Let's talk about why a quarter of Singapore's air force is based in the US - We Are The Mighty
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Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US

The Republic of Singapore Air Force is one of the world’s most modern air forces. It is also very large (100 combat planes) compared to the size of the country (276 square miles – less than a quarter of the area of Rhode Island). One could wonder how they fit all their planes in there?


The answer is, they don’t. In fact, about a quarter of Singapore’s primary combat jets, a total of 40 F-15SG Strike Eagles and 60 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons, aren’t based in Singapore at all. They’re in the United States.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
A F-15SG with the 428th Fighter Training Squadron. (USAF photo)

You’ll find ten of Singapore’s F-15SGs at Mountain Home Air Force Base, the home of the 366th Fighter Wing (which operates F-15E Strike Eagles). They are assigned to the 428th Fighter Training Squadron.

Fourteen of Singapore’s F-16C/D fighters are at Luke Air Force Base, the home of the 56th Fighter Wing, which handles training for not only the F-16, but for the F-35. They are assigned to the 425th Fighter Training Squadron.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
A Singaporean F-16D Fighting Falcon with the 425th Fighter Training Squadron. (USAF photo)

So, why is roughly one-fourth of Singapore’s combat aircraft inventory stationed across the Pacific Ocean, well over 8,500 miles away? Well, the answer is Singapore’s small size, and its poor geography. Singapore is really an island nation pushed smack dab between Malaysia and Indonesia, and its airspace is less than six miles across.

One thing you need for flight training, though, is space, and a lot of it. This is especially true with high-performance fighters like the F-15SG and F-16C/D.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
Map of Singapore, showing just how little airspace there is for training. (CIA map)

Transport helicopter pilots and basic flight training are done in Australia, where the trainees, it is safe to assume, can guzzle all the Foster’s they want. Jet training for the Singaporean Air Force is done in France. Oh, and eight of Singapore’s 17 AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters are based near Tucson, Arizona.

In essence, Singaporean flight trainees get to see a lot of the world before they join a front-line unit. Not a bad way to enter service.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the combat drone Japan has been building in secret

Unmanned combat air vehicles, or UCAVs, are seen as a key part of the future of military aviation. A number of countries have openly been developing these vehicles, including the United States, Russia, and France.


But as We Are The Mighty has learned, Japan also was developing a UCAV, but didn’t tell anyone.

During a recent Air Force conference near Washington, We Are The Mighty witnessed a video at the Kawasaki booth that revealed a brief clip of the company’s research and development efforts into a UCAV. The UCAV appeared to be similar to the Boeing X-45 and Northrop Grumman X-47 test vehicles.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
This scene from a video shows Kawasaki’s UCAV prototype in flight. (Photo by Harold Hutchison)

An initial request for information was declined by a company representative, who told us that the Japanese government did not wish to discuss the program. The next day, another representative claimed to have no knowledge of the program.

Only after a third Kawasaki representative, Takumi Kobayashi, was forwarded a cell phone photo of the UCAV’s cameo did he state that it was “an experimental aircraft tested about 10 years ago” and that “it was a research project funded by Japan MOD.” Kobayashi later stated in an e-mail that the described the UCAV as “a project in 2008.” Japan does maintain a Self-Defense Force and established a Ministry of Defense in 2007.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
David Deptula during his service with the United States Air Force. (USAF photo)

When WATM asked Dave Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who was the Air Force’s first deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance who now serves as the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, about whether he had any indication Japan was developing a UCAV, he had a one-word answer: “No.”

This points to Japan’s UCAV program being carried out behind a veil of secrecy comparable to those used with American black projects like the F-117 Nighthawk.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
A second image of the Kawasaki UCAV’s appearance in a video shown at the 2017 AirSpaceCyber expo held in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by Harold Hutchison)

The likely reason for this veil of secrecy and the reluctance to discuss the Kawasaki UCAV lies in Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. This provision states “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,” and that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH-181) underway in the Pacific Ocean as U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopters hover nearby. Japan calls this carrier-like vessel (Photo: U.S. Navy)

This provision explains why Japan considers its light carriers of the Hyuga and Izumo classes to be “helicopter destroyers.” The Italian carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi, displacing about 10,500 tons as compared to the roughly 19,000-ton displacement of the Hyuga, operated AV-8B+ Harriers during the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D, a previous name for the MQ-25a) launches from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2013. Kawasaki’s UCAV appears similar to the X-47. (US Navy Photo)

How does Kawasaki’s UCAV fall within those restrictions? Its apparent similarity to the X-45 and X-47 opens the possibility that it may not. Deptula told WATM in a phone interview that UCAVs presently fit “much more in an offensive context as opposed to air defense” given the current state of technology.

According to specs available at GlobalSecurity.org, the baseline X-47 did not have a payload capability, but the larger X-47B had two weapons bays and was able to carry 4,500 pounds of ordnance. A planned X-47C was to increase the payload to 10,000 pounds.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
An X-47B demonstrator with folded wings on the aircraft elevator of USS George H.W. Bush. (US Navy photo by MC2 Timothy Walter)

Inquiries from WATM to Japan’s Ministry of Defense received no responses, but the Japanese embassy in the United States did respond to an inquiry, offering to have a defense attaché contact Kawasaki for more information. When asked about any plans the Japanese Self-Defense Force had involving UCAVs, they stated, “The Japanese self-defense force is currently not planning on acquiring or deploying UCAVs.”

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Increased civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria draw criticism

Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked militants are quickly moving to drum up outrage over a sharp spike in civilian casualties said to have been caused by U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, posting photos online of a destroyed medical center and homes reduced to rubble. “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants,” the caption reads.


The propaganda points to the risk that rising death tolls and destruction could undermine the American-led campaign against the militants.

During the past two years of fighting to push back the Islamic State group, the U.S.-led coalition has faced little backlash over casualties, in part because civilian deaths have been seen as relatively low and there have been few cases of single strikes killing large numbers of people.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter aids in securing the site of a car bomb explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, on December 4, 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In Iraq — even though sensitivities run deep over past American abuses of civilians — the country’s prime minister and many Iraqis support the U.S. role in fighting the militants.

But for the first time, anger over lives lost is becoming a significant issue as Iraqi troops backed by U.S. special forces and coalition airstrikes wade into more densely populated districts of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and U.S. -backed Syrian fighters battle closer to the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

That has the potential to undercut victories against the militants and stoke resentments that play into their hands.

At least 300 civilians have been killed in the offensive against IS in the western half of Mosul since mid-February, according to the U.N. human rights office — including 140 killed in a single March 17 airstrike on a building. Dozens more are claimed to have been killed in another strike late March, according to Amnesty International, and by similar airstrikes in neighboring Syria since Trump took office.

In Syria, as fighting around Raqqa intensified, civilian fatalities from coalition airstrikes rose to 198 in March — including 32 children and 31 women — compared to 56 in February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents Syria’s war. Over the course of the air campaign, from September 2014 through February, an average of 30 civilians were killed a month, according to the Observatory.

The U.S. military is investigating what role the U.S. played in the March 17 airstrike in Mosul, and American and Iraqi officials have said militants may have deliberately gathered civilians there and planted explosives in the building. The blast left an entire residential block flattened, reducing buildings to mangled concrete.

Among those who lost loved ones, resentment appears to be building toward the U.S.-led coalition and the ground forces it supports.

“How could they have used this much artillery on civilian locations?” asked Bashar Abdullah, a resident of the neighborhood known as New Mosul, who lost more than a dozen family members in the March 17 attack. “Iraqi and American forces both assured us that it will be an easy battle, that’s why people didn’t leave their houses. They felt safe.”

U.S. officials have said they are investigating other claims of casualties in Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State group fighters have overtly used civilians as human shields, including firing from homes where people are sheltering or forcing people to move alongside them as they withdraw. The group has imposed a reign of terror across territories it holds in Syria and Iraq, taking women as sex slaves, decapitating or shooting suspected opponents, and destroying archaeological sites.

Mass graves are unearthed nearly every day in former IS territory.

Now, the group is using the civilian deaths purportedly as a result of U.S.-led airstrikes in its propaganda machine.

Photos recently posted online on militant websites showed the destruction at the Mosul Medical College with a caption describing the Americans as the “Mongols of the modern era” who kill and destroy under the pretext of liberation. A series of pictures showing destroyed homes carried the comment: “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants under the rubble of houses bombed by American warplanes to claim victory. Who would dare say this is a war crime?”

In Syria, IS and other extremist factions have pushed the line that the U.S. and Russia, which is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime, are equal in their disregard for civilian lives.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
Spc. Alaa Jaza, an Arabic linguist, advises Iraqi Army soldiers on how to set battle positions to avoid friendly fire during a training event at Camp Taji, Iraq, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Cody Quinn, CJTF-OIR Public Affairs)

U.S. “crimes are clear evidence of the ‘murderous friendship’ that America claims to have with the Syrian people, along with its claimed concern for their future and interests,” said the Levant Liberation Committee, an al-Qaida-led insurgent alliance.

Some Syrian opposition factions allied with the U.S. have also criticized the strikes, describing them as potential war crimes.

An analysis by the Soufan Group consultancy warned that rumors and accusations of coalition atrocities “will certainly help shape popular opinion once Mosul and Raqqa are retaken, thus serving a purpose for the next phase of the Islamic State’s existence.”

Criticism has also come from Russian officials, whose military has been accused of killing civilians on a large scale in its air campaign in Syria, particularly during the offensive that recaptured eastern Aleppo from rebels late last year.

“I’m greatly surprised with such action of the U.S. military, which has all the necessary equipment and yet were unable to figure out for several hours that they weren’t striking the designated targets,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, speaking at the U.N. Security Council about the March 17 strike.

Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, acknowledged the spike in civilian casualty reports could change the way the coalition is conducting the war. He said it was a “very valid” concern that loss of life and destruction could play into the hands of IS or cause some coalition members to waver.

“But the coalition is not going to back down when (the fight) gets hard or there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “That’s what ISIS wants.”

In Syria, the deadliest recent strike occurred earlier this month in a rebel-held area in the north. Opposition activists said a mosque was hit during evening prayers, killing around 40 people, mostly civilians, and wounding dozens of others. The U.S. said it struck an al-Qaida gathering across the street from the mosque, killing dozens of militants, adding they found no basis for reports that civilians were killed.

In Mosul, the scale of destruction wrought by increased artillery and airstrikes is immense in some areas.

Abdullah, the resident of New Mosul, buried 13 members of his family in a single day.

Standing in a field now being used as a graveyard, he said: “This was not a liberation. It was destruction.”

Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Mstyslav Chernov in Mosul, Iraq, contributed to this report.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the Army’s super secret special ops aviation unit

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment is widely considered to be the best unit of its kind in the world. Known to recruit only the best pilots the US Army has to offer to fly its MH-60 Black Hawks, MH-6 Little Birds and MH-47 Chinooks, the 160th routinely flies in support of America’s most elite troops — Green Berets, Delta Force operators, Army Rangers, and the like.


Not much is actually known about the 160th, and for good reason — it’s still a special operations unit, as its name suggests. But even this outfit is still too “public” for some of the most clandestine missions the Army and Joint Special Operations Command wishes to send its elite operators on.

So the Army stood up an aviation unit that hides deep in the shadows

This outfit is most commonly referred to as “Flight Concepts Division,” though its name has changed many times in the past in order to preserve its cover. Though very little is known about the unit today, we can still infer its role and capability based on what little the Army has released on the Division’s past.

Originally founded as a special ops unit unto itself,first known as SEASPRAY — a highly classified aviation outfit with a number of fronts and covers to protect its identity from public view. Thousands of pilots, cherry-picked from around the Army, were invited to try out for SEASPRAY, but only a handful were selected to continue with the recruitment and training process. Once training was complete, these pilots would go on to fly top secret missions across the world, especially in Central and South America, in support of American special operations objectives.

 

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
An OH-6 Cayuse carrying special operations personnel. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

However, in the mid-1980s, SEASPRAY was disestablished by the Army in the wake of a scandal, its components dispersed and moved to other units to fulfill a similar role.

By the 1990s, the Army had moved chunks of SEASPRAY over to Delta Force, standing up Echo (E) Squadron to support Delta operators with aerial surveillance, insertions and extractions on missions. Pilots and aircraft were transferred over and brought into the fold quickly, receiving further training in assisting Delta assault troops in taking down hijacked cruise ships, inserting operators behind enemy lines and other risky missions.

According to Sean Naylor in his book, “Relentless Strike,” E Squadron pilots were trained and rated to fly a variety of foreign aircraft, including Russian military helicopters popular in the Balkans at the time of the crises there in the mid-to-late ’90s, allowing them to blend in and fly virtually unnoticed. As time passed, whoever, E Squadron’s effectiveness grew so much that brass within Joint Special Operations Command wanted to excise it from Delta Force and stand it up as its own separate unit once more.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
A Hughes MD500. SEASPRAY and Delta Force’s E Squadron have been known to operate helicopters like these in civilian markings (Hughes Helicopters, public domain)

Fast forward to the late 1990s, and Flight Concepts Division came into play. Earlier known by a number of other covers and fronts, such as Aviation Technical Services, Quasar Talent and Latent Arrow, this unit provided immeasurable support for “black operations” troops in the Balkans, ferrying them into and out of combat zones surreptitiously without anybody the wiser.

Flight Concepts Division still remains an active unit today with a vague name and an equally obscure mission description. What it actually does in support of American special operations is anybody’s guess, especially while it operates in the shadows cast by its big brother unit, the 160th SOAR. Its aircraft are masked, painted with civilian markings and otherwise kept out of sight, its pilots and aircrew indistinguishable from the average pedestrian on any of America’s streets.

But those who serve with the division are more than likely the best of the very best, the cream of the crop – the elite black ops aviators called upon by Joint Special Operations Command and the president for top secret missions we’ll not hear of for decades to come.

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This whiskey is a WWII victory, distilled

…I was goin’ over the Cork and Kerry Mountains…

Musha rain dum a doo, dum a da…
There’s whiskey in the jar, oh
— Thin Lizzy, Whiskey in the Jar

Whiskey is a mountain spirit. After a cold day on the slopes, are you thirsting for a Cosmo? A margarita? Nope. And we’re not even offering rum as an option. In the mountains, you long for an end-of-day bourbon, scotch, or rye to light your insides on fire. It’s tradition and it’s awesome.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
You… ( Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
…complete me. ( Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

In Vail, Colo, there’s another mountain spirit that has to be reckoned with and unlike whiskey, it’s 100 percent military. It’s the legacy of the Army’s venerable 10th Mountain Division, the special alpine tactical force that trained at nearby Camp Hale during WWII.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
Men of the 10th Mountain Division. Not a cocktail in sight.

Spirits, however, are made to blend. It’s tradition and it’s awesome.

Now, almost 75 years after 10th Mountain defeated the Germans in Italy, a Vail whiskey distillery is honoring the Division by taking its name. In the tradition of service, 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits Co. is distinguishing itself as an ardent supporter of area veterans.

Sensing the makings of a 90-proof military food story, Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl made the trek out to the Colorado mountains to meet the founders of the 10th Mountain Whiskey over two fingers of their best bourbon.

The distillery was founded by Christian Avignon, the grandson of an 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment medic, and his friend and fellow Colorado ski obsessive, Ryan Thompson. Together, they made it their mission to honor the 10th, whose veterans are responsible not only for key victories against the Nazis, but also for the establishment and leadership of so many of America’s great mountain institutions.

The Northern Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), the Sierra Club, the Peace Corps chapter in Nepal, even the famous ski resorts at Vail and Aspen, all count 10th Mountain Division vets among their founding leadership. A storied fighting force inspires a whiskey maker determined to give back. It’s a potent cocktail of tradition, patriotism, and mountaineering that will absolutely warm your insides on a cold day.

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

Army food will make you feel the feels

This is what happens when you run your kitchen like a platoon

This is what it means to be American in Guam

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Second Army victim identified among casualties of Orlando shooting

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
Angel Candelario-Padro | Facebook


A second U.S. Army victim has been identified among the casualties of the deadly shooting at an Orlando nightclub.

Angel Candelario-Padro served in the Puerto Rico National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve, officials said.

“It is again with our deepest sadness, our heartbreak that we inform you that National Guardsman SPC. Angel Candelario-Padro was among the victims we have lost,” said Matt Thorn, executive director of OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents the U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Candelario-Padro had been a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard and was assigned to the Army band, Thorn said in a statement. He also played clarinet with his hometown band and had just moved to Orlando from Chicago, he said.

Candelario-Padro served in the Guard from Jan. 12, 2006, until Jan. 11, 2012, at which point he transferred to the U.S. Army Reserve, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Houk, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, confirmed in an email to Military.com.

Additional information about his service history wasn’t immediately available from the U.S. Army Reserve.

The 248th Army Band posted a condolence message and photo of Candelario-Padro on its Facebook page.

“Very painful to mention this but we have to recognize and do a tribute to one of our own,” it stated. “With great sadness I want to report the loss of who was in life the SPC ANGEL CANDELARIO. The Band 248 joins the sadness that overwhelms your family and we wish you much peace and resignation. Spc Candelario, rest in peace.”

Candelario-Padro for two years prior lived in Chicago, where he worked at the Illinois Eye Institute and had side jobs at Old Navy and as a Zumba instructor, according to an article in The Chicago Tribune.

He was at the Pulse nightclub frequented by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community when the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history occurred.

Authorities say 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in 911 calls, killed 49 people and injured another 53 before being killed in a shootout with police.

Army Reserve Capt. Antonio Davon Brown was also killed in the attack and may be eligible to receive the Purple Heart, a Pentagon spokesman said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Imran Yousuf, 24, is being recognized as a hero for helping between 60 and 70 people escape the mass shooting by unlatching a door near the back staff halfway of the building.

Candelario-Padro will be flown home to Puerto Rico to be buried in the Guanica Municipal Cemetery in a section reserved for service members, Thorn said.

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17 beautiful photos of troops training in the snow

Baby, it’s cold outside. But U.S. troops are still expected to use snow storms during peace as great training for snow storms during war.


So while the rest of the country starts sipping spiced coffees and hot chocolate, here are 17 photos of America’s troops braving the snow:

1. Airman 1st Class Avery Friedman plays “Taps” during training at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base amid snowfall on Dec. 15.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy)

2. Paratroopers scan for threats past purple smoke while maneuvering through the snow during a training exercise in Alaska on Nov. 8.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez)

3. Paratroopers maneuver across the snow at the top of a hill during training in Alaska on Nov. 8.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez)

4. Apache crew chiefs perform maintenance on an AH-64E during a snowstorm at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, on Dec. 8, 2016.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Army Capt. Brian Harris)

5. Maintenance sailors change the prop on an EP-3E Aries II amid driving snow at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island on Dec. 11.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

6. An Airman removes snow and ice from a KC-135 Stratotanker on Dec. 12 after a snowstorm at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson)

7. A B-52H pilot gives the thumbs up to ground crew from inside the cockpit before a training flight through the snow on Jan. 14, 2016.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong)

8. An Air Force engineer drives a snow plow across the flightline at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, on Jan. 14, 2016.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong)

9. A 10th Mountain Division soldier clears snow from parked Humvees at Fort Drum, New York, on Nov. 21.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Army Spec. Liane Schmersahl)

10. Army paratroopers conduct a live-fire training exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska on Nov. 8, 2016.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez)

11. A Marine Corps rifleman pulls security during training at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, on Jan. 29, 2016.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Samuel Guerra)

12. A Marine Corps mortarman sits with his weapon on Oct. 22, 2016, during training at the Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, California.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Timothy Valero)

13. A Coast Guard petty officer clears snow from around a 25-foot Response Boat-Small on Jan. 24, 2016, in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Clarke, III)

14. Army soldiers fire a 120mm mortar during training at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, on Jan. 12, 2016.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Army John Pennell)

15. Army paratroopers in Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, conduct 60mm mortar training in the snow on Jan. 12, 2016.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Army John Pennell)

16. An Army mortarman moves through the snow during training at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Jan. 12, 2016.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Army John Pennell)

17. An Air Force engineer drives a snow broom across the runway at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, on Dec. 4, 2015.

Let’s talk about why a quarter of Singapore’s air force is based in the US
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel)

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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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These high-speed German cops still wear armor from the Middle Ages

It’s been years since knights were last sent into battle wearing insanely heavy and uncomfortable metal suits for protection against swords and arrows.


Centuries, actually.

But as it turns out, while knights are now a thing of the past, their armor is still in use today with at least one special operations police unit in Germany. That’s right… Germany’s elite “SEK” Spezialeinsatzkommandos (Special Deployment Commandos in English) are sometimes sent into sticky situations wearing chain mail suits of armor.

Though they’ve traded in long swords and sabers years ago for Heckler Koch submachine guns and Sig pistols, these German cops still utilize chain mail armor to protect themselves in close quarters missions against terrorists, hostage takers, or even just your run-of-the-mill deranged knife-wielder.

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An SEK operative fast-ropes from a police helicopter during a demonstration (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

While chain mail armor isn’t enough to stop bullets or anything that can penetrate at high velocities, it’s still pretty effective against close-in attacks using blades or sharp objects. Mail consists of small metal ringlets woven together to form a mesh-like sheet. These sheets are then fashioned into wearable coats and pants which still allow the wearer a fair degree of movement.

Last year, SEK operatives were spotted wearing chain mail while responding to a mentally-disturbed 21 year-old threatening to kill randomly with a pruning saw. Later on, images began surfacing of commandos donning mail shirts and hoods in urban settings, wearing a weird blend of modern tactical gear and the ancient mesh armor.

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An SEK wearing chain mail under his assault vest while responding to a threat (Photo from Snopes.com)

These German commandos have been known to wear their mail suits above or beneath their gear, depending on the scenario they face and their role in resolving it. Hostage or suicide negotiations would generally prompt the wearing of the armor above a Kevlar bulletproof vest and radio, for example.

According to Stefan Schubert in his book, “Inside Police: The Unknown Side of Everyday Police,” the SEK are easily some of the most high-speed special operations police units in the world, having been formed in the 1970s in West Germany to tackle hostage situations, provide protection for dignitaries, and rapid armed response to terrorist threats.

Around the same time, a similar East German police force known as Service Unit 9 was also established. Both were merged under the SEK name and mission after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany at the end of the Cold War.

SEK teams are more like highly-developed SWAT teams in the US, attached to German state police agencies across the country. Their federal counterpart is the legendary GSG 9 of the Bundespolizei, home to some of the best counterterrorist operatives today.

An SEK commando covering an assault during a demonstration in Dortmund, circa 2013 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The recruitment process to join an SEK team is extremely strenuous, and the ensuing selection phase has a high attrition rate. Candidates typically face between 6 to 8 months of physical, tactical and environment-specific training before being declared operational. Additional training includes skiing, snowmobiling and scuba diving.

When placed on active status, an SEK commando can choose virtually any tactical loadout that fits their preferences and mission. Operatives are also given a lot of leeway in uniforms, often choosing to be in plainclothes in order to blend into crowds and work unnoticed.

However, when on mission, you can generally tell an SEK commando apart from a regular police officer by the fact that they always cover their faces with balaclavas to protect their identities — standard procedure for all SEK teams throughout Germany.

But if ever the balaclava isn’t enough to give away their presence, just look for the guy toting a tricked-out carbine wearing Medieval armor and tennis shoes.

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Republicans urge POTUS for a defense budget increase

Members of Congress are urging President Trump to begin rebuilding the U.S. military, starting with a 2018 defense budget of at least $640 billion, most of which would go to buying more aircraft, ships, and other hardware.


That ambitious number would be about $50 billion above the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which enacted the process called sequestration to enforce the limits.

But House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain are ready to lead fights to eliminate the BCA caps so they can pay for the hardware, the additional personnel and the maintenance needed to restore a defense they say has been badly weakened by six years of reduced spending.

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Thornberry and McCain’s plan calls for $640 billion in defense spending for fiscal year 2018, a $54 billion increase.

At a media briefing Feb. 6, 2017, to preview the upcoming congressional session, Thornberry (R-Texas) first urged Congress to pass an appropriations bill to cover the six remaining months of the 2017 fiscal year “as soon as possible.”

The federal government currently is being funded under a continuing resolution that runs until April 28 and limits most spending to the prior year levels.

“There’s no reason in the world to wait until April,” Thornberry said.

The HASC chairman then urged Trump to send the supplemental funding bill he has promised to increase defense spending this year. “The sooner the better,” he said.

When asked what the supplemental should cover, Thornberry said it should start with “the things that were in the House-passed NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) that were not in the final bill. I think they should be at the top of the list.”

The NDAA cut $18 billion that the House wanted to add, which would have gone mainly to increased weapons.

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The U.S. Air Force F/A-18F has an estimated flyaway cost of $98.3 million. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin

The deleted add-ons included 14 additional F/A-18 Super Hornets, another Littoral Combat Ship, and an extra LPD-17 amphibious warship for the Navy, plus 11 more F-35s split among the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. It also would have bought the Army additional AH-64 attack helicopters and UH-60 utility choppers.

The deleted funds also would have allowed the services to hire even more troops than the 16,000 Army soldiers and the 3,000 additional Marines allowed by the final bill.

Funding the current fiscal year would clear the way for Congress to work on a fiscal 2018 budget, which should include an even bigger increase in defense spending, Thornberry said.

Asked what amount he wanted, Thornberry said, “Our view is about a $640 billion base budget to meet the increased end strength, the increased number of ships, to turn the readiness around, and deal with a lot of those problems.”

McCain (R-Arizona) used that same number in his opening statement at a Jan. 24 hearing of his committee.

“We have to invest in the modern capabilities necessary for the new realities of deterring conflict,” he said.

“We also have to regain capacity for our military. It does not have enough ships, aircraft, vehicles, munitions, equipment, and personnel to perform its current missions at acceptable levels of risk.”

“It will not be cheap,” McCain added. “In my estimate, our military requires a base defense budget for fiscal year 2018, excluding current war costs, of $640 billion.”

Both of the chairmen insisted the BCA caps must be removed, but only for defense, not for the domestic programs that also are limited.

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US commandos just took out a bunch more terrorists in Somalia

Several al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab members were killed in a joint US-Somalian raid July 13, the Associated Press reports.


US Africa Command confirmed a “advise and assist” mission took place but offered no details to the AP. The raid is the latest in a series of escalating actions against the terrorist group under new authorities provided by President Donald Trump.

Trump declared Somalia an “area of active hostilities” in late March, giving the US military greater autonomy in green-lighting airstrikes.

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Photo from AMISOM Public Information

A US Navy SEAL was killed in Somalia in May during a similar raid, marking the first US combat death in the country since the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident that killed 18 service-members. Pentagon Spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters July 5 the US keeps approximately 50 troops in Somalia to advise and assist the Somalian army.

Al-Shabaab famously carried out a 2013 attack on Westgate Mall in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi. The US joined a coalition of several African nations after the attack in an attempt to curtail the terrorist group.

Al-Shabaab continues to remain active in Somalia’s rural areas despite nearly four years of combined US coalition efforts. The terrorist group’s stated mission is to take the Somali capital of Mogadishu and impose its interpretation of Islamic law on the population writ large.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Air Force is finally getting with the program and planning for urban fights

Two decades after the Marines predicted most warfare would be in urban areas, the Air Force is coming to the same conclusions. Simply put, the great majority of humans live in cities these days, and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein has added urban warfare to his list of top focus areas.


Part of the reason for increasing the emphasis on urban conflict, which isn’t something you might traditionally think of about the service that brings us fighters, bombers, and satellites, is that the Air Force may not be well equipped to handle it.

“How do we design an Air Force for this kind of conflict?” Goldfein asked during his speech here. “Today, I think we are more designed for working in open spaces.”

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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. Photo from USAF.

By contrast, the Army and Marines are focused on urban areas like a, well, laser. The Marines had Fallujah — with the Army joining in to retake the city — and smaller versions in Afghanistan. The Army had Sadr City, Mosul (before ISIS), Samarra, and more. The largest service also has some institutional memories of urban battle from World War II, but hasn’t trained for full-out war in cities for some time.

As Goldfein noted in his speech, 80 percent of humanity will live in cities by 2050. And megacities, those with more than 10 million people. will grow from a dozen to 50.

One of the greatest problems with urban warfare is limiting civilian casualties and leaving much of the city standing, as the latest battle for Mosul illustrates in Iraq. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, during a Q and A with reporters, pointed to directed energy weapons (think fricking lasers! and related technologies like electronics-frying microwaves) as potentially useful tools. She also repeated a point she’s been making recently, that no one will tolerate the US using dumb munitions any more.

“The world can no longer tolerate imprecise weapons, at least from the United States of America,” she said when I asked her and the chief about what might an urban warfare Air Force look like. During her recent tour of Central Command, she learned about an airstrike against Daesh.

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Four 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions are released from an F-15E during a developmental test at Edwards Air Force Base in 2002. JDAM is known as the warfighter’s weapon of choice because of its accuracy, reliability, and low cost. Photo courtesy of USAF.

“They needed a weapon so precisely placed it would destroy ISIS and make the wall fall the other way,” she said, shaking her head to show how impressed she was. Friendly forces were only 13 meters away, she said. The fire request went out. A tasking order was drawn up. Fuzes were set. What may have been a Small Diameter Bomb was dropped and the wall did fall toward ISIS.

When I pressed Goldfein about what platforms and what weapons might be best suited to urban air support, given his comment about the force being designed for open spaces, he said the focus needed to be on modes and networks, as well as on range, persistence, and payload. That echoes such of what the Army has said for the last five years when discussing its next round of weapons: the network is the key, not the new tank.

Could this also have implications for the Light Attack experiment? One Air Force colonel was convinced it would help make the argument for such aircraft to be combined with precision weapons and, perhaps, lasers. But Goldfein made clear he had elevated urban warfare recently and didn’t have all the answers yet.

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How the military can help if California’s Oroville Dam bursts

The Defense Department stands ready to assist in operations surrounding a failing dam in northern California, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters today.


Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said DoD officials are watching closely as the dam erodes.

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Soldiers assigned to the California National Guard’s 2632nd Transportation Company prepare to move out to Paradise, Chico and Nevada County in California to bring cots and blankets to temporary shelters set up for residents who evacuated their homes as the Oroville Dam spillway threatened to fail, Feb. 13, 2017. The California Department of Public Health supplied the blankets and cots. (California National Guard photo)

“The dam is failing, and evacuation orders have been given to close to 200,000 people in the area,” he said. “While the [water] depths are reported to be decreasing, we do note that rain is expected later this week.”

DoD is in touch with the California National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the commander of U.S. Northern Command, Davis said. Northcom provides command and control of Defense Department homeland defense efforts and coordinates defense support of civil authorities.

“We’ve dispatched liaison officers to the state emergency operations center, and are prepared to deploy any Title 10 capabilities – federal military – quickly if requested,” Davis noted, adding that the entire California National Guard, which comprises about 23,000 service members, is on alert status.

FEMA and DoD coordinating officials stand by to put state and federal asset requests into action as they arise, he said.

“If the dam should break, there are FEMA, California National Guard and DoD personnel who will all be prepared to respond,” the Pentagon spokesman told reporters. “We are leaning forward and are ready to assist if needed.”

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A family gets settled into an emergency shelter following the Oroville spillway evacuation notice at Beale Air Force Base, California, Feb. 13, 2017. Beale is providing evacuees with shelter, food, and water. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Tristan D. Viglianco)

Types of help DoD is prepared to provide include aviation, airborne imagery and water rescue — both swift water and still water — as well as mass care and shelter assistance, he added.

DoD officials are trying to anticipate such requests before they come, Davis said, and is keeping a dialogue open to quickly get its forces ready should they be needed.

“We recognize that one of our most solemn duties is to assist the American people in their greatest time of need,” the captain said. “While the state, first and foremost, has the responsibility for doing that, there’s a federal element, should they need it, which is ready to respond quickly.”

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