Mexico’s Veracruz state may be one of the most dangerous places in the entire country. The extortion and kidnapping of civil servants and journalists are rampant, dismembered bodies are a common occurrence, and the city is on the front lines of Mexico’s ongoing drug war.
The Fuerza Civil – the Civil Forces of the Mexican state – is an elite security force designed to protect trade routes, migrants, agricultural areas, fisheries, and forests as well as assist with municipal authorities in preventing organized crime. They need all the help they can get.
Enter the Gurkha armored vehicle.
The Fuerza Civil equipped with next-generation weapons, armor, and vehicles to support that mission. One of those advanced armor vehicles comes from Canada’s Terradyne Armored, Inc. and is dubbed the Gurkha after Nepal’s feared elite warriors.
The Gurkha is a 4×4 light armored patrol vehicle, currently produced in three tactical configurations – each of which uses the Ford F550 chassis. They also run with Ford’s in-house built 6.7L Power Stroke V8 diesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
The power and armor make a huge difference in Veracruz. Civilians and police are regularly targeted or in the crossfire of ongoing violence between the Zetas, Sinaloa, and Gulf Cartels. Things got so bad the Mexican government had to deploy military forces to quell the fighting.
Just before 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 28, 1959, in the clear sky 5 miles north of Prescott, Arizona, something went wrong aboard an Air Force C-121G Super Constellation aircraft. The pilots, Navy Lt. j.g. Theodore Rivenburg and Cmdr. Lukas Dachs, had mere seconds to react as their large transport plane stalled 1,500 feet above the rough granite and cactus-covered ground below.
Rivenburg and Dachs throttled up their four-radial piston engines and tried to raise the nose as the silver plane made a right turn 2 miles south of the Prescott Municipal Airport. As the turn tightened, the bank steepened and the Super Connie snap rolled into a near-vertical dive.
The pilots had no time to recover.
March 1, 1959, cover of the Arizona Republic with news of the Constellation Crash outside Prescott, Arizona. Courtesy of Newspapers.com.
Witnesses driving on state Route 89 told an Arizona Republic reporter that the plane “exploded ‘like an atom bomb’ as it slammed into the ground alongside the highway.”
In addition to Rivenburg and Dachs, the crash killed everyone else on board, including Lt j.g. Edward Francis Souza, Petty Officer 2nd Class James Miller, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Calvin Coon.
Sixty-one years later, the reasons behind the accident remain a mystery. The Air Force investigated, but the plane wasn’t equipped with a flight data recorder, so investigators had limited information about those terrifying final moments. The Air Force’s redacted crash report, released via a Freedom of Information Act request, notes good weather and no mechanical issues, and describes the crash’s cause as “undetermined.”
Remnants of wreckage from the C-121G that crashed near Prescott, Arizona, on Feb. 28, 1959. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Over the years, scrub brush and manzanita grew over the blackened scars of the accident site. Monsoon thunderstorms and winter winds veiled the scraps of aluminum and wiring beneath sand and gravel. The bright Arizona sun turned the relics a pale gray. With each year, fewer and fewer of those who remember the crash remain. The tragedy might have faded completely if the city of Prescott hadn’t purchased 80 acres that included the crash site in 2009 to create a recreation area on the land.
By chance, the Prescott trail manager and some concerned citizens recovered the lost saga, and the city of Prescott dedicated the Constellation Trails to the memory of the crew in a powerful combination of history and outdoor recreation.
The vision for Lockheed’s Constellation aircraft began in a 1939 meeting between Howard Hughes and corporate brass. Hughes wanted a fleet of commercial aircraft for moving passengers and cargo across the country, and Lockheed wanted his business. The result was a first-of-its-kind commercial plane that, according to Lockheed, featured the industry’s first hydraulic power controls, cruising speeds faster “than most World War II fighters at 350 mph,” and a pressurized cabin for 44 passengers that allowed the plane to fly above most bad weather, creating a smooth and comfortable ride.
The Lockheed VC-121A Constellation 48-0614 Columbine was the personal aircraft of Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was commander at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in the early 1950s. It is now preserved at the Pima Air Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
By 1942, the military saw the Constellation as a potential transport, and in 1944 Hughes broke cross-country speed records in the olive-green military version called the C-69. After World War II, TWA bought the military’s C-69s and converted them into commercial aircraft. In 1951, Lockheed introduced the Super Constellation, which featured “air conditioning, reclining seats and extra lavatories,” as well as unheard-of fuel efficiency.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Super Constellations crisscrossed the globe as commercial and military workhorses. They saw action in Korea and Vietnam. In addition to hauling troops and cargo, Super Connies ran rescue missions, mapped Earth’s magnetic field, acted as the earliest airborne early warning platforms, hauled scientists to Antarctica, served as the Navy Blue Angels’ support plane, and even became the first Air Force One under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The crew of the ill-fated Super Connie, tail number 54-4069, was assigned to Navy logistics support squadron VR-7 at Moffett Field, California. The unit — part of the joint Military Air Transport Service, or MATS — moved people, patients, cargo, and mail throughout the Pacific. As part of the MATS, precursor to Military Airlift Command, the Navy operated and maintained the aircraft that belonged to the Air Force. According to a 1959 Naval Aviation News magazine feature on the unit, VR-7 helped maintain a supply line from California to Asia and the Middle East.
THE LAST LOG ENTRY CAME AT 1:44 P.M. […] MINUTES LATER, WHILE FLYING NORTH, AF 4069 MADE THAT RIGHT TURN INTO OBLIVION 2 MILES SOUTH OF THE PRESCOTT AIRPORT.
The southern route passed “through Hawaii, Kwajalein, Guam, and the Philippines. From Manila, the Embassy route continues on to Saigon, Bangkok, Calcutta, New Delhi, Karachi, ending in Dhahran.” And the northern route ran from “California west to Hawaii, Wake Island, thence to Tokyo, returning by way of Midway Island to Hickam.”
The magazine said that the aircraft could carry 76 passengers or 67 litter patients or a payload of more than 10 tons. And in terms of size, “the big Connie exceeds two railroad boxcars in length. If upended, its wings would easily tower higher than a 10-story building.”
The crew was on a nine-day temporary duty trip for training to orient themselves around Naval Air Station Litchfield Park, now Phoenix Goodyear Airport. The Prescott airport’s tower logs show AF 4069 practiced approaches and touch-and-go landings at the airport the day before the crash. Around 8:45 a.m. the following morning, the plane arrived in the area for more practice. At 11:32 a.m., AF 4069 left the area, returned to NAS Litchfield Park, switched aircrews, and took off again at 12:45 p.m.
The No. 1 Wright R-3350 engine starts on Lockheed Super Constellation Southern Preservation of Australia’s Historical Aircraft Restoration Society at Illawarra Regional Airport. The aircraft is an ex-US Air Force C-121C (Lockheed Model 1049F), c/no. 4176, s/no. 54-0157. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
After departure, the crew most likely conducted high-altitude training, “basic air work and emergencies” until 1:30 p.m. The last log entry came at 1:44 p.m. when the crew reported a forest fire 20 miles south of Prescott. Minutes later, while flying north, AF 4069 made that right turn into oblivion 2 miles south of the Prescott airport.
“The nose came up and a roar of power was heard,” the Air Force crash report states. “The right wing dropped sharply as the plane entered a near vertical dive to the ground, with the right wing leading at time of impact.”
The report continues, “Witness states the gear and flaps were up,” and the next two lines are blacked out.
The “Findings” section says, “The primary cause of this accident is undetermined,” and “investigation of the wreckage revealed no material or mechanical failure.” The last line before a redacted paragraph of recommendations says, “the aircraft apparently stalled too close to the ground to effect recovery.”
The reason for the stall is unknowable.
Constellation Trails. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
The FOIA response came with scanned copies of 23 black-and-white photos of the crash scene. It’s tough to make out much in many of them. The images show big splotches of black and gray with hand-drawn dashed lines and explanations. One photo stands out: Two men stand on the highway looking into a hole, hands tucked in their pockets and fedoras tilted on their heads. In the top middle of the frame, a bucket from a ’50s-era backhoe hangs ready to dig. The text on the photo says: “Location of #4 prop dome 6’2″ depth under highway.”
Chris Hosking, Prescott Trails and Natural Parklands coordinator, had no knowledge of the accident when he began planning the area’s trails. While performing an archeological survey to check for Native American ruins and other historic artifacts, he noticed “all these aluminum shards everywhere.”
So he reached out to Cindy Barks, a reporter at the local paper, the Prescott DailyCourier, who helped him figure out that an airplane had crashed there decades before. He knew then that the community should do something special to honor the fallen aviators.
The city chose to name the trail system after the fallen Constellation. One of Hosking’s son’s friends, Cody Walker, read about the project and stepped up to lead an effort to build a monument and host a dedication ceremony as part of an Eagle Scout project.
The memorial plaque dedicating the trails to those who died in the Super Constellation crash of 1959. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
“He went the extra mile,” Hosking says. “He contacted some of the families of the five airmen who were lost in that crash.”
Several of the aircrew’s children, other family members, and unit alumni came to Prescott for the ceremony.
“It was really emotional, you know, because some of these kids were too young to know their dads,” he says. “They knew their dads died in Arizona, but they didn’t know where or why or what happened, so that was a cool way to put some closure on that whole event for them.”
The Constellation Trails weave through sublime rock formations called the Granite Dells. The red granite boulders look like the backdrop of an old Western movie and have served as the set for many early Westerns and other films since 1912.
Constellation Trails. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Hosking designed a trail system with an outer loop and multiple cut-throughs to the center. Near the trailhead, scrub oak passageways filter the sunlight, and as the trail gains elevation, the rock formations become more and more impressive.
With names like North 40, Ham and Cheese, Hully Gully, Hole in the Wall, Lost Wall, Ridgeback, and Ranch Road Shortcut, the routes in the Constellation Trail system sound like amusement park rides.
“I usually come up with the names,” says Hosking, an avid mountain biker. “Usually it’s a landmark or a view or something that happened there.”
Carving the trails among granite boulders and navigating rock walls and cacti is hard work. While the community funds the projects, there’s no dedicated workforce to actually build the trails, so Hosking depends on a local volunteer group composed primarily of local retirees called the “Over the Hill Gang.”
The Over the Hill Gang volunteers building the Constellation Trails in 2011. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
“We get about 10,000 hours of volunteer time out of those guys,” says Hosking of the group, which started with four volunteers and now has 60 or 70 active members. “I come up with a crazy plan and design, and then those guys come out and we build trail.”
They built the trails in the Dells with hand tools because they couldn’t get heavy machinery past the boulders. Doing so takes significantly more time and effort.
John Bauer, a retired Air Force navigator, has volunteered with the Over the Hill Gang for more than 10 years, and the Constellation Trails were the first he helped build.
“I loved building those trails,” says the former F-4 weapons systems officer, who also served as a navigator on C-130s and C-141s.
These days, Bauer loves to move boulders, and with the rocky topography of the Dells, he was in luck.
The Over the Hill Gang volunteers building the Constellation Trails in 2011. Chris Hosking is on the left and John Bauer is second from left. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
“Some of the trails in other areas are not as interesting — scraping the weeds off a piece of dirt,” the retired lieutenant colonel says. “I’ve done a lot of that, but it doesn’t give me the same amount of joy as moving rocks.”
The trailhead sits at the north end of the park, and the trails gain elevation as they work their way south. According to Bauer, the high ground near the back of the trail system proved the most challenging to build.
“There was a short little connection that went through a very narrow and steep canyon,” he says. “That was probably one of the most difficult parts because working in those little canyons, it’s hard to move the boulders around.”
With rock bars, leverage, sweat, muscle, and grit, the crew cleared an awe-inspiring trail.
Chris Hosking uses a backhoe to build the Badger Mountain trail near Prescott, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
“The bigger the boulder, the more people we need to move them,” Bauer says. “We’ve moved some pretty gigantic boulders.”
Small pieces of the aircraft still lie scattered throughout the area. The crew gathered the pieces they found and placed them next to the memorial near the trailhead.
“If you went out and off the trails, off into the shrubs and stuff there, you could still find pieces of that airplane even after all these years,” Bauer says.
The Constellation Trails are just a few miles of trail in an area that features 104 miles of city-owned trails, as well as hundreds of additional miles of trail on nearby Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land. Easy access and the variety and number of trails has made this stretch of northern Arizona a hiking and mountain biking destination.
Chris Hosking. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
To understand the Constellation Trails, and the larger Prescott Trail System, it’s important to understand a bit about their creator.
Hosking, originally from the United Kingdom, trained as an industrial designer and spent time in the Silicon Valley working for Apple. One day the lifelong outdoorsman realized, “I didn’t really like that living — that particular lifestyle — so I kind of went freelance and moved up to Mammoth Lakes up in the Sierras.”
While in the Sierras, he delved into trail design. Eventually, Hosking and his wife wanted a bigger town to raise their kids in, and after some research, Prescott ended up No. 1 on both their lists. They arrived in Prescott in 2006, and soon after he became Prescott’s trail master.
In 14 years, he’s taken Prescott from 24 miles of trails to more than 100.
“I would put Prescott up against any community in the country as far as the quality of trails, the variety of trails, the access,” he says. “I wouldn’t put it in the same category as Moab. Moab’s like Disneyland — you go there and it’s got every type of trail. We’re not that, we’re a real town with a great trail system.”
Chris Hosking mountain biking at the Constellation Trails, near Prescott, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
Hosking attributes the success to the area’s excellent topography, a variety of vegetation, and a volunteer work crew “who don’t mind busting their ass to get things done.”
“I see Prescott as kind of the whole package because it’s a great place for people who live here, and it’s got a huge variety of very easy trails, and then it’s got very technical trails, and everything in between,” he says.
Gil Stritar, a Prescott Valley resident who hikes nearly every day, says the Constellation Trails are his favorite in the area because of the ease of access and excellent views.
“There’s beautiful photo ops in the narrows sections,” he says. “Most trails in the Granite Dells have big drop-offs and are more remote, so this is a good family choice. Also, this is the most scenic trail in the Dells in my opinion.”
According to Hosking, all the years of hard work, purchasing land, working agreements, and designing and building trails have come into focus this year as the COVID-19 pandemic has spiked visits to trails sometimes by 200 percent to 300 percent. The Constellation Trails have seen 100 percent more traffic.
Constellation Trails. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
“When you have gyms closed and everything is closed, the only way people can really get out and exercise is by going on trails,” Hosking says. “It’s helped us realize what we’ve done and what a benefit it’s been to the community because now people can get out and go hike and get away from things, so we have a lot of stuff to be thankful for.”
Prescott has a large hiking and mountain biking community that’s growing thanks to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
“We’ve got seven teams in the area,” says Hosking, including the top two teams in Arizona. “All those kids getting into mountain biking means their parents are getting into mountain biking.”
While some ride their mountain bikes on the Constellation Trails, Hosking says there are usually more hikers due to the rocky terrain and challenging aspects of the trails.
He likes to ride there when he feels like beating himself up and says his favorite trail is “the one I’m on!”
Israel received three F-35s from the US on Tuesday, bringing its total inventory of the revolutionary fighter up to five, but according to a French journalist citing French intelligence reports, Israeli F-35s have already carried out combat missions in Syria.
In the Air Forces Monthly,Thomas Newdick summarized a report from Georges Malbrunot at France’s Le Figaro newspaper saying Israel took its F-35s out on a combat mission just one month after receiving them from the US.
Malbrunot reported that on January 12 Israeli F-35s took out a Russian-made S-300 air defense system around Syrian President Bashar Assad’s palace in Damascus and another Russian-made Pantsir-S1 mobile surface-to-air missile system set for delivery to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel has repeatedly and firmly asserted its goal to make sure weapons cannot reach Hezbollah, a terror group sworn to seek the destruction of Israel.
In March, Israel admitted to an airstrike in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “when we know about an attempt to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah, we do whatever we can to prevent this from happening, provided we have sufficient information and capabilities to react,” according to Russian state-run media.
However, the other details of the story seem unlikely. The only known S-300 system in Syria is operated by the Russians near their naval base, so hitting that would mean killing Russian servicemen, which has not been reported at all.
Also, as Tyler Rogoway of The Drive points out, the Pantsir-S1 air defenses would certainly bolster Hezbollah in Lebanon, but Israel wouldn’t be under immediate pressure to destroy this system. Their jets have advanced air defense suppression and electronic warfare capabilities that limit the threat posed by the Pantsir-S1, and make it unlikely that they would risk F-35s to attack them.
Jeff Halper, author of War Against the People, a book that looks at the military ties between Israel and the US, told Al Jazeera that Israeli pilots may be the first to see combat action in the F-35.
“Israel serves as the test-bed for the development of these kinds of new weapons,” said Halper. “The F-35 will be tested in the field, in real time by Israel. The likelihood is that the first time the plane is used in combat will be with Israeli pilots flying it.”
While the details remain sketchy and wholly unverifiable, Halper’s “test-bed” assertion has certainly been true of US-Israeli defense projects, like missile defenses, in the past. Rogoway also noted Israel’s history of rushing new platforms to the front lines as possible supporting evidence.
Short of taking responsibility for the attack, Israeli officials said it was a strike on Hezbollah targets, which they support.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told Israeli Army Radio: “I can confirm that the incident in Syria corresponds completely with Israel’s policy to act to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah in Iran. Naturally, I don’t want to elaborate on this,” according to the BBC.
“American Sniper” opens looking down the barrel of a military sniper rifle. The view moves in close to reveal the bearded face of Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) behind the scope. He watches U.S. Marines below him searching houses before spotting an Iraqi mother and a young boy.
“She’s got an RKG Russian grenade, she’s handing it to the kid,” he says. And with that the audience enters the sniper’s world of split-second decisions. Will he kill a child in order to protect Marines?
Director Clint Eastwood interrupts the opening tension and goes back to Kyle’s childhood in Texas. He grows up, he attends school, he becomes a bull-riding cowboy.
Then he watches news coverage of the twin bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa. The young Kyle is compelled to do something about it, and he decides to join the Navy to become a SEAL.
Eastwood doesn’t linger on these scenes for long. In short order Kyle finds himself an elite Navy SEAL sniper in Iraq with a his pregnant wife (played by Sienna Miller) waiting for him stateside.
The movie follows the Iraq war from Kyle’s perspective, often behind the scope of his rifle. There are plenty of action sequences, and all come off as accurate and authentic. The technical details of sniper life are meticulously captured. But where the movie really shines is in the realistic portrayal of Kyle’s post-traumatic stress as it grows over his four tours to Iraq.
Military movies have a tendency to give a cartoonish view of the “damaged veteran” coming home from the war and losing it (“Brothers” comes to mind), but screenwriter Jason Hall and director Eastwood manage to avoid a similar outcome. And Cooper handles both the subtleties and the chaos of the warrior’s mind with a deft touch. No cliches here.
Watch WATM’s exclusive one-on-one interview with “American Sniper” screenwriter Jason Hall:
In “American Sniper,” we see a heroic man who endures terrible trauma in war, and like many, he’s affected by it. He’s distant, doesn’t really want to talk about what he’s done, and has problems connecting with his loved ones. A similar story plays out among real veterans with PTSD.
With the film’s more accurate portrayal of PTSD in Kyle, viewers are allowed to see how specific events — including another time later in the movie where Kyle has to decide whether to shoot and kill a child — end up shaping him as not only the deadliest American sniper, but also a man deeply affected by what he had to do.
Cooper’s brilliant portrayal will serve the uninitiated with a realistic look at post-traumatic stress and its affect on some veterans. Viewers will see that Kyle had problems, but ultimately he was able to manage it and become a better husband and father in the process.
With countless Marines saved by his efforts while watching over them in Iraq, the now-discharged Kyle meets with a Marine he’s trying to help overcome PTSD. And as we know, Kyle’s story doesn’t close on an uplifting note as he is murdered at a Texas gun range in Feb. 2013.
It’s a sad (and perhaps too abrupt) closing to an incredible film, but it serves Kyle’s legacy well. He lived and ultimately died trying to save lives.
Overall “American Sniper” is a very well-done war film, and Bradley Cooper brilliantly captures the essence of Chris Kyle.
“For us being Special Forces, we are the first on the battlefield, then we are the last to leave,” said a Bulgarian Special Operations Tactical Group Commander.
The captain was the commander of the SOTG for exercise Saber Junction 19. Approximately 5,400 participants from 15 NATO and partner nations including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuanian, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and the US took part in the exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Sept. 3-30, 2019.
The exercise partnered about 100 Multinational SOF from Bulgaria, the US, and members of the Lithuanian National Defense Volunteer Defense National Force, or KASP, with conventional forces to improve integration and enhance their overall combat abilities.
A US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldier provides security for paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade as they parachute onto a drop zone as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 16, 2019.
(US Army photo Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes)
US Army Maj. Nathan Showman of the 173rd Airborne Brigade watches as paratroopers from the brigade land during a joint forcible entry as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 18, 2019.
To determine the best use of SOF capabilities to support larger combined maneuver, the Bulgarian SOTG Commander coordinated directly with his conventional force counterpart US Army Col. Kenneth Burgess, the commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The SOTG also placed SOF liaison officers within the brigade staff to facilitate communication directly between the staff and SOF on the ground.
A US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldier provides security for paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade as they parachute onto a drop zone as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 16, 2019.
This gave the SOTG the ability to support critical portions of the exercise such as the joint forcible entry, a multinational airborne operation delivering paratroopers from Ramstein Airbase into the exercise to seize key terrain.
Paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade jumped from Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 aircraft to set the drop zone for the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Bulgarian and US SOF provided early reconnaissance of the drop zone and secured the area for the pathfinder’s jump, ensuring they had up to date information from the moment they hit the ground.
Italian Army paratroopers from the Folgore Airborne Brigade coordinate with US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers after the Italian paratroopers parachuted onto a drop zone secured by special operations forces as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 17, 2019.
(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)
This multinational coordination was one of the key objectives of the exercise.
“From my point of view, this is the most important exercise for my unit in that it helps prepare us for future NATO missions,” said the Bulgarian commander. “We are currently on standby in my country [as a quick reaction force], so this exercise is beneficial for us.”
Bulgarian special operations forces exit a US Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade during combined aviation load training as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.
(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)
Lithuania’s KASP also worked alongside SOF to set conditions for the conventional force. Exercising their real-world mission of unconventional warfare, the KASP integrated with Special Forces soldiers from the US Army’s 5th SFG(A).
This combined time conducted operations ahead of friendly lines in enemy-occupied territory to enable the multinational conventional joint force.
US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers deploy light tactical vehicles from CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.
(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)
The KASP are structured similar to the US National Guard, with about 500 professional soldiers and 5,000 reservists, but have a very different mission.
“Our mission is to conduct territorial defense, so we must be ready to defend our country against any type of threat, either hybrid or conventional,” said Col. Dainius Pašvenskas, the KASP commander.
Pašvenskas added that the demand to come to exercises like these within his unit is so high that they have placed internal requirements to be selected. After completing rotations in exercises like Saber Junction 19, they share the techniques they have learned within their units, and teach the unconventional warfare tactics to the rest of the force.
US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers deploy light tactical vehicles from CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes)
The KASP’s missions at Saber Junction 19 included long-range reconnaissance, direct action and personnel recovery.
“We may have different tasks but we will operate in a similar area as Special Operation Forces,” said Pašvenskas. “Working with Special Forces and learning from their experience is an excellent opportunity for us.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A Marine Corps F-35B used its on-board sensors to function for the first time as a broad-area aerial relay node in an integrated fire-control weapons system designed to identify, track and destroy approaching enemy cruise missiles from distances beyond-the-horizon, service officials announced.
A Navy “desert ship” at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. designed to replicate maritime conditions, used ship-based radar to connect the F-35B sensors to detect enemy missiles at long ranges and fire an SM-6 interceptor to destroy the approaching threat.
The emerging fire-control system, called Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air, or NIFC-CA, was deployed last year on a Navy cruiser serving as part of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group in the Arabian Gulf, Navy officials told Scout Warrior, last year.
NIFC-CA has previously operated using an E2-D Hawkeye surveillance plane as an aerial sensor node; the use of an F-35B improves the sensor technology, reach, processing speed and air maneuverability of the system; the test also assessed the ability of the system to identify and destroy air-to-air and air-to-surface targets.
“This test was a great opportunity to assess the Navy’s ability to take unrelated technologies and successfully close the fire control loop as well as merge anti-surface and anti-air weapons into a single kill web that shares common sensors, links and weapons,” Anant Patel, major program manager for future combat systems in the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems, said in a written statement.
The test was a collaborative effort across the Navy and Marine Corps, White Sands Missile Range and industry partners leveraging a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B and the U.S. Navy’s Aegis Weapon System
“This test represents the start of our exploration into the interoperability of the F-35B with other naval assets,” said Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok, VMX-1 F-35B detachment officer in charge.
A multi-target ability requires some adjustments to fire-control technology, sensors and dual-missile firings; the SM-6 is somewhat unique in its ability to fire multiple weapons in rapid succession. An SM-6 is engineered with an “active seeker,” meaning it can send an electromagnetic targeting “ping” forward from the missile itself – decreasing reliance on a ship-based illuminator and improving the ability to fire multiple interceptor missiles simultaneously.
Unlike an SM-3 which can be used for “terminal phase” ballistic missile defense at much farther ranges, the SM-6 can launch nearer-in offensive and defensive attacks against closer threats such as approaching enemy anti-ship cruise missiles. With an aerial sensor networked into the radar and fire control technology such as an E2-D Hawkeye surveillance plane, the system can track approaching enemy cruise missile attacks much farther away. This provide a unique, surface-warfare closer-in defensive and offensive weapons technology to complement longer range ship-based ballistic missile defense technologies.
Once operational, this expanded intercept ability will better defend surface ships operating in the proximity or range of enemy missiles by giving integrating an ability to destroy multiple-approaching attacks at one time.
“NIFC-CA presents the ability to extend the range of your missile and extend the reach of your sensors by netting different sensors of different platforms — both sea-based and air-based together into one fire control system,” Capt. Mark Vandroff, DDG 51 program manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year.
NIFC-CA is part of an overall integrated air and missile defense high-tech upgrade now being installed and tested on existing and new DDG 51 ships called Aegis Baseline 9, Vandroff said.
The system hinges upon an upgraded ship-based radar and computer system referred to as Aegis Radar –- designed to provide defense against long-range incoming ballistic missiles from space as well as nearer-in threats such as anti-ship cruise missiles, he explained.
“Integrated air and missile defense provides the ability to defend against ballistic missiles in space while at the same time defending against air threats to naval and joint forces close to the sea,” he said.
The NIFC-CA system successfully intercepted a missile target from beyond the horizon during testing last year aboard a Navy destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones. The NIFC-CA technology can, in concept, be used for both defensive and offensive operations, Navy officials have said. Having this capability could impact discussion about a Pentagon term referred to as Anti-Acces/Area-Denial, wherein potential adversaries could use long-range weapons to threaten the U.S. military and prevent its ships from operating in certain areas — such as closer to the coastline. Having NIFC-CA could enable surface ships, for example, to operate more successfully closer to the shore of potential enemy coastines without being deterred by the threat of long-range missiles. In particular, NIFC-CA is the kind of technology which, in tandem with other sensors and ship-based weapons, could enable a larger carrier to defend against the much-discussed Chinese DF-21D “carrier-killer” missile. The emerging DF-21D is reportedly able to strike targets as far as 900 nautical miles off shore.
Defensive applications of NIFC-CA would involve detecting and knocking down an approaching enemy anti-ship missile, whereas offensive uses might include efforts to detect and strike high-value targets from farther distances than previous technologies could. The possibility for offensive use parallels with the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy, wherein surface ships are increasingly being outfitted with new or upgraded weapons.
The new strategy hinges upon the realization that the U.S. Navy no longer enjoys the unchallenged maritime dominance it had during the post-Cold War years.
During the years following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. Navy shifted its focus from possibly waging blue-water combat against a near-peer rival to focusing on things such as counter-terrorism, anti-piracy and Visit, Board Search and Seizure, or VBSS, techniques.
More recently, the Navy is again shifting its focus toward near-peer adversaries and seeking to arm its fleet of destroyers, cruisers and Littoral Combat Ships with upgraded or new weapons designed to increase its offensive fire power.
The current upgrades to the Arleigh Burke-class of destroyers can be seen as a part of this broader strategic equation.
The first new DDG 51 to receive Baseline 9 technology, the USS John Finn or DDG 113, recently went through what’s called “light off” combat testing in preparation for operational use and deployment.
At the same time, the very first Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS Arleigh Burke or DDG 51, is now being retrofitted with these technological upgrades, as well, Vandroff explained.
“This same capability is being back-fitted onto earlier ships that were built with the core Aegis capability. This involves an extensive upgrade to combat systems with new equipment being delivered. New consoles, new computers, new cabling, new data distribution are being back-fitted onto DDG 51 at the same time it is being installed and outfitted on DDG 113,” Vandroff said.
There are seven Flight IIA DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers currently under construction. DDG 113, DDG 114, DDG 117 and DDG 119 are underway at a Huntington Ingalls Industries shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi and DDG 115, DDG 116 and DDG 118 are being built at a Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine.
Existing destroyers the new USS John Finn and all follow-on destroyers will receive the Aegis Baseline 9 upgrade, which includes NIFC-CA and other enabling technologies. For example, Baseline 9 contains an upgraded computer system with common software components and processors, service officials said.
In addition, some future Arleigh Burke-class destroyers such as DDG 116 and follow-on ships will receive new electronic warfare technologies and a data multiplexing system which, among other things, controls a ship’s engines and air compressors, Vandroff said.
The Navy’s current plan is to build 11 Flight IIA destroyers and then shift toward building new, Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers with a new, massively more powerful radar system, he added.
Vandroff said the new radar, called the SPY-6, is 35-times more powerful than existing ship-based radar.
Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyers are slated to be operational by 2023, Vandroff said.
Being in combat is one of the craziest experiences a person can have. Bullets are zipping by your melon and impacting the wall behind you, eyes wide and on the alert as the incoming rounds blanket your position. Sounds crazy. Because it is.
War is hell.
Well-trained military minds know, winning the battle is the most important aspect of winning the war. In combat, the rules are different than in any other situation you’ll probably find yourself. All available fingers need to be pulling triggers.
So if allied forces take a mass casualty, the guy who is hurt the worst isn’t necessarily the one who gets treated first.
During combat, the rules on who receives care first changes in a matter of moments. If a squad is under heavy attack and a few trigger pullers get hurt, then the unit is down a few bodies.
After the field medic takes care of their wounds, let’s say subject “A” sustained a “GSW” or gunshot wound to the chest, they are now out of the fight. If subject “B” took a bullet to their leg, they’re still considered in the fight because it’s not life-threatening.
So during wartime rules, subject “B” is supposed to be treated first to allow them the chance to get back on their weapon system and return to the fight. Hopefully subject “A” will be okay and pull through.
US military forces seem poised to take a prominent role in the long-awaited battle to take down Raqqa, Syria, the capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Though the Pentagon has long downplayed the role of US ground troops in the fight against the ISIS terror group in Iraq and Syria, recent deployments of many more “boots on the ground” suggest they may be front-and-center in the coming months.
Earlier this week, a convoy of US Army Rangers riding in armored Stryker combat vehicles was seen crossing the border into Syria to support Kurdish military forces in Manbij. The convoy, identified by SOFREP as being from 3rd Ranger Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, was the most overt use of US troops in the region thus far.
Until this most recent Ranger deployment, the Pentagon had adamantly stuck to the line that its “regional partners” — Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga for the most part — were bearing the brunt of the battle.
But on Wednesday, another curious deployment seemed to counter that narrative. According to The Washington Post, US Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine regiment had left their ships to establish a combat outpost inside Syria that is apparently within striking distance of Raqqa.
“For the base in Syria to be useful, it must be within about 20 miles of the operations US-backed forces are carrying out,” the Post wrote.
The unit, part of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, recently finished conducting training exercises in Oman and Djibouti. Its new outpost inside Syria has M777 Howitzers that fire 155mm projectiles, which are likely guarded by additional infantrymen at the site, according to The Post.
U.S. Marines fire artillery to break up ISIS fighters attacking Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. | US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, told the Fayetteville Observer last year that most US troops were in Iraq or Kuwait, though “some” were operating inside Syria.
Meanwhile, US special operations forces, who are said to be taking a training and advisory role with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, were quietly given more latitude to call in precision airstrikes and artillery. As the AP reported in February, advisors are now able to call in airstrikes without seeking approval from an operations center in Baghdad.
Additionally, advisors were embedded at lower echelons of Iraqi security forces at the brigade and battalion level, rather than division — meaning that US forces are increasingly getting closer to direct combat.
Though the new directives were lauded by the Pentagon as “adding ‘precision’ to ground operations,” wrote The Institute for the Study of War, “it also underscores that US personnel are increasingly at the frontlines of the operation. Indicators from the new US Administration, including a proposed 10% budget increase for the Department of Defense, suggest that it may expand the level of US involvement in Iraq, beyond the Mosul operation.”
A spokesperson for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit did not respond to a request for comment.
Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for OIR, said the moves into Syria were to pre-position US forces so they can provide logistical and fire support to “Syrian partnered forces” who will eventually assault Raqqa.
The Marines and Rangers will provide the “commander greater agility to expedite the destruction of ISIS in Raqqah. The exact numbers and locations of these forces are sensitive in order to protect our forces, but there will be approximately an additional 400 enabling forces deployed for a temporary period to enable our Syrian partnered forces to defeat ISIS,” Dorrian told Business Insider.
He added: “The deployment of these additional key enabling capabilities allows the Coalition to provide flexible all weather fire support, training and protection from IEDs, and additional air support to our Syrian partners.”
The White House is considering whether to send another 1,000 American soldiers to Kuwait to serve as a “reserve force” for the Raqqa offensive, Reuters reported Wednesday. Officials who spoke with Reuters said there were about 6,000 US troops currently deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, up from the 5,000 that was reported in January.
The presence of additional US ground troops inside Syria — even miles from the frontline — would bring with it considerable risk. Combat outposts often draw rocket and mortar fire, in addition to small arms. Last March, a Marine outpost established to support the operation to retake Mosul, Iraq came under rocket attack by ISIS militants, killing Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin.
A total of nine American service members have been killed in OIR combat operations, while 33 have been wounded, according to Pentagon statistics.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says that it is “amending its regulation” on the copays that veterans pay for medications they receive that are not for service related conditions.
Currently, veterans pay $8 and $9 for a 30-day (or less) supply of prescriptions.
The VA says that the new system will “keep outpatient medication costs low for Veterans.”
Dr. David J. Shulkin, the VA Undersecretary for Health, said “Reducing their out-of-pocket costs encourages greater adherence to priscribed outpatient medications and reduces the risk of fragmented care that results when multiple pharmacies are used.”
The new system tossed out the old way of determining costs, which was based on the Medical Consumer Price Index.
Three classes of outpatient medications have been designed to help curb the costs.
Tier 1 is for preferred generics, and will cost veterans $5 for a 30-day or less supply.
Tier 2 is for non-preferred generics, which includes over the counter medications, and will cost veterans $8 for a 30-day or less supply.
Tier 3 is for brand name medications, and will cost veterans $11 for a 30-day or less supply.
The new system will go into effect February 27th, 2017, and only apply to medications that are not for service connected issues.
Veterans who are former Prisoners of War, catastrophically disabled, or are covered by other exceptions will not have to pay copays.
Veterans who fall into Priority Groups 2-8 will have a $700 cap on copays, at which point the copays do not apply. To find out which Priority Group you fall into, check out the VA’s list of Priority Groups in their Health Benefits tab (here).
According to 38 U.S.C. 1722A(a), the VA is compelled to require veterans to pay a minimum copay of $2 for every 30-day (or less) supply of medications which are prescribed for non-service related disabilities or connections, unless there is an exemption for the veteran. 38 U.S.C. 1722A(b) gives the VA the authority to set the copay amount higher and to put caps on the amount veterans pay.
An F-22 prepares to be fitted with GBU-39s (Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dana Rosso)
The night sky is an inky black and the soldiers on the ground barely give it a passing glance. Their radar scopes are clear; no enemies inbound. The first sign that they receive of the American strike is the bombs falling on key strategic targets. Precision small-diameter bombs fall within inches of substations, radar sites, bunkers and anti-aircraft batteries.
The runway is also cratered by American bombs, but a few fighter planes manage to scramble into the air. Their pilots frantically check their radar for the unseen attackers—nothing. Suddenly, a volley of radar-guided AIM-120C AMRAAMs tears through the formation of fighters and erupts in an airborne spectacle of fire and twisted metal. The light from the fireball reflects the faintest glint of light on the visors of the American pilots as they turn their F-22 Raptors and FB-22 Strike Raptors for home.
Following the success of their F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, Lockheed Martin conducted a study in 2001 to determine the feasibility of developing a bomber platform from it. While the F-22 was designed as an air superiority fighter, it still maintained a degree of ground attack ability which Lockheed Martin hoped to exploit. If they could leverage the design and capabilities of the existing airframe, the cost of developing the new bomber would be significantly reduced.
The F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter (Photo by Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin developed a number of bomber concepts based on the F-22. Much of the Raptor’s avionics were retained and structural redesigns were focused on the fuselage and wings. An initial concept aimed to increase payload capacity by lengthening and widening the fuselage. However, this came with a penalty of a 25-30% increase in weight, materials and development costs. Instead, further concepts retained the same fuselage as the F-22 and bore elongated delta shape wings which allowed the concept bomber to carry more fuel and wing-mounted weapons.
With the new wings, the FB-22 Strike Raptor would have been able to carry up to 30-35 250-pound GBU-39 small diameter precision-guided bombs versus the F-22 Raptor’s payload capacity of eight such bombs. Unlike the F-22, the FB-22 would also have been able to carry bombs weighing up to 5,000 pounds. With weapons stored internally, the FB-22 would have had a maximum combat load of 15,000 pounds. With additional weapons mounted on the wings, the FB-22 would have lost some of its stealth capability but carry up to 30,000 pounds of weapons.
Its increased fuel capacity gave the Strike Raptor a range of 1,600 miles, nearly triple the F-22’s range of 600 miles, and could have been extended further with the addition of external fuel tanks. With this increased range, the FB-22 would have replaced the Air Force’s F-15E Strike Eagle and taken over some of the missions of the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers. In October 2002, Air Force Magazine reported that the FB-22 would have a combat effectiveness comparable to a B-2 Spirit armed with 2,000-pound bombs.
In order to power this larger airframe, the F-22’s Pratt Whitney F119-PW-100 engines would have been replaced with the Pratt Whitney F135s which now power the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. Though early concepts featured no tailplanes, later concepts incorporated twin tailplanes. Additionally, since the Strike Raptor was meant to complement the F-22 with its ground-attack capability, dogfighting capability was not a priority and the thrust vectoring technology of the F-22 was omitted from the FB-22 concept. According to Flight International magazine, the FB-22 would have had a top speed of Mach 1.92.
The F-35’s F135 engine, developed from the F-22’s F119, gives it enough thrust to perform short takeoffs and vertical landings. The FB-22 would have had two of these engines. (Photo by Lockheed Martin)
In February 2003, Secretary of the Air Force James Roche reported to the House Armed Services Committee that he envisioned a strike force of 150 FB-22s, along with 60 B-1s, 21 B-2s, and 381 F-22s. Following this vision, in 2004, Lockheed Martin officially presented the FB-22 Strike Raptor concept to the Air Force. The concept met the Air Force requirement for a potential strategic bomber as an interim solution and would be operational by 2018.
Additionally, since it was developed from the existing F-22, the cost of fully developing the FB-22 was estimated to be 75% less than the cost of developing an entirely new bomber. Air Force Magazine also reported that the FB-22’s stealth capabilities had been increased, adding externally mounted detachable and faceted weapons pods that could carry weapons on the wings without sacrificing stealth.
What might have been (Credit Bandai Namco Entertainment)
Unfortunately, following the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the FB-22 Strike Raptor project was cancelled. The DoD wanted a bomber with greater range and the Strike Raptor would be developed no further. However, disappointed aviation fans still have the opportunity to fly the FB-22 and experience the “next-generation stealth bomber that could have been” in the popular hybrid arcade-style flight simulator Ace Combat. The FB-22 is featured as a flyable aircraft in Ace Combat 5, Ace Combat X, Ace Combat Joint Assault, and Ace Combat Infinity.
An FB-22 at full afterburner in Ace Combat Infinity (Credit Bandai Namco Entertainment)
We previously brought you the amazing story of Jacob Miller, a Union soldier who walked around with a bullet in his face for 31 years. We thought Miller held the record for the longest amount of time spent alive with a Civil War bullet inside of your head. We were dead wrong. According to this article in theMail Tribune, Willis Meadows had him beat by a full 27 years.
Battle of Vicksburg | Wikimedia Commons
The Confederate soldier lost his right eye to a bullet at the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863. Fired by Union soldier Peter Knapp, the one-ounce slug lodged near Meadows’ brain and didn’t come out again for 58 years. How’d he survive?
“He was put on board a POW ship and transported to a Union hospital. Later, he was paroled to a Confederate hospital, where he spent the rest of the war as a patient and sometime nurse’s aide. After the war, he returned to his farm in Lanett, Ala., just east of the Georgia state line. He married, but had no children and probably would have died in obscurity had he not coughed up the bullet.”
Chew on that for a minute. He coughed up the bullet that took out his eye. Here’s how it went down. Meadows lived on his farm in Alabama in total obscurity for 58 years. When he was 78-years-old, he coughed up the bullet in his kitchen. Super intense, right? Everyone in 1921 thought so too:
“‘Coughs Up Bullet’ was a national newspaper story in 1921. Eleven years later, in a ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ cartoon, it was published around the world in 42 countries and 17 different languages.”
Things only got crazier from there. How’s that even possible? Because the Union soldier who fired the bullet ended up seeing the story and he and Meadows became best friends:
“Turns out that after Knapp saw the story, he realized he was the one who fired the bullet that lodged near Meadows’ brain. Within a few months, he contacted Meadows and when they compared notes, they realized it was true. As young mortal enemies they had tried to kill each other, but now, as aging veterans, they would spend their last few years as friends, exchanging photographs and wishing each other good health.”
Kimber has made a name for itself as a manufacturer of high quality small arms, especially their 1911 pistols. Based on the original design of John Moses Browning from over a century ago, the 1911 platform is famed for its crisp single-action trigger, .45 ACP stopping power, and being the winner of two world wars as well as the U.S. military’s longest serving sidearm. Today, Kimber makes pistols that have been used by the USA Shooting Team, LAPD SWAT, MARSOC, and John Wick.
Originally founded in 1979 in Clackamas, Oregon by Australian immigrant Jack Warne and his son, Greg, Kimber of Oregon started as a manufacturer of precision .22lr rifles. The late 1980s and early 1990s were tough on Kimber and Jack left to found the Warne Manufacturing Company. Greg revived Kimber with the financial backing of Les Edelman, owner of Nationwide Sports Distributors. Though the younger Warne was eventually forced out of the company, Edelman saw great opportunity in pairing Kimber’s reputation for quality and extensive network of dealers with his newly acquired Yonkers-based company, Jerico Precision Manufacturing.
Jerico was undergoing a drop in production due to cuts in defense spending, but still maintained a sizable industrial capability. Edelman moved Kimber’s production to Jerico’s facilities in New York, thus ending the Kimber presence in Oregon. It was at this time that Kimber began manufacturing the high quality 1911 handguns that the company is known for today.
Though its professional connection to tier one units like LAPD SWAT and MARSOC led to great commercial success and expansion of operations to New Jersey, Kimber faced political opposition from both states.
In early 2018, Kimber announced that it would move its manufacturing operations to Troy, Alabama with a new design engineering and manufacturing facility beginning operations in early 2019. “We are pleased with the impressive track record that Alabama has with attracting and retaining world-class manufacturing companies,” Edelman said.
Less than three years after announcing the move of its design and production facilities, the company announced that it would also move the Kimber headquarters to Troy. The company says that it will have 366 employees in Troy with a $38 million investment. “The final step in completing this new facility is adding staff across all departments,” the company announced in a press release. “Kimber’s new headquarters is situated on 80+ acres with more than 225,000 square-feet of space and is now home to industry-leading design engineering, product management and manufacturing capabilities.”
Kimber is not the only company to move its business to the area. In 2019, Lockheed Martin broke ground on a new missile facility at its Pike County campus, also in Troy. Less than three hours to the southwest, Airbus opened its A220 final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama in May 2020.
A group of terrorists huddle in a house in an al-Shabab controlled area of Kenya. Among them are high-value individuals who perpetuate terror attacks throughout East Africa. They pray and then rig their suicide vests. Drones overhead beam the scene to allied forces, but time is running out and there is potential for collateral damage and civilian casualties.
The new movie “Eye In The Sky” tackles this scenario. The allied mission commander, British Army Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), orders a U.S. military drone strike on al-Shabab terrorist organizers and would-be suicide bombers, but her call is made more complicated by the fact that a little Kenyan girl (Aisha Takow) will likely be killed in the strike.
The film, which premiered last year at the Toronto Film Festival, shows a unique vision of how calls are made in the heat of battle. From Col. Powell and the drone pilot, 2nd Lt. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) to the highest rungs of the British and American governments, those watching the camera feeds decide the fates of the terrorists and the innocent bystander. They each make their own arguments in turn as the situation evolves.
The film shows a number of thought-provoking moral questions in the microcosm of this one drone strike. It weighs morality against the tactics of modern warfare. The characters try to minimize the damage done by drone strikes while suicide bombers prepare to kill as many people as possible. The film also questions the value of targeted killings over real human intelligence in the war on terror. But the moral calculus has to be figured out in a hurry. The clock is ticking on this potential strike. A decision must be reached before the terrorists are allowed to disappear into the sprawling city to carry out their suicide missions.
“Eye in the Sky” depicts the divide between civilian leaders and the men and women who conduct targeted operations. Civilian leaders want to achieve political goals but dislike the means by which they have to achieve them. The warfighters have to educate elected leaders on weighing the risks of collateral damage while the civilians have to remind the them about the propaganda value of targeted killings for the enemy. Neither side comes away clean as they argue over the fate of civilians who are otherwise going about their daily lives while this international debate unfolds.
The film’s final scene features the late Alan Rickman in his final onscreen role as British Lt. Gen. Frank Benson. In one of his finest moments as an actor, he delivers a harsh rebuke to a civilian Member of Parliament: “Never tell a soldier he does not know the cost of war.”
“Eye In the Sky” is a thrilling nail-biter that also asks questions about the ethics of fighting a high-tech war.