This is what happens when the world's best fighter jets face off against each other - We Are The Mighty
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This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

Next-generation fighter jets, simulated aerial combat, and some of the best pilots from the US, British, and French air forces – no, this isn’t a scene from the next Hollywood blockbuster. It’s the latest combined exercise testing pilots’ ability to operate, communicate and dominate in a combat environment.


Called “Atlantic Trident,” this month-long exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, focused on anti-access and aerial-denial missions, which were meant to place the US, British, and French pilots in situations that tested their limits and capabilities.

“This exercise is great because it brings our best and some of our allies best fighters together to train and learn from each other in a very challenging environment,” said Col. Pete Fesler, 1st Fighter Wing commander. “It’s also a great way to test the capabilities of these advanced aircraft.”

The advanced aircraft participating included the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightning II, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the Dassault Rafale – all of which bring a lot of capabilities to the fight. The aircraft were supported by USAF Air Combat Command E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control aircraft and Air Mobility Command KC-10 Extender refueling aircraft.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard

According to Lockheed Martin, the Raptor’s unique combination of advanced stealth, supercruise, advanced maneuverability, and integrated avionics allow it to “kick down the door,” and then follow up with 24-hour stealth operations and freedom of movement for all follow-on forces – fully leveraging the Raptor’s technological advantages.

The F-35, meanwhile, is no slouch, either. The F-35 combines fifth generation fighter aircraft characteristics — advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and superior logistics support — with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. This means the Lightning II can collect and share battlespace data with other friendly aircraft and commanders on the ground and at sea.

“The F-35 brings an unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability, and adaptability to joint and combined operations,” said Maj. Mike Krestyn, an F-35 pilot with the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

Pilots of both the F-22 and F-35 refer to their jets as aerial “quarterbacks,” capable of controlling an airspace by locating, identifying and sharing the location of enemy threats within a battlespace.

Then, allied aircraft like the Typhoon and Rafale can use their advanced weaponry to eliminate these threats.

All of these advanced aircraft provide lethality never before seen in aerial combat, and their pilots training and flying together enhances tactics, ensures coalition teams are on the same page and strengthens relationships.

“The Air Force and our partners must seek opportunities to develop, expand and sustain relationships wherever possible,” said Heidi Grant, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs. “This enables us to amplify our collective strengths and improves our ability to confront shared challenges.”

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

 

From the pilots’ viewpoint, this is also a matter of “training like we fight.”

“We won’t go to war without our allies,” said Capt. Nichole Stilwell, a T-38 pilot with the 71st Fighter Training Squadron. “So we have to train together to make sure we get the most out of our capabilities.”

The Human Element

But, none of these capabilities mean anything without one crucial component.

“People,” Fesler said. “It doesn’t matter how advanced an aircraft is if we don’t have quality people flying and fixing them.”

It’s easy to get distracted by the sleek aircraft and their state-of-the-art capabilities, but this shouldn’t take away from how important the human element still is to air operations, he added.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“There is so much more to this than simply flying an advanced jet and shooting stuff,” Fesler said. “There are people on the ground making sure these planes fly, people in support functions making sure missions happen and go smoothly, and there are people making sure pilots receive the training they need to be effective.”

So, exercises like this are really all about people – training them, developing them, testing them – and relationship building, he added.

Throughout the exercise, US, British and French pilots planned, flew and evaluated missions together, working side-by-side to develop tactics and talk about lessons learned from each day’s flights.

“This type of training is invaluable,” said Royal Air Force Wing Cmdr. Chris Hoyle, 1 (Fighter) Squadron. “It really places a premium on people and relationships, which both are very important to our success as allies.”

These bonds and friendships made at Atlantic Trident can also carry over into other operations.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“This is a great foundation for us to build on,” Hoyle said. “Some of the US or French people I’ve met, or some my guys have met, can really create great opportunities in the future. If I need something, I can pick up the phone and call … and then the relationships we started here can really pay off down the road.”

Still, as pilots of each aircraft are quick to point out, a conversation about people can’t happen without talking about maintainers.

“We simply borrow the jets for a little while, the maintainers own them,” said Krestyn. “They fix them and care for them and then they let us use them.” This sentiment is echoed by Hoyle.

“As pilots, we have the easy part,” he said. “We fly the plane, but it’s the maintainers and support personnel who make everything happen. It doesn’t matter how advanced a jet is, if no one fixes it or makes sure it’s able to take off and accomplish the mission, then it’s a useless piece of equipment.”

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Sharpening the Sword

Once these advanced fighters do get in the air, testing them and their pilots is still important. This is where the adversary squadrons come in.

Made up of T-38s from Langley and F-15E Strike Eagles from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, these “adversaries” acted as enemy combatants during the exercise to test friendly force’s air-to-air abilities.

Flying outdated, past-their-prime trainer jets against the most technologically superior fighters in the world may seem futile, but the adversary pilots have a different outlook.

“I think of it as our sword is very sharp, we just help make it sharper,” Stilwell said. “We make pilots adapt their tactics, we make them think and we try to test them as much as possible.”

At the end of the day, though, exercises like Atlantic Trident do more than give pilots time behind the stick. These exercises are providing relevant, realistic training so that when pilots do experience stressful combat situations for the first time, they are prepared.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“Air superiority is not an American birthright,” said Gen. David Goldfien, Air Force Chief of Staff. “It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain.”

Air superiority doesn’t just mean having the most technologically sophisticated aircraft in the world. It also means having highly trained and experienced pilots to fly them.

Working together also helps each of the players learn to speak the same language – that of winning.

“Really, the goal of exercises like this is to train and learn together so that on day one of a future conflict, we dominate,” Fesler said.

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Conan O’Brien hilariously rips Air Force alcohol policy while visiting deployed troops

Comedian Conan O’Brien tore apart the Air Force policy of allotting deployed troops a maximum of three alcoholic drinks per day at al-Udeid Air Base.


“One alcoholic beverage consists of no greater than five ounces of wine,” Conan O’Brien read from the al-Udeid Air Base rule book. “Five ounces of wine? I have that at breakfast with my cereal!”

He visited the Qatar-based forces with First Lady Michelle Obama, musicians Grace Potter and Jimmy Vivino, and comedian John Mulaney. They performed for the 11,000 troops stationed on the air base. Someone from the audience taped a portion and sent it to retired Air Force Lt. Col. Tony Carr, who posted it to his John Q. Public blog.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqaCKk6C0dg

Portions of his performance will be aired on his TBS show later this year.

First Lady Michelle Obama met with three dozen deployed troops for an ice cream social, where she thanked each of them personally for their service. Joining Forces is an initiative of the First Lady and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden to work in the American public and private sectors to rally around service members, veterans, and their families to support them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities throughout their lives.

In what could be a hint at what might be the focus of Michelle and Barack Obama’s post-political careers, the First Lady promised service members she would help look out for them, not only for the rest of her time as First Lady, but “for the rest of my life.”

“You all still have struggles,” she told the crowd of deployed troops. “But we’re going to keep on working to ensure that you and your families have the jobs you deserve, that the benefits that you’ve earned are waiting for you ready, and that — the support this nation owes you.”

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
(White House photo)

She continued: “And that’s not just my vow to you as First Lady, but it’s my vow to you for the rest of my life.  (Applause.)  So it’s important for me that you know that your Commander-in-Chief and your First Lady, we’re proud of you. And we’re going to devote our lives — it will look different in different stages — but we are going to have your backs. We’re going to figure out how to use whatever platforms we have to support you.”

In the meantime, O’Brien also took over the First Lady’s Instagram account, posting photos of himself and Michelle Obama interacting with and performing for deployed troops, and even busting out fifty of his best “Team Coco” push-ups for the FLOTUS.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

MIGHTY TRENDING

A dog adopted by coalition troops fighting ISIS is finally home

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Tracy McKithern loves dogs. She loves her dog, she loves other peoples’ dogs, she loves dogs she sees in memes and on TV shows. When she found a dirty little white stray sniffing around the camp she was stationed at during a one-year deployment in Iraq, only one thing was going to happen.

“I fell in love with her immediately.”


McKithern, a combat photographer from Tampa, Florida with the 982nd Combat Camera Co. (Airborne), was stationed at the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center, a multinational military organization responsible for the training of Peshmerga and Northern Iraq Security in and around Erbil, from April 2017 to January 2018.

The little dog and her mom had been wandering around the base for weeks, McKithern found out. Stray dogs are common in Iraq, and the culture is not kind to them. Erby and her mom were kicked and hit with rocks daily, and starving. Her brother and sister had disappeared before McKithern arrived.

Despite her rough experiences with humans to that point, Erby ran right up to McKithern the first time she held out her hand to the shaky little pup covered in scratches and dirt.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
(U.S. Army photo by Tracy McKithern)

“She loved everyone,” said McKithern. “She is the sweetest little soul. She came up to me immediately, probably hungry, but gentle. I think she was looking for love more than anything else.”

McKithern, together with soldiers from the Italian and German armies her unit was partnered with, took to caring for the little dog. They named her Erby Kasima, after nearby Erbil, the largest city in northern Iraq, and “Kasima” being the Arabic name for “beauty and elegance.”

The coalition soldiers would go on convoys into the surrounding countryside to train Iraqi army units six days a week, with McKithern documenting the missions. Every time they returned to the base, Erby was waiting.

“She ran up to our convoy every day,” McKithern recalled. “She was so tiny she would fall and trip all over herself to get to us.”

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
(U.S. Army photo by Tracy McKithern)

It didn’t take long for Erby and her mom to realize that, not only were they safe around McKithern and her Italian and German friends, but these humans would feed them too. As the weeks went by, their wounds began to heal and they started putting on healthy weight.

Eventually, the growing pup took to sleeping on the step outside McKithern’s quarters.

As the end of her deployment approached, she started to wonder how she could ever leave Erby behind when she went back to the states and lamented about it on her Facebook page.

“One night I posted a pic of us on Facebook, with a caption that read something like ‘I wish I could take her home,'” McKithern said. “I went to sleep, woke up and my friends and family had posted links to various rescue groups. I reached out to one of them, the non-profit Puppy Rescue Mission, and they responded immediately. We sent them $1,000 and they set up a crowd fund to get the rest. We needed an additional $3,500.”

The immediate outpouring of generosity was astounding, said McKithern.

“We raised the rest of the money very quickly, and most of it was from complete strangers!”

McKithern had many preparations to make before she left Iraq so Erby could eventually follow her. Vaccinations, documentation, travel arrangements — all had to be done somehow, in a war zone, while she was still fulfilling her duties as a Soldier. It seemed like an overwhelming task in an already overwhelming situation. Even though she now had the funding, McKithern began to lose hope that she’d have the time and energy to pull this off.

That’s when the brotherhood of the Coalition stepped in to help. Several Kurdish and German officers McKithern had befriended on missions stepped in and offered to tie up anything she couldn’t get done and get Erby onto the plane. With their help, everything got squared away. McKithern returned home, and Erby was set to follow her several weeks later.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
(U.S. Army photo by Tracy McKithern)

McKithern had only been home in Florida for about a month when, in a cruel twist of timing, she received orders for a 67-day mission to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, leaving March 11, the very same day Erby was scheduled to arrive at JFK Airport.

“I couldn’t believe it!” said McKithern. “But I’m a Soldier first, and my commander received an email looking for volunteers. The need at Fort McCoy was desperate at the time. It is a gunnery exercise, which was an opportunity to expand my skills and knowledge as a soldier. It killed me that it was going to keep me away from Erby for another two months, but it’s an important mission. It will all be worth it in the end.”

McKithern’s husband, Sgt. Wes McKithern (also a combat cameraman for the 982nd), met Erby at the airport and drove her home to Tampa, where she has been assimilating into an American life of luxury and waiting patiently to be reunited with her rescuer.

In a few short weeks, McKithern will fly home from Fort McCoy to be with her sweet Erby at last. It will be the end of a 16-month journey that’s taken her across the world to find a little dog in a war zone and — with the help of generous strangers, a nonprofit dog rescue, and soldiers from three different armies — bring her all the way back to become part of a family.

“I can’t believe it,” says McKithern. “It feels like a miracle is happening.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

Articles

Air Force keeping the beloved A-10 around for at least a few more years

The Air Force is keeping the famed A-10 “Warthog” aircraft around for at least a few more years, Defense News is reporting.


The close air support aircraft beloved by ground troops won’t begin to be retired until 2021, reversing a previous decision to start mothballing them next year.

“We’re going to keep them until 2021, and then as a discussion that we’ll have with [Defense] Secretary Mattis and the department and the review over all of our budgets, that is what will determine the way ahead,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told Defense News.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron out of Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, takes off from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Oct. 10, 2016. | U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik

The A-10 is pretty well-loved by infantry troops, since the aircraft can lay waste to ground targets with its 30mm cannon and air-to-surface missiles. Its heavy armor also makes it more survivable against incoming ground fire.

The Air Force, however, has been trying to kill the aircraft for years in order to make way for the multi-role F-35 fighter. For now, at least, the service is walking back those moves and is keeping the A-10 around until a suitable ‘A-10-like’ replacement can be found.

“That starts with an understanding of how we do the business today of close air support, because the reality is it’s changed significantly, and it will change significantly in the future if we get this right, because this is something we’ve got to continue to think about,” Goldfein said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US spymaster just delivered a stern warning to Iran’s top general

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Dec. 2 that he sent a letter to a top Iranian military official warning him that the United States would hold Tehran accountable for any attacks it conducted on American interests in Iraq.


Pompeo, who has voiced staunch opposition to Iran, said he sent the letter to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and elite Quds Force, but the general didn’t read it.

“I sent a note. I sent it because he had indicated that forces under his control might, in fact, threaten U.S. interests in Iraq,” Pompeo said at a defense forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, California. “He refused to open the letter — didn’t break my heart to be honest with you.”

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)

“What we were communicating to him in that letter was that we will hold he and Iran accountable … and we wanted to make sure that he and the leadership of Iran understood that in a way that was crystal clear.”

Pompeo said Iran is working to strengthen its influence throughout the Middle East. As a Republican congressman from Kansas, Pompeo was highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal, which the U.S. and other nations negotiated with Tehran to lift sanctions in exchange for reductions in its nuclear program. Pompeo said Iran is currently in compliance with that agreement.

In a wide-ranging panel discussion, Pompeo would not answer questions about speculation that he could replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Pompeo, an outspoken conservative, has a close relationship with President Donald Trump and personally delivers an intelligence briefing to the president nearly every day.

Pompeo declined to say whether he has had conversations with Trump about the possibility of replacing Tillerson, saying only that he was very focused on his job as CIA director.

Also Read: This CIA teaches its students to cook – not how to spy

On North Korea, Pompeo said U.S. intelligence on the progress of Pyongyang’s nuclear missile program is good.

“I think we have a pretty good understanding of the scope and scale of their program and how far they are making progress towards being able to reliably deliver that system against the United States,” Pompeo said.

He said U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un does not have a good idea about how tenuous his situation is domestically and internationally.

“Those around him are not feeding him the truth about the place that he finds himself — how precarious his position is in the world today. It’s probably not easy to tell Kim Jong Un bad news,” he quipped.

Pompeo said the U.S. hopes that economic and diplomatic actions being leveled at North Korea, along with pressure from China, will resolve the nuclear threat “in a way that doesn’t require the military outcome that I know no one is excited to advance.”

Former CIA director Leon Panetta, who appeared with Pompeo, criticized Trump for his brazen tweets, particularly his decision late last month to retweet a string of inflammatory videos from a fringe British political group purporting to show violence being committed by Muslims. The tweets drew sharp condemnation from world leaders and civil rights groups.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
We Are The Mighty | YouTube

He said the White House should have a disciplined message and that Trump should use Twitter to advance his policies.

“I know the president loves to tweet. Frankly, if I had my way, I’d take that tweeter and throw it out the window,” said Panetta, who also served as White House chief of staff and secretary of defense. “It just raises a little bit of concern about stability.”

Pompeo disagreed. He said Trump’s tweets have actually helped the intelligence agencies.

“I have seen things the president has put on his Twitter account actually have a real-world impact on our capacity to understand what’s going on in other places in the world,” Pompeo said. “That is, our adversaries responded to those tweets in ways that were helpful to us to understand command and control issues, who is listening to what messages, how those messages are resonating around the world.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

These hip hop songs come straight from combat vets

Ask any vet — music and combat go hand in hand.  Whether pounding the drums of war, blaring the bugle calls, or recording songs after combat, music has underscored the good, the bad, and the ugly of warfare throughout human history.


“Live From Iraq” is a Rap album actually made by combat veterans in a theater of war.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Soldiers from 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment conduct security with their M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank for a cordon and search operation in Biaj, Iraq. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)

It was produced and conceived by U.S. Army Sergeant Neal Saunders, an M1 Abrams tank crewman of the 1st Cav’s 112 Task Force, along with several of his buddies.

Also read: This incredible rap song perfectly captures life in Marine Corps infantry

They were fighting around Baghdad and Sadr City in 2005. When not out on missions, Big Neal and his crew would record songs in a makeshift studio, using their paychecks to order equipment from a Sam Ash music store in Philadelphia.

It was the only Sam Ash that would ship to their APO address.

“Live From Iraq” takes the listener on a harrowing, poignant journey of a year-long deployment. There’s no boasting of riches, hot girls, or glorified violence — just words of truth with socially relevant lyrics:

“This is up armor kits and bulletproof windows/ We sleep with body armor blankets and Kevlar pillows,” are some lyrics from the title track, “Live From Iraq.”
CHEWandLUvideos | YouTube

The album samples a troops-in-contact moment on the song, “Lace Your Boots,” with the lyrics: “But it’s too late to switch/ After this full metal jacket grabs ’em/ Look we told ’em this was war/ And we told ’em we get at ’em/ This is war…”

“Reality Check” over a poignant piano riff calls out those who like to play soldier in style and attitude, but have never walked the walk: “Wanna be soldiers

Follow me I’ll take you to see some Marines in Fallujah/ And I hope you make it/ Or come visit my theater/ Shit I’ll show you some places/ But I really don’t think/ That y’all wanna go where I’ll take you…”

4th25 – Topic | YouTube

Big Neal has said that this album is the blood of soldiers and all that they have seen and done. One could argue that “Live From Iraq” is the original Battle Mix, one that still resonates today with many of our soldiers deployed.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Chinese people called Kim Jong Un ‘Fatty on the Train”

As China banned all mention of Kim Jong Un on its internet during his secretive visit, people on the internet dodged the ban by calling him “fatty on the train” instead.


The North Korean leader made an “unofficial visit” to Beijing late March 2018, China finally announced on March 28, 2018. But while the visit was in progress, nobody would say what was going on, despite huge speculation and the fairly obvious signal of Kim’s personal armored train pitching up in the city.

Also read: Trump will meet with Kim Jong Un to end the Korean nuclear crisis

In an attempt to keep the visit under wraps, China censored the characters for “Kim Jong Un” and “North Korea” from its internet — as well as longstanding nicknames for the North Korean leader, such as “Fatty Fatty.”

To circumvent the ban, some Chinese people picked other unflattering nicknames, like “fatty on the train” and “the obese patient,” Reuters reported. Others used more diplomatic terms, like “the visitor from the northeast” and “the sibling next door.”

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Kim with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. (Xinhua News)

The Chinese term they used for “fatty on the train” is pronounced “pang zuo huoche” in Mandarin.

Since the visit ended, references to Kim and North Korea have reappeared on China’s internet.

On March 27, 2018, four of the top 10 blocked terms on the microblogging site Weibo were “Kim Jong Un,” “Fatty the Third,” “North Korea,” and “Fatty Kim the Third,” according to FreeWeibo, a site that tracks censorship on the platform. (The “third” refers to the fact that Kim’s father and grandfather, also surnamed Kim, were also North Korean supreme leaders.)

Related: Kim Jong Un received a South Korean delegation for the first time

China most likely knew to censor those nicknames because it had done so in the past.

Beijing temporarily barred terms like “Kim the Fat,” “Kim Fat III,” and “Kim Fatty III” from the internet in late 2016, as people speculated over the North Korean leader’s weight gain.

Pyongyang had asked China to scrub the unflattering nicknames at the time, The Guardian cited Hong Kong media as saying.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Has anyone seen the Turkmen president lately?

The big news from Turkmenistan in the last few weeks has been that the country’s mercurial president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has been absent from the news for large periods of time.

That’s unusual because he normally dominates the state-run broadcasts.

And the few times Berdymukhammedov has been on television since going on vacation nearly one month ago, his appearances have raised more doubts than offered evidence of his well-being.

While officially on vacation, that has never stopped Turkmen state media from following Berdymukhammedov around in previous years.


But his absence from nightly Turkmen television newscasts and daily reports in state print media have some people seriously considering rumors that Berdymukhammedov is in poor health or possibly even dead.

Berdymukhammedov had already been officially on vacation for almost one week when Aslan Rubaev, identified as the director of the Center for Monitoring Eurasian Problems, told the Russian radio station and Internet news site Govoritmoskva.ru that Berdymukhammedov had died of acute renal failure on July 20, 2019.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

There was no explanation in the July 24, 2019 report as to why the president chose to suspend his vacation for one day to occupy himself with the mundane matter of urban renewal plans in Ashgabat.

(Turkmenistan.gov)

The news spread like wildfire across Russian-language media and it was only after a few hours later that the Turkmen embassies in Russia and Kyrgyzstan issued statements rejecting stories that the Turkmen president had died.

Before the end of the day, Rubaev was making a public apology for his remarks, saying they were unfounded.

But Berdymukhammedov had still not been seen and the rumors persisted.

Finally, on July 24, 2019, there were reports Berdymukhammedov had spoken by telephone with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev to wish him a happy birthday.

Later that evening, Turkmen television news aired footage of Berdymukhammedov inspecting plans for a new district in the capital, Ashgabat, without explaining why the president had decided to break away from his vacation to look at drawings of new bus stops.

And then Berdymukhammedov vanished from local news again.

His next appearance in state media was not until Aug. 4, 2019, when state television showed a series of clips of Berdymukhammedov riding a bicycle, exercising, firing a rifle, bowling, riding a horse, working on a new book, composing a new song, and driving an SUV through the desert to the Gates of Hell — a perpetually burning crater that resulted from an attempt to flare gas there in the early 1970s.

He also appeared on state television on Aug. 5, 2019, holding a video conference call with officials.

On Aug. 3, 2019, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s office released a statement about Medvedev’s impending trip to Turkmenistan to attend the Caspian Economic Forum in the Turkmen Caspian resort of Avaza, adding that he planned to meet there with Berdymukhammedov.

Turkmenistan’s Singer, Race-car Driver, Jockey, Autocrat

www.youtube.com

Not very convincing

That is the proof that has been offered to show Berdymukhammedov is alive and well.

But there are still many reasons to think that something is wrong with him.

Berdymukhammedov’s appearances on state television on July 24 and Aug. 4-5, 2019, were not entirely convincing.

As mentioned, there was no explanation in the July 24, 2019 report as to why Berdymukhammedov chose to suspend his vacation for one day to occupy himself with the mundane matter of urban renewal plans in Ashgabat.

And RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, noted that Berdymukhammedov was wearing exactly the same suit and tie as he wore in a May 10 broadcast on state television, which is strange because he never wears the same suit — or even the same clothes — twice in his television appearances.

Berdymukhammedov did not speak in the footage aired on July 24, 2019, for example, to say he had just spoken with the Uzbek president, as was reported.

The Turkmen president also did not speak in the Aug. 4, 2019 footage aired on Turkmen TV, and the clips seem to be a compilation of his usual bizarre antics that are regularly shown on the evening news, and of which there is almost certainly an abundance of archive material from the cutting-room floor.

His hair is gray in the recent appearances, but that only narrows down the time frame to anytime during the last year or so, when he stopped dying it black.

The headlines of the reports seemed aimed at quieting rumors of ill health or worse.

Turkmenistan Aug. 6, 2019’s headline said, “Turkmenistan’s President Dedicates His Vacation To A Creative And Active Life,” and the Golden Age website’s headline read “The Turkmen Leader’s Vacation: Active Leisure, Literary And Musical Creativity.”

The Aug. 5, 2019 footage showed Berdymukhammedov discussing the country’s economic performance, agriculture, preparations for the Aug. 11-12, 2019 Caspian Economic Forum and the Muslim holiday Kurban Bayramy.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

Image of Berdimuhamedow, on display outside the national horse-racing ground in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

But again, Berdymukhammedov did not refer to any recent event that would have proven the footage was from sometime during the last two or three weeks. The conversations could have taken place several weeks or months ago.

Absent from the video conference was any criticism of officials’ work, or reprimands for shortcomings, which are typical of these video conferences. It was also unclear why he again interrupted his vacation to hold the video conference.

Similarly, state print media had an unusual gap in reports featuring Berdymukhammedov.

News about the Turkmen president has always dominated state media coverage, going back to the early days of first Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

A July 25, 2019 report about Berdymukhammedov congratulating new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was the last news about Berdymukhammedov for more than one week on the Altyn Asyr (Golden Age) state website until a report appeared on Aug. 4, 2019, about the footage shown on state television. The same was true on state website Turkmenistan Today.

The last reports featuring Berdymukhammedov on the Russian-based pro-government website Turkmenistan.ru are from July 25, 2019; one congratulating Johnson and another about birthday wishes for Mirziyoev.

Even stranger, Turkmenistan.ru on Aug. 1, 2019 reported about the CEO of the Malaysian company Petronas, Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, visiting Avaza and meeting with Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov and gas-and-oil-sector chief Yashigeldy Kakaev.

Berdymukhammedov’s name is not even mentioned in the report.

Petronas has been doing business in Turkmenistan since 1996. Petronas developed and is still working Block 1 in Turkmenistan’s sector of the Caspian Sea, “the first PSA to be awarded by the government of Turkmenistan.”

Petronas has invested more than billion in Turkmenistan and was a sponsor of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games that Turkmenistan hosted. When Berdymukhammedov visited Malaysia in November 2016, he made a point of meeting with Ariffin, as he had met with previous Petronas head Dato Shamsul Azhar in Kuala Lumpur in December 2011. Berdymukhammedov also met with Azhar’s predecessor, Hassan Marican, in Ashgabat in May 2009.

Despite the history of close ties to the heads of Petronas, Berdymukhammedov could not find even a few minutes to meet with Ariffin at a resort area in Turkmenistan.

On July 25, 2019, Afghanistan completed the Aqina-Andkhoi segment of a railway line that is to link Turkmenistan to Tajikistan via northern Afghanistan.

Turkmenistan has been facing hard economic times since 2015 and this should have been good news for the country. Turkmenistan sent a delegation to a ceremony launching the new line that was reported on by Turkmen media. But there was not a word attributed to Berdymukhammedov about the accomplishment and what it could mean for Turkmenistan.

Where is he?

The immediate denials of Berdymukhammedov’s death came, as mentioned, from Turkmenistan’s embassies in Moscow and Bishkek.

But how would they know? Both embassies reacted rather quickly, almost automatically, rejecting reports of bad news about Turkmenistan as they usually do.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry has not issued any statements denying the rumors Berdymukhammedov is ill or dead. In fact, while Berdymukhammedov has been on vacation it is not clear who exactly is running the country, though it does appear Foreign Minister Meredov is acting as the host to visitors.

And even Berdymukhammedov’s vacation is unusual this year.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

Turkmenistan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov cut the ribbon to open an exhibition.

As the Hronika Turkmenistana website pointed out, he usually only takes two weeks of summer vacation. This year, his vacation is from July 15 to August 15.

Berdymukhammedov has in the past often taken his ministers, or many of them, along with him on vacation. Some of the ministers were at Avaza playing various sports at the end of July, but Berdymukhammedov was never shown among them, which is very unusual, as he customarily is on TV instructing his ministers how to exercise properly.

Again, the media is not following Berdymukhammedov around and showing footage of him frolicking on the Caspian shores or inspecting Turkmenistan’s naval vessels or merchant fleet.

There was some footage at the very start of his vacation of him playing with his grandchildren and some kittens.

Turkmenistan has always been a unique, some would say bizarre, place, but in the last few weeks there is a feeling that things are not right. Established patterns of behavior are being ruptured without any credible explanation as to why.

It seems Berdymukhammedov has suffered some sort of problem, otherwise it would have been easy enough for him to appear on state television and say something — anything — about current events. On the other hand, Turkmen media is now devoting a great deal of effort to convince people that their president of the last 12 years is alive and healthy.

Although the first Caspian Economic Forum should be the focus of attention when it opens in Avaza on August 11, everyone will now be concentrating on whether Berdymukhammedov will make an appearance and, if he does, if he shows any signs of having suffered some illness or physical setback.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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Airline refunds returning soldier for overweight bag charge

A Texas National Guard returning home after nearly two years deployed to says he had to pay United Airlines $200 because his bag was overweight.


KTBC-TV in Austin reports 1st Lt. John Rader of Kyle, Texas, had a duffel bag just over the 70-pound bag weight limit for no charges during his United flight May 15 from El Paso.

Rader had a layover in Houston before arriving at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

United, in a statement May 18, said the charge would be refunded to Rader as a goodwill gesture. The carrier says personnel are allowed to check five bags, weighing up to 70 pounds apiece, for free.

Rader’s bag had a Kevlar vest, two helmets and boots. He didn’t have another bag with him to transfer items.

Articles

The 19 greatest empires in history

History has seen empires that stretch across a fifth of the world; others that ruled hundreds of millions of people; and some that lasted more than a millennium.


Also Read: The 4 US Presidents With The Craziest War Stories

Each empire seemed unstoppable for an age, but they all crumbled in the end.

Indeed, the age of empires may have ended with World War II, as world powers have moved on from colonization and conquest in favor of geopolitical and commercial influence.

We’ve ranked the 19 greatest empires of all time by the number of square miles each had conquered at their peak.

The Turkic Khaganate spanned 2.32 million square miles at its height in 557 until a civil war contributed to its collapse in 581.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Han imperial dynasty spanned 2.51 million square miles at its peak in 100 B.C. It collapsed by A.D. 220 after a series of coups and revolutions.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Ming Dynasty spanned 2.51 million square miles at its height in 1450, but economic breakdown and natural disasters contributed to its collapse in the early 17th century.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Sasanian Empire spanned 2.55 million square miles at its peak in 621 and was the last Iranian empire before the rise of Islam. It fell around 651 following economic decline and conquest by the Islamic caliphate.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Empire of Japan was one of the largest maritime empires in history, spanning 2.86 million square miles at its peak in 1942 before surrendering to the Allies on September 2, 1945.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Achaemenid Empire, also known as the First Persian Empire, spanned 3.08 million square miles at its peak in 480 B.C. before falling to Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The First French Colonial Empire spanned 3.12 million square miles at its height in 1754, before a series of wars with Great Britain resulted in both countries losing most of their New World colonies.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

After declaring independence from Portugal, the empire of Brazil spanned 3.28 million square miles at its height in 1822, but it would soon lose the territories that make up modern Uruguay, and the empire would fall in an 1889 coup.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Rashidun Caliphate spanned 3.6 million square miles at its peak in 654, before being followed by another Islamic Caliphate. It was the largest empire by land area ever at that point in history.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Portuguese Empire reached 4 million square miles at its height in 1815, before losing Brazil and most of the rest in the next 150 years.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Abbasid Caliphate covered 4.29 million square miles at its height in 850 before losing ground to the Ottomans, who captured the capital city, Cairo, in 1517.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The French bounced back with second colonial empire that covered 5 million square miles at its peak in 1938, before shedding territories in the post-World War II decolonization movement.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Yuan Dynasty, the first dynasty to rule all of China, extended 5.4 million square miles at its peak in 1310, before being overthrown by the Ming Dynasty in 1368.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China, controlled 5.68 million square miles in 1790 at its greatest point. It fell in 1912 following defeat by foreign powers in the Boxer Rebellion and many local uprisings.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Umayyad Caliphate spanned 5.79 million square miles at its height in the 7th century, before it was defeated by the Abbasids in 750.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Spanish Empire governed 13% of the world’s land — 7.5 million square miles — at its height in the 18th century before losing much territory in the 19th century Spanish-American wars of independence.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikispace

The Russian Empire spanned 8.8 million square miles at its peak in 1866. It was overthrown by the February Revolution in 1917 and was replaced by the Soviet Union.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The Mongol Empire spanned 12.7 million square miles at its peak in 1279, spanning from the Sea of Japan to Eastern Europe, but it disintegrated into competing entities at about 1368.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

The British Empire stretched over 13 million square miles across several continents — 23% of the world’s land — at its height in 1922, until decolonization began after World War II.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo: Wikimedia

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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HOAX: ISIS forced to ban burqas after women kill jihadis with hidden pistols

Islamic State leaders have been forced to abandon one of their religious beliefs by no longer forcing Muslim women to wear the burqa in public. The reason: Women under ISIS domination are fighting back – and using the face-and-body covering garment to do it.


Using clothing items to cover women’s bodies is common in the Islamic world. Many Muslim women are not forced to wear these garments, they are proud to do so. In some areas, however, the law does force women to wear certain coverings.

These items range from a simple headscarf, called a “hijab,” to the full-body burqa.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Afghan women wait outside a USAID-supported health care clinic.

The burqa became synonymous with the harsh treatment of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

Now, under penalty of torture and death, ISIS forces women to wear such a garment in cities under its control.

They used to, anyway.

According to the International Business Times, sources inside the ISIS-held city of Mosul in Iraq say a Muslim woman in full veil shot and killed two ISIS fighters at a checkpoint south of the city’s center. She used a pistol hidden under her burqa to do it.

ISIS is now on the alert for similar attacks.

Burqas are used by women in some parts of the Muslim world, but Iraq and Syria are typically not among them. Syria, traditionally a secular state, discourages the use of Islamic head coverings. When the Syrian city of Manbij was liberated from the Islamic State by Kurdish fighters in August, VICE’s Tess Owen reported women burning their burqas. Some lit cigarettes from the burning garments.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Women burning their burqas and men cutting their beards after ISIS is pushed out of Manbij.

“Damn this stupid invention that they made us wear,” IndiaTimes quoted a recently freed woman as she lit her burqa on fire.

Update 9/9/16: As great as this story was to think about, it turned out to be part of a misinformation campaign by Iran.

MIGHTY SPORTS

This bilateral amputee is a force to be reckoned with

Dave Nichols has been a bilateral amputee for nearly half a century. He’s fluid in his walk, with full range of motion in his knees, although his legs were blown off below the knee in a landmine explosion during his tour in Vietnam in 1970.

At the same time, the Army veteran feels it is unfair for him to tell other amputees how to live their lives, especially if he doesn’t fully understand their physical and emotional challenges. But if he did give advice to a fellow disabled vet, he would say there are many adaptive programs they can take advantage of to stay active.

“After years of being like this, I look at my disability more like a job,” Nichols says. “I take the emotional aspect out of it. You want to do the best job you can. It’s a job with no vacation. It’s about being innovative. It’s about adapting to equipment or keeping yourself in shape, making sure you work out.


“The biggest thing is the living room couch. If you don’t get off the couch, you’re done. Once you get out and about, you find that people will look at you as just another person. They’re going to look at you as somebody out there doing your best. People sometimes are afraid to approach you. But with a little nonverbal communication, you keep a smile on your face. Don’t walk around like you don’t want to talk to anybody.”

Nichols has been incredibly active. He’s been an avid golfer, a skier and ski instructor, and a boxing coach who has sparred. He recently took up pickleball, which includes elements of tennis, table tennis, and badminton.

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

A year-round special events competitor, Nichols at VA’s Summer Sports Clinic.

He’s looking forward to participating in the VA 2019 National Veterans Golden Age Games, June 5-10, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska. At 69 years old, he’ll be competing in golf, pickleball, badminton, and the javelin throw. He’s taken part in the Golden Age Games for nearly a decade and has won medals in golf and javelin.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Nichols says. “I like to compete. But more than anything, I like the social interaction. I want to get out there and do my very best. Being an amputee motivates me a little bit. But if I don’t win, I’m not upset. At my age, I’m just lucky I’m out there doing it.”

In 1970, Army private first-class Nichols was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade as it cleared out an enemy base camp in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam when enemy fighters detonated a landmine. The explosion left Nichols with what he describes as an “out-of-body experience.”

“One second, you’re walking and talking to infantrymen and you feel confident,” explains Nichols, who received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service. “The next thing, you’re on the ground without any feet. You feel like, `What now?’ It’s like you have to create a whole new image of yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore.”

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other

Nichols in Vietnam.

Nichols spent nine months in the hospital. Having suffered no nerve or muscle damage in his knees in the explosion, he was able to retain a lot of his balance and the ability to climb ramps and stairs.

“I’ve been walking with prosthetics now for 48 years,” he says. “I’m ambulatory. I don’t have a wheelchair or anything like that.”

Today, Nichols is in great shape at 5 feet 9 inches, and 150 pounds. A resident of Stone Ridge, New York, he golfs in the Eastern Amputee Golf Association. He’s up to about a 14 handicap, after once being between an eight and nine. He chalks up the decline to not playing much recently because of his involvement with other sports like skiing.

He skis in Windham, New York, and teaches people with disabilities how to ski.

With a wife, three kids, and three grandchildren, he finds that life has been good to him.

“There are days when I get up and go, `It’s going to be a rough day,'” he says. “But normally everything is fine. I’m going all day. I’ve been very fortunate because my disability is manageable.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

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Why Vietnam vet and Hollywood legend Dale Dye thinks ending the draft was a ‘terrible mistake’

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Dale Dye is a veteran of the Vietnam war, accomplished actor, author, and entrepreneur, but most of the filmmaking world knows him as Hollywood’s drill sergeant. In a wide-ranging interview with Dye at his home, we spoke on a variety of topics, but one that really caught my interest were his thoughts on the military draft.


Before he became the legendary technical advisor that helped shape everything from “Born on the Fourth of July” to “Saving Private Ryan,” Dye served three tours as a Marine on the ground in Vietnam, and was a three-time recipient of the Purple Heart and recipient of the Bronze Star (with combat “V”) award for heroism. While conventional wisdom maintains the “all-volunteer force” of the modern U.S. military is the best approach, Dye thinks that ending the draft was a “terrible mistake.”

“There is a difference between a wartime draft and a peacetime draft,” Dye told WATM, in an interview at his home north of Hollywood. “Wartime draft, you take whatever shows up. Whatever comes, you know. Peacetime draft you can be more selective because of selective service pools in the neighborhoods and so on, so you get good guys. The reason I like it is this: with the all-volunteer force, and with the advent of social media and a number of other things, what’s happened is that we have become a ‘Me Generation.’ Its me, me, me. Its all about the sun rises and sets on my ass.”

The 70-year-old combat veteran — who volunteered to join the Marine Corps in 1964 and retired in 1984 — uses a colorful expression and doesn’t mince words. In his view, the draft brings people together to appreciate service to something higher than themselves.

“Now enter the military, and that rapidly changes. Our way of looking at it is that yours and mine is the antithesis of that. You worry about me, I worry about you. And then we both worry about the mission. Our personal crap is secondary. Nowadays, personal crap is primary, and it’s because there is no view of a larger mission. There is nothing bigger than me. [Veterans] know there is something bigger than us. And that is the country, our nation, and our Corps, and each other. And that is bigger than either one of us personally and we know that from our military experience.”

This is what happens when the world’s best fighter jets face off against each other
Photo Credit: US Army

In Dye’s view, if people were drafted into the military, if would have a “huge beneficial effect” that would take people away from ‘me first’ into an ‘us first’ viewpoint — something that might close the civilian-military divide.

But he also sees military service as a way of bringing people together working toward a common goal, and building relationships from the shared experience. He continued:

“Point two, which is perhaps even more important, you know we are seeing deteriorating social relationships. Why? Well, I don’t have to talk to you, I can email your ass and never meet you. And furthermore, if I’m a white guy from Southeast Missouri, and you’re a black guy from Trenton, New Jersey, we would never run into each other and wouldn’t want to. Why would we? Nothing in common. So you give the nation a common denominator. That black guy from Trenton, New Jersey and the Hispanic guy from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the white guy from Missouri and you shuffle them together in a military experience, and for the first time you find out that black guy is a human being just like I am. And all these prejudices and nonsense are just that, nonsense. And you learn about the Latino guy, and the Latino guy and the black guy learn about you. And what happens is, you lose some of these preconceptions. This nonsense, and I saw it happen when the draft was there. And its wonderful for the country. We are no longer living in little cliques. [Military service members] have been there. We’ve been in the military … we know the black guys are the same as the white guy, and the white guy knows that the Latino guy is the same as he is. And I think that is exceedingly valuable. And that’s point two, and we lost it when we got rid of the draft.”

After serving in Vietnam as an infantryman and a combat correspondent, Dye served for a number of years before he retired from the Marine Corps and moved to Los Angeles with the idea of bringing more realism to Hollywood films. Despite the door being shut in his face plenty of times, his persistence paid off when Oliver Stone took him on as a military technical advisor for “Platoon.”

He’s had a hand in more than 70 films, television shows, and video games, and continues to run his business, Warriors, Inc.

DON’T MISS: Here’s How Hollywood Legend Dale Dye Earned The Bronze Star For Heroism In Vietnam