Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England - We Are The Mighty
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Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England

On June 23, 1942, a German Luftwaffe pilot got lost and accidentally landed his advanced fighter on a British airfield, allowing the British to capture his plane. Oops.

The Royal Air Force had the technological edge in the air at the start of World War II thanks to the Spitfire fighter, but the 1941 debut of the German Focke Wulf 190 changed all that. The FW 190 was lethal and many pilots on both sides considered it the best fighter of the war.

The British schemed to steal a Fw 190, but worried the plans were unlikely to work. One such scheme included sending a German-speaking RAF pilot in a Luftwaffe uniform and a captured Messerschmitt fighter into France to land at an Fw 190 aerodrome, let off a stream of German, demand a new aircraft, and take off in an Fw 190.

Luckily for them, German pilot Oberleutnant Armin Faber became disoriented during a 1942 dogfight and mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel, leading him to land at RAF Pembrey in South Wales, home to the RAF’s Air Gunnery School. Needless to say, the British at the airfield were baffled, but they quickly captured Faber along with his plane.

The RAF was able to study the intact plane and learned that it struggled at high altitudes, giving them a new strategic advantage. Some of the features of the Fw 190 were even worked into future British fighter designs. The insights gleaned from the fighter helped the Allies win control of the skies over northern France and pave the way for the D-Day invasion in June 1944.

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2 lessons this elite fighter pilot says will guide you through a successful life

When Dave Berke was a kid, he imagined himself flying an F-18 off an aircraft carrier.


By the time he retired as a US Marine officer in 2016, he had not only done that, but he’d also flown an F-16, F-22, and F-35, taught at the elite Top Gun fighter pilot school, and served a year on the ground alongside Navy SEALs in the 2006 Battle of Ramadi as a forward air controller.

Today, he’s a member of Echelon Front, a leadership consulting firm started by two of those SEALs, Task Unit Bruiser commander Jocko Willink and one of his platoon commanders, Leif Babin.

Berke has spent the past year sharing lessons from his 23-year military career, and we asked him what insights were at the heart of his leadership philosophy. He shared with us two lessons he learned as a teenager, long before he ever saw combat.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Photo by Staff Sgt. Christine Polvorosa

They’re lessons he said became not only the foundation of his service, but his entire life, and they’re ones he’s had reinforced repeatedly.

Set specific goals and develop detailed paths to them.

Berke’s mom Arlene had become used to hearing her young son talk about how he wished he could fly fighter jets one day.

She told him that he needed understand that the role of a fighter pilot was a real job, one that existed outside of his daydreams. Berke said her message boiled down to: “You could sit there and think about wanting to be a pilot. By the time you’re 25 somebody will be doing that job. Spend less time fantasizing about it, spend less time dreaming about it, and spend more time coming up with a plan.”

Berke took it to heart, and in retrospect, probably took his mom’s advice even more intensely than she had intended. By 15 he knew that his goal was to fly F-18s off aircraft carriers and be stationed in Southern California. He wouldn’t go the more traditional Navy route, either, but would join the Marines and become an officer.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Photo by Staff Sgt. Christine Polvorosa

The Marines have fewer pilots, but even their pilots go through the same training as all other Marines. He wanted the best of both worlds, and to have his goal be as challenging as possible.

He accepted that he might not make this a reality, but decided he would act as though there were no alternative.

At 17, he met with a recruiting officer to nail down everything he needed to do to make his vision a reality, giving him a year to think about the resulting timeline before signing up for the Marine Corps.

“It keeps you disciplined because the risk of not doing all the things you need to do is failure,” he said about this timeline approach. “It’s a failure that you have nobody else to blame but yourself.”

 

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Patrick J. McMahon

Mental toughness is more important than abilities.

Berke said that he’s never been the biggest or strongest guy among his friends in the military, and as an 18-year-old, he was thin and average height.

He arrived at the Marine Corps Base Quantico for officer candidate school scared and intimidated. “I looked around and everybody else around me looked bigger, tougher, stronger, faster, and seemed to be more qualified than me to do that job,” he said.

But as the days went by, he would be surprised to see some of his fellow candidates break under pressure. A guy next to him that he knew was naturally a better athlete than he was wouldn’t be able to keep up in fitness trials, but it was because he didn’t share the drive that Berke had developed for years.

“As they started to fail, I started to realize that the difference between success and failure was mental toughness,” he said.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Berke, middle, with the Echelon Front team and Jocko Podcast producer Echo Charles, second from right. Berke joked this photo proves his point about not having to be the biggest or strongest to succeed. Photo from Echelon Front

He became an officer. Next was the Basic School, where he would be given his role in the Marine Corps. He was one of 250 new officers, and there were only two pilot spots for his class.

“There’s no way I’m going to let somebody else work harder, be more committed, be more disciplined, and outperform me in that environment to accomplish what they want at my expense,” he thought. “It’s not going to happen.”

The same mindset is what got him through the chaos of Iraq 15 years later, when a plane didn’t separate him from the fighting on the ground.

“There’s no Plan B to losing in combat,” he said.

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6 Star Wars techs the Empire should execute defense contractors for designing

It’s actually amazing the Galactic Empire managed to control as much of the galaxy as they did. Logistically, they had the funds and the manpower of a giant imperial power but there were serious issues with the Imperial Defense Contractors.


Frankly, the Empire seemed to buy anything and everything.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
A hand-thrown nuclear device for grunts! What could go wrong?

Like the United States and Russia during the Cold War, the Galactic Empire obviously bought technology and weapon designs with little consideration for anything other than their ongoing effort to have the latest and greatest.

Some are just cumbersome and inefficient, like a moon-sized space station. Others were egregiously flawed from the start, reckless enough to be considered treasonous.

1. The Emperor’s Royal Guards’ Armor

With what armor do you equip the guys who guard the most powerful person in the universe? Bright red robes, of course. Then give them a giant, long, plastic helmet which restricts their neck movement and you’ve got a winner.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Also, spears. Let’s give them spears for fighting laser battles.

It’s a good thing the Emperor moves like a senior citizen walking out of a Golden Corral, because his Royal Guardsmen only have a six inch slit in those helmets for what looks like a 60-degree range of vision. But that hardly matters anyway, because even if they had to defend the Emperor for any reason, they’ve been issued what looks like pikes to fight with in a world full of lightsabers and blaster rifles. Their unit patches should probably just say “cannon fodder.”

2. TIE Fighters

When you need a fleet of superfast fighter spacecraft to defend your giant, lumbering Star Destroyers and planet-sized space stations, what better way to pump out a bunch of placeholders than the TIE Fighter, the galaxy’s most elite floating targets?

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
No shields, no navigation, no torpedoes, no hope.

With only two chin-mounted cannons, dual ion engines, these pilots are expected to tackle fleets of superior X-Wing and A-Wing fighters head to head, with the only strategy employed in their use being the Empire’s ability to throw an overwhelming number of them at any given time. Also, there is not pilot ejection system.

On top of all that, they come fully equipped with a set of giant walls acting as blinders on either side of the craft, effectively restricting the pilot’s vision of roughly half of the battlespace.

3. Stormtroopers

This is another example of the Empire favoring numbers over combat ability. The Empire’s signature shock troops, the average Stormtrooper hasn’t successfully killed anything since the Clone Wars ended.

The only exception was the Snowtroopers at the Battle of Hoth but lets be honest – the Rebel Alliance depended completely on ONE giant ion cannon to protect the entire planet from an invasion.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Standing out in the open during a firefight is a sign of excellent training.

You might defend the stormtroopers by blaming their rifles but that’s all the more reason to execute whomever procured the rifles and/or negotiated the clone trooper deal. The blasters would be a lot more effective if they didn’t come permanently set to “miss.”

Finally, the white PVC armor does nothing for them either. Why bother wearing bright white armor if it does nothing to protect you from the flaming death bolts the other side is shooting your way. Han Solo does just fine in combat and he’s wearing a vest.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
A snazzy vest.

4. AT-ST Walkers

The All Terrain Scout Transport, the two-legged version of The Empire Strikes Back’s famous four-legged snow invaders, are supposed to be an environment-adaptable version of the same. Except whomever convinced the Empire to deploy them on Endor didn’t tell the Imperial Army about the height of the trees being taller than that of the walkers. It doesn’t take a protocol droid to know how to bust into one of those from the treetops.

And if the AT-ST was the right tool for the job on Endor, it would have been able to navigate a series of rolling logs, the armor shouldn’t have crushed like an empty beer can between two trees, and the Empire wouldn’t have been beaten by an army of Care Bears.

5. Speeder Bikes for a Giant Forest World

While we’re on the Battle of Endor, who put it in the Empire’s mind that the ideal ground transport for scouts was a hyper-fast moving, one person bike in a world full of giant primeval trees? These bikes are begging to be wrecked left and right.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
This ends well for no one.

 

The Ewoks could have just set up random strings of rope all over the forest and taken out half these Imperial Scouts. Speeder Bikes on Endor are a safety brief waiting to happen. Even in Return of the Jedi, no one who drives a Speeder Bike ever lands one, they all just wreck or are punted off in some way.

6. Death Star Exhaust/Ventilation Systems

It’s actually difficult to blame an engineer for putting a thermal exhaust port on a giant, roving space station. The thing’s gotta have a tailpipe. Should it have led directly to the Death Star’s reactor core? Why isn’t there a few twists and turns leading up to the core?

They should have installed a few vents, maybe a more complex system would have worked better. Still, at only two meters, it’s hard for any engineer to predict the effects of what is essentially magic on the trajectory of a proton torpedo.

 

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England

Who we can blame are the engineers who designed the second Death Star’s  reactor core. Despite the lessons learned from the destruction of the first Death Star at the Battle of Yavin, the new team of engineers not only kept the big gaping hole design flaw, they made it so big it could fit the Millennium Falcon, two X-Wings, an A-Wing, and a few TIE fighters.

They didn’t need magic torpedoes the second time, the Rebels just flew right up to the reactor core and blew it to smithereens.

Update: The Star Wars film “Rogue One” covered #6 on the list. The design flaw was a purposeful attempt to give the rebels a chance against the space station.

The author stands by his assertion that the second Death Star didn’t need a hole leading directly to its core.

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This torpedo was WWII Japan’s other Kamikaze weapon

The torpedo the Japanese called kaiten was a human-driven suicide bomb, the kamikaze of the seas. Its name translates literally as “return to the sky,” which is as descriptive of the driver as it is for its targets.


Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England

By 1943, the Imperial Japanese Navy recognized the war was not going its way. This was six months after the decisive Battle of Midway, widely considered to be the turning point in the naval war of the Pacific Theater. The Japanese considered many types of suicide craft, the most well-known and successful are the kamikaze planes, used to great effect toward the end of the war.

The Japanese developed many other kinds of suicide weapons, however. They deployed shinyo suicide boats, fukuryu suicide divers, and human mines. Kaiten suicide submersible torpedoes were more successful than any of these, second only to the kamikaze planes.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
The sinking of Mississinewa came as a surprise to everyone, absolutely everyone.

Many different types of kaiten were developed, though only the type-1 was ever used in combat. Early designs allowed the pilot to attempt to escape from the torpedo, but since no pilot ever tried, this feature was left off later designs. The sub/torpedo also featured a self-destruct mechanism for the pilot to use if the fuse failed. 300 type-1 kaiten were built, and 100 of those were used in combat.

The Kaiten Type-1 on display in a Japanese museum (wikimedia commons) The Kaiten Type-1 on display in a Japanese museum (wikimedia commons)

The torpedo was a rudimentary submarine, based on the design of a Japanese Type 93 torpedo. It was launched from a submerged submarine and had basic pilot controls and air bottles, all positioned behind more than 1,000 pounds of explosives.

The kaiten kill count numbered more than 187 American troops, the fleet oiler USS Mississinewa in November 1944, a small infantry landing craft (LCI-600), and the destroyer escort USS Underhill in July 1945.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
The Underhill, before the Japanese threw an explosives-laden person at it.

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Today in military history: US and Soviets sign pact to destroy chemical weapons

On June 1, 1990, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Chemical Weapons Accord, where both nations agreed to begin the destruction of their sizable reserves of chemical weapons.

Under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the historic treaty called for an 80 percent reduction of their chemical weapon stockpiles under the oversight of inspectors from both countries. The agreement was intended to be the first step towards a global ban and by 1993, 150 other nations joined the superpowers to sign a comprehensive treaty banning chemical weapons.

“The modern use of chemical weapons began with World War I, when both sides to the conflict used poisonous gas to inflict agonizing suffering and to cause significant battlefield casualties. Such weapons basically consisted of well known commercial chemicals put into standard munitions such as grenades and artillery shells. Chlorine, phosgene (a choking agent) and mustard gas (which inflicts painful burns on the skin) were among the chemicals used. The results were indiscriminate and often devastating. Nearly 100,000 deaths resulted. Since World War I, chemical weapons have caused more than one million casualties globally.” — United Nations

In response to the devastating casualties, global entities signed the Geneva Protocol, which prohibited the use of chemical weapons in warfare but did not prohibit countries from creating chemical weapons or building their stockpiles of them. The Chemical Weapons Accord of 1990 was meant to begin to change that fact.

In 1993, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was opened for signature, banning chemical weapons and requiring their destruction within a specified period of time after entering into force on April 29, 1997. The CWC prohibits developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons; the direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons; chemical weapons use or military preparation for use; assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity; and the use of riot control agents “as a method of warfare.”

The CWC is open to all nations and currently has 193 states-parties. Israel has signed but has yet to ratify the convention. Three states have neither signed nor ratified the convention (Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan).

Featured Image: Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev sign United States/Soviet Union agreements in the East Room of the White House. June 1, 1990. (Photo Credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

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US bombers conduct live-fire drill near North Korean border

Two US Air Force bombers have conducted a rare live-fire drill in South Korea and flown close to the heavily militarized border with North Korea — a show of force following North Korea’s test-launch of a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile.


South Korea’s military said in a statement that the exercise was meant to “sternly respond to the series of North Korea’s ballistic-missile launches.”

The statement said the long-range B-1B bombers, accompanied by South Korean jet fighters, simulated an attack on enemy ballistic-missile batteries and precision air strikes against underground enemy command posts.

It said each US bomber dropped a 900-kilogram laser-guided smart bomb that was designed to destroy a fortified bunker.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
A B-1 in action. Photo from USAF.

The bombs were dropped on targets at a firing range about 80 kilometers south of the land border with North Korea. The planes then flew close to the border before turning back to Anderson Air Base in Guam from where they were deployed.

“Through this drill, the South Korean and US air forces demonstrated strong determination to thoroughly punish the enemy for its provocative acts, and showed off their capability to pulverize enemy command posts,” the South Korean statement said.

The US Air Force said two of its B-1B bombers flew over the disputed South China Sea late on July 6 in a move that asserts the right to treat the area as international territory, despite China’s territorial claims in the busy waterway.

Those flights were conducted after the US bombers participated in a joint training exercise with Japanese jet fighters over the neighboring East China Sea — just to the south of the Korean Peninsula.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Two US Air Force B-1B strategic bombers from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, conducted training with fighter aircraft from the Japan Air Self Defense Force and a low-level flight with fighter aircraft from the Republic of Korea. Photo by US Forces Korea

Washington wants China to do more to pressure North Korea to stop its research into long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.

Also in response to North Korea’s July 4 test, which demonstrated that North Korea’s arsenal is capable of striking parts of Alaska with an ICBM, US and South Korean forces on July 5 fired ballistic missiles in a drill simulating an attack on North Korea’s leadership.

South Korea said that test was meant “as a strong message of warning.”

The US Missile Defense Agency said on July 7 that it would soon test an anti-ballistic-missile system in Alaska.

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The CIA built a secret and groundbreaking mobile text messaging system in the late 1970s

One of the most significant US intelligence operations in modern history took place in the heart of Soviet Moscow, during an especially dangerous period of the Cold War.


From 1979 to 1985 — a span that includes President Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, the 1983 US-Soviet war scare, the deaths of three Soviet General Secretaries, the shooting-down of KAL 007, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — the CIA was receiving high-value intelligence from a source deeply embedded in an important Soviet military laboratory.

Over a period of several years, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer overseeing a radar development lab at a Soviet state-run defense institute, passed the US information and schematics related to the next generation of Soviet radar systems.

Tolkachev transformed the US’s understanding of Soviet radar capabilities. Prior to his cooperation with the CIA, US intelligence didn’t know that Soviet fighters had “look-down, shoot-down” radars that could detect targets flying beneath the aircraft.

This was vitally important information. Thanks to Tolkachev, the US could develop its fighter aircraft, and its nuclear-capable cruise missiles, to take advantage of the latest improvements in Soviet detection — and to exploit gaps in Soviet radar systems.

The Soviets had no idea that the US was so aware of the state of their technology. If a hot war had ever broken out between the US and the Soviet Union, Tolkachev’s information may have given the US a decisive advantage in the air and aided in guiding cruise missiles past Soviet detection systems. Tolkachev helped tip the US-Soviet military balance in Washington’s favor. And he’s part of the reason why, since the end of the Cold War, a Soviet-built plane has never shot down a US fighter aircraft in combat.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Hoffman’s newly published book “The Billion Dollar Spy” is the definitive story of the Tolkachev operation. It’s an extraordinary glimpse into how espionage works in reality, evoking the complex relationship between case officers and their sources, as well as the extraordinary methods that CIA agents use to exchange information right under the enemy’s nose. And it revisits a compelling example of the unexpected ways in which technology can effect intelligence collection.

In the 1960s, the CIA was attempting to develop a hand-held two-way communications system that would allow case officers to swap messages with sources without having to physically meet.

There were a few possible advantages to these early Short-Range Agent Communications devices (SRAC). SRAC systems could eliminate detection risks associated with face-to-face meetings. Messages could be sent directly to sources, rather than left in vulnerable “dead drops” or conveyed through risky “brush passes” in public. Agents could transmit instructions in text-form over short distances, using radio frequencies that were far more difficult to intercept than those used for long-range or telephonic communications.

Buster, an early version of SRAC, had “two portable base stations — each about the size of a shoe box — and one agent unit that could be concealed in a coat pocket,” Hoffman writes. “With a tiny keyboard one and a half inches square, the agent would first convert a text message into a cipher code, then peck the code into the keypad. Once the data were loaded — Buster could hold 1500 characters — the agent would go somewhere within a thousand feet of the base station and press a ‘send’ button.”

This “primitive text-messaging system” underwent a major upgrade in the late 1970s. The Discus, a greatly improved version of Buster, “eliminated the need for the bulky base station and could transmit to a case officer holding a second small unit hundreds of feet away.” The Discus consisted of just two devices that could send and receive messages, along with a keyboard larger and more user-friendly than Buster’s. The terminals were small enough to fit in an agent or source’s coat pocket.

In addition, the Discus automatically encrypted its messages, eliminating the cumbersome process of converting communications into cipher code. It could also transmit a larger data load than its predecessor.

As Hoffman puts it, the device was “way ahead of its time,” a hand-held personal messaging system in an era when there was “nothing remotely like the Blackberry or the iPhone” in existence — except for the Discus.

Although there are no open-source images of the Discus, the CIA has published images of early text-messaging systems used by rival agencies. This East German device from the mid-1960s could wirelessly send and transcribe morse code messages at a range of up to 300 miles. Its

At one point, the CIA considered giving Tolkachev a Discus that he could use to signal his handlers for meetings, since just relaying even basic messages in Cold War-era Moscow ran a a significant risk of exposure. Some hoped the Discus could eventually be used to send intelligence: “While the traditional method of dead drops usually took a day or longer to signal, place, and collect, the electronic communicator could transmit urgent intelligence almost instantly,” Hoffman writes.

The Discus could be “an invulnerable magic carpet that would soar over the heads fo the KGB.”

But there were a few drawbacks. In order to send and receive a message, both users had to remain still. A user would know that a message had arrived when a red light flashed on the device, but had to remain in place until they were positive it had been received. On top of that, even something as basic as checking for a flashing light on a concealed piece of complex electronics could give an operative away in a city swarming with counter-intelligence agents.

The Discus was also obvious spy equipment. There was no plausible cover story that a source could concoct if the device were ever spotted. It would almost necessarily compromise the source and expose the CIA’s work.

There was another, more fundamental problem with the technology. The Tolkachev operation was successful in large part because a succession of talented CIA case officers had built up trust with the radar researcher based on little more than hand-written notes and brief and infrequent face-to-face meetings. From that, the CIA was able to build a profile of Tolkachev, analyzing his motives and state of mind and ensuring that the Agency wouldn’t alienate, needlessly endanger, or psychologically break one of the most important intelligence assets in US history.

That was only possible because of masterful case officer handling of Tolkachev. “Human intelligence” methods that would still be essential to espionage regardless of how far technology advanced — as Hoffman writes, some of the agents involved in handling Tolkachev realized that in spite of the the Discus’s impressive technology, “they still needed to look the agent in the eye, and Tolkachev needed to shake the hand of a case officer he could trust.”

Tolkachev was eventually given a Discus, but never successfully used it to contact the CIA. Other, less technically sophisticated methods proved more effective in his case.

Hand-held communication devices are now ubiquitous around the world. The Discus represented a huge step forward, and it’s a virtually unknown fore-runner of smart phone technology. But it’s still an example of how even the most vaunted technology doesn’t automatically solve every problem in intelligence and national security. The human element will always be decisive — no matter how good the technology may look.

More from Business Insider:

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

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US Air Force considers retiring F-15C/D in 2020s

The Air Force is looking at possible plans to retire the F-15C/D Eagle as early as the mid-2020s, officials told lawmakers Wednesday.


While the decision would mean divesting an entire aircraft class, officials said the F-15 capability would be replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a potential cost-saving measure that would allow pilots to train on fewer platforms.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
An air-to-air view of two F-15 Eagle aircraft armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. (McDonnell Douglas, St. Louis)

Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice said the Air Force as a total force is in “deep discussions” and will further assess the F-15 inventory next year.

“The F-15C [has] served our nation well, as have its pilots for decades. And it was our air superiority fighter; now F-22 has taken that role,” said Maj. Gen. Scott D. West, director of current operations and deputy chief of staff for operations for the service at the Pentagon.

Also read: Watch the F-22 take on 5 F-15s — and dominate

Air Force officials were testifying before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness on Capitol Hill.

“We do have capacity in the F-16C community to recapitalize that radar to serve the same function as the F-15 has done and thereby reduce the different systems that we have to sustain and operate, so that makes it more efficient,” West said about the effort to minimize the number of systems pilots operate.

Taking questions from reporters after the hearing, Rice elaborated, “It’s a bigger picture. There’s a balance between capability and capacity — capacity being, do we have … 1,900 to 2,000 fighters in our inventory? But at the same time, we also look at capability. Does it have all the right radar on it [at] the right time? Certainly, an F-15 right now is a very capable platform … [but] as we move into maintaining our capacity and keeping our capability, we have to address those needs.”

Rice said “planning choices” for the F-15C within the 2019 budget started last fall.

The F-15 is all-weather, tactical fighter; the now-retired F-15A made its maiden flight in 1972. The single-seat F-15C and two-seat F-15D models entered the Air Force inventory beginning in 1979, and have been in almost every theater across the globe, according to the service.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
A U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez)

American F-15s are stationed at overseas bases such as RAF Lakenheath, England, and Kadena Air Base, Japan. A deployment of F-15s moved across Europe last summer as a deterrent for Russia during Operation Atlantic Resolve, and F-15E Strike Eagles have been used throughout the air war against the Islamic State.

Rice said planned F-15 upgrades will be fulfilled. However, the Air Force may want to look at the next block of upgrades to save on future sustainment and operational costs, he said.

Rep. Martha McSally, a former Air Force pilot and advocate for the A-10 Thunderbolt, questioned the choice to scrap the F-15 — a capable fighter, “the best in air-to-air” as a fourth-generation aircraft.

“The F-16 kind of fills in those gaps, [but] comparing the capabilities side-by-side we have to be careful through that analysis,” the Arizona Republican said. “But I realize the funding challenges that you have as you go through this decision process — but it doesn’t bring the same capability.”

Rice said he believes the Air Force is getting beyond comparing aircraft platforms “especially in the digital age” when looking at the platforms as systems and “how they integrate is as important and, in the future, will be even more important than the platform itself,” he said.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
An F-15C cockpit at sunset. (Dept. of Defense photo)

The Air Force wants more manpower, more maintenance, more pilots to ramp up readiness and sustain the force for a high-end fight with a near-peer adversary.

West, Rice and Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller, chief of the Air Force Reserve, testified they need pilots to sustain each part the force: at least 800 for the Guard; 300 for the Reserve; and nearly 1,500 — including 700 fighter pilots — for the active-duty component.

When asked if retiring the F-15 is a good idea amid a push to ramp up pilot — especially fighter pilot — production in the next few years, Rice said, “That’s true that is a challenge, because it’s not just capability-capacity, it’s all sorts of things. The readiness, the training, the people, the equipment. They all have to be at the right balance.

“So as we look at potentially doing a ‘what if’ drill [with the F-15 retirement] … over a certain period of time, ‘How much will that hurt? How much do we have to fill in the gap? Where do we go to gain that capability back at the right time, in the right place?’ ” he said.

It will be about “fitting into a system of systems,” Rice said.

Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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The 5 most legendary snipers of all time

Snipers are a special breed, warriors with a combination of shooting skill, cunning, and patience. Military history has shown that a single sniper in the right place at the right time can change the course of battle, even in the face of overwhelming odds.


Here are the five most legendary among them:

5. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Adelbert Waldron

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
(Photo: Waldron family archives)

As a member of the 9th Infantry Division, he was assigned to PBR boats patrolling the Mekong Delta, at one point making a confirmed kill from a moving boat at 900 yards. He set his record of 109 kills in just 8 months, which was the record until Chris Kyle broke it during the Iraq War and is perhaps even more remarkable considering he was fighting in a dense jungle environment that didn’t always provide easy sight lines.

4. Red Army Captain Vasily Zaytsev

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
(Photo: Russian National Archives)

Between November 10 and December 17, 1942, during the Battle of Stalingrad, Zaytsev killed 225 soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht and other Axis armies, including 11 enemy snipers. Before that he killed 32 Axis soldiers with a standard-issue rifle. Between October 1942 and January 1943, he made an estimated 400 kills, some at distances of more than 1,100 yards.

A feature-length film, Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law as Zaytsev, includes a sniper’s duel between Zaytsev and a Wehrmacht sniper school director, Major Erwin König.

3. U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle served four tours during the Iraq War, and during that time he became the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with over 160 kills officially confirmed by the Department of Defense. Kyle’s bestselling book, American Sniper, was made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle.

On February 2, 2013, Kyle was shot dead at a shooting range near Chalk Mountain, Texas along with his friend, Chad Littlefield. The assailant, Eddie Ray Routh, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

2. U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Norman Hathcock

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
(Photo: Marine Corps Archives)

During the Vietnam War Hathcock had 93 “confirmed” kills of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong personnel, which meant they occurred with an officer present (in addition to his spotter). He estimated the number of “unconfirmed” kills to be upwards of 400.  His warfighting career ended when he was wounded by an anti-tank mine in 1969 and sent home.  He later helped establish the USMC Sniper School.

1. Finnish Army Second Lieutenant Simo Häyhä

Nicknamed “White Death,” Simo Häyhä tallied 505 kills, far and away the highest count from any major war. All of Häyhä’s kills of Red Army combatants were accomplished in fewer than 100 days – an average of just over five kills per day – at a time of year with very few daylight hours.  He was wounded late in the war when an explosive bullet shot by a Soviet soldier took off his lower left jaw. He lived a long life, however, dying in a veterans nursing home in 2002 at the age of 96.

When asked if he regretted killing so many people he replied, “I only did my duty, and what I was told to do, as well as I could.”

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That time the USAF intercepted a pilotless Soviet fighter

On the morning of July 4, 1989, alarm bells blared at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, home of the US Air Force’s 32d Tactical Fighter Squadron.


Within minutes, a pair of armed F-15 Eagles, manned by Capts. J.D. Martin and Bill “Turf” Murphy, were launched on a scramble order. Their mission was to intercept what appeared to be a lone fighter making a beeline from Soviet-controlled airspace into Western Europe.

Though the Cold War’s end was seemingly not too far away, tensions still ran high between the two sides of the Iron Curtain, and any incursion by an unidentified aircraft would need to be responded to swiftly.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
F-15Cs of the 32d Tactical Fighter Squadron (US Air Force)

As JD and Turf were vectored in on the aircraft, now identified as a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger supersonic fighter, ground controllers notified them that all attempts to contact the inbound jet had failed and the intentions of its pilot were unknown and potentially hostile.

When they got close the the Flogger, the two Eagles were primed and ready to shoot down their silent bogey if it didn’t respond and carried on its flight path. But when the two F-15 pilots closed in on the aircraft to positively identify it, they noticed that the pylons underneath the Flogger — used to mount missiles and bombs — were empty.

By then, the Flogger was firmly in Dutch airspace, casually flying onward at around 400 mph at an altitude of 39,000 ft.

What JD and Turf saw next would shock them — the Flogger’s canopy had been blown off and there was no pilot to be found inside the cockpit. In essence, the Soviet fighter was flying itself, likely through its autopilot system.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
A Soviet Air Force MiG-23 Flogger, similar to the one which flew pilotless across Europe (US Air Force)

After contacting ground control with this new development, the two Eagle pilots were given approval to shoot down the wayward MiG over the North Sea, lest it suddenly crash into a populated area. Unaware of how long the pilotless MiG had been flying, and battling poor weather which could have sent debris shooting down the MiG into nearby towns, JD and Turf opted to let the jet run out of fuel and crash into the English Channel.

Instead, the aircraft motored along into Belgium, finally arcing into a farm when the last of its fuel reserves were depleted. Tragically, the MiG struck a farmhouse, killing a 19-year-old. Authorities raced to the site of the crash to begin their investigation into what happened, while the two F-15s returned to base. French Air Force Mirage fighters were also armed and ready to scramble should the MiG have strayed into French airspace.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
The crash site of the MiG-23 in Belgium (Public Domain)

Details of what led to the loss of the Flogger began to emerge.

As it turns out, the Soviet fighter had originated from Bagicz Airbase — a short distance away from Kolobrzeg, Poland — on what was supposed to be a regular training mission. The pilot, Col. Nikolai Skuridin, ejected less than a minute into his flight during takeoff when instruments in the cockpit notified him that he had drastically lost engine power. At an altitude of around 500 ft, it would be dangerous and almost certainly fatal if Skuridin stayed with his stricken fighter, trying to recover it with its only engine dead. The colonel bailed out with a sense of urgency, assuming the end was near.

But as he drifted back down to Earth, instead of seeing his fighter plummet to its demise, it righted itself and resumed climbing, its engine apparently revived.

The ensuing debacle proved to be thoroughly embarrassingfor the Soviet Union, which was forced to offer restitution to Belgium and the family of the deceased teenager. By the end of the MiG’s flight, it had flown over 625 miles by itself until it ran out of fuel and crashed.

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This is the Glock the Army rejected for its new combat handgun

Glock, Inc. has decided to release photos of the pistols it entered in the US Army’s Modular Handgun System competition.


The Smyrna, Georgia-based company submitted versions of its 9mm Glock 19 and .40 caliber Glock 23 pistols in the Army’s effort to replace its M9 9mm pistol. The release of the photos comes three weeks after the Government Accountability Office denied Glock’s protest against the US Army’s decision to select Sig Sauer, Inc., to make the service’s new Modular Handgun System.

“GLOCK, Inc. met or exceeded all of the mandated threshold requirements set forth in the RFP by the Army,” Josh Dorsey, vice president of Glock said in a statement.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Photo from Glock, Inc.

Military.com has requested an interview with Glock to give the company the opportunity to explain why it protested the Army’s decision.

Glock’s MHS pistols feature a frame-mounted thumb safety and a lanyard ring next to the magazine well.

Glock filed the protest with the GAO on Feb. 24, challenging the Army’s interpretation of the solicitation regarding the minimum number of contract awards required by the Request for Proposal, according to a statement by Ralph O. White, managing associate general counsel for Procurement Law at GAO. Glock also alleged that the Army improperly evaluated its proposal.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Photo from Glock, Inc.

“GAO denied the challenge to the interpretation of the solicitation, finding that the RFP allowed the Army to make only one award, although up to three awards were permitted by the RFP’s terms, White wrote. “GAO also denied the challenge to the Army’s evaluation of Glock’s proposal on the basis that any errors did not prejudice Glock in the competition.”

The Army launched its long-awaited XM17 Modular Handgun System competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol.

The Army awarded Newington, New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer the MHS contract Jan. 19, selecting a version of its P320 to replace the Beretta M9 service pistol. The decision formally ended the Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market.

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This is why Poland wants those Patriot anti-air missiles

Designed to blast aircraft, missiles and even drones out of the skies with deadly precision, the American-made MIM-104 Patriot missile system has been sought after by a number of countries over the last 30 years to defend their sovereign territories from threats in the air.


After expressing interest in the Patriot system for years, and failing to develop a suitably-priced medium/long range air defense missile of its own, Poland will finally get its hands on a group of eight Patriot batteries pending the signing of a deal worth billions of dollars with the United States.

Poland, a former satellite republic under the Soviet Union’s scope of influence, was previously armed almost entirely with Soviet-built hardware, including 1960s-era SA-5 Gammon surface-to-air missiles. However, in the years since the fall of the USSR, most of what was once the best Eastern Bloc military technology on the market has become almost entirely obsolete.

With the Eastern European nation formally joining NATO in the 1990s, and with a plethora of aged and below-standard military equipment in the country’s possession, Poland has begun the process of pushing its armed forces through a gradual yet massive overhaul that will see it retain a degree of relevancy against potential aggressors, especially Russia.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
A Patriot missile test launch using the PAC-3 surface-to-air missile (Photo US Army)

At the top of the country’s wishlist is a new advanced missile defense system with the ability to deal with aerial threats in a quick and effective manner. With Russian military activity ramping up near its borders, the recent forceful annexation of the Crimea, and a general distrust for all things Russian anyways, Poland has not so subtly let the U.S. know it wants the air defense umbrella the Patriot can provide.

In 2015, Polish defense officials announced their intent to work with Raytheon, the creator and manufacturer of the Patriot, to buy eight missile batteries with a percentage of the system’s components built in Poland. But the deal, projected at $7 billion at the time, didn’t really materialize until earlier this week during a state visit by President Donald Trump.

That’s when Polish officials confirmed their country’s armed forces would begin receiving the Patriots it wanted for a little under $8 billion.

Currently, 14 countries including the United States operate the Patriot system, with a number of them having actually deployed the missile in combat situations against hostile aircraft, missiles and drones. Poland will be the 15th such country pending the signing of this multi-billion dollar deal.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Marines examine a Patriot battery aboard MCAS Futenma, Japan (Photo US Marine Corps)

The Patriot, originally designed in the early 1980s, received its combat baptism during the Persian Gulf War, engaging and destroying Iraqi Scud missiles with chemical warheads aimed at Israeli cities. In more recent history, the system has seen action in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, and in Saudi Arabia and Israel to ward off missile and drone attacks.

The Patriot achieved its first aircraft kill in 2014 in Israeli service after downing a Syrian Su-24 Fencer which penetrated protected airspace.

Among Poland’s other military modernization aims are the procurement of submarine-launched cruise missiles, UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters, and the construction of a series of watchtowers and observation posts on its border with the Kaliningrad Oblast region to keep an eye on any nearby Russian military activity.

Additionally, the country has discussed buying more F-16 Fighting Falcons and possibly brand new F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters for its air force.

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Here’s why Air Force fighter pilots might soon be seeing ghosts

This fall, Air Force fighter pilots taking to the skies to train might find themselves going up against a ghost.


Pilots chasing “enemy” jets in air-to-air dog-fighting exercises or avoiding them during training targeting runs will see the familiar sign of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The Air Force is converting older-generation, retired F-16 fighters that were wrapped and stored at the military’s aircraft boneyard in the Arizona desert into the latest unmanned drone called the “QF-16.”

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
A QF-16 full scale aerial target from the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron takes off on its first unmanned flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Sept. 19, 2013. The 82nd ATRS operates the Department of Defense’s only full-scale aerial target program. The QF-16 will provide a fourth generation fighter representation of real world threats . (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Javier Cruz)

The QF-16 is a “full scale aerial target” and for all intents and purposes it looks like the sleek, single-engine jet that was built by General Dynamics (now part of Lockheed Martin) and first flown during the height of the Cold War — with the same body, same size, same profile, same maneuverability as the manned Fighting Falcon. The target drone is converted so it has similar radar signatures and capabilities as potential adversary aircraft – including the latest generation of the multi-role F-16 flying today – that U.S. pilots might encounter in the not-so-friendly skies.

The Air Force’s F-16 drone program became fully operational in September when the Air Combat Command declared it had reached initial operational capability.

“This leap forward in airframe capabilities, combined with advanced electronic pods, will allow us to properly test and evaluate our 5th generation aircraft and weapons,” Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, who commands the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, said in a Sept. 26 news release. The squadron belongs to the 53th Wing, which serves as the Air Force’s only operational test unit.

The orange-tipped jet drones can break the sound barrier in supersonic flight, sans pilot – and even reach 9Gs. That’s as tough as the latest high-tech jets out there — U.S.-built or otherwise. The “pilot,” though, is on the ground, controlling the drone just as other unmanned aircraft .

Various onboard sensors and instruments in the drone jet collect data and information that can be used by whoever’s got the finger on a missile (or other ordnance and weaponry) directed at it from the ground control station. During a 2014 ground missile test fired at the drone that registered a “kill” hit, an engineer described its role as a target to help in weapons training.

“The QF-16’s mission is really to act as a target and validate weapons systems. So, we do have a scoring system on the airplane and its job is to tell us basically how close the missile came and its trajectory,” Paul Cejas, a chief engineer, said in a Boeing news release.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
Maintainers begin post-flight checks on the first Lot 1 production model QF-16 after it arrived at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., March 11. The aircraft is the first of 13 deliveries to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, a geographically separated unit of the 53rd Wing, headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base. The QF-16 will replace the QF-4 as the next generation aerial target. (Courtesy photo)

St. Louis-based Boeing Defense, Space Security got the first contract in 2010 to create as many as 126 of the drones. It flew the first unmanned flight – with an empty cockpit – over Tyndall AFB in Florida’s Panhandle in 2013.

As of March, Boeing had delivered 11 QF-16s to the Air Force, and the most-recent contract called for the conversion of another 30 target drones, according to the company. Several dozen retired jets are undergoing conversion. The F-16s are pulled from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where several hundred of the mothballed jets are parked in the sun outside of Tucson, Arizona. Crews with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group help prepare for the trek to Florida, where the bulk of the conversion work is done.

Today in military history: Luftwaffe pilot mistakenly lands in England
The first QF-16 arrives at Tyndall escorted by a QF-4 Nov. 19. The QF-16 will undergo developmental testing by Boeing and eventually become part of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group. The QF-16 is a supersonic reusable full-scale aerial target drone modified from an F-16 Fighting Falcon. At this time, the group uses QF-4s, made from 1960s F-4 Phantom, to conduct their full-scale aerial target missions. The targets allow the Air Force and allied nations to have a realistic understanding of what they could face on the battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Cokeing)

The QF-16 isn’t the first unmanned fighter-like drone. But it is the latest generation, replacing the QF-4, an aerial target created from the previous generation of F-4 Phantom jets, which saw their glory during the Vietnam War.

There’s simply not enough of them left, and time has aged them toward obsolescence. The Air Force flew its final QF-4 mission on Aug. 17 at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, and the service plans to officially retire it in December.

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