How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun - We Are The Mighty
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How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun

The Battle of Verdun lasted for nearly ten months in 1916 and according to some estimates, resulted in almost 950,000 casualties. In essence, it was perhaps the epitome of the trench warfare that dominated World War I.


Indeed, trench warfare really didn’t end until the emergence of the early tanks at the Battle of the Somme. Could some of America’s most modern armored fighting vehicles do better? Specifically, the Stryker family of wheeled armored fighting vehicles.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
M1126 Stryker Infantry Combat Vehicle. (U.S. Army photo)

At first glance, the Strykers seem very capable of punching through the trenches. With add-on armor, the Stryker can resist RPGs. They have a top speed of just over 62 miles per hour, according to army-recognition.com. The fire from a MG 08 would just bounce off a Stryker that didn’t have the add-on armor. But that misses one problem: Sheer numbers on the German side.

The Germans committed over a million troops to the battle. The Stryker Brigade would have roughly 4,500 troops and 300 vehicles, most of which are M1126 Infantry Combat Vehicles. The vehicles couldn’t roam in the enemy rear — resupply would be very difficult at best. But those vehicles have technology that would enable them to decisively rout the German offensives.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
A look at the Kongsberg M151 Protector Remote Weapon Station. (U.S. Army photo)

The key to what the Stryker would use, would not be in mobility, but in the M151 Protector Remote Weapons Station. The Strykers primarily use the M2 heavy machine gun and Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. These outclass the MG 08 by a significant margin. Furthermore, they can be fired from within the Stryker, which negates one of Germany’s most powerful weapons in 1916: poison gas.

This is the second advantage the Stryker would have. The NBC protection capabilities in the Strykers would enable the defense to hold despite German chemical weapons. In essence, rather than facing incapacitated – or dead – defenders, the German troops would be going across “no man’s land” into mission-capable defenders.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
The Stryker’s remote weapon system and NBC protection would make it a formidable presence on a World War I battlefield. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sandra M. Palumbo) (Released)

Worse for them, the M2 heavy machine gun and the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher would tear massed infantry attacks apart. The optics of the Protector remote weapons stations would allow the Americans to pick out the guys with flamethrowers first. In essence, the Strykers would be able to bleed the Germans dry.

It gets worse for the Germans when the inevitable counter-attack comes. The same optics what would let a Stryker gunner pick out a machine gun position and take it out. Here, the M1128 Mobile Gun Systems and M1134 Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicles would also come into play, destroying bunkers. The M1129 Stryker Mortar Carrier Vehicles would be able to lay down a lot of smoke and high-explosive warheads on targets.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
The 105mm main gun would be a formidable bunker buster. (U.S. Army photo)

In essence, the Stryker would drastically alter Verdun, not by its mobility, but by virtue of being a poison gas-proof pillbox.

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8 famous people who served on D-Day

On June 6, 1944, the Allies embarked on the crucial invasion of Normandy on the northern coast of France. Allied forces suffered major casualties, but the ensuing campaign ultimately dislodged German forces from France.


Did you know these eight famous individuals participated in the D-Day invasion?

James Doohan

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
James Doohan | Golden Pacific Media, YouTube

Actor James Doohan is beloved among Trekkies for his portrayal of chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in “Star Trek.”

Years before he donned the Starfleet uniform, Doohan joined the Royal Canadian Artillery during WWII. During the Normandy invasion, he stormed Juno Beach and took out two snipers before he was struck by six bullets from a machine gun, according to website Today I Found Out. He lost part of a finger, but the silver cigarette case in his pocket stopped a bullet from piercing his heart.

David Niven

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
David Niven | Oscars, Youtube

Academy Award-winning British thespian David Niven became a lieutenant-colonel of the British Commandos during the Second World War. In the D-Day invasion, he commanded the Phantom Signals Unit, according to the New York Post. This unit was responsible for keeping rear commanders informed on enemy positions.

After the war, he declined to speak much about his military experience.

Yogi Berra

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Yogi Berra | Getty Photos / Al Bello

Famed baseball catcher Yogi Berra helped to storm Normandy by manning a Naval support craft. The vessel fired rockets at enemy positions on Omaha Beach.

The New York Post reports that Seaman Second Class Berra manned a machine gun during the battle.

Medgar Evers

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Medgar Evers | YouTube

In 1963, activist Medgar Evers was assassinated due to his efforts to promote civil rights for African Americans. Decades earlier, Evers served in the 325th Port Company during WWII, eventually rising to the rank of sergeant. This segregated unit of black soldiers delivered supplies during the Normandy invasion, according to the NAACP.

J.D. Salinger

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
J.D. Salinger | Wikimedia Commons

“The Catcher in the Rye” author J.D. Salinger belonged to a unit that invaded Utah Beach on D-Day. According to Vanity Fair, Salinger carried several chapters of his magnum opus with him when he stormed the shores of France.

John Ford

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
John Ford | Allan Warren | Wikimedia Commons

Director John Ford, famous for Westerns like “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers,” also went ashore with the D-Day invasion.

As a commander in the US Naval Reserve, Ford led a team of US Coast Guard cameramen in filming a documentary on D-Day for the Navy.

His film on the Normandy invasion ultimately saw a very limited release to the public, due to the amount of Allied casualties. Much of the D-Day footage has since disappeared, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Henry Fonda

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Henry Fonda | National Museum of the United States Navy | Flickr

According to “WWII: The Book of Lists” by Chris Martin, American actor Henry Fonda served as a quartermaster on the destroyer USS Satterlee, which provided support to the Allies during the Normandy invasion. Years later, he played a part in the war epic “The Longest Day,” which focused on the D-Day landings.

Alec Guinness

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Alec Guinness | Lucasfilm

“Star Wars” and “Bridge Over the River Kwai” star Alec Guinness served in Great Britain’s Royal Navy during WWII, according to the History Answers blog. StarWars.com reports that the Obi Wan actor served as an officer on a landing craft and transported British soldiers to the shores of Normandy on D-Day.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Never miss the drop zone when the Unit Cartoonist is watching

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.

(Feature cartoon: Delta’s Marinus Pope is grilled for missing his intended touch down point by a significantly wide margin East by Northeast [E/NE]. His reconnaissance brothers approached me about roasting him for all eternity in the Unit Cartoon Book; an ask I joyfully accepted.)

My Special Mission Unit did a lot of parachute training, almost exclusively jumping from very high altitudes pulling out our parachutes at low altitudes, a technique called High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) drops. The technique leverages the high altitude to help cover the presence of the delivery airframe, and the low opening to keep the view of parachutes in the sky at a minimum.


To this day, I have a clinical fear of heights. That kept me away from trying out for elite units for the longest time, but after two years in a regular infantry unit, I was heading to airborne with or even without a parachute.

A modification of the HALO drop is the High Altitude High Opening (HAHO). In this scenario, paratroops exit at ~18,000 feet and pull immediately. Now the troops are under a parachute at nearly 17,000 feet!

At that altitude, a parachutist can travel a staggering lateral distance, even as far as from one end of a state to the other. (A point of humor: in addition to the HALO and HAHO capability we invented a faux elitist group of jumpers called OSNO men; Outer Space No Opening)

Under such conditions a man will descend under (parachute) canopy for an extended period of time — upwards of nearly an hour — and as you might already imagine, the higher the altitude, the greater the propensity for navigational errors.

Once I had a canopy malfunction at 17,000 feet, causing me to lose position in the group formation and drift so far away from my Drop Zone (DZ), that one of our ground support crew had to jump in a truck and race to where I hit the ground to pick me up. My impact was many (MANY) miles off target. I recall free-falling over a near-solid cloud cover and watching my shadow race across the top of the cloud bank toward me at great speed until it met me just as I penetrated the cloud top. Just me and my shadow I say, though I did not know it at the time; I had never heard of or experienced the phenomenon, and rather thought it was another jumper on a collision course toward me. I braced the bejesus out of myself for impact.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun

Anyhoo… I came down in a cornfield, which was odd, in that there were no cornfields in the state that my jump aircraft took off from. A fine American patriot came screaming up in a really large, really old all-metal Impala:

“I seen ya coming’ down in that-there parachute. Me, I ain’t nevah see anything like it ’round this cornah of Nebraska!”

“Nebraska?!?” Yeah, that was not a good day; that wasn’t where I started from in Colorado.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun

Did I mention the time I collided with a fellow jumper at night at 24,000 feet? Yeah — pretty much hated it! It was already stressful enough, as we were all breathing pure oxygen through a pilot’s face mask since there was not sufficient breathable oxygen at that extreme altitude. In the collision, my oxygen supply valve had been shocked shut, leaving me with only the rarified atmospheric gas I could suck through the seal of my mask.

Drastic circumstances call for drastic measures, and I did what any other warrior would do — I passed out. Since I was not conscious, I don’t know exactly what happened in the next 16,000 feet or so, but I estimate that I fell flat and stable. When I was low enough for breath-worthy air, I came to, only to find a brother was falling right with me some three feet away staring me in the face intently, ready to pull my reserve for me if I failed to snap back to reality. A glance at my altimeter strenuously urged me to pull my ripcord immediately.

Another thing that happened during the time I was “away” from my fall, was that it had begun to lighten up on the horizon as the sun crept in. The aurora made it able for me to see the details of the men around me and the ground below. It all looked so so so much like a cartoon… but I had my sense about me and saved my own life; oh, but that doesn’t count for a medal.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
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The ugliest guns ever made

Whether as a result of poor design, lack of materials, or sheer necessity, some firearms and guns are just ugly. Many early automatic weapons and pistols were designed without a complete understanding of what would work best, leading to strange and ugly guns that barely worked. Desperate times during World War II led to a need for cheap, easily made pistols and rifles, and there wasn’t time to make them with clean lines and beauty. The result? Some of the ugliest guns and weapons ever made.


Modern designs have also been accused of lacking beauty, especially “bullpup” rifles, where the magazine actually goes behind the trigger. While this reduces the length and weight of the weapon, making it easier to carry, it also makes for a strange looking, quasi-futuristic rifle that lacks the classic beauty of earlier weapons. And sometimes, prevailing design fads take over, especially in communist countries, where principles in Soviet architecture led to blocky, metallic-looking firearms – many of which didn’t work.

Here are some of the ugliest firearms in history. Most of these ugly weapons do the job, but they certainly don’t look good doing it. Vote up the weapons and devices that you think are truly hideous, and vote down guns that aren’t all that bad.

The Ugliest Guns Ever Made

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5 other WWII battles that kicked off the war in the Pacific

When the Japanese attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, they did so in a coordinated effort that spanned across the Pacific.


Having been weakened by sanctions imposed by the United States, the Japanese sought to deliver a crushing blow to the U.S. and its allies, claiming much of the territory in the East and leaving little means for resistance.

These are the five battles that occurred simultaneously (though on December 8 because they were across the international date line) as the attack on Pearl Harbor, effectively beginning the war in the Pacific:

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
The Americans would not recapture the island until 1944. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

1. Battle of Guam

Along with the air attacks at Pearl Harbor the Japanese also began air raids against the island of Guam on the morning of December 8, 1941. Two days later an oversized Japanese invasion force landed on the island. After quickly defeating the local Insular Guard force, the Japanese moved on to the under-strength Marine Corps detachment led by Lt. Col. William MacNulty. After a brief resistance, the Marines were ordered to surrender by the islands governor. However, six men from the U.S. Navy fled into the jungle in hopes of evading capture. Five were eventually captured and executed but one, George Ray Tweed, managed to hold out with the help of the local Chamorro tribe for over two and a half years until U.S. forces retook the island in 1944. To the locals he represented the hope of an American return to the island. When the Americans returned he was able to signal a nearby destroyer and pass on valuable targeting information.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Most of the F4F Wildcats defending Wake Island were lost in the initial attack. The remaining would also fall to the Japanese, but not before sinking the Kisaragi battleship. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

2. Battle of Wake Island

When the Japanese first launched their air attacks on Wake Island, they caught the U.S. off guard and managed to destroy precious aircraft on the ground. However, when the Japanese invasion came on Dec. 11, 1941, the Americans were ready and threw back the initial Japanese landing attempt. The Japanese proceeded to lay siege to the island. Aerial bombardment continued but Wake Island became a bright spot in the Pacific as American forces were pushed back elsewhere. The media dubbed it the “Alamo of the Pacific.” Eventually, on Dec. 23, 1941, the Japanese launched another assault on the island. Again the defenders put up a staunch resistance. With no more flyable planes, the Marine aviators — as well as civilians trapped on the island — joined in the fight. Capt. Henry Elrod would become the first Marine aviator to earn the Medal of Honor for his actions there. Despite the intrepid defense, the island was surrendered. The defenders joined the others across the Pacific in their brutal treatment by the Japanese.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Prisoners on the march from Bataan to the prison camp. None would survive the war. (U.S. National Archives)

3. Battle of the Philippines

When the first Japanese forces hit the islands north of Luzon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, brought out of retirement for just such an occasion, had over 31,000 American and Philippine troops under his command. These forces put up a determined resistance throughout December, but on Christmas Eve MacArthur called for a fighting withdrawal to the Bataan Peninsula. Once his forces were consolidated on Bataan and the harbor islands of Manila Bay, they dug in to make a final stand against the Japanese onslaught. For several months they held out until shortages of all necessary war supplies dwindled.

The survivors were rounded up and subjected to the brutal Bataan Death March on their way to POW Camps. A lucky few were able to withdraw to Corregidor. A defensive force centered on the 4th Marine Regiment and, augmented by numerous artillery units numbering 11,000 men, prepared to defend Corregidor from the Japanese. That attack came on May 5, 1942. The next day Gen. Wainwright, in the face of overwhelming odds and no prospects of relief, decided to surrender the American forces in the Philippines.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Japanese fire artillery at the British colony of Hong Kong. (Photo: Veterans of Foreign Wars)

4. Battle of Hong Kong

The Americans were not the only targets of the Japanese and so at 8:00 a.m. local time, Japanese forces from mainland China attacked the British Commonwealth forces defending Hong Kong. British, Canadian, and Indian troops manned defensive positions but were woefully undermanned.

Initial attempts to stop the Japanese at the Gin Drinker’s Line, a defensive line to the north of Hong Kong island, were unsuccessful due to a lack of manpower. The defenders also lacked the experience of the Japanese troops that were attacking. Within three days, the defenders had withdrawn from the mainland portion of the colony and set up defenses on the island of Hong Kong.

The Japanese quickly followed and, after British refusal to surrender, attacked across Victoria Harbor on Dec. 19. Less than a week later, on Christmas day 1941, the British surrendered Hong Kong to the Japanese. The survivors endured numerous atrocities at the hands of the Japanese.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
One of Singapore’s 15 inch coastal defence guns elevated for firing. The guns were supplied with armor-piercing shells instead of high explosive ones, and were therefore not very effective against the invading infantry. (Wikimedia Commons)

5. Malayan Campaign and the Battle of Singapore

Another British target of the Japanese was Singapore for its important strategic location and because it was a strong base for British resistance. In order to capture Singapore, the Japanese launched the Malayan Campaign on Dec. 8, 1941. On the first day of the campaign the Japanese also launched the first aerial bombardment against Singapore.

In an attempt to intercept the Japanese invasion force, the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by Japanese aircraft. This left very little in the means of naval power for the British fleet in Singapore.

On land the Commonwealth forces fared no better. The Japanese stormed down the peninsula, forcing the defenders back towards Singapore. By the end of January 1942 the entire peninsula had fallen and the British set in to defend Singapore. The Japanese launched their assault on Singapore on Feb. 8, 1942. Some 85,000 troops stood ready to defend the city but could only hold out for a week before capitulating. This ended British resistance in the Pacific area.

The British lost nearly 140,000 men — the vast majority of whom were captured — in the campaign. As with the fighting elsewhere, the campaign was marked by Japanese cruelty.


Feature image: National Archives

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5 insane military projects that almost happened

1. Winston Churchill’s plan for a militarized iceberg

Everyone knows that Winston Churchill is a certifiable badass — his military strategy in WWII led to the Allied victory over the Nazi Regime, and has secured him a spot amongst history’s greatest leaders.


What few people know, however, is that Churchill’s most glorious military scheme never saw the light of day — and for good reason. It was insane. What exactly was the Bulldog’s grand plan, you ask? To create the largest aircraft carrier the world had ever seen, and to make it out of ice.

Yes, you read that right. Churchill’s dream was to create a 2,000 foot long iceberg that would literally blow the Axis powers out of the water. The watercraft, dubbed Project Habakkuk, was going to be massive in every way: the construction plans called for walls that were 40 feet thick, and a keel depth of 200 feet — displacing approximately 2,00,000 tons of water. Habukkuk was no ice cube.

Eventually the Brits realized that frozen water may not be the hardiest building material, and opted to replace it with pykrete, a blend of ice and wood pulp that could deflect bullets.

Despite the fact that this “plan” sounds like something out of a bad sci-fi movie, Habakkuk almost happened. It wasn’t until a 60 foot long, 1,000 ton model was constructed in Canada that people realized how freaking expensive this thing would be — the 1940s were a strange time. A full-sized Habakkuk would cost $70 million dollars, and could only get up to about six knots. And at the end of the day, Germany could still potentially melt the thing, though it would probably take the rest of the war to make a dent in this glacier.

2. Napalm-packing suicide bomber bats

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
A bat bomb in action Photo: schoolhistory.org.uk

 

Fire bombs were a huge threat during the height of WWII, and an excellent weapon to wield against unwitting enemies. The horrific damage done to London and Coventry during the London Blitz is a prime example of the power this weapon of war had when used on England and other Allied nations.

Determined to one-up the Axis forces, President Franklin Roosevelt approved plans for an even better bomb — one that was smaller, faster, and … furrier. That’s right. The plan was to strap tiny explosives to tiny, live bats.

Why people thought this would be a good idea is anyone’s guess. The guy who proposed the scheme wasn’t even military — he was a dentist, and a friend of FDR’s wife, Eleanor. But America didn’t care about that. It was time to blow the crap out of Japan, and they were going to do it with the one weapon Japan didn’t have — flying rodents.

FDR consulted with zoologist Donald Griffin for his professional opinion before giving an official green light, apparently worried this “so crazy it just might work” idea might just be plain-old insane.

Griffin was a little skeptical too, but ultimately thought the whole bat thing was too cool to pass on. “This proposal seems bizarre and visionary at first glance,” he wrote in April 1942, according to The Atlantic, “but extensive experience with experimental biology convinces the writer that if executed competently it would have every chance of success.” Aces, Griffin.

The official strategy was to attach napalm explosives to each individual bat, store about 1,000 bats in large, bomb-safe crates, and release about 200 of those cases from a B-29 bomber as it flew over Japanese cities. That meant up to 200,000 bats could be unleashed at once — which would be terrifying even if they weren’t on a suicide mission.

After they were released into the air, these little angels of death would roost inside buildings on the ground. Then after a few hours their explosives would detonate, igniting the building and causing total chaos.

At least, that was the plan. In reality, the bats were a little too good at their job, and escaped to nest under an American Air Force base’s airplane hanger during an experiment. You can guess how that went. Surprisingly, the incineration of the building didn’t put a damper on the operation — people were just more convinced of the bats volatility, and excited to see them used in real combat.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, let’s be real), the U.S. never got to add “weaponized bats” to its military repertoire. It was decided that equipping small flying animals with napalm bombs could yield unpredictable results, and the investment wouldn’t be worth the possible military gains. Shocker.

3. The “Gay Bomb” that would cause enemies to “make love, not war”

Hindsight is always 20-20, but how anyone took this “military strategy” seriously is completely beyond us. In quite possibly the least politically-correct display of derring-do in American history, the U.S. prepared to take its enemies out in a way they would never expect — by turning them gay.

Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. The United States of America, one of the most powerful countries in the world, was convinced that getting the enemy to “switch teams” was the key to military prowess. Oh, and did we mention this happened in 1994?

The Wright Laboratory proposed a project that would require six years of research and a $7.5 million grant to create this bomb, along with other bizarre ideas — including as a bomb that would cause insects to swarm the enemy. So they really had the best and brightest American minds on this thing.

The goal was to drop extremely powerful chemical aphrodisiacs on enemy camps, rendering the men too “distracted” to um … leave their tents. Yes, this was a real idea that involved discharging female sex pheromones over enemy forces in order to make them sexually attracted to each other.

The project was still considered viable in 2002, when the proposal’s findings were sent to the National Academy of Sciences.

At the time the Pentagon and the Department of Defense held that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service,” consistent with Clinton’s infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

The gay bomb never got off the ground because researchers at the Wright lab discovered no such “chemical pheromones” existed, leaving the crazy idea with zero means to execute it. The Wright Lab did, however, win the IG Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts, a tongue-and-cheek gesture from the Annals of Improbable Research.

4. B.F. Skinner’s pigeon-guided missile system

 

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
DoD photo

 

WWII is a treasure trove of weird military experiments, and famed psychologist B.F. Skinner’s contribution to the American cause may be one of the most bizarre.

The plan? Place live pigeons inside missiles, and train them to direct it to the correct target, ensuring that no target was missed. The target would be displayed on a digital screen inside the missile, and the pigeon would be trained to peck the target until the bomb would correct its course and start heading in the right direction.

Despite pretty hefty financial investment in the idea, it was ultimately decided that the time it would take to train the pigeons, and the fact that missiles would have to be updated with tiny screens for them to peck at, wasn’t worth the trouble.

5. America tried to take out the Viet Cong with clouds

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Maybe Forrest Gump was experiencing Operation Popeye (Paramount Pictures)

 

This is one experiment that actually did happen, though that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous than our other contenders. When people think of the American military’s methods of chemical warfare in Vietnam, Agent Orange is what immediately comes to mind — but this chemical wasn’t the only weapon the U.S. employed in its battle against the Viet Cong. The CIA developed a strategy called cloud seeding in 1963, which would release chemicals into the air that would manipulate weather patterns, causing unusual amounts of rainfall for the surrounding area.

And we’re not talking your run-of-the-mill thunderstorm, either. Vietnam gets a ridiculous amount of rain already (remember that clip from Forrest Gump?), so the U.S. needed weather that would literally wash away the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Or at least try to.

The mission, called Operation Popeye, involved dumping iodine and silver flares from cargo planes over Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Scientists predicted that these chemical agents would cause a surge in rainfall and even extend the monsoon period, screwing with the Viet Cong’s communication networks and basically making things more unpleasant for everyone involved.

The results weren’t fantastic, but the U.S. didn’t roll over. The operation continued for five years, undertaking over 2,000 missions and releasing nearly 50,000 cloud-seed chemicals throughout the trail. Lack of results aside, the dedication is still impressive.

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Aircraft dominate the Navy’s unfunded List. But still no new ships

New aircraft make up half the Navy’s $5.3 billion unfunded requirements list of items that didn’t fit in the 2018 budget request. But while the wishlist includes several upgrades to existing vessels, as well as new landing craft and barges, it doesn’t ask for any new warships.


Instead of ships, the unfunded requirements list prioritizes aircraft: $739 million for 10 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters takes first place, followed by $1 billion for six P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance planes, and $540 million for four F-35C Joint Strike Fighters. The fourth and fifth items are for upgrades to the Navy’s long-neglected infrastructure of shore facilities, reflecting military leadership’s desire to patch major holes in readiness.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicolas C. Lopez

Overall:

  • about $3.4 billion of the request, or 63 percent, goes for weapons procurements. (The way the items are listed means this sum includes a small amount of RD funding as well). Of that, the lion’s share, $2.7 million, goes to buy new aircraft: the F-18s, P-8As, and F-35Cs, plus four cargo variants of the V-22 Osprey.
  • $1.3 billion, 24 percent, goes for facilities, counting both readiness funding (from the Operations Maintenance account) and Military Construction. $480 million, 9 percent, goes for other readiness needs, $330 million of it for aviation: logistics, spare parts, and general support.
  • $101 million, 2 percent, goes to research, development, testing, evaluation. (That’s not including small RDTE sums wrapped up in weapons upgrades we counted as procurement).
  • Just $90 million, 2 percent, goes to military personnel, filling holes in short-handed units rather than growing the force.

If you break the list up by priority ranking, you see some striking patterns. Almost all the procurement requests, $3.1 billion, are in the top 12 items, with the best odds of passing. What little RD money there is almost all comes in the top half of the list (items #1-24). Personnel requests, however, are clustered in the middle, with middling odds of being funded. Facilities is split: 53 percent of the request are in the top 12, 38 percent in the bottom 12, very little in the middle. Non-facilities readiness requests are almost entirely in the bottom half.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
U.S Navy photo by Personnel Specialist 1st Class Anthony Petry

Specifically, when you discount lower-priority requests, procurement’s share jumps even higher, to 75 percent; facilities drops to 18 percent; other readiness to four percent; RD stays at 2 percent; and personnel falls to one percent of the request.

Yet despite all that emphasis on procurement, there are still no new ships. Congress will want to change that.

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At military town hall President says Colin Kaepernick should appreciate troops’ sacrifice

Service members and their families at Fort Lee, Virginia, asked the Commander in Chief tough questions during a town hall meeting broadcast by CNN Sept 28.


President Barack Obama covered varied topics, including the Syrian civil war, sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, issues affecting veterans and protests during the playing of the national anthem.

When a soldier asked the president for his opinion about football players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, Obama said that honoring the flag and the anthem “is part of what binds us together as a nation,” but that he also respects the right to have a different opinion.

“We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with,” he said. “But that’s what freedom means in this country.”

He said American democracy can be frustrating at times, “but it’s the best system we’ve got. And, the only way that we make it work is to see each other, listen to each other, try to be respectful of each other, not just go into separate corners.”

The president added, “I do hope that anybody who is trying to express any political view of any sort understands that they do so under the blanket of protection of our men and women in uniform and that that appreciation of that sacrifice is never lost.”

Hosted by CNN’s Jake Tapper, the town hall-style event included questions about sending 600 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to help in the coming offensive against the Islamic State. Obama said the decision to send troops into harm’s way is the most important one he makes.

“I’ve always been very mindful that when I send any of our outstanding men and women in uniform into a war theater, they’re taking a risk that they may not come back,” the commander in chief said. “And so, there has not been a change from the time I came into office to the time that I leave office in which that is not a somber decision.”

The president said the nature of the missions has changed during his tenure. In Afghanistan, U.S. troops have transitioned from a combat role to an advise-and-assist role, with about 9,000 U.S. service members there.

“In Iraq, our goal is to provide air support, and we’ve flown 100,000 sorties, 15,000 strikes, to decimate ISIL,” he said. “But our job is not to provide the ground forces that are rolling back territory. That’s the job of the Iraqis, where we provide training and assistance [and] logistical support.”

U.S. special operators are in Iraq and Syria to go after high-value targets and to gather intelligence, the president said. He noted that about 5,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, and about 300 are in Syria.

“But, it’s the nature of the role that has changed, rather than how I assess it,” the president said. “I am always mindful that any time our men and women in uniform are in a war theater, there is risk.”

U.S. personnel are engaging in a fight that is dangerous, the president said. “Each and every time we make a decision, I want to make sure that the Pentagon is describing how it is that those folks are going to add to our ability to dismantle ISIL in a smart and sustainable way,” he said.

The president told the service members that he constantly reviews options as he looks at the Syrian civil war. “There hasn’t been probably a week that’s gone by in which I haven’t re-examined some of the underlying premises around how we’re dealing with the situation in Syria, and explored whether there are additional options that we haven’t thought of,” he said.

Those include military options, the president said. “We have, by a mile, the greatest military on Earth, he said. “And we are going to always be in a position to defend the United States, defend our personnel, defend our people, our property and our allies.”

Obama said the question he always asks himself as commander in chief is whether inserting large numbers of U.S. troops will provide a better outcome.

“There have been critics of mine that have suggested that, well, if early enough you had provided sufficient support to a moderate opposition, they might have been able to overthrow the murderous Assad regime,” he said. “The problem with that is, as we’ve seen, that the Assad regime is supported by Russia. It’s supported by Iran.”

Because the Assad regime did not directly threaten the United States, Obama said, any deployment of troops would have violated international law.

“And unless we were willing to sustain a large presence there and escalate, if and when Russia or Iran got involved, then we were going to be in a situation where at some point the situation would collapse, except we would have a bunch of folks on the ground, and be very much overextended,” he said.

The key in Syria at this point, the president said, is to get the parties involved to talk together on diplomatic and political tracks.

“We will try to mitigate the pain and suffering that those folks are undergoing,” he said. “This is part of the reason why our approach to refugees, for example, has to be open-hearted, although also hard-headed, to protect our homeland.”

The Veterans Affairs Department received some criticism from the audience, and the president acknowledged the validity of the complaints. VA medical care must improve, he said, adding that there has been progress. The department had been underfunded for years, Obama said, noting the administration has increased its funding by 85 percent. But this is not a problem that will be solved by throwing money at it, he said. The department, he added, has to change procedures and its culture.

The president noted that VA makes 58 million medical appointments per year. Like a large ship that has turned and is on the right course now, he said, it will take time to reach its destination.

“We now have a situation where about 80 percent of individuals who interact with the VA are satisfied that they’re getting timely treatment,” Obama said. I want that to be 100 percent, and that requires more work.”

 

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This new radar could be the US Navy’s force field against Chinese ship-killing missile

The AN/SPY-1 system, more popularly known as “Aegis,” is arguably the best air-defense system sent out to sea. It has been exported to South Korea, Japan, Spain, and Australia. But the U.S. Navy has not been sitting still with the design.


The AN/SPY-6(V) Air and Missile Defense Radar is planned for use on the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers.

According to the Raytheon web site, this modular radar system is 30-times more sensitive than the SPY-1D used on the current Arleigh Burke-class vessels. This system can also handle 30 times as many targets as the SPY-1D. The system also used commercially-available computer processors in the x86 family pioneered by Intel.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
A Raytheon SM-3 launches from the vertical launcher on the front deck of a ship. | Raytheon

The AMDR was tested July 27, 2017, by the Navy. According to a Navy release, the system successfully tracked the target — a simulated medium-range ballistic missile — or “MRBM.” According to the Department of Defense, MRBMs have a range between 1,000 and 3,000 kilometers, or about 600 to 1,800 miles.

Perhaps the most notable missile in this category is China’s DF-21, which supposedly has a carrier-killer version.

“AN/SPY-6 is the nation’s most advanced radar and will be the cornerstone of the U.S. Navy’s surface combatants for many decades,” said Aegis program official Capt. Seiko Okano.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
USS Hopper (DDG 70) fires a RIM-161 SM-3 missile in 2009. (US Navy photo)

The first Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, USS Harvey C. Barnum (DDG 124), is slated to enter service in 2024. These ships will have a five-inch gun, two Mk 41 vertical launch systems (one with 32 cells, the other with 64 cells) capable of firing RIM-66 Standard SM-2 missiles, RIM-174 SM-6 missiles, RIM-161 SM-3 missiles, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and RUM-139 Vertical-Launch ASROCs.

It’ll also be armed with a Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, and two MH-60 Seahawk helicopters.

You can see a video from Raytheon about AMDR below.

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Did you know that US troops can take a 3-year break from their service?

In a little-known personnel policy, members of the armed forces can take a so-called “intermission” from their service contract if they feel that the military is holding back their personal development.


The Air Force is launching its third iteration of the “Career Intermission Program,” or CIP, which allows airmen to take a sabbatical from their Air Force career while they pursue what Air Force Times calls “personal goals.”

“Some women leave the Air Force because they want to start a family,” Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox told the Times in 2014. “So why don’t we have a program that allows them, in some cases, to be able to separate from the Air Force for a short period, get their family started and then come back in?”

The Air Force does not consider the reasons for wanting to take time off when deciding who to admit into the new program, which has been in development for a few years. While starting a family was one of the primary ideas for implementing the pilot program, higher education quickly became the primary motivation.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Capt. Tamiko Gheen carries her son, Gavin, while hiking. Gheen is taking three years away from the Air Force through the service’s Career Intermission Program. She’s expecting her second child and hopes to get a master’s degree while spending more time with her family during the break.

In the first year of the CIP program, 70 percent of airmen opted to go back to school with the remainder leaving to start families or take care of ailing relatives.

All branches of the military were authorized for such programs in the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), at the Navy’s request.

The Marine Corps started its program in 2013 with the Army following suit in 2014. The Navy program offered retention of full health and dental coverage, continued commissary and base shopping privileges and a payment of a small reserve stipend. Other branches used that as a guide for their own programs.

Career Intermission puts participants into the Individual Ready Reserve with limited benefits before they are returned to active duty at the end of their program. They are also required to maintain all service branches’ health and fitness standards and periodically check in to their respective services. The catch is that any military member in their service’s CIP is required to serve an additional two months of Active Duty for every month on the CIP.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Lt. Cmdr. Danielle Leiby took the time to start a family.

In 2015, 59 airmen — 22 officers and 37 enlisted — applied to the Air Force program. The application window for the second round closed at the end of August 2015, and a panel convened at the end of September to choose who will begin those sabbaticals. The program is limited to 20 enlisted and 20 officers per service.

Congress may potentially extend the program to 400, again, at the Navy’s request. Sgt. Major of the Army Dan Dailey thinks the caps in place are there for a reason.

“You don’t want to punish people for doing it, but you don’t necessarily want to sell it, either, because not everybody can do it,” Dailey told the Army Times. “There’s always going to be a limit to those things.”

Troops in critical functions or accepting critical skills retention bonuses are not considered for the CIP, although exceptions can be made for hardship situations. It’s also important to check the service-specific guidelines for application. The Army’s CIP is limited to NCOs. Acceptance and benefits to the program are at the discretion of the individual service secretaries.

 

The window to apply for the third iteration of the Air Force CIP is now open.

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This Air Force fighter ace was the inspiration for ‘Mustache March’

For most civilians, No-Shave November is the month of the year where we allow ourselves to grow what we think is the mustache that would make Tom Selleck weep. For Airmen of the U.S. Air Force, that month is March, or more commonly known as “Mustache March.”


How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun

Mustache March is the mostly-unofficial mustache growing season in the USAF, which used to be a protest of the regulation against mustaches but became an act of defiance against dogmatic leadership. During the Vietnam War, Air Force triple ace Robin Olds decided to grow a distinctive, out-of-regs, handlebar mustache, which was later dubbed “bulletproof.”

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun

Robin Olds is one of the United States Air Force’s most legendary Airmen. He earned his Ace status with 16 victories in World War II and Vietnam. He grew the mustache just to annoy his superior officers, referring to it as “the middle finger I couldn’t raise in PR photographs.” Once his mustache reached its peak, the popularity of growing mustaches caught on with his Airmen. They loved it and began to grow their own. Even though he came to hate the ‘stache, he kept it while he was in Vietnam, because it kept morale high.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Then Col. Robin Olds seated in an F-4 fighter in Southeast Asia. The helmet he is wearing in the photo is on display in the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

Dismissing the irony of an officially accepted act of defiance, in 2014 Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh challenged the entire Air Force to an officially sanctioned Mustache March to honor General Olds, who died in 2007. General Welsh did not participate in 2015, due to the controversy the inherently all-male contest caused among some female Airmen; the tradition lives on among other Airmen, in the same spirit of honor and defiance of Air Force facial hair regs.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun

You can be sure to see a lot of Air Force personnel as they come to work on April 1 cleared of their bulletproofing. So until then, celebrate with these photos of the legendary Robin Olds in all of his middle-fingered glory.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun

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New Navy secretary welcomes ‘any patriot that wants to serve’

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer visited Naval Station Norfolk for the first time August 10, where he pledged that America would defend itself and its allies against aggression from North Korea.


Tensions between the US and North Korea have escalated amid threats from Kim Jong Un to lob missiles near the American territory of Guam, which is home to naval and Air Force bases. President Donald Trump ramped up warnings of “fire and fury” should the dictator put his plan into action.

Spencer, who was sworn in as the Navy’s 76th secretary August 3, declined to comment on the Navy’s preparations in the Pacific.

“We just hope that Korea stops acting the way it does,” Spencer said. “We’re going to defend ourselves; we are going to defend our allies. They should know that, and we hope that we can have conversations and de-escalate.”

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
US Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Rafael Rodriguez (right), command sergeant major of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Eastern Recruiting Regions, greets Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. Photo by Lance Cpl. Erin Ramsay.

Spencer’s comments came after he toured the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and Virginia-class submarine USS John Warner and named people, capabilities, and process as priorities for his new role.

Spencer joined the Marine Corps in 1976 after graduating from Rollins College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and flew the service’s H-46 helicopter. He attained the rank of captain before leaving in 1981 for a career in finance, according to a Navy biography. He most recently served as managing director of Wyoming-based Fall Creek Management, LLC.

Spencer follows Ray Mabus, whose nearly eight years as Navy secretary — the longest since World War I — was marked with criticism for decisions to name some ships after civil and human rights leaders and for dropping a more than two-century-old naval tradition of referring to sailors by their rate, or job title, in favor of rank. That decision was reversed after a storm of fierce opposition.

During his July 11 confirmation hearing, Spencer told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supports the use of alternative energy sources, growing the capacity and capabilities of the fleet, and protecting Navy bases against sea-level rise.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Richard V. Spencer is sworn in as the 76th Secretary of the Navy by William O’Donnell, Department of the Navy administrative assistant. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan B. Trejo.

Spencer also said he opposed the use of the services as “a petri dish for social experiments,” instead saying it should be left to the Pentagon to develop policy. A little more than two weeks later and in a series of tweets, Trump said he was banning transgender military personnel from service, stunning an unprepared Pentagon.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has reaffirmed current policies until additional guidance is given by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Spencer said August 10 he would follow policies developed by the Pentagon at the direction of the White House, adding context to his “petri dish” statement to mean that no service secretary “should go off and do experiments on their own.” But Spencer did not directly say whether the thousands of transgender service members on active duty and in the reserves should be kicked out.

“As I’ve said before, any patriot that wants to serve and meets all the requirements should be able to serve in our military,” Spencer said.

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Marine commandant wants to extend dwell time, speed up aviation recovery

The commandant of the Marine Corps wants the service to come up with a strategy to give Marines more time at home between deployments before the end of the year and get new aircraft cranking off production lines ahead of schedule.


Those are two of the 25 time-sensitive tasks for service commanders published Tuesday alongside Gen. Robert Neller’s second major message to the force. In the task list, he calls on Marine Corps leadership to invest in people, build up readiness, and take training into the future.

Also read: This Marine just retired after 54 years of service

Neller’s checklist tasks Marine Corps Forces Command and Manpower and Reserve Affairs with developing a plan to give Marines on average more than twice as much time at home than they spend deployed.

Increasing “dwell time,” as it’s called, from the current 1:2 ratio has long been cited by Marine Corps commanders as a goal at odds with the service’s high deployment tempo and ongoing force reductions. As leaders await approval of a defense budget measure that would modestly increase the size of the force for the first time in years, Neller’s order is a signal that times may be changing.

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
A Marine signals to move forward in an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) during an amphibious landing for Exercise Dawn Blitz 2015. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Riley

“The optimal deployment-to-dwell ratio will not be the same for all elements of the [Marine air-ground task force] and we must strike the right balance between risk-to-force, risk-to- mission, and risk-to-institution,” Neller cautioned in the document. “Potential factors to consider among others: increasing the end strength of the force, growing key Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs), and decreasing in Global Force Management (GFM) demands.”

Another goal dependent on budget decisions is the plan to accelerate aviation recovery for the service, which has seen aircraft readiness rates and pilots’ flight hours plummet and then begin to recover in the last two years.

In an interview this month in his office at the Pentagon, Neller said the Corps would try to buy new aircraft faster, including F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, to replace aging legacy platforms, and petition Congress to fully fund the service’s flight hour program and spare parts requirements so aviation readiness as a whole will improve.

“We’re going to be in a position where we’re fielding new aircraft and sustaining legacy aircraft for a number of years and it would be nice if the [operational] tempo would go down, but I don’t see that happening either. So we’ve got to do this all on the fly,” Neller said. “We’ve got to improve our readiness and continue to meet our requirements.”

How and why the Stryker would be the ultimate pillbox at Verdun
Gen. Robert Neller | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Shawn Valosin

Whether or not the extra money rolls in within future defense budgets, Neller is asking aviation leaders to come up with more efficient ways to accelerate the recovery plan.

He’s also calling for better training for aviation maintenance Marines, citing recent readiness reviews that highlighted a lack of training and standardization in these fields. By improving and standardizing the training pipeline for specialized aviation maintainers, he wrote, “We can improve overall readiness and performance of Marine Aviation.”

In parallel, Neller wants commanders to develop a comprehensive plan by the end of the year to modernize the Marine Corps ground combat element, allowing infantry Marines to fight with similar technological and training advantages to their aviation counterparts.

He reiterated his desire to get quadcopter drones fielded to each Marine rifle squad “immediately,” and said he wanted to see ground Marines take advantage of the 5th-generation platforms, sensors and networks that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will bring to the force.

Neller endorsed a growing trend in the Marine Corps to tailor equipment and gear to the specific needs of the ground combat Marine.

In 2015, the Corps announced that infantry Marines would use M4s as their standard service rifle, while non-infantrymen would continue to carry the longer M16; and last fall, Marine Corps Systems Command held an event focused on equipping infantry Marines with tailor-made gear specific to their jobs, with leaders even discussing the possibility of tailoring Meals, Ready to Eat to the needs of grunts.

“While every Marine is a rifleman, not all Marines serve in or alongside ground combat units like the infantry as they actively locate, close with, and destroy enemies by fire and maneuver,” Neller wrote. “Their mission and risks are unique. From clothing and equipment to training, nutrition, and fitness, we must look at and develop the [ground combat element’s] capabilities differently than the rest of the MAGTF.”

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