Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning - We Are The Mighty
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Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning

The Annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition was held April 16-19 at Fort Benning, GA, hosted by the Maneuver Center of Excellence and the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. This notable Army tournament is a culmination of grueling physical, mental and tactical tasks. The encounter got its start back in 1982 when it began among Ranger units. The contest was later expanded to all U.S. Armed Forces in 1987, so long as the participants meet certain criteria: they must be Ranger qualified, serving as active-duty soldiers, and acting as a two-man team. 

The 2020 Best Ranger Competition (BRC) was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, marking this year as the 37th event. 

Over 60 hours, the teams competed in various events, kicking off at 0530 Friday. From there, teams fought in back-to-back tests that were designed to challenge and grade them individually and as a partnership. Extended foot marches, land navigation, and Ranger-specific tasks were laid out for the entire weekend, with some events being open for friends and family members to spectate. 

Each Best Ranger event is set up with 50 teams of participants who take on an array of events, which vary from year to year. Each BRC has included aspects of marksmanship, foot marches of 30+ miles (with a 60-lb ruck), military knots, weapons assemblies, obstacle course, land navigation, and water confidence/swim tests. 

From its inception, the BRC was meant to place “extreme demands on each buddy team’s physical, mental, technical, and tactical skills as Rangers.” This year did not disappoint.  

With no planned sleep, Rangers cover 60 miles while running, shooting, and identifying their way through obstacles; there was also a mystery event, leaving athletes in the dark on how to prepare. 

The winners

This year’s title went to 1st Lieutenant Vince Paikowski and 1st Lieutenant Alastair Keys. Team 34 landed themselves in the #1 slot at the end of Friday, the first full day of competing, and didn’t budge through the entire event. They finished the final buddy run on Sunday, and were awarded in a final ceremony on Monday, April 19th. 

The pair are stationed to the 75th Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning, GA, and return the title back to the 75th for the first time since 2017. 

Notable Best Ranger facts

  • There are 50 teams, but no #13; tradition skips the unlucky number, leaving the last team at #51. 
  • The average Ranger in the BRC is 28 years old, 5’ 10” in height, and weighs 165 pounds.
  • 26% of participants have previously competed.
  • The most winningest participant of the BRC is CPT Mike Rose, who has won the competitions three separate times (twice with one partner and one with another). His last title was in 2019. Three others have been awarded the BRC twice, all with different partners each time. 
  • Teams turn in an intent to compete and are reviewed by command teams who then review the Rangers. This is done to include a collection of the best, highly trained Ranger-qualified soldiers.
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Move over stealth, America needs faster jets to beat China

As the United States reenters the realm of great power competition, America needs to maintain its technological edge in stealth, but would benefit from a renewed emphasis on speed in combat aviation… even at the expense of observability in some platforms.

For some, the above sentence will read like a ham-fisted oxymoron coming from a chump who doesn’t understand how air power works in the modern era. After all, the most potent threats on the horizon come from China and, to a lesser extent, Russia–both nations with advanced air defense capabilities that would make even the most capable fourth-generation fighters like the new F-15EX a pretty easy target.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
U.S. Air Force F-15EX Eagle II (Left) next to an F-15E Strike Eagle (Right) (USAF Photo)

Related: THE F-15EX MAY BE THE BADDEST 4TH-GEN JET ON THE PLANET

The F-15EX is, quite literally, the fastest aircraft in Uncle Sam’s operational inventory, so one could argue that speed just isn’t what combat aviation is about anymore. In fact, that’s exactly what you’ll hear from most fighter pilots today. The F-35, for all its faults, is widely touted as perhaps the most capable tactical aircraft in history, despite being almost slow compared to Cold War powerhouses like the F-14 Tomcat. The F-35A can achieve speeds as high as Mach 1.6, while the F-35B and C are both limited to Mach 1.3–a speed they can only maintain for less than one minute. The long-retired Tomcat, on the other hand, could pass Mach 2.3 without breaking much of a sweat.

The truth of the matter is, in a high-end fight with a nation like China, the United States would be better off flying a fleet of slower F-35s than faster (and more easily targeted) F-14s… but that line of thinking isn’t accurate to the reality of America’s simmering conflict with China. Open and conventional war with China is extremely unlikely any time in the relative future, and while America needs to invest in the technology and a force structure that can deter such a fight even further, the Sino-American conflict is more likely to play out like a new Cold War in the decades to come. That means competing in the developing world, rather than in China’s backyard.

Finally, if a large-scale war were to break out, American pilots will need speed to effectively manage individual engagements as the conflict presses on. Sometimes, the best tactical decision a pilot can make is to “bug out,” or escape the area and an opponent’s advantage. That’s where speed, once again, becomes vital to survival.

Competition with China and Russia will take place in the developing world

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
China’s first military base in Africa was opened in Djibouti in 2017 (PLA Daily)

Related: J-20 FIGHTER BOMBER: CHINA’S PLAN TO FIELD THE WORLD’S FIRST 2-SEAT STEALTH FIGHTER

Immediately after World War II, the United States and Soviet Union found themselves in a decades-long staring match that prompted huge investments in military capability across both nations. The goal was simple: build the platforms you’d need to win the third World War, and that alone may be enough deterrence to prevent it from starting. Both nations built fighters and bombers that could fly ever higher, ever faster, hoping to defeat burgeoning air defenses like the SR-71 could… by simply outrunning any missile you could shoot at it.

Let there be no doubt that this method of deterrence was effective, and in truth, the most potent weapon systems are those you never have to actually employ in order to achieve your geopolitical goals. But the unintentional side effect of developing more powerful nuclear weapons and more capable airpower platforms was an inability for American and Soviet forces to actually engage one another without bringing about the nuclear apocalypse.

In order to avoid that possibility, the United States and Soviet Union turned to partner nations and proxy forces, expanding influence and strategic leverage around the globe through overt diplomacy and covert military action and assistance. In some cases, partner or proxy forces supported by each respective nation would clash, leading to America’s involvement in conflicts like the Vietnam War. Terrible as these conflicts were, they were considered a tolerable alternative to nuclear winter as the world’s two superpowers tip-toed on the line of global conflict.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
1960s era Soviet propaganda poster depicted Soviet support for North Vietnam during the Vietnam war.

China, a nation that wields not only nuclear weapons but a vast amount of economic leverage and the largest naval force on the planet, is similarly positioned for a long and drawn-out staring contest with the United States. Not only would such a fight cripple both national militaries, but it would also neuter China’s ongoing plans for expanding its global influence, as well as create chaos throughout the global economy for decades to come.

Related: JUST HOW BIG IS CHINA’S NAVY? BIGGER THAN YOU THINK

China isn’t going to declare war on the United States any time soon… But China and the United States are going to continue to compete in practically every appreciable way, which includes establishing relationships in developing countries for the purposes of gaining access to strategic resources and ports. As luck (perhaps bad luck) would have it, the regions of the world that are most likely to have those very sorts of commodities on the market throughout the 21st century are often exactly where American and allied forces are already conducting counter violent extremists operations (Counter VEO): Africa and the Middle East.

But while America and its allies have been accumulating operational experience in these theaters, China hasn’t been sleeping. Despite China largely staying out of the Global War on Terror, it has been expanding its influence in these same regions via economic and infrastructure programs, including providing massive loans to developing nations that many suspect won’t be able to pay China back. China, it seems, would prefer they didn’t anyway–as the leverage defaulted loans would offer is more strategically valuable than paying interest on a loan could be.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
The Chinese-built Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway. (Photo: Skilla1st)

“Right now you could say that any big project in African cities that is higher than three floors or roads that are longer than three kilometers are most likely being built and engineered by the Chinese. It is ubiquitous,” explained Daan Rogeveen, an author and expert on urbanization in China and Africa.

As a result, there’s an extremely high likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in places like Africa and the Middle East. In fact, America already does. These forces will likely find themselves in direct competition with proxy or partner forces receiving support from China and Russia. The quagmire that is the ongoing conflict in Syria serves as a contemporary example of just how diverse foreign interests within a single nation can be, and just how dangerous operations in one can get.

America’s only dogfight in more than 20 years was in uncontested airspace against a 50-year-old jet

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel is the only American fighter pilot to score an air-to-air kill since 1999. (U.S. Navy photo)

It’s worth noting that it was, in fact, over Syria that the United States scored its only air-to-air kill in literal decades in 2017, when a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was forced to engage a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter that was attacking partner forces on the ground.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
Syrian Air Force Su-22

This short fight also offered an important lesson about bridging the gap between longstanding airpower and the cutting-edge systems employed by the United States. Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel, the pilot in the Super Hornet, first locked onto the Soviet-era Su-22 with the one of the Navy’s latest and most advanced air-to-air weapons, the AIM-9X, but when he fired, the Fitter deployed flares and managed to fool what was previously considered to be the most capable air combat missile in service.

“It came off the rails quick,” Tremel said. “I lost the smoke trail and I had no idea what happened to the missile after that.”

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
AIM-9X Sidewinder (U.S. Navy photo)

Related: AIR FORCE’S NEW F-15EX MAKES DOGFIGHTING DEBUT IN ALASKA WAR GAMES

Tremel then locked on once again with an older AIM-120 AMRAAM and fired, this time finding his target and turning the Su-22 into a fireball. While the Pentagon hasn’t offered an explanation as to why their newest missile failed to discern a real fighter from a bucket of flares, some experts have postulated that it may have been a result of the AIM-9X being too well-tuned to distinguish jets from the latest and most advanced flares employed by top-of-the-line 4th and 5th generation platforms. The Su-22 has been flying since 1966, and its dirty old flares weren’t something the AIM-9X expected to run into.

Sometimes, winning a fight isn’t about who fields the latest or most expensive technology. It’s about who fields the right technology for the right situation.

Detection isn’t a threat over the developing world. Distance is.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning

On October 4, 2017, a group of U.S. Army Green Berets and Nigerian soldiers was ambushed by fighters from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in Niger. The tragic firefight ended with four dead U.S. troops, five dead Nigerian soldiers, and some difficult questions about how the most highly trained warfighters in the world with support from the most powerful military in the world found themselves fighting through a tactical disadvantage without any air support close enough to make a difference.

In 2012, a coordinated attack against two separate U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya came with similarly painful lessons. When the dust settled, four Americans were dead, including two CIA contractors and the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. Like the ambush in Niger, air support for Americans in Libya was too far away to provide any meaningful assistance throughout the majority of the fight.

These two instances were outliers stretched across two decades worth of counter-extremist operations, but they both perfectly demonstrate the very real limitations of American airpower when it comes to distance. Public perception of American airpower is not always congruous with the realities of combat, an issue that extends all the way to partner forces. The assumption among most is that America has all-seeing aircraft flying overhead at all times… but that simply isn’t true.

“Unfortunately, public perception is driven sometimes by news coverage, but also by modern movies,” Dr. James Kiras explained about partner forces in a recent episode of The Irregular Warfare Podcast.

“And the idea that somehow we can’t maintain persistent coverage, that a cloud-for example-moving between you and a target could allow you to lose coverage for a critical period just seems completely inconceivable to them.”

Related: F-35 PILOT: FORGET DRONES, THE SKIES STILL BELONG TO FIGHTER PILOTS

The American people also tend to think that the United States has MQ-9 Reapers or armed F-15E Strike Eagles standing by within firing distance of every military operation–something that has been true to a large extent throughout the past two decades of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a “stack” of air support platforms are often standing by to engage the enemy. Now, however, as the U.S. repositions assets to better deter Chinese aggression, there will be fewer air platforms to go around in these regions.

At the same time, American special operations forces tasked with fighting or training proxy fighters for conflicts in Africa and the Middle East will be spread out further and operating with less support than ever before in the modern era. Without a new approach to air support, it’s a recipe for Niger or Benghazi-style disasters.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
This chart offers some visual context regarding the vast size of the African continent. It would take even America’s fastest fighters multiple hours and frequent refuels to cross the continent. (WikiMedia Commons)

In order to provide real airpower where it’s needed, the United States doesn’t need a fleet of slow and stealthy F-35s standing by on airstrips across friendly African nations–it needs fast air platforms with great fuel range and loitering capabilities that can reach operators in need, provide air support as necessary, and still make it back to an airstrip.

America will also need less advanced platforms that can fly from austere airstrips and travel alongside special operations teams (the Armed Overwatch Program). There are no advanced air defenses to defeat or sneak past in places like Africa. The greatest challenge to overcome then is what’s commonly referred to as “the tyranny of distance.”

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
A Beechcraft AT-6 experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range. Platforms like the AT-6 are being tested for us in air support and ISR roles in places Special Operations troops are operating without traditional air support. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Ethan D. Wagner)

Related: DRONES WILL COMPETE WITH CREWED AIRCRAFT FOR AFSOC ARMED OVERWATCH PROGRAM

When isolated elements of American troops are caught at a disadvantage, waiting four hours or more to get an F-16 on station may require a miracle, but waiting more than twice that long for a slow-moving MQ-9 Reaper may be impossible. Worse still, once the fast-moving F-16 does reach the embattled troops, they usually only have about 30 minutes of fuel to burn before having to head back–once again leaving these isolated troops without air support.

Speed has already proven handy in combat in the uncontested airspaces of the Middle East. Two years ago, I interviewed Major “Coyote” Laney, a B-1B pilot instructor from the 28th Bomb Squadron, for Popular Mechanics. He told me a story about one air support mission he flew in which the supersonic bomber’s speed made all the difference.

“I remember in Afghanistan where troops needed help across the entire country and I could go 1.2 Mach all the way there and still have enough gas to hang out when I got there,” Laney explained.

“So you can take a platform that’s on the East side of Afghanistan and 15 or 20 minutes later, I’m showing up when there’s no one else for several hundred miles that could help.”

Of course, the B-1B Lancer is now slated for retirement, with the sub-sonic and stealthy B-21 Raider slated to replace it.

We need stealth to deter China, but we need speed and volume to counter them

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning

We have a bad habit of treating these sorts of discussions like they’re all-or-nothing debates. When the Air Force requests funding for new F-15s, lawmakers and the public together cry foul at the idea of spending money on old jets that lack the stealth they’d need to survive a fight against China or Russia. Then, when the Air Force uses stealthy F-22s to conduct airstrikes against targets in uncontested airspace over places like Afghanistan, lawmakers and the public again cry foul over the high cost of using a stealth fighter for such a simple job. We can’t have it both ways, but we do need both jets.

America needs platforms like the F-35 and forthcoming Next Generation Air Dominance fighter to win the wars of tomorrow, and importantly, to deter them today, but we can’t let our American preference for only the newest and best platforms unduly influence the composition of our military forces. In a perfect world, the United States wouldn’t need any fighter jets. In an almost perfect world, the U.S. could afford to operate massive fleets of stealth fighters for each and every job. But in the decidedly imperfect world we live in, we’re often stuck choosing between capability and capacity. Do we want the best jets we can build or enough jets to meet our mission requirements?

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
Balancing capability against budget is the unfortunate reality of warfare. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

Related: WHY IS AMERICA BUYING THE F-15EX INSTEAD OF MORE F-35S?

While not exactly like the last Cold War, this new Sino-American Cold War possesses a similar capacity for proxy conflicts, and because these conflicts are likely to play out over the massive landmass of Africa as well as the Middle East, finding a way to get air support to far-flung troops quickly will undoubtedly save American lives.

But it won’t just be enough to field fast aircraft. They’ll also have to be cheap enough to be built in the sort of volume that would be required to overcome that tyranny of distance. With enough fast and cheap air support platforms spread throughout the continent, getting air support to special operations troops in Africa could shift from practically impossible to just another day at the office, or as close to that as one can come in combat.

Re-learning that dogfighting isn’t dead

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
(DARPA)

While there’s a much higher likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in the developing world with interests that run counter to China’s or Russia’s, there remains the possibility that this new “Cold War” could boil over into a hot one. The implications of such a conflict would be massive, and even attempting an analysis of just the air war that would unfold would take a book in itself–but as this discussion pertains to tactical aircraft and speed, this is another place the U.S. needs more power under the hood.

If you talk to most modern fighter pilots, they’ll tell you that the days of dogfighting are over, thanks to the development of over-the-horizon weapons and advanced sensor suites that will allow pilots in America’s most advanced jets to target inbound fighters before their pilots even know there’s trouble brewing.

Ward Carroll, famed journalist, author, and former U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) has heard the contemporary arguments about dogfights being a thing of the past and warns about making assumptions amid a decades-long era of uncontested flight operations, especially in aircraft that aren’t fast enough to escape a pursuing fighter.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
An F-14 Tomcat engages and F-16N Viper adversary aircraft during a TOPGUN ACM flight in the 1980s. (U.S. Navy photo)

“We get too liquored up on the technology and we start to forget what happens when it gets messy. You can run out of a squadron of F-35s in short order,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.

“I get F-35 guys who are like, ‘you just don’t get modern battles anymore.’ No, I think I do. I think you’re not remembering the lessons of serious roll your sleeves up, get your nose bloodied warfare.”

The idea that dogfighting is dead has been informed not only by two decades worth of counter-terror operations against enemy forces with no airpower, but it also carries an uncomfortable similarity to the line of thinking that dominated air war conversations leading into Vietnam. The U.S. believed the days of dogfighting in close quarters were over, so they fielded fast-moving F-4s armed with air-to-air missiles that weren’t nearly as effective as they were intended… and no guns for fighting in close quarters.

As a result, American aviators took a serious pounding from dated Soviet aircraft with tighter turn radiuses and guns.

 “That was the biggest mistake on the F-4,” John Chesire, who flew 197 combat missions in the Phantom during two tours in Vietnam, told Air & Space Magazine.

“Bullets are cheap and tend to go where you aim them. I needed a gun, and I really wished I had one.”

Winning a dogfight might take speed. Escaping one almost always does.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Maldonado)

While American F-86 Sabre fighter pilots racked up a kill-to-loss ratio of 10:1 in the Korean war, American dogfighting performance, due largely to assumptions about how combat had changed, diminished dramatically in Vietnam. In the first half of the Vietnam war, American pilots could manage an average of only 2 kills for every U.S. fighter downed. Those losses directly led to the formation of the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program that most of us know today as Top Gun, where a renewed emphasis was placed on dogfighting tactics.

Now, after another multi-decade lull in air combat, America’s aviation corps is once again certain about the future of the fight, but history begs that we hedge those bets. Ward Carroll recently published a YouTube video called “Dogfighting 101” wherein he argues that dogfighting may be absent in today’s combat environment, but it’ll come back in a hurry if a near-peer conflict were to unfold. I’ll set the video to start at that portion, but it’s really worth watching Carroll’s analysis in full.

If you aren’t able to give the video a watch, here’s what Carroll had to say about dogfighting being dead:

“I’m going to submit that dogfighting is not dead, because if you’ve ever been in a major exercise, not to mention, an air-to-air war like Desert Storm, then you know that, in the heat of battle, there’s confusion, there’s all kinds of chaos, and ultimately a bandit is going to sneak through and you’ll find yourself basically engaged one-on-one with the bad guys in an old school kind of way.”

Carroll doesn’t argue that American fighters are going to go looking for a chance to get up close and personal with China’s thrust-vectoring, stealth J-20B like some imagine when they picture dogfights. Instead, he reasonably expects that in a large force-on-force situation, the chaos of warfare is going to create the circumstances for these kinds of one-on-one engagements to occur.

Carroll’s argument seems to hold true when you look at the breakdown of the early days of the air war of Desert Storm. The Coalition Forces brought a massive amount of airpower to bear over Iraq in those first days of the conflict, but despite the sheer volume of airframes in the fight, a number of small dogfights broke out and, had there not been plenty of support in the area, many more could have.

You can see exactly what Carroll predicts in this breakdown from The Operations Room. The value of speed and maneuverability when within visual range is also evident in the video. Once again, I’ll start the video at the pertinent point, but it’s worth watching this in its entirety:

Related: WATCH: DESERT STORM’S AIR CAMPAIGN WAS ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE

What does all this have to do with speed? It’s certainly of use in a dogfight, but speed is also extremely important when it comes to getting out of a dogfight. Even the most advanced stealth platforms aren’t invisible, and if an F-35 found itself squaring off with a J-20B in a one-on-one situation, it’s feasible that the Chinese fighter could have the advantage through surprise or the roll of the combat dice.

In either regard, it would be in the F-35 pilot’s best interest to bug out and get away from that fight, or at least, to create enough separation to gain an advantage he or she could then press in turn. Unfortunately, the F-35 wouldn’t be fast enough to escape a J-20 if a pilot tried, so he or she would just be giving the Chinese jet a perfect opportunity. What’s worse is that, at this range, the F-35’s opponent wouldn’t even have to be a stealth aircraft itself.

“Stealth doesn’t work against bullets,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.

“We have multi-axis missiles now where I can shoot you behind my three-nine line [behind my aircraft]. Okay, but once you Winchester, meaning run out of those weapons, and you’re now in the visual arena, then none of your [stealth] defensives are working. And now you have an airplane that can barely go supersonic. So, welcome to getting shot down.”

When we’re talking about fighters squaring off with one another, stealth is extremely valuable, but in a large-scale fight with hundreds of jets in the area, speed clearly counts too.

How do you build a force that balances cost, speed, and technology?

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
(U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt Melanie Bulow-Gonterman).

The Air Force purchasing new F-15EXs isn’t going to solve this problem. Not only do these new fighters cost around as much as an F-35 to build (despite offering significantly more service life), the new (old) fighters the Air Force receives are already slated to replace existing F-15s that are aging out of service. While they do offer greater capability than their predecessors, each jet can still only be in one place at a time.

Related: HOW MUCH CHEAPER IS THE F-15EX COMPARED TO THE F-35?

“We’ve got to refresh the F-15C fleet because I can’t afford to not have that capacity to do the job and the missions,” now-retired General David Goldfein said in 2019.

“That’s what this is all about. If we’re refreshing the F-15C fleet, as we’re building up the F-35 fleet, this is not about any kind of a trade.”

SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch program promises to alleviate some of this need by fielding a small and inexpensive aircraft that can provide ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and direct air support to special operators. These planes are expected to operate from austere airfields with support from a very small group of maintainers. Effectively, SOCOM wants a simple aircraft that can live with the troops in the vein of the OV-10 Bronco of Vietnam fame, but with advanced ISR capabilities usually only found in technological marvels that need airstrips and facilities to operate. It’s a tall order, but fielding such an aircraft would make the sorts of special operations skirmishes that are sure to litter the coming decades far more survivable.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
The OV-10 Bronco was light, cheap, and capable during Vietnam, and was brought back into service with SOCOM between 2012 and 2015 to test light attack aircraft concepts. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Despite America’s massive military budget, resource and asset scarcity remains an ongoing challenge. The MQ-9 Reaper, for instance, is the most highly requested air asset among ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with only 280 of these remotely piloted aircraft to go around, the Air Force will have to choose between continuing to support the full breadth of combat operations in the Middle East or transitioning platforms to the Pacific where a more potent deterrent maritime force is increasingly necessary.

The truth is, even after the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, the U.S. military can’t completely withdraw from the Middle East and will likely need to place a larger emphasis on Africa moving forward. There are only so many air platforms to go around, especially at modern fighter jet prices of around $100 million per aircraft. In effect, America is going to be stuck fighting its old wars for some time, while adding new conflicts and new tensions elsewhere around the globe. In order to do it all, America needs more platforms without increasing defense spending in a massive way.

That may be feasible through attritable programs like Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie. The Valkyrie is a low-observable UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) capable of carrying two small diameter bombs and covering more than 2,000 miles before refueling. What makes the Valkyrie special isn’t its payload or range capabilities though, it’s the cost. At just $2-3 million per airframe, the XQ-58 costs only slightly more than a single Tomahawk cruise missile.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
(Kratos Defense)

The Valkyrie lacks the speed that would be necessary to cover the vast distances between units that we can expect in Africa and the Middle East in the coming years, with a top end of around 650 miles per hour (Mach 0.85), but the attritable premise coupled with more power could prove to be just what the doctor ordered. Valkyries have already been launched from stationary platforms using rockets, which would mean that these types of drones could be deployed from places that don’t even have airstrips, and they’re cheap enough that losing a few in a fight won’t give a commander pause.

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
(U.S. Air Force photo)

Related: THE AIR FORCE JUST DROPPED NEW CONCEPT ART OF ITS NGAD FIGHTER

As for the high-end fight, America’s forthcoming NGAD program, under development with both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, is expected to produce a family of systems that can effectively counter the most advanced fighters on the planet like the J-20B or SU-57 without breaking a sweat. This platform will hopefully incorporate a return to emphasizing speed as well as stealth, with fuel range serving as yet another essential facet of military aviation America needs to address.

It’s going to take new platforms to counter the full spectrum of threats nations like China pose in the 21st century, and these planes can’t take decades to go from the drawing board to production as the F-35 has. In many places, they won’t need to be stealth, nor is there a requirement for a human on board, but one thing they will need to overcome the tyranny of distance and protect American lives is speed.


This article by Alex Hollings was originally published by Sandboxx News. Follow Sandboxx News on Facebook.

Intel

Russia may be using directed-energy weapons on US troops

At the end of April 2021, intelligence reports indicated the use of directed-energy attacks on American troops over the course of the previous year. Politico reported that two groups of lawmakers were briefed about an investigation into the use of the weapons, both in writing and in person. 

According to those intelligence briefings, the Pentagon believes intelligence points to the energy attacks on American service members in Syria and they believe that Russia is responsible. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, later told Congress he had seen “no evidence” of the attack.

In the fall of 2020, a number of U.S. troops in Syria began presenting with flu-like symptoms, the Politico report says. Similar symptoms have affected American diplomatic officials in Havana, Cuba since 2016. The “Havana Syndrome,” as it’s come to be called, is believed to be caused by a kind of directed-energy weapon. 

Best Ranger Competition: annual event returns at Fort Benning
Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus delivers remarks during the 2015 Directed Energy Summit in McLean, Va. Mabus spoke about the role the Department of the Navy has in energy innovation, as well as the broader relationship between energy and national security. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers/Released)

The symptoms of those affected in Cuba not only include flu-like symptoms, but far-ranging and more severe symptoms. American diplomats have reported ringing and pressure in their ears, loss of equilibrium, and persistent headaches. The worst reports confirm long-term brain damage. 

When U.S. troops in the vicinity of Russians began to mysteriously develop the same early symptoms, the Pentagon allegedly set up a task force to investigate. Politico says the details about the attacks and the suspected weapons systems aren’t clear.

What is known is that the attack used concentrated beams of electromagnetic energy, high-frequency radio waves, particle beams, or microwaves to hit their targets.The attacks disrupt electronic equipment and cause neurological and other kinds of injuries. 

In Havana, researchers discovered the effects of the weapons can create air pockets in the fluids near the inner ear. Those bubbles float in the paths that carry blood to the brain. Once the cavities reach the brain, they can cause stroke-like effects.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has declined to comment about the reports but insiders told Politico that Congress has been briefed about Russia’s use of the weapons in Syria, but the only response from Congress came from Sen. Jim Inhofe, who only said that they would be talking about it and that discussion would be classified. 

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Dr. Chris Lloyd – a Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) engineer – briefs directed energy capabilities at the second DoD Lab Day held at the Pentagon. Innovations from 63 Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force laboratories and engineering centers were displayed during the collaborative event. Navy leaders have made directed-energy weapons a top priority to counter asymmetric threats.

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, and without any direct intelligence of the weapons involved, it’s difficult to know for certain if the attacks on Americans in Syria are really directed-energy attacks or if they are in any way similar to the Cuba attacks. 

Not much is known about the energy attacks on the U.S. embassy in Havana. Without knowing for certain the weapon exists, it’s unlikely the United States would blame Russia for an attack that could just be an unrelated illness. 

Scientists and researchers conducted thorough tests on more than 100 other embassy personnel in Cuba. Since some of the embassy workers were attacked in their homes, they also tested other people living in their respective buildings. No one else appeared to have been the victim, as they displayed none of the neurological damage or symptoms associated with the mysterious “Havana Syndrome.” 

The team that investigated those attacks ruled out any kind of head injury, instead finding that 100 percent of those who claimed to be affected suddenly began suffering from acute onset balance disorders, cognitive issues, and other neurological problems.

Featured image: Image created for the Directed Energy Weapons section of the “Competing in Space” unclassified report, depicting threats that can temporarily impair or permanently damage space-based systems.

Intel

Navy calls out the ‘Chair Force’ in hilarious new video

The annual Navy-Air Force football game is coming up this Saturday, so it’s time for the inter-service rivalry videos.


Navy has fired a devastating shot at Air Force with a newly discovered “documentary” showing a short-lived exchange program where Chair Force cadets attempted Navy training.

The Air Force cadets were tested in six areas but only succeeded in musical chairs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=1v=wp6dwIplkWs

In football, Air Force boasts 28 victories to Navy’s 19.

Still, every year is a new chance for the Navy to close the gap. And when it comes to propaganda victories, the Navy may have this year in the bag.

(h/t Popular Military)

NOW: The smartest and most hilarious Army-Navy video shot this year

Intel

Here’s What It’s Like Flying An F/A-18 Fighter Jet

Since the early VHS days in the late ’80s squadron music video production quality has kept getting better and better. Here’s one from the Hornet (and Super Hornet) community circa 2013 that takes viewers into the cockpit for a spin around “the boat.”


Also Read: 17 Signs That You Might Be A Military Aviator

Shove the throttles forward, salute the catapult officer, and get ready to rock:

NOW: The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program

OR: Here’s What It’s Like To Fly With The US Navy’s Elite Blue Angels

Articles

China just sent its homegrown aircraft carrier to the South China Sea

There’s a reason certain areas of the South China Sea are hotly disputed. There are an estimated 11 billion barrels of oil just waiting to be tapped down there. There are also 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. 

While many countries lay claim to the vast petrochemical fields underneath the South China Sea, including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, only China has the economic and military might to build man-made islands there – and then militarize those islands with scores of troops. 

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Territorial claims in the South China Sea. China’s line crosses all the other countries’ lines, and, well… you see where this is going. (Voice of America/ Wikimedia Commons)

The latest military forces China is sending to the region is a first for the Chinese Communist Party: its very own, home-built aircraft carrier, the Shandong. 

Until those areas of the South China Sea claimed by China are officially recognized as belonging to anyone, the United States Navy will continue to conduct “Freedom of Navigation” missions right through those areas, daring China or anyone else to do something about it. 

U.S. Navy ships routinely enter the areas closest to the Spratly and Paracel Island chains, just two of many archipelagos which have either been artificially increased in size by China or have been completely constructed by the communist nation. China has artificially added 3,200 acres of land to the sea in the past decade. 

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If the USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) could talk, it’d probably say: “I wish a mofo would…” (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Markus Castaneda)

While China has as many as 27 military outposts spread out among the islands of the South China Sea, with various ports, airstrips, aircraft and anti-air defenses, the United States sends its combat ships on these exercises on a regular basis because much of the world doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of Chinese claims on the region. 

Freedom of Navigation through the disputed area is important because the area claimed by China covers an important sea lane. Conservative estimates say at least $3.3 trillion of shipping per year runs through those lanes, along with 40% of the global supply of natural gas. 

The Chinese carrier Shandong recently departed its homeport of Sanya for the South China Sea to conduct exercises in the disputed areas. The ship finished construction just two years ago and is still in its testing phases according to Chinese news outlet Eastday.

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This screen grab taken from a report by Chinese military channel js7tv.cn on May 3, 2021, shows stock image of aircraft carrier Shandong during an exercise in an unspecified location.

Shandong is replacing China’s other carrier, the Soviet-built Liaoning, as the latter returns to its homeport for maintenance. China complained about the presence of a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Mustin, accusing the destroyer of conducting illegal reconnaissance operations on the Liaoning. 

The United States Navy says everything the Mustin was doing in the South China Sea was legal. The U.S. Navy has increased its presence in the area by as much as 20% over the past year. It flew at least 65 reconnaissance missions in the South China Sea in April 2021, according to Chinese military think tanks. The Chinese Navy has responded with a 40% increase in naval presence. 

Despite the tensions in the region, the proximity of the two navies’ ships is unlikely to spark any kind of international incident. Both countries’ military forces conduct routine exercises there, regardless of the outrage or complaints they elicit from one another’s governments. 

The United States is determined to prevent military escalation in the region as claimants to the territory, especially the Philippines, turn up the heat on their rhetoric. 

Disputes over the region are also unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Though the United Nations and the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague have ruled against each and every Chinese claim on the area, China refuses to acknowledge the courts’ authority on the issue. 


Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

Intel

Russia and China aim to challenge US in space, say Space Force leaders

Recently, U.S. Space Force General David Thompson, the Vice Space Operations Chief, sat down for a virtual talk with the Association of Old Crows.

Gen. Thompson emphasized the intraservice utility of the Space Force but also of the branch’s need to create and sustain enduring relationships with the other branches, the intelligence community, and other agencies and departments within the US government.

The Space Force is responsible for capabilities and mission-sets such as navigation, orbital warfare, missile defense, satellite communications, electromagnetic operations, and GPS services, among other tasks.

“We have enduring relationships with the National Reconnaissance Office and the rest of the intelligence community,” said Thompson. “We not only need to maintain those but deepen those as well, especially because we’re now partners with them in the need to defend and protect these capabilities from threats.”

Thompson highlighted that the space in a domain where several countries—and even companies—are looking to expand their presence for economic, civil, public safety, and national security purposes. He suggested that the Space Force might be looking to partnerships where there are common interests and goals.

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U.S. Space Force General David Thompson, Vice Space Operations Chief, speaks to representatives during an Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations Leadership series event with the Association of Old Crows, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Jan. 13, 2021. (DoD photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase)

The Space Force achieved a landmark point in December when General John “Jay” Raymond officially joined the Joint Chiefs of Staff, becoming the 8th member of the highest military council of the US.

“We recognize it clearly as a warfighting domain. And we also know that we, the United States, we’ve got to maintain capabilities in that domain if we are going to continue to deter great power war,” General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during the ceremony. “This is an incredibly important organization for the United States military and for the United States as a country. And it’s really important what we’re doing today, which is [to] induct you as an official member into the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

The commercial sector is another point of interest for the Space Force despite the high-risk it might entail. The ability of private companies to rapidly field and test new technology appeals to the Space Force, which often has to contend with the lengthy test, development, and acquisition timelines found in any bureaucracy.

As for what the Space Force is looking for in future recruits, Thompson said that digitally fluent and cyber-savvy candidates are essential for the Space Force to continue its contribution to the fight but also expand its capabilities.

Headquartered in Virginia, the Association of Old Crows is an international nonprofit professional organization specializing in electronic warfare, tactical information operations, and related disciplines.

In another virtual even, Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten talked about America’s near-peer competitors and their space capabilities and aspirations.

“Russia and China are building capabilities to challenge us in space because if they can challenge us in space, they understand as dependent as we are in space capabilities that they can challenge us as a nation,” said Gen. Hyten during an online event at the National Security Space Association.

Gen. Hyten added that it falls to the Pentagon to continue the education of Americans about US space capabilities but also about the dangers posed by China and Russia and how to best deal with them.

Intel

The crisis in Ukraine was the opening of Cold War 2.0

The crisis in Ukraine, centered on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and their backing of separatists in Ukraine’s east, is a complicated mess. The U.S. and NATO tell one story while Russia tells another. Numerous international incidents have already occurred including the downing of a civilian jetliner, confrontations between Navy ships and Russian jets, and a surge in military exercises by both NATO and Russia, usually near shared borders.


On the season finale of Vice, co-founder Shane Smith and correspondent Simon Ostrovsky lay out the growing crisis in a clear and organized manner, making it easier to get a handle on what’s going on. They talk to experts on both sides of the conflict and in a range of positions, from a separatist commander in Eastern Ukraine to President Obama to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the Russian military and its current expansion.

The documentary covers all the arenas where the conflict is playing out including economic sanctions, active fighting in Eastern Ukraine, information wars across the internet, and military build-ups. Most importantly, it makes these developments and the follow-on consequences easy to understand.

The episode premiers tonight on HBO at 11 p.m. A sneak peek is below, and a preview is on Vice’s website.

NOW: Emotional video shows the pain for Russians as their government hides its war in Ukraine

OR:This crucial 1942 naval battle was captured on film by a Hollywood director

Intel

Will the US military continue to fly the Confederate flag?

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Photo: Flickr


The Confederate flag’s dark and nuanced history has long made the rebel banner an uncomfortable topic of conversation. In the minds of many Americans, it is a symbol of slavery and institutionalized racism – an emblem on par with the Nazi swastika. For others, it’s simply an expression of regional pride.

However, after the racially-motivated church slayings in South Carolina last week – committed by a man who was a proud flyer of the stars and bars – state governments have begun to remove the Confederate flag from their federal buildings. The United States military, on the other hand, has yet to address the issue officially.

South Carolina’s Army Guard still flies 16 streamers that were created under the Confederacy, and servicemen and women are allowed to sport the Confederate flag on clothing and tattoos — something the Defense Department does not consider offensive material. Still, some military officials have decided to retire the flag after the shootings, including The Citadel, South Carolina’s famous military academy, which removed the Confederate Naval Jack from its chapel.

Gen. Daniel Allyn, vice chief of the U.S. Army, spoke to the The Military Times about the rebel flag’s importance within the American military:

“I think that, when you are a student of military history, let’s face it: One of our greatest military generals in the history of our nation was Robert E. Lee,” Allyn said, referring to the legendary Confederate commander.

At Army posts throughout the country, there are “thousands of battle pictorials of Grant and Lee going up against each other with their requisite flags,” he added, noting Lee’s Union counterpart, Gen. Ulysses Grant, who later became America’s 18th president. “So yes, you will find those resident. And if those are offensive to people, I’m sure that our commanders will deal with that.”

“We swear our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” Allyn said, “… and we will protect and defend that flag.”

For more on the topic, check out The Military Times

NOW: Air Force policy change may give transgender airmen the chance to serve openly

OR: Enlisted women are going to serve on Navy submarines for the first time ever

Intel

Marines improvise an awesome waterslide during a rain storm

Marines definitely know how to improvise, adapt, and overcome.


Even in the worst of conditions, they know how to make the best of it. This video we found on the Terminal Lance Facebook page certainly shows that.

Rain may put a damper on your day, or it could brighten it up after you go down the waterslide. Watch:

// ![CDATA[/pp(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1#038;version=v2.3”; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));/pp// ]]

Rain loves Marines.

Posted by Terminal Lance on Thursday, May 28, 2015

Semper Gumby!

(h/t Terminal Lance)

NOW: One photo shows how a US Marine totally wins at barracks life

OR: Hilarious video shows what Marines stationed in 29 Palms don’t say

Intel

Thailand Has An Aircraft Carrier With No Aircraft

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Photo: PH3 Alex C. Witte/US Navy


For a brief period in the late 1990s, Thailand was the only country in southeast Asia that possessed one of the ultimate symbols of military strength: an aircraft carrier.

Its carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, was meant to be a point of pride for Thailand and symbolize the developing country’s power.

Also Read: 37 Awesome Photos Of Life On A US Navy Carrier

Then the late 1990s Asian financial crisis hit Thailand. Bangkok’s grand plans for its carrier were significantly hobbled. Commissioned in 1997, the same year the financial crisis struck the country, the Chakri Naruebet — which means “Sovereign of the Chakri dynasty,” the Thai monarchy’s ruling family — was mostly consigned to sitting in port due to lack of funding.

Now, according to The Motley Fool, Asia has plenty of aircraft carriers, as China, India, Japan, and South Korea all have carriers of different sizes. Not wanting to be left out, Singapore is on its way to constructing a carrier too.

All this competition has only made Thailand’s once-proud carrier look like a bizarre reminder of the country’s dysfunction, rather than the symbol of growing prestige that it was intended to be.

According to The Diplomat, Thailand’s AV-8S Matador (Harrier) accompanying jet fleet was withdrawn from service in 2006, leaving Bangkok with an aircraft carrier without aircraft. Thailand experienced a military coup that same year, along with a second one in 2014.

Thailand ordered its aircraft carrier from Spain in 1992. The vessel was commissioned five years later, in 1997

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Photo: Wikimedia

Almost immediately, Thailand ran into budget constraints. The Chakri Naruebet was put to port for the better part of each month and in 2006 its associated air wing was withdrawn. The Harriers are now over 30 years old.

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Photo: PH3 Alex C. Witte/US Navy

Even while operational, the carrier has been outclassed by the larger vessels of India and China, not to mention the US’s super carrier fleet pictured below. It’s now the smallest functioning aircraft carrier in the world.

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Photo: PH3 Alex C. Witte/US Navy

The Chakri Naruebet was built to carry 9 Harrier aircraft and 14 helicopters, with a 605-person crew. Some of those planes are decades old, and the carrier reportedly doesn’t have a functioning anti-aircraft defense system.

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Photo: Wikimedia

Still, despite its shortcomings, the Chakri Naruebet has proved useful in humanitarian missions. The Diplomat notes that the carrier was used after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as well as in rescue operations after flooding in Thailand in 2010 and 2011.

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

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