You’re showing up and working out, but how do you know if you’re actually pushing yourself hard enough at the gym? If you’re putting the time in, but not seeing or feeling the results of all the hours spent grinding it out on the treadmill or in the weight room, you might be wondering if your effort is enough.
While techie gadgets like fitness trackers and exercise apps can help you stay focused, you sometimes need other ways to gauge your progress. INSIDER asked three fitness experts to share some ways you can tell if you’re pushing yourself hard enough when sweating it out at the gym.
1. You’re breathless during cardio
We all know that cardio workouts should make us sweat, but a better measure of an efficient aerobic workout is your breathing.”
A great way to tell if you’re pushing yourself enough in a cardio workout is if you’re getting breathless during the high-intensity moments,” said Aaptiv master trainer John Thornhill.
For instance, Thornhill told INSIDER that at the end of a high-intensity cardio push, if you were having a conversation with another person and you could only say a few words in a breath, you’re pushing yourself appropriately.
However, if you’re new to fitness, he said it’s best not to get breathless too often. Instead, Thornhill recommended working your way up to sustaining mid to high levels of intensity for longer periods of time.
2. You measure the intensity by using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
One way to gauge intensity while working out, said iFit Trainer Mecayla Froerer, is by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Using a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the absolute hardest you can work, Froerer told INSIDER that you can take inventory of where you’re at and how you are feeling.
If your workout is supposed to be a HIIT style workout, you’ll want to work in the 8-10 RPE range (anaerobic). Additionally, if your workout is scheduled to be a recovery workout, you’ll want to be in the 1-4 RPE range. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
3. You’re seeing and feeling progress
If you’re feeling better, lifting heavier weights, moving faster, or recovering quicker, there’s a good chance you’re pushing yourself in the gym. But if you’re still feeling the same after putting in the time, Thornhill said you can up the intensity by increasing your resistance or weight incrementally, reduce your rest periods between HIIT (high-intensity-interval-training) sets, and increase the number of times you work out during the week.
Delayed onset muscle soreness can happen after an intense workout. In other words, Thornhill said you know you’ve pushed the limits if your quads and calves are sore after a run, or your biceps are sore after a rigorous set of bicep curls.
“Tiny microscopic tears will develop in those muscles (don’t freak out, it’s totally normal) and your muscles will repair themselves and get stronger as you rest and recover,” he explained.
5. You feel some level of discomfort while working out
Strong effort and some discomfort go hand and hand, explained Tony Carvajal, certified CrossFit trainer with RSP Nutrition. He told INSIDER that you generally want to feel some level of discomfort (even minor) and pushing hard through a workout will cause that exact feeling.
“Pushing hard will create more ATP, your body will need extra oxygen, and so breathing increases and your heart starts pumping more blood to your muscles,” he explained.
As the heart rate spikes and the body requires more oxygen, Carvajal said lactic acid starts to flow through the muscles, mainly in the legs and arms. “That’s what is usually described as the ‘burn’ and is exactly what you should be reaching for,” he added.
6. You’re thinking about the reward
If you exercise on autopilot, there’s a good chance you’re not thinking about your “why,” which often leads to a lack of effort and disappointing results in the gym. That’s why Carvajal said to remind yourself before, during, and after the workout “why” you’re doing this — what is your reward?
“You may find it beneficial to have a mental or even physical picture of your reasons for working out hard, and focusing on this will help you to push through even when it’s tough,” he explained.
7. You’re excited to exercise
It’s normal to have days when you want to skip the gym. But if you’re coming up with excuses and finding reasons to ditch your workouts, you might actually be bored.
Hitting a plateau in your exercise routine can lead to a decrease in your fitness level and a lack of motivation to push yourself when you are working out. Consider hiring a trainer or taking a fitness class. Having an expert guide you through your workouts can help to ensure that you’re actually pushing yourself hard enough.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisInsider on Twitter.
Pfc. Kanayochukwu Onyejeli, with Platoon 3235, Kilo Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, conducts the fireman carry during the maneuver under fire portion of the Combat Fitness Test at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., on Dec. 22, 2014. Marines will have to wear a cloth face covering during events where social distancing cannot be maintained. (Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jericho Crutcher)
Marines‘ brief reprieve from fitness tests and dreaded body-tape measurements is over.
The service announced Tuesday that the combat and physical fitness tests, along with the Body Composition Program, will resume immediately. That’s after Commandant Gen. David Berger announced in April that some of those requirements were suspended at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Marines will be required to complete the Combat Fitness Test by the end of the year, a new administrative message released Tuesday announced. And even though the Physical Fitness Test, which normally runs the first half of the year, was previously waived, anyone who failed it in 2019 must be ready to pass it in the next 90 days.
The tape test is also back for Marines outside height and weight standards who need body composition evaluations. Any Marine who couldn’t get a tape test during tight restrictions due to the pandemic must now be measured by the end of the month, the message states.
Marines will wear cloth face coverings during fitness tests if they’re not able to keep at least six feet apart. The distancing requirement will be impossible for some events, including one on the CFT that requires Marines to carry and drag a teammate. Marines also hold each other’s legs for the crunches portion of the PFT, though the test allows them to swap out that event and opt to hold a push-ups-like plank position.
During the tests, Marines must follow Defense Department guidance issued during the pandemic that requires frequent cleaning of gym equipment. Items that might require disinfection include the ammunition cans Marines lift during the CFT and the pull-up bar they use during the PFT.
The pandemic has changed a host of military policies, affecting everything from boot camp to deployments and unit physical training. When canceling some fitness tests earlier this year, Berger stressed that Marines’ fitness must remain a priority.
“I expect each of us to continue to maintain our fighting condition,” he said in April.
It goes without saying that the US Army is continuously testing and adding new weapons to its arsenal.
For example, the Army recently began to replace the M9 and M11 pistols with the M17 and M18, but has only delivered them to soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Therefore, the pistols are not yet standard issue.
While the Army continues to stay ahead of the game, it undoubtedly has a multitude of weapons for its soldiers.
And we compiled a list of all these standard issue weapons operable by individual soldiers below, meaning that we didn’t include, for example, the Javelin anti-tank missile system because it takes more than one person to operate, nor did we include nonstandard issue weapons.
Check them out:
The M1911 is a .45 caliber sidearm that the Army has used since World War I, and has even begun phasing out.
The Army started replacing the M1911 with the 9mm M9 in the mid-1980s.
The M11 is another 9mm pistol that replaced the M1911, and is itself being replaced by the M17 and M18 pistols.
The M500 is a 12-gauge shotgun that usually comes with a five-round capacity tube. The Army began issuing shotguns to soldiers during World War I to help clear trenches, and has been issuing the M500 since the 1980s.
The 12-gauge M590 is very similar to the M500 — both of which are made by Mossberg — except for little specifications, such as triggers, barrel length and so forth.
M26 modular shotgun accessory
The M26 is “basically a secondary weapon slung underneath an M4 to allow the operator to switch between 5.56 and 12-gauge rounds quickly without taking his eyes off the target or his hands off of his rifle,” according to the US Army.
M14 enhanced battle rifle
The M14, which shoots a 7.62mm round, has been heavily criticized, and the Army is currently phasing it out. Read more about that here.
The M4 shoots 5.56mm rounds and is a shortened version of the M16A2.
The M16A2 shoots the same round and has a similar muzzle velocity as the M4. One of the main differences, though, is that it has a longer barrel length.
M16 rifle with M203 grenade launcher
The M203 shoots 40mm grenades and can be fitted under the M4 and M16, but the Army is currently phasing it out for the M320.
M249 squad automatic weapon
The SAW shoots a 5.56mm round like the M4 and M16, but it’s heavier and has a greater muzzle velocity and firing range.
M240B medium machine gun.
The M240B is a belt-fed machine gun that shoots 7.62mm rounds, but is even heavier and has a greater max range than the SAW.
There are multiple versions of the M240, and two more of those versions are Army standard issue.
M240L medium machine gun
The M240L is a much lighter version of the M240B, weighing 22.3 pounds, versus the 240B’s 27.1 pounds.
M240H medium machine gun
The M240H is an upgraded version of the M240D, which can be mounted on vehicles and aircraft.
M110 semi-automatic sniper system
The M110 shoots a 7.62x51mm round with an effective firing range of more than 2,600 feet. But the Army is currently phasing it out for the Heckler & Koch G28.
M2010 enhanced sniper rifle
The M2010 shoots a .30 caliber, or 7.62x67mm round with an even greater effective firing range than the M110 at nearly 4,000 feet.
M107 long-range sniper rifle
The M107 shoots an incredibly large 12.7x99mm round with an equally incredibly large effective firing range of more than 6,500 feet.
M2 machine gun
The M2 shoots .50 caliber rounds with an effective firing range of more than 22,000 feet. It’s also very heavy, weighing 84 pounds.
M320 grenade launcher (stand-alone)
The M320 is the Army’s new 40mm grenade launcher, which can be fitted under a rifle or used as a stand-alone launcher. The M203 could too, but rarely was.
The M320 reportedly is more accurate and has niftier features, like side-loading mechanisms and better grips.
MK19 grenade machine gun
The MK19 is a 40mm automatic grenade launcher that can mount on tripods and armored vehicles. It has an effective firing range of more than 7,000 feet, compared to the M320‘s 1,100 feet.
M3 Carl Gustaf (MAAWS)
The M3 Carl Gustaf is an 84mm recoilless rifle system that can shoot a variety of high-explosive rounds at a variety of targets, including armored vehicles.
And this graphic, updated in February 2018, and which the Army gave to Business Insider, shows all the current and future standard issue weapons.
All images featured in this article are courtesy of the Department of Defense.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Twentynine Palms, Camp Lejeune, and Quantico are just a few of the Marine Corps bases that house those who’ve earned the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. Although the various duty stations each offer their own benefits, none compare to the awesomeness that is Camp Pendleton.
In 1942, the government purchased land in Southern California from a private owner for $4,239,062. The property was soon named in honor of Maj. Gen. Joseph H. Pendleton for his outstanding service, thus creating Camp Pendleton. Some might tell you there are downsides to be stationed there, but, in general, it’s considered the best. Here’s why.
The Marine Corps Exchange located on the main side of the base. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it’s not Marine Corps-quality.
It has everything you need
Shopping, recreation centers, and schools are just a few amenities that make the historic property a full-scale, working city. The Camp has been designed and developed to fulfill the every need of those stationed within the gates.
There’re so many activities
The San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and Universal Studios are just a few of the places you can take your family to visit on a sunny afternoon. The drives will take you typically take around an hour or so, depending on traffic, but since you live so close, you don’t have to spend money on a hotel room — which makes sh*t cheaper.
Visit Camp Pendleton today and notice there’s not a cloud in f*cking skies!
(Photo by Marine Sgt. April L. Price)
That SoCal weather
Do you like doing PT in the pouring rain? Well, if you do, Camp Pendleton isn’t the place for you. According to U.S. Climate data, Camp Pendleton receives an average of 13.3 inches of rain per year. Compare that to the national average of 32.25 inches.
Camp Pendleton is starting to sound pretty impressive, isn’t it?
Members of the Western Army Infantry Regiment, Japan Ground Self Defense Force, and Marines with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit play a game of football on the Del Mar Beach at the conclusion of Exercise Iron Fist 2013
(Photo by Sgt. Christopher O’Quin)
It has its own beach
The beach in Del Mar has places where you can camp or rent small cottages for a few days. These private areas can get you close to the ocean enough to hear waves crash onto the shoreline while keeping you near enough to the base to hear the Marines call out their famous and well-rehearsed cadences as they run by.
The United States Air Force says they intend to pit an artificial intelligence-enabled drone against a manned fighter jet in a dogfight as soon as next year.
Although drones have become an essential part of America’s air power apparatus, these platforms have long had their combat capabilities hampered by both the limitations of existing technology and our own concerns about allowing a computer to make the decision to fire ordnance that will likely result in a loss of life. In theory, a drone equipped with artificial intelligence could alleviate both of those limiting factors significantly, without allowing that life or death decisions to be made by a machine.
As any gamer will tell you, lag can get you killed. In this context, lag refers to the delay in action created by the time it takes for the machine to relay the situation to a human operator, followed the the time it takes for the operator to make a decision, transmit the command, where it must then be received once again by the computer, where those orders translate into action. Even with the most advanced secure data transmission systems on the planet, lag is an ever-present threat to the survivability of a drone in a fast paced engagement.
Unmanned aerial vehicle operators in training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman BreeAnn Sachs)
Because of that lag limitation, drones are primarily used for surveillance, reconnaissance, and air strikes, but have never been used to enforce no-fly zones or to posture in the face of enemy fighters. In 2017, a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone successfully shot down another, smaller drone using an air-to-air missile. That success was the first of its kind, but even those responsible for it were quick to point out that such a success was in no way indicative of that or any other drone platform now having real dogfighting capabilities.
“We develop those tactics, techniques and procedures to make us survivable in those types of environments and, if we do this correctly, we can survive against some serious threats against normal air players out there,” Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, said at the time.
Artificial intelligence, however, could very feasibly change this. By using some level of artificial intelligence in a combat drone, operators could give the platform orders, rather than specific step-by-step instructions. In effect, the drone operator wouldn’t need to physically control the drone to dogfight, but could rather command the drone to engage an air asset and allow it to make rapid decisions locally to respond to the evolving threat and properly engage. Put simply, the operator could tell the drone to dogfight, but then allow the drone to somewhat autonomously decide how best to proceed.
A hawk for hunters
The challenges here are significant, but as experts have pointed out, the implications of such technology would be far reaching. U.S. military pilots receive more training and flight time than any other nation on the planet, but even so, the most qualified aviators can only call on the breadth of their own experiences in a fight.
Drones enabled with some degree of artificial intelligence aren’t limited to their own experiences, and could rather pull from the collective experiences of millions of flight hours conducted by multiple drone platforms. To give you a (perhaps inappropriately threatening) analogy, you could think of these drones as the Borg from Star Trek. Each drone represents the collected sum of all experiences had by others within its network. This technology could be leveraged not just in drones, but also in manned aircraft to provide a highly capable pilot support or auto-pilot system.
“Our human pilots, the really good ones, have a couple thousand hours of experience,” explains Steve Rogers, the Team Leader for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Autonomy Capability Team 3 (ACT3). “What happens if I can augment their ability with a system that can have literally millions of hours of training time? … How can I make myself a tactical autopilot so in an air-to-air fight, this system could help make decisions on a timeline that humans can’t even begin to think about?”
As Rogers points out, such a system could assess a dangerous situation and respond faster than the reaction time of even highly trained pilots, deploying countermeasures or even redirecting the aircraft out of harm’s way. Of course, even the most capable autopilot would still need the thinking, reasoning, and directing of human beings–either in the cockpit or far away. So, even with this technology in mind, it appears that the days of manned fighters are still far from over. Instead, AI enabled drones and autopilot systems within jets could both serve as direct support for manned aircraft in the area.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins)
By incorporating multiple developing drone technologies into such an initiative, such as the drone wingman program called Skyborg, drone swarm initiatives aimed at using a large volume of cooperatively operating drones, and low-cost, high capability drones like the XQ-58A Valkyrie, such a system could fundamentally change the way America engages in warfare.
Ultimately, it may not be this specific drone program that ushers in an era of semi-autonomous dogfighting, but it’s not alone. From the aforementioned Skyborg program to the DARPA’s artificial intelligence driven Air Combat Evolution program, the race is on to expand the role of drones in air combat until they’re seen as nearly comparable to manned platforms.
Of course, that likely won’t happen by next year. The first training engagement between a drone and a human pilot will likely end in the pilot’s favor… but artificial intelligence can learn from its mistakes, and those failures may not be all that long lived.
“[Steve Rogers] is probably going to have a hard time getting to that flight next year … when the machine beats the human,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said during a June 4 Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event. “If he does it, great.”
Psychological operations is known mostly for their leaflets and posters designed to demoralize the enemy or convince local populations to stay away from combat areas. But sometimes, those troops go full “spook” and complete crazy missions — like when they became vampires and ghosts to scare America’s enemies.
The vampire mission was led by Lt. Col. Edward G. Lansdale. He was sent to the Philippines in September 1950 to help dislodge Communist rebels in the area. The rebels, known as Huks, were known to be superstitious so Lansdale had his men study their local legends.
After an early mission to convince locals they would be cursed if they supported the communists helped force the surrender of some Huk units, Lansdale knew he was in business. He then turned his attention to a local vampire legend, the “asuang.”
Lansdale and his men circulated a rumor in a village that an asuang vampire lived in the hills nearby. They waited for the rumor to make its way up the hill, and then swooped into action. A covert team snuck into the hills and waited for a patrol. When it was nearly past them, they snatched up the last man, poked two holes in his neck, and drained him of his blood. Seriously.
They then put the body back on the trail. When the Huks found it, they believed the rumors of the asuang and fled from the area, allowing government forces to take the region.
Soldiers tried a similar trick in Vietnam by capitalizing on the belief that the souls of dead people not buried are forced to wander the world. Soldiers made a series of “Ghost Tapes” that were commonly called “Wandering Soul.”
The audio tapes began with Buddhist funeral music followed by a girl’s cries for her father. A wandering ghost then responds, crying with regret that he chose to die on a far off battlefield rather than staying with his family.
Soldiers with backpacks, ships, and aircraft all broadcasted the message at different times. There is little evidence that anyone believed they were hearing actual ghosts and the tapes seemed to have mixed effects.
While there were reports of Communist forces surrendering or deserting after hearing the tapes, sailors and soldiers who broadcast the messages reported coming under increased fire when they started playing the tapes.
Friendly forces used this hatred to their advantage. After a C-47 came under extreme fire while broadcasting the tape, the commanding officer of the plane swore he’d never play it again. He was sent back the next night to play it anyway, but this time with an AC-130 flying in support, targeting everything that fired at the C-47. One of the more widely known versions of the tape, “Ghost Tape Number 10,” can be heard here.
In one wing, there are 435. On the other, there are 100. Luckily, this isn’t referring to a severe weight imbalance detrimental to an aircraft’s flight. These are the number of appointed individuals responsible for making the nation’s laws on Capitol Hill and the people who some Air Force legislative liaisons and fellows engage with to ensure continued legislative support for national security.
The legislative liaison and fellowship programs are designed to provide service members opportunities to improve understanding and knowledge of the functions and operations of the legislative branch and how it impacts the military.
According to Title 5, U.S. Code Section 7102 and Title 10, U.S. Code Section 1034, United States Air Force personnel have the legal right to petition and furnish information to or communicate with Congress.
“It is our responsibility to truly understand the intersection of politics and policy as members of an apolitical organization,” said Maj. Gen. Steven L. Basham, former director for Secretary of the Air Force legislative liaison, who is now the deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa Command. “We are not only the Air Force liaison to Congress, but we are also liaisons for Congress to the rest of the Air Force.”
Lt. Col. Joe Wall, deputy chief of the Senate Air Force Liaison Office, salutes a staff vehicle to welcome Gen. David Goldfein, U.S. Air Force chief of staff, before a posture hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee at Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., April 4, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
Basham says that individuals selected to become legislative liaisons are intuitive, broad and flexible thinkers. Despite donning a suit or business attire during their time on the Hill, aspiring liaisons or fellows are required to have exceptional professional bearing and appearance, exceptional organizational skills, performance and knowledge of current events in national security affairs and international relations are also desired.
“We bring phenomenal people into this program,” Basham said. “As a matter of fact, we want individuals who are experts in their career field who have the ability to look across the entire United States Air Force. When we’re working with Congress or a staff member, they don’t see a bomber pilot or a logistician; they see us as a United States Air Force officer or civilian who is an expert across all fields.”
According to Brig. Gen. Trent H. Edwards, budget operations and personnel director for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller, the opportunity to serve as a legislative liaison and then as a legislative fellow to a member of congress provided him valuable experience in understanding how the government and democracy work. His time working at the Hill “left an indelible impression” in his mind.
Maj. Michael Gutierrez, Senate Air Force Liaison Office action officer, and Col. Caroline Miller, chief of the Senate Air Force Liaison Office, corresponds with legislators in preparation for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., April 3, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
“As a squadron, group and wing commander, I frequently relied on my understanding of the legislative process to help inform my bosses and teammates on how they could positively affect their mission through the right congressional engagement at the right time,” he said. “I also left the experience with a keen understanding of the importance of relationships, communication and collaboration. Those lessons serve me well today, and I share them with younger officers every chance I get.”
Airmen working on the Hill come from diverse career backgrounds. Historically, the liaison and fellowship programs were only open to officers but have opened to senior noncommissioned officers and civilians in recent years. Typical responsibilities of fellows include assisting with the drafting of legislation, floor debate preparation, planning and analysis of public policy and serving as congressional liaisons to constituents and industry. Fellows are required to come back to serve as legislative liaisons later on in their careers and into positions where they can utilize their acquired knowledge of the legislative process.
Maj. Christopher D. Ryan, Senate Air Force Liaison Office action officer, discuss Air Force inforamation with Dan S. Dunham, military legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Deb Fischer from Nebraska, at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., April 3, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
Col. Caroline Miller, chief of the Senate Legislative Liaison Office,said the first step to being a legislative liaison is making sure that the liaison understands the chief of staff and the secretary of the Air Force’s vision and priorities. As members of the Senate legislative liaisons, she and her team work primarily with the Senate Armed Services Committee and its members, as well as any members of the Senate who have Air Force equity. Along with preparing senior leaders for hearings or meetings with legislators, they provide members of Congress and their staff information that helps in their understanding of current Air Force operations and programs.
“I wish I knew what I know now from a legislative perspective when I was a wing commander because I didn’t understand the power of the congressional body back then,” she said. “Every installation has challenges. Every installation has aging infrastructure. Every installation has lots of different things that they’re working through, and I did not engage with my local congressional district as much as I would have if I had I been up here and understood that (our representatives) really do want to help.”
Dan S. Dunham, a military legislative assistant who works for U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, said the legislative liaisons are who they “turn to first” whenever they have Air Force-related questions – may it be on budgets, programs or operations.
Gen. David Goldfein, U.S. Air Force chief of staff, deliver his opening statements during a posture hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee at Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., April 4, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
“Air Force and Congress can be a tall order – both sides have different chains of command and different constituencies to which they are answerable,” he said. “That can significantly increase the risk of miscommunication. The legislative liaison fills a critical role in bridging that gap and they are frequently the ones we rely on to be the primary facilitator for getting answers and information for our bosses.”
Along with having constant interaction with the highest echelons of Air Force leadership and the key decision makers, due to the sensitive nature of information exchange at this level, legislative liaisons must be capable of thinking on their feet and making informed decisions.
“We bring individuals in who sometimes have to make the call when talking with the staff on what information they should provide,” Basham said. “I think the level of trust they have for their senior leaders having their back when they make that call is invaluable.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
On the increasingly crowded battlefields of Afghanistan, a feared, commando-style Taliban unit is gaining attention for a series of deadly attacks on Afghan security forces.
Known as “Sara Kheta” — Red Unit or Danger Unit in Pashto — it is said to be the Taliban’s elite special-forces group. Unlike regular Taliban fighters, analysts say the outfit is better trained and armed and is sent on special operations targeting bases and posts of the Afghan National Army and police force.
The so-called Red Unit’s rise has raised concerns among government forces struggling to fend off the Taliban since the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014 and suffering record casualty rates on the battlefield.
When did it emerge?
The first mention of a Taliban “special-forces unit” was in June 2015, when Taliban fighterspublished photos on social media purportedly showing a training camp where recruits were being trained on heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns.
In December 2015, the Taliban said it was unleashing its special forces to eliminate fighters allied with the militant group Islamic State (IS) that had emerged in Afghanistan earlier that year.
In August 2016, Afghan military officials confirmed the existence of the Taliban’s Red Unit in the southern province of Helmand.
But the unit has fought its way to greater prominence in the past month or so. On Nov. 1, the Taliban uploaded photos of the unit on its official Telegram account. The photos show members of Red Unit in new uniforms and armed with the kind of tactical assault gear worn by soldiers and law enforcement teams around the world.
Weeks later, Afghan officials blamed it for a spate of attacks on Nov. 13 and 14 during whichdozens of Afghan security personnel were killed in the southern province of Kandahar and the western province of Farah.
On Dec. 3, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said the commander of the new unit, Mullah Shah Wali, also known Mullah Naser, waskilled in an air operation in Helmand Province the week before.
How is it different from other Taliban units?
“What distinguishes this force from other fighting units is its intensive and longer training, the degree of vetting, its tactics, weapons and equipment, and structure,” says Borhan Osman, senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG).
“The unit is mainly used for quick interventions, high-value targets, special operations, or offensives such as capturing a highly strategic area, breaking major sieges of regular Taliban forces, jailbreaks, and escorting important leaders,” Osman adds.
Military analysts estimate the size of the unit at anywhere from several hundred to up to 1,000 fighters.
Those tactics and capabilities were on show in the November attacks when Afghan officials said the unit, equipped with lasers and night-vision gear, attacked police checkpoints and army bases and rapidly left the scene to avoid NATO air strikes. On Nov. 14, the unit drove a pickup truck loaded with explosives into a police checkpoint point and then launched attacks on 14 nearby posts, killing over two dozen police officers.
In Farah Province the same day, Taliban units with night-vision scopes killed eight police officers in their beds early in the morning. Three police officers in the province were also killed in night attacks around the same time.
The U.S. military has equipped many Afghan soldiers with night-vision equipment, but police forces rarely possess them.
“The Red Unit and regular Taliban forces use the same types of weapons: small arms, RPGs, and machine guns,” says Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of the Long War Journal. “Typically, the Red Unit has newer weapons, and is occasionally seen with night-vision devices that have been seized from Afghan forces.”
The unit is believed to equipped with the Taliban’s most advanced weaponry, including 82-millimeter rockets, laser pointers, heavy machine guns, and U.S.-made M-4 assault rifles. They are also known to have used and possess dozens of armored Humvees and Ford Ranger pickup trucks stolen from Afghan forces.
Ahmad K. Majidyar, a South Asia and Middle East expert for the Washington-based Middle East Institute, says it is misleading to call the unit a special-forces outfit because it lacks elite commando capabilities of even the Afghan Special Forces, let alone advanced elite commando units such as the U.S. SEAL Team Six.
“The Red Team is more a heavily armed group used in surprise attacks against vulnerable Afghan security check posts,” he says. “It also has well-trained snipers that aid ordinary Taliban militants in their attack against the Afghan forces.”
The unit has also spread from southern Afghanistan, where it was established, and has expanded into eastern and western regions.
“The Red Unit poses a significant threat to Afghan forces,” Roggio says. “It has had great success on the battlefield when going head to head with Afghan units.”
Roggio says the unit operates like shock troops, often leading assaults on Afghan district centers, military bases, and outposts.
The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan has said it has not seen any evidence of the Taliban possessing advanced weaponry like night-vision equipment, which Afghan officials say the militants have purchased on the black market or have accumulated after overrunning Afghan army bases.
But Afghan military officials have confirmed the unit’s capabilities.
Kandahar’s powerful police chief, General Abdul Raziq, has said the Red Unit is part of the Taliban’s “new approach and new tactics,” adding that it was “well equipped and highly armed.”
Majidyar says he expects the Red Unit to come under increasing pressure if President Donald Trump relaxes U.S. rules of engagement.
“The Taliban will suffer more significant losses on the battlefield in the coming months,” he predicts.
The communist forces of Vietnam were largely successful, and for a lot of reasons. They were willing to undergo extreme discomfort and suffer extreme losses for their cause, they were resourceful, and they became more disciplined and well-trained over time. But there was a nightmare infrastructure that they created that also led to success: Those terrifying tunnels.
The fighting in Vietnam dated back to the 1940s when corrupt democratic officials turned the population largely against it. Communist forces preyed upon this, rallying support from the local population and building a guerrilla army, recruiting heavily from farming villages.
The ruling democratic regime patrolled mostly on the large roads and through cities because their heavy vehicles had trouble penetrating the jungles or making it up mountains.
By the time the U.S. deployed troops to directly intervene, regime forces had been overrun in multiple locations and had a firm foothold across large patches of the jungle, hills, and villages.
And while U.S. forces were establishing a foothold and then hunting down Viet Cong elements, the Viet Cong were digging literally hundreds of miles of tunnels that they could use to safely store supplies, move across the battlefield in secret, and even stage ambushes against U.S. troops.
The original Viet Cong tunnels were dug just after World War II as Vietnamese fighters attempted to throw off French colonial authority. But the tunnel digging exploded when the U.S. arrived and implemented a heavy campaign of airstrikes, making underground tunnels a much safer way to travel.
And with the increased size of the tunnel network, new amenities were added. Kitchens, living quarters, even weapon factories and hospitals were moved underground. The Viet Cong now had entire underground cities with hidden entrances. When the infantry came knocking, the tunnels were a defender’s dream.
The tight tunnels limited the use of most American weapons. These things were often dug just tall and wide enough for Viet Cong fighters, generally smaller than the average U.S. infantryman, to crawl through. When corn-fed Nebraskans tried to crawl through it, they were typically limited to pistols and knives.
Even worse for the Americans, the Viet Cong were great at building traps across the battlefield and in the tunnels. Poisoned bamboo shoots, nails, razor blades, and explosives could all greet an attacker moving too brashly through the tunnel networks.
This led to the reluctant rise of the “Tunnel Rats,” American warfighters who specialized in the terrible tasks of moving through the underground bases, collecting intelligence and eliminating resistance. Between the claustrophobia and the physical dangers, this could drive the Tunnel Rats insane.
Once a tunnel was cleared, it could be eliminated with the use of fire or C4. Collapsing a tunnel did eliminate that problem, and it usually stayed closed.
But, again, there were hundreds of miles of tunnels, and most of them were nearly impossible to find. Meanwhile, many tunnel networks had hidden chambers and pathways within them. So, even if you found a tunnel network and began to destroy it, there was always a chance that you missed a branch or two and the insurgents will keep using the rest of it after you leave.
And the tunnels even existed near some major cities. Attacks on Saigon were launched from the Cu Chi Tunnels complex. When U.S. and South Vietnamese troops went to clear them, they faced all the typical traps as well as boxes of poisonous snakes and scorpions.
And the clearance operation wasn’t successful in finding and eliminating the bulk of the tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels were the ones used as staging points a weapons caches for the Tet Offensive.
Most of us think of highly-trained spies and espionage units as the best of the best, Cold War ninjas who would never dream of getting caught lest they be disavowed by Washington, Moscow, London, or wherever they come from.
If 1980s-era film and television has taught us anything, it’s that the Russian spy agencies are among the best of the best. If that was true, something is severely lacking lately, because one of their spy units keeps getting caught doing some high-profile greasy stuff.
Russia’s GRU unit 29155 was recently outed as the unit behind the alleged payment of bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But that’s not the only high-visibility mission that was uncovered in recent days. 29155 was also allegedly behind the effort to hack Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the assassination of former KGB spy Sergei Skripal in England, and an attempted coup in Montenegro.
The unit is part of the Russian military intelligence apparatus, responsible for intelligence gathering and operations outside of the Russian Federation. The GRU (as it’s known outside of Russia and the former Soviet Union) was not as widely known or regarded as the Soviet KGB or the KGB’s antecedents, the Russian SVR and FSB, but today it is the go-to agency for military-related operations.
Why? Because it deploys six times as many foriegn operatives as the FSB or SVR. The GRU is Russia’s largest foreign security service. But unlike the KGB, the GRU has been largely unchanged since its Soviet heyday.
The GRU is the unit that takes on the most important military operations, like say, partnering with the Taliban or killing off former Soviet spies. But Foreign Policy says their work has been pretty sloppy in the past few years.
In the case of bounties on American troops in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence services were actually able to track bank transfers between the Taliban and GRU accounts overseas. As for the other plots, it didn’t even require intelligence services. Media outlets inside and outside of Russia have been able to track members of 29155 because they kept reusing aliases with questionable cover stories to travel throughout the world.
Using these bits of information, the movement of GRU assets was relatively easy to track for the media, who published their findings. It was so easy, the information was confirmed by multiple countries’ intelligence agencies. The members of 29155 were mapped and tracked all over Europe.
Two of the 29155’s agents, Alexander Petrov (really Alexander Mishkin) and Ruslan Boshirov (real name Anatoliy Chepiga), were caught red-handed by Scotland Yard on closed-circuit tv cameras in the 2018 assassination plot of Sergei Skripal.
In that plot, the use of a Soviet nerve agent, along with the GRU operatives, led investigators not only to 29155, but to Chepiga entire graduating class of the GRU academy. From there, they uncovered plots to poison an arms dealer, interfering in elections in Spain, and even a coup in NATO member Montenegro.
Western intelligence saw the effort as a “Rosettta Stone” in reading Russian intelligence movements abroad.
The nuclear-powered submarine. Ultra-advanced stealth bombers and fighters. These all represent the most lethal weapons in the U.S. military’s mighty arsenal — and they might soon all be close to obsolete
Well, at least if certain technological trends bear fruit, according to a number of think-tank reports, research studies, and in-depth essays that have been published over the last year.
America’s Carriers vs. China’s Missiles: Who Wins?
And while it might not all come to pass, or at least not right away and certainly not all at once, the trend lines are clear: America’s military, if it wants to retain its unrivaled dominance on the battlefields of the future, will need to do a great deal of soul searching and investment to <a href="http://nationalinterest.org/feature/pay-attention-america-russia-upgrading-its-military-15094" title=" maintain its edge over nations like Russia” target=”_blank”>maintain its edge over nations like Russia, <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/pentagon-lays-out-challenge-posed-by-chinas-growing-military-might-1402005458" title=" China” target=”_blank”>China, and many others in the years to come.
The aircraft carrier, a symbol of American naval and overall power projection capabilities, <a href="http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2016/02/stop-the-navy-aircraft-carrier-plan-000036-000036" title=" seems under the most threat of being rendered a relic of the past” target=”_blank”>seems under the most threat of being rendered a relic of the past. Almost every week, a new report casts a dark shadow on the future of this important U.S. military asset.
The newly developed DF-26 medium-range ballistic missile.
Take, for example, the recent report released by the Center for New American Security (CNAS) smartly titled, “Red Alert: The Growing Threat to U.S. Aircraft Carriers.” <a href="http://www.cnas.org/SaylerKelley" title=" Author Kelley Sayler” target=”_blank”>Author Kelley Sayler, an associate fellow at CNAS, argues that “the short, medium, and long-range threats to the carrier–including SAMs and other anti-access/area denial capabilities (A2/AD), in which China is investing heavily” will create a situation where American carriers “will not be able to act with impunity in the event of future conflict.” As Sayler explains in great detail in her report, carriers”will face a dense and growing threat across their full range of operations as A2/AD systems continue to proliferate. Operating the carrier in the face of increasingly lethal and precise munitions will thus require the United States to expose a multibillion-dollar asset to high levels of risk in the event of a conflict. Indeed, under such circumstances, an adversary with A2/AD capabilities would likely launch <a href="http://thediplomat.com/2013/02/missile-defenses-real-enemy-math/" title=" a saturation attack” target=”_blank”>a saturation attack against the carrier from a variety of platforms and directions. Such an attack would be difficult — if not impossible — to defend against.”
And as Slater points out, <a href="http://www.cnas.org/files/documents/publications/CNAS%20Carrier_Hendrix_FINAL.pdf" title=" China is increasingly able to target U.S. carriers at range (and well past the ability of their carrier strike aircraft to safely attack from out of range” target=”_blank”>China is increasingly able to target U.S. carriers at range (and well past the ability of their carrier strike aircraft to safely attack from out of range):
“China appears intent upon increasing its ASBM [anti-ship ballistic missile] capabilities further and, at a recent military parade commemorating the end of World War II, revealed that it may have an ASBM variant of a substantially longer-range missile — <a href="http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/chinas-2500-mile-range-carrier-killer-missile-nuclear-threat-14669" title="the DF-26” target=”_blank”>the DF-26. As with the DF-21D, estimates of the capabilities of the DF-26 vary widely; however, it is thought to have a range of 1,620 to 2,160 nm and to have both conventional and nuclear warheads. If accurate and operational, this system would give China the ability to strike targets within the second island chain – including those in and around the U.S. territory of Guam – as well as those throughout the entirety of the Bay of Bengal. In the event of a wider conflict, these systems could also reach targets throughout much, if not all, of the Arabian Sea.”
As for America’s nuclear-powered submarine force, the threats to its continued dominance in undersea warfare seem a little more further off, but nonetheless, something that must be planned for.
Once again, the Washington-based think-tank universe provides us some important clues concerning the challenges ahead. <a href="http://csbaonline.org/publications/2015/01/undersea-warfare/" title=" In a report by the always smart Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments” target=”_blank”>In a report by the always smart Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), as well as in a follow on piece in this publication partly excerpted below, CSBA Senior Fellow Bryan Clark <a href="http://nationalinterest.org/feature/are-submarines-about-become-obsolete-12253" title=" lays out the challenge to America’s submarine force” target=”_blank”>lays out the challenge to America’s submarine force:
“Since the Cold War, submarines, particularly quiet American ones, have been considered largely immune to adversary A2/AD capabilities. But the ability of submarines to hide through quieting alone will decrease as each successive decibel of noise reduction becomes more expensive and as new detection methods mature that rely on phenomena other than sounds emanating from a submarine. These techniques include lower frequency active sonar and non-acoustic methods that detect submarine wakes or (at short ranges) bounce laser or light-emitting diode (LED) light off a submarine hull. The physics behind most of these alternative techniques has been known for decades, but was not exploited because computer processors were too slow to run the detailed models needed to see small changes in the environment caused by a quiet submarine. Today, ‘big data’ processing enables advanced navies to run sophisticated oceanographic models in real time to exploit these detection techniques. As they become more prevalent, they could make some coastal areas too hazardous for manned submarines.”
From there the problem gets worse. Clark’s CSBA report sees even more problems ahead:
“New sensors and related improvements to torpedo seekers could enable completely new approaches to finding and attacking submarines. Most significantly, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) forces could shift away from today’s skill and labor-intensive tactics that result from the short detection range of sensors that are precise enough to support ASW engagements. This limitation requires ASW ships and aircraft to methodically search a wide area for a submarine, then track it until they can get within weapons range for an attack. New sensor and seeker capabilities could instead enable a “fire and forget” approach in which ASW forces detect a submarine at long range and apply computer processing to obtain enough precision for an attack using long-range missiles with torpedo warheads. This kind of attack may not sink the submarine, but would likely compel it to at least evade, breaking its initiative and making it more detectable.”
Two F-22As in close trail formation.
(U.S. Air Force photo by TSgt Ben Bloker)
Finally, we come to America’s growing fleet of stealth fighters and long-range bombers. It seems advances in new types of radars could provide the targeting information needed to take down some of Washington’s most advanced aircraft — and most expensive.
As National Interest Defense Editor, <a href="https://twitter.com/davemajumdar" title=" Dave Majumdar” target=”_blank”>Dave Majumdar, points out, “China appears to be building a new high-frequency radar on an artificial feature in the Spratly Islands that could allow Beijing to track even the stealthiest American warplanes, including the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and even the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit.” He explains, in greater detail, that:
“While the system is called a <a href="http://ece.wpi.edu/radarcourse/Radar%202010%20PDFs/Radar%202009%20A_7%20Radar%20Cross%20Section%201.pdf" title=" high-frequency (HF) radar—that’s bit of a misnomer. HF radars actually operate on low frequencies relative to the VHF, UHF, L, S, C, X” target=”_blank”>high-frequency (HF) radar—that’s bit of a misnomer. HF radars actually operate on low frequencies relative to the VHF, UHF, L, S, C, X and Ku bands, which are more typically used by military radars. These low frequencies have <a href="http://www.radartutorial.eu/01.basics/Rayleigh-%20versus%20Mie-Scattering.en.html" title=" waves that are several meters long” target=”_blank”>waves that are several meters long and, consequently, most stealth aircraft show up on HF radar. In order to defeat low frequency radar, a stealth aircraft has to eliminate features like fins, which is why the flying-wing shape is the best way available to avoid detection. That is because there is an <a href="http://news.usni.org/2014/04/21/stealth-vs-electronic-attack" title=" omnidirectional resonance” target=”_blank”>omnidirectional resonance effect that occurs when a feature on an aircraft — such as a tail-fin — is less than <a href="http://www.nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/revealed-can-chinas-radars-track-americas-stealth-f-22-15261" title=" eight times the size of a particular frequency wavelength. As a result, there is a step change in radar” target=”_blank”>eight times the size of a particular frequency wavelength. As a result, there is a step change in radar cross section once that threshold is exceeded. Since every stealth aircraft currently in America’s fleet exceeds that threshold — even the B-2 is not large enough to avoid most HF radars — every U.S. aircraft would show up on the Chinese radar. Indeed — all stealth aircraft will show up at some frequency.”
How Should America Respond?
So what is Washington doing about the threats listed above?
First off, when it comes to America’s carriers, it should be noted that no one really knows how deadly China’s anti-ship missiles, especially at long-ranges, would be in a real firefight. For example, can Beijing find a U.S. carrier in the massive Pacific Ocean? Can they defeat American missile defenses? And as for the case of the dangers poised to advanced submarines, at least as of now, such threats are more on the drawing board than a clear and present danger. As for the challenges posed to stealth, that seems a more realistic and present-day challenge U.S. officials will have to deal with. (<a href="http://www.nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/revealed-can-chinas-radars-track-americas-stealth-f-22-15261" title="They seem to be working on negating the challenge as we speak” target=”_blank”>They seem to be working on negating the challenge as we speak.)
However, there is a clear recognition in the Pentagon that America’s chief competitors, <a href="https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/02/24/chinese-russian-subs-increasingly-worrying-the-pentagon/" title=" namely great power challengers like China and Russia” target=”_blank”>namely great power challengers like China and Russia, are catching up to many of the U.S. military’s chief abilities to project power <a href="http://breakingdefense.com/2015/09/russians-in-syria-building-a2ad-bubble-over-region-breedlove/" title=" or are quickly finding ways to negate such capabilities” target=”_blank”>or are quickly finding ways to negate such capabilities. While the Obama Administration’s recent budget request does smartly increase funding for research and development, I can’t help but wonder if such investments might be too little, too late. There is also the very real possibility that a new administration will have its own priorities, slowing down or possibly canceling any modernization efforts that could make a real difference. In fact, members on Capitol Hill seem to take such a possibility seriously. As <a href="https://joewilson.house.gov/" title=" Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC)” target=”_blank”>Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee, recently explained,
“This budget request is a good step in tackling the modernization challenges of the Department. Activities like the Third Offset Strategy and the Long Range Research and Development Plan are important to charting a course that takes a strategic view of the security environment; however, I remain concerned that it is too little too late. As I see it, starting major initiatives at the end of an administration makes it difficult to ensure that these things will survive the new budgetary and policy priorities that will naturally arise with a new President. I hope I am wrong, since I support many of the things being proposed in this budget request, but only time will tell.”
Indeed, only time will tell.
(This article first appeared in February 2016 and is being reposted due to reader interest)
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
The Army Futures Command now officially has a shoulder sleeve insignia and distinctive unit insignia that its soldiers will wear while they work toward modernizing the Army.
With a golden anvil as its main symbol, the shoulder patch and unit insignia are a nod to former Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal coat of arms that used a blue-colored anvil.
The command’s motto “Forge the Future” is also displayed below the anvil on the unit insignia, while both the patch and unit insignia have black and white stripes stretching outward from the anvil.
“Symbols mean things just like words do,” said Robert Mages, the command’s acting historian. “It’s a reminder to the soldiers that wear the patch of the mission that they’ve been assigned and of the responsibilities that come with that mission.”
Since last year, the four-star command has been at the heart of the most significant Army reorganization effort since 1973.
In July 2018, senior leaders picked Austin, Texas, for the AFC headquarters. Cross-Functional Teams were also stood up within the command to tackle the Army’s six modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, network, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality.
Shoulder sleeve insignia for Army Futures Command. With a golden anvil as its main symbol, the shoulder patch and distinctive unit insignia are a nod to former Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal coat of arms that used a blue-colored anvil.
(Photo by John Martinez)
The patch and unit insignia represent the command’s most recent move toward full operational capability, which is expected in 2019.
Andrew Wilson, a heraldic artist at The Institute of Heraldry at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, worked with command leadership since December 2017 to finalize the designs.
“This is something that is supposed to stand the test of time and just to play a part in it, it’s an honor,” he said.
The main piece — the anvil — is meant to represent fortitude, determination and perseverance. The black, white, and gold resemble the colors of the U.S. Army.
Wilson said he got the idea for the anvil during a design meeting that mentioned the command’s new motto — Forge the Future.
Wilson, who once took a blacksmithing course in college, was immediately reminded of reshaping metals on an anvil.
“Taking away from the meeting, I tried to come up with something that would play off of that,” he said. “The first thing that popped in my head with ‘forge’ was blacksmithing and one of the key features of that is an anvil.”
Once he spoke of his idea, Charles Mugno, the institute’s director, then advised him to look at the anvil used in Eisenhower’s coat of arms.
The coat of arms granted to Eisenhower upon his incorporation as a knight of the Order of the Elephant in 1950.
“And from there the spark of creativity just took off,” Wilson said.
The Institute of Heraldry was also involved in the organizational identity of the Security Forces Assistance Brigades, one of which just completed its first deployment to Afghanistan.
“Whenever you have a new Army unit, you do end up doing a heraldic package of shoulder sleeve insignia, distinctive unit insignia and organizational colors,” Mugno said.
Heraldic conventions, he added, is a time-honored process that dates back to the 12th century.
With a staff of about 20 personnel, the institute also helps create the identity of other federal government agencies. Most notably is the presidential seal and coat of arms.
“We have a very unique mission,” Mugno said. “We all share a sense of honor and purpose in being able to design national symbolism for the entire federal government.”
Until the new patch was created, soldiers in Army Futures Command wore a variety of patches on their sleeves. Those assigned to ARCIC, for instance, wore the Army Training and Doctrine Command patch and those in research laboratories had the Army Materiel Command patch.
Now, the golden anvil has forged them all together.
“It’s a symbol of unity — unity of effort, unity of command,” said Mages, the historian. “We no longer report to separate four-star commanders. We now report to one commander whose sole focus is the modernization of our Army.”
The US has a small aircraft carrier hosting F-35B stealth fighter jets in the Middle East as Russia threatens US forces in Syria — and if fighting breaks out the US will have no choice but to send in the advanced fighters.
Russia and its ally, Syria, have launched a massive offensive against Idlib, the last rebel-held area in the country, and appeared to predict chemical weapons use in the process.
But Russia has made these claims before, and it hasn’t stopped the US from striking Syria in the past. This time, as Syria and Russia eye a bloody victory over the last remaining rebels, Russia has telegraphed that it would counter-attack the US if US missiles hit Syrian targets over chemical weapons use.
Russia, a weakened military power that often bolsters its image with propaganda, sat idly by while the US hit Syria twice before, but the US has spelled out that this time its penalty would take a much “stronger” form.
In the face of a massive Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean hugging Syria’s coast, the US doesn’t have a single carrier strike group anywhere near the region.
But the US does have the USS Essex, a US Navy small-deck helicopter carrier modified to carry US Marine Corps F-35B stealth fighters. The Essex and its accompanying ships across the Suez Canal from the Russian ships in the Mediterranean represents one of the greatest concentrations of naval power ever put to sea, and its main mission is simple — crisis response.
The long-awaited F-35Bs have updated software that grants them “full warfighting capability” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Christopher Harrison told USNI News. That capability takes the F-35 beyond anything that F/A-18s, the US Navy’s standard carrier-based fighter, could do in an environment like Syria.
Syria has advanced Russian missile defenses, creating some of the world’s most challenging air spaces. Only a stealth jet with advanced sensors, like the F-35B, could safely take on the mission of fighting in the skies above Syria.
“The F-35’s ability to operate in contested areas, including anti-access/area-denial environments that legacy fighters cannot penetrate, provides more lethality and flexibility to the combatant commander than any other fighter platform,” said Harrison.
US Marines firing a howitzer in Syria.
(US Marine Corps photo)
Russia flirting with disaster
Russia specifically threatened US forces in southern Syria with retaliation. In the past, these US forces have come under attack from Russian-aligned forces and brutally beat them back with superior air power. But in that case, Russia held back its considerable bank of fighter jets in the region from the fight.
The F-35B has never tasted combat, but the Syrian war produced a rich list of firsts over the last seven years. Missile fires have taken down Israeli, Syrian, and Russian jets over the course of the war. Syria has seen the combat debut of Israel’s F-35I and the first US air-to-air kill between manned aircraft since 1999.
If Russia is serious about backing its ally and countering a possible US attack, it would no doubt need air power to do so. But not only does the US have stealth F-35s nearby ready to hit Russia with something it’s never seen, they have considerable air bases in the region that make Moscow’s threat appear less than serious.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.