The mortar is an indirect fire weapon that rains freedom down from high angles onto an enemy within a (relatively) short range. But the compact and mobile mortar systems we have today are the result of a long history of indirect fire systems in the American military. Decades of effectively marking, lighting, and destroying targets has earned the mortar many friends — and many more enemies — on the battlefield. In short, a well-trained mortar team often means the difference between victory and defeat for infantry troops in contact.
When nature creates a successful apex predator, she rarely deviates from her original design. Warfare evolves in a similar fashion — the most successful systems are tweaked and perfected to guarantee effectiveness, preserving our way of life.
This is an ode to the mortar, and all of its beautifully complex inner-workings.
Preparation and Firing Stokes Mortars 1 Min 12 Sec
The mortar was born in the fires of conquest at the Siege of Constantinople in 1453. In that engagement, the new weapon proved just how effective firing explosives over short distances across an extremely high arc could be. Since that day, more than 500 years and countless wars ago, the general concept hasn’t changed.
One of the biggest evolutions in the mortar design was put forth by the British in World War I: the Stokes Mortar. It had 3 sections: a 51-inch tube, a base plate, and a bi-pod. This new type of mortar system fired twenty-two 10-pound pieces of ordinance a maximum of 1,000 yards. Mortars today still use the bi-pod and base-plate improvements that were first deployed in the trenches of the Western Front.
COMBAT FOOTAGE Marines in firefight beat Taliban ambush with 60mm Mortar Fire
A mortar crew consists of at least three members: the squad leader, gunner, and the assistant gunner. More members could be attached depending on manpower available.
The mortar system has a large tube closed at the the bottom and attached to a base plate. Within the barrel of the tube is a firing pin used to ignite a mortar shell’s primer. Some models have a moving firing pin that can be fired via a trigger mechanism.
The controlled explosion fills the chamber with gas and propels the shell out of the tube. A set of bi-pods add stability and allow on-the-fly adjustments. It can be fired from defilade (a fighting position that does not expose the crew to direct fire weapons) onto entrenched enemy not protected from overhead fire.
Sometimes referred to as a ‘bomb’, the shell and its components consist of the impact fuse, high explosive filler, a primary charge, fins, and augmenting charges. Illumination and smoke rounds differ depending on the model of the weapon system. Augmentation charges on the outside ‘neck’ near the fin can be added or removed to manipulate firing range as needed.
The gun is aimed, the round is half loaded until the ‘fire’ command is given and freedom rings.
Steel drizzle vs steel rain
The differences between artillery and mortars are night and day. Artillery fires on a horizontal trajectory, at faster speeds, and at longer ranges. The cost of these advantages are sacrificed in mobility.
Mortars, however, are light enough that they can be carried across difficult terrain and quickly assembled to take control of the battle space. Ammunition can be dispersed to individual troops to carry and then dropped off at the gun crew rally point.
The Air Force recently released two new videos of A-10 Warthogs taking out Taliban narcotics production facilities in Afghanistan, as the Trump administration continues to quietly ramp up the US’ nearly 17-year war in the country.
The videos are rather shocking. One shows several missile strikes that turned the black and white video nearly all-white for a few seconds before flames can be seen rolling up.
“The Taliban have nowhere to hide,” Gen. John Nicholson, commander of Resolute Support in Afghanistan, said in February 2018, after the Air Force dropped a record number of smart bombs from a B-52 on Taliban training facilities.
“There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group … We continue to strike them wherever we find them. We continue to hunt them across the country.”
But a BBC study published in late January 2018 showed that the Taliban operates in about 70% of Afghanistan, and fully controls about 4% of the country.
The Taliban’s numbers have also reportedly grown three-fold in the last few years. In 2014, the Taliban’s forces were estimated to be about 20,000. Currently, they’re estimated to be at least 60,000-strong.
The US announced in November 2017 that it would begin targeting the Taliban’s revenue sources, much of which is opium and heroin, with airstrikes.
“October and November 2017 were two of the deadliest months for civilians,” according to the latest SIGAR report. “Press reports stated several civilians were killed during the November 2017 bombings.”
These casualties “could erode support for the Afghan government and potentially increase support for the insurgency,” the SIGAR report said.
Around the same time that Nicholson announced that the US would hit the Taliban “where it hurts, in their narcotics financing,” Afghan farmers told Reuters that drug labs only take about three to four days to rebuild.
Analysts speaking to Reuters characterized the US’ strategy in Afghanistan as a pointless game of “whack-a-mole.”
On March 13, 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the US is seeing signs that the Taliban are interested in returning to the negotiating table with Kabul.
“Mattis offered few details about the Taliban outreach and it was unclear whether the latest reconciliation prospects would prove any more fruitful than previous, frustrated attempts to move toward a negotiated end to America’s longest war,” Reuters reported.
Every second Saturday of December, the soldiers of West Point settle their differences with the sailors and Marines of Annapolis in a good, old-fashioned football game. It’s a fiercely heated contest — and not just for the players on the field, but between entire branches.
Remember, when it comes to the troops, any little thing that can be used as bragging rights will be — even the uniforms are a type of competition. Traditionally, each team dons a new military history-inspired uniform for the Army-Navy game. Bringing the best threads to the gridiron isn’t officially a contest, but if it were, hot damn the Army would be winning.
It’s unclear at this time if all Cadets on the field will be wearing the Black Lion or just the ones wearing the 28th Infantry Regiment on their lapel.
(West Point Athletics)
This year, the soldiers are honoring the First Infantry Division by sporting a uniform inspired by the Big Red One. It was chosen because 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. While there were many American units that fought, several of whom are still around, the 1st ID is often heralded for their decisive victory at the Battle of Cantigny.
The iconic Black Lions of Cantigny have been incorporated into the shoulders of the uniforms. The rest of the uniform is a flat black with red trimmings. It features, of course, the Nike logo (the team’s sponsor) and the unit insignia. On the collars are insignias that represent the various regiments of the 1st Infantry Division that fought in World War I.
On the back of the helmet, if you look closely, you’ll spot a subtle American flag. Sharp football fans will notice that the flag only has 48 stars on it. Keeping with WWI legacy, this was the flag that the soldiers of WWI fought under, long before Alaska and Hawaii became part of the Union in 1959.
Check out the announcement video below that was posted to the official Army West Point Athletics Facebook page.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it has “no credible” evidence Iran was working on developing a nuclear “explosive device” after 2009 and that the UN’s nuclear watchdog considered the issue “closed” after it was presented in a report in December 2015.
The 2015 report “stated that the agency had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009. Based on the director-general’s report, the board of governors declared that its consideration of this issue was closed,” the IAEA said in a statement on May 1, 2018.
“In line with standard IAEA practice, the IAEA evaluates all safeguards-relevant information available to it. However, it is not the practice of the IAEA to publicly discuss issues related to any such information,” it added.
The IAEA statement comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on April 30, 2018, that Israel had documents that showed new “proof” of an Iranian nuclear-weapons plan that could be activated at any time.
Under an agreement in 2015 with world leaders, Iran curbed its enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel to ease concerns it could be put to use in developing bomb material. In return, Tehran won relief from most international sanctions.
Since then, UN nuclear inspectors have repeatedly reported that Iran is heeding the terms of the deal.
European states have dismissed the significance of documents, while the United States welcomed them as evidence of Iranian “lies.”
Iran has accused Netanyahu of being an “infamous liar” over the allegations, which come as the United States is considering whether to pull out of an atomic accord with Tehran, which has always rejected allegations that it sought a nuclear weapon, insisting its atomic program was solely for civilian purposes.
“The documents show that Iran had a secret nuclear-weapons program for years” while it was denying it was pursuing such weapons, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late on April 30, 2018, as he returned to Washington from a trip to Europe and the Middle East.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
“What this means is [Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers] was not constructed on a foundation of good faith or transparency. It was built on Iran’s lies,” Pompeo said, adding that the trove of documents Israel said it obtained on Iran’s so-called Project Amad to develop nuclear weapons before 2004 contain “new information.”
“The Iranians have consistently taken the position that they’ve never had a program like this. This will belie any notion that there wasn’t a program,” Pompeo said.
Netanyahu made his dramatic announcement less than two weeks before the May 12, 2018 deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide whether he will withdraw from the deal, which requires Iran to curb some of its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
Reuters reported on May 1, 2018, that according to a senior Israeli official, Netanyahu informed Trump about the evidence during a meeting in Washington on March 5, 2018, and that the U.S. president agreed Israel would publish the information before the May 12, 2018 deadline.
The White House on May 1, 2018, said the United States “certainly supported” efforts by Netanyahu to release intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program.
In a May 1, 2018 interview with CNN, Netanyahu said he did not seek war with Iran, but it was Tehran “that’s changing the rules in the region.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said in a statement on May 1, 2018, that accusations Tehran lied about its nuclear ambitions were “worn-out, useless, and shameful” and came from a “broke and infamous liar who has had nothing to offer except lies and deceits.”
“How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter, adding that the Israeli claims were “ridiculous” and “a rehash of old allegations.”
(Photo by Carlos Rodríguez)
‘This shows why deal needed’
European powers also said they were not impressed by the nearly 55,000 documents that Netanyahu claimed would prove that Iran once planned to develop the equivalent of “five Hiroshima bombs to be put on ballistic missiles.”
“We have never been naive about Iran and its nuclear intentions,” a British government spokesman said, adding that that was why the nuclear agreement contained a regime to inspect suspected Iranian nuclear sites that is “one of the most extensive and robust in the history of international nuclear accords.”
“It remains a vitally important way of independently verifying that Iran is adhering to the deal and that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful,” the British spokesman said.
Britain, France, and Germany are the three European powers that signed the deal, along with Russia, China, and the United States.
European officials said the documents provided by Israel contained no evidence that Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons after the 2015 deal was signed, so they indirectly confirm that Iran is complying with the deal.
France’s Foreign Ministry said on May 1, 2018, that the Israeli information could be a basis for long-term monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear activities, as the information proved the need to ensure the nuclear deal and UN inspections remained.
A German government spokesman said Berlin will analyze the materials provided by Israel, but added that the documents demonstrate why the nuclear deal with its mandatory inspections must be maintained.
“It is clear that the international community had doubts that Iran was carrying out an exclusively peaceful nuclear program,” the spokesman said. “It was for this reason the nuclear accord was signed in 2015.”
Netanyahu also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 30, 2018, who afterward said in a statement issued by the Kremlin that the nuclear deal remains of “paramount importance to international stability and security, and must be strictly observed by all its signatories,” the Russian state-run news agency TASS reported.
The White House welcomed the Israeli announcement, saying that Tel Aviv had uncovered “new and compelling details” about Tehran’s efforts to develop “missile-deliverable nuclear weapons.”
“The United States has long known Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear-weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people,” the White House said.
The jousting over the Israeli announcement came as Trump repeated his strong opposition to the deal, which he called a “horrible agreement.”
“In seven years, that deal will have expired and Iran is free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons,” Trump said at the White House. “That is not acceptable.”
Many observers have concluded that Trump will move to withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal on May 12, 2018.
Trump did not say on April 30, 2018, what he will do, but he rejected a suggestion that walking away from the Iran deal would send a bad signal to North Korea as it negotiates with Washington over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
“I think it sends the right message” to Pyongyang, Trump said.
In 1096, Pope Urban II took a good hard look at this new “crossbow” thing and gave it all of the nopes. No Christians were to use it in any battle against a fellow Christian on the punishment of excommunication and eternal damnation of the soul. But the weapon that would act as the precursor to the rifle was simply too valuable to leave on a shelf.
A figure depicting a crossbowman who helped execute Saint Sebastian in the later 15th Century.
(Gun Powder Ma, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Crossbows were already an old weapon when European knights first ran into them in the 900s. Ancient Europeans had used similar weapons, but crossbow-like designs had fallen out of favor in Europe by the year 500 A.D., and few Europeans would’ve recognized them before their resurgence in the late 900s and 1000s.
But French use, as well as use by Eastern nations who had never stopped using the weapon, brought it back into the lexicon of European warfare.
And Western knights did not like it. Their armor protected them from most weapons they would face with the exception of the longbow, a weapon that took years to learn and decades to master. But crossbows could slice right through the armor at greater range than even a longbow, and shooters could be trained in hours or days.
The French were the ones who brought the crossbow back into European warfare. The English had a huge advantage when it came to bowmen, especially longbowmen, and France and England fought often. But while crossbow shooters could fire at greater ranges and with less training than soldiers equipped with a longbow, the weapon did have disadvantages.
Crossbows fire only two rounds per minute while good archers with longbows could fire 10. And crossbow units needed supporting staff and spare parts that weren’t necessary with traditional archers. They were also more susceptible to weather damage because it was harder to remove and replace their sensitive strings.
Saint Sebastian was martyred by archers, reportedly at least one of which was using a crossbow.
(Hans Baldung, public domain)
But it couldn’t last. Kings used the weapons against pagans and Muslims, but then had to leave the men behind while fighting against each other in Europe. By the early 1200s, they were once again common in European combat. Crossbowmen played a crucial role for Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1238.
In fact, just a year later, Pope Gregory IV used mounted crossbowmen against the Lombard League, an alliance of European kingdoms that were all Christian. Yeah, the allure of crossbow power was so strong that a pope employed them against Christian forces.
Recently, the Navy announced that the expeditionary fast transport USNS Brunswick (T EPF 6) completed Pacific Partnership 2018 in Thailand. If you’re out of the know, you may be asking yourself why this operation is such a big deal. Well, believe it or not, this annual exercise has been going on for a dozen years now and it’s an essential part of being ready for the worst.
After the 2004 tsunami ravaged Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and several other neighboring countries in one of history’s worst-ever natural disasters, the United States deployed relief ships to provide humanitarian aid. This generated generated a lot of good will among affected nations and their allies. This matters a great deal — when you have a reservoir of good will among a population, you’re much less likely to find yourself embroiled in war.
USNS Mercy (T AH 19) taking part in Pacific Partnership 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey L. Adams)
At the time, the United States had a pair of hospital ships, USNS Mercy (T AH 19) and USNS Comfort (T AH 20), that hadn’t seen much use. Although these ships are slated for replacement, they still house much more advanced medical facilities than most countries can offer. Those aboard USNS Mercy rendered care for 108,000 patients between 2004 and 2005.
After supplying aid in the wake of a terrible disaster, the Navy began to make annual deployments. The Navy has also used the big-deck amphibious assault ships of the Tarawa and Wasp classes in these deployments.
A Navy corpsman gives a tour of the medical facilities on board USNS Mercy (T AH 19) during Pacific Partnership 2015.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mayra A. Conde)
During Pacific Partnership, not only does the Navy provide a lot of medical aid, they host disaster relief training exercises with partner nations, like Thailand. As the old saying goes, “you fight like you train.” The same can be said of providing disaster relief.
This exercise is not entirely a one-way street, however. During Pacific Partnership, in exchange for advanced training, the Navy gets a lot of knowledge about the terrain and personnel are given the opportunity to build relationships with their local counterparts.
Big-deck amphibious ships, like USS Essex (LHD 2), have also been used in Pacific Partnership deployments.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Adam Brock)
The operation isn’t exclusively for governments. Representatives from various non-governmental organizations also take part. These aren’t the normal passengers on Navy vessels, and having them aboard allows the Navy to practice operating as part of grand-scale, disaster-relief efforts.
At the end of the day, Pacific Partnership is one of the U.S. Military’s greatest chances to practice responding to a disaster. The fact that it generates good will and gets some nice press is just a bonus.
The US Army says it will be able to field combat vehicle-mounted lasers and hypersonic missiles within the next four years to prepare for combat against rivals like Russia or China that may employ enemy drones or their own hypersonic weapons.
The service will begin fielding 50-kilowatt directed energy weapons on Stryker combat vehicles in 2022 and road-mobile Long-Range Hypersonic Weapons (LRHWs) in 2023, Army Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director of the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) told reporters June 5, 2019, according to Breaking Defense.
The Army intends to field test its 50-kilowatt vehicle-mounted laser, which is designed to shoot down enemy drones, rockets, and artillery and mortar rounds, in 2021, and then a battery of four vehicles will be delivered to troops the following year.
There is also a project to develop a 100-kilowatt laser that could be mounted on a heavy truck. The challenge so far has been generating the necessary power levels.
A MEHEL-equipped Stryker that can shoot small UAS out of the sky using a 5-kW fiber laser.
(U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)
As for the hypersonic weapon, Thurgood’s office is overseeing the development of a common boost-glide vehicle that travels faster than five times the speed of sound, and which will be incorporated into submarine- and air-launched hypersonic weapons for the Navy and Air Force. The Army announced recently that the first joint flight test of a future hypersonic weapon will be conducted next year.
That test will be followed by flight tests every six months.
The ground-based LRHW will be delivered to soldiers in sets of four launchers carrying two rounds each. The transporter erector launchers (TELs) will be installed on trailers and pulled by Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks.
Soldiers will first be introduced to the launch system in 2021, at which point troops will begin training for the first TEL launch in 2022.
The LRHW is one of four priorities for the Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF) team at Army Futures Command.
A Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Rivezzo)
This program is expected to deliver a weapon that can, at very long ranges, target critical strategic infrastructure and fixed site radars, disabling vital components of an enemy’s anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) system, Col. John Rafferty, head of the LRPF CFT, previously explained to Business Insider.
As Russia and China are also racing to field hypersonic weapons, the Army is planning to spend around id=”listicle-2638707734″.2 billion on experiments to counter these capabilities. Hypersonic weapons are particularly threatening not only because of their high speeds, in excess of five times the speed of sound, but also because they are able to maneuver along unpredictable flight paths, making them nearly impossible to intercept.
Thurgood’s office has been tasked with delivering hypersonic and directed energy weapons.
“We’ve been in a full-out sprint since then,” Thurgood said recently.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
One Marine is dead, another is injured, and five are missing after an F/A-18 Hornet collided with a KC-130J refueling tanker during a night-time training mission off the coast of Japan on Dec. 5, 2018.
Capt. Jahmar F. Resilard, the pilot of the F/A-18, was rescued after crash but died on Dec. 6, 2018. The other Marine aboard the Hornet was rescued and is in stable conditions, but all five Marines aboard the KC-130J remain missing.
The deadly incident is the latest in series of fatal and costly accidents among Marine Corps aircraft that have raised concerns about the condition of aircraft and quality of training in the Corps and across the US military.
On July 10, 2017, a Marine Corps KC-130T tanker aircraft crashed in Mississippi, killing 15 Marines and a sailor.
A Marine Corps KC-130T deploys a high-speed drogue during an aerial refueling mission at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, June 16, 2018.
The KC-130T was introduced in the early 1980s. The aircraft in that incident, one of the last ones still flying, was set for retirement within a few years.
The proximate cause of the accident, however, was a corroded propeller blade that went unfixed when it entered an Air Force maintenance depot in 2011, according to an investigation released in December 2018. The corrosion became a crack that allowed the blade to shear off in flight and rip through the fuselage, causing the plane to break up.
Data compiled by Breaking Defense in September 2017 — after a summer in which deadly accidents led Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller to order rolling stand-downs across aviation units — showed that over the previous six years, 62 Marines had been killed in aircraft accidents, compared to just 10 personnel from the Navy, which has more people and more aircraft.
The Corps also had more Class A Mishaps, the most serious category of accident which involve loss of life or more than id=”listicle-2622946621″ million in damage.
The Marine Corps has fewer aircraft than the Navy, so a few accidents can boost the accident rate considerably. Marine Corps aircraft are also frequently carrying troops, which can make fewer accidents more deadly.
The age and nature of Marine Corps aircraft also complicate matters. The F/A-18 Hornet and the KC-130T both entered service around the same time. (The Corps has said it will get rid of its oldest Hornets, but delays in the F-35 program have slowed that process.)
Planes like the AV-8B Harrier, which first became operational in 1971, and the newer MV-22 Osprey are vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, which makes them trickier to fly even when they’re new.
An MV-22 Osprey from Marine Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron (VMM) 166 (Reinforced) lands on the flight deck of the dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) to conduct a personnel transfer.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zachary Eshleman)
But, as Breaking Defense found, the Corps was seeing accidents at a much higher rate than the Navy — 10% more in the best year.
An investigation by Military Times this spring found Marine Corps aviation accidents had increased 80% over the previous five years, rising from 56 in fiscal year 2013 to 101 in fiscal year 2017. The greatest increase came among Class C mishaps, where damage is between ,000 and 0,000 and work days are lost due to injury.
2013 marked the beginning of mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration, and other services also saw an increase in mishaps starting that year as squadrons reduced flying hours for training.
The Marines, however, have a smaller budget, fewer personnel, and fewer aircraft. After 2013, flying hours were reduced and and experienced maintainers supervisors were released.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Zachary Almendarez, cleans the inside of a nacelle on a V-22 Osprey aboard USS Iwo Jima, Oct. 7, 2018.
(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale)
The next year, military operations increased as a part of the campaign against ISIS and in response to Chinese activity in the South China Sea. Flying hours for deployed pilots grew while returned pilots were “flight-time deprived.”
Along with increased flight hours for deployed Marine pilots, maintenance suffered, as the Corps was not able to replace some of its more experienced maintainers and crew members. That drove an increase in the number of aircraft that were unable to fly, in turn depriving pilots of flight time for training.
The loss of both skilled maintainers and pilot hours increases the chances a mishap will occur and the chances that a minor mishap will escalate, defense analysts told Military Times.
“You got worse at everything if you flew two or less times a week,” John Venable, a former F-16 pilot and senior defense fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Military Times. “And the average units have been flying two or less times for five years. It lulls your ability to handle even mundane things.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Belgian Air Force F-16s scrambled to intercept two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack supersonic, nuclear-capable bombers, accompanied by two Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighters over the Baltic Sea on Sept. 17, 2019.
The Belgian Air Force has been guarding the Baltic airspace since Sept. 3, 2019, when it took over the police mission from fellow NATO member Hungary, which was supported by Spain and the UK in its mission. Four Belgian F-16s and at least 60 soldiers have been deployed to protect Baltic airspace from unwelcome incursions, according to the Belgian Ministry of Defense.
Sept. 17, 2019’s interception was Belgium’s first since it began its rotation over Baltic airspace, and seemingly at very close range.
Russian aircraft have engaged in several provocative actions over NATO airspace this year. In June 2019, British Typhoon fighter jets scrambled to intercept Russian Su-30 Flanker fighters twice in two days.
An British air force Typhoon fighter jet, foreground, with a Russian fighter over the Baltics.
But NATO countries aren’t merely reacting to Russian aggression. In August 2019 alone, US and UK aircraft sent clear messages to Russia:
US B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flew with UK F-35s, the B-2’s first time flying with non-US F-35s.
B-2 Spirit bombers landed in Iceland for the first time. The B-2, which operates from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and Royal Air Force Fairford in the UK, needs specific conditions to support its stealth capabilities.
B-2 bombers flew their first extended sorties over the Norwegian Sea earlier in September 2019 — right in Russia’s backyard.
Two US Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, currently deployed to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, fly alongside two Royal Air Force F-35B Lightning aircraft from RAF Marham near the White Cliffs of Dover, England, Aug. 29, 2019.
(US Air Force/UK Ministry of Defense)
NATO countries share the mission of protecting Baltic airspace, as the Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — don’t have the infrastructure to protect their own airspace and are considered at risk of destabilization or invasion by Russia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new transnational organized-crime task force on Oct. 15, 2018, furthering a crackdown on crime that he said has been a Trump administration priority since Day 1.
“The same day I was sworn in as attorney general, President Trump ordered me to disrupt and dismantle these groups,” Sessions said in remarks delivered in Washington, DC.
The Justice Department, following Trump’s lead, has intensified its efforts against the transnational gang MS-13, which started in the US and is now based in Central America. Sessions designated the group a priority for the department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which he said had been able to hit it “from all angles.”
Sessions directed that task force, as well as Justice Department officials, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration to name the top transnational criminal groups threatening the US. Subcommittees within the new task force will focus on the five groups named by those officials.
“I have ordered each of these subcommittees to provide me with specific recommendations within 90 days on the best ways to prosecute these groups and ultimately take them off of our streets,” Sessions said.
Below, you can see the five groups on which the Justice Department’s new task force will focus.
The gang started among migrants from Central America, El Salvador in particular, who fled civil wars in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of them ended up in Southern California, where, without family networks or other connections, they gravitated toward gangs.
Deportations returned many members to their home countries in the 1990s and 2000s, where the gang blossomed in the post-conflict environment.
The gang’s influence has since spread throughout the region, including to the US, where it often carries out extortion, robberies, and other crimes in areas with large migrant communities, like the Washington, DC, suburbs or Suffolk County on Long Island.
Though MS-13 members have committed particularly heinous crimes, experts have said the Trump administration misunderstands the reach and power the gang.
“Our research found that MS-13 is hardly a lucrative network of criminal masterminds,” Steven Dudley, a senior fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, wrote in early 2018. “Instead, it is a loose coalition of young, often formerly incarcerated men operating hand to mouth across a vast geographic territory.”
The Jalisco New Generation cartel, or CJNG
The Mexican organized-crime group CJNG is the youngest group on the list compiled by the Justice Department. It is believed to have sprung from one faction of the Sinaloa cartel, which is also on the list, around 2010.
Based in the southwest state of Jalisco, the CJNG has grown rapidly since then, expanding throughout the country. It often violently forces out competitors and has corrupted numerous law-enforcement officials.
It has focused on synthetic drugs like crystal meth, and it has helped push up homicide rates along Mexico’s Pacific coast, fighting for control of ports needed to bring in precursor chemicals needed to make those drugs. The CJNG has expanded into other criminal enterprises; in some parts of Mexico it is believed to be fighting for a piece of the lucrative oil-theft trade.
Perhaps the group’s most high-profile crime was shooting down a Mexican army helicopter over Jalisco in May 2015. The shoot-down killed six soldiers, who were among 15 people killed in wave of violence in the state that day. (Mexican authorities said in 2018 they caught the suspects responsible for bringing down the helicopter.)
In the years since, the CJNG and its leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, aka “El Mencho,” have become high-profile targets. The capture of a number of CJNG financial operators, including the wife of “El Mencho,” in recent years likely indicates Mexican authorities are trying to go after the gang’s money. (Though the wife was released on bail in September 2018.)
The group also appears to be facing competition at home. A group called the Nueva Plaza cartel, believed to be led by a one-time confidant of Oseguera, is thought to be challenging it on its home turf in Guadalajara, with backing from groups like the Sinaloa cartel.
Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as he is extradited to New York, January 19, 2017.
(Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office)
The Sinaloa cartel
Over the past two decades, the Sinaloa cartel has risen to the top of Mexico’s narco hierarchy, operating throughout the country and around the world, linking coca fields in South America and drug labs in Mexico to consumers in the US, Europe, and parts of Asia.
Formed in the western state of the same name, the Sinaloa cartel emerged in the 1990s, after the breakup of the powerful Guadalajara cartel. Led by cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Sinaloa cartel muscled rivals out of valuable territories, including cities bordering the US.
In the process, the cartel helped stoke dizzying bloodshed in Mexico, making its cities some of the most violent in the world.
The cartel’s outlook has been cloudy since Guzman’s January 2016 arrest, which came about six months after he broke out of jail for the second time. Rumors of a looming third breakout appeared to be snuffed out in January 2017, when Mexican officials whisked him to New York and turned him over to the US.
Since then, the Sinaloa cartel appeared ready to crack up. Guzman’s sons and presumed heirs to the cartel were kidnapped by rivals in late 2016, and in early 2017 they were challenged by Guzman’s former right-hand man and his son.
But Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a shadowy cartel chieftain who helped form the group with Guzman and is backing Guzman’s sons, appears to have reestablished some of the cartel’s “cohesion” and avoided a major fracture.
The Sinaloa cartel is better understood as an alliance of factions rather than a hierarchical cartel — a organizational structure that is believed to give it some resiliency in the face of law-enforcement pressure.
The Gulf clan, or the Gulf cartel, was long one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups moving cocaine from South America to the US and meting out shocking violence along the way.
Gulf cartel’s formation can be traced to the mid-1980s in northeast Mexico, where criminal elements and officialdom have long intertwined. Around that time, it began cutting deals with Colombian traffickers and soon vaulted from a relatively small-time marijuana and heroin business to a billion-dollar cocaine smuggling operation.
The cartel also corrupted government officials, federal and local police forces, and attorneys general. In the late 1990s, it also began developing a military wing, recruiting former Mexican special-forces soldiers to help form a group of enforcers known as the Zetas.
The Gulf cartel and the Zetas began to split in the late 2000s, sparking inter- and intra-cartel fighting that still makes northeast Mexico one of the country’s most violent regions.
In recent years, the Gulf cartel has “lost strength and has experienced rapid turnover in leadership,” the DEA said in its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. But the group remains influential in northeast Mexico, moving drugs into South Texas and controlling distribution hubs in US cities like Houston and Atlanta.
Hezbollah posters in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon War.
Hezbollah, or the “Party of God,” is the only group on the Justice Department’s list with its origins outside the Western Hemisphere.
It emerged after Israel’s 1982 invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, which came amid a civil war in the latter country that ran from 1975 to 1990.
A Shiite Muslim political party and militant group, Hezbollah receives significant support from Iran and has fought with Iran in Syria to support that country’s dictator, Bashar Assad.
That campaign has improved Hezbollah’s operational capabilities and added to its weapons stockpiles, now believed to include weapons like guided missiles, armed drones, and anti-tank missiles.
Israel has launched strikes in Syria to deter Iran and Hezbollah and has increased its readiness to counter Hezbollah and Iranian action there. Hezbollah’s growing role in Lebanon and its expanding military capabilities have led experts to warn a future war between it and Israel could be bigger and more violent that the 2006 Lebanon War.
The US, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has pushed Lebanon to cut Hezbollah’s access to its financial sector.
The group has also been active in the US and the Western Hemisphere for some time, though its focus there is believed to be on money laundering.
People in the region with links to the group are almost all considered not to be active members but rather “associates,” though at least one man has been accused of conducting surveillance in the US in support of potential Hezbollah attacks.
The US has also accused numerous Venezuelan officials of links to Hezbollah, including through an alleged black-market scheme to sell passports. Though some intelligence officials have said those allegations are overstated.
Hezbollah-linked actors in the region’s “activities have largely been involved in logistics support, providing funds back to Lebanon to Hezbollah itself,” Adm. Kurt Tidd, the former head of US Southern Command, told the Senate in early 2016.
The threat to the US
“Transnational Criminal Organizations — whether they are gangs, drug trafficking cartels or terrorist groups — are a scourge,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who will lead the new task force, said alongside Sessions on Oct. 15, 2018. “They sow violence and sell poisonous drugs. They bribe public officials and fuel corruption. They terrorize law-abiding citizens.”
While the groups named are responsible for violence and criminal activity in the US and the region, experts have differed with the Trump administration’s assessment of them.
While the gang’s members have committed heinous acts in the US, their crimes mostly target immigrant communities. Though the group’s members in the US have contact with leaders in Central America, the organization itself is decentralized and largely involved in crimes like extortion, drug possession, and homicide, as it isn’t powerful or organized enough for transnational drug-trafficking.
“The cartels use gang members. They use individuals that are living here in the United States to basically do the distribution and the logistics here in the United States,” Mike Vigil, former director of international operations for the DEA, told Business Insider in 2017.
Even as violence in Mexican border cities has risen over the past decade, violence in US cities next to them has been below-average. And incidents of cartel-related violence in the US have usually been limited to people with ties to the cartels (though there have been cases of mistaken identity).
Hezbollah is also active in the US, but it appears largely focused on fraud and money laundering. Throughout the region, the group’s activities appear limited to financial and logistical support for the organization based in Lebanon.
Intelligence officials have also disputed assertions by US politicians that the Venezuelan government is collaborating with Hezbollah and other militant groups.
“The whole Hezbollah line has been distorted for political purposes by the more extreme elements of the US right wing,” a former CIA senior official told Reuters in early 2018.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Among the fighters that allowed America to win World War II, the P-38 Lightning was uniquely successful and was dubbed the “fork-tailed Devil” by the Germans even though its greatest successes came in the Pacific, Mediterranean, and North African theaters.
Army Air Corps leaders first solicited for what would become the P-38 in 1937 with the specification X-608, a request for a new pursuit aircraft that could fly 360 mph at 20,000 feet, reach 20,000 feet in six minutes, and run at full power at that altitude for at least an hour. They also wanted a long combat radius and plenty of firepower.
Lockheed, a newcomer to the military market, submitted the XP-38, a radical departure from conventional aircraft design that featured three pods and two tails. The outer pods lined up with the tails and each carried an Allison V-1710 engine with 1,000 hp.
The plane went through continued testing and design refinements before reaching Army pilots in 1940. Upon its debut, it was capable of reaching an altitude of 3,300 feet in one minute and could hit 400 mph with a range of 1,150 miles.
But production was slow and the Army had only 69 P-38s, so Lockheed was forced to subcontract parts to get the plane into combat for the U.S. But the P-38 arrived on the front lines with a vengeance. In early 1942, its pilots became the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe plane and P-38s carried seven of the top fighter aces of the Pacific theater.
The Lightning’s finest hour probably came on April 18, 1943. Naval Intelligence had learned that Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander and architect of the Pearl Harbor attacks, would be inspecting troops in the Pacific on that date.
The military rushed together a plan to attack the admiral. The scheme called for fighters to fly approximately 600 miles out and 400 miles back with enough fuel available in the middle for fierce fighting. The only Pacific fighter capable of the feat in 1943 was the P-38 equipped with drop tanks.
All of this is not to say that the P-38 was perfect. It suffered a number of drawbacks including a tendency to become unstable at speeds approaching Mach 1 and to become unresponsive to controls during high-speed dives.
Pilots suffered hypothermia and frostbite in the barely heated cockpit and the engines were prone to failures as their intakes over-cooled incoming air.
The commander of the 20th Flight Group, Col. Harold J. Rau, was ordered to provide a written report as to why the P-38 wasn’t more successful in Europe. He asked the recipient to imagine a fresh-out-of-flight-school with less than 30 flight hours who was suddenly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters.
He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches to main, turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich, increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch, turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight.
And the process was unforgiving of errors. Reversing the order of the engine steps or skipping a step could cause the engine to explode or throw a rod, either of which would rob the pilot of vital power during a dogfight. And all of this has to be done while German rounds are already ripping past or through the plane.
The VH-92 was selected to replace the VH-3 Sea King as the new Marine One. But this isn’t the first time the Sea King has been supplanted by a variant of the S-92 — in fact, Canada already did the same thing with its fleet of 28 maritime combat helicopters.
Sikorsky S-92s in Canadian service that were modified for anti-submarine warfare are known as CH-148 Cyclones. These aircraft operate primarily from Canada’s force of 12 Halifax-class frigates, which are equipped with RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles, RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a 57mm gun, and 324mm torpedo tubes.
The CH-148 has been through a long RD cycle and has cost more than twice as much as originally planned.
(Photo by Gerry Metzler)
These versatile helicopters are designed to hunt down submarines using the Mk 46 anti-submarine torpedo, but they also handle search and rescue, tactical transport, and surveillance missions.
The CH-148s are nearing the end of production. Canada has accepted 15 aircraft to date in an interim configuration, and begins accepting aircraft in a final production configuration in June 2018. Initial operational capability is slated to be achieved later in 2018. This much-anticipated helicopter is the result of an extremely long research and development program — the first helicopter that was delivered from the program was seven years behind schedule. To date, the program’s total cost has ballooned to over twice its original size.
The CH-148 will also handle search-and-rescue missions, like this S-92 does for the Irish Coast Guard.
(Photo by Riatsnapper)
The CH-148 has a crew of four. In the anti-submarine warfare mode, it packs two Mk 46s. These torpedoes have a top speed of 45 knots and a maximum range of just under seven miles. As a tactical transport, it can haul 22 troops – roughly two squads of grunts. The helicopter has a top speed of 190 miles per hour and can go just under 280 miles without refueling.
You can learn more about this helicopter in the video below.
Earlier this month, Fort Benning’s United States Army Infantry School (USAIS) announced its plan to retire the “shark attack”, an approach unleashed on fresh recruits during their first moments at basic combat training. Headlines and critics would have you believe that the Army’s decision to eliminate this tactic from the basic training experience represents a move to make the training ‘nicer,’ ‘easier’ or ‘softer’ on recruits. But the truth is that the “shark attack” is outdated, ineffective and likely does more harm than good in the long run; Its retirement is long overdue.
The “shark attack” is a purposeful stress-inducing attack on a single recruit that is carried out by several drill sergeants. It is typically marked by intense yelling, the issuing of contradicting commands and verbal denigration and is designed to assess the trainee’s ability to handle stress. According to Command Sergeant Major Robert K. Fortenberry, Command Sergeant Major for USAIS, the “shark attack” was designed to create a “chaotic environment that centered around applying physical exertion under stress.”
Sgts. 1st Class Alec Donahoe and Todd Owen, drill sergeants with the Mississippi National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion, motivate a warrior in the Recruit Sustainment Program during a “shark attack” Oct. 7, 2017, in Senatobia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Tynes)
In a video articulating the new USAIS approach, CSM Fortenberry explains that this weeding-out technique is outmoded due in large part to the fact that we have an all-volunteer force. In other words, volunteer recruits likely already have attributes favorable for military service and don’t need to be thinned by the extreme technique which was used to “establish dominance and authority using intimidation and fear to weed out the weak of heart.”
In truth, Army basic training techniques haven’t evolved much since the 1970s and in some cases since the early 20th century. The majority of the core training techniques are designed to reinforce blind obedience and reactiveness to commands. While making sure soldiers are able to follow orders is critical, modern warfare requires soldiers who are adept at, say, reading the mood of a marketplace in a foreign city versus going “over the top” or charging machine gun emplacements.
The Army Vision for 2028, which was announced in June of this year and is co-authored by Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, then Secretary of the Army, outlines a stark evolution of the U.S. Army’s battle stance. In addition to increasing the Army to 500,000 soldiers, the memo outlines the increased use of “autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and robotics” on a battle stage of “high-intensity conflict, with emphasis on operating in dense urban terrain, electronically degraded environments, and under constant surveillance.”
Getting rid of the “shark attack” is, in fact, just one way the Army is modernizing its approach to preparing a modern fighting force. The retooling of infantry One Station Unit Training, or OSUT, also serves as the introduction of a new program dubbed ‘The First 100 Yards.’ According to CSM Fortenberry, the program builds a “critical foundation” by “professionally introducing the soldiers to the spirit of our great branch” and introducing drill sergeants as “leaders willing to share in the hardship.” The goal of The First 100 Yards is to “develop teamwork, identify informal leadership, establish trust, and build esprit de corps,” explained Fortenberry.
But removing the “shark attack” isn’t just about modernizing training, but removing the vestiges of the hand-me-down era of training that was preoccupied with spitting out bonafide soldiers as quickly as possible. Late last year, USAIS announced its plans to extend OSUT from 14 to 22 weeks. The extension is intended to give recruits more exposure to weapons systems and small-unit and individual skills in a less pressurized, hurried training environment.
But the OSUT extension is also a nod to how the military has had to evolve to accommodate the level of preparedness of incoming would-be soldiers. In a press release around the announcement of the new 22-week OSUT program, Colonel Dave Voorhies, 198th Infantry Brigade commander said the extension is geared toward establishing “firmer training fundamentals: marksmanship, physical training, land navigation, the ability to medicate, combat lifesaver skills, combat water survival, Soldier discipline, and more.” The extended OSUT allows for more time for soldiers to get up to Army standards while adequately preparing them for a faced-paced, technologically advanced battlefield.
Attrition among recruits is a perennial problem for initial training facilities like USAIS. According to recent reports, attrition rates across the Army training centers fall somewhere around 12-15%, a number that comes at a huge price tag. A study of Army retention published in 2020 by the Rand Corporation, suggests that the total sunk cost for a single enlistment — including outlays for training, wages, and other benefits given to recruits — is roughly ,000. This equates to a loss of roughly 0 million dollars annually.
Training centers like USAIS also have to contend with new reports that link post-traumatic stress and anxiety to the heavy-handed methods often used in basic training, especially tactics like the “shark attack.” And while the induction of stress and anxiety into training scenarios has always been seen as a crucial element to preparedness, methods like the “shark attack” may not have that effect, especially on a green volunteer looking to serve their country. In fact, it “betrays the innate trust between teammates,” said CSM Fortenberry. “And worse — betrays the crucial bond of trust with our leaders.”
U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Sgt 1st Class. Aleman assigned to Foxtrot 1st Battalion 34th Infantry Regiment participates in the “Shark Attack” or fear stage of the discipline process, as trainees arrive to the First day of Basic Combat Training on 12 June 2017 at Fort Jackson, SC. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Darius Davis/Released).
That breakdown of trust may prove to stick with soldiers long after they have left the training world. According to the American Institute of Stress, basic training environments which teach soldiers ’emotional numbing’ may in fact be unknowingly laying the foundation for PTSD. “Emotional numbing,” it states, “allows for the person to put aside feelings and do whatever it takes to survive or help others survive.” While this is, at face value, a positive trait for a soldier to have on the battlefield, it’s often that it remains as the mode of dealing with any stressors.
“Later such numbing may include a sense of not really being a person, feelings of not fitting in, that no one can understand, feeling or being told that one has no emotions, and not being able to feel emotions in situations calling for intimacy, tenderness, sexuality or grief. Efforts to avoid thoughts or feelings associated with the trauma may include isolating, substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, food, cigarettes), and other compulsive behaviors,” the report states.
Essentially, the “shark attack” may be a cornerstone of a training approach that has been pre-conditioning soldiers to manage their military-related stress through ‘mental numbing.’ This ‘mental numbing’ may then lead soldiers to suppress subsequent feelings of stress that arise from combat scenarios which could exacerbate the effects of COS — Combat Operational Stress — and lead to permanent patterns of PTSD. In short, there is no basic ‘un-training.’
Interestingly, the rate of PTSD among veterans since Vietnam has been fairly consistent. According to information from the Veterans Administration, roughly 15% of Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with PTSD resulting from combat service. That number was slightly lower in the Gulf War at 12%. For OIF and OEF, the amount of service-connected PTSD ranges from 11-20% year to year. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to PTSD. Further, the three aforementioned wars were markedly different in just about every aspect. That said, they all shared a common trait: the basic training doctrine.
Without further study into the relationship of the “shark attack” style training in basic training units and its long term effects on PTSD, it’s impossible to know if the two are connected. What is certain, however, is that the new approach ushered in by USAIS is a positive one, if only because it does away with the outdated training modules of a long-extinct type of warfare and refocuses on the needs of today’s soldiers to fight today’s battles.