6 Reasons Why The Korengal Valley Was One Of The Most Dangerous Places In Afghanistan - We Are The Mighty
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6 Reasons Why The Korengal Valley Was One Of The Most Dangerous Places In Afghanistan

Nestled between high mountains on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan, the Korengal Valley has been one of the hardest fought over patches of ground in the War on Terror. 54 Americans have been killed and four Medals of Honor were earned in the valley — or it’s immediate vicinity — while the case for a fifth is under review. One was that of the first living recipient of the award since Vietnam: Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta.


Today, the American military rarely moves into the valley, but handpicked Afghan commandos, some trained by the CIA, fight constantly with militants there. The Afghan government maintains offices at the Pech River Valley, the entryway to Korengal. Their police execute raids and patrols in a continuing attempt to shut down or limit the shadow government operating there.

When the American military was there, they faced the same challenges the Afghan forces do today. Some of these dangers are common across Afghanistan, while some only existed in Korengal Valley and the other branches of the Pech River Valley.

The terrain is a nightmare.

Photo: US Army Sgt. Matthew Moeller

Steep mountains, loose shale, thick forests, and open patches of land made the area a nightmare for an occupying force. Combat outposts were built in relatively open areas so that defenders could see approaching militants. However, this meant patrols returning to the base had to cross the open ground, sometimes under heavy small arms fire from nearby wooded areas and houses. The thick trees in the area allowed fighters to attack U.S. forces from cover and concealment.

The attackers would then hide their weapons in the forests and return to the civilian population. The steep hillsides allowed snipers to climb above outposts and fire into the bases as soldiers slept. Loose rock on the steep land led to injuries from trips and falls.

Building new bases — and keeping them resupplied — presented constant challenges.

Photo: US Army Spc. Jon H. Arguello

Tied to the problem of the terrain, engineering in the valley has historically been difficult. To build the infamous Restrepo outpost, soldiers slipped up the hilltop in the night and frantically dug ditches in the dark. Working until dawn, they were barely able to create shallow trenches to lay in before sunlight exposed them to enemy fire. They created the outpost over the following weeks and months, chipping away at the rock and throwing the fragments into bags or Hesco barriers to create walls and fighting positions. Everything in the valley had to be made this way as the hills were too steep to move heavy equipment and there was little dirt or sand to put in the bags and barriers.

Supply was similarly constricted as many vehicles couldn’t make it into the hills. Trucks would move through washed out roads to deliver supplies to positions near the bottom of the valley. Getting food, water, and gear to the tops of the hills required either helicopter lifts or infantry carrying it up on their backs.

Its proximity to Pakistan gives the Taliban a cross-border sanctuary.

Photo: US Army Sgt. Matthew Moeller

The Korengal Valley is located on the border with Pakistan in steep mountains and thick forests where it has served as a major conduit for smugglers for decades, especially during Soviet occupation. The Pakistan side of the border is in the tribal region which has historically served as a recruiting and training ground for terrorists. The valley itself is so inaccessible that the Afghan government temporarily gave up on trying to control it, even before the people began a strong resistance.

The civilian population is largely confrontational toward outsiders.

Photo: US Army Spc. David Jackson

The Americans in the valley found that the Korengalis were even less hospitable to U.S. and NATO forces than those in most of the war torn country. Most of them follow a sect of Islam known for its particularly conservative and hardline attitudes. They also all speak a dialect that not even their neighbors in the Pech River Valley — which Korengal Valley intersects — can understand. In addition, the Korengalis have a history of lumber smuggling and bad blood with other tribes. Meetings between U.S. and Afghan military leaders and tribal elders were generally tense if not confrontational.

The U.S. faced multiple insurgent groups, along with criminal elements.

Photo: US Army

Most NATO units faced opposition from multiple factions in their regions, but the Korengal Valley was a high priority for both the Jamaat al Dawa al Quran, or JDQ, and Al Qaeda. JDQ is suspected of having connections to Pakistani intelligence and both groups are certainly well-funded. In addition, local insurgencies cropped up under former timber barons who lost family members and money when the Americans moved in.

The Taliban often used human shields in battle.

Photo: US Marine Corps Robert M. Storm

Though civilians were used as shields in much of Afghanistan, it was constant in Korengal Valley. Women and children were nearly guaranteed to show up on the roof of any house that came under attack from US forces. Vehicles filled with civilians tested checkpoints, forcing soldiers to choose between firing at potentially unarmed civilians or leaving themselves open to a potential suicide vehicle attack. This drastically limited the ability of U.S. forces to engage the enemy.

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This is what happens when Israelis and Palestinians eat dinner together

In our post for Part 1 of the MRE season finale, we explored how the task of bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together might, in fact, be facilitated by mutual concern over food — specifically the production of olive oil.


Middle Eastern oil, the happy kind. (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Host August Dannehl toured a Palestinian-owned olive farm in the West Bank that was being guided by consultants from the Near East Foundation and USAID’s Olive Oil Without Borders project. Similar aid was being offered to neighboring Israeli olive farmers and, far from begrudging the competition, the Arab farmers seemed relieved just to be able to get on with their livelihoods and happy to wish their Jewish counterparts the same.

In Part 2, Dannehl dives deeper into Israeli military, farm, and food culture, meeting with an Arab gourmet chef who helms a cutting edge restaurant in Tel Aviv, talking to young Israeli Defence Force soldiers about how they view their nation’s foes and learning from diners of both nationalities the frank similarities between Israeli and Palestinian cuisine.

“We’re kind of the same people, you know? We love hummus, they love hummus…” (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Finally, he returns to West Bank olive country, to the farm of Israeli olive oil maker Ayala Meir in order to attend a traditional kibbutz dinner, joined this time by Meir’s family and a number of their Palestinian friends from across the border wall.

Olive oil is culture. It brings people together. This is now the season that Jewish and Arabs and Muslims and Christians meet together. We all love this product. And it’s a way to know our neighbors. Actually an ancient olive tree is many individuals living in the same house. Every branch has a different root system. —Ayala Noy Meir

A toast to friends and neighbors. (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

The recent success of efforts like Olive Oil Without Borders, not to mention the more live-and-let-live worldview that can be found among younger citizens of both nations, gives the world a glimmer of hope that this, one of the thorniest conflicts in human history, may one day be no more than a story neighbors reminisce about around a communal dinner table.

Magic hour in occupied territory. (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Watch as Dannehl finds that hospitality knows no nationality, in the video embedded at the top.

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

Army food will make you feel the feels

This whiskey is a WWII victory, distilled

This is what happens when you run your kitchen like a platoon

This is what it means to be American in Guam

This is how olives could bring peace to the Middle East

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force will double its foreign combat aviation advisors

The U.S. Air Force plans to double the number of Combat Aviation Advisors it sends to train partners on special operations missions at a time when the Defense Department’s footprint in austere environments has come under scrutiny.

Under guidance in the National Defense Strategy, Air Force Special Operations Command is preparing to grow each of its teams, developing a planned total of 352 total force integration advisors over the next few years, officials said. The CAA mission, under Special Operations Command, has about half that now.


“This is really a second line of effort for [Defense] Secretary [Jim] Mattis,” said Lt. Col. Steve Hreczkosij, deputy director of Air Advisor operations at AFSOC.

Military.com spoke with Combat Aviation Advisors here during a trip to the base in May 2018, accompanying Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

“This is AFSOC’s foreign internal defense force,” Hreczkosij said, referring to the U.S. mission to provide support to other governments fighting internal threats such as terrorists, lawlessness or drug activity.

The goal is to sustain five year-round advisory sites around the world by fiscal 2023, Hreczkosij said.

“That might mean five countries, that might mean five major lines of effort … but that is our resourcing strategy goal to influence five locations,” he said.

An elite unit

The expansion comes at a time when the U.S. military is operating in smaller teams in remote regions of the world such as Africa and Southeast Asia. But the move doesn’t necessarily indicate plans to work in additional countries and the idea isn’t to make the force permanent.

Still, officials know it takes time to train partners and allies, such as the Afghan National Security Forces, who are employing A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft as well as Pilatus PC-12NG planes converted into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.

Four A-29 Super Tucanos arrive at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)

While Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command work with partner nations in similar ways, Combat Aviation Advisors are the U.S. military’s most advanced team to train foreign partners battling tough scenarios, said Lt. Col. Cheree Kochen, who is assigned to the Irregular Warfare Plans division at the Air Force Special Operations Warfare Center.

That’s why their mission is unlike the basic training Afghan and Lebanese pilots get learning how to fly the A-29 Super Tucano at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Kochen said.

“This is the advanced flying — flying on night-vision goggles, airdrop, infiltration and exfiltration” as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, she said.

“We are authorized to get in partner nation aircraft and fly on their missions,” Hreczkosij said. “We integrate, we embed. We live in their squadron building. Our approach is an enduring and integrated approach to make sure they really embed this technique, mission or equipment into how they do business.”

The air commando unit also sets the agenda for how host nation troops should learn and equip themselves based on U.S. and host nation goals.

“We also do security force assistance, which is kind of the catch-all term for mil-to-mil partnerships,” Hreczkosij said. “We provide that last tactical mile.”

The support is “about SOF mobility, ISR advising and armed reconnaissance. We’re certainly not dropping bombs,” he said, adding, “it’s not an attacking sort of mission. It’s more of a ‘target of opportunity,’ then you can see it.”

Why not contractors?

Not all partnerships are the same. NATO special operations forces and those in more austere environments vary in training, skill level and mission set, officials said.

Countries CAA troops regularly deal with include Afghanistan, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritania, Mali, Tunisia, Chad, and the Philippines.

“We don’t care what type of airplane our partners are flying,” Hreczkosij said.

The unit is, however, looking to acquire more C-208s, dubbed AC-208s when equipped with Hellfire missiles, here at Hurlburt to practice on and or take as trainer aircraft to countries eager to build a force of their own.

AGM-114N Hellfire missile
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Weston A. Mohr)

The unit commonly uses PC-6, C-208 and PC-12NG ISR aircraft; C-145/M-28, BT-67 and C-308 mobility aircraft; and AT-802, AC-235, and AC-208 armed recon aircraft.

Kochen said an upcoming project includes operations in Nepal, in which advisers are taking C-145 Skytrucks retired from nearby Duke Field in Florida and giving members maintenance training before aerial operations begin.

It isn’t uncommon for contractors to have a role in host nation troops’ basic pilot training either in the U.S. or overseas, she said.

But using contractors lacks “the integrated piece. It’s why we try to partner with a ground SOF unit so we can tie the two together. Contractors don’t necessarily have those relationships with the ground SOF that we do,” Kochen said.

Hreczkosij agreed. “Contractors aren’t in the current fight, so they don’t get the current [tactics, techniques, and procedures] with other forces in the field, and they don’t always have the trust of the partner nation,” he said. “If I’m sitting across from, say, an airman in sub-Saharan Africa … and we’re both wearing a uniform, we have a common understanding.”

Without naming the region, Kochen discussed a case in which contractors were overly bullish about their training, sometimes anticipating that the foreign trainees could learn faster on an aircraft than they actually could. It’s led to a few crashes in recent years because “the country was doing tactics that were a little bit dangerous for them for their skill level,” she said.

Hreczkosij added, “There’s a place for contractors. It’s just not in this place.”

Standing on their own

AFSOC’s 6th Special Operations Squadron, along with the Reserve’s 711th Special Operations Squadron out of Duke Field, make up the only Combat Aviation Advisor mission in the Air Force.

There are 16 Air Force Specialty Codes within the mission, including instructors, pilots, maintainers, and Tactical Air Control Party airmen, among others. Team members can speak more than a dozen different languages.

While the job dates back to World War II, the unit’s true genesis dates to Vietnam, Hreczkosij said, when the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron was dispatched to Southeast Asia to train the Vietnamese and Cambodian air forces to leverage older aircraft in counter-insurgency and military assistance during the war.

B-26B over Vietnam.

It wasn’t until the 1990s when the Air Force would again start using air commandos as a foreign internal defense force for operations across the globe.

Both Hreczkosij and Kochen were part of the 6th SOS before moving to the Air Force Special Operations Warfare Center headquarters and have been in the mission for more than a decade.

Kochen said CAAs want to work with as many countries as they can, but are turning away work due to demand.

“We get a long list, and we can only do one-third of what we’re being asked to do,” she said.

The dwell-deployment rate, however, is on par with the Air Force’s current deployment schedule, Hreczkosij said, adding the units are not overtasked at this time.

Kochen reiterated that their work goes only so far before the foreign partner has to step in and take over. “There’s no point in sending guys over” to a country they’ve been working with for a while, such as Afghanistan, because “our guys would only be getting in their way,” she said, referring to training the Afghan Special Mission Wing on PC-12NG ISR operations.

“Thirty months later here, they are doing 15 sorties per day and night, providing a combat effect to the organic larger Afghan air force,” Hreczkosij said of the Afghan ISR unit.

“They’re able to give their guys check rides without us being there anymore,” Kochen said. “We give them a capability that we can just leave and hopefully they can just fight their own wars.

“That’s the goal. That we don’t have to send U.S. forces over there. The goal is to set up a sustaining, capable unit that can continue doing that same mission,” she said.

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

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That time the Coast Guard tried using pigeons for sea rescues

Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, the Coast Guard thought they had a better way to search for people lost in the ocean. They tested using pigeons affixed to the underside of helicopters.


Yes, like the pigeons in the park. And, yes, it did work. The birds performed about twice as well as their human counterparts at spotting “appropriate targets” on their first pass over an area.

The pigeons performed amazingly at spotting debris in the ocean but were only trained on orange, yellow, and red objects. Photo: US Coast Guard archives

The pigeons involved in Project Sea Hunt, as the effort was known, were first sent to “basic training.” For obvious reasons, about the only thing pigeon basic shared with human basic was the name.

Pigeons were placed in training chambers with “peck keys” that released food when pressed. Once the pigeons got the hang of the keys, their training boxes would be faced toward Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where a buoy with a radio-operated orange plate floated. Trainers would expose the orange plate and then reward the pigeon when it hit the keys, but wouldn’t feed the pigeons if the plate wasn’t exposed.

Over time, the target would be moved further away from the pigeons to train them to look further out to sea.

Once the pigeons passed basic training, the top graduates would proceed to advanced training where the pigeons were actually placed in chambers mounted beneath a helicopter and had to find orange, yellow, and red objects in the ocean. Each bird covered a 120-degree window, so a pod with three pigeons could see in 360 degrees.

A pigeon is loaded into its pod during training in Project Sea Hunt. Photo: US Coast Guard archives

In testing on the helicopter, the pigeons spotted targets on the first pass 90 percent of the time. The human crewmembers were capable of finding the target on the first pass only 38 percent of the time. In a later test, when the humans knew they were trying to catch up to the pigeons, the humans scored a 50.

In passes where both humans and the pigeons spotted the target, the pigeon spotted it first 84 percent of the time. The pigeons were proving to be amazing day-time searchers.

There were a few drawbacks to the use of pigeons. First, the weight of the pigeons had to be carefully maintained. Pigeons at 80 percent of their “free food” weight were generally hungry enough to search the ocean for hours without losing focus. Dropping below that weight threatened the pigeons’ health but going above it would reduce their effectiveness.

And there was one tragedy in the program. A flight was sent to hunt for a missing boat and the helicopter stayed out too long. It ran out of fuel and conducted a forced landing at sea. The crew escaped with no injuries but they couldn’t get the pigeons out in time.

A second batch of pigeons was sent through training to both replace the lost pigeons and to increase the number of pigeons available for missions.

The small bubble on the bottom of this helicopter contains three pigeons trained to spot life rafts. Photo: US Coast Guard archives

Overall, Project Sea Hunt was so successful that a 1981 audit of the program recommended that the pigeons serve at a Coast Guard air station on proper missions and that new pods be developed so that the birds could fly on newer helicopters. Federal budget cuts resulted in the program being shuttered instead.

Advances in technology have made the pigeons less necessary. Planes designed to hunt subs using magnets are much better at finding plane debris than pigeons ever were, and improved homing beacons for rafts and wrecks make the job of scanning miles of ocean less necessary.

Still, there’s a niche that pigeons could still fill better than almost any gadgets, that of looking for orange rafts and flotation devices in the open ocean.

(More photos and background on the program are available at the Coast Guard’s web page for Project Sea Hunt.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Grape juice was once the unofficial drink of the Navy

When you think “military beverage,” three things typically come to mind: coffee, beer, and energy drinks. But did you know that around the turn of the century, grape juice was the drink of choice among troops? That’s right. For roughly twenty years, everyone from sailors to soldiers to Marines couldn’t get enough of the purple stuff.

Grape juice reigned supreme during the times of the temperance movement and Prohibition, but it wasn’t just because troops couldn’t drink booze. There were plenty of other reasons for troops to reach for the good stuff.


Seems fitting. Every time you drink your “cup of Joe” you’re actually mocking a much despised and highly controversial Navy secretary.

(U.S. Navy)

Welch’s grape juice first came about in 1869 when the American physician and dentist, Thomas Bramwell Welch, invented a method of pasteurizing grape juice to halt the fermentation process, preventing it from turning into wine. The result was non-alcoholic and more suitable for church services. Then, it caught on with the temperance movement crowd — long before Prohibition took effect.

On June 1st, 1914, General Order 99 — which banned alcohol on all Navy vessels and installations — was instituted and, as you might expect, sailors lost their minds. They were left with two options: coffee or juice.

From that moment on, sailors referred to their coffee as “cups of Joe,” named after the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels. The slang was adapted as an insult to the man who took away their booze. But sailors couldn’t just constantly chug java — they needed something rich in much-needed vitamins, and fruit juice was the answer.

Welch’s caught on to the trend and doubled down in lending support to the troops. It was a massive success. The sailors loved grape juice and it quickly became a coveted commodity aboard naval vessels.

A few years later, during World War I, Welch’s turned their Concord grapes into a jam called “Grapelade” and sent it to the troops overseas. Once again, the delicious, fruity goodness was a smash hit among the troops. When the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution was put in place in 1919, effectively disallowing booze across all branches of service, troops took a page from the Navy’s playbook and turned to grape juice.

But troops weren’t just drinking it for the taste — it provided a number of health benefits, too, as outlined in the video above.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia plays dumb amid U.S. claims of missing missile

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has dismissed a report by a U.S. television network that Russia lost a nuclear-powered missile in the Barents Sea during 2017 and is launching an operation to get it back.

CNBC reported on Aug. 21, 2018, that the nuclear-powered missile remains lost at sea after a failed test in late 2017.


The television network also reported that Russian crews were preparing to try to recover the missing missile, which it said was lost during a test launch in November 2017.

The report said three ships would be involved in the recovery operation — including one that is equipped to handle radioactive material from the core of the missile.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov said on Aug. 22, 2018, “In contrast to the U.S. television network, I have no such information,” adding that journalists with questions should contact specialists at the Defense Ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged about the new type of missile in March 2018, announcing that it had “unlimited range.”

Featured image: Vladimir Putin watching a military exercise of the Northern Fleet from the nuclear missile submarine Karelia.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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This animation shows every nuclear bomb explosion in history

Just how many times has a nuclear bomb been detonated? The number is much higher than many people might guess.


The video below reveals a staggering total — and it is a subject that is out of mind, largely because all but two of the times that nuclear weapons have detonated were tests. Furthermore, the United States hasn’t even conducted a test since 1992.

To put that into perspective, in that year, Major League Baseball still had only 26 teams. The NFL was at only 28 teams, and Cleveland still had the original Cleveland Browns while the Los Angeles Rams were still three years away from their two-decade sojurn in St. Louis. Michael Jordan and the Bulls were two-thirds of the way through their first three-peat.

This video takes about three minutes — and after it, you should come away feeling sobered at just how many times the most powerful weapon in human history has exploded, and thankful that it has only been used in anger twice.

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This is why the Air Force is replacing JSTARS

When the B-52 is over 60 years old, and a large number of F-15 Eagles are over 30, it seems surprising that the Air Force is looking to replace a plane that won’t even be in service for twenty years until later this year.


However, according to an Air Force News Service article, the Air Force is looking to replace the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, which didn’t achieve its initial operating capability until December 1997 according to an Air Force fact sheet. This plane is an all-seeing eye that looks for and tracks ground targets, using the AN/APY-7, a 24-foot long synthetic aperture radar, according to a Northrop Grumman data sheet.

The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is a joint Air Force – Army program. The Joint STARS uses a multi-mode side looking radar to detect, track, and classify moving ground vehicles in all conditions deep behind enemy lines. The aircraft is the only airborne platform in operation that can maintain realtime surveillance over a corps-sized area of the battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Cuomo)

So, why is this system, which isn’t even old enough to drink, suddenly planned for replacement? The answer is in the airframe.

The E-8, like the E-3 Sentry, is based on the Boeing 707, a jet that first flew just over 59 years ago. With the exception of Omega Aerial Refueling Services, nobody operates this aircraft commercially.

Furthermore, according to a 2015 FlightGlobal.com report, the E-8s were produced by acquiring second-hand 707s. A September 2016 Air Force report noted that those second-hand 707s had as many as 60,000 flight hours before they had been purchased for conversion.

One JSTARS that had to be written off was built in 1967, according to DefenseTech.org.

Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron conduct a post-flight systems check on an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System Oct. 20, 2016, following a mission supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. JSTARS uses its communications and radar systems to support ground attack units and direct air support throughout the area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miles Wilson)

In other words, these are old airframes and they’ve had a lot of use – even before the Air Force gave the 16-plane fleet over 1 million flight hours collectively (as of this past September). That is an average of 62,500 flight hours per plane — meaning that some of the E-8 aircraft could have in excess of 120,000 total flight hours.

That’s the equivalent of 5,000 days in the air.

What is the Air Force looking towards in replacing the E-8C? The JSTARS recapitalization project is likely to involve a smaller jet. According to a 2014 report by Aviation Week and Space Technology, Northrop Grumman is testing a new JSTARS based off a Gulfstream V business jet.

Boeing’s web site is touting a version of the 737 jet as its entry, attempting to partially piggyback on experience with the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon.

Reports indicate the Air Force plans to start retiring the JSTARS in 2019.

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This is the new super fighter from Russia

While the F-35 got a lot of attention for its debut at the Paris Air Show, the Russians were quietly promoting one of their upcoming attractions.


According to a report from DefenseTech,org, the  MiG-35 “Fulcrum F” is slated to make its big debut at the MAKS international air show in Russia in July 2017.

The plane has been in development since 2007, when an initial prototype flew at an air show in Bangalore, India. MiG claims that this fighter has also been developed for very austere operation conditions.

The MiG-35 is an upgraded version of the MiG-29. (Photo from migavia.ru)

“It can take off from a very short lane, take off and land on unprepared airfields, and can be stored without a hangar for a period of a few months,” MiG publicist Anastasia Kravchenko said through an interpreter. “And it’s important and we consider this to be somewhat of a record, if needed, the engines of the MiG-35 could be swapped in the conditions of active operations within the framework of 58 minutes.”

The MiG-35 is an evolution of the MiG-29, a lightweight multi-role fighter that has been in service since 1983 with the Russians. Photos released by MiG show that the MiG-35 has eight under-wing hardpoints for air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, bombs, rockets, and other ordnance.

Hardpoints for days. (Photo from migavia.ru)

By comparison, MilitaryFactory.com notes that the MiG-29 has six under-wing hardpoints. The MiG-29 was widely exported, and notably saw combat with Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, and Yugoslavia. Other countries that acquire the MiG-29 include Peru, India, North Korea, Algeria, Cuba, and Myanmar.

MilitaryFactory.com reports that the MiG-35 has a top speed of 1,491 miles per hour, can fly up to 1,243 miles, and can climb 65,000 feet in a minute. The MiG-35 has been ordered by Egypt in addition to the Russian Air Force, with China, Peru, and Vietnam all rumored to be potential export customers.

The MiG-35 at the MAKS air show in 2007. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

You can see what the hype is about in the video below.

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Russia is about to launch this massive military exercise as tensions with west simmer

Russia is preparing to mount what could be one of its biggest military exercises since the Cold War, a display of power that will be watched warily by NATO against a backdrop of east-west tensions.


Western officials and analysts estimate up to 100,000 military personnel and logistical support troops could participate in the Zapad (West) 17 exercise, which will take place next month in Belarus, Kaliningrad, and Russia itself. Moscow puts the number significantly lower.

The exercise, to be held from Sept. 14-20, comes against a backdrop of strained relations between Russia and the US. Congress recently imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Moscow in response to allegations of interference in the 2016 US election.

The first of the Russian troops are scheduled to arrive in Belarus in mid-August.

Putin meets with Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces and First Deputy Defence Minister Valery Gerasimov and Belarusian Defence Minister Yury Zhadobin, 2013. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Moscow has portrayed Zapad 17 as a regular exercise, held every four years, planned long ago and not a reaction to the latest round of sanctions.

NATO headquarters in Brussels said it had no plans to respond to the maneuvers by deploying more troops along the Russian border.

A NATO official said: “NATO will closely monitor exercise Zapad 17, but we are not planning any large exercises during Zapad 17. Our exercises are planned long in advance and are not related to the Russian exercise.”

The US vice-president, Mike Pence, discussed Zapad 17 during a visit to Estonia in July and raised the possibility of deploying the US Patriot missile defense system in the country. The US may deploy extra troops to eastern Europe during the course of the exercise and delay the planned rotation of others.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander, US Army Europe, is awarded the German Federal Armed Forces Golden Cross of Honor by German Lt. Gen. Joerg Vollmer, the chief of staff of the German Army. Photo courtesy of US Army.

The commander of US Army Europe, Lt Gen Ben Hodges, told a press conference in Hungary in July: “Everybody that lives close to the western military district is a little bit worried because they hear about the size of the exercise.”

The Russian armed forces have undergone rapid modernisation over the last decade and Zapad offers them a chance to train en masse.

Moscow blames growing west-east tensions on the expansion of NATO eastwards and in recent years the deployment of more NATO forces in countries bordering Russia. NATO says the increased deployments are in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2013.

Russia has not said how many troops will participate in Zapad 17, but the Russian ambassador to NATO , Aleksander Grushko, said it was not envisioned that any of the maneuvers would involve more than 13,000 troops, the limit at which Russia – under an international agreement – would be obliged to allow military from other countries to observe the exercise.

Zapad 13. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Russia could, theoretically, divide the exercise into separate parts in order to keep below the 13,000 limit. Western analysts said the last Zapad exercise in 2013 involved an estimated 70,000 military and support personnel, even though Russia informed NATO in the run-up it would not exceed 13,000.

Igor Sutyagin, co-author of Russia’s New Ground Forces, to be officially published on September 20 said, “unfortunately, you can’t trust what the Russians say.” He said, “one hundred thousand is probably exaggerated, but 18,000 is absolutely realistic.”

He did not envisage an attack on the Baltic states, given they are members of NATO . “Well, there are easier ways to commit suicide,” he said. But Putin is a master at doing the unexpected, he said, and Russia could take action elsewhere, such as taking more land in Georgia.

Zapad 13. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

In a joint paper published in May, Col Tomasz Kowalik, a former special assistant to the chairman of NATO’s military committee and a director at the Polish ministry of national defense, and Dominik Jankowski, a senior official at the Polish ministry of foreign affairs, wrote that Russia had ordered 4,000 rail cars to transport its troops to Belarus and estimated that could amount to 30,000 military personnel.

Adding in troops already in place in Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad as well as troops arriving by air, it might be the largest Russian exercise since 1991.

NATO said its biggest exercise this year, Trident Javelin 17, running from Nov. 8-17, would involve only 3,000 troops. Trident Javelin 17 is to prepare for next year’s bigger exercise, Trident Juncture 2018, which will involve an estimated 35,000 troops.

Zapad 13. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

The NATO official added: “We have increased our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its military buildup in the region. We have four multinational NATO battle-groups in place in the Baltic states and Poland, a concrete reminder that an attack on one ally is an an attack on all. However, NATO’s force posture is not in reaction to Zapad 17.”

During the Cold War, Zapad was the biggest training exercise of the Soviet Union and involved an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 personnel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was resurrected in 1999 and has been held every four years since.

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This is how Israeli pilots saw the Six-Day War

Fifty years ago, Israel was backed into a corner. Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran – essentially denying Israel access to the Red Sea. The situation was dire, and Israel knew it had to act.


On June 5, 1967, Israel launched Operation Focus. The objective was to neutralize the Arab air forces, particularly those from Egypt. According to the Israeli Air Force web site, the operation was a smashing success.

You can now see that operation — as well as other parts of the Six-Day War — the way Israeli Defense Force pilots saw it.

During that war, the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on air fields and other ground targets. They also were in a fair number of dogfights. The best plane the Israelis had at that time was the Dassault Mirage III, a single-seat fighter that had a top speed of 1,312 miles per hour, a range of 1,000 miles, and the ability to carry up to 8,800 pounds of ordnance along with two 30mm cannon.

An Israeli Mirage III at a museum. Giora Epstein scored the first of his 17 kills, a Su-7, in a Mirage III. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Six-Day War saw Israeli Mirage IIIs take on MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-19 Farmerss, Hawker Hunters, MiG-17 Frescos, Su-7 Fitters, Il-28 Beagles, and a variety of transports and helicopters.

The Israelis lost 46 aircraft and 24 pilots, but in return had killed almost 400 enemy planes, and had control of the skies within hours of the conflict starting.

You can see what it was like for Israeli pilots in the video below, taken from the Israeli gun camera films. The compilation starts with the airfield strikes that were part of Operation Focus. Not just bomb runs, but also the strafing passes on aircraft that were caught on the ground.

The gun-camera footage then shows the Israeli pilots as they score kills in dogfights. Finally, the video shows the interdiction strikes against Arab ground forces.

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This horse racing track used to be a WWII Japanese Internment Camp

Arcadia, California’s beautiful Santa Anita Racetrack had a different name in 1942: The Santa Anita Assembly Center.  It was the largest assembly point for Japanese-Americans on the U.S. West coast as they were forced into internment camps. 19,000 people passed through here on their way to the camps.


Track Today (Photo: Rennett Stowe, Wikimedia Commons)

In February 1942,then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, ordering Japanese Americans to be interned in camps along the west coast. While these camps were being built, those who would be interned were housed at assembly centers like Santa Anita, living in converted horse stalls and other hastily built structures. Santa Anita was guarded, surrounded with barbed wire and filled with searchlights to light the dark nights. In all 110,000 Japanese-Americans were interned on short-notice, closing farms and businesses and abandoning their homes. Eventually, some even enlisted in the Army.

Living quarters were made out of abandoned horse stalls (LA Public Library Photo)

Internees at Santa Anita were told to bring blankets and linens, toiletries, clothing, dishes and cookware, and anything else they could carry. They were forbidden from having anything written in Japanese. The people of Santa Anita developed a large internal economy, complete with jobs, businesses, and a local newspaper. They developed a unique culture of music, arts, and softball teams.

The $2 betting window becomes the circulation desk for the camp library (LA Public Library)

In September 1942, those in Santa Anita were moved to other camps. By November 1942, Santa Anita was completely emptied of internees and then became an Army training camp.

Lily Okuru, an internee, poses with the Seabiscuit statue at Santa Anita Recetrack in 1942 (US government photo)

In 1944, the Supreme Court struck down the government’s ability to hold Americans indefinitely and the internees were released. The last of all the camps closed in 1946 and the U.S. government has since paid $1.6 billion in reparations. Now, a simple plaque near the track’s entrance is the only reminder of its place in the history of WWII.

In the video below, James Tsutsui of Laguna Woods, California discusses his experiences at Santa Anita Racetrack during World War II.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=257v=RjVcZLNiCKU

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6 things to know about the VA home loan

The Veterans Affairs home loan can be incredibly confusing, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information found on the VA website. So we have broken it down into six basic questions for you: who, what, when, where, why, and how?


*As always, when making decisions that impact your personal finances, make sure you’re sitting down with a financial advisor. Most banks have financial advisors on staff who are always willing to work with customers.

Veterans Affairs employs assessors and appraisers to ensure that each home purchased by service members is priced correctly.(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Glassey, 4th Inf. Div. PAO)

1. Who:

Lendee eligibility is determined by service status:

Active duty personnel must have served a minimum of 90 continuous days to be eligible

Reserve or guard members must:

  • have six years of service in the selected reserve or National Guard, and
  • be discharged honorably, or
  • have been placed on the retired list, or
  • have been transferred to Standby Reserve or to an element of Ready Reserve (other than the Selected Reserve after service characterized as honorable), or
  • still be servicing in the Selected Reserve

Spouses can be eligible as well.

2. What:

The VA home loan program is a benefit for eligible service members and veterans to help them in the process of becoming homeowners by guaranteeing them the ability to acquire a loan through a private lender.

Utilizing the VA home loan, lendees do not make a down payment and are not required to pay monthly mortgage insurance, though they are required to pay a funding fee. This fee varies by lender, depends on the loan amount, and can change depending on the type of loan, your service situation, whether you are a first time or return lendee, and whether you opt to make a down payment.

The fee may be financed through the loan or paid for out of pocket, but must be paid by the close of the sale.

The fee for returning lendees and for National Guard and members of the reserve pay a slightly higher fee.

The fee may also be waived if you are:

  • a veteran receiving compensation for a service related disability, or
  • a veteran who would be eligible to receive compensation for a service related disability but does not because you are receiving retirement or active duty pay, or
  • are the surviving spouse of a veteran who died in service or from a service related disability.

3. When:

Lendees may utilize the loan program during or after honorable active duty service, or after six years of select reserve or National Guard service.

4. Where:

Eligible lendees may use the VA home loan in any of the 50 states or United States territories

5. Why:

Veterans Affairs helps service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses to purchase a home. The VA home loan itself does not come from the VA, but rather through participating lenders, i.e. banks and mortgage companies. With VA guaranteeing the lendee a certain amount for the loan, lenders are able to provide more favorable terms.

6. How:

Eligible lendees should talk to their lending institution as each institution has its own requirements for how to acquire the loan.