Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

We here at SOFREP recently made the acquaintance of Dave “Bio” Baranek. We were interested in doing a review of his upcoming book “Tomcat RIO.” Baranek agreed to send us his book for review, but as a bonus he recently also sent us a copy of his previous book “Topgun Days” for us to look over.

Baranek was an F-14 RIO (Radar Intercept Officer). He not only flew Tomcats in real-world missions but became an instructor at the Navy’s Topgun school. He also worked closely on the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun.” (An interesting footnote is the Navy has Topgun as one word while Hollywood had it as two.)


When Baranek’s book arrived in the mail, I was scanning the movie channels for an action film and Top Gun popped up. Was it fate? So, switching off the television, I sat in a chair, where’d I remain for the next several hours, because once you begin reading the book, it puts its hooks into you right away and you won’t be able to put it down. This move much irked my wife who was expecting yours truly to be helping put stuff away from our recent move.

One of the first chapters deals with Baranek ejecting from the Tomcat’s GRU-7A into the Indian Ocean. The ejection subjects pilots to forces of 20 Gs which makes them blackout for a few seconds. Baranek was heavily entangled in his parachute lines and silk but managed to free himself, and — in testimony to the speed and professionalism of the rescue choppers — spent only about three minutes in the Indian Ocean.

Baranek went through Topgun school in 1982. He was the only one from his class of 451 pilots, from the flight school of 1980, to be chosen. One of the things that was interesting is that Baranek stated that the Topgun instructors were not arrogant or swaggering but delivered their lectures with enthusiasm and a seemingly limitless amount of knowledge on the subject matter.

After his graduation, he returned to his squadron. He was then selected to return to Topgun, this time as an instructor. For Navy combat pilots, that is the pinnacle.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

Nearly all fighter pilots have very cool nicknames or call-signs. Baranek chose “Bionic” because it sounded like Baranek. But being thin, the Navy pilots didn’t believe he looked very bionic so it was shortened to “Bio.”

Of course, he was an instructor at Topgun when the Hollywood people came around in 1985 to begin filming the movie which made the Tomcats and the school so famous with the public.

The F-5 fighters, which were the ones the instructors flew as aggressor aircraft for the school, were normally painted in camouflage patterns that Navy pilots might encounter on deployment somewhere in the world: They would either be of a green and brown camouflage, similar to the Soviet-style, or painted in a tan that would blend in with the desert environment in the Middle East.

But for the Tony Scott film, the producers had the F-5s painted flat black with a red star on the tail. The planes were called MiG-28s — a fictional aircraft that did not exist. The film director and cameramen got some incredible footage from the F-14s. The quality and dramatic effect of the shots even impressed the Tomcat pilots.

Baranek’s wife got to kiss Tom Cruise on the cheek and they met some of the other actors including Anthony Edwards (Goose), Michael Ironside (Jester), and Tom Skerrit. I remember my own wife being similarly star-struck meeting Mark Wahlberg and Flash Gordon on the set of Ted 2 in Boston. Seeing those pictures and remembering these moments reinforces how our families are a big part of what we do.

The Navy officially retired Tomcats from active service in 2006, but due to Tom Cruise’s film, they live on as one of those iconic aircraft in the public’s imagination. An interesting fact is that most of the naval aviators of today weren’t even born when Cruise, Anthony Edwards, and Val Kilmer rocked across the screen in 1986. And Cruise has just recently finished another Top Gun film.

Baranek completed a 20-year career in the Navy, starting with assignments to F-14 Tomcat squadrons and the elite Topgun training program, and a later assignment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. 7th Fleet. He commanded an F-14 Tomcat fighter squadron, with nearly 300 people and 14 aircraft worth about 0 million. He completed his career with 2,499.7 F-14 Tomcat flight hours and 688 carrier landings. His logbook also records 461.8 flight hours in the F-5F Tiger II.

As Special Forces guys, we always joked about fighter pilots: “What’s the difference between God and a fighter pilot?” Answer: “God doesn’t think he’s a fighter pilot.” Pilots would also poke fun at us. One of the pilots I knew would always ask if we picked the gravel out of our knuckles. But the respect is always there.

A particularly gripping aspect of “Topgun Days” is the fantastic aerial photography that Baranek took. The book is peppered with some great pictures that put the reader right smack in either an F-14 or F-5.

Baranek’s “Topgun Days” is a page-turner and comes very highly recommended. Its 322 pages with awesome photography will zip by in the blink of an eye. “I feel the need…the need for speed.”

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

Articles

The best and worst Air Force uniforms, ranked

The Air Force had a number of various uniforms even before its independent inception in 1947. The evolution was a long and sometimes painful (on the eyes) one. Wear of Air Force uniforms is pretty important to airmen, and is governed by Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903, the only AFI most airmen know offhand. It also contains uniform requirements for the Civil Air Patrol as if the Civil Air Patrol counts as the military… I mean, its nice that perfect attendance is required for your “basic training” but call us when the UCMJ applies to you.


Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

The Air Force officially ended wear of olive green dress uniforms in 1952, switching over to distinct blue uniforms to stand out from the other services. In the years since, those “blues” (as they came to be called) evolved as times changed and as the Air Force itself changed.

This served for most airmen, but for those who still required a utility uniform, green would be (and still is) the mainstay for those uniforms. But Air Force utility uniforms always incorporated a distinctive blue, in some way, over the years to ensure its separation from the Army and little else.

The Air Force, like the Navy, appeared to be struggling with a uniform identity crisis in recent years, but it looks like they’ve got a handle on things.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
This was almost you, Air Force.

The USAF came a long way, and so it’s good to take a look back at the best and worst of what the Air Force thought was a good idea, lest history repeat itself.

The Best

1. Flight Suits – (1917- Present)

The coolest looking and most comfortable uniform, the flight suit is easily the number one in the Air Force wardrobe. Early flight suits had the same needs as today’s flight suits. Aircrews need warm clothing with pockets to keep things from falling out. Early flight suits required jackets, usually leather, to keep the pilots warm. The need for pressurized cockpits allowed the flight suit to become what it is today: flame resistant, comfortable, practical and still cool-looking.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
Seriously. Awesome.

2. Battle Dress Uniform (1981-2011)

Maybe it’s because i’m partial to the uniform I wore every day, maybe it’s because the BDU is both comfortable and utilitarian, maybe because it’s a uniform which was worn across all branches of the U.S. military. In my mind, the only bad thing about this uniform was the M-65 BDU field jacket, which worked against the cold every bit as well as any crocheted blanket, which is to say, not at all. There’s a reason it was the longest-serving uniform.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

3. Blue Shade 1084 & 1549 Service Dress Uniform (1962-1969)

This is the one which became the iconic Air Force blues uniform after appearing in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove. An Air Force officer in the film, cigar-chomping Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper, acted and looked a lot like real life Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, who is famous for his hardline thinking. He was once quoted as saying:

“If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I’m going to knock the sh-t out of them before they take off the ground.”

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

4. Cotton Sateen Utility Uniform OG-107 (1952-1982)

Army and Air Force personnel wore this both stateside and deployed to the Southeast Asia theater. It was replaced by the Tropical Combat Uniform in Southeast Asia but outside it continued to be the work uniform of choice through the 1970s when it was replaced by the woodland BDU.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
Medal of Honor Recipient Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger

5. SR-71 Pressure Suits (1966-1999)

Its almost not even fair. They get to crew the greatest airframe ever designed AND look like an awesome alt-metal band in the process.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
Blackbird pilots ’bout to drop the most fire album of 1969

The Worst

6. Air Force PT Uniforms (2006- Present)

Have you ever gone to the gym and wondered how much greater your workout could be if you did it while wearing swim trunks? The Air Force physical training uniform combines all the internal mesh of swim trunks to keep yourself in place with all the length of 1970s tennis player shorts to ensure you’re not only uncomfortable working out but so is everyone who has to look at you.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

7. Air Force Band Drum Major

I understand military tradition requires bands, but do we still have to make them dress like they should be guarding Queen Elizabeth? I wonder what possible purpose that giant hat served, even when it was a real part of a military uniform. Did the scepter ever serve a real purpose? And that sash looks makes him look less like an Air Force Chief and more like he’s the WWE Intercontinental Champion.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

8. Air Force Command Staff Ceremonial Uniforms (2012)

In 2012, Gen. Mark Welsh III rolled out a new set of ceremonial uniforms for the Air Force Command Staff. Commenters from Air Force magazine were quick to crack jokes about the special uniforms:

“General Welsh looks like a Russian crown prince at an embassy ball. What is it? Come on, General LeMay would never wear that!!”
“It appears the general is or was a member of the Air Force Band.”
“Exactly when did the AF adopt John Phillip Sousa’s uniform as its own?”

Air Force Times offered Welsh an opportunity to talk about the uniform, but he declined.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
Chief Roy looks like he has something to say about it, though.

9. Air Force Summer Service Uniform (1956)

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

This one is so bad, it’s hard to find evidence of it. It looked like your mailman earned rank and started maintaining aircraft. Yes, in the photo above even other airmen can’t believe these guys are actually wearing Khaki shorts and a safari hat. Ladies usually love a man in uniform, but these guys will be single until they ditch those ugly things.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
aka mailman starter kit.

10. Merrill McPeak Dress Blues

The uniform was criticized for looking too much like the Navy’s uniforms, like an airline pilot’s uniform, or “a business suit with medals,” it featured a white shirt and the signature clouds and lightning bolts (aka “Farts and Darts”) on the sleeves of the jacket. McPeak’s uniform was popular with absolutely no one but McPeak. These uniforms went away as soon as he did.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Fwikipedia%2Fcommons%2Ff%2Ff3%2FMerrill_McPeak%2C_official_military_photo.JPEG&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fupload.wikimedia.org&s=415&h=8e5b2e35ddf7cd5127c9f316ed7c5cfc4242506e5007b2cda5759d1497c48198&size=980x&c=2232333567 photo_credit=”upload.wikimedia.org” pin_description=”” dam=”0″ caption=”File:Merrill McPeak, official military photo.JPEG – Wikimedia Commons” photo_credit_src=”https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/Merrill_McPeak%2C_official_military_photo.JPEG” crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Fwikipedia%252Fcommons%252Ff%252Ff3%252FMerrill_McPeak%252C_official_military_photo.JPEG%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fupload.wikimedia.org%26s%3D415%26h%3D8e5b2e35ddf7cd5127c9f316ed7c5cfc4242506e5007b2cda5759d1497c48198%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2232333567%22%7D” expand=1] upload.wikimedia.org

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Vietnam-era commo guys talked through the jungles

Throughout history, communications troops have had one job: to make sure those on front lines are able to talk to headquarters. Today’s troops that operate satellite communications and line-of-sight radio waves through mostly barren terrain may not know just how difficult their same job was during the Vietnam War.


In training, it wasn’t uncommon to walk into the classroom and see the number “5” written on the board. When an unfortunate soul would ask about the number, the response was, “that number up on the board? That’s your life expectancy, in seconds, during a firefight.” This is because the PRC-77 radio system weighted 13.5 lbs without batteries. With batteries, spare batteries, and encryption, you’re looking at 54lbs total. The PRC-77 used either a 3-ft or 10-ft antenna but, since the 3-ft whip antenna rarely worked in the jungles, most commo troops were stuck using the 10-footer, which essentially put a big target on their back.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

Just so we don’t have to get into detail on how FM radio waves work, trust me on this one: radio communication was laughably hard in the thick jungles of Vietnam. While the Army’s 1st Signal Brigade managed to set up a massive communications hubs in Saigon and Thailand, it was with the smaller signal sites scattered throughout the region that allowed troops to talk. Any hilltop would have to be stripped so giant antenna could be built to further amplify communications.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
Commo guys always have — and always will — say “Yep, that antenna looks good enough!” (U.S. Army)

And finally, there’s the overly complicated radio encryption. The early forms of radio encryption, the NESTORs, functioned as the DoD planned, but they were bulky, prone to overheating, rarely worked, greatly decreased sound quality, lowered the range by 10 percent, and had easily-damaged, highly-valuable cables. While a very valuable tool, it was also determined that even if the enemy could decode the encryption, they still wouldn’t understand military jargon.

In short, it was hell for these commo guys. But these men stood among the greats, like Sgt. Allen Lynch and Pfc. Bruce W. Carter— radio operators who received the Medal of Honor for their actions during in Vietnam.

popular

Here’s how one soldier got payback on the Iraqi version of Charlie Brown


Editor’s note: Graybeard Publishing, a company owned and operated by military veterans, was planning on putting together a book of humorous combat stories called “SNAFU”. While it’s unclear whether the book was published, the following excerpt from SNAFU was submitted by an anonymous lieutenant who came up with a unique way of dealing with belligerent civilians in Iraq:

Charlie Brown by Lieutenant Anonymous

I was about to hit the road from Baghdad to Al Jaber Air Base one day and stopped by the TOC to get the latest intel updates. When I got there I found another Lieutenant freaking out about an incident he’d just had. He was driving through Safwan when he approached a bridge and saw a bunch of kids holding hands blocking the road. This Lieutenant stopped his convoy and suddenly got ambushed by citizens throwing bricks down onto his convoy from the bridge overhead. But that wasn’t the worst part. While his troops were covering up from the bricks, a bunch of Haji’s dropped grappling hooks and took everything they could off the vehicles. Rucksacks, boxes of MREs, you name it, they got it. And some were even bold enough to run up to the Hummers and steal stuff straight off them.

So before I left I told my guys “when we get to that bridge, we’re going to blow right through anyone there. I don’t care who’s on the road, we keep going.” They all nodded and away we went. Sure enough, we were driving down MSR Tampa and got to that bridge and a bunch of kids were holding hands blocking the road.

“Keep going!” I yelled at my driver, knowing they would move if he hit the gas. “Don’t slow down!”

But he did. He slowed and stopped dead under the bridge, which was the wrong place to be.

Next thing I know bricks and cinder blocks were raining down from above, which could have killed my guys since we weren’t in armored Humvees. In seconds we we’re surrounded by a bunch of Haji’s who were trying to steal stuff off the vehicles.

One guy in particular was wearing a yellow Charlie Brown shirt. He reached into my window and tried to steal my radio right in front of me until I punched him square in the face four times. I nearly stabbed the fucker, but I hit him solid in the face enough that he backed away.

Finally we get going again and I’m fucking livid. I yelled at my driver repeatedly all the way to Al Jaber Air Base and then spent the next few days steaming mad about the incident. We got punked. Our vehicles were damaged, we lost some shit, and the worst part was we didn’t have to. We knew it was coming and still they got us.

So I’m sitting there for days wondering how to get back at those fuckers until one night I had to take a piss. The latrine was too far away, so I got out of my hooch and pissed in a water bottle. A big one too, something like a gallon. And then it hit me. An idea. For the next few days I filled that thing with as much piss as I could muster then went to the chow hall to get as much powdered grape drink mix that I could find. I mixed it up, found myself a cooler and iced it down for a day before we were scheduled to leave.

The next day we hit the road and I’ve got this big bottle of purple piss in my cooler and a whole shitload of skittles and candy packs. I made my guys secure everything inside the trucks so nothing else would get stolen and told my driver to go ahead and slow down when we hit that bridge.

So we approached the bridge and sure enough the crowds came out to stop us. I immediately threw out all the skittles bags to keep the kids away and looked for Charlie Brown because I knew he only owned one t-shirt and would be wearing it again. It took a minute, but sure enough I spotted him, his shirt, and the bruises I gave him a few days ago. When he ran up to my vehicle I pulled out the ice-cold bottle of purple piss, gave it to him, and told my driver to take off.

As the convoy started rolling I watched him like a hawk in my rear view mirror. Charlie Brown lifted the frosty bottle high above his head and drank my piss. And he didn’t just take a swig and spit it out, but he kept drinking, probably thinking it was some exotic tasting American energy drink that would give him vim and vigor. I watched him as long as I possibly could and laughed my ass off for the next ten miles.

He may have puked it out a few minutes later. He may have fallen ill and been in agony for days. Or he may have died. I really don’t care either way. All I know is I went past that spot at least three more times before I redeployed, but never saw Charlie Brown again.

If you have a funny story to tell or are a veteran trying to get published, send a note to Kelly Crigger at kcrigger@graybeardbooks.com.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Afghan pilots in U.S. Black Hawks are attacking Taliban fighters

Firing machine guns at Taliban fighters, reinforcing attacking ground troops, and scouting through mountainous terrain to find enemy locations are all things US-trained Afghan Air Force pilots are now doing with US Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

The ongoing US effort to provide anti-Taliban Afghan fighters with Black Hawks has recently been accelerated to add more aircraft on a faster timeframe, as part of a broad strategic aim to better enable Afghan forces to attack.


The first refurbished A-model Black Hawks, among the oldest in the US inventory, arrived in Kandahar in September of last year, as an initial step toward the ultimate goal of providing 159 of the helicopters to the Afghans, industry officials say.

While less equipped than the US Army’s most modern M-model Black Hawks, the older, analog A-models are currently being recapitalized and prepared for hand over to the Afghans.

Many of the Afghan pilots, now being trained by a globally-focused, US-based aerospace firm called MAG, have been flying Russian-built Mi-17s. Now, MAG is helping some Afghan pilots transition to Black Hawks as well as training new pilots for the Afghan Air Force.

“We are working on a lot of mission types. We’re helping pilots learn to fly individually, conduct air assaults and fly in conjunction with several other aircraft,” Brian Tachias, Senior Vice President for MAG, Huntsville Business Unit, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

An Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter transports soldiers from Bagram Airfield over Ghazni, Afghanistan, on July 26, 2004.

(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Vernell Hall)

The current MAG deal falls under the US Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization. Tachias said, “a team of roughly 20 MAG trainers has already flown over 500 hours with Afghan trainees.” MAG trainers, on-the-ground in Kandahar, graduated a class of Afghan trainees this month. According to current plans, Black Hawks will have replaced all Mi-17s by 2022.

Tachias added that teaching Afghan pilots to fly with night vision goggles has been a key area of emphasis in the training to prepare them for combat scenarios where visibility is more challenging. By next year, MAG intends to use UH-60 simulators to support the training.

While not armed with heavy weapons or equipped with advanced sensors, the refurbished A-model Black Hawks are outfitted with new engines and crew-served weapons. The idea is to give Afghan forces combat maneuverability, air superiority and a crucial ability to reinforce offensive operations in mountainous terrain, at high altitudes.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

An Afghan Air Force pilot receives a certificate during a UH-60 Black Hawk Aircraft Qualification Training graduation ceremony at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 20, 2017. The pilot is one of six to be the first AAF Black Hawk pilots. The first AAF Black Hawk pilots are experienced aviators coming from a Mi-17 background.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)

The MAG training effort is consistent with a broader Army strategy to arm, train, and equip Afghan forces such that they can continue to take over combat missions. In recent years, the US Army has placed a premium on operating in a supportive role wherein they train, assist and support Afghan fighters who themselves engage in combat, conduct patrols and do the majority of the fighting.

Standing up an Afghan Air Force has been a longstanding, stated Army goal for a variety of key reasons, one of which simply being that the existence of a capable Afghan air threat can not only advance war aims and enable the US to pull back some of its assets from engaging in direct combat.

While acknowledging the complexities and challenges on continued war in Afghanistan, US Centcom Commander Gen. Joseph Votel voiced this sensibility earlier this summer, stating that Afghan forces are increasingly launching offensive attacks against the Taliban.

“They are fighting and they are taking casualties, but they are also very offensive-minded, inflicting losses on the Taliban and [ISIS-Khorasan] daily, while expanding their capabilities and proficiency every day,” Votel said, according to an Army report from earlier this summer.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Coasties get limited assistance from Legion during shutdown

The American Legion has stepped in with offers of limited assistance for Coast Guard personnel working without pay should the partial government shutdown continue.

In a statement on Jan. 7, 2019, Legion National Commander Brett Reistad also called on members of Congress to back the “Pay Our Coast Guard Act” introduced by Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota.

The bill would exempt the Coast Guard from the shutdown funding cutoff affecting its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).


The proposed exemption would also cover Coast Guard retiree benefits, death gratuities, and other related payouts.

Currently, about 42,000 Coast Guard personnel are working without pay. DHS and the Coast Guard were able to find funding for members’ last paychecks, which went out Dec. 31, 2018. The next paychecks for Coast Guardsmen are due Jan. 15, 2019.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class John Cantu, with the Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team mans a mounted machine gun on a 25-foot Response Boat-Small in front of the Washington Monument in Washington.

(DoD photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lisa Ferdinando, U.S. Coast Guard)

Reistad said the Legion backs the Thune bill legislation, “which will guarantee that these heroes who guarantee our safety and security will be paid on time and not miss a single paycheck.”

“Just because a Washington flowchart structures the Coast Guard under Homeland Security does not mean they should not be paid,” he added.

The Legion is prepared to offer financial assistance to some Coast Guardsmen.

“In the event that there is a delay in paying our Coast Guard, I have directed administrators of the American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance program to stand by and quickly administer requests made by active-duty Coast Guard members with children who need help with living expenses,” Reistad said.

However, he noted, “As a nonprofit, the American Legion is not capable of funding the entire Coast Guard payroll.”

The Veterans of Foreign Wars also called Congress to find a way to keep paying Coast Guard personnel.

“Our country needs this Congress and this White House to push through the rhetoric and take care of those who are on the front lines protecting our country,” B.J. Lawrence, VFW national commander, said in a statement. “What the Coast Guard and DHS do daily allows the rest of us to sleep easier at night. No one should ever take that for granted.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army Futures Command experiments with putting robots in combat

Imagine if a robot could go ahead of troops, by a kilometer or more, to assess a situation and relay information back that would help commanders know what’s ahead and know how to respond?

Army Futures Command isn’t just imagining that- they’re already building it.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

“This isn’t about robots or technology, this is about soldiers and this is about commanders on the battlefield, and giving them the decision space and reducing the risk of our men and women when we go into the nastiest places on the planet,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle-Cross Functional Team, told reporters during a virtual discussion about the Robotic Combat Vehicle Soldier Operational Experiment.

A platoon of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Carson, CO spent much of this summer sending two-person crews out in modified Bradley fighting vehicles to control robotic surrogate vehicles that were built from M113 armored personnel vehicles. The goal of the experiment was to observe the vehicles and to collect and analyze feedback from the soldiers working with them on the feasibility of integrating robots into ground combat formations.

The modified Bradleys are known as Mission Enabling Technologies Demonstrators (MET-Ds) and the modified M113s are known as Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs).

The goal of the program is to eventually build a collection of vehicles that can be used to provide reconnaissance capabilities and standoff distance or to replace soldiers in high-risk activities like combined arms breaches and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) reconnaissance.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

Coffman emphasized that this summer’s experiment at Ft. Carson was just that, an experiment, and not a test and that there is still much work to be done before soldiers will be able to use robots downrange.

“Right now, it’s difficult for a robot, when it looks at a puddle, to know if it’s the Mariana Trench or two inches deep,” said Maj. Corey Wallace, RCV lead for the Next Generation Vehicle-Cross Functional Team. “The RCV must be able to sense as well as a human. It needs to hear branches breaking around it. It needs to know when it’s on soft sand or an incline. We still need to work on that.”

Jeffrey Langhout, director of the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center, acknowledged that the robots still have a ways to go and noted that there are particular challenges involved in designing a robot vehicle for combat.

“Right now, we don’t have the sensors to tell us if a puddle is something we can drive through. In the auto industry, high-tech cars are operating on pavement and in a generous GPS environment. We are looking at how to operate in a denied environment, where things can go bad quickly,” Langhout said.

Earlier this year, the Army selected two companies, QinetiQ North America and Textron, to build the eventual vehicles. QinetiQ North America will build four prototypes of the Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light and Textron will build four prototypes of the RCV-Medium. Coffman said that the Marine Corps is also using QinetiQ to build an RCV-Light and the two services and working together on the designs.

All in all, Coffman said the experiment was “100% successful.”

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

“We learned where the technology is now and how we can fight with it in the future,” Coffman said.

And just how far in the future are we talking? Unfortunately, pretty far.

Coffman said a second experiment is planned for Ft. Hood, Texas in the first part of the fiscal year 2022 using the same M113 robot vehicles and Bradley control vehicles in company-size operations. After that, an experiment will be held to test the vehicles in more complex situations. And after that, the Army will decide if robot vehicles are worth further investment.

This is to say that, cool as the robots are, for now, most soldiers and military families will have to be content just imagining them.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Gainey Cup is the Army’s annual cavalry competition and yes, it includes a final charge

As a showcase for the fourth biennial Gainey Cup International Best Scout Squad Competition, the U.S. Army Armor School hosted the Scouts in Action demonstration, April 29, 2019, at Red Cloud Range.

The Gainey Cup determines the best six-soldier scout squad in the Army and internationally by testing squads on their scout and cavalry skills, their physical stamina, and their cohesion as a team.


Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

(Photo by Mr. Markeith Horace)

The Scouts in Action demonstration was an opportunity for the Armor School to tell the history of the U.S. Cavalry and to show the public what scout squads do for their units, according to Capt. Tim Sweeney, Cavalry Leaders Course instructor.

“Part of what we do in the cavalry is really in the shadows and really hidden from the world to see, because that’s the nature of our business,” said Sweeney. “[Scouts in Action] was a demonstration of the different weapons platforms that we have and how they can be used to execute missions on the battlefield. So we’re just bringing what the Cav does to light.”

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, right, the namesake of the biennial Gainey Cup, speaks to competitors before the Recon Run.

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)

During the historical portion of Scouts in Action, the spectators, which included soldiers, civilians and Family members, saw scouts as they would have appeared in period uniforms as they would have ridden or driven period conveyances. They rode horses as Army scouts would have during the Civil War and drove jeeps as Army scouts would have during World War II. Then they drove the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, the Bradley fighting vehicle and the Stryker armored vehicle, all from the latter part of the 20th century.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

(Photo by Mr. Markeith Horace)

As part of the demonstration of scout skills for the audience, a scout squad performed aerial reconnaissance using a drone. After a notional enemy fired upon the scouts the scouts fired back. Their HMMWV got several rounds off in a one-second burst. Then a Bradley fighting vehicle joined the aciton. Then scouts in Abrams tanks fired at the enemy, each concussive thud knocking up dust.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

(Photo by Mr. Markeith Horace)

“So today was the demonstration of the firepower they have,” said Sweeney. “Then over the next three days, they’ll use that firepower and use their dismounted capabilities to execute the missions and really achieve their commander’s end state.”

When the demonstration concluded, the spectators had the opportunity to get refreshments, talk with soldiers and explore some of the vehicles they had just seen in action. The demonstration served as a public entry point to the competition already in progress.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)

The scout squads arrived the week before and took part in knowledge tests, vehicle identification, a call for fire, a gunnery skills test and a land navigation course.

Units participating this year include the 1st Armored Division; 1st Cavalry Division; 1st, 3rd, 4th, 7th and 25th Infantry Divisions; 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team; 10th Mountain Division; 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions; 2nd, 3rd and 134th Cavalry Regiments; 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment; U.S. Army Alaska; 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment; and the Canadian, Great Britain, Netherlands and German armies.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

(Photo by Mr. Markeith Horace)

The squads began the second week of competition with an early morning reconnaissance run at Brave Rifles Field at Harmony Church. During the reconnaissance run, the six-person scout squads must run in uniform and with gear over a set course they do not know the distance to. The course is complete once every member of a squad crosses the finish line back at Brave Rifles Field.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)

Over three days, the squads will perform exercises that synthesize skills they were evaluated on during the first week. A scout squad proficiency exercise requires the scout squads to orient on a reconnaissance objective while performing reconnaissance on 20 kilometers of terrain occupied by enemy forces. During the scout skills event, the squads must maneuver within their vehicle while collecting and reporting information. As part of a lethality exercise, the squads must conduct a tactical mission under live fire, and then they receive a grade according to their ability to report and engage the enemy force.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)

Besides drawing focus to the scout mission operational specialty, the competition also serves as a training event for the U.S. Armor School and the units the scout squads represent.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)

“This competition does a very good job of highlighting the capabilities and limitations that Cavalry scouts encounter, so it’s a way that units can continue to build their training plan, and the Army can look at training and figure out how we can become more and more lethal,” he said.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)


The final event of the competition is the Final Charge scheduled for 8 a.m. May 3, 2019, at Brave Rifles Field. After the final charge, the awards ceremony is scheduled to begin.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

B-1 Bombers train to launch long-range anti-ship missile over Black Sea

It wasn’t a typical flight.

Two B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, marked their first-ever flight with Ukrainian Su-27 Flankers and MiG-29 Fulcrums last week over the Black Sea. At the same time, the long-range bombers also trained in launching the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, known as LRASM, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa officials said Monday.


“The rise of near-peer competitors and increased tensions between NATO and our adversaries has brought anti-ship capability back to the forefront of the anti-surface warfare mission for bomber crews,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Albrecht of USAFE’s 603rd Air Operations Center.

“LRASM plays a critical role in ensuring U.S. naval access to operate in both open-ocean and littoral environments due to its enhanced ability to discriminate between targets from long range,” Albrecht, also the Bomber Task Force mission planner, said in a release. “With the increase of maritime threats and their improvement of anti-access/area denial environmental weapons, this stealthy anti-ship cruise missile provides reduced risk to strike assets by penetrating and defeating sophisticated enemy air-defense systems.”

Officials recently told Military.com that practicing deploying LRASM is part of a broader Air Force Global Strike vision: As part of its mission “reset” for the B-1 fleet, the service is not only making its supersonic, heavy bombers more visible with multiple flights around the world, it’s also getting back into the habit of having them practice stand-off precision strikes — especially in the Pacific — signaling a dramatic pivot following years of flying close-air support missions in the Middle East.

During a simulated strike, crews “will pick a notional target, and then they will do some mission planning and flying through an area that they are able to hold that target at risk, at range,” Maj. Gen. Jim Dawkins Jr., commander of the Eighth Air Force and the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, said in an interview earlier this month.

The flight over the Black Sea with Ukrainian counterparts incorporated Turkish KC-135s, in addition to aircraft from Poland, Romania, Greece and North Macedonia for a “long-range, long-duration strategic #BomberTaskForce mission throughout Europe and the Black Sea region,” USAFE tweeted.

The latest integration exercises over Eastern Europe have not gone unnoticed.

On Monday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense noted an uptick in NATO and U.S. activity in the region, to include the B-1 transiting through the Sea of Okhotsk on May 22, and near the Kamchatka Peninsula last month.

Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, chief of the main operational directorate for the Russian General Staff, said U.S. bomber flights alongside NATO partners have “increased sharply” over the last several weeks.

“Strategic bombers flew in April #B1B along Kamchatka, and in May, five such flights were recorded,” the MoD said on Twitter. Rudskoy also noted the first-ever B-1 flight over Ukraine, which prompted a Russian Air Force Su-27 and Su-30SM to scramble and intercept the bombers.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

Still considered a “strategic” bomber, the Lancer was originally designed as a nuclear bomber with a mission to fly at low altitude, sneaking into enemy territory in order to avoid Soviet early warning radars. However, in compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the once-nuclear bomber has been disarmed of nukes.

Dawkins said countries should expect more Bomber Task Force missions.

The shorter flights — with two to three bombers — are not the same as a deployment, and are also part of the Pentagon’s larger “dynamic force employment” strategy for military units to test how nimbly they can move from place to place, he said.

“There is just so much of a bigger signal sent with a bomber than with a couple of [F-16 Fighting Falcons],” Dawkins said. “It just is what it is.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Did the Soviets leave dead cosmonauts in orbit?

Although today we tend to look back at the Space Race with the Soviet Union as a competition we were destined to win, it was actually the Soviets that secured many of the early victories. American officials at the time weren’t only worried about Soviet prestige winning out; they had very real concerns about Soviet space dominance providing them the ultimate high ground in the next global conflict.


Those concerns weren’t unique to Americans. The Soviet Union also saw space operations as the next logical step for their own military enterprises. In keeping with the differences in political ideologies between the U.S. and Soviet Union, the Soviets went about their space pursuits in a very different way than we did back here in the States.

While each new NASA effort was widely publicized (and even scrutinized) by the public, the Soviets made it a point to never announce a space mission until days after it was completed. This allowed them to maintain tight control over the flow of information, intentionally omitting stories about their failures, and releasing only information pertaining to their successes.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

Soviet photos released on different dates clearly show that they’ve been altered.

Roscosmos

Of course, secrets are tough to keep, even behind the Iron Curtain. By the 1970s, it was revealed that the Soviet Union had doctored published photos from their early space program to completely remove certain individuals from the historical record. Long before the days of Photoshop, Soviet airbrush artists had painstakingly painted these men out of countless photographs, but when the public demanded an explanation, they received a variety of unconvincing stories. In the minds of many, it seemed like a cover-up was clearly at afoot.

It wasn’t long before these doctored images were linked to the controversial story of Italian brothers Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia. Back in the 1950s, the brothers began scavenging radio equipment they set up in an old bunker, and by 1960 they claimed to be recording radio signals broadcast from various Soviet launches. More pressingly, they claimed to be recording manned missions that were failing.

According to the brothers, they recorded a manned spacecraft flying off course and into the endless expanse of space in May of 1960, and then a faint SOS signal from yet another lost spacecraft in November of the same year. Then, in February of 1961, they said they recorded audio of a Cosmonaut suffocating to death in a failed craft, before also (they claim) tracking another craft as it successfully orbited Earth three times in April. Three days after the brothers claimed to record that successful test, the Soviet’s announced that they had successfully launched Yuri Gagarin into space, the first human ever to escape Earth’s gravitational veil.

Lost female cosmonaut cleaned version

youtu.be

The brothers claimed a number of other recorded Soviet failures from there, with at least five more reports of Soviet spacecraft being lost in deep space or burning up on reentry after Gagarin’s success. In one famous recording they released, a woman can be heard asking for help in Russian, making for either an interesting forgery or a deeply disturbing bit of history.

However, despite the airbrushed photos and troubling Judica-Cordiglia recordings, there remains very little concrete evidence to substantiate the claim that the Soviets left their earliest space pioneers up there to die. There have indeed been deaths associated with the Soviet space program, even Gagarin’s own best friend died in an orbital mission that many claim he knew was unsafe. According to one version of events, he opted to take the flight to spare his friend, the hero Gagarin, from having to take it himself. That death, however, was not removed from the historical record, nor was anyone airbrushed out of photos.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

This image of Yuri Gagarin was changed twice, first to remove a Cosmonaut, and then apparently to remove indications that the military was involved in his historic launch.

Instead, it seems, many of these “Lost Cosmonauts” were airbrushed from photos and removed from the records because they had run into health problems or gotten into trouble. The Soviets were extremely particular about who they would tout as national heroes, and any behavior or ailment that wasn’t in keeping with their image of Soviet strength and pride were removed from the program — and the historical record. Investigators have even tracked some of these men down and confirmed that they were still alive.

However, not every airbrushed cosmonaut has been found, and for some, that’s enough to warrant giving those chilling radio recordings a second listen. With so many Soviet records lost in the 1990s and a long-standing culture of secrecy, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get the full story about the earliest Soviet space efforts, but the truth is, it seems unlikely that there are any “heroes of the Soviet Union” stranded in orbit or beyond.

But in the minds of many, unlikely leaves just enough room to believe.

Articles

These are the Air Force’s 10 most expensive planes to operate

1. E-4 Nightwatch

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory


Who knew the President’s mobile command post was an E-4? With all the latest and greatest gear to keep flying in the midst of all-out nuclear war and all its top secret countermeasures, it should come as no surprise that each of the Air Force’s four converted 747s cost $159,529 per hour to fly.

2. B-2 Spirit

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
A KC-135 Stratotanker from Altus Air Force Base, Okla., refuels a B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber from Whiteman AFB, Mo., during a refueling training mission (U.S. Air Force photo)

The B-2 literally costs more than its weight in gold. The Air Force’s 20 B-2 bombers run along a similar price tag: $130,159 per hour.

3. C-5 Galaxy

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
Ground crews unload a U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft at Bagram Airfield, in Parwan province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Henry Chan)

The largest of the USAF cargo haulers, the C-5 can carry two Abrams tanks, ten armored fighting vehicles, a chinook helicopter, an F-16, or an A-10 and only costs $100,941 an hour to get the stuff to the fight.

4. OC-135 Open Skies

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kyle Kindig, left, and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Riley Neads, right, operate air cannons from deicing trucks to blow snow off of an OC-135 Open Skies (U.S. Air Force photo by Delanie Stafford)

This plane was designed to keep tabs on the armed forces belonging to the 2002 signatories of the Open Skies Treaty, which was is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. At $99,722 an hour, it’s one expensive overwatch.

5. E-8C Joint STARS

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
An E-8C Joint STARS from the 116th Air Control Wing, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., pulls away, May 1, 2012 after refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker with the 459th Air Refueling Wing (U.S. Air Force photo)

The airborne battle platform costs $70,780 to keep flying. The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or Joint STARS, is an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform. Its primary mission is to provide theater ground and air commanders with ground surveillance to support attack operations and targeting that contributes to the delay, disruption and destruction of enemy forces.

6. B-52 Stratofortress

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
A B-52 Stratofortress deployed to RAF Fairdford, England from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., prepares to air refuel with a KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christine Griffiths)

Squeaking in just under the JSTARS cost, The B-52 BUFF (look it up) runs $70,388 per flying hour.

7. F-35A Lightning II

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
A 33rd Fighter Wing F-35A Lightning II powers down on the Duke Field flightline for the first time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sam King)

Despite its ballooning development costs, the F-35 isn’t as expensive to fly as one might think, at only $67,550 an hour. (And that fact is one of the airplane’s selling points.)

8. CV-22 Osprey

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
A 71st Special Operations Squadron CV-22 Osprey receives fuel from a 522 SOS, MC-130J Combat Shadow II aircraft, over the skies of New Mexico.

The USAF’s special operations tiltrotor will run you $63,792 per hour.

9. B-1B Lancer

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer aircraft banks away after receiving fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft, not shown, during a mission over Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway/Released)

The B-1 makes up sixty percent of the Air Force’s bomber fleet and runs $61,027 per flying hour.

10. F-22 Raptor

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
A F-22 Raptors from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., fly off the wing of a KC-135 Stratotanker on their way to Iraq. The F-22s are supporting the U.S. lead coalition against Da’esh. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston)

The “best combat plane in the world” only cost $58,059 an hour to fly. Small price to pay for the best.

Honorable Mention: A-10 Thunderbolt II (aka “Warthog”)

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory
An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., approaches the boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker from McConnell Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo byAirman 1st Class Colby L. Hardin)

The BRRRRRT costs a measly (by comparison, anyway) $19,051.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Norway prepares for upcoming climate war

As the U.S. maps out plans to protect American military bases susceptible to climate change, its partner nations are growing increasingly concerned that global warming may lead to weapons and technology proliferation as now-frozen waterways open.

Norwegian officials worry that melting Arctic ice will lead players such as Russia, China, and the U.S. to increase use of undersea and aerial unmanned weapons as well as intelligence gathering platforms in the newly opened areas.

The drones could be programmed to “follow strategic assets,” including Norwegian or ally submarines, a top Norwegian Ministry of Defense official said in early May 2019.

He added that the presence of such drones may increase the potential for collisions.

“I don’t think all these unmanned things work perfectly at all times,” he said.


Military.com spoke with officials here as part of a fact-finding trip organized by the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, through a partnership with the Norwegian Ministry of Defense. The group traveled to Oslo, Bergen, and Stavanger to speak with organizations and government operations officials May 6-10, 2019. Some officials provided remarks on background in order to speak freely on various subjects.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

The Norwegian ULA class submarine Utstein.

(U.S. Navy photo)

The official’s concern is not unfounded. Norway’s military has reportedly spotted unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) surfing alongside Russian submarines in the Barents Sea. Russia is also funding research into aerial UAVs that can operate longer in the cold climate, according to a recent report from TASS.

And during the U.S.-led exercise Trident Juncture in 2018 — the largest iteration of the drill since 1991 — troops observed multiple drones flying nearby, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Roughly 50,000 U.S. and NATO forces participated in the three-week exercise. It spanned central and eastern Norway, as well parts of the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea, including Iceland and the airspace of Finland and Sweden, NATO said at the time.

Officials could not confidently say the observing drones belonged to Russia, but noted the increased risk posed by the flights.

While Russia and Norway’s coast guards deconflict on a near daily basis, Norway’s MoD has not held top-level talks with its Russian counterparts since 2013, officials said. Norwegian military officials instead call up their Russian peers on a Skype line they keep open, checking in weekly.

Topgun Days: Dogfighting, cheating death and Hollywood Glory

Russian Coast Guard.

(United States Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan R. Cilley)

Russia has been clear about its push for additional drone operations in the Arctic circle.

“There has to be some sort of deconfliction in order to avoid collisions,” said Svein Efjestad, policy director for security and policy operations at Norway’s Ministry of Defense. “If you use UAVs also to inspect exercises and weapons testing and so on, it could become very sensitive.”

Complicating things further, China, which considers itself a “near Arctic state” is planning to create new shipping lanes with its “Polar Silk Road” initiative. Officials expect that process with include drones to surveil the operation.

Commercial drones also compound the congestion issue. For example, Equinor, Norway’s largest energy company, is partnering with Oceaneering International to create drones able to dock at any of the company’s offshore oil drilling facilities to conduct maintenance. The smart sea robot will be controlled from a central hub at Equinor’s home facilities, a company official told Military.com.

Another MoD official highlighted further risk, worrying that “smart drones” could be manipulated in favor of an adversary.

“What if [the drone] can collect data, but [put that data out there] out of context?” the official said, citing spoofing concerns. “The risk is getting higher.”

Norwegian officials plan to pursue regulatory changes to help avoid “nasty reactions” due to the growing congestion of drone operators in the region.

Because as the ice melts, the Arctic “will be an ocean like any other,” the MoD official said.

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