While the M17/M18 pistols are entering service with the United States Army, let’s face it, the M9 will still be around for quite a while. After all, since the M9 entered service in the 1980s, over 600,000 were produced. Also, the dirty little secret is that even though the M1911 was supposed to be replaced by the M9, it still hangs on as the MEU(SOC).
So, what is to be done while the M17 and M18 reach the troops? Beretta has an answer: An improved version of the M9 that the troops are using. According to a handout available at the Association of the United States Army expo in Washington, D.C., the world’s oldest firearms manufacturer has made a number of improvements to your father’s (or mother’s) M9.
While the M9A3 is still a 9mm pistol, it is very different from the first M9 to enter service. For one thing, its magazine holds 17 rounds as opposed to 15. The pistol also has an earth tone finish, a larger magazine release button, and a over-center safety lever. The biggest bonus: The troops already know how to use this pistol, and thus, no re-training is necessary.
The pistol also provides little burden on logistics, since all of its major components and over three-quarters of all individual parts, are compatible with the legacy M9s. Furthermore, this pistol could come in cheaper than the current M9. The magazine has also been improved to increase its resistance to sand.
The M9 was featured in an iconic photo of the Iraq War, when First Sergeant Bradley Kasal was gripping it while being assisted out of a building where he’d protected a fellow Marine from insurgents. With the M9A3, the M9 could be sticking around with some units for a long time to come, just like the pistol it replaced in the 1980s.
This Is The First F-35C Carrier Variant Joint Strike Fighter For The U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-314.
Marines are also getting the F-35C CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take Off But Assisted Recovery) variant of the Lightning II. Here’s their first Carrier Variant Jet in VMFA-314 markings.
Along with flying the F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Lightning II aircraft, that operates from amphibious assault ships, the U.S. Marine Corps is transitioning to the F-35C, the CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take Off But Assisted Recovery) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (also known as CV – Carrier Variant), that can operate from U.S. Navy’s flattops (the Nimitz-class ones, until issues with the Ford-class carriers are fixed).
Indeed, the Corps plans to operate 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs to replace three types of aircraft: the F/A-18A++/C/D “Legacy” Hornet, the AV-8B Harrier II and the EA-6B Prowler.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, is the first Marines squadron that will replace the “Legacy” Hornet with the brand new F-35C.
The first F-35C delivered to a USMC squadron, VMFA-314, at NAS Lemoore.
Photo by United States Marine Corps
At the time of writing, VMFA-314 has already started training alongside the U.S. Navy’s VFA-125, the F-35’s only Fleet Replacement Squadron, based at NAS Lemoore, California. The plan is to complete the preparation by next Spring.
By the time the Marine Aircraft Group 11 commander officer will certify the squadron as “safe for flight” and ready to operate independently of the FRS, VMFA-314 will have returned to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.
The Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of the F-35C was declared on Feb. 28, 2019, after the first F-35C squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, conducted aircraft carrier qualifications aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and received its Safe-For-Flight Operations Certification.
“In order to declare IOC, the first operational squadron must be properly manned, trained and equipped to conduct assigned missions in support of fleet operations. This includes having 10 Block 3F, F-35C aircraft, requisite spare parts, support equipment, tools, technical publications, training programs and a functional Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS). Additionally, the ship that supports the first squadron must possess the proper infrastructure, qualifications and certifications. Lastly, the Joint Program Office (JPO), industry, and Naval Aviation must demonstrate that all procedures, processes and policies are in place to sustain operations,” the Navy added in an official statement.
VFA-147 will conduct the first deployment with the F-35C integrated into the Carrier Air Wing 2, aboard the Nimitz-class USS Carl Vinson in 2021, and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 will conduct the second F-35C carrier deployment.
Interestingly, at least one F-35C already sports full VMFA-314 markings. The first photos of CF-35/169601, modex VW-434, including those that you can find in this article, were posted three weeks ago by Col. Simon Doran, MAG 11’s commanding officer. More shots have started circulating on the Internet after the aircraft, with just a handful flying hours, made a public appearance at Tinker AFB Air Show, on Jun. 1, 2019.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
This is not the armor, but it is made of spiderweb.
Ten years from now, you might be on patrol with new super lightweight body armor. If you feel something tingling, cool it – you aren’t Spider-Man, but your vest might be made from spider silk – and you probably just need to drink more water. The latest armor under consideration by the U.S. Army isn’t a new kind of porcelain or chemical composition over kevlar. It’s spider stuff.
Making clothing from spider stuff isn’t necessarily new, but mass-producing it might be. The photo above is of a vest made of silk from the Golden Orb Spider, native to Madagascar. It took the designers eight years and a million spiders to make the vest, but the designers of the new body armor aren’t going for anything so intricate.
Ballistic spider silk panels.
Spider silk is a protein-rich liquid that dries into a solid filament that can vary in composition depending on what the spider is doing with the web, such as weaving a web for food or creating an egg sac. It’s flexible, able to stretch well beyond its original length, stronger than steel, and most importantly, can create a mesh able to stop a bullet. But until recently, no one has been able to create enough of the stuff to actually make and test viable options for stopping bullets.
Researchers from Utah State University were able to program the DNA of silkworms to integrate spider proteins into their own silk. Silkworms even spin the silk into threads on their own. The result is twice as strong and elastic as silkworm silk and can be created on an industrial scale. The result was able to stop a slow-moving .22-caliber round with only four layers. Standard Kevlar armor uses 33 layers.
A bullet can penetrate 29 layers of kevlar.
In 2018 Kraig Biocraft Laboratories announced it was creating panels like those shown above in large quantities for the United States Army. The fabric, called “Dragon Silk,” was also created without using entire colonies of spiders, who were more likely to eat one another than live in peace and create fabric. Kraig Biocraft created silkworms similar to those created at Utah State, using patented genetic proteins. Beyond standard body armor, the company may be the first to create real, popular protection for the groin area.
“After years of research and investment, developing this ground-breaking technology, we are very excited to now see it in the hands of the U.S. Army,” stated Jon Rice, COO. “For me, personally, and for the Company, the opportunity to help protect the brave men and women whom dedicate themselves to our protection is a great honor.”
Kim Jong Un may have just received his only warning to shape up or risk upsetting Secretary of Defense James “Chaos” Mattis. And when Chaos Mattis gets pissed off… well, it would be a lie to say it was nice knowing Kim Jong Un.
According to a report by CBSNews.com, Mattis indicated that the United States could very well end up deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, formerly known as the “Theater High-Altitude Area Defense” system, to South Korea. Either way, the system, dubbed THAAD, is used to shoot down ballistic missiles like those pointed at Seoul from the north.
“Well, you know, North Korea has often acted in a provocative way, and it’s hard to anticipate what they do,” he told reporters, according to a DOD transcript of a press gaggle on board his aircraft as it was en route to Osan Air Base in South Korea.
“There’s only one reason that we even have this under discussion right now, and that is North Korea’s activities,” he added. “That THAAD is for defense of our allies people, of our troops who are committed to their defense. And were it not for the provocative behavior of North Korea we would have no need for THAAD out here.”
THAAD is a ballistic missile defense system. According to Army-Technology.com, the system has a range of at least 200 kilometers (124 miles), and is able to hit targets almost 500,000 feet above ground level (ArmyRecognition.com credits THAAD with a range of 1,000 kilometers – equivalent to over 600 miles).
A Missile Defense Agency fact sheet notes that each THAAD launcher holds eight missiles. The system also uses the AN/TPY-2 radar to track targets. Currently, six batteries are in service per the MDA fact sheet. A 2016 Defense News article notes that each battery has six launchers.
Turkey conducted military tests using a Russian air defense system and an American-made fighter jet on Nov. 25, 2019, in a move US officials described as “concerning.”
Turkish F-16 jets flew over the capital of Ankara as part of a test of the S-400 missile defense system, which the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan purchased from Russia for $2.5 billion.
The purchase scuttled plans for Turkey to acquire the latest-generation F-35 Lightning II jet from the US, due to concerns that the Russian anti-aircraft system could exploit the US’s most advanced stealth technology. The purchase effectively nixed plans for Turkey to buy the US’s Patriot missile system.
One US diplomat said there was a chance that Russia had the ability to access Turkey’s S-400 remotely, and use a potential backdoor to observe on NATO allies, according to Defense News.
US lawmakers threatened to mount a campaign to levy sanctions against Turkey after it received delivery of a second battery in August 2019. The 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act allows Trump to sanction Turkey for conducting business with Russia.
It remains unclear if Trump will impose sanctions against Turkey, NATO’s second-largest military after the US. In 2017, Trump described the sanctions act as “seriously flawed” and said he signed it into law “for the sake of national unity.”
“Erdoğan is thumbing his nose at Trump, the US [and] NATO, and crossing another red line on S-400s,” Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said on Twitter.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday told reporters that the tests were “concerning,” but added he remained optimistic on resolving the impasse.
“We are hopeful. We are still talking to the Turks, still trying to figure out our way through this thing,” Pompeo said.
Despite objections on the S-400, President Donald Trump, who met with Erdoğan on Nov. 13, 2019, described his broader conversations with the Turkish president as “wonderful.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy stole an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) conducting oceanographic research Thursday in plain view of a U.S. Navy vessel about fifty miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines.
According to a report from the Washington Examiner, the brazen heist took place in international waters as the oceanographic research vessel USNS Bowditch (T AGS 62), a Pathfinder-class ship.
The BBC reported that the vessel responsible for the heist was ASR-510, identified in Combat Fleets of the World as a Dalang III-class “rescue and salvage” ship. The Chinese vessel apparently came within 500 yards of the Bowditch, lowered a small boat and seized the littoral battlespace sensing (LBS) glider.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, “Bowditch made contact with the PRC Navy ship via bridge-to-bridge radio to request the return of the UUV. The radio contact was acknowledged by the PRC Navy ship, but the request was ignored. The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law.”
According to a 2010 Navy release, the LBS glider can operate for up to eight months on a lithium battery. The data gathered by these gliders assist in everything from special operations to mine warfare to anti-submarine warfare.
This is not the first time the Bowditch has been involved in a maritime incident with the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Globalsecurity.org noted that a week before the 2001 EP-3 incident in which a People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force J-8 Finback collided with a U.S. Navy electronic surveillance plane, a Chinese frigate came very close to the unarmed vessel. The Bowditch, which is manned by a civilian crew, also was involved in incidents in 2002 and 2003.
China claims ownership of the South China Sea, marking its claims with a so-called “Nine-Dash Line.” An international panel rejected Chinese claims earlier this year in a case brought by the Philippines. The Chinese boycotted the process, and have since armed a number of artificial islands in the disputed region. Shortly after the ruling was issued, Chinese forces rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the disputed waters.
The KC-135 Stratotanker, one of the oldest aircraft still flying in the US Air Force today, will likely get a life extension thanks to budget and replacement issues according to Gen. Carlton Everhart of Air Mobility Command, adding over 40 more years to its service record which began in the mid-1950s.
By the time this legendary aerial refueler enters retirement and is phased out from the USAF once and for all, it will have served just over 100 years — longer than any other aircraft in American history. Having seen action in virtually every American-involved conflict since 1956, the Stratotanker is easily one of the most recognizable and beloved aircraft flying today with the Air Force.
The KC-135 was, at first, supposed to be replaced entirely by the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus. But thanks to budget cuts and slashes to the projected buy for the KC-46, the Air Force will be left with a shortage of tankers to carry out aerial refueling operations both at home and overseas, severely impacting the service’s ability to extend the range of the vast majority of its aircraft. Instead, the Air Force will be looking to upgrade its KC-135s into a “Super Stratotanker” of sorts, keeping it flying for 40 more years until the branch initiates the KC-Z replacement program to supersede the Stratotanker for good.
Crew members from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron prepare to take off in a KC-135 Stratotanker before performing a refueling mission over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve September 15, 2016. The KC-135 provides the core aerial refueling capability for the U.S. Air Force and has excelled in this role for more than 50 years — and could be on the flightline for another 40 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Douglas Ellis/Released)
The KC-46, the result of the controversial KC-X program, was destined to be a larger longer-range follow-on to the KC-135, featuring two engines instead of four, and greater fuel carriage capacity, allowing for more aircraft to be refueling during a typical mission than what the Stratotanker could handle. However, the program has been constantly plagued with a variety of issues including cost overruns and delays, which ultimately led to the Air Force scaling down the number of Pegasus tankers it originally planned on buying to just 179.
This pushes retiring the KC-135 out of the question, as the Air Force (and Air National Guard) require a greater number of tankers to continue carrying out their mission at home and around the world.
While the USAF will continue with its plans to field the Pegasus, the Stratotanker fleet’s life-extension seems inevitable. At the moment, the Air Force has already begun the $910 million Block 45 extension program, which seeks to keep these 60-year-old aircraft relevant and able to meet the needs of the modern Air Force. As part of the Block 45 updates, all American KC-135s will receive a new glass cockpit, replacing the older analog/gauge cockpits still in use, new avionics and an upgraded autopilot system, an enhanced navigation suite, and much more.
To keep the KC-135 flying for 40 more years, an advanced networking and electronic countermeasures suite would likely be the next upgrade the Air Force will pursue with the aircraft, during or after the completion of Block 45, which will end in 2028. Currently, the USAF estimates that their KC-135s have only used up around 35 percent of their lifetime flying hours, meaning that the aircraft is perfectly capable of flying on until 2040 with regular maintenance and scheduled overhauls.
As of 2014, there are 414 KC-135s in service with the US military — 167 assigned to the active duty Air Force, 180 to the Air National Guard, and 67 in the Air Force Reserve. Once the Air Force finishes procuring its 179 KC-46s, the number of Stratotankers in service will likely drop by 100 airframes, which will be retired to the boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona.
It’s also probable that the KC-135’s current [younger] sister tanker, the three-engined KC-10 Extender, will receive a similar upgrade to keep its smaller fleet flying longer. Eventually, both of these aircraft will see their flying days come to an end with the initiation of the KC-Y and KC-Z next generation tanker programs, still decades away from coming to fruition.
When people think hovercraft, the Landing Craft Air Cushion (also known as the LCAC) comes to mind. Understandably so — that hovercraft has been a vital piece of gear for the Navy and Marine Corps when it comes to projecting power ashore. But these are not the first hovercraft to be used in service. In fact, hovercraft saw action with both the Navy and Army during the Vietnam War.
In 1966, the Navy acquired four Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles, or PACVs (pronounced “Pack-Vees”), for test purposes and deployed them to Vietnam. The hovercraft quickly proved very potent, delivering a lot of firepower and speed and reaching areas inaccessible to traditional tracked or wheeled vehicles.
Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles packed a lot of firepower and were fast — but they never got past an operational test.
A PACV was equipped with a turret that held one or two M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted on top of the cabin, which held a crew of four. There were also two M60 general-purpose machine guns, one mounted to port and the other to starboard. Additionally, there were two remote-controlled emplacements for either M60s or Mk 19 automatic grenade launchers.
The hovercraft could reach a top speed of 35 knots and had a maximum range of 165 nautical miles. But as maintenance and training proved problematic, especially given the trans-Pacific supply lines, the Navy decided to pull the plug. The Army, however, remained interested. The hovercraft operated primarily from a land base, but could also be deployed from amphibious ships (like today’s LCACs).
PACVs worked with the Navy’s Light Attack Helicopter Squadron Three (HAL-3), providing a fast response to enemy activity.
The Army acquired three Air-Cushion Vehicles, which operated within the 9th Infantry Division. Two were configured for attack missions and both were destroyed in 1970. The other, which was tooled as a transport, was shipped back to the United States.
Learn more about these early hovercraft that did some damage in Vietnam in the video below.
Soldiers are slated to fire at targets in 2020 using a platoon of robotic combat vehicles they will control from the back of modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
The monthlong operational test is scheduled to begin in March 2020 at Fort Carson, Colorado, and will provide input to the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center on where to go next with autonomous vehicles.
The upgraded Bradleys, called Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrators, or MET-Ds, have cutting-edge features such as a remote turret for the 25 mm main gun, 360-degree situational awareness cameras and enhanced crew stations with touchscreens.
Initial testing will include two MET-Ds and four robotic combat vehicles on M113 surrogate platforms. Each MET-D will have a driver and gunner as well as four soldiers in its rear, who will conduct platoon-level maneuvers with two surrogate vehicles that fire 7.62 mm machine guns.
Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy, center left, and Gen. James C. McConville, the Army’s vice chief of staff, center right, discuss emerging technology while inside a Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrator, a modified Bradley Fighting Vehicle equipped with several upgrades, in Warren, Mich., Jan. 18, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“We’ve never had soldiers operate MET-Ds before,” said David Centeno Jr., chief of the center’s Emerging Capabilities Office. “We’re asking them to utilize the vehicles in a way that’s never been done before.”
After the tests, the center and Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, both part of Army Futures Command, will then use soldier feedback to improve the vehicles for future test phases.
“You learn a lot,” Centeno said at the International Armored Vehicles USA conference on June 26, 2019. “You learn how they use it. They may end up using it in ways we never even thought of.”
The vehicles are experimental prototypes and are not meant to be fielded, but could influence other programs of record by demonstrating technology derived from ongoing development efforts.
“This technology is not only to remain in the RCV portfolio, but also legacy efforts as well,” said Maj. Cory Wallace, robotic combat vehicle lead for the NGCV CFT.
One goal for the autonomous vehicles is to discover how to penetrate an adversary’s anti-access/aerial denial capabilities without putting soldiers in danger.
The vehicles, Centeno said, will eventually have third-generation forward-looking infrared kits with a target range of at least 14 kilometers.
“You’re exposing forces to enemy fire, whether that be artillery, direct fire,” he said. “So, we have to find ways to penetrate that bubble, attrit their systems and allow for freedom of air and ground maneuver. These platforms buy us some of that, by giving us standoff.”
Phase II, III
In late fiscal year 2021, soldiers will again play a role in Phase II testing as the vehicles conduct company-level maneuvers.
This time, experiments are slated to incorporate six MET-Ds and the same four M113 surrogates, in addition to four light and four medium surrogate robotic combat vehicles, which industry will provide.
(Ground Vehicle Systems Center)
Before these tests, a light infantry unit plans to experiment with the RCV light surrogate vehicles in Eastern Europe May 2020.
“The intent of this is to see how an RCV light integrates into a light infantry formation and performs reconnaissance and security tasks as well as supports dismounted infantry operations,” Wallace said at the conference.
Soldier testing for Phase III is slated to take place mid-fiscal 2023 with the same number of MET-Ds and M113 surrogate vehicles, but will instead have four medium and four heavy purpose-built RCVs.
“This is the first demonstration which we will be out of the surrogate realm and fielding purpose builts,” Wallace said, adding the vehicles will conduct a combined arms breach.
The major said he was impressed with how quickly soldiers learned to control the RCVs during the Robotic Combined Arms Breach Demonstration in May 2019 at the Yakima Training Center in Washington.
“Soldiers have demonstrated an intuitive ability to master controlling RCVs much faster than what we thought,” he said. “The feedback from the soldiers was that after two days they felt comfortable operating the system.”
There are still ongoing efforts to offload some tasks in operating RVCs to artificial intelligence in order to reduce the cognitive burden on soldiers.
“This is not how we’re used to fighting,” Centeno said. “We’re asking a lot. We’re putting a lot of sensors, putting a lot of data in the hands of soldiers. We want to see how that impacts them. We want to see how it degrades or increases their performance.”
The family of RCVs include three variants. Army officials envision the light version to be transportable by rotary wing. The medium variant would be able to fit onto a C-130 aircraft, and the heavy variant would fit onto a C-17 aircraft.
A C-130 aircraft.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)
Both future and legacy armored platforms, such as the forthcoming Mobile Protected Firepower “light tank,” could influence the development of the RCV heavy.
With no human operators inside it, the heavy RCV can provide the lethality associated with armored combat vehicles in a much smaller form. Plainly speaking, without a crew, the RCV heavy requires less armor and can dedicate space and power to support modular mission payloads or hybrid electric drive batteries, Wallace said.
Ultimately, the autonomous vehicles will aim to keep soldiers safe.
“An RCV reduces risk,” Wallace said. “It does so by expanding the geometry of the battlefield so that before the threat makes contact with the first human element, it has to make contact with the robots.
“That, in turn, gives commanders additional space and time to make decisions.”
Multiple media outlets are reporting that the largest non-nuclear bomb in the United States arsenal has made its combat debut.
According to a report by CNN, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, also called the Mother of All Bombs, was used to hit a cave and tunnel complex used by the Afghanistan affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.
Designation-Systems.net notes that the GBU-43 weighs 21,700 pounds – almost 11 tons – which includes 18,700 pounds of high explosive. It has a 40-inch diameter and is 30 feet long. The bomb is often used by the MC-130, a special operations variant of the C-130 Hercules.
One DOD official told FoxNews.com, “We kicked it out the back door.”
The GBU-43’s GPS guidance allows it to be dropped from high altitudes from as far as three miles away – out of the reach of some air defenses, and also allowing planes to avoid being caught in the bomb’s blast radius. The London Daily Mail noted that the bomb can leave a crater almost a thousand feet wide.
The GBU-43 replaced the BLU-82 Daisy Cutter, a Vietnam-era bomb that weighed in at 15,000 pounds, and saw action in the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom, with a similar delivery method. Designation-Systems.net notes that the bomb’s explosive was 12,600 pounds of a mixture of ammonium nitrate, polystyrene, and aluminum powder. The last BLU-82 was dropped in 2008.
Recently surfaced images and a brief video show Russia’s premier stealth fighter, the Su-57 Felon, flying without the canopy enclosure for the aircraft’s cockpit. While there isn’t a great deal of information available to go along with the footage, it seems very likely that the canopy was not lost due to an accident, but was rather removed intentionally for a specific type of flight testing known as a “cockpit habitability trials.”
We first spotted this footage on Reddit, uploaded by user u/st_Paulus, but the event also caught the attention of Scramble Magazine, who posted a screen capture to their Facebook account, credited to a Twitter user they called Hao Goa.
It’s obviously pretty unusual to see a pilot at the stick of an airborne, supersonic fighter without the protection of the cockpit canopy, but these somewhat rare tests are vital in the development of an aircraft. Pilots use these flights to test different aspects of the platform’s emergency escape procedures in a realistic and dynamic environment. A photo of BAE test Pilot Keith Hartley conducting a similar flight aboard a Tornado XZ630 in the late ’80s has made its way around the aviation circles of the internet for years, though it’s tough to come by images or video of these tests on other platforms.
“In 1988, our test pilot Keith Hartley flew at 500 knots in a Tornado aircraft with the canopy off, testing the emergency escape procedures of the jet; just one example of the lengths we go to test the safety of the planes we build for the RAF.” -BAE Systems on Twitter
Obviously, flying without your cockpit canopy comes with some significant risk. Not only does the canopy protect the pilot from the incredible winds associated with flying a high speed aircraft, it also exposes the pilot to intense cold, and as anyone who’s ever ridden in a convertible will tell you, all that wind noise can be pretty distracting. Other common threats to aircraft (like bird strikes or inclement weather) can also be exacerbated by the loss of a protective layer between the pilot and the outside world. Fighter jet cockpits are pressurized, though not in the same way as most commercial airlines. Instead, the cockpits of most fighters maintain ambient air pressure until they climb above a certain altitude. Without the canopy, flying above that altitude would be extremely dangerous, despite the pilot’s mask-fed oxygen supply.
Risk be damned, these tests can help to ensure the procedures you train pilots to execute during emergency situations really work. In other words, the risk is a calculated one meant to save lives.
Russia’s Su-57 Felon is the nation’s first stealth fighter, and has suffered a number of setbacks along the long road to production. Originally intended as a joint effort shared between Russia and India, India backed out of the agreement in 2018. While public statements remained civil, it has widely been rumored that India’s lost interest could be attributed to issues with the new aircraft’s stealth capabilities; potentially brought about by Russia’s inability to manufacture body panels with the incredibly tight production tolerances required to limit the radar return of an aircraft.
Continuing on their own, Russia built about a dozen Su-57s which have served as a token force of fifth-generation aircraft for the Russian military, while offering little in the way of actual combat capability. Late last year, Russia announced that they would finally begin serial production of the Su-57… only to have the first aircraft to roll off the production line promptly, and embarrassingly, crash during testing.
Su-57 being built (United Aircraft Corporation)
However, recent images of production Su-57s suggest that the aircraft may indeed be better than its prototypical predecessors, with seemingly tighter panel tolerances that just might make Russia’s stealth fighter a bit stealthy after all.
More than a decade ago, Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams earned the Silver Star Medal for saving several of his Special Forces comrades during an hours-long mountainside firefight in Afghanistan.
This week, the Green Beret will see that decoration upgraded to the highest level — the Medal of Honor.
Williams was born Oct. 3, 1981, and spent most of his childhood in the small town of Boerne, Texas. He initially wanted to be a detective or work for the FBI when he grew up, so he got his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.
But after 9/11, Williams started rethinking how he could serve his country. He did some research into Special Forces programs and, in September 2005, joined the Army. Two years later, he became a weapons sergeant — someone who knows U.S. and foreign weaponry well and often goes behind enemy lines to help friendly forces train and recruit.
On April 6, 2008, then-Sgt. Williams was on his first deployment with several other Special Forces operators for Operation Commando Wrath, a mission to capture or kill high-value targets in Afghanistan’s Shok Valley.
His team and about 100 Afghan commandos were dropped into the mountainous area by helicopter. As the leading edge of the group began moving up a jagged mountainside, insurgents started attacking from above.
“It was kind of quiet, then all of a sudden everything exploded all at once,” Williams later explained in an interview. “[The insurgents] had some pretty good shooters, and a lot of people up there waiting for us.”
A map pinpoints the Operation Commando Wrath insertion point in Shok Valley, April 6, 2008.
The part of the group under attack, which included the ground commander, was trapped. Meanwhile, Williams and the rest of the team had trailed behind at the bottom of the mountain, and they were forced to take cover while trying to fight back.
When Williams got word that some in the group ahead of him were injured and close to being overrun, he gathered several of the commandos.
He led them across a 100-meter valley of ice-covered boulders and through a fast-moving, waist-deep river on a rescue mission up the mountain. When they got to the forward group, the Afghan forces kept the insurgents at bay while the Americans figured out their next move.
“I went about halfway down, called a couple more of our guys and asked them to bring more commandos up so we could basically make a chain to pass these casualties down, because they were going to be on litters (stretchers),” Williams said.
Army Sgt. Matthew Williams and other team members assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group pose for a photograph as they to be picked up by a helicopter in eastern Afghanistan in late spring 2007.
(Photo by Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
As they were setting up, another soldier was hit by sniper fire. Williams braved the enemy onslaught to give him first aid, get him on his feet, and help him climb down the mountain.
Williams then fought his way back up to the top to bring the rest of the endangered men down.
“I knew we couldn’t go up the same way we’d gone other times because it had been getting pretty heavy fire,” Williams said. “There was a cliff face that went around to a little outcropping. I saw that if we could scale that, we could get onto this outcropping, and we’d be able to come up from behind where those other guys were.”
It was a near-vertical, 60-foot mountain.
When Williams and others made it back to the top, he killed several insurgents and helped get communications back up and running. Then, still under fire, he went back to moving the wounded men down the mountainside to a little house they were using as their casualty collection point.
Army Sgt. Matthew Williams, assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, conducts long-range weapons training at Camp Morehead, Afghanistan, during the fall of 2009.
(Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
But they still weren’t safe; insurgents were threatening that position, too. So, over the next several hours, Williams led the Afghan commandos on another counterattack against more than 200 insurgents, keeping the enemy at bay until helicopters were able to fly in and evacuate the wounded.
“They were taking fire the whole entire time,” Williams said of the helicopter crews. “They were awesome pilots. They saved the day, really.”
Williams helped load the wounded men into the helicopters, then continued to direct fire to quell the enemy attack. That gave the rescue patrol time to move out without any further casualties.
The whole ordeal lasted more than six hours. Thankfully, no American service members were killed.
“That day was one of the worst predicaments of my life,” Williams said. “But the experience from that has helped me through my whole entire career — remain level-headed and focus on what needs to happen as opposed to what is happening.”
Army Sgt. Matthew Williams poses for a photo with his operational detachment’s interpreter in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in the spring of 2007.
(Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
Several months later, for his amazing leadership under fire, Williams and nine of the men with him during that mission each received Silver Stars. Now, his decoration is being upgraded to the Medal of Honor. He’ll receive the award Oct. 30, 2019, in a ceremony at the White House.
“I think it’s an honor for me to receive this on behalf of the Special Forces regiment, hopefully representing them in a positive manner and helping get the story out about what it is that we’re actually doing and what Green Berets are capable of, ” Williams said.
Williams is the second member of his detachment to receive the nation’s highest honor for this operation. Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II received it a year ago.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Williams poses with his wife, Kate, just before they attend a friend’s wedding in October 2013.
(Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
After his 2008 deployment, Williams went home and met his wife, Kate. They had a son. Williams has deployed five times since then and has done several extended training rotations in the field.
The family lives at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where Williams continues his role in the Special Forces. He said he’s hoping to keep that up, even with the notoriety that comes with being a Medal of Honor recipient.
‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.
For yourself and everybody else:
~ the gift of renewed purpose and civil service deployed where it’s needed ~
The promotional media that The Mission Continues posts on its website and social media repeatedly puts the full weight of modern digital video production behind an idea that strikes us as so self-evident, so perfect and air tight, we’re left wondering who it is rattling around out there who needs convincing?
In the words of Army vet and Mission Continues volunteer, Bradford Parker:
“Every veteran, no matter who you are, everyone gets that moment when they get out when they’re like, oh man, I should re-enlist. This is what you’re missing from the military and this is where you’re gonna get it.”
Vets come home from service and are struck by the demands of a civilian life that seems both isolating and bereft of greater purpose.
Meanwhile, communities all over the country are sorely in need of highly skilled volunteers with honed leadership experience to spearhead the betterment of their living situations.
This is a match made in heaven, an easy pairing. But as these things tend to go, it required someone to come along, recognize the potential, and make a dancefloor introduction. Spencer Kympton, former Army Captain and founder of the organization, would probably step in here and assure us that it took a little more than that to get the whole thing humming. We’d certainly believe him, but it wouldn’t quash our enthusiasm for The Mission Continues one sand flea-sized bit.
An organization whose mission positively serves both sides of the equation, veterans and community members, creates a very rare thing indeed, a common ground, a space in the middle where truly constructive work can be done. What other opportunities does civilian life present in which your hard won skills are so readily valued, in which the experience you bled for can be put to such grateful use?
Says Army vet Matt Landis:
“One of the things that I think the military does better than anyone else is get people to work together. From all different cultures, from all different walks of life–[if] you sweat and bleed together, you’re brothers.”
This Holiday Season, give yourself the gift of renewed purpose and give the gift of your time and effort wherever The Mission Continues would see you deployed.
The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.
Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.