The Marine Corps' F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat - We Are The Mighty
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The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

For the first time ever, Marine Corps aviators will fly their short-takeoff and vertical landing version of the F-35 Lightning II in one of the world’s most intense aerial combat training exercises, the Red Flag Exercise in Nevada.


The F-35Bs will be focusing on flight safety and how to best employ the plane’s current suite of weapons and tools and will not seek to engage targets within visual range, 2nd Lt. Casey Littesy, a 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing spokesperson, told the Marine Corps Times.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
A US Marine Corps F-35B conducts a short take-off and vertical landing exercise in Oct. 2013. Photo: US Air Force Samuel King

All friendly fighters in the exercise go up against American jets and surface-to-air missiles tweaked to provide realistic training that simulates a war with a near-peer rival such as Russia or China. These advanced threats from rival nations are the exact adversaries that the F-35 — and its sibling, the F-22 Raptor — were designed to fly against.

A hot debate rages over whether the F-35s will work as advertised against advanced fighters, like Russia’s PAK FA, China’s J-20 and ground threats like the S-400 and HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems. Red Flag — which runs from July 11-29 — represents one of the Corps’ best chances to see how the F-35B can play in airspace that an enemy is trying to control or take.

Red Flag trainers have even begun folding cyber attacks into the exercise, meaning F-35B pilots will have to deal with attacks on their network. But this could actually be a prime area for the F-35 to shine.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
The F-35 can connect to most any friendly force on the battlefield, feeding information from its sensors to friendlies and grabbing information from other planes and sensors. (Graphic: Lockheed Martin)

The Lightning II is outfitted with top-tier sensors, advanced software that sorts and compiles information and network capabilities that allow it to connect to other combatants. That means the F-35B may be able to ferry information for others when the battlefield network is attacked.

This isn’t the first time the Marines have taken the F-35B out of the stable and put it through its paces. The plane has been folded into the Marine Corps Weapons and Tactics Instructors course, an intense school for elite pilots that tests the F-35B and its operators.

During a recent test, 30 F-35Bs ran an exercise against 24 aggressor aircraft. Legacy aircraft that have attempted the test suffered losses of between 33 and 50 percent of their aircraft, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said during Congressional testimony on July 6. The F-35B chewed through the enemy instead, killing all 24 without suffering a single loss.

Detractors of the program believe that these battlefield exercises are either stacked in the F-35’s favor or that the results were tweaked or outright fabricated. The debate will likely continue until the Lightning II is first sent to war. Until then, it’s the Marine Corps’ job to make sure F-35B aviators are ready for that call.

(h/t Marine Corps Times)

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Watch the Navy blow up some of its obsolete ships

When most ships are decommissioned, they eventually will head to the scrapyard. Mostly, their fate is to become razor blades.


Others become artificial reefs, providing a tourist attraction for divers and a home for fish. But some vessels escape these fates for a more noble end: They are sunk as targets.

And that’s not new.

Back in the early 1920s, the United States used old battleships as targets to test how well air-dropped bombs could sink ships. In fact, since the end of World War II, ships have been sunk as targets – often to test how well current or new weapons work, or to provide crews with training that is quite realistic in using their anti-surface warfare systems.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

The 1946 Operation Crossroads was perhaps one of the most dramatic examples. In two tests, the Navy detonated atomic bombs amongst a fleet of obsolete ships, including the Japanese battleship Nagato, the German cruiser Prinz Eugen, and the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV 3). A total of 14 ships sank outright, while the Prinz Eugen sank five months later.

Perhaps the largest ship to be sunk as a target was the aircraft carrier USS America (CV 66). This ship displaced almost 85,000 tons when fully loaded, and had a 31-year career, including service in the Vietnam War, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and Desert Storm.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

On May 14, 2005, the America was sunk after the testing by controlled scuttling, which included remote systems monitoring the effects of underwater explosions that took place over four weeks.

The video below shows the sinking of a pair of Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates and a Newport-class landing ship. Often smaller systems will be used before they unleash the really powerful missiles – and last, but not least, the torpedoes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPT0isrCIUE
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New declassified Russian documents change the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis

For 13 days in 1962, the world stood on the brink of nuclear destruction. How close humanity came to a nuclear holocaust has been well-documented in the past, but a new book from Serhii Plokhy, a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University, details a lot things the CIA missed about the Russian nuclear force on Cuba at the time.

In “Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Plokhy uses newly declassified documents from Russia and Ukraine (a member of the Soviet Union at the time), to show the world a list of things previously unknown about the crisis. 

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
Plokhy’s book (Available on Amazon)

After U-2 spy planes uncovered the presence of nuclear-armed missile sites on the island of Cuba on Oct. 22 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union entered a nearly two-week standoff. As diplomats and leaders wrangled to cut a deal that would end the crisis, the U.S. military went on high alert, reaching DEFCON 2 in some areas.

DEFCON 2 was the second highest state of readiness for the United States armed forces during the Cold War, one level below a full-scale nuclear exchange. The forces put on DEFCON 2 were ready to go to war with the Soviet Union within six hours. It was the highest level of readiness ever reached by the U.S. during the Cold War. 

When the CIA finally got wind of the nuclear missiles on Cuba, they were in place and ready to launch, capable of hitting targets deep inside the continental United States. They were also able to strike Washington – and the U.S. intelligence community had no idea. 

It was only through dumb luck they noticed at all. An analyst looking at the flyover photos saw soccer fields constructed on the island. Cubans didn’t play soccer, by and large, because they preferred baseball as a sporting pastime. Russians, however, loved soccer. And upon taking a closer look, they discovered the Soviet missile sites. 

What the intel agencies missed, according to the new book, was the presence of Luna short-range nuclear missiles on the island. Moreover, there weren’t just 4,000 troops from the USSR in Cuba, there were 40,000 – a much larger number than previously known. 

If the U.S. invaded Cuba, the Soviets and the Cubans were prepared to retaliate with everything available in the arsenal on the island and elsewhere. It was a strategy favored by many in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. Had Kennedy authorized the invasion, it’s estimated that 70 million Americans would have died during the exchange. 

The Soviet troops stationed on the island were living in fear of the same exchange, the new book reveals. They believed an invasion and nuclear war was imminent, especially after another U-2 spy plane was shot down over Cuba on Oct. 27, 1962. 

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
Technicians load a type A-2 camera set into a U-2’s equipment bay, or “Q-bay.” (U.S. Air Force)

There were numerous close calls during the crisis, but in every instance cooler heads prevailed. A Russian submarine nearly launched a nuclear torpedo at the blockading squadron. Two F-102 fighters armed with nuclear-tipped missiles avoided two Soviet MiG-17s in the search for the downed U-2, and another nuclear submarine nearly launched a nuclear torpedo when Americans fired off a flare into the night sky.

Kennedy himself wavered between pinpoint airstrikes and a carpet bombing campaign to neutralize the threat. In the end, at the behest of the former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Tommy Thompson, Kennedy opted to “quarantine” the island, instituting an effective blockade (without calling it a blockade, which would have been an act of war). 

While cutting off Cuba from receiving more men and material, he talked to Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev and brokered a deal that would remove the Soviet troops in exchange for a promise from the U.S. not to invade Cuba. It was later revealed that Kennedy removed nuclear weapons from Turkey in the deal. 

At the end of the 13 Days, everyone left the deal with something they wanted. Kennedy and Khruschev both removed existential threats to their countries and nuclear war was averted. For Kennedy, the deal boosted his popularity at home. For Khurschev, it was a political disaster. The removal of missiles from Turkey remained a secret, so to the public and the Soviet Communist Party, it looked like Khrushchev balked. He was out of power two years later. 

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Scalpel missile was designed for a precision cut

Cluster bombs and napalm are two of the most underappreciated yet effective types of munition that a plane can drop on the bad guys, but they’re not suited for every purpose. Yes, cluster bombs can do thing JDAMs can’t and yes, napalm does provide the age-old “smell of victory,” but when the bad guys are using local civilians as human shields, precision is paramount.


Thankfully, there’s a bomb for exactly that. On display at SeaAirSpace Expo 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland, Lockheed’s newly developed bomb is appropriately called the “Scalpel.” The Scalpel is a “precise, small weapon system with low collateral damage” designed for use “particularly in urban close air support (CAS) environments.”

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

(Lockheed-Martin)

The bomb weighs all of 100 pounds. That’s about the size of the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, a weapon that’s proven extremely effective against terrorists and tanks facing American troops. Like the Hellfire, the Scalpel is laser-guided, but there is one big difference: While the Hellfire has a relatively small, 20-pound, high-explosive warhead that detonates on impact, the Scalpel has options.

This new, laser-guided system has a “kinetic” option. What this means, simply, is that it can be set to not explode if not needed. This might sound like a waste of a bomb, but even without an explosion, a long (six feet, three inches), thin, 100-pound rod dropped from at least 15,000 feet doesn’t need to go off to put a world of hurt on some bad guys.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

The Scalpel weighs about as much as a Hellfire, and uses Paveway mountings and settings.

(U.S. Navy)

The Scalpel is also quite easy for pilots to employ. The guidance system is the same as that of the Paveway series of laser-guided bombs, and the Scalpel uses the same computer settings as the GBU-12 laser-guided bomb. It has been used on the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, Mirage 2000, Mirage F-1, and the Jaguar.

The Scalpel is capable of hitting within about six feet of its aim point. It’s a safe bet that, with more military operations taking place in urban environments, the Scalpel will be used to tactically cut apart enemy positions without making too much of a mess.

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This is why a South American country still uses WWII-era tanks

Not every country in the world can afford to buy and operate the latest and greatest armored war machines available on defense markets today, like the M1A2 Abrams or the Leopard 2 main battle tanks.


Some countries opt to refrain from maintaining a fleet of tanks at all, and others, like Paraguay, choose to use refurbished armored steeds from conflicts long past.

As crazy as it may sound, the backbone of the Paraguayan military’s sole armored squadron consists of a humble handful of M4 Sherman medium tanks and M3 Stuart light tanks. Both of these vehicles were last fully relevant when Allied forces marched across Europe on their path to victory against the Axis scourge.

Paraguay received its small complement of Shermans in 1980 from Argentina, while the Stuarts were donated by the Brazilian government in the 1970s. By the time the small South American nation received these second-hand vehicles, however, they were already obsolete and outclassed, unable to stand up to anti-tank weaponry or even other armored vehicles anymore.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
A British Army M3 light tank operating in North Africa during WWII (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

But in recent years, the Paraguayan army has decided to reactivate its fleet of Shermans and Stuarts, “modernizing” them by installing new engines and replacing the M4’s small battery of .30 caliber Browning M1919 medium machine guns with .50 caliber M2 ‘Ma Deuce’ heavy machine guns.

The Sherman was born of a need for a medium-sized tank that was easy to mass produce and deploy overseas in large numbers, swarming larger and more heavily-armored German tanks during WWII. Cheap to produce, and pretty reliable if treated well, the Sherman was a fairly potent killing machine in the hands of tank commanders who knew what they were doing.

The Argentinian military received 450 Shermans from Belgium in the 1940s, putting them through a series of upgrades over the next 30 years that would see these old tanks get larger guns and new diesel engines. A small selection of these Shermans were passed on to Paraguay, though it’s unclear whether or not the examples donated were modernized or left in their original configurations.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
Argentinian M4 Shermans with modified turrets. Similar tanks were shipped to Paraguay in 1980 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

According to Ian Hogg in his book, “Tank Killing,” the Stuart, wasn’t exactly very effective at all in engaging German armor. Though it was one of the few light tanks capable of firing high-explosive shells, it was better utilized as a high speed reconnaissance vehicle by British forces throughout the African theater during WWII, with its turret removed to cut down on weight.

Brazil picked up its Stuarts from the United States in WWII, actually shipping them overseas for combat in Italy as part of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force. Upon the end of the war, these tanks were returned to South America by ship and were upgraded in the 1970s. During that decade, Brazil donated 15 Stuarts to Paraguay.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
An M4 of the Royal Marines in Normandy after D-Day, 1944 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Paraguay can afford to use these older machines in place of newer heavy tanks mostly because the country hasn’t seen much war over the past 40-odd years. Currently, the military claims these modernized Shermans and Stuarts will only be used for training purposes, though the endgame of the training is highly suspect, considering that the vehicles in question aren’t fit for combat against a decently-armed enemy.

It is possible, however, that these old fighting machines could be eventually used in the long-standing counterinsurgency effort Paraguay has been embroiled in against guerrillas since 2005. Though their hulls would likely be easily destroyed by small anti-tank weapons like the M72 LAW, the armor would still be able to stand up to small arms like pistols and rifles.

Even if Paraguay never uses its tanks in combat, its geriatric fleet will still work in a pinch should the need arise — at least against unarmored and under-gunned enemies.

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5 things you need to know about veteran and US Senator Gary Peters

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
Senator Peters presented Vietnam Veteran lapel pins to Detroit Metro area veterans in October, 2016. Gary Peters


Politicians — we love to hate them. But occasionally we come across one that we want to know more about. Michigan Democrat Sen. Gary Peters is one of those politicians.

We Are the Mighty caught up with the senator last week to chat about his work for and with veterans, and we came away with five things we think everyone should know about him:

1. Peters is working on veteran issues

Peters served in the Navy from 1993 to 2005. He left the Navy Reserve in 2000, only to return to duty just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Not only has Peters had a heavy hand in incredibly pro-veteran legislation in the two years since he took office, he is actively looking for more ways he can contribute to the veteran community. Case in point: education.

The senator said that he was bothered that service members can spend entire careers in the military doing a specific job, and then find themselves in the civilian world and having to start completely over — either in college or in some sort of training for the very jobs they’ve just spent years doing.

“There should be some sort of translation,” Peters told WATM.

One of the career fields he specifically mentioned was that of EMTs and other first responders. After extensive military training in medical fields, service members find that, upon their return to the civilian world, they are required to do all of that training again in civilian schools.

His idea is to find a way to make sure that those veterans are getting legitimate credit for their experience, rather than as as electives credits.

Bottom line: Peters wants to look at the issues facing veterans and put into action actual solutions to solve them.

2. He knows his stuff

The Michigan Democrat holds four degrees, including two masters, and a law degree.

At 22 and fresh out of college, Peters was named the assistant vice-president of Merrill Lynch — a position he held for nine years. That was followed by a four year stint as the vice-president of Paine Webber (a stock broker firm acquired by Swiss Bank UBS in 2000) before he joined the Navy.

During his time in the Navy, Peters served as an assistant supply manager and achieved the rank of lieutenant commander. His deployments include the Persian Gulf and various locations immediately after 9/11.

Peters served as a Michigan representative to the U.S. Congress from 2009 to 2015.

Bottom line: Peters has spent time both as a veteran and a politician learning the ins and outs of veteran issues.

3. Peters is working on keeping jobs in America

We asked Peters about the Outsourcing Accountability Act, which serves to gather accurate information from American companies on whether they outsource work to other countries, where exactly that work is going, and how many American jobs are being lost to outsourcing.

The bill has wide bi-partisan support.

The question was, did the Peters believe that his bill as introduced to the House would help or hinder veterans who were trying to get jobs?

“The idea is to create more jobs stateside,” Peters told WATM. “This will, in turn, create more jobs for veterans stateside.”

Bottom line: Peters is working to make sure that veterans have better access to American jobs.

4. He’s working on PTSD and other mental and physical health issues veterans face

Peters authored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act called Fairness for Veterans.

Veterans who receive less-than-honorable discharges lose all of their benefits, and Peters says he strongly believes that those who received those discharges as a result of subsequently diagnosed PTSD should get an opportunity to have them reviewed.

Additionally, Peters cosponsored legislation to improve the veteran’s crisis line, cowrote the No Heroes Left Untreated Act, and was a cosigner on a letter to President Trump about the VA hiring freeze and how it would negatively impact veteran access to care.

Bottom line: Peters shows a determination to get as much work done as possible while he serves his constituents.

5. Peters has a sense of humor

Peters was extremely limited in the amount of time he had to chat with We Are the Mighty, but when it was time for him to move into his next appointment, there was still one burning question that had been rolling around the office for days.

Given a choice, would the senator rather go into battle with one horse-sized duck or 1,000 duck-sized horses?

Peters’ answer?

“Absolutely, 1,000 duck sized horses. I like to overwhelm my enemies with sheer numbers.”

Bottom line: He’s familiar with the sense of humor here at We Are the Mighty, and he digs it.

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Could a nuclear war with Russia start in the Black Sea?

An incident involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) in February now has new context. The dustup involved multiple Russian aircraft making close passes over the Porter that the United States Navy described as “unsafe and unprofessional” at the time. The aircraft involved were Su-24 Fencers and an Il-38 May.


According to a report from Reuters, the Russian defense ministry has declared that any United States Navy patrol in the Black Sea is a potential threat to Russia. The reason, they claim, is that they cannot tell what missiles are loaded aboard the U.S. ships.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) stands watch in the Indian Ocean during a 2007 deployment. (US Navy photo)

How credible is this claim? To start, let’s look at the Porter’s weapons suite. It carries a single five-inch gun, it is equipped with two Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems, two triple Mk 32 launchers for 324mm torpedoes, and two Mk 41 vertical launch systems (one with 29 cells, the other with 61).

It is this last system that warrants a closer look. The Mk 41 can carry RIM-66 Standard SM-2 surface-to-air missiles, RIM-174 Standard SM-6 surface-to-air missiles, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, RUM-139 Vertical-Launched ASROCs, and BGM-109 Tomahawks. The Tomahawks are probably what the Russian defense ministry is citing as their excuse for the close encounter.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
Flt I Burke class destroyer shoots a Harpoon missile. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Tomahawk comes in several varieties. Perhaps the most well-known are the TLAM-C and TLAM-D versions, largely because they have been the most used. According to Designation-Systems.net, the Block III version of the Tomahawk has a 750-pound high-explosive warhead and a range of 870 nautical miles.

The new Tactical Tomahawk, known as the BGM-109E, has a range of 900 nautical miles, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In other words, from the Black Sea, Tomahawks could reach out and at a minimum, roll back Russian air defenses in time of war. There used to be a nuclear version of the Tomahawk, but according to a 2013 report by the Federation of American Scientists, the BGM-109A TLAM-N was retired after the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

So, really, a patrol by the United States Navy is not a threat to Russia, in and of itself. And the Navy’s patrols in the Black Sea won’t touch off a nuclear war – unless the Russians launch their nuclear-tipped anti-ship missiles first.

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Here’s how the Pentagon plans to incorporate transgender troops into the force

The Pentagon recently released its plan to better integrate transgender troops into the military, providing guidance to service members already in and a road map moving forward for transgender troops who wish to join.


Department of Defense Instruction 1300.28 says that troops who are mentally a different gender than they are physically will start by visiting a military doctor to receive a diagnosis. If the doctor agrees and diagnoses the service member, then the service member alerts their chain of command and begins a process that is tailored to each individual.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
Hospital corpsmen help Lt. Cmdr. Franklin Margaron, a surgeon, into his scrubs during an Pacific Partnership. Doctors like Margaron will be called on to help decide treatment plans for transgender service members. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elizabeth Merriam)

To summarize the process in broad strokes, the doctor and service member will agree on a treatment plan that addresses the member’s mental and physical health, and the member will report it to their commander. This plan will include an estimated day when the member’s gender will be officially switched in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.

This official switch in DEERS won’t typically happen until the doctor has asserted that the transition is complete, the commander has signed off on the change, and the member has produced a court order, passport or state birth certificate asserting their preferred gender.

Once the member’s status is changed in DEERS, he or she will — as far as the military is concerned — cease to be their birth gender and will instead be recognized as their preferred gender. This includes uniform standards, physical training tests and all other regulations that refer to gender.

Also, the guidance stipulates that service members should not begin living as their preferred gender on duty until they complete their transition. This is because they will still be expected to conform to uniform and other regulations that apply to their birth gender until they complete their transition.

The DoD Instruction letter lays out guidance for commanders, including when they should delay a member’s transition or specific steps in the process to protect mission effectiveness. Basically, the commander should use the same discretion they have with other aspects of a member’s medical care and, when necessary, order the soldier to delay treatment in order to accomplish a mission.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter signed off on the Department of Defense Instruction addressing transgendered troops in the military. (Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt)

These delays could be ordered when the transgender soldier is in a mission critical or shortage job, is deploying, or the transition could cause a breakdown in unit readiness at a key time.

Troops who need cross-sex hormone therapy to complete their transition or maintain their preferred gender will receive it within the constraints of their unit missions.

The instructions also addressed the expectation that transgendered people might soon join the military and attempt their transition early in their enlistment or time as an officer.

The instructions strongly deter this, advising commanders that while there is no blanket prohibition on gender transition in the first term of service, the necessities of training troops and preparing them for their overall military career will often preclude the service member’s ability to complete their transition.

So, people who want to transition to another gender and serve in the military should either transition before their enlistment or serve their first contract before beginning treatment.

The instruction is surely controversial. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has defended it, but Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has slammed it as dangerous and ill-thought out. He cited recruiting and deployability concerns.

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A US soldier was killed in Helmand Afghanistan as more troops deploy to Taliban hotbed

U.S. Army Private first class Hansen Kirkpatrick was killed during an indirect fire attack in Helmand province, Afghanistan July 3, the Department of Defense announced Wednesday.


The Pentagon announcement was devoid of details on the circumstances of the 19-year-old’s death, and the incident remains under investigation. Two other U.S. soldiers were reportedly wounded in the attack but their wounds are not considered life threatening.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
A U.S. Army adviser from Task Force Forge conducts a room clearing drill with an Afghan trainee to demonstrate proper tactical procedures at the Regional Military Training Center in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, March 8, 2017. Task Force Forge advisers fill a critical role executing the train, advise and assist mission to the ANA 215th Corps as part of the NATO Resolute Support. (NATO photo by Kay M. Nissen)

Helmand province is an active site of U.S. operations supporting the Afghan National Security Forces in the fight against the Taliban. The Taliban has turned the province into the frontline of its campaign against the U.S. and Afghan government, controlling vast swaths of its territory.

Kirkpatrick’s death comes amid serious discussions by U.S. officials to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump granted Secretary of Defense James Mattis authority to set Afghan troop levels in mid June.

Mattis recently secured NATO backing to increase the number of overall troops in Afghanistan by at least a few thousand, in a recent visit to Europe.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Hackers used fake horoscope apps to spy on users

Conversations with Google Home or Amazon Alexa have never been strictly confidential — both companies have admitted that they send some audio snippets to workers who listen to voice recordings to help improve the software.

But a group of whitehat hackers have now demonstrated that third-party apps hosted by Google Home or Alexa can also log users’ conversations, even after tricking users into thinking the apps aren’t active.

Developers at Germany’s Security Research Labs created four Alexa “skills” and four Google Home “actions” that pose as astrology apps or random number generators but are designed to secretly listen to people’s voice and send a transcript back to third-party servers. Certain versions of the app mimic Alexa or Google Assistant, pretending to offer a software update and asking users to input their password.


All eight of the apps passed Amazon or Google security checks, meaning they could have been made available for public download on either platform, according to the researchers.

“Customer trust is important to us, and we conduct security reviews as part of the skill certification process,” an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider. “We quickly blocked the skill in question and put mitigations in place to prevent and detect this type of skill behavior and reject or take them down when identified. It’s also important that customers know we provide automatic security updates for our devices, and will never ask them to share their password.”

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

A Google spokesperson told Business Insider that the company is taking steps to prevent similar issues going forward.

“All Actions on Google are required to follow our developer policies, and we prohibit and remove any Action that violates these policies. We have review processes to detect the type of behavior described in this report, and we removed the Actions that we found from these researchers. We are putting additional mechanisms in place to prevent these issues from occurring in the future,” the Google spokesperson said.

Here’s how the apps work: First, they gave users the expected message — either a randomly generated number or a brief horoscope. Next, the apps go silent, giving users the impression that the software has closed, while still listening to conversations and sending a copy of transcripts to a third-party server.

The malicious apps can also impersonate Alexa or Google Home to ask users for sensitive information. As demonstrated in the videos below, the apps give the impression that the software has closed, then impersonate Alexa to prompt users to input their password to download a software update.

Smart Spies: Google Home Phishing

www.youtube.com

Smart Spies: Amazon Alexa Phishing

www.youtube.com

The researchers have already taken the apps offline and said they have privately reported their findings to Google and Amazon.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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When US bases need backup, this is who they call: FAST Marines

The Marine Corps is a small organization that does a good job of producing a united front. Marketing people call it consistent messaging, and the Corps has long made it a part of their communications strategy. It’s simple. Marines are Marines. There are no special Marines.

While this narrative approach gives the Corps a consistent message and appearance, it also fails to highlight many of the special missions the Corps accomplishes that involve small teams of elite, specifically trained, war fighters. Today we are going to highlight one of those small teams of elite service members, commonly called FAST Marines.

FAST stands for Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team. These FAST units fall under the branch’s Security Force Regiment, which provides a dedicated security force and anti-terrorism unit made up of Security Force Marines. These Marines usually guard a variety of installations like Naval bases and others too sensitive to leave without an armed presence.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

FAST Marines have a very specific and specialized job. FAST teams are highly trained Marines who deploy across the world to serve as security at United States government installations. Imagine an embassy is threatened, and they need an immediate shot of highly trained Marines with a whole lot of guns.

They call FAST, and those Marines live up to their acronym. FAST Marines do non-traditional deployments to Guantanamo Bay, Bahrain, Spain, and Japan, where they essentially stage as a just-in-case precaution. These ‘staging’ deployments allow them to deploy at a moment’s notice to nearly anywhere in the world. On these deployments, they train extensively and keep their skills sharp in case they are called upon. FAST Marines also deploy stateside to aid Marine Security Forces in guarding nuclear subs and ships during nuclear rod replacement.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

History of FAST

FAST saw its establishment in 1987. The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of modern terrorism, and American interests overseas become targets of it. The President issued an order for the military and federal law enforcement to enhance their anti-terrorism capabilities. The Marines did as ordered and found a weakness in their Security Force infrastructure.

In the event of an attack that could overwhelm a Security Force detachment, they had no dedicated quick reaction force to enhance a Security Force’s numbers and capabilities. Thus, FAST Marines were born. Their mission was simple: they exist to reinforce an installation’s security force when the threat outguns the security forces on hand.

Since then, FAST has been called in to help secure Naval stations In Panama, where they engaged with what they believed to be Cuban special forces in an intense 30-minute firefight. From there, the Fast Marines would continue into Operation Just Cause, or the full invasion of Panama, in December of 1989.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. William Chockey)

FAST Marines deployed to Bahrain to protect the Naval Installations during Desert Storm, and in 1991, helped evacuate U.S. personnel from Liberia. When the U.S. established a liaison office in Mogadishu, they called FAST to provide security.

Without going through the entire history of FAST, it’s easy to say they’ve operated at a relatively high tempo since their inception, and have always been there when the Marine Corps and their nation called upon them.

How to become a FAST Marine

FAST Marines have a long pipeline of training before they become active-duty operators. It starts with speaking to a recruiter and obtaining a Security Forces contract. Like everyone in the Corps, it starts at a recruit training depot.

From there, Security Force Marines will attend Infantry Training At the School of Infantry West or East and obtain a MOS of 0311. Security Force Marines will maintain an infantry MOS as their primary MOS.

After SOI, they attend Security Force School. Here they can volunteer for FAST company. There is no guarantee for acceptance, and it’s all based on the needs of the Corps.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

After acceptance into FAST Company, they begin 5 Weeks of FAST training. From there, they go to an 8-week Close Quarter Battle School. The CQB school teaches FAST Marines how to fight in extremely close quarters. Here they become experts in clearing rooms, hallways, stairways, as well as dynamic entry and various other tasks associated with urban combat.

Following CQB school, they take a tactical driving course. Here Marines learn Motorcade Operations, high-risk driving, evasive driving, PIT maneuvers, ramming, close proximity driving, and driver down drills.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

Marines then become bodyguards at a High-Risk Personnel course where they learn close quarters protection tactics.

From there, they begin training in individual nonlethal weapons. This course teaches them tactics and weaponry they can use to deal with threats in a nonlethal manner. Finally, they attend the Helicopter and Rope Suspension Techniques Master Course, where they learn how to fast rope, rappel down structures and out of helicopters, and use SPIE rigging.

Life as a FAST Marine

After all that training, they’ll still be expected to know basic Marine skills. This includes basic and advanced trauma medicine, how to use nearly every weapon in the Corps’ arsenal, how to use night vision and thermal optics, land navigation, HMMWV course, and more.

FAST Marines will be stationed in either Naval Station Norfolk or Naval Weapons Station Yorktown in beautiful Virginia in companies Alpha, Bravo, or Charlie. 400 Marines and Sailors make up a FAST company.

From there, they can look forward to a potential deployment at the Platoon level to one of several naval stations where they can further their training and be on call for a mission. FAST Marines can expect to be constantly training in one direction or another.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dawson Roth)

FAST Marines utilize a lot of the same gear as their infantry counterparts. This includes the M4 and likely the M27 in the near future, as well as the Beretta M9, the M249 SAW, and M240B medium machine gun. Shotguns from Mossberg and Benelli offer a powerful close-quarters fighting tool, as well as a nonlethal option with the right rounds. Some Senior FAST Marines may have even been to designated marksman school and be wielding specialized rifles for that role.

Per their contract, a Security Force Marine will only serve two years active duty with Security Forces. After these two years, most will be reassigned to conventional infantry forces. It’s an odd system that doesn’t make much sense to me. It seems like after an expansive series of schools that FAST Marines would stay FAST Marines, but the Force dictates differently.

In the Infantry

Security Force Marines often have difficulty adjusting to the infantry. They’ve spent years in Security Forces and often come to the infantry as Non commissioned officers. Their specialized training is just that, specialized. It doesn’t translate over to conventional infantry operations, and because they lack the experience of most infantry Marines, they can feel like a fish out of water in the new surroundings and operational environment.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

FAST Marines do come to the ‘fleet’ with a more advanced set of skills and can serve as excellent advisors in close quarter’s combat, however. Urban terrain has been a big factor in recent wars, and knowing how to properly fight in it is invaluable.

Loaded Up

FAST is simply one small cog in a large Marine Corps. These small teams of specialists always interest me, and I think the Marine Corps does a disservice to itself by failing to highlight their unique capabilities. Regardless, when American installations overseas dial 911, it’s FAST that answers the call.

This article by Travis Pike was originally published by Sandboxx News. Follow Sandboxx News on Facebook.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Air Force and Navy are getting more high-tech missile decoys

The U.S. Air Force recently awarded a $96-million contract to Raytheon to produce more Miniature Air-Launched Decoys, missiles that can be launched from jets or dropped out of the back of C-130s to simulate the signatures of most U.S. and allied aircraft, spoofing enemy air defenses.


The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

Two Miniature Air-Launched Decoy missiles sit in a munitions storage area on Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, March 21, 2012. The missiles can dress themselves up like nearly any U.S. or allied aircraft and can fly pre-programmed routes.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony)

The missiles, which Raytheon calls “MALD® decoy,” can fly 500 nautical miles along pre-programmed routes, simulating missions that strike aircraft would fly. Modern variants of the missile can even receive new flight programming mid-flight, allowing pilots to target and jam “pop-up” air defenses.

To air defense operators on the ground, it looks like a flight of strike aircraft are coming in. So, they fire off their missiles and, ultimately, they kill nothing because their missiles are targeting the Air Force-equivalent of wooden ducks floating in a pond.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZyL-zEoMfM

www.youtube.com

Meanwhile, real strike aircraft flying behind the decoys are able to see exactly where the surface-to-air missiles and radar emissions are coming from, and they can use anti-ship and anti-radiation missiles to destroy those defenses.

The Raytheon missiles are the MALD-J variant, which jams enemy radars and early-warning systems without degrading the illusions that make the decoy system so potent. This leaves air defenders unable see anything except for brief glimpses of enemy aircraft signatures — which might be real planes, but could also easily be MALDs.

The missile is a result of a DARPA program dating back to 1995 that resulted in the ADM-160A. The Air Force took over the program and tested the ADM-160B and, later, the MALD.

The Air Force began fielding the missile in 2009 and they might have been launched during attacks against Syria while emitting the signatures of Tomahawk cruise missiles, but that’s largely conjecture. In fact, it’s not actually clear that the MALD can simulate the Tomahawk missile at all.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

Two Miniature Air-Launched Decoy missiles wait to be loaded onto a B-52H Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Ma 14, 2012. The B-52H crew can communicate with the missiles in flight and change the flight patterns to engage newly discovered enemy air defenses.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

Meanwhile, the Navy commissioned the MALD-N, a networked version of the missile, for their use.

Whether or not the missiles were employed in Syria, they represent a great tool for defeating advanced enemy air defenses, like the S300 and S400 from Russia or the HQ-9 and HQ-19 systems from China. While the missile systems and their radars are capable, possibly of even detecting stealthy aircraft like the B-1s and B-2s, they can’t afford to fire their missiles and expose their radars for every MALD that flies by.

At the same time, they also can’t afford to ignore radar signatures emitted by MALDs. They have little chance of figuring out which ones are decoys and which ones are real planes before the bombs drop.

Sorry, guys. American forces are such teases.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Gunfighters use 1950s tech on F-35 for a huge win

‘Things aren’t made the way they used to be’ is a sentiment often tossed around when a new car or appliance breaks down. Even with all the new inventions and integrated technology there’s something to be said about the simplicity of an original design. Mountain Home Air Force Base members are learning this lesson firsthand.

Airmen from the 366th Logistics Readiness Squadron, also known as Gunfighters, are the first in the Air Force to perform hot-pit refueling on F-35 Lightning II’s with a Type 1 hydrant system from the 1950s and hose cart from the 1970s.

A hot-pit is when a plane lands, refuels then takes off again without turning off the engine, explains Senior Airman Christian Cook, 366th LRS fuels operator. The typical refueling procedure consists of landing, turning off the engine and a laundry list of to-do’s.


Traditional refueling takes upwards of 2 hours while the hot-pit gold standard takes 13 minutes, which translates to huge monetary saving.

During hot-pits, Gunfighters initially used eight R-11 refueling trucks that hold 6,000 gallons of fuel each. One R-11 is only capable of refueling two jets and requires a new truck to come out with additional fuel to meet the demands of the mission, said Tech. Sgt. Zachary J. Kiniry, 366th LRS fuels service center noncommissioned officer in charge.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

Senior Airman Michael Rogers, 388th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics technician, and Senior Airman Christian Cook, 366th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels operator, performs a hot-pits refueling with a hose cart from the 1970s on an F-35 Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, June 20, 2019, at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Andrew Kobialka)

“This method is not time-efficient, ties up 50 percent of the base’s R-11’s and associated personnel and creates traffic on an active flightline that could pose a safety hazard,” Kiniry said.

His team realized that more moving parts was not the answer, Kiniry said. With a new, simplified approach they found a resourceful solution in using older-generation equipment to better complete the mission.

Now, Gunfighters use a Type 1 hydrant system from the 1950s and hose carts from the 1970s directly connected to 500,000 gallon tanks, allowing Gunfighters to virtually endlessly refuel F-35s.

“Our old equipment is persisting and performing up to the hot-pits gold standard of 13 minute turnarounds,” Kiniry said.

With this new process, Gunfighters have the capability to run hot-pits 24/7, saving 15 minutes between every other F-35 that was previously needed to set up a new R-11.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

F-35A Lightning II.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham)

“We have eliminated safety concerns from the heavy traffic on the flightline and reallocated eight R-11’s with their associated personnel to perform the rest of the mission outside of hot-pits,” Cooks explained.

Gunfighters are continuing their legacy of excellence and are an example how flexibility is the key to air power.

“Mountain Home Air Force Base is proving that we can still fuel F-35 aircraft right off the production line with some of the oldest equipment at unheard of turnaround times,” Kiniry said.

“We have learned through continual improvement, experimentation and innovation how to enhance readiness and keep Airmen safe, regardless of what tools we are given.”

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

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