Russia’s Tsar Bomba is the single most physically powerful man-made explosion in human history. And it will probably remain that way forever.
On October 30, 1961, at 11:32 Moscow time, the 50 megaton behemoth detonated over the Mityushikha Bay nuclear testing range above the Arctic Circle. By comparison, the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the U.S. was the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954, which yielded the same energy as 15 megatons of TNT. The blast produced by the Tsar Bomba is the equivalent to about 1,350 – 1,570 times the combined energy of the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to John D. Bankston in his book “Invisible Enemies of Atomic Veterans and How They Were Betrayed.”
Or as the Discovery Channel video below puts it, “It contained the equivalent of 58 million tons of TNT or all the explosives used in World War II, multiplied by ten.”
The explosion was so powerful that the modified Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber—Russia’s version of the B-52—was almost knocked out of the sky. The mushroom cloud it produced was about 40 miles high, over seven times the height of Mount Everest.
The bomb destroyed all the buildings in a village 34 miles away from ground zero and broke windows in Norway and Finland. The explosion’s heat caused third-degree burns on people 62 miles away. One test participant saw the flash through his dark goggles and felt the bomb’s pulse 170 miles away. The bomb’s shock wave was observed 430 miles from the ground zero, and its seismic activity was measurable even on its third passage around the Earth.
This Discovery Channel video shows rare footage of the Tsar Bomba’s detonation:
ISIS has made alarming gains in Iraq and Syria over the past week.
On May 17, ISIS fighters took Ramadi, a city just 70 west of Baghdad, after a battle in which the jihadist group advanced into the city behind a wave of suicide bombers. Capturing Palmyra, a former Assad regime bastion in Syria, proved easier, as a collapsing Syrian military essentially vacated the city in the face of the ISIS advance.
And an 11-month US-led bombing campaign hasn’t prevented ISIS from taking and holding additional territory. This week, ISIS has looked formidable, while the US’s strategy has seemed particularly ineffective and aimless. On May 21st, reports began circulating that ISIS controlled half of Syrian territory.
But such claims about ISIS’s degree of territorial control obscures how and why the group has been successful so far — and how it might eventually be defeated. ISIS doesn’t really “control” half of Syria.
As these maps from the Institute for the Study of War demonstrates, ISIS has a sliver-shaped core of direct administrative control, insulated by hundreds of square miles of desert where the jihadist group and other militant forces maintain a degree of operational capability.
There are gradients of ISIS control in Syria, and understanding them hints at how the group can be successfully countered.
“ISIS’s fighters are likely clustered in key defensible terrain,” Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria conflict analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider. Cafarella explained that ISIS focuses its efforts and manpower around the populated and strategic areas along the Euphrates river.
“There’s little actual human terrain in close proximity to ISIS in eastern Syria that ISIS does not already control,” she said. “Beyond that is the vast Homs Desert, where ISIS has been able to operate with impunity.
“But it’s too inhospitable for any military to decisively hold and of low enough strategic value that is can’t be considered an exclusively ISIS-governed area.”
As Cafarella says, the desert in the east of the country is at least “maneuverable terrain by really all military forces.”
The issue is that ISIS currently has free reign there — the Assad regime, for instance, doesn’t have on the ground intelligence, the capacity, of perhaps the willingness to discover and then bomb ISIS convoys traveling across Syria’s desert east.
“We still don’t have the ground partner necessary to contest ISIS-held terrain inside of Syria in any meaningful sense,” says Cafarella.
In Syria, ISIS has a small core area of control, a wider area of operational freedom, and no real ground-level counter-force pressuring the group.
What it doesn’t have is an administrative entity that actually comprises half of the country’s territory.
In other areas, over-emphasis on ISIS’s territorial control can have an even more distorting impact on the group’s actual reach. In Libya, it’s been frequently reported that ISIS rules over territory, with The New York Times reporting in March that ISIS had a foothold in Sirte, along the Mediterranean coast. On May 21st, Reuters reported that ISIS had captured the city.
In reality, ISIS doesn’t really control any territory in Libya, or at least not in the same sense as in Iraq and Syria.
“The places they’re said to be in control of are heavily contested,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider. “It hasn’t captured cities and imposed an administrative structure.”
The idea that ISIS has territorial control in Libya “directly feeds into ISIS propaganda,” says Gartenstein-Ross. It shows that the “caliphate” has spread beyond Iraq and Syria, and that he group can fight and hold territory far beyond its center of power. An exaggerated sense of ISIS’s Libya capabilities may have been part of what convinced the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram to pledge allegiance to ISIS in March.
Understanding the nature and extent of ISIS’s territorial control is especially important amidst growing criticism of the US’s strategy against the group. Gartentstein-Ross explained that ISIS has adjusted its own battlefield approach, opting for small-scale attacks over vulnerable large-scale mobilizations. Furthermore, the group is only opening fronts against forces they are relatively certain they can defeat, like the Iraqi military.
“They’re using smaller and more mobile units that are better at evading the air campaign,” says Gartenstein-Ross.
ISIS’s tactics are adjusting to the US’s now 11-month-old air campaign, but this doesn’t mean the group is invincible. ISIS took Palmyra because the Syrian regime fled, and it took Ramadi because the Iraqi Security Forces aren’t a viable or a competent fighting force.
On the other hand, ISIS has an apparent unwillingness to contest areas held by battle-hardened Iranian-supported Shi’ite militia groups in both Iraq and Syria, and has made little progress against Kurdish forces in either country.
So even as the group expands, it’s clear that it isn’t on an inevitable victory march across Iraq and Syria.
“I don’t think their capability should be overstated vis a vis the full range of their opponents,” says Gartenstein-Ross.
The North Koreans have been provoking the United States for as long as North Koreans have been praising Kim Il-Sung for being birthed from a shooting star.
In the 1960’s the Hermit Kingdom was at the height of its power, which mostly came from the Soviet Union, who both supplied it and protected it from U.S. “intervention.”
The election of U.S. President Richard Nixon changed how Communist nations interacted with the United States in geopolitical affairs. Nixon, a staunch anti-Communist Cold Warrior, was able to provoke the major Communist powers and them off of one another. His famous 1972 trip to China and the subsequent thaw in relations with the USSR are proof that Nixon’s “triangulation” theory had merit.
But in April 1969, mere months into the first Nixon Administration, Nixon’s internationalist savvy was still unproven. That’s when North Korea shot down an EC-121 spy plane over the Sea of Japan. Nixon was furious.
And Nixon could do a lot when he’s that angry. (Painting by Jason Heuser – SharpWriter on DeviantArt)
A July 2010 story on NPR featured remarks from Bruce Charles, an Air Force pilot based in Kunsan, South Korea at the time. He recalled being put on alert to carry out his part of the SIOP, the Single Integrated Operational Plan – the U.S. nuclear strike plan for war with the Communists.
Charles was put on alert to drop a 330-kiloton nuke on a North Korean airstrip.
Eventually, the order to stand down was given, and Charles returned to his regular duties. According to the official accounts, Nixon and his advisors mulled over how to respond. In the end, the President opted not to retaliate.
It’s worth speculating that Nixon would have wanted the Communists to believe he actually considered a nuclear strike. In the coming years, the President would even send nuclear-armed bombers toward the Soviet Union while spreading the rumor that he was so insane, he might really trigger World War III.
Of course, he wasn’t insane. And thanks to a 2000 book by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, we know he was just drunk. Not with power, but with booze.
George Carver, a CIA Vietnam specialist at the time of the EC-121 shootdown, is reported to have said that Nixon became “incensed” when he found out about the EC-121. The President got on the phone with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ordered plans for a tactical nuclear strike and recommendations for targets.
Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor for Nixon at the time, also got on the phone to the Joint Chiefs and got them to agree to stand down on that order until Nixon woke up sober the next morning.
Old Glory traveled through 10 states and touched more than 8,000 hands on its 4,216 mile journey across America this year. Now the third annual Old Glory Relay across the United States has come to an end.
Organized by Team Red, White Blue, the national event spans 62 days and brings together runners, cyclists, walkers and hikers who have a shared interest in connecting with veterans and civilians in the communities they call home.
“We really wanted this to be a unifying event for the organization and to demonstrate the power and the inspiration that comes with a community of veterans working on an epic undertaking together,” said Team RWB Executive Director Blayne Smith. “We figured if we could run a single American flag averaging 60 miles a day … that would be a demonstration of the good that we could do together if we all worked together formed as a team and committed to a big goal.”
With support from incredible members and sponsors like Microsoft, Westfield, The Schultz Family Foundation, Amazon, Salesforce, Starbucks and La Quinta Inn Suites, the event raised more than $1,250,000! Team RWB will then use the donations to help establish new chapters across the United States and to sponsor events where veterans and community members with a shared interest in social and physical activities can get together for a little PT and camaraderie.
But the Old Glory Relay takes that connection one step further, linking together Team RWB’s 210 chapters and over 115,000 members with their love for the Stars and Stripes.
“This is all about connecting folks to the American flag,” said Donnie Starling, Team RWB’s national development project manager. “One hand-off after another, under the symbol of Old Glory.”
“People see the flag, and they see different things,” remarked Navy veteran Sean Kelly. “But when they see people together in their community, they’re drawn to it. I think it’s an interesting time in our country – and to see a positive force that tries to pull people together, that’s a super important mission that I’m excited to be a part of.”
The Old Glory Relay began on Sept. 11 under the Space Needle in Seattle. Runners carried the flag through the Pacific Northwest, through California and across the desert Southwest and deep south.
The relay ended on Veterans Day in Tampa. And while it was a long journey through some grueling country, the feeling of accomplishment showed through from all the participants.
For Shawn Cleary, a runner in Arizona who delivered the flag to the Tucson team to finish out the Phoenix leg, being part of Team RWB has helped him to get to know a culture he wasn’t a part of as a civilian but had always respected as a military child.
“My life before Team RWB was kind of a college lifestyle,” Cleary says. “It started about two and a half years ago, I wanted to get healthy again, and I was starting to run.”
A friend suggested Cleary run with Team RWB. “I was just hooked,” he says.
There are tens of thousands of veterans and civilians alike who have gotten “hooked” and found a home with Team Red, White Blue. Through the organization, they continue to give back to one another and the community at large – and have an incredible time doing so!
There are many ways to get involved with Team Red, White Blue, so join the team and get started today. There are always local events happening, and keep an eye out for Team RWB’s national events like the Old Glory Relay!
The object dangling in the back of the F-35C is the tailhook, which snags hold of a cable on the carrier deck. The cable slows the aircraft down, allowing it to land efficiently and safely on the otherwise-dangerously short runways that aircraft carriers offer.
The technical requirements of taking off and landing from a carrier means that the F-35C is significantly heavier than the F-35A and F-35B variants. The C has an extra 208 square feet of wing to help create drag. Overall, the plane weighs over 6,000 pounds more than the other variants.
In November 2014, the F-35C conducted its first ever successful carrier landing. The landing came after nearly three years of delays due to tailhook design issues.
Iran has made waves announcing new weapons, like the Bavar 373 and Qaher 313 in recent years, and they’ve been conducting a lot of tests. Iran even claimed to have copied the RQ-170 “Beast of Kandahar” reconnaissance drone after one of the American spy planes made a forced landing in Iran.
But are these systems paper tigers? According to the National Interest, the Iranians may not have thought through their Qaher 313 very well. In fact, the Qaher 313 may be in the pantheon of “most useless combat planes” that includes such luminaries as the Boulton-Paul Defiant and the Brewster F2A Buffalo.
In fact, when Iranian-made versions of the Chinese C-802 missile were fired at American ships on multiple occasions this past October by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, they failed to score any hits, and drew a retaliatory strike.
The Qaher 313 is touted as Iran’s fifth-generation stealth fighter, capable of carrying 2,000-pound bombs, Chinese PL-12 missiles, and other weapons. That’s the hype. But what is the reality?
The claim drew skepticism, with the National Interest reporter recalling a comparison of the Qaher 313 to a GI Joe toy. One of the reasons is that the Iranians appear to only have the option of using reverse-engineered versions of the J85 engine, which is used on their inventory of F-5E Tiger fighters.
The aircraft’s size has also caused some discussion, with some believing that the Iranians displayed a small-scale mock-up. Others, though, have claimed that the plane is just a propaganda exercise — and a poorly executed one, at that. Haaretz.com called the plane a “glorified mock-up” that “won’t cause any panic in the Israeli Air Force’s intelligence wing.”
This isn’t the only such dispute. Iran’s claims to have copied the RQ-170 also drew skepticism, with some claiming the Iranians had built a static mock-up. It should be noted that Iran has successfully built naval vessels, notably the Jamaran-class frigates and the Peykan-class missile boats, as well as an indigenous coastal submarine.
While the Air Force has gotten the F-35A to its initial operating capability, the service is having a ton of other problems — problems that could place the ability of the United States to control the air in doubt.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the service is short by about 700 pilots and 4,000 mechanics. This is not a small issue. A shortage of well-trained pilots can be costly.
F-16s fly beside a KC-135 during a refueling mission over Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Preston Cherry)
In World War II, the United States had a strict policy of rotating experienced pilots back to the states. This is why John Thach, the inventor of the Thach Weave, had only seven kills in World War II, according to Air University’s ace pilots list.
He was sent back to train the pilots needed to fly the hundreds of F6F Hellcats and F4U Corsairs. By contrast, Japan kept pilots on the front line until they were shot down or badly wounded. It cost them experience.
Maintenance personnel also matter. A fighter on the flight line does no good if it can’t fly, and the mechanics are the folks who keep it functional. The thing is, no mechanic — no matter how good he or she is — can fix two planes at once.
So why is the United States Air Force facing this much of a shortage? An Air Force release notes that the decline took place over the last ten years, but was exacerbated by the sequestration cuts of 2011.
“The risk of manpower shortage is masked and placed on the backs of Airmen,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in that release. “Because if you go back and look at the data and the way we measure readiness, did we taxi? Yes. Did we launch? Yes. Did we make the deployed destination and accomplish the mission? Yes.”
But accomplishing the mission came at a price, Goldfein explained. “What’s masked is the fact that the shortage of people has fundamentally changed the way we do business in terms of the operational risk day to day.”
When asked for a comment by the writer, Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness said,
“I’m not aware of an official survey to confirm what may be going on, but it appears that the mystique of being an [Air Force] pilot has been eroded by a combination of budget cuts and social agendas; e.g., Air Force Secretary Deborah James’ Diversity Initiative Fact Sheet. Mandates such as this clearly indicate that qualifications and high standards are not very important, and certain types of applicants need not apply.”
Donnelly also pointed to aircraft readiness issues in the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as the many aging airframes in the U.S. inventory.
Also of note – FoxNews.com noted that in 1991, the Air Force had 134 fighter squadrons. Today, there are only 55, marking a reduction of 59% in the number of fighter squadrons.
Afghanistan. Distant, foreboding, little understood.
Known as the “Graveyard of Empires” the carcasses of countless soviet war machines rust away in mute testimony to the futility of that savage war. The more I read about Afghanistan the less I seemed to know. Watching the news was even more confusing and it appeared America had entered this same graveyard and that we were now fighting elusive ghosts otherwise known as the Taliban.
I remember watching the newscasts in the 1990’s of the Taliban as they rose like a cancer throughout the country, oppressing women, killing those who opposed them and imposing their radical version of Islam on all. Nothing made a deeper impression on me than the public destruction of the massive Banyam Buddhas and the wholesale “cleansing” of Afghanistan’s precious ancient history. Then came 9/11.
In 2010, then our 9th year of the war, I was still struggling with understanding why we were there, who we were fighting and maybe most importantly who were we helping? I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a sort of “combat travel film” that didn’t just following brave men in combat but one that also helped to explain more about the land and the people. Digital technology now makes every soldier a potential documentarian and it was under these auspices that I started to look for a story. It didn’t take long and it would change my life.
Enter Team Cobra
A Sergeant friend of mine told me about a group of all-volunteers from the Oregon National Guard who, in 2008, wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to “impart change” by helping the local population and training the Afghan National Army. They would return a year later as one of the most decorated units in Oregon National Guard history. While I didn’t at the time know the particulars, I knew I had to tell their story.
Of the 17 men that deployed, I interviewed 6 of them. I had between 2 and 4 hours of initial interview footage from each man. With each interview their stories started to intertwine and after the interview process my real work began. I listened to these stories on my headphones over and over again. Their journey to Afghanistan was over, but mine was just beginning. I watched countless video clips and looked at thousands of photos, each one representing a puzzle piece. Weeks turned to months. The sound of the newspaper being delivered in our driveway served as a reminder that I might have missed another night’s sleep. I was learning about Afghanistan, about the diversity of the people, about courage, about honor and about loss.
Watch Gary Mortensen’s ‘Shepherds of Helmand’ on The Mighty TV here.
Earlier that year I had lost my mom to a long and protracted battle with cancer. My father followed a few weeks afterwards. In my own sorrow I consumed myself with telling the story of Team Cobra. They too knew loss. One of their leaders, Bruno DeSolenni had died in an IED attack and the impact on these men would be profound and everlasting.
Each night as I worked on the film I felt closer to these guys, even though they had only met me months earlier for a few hours. But that didn’t matter, I felt a huge responsibility to tell their story in a way that would honor them. I was nervous to show the final cut to them because I wanted to tell the story right. They were gracious and thankful and said to my relief that it was faithful.
When the film finally debuted almost a year later everyone of the soldiers were there for the premiere. They stood on the stage after the screening and answered questions. It was after this that I really got to know them, not just as soldiers but as people.
In my attempt to make a film about Afghanistan, I ended up making a film about America. It’s seems so easy to accept the popular indictment that we have lost it as a country. But I would submit that all around us are exceptional people. I am proud to say I know six of them. They are simply some of the finest people I have ever met and I know that if I was ever in need I could call any of them and they would be there for me. Not because I’m special, it’s because that’s just what they do. They went to Afghanistan to help, some of have gone back, one didn’t come back and some of them are there today.
I am honored to call Jerry Glesmann, Paul Dyer, Marking Browning, Dave Hagen, Dominic Oto and Steve Cooper my friends. They helped me more than they will every know.
Gary Mortensen is an award-winning documentary film director, President of Stoller Family Estate (a premiere Oregon winery), and is active in helping to preserve and share the stories of our veterans. See more at www.veteranslegacies.com.
If you somehow are on the internet and haven’t seen the viral BBC interview of an expert on South Korea being interrupted during a BBC interview by his children, then you can see it here.
The dad is impressively collected as his wife rushes in to grab the children and pull them out, but the internet had a field day with the interview.
Now, a U.S. Air Force crew has created a spoof video where a pilot is attempting to read her takeoff clearance back when the crew starts stumbling in. Another airman, probably the chief, has to rush in and grab the other crewmen out of the cabin.
The results are pretty great. You can check the video out below:
One Russian special operator was pinned down by jihadi fighters while conducting a reconnaissance mission that included calling in airstrikes. His position was overrun by the enemy, so he called for close air support assets to attack where he was so that classified information wouldn’t fall into ISIS hands.
“He was carrying out a combat task in Palmyra area for a week, identifying crucial IS targets and passing exact coordinates for strikes with Russian planes,” a Russian military spokesperson told the UK’s Mirror. “The officer died as a hero, he drew fire onto himself after being located and surrounded by terrorists.”
ISIS published photos from their mobile phones in mid-March, depicting five bodies they said were Russian special forces. The Russian Defense Ministry denied that report, saying the advance on Palmyra was being conducted by the Syrian Army (the one supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Asad).
While Russia has admitted to five combat deaths in the conflict so far, including a pilot of a fighter shot down by Turkish forces and a Marine who died trying to rescue that pilot. Russian special forces have been on the ground since the beginning of Russia’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War, in September of 2015.
The city has art and architecture dating from 100 AD, including Greco-Roman ruins, over 1,000 columns, an ancient Roman aqueduct and 500 tombs on site. In 2015, ISIS captured the 2,000-year-old city and dynamiting ancient monuments, temples, and shrines it deemed blasphemous and executed people on the stage of the Roman amphitheater.
Syrian government troops entered the city on March 24, 2016. In the last five days, the Russians claim they carried out 146 airstrikes supporting the operation. Syrian troops recaptured the city on Sunday.
From the Russian for the firm who created the airframes, Mikoyan and Gurevich, MiG fighters began their real operational history with the MiG-15 during the Korean War. The Russian MiGs proved to be so capable that the they became wildly popular in air forces from Vietnam to the Indian Subcontinent to the Middle East.
The MiG proved so popular and able from generation to generation, it maintained its supremacy in the Soviet Air Forces through much of the 1980s – until the introduction of the Sukhoi-27 ousted the MiG from its top spot.
As time went on, MiGs in the Russian service were sidelined in favor of the increased range and larger payload of the Sukhoi family’s 4th-generation fighters.
The MiG is back – in a big way. The MiG-29 SMT Generation-4+ fighters have improved technology, weapons payload, and fuel space. Russia ordered four SMTs from Mikoyan to deploy them in Armenia and ordered a number of MiG-29Ks sufficient to launch from an aircraft carrier.
The MiG-35 will enter service in Russia’s air force in 2017. Though not a 5th Generation airframe, the Russians will use the MiG-35 to counter the F-16 used by most NATO countries.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) was supposed to fill multiple roles for the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and US foreign partners.
The jet — the most expensive US weapons project of all time — was designed to have aerial combat, close-air support, and long-range-strike capabilities.
But that’s not how the plane’s turned out so far. A string of damning reports have seriously called the $1.5 trillion plane into question, specifically it’s “dogfighting” ability when matched against less sophisticated aircraft. And now, one expert has made a convincing case that the fighter’s long-range capabilities don’t measure up to expectations either.
In a report for War Is Boring, military analyst Joseph Trevithick writes that in a long-distance engagement, the F-35 would have to rely on stealth to avoid enemy-radar detection while maneuvering close enough to engage enemy air and ground targets.
In an ideal situation, the F-35 would eliminate its targets before detection and leave. But as Trevithick notes, Russian and Chinese fifth-generation fighters have been outfitted with infrared sensors that can pinpoint a plane’s heat signature over fairly vast distances. The F-35 has a single, large rounded engine nozzle that leaves a larger heat signature than the flat nozzles of other stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 or the B-2.
This infrared signature could tip off enemy fighters to the F-35’s location, negating any benefit it may have from its stealth design.
Stealth may offer diminishing returns anyway. The technology isn’t foolproof, and radar technology is improving around the world.
“You can only go so fast, and you know that stealth may be overrated,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert said during a speech in February. “Let’s face it, if something moves fast through the air, disrupts molecules and puts out heat — I don’t care how cool the engine can be, it’s going to be detectable. You get my point.”
The F-35 may be more detectable at distance than the plane’s advocates claim, meaning the plane might have questionable utility during long-range aerial combat and attack runs. On top of that, the F-35 could find itself outgunned in a potential missile engagement with rival Russian or Chinese fighters.
The F-35 is supposed to be outfitted with AIM-120 Slammer missiles, which have a comparable range to Russian and Chinese air-to-air missiles.
However, as Trevithick notes, the F-35 may actually turn out to be slower than its Russian and Chinese rivals. It’s lagging speed means that it cannot launch the missiles with as much force as enemy jets. Moving at supercruising speed, a sustained speed exceeding the sound barrier, an enemy aircraft could “potentially fling its missiles farther than a missile’s advertised range.”
The difference in missile range might not actually be that important. If the F-35’s stealth capabilities are as good as advertised, or if enemy aircraft don’t have the weight load or sophistication to carry longer-range missiles, the plane will be able to maintain its expected supremacy over other fifth-generation models. Additionally, in a war gameconducted by the Royal Aeronautical Society, the F-35 beat the advanced Russian Su-35s in a long-range aerial engagement.
But in that simulation, the F-35 wasn’t armed with the AIM-120 but with the Meteor Beyond-Visual-Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM). No concrete figures have been released on the BVRAAM’s range, but it is thought to be greater than that of the AIM-120 and any current air-to-air missile in either the Chinese or Russian arsenal.
Unfortunately, as a different War is Boring article notes, any integration of the BVRAAM with the F-35 is years off. The F-35 will not be able to use the BVRAAM until Lockheed releases its next software update for the F-35, which is still in early development. Until that time, the F-35 may find itself in a challenging position relative to Russia and China’s own upcoming fifth-generation fighters.
The F-35 has questionable abilities at shorter range, too. A leaked report from an F-35 test pilot obtained by War is Boring noted that the aircraft was incapable of outmaneuvering and besting an F-16 in a simulated dogfight. The F-16 first entered service in 1978 and is one of the planes that the F-35 is being built to replace.
In response, Lockheed Martin wrote in a July 1 press release that “the F-35’s technology is designed to engage, shoot and kill its enemy from long distances.”
The drill took place as part of NATO’s Exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS), an annual exercise involving approximately 6,000 troops that runs from June 1 to 16. The drill, which took place on a beach in Latvia, is a key component of the exercise which aims to project NATO power from sea at a time when the Russian threat to the Baltics has taken a drastic increase.
“What we want to do is practice and demonstrate the ability to deliver sea control and power projection at and from the sea,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Christopher Grady, Joint Force Maritime Component Commander Europe.
Reserve Marines from Texas deployed from the the USS Arlington, an amphibious landing transport, onto the beach with various landing craft. The drill was conducted on the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II, the largest amphibious invasion in modern history.
The Latvian landing was significantly smaller in scope than the multiple landings on D-Day, but both operations involved a combination of air, maritime and land forces. BALTOPS, like D-Day, is also multinational, with 14 nations participating in various drills.
BALTOPS has been recurring since 1972, but this year’s event comes at a time when NATO’s tensions with Russia are at their highest since the end of the Cold War. The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s aggressive rhetoric has Balkan countries concerned they could be the next target.
“They’re scared to death of Russia,” said Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of U.S. Special Operations Command in January. “They are very open about that. They’re desperate for our leadership.”
The U.S. sent a detachment of special operations forces to the Baltics in January in order to help train local forces.
Russian forces could reach the capitals of both Latvia and neighboring Estonia in less than 60 hours, according to an assessment by the RAND corporation, even with a week’s notice. Latvia has approximately 4,450 active ground troops, while all three Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) have only around 15,750 between them. Estonia can also activate the 16,000 paramilitary troops in the Estonian Defense League, while Lithuania has around 10,000 militia members in the Lithuanian Rifleman’s Union.
NATO also has rotating forces throughout the Baltic region, but RAND’s assessment noted that they may not be enough to stave off a Russian attack.
“Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad,” noted the report.
Fortunately for the Baltics, President Donald Trump has noted he is “absolutely committed” to the collective defense of NATO, a stark change from his previously doubtful outlook on alliance.
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