Being deployed on a FOB or patrol base means you probably have little contact with the world outside the wire for the better part of a year. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a USO nearby where you can log onto Facebook for 20 minutes at a time until you have to rotate off.
Depending what part of the world you’re in, it might be in the middle of the night back home, and nobody is online — which sucks.
So what can you do to pass the time if you’re stuck in a sh*t hole?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
1. Hit the gym or freakin’ build an improvised one.
Wood, engineer stakes, and sandbags are just a few key ingredients every FOB has on hand. With some ingenuity and elbow grease, you can construct a new gym or modify an existing one.
Either way, working out is a great way to kill time.
2. Catch up on your movies
Before shipping out, you probably didn’t have much free time during your pre-deployment work up. Now that you’re stuck on a FOB with plenty of down time, break out that portable hard drive you put all those movies on and play cinema catch up.
Your brain and morale will thank you.
You could also learn how to construct a movie theater from a few scraps by following these simple steps.
3. Create new MRE recipes
Let’s face it, the box where the MREs are stored have been completely rat f*cked — it happens all the time. Consider tugging on your creative strings and make something delicious from MRE items no one seems to want.
4. Playing card or board games
Since the military is a competitive world, play a game like Risk that takes a lot of brain power to strategize and beat your opposition. You may even learn something you can use to beat the bad guys in a firefight — you never know.
5. Sleep and then sleep some more — whenever you can
Need we say more?
6. Create a journal
Write down your unique deployment experiences and self-reflection in a journal. You never know, that sh*t could get published later on down the line.
7. Master a video game or two
If you’re lucky enough to have electricity where ever you get sent to, you can recharge that compact gaming system you loaded up with your favorite games. Video games are a nice way to zone out and relax.
On Sept. 1, 1939, the Nazi war machine rolled into Poland, touching off World War II in Europe. Nazi propaganda would have the world believe Polish cavalry were intentionally charging Nazi tanks, thinking they were no more than the toothless dummies the Treaty of Versailles allowed them. In the aftermath of these battles, the dead horses and cavalrymen appeared to back this claim and the world would believe the myth of the Polish cavalry for much of the war. But in reality, there was a Polish cavalry charge that was a tactical success.
(Laughs in Polish)
The Poles had very little chance of retaining their country during World War II. The Nazis invaded Poland at one of the heights of their military power. The Soviets invaded Poland from the other side. Poland stood little chance of fighting them both off – but that doesn’t mean the Poles didn’t try. The Polish had already fought off the Red Army in the 1919-1921 Polish-Russian War, but this time, things would be different.
Poland has a pretty spectacular military history, even if it wasn’t a country for much of that time. Napoleon recruited Polish troops, as did the Russian Tsar and the Hapsburg monarchy. It was probably Polish forces who kept Eastern Europe from falling to Muslim invaders in the 1600s, as Polish troops were critical to winning the Battle of Vienna. The final death blow to the Ottoman invaders was the now-famous cavalry charge led by the elite Polish Winged Hussars. The Hussars cleared the Ottomans from the battlefield and delivered a rout so hard, Muslim armies would never threaten Vienna or Western Europe again.
So yeah, the Poles are no joke – but time passed, and Poland fell behind in its military development while Nazi Germany famously re-armed in a way that would make any dictator’s mouth water. The Soviet Union had a large army, even if it wasn’t as well-trained or well-equipped. The Poles still fought both valiantly and nowhere was that more apparent than at Krojanty.
On the first day of the Nazi invasion, the Germans broke through the Polish Border Guard very early in the day, which forced the rest of the Polish defenders in the area to fall back to a secondary defensive position. In order to make an orderly retreat and not lose all of the defenders to German infantry, someone had to cover the retreat and force the Germans to slow their advance. That fell to the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment, a cavalry regiment that saw action fighting the Red Army in the 1919 war with the USSR. They would make one of history’s last great cavalry charges.
No, they weren’t wearing wings but that would have been awesome.
The 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment found the Nazi German 76th Infantry Regiment, comprised of 800 armored reconnaissance vehicles along with 30 heavy guns, waiting to advance on the free city of Danzig. The 76th was actually part of the left wing of the XIX Panzer Corps under Gen. Heinz Guderian, which had been slowed across the line by Polish resistance. In order for the Poles in the area to get to the secondary defense of the River Brda, the 76th would have to take heavy losses, which would cause a delay for the entire motorized division on the Nazi left flank.
What would a cavalry unit do in a situation where the enemy is sitting around, waiting for orders? Charge, of course. The Poles took the enemy by surprise with a heavy cavalry charge of two squadrons, consisting of 250 angry Poles on horseback. They completely disbursed the German 76th. It was a complete tactical success, allowing for the rest of the defenders to make it to the relative safety of the River Brda. The Polish cavalry was quickly disbursed itself, however, by a German counterattack of heavy machine guns from nearby armored vehicles. They lost a third of their cavalry, but the rest of the defenders lived on to fight again.
Here at We Are The Mighty, we pride ourselves on finding the best military memes every week, curating them, and delivering them to you in an easily digestible format. We source from plenty of heavy-hitting meme pages that we spotlight every week, but we also found some great stuff from up-and-coming meme pages churning out content.
This one goes out to these guys. We couldn’t have had an amazing year without your work in making and collecting the best the Internet has to offer.
Today, we’re going to give everyone the best of the year, broken down by best of the month and, ultimately, the best of the year. Think of it as an award show or whatever. The winner earns a crisp high five.
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
February – Maybe Gunny Hartman should have just called Pyle a pretty little snowflake and everything could have gone differently.
The best part about this meme is that we received a bunch of hate from people who didn’t get the joke or look at the bottom right corner…
(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)
(Meme via Private News Network)
(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via The Lonely Operator)
(Meme via Untied Status Marin Crops)
(Meme via Smokepit Fairytales)
(Meme via Airman Underground)
Technically, Disgruntled Vets wins. You can come collect your high five whenever, dude.
Anyone who’s ever shot an AR or M4 with a suppressor knows how much better the experience is. Hence the saying, “Once you go suppressed, you never go back.”
Previously the exclusive domain of special operations troops, the Marine Corps is experimenting with outfitting an entire infantry battalion with suppressors to fire with their M16 and M4 rifles — and even with their light, medium and heavy machine guns, like the M2 .50cal.
“What we’ve found so far is it revolutionizes the way we fight,” a top Marine Corps official told Military.com recently. “It used to be a squad would be dispersed out over maybe 100 yards, so the squad leader couldn’t really communicate with the members at the far end because of all the noise of the weapons. Now they can actually just communicate, and be able to command and control and effectively direct those fires.”
Industry and military experts agree, saying suppressors deliver tremendous advantages to troops in battle. But there’s a reason why the technology has been primarily in the kit bag of special operations troops and highly trained snipers — they’re not always “grunt proof” and can sometimes cause more problems than they solve if used improperly, experts say.
So first, let’s look at three reasons why firearm sound suppressors awesome. Then we’ll show you three reasons why they’re a potential bigtime problem.
1. Signature mitigation
One of the main benefits to suppressor use by infantry troops, military experts say, is that the suppressor helps eliminate the flash of the powder burn from a fired round from emerging from the end of the barrel. Sound suppressors are like a vehicle muffler and use a series of baffles to progressively disperse the gas and flash from a shot.
The flash from a shot is a dead giveaway of a trooper’s position to the enemy — especially at night. (DoD photo)
When a trooper fires his rifle equipped with a suppressor — which can add another 4-6 inches to the end of the barrel (more on that in our “disadvantages list”) — that’s a lot of extra room for the flash to dissipate, making it hard for a bad guy to see a Marine’s position in the dark.
“This reduces or eliminates attention drawn to the shooter, making him virtually invisible,” said one Marine infantry expert. “We like to fight at night because it helps us reduce the enemy’s ability to see us or identify us as quickly — add a suppressor and it will help increase tempo.”
2. Recoil reduction
One of the things that a lot of shooters don’t realize is that a suppressor drastically reduces a firearm’s felt recoil, one industry expert said. Trapping the gasses within the suppressor negates the need for muzzle breaks or other devices to help keep the barrel level shot after shot.
As anyone who’s had to fire a shot in anger would know, accuracy is the key to survival, and suppressors help a lot in this area.
“Suppressors reduce firing recoil significantly … reducing the speed and quantity of the gas expelled and reducing the total momentum of the matter leaving the barrel, transferring to the gun as recoil,” the Marine infantry expert told WATM. “Suppressors also increase the speed of the bullet to the target, and this will cause an increase in accuracy and the shooter’s ability to track the target longer — and if needed calmly fire another carefully aimed shot.”
3. Sound suppression
Of course, as the name implies, suppressors are primarily designed to reduce the report of a firearm. They are not “silencers” like the Hollywood image would imply. A suppressor typically reduces the sound of a rifle from 160 dB to 135 dB — just enough to make it hearing safe, but by no means deadly quiet.
But that sound reduction is enough to provide a major advantage in fighting indoors and helping small unit leaders communicate better on the battlefield. Particularly when used with a machine gun, the suppressor can expand the area a unit can communicate and operate, industry and military experts say.
“Especially in [close quarters battle] suppressors are particularly useful in enclosed spaces where the sound, flash and pressure effects of a weapon being fired are amplified,” the infantry expert said. “Such effects may disorient the shooter, affecting situational awareness, concentration and accuracy. This could also reduce the noise in the battlefield thus aiding leaders in maintaining command and control.”
And the affect on a trooper’s hearing isn’t anything to shake a stick at either, industry experts say.
“The VA spends about $10 million per year on helping veterans who’re suffering from hearing loss,” the silencer industry source said. “That’s a big concern for service members who’re being exposed to gunfire throughout their career.”
While it’s clear most agree suppressors deliver major advantages to the war fighter, it’s not all ninja moves and .5 MOA shots every time.
Look, it’s physics folks. That gas and flash from a shot has to go somewhere.
Trapped in the suppressor, the hot gas and flash of a magazine dump, for example, can heat the accessory up to as much as 500 degrees. That’s enough to melt handguards and deliver severe burns if a trooper absentmindedly handles one.
That means if grunts are using suppressors as a matter of course, they have to add yet another element to look out for when they’re manipulating their weapons.
2. Length and Weight
Adding a “can” to the end of a rifle adds extra weight and length to the firearm. That changes how the trooper operates, particularly in close quarters battle scenarios.
The whole point of equipping infantry Marines with 14.5-inch barreled M4s is the make them more maneuverable. Adding another 6 inches to their rifle puts them right back in M16 A4 land, the Marine infantry expert said.
The added weight to the end of the barrel also affects accuracy and manipulation, industry sources say. A suppressor can make a rifle “front heavy,” changing the way a shooter has to mount the rifle and balance it for an accurate shot.
Great care has to be taken in mounting a suppressor to a rifle, the industry expert told us. Marines are probably using suppressors that attach to the rifle using a quick-attach mount so that a trooper can take the suppressor off quickly if needed (the other type of attachment is to just thread it directly to the barrel).
If this attachment isn’t done right and the suppressor is just a tiny bit off from the line of the barrel, it can result in the fired bullet impacting the baffles inside the suppressor, causing it to rupture. This is known as a “baffle strike,” and while it doesn’t usually cause severe injury, it can take a gun out of a fight, the industry source said.
Additionally, on direct (gas) impingement guns like the M4 (but not like the piston-driven M27), the suppressor can force a lot of gas back into the rifle breach.
“A suppressor scenario is going to result in a much filthier gun,” the industry source said. “That could cause more malfunctions if it’s not cleaned immediately.”
Modern suppressors are awesome and make shooting a firearm more controllable, accurate and safe. Most believe outfitting service members with this technology increases their effectiveness on the battlefield. But its important to remember they do come with some drawbacks that take training and practice to avoid.
Commodore Bertholf served the United States in its Revenue Cutter and Coast Guard service from early manhood, never failing a call to duty, no matter what the danger, always acting in a notably distinguished and at times heroic manner, as evidenced in the especial award to him by Congress of its Gold Medal of Honor. He finally reached the highest command in the Coast Guard and retained to the last his vital interest in the cause of that service. American Bureau of Shipping, 1921
In the quote above the American Bureau of Shipping commented on the productive career of Ellsworth Price Bertholf, first commandant of the modern Coast Guard and first flag officer in service history. No individual may claim sole credit for establishment of the U.S. Coast Guard as a military service. However, like the service’s original founder, Alexander Hamilton, Bertholf bore the greatest responsibility for the planning, establishment, oversight and initial success in the second founding of the Coast Guard in 1915.
Ellsworth Bertholf was born in New York City on April 7, 1866. In 1882, at the age of 16, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy, but was court martialed and dismissed after a hazing incident. In 1885, he entered the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction and matriculated with the Class of 1887. After graduation, he was assigned to the cutter Levi Woodbury and, as was customary at the time, he served two years at sea before receiving a third lieutenant’s commission in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. During his career, he would serve aboard cutters stationed around the United States and Alaska.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Bertholf’s most noted service took place on land and in the waters of Alaska. In 1897, Bertholf, Lt. David Jarvis and Dr. Samuel Call of the Arctic cutter Bear, led a dangerous mid-winter relief party that became known as the Overland Expedition. Using sledges pulled by dogs and reindeer, the men set out on snowshoes and skis to relieve over 200 whalers stranded by pack ice near Pt. Barrow, Alaska. Three months and 1,500 miles later, the party arrived at Barrow delivering 382 reindeer to 265 starving whalers. Bertholf received a specially struck Congressional Gold Medal for this courage and heroism.
In the winter of 1901, Bertholf also made a trip across northern Siberia by sledge at the request of the U.S. Bureau of Education. The purpose of his mission was to procure a herd of reindeer for the Inuit villages in Northern Alaska. Bertholf went on to serve as executive officer and then commander of the Bear, made famous by its Alaskan cruises and the Bering Sea Patrol.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Bertholf enjoyed a distinguished career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. He was the service’s first officer to attend the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and he rose quickly through the officer ranks. In 1911, at the age of 45, he was appointed captain commandant and head of the Revenue Cutter Service. He was the last man to serve in that position.
He also served as a delegate to the International Conference on Safety at Sea held in London in 1912 after the tragic loss of RMS Titanic. This meeting led to establishment of the International Ice Patrol, which the service has performed since 1913. In addition, he served as chairman of the Interdepartmental Board on International Ice Observation and Patrol in the North Atlantic and the service’s board on Anchorage and Movements of Vessels.
More than any other individual, Bertholf’s strong leadership and guidance made possible the establishment of the modern Coast Guard. With the director of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, Bertholf engineered a merger with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. This amalgamation would bring together hundreds of small craft from the Lifesaving Service and numerous cutters operated by the Revenue Cutter Service, and save the two services from elimination planned by an efficiency commission under President William Taft. Instead, in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act merging the services to form the U.S. Coast Guard with Bertholf appointed to lead the new military service.
(Photo by John Evans.)
During World War I, Capt. Commandant Bertholf held the temporary rank of commodore, the first officer of either the Revenue Cutter Service or Coast Guard to achieve flag rank. The war cemented the service’s role as a military agency. During the conflict, the service performed its traditional missions of search and rescue, maritime interdiction, law enforcement, and humanitarian response. Meanwhile, the service undertook new missions of shore patrol, port security, marine safety, and convoy escort duty while playing a vital role in naval aviation, troop transport operations and overseas naval missions. By war’s end, these assignments had become a permanent part of the Coast Guard’s defense readiness mission.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Bertholf retired from the Coast Guard in 1919 and joined the American Bureau of Shipping as vice president. He became very active in the affairs of that institution and travelled extensively to expand the ABS in foreign fields. He died of a heart attack in 1921 at the age of 55. He was survived by his wife and daughter and interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2008, the first of the Coast Guard’s fleet of National Security Cutters was named in Bertholf’s honor–the first Coast Guard cutter named for Bertholf.
Today, the story of Ellsworth Bertholf is lost and forgotten to the American public. The record of his life and legacy remain with us through his heroic feats in Alaska, his role in establishing the Coast Guard as a military service, and the distinguished National Security Cutter that now bears his name.
It’s a well-known fact that the King of Rock n’ Roll enjoyed practicing karate. What might not be so well-known is that he was pretty good at it, too. After starting his training while in the Army in Europe in 1958, Elvis Presley studied martial arts until his death in 1977 — when he was a seventh-degree black belt.
This talent came in handy one night when rocker Alice Cooper pulled a gun on him.
Elvis earned his black belt after a rigorous six-week-long training regimen and test. Though his fighting style wasn’t “pretty,” the King still passed the test. Elvis would even eventually start his own dojo, the Tennessee Karate Institute, and write books about how he trained for real-life dangers — including meditations on how to prepare for attackers with real guns.
He was so serious about the art that he was ready to be promoted beyond the level of his trainer much faster than anyone could’ve anticipated. He was as bold in the studio as he was in real life: Presley once even got out of his limo at an intersection in Madison, Wisconsin, to stop a fight at a gas station. The then-42-year-old walked up to the fight, told the two men, “I’ll take you two on,” and assumed a karate stance. The two men stopped fighting.
“Is everything settled now?” he said.
Despite not being considered “pretty” when he first earned his black belt, Elvis’ karate improved greatly over the next 15 years. Wayne Carman, who trained with Elvis under their master, Kang Rhee, said this about Presley’s karate:
“His technique was crisp and powerful and his movements were graceful.”
It was a good thing, too. One night in Las Vegas, Elvis was in the penthouse of a hotel when a young Alice Cooper (along with Liza Minelli and Linda Lovelace) came into his room. He wasn’t just looking for an audience with the King. After they were all frisked by Elvis’ security, Elvis took Cooper into the kitchen and took out a .32 snub-nose revolver. He told the kid to put it to his head.
Cooper recounted the story to the UK’s Mirror:
“I had this gun in my hand and was expecting one of his security to come in any second, see me holding a weapon, and shoot me dead… A little voice in my left ear was telling me, ‘Go on, this is history, kill him, you’ll always be the guy who killed Elvis.’ In my other ear was another voice saying, ‘You can’t kill him, it’s Elvis Presley – wound him instead, you’ll only get a few years!’.
That’s when Elvis did a flying kick at the gun, knocking it out of Cooper’s hand. He then tripped Cooper and pinned him to the ground by his neck.
“Don’t come here, it’s too dangerous!” my sister texted my mother a few weeks ago. “If you were to become infected with coronavirus, I would never forgive myself.”
My parents live in Naples, southern Italy, where I was born and raised before becoming an American citizen in 2018. My sister is in graduate school to become an anesthesiologist and she works in one of the most affected hospitals in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, one of the first areas to be designated as a red zone in the country.
The Costagliola family on vacation at Disney World.
My parents, who are both over 65 years of age, were supposed to go visit my sister up north before coming to visit my family and I in New York, something they do at least once a year. We had it all planned out: they would join us in Syracuse — where we are currently stationed — and after a week, we were going to take a road trip all the way down to Florida, stopping at the most iconic landmarks on the East Coast, taking plenty of photos for my two children to look back on one day and reminisce on the precious moments they spent with their grandparents.
My 8-year-old son was counting down the days until the arrival of his Nanna and Babba, who had promised to bring an entire suitcase filled with presents for him and his 4-year-old sister — something they do every time they come visit. “Mamma, only 30 days left!” he shouted with excitement as he stepped off the school bus one afternoon. “Baby, I have to tell you something…” I said as I invited him to sit on the couch next to me. The words that came out of my mouth during that conversation sounded like something out of a script of an Apocalyptic science fiction movie.
Tiziana Costagliola at work at one of the most affected hospitals in the Lombardy region.
Only a few hours earlier, I had spoken to my parents via Skype and my mother, a primary care provider, told me with tears in her eyes, “I love you, and that’s why I won’t come visit you guys.”
I couldn’t believe it.
The coronavirus had started spreading in Italy, but it was mostly contained in the red zone. It wasn’t even in southern Italy yet. Borders were open, flights were departing as scheduled, cruise ships were taking excited passengers to the most exotic corners of the world, and theme parks were still selling way too much candy to children running toward their favorite ride.
Yet, my parents had decided to cancel their trips. They would not be going to visit my sister nor would they be coming to visit us in the United States of America. “It’s going to get much worse before it gets better, sweetheart.” My mother explained, “And I would never forgive myself if I unknowingly brought the virus to you all.”
It’s going to get much worse. That thought kept haunting my mind, day and night. It sounded like a prophecy.
“We were just told to choose which patients to save…” my sister wrote a few days later in a family group chat on WhatsApp. “We are to pick younger patients over older ones, as they have better chances of surviving the coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, life in the United States of America was proceeding as usual. Children off to school, grocery shopping done, and manuscripts edited. But the headlines in the news began mirroring what I was hearing from my mother and sister back home. Not enough hospital rooms. Virus spreads to southern Italy as well. Italy struggles to contain outbreak. Italian hospitals out of ICU beds. Airlines have canceled their flights to and from Italy.
It was a nightmare. What was happening to my home country? What was happening to my family and friends?
But then, Italy took a deep breath, looked in the mirror and reminded herself of who she is. The land of art, eternal love, good food, genuine smiles, warm sun and glittering Mediterranean waters. An entire red zone with 60 million people in quarantine, Italians stepped outside their balconies, playing instruments, singing, dancing and keeping each other company.
Coronavirus: quarantined Italians sing from balconies to lift spirits
At the end of their impromptu concerts and shows, they could be heard yelling, “Andrà tutto bene!”
Everything’s going to be alright.
And now that we are also facing the reality of the outbreak here in the United States of America, let’s remind ourselves that, if we all do our part, everything will be alright.
As for that vacation, we were planning on taking; it wasn’t canceled, just postponed to when we are allowed to finally hug each other again. And if my children have it their way, it’ll be even bigger and better than the one we had originally planned.
According to reports released through Chinese media, a modified version of their Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter, dubbed the J-20B, has just entered mass production. This new variant of their first fifth-generation fighter will continue to run dated Russian-built engines, but will utilize thrust vectoring control nozzles to grant the aircraft a significant boost in maneuverability.
“Mass production of the J-20B started on Wednesday. It has finally become a complete stealth fighter jet, with its agility meeting the original criteria,” the South China Morning Post credited to an unnamed source within the Government.
Chengdu J-20 (WikiMedia Commons)
“The most significant change to the fighter jet is that it is now equipped with thrust vector control.”
Thrust vectoring nozzle for a Eurojet EJ200 turbofan (WikiMedia Commons)
Thrust Vector Control
Thrust vector control, sometimes abbreviated to TVC, is a means of controlling a jet or rocket engine’s outward thrust. Thrust vectoring nozzles are used to literally move the outflow of exhaust in different directions to give an aircraft the ability to conduct acrobatics that a straight-forward nozzled jet simply couldn’t do.
When paired with an aircraft like Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, thrust vectoring control allows an aircraft to make sharper changes in direction, or even to continue traveling in one direction while pointing the nose, and weapons systems of the aircraft, down toward an enemy. Put simply, thrust vectoring nozzles let you point the engine one way, while the aircraft itself is pointed in another (to a certain extent).
In a jet like the F-22 (and soon in China’s J-20 stealth fighter), this technology gives fighter pilots a distinct advantage over non-thrust vectoring jets in a dogfight. You can see the thrust vector control surfaces on the F-22’s engine, which can direct the outflow of exhaust up to 20 degrees up or down, in this video clip:
Russia also employs thrust vector control technology in some of their more capable fighters, like the Sukhoi Su-35, which is widely considered to be among the most capable fourth generation fighters in service anywhere on the planet. While stealth and sensor fusion capabilities would give an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter the long range advantage against the non-stealth Su-35, the Russian jet would technically be capable of flying circles around America’s premier stealth fighter if stealth weren’t in the picture (luckily, however, it is).
Of course, that’s not what the F-35 was built for, and in a real conflict, an F-35 would likely shoot down a Su-35 before the Russian pilot was even aware of an American presence in his airspace. China’s J-20 stealth fighter, however, would very likely be extremely difficult to detect on radar or by infrared signature as it closed with an opponent from head on, and the J-20B’s thrust vector control abilities combined with that inherent sneakiness could make this new J-20 a serious adversary for the F-35, and even a worthy opponent for the F-22.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter versus China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter
While the F-35 tends to garner the lion’s share of attention, it truly was not built to serve in an air superiority role against near-peer or peer level adversaries. The F-35’s strengths don’t come from its speed or maneuverability, but rather from the extremely effective one-two punch it can deliver via stealth technologies, sensor fusion, and communications.
Many F-35 pilots, including Sandboxx News’ own Justin “Hasard” Lee, will tell you that the F-35’s role in many dogfights isn’t that of an up-close dog fighter, but rather more like a quarterback in the sky, accumulating and processing data into an easy-to-manage interface, and relaying that information to aircraft and other weapons systems in the battle space.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)
When it is up to the F-35 to take down an airborne opponent, the F-35’s speed and maneuverability limitations are usually not a significant concern, as the jet is designed to engage enemy aircraft more like a sniper than a boxer. The F-35’s data fusion capabilities make it easy for the pilot to identify enemy aircraft in their heads up display, and the fighter can even engage multiple targets from distances too far to see with the naked eye.
J-20 (WikiMedia Commons)
However, the J-20 may be difficult to see for even the mighty F-35, which, when combined with the J-20B’s higher top end and superior mobility thanks to thrust vectoring nozzles, it could be a real threat to America’s top tier stealth fighter. The front canards on the J-20, however, are believed by some to compromise the aircraft’s stealth when approaching from angles other than head-on. Debate continues on this front, but it could give the F-35 the advantage it needs.
Of course, that is if the J-20B performs as China claims it will.
USAF F-22 Raptor (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Samuel Eckholm)
The F-22 Raptor vs China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter
This match up is a bit more appropriate, as the F-35 was built to be a jack of all stealthy trades and the F-22 was built specifically to dominate a sky full of enemy fighters. Unlike the F-35, which is largely limited to subsonic speeds in both the Navy and Marine Corps’ iterations, the F-22 is fast, mean, and acrobatic in addition to its stealth capabilities.
China’s stealth fighter, the J-20, was designed using stolen plans for Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, giving it a similar profile and potentially similar combat capabilities. However, it seems unlikely that China has managed to replicate the complex process of mass producing stealth aircraft to the same extent the United States has, as America’s stealth work dates back to the 1970s and the development of the “Hopeless Diamond” that would eventually become the F-117 Nighthawk.
As previously mentioned, the J-20’s front canards could potentially limit the aircraft’s stealth capabilities as well, making the plane difficult to detect from head on, but potentially easier from other angles.
Some content that these canards compromise some degree of the J-20’s stealth capabilities. (Chinese internet)
Although China has announced that their J-20B will come equipped with thrust vector controls, just how effective their system will be remains to be seen, meaning that, like China’s stealth capabilities, their execution may potentially fall behind their bluster.
Assuming, however, that the J-20B performs exactly as China says it will, the aircraft could likely be a worthy opponent for the F-22 in some circumstances, especially when flying in greater numbers than America’s top intercept fighter, which just may be a serious issue in the near future, as America simply can’t build any more F-22s.
Chinese J-20s flying in formation (Chinese internet)
While it remains to be seen if China’s J-20 stealth fighter and upgraded J-20B will be a real match for America’s F-35 or F-22 in a one-on-one fight, the truth is, very few fights actually shake out that way. Pilots spend tons of time planning their combat operations to limit their exposure to high risk situations and to maximize the effectiveness of their stealth profile.
Thus far, it’s believed that China has built fewer than 50 J-20s, though production may pick up as China now seems comfortable using dated Russian power plants in their new fighters, rather than waiting on their long troubled WS-15 engine that was designed specifically for this application. Using these engine platforms may limit the overall performance of the jet, but it will also allow for more rapid production–which may create China’s only actual advantage in an air-to-air conflict.
Lockheed Martin produced only 186 total F-22 Raptors before the program was shut down, and today, far fewer are actually operational. In other words, America may have the world’s most capable air intercept fighter in the F-22, but it also has an extremely limited supply of them. The supply chain established for F-22 production has been largely cannibalized for the F-35, so there’s no hope in building any more either.
USAF F-22 Raptor (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Westin Warburton)
China’s J-20 stealth fighter, on the other hand, is still under production, and while Russian-sourced engines may make their fighter’s less capable than America’s stealth fighters, China may more than offset that disadvantage through sheer volume. Even if a J-20 doesn’t stand a chance in a scrap with an F-22, adding four or five more J-20s into the mix places the odds squarely in China’s favor.
Today, the United States maintains the largest fleet of stealth aircraft in service to any nation, but over time, that advantage could be eroded thanks to China’s massive industrial capabilities.
Two F-22 Raptors and a T-38 Talon from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, fly together during a 43rd Fighter Squadron Basic Course training mission Oct. 7, 2013 over Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. J. Wilcox)
America’s massive experience advantage in the skies
China’s J-20 stealth fighter may potentially end up a near competitor for America’s top stealth jets, and they may eventually overcome any advantage America’s fighters do have through volume, but there’s one integral place Chinese aviators still lag far behind American pilots: experience. America’s experience advantage manifests in two specific ways.
The first experiential advantage American pilots have on their side is practical flying time aboard their specific platforms. While the total number of required flight hours for pilots varies a bit from branch to branch, on average, a U.S. fighter pilot spends around 20 hours per month at the stick of their respective jets. That shakes out to around 240 flight hours per year devoted strictly to training for combat operations.
(U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane)
Chinese fighter pilots, on the other hand, average less than half of that per year, with most pilots logging between 100 and 120 hours flying their particular airframes. With more than double the annual flying experience to pull from, American fighter pilots across the board will be better prepared for the rigors of combat.
The second facet of America’s experience-advantage is in real combat operations. The United States has been embroiled in the Global War on Terror for nearly two straight decades, and while most of the flying American fighter pilots have done throughout has been for the purposes of ground attack or close air support missions, there’s no denying that American aviators have more experience flying in a combat zone than their Chinese competition.
A formation of F-35A Lightning IIs (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
Although there have been very few dog fights in recent years, it’s worth noting that one of the world’s more recent fighter-to-fighter shoot-downs took place over Syria and involved a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet engaging a Syrian military Su-22 Fitter. American pilots, and just as importantly, America’s military leadership, are no strangers to war, and that offers a unique insight into future conflicts.
China’s massive military has undergone a significant overhaul in recent years that still continues to this day, but their relative inexperience and likely inferior stealth technology keeps China at a disadvantage in a notional conflict with the United States, especially in the air.
Chengdu J-20 (Chinese internet)
So do the J-20B’s upgrades even matter?
While China may still have a ways to go before they can claim the sort of stealth dominance the United States enjoys, the upgraded systems placed in China’s J-20B certainly do matter. As former Defense Secretary and famed Marine General James Mattis once said, America has no pre-ordained right to victory on the battlefield.
It’s absolutely essential that we take an objective look at China’s growing military threat and remember that they don’t need to match America’s broad capabilities to gain an advantage–they need only to counter them. Working to devise creative solutions that offset tactical advantages has been an integral part of warfare ever since humans first started sharpening sticks, and it remains essential today.
The J-20B doesn’t need to be a match for the F-22 Raptor if its leveraged properly and in sufficient numbers, and that alone warrants consideration.
Carl Brashear was no stranger to adversity. A sharecropper’s son, he grew up on a farm in Kentucky and attended segregated schools his entire life. He enlisted in the Navy the same year that President Truman effectively ended segregation in the military by issuing Executive Order 9981. Brashear was told repeatedly that he couldn’t be a Navy diver: no black man ever had. His application was ignored and lost, over and over until 1954 when he made the cut. But those struggles paled in comparison to the mission that cost him his leg.
When Brashear enlisted, black sailors were only offered jobs like serving white officers meals or cleaning up. Brashear knew he was meant to do more. He wanted to be a Navy diver.
In addition to the physical attributes it takes to be a Diver, you also have to have a bit of smarts too. There is a science to diving and understanding it is a key prerequisite to becoming and advancing through the Diving hierarchy. Brashear had grown up in rural Kentucky and, because of the lack of education in segregated schools, had the equivalent of an 8th grade education. While he had become a salvage diver which was difficult in and of itself, in order to get to the next step, he had to pass a grueling science component.
It took him almost 9 years, but he was able to do so, and became a First-Class Diver in 1964. Braesher made history as the first African American to become a Navy diver.
Then the accident happened.
In January 1966, off the coast of Spain, two Air Force planes collided while attempting to link up to refuel. A B-52G Stratofortress Bomber collided with a KC-135A Stratotanker causing both planes to go down. All four of the refueler’s crew perished while three of the seven crew died on the bomber when their plane broke apart.
While the loss of life itself was devastating, the cargo of the bomber was cause of grave concern as well. Falling to the earth were four MK28 Hydrogen bombs.
Three of the bombs were found immediately in a Spanish fishing village. The fourth was believed to have fallen into the Mediterranean.
The Air Force asked the assistance of the United States Navy. After 80 days of searching, the bomb was finally located. It took over 20 ships, thousands of men and about 150 Navy Divers, one of whom was Carl Brashear.
Two months into the search, a tow cable snapped and sent a pipe into Brashear’s leg almost shearing it off. Brashear was medevaced to Germany and then Virginia. Despite all attempts to save his left leg below the knee, doctors could not stop the infections and necrosis that set in.
Brashear would have to lose his leg.
For most of us who served, this should have meant the end of his career and most certainly should have ended his time as a Navy Diver.
For Carl Brashear, that was not an option. His journey in the Navy had already been long and arduous, and he had his eyes set on something bigger. One of his personal beliefs was, “It’s not a sin to get knocked down; it’s a sin to stay down”.
It should have been the end of his career. For Brashear it was just another fight he was going to win. The Navy set about the process to medically retire him.
Brashear refused to show up for his med-board meeting and instead went about proving to the Navy that he could be returned to active duty. As reported by the L.A. Times, Brashear said, “Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump. In that year, if I would have gone to sick bay, they would have written me up. I didn’t go to sick bay. I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it — an old remedy.”
It took almost two years of determination, but in 1968, Brashear was able to be recertified as a Navy Diver.
Again, for most people this would have been a remarkable finale. For Brashear, there was one more major goal he wanted.
Brashear pushed through the limitation of having a prosthetic leg and studied master the scientific criteria that was needed to get to the next level.
In two years, he did it. In 1970, he became the first African American to become a Master Diver in the United State Navy.
Brashear retired in 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver.
Through his career he told people, “I ain’t going to let nobody steal my dream”.
When the USS Wahoo sailed into Pear Harbor on Feb. 7, 1943, she had an odd ornament on her periscope: a common broom. But that broom was one of the most impressive symbols a crew could aspire to earn because it symbolized that the boat had destroyed an entire enemy convoy, sweeping it from the seas.
Flush with torpedoes and no other threats in sight, the Wahoo decided to engage. It fired a spread of three torpedoes but had underestimated the destroyer’s speed. The Wahoo fired another torpedo with the speed taken into account, but the destroyer turned out of the weapon’s path.
And then it bore down on the Wahoo, seeking to destroy the American sub. The crew played a high-stakes game of chicken by holding the sub in position. When the destroyer reached 1,200 yards, the crew fired the fifth torpedo, which the destroyer again avoided.
At 800 yards they fired their sixth and last forward torpedo, barely enough range for the torpedo to arm. The risk of failure was so great that Lt. Cmdr. Dudley Morton ordered a crash dive immediately after firing, putting as much water in the way of enemy depth charges as possible.
But the last torpedo swam true and hit the Japanese ship in the middle, breaking its keel and causing its boilers to burst.
The next day, Jan. 25, was relatively uneventful, but Jan. 26 would be the Wahoo’s date with destiny. Just over an hour after sunrise, the third officer spotted smoke over the horizon and Morton ordered an intercept course.
They found a four-ship convoy consisting of a tanker, a troop transport, and two freighters. All four were valuable targets, but sinking the troop transport could save thousands of lives and sinking tankers would slow the Japanese war machine by starving ships of fuel.
There was no escort, but the Wahoo still had to watch for enemy deck guns and ramming maneuvers. The sub fired a four-torpedo spread at the two freighters, scoring three hits. The first target sank and the second was wounded. Wahoo then turned its attention to the tanker and the troop transport.
The troop transport attempted a ram, sailing straight at the Wahoo. Morton ordered a risky gambit, firing a torpedo at the transport after it drew close rather than taking evasive actions.
After the torpedo was launched, the transport took its own evasive action and abandoned its ramming maneuver. In doing so, the transport presented the sub with its broad sides, a prime target.
The Wahoo fired two more torpedoes and dove to avoid another attack. It was still diving when both torpedoes struck home. Eight minutes later, the Wahoo surfaced and saw that the transport was dead in the water. It fired a torpedo that failed to detonate and then a carefully aimed final shot that triggered a massive explosion and doomed the Japanese vessel.
A few hours later, the Wahoo was able to find and re-engage the two survivors of her earlier action. The tanker and the wounded freighter had steamed north but couldn’t move fast enough to escape the American sub.
The Wahoo waited for nightfall and then fired two torpedoes at the undamaged tanker. One hit, but the ship was still able to sail quickly. With only four torpedoes left and the Japanese ships taking evasive action, Wahoo waited and studied their movements.
When certain they could predict the Japanese ships, the crew attacked again. The first pair of torpedoes were fired at the tanker just after it turned. One of them slammed into its middle, breaking the keel and quickly sending it to the depths.
The crippled freighter was firing what weapons it had at the sub and almost hit it with a shell, forcing it to dive. Then, a searchlight appeared from over the horizon, possibly signaling a Japanese warship that could save the freighter.
The Wahoo carefully lined up its final shot at 2,900 and fired both torpedoes at once with no spread, a sort of final Hail-Mary to try and sink the freighter before it could find safety with the warship.
The final pair of torpedoes both hit, their warheads tearing open the freighter and quickly sinking it before the Japanese ship, which turned out to be a destroyer, cleared the horizon.
The American crew escaped and continued their patrol, attempting to attack another convoy with just their deck guns on Jan. 27 and mapping a Japanese explosives facility on Jan. 28 before returning to Pearl Harbor with the triumphant broom flying high on Feb. 7.
The most-produced tank in World War II was fast, powerful, and well protected by sloped armor, and it was made by a candy maker who got tired of confections and decided to make a revolutionary tank instead.
Willy Wonka, eat your heart out.
The Christie tank designs were ultimately a failure in the U.S., but elements of the company’s designs would become part of dozens of tank designs across Western and Russian militaries.
Mikhail Koshkin was working in a candy factory until he decided that he wanted to study engineering. Thanks to a series of Josef Stalin’s purges, Koshkin quickly found himself at the top of a program to improve the BT tank. The BT tank series was based on the U.S. Christie design and patents that were sold overseas after the Army turned the Christie down.
Stalin, wanting to see whether his armored forces were worth the price tag, wanted to test the new tanks in combat and got his chance in the Spanish Civil War. The BT tanks proved themselves useful but far, far from perfect. Despite thick armor, anti-tank infantry still often held an advantage against them, and the vehicle engines would burst into flame from light hits or, sometimes, simply from the strain of propelling the tank.
The BT tanks were sent back to Russia by rail for analysis and Koshkin and his team quickly found the flaws in design. The improvements program quickly became a replacement program, and Koshkin started working on a new design in 1934 which he would name for that year, the T-34.
It incorporated a number of design changes being flirted with around the world. It wasn’t the first tank with sloped armor or the first with a diesel engine or the first with a large cannon in a rotating turret, but it was a solid design that incorporated all of these evolutions in design. At the same time that he was working on the T-34, Koshkin had to work on a new BT tank design: the A20.
Mikhail Koshkin worked in a candy factory but then decided to become an engineer before World War II. His inspired T-34 tank design would become the most-produced tank of World War II.
(Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau)
The A20 would later become the BT-20. It, too, sported a number of improvements, including sloped armor and an improved engine, but it still had relatively little armor for the crew or engine — as little as 20mm in some places.
Both designs, the T-34 and the BT-20, reached Soviet leaders in 1939. There, the officers sidelined the T-34 in favor of the BT-20, partially because the proposed T-34 design would’ve required much more steel for manufacture and much more fuel to run. A prototype BT-20 was created.
But instead of accepting the defeat of his design, Koshkin wrote a letter to Stalin and continued making tweaks before creating a full prototype. Stalin requested to see the tank, and Koshkin drove it 800 miles to Moscow to show it off. The tank proved itself fast, effective, and well-protected, and so Stalin sent it into production instead of the BT-20.
Koshkin died of pneumonia soon after, but his tank design would go on to become the most-produced tank of World War II. Russia took part in the invasion of Poland, but later found itself attacked by Nazi Germany in June, 1941.
As history shows, the Soviet Union soon found itself in a fight for its very survival during World War II. Tanks and other weapons would be imported from America, but the best homegrown option the Soviet Union had was still, easily, the T-34.
The final design pressed into production featured a 76mm gun capable of taking out anything Germany had to offer, its thick and sloped armor could survive hits from most German tanks at the time, and it was easy to maintain in the field, meaning the T-34s were nearly all available for the fight.
A T-34 tank during battle re-enactments.
(Cezary Piwowarski CC BY-SA 4.0)
When a clash first came between German tanks and the T-34, the Soviet crew surprised the Germans by piercing the German tank in a single shot. German tank crews had convinced themselves that they were nearly invincible until they faced the T-34.
But the Germans had prepared well for the invasion, and they charged east, deep into Russia, overrunning the original T-34 factory and nearly breaching Moscow’s defenses before they were stopped at the final defensive line as the true Russian winter set in.
The relocated T-34 production lines were able to crank out hundreds of copies before the spring thaw, and those tanks were key parts of battles for the coming years. But German tank designs were evolving as well, and the arms race necessitated upgrades to the T-34.
Over 35,000 T-34s were built during the war, with later models featuring upgraded 85mm guns as space for an additional crew member, allowing the tank commander to give up their gunner duties to keep a better eye on what was happening around the vehicle.
A German soldier inspects a Russian T-34 knocked out during combat. T-34s were super powerful upon their debut, but German bombers and artillery were always a threat to them, and later German tank designs like the Tiger could shred the T-34.
The Soviet Union was, eventually, successful in driving the Germans out of Russia and back into Berlin. This success was partially due to America sending so much equipment east as part of lend-lease, partially thanks to the U.S., Britain, and Canada opening a new front with the D-Day invasions, and partially thanks to a candy man who decided to make a world-class weapon of war instead of sweets.
Admit it: You’d watch a Willy Wonka sequel like that.
(Some of the information in this article came from the second episode of Age of Tanks on Netflix. If you have a subscription, you can watch the episode here.)
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein has a direct answer when asked what echoes to this day, what continues to influence his thinking and actions even now, 20 years after he found himself on the ground in hostile surroundings, his F-16 Fighting Falcon in the distance smoldering and destroyed.
“Where it echoes most for me is trying to lead with character,” Goldfein said May 7, 2019. “When I talk to young commanders I tell them, ‘As an officer, we never know when some young airman will risk everything to save our lives, to pull us out of bad-guy land, to pull us out of a burning vehicle. They risk everything they hold dear and their families hold dear to save us.’
“And the question at that moment is, am I worthy of their risk?”
For Goldfein, of course, the question and his answer are both meaningful and literal. It is especially potent this month, which marks the 20th anniversary of his shoot-down and rescue during a mission over Serbia.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)
The facts of that incident are well known. Goldfein was a squadron commander for the May 2, 1999 mission to find and destroy anti-aircraft batteries. The mission was part of Operation Allied Force, which was NATO’s response to Serbian attacks on Kosovar Albanians that had risen to an ethnic cleansing. The 78-day air campaign ultimately convinced Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to capitulate.
Getting to that point, however, was difficult and dangerous. Air power made the difference.
While officially a NATO campaign with many participants and facets, the U.S. Air Force played a prominent role, flying 30,018 sorties and striking 421 fixed targets.
It was a defining moment for the Air Force in several ways. It validated the air expeditionary force concept; it was the first time a B-2 stealth bomber was used in combat and the first significant use of what today are referred to as drone aircraft.
And for Goldfein, it was a life-shaping event that forced him to eject into a moonlit night, test his training and forge a unique command outlook.
It triggered a tight bond with pararescuemen Staff Sgt. Jeremy Hardy, Senior Airman Ron Ellis and Staff Sgt. Andy Kubik, a combat controller. All three bolted from a MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and ran toward Goldfein as he emerged from a row of trees and brought him home safely, eluding vigorous gunfire on the way out.
A MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter.
For Goldfein, the memory and the lessons from that night endure.
He remembers how the training he received 20 years before that night on the proper way to safely eject, parachute to earth and evade capture, returned clearly and instantly when needed.
“What I found that was amazing in looking back was how little I had to recall,” he said, reciting the stern admonitions of his instructors for a successful “parachute landing fall” – “knees together, don’t look down, roll like a football!”
There also was something more profound that only someone who’s been shot down and rescued can fully understand.
“I wear these stars every day for somebody else,” Goldfein said. “I wear them for some young airmen who risked everything and did a great job that night. So every day you get to serve is a day to pay it forward.”
It also forces him to return to the question, am I worth it?
As of this writing, the deal between the United States and the Taliban for ending the war in Afghanistan is dead. Along with it is National Security Advisor John Bolton, one of the reluctant architects of the deal who (sources say) was never behind the deal to begin with. President Trump was supposed to secretly meet with senior Taliban officials at Camp David to hammer out the final terms of an agreement, but that was also squashed, the final nail in the coffin for such an agreement.
But the United States may still reduce the number of troops fighting its longest war.
As the Trump White House and the Taliban exchange blame for the collapse of peace talks, there are an estimated 13,000 to 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan. This is why Taliban leaders won’t engage with the Afghan government. They believe President Ashraf Ghani’s government is a Western puppet with no legitimacy. The Trump Administration wanted to force the Taliban to recognize Ghani’s legitimacy through a peace agreement with the U.S. but there were a number of outstanding events that would lead to the agreement’s downfall.
First, the United States wanted the Taliban to stop its attacks on U.S. troops in the country to build trust before the deal was made. Senior defense officials say the Taliban actually increased their attacks over the past few weeks, killing a U.S. service member, along with a Romanian service member and ten civilians in a car bomb attack in Kabul. That attack may have been the last straw for President Trump.
The deal is still a major sticking point for Trump, who vowed to bring home American troops from Afghanistan during his 2016 campaign. The peace agreement that was recently killed kept troop strength at 8,600, enough to combat terrorist attacks in the country and didn’t demand a cease-fire from the Taliban. It only asked the terror group to commit to reducing violence in Kabul and Parwan provinces – areas where the United States has a large military presence.
Negotiated by Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, the deal would have required the U.S. to withdraw 5,000 troops within 135 days of signing. The Taliban would be required to reduce violence in those two areas while preventing the country from being a base for international terrorism, while renouncing its alignment with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
After the Kabul bombing on Sep. 5, Khalilzad was recalled to Washington and is no longer talking to the Taliban.
For its part, the Taliban say the deal broke down because the group’s leadership wouldn’t sign any agreement that didn’t list the final end date for American troops leaving Afghanistan, which was supposedly November 2020 or January 2021. Secondly, the United States wanted the Ghani government to postpone Afghan Presidential elections set for Sep. 28, 2019. If Ghani won, anti-Ghani factions would undermine the Afghan President’s legitimacy further with the Taliban by protesting the election victory.
The most important reason the agreement failed, however, is trust. No one at the table and no one with an interest in the agreement actually trusted the Taliban to keep their word. In fact, intercepted communications from the Taliban show the terror organization’s negotiators believe they “fooled” the United States. Still, many in the United States believe the best way out of Afghanistan is through a political agreement.
Only no one yet knows what that agreement will look like.