Calling in air support just got faster, easier, and more precise. DARPA’s new Kinetic Integrated Low-cost Software Integrated Tactical Combat Handheld system, otherwise known as KILSWITCH, enables troops to call in air strikes from an off-the-shelf Android tablet. The system could also be used with small UAVs to provide ground troops with greater situational awareness of friendly forces and enemy locations. KILSWITCH is part of the Persistent Close Air Support program, designed to bring fires on target within six minutes of an observer requesting them.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II, known affectionately as the Warthog, is the U.S. Air Force’s most beloved and capable close air support craft. Its low airspeed and low altitude ability give it an accuracy unmatched by any aircraft in the Air Force fleet. No matter what anyone in an Air Force uniform tells you.
For one A-10 pilot, the CAS world was turned upside down in the First Gulf War. Captain Bob Swain was flying anti-armor sorties in central Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. After dropping six 500-pound bombs and taking out two Iraqi tanks with Maverick missiles, he saw potential tangos several miles away, just barely moving around.
He was tracking what he thought was a helicopter. When his OV-10 Bronco observation plane confirmed the target, Swain moved in for the kill. One of the targets broke off and moved north (back toward Iraq), the other moved south. The A-10 pilot tracked the one moving south but couldn’t get a lock with his AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles because the target was too close to the ground, just 50 feet above.
So he switched to the A-10’s 30mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon – aka the BRRRRRT.
It would be the first air-to-air kill in the A-10’s operational history. But Swain didn’t know that. He was just concerned with taking it down and started firing a mile away from the helicopter. His shots were on target, but the helicopter didn’t go down.
“On the final pass, I shot about 300 bullets at him,” Swain recalled to a press pool at the time. “That’s a pretty good burst. On the first pass, maybe 75 rounds. The second pass, I put enough bullets down, it looked like I hit with a bomb.”
Swain’s A-10 became known as the “Chopper Popper” in Air Force lore and is now displayed on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
“It’s a kinetic place,” Army Capt. Florent Groberg said Wednesday of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, where his instinctive tackling of a suicide bomber in 2012 earned him the Medal of Honor.
Of the 13 Medals of Honor awarded during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, 11 have come from actions in either Kunar or neighboring Nuristan province, collectively dubbed the “Wild East” by the troops.
Seven were awarded for combat in Kunar, and four came in Nuristan. The other two were awarded to Marine Lance Corp. William Kyle Carpenter for his actions in southwestern Helmand province and Army Staff Sgt. Leroy A. Petry for combat in southeastern Paktia province.
“It’s just kinetic, they fight as we fight” along the rugged ridges and slot canyons of Kunar, Groberg said. “Kunar’s a tough place, if not the most kinetic place in the world,” he said. “There’s no specific explanation for it. It’s kinetic.”
Before President Obama began the troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and the combat mission was ended, successive U.S. and NATO commanders had wavered over the years on whether to maintain combat outposts that came under constant attack from a hostile population in Kunar and Nuristan, or simply to abandon the area.
On Thursday, the 32-year-old Groberg, who grew up in a Paris suburb and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, will become the 10th living American to receive the nation’s highest award for valor since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when President Obama makes the formal presentation at a White House ceremony.
At a roundtable session with reporters Wednesday, Groberg was joined by three members of his unit who witnessed his sprint to get at the suicide bomber near a bridge in the Kunar village of Assadabad on Aug. 8, 2012 — Staff Sgt. Brian Brink, the platoon Sergeant; Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, the communications specialist; and Spc. Daniel Balderrama, the medic.
All said they felt uneasy as they approached on foot along a paved road to a bridge as the personal security detail for then-Col. James Mingus, now a brigadier general assigned to Fort Carson, Colorado. Mingus was headed to a meeting with an Afghan provincial governor.
“That day, it just felt a little different when we got on the ground,” Groberg said. Brink echoed him: “Everything felt a little different that day. It was a gut feeling. We all felt it. Nobody had to say it. Things just didn’t set right with us.”
In the rear, they heard a car revving its engine. Brink radioed back — “Get him off us, get him off us.” They later concluded that the revving engine was the signal for two men on motorcycles to approach from the front. Brink and others raised their weapons. The men dismounted and backed off.
The road narrowed near the bridge. To the right was a stone wall, to the left a drainage culvert.
Two other men appeared, walking backwards in parallel to the unit. Brink said the man closest to the unit had a bulge on his hip, with his right hand resting on the bulge. Brink raised his weapon again and just as he readied to pull the trigger, Groberg ran at the man, followed by Mahoney.
“You face a threat, you go towards the threat,” Groberg said. For an instant, the man made eye contact. “He had a blank stare,” Groberg said. “He did a 180 and cut directly toward the patrol. I hit him, then we grabbed him and threw him to the ground. He detonated at our feet.”
The second man also set off his explosive device but the force of the blast mainly went into the stone wall.
Groberg was knocked unconscious. About half of his left calf had been torn away. He also suffered a blown eardrum and a mild traumatic brain injury.
Balderrama, the medic, had also been knocked unconscious and suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs. The force of the blast had thrown him into the culvert.
“The first thing when I woke up in that ditch, I was so thankful. He (Groberg) was calling for me, yelling ‘Doc, Doc save my leg.’ I remember seeing his boots covered in blood, his legs covered in blood,” Balderrama said.
Balderrama tried to stand to get to his captain. He couldn’t. “I recall trying to stand up and falling down. I couldn’t put weight on my legs. I kind of shimmied over, I think on my knees or something,” he said.
Balderrama managed to get a tourniquet on Groberg’s leg. “I just wanted to get him to the next level of care,” he said.
The suicide bomber had taken a heavy toll. In addition to the wounded, four had been killed — Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 46; Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35; Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38; and Ragaei Abdelfattah, 43, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Thinking back on it, Brink said the enemy had planned well for that day. “As we approached the bridge, we were attacked just short of the bridge. It was an absolute choke point. There’s no doubt in my mind, looking back in my mind, that it was well planned, coordinated. They knew we would have to constrict our formation into a smaller group and they took advantage.”
Groberg never stops thinking back on it. “We all fought those demons of ‘why me.’ Why not me? And in the end, you know, it’s combat,” he said. “All we can do now is honor those guys and their families. And make sure that we are better people, that we live our lives for them. And every day when we wake up, we remember. And when it gets tough, we remember.”
“They made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said of the four who were killed. “We’re here to tell you this. I’m so blessed and honored for the medal, but it doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to them.”
As US Rep. Walter Jones continues a 15-year effort in Washington to re-designate the title of the Department of Navy, not everyone in his North Carolina home and military community sees the need.
Retired Marine Col. Pete Grimes of Hubert refers to the adage “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” when asked about Jones’ fight to re-name the Department of Navy the Department of Navy and Marine Corps.
Beyond the surface of the name change, Grimes doesn’t see any benefit to the organization by disrupting the status quo.
“Why change the name? What does it achieve? At the end, I can’t think of anything that would improve the stature of the Marine Corps,” Grimes.
Jones has seen things differently.
He first introduced a proposal to change the title of the department to Department of the Navy and Marine Corps in 2001 and has stuck to his belief that the two separate services deserve equal recognition.
The House Armed Services Committee passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018. As a member of the committee, Jones was involved in drafting the defense bill and has several measures attached, including the re-designation of the Department of Navy title.
“The Marine Corps is an equal member of this department, and therefore, deserves equal recognition in its title,” Jones said in remarks on getting the language included in the defense bill.
Jones said the defense bill is expected to go to the House floor for a vote in July. If successful, NDAA will then go to the Senate.
Retired Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Ball of Jacksonville, who served 23 years in the Marine Corps, said whatever name is used is a matter of perception and will vary by a person’s point of view. Regardless of the name, Ball said the operations of the two services are separate and should stay that way.
He said the organization as it is now has been working well.
“Leave it the way it is,” Ball said.
Brian Kramer, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, said the unique Navy-Marine Corps relationship is an exceptional one within the Department of Defense that should not be changed. He questions whether a name change now could lead to larger, negative changes later.
“I am a traditionalist, and on this issue I think the longstanding relationship between the Navy and the Marine Corps should remain unchanged. This relationship has served both services exceptionally well over the centuries. We ( Marines) are called ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ for a reason,” Kramer said. “Our roots are with the Navy, and I see the short-term ‘feel-good’ benefit of a name change having possible long-term negative consequences. Might this be a first step to the Corps being a separate service? I am not certain we want to go there.”
Retired Navy Capt. Rick Welton of Swansboro doesn’t have a particular opinion on the proposed change the Department of Navy’s title but agreed that the two services have long had a history of working together.
“We’ve been working as a team from the beginning,” Welton said. “We have depended on each other, worked with each other, and done outstanding things together.”
It’s been a momentous year for Sgt. Elizabeth Marks.
The combat medic and U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program swimmer spent the summer garnering international headlines for a grand gesture while winning four gold medals in swimming at the Invictus Games. That led to an appearance at the ESPYs, the awards show that recognizes sports’ highest achievements, to receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service. She followed that up by smashing a world record and winning two medals during her first trip to the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The list of hardware is already impressive. But it received another addition earlier this week.
Marks was named to the ESPN Women’s Impact25 Athletes and Influencers list Tuesday. The list highlights the top 25 women who made the greatest impact in sports and the societies in which they live. Marks joined names such as Simone Biles, the Olympic gymnastics gold medalist who was also the magazine’s Woman of the Year; Kathryn Smith, the National Football League’s first female full-time coach; and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.
“It’s extremely special to even be mentioned,” Marks said on Twitter about being an Impact25 nominee.
Her unveiling as an honoree was marked by an essay written by Prince Harry. The British royal was at the center of the moment that opened the world’s eyes to Marks.
In May, she made international headlines for her gesture at the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida.
Marks was decorated with her fourth gold medal at the Games by Prince Harry, who created the competition, an international Paralympic-style, multi-sport event, which allows wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and veterans to compete. After he placed the medal around Marks’ neck, the 26-year-old gave the award back.
Marks wanted Prince Harry to deliver the medal to Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England, where she spent the duration of the inaugural Invictus Games in 2014. Marks traveled to London in the fall of that year to compete in the Games when she collapsed with respiratory distress syndrome. Her condition worsened and she was eventually hospitalized and placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, life support to help her breathe. She missed the Games, but Marks said she was fortunate to come back alive. She said donating one of her medals was the only way she could think of to repay the hospital staff. Her request was honored June 1.
“This is an incredible achievement by any standards,” Prince Harry wrote about Marks’ appearance in the Impact25 list. “And I know this is how she wants to be defined, by her achievements and her abilities. But as an Army sergeant wounded in service to her country, her journey to get to this point has been remarkable. To me, she epitomizes the courage, resilience and determination of our servicemen and women. Using sport to fight back from injury in the most remarkable way, she sums up what the Invictus Games spirit is all about.”
For Marks, her ordeal in 2014 wasn’t the first time she had to endure an arduous hospital stay. In 2010, after suffering devastating injuries in Iraq, she grew nervous about the words being bandied about her such as “end of service” or “retirement.” Marks called her father to vent her frustrations. The former Marine told his daughter to write what was most important to her on a piece of paper. She scrawled “FFD” in pencil on a torn sheet of paper. The acronym stood for “fit for duty.” She was deemed fit for duty on July 3, 2012, after several painful surgeries and a grueling rehabilitation. Marks has not stopped trying to live up to the notion, resuming her job as a medic while also competing for WCAP.
She was back in the pool one month after her ordeal in England. Two months after leaving the hospital, she broke an American record in the SB9, a disability swimming classification, 200-meter breaststroke. Fewer than two years later, she set a new world record in the 50-meter breaststroke in the SB7 division.
“I was told it’d be six months before I got into a pool again,” Marks told the audience at the ESPYs where she became the first active-duty Soldier to receive the Pat Tillman Award. “I got into a pool about a month out of my coma. Without those physicians, without their service, I would’ve died. I hope that my service could eventually mean that to someone.”
Marks received a standing ovation after accepting the award on the stage of the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. She thanked her father and the Pat Tillman Foundation for turning an “absolute tragedy into a triumph.” She also thanked her fellow injured service members throughout the world for their support. She said any success she found at the Rio Paralympics would be because of them.
And find success she did. Marks broke her own world record in the breaststroke to win the gold medal. She then had a heroic swim in her leg of the 4×100 medley relay to help the Americans win a bronze medal after getting off to a difficult start.
The feat seemed to cap off a storied sports year for Marks. But this week proved otherwise. And that should suit her desire to inspire her fellow Soldiers just fine.
The US Navy is looking at a number of ways to increase its presence in the Arctic around Alaska, including deployments of the service’s advanced maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, the Navy’s top civilian official said in December 2018.
Asked by Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan about the US presence in that part of the world, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 12, 2018, that the Navy was present under the sea and in the air and “looking at how we can get up there” in other capacities.
“If I had a blank check for everything, it’d be terrific, to ice-harden ships, but with the demand that we have right now, it is unaffordable,” Spencer said, adding that it would be possible to send assets up there seasonally as sea ice melts.
“You and I did go look on the coast up there for a potential strategic port,” Spencer told Sullivan. “I think the Coast Guard, in concert with the Navy, we should definitely flesh out what could possibly be done.”
A US Navy P-8 Poseidon.
“When it comes to using Alaska in the Arctic area for training, the commandant and I have talked about this — plans to go look at doing something this summer, possibly on Adak, for training,” Spencer added, referring Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, who was also at the hearing.
Spencer said he and Navy Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran “have talked about possible P-8 [deployments] up to Adak. There are definite training uses, and there’s definite ability to affect the National Defense Strategy with Arctic activity.”
The Navy and Marine Corps presence in Alaska is currently small, with some sailors and Marines stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, the latter personnel there as part of a reserve unit.
Marines have been deployed to Norway on a rotational basis since the beginning of 2017, and Oslo recently said that it would ask the US to increase their numbers and move them farther north, closer to that country’s border with Russia.
The Navy has also made moves toward higher latitudes, sending an aircraft carrier above the Arctic Circle for the first time since the early 1990s as part of NATO’s exercise Trident Juncture, which took place in October and November 2018. Navy officials have stressed that they intend to be more active in the Arctic going forward.
Neller has emphasized that his command is focusing on training for harsh conditions.
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment disembark an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter after a simulated raid on Indian Mountain radar system as part of Exercise Arctic Edge 18 at Fort Greely, Alaska, March 12, 2018.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brianna Gaudi)
In March 2018, Marines joined soldiers, sailors, and airmen in Alaska for Arctic Edge 2018, where they trained “to fight and win in the Arctic,” the head of Alaskan Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, said at the time.
A few weeks after that exercise, Neller told Sullivan during a Senate hearing that the Marines “have gotten back into the cold-weather business.” In August 2018, while traveling through Alaska with Spencer, Sullivan said that the Marine Corps was “looking at spending a lot more time in Alaska.”
Adak Island is at the western edge of the Aleutian Islands. The naval facility, which was on the northern side of the island, took up more than 76,000 acres and was an important base for submarine surveillance during the Cold War.
The airstrip there has been in commercial use since the Navy shut down military operations in 1997.
Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, left, meets with Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, right, in Nome to discuss the construction of deep-draft ports in western Alaska, Aug. 13, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco)
The Navy is currently grappling with operational and maintenance challenges brought on by more than two decades of continuous operations around the world — a situation that has been complicated by discussions of expansion and by uncertainty about its budget in the future as it builds new supercarriers and designs a new generation of ballistic missile subs that will carry nuclear warheads.
Returning to Alaska would present an array challenges, according to Jeffrey Barker, a deputy branch head for policy and posture on the chief of naval operation’s staff.
US Navy crew members on board a P-8A Poseidon assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 man their workstations while assisting in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 March 16, 2014 in the Indian Ocean.
(US Navy photo)
“We want to be agile, but sustainability is key,” Barker said at the beginning of December 2018 during a Wilson Center event focused on the Arctic. “We don’t really want to do anything if we can’t sustain it, so that’s a huge part of that, and the infrastructure to that.”
“When Secretary Spencer went around Alaska, he was asked a lot of questions, and he asked us a lot of questions about how much would it cost to go back to Adak,” Barker said. “He was shocked — gobsmacked is what he said — when the report that we gave him said id=”listicle-2623753290″.3 billion.”
Barker said that Spencer clarified that he only wanted to use the facility “for a couple of weeks here and there,” and when asked about the plan after the hearing on Dec. 12, 2018, Spencer said the base was up to that task.
“The airstrip is in great shape,” he told Breaking Defense, which first reported his comments about a potential P-8 deployment. Spencer added that the Navy may have to pay to clean up one of the hangars.
But the airport, he said, “has a fuel farm up there that Air Alaska is using to fuel its planes. It has de-icing platforms that we could use for fresh water washdowns for the P-8. They have lodging up there that is supposedly coming forward to us on a rental availability, so it really isn’t a big bill.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Ever see those signs on the highway that read “speed limit enforced by aircraft”?
Well, if you’re in South Africa, you might just start seeing similar signage declaring anti-poaching laws are being enforced by the country’s Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that illegal hunting could be dealt with using a JDAM strike, or even a gun run with the Gripen’s 27 mm Mauser cannon. However, it definitely does herald a new mission for the South African Air Force, and brings to the forefront the struggles the country has had over the years with curbing rampant poaching across its outback.
The SAAF aims to use the Litening III pod to track poachers at night near the South Africa-Zimbabwe border. Built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems of Israel, the Litening is widely used as to designate targets for guided munitions, enhancing their effectiveness in combat situations.
Instead of designating poachers for an airstrike, the SAAF will use Litening’s reconnaissance capabilities, allowing them to see activity on the ground clearly, even while flying at night. The pod can be slung underneath the aircraft on its wings, or beneath its fuselage on a “belly pylon.”
Litening has already more than proven its worth in night operations in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 15 years.
Using a datalink developed in South Africa known as “Link ZA,” information on the location of poachers as well images of them in action can be shared with other aircraft in the area, or even controllers on the ground. This would presumably be used to vector rangers on the ground to the general location of the poachers.
Poaching has been a widespread and seemingly unstoppable issue in South Africa for decades, causing an alarming decrease in the country’s rhino population. Combat veterans, hired by private security companies and smaller organizations such as Vetpaw have been deployed to the area to combat poaching in recent years.
The Gripen is a multirole fighter with air-to-ground and air-to-air capabilities, serving with a number of countries across the world. Designed and manufactured in Sweden, it was built as a versatile competitor to the likes of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale and other similar fighters of the current era.
The single-engine fighter currently flies in Thailand, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Sweden, in addition to South Africa, and will soon enter service with the Brazilian Air Force. Saab is still aggressively courting a next-generation version of the Gripen, called the Gripen NG – slightly more on par with Boeing’s Advanced Super Hornet.
South Africa began taking delivery of its Gripens in 2008, purchasing a total of 26 planes — a mix of single and two-seaters. In 2013, less than half of these aircraft were operational at any given time. Slashes made to the country’s defense budget forced the SAAF to limit flight operations while placing a group of its brand new fighters in storage as they could not be flown.
It was reported last year that the SAAF began rotating its Gripens in and out of storage, activating some of the mothballed fighters to return to service, while storing others to be reactivated later on. Since South Africa does not face any military threats, none of these Gripens have ever been involved in combat situations.
It’s possible that using fighters in such a role might prove to be too expensive for the South African government, though, necessitating the SAAF to explore utilizing a different aircraft for its anti-poaching operations. However, this in itself could be problematic as the Litening pod can only be equipped to fighter and attack jets.
Using Gripens, orbiting high above poaching target zones, will likely turn out to be a decent interim solution while the South African government comes up with a cheaper and more cost-effective solution. Until then, poachers beware, you’re being watched by state-of-the-art fighter jets in night skies above.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has ordered separate reviews of the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Air Force One programs in hopes of restructuring and reducing program costs, an official announced Friday.
In two memorandums signed and effective immediately, Mattis said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work will “oversee a review that compares the F-35C and F/A-18E/F operational capabilities and assess the extent that the F/A-18E/F improvements [an advanced Super Hornet] can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective fighter aircraft alternative,” according to a statement from Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.
For the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program, known as Air Force One, Mattis said Work’s review should “identify specific areas where costs can be lowered,” such as “autonomous operations, aircraft power generation, environmental conditioning [cooling], survivability, and military [and] civilian communication capabilities,” the memo said.
The memos didn’t specify if the review will reduce the planned number of aircraft.
“This is a prudent step to incorporate additional information into the budget preparation process and to inform the secretary’s recommendations to the president regarding critical military capabilities,” Davis said in an email statement.
“This action is also consistent with the president’s guidance to provide the strongest and most efficient military possible for our nation’s defense, and it aligns with the secretary’s priority to increase military readiness while gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense,” he said.
Both the F-35 stealth fighter and Air Force One presidential aircraft acquisition programs have been in President Donald Trump’s crosshairs in recent weeks.
Trump has criticized the high cost of the $4 billion Air Force One being developed by Boeing and the nearly $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter being manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp.
On Dec. 6, Trump tweeted “cancel order!” in reference to the Air Force One program. He brought up the issue again during a Dec. 16 speech in Pennsylvania, and also called the F-35 program a “disaster” with its cost overruns.
“Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 22.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is expected to cost nearly $400 billion in development and procurement costs to field a fleet of 2,457 single-engine fighters — and some $1.5 trillion in lifetime sustainment costs, according to Pentagon figures. It’s the Pentagon’s single most expensive acquisition effort.
Trump has met with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s CEO Marillyn Hewson on multiple occasions and last week with Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg.
The company heads have vowed — in what they said were productive conversations with the president — to drive down costs on both programs.
“We made some great progress on simplifying requirements for Air Force One, streamlining the process, streamlining certification by using commercial practices,” Muilenburg said just days after Trump met with Hewson.
“All of that is going to provide a better airplane at a lower cost, so I’m pleased with the progress there,” he said. “And similarly on fighters, we were able to talk about options for the country and capabilities that will, again, provide the best capability for our warfighters most affordably.”
The most comprehensive study yet made of veteran suicide concludes that on average 20 veterans a day are taking their own lives.
The average daily tally is two less than the VA previously estimated, but is based on a more thorough review of Defense Department records, records from each state and data from the Centers for Disease Control, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“One veteran suicide is one too many, and this collaborative effort provides both updated and comprehensive data that allows us to make better-informed decisions on how to prevent this national tragedy,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, VA Under Secretary for Health. “We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of veteran suicides to zero.”
The VA said in a statement that the report will be released at the end of July.
The study found that veterans accounted for 18 percent of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults in 2014 — a decrease from 22 percent in 2010.
Veteran suicides increased at a rate higher than adult civilians between 2001 and 2014. The civilian rate grew by 23 percent while veteran suicides increased 32 percent over the same period. “After controlling for age and gender, this makes the risk of suicide 21 percent greater for veterans,” the VA said.
The study also found that the suicide rates among veterans — male and female — who use VA services increased, though not at the rate among veterans who did not use the services.
Overall, the suicide rate since 2001 among all veterans using VA services grew by 8.8 percent versus 38.6 percent for those who did not. For male veterans, the rate increased 11 percent and 35 percent, respectively. For female vets, the rates increased 4.6 percent and 98 percent, according to the study.
In its last study, the VA noted that its figures probably were underestimated, in part because it relied on state records that were not always complete or accurate. Another shortcoming with the earlier report is that it used information from only 21 states.
“The ability of death certificates to fully capture female Veterans was particularly low; only 67 percent of true female Veterans were identified,” the report stated. “Younger or unmarried Veterans and those with lower levels of education were also more likely to be missed on the death certificate.”
The increasing rate of female suicides prompted Congress to pass the Female Veterans Suicide Act, which President Obama signed into law last month.
The VA’s announcement does not offer an explanation why older veterans are more likely to commit suicide, though Dr. Tom Berger, a Navy corpsman in Vietnam and now executive director of the Veterans Health Council at Vietnam Veterans of America, previously told Military.com that sometimes veterans reach an age where they’re not as active with work or other commitments that may have been coping mechanisms for post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues.
The VA said in its announcement on Thursday that over 1.6 million veterans received mental health treatment from the department, including at more than 150 medical centers, 820 community-based outpatient clinics and 300 Vet Centers. Veterans also enter VA health care through theVeterans Crisis Line, VA staff on college and university campuses, or other outreach points.
The VA anticipates having 1,000 locations where veterans can receive mental health care by the end of 2016.
Efforts to address the high suicide rates among veterans also include predictive modeling — using clinical signs of suicide — to determine which vets may be at highest risk, the VA said in its statement. This system will enable providers to intervene early in the cases of most at-risk veterans.
The VA is also expanding telemental health care by establishing four new regional telemental health hubs across the VA health care system, hiring more than 60 new crisis intervention responders for the Veterans Crisis Line, and building new partnerships between VA programs and community-based programs.
Executive orders to bar the entry of refugees from several Middle Eastern nations caused quite a stir over the weekend. The order restricts immigration from seven countries, suspends all refugee admission for 120 days, and bans all Syrian refugees indefinitely.
A few prominent corporate brands got creamed when their responses to the ban didn’t meet the expectations of the outraged protesters who poured into airport terminals all over the country. Others accidentally tapped the anger of the social media conservatives. One of the latter is the coffee giant Starbucks.
Anger at Starbucks Coffee boiled over when CEO Howard Schultz announced they would hire 10,000 refugees in countries where the company operates. Schultz sweetened the deal by adding that their first priority would be to hire those refugees who served as interpreters for American troops on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There are more than 65 million citizens of the world recognized as refugees by the United Nations,” Schultz wrote in a company-wide letter to the coffee chain’s employees. “And we are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business. And we will start this effort here in the U.S. by making the initial focus of our hiring efforts on those individuals who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel in the various countries where our military has asked for such support.”
Conservatives on Twitter and Facebook accuse the company of being steeped in liberal ideology. This isn’t the first time Starbucks found itself in hot water with the #TCOT. Starbuck’s holiday cup designs drew ire in 2015 on the grounds that it filtered out typical Christmas imagery (like snowflakes and snowmen) in its design.
The next year, Starbuck released green cups to promote unity during a divisive 2016 election season. The company was accusing of liberal brainwashing. Each time a half-hearted boycott movement percolated around the brand on social media but didn’t reflect in the stores’ sales.
The chain’s dedication to hiring refugees who served with U.S. troops is consistent with the brand’s dedication to hiring American military veterans and assisting in the transition of military personnel into civilian life. The company dedicated its Starbucks College Achievement Plan to allow employee veterans (and their spouses) to earn a bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University online with full tuition reimbursement.
Danielle Green learned how to be tough while growing up on the mean streets of Chicago. That outlook served her well during her intercollegiate basketball career at Notre Dame in the late ’90s where she fought to win and racked up enough points to become the Fighting Irish’s sixteenth leading scorer of all time.
But it wasn’t until Green enlisted in the Army that she was made to discover just how tough she really is. She deployed to Iraq in January of 2004 with the 571st Military Police Company. Shortly into that tour she was hit by shrapnel from an RPG that exploded next to her while she was pulling sentry duty on a rooftop in Baghdad.
“That pain was like nothing else,” Green said. “It was so painful I wanted to die.”
Green lost her left arm halfway between the wrist and elbow. After extensive surgeries and rehab, she had to face the reality that her military career was over. “I gave all I could give,” she said. “I realized I wanted to serve in a different way.”
She attended graduate school and studied to be a school counselor, and at some point between getting her degree and her job search a friend suggested she focus on helping service members with the issues that surround the move back to civilian life. “That’s my purpose,” she said. “That’s my mission.”
Green now works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a readjustment therapist at the Veterans Center in South Bend, Indiana. “It’s how I can continue serving my fellow veterans,” she said.
Last week Green was honored with the 2015 Pat Tillman Award for Service at ESPN’s Espy Awards held in Los Angeles.
Marie Tillman, president and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation and Pat Tillman’s widow, said Green was selected for the award because of her resilience and personal efforts that have made her “a voice and advocate for this generation of veterans.”
“Not all of us are Pat Tillman,” Green said during her acceptance remarks in front of a packed house of sports greats and celebrities broadcast to a national TV audience. “But we can all find ways to serve our community. We can all find ways to support the people around us. We can all find a purpose on this earth larger than ourselves.”
For decades, the U.S. military and its private-sector partners have been working toward a technology straight out of science fiction: robotic suits.
And it’s no surprise. Exoskeletons could add to soldiers’ natural strength, letting troops lift seemingly impossible loads and dart across the battlefield at incredible speed.
Currently, the military is exploring creating an Iron Man-like specialized suit through the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) program. The suit would provide soldiers with enhanced mobility and protection, and it would most likely run on top of an exoskeleton base.
Today’s exoskeletons vary in utility, but they can allow soldiers to carry 17 times more weight than normal and march with significantly less strain on the body. With an XOS 2 suit, for example, a solider can carry 400 pounds but feel the weight of only 23.5.
Although robotic exoskeleton suits have been in development for over 50 years, things really started picking up speed in the 1990s, leading to more and more interest from the U.S military. Now, it’s a clear priority.
As former Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper said: “We must give the individual soldier the same capabilities of stealth and standoff that fighter planes have. We must look at the soldier as the system.”
Early 1960s: The Man Amplifier
Throughout the early 1960s, Neil Mizen developed the early stages of the Man Amplifier at Cornell University’s Aeronautical Lab. The suit was intended to have powered gears at the joints to provide additional support and strength.
Although it was hoped that the Amplifier would have military and scientific uses, Mizen could not master the system’s powered gear system, and the suit was never completed. Even so, his research went on to inspire future exoskeleton projects.
1965: The Hardiman Suit
One of the first powered iterations of exoskeletons was General Electric’s 1965 Hardiman Suit, which was co-developed with the U.S. military. The suit built upon the research done for the Man Amplifier.
The Hardiman was intended to lift 1,500 pounds; however, the suit never managed to act as a fully unified machine, and controlling it proved impossible.
Instead, research was focused on one arm of the suit. The arm managed to lift 750 pounds, but it weighed three quarters of a ton alone. The suit was deemed impractical, and the project was eventually abandoned.
1997: The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL)
In 1997, the Japanese research firm Cyberdyne started the earliest prototype of the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL). The South Korean and U.S. militaries offered to fund the program, but the company wanted to avoid military applications for its technology.
The first prototypes of HAL were created at Tsukuba University with the aim of assisting the disabled and elderly with their daily tasks. The original HAL systems were attached to computers, and the batteries alone weighed 49 pounds.
The HAL 5
In 2013, the fifth-generation HAL prototype, HAL 5, received a global safety certificate for worldwide medical use. It was the first powered exoskeleton to receive this certification.
The HAL 5 is a full-body exoskeleton that weighs a total of 22 pounds. The system functions by sensing bio-signals on the surface of the skin, causing the exoskeleton to mirror the user’s movement. The suit can function for about an hour and a half on a full charge. The suit was used by relief workers during efforts to clean up the partial meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, because the suit could allow workers to wear more protective gear and work longer shifts without tiring as quickly.
The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (BLEEX)
The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (BLEEX) entered development in 2000 with a $50 million grant from DARPA. The prototype allowed wearers to carry upward of 200 pounds while feeling no additional weight. The exoskeleton was even capable of traversing rough terrain for extended periods of time.
The BLEEX has been designed so that the legs can be easily removed from the back if the device loses power — thus transforming it back into a standard backpack.
Springtail Exoskeleton Flying Vehicle
In 2001, Trek Aerospace ran its first test of the now-defunct Springtail Exoskeleton Flying Vehicle. The Springtail was considered for military development and even allowed for vertical flight. But ultimately, the project was deemed impractical and never took off.
The Springtail was unique in that it would allow soldiers to fly and hover, effectively taking the role of a personal vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle. The Springtail had a maximum speed of 113 miles per hour and could fly for 184 miles and carry a payload of 358 pounds.
Also in 2001, U.S. Army Rangers veteran Monty K. Reed set up North Seattle Robotics Group. The group opened the They Shall Walk non-profit, dedicated to developing LIFESUIT exoskeletons for the disabled.
Reed had a parachute accident while in the military in 1986 that left him with permanent back injuries. During his recovery, Reed became fascinated with the exoskeletons in Robert Heinlein’s novel “Starship Troopers.” The LIFESUIT is in a late stage of development, and it has entered widespread medical trials.
In 2000, Sarcos, an engineering and robotics firm in Utah, began designing the XOS Exoskeleton after receiving a grant from DARPA. DARPA accepted Sarcos’ exoskeleton design in 2006, and production of prototypes began that year.
The XOS had to stay connected to a power source to maintain movement. But the suit performed remarkably within this limitation: The XOS allowed users to lift significantly more weight than they could previously. Its actual-to-perceived-weight ratio was 6:1, meaning that a 180-pound load would feel like only 30 pounds.
A lighter, more efficient XOS
In 2007, the defense giant Raytheon purchased Sarcos. In 2010, Raytheon-Sarcos released the XOS 2. The XOS 2 featured a host of improvements over the XOS.
The XOS 2 suit allows users to lift heavy objects at an actual-to-perceived-weight ratio of 17:1. The suit also required 50% less energy than the XOS, while also weighing 10% less than its predecessor.
The XOS 2 is also touted as being more precise, faster, and more portable than the XOS. The military is considering using the XOS 2 in its TALOS project.
The Human Universal Load Carrier
The Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) began development in 2000 with Berkeley Bionics, which later changed its name to Ekso Bionics. The HULC was a third-generation exoskeleton system, and it incorporated features from two previous Ekso Bionics prototypes.
The HULC was proved to augment the strength of its wearers, allowing them to lift 200 pounds without impediment. The HULC also lowered the wearer’s metabolic cost, meaning soldiers could march with a load while having a decreased oxygen consumption and heart rate.
The HULC’s Military Applications
In 2009, Ekso Bionics licensed the HULC to Lockheed Martin for research into possible military applications. Lockheed continued its development of the HULC along the same lines as Ekso Bionics, but it increased the functionality of the suit to match the military’s needs.
HULC is multi-terrain operational, supports front and back payloads, and has enough power to last for an eight-hour march before having to be recharged. HULC allows a user to perform deep squats or crawl while wearing it, and it supports upper-body lifting as well. HULC is one of the exoskeletons currently being examined by the military for possible use in its TALOS Iron Man suit.
The X1 Mina — NASA’s Exoskeleton
NASA announced that it was creating an exoskeleton as part of a partnership with the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. The X1 Mina Exoskeleton will have dual functionality. In space and low-gravity environments, the joints of the suit will be stiffer, providing the astronauts with exercise to combat muscle atrophy.
NASA also envisions that the X1 can be used by paraplegics and others with disabilities to provide support while walking. In this case, the X1’s joints can be loosened, providing support to the wearer without being physically taxing.
The Warrior Web Program — DARPA’s Exoskeleton Of The Future
DARPA began its Warrior Web program, aimed at creating a soft and lightweight under-suit that protects wearers’ joints and helps increase the amount of weight a soldier can easily carry while using less than 100 watts of power. One of the most promising designs has come from the firm Boston Dynamics.
The Warrior Web program has produced small exoskeleton-like clothing designs that are meant to be worn under normal uniforms. The overall goal of the program is to increase the endurance of soldiers by lessening the strain on their muscles.
Over the past 50 years, exoskeletons have gone from an unproven and even slightly fanciful technology to systems with medical and aerospace applications. They are becoming lighter, more energy-efficient, and more flexible — meaning that it is probably just a matter of time before the U.S. develops a practical military version.
“The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril,” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reportedly said while reflecting on the second world war.
By the end of the war, Hitler’s Kriegsmarine, the navy of Nazi Germany, had built 1,162 U-boats, which is short for the German word “Unterseeboot,” or undersea boat.
In the fall 2015 issue of Weapons of WWII magazine, Marc DeSantis explains how the U-boats were used during World War II.
At the beginning of the war, the commander of the German U-boat fleet, Karl Dönitz, said that if he had 300 U-boats, “he could strangle Britain and win the war.”
The Kriegsmarine began the war with just 56 U-boats, but over the course of the war they would build 691 type VII U-boats alone. Here’s a photo of a U-35 boat during training exercises in 1936.
The U-boat was not a true submarine in today’s sense of the word. It was more of a submersible craft. The diesel engines required air, so while underwater, the craft was powered by 100 tons of lead-acid batteries, meaning it had to surface every few hours when air and battery power were exhausted.
The battery power made the U-boats exceptionally slow underwater, clocking in at 8 knots (9.2 mph), compared to 17.2 knots (19.8 mph) above water on the VII-B models.
The boats were manned by up to 44 men …
… who shared extremely crammed quarters.
The U-boat featured a fearsome 88-millimeter cannon on the deck, as well as a 20-millimeter antiaircraft gun. Here’s the cannon in action:
U-boats were also equipped with torpedoes for underwater attacks. Here’s a photo of a German G7 torpedo, the standard torpedo for all German U-boats and surface torpedo-bearing vessels of the war.
However, many early torpedoes fired by U-boats did not function properly, either exploding prematurely or not at all.
By 1943, Allied forces began fiercely hunting U-boats at sea. Here’s an Allied pilot bombing a U-boat.
Toward the end of the war, the U-boats were death traps. Of 40,900 men who manned U-boats, some 28,000, or 70%, were killed. Here’s a photo of US troops boarding a captured German U-boat.
German U-boats sank more than 2,600 Allied ships carrying supplies during World War II.