There were only a few places around the world more tense than in the Cold War showdown between East and West that occurred every day in divided Berlin. In the West, American and NATO guards stared down the barrels of the Soviet-backed East German border guards from the other side of the Berlin Wall. These guards were known to shoot down any East German civilian trying to cross the wall, sometimes leaving their mangled corpse in the barbed wire.
One American decided he was going to do what he could to help.
An East German border guard leaps over barbed wire and away from the East German “utopia.”
It’s a well-known fact by now that life behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Few places in the Eastern Bloc were more repressive than in East Germany, and East Berlin in particular. East Berlin’s proximity to the freedom enjoyed by West Germany and greater Western Europe forced the Communist regimes to be more harsh to those attempting to escape to freedom. Still, many East Germans made the attempt. Scores of people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Untold numbers more likely made the escape.
One of those successful escapees was Hans-Peter Spitzner and his daughter Peggy. Spitzner lived more than 100 miles from East Berlin, but when the Stasi – the East German secret police – came knocking on his door and arrested him in the middle of the night for not voting the Communist Party line, he was done. He resolved to get out of East Germany. When Spitzner’s wife was suddenly able to travel to the West for a family birthday, he decided to make his move.
Spitzner with his wife and daughter.
Spitzner read in a Communist newspaper about how American and other troops were stripping East German stores of their stocks using favorable currency conversion rates. Under the post-World War II agreements, Western allies had free and open access to East Berlin and could come and go as they pleased. The author of the article even mentioned that Western soldiers’ cars weren’t searched. Spitzner rationalized that he and his daughter could hide in one of those cars and escape to freedom.
So the man drove 120 miles to East Berlin, just to hang out at the bus stops frequented by Western troops. All day long, he asked if anyone would be willing to smuggle him and his daughter out. Eventually, a young U.S. Army troop named Eric Yaw was walking up to his black Toyota.
He agreed to smuggle Spitzner and his daughter out of East Germany.
Eric Yaw’s Toyota Corolla.
There was just one hitch: the heat sensors at Checkpoint Charlie. As soon as the family was in Yaw’s trunk, Spitzner was certain they were doomed. If they were caught, they’d be imprisoned. If they ran, they’d be shot. But as luck would have it, that day was particularly warm, and Yaw’s black Toyota retained enough heat to hide Spitzner and his daughter from the border guards. In just a few minutes, Yaw opened the trunk and informed the two they were free.
Spitzner phoned his wife on vacation in Austria and told her the news. Yaw was disciplined by the Army for smuggling the two East Germans, but repeatedly said he would do the same thing again. Today, Yaw is out of the Army but is still a family friend. The Spitzners have returned to their hometown in what used to be East Germany.
A U.S. military plane carrying a second batch of ventilators to Russia landed in Moscow on June 4, as part of a $5.6 million humanitarian donation to help the country cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, said the shipment contained 150 ventilators made in the United States.
As the coronavirus spreads in the US, “tens of thousands” of National Guard troops could be called up to assist efforts to combat the disease, the National Guard chief said Thursday.
There are more than 2,000 National Guard members on state active duty in 27 states, but the number is expected to increase. As of last Friday, only 400 Guard members were active in just six states.
“We anticipate that number going up relatively quickly, in fact doubling by this weekend,” Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said at a Pentagon press briefing.
“It’s hard to tell what the exact requirement will be, but I’m expecting tens of thousands to be used inside the states as this grows,” he told reporters, adding that “this could blossom in the next couple of weeks as governors and states determine their needs.”
The National Guard has a long history of responding to disasters, including public-health emergencies such as disease outbreaks.
“We are involved in a multitude of mission sets,” Lengyel said. “The National Guard is providing medical testing, assessments, facilities, ground transportation, logistics, command and control, planners, liaison officers, and we will continue to adapt as this unfolds.”
As of Tuesday in New York, which has over 3,000 coronavirus cases, there were 900 New York National Guard troops on duty assisting at drive-thru test stations, cleaning public spaces, and distributing food, the Guard said in a statement.
“Going forward, we expect the role of the National Guard will continue to grow and evolve to meet the country’s needs during this historic pandemic,” Lengyel told reporters.
The Guard is having to implement certain force protection measures, however, as six Guard members have already tested positive for the coronavirus.
“My No. 1 priority is taking care of our National Guard soldiers, airmen and their families,” the chief said in a recent statement. “The readiness of our force will be critical to the success of this nation’s COVID-19 response efforts.”
The Syrian Civil War has been a testing ground for some of Russia’s latest weapons. Russia even sent their piece-of-crap carrier, the Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, to do a “combat deployment” in Syria (though the carrier’s planes operated from land). Russia made a big deal about the deployment but, as is typical of much of Russia’s arsenal, there wasn’t much behind the hype.
Now, it looks like the new Pantsir mobile air-defense system may join that list of weapons that fail to meet expectations. The Pantsir is a combined gun-missile system armed with enough SA-22 Greyhound missiles to, theoretically, shoot down an entire squadron of fighters.
As it turns out, the Pantsir made its combat debut as a result of the recent contretemps between Iran and Israel after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal. Unfortunately for the Russians, this debut was less than stellar. The video above, released by the Israeli Defense Forces, shows the last seconds of a Pantsir’s existence, right up to the moment of impact.
According to an IDF release, the Israeli Air Force carried out an attack in response to rocket-launcher fire from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Israeli defense systems, like Iron Dome, destroyed four of the Iranian rockets, preventing any casualties and damages.
During the IDF’s response, Syrian air-defense systems fired on Israeli planes. All IDF aircraft returned home safely. Conversely, Israel claims that it destroyed several Syrian aerial interception systems, including the Pantsir.
A Pantsir air-defense system takes part in a 2016 live-fire demonstration.
(Photo by Sergey Bobylev, Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)
This isn’t the only time that Syria has taken the latest gear from Russia into battle only to see it perform poorly. In the 1982 Lebanon War, Syria sent T-72 main battle tanks into combat with the Israelis. The T-72s lost in action against Israel’s home-grown Merkava in what would prove to be a preview of that tank’s abysmal performance in Operation Desert Storm.
To see more on the Israeli Defense Forces’ recent operations in Syria, check out the video below.
For America, there’s a pretty clear idea of what our intelligence agencies should do, and it’s mostly about keeping tabs on new enemy weapons, terrorists plots, and counterespionage. But, American technology and innovations are also a coveted target for other countries, especially ones like China that are developing rapidly.
And China has the money and the culture to do something about it. They have proven capable of stealing secrets, partially to support military programs and partially to support the state-run companies that are in charge of keeping the people happy so President Xi Jinping can keep concentrating on wandering the Hundred Acre Wood.
(He reportedly hates being compared to Winnie the Pooh, so that’s just the best)
Here are six targets of Chinese espionage that you probably wouldn’t guess:
The site of some of the most sinister thefts of secret technology.
China needs to feed millions of mouths, but doesn’t want to spend all the time and money to do the research required. Instead, they’ve sent agents across the U.S. and other nations to steal seeds from suppliers, like Monsanto and Pioneer, either illegally purchasing them or straight ripping them out of the ground.
Self-driving cars like, the Waymo, could remake the economy, and China doesn’t want to get left behind.
(Photo by Dllu)
Self-driving cars and other automation
While self-driving cars seem like a luxury more than anything else, the underlying tech is challenging to create and could, potentially, be extremely lucrative. Add to that the fact that deep-learning algorithms for one task can give you a better idea how to create algorithms for another task, and it’s easy to see why nations, especially China, would target the companies making the new vehicles.
Microbes are an important part in the manufacture of some drugs and recently, chemicals. Yeah, China and other countries like those.
(Agricultural Research Service)
Really any important biological discovery, especially medicinal, could go here, but a particular microbe case is instructive. Ching Wang, a man of Chinese descent who discovered an anti-parasitic drug in the 1970s, told the New Yorker that he received a phone call a little after he and his colleagues published their paper.
Universities are centers of learning and research that China would love to rip off.
(Photo by Ulrich Lange)
Speaking of which, universities are a great place for espionage agents, and it’s not about the co-eds. Many advanced projects being done in a country are typically the result of a partnership between governments, corporations, and universities.
And, as you might imagine, universities are typically the weakest links in these partnerships. So, they’re often the target of spies.
Chinese wind farms are often made possible by technology that was stolen from an American company that nearly went bankrupt thanks to the theft.
(Photo by Land Rover Our Planet)
Wind and solar companies
China made a pledge to generate more clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do so, they apparently decided to just steal a bunch of U.S. secrets. In one high-profile case, American company AMSC sold 0 million in tech to Chinese firm Sinovel, putting safeguards in place that would, hopefully, prevent theft of their intellectual property.
Yeah… Those safeguards failed. China got help from an insider to download source code, reversed engineer the tech, installed it on all of their projects, and then didn’t pay the 0 million. A U.S. court recently decided a case against Sinovel for million.
The lawsuit might have gone better, except the Chinese military allegedly broke into AMSC’s servers to steal their legal strategy against the Chinese firm.
The Chinese Meng Shi, or “Brave Soldier,” is a vehicle that isn’t at all a ripoff of the AM General Humvee that American troops and their allies drive.
(Photo by Morio)
Oddly enough, despite all of China’s thefts, companies are still super eager to do business with state-run corporations and other entities in the country just to keep their foot in the door. Some even give free samples, something China encourages and regularlytakes advantage of.
That’s likely how China was able to domestically produce the Meng Shi, the “Brave Soldier.” AM General tried to sell them a Humvee and left behind a free sample after a visit in the 1980s. Later, China purchased a few for “oil exploration.” Then, the Meng Shi rolled off the line looking distinctly Humvee-like.
For its part, China insists that the appearance is a coincidence stemming from the vehicles’ similar missions. And besides, the Meng Shi is better on every metric, at least according to papers written by military officials and not subjected to peer review.
Experts and analysts are struggling to grasp the implications of the growing likelihood that the United States will withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. As U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton holds talks on the matter with counterparts in Moscow, RFE/RL takes a look at some of the more interesting reactions.
While most Russian analysts have been slow to comment, state media in Russiahave been putting forward the notion that U.S. President Donald Trump’s statements against the INF Treaty are not to be taken at face value.
The state RIA Novosti news agency quoted an unidentified “diplomatic source” in Brussels as saying Trump’s statement has “an election context.”
“Just days before the elections to Congress, he wants to show his electorate that he can make decisions that will upset the president of Russia,” the source was quoted as saying.
The pro-Kremlin tabloid website Argumenty Nedeli quoted an unidentified “high-ranking Russian diplomatic-military source” as saying that Trump’s statement was a ploy to get the upper hand in talks with Russia on nuclear issues.
“The business president is simply raising the stakes before negotiations like he always does,” the source said. “Now a banal exchange of concessions both by us and by the Americans will begin.”
Thomas Graham, former specialist on Russia for the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, told the daily Kommersant that the withdrawal indications could just mean that Bolton, who has long opposed any arms-control treaties with Russia, has caught the president’s ear.
“Only time will tell if this decision is final,” he said. “In the administration there are high-ranking figures who support the treaty and who would like to continue working with Russia to regulate contentious issues.”
National Security Advisor John Bolton
(U.S. Embassy in Ukraine)
Since 2014, the United States has argued that Russia has been in violation of the INF Treaty because it is developing an intermediate-range, ground-launched cruise missile that is provisionally known as the 9M729. The Trump administration said in 2017 that Moscow had begun deploying the new weapon.
Russia has denied that it was violating the treaty and has countercharged that some elements of a U.S. antimissile system in Europe violate it.
Russia fires an Iskander-K ballistic missile during Zapad 2017 drills. The 9M729 is said to be a variant of this missile.
(Russian Ministry of Defense)
Writing for the Brookings Institution, former high-ranking U.S. diplomat Steven Pifer has argued that unilaterally withdrawing from the agreement in this way would be a mistake that would leave Washington to blame for killing a major element of global arms control.
Withdrawing from the treaty would also enable Moscow to deploy the 9M729 without any restraints, Pifer added. It could also further the erosion of U.S. relations with its allies in Europe, he said, noting that no European countries have expressed concerns over the 9M729.
Pifer concludes that a smarter approach would be to get on one page with Europe and urge NATO allies to raise the possible violation directly with Moscow. At the same time, Washington could take “treaty compliant” steps such as deploying additional bombers in Europe that would send a serious signal to Russia.
“The INF Treaty likely has entered its final days,” Pifer wrote. “That’s unfortunate. The Trump administration should make one last push, with the help of allies, to get Moscow back into compliance. And, if that fails, it should have ready a presentation that will win the inevitable fight over who killed the treaty.”
Demonstrating Russia’s alleged violations would probably require the United States to declassify some sensitive intelligence information, Pifer noted.
Stephen Sestanovich, a former U.S. National Security Council senior director for policy development under Reagan, writing in The American Interest, largely agreed with Pifer, saying that keeping the treaty is important because it “keeps Russian capabilities under legal limits.”
“Yes, Moscow will probably keep nibbling at the edges of the INF deal, but the only way it can launch a big buildup is by withdrawing from the treaty itself — something it clearly hesitates to do,” he wrote.
A missile test in China in August, 2018.
(Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China)
Sestanovich notes that U.S. military planners are concerned about the INF Treaty because it restricts Russia and the United States but leaves China free to develop the weapons it bans.
“Military competition between China and the United States will obviously be the Pentagon’s top priority in coming years,” he wrote. “But the idea that this need decisively devalues the INF Treaty seems — at the very least — premature.”
He says that for the foreseeable future, the United States and its allies deter China with a combination of air- and sea-launched weapons.
“It’s not impossible to imagine that over time we and our allies will come to think that medium-range, ground-based missiles — the kind the INF Treaty keeps us from having — would add meaningfully to deterrence of China,” he wrote. “But this is not a near-term prospect. In fact, virtually every U.S. ally in the region would reject the idea.”
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There’s nothing more terrifying than imagining yourself trapped in a burning building, unable to escape … until you imagine being trapped in there with your children.
According to multiple news sources, that’s exactly what happened in Phoenix, Arizona, last week. A mother and her two children were in a third-story apartment when flames presumably rendered the exits inoperable, forcing the woman to the balcony. Bystanders encouraged her to throw her baby from the balcony and when she did, 28-year-old Marine turned security guard Phillip Blanks sprinted in, dove and caught the boy milliseconds before he would have hit the ground.
According to the Washington Post, Blanks said his time in the Marines, coupled with his athletic training as a wide receiver in high school and college, prepared him for this moment. The Marines taught him to “always be on high alert, not be complacent and to have discipline,” he said.
New details have emerged in recent months about the exact plans for Operation Sealion, Nazi Germany’s scheme to invade England, overwhelm defenses south of London, and install the then-Duke of Windsor as the new, pro-German king of England.
German troops land equipment.
(Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0)
While media tends to focus on the 1940 events highlighted by movies like Dunkirk and the 1944 happenings as showcased by Saving Private Ryan, there’s actually a lot of history in the years between. At the start of that period, in May 1940, Nazi Germany was clearly in the dominant position over Britain.
The encirclement of troops at Dunkirk had robbed the British army of much key equipment. The British army successfully evacuated most of its men and a lot of Free French forces out of Dunkirk, but was forced to leave nearly all of its artillery and vehicles behind, as well as thousands of tons of ammo, food, uniforms, weapons, etc.
And the British Navy was larger and more capable than the German one, but British admirals were reluctant to devote large warships to the English Channel, relying on destroyers and the occasional cruiser instead. Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force was strong, but would rely on bombers to take out German landing ships. And Germany had a plan for that.
German troops test amphibious tanks for the planned invasion of Britain in Operation Sealion.
(Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0)
See, Germany planned to do its amphibious invasion under the cover of darkness. The Royal Air Force’s best bombers relied on sights that only worked with plenty of light. At night, Britain’s best bombers would be next to useless.
So in 1940, despite Britain’s pseudo-alliance with the U.S. and its massive industrial base, Germany had the machinery and troops for an invasion, and Britain lacked the equipment to properly defend itself. And Germany had big plans.
First, the invasion flotilla would launch from bases on the French coast, most likely in September 1940. A diversionary attack would sail north and attack around Newcastle in England or Aberdeen in Scotland, drawing defenders north. Within a few days, the real invasion would come across the Strait of Dover.
Plan of battle of Operation Sealion, the cancelled German plan to invade England in 1940
Germany even knew what to do when it got there. German leaders believed that the then-Duke of Windsor, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David (lots of names), held German sympathies. He was the former King Edward VIII as well, having served in the role from the start of 1936 to the end of 1936. He had abdicated out of love to avoid a constitutional crisis (long story). All Germany had to do was put him back on the throne, hopefully giving them a new ally.
An abandoned Soviet KV-2 tank left by the roadside is inspected by curious German soldiers.
(Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA 3.0)
So Germany had the forces, the plan, and the follow-up, all staged and ready to go right as Britain was at its weakest. So why didn’t it happen? Why didn’t America have to join the war in Europe with no convenient staging place off of France? With Britain’s colonies split between opposition to Germany and loyalty to Edward VIII?
But, stupidly enough, part of it was some comments Hitler had made during the initial planning for Operation Sealion.
A landing craft from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of the 1st Infantry Division on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944.
(Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent)
When the Kriegsmarine was briefing Hitler in the summer of 1940, the Fuhrer had emphasized the need for complete air superiority over the channel before an invasion was launched. As previously discussed, this was unnecessary, but Hitler had emphasized it during planning, and few leaders were willing to try to go to him with a plan that ignored it.
So, when the Royal Air Force surprisingly won the Battle of Britain, the invasion was delayed from September 1940 to early 1941, then back further as Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, got underway in June 1941. The Soviet Union successfully resisted the invasion in late 1941, and the attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, drew America more firmly into the war.
In just over a year of fighting, Germany had gone from ascendant, with the machinery and manpower to potentially invade England, to the defensive, with too few troops to resist Soviet counterattacks. Allied counters in Africa, France, and D-Day sealed the deal.
After that, an intense arms race erupted to counter this devastating threat to ships.
The Styx is a primitive missile. According to GlobalSecurity.org, it has a range of up to 54 nautical miles, based on the variant, and travels at 90 percent of the speed of sound, or around 600 miles per hour. It is radar-guided. While primitive, it can carry a 1,000-pound warhead, or roughly the same amount of high-explosives in a Mk 84 2,000-pound bomb.
The Styx is perhaps the most common of the early Russian-style anti-ship missiles out there. Versions have been made in China and North Korea.
The best way to kill the Styx – or any anti-ship missile – is to kill the platform carrying them before the missiles are launched. Second-best is to use missiles to kill the other missiles far away.
But sometimes, you don’t get to choose one of those options. Sometimes, the missile gets too close to use missiles.
That is where the Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System comes in. This is essentially a self-contained package containing the targeting system, ammo, and a M61 Gatling gun – the same gun used on legendary warplanes like the F-4 Phantom, F-15 Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet, and F-16 Fighting Falcon.
A version is also used by the Army to shoot down rockets and mortar rounds.
The Phalanx has a top range of just under three and a half miles, but it is really only effective for just under a mile. In essence, it has six seconds to kill the target.
Fortunately, the M61 can spew out a lot of bullets in a very short period of time — up to 75 a second. Killing the missile will protect a ship from the worst of the impact, but the ship will be hurt.
However, fragment damage beats having a huge hole blown into a ship. And a damaged ship can be fixed and return to the front. Ships that are sunk are lost forever. You can see the Phalanx do its thing in the video below.
Britain formed a number of commando units in World War II that operated from Burma to India to Europe and even north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. The No. 14 (Arctic) Commando trained specifically to sink German ships, destroy infrastructure, and interrupt operations in order to cripple Axis efforts in the Atlantic.
But Gunnerside had also shown a shortage of suitable transportation and experienced personnel, so British leadership allowed members of the 12 Commando unit to form the ‘Fynn Force’ as well as to create an all new commando unit, 14 Commando, in 1942.
Troops were recruited from units with experience in cold climates, especially those who already knew how to ski and canoe. Yes, canoe. The unit was to be split into two, each specialized for certain operations. One group would specialize in transiting via skis, and the other would row in canoes.
Commandos carry the wounded to landing ships.
(Imperial War Museum)
Canadians were in high demand for the unit, but British and Norwegian sailors and commandos joined as well. It was a job that required steady nerves. Most missions proposed for the Arctic commandos were obvious suicide missions. One raid scheduled for the winter of 1942-1943 called for a group of skiers to parachute in and destroy a viaduct critical for iron ore transportation.
The unit commander voted against the mission on the basis that the party would almost certainly not be able to escape, but was overruled because of the value of success even if the commandos were lost. Luckily for them, weather made the mission impossible.
The “Cockleshell Heroes,” another group of canoe raiders who sunk ships with explosives.
(Royal Marine Museum)
They went forward on a motorboat and then split up. Four men stayed with the boat while four men went forward in two canoes. The men in the canoes were able to plant a limpet mine against the hull of ships, sinking a German minesweeper before they escaped.
But the mission fell apart there. The men on the motorboat had been forced to move from the rendezvous point, and the quartets were forced to escape and evade separately. Neither group made it out. They were captured during a massive search involving German forces and Norwegian civilians.
Thanks to the new order from Hitler to kill all captured commandos, issued just months before in October 1942, all eight were sentenced to die. Seven were executed after forced labor in concentration camps while the other died of typhus.
The rest of No. 14 Commando was later absorbed into other units after the organization was disbanded.
“Top Gun” is due for an upgrade. And no, it’s not the upcoming sequel to the classic 1986 film due out in 2019.
The ranges at Naval Air Station Fallon (NASF) in rural western Nevada – the epicenter of naval aviation combat training – have not seen a significant modernization in more than 20 years. Since then, the exponential evolution of aircraft and long-range weapons technologies have made Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) too small for pilots to realistically train for combat.
Realizing this, in 2016 the Navy published a proposal which would expand FRTC to meet the evolved training requirements. Under the plan, an additional 945 square miles of public land and 102 square miles of non-federal land would be withdrawn for military use.
“This is an absolutely enormous modernization, a once in a generation expansion which is critically important for naval aviation,” said Alex Stone, a Pacific Fleet environmental planner who conducted an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project.
But FRTC’s modernization program is under the gun: the permits for its current ranges – in use for 77 years – will expire in 2021, and the plan needs to be implemented before then. Doing so, however, would potentially impact a broad range of actors: ranchers, miners, hunters, 17 different tribes, off-road recreation enthusiasts, as well as a host of federal, state, and local agencies.
“We’re withdrawing an additional 750,000 acres, so even though it’s a rural area, that withdrawn land is going to take from the public a lot of areas for which there are currently other uses,” Stone explained. “What makes this such a challenging, complex project is the number of stakeholders involved, because this withdrawal affects so many different groups and each of these groups has a unique set of concerns and issues.”
U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Stroup, left, and Sophia Haberman, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center, examine ways to attract new talent through strategic communication with USC™s Dr. Tom Hollihan during NPS™ Strategic Communication Workshop.
Stone’s team has leaned into this challenge. They’ve brought in a range of experts, including anthropologists, biologists, and geologists, and held a series of open meetings with the Bureau of Land Management to keep the public informed and engaged in the process.
Yet they want and need to do more. And do it better.
“The success or failure of this project is really going to be tied to how well we can communicate with these different stakeholders,” Stone said. And that’s what brought the Top Gun team to the Naval Postgraduate School.
In early August 2018, Stone and 22 colleagues travelled to the university to refine their team’s strategic communication capability. Along with dozens of key members from multiple commands throughout the Navy, they took part in the school’s intense, three-day Strategic Communications Workshop (SCW), Aug. 7-9, 2018.
Developed by NPS’ Center for Executive Education (CEE), the SCW provides a deep dive into the design, planning and implementation of large-scale communications initiatives. Participants teamed up with both NPS faculty and professors from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism (USC-ASCJ) to apply the latest research and lessons learned from across the Department of Defense (DOD) and industry.
“These workshops make you stop and say, ‘OK, where are we?,'” said Gail Fann Thomas, SCW program manager and an associate professor in NPS’ Graduate School of Business and Public Policy (GSBPP).
“Once you conduct a strategic analysis, you can improve your communication tactics: who are your key stakeholders and how do they impact the achievement of your goals? What messages are your actions conveying, both inside and outside your organization?
“How can your organization’s communication provide better linkages between your day-to-day activities and your commander’s priorities?” she continued. “Might new media such as crowdsourcing and social media better create your desired effects? How are you maximizing your strategic effect with communication processes and metrics?”
To help commands across the services tackle these questions, Thomas has led more than 300 SCWs since becoming program manager in 2005, both at NPS and around the globe, bringing the workshop to commands on invitation.
At each SCW, attendees acquire new skills and tools to work through the military’s most vexing communications issues, from conducting in-depth stakeholder analyses to assessing communications risks, and developing metrics to track the effectiveness of initiatives.
“They’re not here to learn out of a textbook and go home,” Thomas said. “They all bring a real, concrete issue that they’re trying to work through, either because they’re looking ahead and saying, ‘Wow, we don’t know how we’re going to get there,’ or ‘We’ve got to do something different, and we don’t think we know enough to be able to do it.'”
All too often, strategic communications is incorrectly equated with ‘messaging.’ The SCW emphasizes the strategic analysis necessary prior to developing messages in order to ensure unity of efforts, actions and words.
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Lazir Ablaza, a fighter pilot with the 157th Fighter Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., prepares to launch an F-16 Fighting Falcon for a training mission from Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., Nov. 13, 2014
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson)
“Often a leader will say ‘Where’s my story? Give me an article; give me a message,’ but you have to stop and ask whether that’s the right thing, the right media, the right topic, and addressing the right people,” Thomas noted. “There’s a whole lot of work that has to be done before you figure out what your message might be.”
A key component of this is communications is within the organization itself.
In an era defined by the ubiquity of social media – when a Facebook post by a junior enlisted service member has the potential to end up on the front page of the Washington Post – it is absolutely critical that all personnel are on the ‘same sheet of music.’
“If their internal communication isn’t aligned very well, that means their external communication isn’t very good either, because you probably have different people telling different stories,” Thomas said. “So, the SCW helps them do the diagnostics and better align their internal communication.”
This was an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for Navy Lt. Matt Stroup.
A public affairs officer (PAO) with the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) in San Diego, his team paired up with USC-ASCJ doctoral studies director Tom Hollihan to find new ways to attract talented warfare tactics instructors to the command.
“We came here fully expecting to be externally focused on how best to communicate with the audience from a mass communications perspective, but what we’ve learned working with Tom is to identify the internal processes to our organization,” Stroup said.
Often, leaders think a PAO can dictate perceptions or actions through a single product, Stroup said.
“But it’s very much a team game,” he added. “It’s not something that you can do with just one person and hope they’re going to fix it.”
Hollihan was fully confident that Stroup’s team will be able to take their insights gleaned at the SCW home with them.
“They didn’t really know each other well, but this has been kind of an introduction to their own attitudes, values and styles,” he said. “What impressed me is how much respect they seemed to have for each other’s ideas and how productive the conversation was.”
Stroup described the SCW as “an incredibly valuable experience.”
“There aren’t too many other times in my career where I’m going to be able to sit for six to eight hours with a leading professor from one of the most highly-rated communications doctoral program in the U.S. and get some guidance on how to do this,” he said. “That’s gold as far as I’m concerned.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Navy Cmdr. James Johnston, who attended the SCW as part of the team from Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF), the command responsible for all naval aviation, including the Top Gun school.
“It’s been humbling,” he said. “I’d like to think that all of us got to the positions we’re at by being masters of our craft, but none of us has a lot of experience in communications other than communicating to subordinates.
“This program is a good example of how a command can accelerate their learning curve. In order to get this amount of concentrated teaching, you’d probably have to attend a whole semester class,” Johnston continued. “This will enable us to go back to our command and help our entire staff learn a lot quicker how to get through this process.”
That’s a win, according to Thomas. Enabling an organic strategic communications capability is the ultimate goal of the SCW, allowing commands to get ahead of crises before they develop.
“Nothing happens without communication, but for the most part, people don’t think about communication at all until a crisis happens and then they go, ‘Why didn’t we think about that?,'” she said. “Instead of being in crisis mode all the time, we want people to be able to look at the communication that’s needed and to anticipate and be proactive about it. Then, have a strategy around our communication for whatever it is.”
The SCW certainly accomplished this for the team negotiating the challenges of the Fallon range modernization effort, Stone said.
“We can get the process and all the facts right, but without the communication, we’re not going to be successful,” he said. “This workshop really gave us a path forward for how to approach communicating with all the stakeholders involved.
“So many people have been appreciative that they had the opportunity to attend something like this,” Stone added. “Everyone came away refocused on the project and full of enthusiasm moving forward.”
The US Air Force’s 64th Aggressor Squadron, which uses 20 F-16 fighter jets to train the rest of the force on realistic battle scenarios against enemy fighters, will use the paint scheme of Russia’s newest fighter jet, the Su-57, for one of its jets.
And this should give the US a considerable advantage in aerial combat against the Russian jet that’s meant to take on US F-22 and F-35 fighters, Brig. Gen. Robert G. Novotny, who commands 38 squadrons including the 64th, told The Drive.
Beyond-visual-range radars and missiles that can seek heat or electronic emissions have made visual camouflage on aircraft somewhat less of a priority over the years, but Novotny said camo still has an important psychological effect.
The Su-57 sports a “digital shark” paint job of pixelated blues and grays that distorts what pilots may see in the air. The US, as a counterpoint, has largely abandoned painting its jets with camouflage and has moved to integrating stealth coatings.
“Long ago, when aerial combat almost always involved visually acquiring the adversary, an enemy aircraft paint scheme could provide an advantage by either delaying detection, i.e., it blended in with the background environment, or it could confuse a pilot by masking its aspect angle or range,” Novotny told The Drive.
In the past, the Aggressor Squadron has sported paint jobs from Russia’s Su-34 and Su-35 fighters, as well as China’s J-20 stealth fighter.
A major advantage for US fighters
“The aggressor paint schemes serve a purpose other than just looking cool,” Novotny said. He cited the book “Red Eagles: America’s Secret MiGs” by Steve Davies that explains “buck fever,” a phenomenon that happens to fighter pilots upon seeing the enemy.
Novotny said Davies described it as “the emotion a new hunter feels the first time they aim a rifle at a deer,” or something that can cause well-trained pilots to freeze up and fail to act in combat.
(Russian Embassy / Twitter)
“Although the 64th Aggressors are not flying actual [Russian] aircraft, we use adversary paint schemes to help mitigate the risk of buck fever,” Novotny continued. “Based on that threat-representative training, our warfighters are much more likely to arrive at a merge, visually identify the enemy, and kill!”
The Aggressor with the new paint job will soon start in on a busy schedule of simulated air combat against US fighters like F-15s, F-22s, and F-35s in exercises like Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, where the squadron is based.
While the Su-57 paint job is designed to ready the US for combat against a formidable Russian fighter, it was not the obvious first choice, or even a choice made by Novotny — he posed the question to his Facebook followers, who overwhelmingly chose the Su-57.
Though the Su-57 has no large orders on the books and may never see a large role in Russia’s air force, people apparently jumped at the idea of a US fighter taking on the new challenge.
Novotny, for his part, agreed that the Su-57 was a relevant foe to train against.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.