Last week, the head of the United States Central Command, Gen. Lloyd Austin III, testified to Congress about the status of the U.S.’ $500 million dollar plan to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels. CENTCOM, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, provided a surprising report. Of the 5,400 rebels planned to be in Syria fighting ISIS this year, there were only “four or five” active fighters in country. He went on to say there is no way the goal could be reached in 2015.
“It’s taking a bit longer,” Gen. Austin said during his testimony. “But it must be this way if we are to achieve lasting and positive effects.”
It’s going to take a lot longer. The first round of American-trained Syrian fighters made their way into the country recently. They were quickly routed by or defected to the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front, a Sunni Islamist group. Al-Nusra stormed the rebel headquarters and took some of the fighters hostage.
Lt. Col. Mohammad al-Dhaher, the chief of staff of Division 30, the rebel group favored by the United States, resigned. He told the Telegraph the training program was “not serious,” and he complained of insufficient numbers of trainees and fighters, inadequate supplies, and even “a lack of accuracy and method in the selection of Division 30’s cadres.”
That didn’t stop the U.S. plan. On Sunday, 75 more American-trained Syrian rebels entered the country via Turkey, where the majority of the training takes place. Almost immediately, those U.S.-backed fighters surrendered to the al-Nusra front. The “vetted” U.S.-backed leader, Anas Obaid, told al-Nusra he intentionally deceived the U.S. to get the weapons.
The reason for the repeated betrayals of Syrian fighters is as fractured as the country itself. Division 30 fighters are only allowed to engage ISIS fighters, but the primary enemy of Nusra in Syria is the Asad government forces. Every group has their own aim.
Nusra’s enemies include the the Kurdish YPG, ISIS, and the Free Syrian Army but mostly the Iran-allied Asad regime and its Shia Hezbollah allies.
The Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Kurdish YPG and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga are mainly fighting ISIS, but the West is worried they will try to carve out an independent Kurdistan from areas of Iraq and Syria (and maybe Turkey).
Turkey is especially concerned about the rise of Kurdish power and had conducted air strikes on Kurdish forces fighting ISIS as part of a greater conflict with Kurds and their PKK allies (a Communist terror organization in Turkey).
ISIS is fighting to implement their very strict brand of Sunni Islamist government, a new Islamic caliphate based in Syria and extending throughout the Islamic world. ISIS fighters are as well-funded and well-armed as the Asad regime and nearly captured Baghdad last year.
The U.S. and Iran are backing Iraqi forces (and there are even hints of cooperation between the two longtime enemies.
And last week, the Russians started sending weapons and advisers to Damascus.
Did you get all that?
CENTCOM may be doing the best it can with the information it actually gets. The New York Times discovered overly negative intelligence reports were being tossed back to their analysts to be rewritten in a more positive light, essentially manipulating and distorting the information given to lawmakers.
Air Force pilots of the 1980s-era stealthy B-2 Spirit bomber plan to upgrade and fly the aircraft on attack missions against enemy air defenses well into the 2050s, service officials said.
“It is a dream to fly. It is so smooth,” Maj. Kent Mickelson, director of operations for 394th combat training squadron, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
In a special interview designed to offer a rare look into the technologies and elements of the B-2, Mickelson explained that the platform has held up and remained very effective – given that it was designed and built during the 80s.
Alongside his current role, Mickelson is also a B-2 pilot with experience flying missions and planning stealth bomber attacks, such as the bombing missions over Libya in 2011.
“It is a testament to the engineering team that here we are in 2016 and the B-2 is still able to do its job just as well today as it did in the 80s. While we look forward to modernization, nobody should come away with the thought that the B-2 isn’t ready to deal with the threats that are out there today,” he said. “It is really an awesome bombing platform and it is just a marvel of technology.”
The B-2 is engineered with avionics, radar and communications technologies designed to identify and destroy enemy targets from high altitudes above hostile territory.
“It is a digital airplane. We are presented with what is commonly referred to as glass cockpit,” Mickelson said.
The glass cockpit includes various digital displays, including one showing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) information which paints a rendering or picture of the ground below.
“SAR provides the pilots with a realistic display of the ground that they are able to use for targeting,” Mickelson said.
The B-2 has a two-man crew with only two ejection seats. Also, the crew is trained to deal with the rigors of a 40-hour mission.
“The B-2 represents a huge leap in technology from our legacy platforms such as the B-52 and the B-1 bomber. This involved taking the best of what is available and giving it to the aircrew,” Mickelson said.
The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In fact, given its ability to fly as many as 6,000 nautical miles without need to refuel, the B-2 flew from Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego Garcia – before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.
“Taking off from Whiteman and landing at Diego Garcia was one of the longest combat sorties the B-2 has ever taken. The bomber was very successful in Afghanistan and very successful in the early parts of the wars in Iraq and Libya,” Michelson added.
The B-2 crew uses what’s called a “long-duration kit,” which includes items such as a cot for sleeping and other essentials deemed necessary for a long flight, Mickelson explained.
As a stealth bomber engineered during the height of the Cold War, the B-2 was designed to elude Soviet air defenses and strike enemy targets – without an enemy ever knowing the aircraft was even there. This stealthy technological ability is referred to by industry experts as being able to evade air defenses using both high-frequency “engagement” radar, which can target planes, and lower frequency “surveillance” radar which can let enemies know an aircraft is in the vicinity.
The B-2 is described as a platform which can operate undetected over enemy territory and, in effect, “knock down the door” by destroying enemy radar and air defenses so that other aircraft can fly through a radar “corridor” and attack.
However, enemy air defenses are increasingly becoming technologically advanced and more sophisticated; some emerging systems are even able to detect some stealth aircraft using systems which are better networked, using faster computer processors and able to better detect aircraft at longer distances on a greater number of frequencies. The Russian built S-300 and S-400 air defenses, for example, are among the most advanced in the world today. These technological advances, inlcuding the now-in-development Russian S-500 reported to be able to hit targets 125 miles away, have led some to question whether stealth technology itself is becoming obsolete.
The Air Force plans to operate the B-2 alongside its new, now-in-development bomber called the Long Range Strike – Bomber, or LRS-B. well into the 2050s.
B-2 Modernization Upgrades – Taking the Stealth Bomber Into the 2050s
As a result, the B-2 fleet is undergoing a series of modernization upgrades in order to ensure the aircraft can remain at its ultimate effective capability for the next several decades, Mickelson said.
One of the key upgrades is called the Defensive Management System, a technology which helps inform the B-2 crew about the location of enemy air defenses. Therefore, if there are emerging air defenses equipped with the technology sufficient to detect the B-2, the aircraft will have occasion to maneuver in such a way as to stay outside of their range.
The Defensive Management System is slated to be operational by the mid-2020s, Mickelson added.
“The whole key is to give us better situational awareness so we are able to make sound decisions in the cockpit about where we need to put the aircraft,” he added.
The B-2 is also moving to an extremely high frequency satellite in order to better facilitate communications with command and control. For instance, the communications upgrade could make it possible for the aircraft crew to receive bombing instructions from the President in the unlikely event of a nuclear detonation.
“This program will help with nuclear and conventional communications. It will provide a very big increase in the bandwidth available for the B-2, which means an increased speed of data flow. We are excited about this upgrade,” Mickelson explained.
The stealth aircraft uses a commonly deployed data link called LINK-16 and both UHF and VHF data links, as well. Michelson explained that the B-2 is capable of communicating with ground control stations, command and control headquarters and is also able to receive information from other manned and unmanned assets such as drones.
Information from nearby drones, however, would at the moment most likely need to first transmit through a ground control station. That being said, emerging technology may soon allow platforms like the B-2 to receive real-time video feeds from nearby drones in the air.
The B-2 is also being engineered with a new flight management control processor designed to expand and modernize the on-board computers and enable the addition of new software.
This involves the re-hosting of the flight management control processors, the brains of the airplane, onto much more capable integrated processing units. This results in the laying-in of some new fiber optic cable as opposed to the mix bus cable being used right now – because the B-2’s computers from the 80s are getting maxed out and overloaded with data, Air Force officials told Scout Warrior.
The new processor increases the performance of the avionics and on-board computer systems by about 1,000-times, he added. The overall flight management control processor effort, slated to field by 2015 and 2016, is expected to cost $542 million.
B-2 Weapons Upgrades
The comprehensive B-2 upgrades also include efforts to outfit the attack aircraft with next generation digital nuclear weapons such as the B-61 Mod 12 with a tail kit and Long Range Stand-Off weapon or, LRSO, an air-launched, guided nuclear cruise missile, service officials said.
The B-61 Mod 12 is an ongoing modernization program which seeks to integrate the B-61 Mods 3, 4, 7 and 10 into a single variant with a guided tail kit. The B-61 Mod 12 is being engineered to rely on an inertial measurement unit for navigation.
In addition to the LRSO, B83 and B-61 Mod 12, the B-2 will also carry the B-61 Mod 11, a nuclear weapon designed with penetration capabilities, Air Force officials said.
The LRSO will replace the Air Launched Cruise Missile, or ALCM, which right now is only carried by the B-52 bomber, officials said.
Alongside its nuclear arsenal, the B-2 will carry a wide range of conventional weapons to include precision-guided 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, 5,000-pound JDAMs, Joint Standoff Weapons, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and GBU 28 5,000-pound bunker buster weapons, among others.
The platform is also preparing to integrate a long-range conventional air-to-ground standoff weapon called the JASSM-ER, for Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Extended Range.
The B-2 can also carry a 30,000-pound conventional bomb known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, Mickelson added.
“This is a GBU-28 (bunker-buster weapon) on steroids. It will go in and take out deeply buried targets,” he said.
SEAL Team 6 operators who went in to attack a compound used by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula did not have a compromised mission, but instead were confronted by an enemy that was more prepared than the commandos expected.
According to a report by the Washington Times, planning for the Jan. 29 raid assumed that family members would not be able or willing to fight the SEALs, prompting them to bypass one of the houses in the compound.
The SEALs came under fire from women who picked up rifles during the raid. The unexpectedly fierce firefight meant that the SEALs were unable to collect as much intelligence as they had hoped to, the report said. Civilian casualties also occurred during the raid.
The raid has been criticized by many, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain has consistently labeled the raid in which Senior Chief Petty Officer William Owens was killed a “failure.”
Despite the unexpected firefight, the civilian casualties, and the fact that less intelligence was gathered than they hoped for, an after-action review conducted by Central Command could not identify any bad judgment, incompetence, conflicting information or other issues.
“I think we had a good understanding of exactly what happened on [the] objective and we’ve been able to pull lessons learned out of that that we will apply in future operations,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the Army officer who runs CENTCOM, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “And as a result, I made the determination that there was no need for an additional investigation into this particular operation.”
The previous special operations raid into Yemen, carried out by American forces, took place in December, 2014. The objective was to rescue an American photojournalist and a South African teacher. The hostages were executed by terrorists during the raid.
Officials reported details of July 15 strikes, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports.
Strikes in Syria
In Syria, coalition military forces conducted 22 strikes consisting of 24 engagements against ISIS targets:
— Near Abu Kamal, three strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed three oil stills and a vehicle.
— Near Shadaddi, two strikes destroyed an ISIS staging area and an artillery system.
— Near Dayr Az Zawr, eight strikes destroyed 44 ISIS oil storage tanks, 22 oil stills, five cranes, a vehicle and a wellhead.
— Near Raqqa, nine strikes engaged five ISIS tactical units and destroyed 14 fighting positions, two anti-air artillery systems and a vehicle bomb.
Strikes in Iraq
USMC photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis
In Iraq, coalition military forces conducted seven strikes consisting of 22 engagements against ISIS targets:
— Near Qaim, a strike destroyed a vehicle.
— Near Beiji, a strike destroyed a vehicle bomb and a vehicle bomb-making facility.
— Near Mosul, two strikes engaged two ISIS tactical units and destroyed three fighting positions.
— Near Qayyarah, two strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed seven boats, an ISIS-held building and a fighting position.
— Near Rawah, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit.
July 13-14 Strikes
Additionally, 10 strikes were conducted in Syria and Iraq on July 13-14 that closed within the last 24 hours:
— On July 13 near Raqqa, Syria, two strikes damaged nine fighting positions and suppressed five mortar teams.
— On July 14 near Raqqa, Syria, five strikes engaged three ISIS tactical units, destroyed two fighting positions and two ISIS communications towers, and damaged four fighting positions.
— On July 14 near Kisik, Iraq, a strike damaged eight ISIS supply routes.
— On July 14 near Mosul, Iraq, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed 11 tunnel entrances.
— On July 14 near Qayyarah, Iraq, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed four boats, an ISIS-held building and a fighting position.
Part of Operation Inherent Resolve
These strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The destruction of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria also further limits the group’s ability to project terror and conduct external operations throughout the region and the rest of the world, task force officials said.
The list above contains all strikes conducted by fighter, attack, bomber, rotary-wing or remotely piloted aircraft; rocket-propelled artillery; and some ground-based tactical artillery when fired on planned targets, officials noted.
Ground-based artillery fired in counter-fire or in fire support to maneuver roles is not classified as a strike, they added. A strike, as defined by the coalition, refers to one or more kinetic engagements that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single or cumulative effect.
For example, task force officials explained, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIS vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of ISIS-held buildings and weapon systems in a compound, having the cumulative effect of making that facility harder or impossible to use. Strike assessments are based on initial reports and may be refined, officials said.
The task force does not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.
According to a report by UPI, an LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile was taken from Minot Air Force Base and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base to test America’s land-based deterrence force.
The missile landed at the remote Pacific base of Kwajalein Atoll. Now, the United States has used these islands for atomic tests and as a place for missiles to land for years.
But Kwajalein has a bit more significance to the U.S. than most other atolls out there. You see, it was one of the many islands American forces had to take from Japan during World War II – and thus, it is consecrated ground.
During World War I, Japan had taken the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, and Caroline Islands from Germany. According to an official Marine Corps history of the 4th Marine Division, the islands were soon fortified with bunkers, air strips, a lot of firepower, and very fierce troops.
In Nov., 1943, the United States had taken Tarawa in the Gilberts – and paid a heavy price. According to Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, published by the Center for Military History, 3,301 Marines were killed, wounded, or missing after the effort to take Tarawa. Kwajalein was expected to be even tougher, prompting legendary commanders like Raymond Spruance, Richmond K. Turner, and Holland Smith to oppose hitting Kwajalein at all.
Admiral Nimitz overruled their objections, and Kwajalein it was. Taking into account the lessons of Tarawa, this time, the United States brought overwhelming force. The major targets were Roi Island, Namur Island, and Kwajalein Island. For almost two months, air strikes were launched, including some with B-24 Liberators and others by carriers, on the Marshalls.
When the attack on Kwajalein came, it still took time, but only 142 American military personnel were killed in attacking Kwajalein Island proper. Another 190 died while taking the islands of Roi and Namur. Total casualties in those assaults – dead, wounded, and missing – were 1,726.
After World War II, most of the American forces left, but Kwajalein today serves as part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. 332 Americans paid the ultimate price to take it 73 years ago. Today, it helps America develop systems that can save hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of lives.
A NATO-led training exercise focused on anti-submarine warfare ASW just kicked off in the north Atlantic.
Naval forces from more than 10 nations, including the US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Norway, and Iceland, will be out in force off the coast of Iceland to hone their skills in hunting down and destroying enemy submarines as part of Exercise Dynamic Mongoose.
Running from June 27 to July 6, the training will feature warships, submarines, and maritime patrol aircraft.
“The presence of NATO in the waters south of Iceland is a a sign of an increased focus on the North Atlantic and will strengthen the Alliance’s knowledge and experience of the area,” Arnor Sigurjonsson Director, Department of Security and Defense, Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, told Naval Today.
The US Navy is bringing in a Los Angeles-class fast attack sub, an Arleigh Burke-guided missile destroyer, one P-8A Poseidon aircraft, and two P-3C Orion aircraft, both of which are designed to hunt down subs and surface vessels from the air.
“We look forward to this training opportunity with our NATO allies and partners,” Capt. Roger Meyer, commander, Task Force 69, said in a statement. “While promoting international security and stability, Dynamic Mongoose will serve to fortify theater ASW capabilities, enhance interoperability, and strengthen alliances within the European theater.”
The exercise comes amid increasing tensions with Moscow, which has complained about NATO’s acceptance of Montenegro into the alliance and Norway’s recent decision to host more than 300 US Marines in its country for at least another year.
Every week, most of my emails are from young sailors and civilians who wish to become SEALs one day. Though I try to focus more on fitness, I thought it was time to answer the several emails with my top ten things you need to know before going to BUD/S – SEAL Training.
1. Arrive Fit!
Not just able to do the minimum scores but the above average recommended PFT scores:
– 500 yds swim – under 9:00
– Pushups – 100 in 2:00
– Situps – 100 in 2:00
– Pullups – 20
– 1.5 mile run – under 9:00 in boots and pants
If you need letters of recommendation from SEALs, most SEALs will not endorse you unless you can achieve the above numbers. Sometimes it takes a solid year of training before you are physically capable of reaching these scores. You WILL have to take this PFT before going to BUD/S and on the first day at BUD/S.
2. Run in Boots and Swim with Fins
At least 3-4 months prior to arriving at BUD/s get the legs used to swimming with fins and running in boots. They issue Bates 924s and UDT or Rocket Fins at BUD/S. The fins are difficult to find, so any stiff fin that requires you to wear booties will do.
3. Officers at BUD/S
Go there ready to lead and get to know your men. Start the team building necessary to complete BUD/S. You can’t do everything by yourself, so learn to delegate but do not be too good to scrub the floors either. Be motivated and push the guys to succeed. Always lead from the front.
4. Enlisted at BUD/S
Be motivated and ready to work as a team. Follow orders but provide feedback so your team can be better at overcoming obstacles that you will face. Never be late!
5. BUD/S is Six Months Long
Prepare for the long term, not the short term. Too many people lose focus early on their training and quit. It would be similar to training for a 10K race and running a Marathon by accident. You have to be mentally focused on running the Marathon – in this case a six month “marathon.”
The four mile timed runs are weekly and occur on the beach – hard packed sand next to the water line. They are tough, but not bad if you prepare properly. The 2 mile ocean swims are not bad either if you are used to swimming with fins when you arrive. The obstacle course will get you too if you are not used to climbing ropes and doing pullups. Upperbody strength is tested to the max with this test.
7. Eating at BUD/S
You get three great meals a day at BUD/S, usually more than you can eat. During Hellweek, you get four meals a day – every six hours! The trick to making it through Hellweek is just to make it to the next meal. Break up the week into several six-hour blocks of time. In a couple of days, you will be on “auto-pilot” and it will be all downhill from there. And if you need any help with dieting before you go to BUD/S, I developed a new dieting aid that may help you:
This seems to be a tough exercise for many. Practice 4 count flutterkicks with your abdominal workouts and shoot for sets of at least 100. There may be a day you have to do 1000 flutterkicks. By the way – that takes 45 minutes!
9. Wet and Sandy
Jumping into the ocean then rolling around in the sand is a standard form of punishment / motivation for the class at BUD/S. It is cold and not comfortable, so you just have to prepare yourself for getting wet and sandy every day at BUD/S. On days that you do not get wet and sandy, it will be the same feeling as getting off early at work on a three day weekend!
10. Did I Mention Running?
You should be able to run at least 4 miles in 28 minutes in boots with ease. If not, you will so learn to hate the “goon-squad”. The goon squad is to motivate you never to be last again or fail a run again. You only get three chances to with most events. If you fail three of anything – you will be back in the Fleet.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle – check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him email@example.com.
In spite of criticisms and concerns that Russia’s fifth-generation is actually fifth-generation “in name only,” the Kremlin is pushing ahead with plans for its sixth-generation jet.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Wednesday that Sukhoi has delivered plans for its new sixth-generation fighter, TASS Newsreports.
“I’m referring also to new design concepts briefly presented by the Sukhoi design bureau and by the general designer appointed for all aircraft systems and armaments,” Rogozin told reporters, accordingto TASS.
“They have really come up with the designs for the creation of the sixth-generation fighter.”
And, as TASS reports, Commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces Viktor Bondarev told reporters on Wednesday that the potential sixth-generation jet will be produced in both manned and unmanned versions. Meaning, essentially, that the new jet will be planned to be able to function in some conditions as a drone aircraft.
However, beyond that hint, the Kremlin delivered few other details about its new potential jet. The plans for the new jet comes as Russia is continuing to test its fifth-generation PAK FA fighter. Although, as the National Interest notes, it is not uncommon for militaries to begin testing and designing the next generation of aircraft decades in advance.
Currently, Russia’s PAK FA is expected to enter into service sometime in the next six years. However, the aircraft has been called fifth-generation “in name only” due to a host of complaints affecting the aircraft’s radar cross signature, its avionics, and its engines.
The UK’s Special Boat Service has deployed to Libya to stop ISIS fighters and supplies from crossing over with the waves of migrants entering the European Union.
The commander of NATO, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, has said that the movement of refugees from Libya into Europe is a security concern for the alliance since ISIS fighters can infiltrate the migrant flows.
This year over 30,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean between Africa and Italy. SBS operators have been ordered to look out for suspected terrorists trying to enter Europe posing as migrants, according to the Daily Star Sunday.
Currently, migrants from Libya, Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan pay nearly $1,500 to be smuggled to Europe on small boats. ISIS makes money off the smuggling operations and could conceal their fighters among the boat passengers.
The SBS is perfect for disrupting the ISIS effort.One of their skills is clandestine coastline reconnaissance of beaches and harbors. SBS operators are trained to conduct surveillance. From the coasts they can develop a list of smugglers and fighters, sink boats and ships, destroy warehouses and smugglers’ camps, and kill or capture key leaders.
The SBS was formed during World War II and is like the US Navy SEALs and has defended Britain since its founding in 1940. The SBS began as the Special Boat Section, a British Army commando unit tasked with amphibious operations. They operated in canoes launched from submarines, sabotaging infrastructure and destroying enemy ships. The modern SBS conducts both naval and ground operations and has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
The new Veterans Affairs chief shares the goal set by former President Barack Obama’s administration of ending homelessness among veterans, but says it’ll take longer than his predecessor predicted.
Reducing the number of homeless veterans nationwide from roughly 40,000 to 10,000 or 15,000 is an “achievable goal” for President Donald Trump’s administration, VA Secretary David Shulkin told The Associated Press during a visit to Rhode Island on Friday.
“This is a continuous problem of people finding themselves in economically difficult situations and then being out on the street or going from shelter to shelter,” Shulkin said.
Homelessness among veterans has been effectively ended in Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware and in more than 40 communities. The outgoing head of the VA, Robert McDonald, said in January that “we should be there” nationwide within a couple of years.
Shulkin, who formerly was VA undersecretary of health under Obama, said on Friday, “We’re still looking at a multi-year process.”
While advocates are encouraged to hear Shulkin’s commitment, some wish he was more ambitious.
“My personal take is, the VA secretary is being cautiously optimistic about what can be achieved and not wanting to kind of set the administration up for a missed goal,” said Lisa Vukov, who works to prevent and end homelessness in the Omaha, Nebraska, metropolitan area. “I’m a firm believer in setting your goals big because you achieve more that way.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said veteran homelessness can be ended during the Trump administration.
“There’s no reason we can’t achieve it if enough resources are dedicated to the fight,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Shulkin said some veterans offered housing by the VA prefer other alternatives and high real estate prices and a shortage of available housing in some parts of the country make it hard to house veterans there. He sees the biggest challenge in Los Angeles.
Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti said homelessness in Los Angeles is a long-term crisis, but the city has housed more than 8,000 veterans since 2014 and he’s fighting to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home. Los Angeles voters approved a bond in November to raise $1.2 billion for up to 10,000 permanent units.
Navy veteran Chris N. Cardenas said there are some veterans who refuse help or have trouble accessing benefits because of mental illness or substance abuse issues, but 40,000 homeless veterans is far too many.
“That’s a very high number,” Cardenas said. “It can get down to zero for the ones that want the help.”
Cardenas, 52, said he stopped working as a deliveryman in Santa Fe because of problems with his right knee in 2013 and became homeless after he used up his savings. He moved into an apartment in the Santa Fe area in 2016 with the help of a VA grant program and is now a student at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.
“I’m at a loss for words because it’s so great,” he said. “It makes you feel like a functioning person in society.”
To get homeless veterans into permanent homes, the Obama administration used a program that was created in 2008 and combines rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development with case management and clinical services from the VA, so-called HUD-VASH vouchers. Some areas of the country currently have a waiting list for a voucher, including Los Angeles.
While programs for helping homeless veterans received funding increases in fiscal 2017, there’s less money for new HUD-VASH vouchers. There’s $40 million available, compared to $60 million for new HUD-VASH vouchers in 2016 and $75 million in 2015, according to HUD.
“We urge the VA to prioritize finishing the job and I have absolute confidence the new secretary has that commitment,” said Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “We need to see that commitment exercised in additional federal resources.”
Shulkin said he’s committed to maintaining the voucher program and continuing strategies that are working, such as housing people first and then pointing them toward help to confront the root cause of their homelessness.
Next month, as Hollywood and professional athletes gather in Los Angeles to celebrate the year in sports, U.S. Army Veteran and VA employee Danielle Green will be honored at the 2015 ESPYS with the Pat Tillman Award for Service.
“As a teammate and soldier, Pat believed we should always strive to be part of something bigger than ourselves while empowering those around us,” said Marie Tillman, president and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “Danielle has been unwavering in her aspiration to lift others suffering from the physical and mental injuries of war. In Pat’s name, we’re proud to continue the new tradition of the Tillman Award, honoring Danielle for her service as a voice and advocate for this generation of veterans.”
Green, who is now a supervisor readjustment counseling therapist at the South Vet Center located in South Bend, IN., said she was honored to receive the award and be a part of Tillman’s legacy of selfless service.
“It means so much,” she said. “You see so many negative stories revolving around suicide, PTSD and VA employees, but everyday my team and I work with Veterans who truly believe they are broken. We show them how much they have to offer, how they can heal and get them the help they need.”
Green has seen her share of adversity. In 2004, a little more than a year after leaving her job as a schoolteacher to enlist as a military police, she found herself on the rooftop of an Iraqi Police station in the center of Baghdad.
She recalls the heat and the uneasy feeling she had when the normally lively neighborhood turned quiet. Suddenly a coordinated RPG attack on the station from surrounding buildings left her bleeding out and in shock.
“I didn’t realize I was missing my left arm,” she said. “I just remember being angry at the fact that I was going to die in Iraq.”
She credits the quick response of her team and their proximity to the Green Zone to her survival. She believed her quiet prayers, asking for a second chance to live and tell her story, didn’t hurt either.
“I learned to really value life that day,” Green said. “You can be here today and gone tomorrow.”
In the course of a few days, she went from a hot rooftop in Iraq to Walter Reed Medical Center. For eight months the former Notre Dame Basketball standout worked with physicians, nurses and occupational/physical therapists to recover from her injuries. The southpaw’s loss of her dominant arm forced her to relearn daily tasks like writing, but through it all she continued to follow her dreams and found inspiration in those medical professionals around her. They never let her quit on herself, and while there was doubt and fear of what her life would be like after she was discharged from Walter Reed and the Army, she kept charting a path toward service.
After going back to school for her masters in counseling, and a short stint as an assistant athletic director at a college, Green found an opportunity to harness all of her experiences and assist fellow Veterans who were transitioning out of the military. By 2010, she had gone from being a patient to a catalyst for change for those seeking help at her local Vet Center.
“There was some doubt and self pity,” she said. “I’d sometime look down at my arm and wonder what the purpose of it all was … But now I realize the importance of what I can do for my peers. It’s challenging and rewarding, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The U.S. Army is hosting a fly-off starting a year from now, and some of the biggest names in defense manufacturing are working in earnest to win it.
The Army put out a “request for proposals,” better know in procurement circles as an “RFP,” last year as the first step in their Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMRTD) program, and the competition is down to two efforts: The V-280 “Valor” by Bell Helicopter and the SB-1 “Defiant” by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. The two designs take wildly different approaches to meet the JMRTD performance requirements that include the ability to reach an airspeed of 230 knots and fly a combat radius of around 275 miles. The Valor is a tiltrotor aircraft, which builds on Bell’s experience and learnings with the V-22 “Osprey,” and the Defiant is a coaxial rotor design, which uses two rotors spinning in opposite directions above the fuselage and a thruster aft.
The two designs take wildly different approaches to meet the JMRTD performance requirements that include the ability to reach an airspeed of 230 knots and fly a combat radius of around 275 miles. The Valor is a tiltrotor aircraft, which builds on Bell’s experience and learnings with the V-22 “Osprey,” and the Defiant is a coaxial rotor design, which uses two rotors spinning in opposite directions above the fuselage and a thruster aft.
“We realize there’s still a pretty significant filter out there about the troubled history of the tiltrotor,” said Robert Hastings, Bell’s EVP for communications and government affairs . “But the Marines today would tell you it’s transformational. Younger pilots who never had to unlearn bad habits from other airplanes are flying the V-22 in ways we never imagined.”
Hastings, who flew Cobras and Blackhawks in the Army and also served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs during Robert Gates’ tenure at the Pentagon, related a conversation he had with a V-22 squadron commander during the most recent Singapore Air Show. The CO told him that at that moment he had Ospreys in Australia, Okinawa, and the Philippines as well as at the show.
“He was a lieutenant colonel with an operational sphere of influence as big as what an admiral had a generation ago,” Hastings said. “To quote Gen. Davis, the Marine Corps’ assistant commandant for aviation: ‘The V-22 has not only changed the way we operate; it changed the way the enemy worries about us.'”
But while Hastings readily lists the V-22’s successes in the nation’s most recent conflicts, including how the CV variant has been used by the Air Force Special Operations Command, he is quick to point out that the V-280 is what he called a “clean sheet design.”
“The V-22 is largely a 1980s product,” he said. “Manufacturing is different today.”
Hastings explained digital designs along with more precise machining allows parts “to slip into place very nicely” instead of having to be sanded down and otherwise manipulated by technicians along the assembly line as they had to while making the Osprey. With these sorts of improvements, Bell is striving to make the V-280 cost half of the V-22’s $71 million unit flyaway cost.
Bell has partnered with Lockheed-Martin to give the Valor a state-of-the-art cockpit suite, building on what engineers and test pilots have learned during the development of the F-35. While there’s no plan for helmet visor symbology (which has been a challenge to develop during F-35 testing), Hastings said the cockpit’s “open architecture” could afford V-280 pilots that capability in the future. The cockpit also accommodates a wide array of sensors and mission packages, which are designed to give the Valor a lot of combat agility.
Bell is calling their JMRTD candidate a “third generation” tiltrotor. (V-22 is second generation.) The V-280 differs from its predecessor in a number of ways: It’s much lighter because it’s constructed entirely of carbon-based materials. It has a straight wing instead of the Osprey’s forward-swept wing. It has a side door instead of an aft ramp.
Hastings also pointed out that — with an internal fuel cell added in the cabin area — the Valor can fly 2,100 miles, which will give the Army a self-deploy capability it’s never had before.
“Imagine a future where the 82nd Airborne is told to deploy, and the aviation division commander says to his aviation unit commander, ‘Meet me at the Horn of Africa in three days,'” Hastings said. “He doesn’t have to worry about a third of his strategic lift assets being tied up by those helicopters.”
The JMRTD fly off program will last two years, and at the end of it the Army will pick one of the two airplanes to replace its force of 2,000 Blackhawks and 800 Apaches. (And Hastings pointed out that the utility and attack variants of the Valor have 85 percent commonality beneath the prop-rotor — another cost-saving feature, he said.) The Army wants the new airplanes ready for war by 2029.
“We believe that helicopters will be around forever,” Hastings said, “but we think helicopters have reached as far as you can expand them. We think tiltrotors have a ton of growth in terms of what you can do with them.”