Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough - We Are The Mighty
Intel

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough

On Feb. 8, 2021, Denis McDonough was confirmed by the Senate to be the United States’ 11th Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He heads into the job with a rich background filled with experience navigating the government’s complex bureaucracy. Being a veteran of Capitol Hill, he aims to leverage his knowledge to better serve our nation’s military Veterans.

In this episode of Borne the Battle, McDonough touches on topics important to many Veterans:

While being VA Secretary is a new position for McDonough, he has taken steps to bridge the gaps in his knowledge by renewing a tradition that he followed as White House chief of staff. He reached out to as many former VA Secretaries he could to ask them for advice. In the interview, McDonough said the conversations have served him well so far and he intends to maintain these relationships moving forward.

And while McDonough is not a Veteran, he contacted multiple Veterans during his first weeks as secretary to solicit their advice and general thoughts on the state of VA. In doing so, McDonough said he has learned valuable information on what issues are important to Veterans and has used those discussions to shape his priorities.

Many of the comments McDonough made in this episode reflect the statements he made during his Senate confirmation hearing:

Being a lifelong civil servant, McDonough enters his new position with a vast wealth of knowledge about navigating the federal government to achieve goals. Whether he successfully leverages his extensive experience from Capitol Hill to effectively serve America’s Veterans – he says that will ultimately be decided by you.

In addition to listening to full episodes on your favorite podcatcher, you can also catch Borne the Battle interviews on YouTube:


Borne the Battle Veteran of the Week:


Mentioned in this Episode:



Calvin Wong is an intern with VA’s Digital Media Engagement team. He studies History as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis.

This article originally appeared on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Intel

This mesmerizing video shows an AK-74 rifle firing in slow motion

AK-variant rifles are among the most reliable and easy-to-use rifles in the world, and this mesmerizing video of one firing in slow motion helps explain the reason why.


The strength of the AK is in its simplicity and its ability to fire in just about any environment. Smaller in size and weight than its AK-47 big brother, the AK-74 fires a 5.45x39mm cartridge instead of the 7.62x39mm. But just like the AK-47, the 74 has very few parts, has simple functionality, and is very easy to use.

This video from Vickers Tactical shows you what it’s like firing in extremely slow motion:

Intel

This tradition has two churches fighting a holy rocket war

The Greek town of Vrontados on the island of Chios has an Easter tradition they call Rouketopolemos, which literally means Rocket War.


This annual event pits two rival parishes against each other by firing tens of thousands of home-made rockets at the opposing side’s bell tower. The next day, both congregations count the direct hits to determine the winner, but no matter the results, each parish claims victory. Since both sides end in disagreement, they agree to settle the score next year, thus perpetuating the rivalry.

The origins of this tradition are unclear, but one popular story states that it was born from the Turkish occupation of Greece. People from the island were prohibited from celebrating Easter the way they used to. So, the Christians from the churches of San Maria and San Marco decided to have a fake war with rockets to keep the Turkish away. Frightened by the sudden violence, the Turkish kept their distance. In the meantime, the communities celebrated Easter they way they were accustomed to, according to Rocketwar.

The midnight rocket war is truly a spectacle, the action begins at 3:40 of this video:

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Articles

Why can’t America build any new F-22 Raptors?

The U.S Air Force has two air superiority fighters in their stable in the F-22 Raptor and F-15 Eagle, but when looking to bolster the fleet with purchases of a new (old) jet for the job, it was the Eagle, not the famed Raptor, to get a second lease on life. That really begs the question: if America can buy new F-15s, a design that’s nearly 50 years old, why isn’t it looking to build new F-22s instead?

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

By most accounting, the F-22 Raptor remains the most capable air superiority fighter on the planet, with its competition in China’s J-20B beginning to shape up and Russia’s Su-57 still lagging a bit behind. The F-22 really is still at the top of its game… but that doesn’t mean building more actually makes good sense.

The F-22 and F-35 are fighters with two very different jobs

While the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is widely seen as the most technologically advanced fighter in the sky, it was designed as a sort of continuation of the F-16 Fighting Falcon’s multi-purpose architecture, with an emphasis placed on conducting air-to-ground operations. The older F-22 Raptor was intended to serve as a replacement instead for the legendary F-15 Eagle, as the nation’s top-of-the-line dogfighter.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
F-22 Raptors fly in formation with an F-15 Eagle. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)

Related: Sea Raptor: The Navy’s sweep-wing F-22 that wasn’t to be

While both the F-22 and F-35 are 5th generation jets that leverage stealth to enable mission accomplishment and both are able to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground combat operations, they each specialize in a different aspect of air combat and were intended to serve in very different roles. Unlike the F-22, the U.S. continues to receive new F-35s, though comments made by senior defense officials over the past year have placed the Joint Strike Fighter’s future into some question. America will undoubtedly be flying F-35s for decades to come, but it’s beginning to seem less and less likely that the F-35 will replace the F-16 as the Air Force’s workhorse platform.

The F-22 was canceled because America didn’t need a stealth air superiority fighter for the War on Terror

The Air Force originally intended to purchase 750 F-22s to develop a robust fleet of stealth interceptors for the 21st Century. But as the United States found itself further entrenched in counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations against technologically inferior opponents, the need for advanced dogfighters became far less pressing. With ongoing combat operations in multiple theaters to fund, the F-22 program was shut down in December of 2011 with just 186 fighters delivered. Today, nearly a decade later, the F-22 exists in precious few numbers, despite its fearsome reputation.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
(U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Sam Eckholm)

Related: WHAT DOES IT ACTUALLY MEAN WHEN WE SAY ‘5TH GENERATION’ FIGHTER?

Now, the United States faces concerns about its dwindling fleet of F-22 Raptors that were once intended to replace the F-15 outright. Only around 130 of those 186 delivered F-22s were ever operational, and today the number of combat-ready F-22s is likely in the double digits. With no new Raptors to replenish the fleet as older jets age out, each hour an F-22 flies anywhere in the world is now one hour closer to the world’s best dogfighter’s retirement.

The future of the Air Force, as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown has plainly stated, doesn’t include the mighty Raptor. But America needs an air superiority fighter that can stand and swing with the best in the world, and as capable as the F-15EX Eagle II may be, it lacks the stealth it would need to survive an open war with a nation like China or Russia. With the NGAD program still years away from producing an operational fighter, America’s air superiority mission now runs the risk of not having the jets it needs for a high-end fight if one were to break out–as unlikely as that may be.

The production facilities and supply chain for the F-22 were cannibalized for the F-35

As simple as just building new F-22s may sound, the truth is, re-starting the F-22 production line would likely cost the same or potentially even more than simply developing an entirely new and potentially better fighter. Lockheed Martin cannibalized a great deal of the F-22’s production infrastructure to support the ongoing production of the F-35, meaning it wouldn’t be as simple as just re-opening the plants that had previously built Raptors.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Lockheed Martin

Related: COULD THE YF-23 HAVE BEEN BETTER THAN THE F-22?

In fact, Lockheed Martin would have to approach building new F-22s as though it was an entirely new enterprise, which is precisely why the United States didn’t look into purchasing new F-22s rather than the controversial new (old) F-15EX.

Boeing’s new F-15s are considered fourth-generation fighters that are sorely lacking in stealth when compared to advanced fighters like the F-22 and F-35, but the Air Force has agreed to purchase new F-15s at a per-unit price that even exceeds new F-35 orders. Why? There are a number of reasons, but chief among them are operational costs (the F-15 is far cheaper per flight hour than either the F-35 or the F-22), and immediate production capability. Boeing has already been building advanced F-15s for American allies in nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, so standing up a new production line for the United States comes with relatively little cost.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
The F-15EX (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

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

The F-22’s production line, on the other hand, hasn’t existed in nearly a decade. In a report submitted to Congress in 2017, it was estimated that restarting F-22 production would cost the United States $50 billion just to procure 194 more fighters. That breaks down to between $206 and $216 million per fighter, as compared to the F-35’s current price of around $80 million per airframe and the F-15EX’s per-unit price of approximately $88 million.

Does that mean it’s impossible to build new F-22s? Of course not. With enough money, anything is possible — but as estimated costs rise, the question becomes: Is it practical? And the answer to that question seems to be an emphatic no. The U.S. Air Force has invested a comparatively tiny $9 billion into its own Next Generation Air Dominance fighter program — aimed at developing a replacement for the F-22 — over the span of six years (2019-2025).

If the new NGAD fighter enters service on schedule, it may even get to fly alongside the F-22 before it heads out to pasture. So, while the Raptor’s reign as king of the skies may soon come to an end, it may not be before America has a new contender for the title.


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

Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christopher L. Ingersoll

Intel

This Israeli special forces unit is their version of Navy SEALs

One of the most secretive units in the whole of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Shayetet 13 is the naval component of Israel’s special operations forces. Like the U.S. Navy SEALs, Shayetet 13 (or S13 for short) specializes in counter-terrorism, sabotage, intelligence gathering, hostage rescue and boarding ships at sea.


 

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Shayetet 13 (Image: Israel Defense Forces)

Unlike other units in the IDF, whose mandatory service requirements are the same 36 months required of every Israeli citizen, S13 volunteers must give at least four and half years to the unit.

The unit is almost as old as the modern state of Israel itself. It was founded by naval forces from the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization under the British Mandate of Palestine, which would later become the modern day IDF.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Relax, America, the IDF has had women soldiers since 1947. And they’re doing just fine. (photo: Haganah Museum)

 

Like the U.S. Navy SEALs, the elite S13 unit had a rough start, with a few failures early on. Once they got going, however, they became the fighting force they were always meant to be. In a joint operation with Sayeret Matkal (think IDF Delta Force), the Israelis took out an Egyptian early warning radar system on Green Island, a base at the mouth of the Suez Canal, just to remind the Egyptian military that no one was safe from Israel.

During the War of Attrition, a yearlong series of artillery shelling, commando raids, and aerial combat between Israel and Egypt, Syria, Jordan, the Soviet Union, and Cuba, Shayetet 13 operators raided ports and destroyed boats in Egypt, destroyed training bases and units in Lebanon, as well as bases in Syria.

During Operation Wrath of God, the Israeli retaliation against terrorists who killed Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, S13 raided the Lebanese capital of Beirut. Called Operation Spring of Youth, this raid is depicted in the 2005 film Munich.

 

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, S13 conducted ambushes and guerrilla raids in Lebanon and sunk many Egyptian ships in port during raids there. During the 1982 Israel-Lebanon War, they created beachheads for Israeli armor, captured high-value targets, and decimated Hezbollah fighter units.

The unit isn’t without controversy. They are the unit who raided the Mavi Marmara relief flotilla bound for Gaza from Turkey. The commando claimed they came under attack from activists who were armed, but the activists maintain there were no arms on board. Nine of the Mavi Marmara’s people were killed in the incident.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
S13 Insignia (Image: Creative Commons)

The training  for S13 is as grueling as any elite force’s training. 20 months long, the selection process is held only twice every year and starts with intense physical and psychological testing. A six-month basic training and advanced infantry training phase follows before three months of advanced infantry and weapons training, parachute training, maritime warfare, boat operations, forced marches, and demolitions. The next phase includes combat diving and operating in high-risk environments.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Image: Israel Defense Forces

All this leads to a yearlong phase of complete immersive training and counter-terrorism. Trainees raid oil rigs, ships, and coastal structures. They are then divided into three specialized unites based on their interests and skills.

Intel

VIDEO: Ranger Up and Article 15 have fun watching 1980s military flicks

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough


From “Top Gun” to “Commando” to “Navy SEALs” and everything in between, the 1980s had a plenty of classic military movies. There were so many to love, but more often than not, cheesy special effects, “unlimited ammo,” and technical errors made these also quite funny for real service-members to watch.

In a video put together by BuzzFeed Video, Ranger Up‘s Nick Palmisciano and Article 15 Clothing‘s Mat Best and Jarred Taylor watched some military movies and offered colorful commentary. As you would expect, it’s pretty hilarious.

“How much baby oil was used to make this scene?”

Watch:

Intel

These are the 6 wars the Chinese think they’ll fight in the next 50 years

In 2013, the China News Service, the second largest state-run media outlet in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), published a piece in its Chinese language service with all the promise of a less-than-peaceful rise. China News has a very pro-PRC slant, and this particular piece was no different. Called “Six wars China is sure to fight in the next 50 years,” the article alluded to the PRC’s pride, shredded after centuries of defeat and embarrassment.


 

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1st Amphibious Mechanized Infantry Division prepare to provide Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen with a demonstration of their capabilities during a visit to the unit in China on July 12, 2011. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

 

China’s growth as a global economy boomed under the leadership of Chinese Communist Party leader and President Hu Jintao. Hu stepped down in 2012 and his successor, Xi Jinping, has ideas of a “Chinese Dream,” a desire to revitalize the nation and to return China to national glory, perhaps by any means necessary. The article itself could be either bluster or a shared collective feeling, a Chinese “Manifest Destiny.” Either way, the Chinese are already anticipating the needs of – and obstacles to – their rise.

1. The Unification of Mainland China and Taiwan

The mainland Chinese do not seem to believe a peaceful unification with the Republic of China (Taiwan) is possible. Taiwanese politicians use the threat of China or the promise of unification as election year stunts but make no real progress on the issue. The PRC sees the existence of Taiwan as a weakness, given that other countries can use their relations with Taipei as leverage in negotiations. The author of the China News piece proposes giving the Taiwanese a referendum by 2020, to vote on peaceful unification or unification by force. They expect the answer will be war.

 

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Amphibious Mechanized Infantry

The Chinese expect to win, of course. It’s just a matter of time, and that all depends on how much the U.S. and Japan intervene to save Taiwan. The Chinese expect a mainland invasion from the U.S. and will respond with “total war,” and believe they can beat Taiwan and its allies in six months. If the United States doesn’t intervene, the PRC predicts a three-month victory.

2. The forced acquisition of the Spratly Islands

The Chinese think the forced unification of Taiwan will show the other countries of the region the PRC’s resolve in its territorial demands. After a two-year rest from the Taiwan War, the Chinese believe Vietnam and the Philippines will be waiting at the negotiating table to see what the Chinese do, rather than be aggressive or offensive. China will give these countries with territorial claims the option of preserving shares of investments already made in the Spratlys. If not, the Chinese military will take these holdings by force.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
A Marine Corps brigade under the Navy of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducts amphibious armored training

 

China also believes its victory in the Taiwan War will have taught the U.S. “a lesson not to confront too openly with China,” but knows the U.S. will aid the Philippines and Vietnam under the table, with arms, training, and money. Only the Philippines and Vietnam “dare to challenge China’s domination.” China will attack Vietnam first (because that worked out so well the first time), in hopes of intimidating other Pacific nations. The PRC’s win there will make sure other countries return their claims on the islands and ally themselves with China. This victory also gives the Chinese Navy unfettered access to the Pacific Ocean.

 3. Reunification of South Tibet

In 1914, the British and Chinese negotiated the McMahon Line, a legal border between China and India, as part of the Simla Accord. the Simla Accord also carved up Tibet into “Inner” and “Outer” Tibet. Even though the Chinese dispute this line (because they would have to recognize Tibet as an independent state at the time of this treaty), it is the line used on maps between the two countries from 1914 until the Sino-Indian War of 1962. That war changed nothing, except the area once known as the North-East Frontier Agency became known as the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. On top of the border dispute, this state now has major hydropower potential.

 

Despite the 1962 war, the Chinese believe they can beat India and “reconquer” South Tibet by force if they can incite the disintegration of the Indian states, sending arms to Pakistan to retake Kashmir, force a war on two fronts and “blitz” into South Tibet. India will lose this war, and China will join the U.S., Europe, and Russia as global powers.

4. The conquest of the Diaoyu and Ryukyu Islands

By this time, the author predicted three major military wars and some years of rest in between. Now, mid-21st century, China will assert its claim over these two sets of islands. China claims these two chains are ancient vassal states of China’s, now occupied by the Japanese (and the Americans, as the base on Okinawa is in the Ryukyus).

 

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Marines of the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)) stand at attention following a demonstration of the brigade’s capabilities. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. J.J. Harper)

With its growing worldwide military presences and global prestige, the Chinese will move to occupy the islands. They predict a weakened U.S. will fight alongside Japan, but that Europe and Russia will do nothing, resulting in a Chinese victory within six months.

5. The Invasion of Mongolia

The Chinese refer to Mongolia as “Outer Mongolia,” a separate part of China, distinct from the Autonomous Region of “Inner Mongolia,” a Chinese province. They assert that the country of Mongolia is a part of China. In the 1600s, it was ruled by the Chinese, but if we’re going back in time, the Mongols ruled China for a while.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough

 

No matter what we (or the Mongols) think, the Chinese will place a claim on the country shortly after their invasion of Taiwan. Like their invasion of Taiwan, they will offer the Mongolians a referendum to vote on whether their unification with the People’s Republic of China. If they vote for peace, Mongolia will be accepted into China. If the Mongols vote for war, the PRC should be prepared to not only invade militarily but also be prepared to fight off foreign aggression against this action. The Chinese believe by this point, they will be so powerful and the U.S. and Russia will be in decline so much, it would be difficult for them to mount anything other than a diplomatic defense.

6. China hopes to take back land from Russia

Even though the relations between the two countries have recovered since the Sino-Soviet Split during the Cold War, a lot of mistrust remains. In China’s view, Russia occupies 160 million square kilometers of land belonging to China since the Qing Dynasty, circa 1644. The Chinese author believes by this time (roughly 2045), the Russian government will be in further decline and will take full advantage, especially given the veteran status their military will have after five wars.

 

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough

The Chinese author asserts “there must be a war with Russia,” and should be prepared to use nuclear weapons if the need arises, especially if a first strike to disarm the Russian nuclear arsenal. Once the Chinese neutralize Russian nuclear assets, they believe the Russians will capitulate and hand over the lost Chinese lands.

Intel

This video shows the awesome capabilities of Russia’s elite Spetsnaz troops

Much like U.S. special operations forces, Russia has its own elite troops that shine during special missions like counterterrorism and hostage rescue.


“Spetsnaz,” or special purpose, is an umbrella term for special ops in Russia and other eastern Bloc states. These elite troops traditionally fall under the GRU [intelligence service], FSB [security service], and other ministries, in addition to the traditional military structure.

Regardless, they are the “core of the best trained men the Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation, could produce,” according to SOFREP.

In this video, we get a sense of what these troops are capable of. Though it is worth pointing out that this was produced in Russia and isn’t exactly an impartial look at this force.

Watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1fY8lblBlQ

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Intel

Watch this crazy guy defuse ISIS bombs without any protection

A video reportedly shows a Kurdish bomb disposal soldier with a sixth sense for locating and diffusing ISIS improvised explosive device (IED) bombs.


In the year since ISIS swept into the Iraqi city of Mosul, tens of thousands of Iraqi forces are believed to have died fighting the extremist force. The biggest killer has been small, homemade bombs placed along roads or used to booby-trap buildings, reported PRI.

That being said, the handling of IEDs by this Kurdish soldier without an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) suit or fancy bomb-detecting robots is insane. It makes him appear like a daredevil next to Jeremy Renner’s character in “The Hurt Locker.”

Watch as he casually digs into an IED, cuts the wires and throws it to the side as if it were just another day at the office:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvKdGCOc4CI

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Intel

This guy calculated how fast an anti-tank walrus would have to fly

Apparently, America’s future engineers need to learn focusing skills, because they stepped away from their studies to answer forum questions about walrus ballistics. One engineer calculated an approximate speed for a walrus to stop the M1 while another figured out how fast it would need to fly to kill a T-72, in a thread on the website 4chan.


Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service Joel Garlich Miller

The calculated speeds are essentially the same: 292 meters per second for the M1 and 291 meters per second for the T-72, respectively. To get the walrus to strike the target at those velocities, it would need to be fired at supersonic speeds.

Check out their math below. Engineering students, feel free to fill our Facebook with your own calculations for anti-tank walruses, anti-aircraft bullfrogs, and anti-submarine lemurs.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Photo via Imgur

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Intel

Air Force General: Field this next-gen fighter in time to beat China

The Air Force must field its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter soon if it wants to compete with China, the general in charge of the service’s fighter fleet said Friday.

Gen. Mark Kelly, head of Air Combat Command, said that he is “confident” that adversaries like China, facing this new technology, “will suffer a very tough day and tough week and tough war.”

“What I don’t know, and what we’re working with our great partners, is if our nation will have the courage and the focus to field this capability before someone like the Chinese fields it and uses it against us,” he said during a virtual chat with reporters at the Air Force Association’s annual Aerospace Warfare Symposium.

Read Next: Army CID Agent Charged with Wife’s 2018 Murder Near Fort Hood

In September, the Air Force revealed it had quietly built and flown a brand-new aircraft prototype that could become a future advanced fighter jet. Officials have said NGAD defies traditional categorization as a single aircraft platform or technology. Instead, it’s made up of a network of advanced fighter aircraft, sensors and weapons in a growing and unpredictable threat environment.Advertisement

The NGAD program could also include fighters and autonomous drones fighting side-by-side, officials have said.

“We just need to make sure we keep our narrative up and articulate the unambiguous benefit we’ve had as a nation to have that leading-edge technology ensuring we have air superiority for the nation and the joint force,” Kelly said.

When asked how close the Air Force was to fielding NGAD, Kelly demurred.

The Air Force is developing NGAD alongside a future fighter road map. In an ongoing “TacAir study,” Air Force officials are trying to determine the right mix of aircraft for the future inventory, and assessing how future fighter concepts would fit into the current mix of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters.

“This study will give us that 10-to-15-year lens … so we’re not trying to deal with it day by day, week by week, year by year,” Kelly said Friday.

The Air Force wants to outline specific mission sets for its aircraft where it can. Deploying high-end fighters like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or F-22 Raptor for a routine allied patrol mission, for instance, is costly overkill.

Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s manufacturer, estimates the jet’s cost per flight hour at $36,000, with a goal of reducing it to $25,000 by the end of 2025, company officials said this week. That adds up, Kelly said.

Cost aside, Kelly said the F-35’s role as premiere, multirole combat jet remains unchanged, despite discussions of new fighter development.

“It’s still going to be a centerpiece of much of what our Air Force does for decades to come,” he said.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown this week disputed reports that the F-35 was a high-cost Pentagon failure, saying that was “nowhere near the case.”

Brown told reporters on Feb. 17 that the Air Force isn’t ruling out bringing a new fighter jet into its inventory as it looks to replace older, fourth-generation F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, also made by Lockheed.

Since the inception of the Joint Strike Fighter program, the Air Force has held that older Falcons should be replaced by the fifth-gen F-35 Lightning II. Some critics viewed Brown’s comments last week as foreshadowing the stealth jet’s demise.

The Air Force is the largest customer for the F-35, and hopes to procure 1,763 F-35 A-variants. But according to Aviation Week, future budgets could limit the inventory. The magazine reported in December that the service might cap its total F-35 buy at 1,050 fighters.

Neither Brown nor Kelly addressed how many F-35s the service would ultimately end up with during this week’s conference.

The chief added NGAD and the F-35 are not comparable from a programmatic and funding standpoint.

“As far as NGAD versus F-35, we’re not going to take money from the F-35 to [fund] the NGAD,” Brown said Thursday.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Intel

Chinese hackers strike US government servers targeting people with Chinese ties

China is at it again, starting off the first 100 days of the Biden Presidency with a number of cyberattacks aimed at shaking American businesses, local governments and even those agencies with their own interests in what happens inside the Chinese government.

The latest round of Chinese attacks on American data services was one of the most advanced hacks yet, especially in terms of the measures taken to evade detection. This time, the hackers weren’t necessarily targeting the Department of Defense or critical infrastructure, they were targeting individuals with information China would consider valuable.

A hacking group called Advanced Persistent Threat 5 (or APT5)  is the culprit in the latest round of attacks according to Charles Carmakal, chief technology officer of Mandiant, a division of FireEye. FireEye has routinely aided the U.S. government in its cybersecurity efforts and has detected or thwarted a number of high-profile attacks in the past decade. 

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Charles Carmakal, chief technology officer of Mandiant, a division of FireEye (LinkedIn)

“This looks like classic China-based espionage,” Carmakal told the Washington Post. “There was theft of intellectual property, project data. We suspect there was data theft that occurred that we won’t ever know about.”

Though the defense department was a target of this round of hacking, a number of other U.S. government agencies were, along with some critical defense contractors. The attacks began in June of 2020 and may even be ongoing. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), acknowledged as much in an April 2021 alert.

This time, the flaws exploited by Chinese hackers were inside of Pulse Secure virtual private network servers (VPN) that allow remote working employees to access company servers while offsite. 

Hackers also got into hardware devices near the victims’ locations, and renamed their servers to mimic those of current employees. Hiding in plain sight with a common name and the accounts of persons they just hacked is what made the intrusion so difficult to detect. 

FireEye has a long history of exposing high-profile hacks from state actors. In 2015, the company discovered Chinese hackers exploiting vulnerabilities in Microsoft Word and Office applications as well as Adobe Flash Player. In 2016, it discovered a vulnerability in the Android mobile operating system that allowed hackers to access text messages and phone directories. 

The cybersecurity firm was also a target of hackers itself in 2020, when state-funded hackers stole the FireEye toolkit. FireEye had to then begin to fight its own software, releasting tools to make the use of its toolkit more difficult in cyberattacks. 

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
Tech. Sgt. Bryan Dauphinais, 103rd Communications Flight cyber transport journeyman, analyzes simulated cyberattacks during exercise Cyber Yankee at the Windsor Locks Readiness Center, Windsor Locks, Connecticut, July 30, 2020. The exercise connects Guardsmen throughout New England with state and federal agencies, and has them work alongside critical infrastructure utilities to combat simulated cyber attacks from threat actors. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker)

Most importantly, FireEye detected the 2020 SolarWinds attack and reported it to the National Security Agency (NSA). The SolarWinds attack allowed hackers to breach multiple government agencies, grant themselves privileged access to their networks. This attack was allegedly conducted by hackers working for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR.  

In response, President Biden implemented seeping sanctions on the Russian economy upon taking office. There is no word yet on retaliation against China from the Biden Administration, the White House has only commented that it was aware of the situation and was monitoring it closely. 

The most recent cybersecurity breach by APT5 is the third detected attack in 2021, all suspected to have links to China’s Communist Party. One of the previous two attacks hit 30,000 Americans in small business and local government, the other targeted tech giant Microsoft. 

Intel

Air Force builds up Alaskan F-35 fleet in ‘great power competition’ Arctic pivot

April 2021 marks one year since the Air Force’s first two F-35A Lightning II advanced stealth fighters arrived at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. Twenty-five of the Air Force’s fifth-generation fighters are now at Eielson, part of the service’s overall plan to turn Alaska into a “fifth-gen powerhouse,” according to an Air Force press release.

“We have come a long way since the arrival of the first aircraft in April 2020 to now,” Air Force Maj. Jarod DiGeorge of the 354th Fighter Wing said in the release. “Flying 24 sorties in one day barely eight months after first wheels down at Eielson. We are currently on track to achieve initial combat capability this spring and full combat capability next winter.”

Former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James issued a 2016 “record of decision,” effectively establishing Eielson as the home for the service’s Alaska-based F-35s. Additionally, the measure reactivated the 354th Fighter Wing and placed it at Eielson. The wing is slated to receive 54 F-35As in total and is on track to reach full capacity by March 2022.

Borne the Battle #235: VA Secretary Denis McDonough
A US Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 354th Fighter Wing flies over Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Dec. 18, 2020. Thirty-five F-35As, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and KC-135 Stratotankers conducted an “Elephant Walk” formation showcasing the air assets located in interior Alaska. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois/Released.

A strong deterrent in Alaska is quickly becoming a focal point of a renewed “great power competition” between China, Russia, and the US. In January 2018, Beijing’s so-called Polar Silk Road Arctic strategy declared China to be a “near-Arctic state” — even though China’s nearest territory to the Arctic is some 900 miles away. Additionally, Moscow and Beijing have agreed to connect the Northern Sea Route, claimed by Russia, with China’s Maritime Silk Road.

By 2022, Alaska will be one of most heavily defended airspaces on earth. When Eielson’s F-35 fleet is at full strength, Alaska will have more of America’s advanced, fifth-generation fighters than any other US state.

“America cannot afford to fall behind as other nations devote resources to the Arctic region to secure their national interests. America’s very real interests in the Arctic will only increase in the years to come,” authors Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis wrote in a March 2020 report for The Heritage Foundation.

As Eielson AFB gets more F-35As, it gets closer to being fully combat capable. “It allows our aircrew to be able to train realistically without limitations and to accomplish their specific airborne requirements to be fully proficient in the mission and fly at a combat mission ready rate,” DiGeorge said. “Each and every aircraft we receive is also a projection of the wing’s airpower and furthers our ability to strike in a moment’s notice.”

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