, bringing it into service earlier than expected. This would minimize the reliance the service would have to place on its aging F-16s, while bringing online a fighter built to work in tandem with incoming next-generation assets like the F-35 Lightning II. This would also potentially reduce the burden placed on the F-22 to shoulder more of the Eagle’s prior workload once it is retired, keeping the small Raptor fleet viable and in service longer.

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Retired US Navy admiral shares leadership lesson from SEAL training

Retired US Navy Admiral William McRaven had an esteemed 37-year military career — which included leading the assassination of Osama bin Laden — but it was a night from Navy SEAL training’s Hell Week that taught him the power of a leader.


In 2014, McRaven gave the commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin, breaking down the 10 biggest lessons he learned in the six months of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs (BUD/S) training in his early 20s, and how they were universally applicable.

Now the chancellor of the University of Texas system, McRaven has released “Make Your Bed,” a short book expanding upon these principles he spoke about a few years ago.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McRaven makes remarks during his retirement ceremony. | DoD photo by SSG Sean K. Harp

In it, he recounts his night in the Tijuana mud flats, where he and his fellow SEAL candidates had virtually every inch of their bodies covered in mud, the experience made worse by a brutally cold night.

Hell Week comes during week three of the six month-long BUD/S training, and is meant to weed out early the candidates who are not ready to become SEALs. According to SOFREP, only about 25% of candidates make it through the week’s intense trials of physical and mental endurance.

One of the trials involves various exercises in expanses of cold, neck-high, clay-like mud.

As McRaven remembers, on this particular day, he and his fellow candidates had spent hours racing each other in boats, paddling through the mud. Now they were standing in it during a suddenly chilling night. To make it worse, it was only the halfway mark of Hell Week. Doubt was setting in among all the young men.

“Shaking uncontrollably, with hands and feet swollen from nonstop use and skin so tender that even the slightest movement brought discomfort, our hope for completing the training was fading fast,” McRaven writes.

From the edge of the flats, an instructor with a bullhorn tried to lure the candidates to comfort. The instructors, he said, had a fire going and had plenty of hot soup and coffee to share. Furthermore, if just five of the candidates quit, the rest of the guys would be given a break. Taking this offer meant ending your SEAL training.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
BUD/S trainees covered in mud during Hell Week. | Department of Defense photo

A student next to McRaven started walking through the mud toward the instructor. McRaven remembers the instructor smiling. “He knew that once one man quit, others would follow,” McRaven writes.

Then one of the candidates started singing. It was raspy and out of tune. Even though it sounded terrible, other students soon joined him, including the one who was on the verge of quitting.

The instructor began yelling at them, demanding that they stop. “With each threat from the instructor, the voices got louder, the class got stronger, and the will to continue on in the face of adversity became unbreakable,” McRaven writes. He remembers that behind the facade of anger, he could see the instructor smiling at the turn of events.

McRaven realized that all it took was one person to unite the entire group, when many of them were on the verge of abandoning their goal.

Interestingly, former Navy SEAL platoon commander Leif Babin writes in his book “Extreme Ownership,” that he learned a similar lesson when he was one of the Hell Week instructors. When the instructors switched the leaders of the best and worst performing boat race teams, they were amazed to see that the formerly worst team rose to the top under new leadership, while the formerly best team suddenly dropped in the rankings under its new poor leader. It was proof to Babin that, “There are no bad teams — only bad leaders.” One exceptional person can change the entire fate of a group.

The night in the mudflats stuck with McRaven during his maturation as an exceptional leader, one who would rise to the highest rank in the Navy, lead all of America’s special operations, and oversee the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

“If that one person could sing while neck deep in mud, then so could we,” McRaven writes. “If that one person could endure the freezing cold, then so could we. If that one person could hold on, then so could we.”

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This video game company has pledged to help 50,000 vets find jobs

It’s a video game series beloved by troops deployed to recent battlefields and has become as common in squad bays as dip and energy drinks.


And now thanks to efforts by its designer, Activision, the non-profit that bears its name has broken its own record, placing more than 25,000 unemployed, post-9/11 vets in good jobs two years ahead of schedule.

Established in 2009 by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, the Call of Duty Endowment has pledged more than $18 million to businesses and other service groups to help them place post-9/11 veterans in high-quality careers with a solid understanding of the benefits former servicemembers bring to the table.

The Call of Duty Endowment set a goal of placing 25,000 vets in partner companies by 2018. But after reaching that bar in 2016, the non-profit announced it will double the goal by 2019.

“The Endowment’s efforts have had a direct and positive impact on the lives of so many who have given so much,” said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard and Co-Founder of the endowment. “With U.S. veteran unemployment rates still well above the national average, we are committed to continuing our efforts and have established a new, ambitious goal to secure employment for 50,000 veterans by 2019.”

According to a statement, the Call of Duty Endowment uses a “performance-driven approach” to vetting potential partners and after earning a grant, the endowment works with grantees and employers to “provide an array of advice and support aimed at maximizing their impact.”

The non-profit says the average cost to put a veteran on the payroll of its company partners is less than $600, compared to $3,000 for government-assisted employment services for vets.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years

“Finding quality, meaningful employment is essential for a veteran to successfully transition back to civilian life,” said former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James L. Jones, Co-Chairman of the endowment. “The Call of Duty Endowment is truly making a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of military veterans and their families.”

The endowment has already donated $18 million to get vets back to work and boasts an average $50,000 starting salary with 94 percent placed in full-time jobs.

“Twenty-five thousand veterans is equivalent to every individual recruited by the U.S. Navy in 2015, and we’ve achieved this goal by applying common sense business practices to philanthropy,” said Dan Goldenberg, Executive Director of the endowment. “We’re grateful for the support from Activision Blizzard, our partners and the gaming community, and are proud of what our grantees have achieved in such a short period of time.”

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US Coast Guard makes a big change for ethical animal treatment

U.S. Coast Guard medics have stopped using military contractors who intentionally injure sedated animals so that medics can practice treating combat wounds.


Spokeswoman Lisa Novak said in a phone interview on April 27 that the practice was suspended in January. A working group will decide if the training will continue.

The so-called “live tissue training” involved anesthetized goats.

This is the new body armor soldiers are getting in a few years
Here, the Army and Navy immunize a goat, which is much nicer. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Roger S. Duncan)

Novak said she didn’t know what led to the suspension. In 2012, activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, released a video of a goat’s legs being removed with tree trimmers during what it said was Coast Guard training.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat, wrote in The Hill newspaper on April 27 that she had raised concerns with the Coast Guard.

She said most Americans are against the practice.

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