Here's how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters - We Are The Mighty
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Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

The pilots in the U.S. Air Force fly a bunch of planes. The F-15 Eagle, the C-17 Globemaster, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and the Mirage 2000D… Wait, that can’t be right. The Mirage 2000D is a French plane, and not in service with the Air Force.


Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
Four 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions are released from an F-15E during a developmental test at Edwards Air Force Base in 2002. Photo courtesy of USAF.

Yet, that list is accurate. Right now, Maj. Raymond “Banzai” Rounds of the U.S. Air Force is based out of Ochey Air Base in France, flying with the Armee de l’Air. The French have three squadrons of Mirage 2000Ds.

In one sense, the Mirage 2000D is like the F-15E. Both are multi-role fighters that are based on air-superiority planes (the Mirage 2000C and the F-15).

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
A Mirage 2000D at Kandahar air base. (Wikimedia Commons)

According to Military-Today.com, the Mirage 2000D is capable of carrying a wide variety of air-to-surface weapons, including dumb bombs, laser-guided bombs, Exocet anti-ship missiles, APACHE and SCALP missiles, the AS-30L missile, and rocket pods. It can also carry Magic 2 air-to-air missiles.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
This is just one possible loadout the Mirage 2000D can carry. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Air Force has a program that enables pilots like Rounds to do exchange tours with other countries’ militaries. But that’s not the only exchange.

There are also inter-service exchanges, where members of American military services fly with a unit in another American service. Perhaps the most famous of those pilots is Marine John Glenn, who scored three MiG kills while flying with the Air Force’s 51st Fighter Wing.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
The F-86F flown by John Glenn during his exchange tour with the 51st Tactical Fighter Wing. (USAF photo)

Rounds’s exchange tour will last for two years. After that, he will return the Air Force and bring over lessons he’s learned from the French.

You can see a video from the Joint Forces Channel that not only discusses Rounds’s exchange tour, but also what it takes to support the airmen who taken on these tours, below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqxUtiCyQHI
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Here are the best military photos for the week of Apr. 22

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


Air Force:

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and Patrouille de France fly together over Death Valley, Calif., April 17, 2017. The Thunderbirds and Patrouille de France are two of the oldest aerial demonstration teams in the world.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz

F-35A Lightning II’s from the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, land at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, April 15, 2017. The aircraft arrival marks the first F-35A fighter training deployment to the U.S. European Command area of responsibility.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force photo byTech. Sgt. Matthew Plew

Army:

U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, drop off their gear at the rally point at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, April 13, 2017.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Army photo by Spc. Javon Spence

U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, descend over Malamute Drop Zone during airborne training at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, April 13, 2017. The Soldiers of 4/25 belong to the only American airborne brigade in the Pacific and are trained to execute airborne maneuvers in extreme cold weather and high altitude environments in support of combat, partnership and disaster relief operations.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force photo by Alejandro Pena

Navy:

ATLANTIC OCEAN (April 9, 2017) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Gunslingers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 105 prepares to make an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike). Ike and its carrier strike group are underway participating in a sustainment exercise designed to maintain deployment readiness as part of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP).

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anderson W. Branch

POHANG, Republic of Korea (April 10, 2017) U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Army personnel offload equipment from the Military Sealift Command maritime prepositioning force ship USNS Pililaau (T-AK 304).The offload utilized a roll-on, roll-off discharge facility anchored off the coast of Pohang during the Combined Joint Logistics Over the Shore (CJLOTS) exercise. CJLOTS is a biennial exercise conducted by military and civilian personnel from the United States and the Republic of Korea, training to deliver and redeploy military cargo as a part of exercise Foal Eagle 2017.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton

Marine Corps:

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, discuss a plan of action for events the following day with each other at dusk during a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 24 to April 4, 2017. A MCCRE is a large-scale exercise held to test Marines on their ability to complete a set of missions and evaluate how prepared they are for upcoming deployments.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Justin Huffty

Marines with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, fire the M777 towed 155 mm howitzer during the assault support tactics 1 (AST-1) exercise in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructors course (WTI) 2-17 at Fire Base Burt, Calif., April 17, 2017. AST-1 is a battalion reinforced air assault exercise, supported by fixed wing and rotary wing aviation fires, aviation delivered artillery, and mortars.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Clare J. Shaffer

Coast Guard:

A crew from Coast Guard Station Boston conducts a security patrol in Boston Harbor in a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium, Monday, April 17, 2017. The patrol was part of an increased security presence during the Boston Marathon.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau (WHEC 722) in full dress at the decommissioning ceremony in Honolulu, April 18, 2017. Morgenthau was commissioned in 1969 and has been home to more than 4,000 crewmembers during its 48 years of service.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Levasseur

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Top US general says there was something fishy going on during Russia’s war games

The US Army’s commander in Europe says Russia broke up its Zapad war games with Belarus into parts to avoid having international monitors watch the weeklong exercises last month.


Lieutenant General Ben Hodges said Oct. 2 that the two countries deployed “way over 12,700” personnel, the limit beyond which Europe’s OSCE security organization should be allowed to send observers.

Hodges said, “My guess is that there probably were over 40,000 service members.”

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
Russian Zapad ’17 military exercises. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

He told reporters at NATO headquarters that Russia and Belarus “broke it up into all these little exercises” but that “these were all connected, because this was a whole of government effort.”

Russia’s defense ministry said the Zapad exercises would involve 12,700 Russian and Belarusian troops, about 70 aircraft, up to 250 tanks, 200 artillery systems, and 10 warships.

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That’s A Recap Of 2019: Top 5 Mobile Game Releases

Whether you are a fan of gaming as a whole or you have recently joined the masses when it comes to trying your hand at some of the new titles for your mobile, there is no denying that 2019 was a great year for this industry. With a number of highly anticipated titles as well as quite a few new and emerging indie companies, it can be difficult to determine who came out on top.


In this article, we have created a list of the top 5 mobile applications of 2019 that positively impacted the industry.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

1. Call Of Duty Mobile

When looking at some of the biggest mobile games of 2019, there were a number of highly anticipated titles that many gamers were looking forward to playing, one of which was Call of Duty Mobile. This mobile application was released on October 1, 2019 and received over 100 million downloads in the first week following its release. This comes as no surprise to those that have been a fan of the franchise for some time now as many of their leading console titles see unprecedented sales year after year.

2. War Commander: Rogue Assault 

For those that are a fan of the real-time strategy genre, there are a number of games that may cater to your gaming preference. But with the sheer number of RTS games out there, the market has become bloated. However, War Commander is the perfect free-to-play game that does everything right from start to finish. With very minimal in-game purchases and the ability to build structures right away, you can begin to enjoy the game as a whole without a disjointed experience, making this a popular choice for many.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

3. PUB G

2019 also saw the year of the battle royale taking over the first-person shooting genre with the likes of Fortnite gaining a huge amount of popularity. But with slightly more realistic graphics and a number of other benefits, it was PUB G that became one of the most popular mobile applications launched last year. The player is able to make a much more competitive experience for themselves as they can set about creating clans, put together a team and begin practicing strategies. This then allows them to go up against one another to get the best possible outcome at the end of the battle royale. This is ideal for those looking for an enjoyable free-to-play mobile game as you can play with as many or as few people as you want for the perfect tailored experience.

4. Tropico 

Another game that was highly popular throughout the course of 2019 was Tropico. Unlike the others on this list, you will have to pay in order to enjoy the thrill of this game, but the price of £11.99 gives you all the fun of the main title game in your pocket. Run your own island and line your pockets and create the best place for you and your loyal followers as you deal with the trials and tribulations that come along with being El Presidente. Though this application was originally released on just Apple devices, it has since released on Android devices with a large amount of success and has become one of the most popular applications in this genre. Whether you want to build the perfect island or customize your look to rule in style, this is the perfect game for you to choose in the long term.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

5. Fortnite Mobile Edition

The final game that was highly popular in 2019 within this genre was Fortnite. With millions of users online on games consoles, PC and on mobile this truly was one of the most popular battle royale titles of 2019. With over 100 million downloads in just 138 days, it was one that many people were looking to play on a regular basis. As the hype continued to grow, there were hundreds of millions of people with registered accounts. Fortnite was by far one of the most stand-out games of 2019 with a record number of views on platforms such as Youtube and Twitch as well as dances that begun to take over—but can 2020 be just as successful?

With this in mind, 2019 was a stand-out year for the genre of mobile gaming as popularity increased. However, with a number of highly anticipated applications on the horizon for this new year, can 2020 outdo the last when it comes to providing a new and exciting experience for users?

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The movie ‘Titanic’ inspired this North Korean to defect

Jung Gwang-Il thought James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film, Titanic, was the most subversive thing he’d ever seen. His expertise in that regard was very limited — he spent his entire life under the Kim Regime in North Korea.


He fled Pyongyang for Seoul in 2004 and has since founded a nonprofit designed to undermine the regime’s biggest weapon in its mission to maintain power: information. Jung formed No Chain for North Korea, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to send even the tiniest packets of information into the “Hermit Kingdom.”

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
Fighting Kim Jong-Un with Vin Diesel.

South Korean soap operas and American movies via USB drives in plastic bottles are his weapons of choice. He tosses them into rivers and lets them float downstream. These are considered subversive in North Korea and are illegal. The punishment for North Koreans viewing this material is usually death, but it can also land them in one of the state’s Siberian gulags.

His hope is that these drives find their way into the North Korean black market and are accessed by families and households who have USB-reading devices. An estimated 50 percent of urban North Koreans have some kind of device that can read them.


And it all started with Titanic.

He watched the film from a pirated Chinese DVD that was smuggled across the border. The love story left him mesmerized, he told the Times of London.

In North Korea, and in North Korean films, love is reserved to the party and leader,” Jung said. “Love is political because it means putting feelings for an individual before loyalty to the state.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
These kinds of water bottles contain USB drives full of Western media. (Photo from No Chain for North Korea)

It was this Hollywood influence that convinced him the state was lying to him about everything. After his 2004 escape, he founded No Chain for North Korea to influence his former countrymen the way he was influenced.

“We want to use information to overthrow the regime, rather than military force, because that would bring so many casualties,” he said.

Jung is a veteran of the North Korean People’s Army. He spent his compulsory 10 years of military service with an artillery unit on the North-South Korean border. He says the military doesn’t ever question the regime’s hard line on anything. Why should they? They have no information to counter it.

Until now.

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How the ‘bandit queen’ went from rebel leader to Parliament

Phoolan Devi was born to a low-caste family, endured rape and torture, went on to kill the men who hurt her and harbored her enemies, and then was elected to Parliament. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that many thought of her as an incarnation of Durga, a warrior goddess.


She was born on Aug. 10, 1963, in a small rural village. She was married at the age of 11 to a man in his 30s, and there are varying stories of what happened to her next. She was raped and abused by her husband, but Phoolan Devi managed to escape, to survive, and years later, to join a band of dacoits, a gang of rebels and armed robbers. She would ultimately lead this band.

When she was 18, a rival gang attacked her group, holding her hostage for weeks and brutally raping her.

But Phoolan Devi would have her revenge.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

She led her dacoits to a village in Behmai, where Lala Ram Singh and Sri Ram Singh, leaders of rival dacoits were hiding. Armed with a Sten gun, bands of ammo across her chest and red nails, she issued an ultimatum: give them both up or die.

More badass women: How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Her men searched for an hour, but found no trace of the Ram brothers. Phoolan Devi warned the villagers one last time, then rounded up thirty men and shot them. Twenty-two were killed. It was the second largest dacoit massacre since the founding of modern India.

It was also led by a woman of a lower caste against men of a vastly higher one.

A price was put on her head but she evaded capture for two years until she surrendered on her own terms in exchange for the return of her father’s land, a job for her brother, and a reduced sentence for members of her gang. She was held without trial for 11 years before she was released.

But Phoolan Devi’s story was far from over.

“They wouldn’t let us live in peace; you will never understand what kind of humiliation that is. If they wanted to rape us, to molest us, and our families objected, then they’d rape us in front of our families,” Phoolan Devi told Mary Anne Weaver of The Atlantic in 1996.

She was angry — rightfully so — and she chose to use that anger toward a higher purpose.

Also read: Saudi women still need a man’s permission to join the military

She chose to run for a seat in the lower house of the Indian Parliament — and she won. A woman and a member of a lower caste, she inspired the people of India who had long been oppressed. It was a new era in caste politics, but Phoolan Devi would not live long to see it.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
Phoolan Devi (Photo by India Today)

On July 25, 2001, she was shot and killed by three masked men who were never caught, though it is suspected that they acted in the name of vengeance for Behmai.

Phoolan Devi is remembered as a powerful public speaker, a woman of unerring instinct, a cunning and charming politician, a leader, and a survivor.

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German U-Boat Lieutenant

In this special episode of Warriors, in Their Own Words, we feature an interview with a German U-boat veteran from World War II.  Rudi Toepfer was born in East Prussia, Germany on June 27, 1917. After graduating from the German Naval Academy, he served as the chief engineering office on submarines as they hunted for Allied convoys in the Atlantic Ocean.  After the war, he moved to the United States. He worked for Hughes Aircraft for 30 years and became a leader in the Elks Lodge and Masons.  This is Rudi’s compelling first hand account of his years in combat on board a U-Boat.

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Communist China is trying to match the US’ newest bomber

As the U.S. continues to develop the B-21 Raider, a long-range, stealth strategic bomber, peers and rivals around the world are working to stay competitive. While Russia works on the PAK DA, Communist China is trying to counter the future backbone of the United States Air Force’s strategic bomber force with a design of their own.


This new bomber, which will likely be operated by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, is being called the H-20. Details remain sparse, but reports state that it will have a top speed of 600 miles per hour and a maximum range of 5,282 miles. Although we’re not certain about the ordnance it’ll carry, it’s likely that it’ll carry a variety of dumb bombs, smart bombs, and missiles, just like the B-2.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
A B-2 Spirit drops a host of dumb bombs. (USAF photo)

Currently, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force leans heavily on the H-6 Badger as the primary airframe in their strategic bomber force. This plane is a far cry from the original Soviet Tu-16 on which it’s based. The current version, according to MilitaryFactory.com, has a range of 3,728 miles and a top speed of 652 miles per hour. Unlike the up-and-coming H-20, the H-6 doesn’t have stealth technology, and while its range allows it to operate against naval units in the South China Sea, it doesn’t have the reach to hit American bases in Guam or Okinawa.

The Chinese Communists used the H-6 to send a message in December 2016, when one of these bombers flew along the so-called “nine-dash line,” which delineates Chinese claims in the South China Sea. About 180 of these bombers were built and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has roughly 120 H-6s in service, with another 30 in service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
A People’s Liberation Army Air Force H-6K Badger bomber. (Japanese Ministry of Defense photo)

The H-20 is slated to enter service in 2025, coincidentally around the time that the B-21 Raider is set to deploy.

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Japan and Australia join US in Operation Christmas Drop

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force photo | Staff Sgt. Katrina Brisbin


Instead of a reindeer-powered sleigh, Santa delivers Christmas from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam to more than 20,000 Pacific islanders by C-130 Hercules drops from the air.

For the first time in the 63-year history of Operation Christmas Drop, the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base, Japan, has two partners in support personnel from Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force in delivering donated goods to more than 56 of the Pacific’s most remote and populated islands. Each nation provided one C-130 for the trilateral operation.

Not only is Operation Christmas Drop the Defense Department’s longest running humanitarian airlift mission, but it also gives the 374th AW an opportunity to practice humanitarian aid and disaster relief. C-130 aircrews deliver almost 40,000 pounds of supplies by executing more than 20 low-cost, low-altitude airdrop training missions to islanders throughout the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau. The airdrop missions allow aircrews to practice essential combat skills and demonstrate commitment throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region while helping the U.S. strengthen cooperation with two allies.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force photo | Staff Sgt. Katrina Brisbin

“Members of our community consider all Micronesians brothers and sisters, and we are happy to share this unique tradition in bridging the distance,” said Brig. Gen. Andrew Toth, the 36th Wing commander. “That’s the beauty of this operation – its impact goes beyond the coastline of Guam.”

The exact origin of Operation Christmas Drop isn’t known, but according to 36th Wing history, the first supplies were dropped during Christmas in 1952. An aircrew, assigned to the 54th Weather Squadron at Andersen AFB, flew a WB-29 Superfortress over Kapingamarangi in the Federated States of Micronesia, south of Guam, and saw villagers waving at them from the ground. The crew packed items on the plane in a box and dropped it on a parachute used for weather buoys. The drops continued each year until the name Operation Christmas Drop was officially named six years later.

The 2015 Operation Christmas Drop officially kicked off Dec. 8 at Andersen AFB, with a celebratory “push ceremony.” Military members from the 374th AW, 36th Wing, 734th Air Mobility Squadron, 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing, all from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and international partners from Australia and Japan gathered for the opening ceremony celebrating the first ever trilateral execution of Operation Christmas Drop.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force photo | Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel

Addressing the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, Col. Douglas C. DeLaMater, the 374th AW commander, said, “Your participation in the coming days highlights our dedication and commitment to modernizing our alliances, reinforcing our shared values, and deepening our partnerships across the region.

“Operation Christmas Drop is a prime example of the depth airpower brings to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” he said. “In addition to delivering critical supplies to those in need, Operation Christmas Drop provides specific training to U.S. and allied aircrews, enabling theater-wide airpower.”

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force photo | Osakabe Yasuo

Throughout the week after the ceremony, the joint teams trained together on low-cost, low-altitude airdrop tactics and procedures. The crews will drop more than 100 bundles filled with humanitarian aid donations and critical supplies, such as books, canned goods, construction materials, clothing, coolers, fishing nets, powdered milk, shoes, school supplies, and toys.

“This coalition training results in a more robust force that is better enabled to execute rapid (humanitarian aid and disaster response) and resupply missions at a moment’s notice throughout the region and around the world,” DeLaMater said.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force photo | Osakabe Yasuo

During almost seven months of planning, service members at Andersen raised money and solicited donations for the critical supplies, educational materials and toys that are delivered during Operation Christmas Drop. Andersen AFB collected, sorted and prepared the donations for the joint bundle build with U.S. Air Force, RAAF and JASDF combat mobility flight riggers.

“An event of this magnitude could not have been sustained for 64 years without the dedication and support from a variety of agencies across the board,” Toth said. “While the training missions are conducted by the Air Force, it is important to understand that this amazing joint endeavor has donations that come from a strong community right here on the island of Guam.”

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force photo | Senior Airman Joshua Smoot

From military personnel to local community members, there was island-wide participation in the preparation for the big event. Donation boxes were left at both military installations and Government of Guam facilities for people to make contributions in support of Operation Christmas Drop.

“We had members of the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and local community help out to make this year’s Operation Christmas Drop possible,” said Master Sgt. Martinez-Andino, the 734th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent and Operation Christmas Drop organization president. “We began this process for the event in March, and we have come a long way, we’re all excited to see the outcome.”

Last year, the Pacific Air Forces delivered 50,000 pounds of supplies to 56 Micronesian Islands.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
U.S. Air Force photo | Osakabe Yasuo

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1st Air Cavalry Helicopter Pilot

The 1st Air Cavalry Division was the most lethal assault force assembled in Vietnam.  The pilots were the first to fully harness the power of helicopters and their soldier’s combat record was second to none.  Steven E Warren served a year in the infantry in Vietnam, but then returned home to train to fly helicopters at Fort Rucker.  Soon he returned to the conflict, as a Huey helicopter pilot in the 1st Air Cavalry.  We spoke with him about his combat experiences, helping to perfect this new kind of warfare.

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New assembler example

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

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Gunny does Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day from Gunny and Gunny, Sr.! #fathersday
Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

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Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

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Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

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Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters

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Putin is keeping a watchful eye on the Zapad exercises

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sept. 18, attended the week-long war games with Belarus that have demonstrated the Russian military’s resurgent might and made neighboring countries nervous.


Putin observed the Zapad 2017 drills — tank attacks, airborne assaults, and air raids that got underway Sept. 14 — at the Luzhsky range in western Russia, just over 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) east of Estonia’s border.

As part of the maneuvers, the Russian military on Sept. 18 also test-fired its state-of-the-art cruise missile at a mock target in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, showcasing the weapon’s extended range and precision strike capability.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
Russian Zapad ’17 military exercises. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Some nervous NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized an alleged lack of transparency about the war games and questioned Moscow’s intentions.

Related: This video of a Russian helicopter accidentally firing on observers is crazy

The exercises, held in several firing ranges in Belarus and western Russia, run through Sept. 20. Russia and Belarus say 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops are participating, but some NATO countries have estimated that up to 100,000 troops could be involved.

With Russia’s relations with the West at a post-Cold War low point over the fighting in Ukraine, worries about the war games ranged from allegations that Russia could permanently deploy its forces to Belarus to fears of a surprise onslaught on the Baltics.

Russia and Belarus have said the exercises simulate a response to foreign-backed “extremists” and insisted the maneuvers don’t threaten anyone.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
Russian Zapad ’17 military exercises. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Their troops are fighting three invented “aggressor countries” — Veishnoriya, Lubeniya, and Vesbariya. However, the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — and Poland see the monikers for the made up enemies as thinly disguised references to their nations.

NATO has rotated military units in the Baltics and Poland and staged regular drills in the region, activities Moscow has criticized as a reflection of the alliance’s hostile intentions.

Also read: Watch Russia kick off this year’s massive ‘Zapad 2017’ wargame

Russia and Belarus kept the stated number of troops involved in the drills just below 13,000, a limit allowing them to dodge more intrusive inspections by NATO in line with international agreements. The practice maneuvers nonetheless have put Russia’s massive military mobilization capability on display.

They also have involved various branches of the Russian military, including the air force’s long-range bombers and missile forces. In a reflection of the drills’ broad scope, they featured the Sept. 18 launch of the Iskander-M cruise missile, a new weapon that has drawn concern from the United States.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
USMC Photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon.

The missile, launched from the Kapustin Yar firing range in southwestern Russia, hit a mock target at a range in Kazakhstan, some 480 kilometers (nearly 300 miles) away, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The US has accused Russia of developing cruise missiles banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with a goal to threaten US facilities in Europe and the NATO alliance. Moscow has rejected the accusations and insisted it has adhered to the pact.

The INF Treaty bans an entire class of weapons — all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,410 miles). The Iskander-M’s stated range puts it just below the pact’s threshold.

The Zapad 2017 maneuvers are intended to underline the close military cooperation between Russia and Belarus, but also revealed signs of strains between the allies.

While Putin watched the previous drills in 2013 with his Belarusian counterpart, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said he would watch them separately on Sept. 20.

Here’s how US Air Force pilots learn to fly French Mirage fighters
Zapad ’13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Lukashenko has relied on subsidized Russian oil and gas supplies and billions of dollars in loans to keep his nation’s Soviet-style economy afloat. At the same time, he often has bristled at what he described as the Kremlin’s attempts to subdue Belarus and force it to surrender control over prized economic assets.

Lukashenko also has flirted with the West to try to reduce his dependence on Russia. His decision to dodge a joint appearance with Putin at the military exercises was seen by observers as an attempt to put some distance between Belarus and its giant eastern neighbor.

“Lukashenko is trying to mend ties with the West to get new loans, and the Kremlin’s military games don’t help that,” Alexander Klaskovsky, a Minsk-based political analyst, said.

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