The author served as a Navy Corpsman with Marines in Sangin, Afghanistan.
The primary mission of a U.S. Marine infantry rifle squad is to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver or to repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat. This mission statement is branded into each infantryman’s brain and consistently put to practical use when the grunts are deployed to the front lines.
In the event a Marine infantry squad takes enemy contact, the squad leader will order the machine-gunners to relocate themselves to an area to return fire and win the battle for weapon superiority. The squad leader will also inform his fire team leaders of the situation and they’ll deploy their two riflemen and SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) gunner to a strategic area — getting them into the fight.
Once they have a fix on the enemies’ position, they’ll call the mortar platoon to “bring the rain.”
At literally the flip of a switch, troops go from having a cold weapon system to knocking a fully automatic weapon, bringing death to the bad guys at the pull of a trigger.
This sounds super cool, right? Well, it kind of is when you’ve experienced the situation first hand. We understand that having a fully automatic machine gun gives troops a commanding advantage, but when you look at how ground pounders are trained to fire the weapon system, the rate of fire nearly mirrors that of an M4’s after a few bursts.
They can get trigger happy
For the most part, grunts love to take contact from the enemy when they are locked and loaded. When you’ve trained for months to take the fight to the enemy, nothing feels better than getting to fire your weapon at the bad guys. However, it’s not uncommon for machine-gunners to squeeze their triggers and fire off more than the recommended four to six rounds.
We’d also like to add that the feeling of sending accurate rounds down range is fun as f*ck! Unfortunately, infantrymen often lose their bearing and keep the trigger compressed and end up wasting ammo.
Negligent discharges can be worse
Most times, a negligent discharge means you accidentally fired one round from your rifle or pistol. For a troop carrying a fully automatic weapon, the negligent discharge can be much more violent and dangerous. Instead of firing off one round accidentally, you can fire two or three.
We understand that the M16 has both semi-automatic (one round at a time) and burst (three shots at a time) firing capabilities. But it’s more unlikely you’ll ND on the burst setting than the semi-automatic one.
Remember when we said troops can get trigger happy? Hopefully, you do, because we just mentioned it a few minutes ago. When grunts do get trigger happy, their weapons systems can overheat. To combat the overheating, troops must change out their barrel in order to stay in the fight.
Which takes precious firefight time that you won’t get back.
It can lower accuracy
Machine guns are very, very powerful weapons. They can kill the enemy positioned beyond the maximum effective range of an M4 and M16. Sounds awesome, right? Well, it is.
Unfortunately, since they are very powerful, when the mobile operator fires the weapon, the recoil will bring the rifle’s barrel up and off target. This mainly happens when the ground pounder gets trigger happy. In a firefight, mistakes need to be kept to a minimum or people can die.
Arab armies have never had good luck fighting Israel. Israeli independence should have been a long shot in the first place, but they were just too good for the neighboring Arab countries. In 1967, when Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran, a move Israel flat-out told Egypt would cause a war, Egypt was ready for Israel – on paper, anyway. That war lasted six days. Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq together could not bring the IDF down.
But in 1973, they were going to try again and this time, it was going to be a surprise.
Even though the Egyptians experienced initial successes, the real surprise would be getting their asses handed to them.
Israel was largely unprepared for two-pronged invasion through the Sinai from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria for many reasons. Israeli intelligence knew about troop build-ups but wrote them off as training maneuvers. It was the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, after all. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir ignored a warning from King Hussein of Jordan, the IDF ignored the fact that Soviet advisors left Egypt and Syria with their families, so when Yom Kippur, the holiest day for the Jewish religion, came around, the Israelis let their guard down.
That’s when the Arabs attacked.
Some 100,000 Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal with 1,300 tanks and 2,000 artillery guns, all protected by an umbrella of surface-to-air missile batteries to keep the Israeli Air Force – the reason the Arabs lost the Six-Day War – at bay. Facing the Egyptians were only 290 Israeli tanks housed in a scattering of fortresses along the canal, inadequate defenses to hold the Peninsula. Luckily for Israel, the Egyptians seemed to slow down when they approached the end of the SAM batteries’ range. This lull would prove critical to the Arab defeat.
The Israelis at first concentrated on the Syrian invasion, considering it posed a much more vital threat to Israeli heartland, while the fighting with Egypt remained largely in the Sinai Peninsula. Once the Syrians were forced back and were on the defensive, the IDF was able to turn its attention to the Egyptian invaders. The Egyptians had just attempted to advance beyond their SAM shield by throwing a thousand tanks at reinforced Israeli defenses. Its losses were mounting and the time was right for a counterattack. It turns out the surprise that had allowed for Egypt’s initial successes was also the reason for its eventual defeat.
With so many Israelis at home for the holiday, the roads were remarkably clear, making it so much easier for Israeli reserves to activate and get to where they needed to be. After detecting a gap in the Egyptian lines, the Israelis planned their counterattack. Once the Israeli reserve forces were in place, they waited for a way to reduce Egypt’s armor strength before pouring through the gap and invading Egypt across the Suez. When Egypt threw its armor at Israeli defenses, that gave the IDF the chance it needed.
Israeli tanks crossing the Suez in a surprise move of their own.
Commandos and tanks started striking surface radar and SAM sites, allowing the Israeli Air Force to operate with greater impunity. Instead of standing their ground, the Egyptians withdrew their SAM batteries, leaving their forces defenseless from the air. Israeli troops began to flow across the Suez Canal, hitting artillery positions, defensive fortifications, and even driving on major cities. The IDF advanced within 100 kilometers of Cairo before a UN-imposed cease-fire took effect, occupying 1,600 square kilometers of Egypt’s territory, and no defenses standing between the IDF and the Egyptian capital.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Third Army was completely cut off from resupply and surrounded, surely to be annihilated if the fighting continued. The Arab armies were humiliated by Israel once again, in just two short weeks. This time, however, would be the last time. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter successfully negotiated an end to hostilities between Egypt and Israel, an accord that has never been broken and may not ever have happened without the surprise defeat of Egypt in 1973.
As a rookie with the Los Angeles Police Department, Charles Bennett was sitting in his squad car with his white partner when the senior officer turned to Bennett and said, “You’re not black, I’m not white — we’re blue. And trust me; if something ever happens to you at 3 o’clock in the morning, they’re going to call guys, and they’re not going to care what color or nationality you are. They’re going to roll out here and solve the problem and win. We’re going to find out whoever hurt you, and we’re going to arrest them and do what we have to do.”
Those words resonated with Bennett 10 years later when he found himself answering the call to bring justice after a fellow officer’s death.
Charles Bennett retired in 2010 after serving 33 years on the LAPD. Photo courtesy of Charles Bennett.
Bennett started with the LAPD in 1977 and spent his last 10 years as a supervisor within the LAPD’s elite Special Investigation Section (SIS). The SIS completed surveillance on suspected criminals for all of the LAPD’s units and sometimes neighboring departments. Bennett said that his unit had a 99% conviction rate because of the airtight cases they built by observing the suspects planning the robbery, and sometimes watching the crime happen and making an arrest immediately after.
During his 33-year career, he rose through the ranks to detective three, which is a specialized detective who is considered a subject matter expert within the LAPD. He specialized in robbery and tracking down cop killers. One case in particular has always stood out in his mind.
Mylus Mondy was a US Customs and Border Protection agent who was murdered March 9, 2008. Mondy had just left his shift at the Los Angeles International Airport and had stopped by a Bank of America ATM in Ladera Heights, an unincorporated area in Los Angeles.
A robber was holding someone at gunpoint at the ATM location when Mondy went to withdraw from the ATM. When he saw Mondy, the robber struck him on the head with the pistol and demanded money. When Mondy tried to get away, he was shot and killed him.
Bennett’s team was called in to bring the murderer to justice. The team spent approximately a day and half chasing down leads, gathering evidence, and identifying different addresses to surveil.
Bennett supervised while one of his rookies in SIS sat “on the point,” gathering information on traffic to and from one of the locations, scanning for their suspect, and collecting every little detail that might lead to an arrest. Suddenly, the rookie broke radio silence to report, “Boss, it’s No. 1, and he’s on the move.”
Footage from the security camera footage at the ATM where US Customs and Border Protection agent Mylus Mondy was shot and killed. Photo courtesy of Charles Bennett.
Bennett asked if he was absolutely sure.
“I’m 1,000% sure,” the new officer fired back. Bennett ordered his man to let the suspect turn the corner and avoid alerting him of their presence in front of his house. Bennett knew others might be inside the suspect’s house and, if alerted, would destroy any evidence the SIS unit would need to finalize charges against him.
As 23-year-old McKenzie Carl Bryant turned the corner, the SIS team waited patiently. Once there was a good cushion of distance between Bryant and his house, they brought down the hammer and arrested him.
“That guy is doing life without possibility of parole now, and you know, it was a really good feeling,” Bennett said of Bryant’s arrest. “You understand that you just got justice for a fellow officer who you didn’t know. You didn’t need to know him because you knew he was out there doing his job the best he could, and he didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
Footage from the security camera footage at the ATM where US Customs and Border Protection agent Mylus Mondy was shot and killed. Photo courtesy of Charles Bennett.
The all-hands-on-deck approach to cases like Mondy’s murder is what Bennett enjoyed most about working within SIS, as well as their ability to remain silent professionals. He said there were officers who worked on tracing leads and then fed verified information to the officers conducting ground surveillance. Though some LAPD units knew what SIS was doing, the unit largely remained anonymous. The LAPD command handled press conferences regarding the work of the SIS unit but never named them.
“We always go to the fallen officer’s funeral, which is always sad,” Bennett said.
In another case, Bennett helped arrest three of the five men responsible for the death of an officer.
“There were a lot of people quietly slapping us on the back, including the chief,” he said.
In those times of sadness, the quiet slaps on the back brought back that “good feeling.” While they couldn’t change what happened, at least they had achieved some kind of justice for the fallen officer and their family.
An engineer at the respected RAND Corporation has a suggestion for small countries that want to keep their enemies at bay but can’t afford a proper navy: use loads of sea mines and drones. It seems obvious, but the advice could prevent America getting dragged into a world war.
Explosive ordnance disposal technicians simulate the destruction of a submerged mine.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles White)
Engineer Scott Savitz names a few countries in his RAND post, such as Bahrain, Taiwan, and the Republic of Georgia, two American allies and a potential future member of NATO. While all of them spend significant portions of their GDP on defense, they are all also potential targets of larger neighbors with much larger navies.
So, it’s in the best interest of these countries (and the U.S.) if those countries can find a way to stave off potential invasions. RAND’s suggestion is to spend money on mines and drones, which require much more money to defeat than they cost to create. This could cripple an invading fleet or deter it entirely.
While mines are a tried and true — but frowned upon — platform dating back centuries, modern naval tactics give them short shrift. Unmanned drones in water, air, and on land, however, are reaching maturity.
A Royal Norwegian Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Commando collects information during a mine-countermeasure dive during exercise Arctic Specialist 2018.
The idea is for the smaller nations to build up mine-laying fleets that go on regular training missions, laying fake mines in potentially vulnerable waters. This would create two major problems for invading nations: An enemy force capable of quickly saturating the water with mines as well as thousands of decoys that would hamper mine-clearing vessels.
And, mine clearance requires warships to sail relatively predictable patterns, allowing the defending nation to better predict where invading forces will have vulnerable ships.
The drones, meanwhile, could be used for laying mines, directly attacking enemy ships, conducting electronic surveillance, or even slipping into enemy ports to attack them in their “safe spaces” — a sort of Doolittle Raid for the robot age. They could even be used to target troop transports.
While the Russian, Iranian, and Chinese Navies are much larger than their Georgian, Bahrain, and Taiwanese counterparts, they don’t have much sea-lift capability, meaning that the loss of even a couple of troop ships could doom a potential invasion.
All of these factors could combine to convince invading forces to keep their ships at home, or at least slow the attacking force, meaning that reinforcements from the U.S. or other allied forces could arrive before an amphibious landing is achieved.
It’s easier to contest a landing than it is to throwback an already-fortified foothold.
A underwater drone used to measure salinity, temperature, and depth information is recovered by the U.S. Navy during normal operations.
For Bahrain and Taiwan, both island nations, ensuring that an enemy can’t land on their coast nearly protects them from invasion. As long as their air forces and air defenses remain robust, they’re safe.
The Republic of Georgia, on the other hand, has already suffered a four-day land invasion from Russia. While securing their coastline from naval attack would make the country more secure, it would still need to fortify its land borders to prevent further incursion.
A Navy drone, the Fire Scout, lazes a target for the MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter that accompanies it.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Trenton J. Kotlarz)
For America, allies that are more secure need less assistance and are less likely to collapse during invasion without large numbers of American reinforcements.
But, of course, mines remain a controversial defense measure. They’re hard and expensive to clear, even after the war is over. And while sea mines are less likely to hurt playing children or families than leftover landmines, they can still pose a hazard to peacetime shipping operations, especially for the country that had to lay them in the first place.
If you’ve ever wanted to get an up close and personal view of fighter planes in training, but just never had the math scores to get into the cockpit, don’t lose hope. There is a magical place in Wales where the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots conduct low-level flight training – and you can grab your camera and watch them fly on by.
The Machynlleth Loop, more popularly known as the Mach Loop, is a series of valleys in Wales between the towns of Dolgellau to the north and Machynlleth to the south. The area is well known among plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts as the place to so closely watch the RAF and its allies conduct maneuvers.
The RAF will fly Panavia Tornado fighters, as well as Eurofighter Typhoons and BAE’s Hawk Trainers through the Mach Loop, while the U.S. Air Force will fly F-15E Strike Eagles, F-22 Raptors, and even C-130J Super Hercules turboprop cargo planes.
The HD video shot from inside the cockpit of a Typhoon is also an incredible sight, especially for those of us who may never get to ride in a fighter, especially during a low-level flight exercise.The ability to fly so close to the ground is an asset to a pilot’s skill set for many reasons. Non-stealth aircraft can fly low to the ground to penetrate enemy airspace, hit a target, and return to base. Flying so close to ground level can also allow pilots to escape from dangerous situations and surprise enemy aircraft. This is especially important, given how fighters perform against helicopters in combat.
Smaller fighters can fly as low as 100 feet off the ground, while larger planes, like cargo aircraft, can bottom out at 150 feet. If there’s an aspiring photographer out there who wants to fill their portfolio with amazing military aviation photos, it’s time to hop a plane to Wales.
Every combat arms unit needs a radio operator. Whether they enlisted as one or they were “voluntold” to be one, someone’s gotta do it. There’s a steep learning curve between being a guy with a radio pack and being the go-to radio operator. If you can manage to be the best, your unit will cherish you.
To be the best, you need to master your equipment. Learning the ins and outs of the radio takes years of hands-on training that you won’t find in any schoolhouse — you can only find it by volunteering during every field op.
That being said, there are some tips and tricks that anyone can pick up to make as a radio operator a whole lot easier.
The radio operator in the TOC may be better at their job than you…
(Photo by Ensign Rixon Fletcher)
Never place the blame on the distant end for comm problems
Want to know the fastest and easiest way to lose all credibility as a radio operator? Blame the distant end.
It might actually be the other radio operator’s fault — too bad your squad won’t look at it that way. Instead, just say that you’ve done everything you can and continue to try and make it right.
And if basic math is too hard for you, just get a second watch.
(Photo by Sgt. Matthew Callahan)
The problem with the radio is probably the time
The way that frequency hop works, broken down Barney style, is that a radio is given a sequence of radio frequencies to hop around to depending on the time of day. If you’ve loaded the COMSEC fill into a radio and you’re not able to talk to anyone, the time is probably wrong.
All COMSEC uses Greenwich Mean Time, so it might be easier to just set your watch to London time, regardless of where you are in the world.
Just don’t get violent with it — or toss it around the room.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Rivard)
Drop tests totally work
Don’t question why or how it works, it just does.
Realistically, if you pick up any piece of electronics and drop it from about a foot off the ground, it could shatter or break. A SINCGARS and some of the older radio systems, however, can handle the abuse.
Just stop licking the damn cable. That’s f*cking nasty.
(Photo by Cpl. Bernadette Wildes)
Carry an eraser or chapstick
W4 cables are used to transmit audio and fill between a radio and whatever. Getting these damn cables to attach properly will be the bane of your existence.
Some people recommend licking the end to get it to work, but that’s just nasty. You can get the same result by just cleaning the prongs and removing gunk with an eraser. You can also use chapstick to lube it up. Sure, that might damage the cable, but since W4 cables are a dime a dozen, it doesn’t really matter.
Toss the bug-out bag in the vehicle — or just anywhere close by, really.
(Photo by Spc. Jesse Gross)
Extra batteries are worth the weight
Every good radio operator has a bug-out bag filled with extra crap. This bag includes the radio system itself, maybe cheat-sheets for the nine-line and everyone’s call signs, an extra hand mic, and a few spare W4s. I know they get heavy after a while, but bring some extra batteries, too.
Just remember to pack it back up before driving off.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Lesley Waters)
SatCom antenneas work best on the roof of a vehicle
Unlike most line-of-sight antennas, a SatCom antennae works by, as the name implies, communicating to satellites. Just because you’ve pointed the antennae toward the other hill doesn’t mean you’ll be able to talk.
Giant metal vehicles disrupt the relatively weak signal, so placing it on the ground next to an MRAP is a terrible idea — but don’t be afraid to climb on top and place it up there if you’re not planning on moving soon. Oh, and point the antennae towards the Equator. That’s around where the satellite is supposed to be.
Another pro-tip: Tennis balls with holes cut in them work far better than the standard-issue tips.
OE-254s still work if the antenna is a bit wonky
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen new radio operators and uptight NCOs waste plenty of time trying to get their OE-254 antenna to stand up perfectly straight. The actual pole doesn’t matter. As long as the head of the antenna isn’t broken and is connected, it’ll work just fine.
Now, don’t misinterpret that. This is just meant to say that it’ll be operational. Hell, you could duct-tape it to the top of a tree and it’ll still work (trust me, I know). This doesn’t mean you should half-ass setting up an OE-254 just because you think it’ll be fine. You better be damn sure that it’s secure.
It’s easy to forget that the Vietnam War was originally fought by the French and that plenty more countries came to fight the communists, not just the U.S. One of the other groups deployed to Vietnam was a force of Australian and New Zealand soldiers. A group of just over 100 of them would fight an estimated 2,500 North Vietnamese for over three hours with little support, achieving a victory in the direst of circumstances.
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan – Official Trailer
The Battle of Long Tan is now in theaters, and it tells the story of these soldiers and how a combination of grit, danger close artillery, and gutsy support from helicopters got them out alive. The movie is, appropriately, named Danger Close.
The men of Delta Company, 6th Royal Australian Regiment, were sent out to patrol the area around their base at Nui Dat. The base was established in order to cut North Vietnamese supply lines, and the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies were super pissed off about it.
So, in August 1966, the Australian command began to gather intelligence that said North Vietnamese troops were conducting reconnaissance in a rubber plantation just a few miles from the base and potentially building up forces for an attack. Senior leaders did not share this intelligence with the men of the 6th Royal Australian Regiment.
This painting is a reconstruction of several different events that occurred during the Battle of Long Tan fought on Aug. 18, 1966, between ‘D’ Company, 6RAR and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces.
(Bruce Fletcher, Australian War Memorial)
On that August 18 patrol, 108 men of Delta stumbled into a fight with an estimated 2,500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in deep mud as massive rains poured onto the men. The company commander, Maj. Harry Smith, positioned his men behind a small rise that provided some cover as long as they were laying down. Bullets would fly over their heads for the next 3.5 hours.
Despite the discomfort of the rain and mud and how dangerously outnumbered they were, the Australian troops did have a few advantages. The rain was hitting hard enough that mud splashed up and camouflaged them, and the light silhouetted the North Vietnamese and helped the Australian troops target them. And, amazingly professional artillerymen fired thousands of rounds in support of them, including numerous fire missions within 60 yards of the friendly infantry.
But the men weren’t equipped for a protracted battle. They nearly ran out of ammunition as the weather kept helicopters on the ground. Two helicopter pilots took it upon themselves to deliver a re-supply despite the dangers, giving the men enough ammo even as the men were firing their last few rounds of what they had carried in.
Reinforcements finally made it to the fight in armored personnel carriers and forced the North Vietnamese back. Eighteen Australian and New Zealand troops had been killed or would soon die of their wounds while another 24 were injured. Meanwhile, they had inflicted at least 245 fatalities on the enemy, and it is believed that the North Vietnamese had suffered many more losses but had carried the dead away to frustrate Australian intelligence collection.
While American and South Vietnamese leaders decorated Delta Company in the years that followed, it would take decades for the Australian government, wracked by protests at home, to commend the men for their bravery.
Now, the movie praising their exploits is available in Australian theaters, and it will soon be available online.
China’s military rise is well-planned, and Chinese leaders are following a strategy they believe will lead to greater power and influence both regionally and globally, according to an unclassified report released today by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The 125-page report, “China Military Power — Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win,” details some of the efforts made by the world’s most populous nation to build a military force that will allow it to back up plans for “great rejuvenation.”
“As we look at China, we see a country whose leaders describe it as moving closer to center stage in the world, while they strive to achieve what they call the ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,'” said Dan Taylor, a senior defense intelligence analyst with the DIA. “This ambition permeates China’s national security strategy and guides the development of the People’s Liberation Army.”
People’s Liberation Army troops prepare for a parade in September 2017 commemorating the PLA’s 90th anniversary.
(Photo from Defense Intelligence Agency 2019 China Military Power report)
Taylor pointed out that the PLA is not actually a national institution in China, but rather the military arm of the Chinese Communist Party. About 3 million serve on active duty in the PLA, making it the largest military force in the world. Additionally, it’s thought the PLA receives about 0 billion a year in funding — about 1.4 percent of China’s gross domestic product — though lack of transparency means exact numbers can’t be determined.
Comprehensive national power
Communist party leaders in China, Taylor said, are looking to build “comprehensive national power” over the first few decades of the 21st century, and a key component of that is enhanced military power.
“China is rapidly building a robust, lethal force, with capabilities spanning ground, air, maritime, space and information domains, designed to enable China to impose its will in the region, and beyond,” Taylor said.
Economic growth in China has enabled it to spend significantly to modernize the PLA, and continued development is expected, Taylor said.
“In the coming years, the PLA is likely to grow even more technologically advanced and proficient, with equipment comparable to that of other modern militaries,” Taylor said. “The PLA will acquire advanced fighter aircraft, modern naval vessels, missile systems, and space and cyberspace assets as it reorganizes and trains to address 21st century threats farther from China’s shores.”
According to the DIA report, Chinese efforts to advance the PLA have been informed, at least in part, by what it has observed of the U.S. military during past military operations — including both abilities and gaps in capability.
“The Gulf War provided the PLA stark lessons regarding the lethal effectiveness of information-enabled weapons and forces, particularly mobility and precision-strike capabilities, that had become the standard for effectively waging war in the modern era,” the report says.
The Chinese also have adapted their forces and doctrine to exploit perceived gaps in U.S. defenses.
Following the Gulf War and the fall of the Soviet Union, Chinese leaders perceived a period of strategic opportunity, the report says.” Convinced they would not see a major military conflict before 2020, China embarked on a period of economic and military development.
The Chinese increased the PLA budget by an average of 10 percent per year from 2000 to 2016, for instance. They additionally reformed the way the PLA bought weapons, and instituted several broad scientific and technical programs to improve the defense industrial base and decrease the PLA’s dependence on foreign weapon acquisitions.
The PLA saw the capabilities U.S. and Western forces fielded. Those forces used realistic training scenarios, and the Chinese adapted that to their forces as well. Leaders also implemented personnel changes to professionalize the PLA.
“The PLA developed a noncommissioned officer corps and began programs to recruit more technically competent university graduates to operate its modern weapons,” the report says. “PLA political officers assigned to all levels of the military acquired broader personnel management responsibilities in addition to their focus on keeping the PLA ideologically pure and loyal to the CCP.”
Professionalization of the PLA, with an increased push to focus on an ability to “fight and win” — a goal that mirrors U.S. doctrine — has been a hallmark of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent military strategy, said one defense official speaking to reporters on background.
Key takeaways from the DIA report include the Chinese emphasis on cyber capabilities, the defense official added. “It’s clear to us it’s a very important area to the Chinese,” the official said. “But it’s hard to know exactly how effective a cyberattack capability is until it’s actually used.”
China’s focus on Taiwan also is a focus of the DIA report.
“Xi Jinping has made it clear that resolving or making progress, at least, on resolving … the Taiwan situation is a very top priority for him,” the defense official said.
C. Todd Lopez of Defense.gov contributed to this report.
But a lot will change for the MCU after this year.
Disney, which owns Marvel, will own the film rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four after merging with Fox. The producer Kevin Feige has said he expects that to happen within the first six months of 2019, at which point he’ll get the green light to develop projects with those characters.
It comes at a good time, as “Endgame” marks the end of this era for the MCU, and veteran actors like Chris Evans (who plays Captain America) are expected to retire from their roles.
But before the MCU faces a big shakeup, we ranked all 21 movies — including “Captain Marvel” — from worst to best.
Here’s every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, ranked:
The MCU has since become a well-oiled machine that knows how to balance it all. But in 2010, it was still working on that.
20. “Thor” (2011)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
There’s nothing particularly horrible about “Thor,” but there’s nothing memorable either. It’s impressive that the movie works at all, considering that Thor, an alien god with daddy issues, was such a little-known character at the time, and Chris Hemsworth was not the superstar he is now. But James Gunn managed to turn even lesser-known and weirder characters into MCU standouts in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It would take a while for Thor to really come into his own.
We now know Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk, but in the second MCU movie, Edward Norton was in the role.
Out of all the MCU movies, “The Incredible Hulk” feels the least connected to the universe. Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest, has never appeared again, and neither has Tim Blake Nelson, who was teased as the Hulk’s archnemesis, the Leader.
But even with that tease, a sequel never happened, and the only character besides the Hulk to have any meaningful connection to the MCU has been General “Thunderbolt” Ross, played by William Hurt, who popped up again in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”
(Disney / Marvel)
18. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013)
Directed by Alan Taylor
It’s almost pointless to compare the first two “Thor” movies, as they’re both toward the bottom of the MCU barrel. But “The Dark World” is a tad more fun than “Thor,” and it’s integral in introducing one of the Infinity Stones (the Reality Stone) that Thanos ends up using to destroy half of humanity.
But Marvel still hadn’t realized that Hemsworth’s best attribute in the role is his humor, and the character — and the first two movies — suffer because of it.
17. “Doctor Strange” (2016)
Directed by Scott Derrickson
“Doctor Strange” is the most overrated movie in the MCU. By 2016, movies like the Russos’ “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” had progressed the MCU into new territory, but “Doctor Strange” felt like a step back. Sure, the magic was cool, but it also relied on a formulaic plot with a forgettable love interest. (How do you not give Rachel McAdams more to do?!)
16. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015)
Directed by Joss Whedon
This “Avengers” sequel made the same mistake as “Iron Man 2”: cramming too much into its plot to serve the future of the franchise.
The movie features some cool action sequences, notably the Iron Man-Hulk battle. But it fails to distinguish Ultron, the Avengers’ biggest enemy in the comics, from other two-dimensional MCU villains, and it spends too much time setting up future movies. (What exactly is Thor doing?)
15. “Ant-Man” (2015)
Directed by Peyton Reed
“Ant-Man” is a fun little Marvel movie, but not much else. Paul Rudd is charming in the lead role, and Evangeline Lilly is more than just a love interest as Hope van Dyne (the future Wasp). But the movie still falls into familiar territory, including a lackluster villain in Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket.
(Disney / Marvel)
14. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)
Directed by Joe Johnston
“The First Avenger” is arguably the first movie that “mattered” in the MCU. While “Iron Man” is better, “The First Avenger” sets up “The Avengers” better than “Iron Man,” which basically acts as a prequel to the big team-up movie.
“The First Avenger” would prove essential to the movies that came after — even “Infinity War” with the unexpected return of a character thought to be dead.
13. “Iron Man 3” (2013)
Directed by Shane Black
“Iron Man 3” is the most divisive movie in the MCU, and for good reason. It takes some wacky turns, with a major twist that ruined the movie for plenty of people. But I admire that Black just went for it with this movie and delivered something that fans still argue over.
12. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018)
Directed by Peyton Reed
While it’s not necessarily an “essential” MCU movie, it improves on the first “Ant-Man” in nearly every way, with plenty of heart and humor.
Reed came back to direct after replacing Edgar Wright at the last minute on the first movie, and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels as if he was more adjusted to the job, with some well-polished action sequences and a great handle on the characters.
11. “Captain Marvel” (2019)
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Maybe in time “Captain Marvel” will inch higher on this list. But for now, it’s a solid entry into the MCU, but not a fantastic one.
Boden and Fleck are at their best in the character-driven aspects of the movie. Unfortunately, it’s the action the movie is lacking, which hurts it by the end.
Brie Larson is perfect in the title role, though, and her chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury makes the movie. There are also some surprising twists that elicited plenty of reactions from theater audiences. If anything, this is a worthy appetizer for “Avengers: Endgame.”
10. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)
Directed by Jon Watts
I didn’t have a strong positive reaction to “Homecoming” when I first saw it, but it’s grown on me. Peter Parker’s motivations throughout the movie to be a hero — impressing Tony Stark — rubbed me the wrong way at first. But it’s hard not to like Tom Holland’s spot-on portrayal of the character, and the movie knows exactly what it wants to be: high-school ’80s classic meets modern superhero flick. And Michael Keaton is truly menacing as Adrian Toomes/Vulture in what began a hot streak for villains in the MCU.
9. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017)
Directed by James Gunn
Though “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a step back from the first movie, it’s still the most underrated MCU movie. The “Guardians” movies are unique entries in the franchise, and it’s a shame Gunn was given the boot from the third movie, which is in limbo.
8. “Iron Man” (2008)
Directed by Jon Favreau
The first movie — and still among the best — “Iron Man” kicked off what has become the most lucrative movie franchise of all time. But in 2008, it was just a fun superhero origin movie that defied the odds.
Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, and it’s hard to think of anyone else who could have embodied the role with so much of the necessary charisma to sell a character who casual audiences hadn’t cared about.
7. “The Avengers” (2012)
Directed by Joss Whedon
Four years after “Iron Man,” “The Avengers” proved that Marvel had what it takes to pull off a connected universe of movies. It’s even more impressive considering that the early MCU movies, like “Thor,” “Iron Man 2,” and “The Incredible Hulk,” are some of the worst in the franchise. But “The Avengers” course-corrected, delivering a bona fide blockbuster that hadn’t been achieved before.
(Disney / Marvel)
6. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
2014 marks the point when the MCU really got it together. There have been minimal low points since, and it’s because Kevin Feige and crew finally had the machine running smoothly with low-profile directors who could deliver surprising superhero movies.
Among those filmmakers were the Russos, who have become somewhat of the architects of the universe. After “The Winter Soldier,” an expertly crafted espionage thriller posing as a superhero movie, they went on to direct “Civil War,” “Infinity War,” and “Endgame.”
(Disney / Marvel Studios)
6. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)
Directed by Taika Waititi
“Thor: Ragnarok” is the most absurd movie in the MCU, but that’s only part of what makes it so good. This is when Marvel finally realized that Chris Hemsworth is an extremely funny guy with loads of charm and built a movie around that.
It’s also probably the closest thing we’ll get to another Hulk movie in the MCU.
4. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
“Civil War” is loosely based on a 2007 comic-book event of the same name that pits Marvel’s superheroes against one another over the ethics of a registration act making it illegal for any superpowered person to not register their identities with the government.
The MCU version is obviously more contained, but that’s what makes it so good. It takes a huge storyline and successfully tells it through Captain America’s perspective, making it even more personal.
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
3. “Black Panther” (2018)
Directed by Ryan Coogler
“Black Panther” is a lot of firsts: the first superhero movie to be nominated for best picture, the first movie to win Oscars for Marvel Studios, the first superhero movie with a predominantly black cast.
It was more than just an MCU movie — it was a cultural event. And its box office reflects that. It was the highest-grossing movie in the US in 2018, breaking barriers and riding its success all the way to Oscar gold.
2. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
“Infinity War” is an order of magnitude bigger than “Avengers” or “Civil War.” With a cast of over 20 characters, “Infinity War” is the culmination of 10 years of universe-building.
The Russos pulled it off, and they’re not done yet. After the most shocking ending in an MCU movie, the story will continue in “Endgame.”
But on its own, “Infinity War” is an impressive balancing act, and Josh Brolin’s Thanos lives up to the hype.
1. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
Directed by James Gunn
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was the first MCU movie that really felt disconnected from the rest of the universe, but not in a negative way like “The Incredible Hulk.” It’s an important entry in the franchise from a story standpoint — but it’s also just a hilarious, fun, self-contained movie that turned an unknown group of characters into fan favorites.
It’s the most rewatchable movie in the MCU, with a brilliant soundtrack, but it’s the characters that really make it, from the dynamic between Rocket and Groot to the oblivious Drax. They don’t like each other at first, but the audience loves them as soon as they’re introduced.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In 1983, Rangers were on the point of the spear during a mission to protect American citizens in Grenada in 1983, attacking a key airfield that was being expanded by Cuban engineers. When the Rangers began to fight the engineers, the Rangers hotwired bulldozers and then used them as assault vehicles.
The fighting was part of Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. invasion of Grenada after a coup threatened the lives and security of U.S. citizens in the country who were there to study medicine. Reagan ordered 2,000 troops to the island, and U.S. Army Rangers were sent to seize the airfield at Point Salines.
But the mission quickly ran into problems. A lack of aircraft forced some Rangers to stay at the airfield, unable to take part in the assault and cutting the combat power of those who would make the jump. Then, plans for the assault changed in the air.
See, while Rangers and paratroopers often want to conduct combat jumps, earning uniform swag and bragging rights for life, the safer and tactically superior option to airborne operations is “air-land” operations. In air-land, the commander cancels the jump and the planes land instead. Paratroopers or Rangers, without their chutes, rush off the back. That way, they’re already concentrated for the fight and don’t have to struggle out of their gear.
Three U.S. Army Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters prepare to touch down next to the Point Salines airport runway during “Operation Urgent Fury” on Oct. 25, 1983.
(U.S. Army Spc. Douglas Ide)
As the Rangers were flying to their target on Oct. 24, intel said that the runways were clear of debris, and that air-land was an option. The commander ordered the Rangers out of their parachutes. Then, only 20 minutes from the target, they learned that enemy defenses were ready to go, so the Rangers were rushed back into their chutes and then had to jump without being able to have Army jumpmasters or parachute riggers inspect their harnesses.
When the Rangers reached their target, they jumped in waves at only 500 feet above the ground. That low jump allowed them to fly under the worst of the enemy defenses, but meant they would fall for only 17 seconds and have no chance to pull a reserve chute if anything went wrong in the air. Luckily, the jump went well, and the Rangers went right into combat mode.
In addition to the expected Grenadian troops, though, the Rangers ran into 500 Cuban engineers who were there to help the Grenadians expand the airfield. The Cuban engineers put up an impressive base of fire against the Rangers. They would later learn that Fidel Castro had sent advisors to the country the day before to plan and improve the defenses ahead of the American invasion.
An M561 Gama Goat truck loaded with supplies prepares to pull away from a C-141B Starlifter aircraft parked on the flight line at Point Salines Airport during Operation Urgent Fury after the airfield was captured by Rangers.
(Spc. Douglas Ide)
Now, the 1st and 2nd battalions, 75th Ranger Regiment, were on the ground and fighting. It’s not really a question whether or not they could’ve defeated the engineers and other defenders. But the Rangers don’t risk casualties when they don’t have to.
They had spotted several abandoned bulldozers on the airstrip, and some of them knew how to hotwire the simple machines, so they did so. Ranger fire teams advanced using the bulldozers for cover, firing on the defenders as they found them.
But the airfield seizure didn’t come without cost. Five Rangers were killed in the assault, and another six were wounded. Additional troops, including Rangers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were lost assaulting a nearby prison where political prisoners were being held.
For starters, think of this program in the same light as the People’s Choice Awards in the entertainment industry. While the Emmys and Academy Awards have their place, the People’s Choice Awards are specifically designed “For the People, By the People”. Similarly, the MVC Choice Awards receive no marketing firm input, no senior leadership influence, no media company buys, just the opinions of those we trust the most…our fellow service members, veterans, and military spouses. And since it’s all about the vote, here are some of the reasons you should take the time to do it!
1. It counts
There are so many awards you can spend time voting for in the military community that are eventually decided by a small group of panelists. Unfortunately, sometimes the popular vote isn’t all that popular, and sometimes the results aren’t even close to what the community thinks. With the MVC Choice Awards, the results are based 100% on the popular vote. No crazy formulas or algorithms, no panelists deciding what you should think is important. Just a vote based on real-life experiences from those of us who have actually lived them.
Bonus: Voting is only open to members of our community – service members, veterans, and military spouses.
2. Community chosen nominees
Military life is complicated at times, but the MVC Choice Awards aren’t. You’re 100% in control. After you are verified to vote, you can nominate any company or organization of your choice. Just add a few pieces of information about the organization and we’ll verify and do the rest. After that you’re all set, and others can go and vote for the businesses and organizations you’ve nominated!
Bonus: All verified voters can nominate as many organizations as they want.
3. Verified voters
We take these awards seriously, because we know how much an award can impact an organization and how it can sway your thoughts and actions. We understand that by naming an award winner, more people will look to them for support and expect quality service. That’s why we verify who is voting, and why, you can’t vote for the same organization more than once in a given year. No one will be able to vote for themselves every day throughout the open period. As a verified voter, you help encourage businesses and organizations to support our community and also say thanks to those that have been doing just that.
Bonus: Our hosting partner, GovX, is handling the verification process.
Not quite convinced yet? Here are 3 more bonus reasons to vote.
The three nominees with the highest ratings in each category, will be invited to attend the MVC Choice Awards Banquet at the Washington D.C. Hilton on 10 September 2019 during the Military Influencer Conference (Hosting Partner), with the top organization for each category being announced on stage.
The top three from each award category will also be recognized online when the official winner list is published by Task Purpose (Awards Hosting Partner).
Data collected through votes in the “PCS Relocations” category will be made available on-demand, year-round, through PCSgrades for anybody researching their next PCS or relocation.
Help us recognize those who support our community and get ready to cast your vote!
This article originally appeared on PCSgrades. Follow @PCSgrades on Twitter.
Several key organizations recently came together to advance exoskeleton technology for the soldier during an intensive three-day Operations and Maneuver and Technology Interchange meeting.
The User Technical Touch Point Exoskeleton event was a three-day living classroom, hands-on experience. It offered an interactive forum for operational and technology immersion on both infantry maneuvers and technology demonstrations. Groups of several Military Operational Specialties, or MOS’s, were represented, laying down their kits and equipment and walking observers through a day “in the field, on the job.”
Operational vignettes and subject interviews offered context on the physiological and cognitive demanding infantry tasks, before, during, and after operations. Vendors, requirement developers, and engineers discussed “what they are and what they aren’t” in the current exoskeleton marketplace, debunking the Hollywood “iron man” effect and focusing on real-time products: the Dephy Exo Boot and Lockheed Martin’s ONYX.
Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division show some of the equipment that they use during everyday tasks and learn how an exoskeleton can help.
(Photo by David Kamm, RDECOM Soldier Center)
Soldiers were encouraged by the endurance improvement, mobility, and lethality benefits of donning the systems. Those who wore the systems commented on how it felt to wear an exoskeleton and the relationship between a new user and the system. Their candid feedback regarding form, fit and function will help developers prioritize and make modifications to the systems in preparation for a Fall 2019 VIP demonstration.
Observers commented on the flexibility of use as the systems were adjusted with minimal effort from one user to the next over three days. User comments, such as those made by field artillery soldiers, emphasized the potential value of having an exoskeleton or exoskeleton-like system to provide enhanced endurance during operations, which means a positive impact on lethality and combat effectiveness.
“The importance of this User Touch Point event was two-fold: it gave those involved in developing this technology the ability to better understand the physical aspects of the tasks and duties of the soldiers and gain an understanding of the soldier’s perspective in how this capability can be of value,” said James Mingo, a senior military analyst at TRADOC. “They understand it.”
“It provided hand-on experience to the movement and maneuver soldiers of some of the top seven combat MOS’s,” said Raul Esteras-Palos, Robotics Requirements Division, Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate, or CDID, Maneuver Center of Excellence, or MCoE. “This event is an effective way to gain valuable feedback necessary for the advancement of the Army’s exoskeleton program.”
Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division show some of the equipment that they use during everyday tasks and learn how an exoskeleton can help.
(Photo by David Kamm, RDECOM Soldier Center)
Soldiers believe that endurance translates into improved lethality while preserving the body from the effects of what is already strenuous work. Comments included discussion on injuries (lower back, neck, shoulder and leg) directly related to both training and combat conditions, impacts that are well documented in the medical community.
The RDECOM Soldier Center is preparing soldier touch point events with 82nd and 101st Airborne, followed by meetings with requirement developers, stake holders and senior leadership. The data from these User Touch Point events will be made available to the Lethality Cross-Functional Teams.
“Major General Piatt, CG 10th MTN DIV’s support has allowed us to tap into the expert knowledge of some of the most experienced Army professionals of our Nation,” said David Audet, branch chief, Mission Equipment and Systems Branch at the RDECOM Soldier Center. “This was a unique opportunity for developers and engineers. We are indebted to the troops for their selfless service and owe them the opportunity to listen to their concerns and take action.”
Teams from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Soldier Center, Program Executive Office Soldier, the Maneuver, Aviation, and Soldier Division at ARCIC/TRADOC, requirement developers from the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Army Research Labs, exoskeleton developers from Dephy Inc. (Massachusetts) and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control (Florida), and other support contractors attended the event.
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.