This fall, Air Force fighter pilots taking to the skies to train might find themselves going up against a ghost.
Pilots chasing “enemy” jets in air-to-air dog-fighting exercises or avoiding them during training targeting runs will see the familiar sign of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The Air Force is converting older-generation, retired F-16 fighters that were wrapped and stored at the military’s aircraft boneyard in the Arizona desert into the latest unmanned drone called the “QF-16.”
A QF-16 full scale aerial target from the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron takes off on its first unmanned flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Sept. 19, 2013. The 82nd ATRS operates the Department of Defense’s only full-scale aerial target program. The QF-16 will provide a fourth generation fighter representation of real world threats . (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Javier Cruz)
The QF-16 is a “full scale aerial target” and for all intents and purposes it looks like the sleek, single-engine jet that was built by General Dynamics (now part of Lockheed Martin) and first flown during the height of the Cold War — with the same body, same size, same profile, same maneuverability as the manned Fighting Falcon. The target drone is converted so it has similar radar signatures and capabilities as potential adversary aircraft – including the latest generation of the multi-role F-16 flying today – that U.S. pilots might encounter in the not-so-friendly skies.
The Air Force’s F-16 drone program became fully operational in September when the Air Combat Command declared it had reached initial operational capability.
“This leap forward in airframe capabilities, combined with advanced electronic pods, will allow us to properly test and evaluate our 5th generation aircraft and weapons,” Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, who commands the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, said in a Sept. 26 news release. The squadron belongs to the 53th Wing, which serves as the Air Force’s only operational test unit.
The orange-tipped jet drones can break the sound barrier in supersonic flight, sans pilot – and even reach 9Gs. That’s as tough as the latest high-tech jets out there — U.S.-built or otherwise. The “pilot,” though, is on the ground, controlling the drone just as other unmanned aircraft .
Various onboard sensors and instruments in the drone jet collect data and information that can be used by whoever’s got the finger on a missile (or other ordnance and weaponry) directed at it from the ground control station. During a 2014 ground missile test fired at the drone that registered a “kill” hit, an engineer described its role as a target to help in weapons training.
“The QF-16’s mission is really to act as a target and validate weapons systems. So, we do have a scoring system on the airplane and its job is to tell us basically how close the missile came and its trajectory,” Paul Cejas, a chief engineer, said in a Boeing news release.
Maintainers begin post-flight checks on the first Lot 1 production model QF-16 after it arrived at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., March 11. The aircraft is the first of 13 deliveries to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, a geographically separated unit of the 53rd Wing, headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base. The QF-16 will replace the QF-4 as the next generation aerial target. (Courtesy photo)
St. Louis-based Boeing Defense, Space Security got the first contract in 2010 to create as many as 126 of the drones. It flew the first unmanned flight – with an empty cockpit – over Tyndall AFB in Florida’s Panhandle in 2013.
As of March, Boeing had delivered 11 QF-16s to the Air Force, and the most-recent contract called for the conversion of another 30 target drones, according to the company. Several dozen retired jets are undergoing conversion. The F-16s are pulled from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where several hundred of the mothballed jets are parked in the sun outside of Tucson, Arizona. Crews with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group help prepare for the trek to Florida, where the bulk of the conversion work is done.
The first QF-16 arrives at Tyndall escorted by a QF-4 Nov. 19. The QF-16 will undergo developmental testing by Boeing and eventually become part of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group. The QF-16 is a supersonic reusable full-scale aerial target drone modified from an F-16 Fighting Falcon. At this time, the group uses QF-4s, made from 1960s F-4 Phantom, to conduct their full-scale aerial target missions. The targets allow the Air Force and allied nations to have a realistic understanding of what they could face on the battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Cokeing)
The QF-16 isn’t the first unmanned fighter-like drone. But it is the latest generation, replacing the QF-4, an aerial target created from the previous generation of F-4 Phantom jets, which saw their glory during the Vietnam War.
There’s simply not enough of them left, and time has aged them toward obsolescence. The Air Force flew its final QF-4 mission on Aug. 17 at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, and the service plans to officially retire it in December.
It’s a well-known fact that the United States and the Taliban are at the negotiating table, hammering out the groundwork for peace after some 18 years of constant conflict. The U.S. first went to war in Afghanistan to defeat the al-Qaeda terrorist fighters the Taliban refused to give up in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on American soil.
The Taliban swears it would never again harbor terrorists.
In 2001, the Taliban were the recognized rulers of Afghanistan and had been since the early 1990s – for better or for worse. Until that point, the worst crimes committed by the Taliban were on Afghanistan’s female population and the cultural history of the region. During that ten-year span, Osama bin Laden and his followers established bases and training camps in the Taliban’s backyard, and the Afghan rulers did little about it. After Sept. 11, the United States began bombing the country in earnest.
Afghanistan’s leadership demanded evidence of bin Laden’s guilt while demanding the United States stop bombing their country. Then-President George W. Bush said the bombing was non-negotiable until the Taliban handed over the terrorist leader. The Taliban refused, but that didn’t matter – U.S. special operators were already in the country by that time. The rest is history.
Nearly two decades later, Zalmay Khalilzad an Afghan-American diplomat who represents the United States at the negotiating table, is content with the Taliban’s assertion that they would never allow Afghanistan to return to its former status as a “hotbed” for international terrorism.
“The world needs to be sure that Afghanistan will not be a threat to the international community,” said Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. “We are satisfied with the commitment that we have received on counterterrorism.”
Not everyone agrees, including U.S. lawmakers, Afghan government officials, and even the UN Security Council who, as late as 2018, declared that al-Qaeda militants were still very much embedded within the Taliban command structure, along with other terror groups, operating forces numbering into the thousands.
For Khalilzad, the U.S. military’s withdrawal can only be linked to the promises of the Taliban. The Taliban promised the counterterrorism guarantees will be written into its laws as soon as the United States leaves Afghanistan. The State Department is also working on ways to verify Taliban compliance with the agreement.
Four people were injured and one remains missing after Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, suffered damage when a floating dry dock sank while the vessel was leaving it, officials say.
The waterborne repair station’s sinking at an Arctic shipyard early on Oct. 30, 2018, was the latest in a series of mishaps involving the Admiral Kuznetsov, which lost two military jets in accidents off the coast of war-torn Syria in 2017.
The PD-50 dry dock had “fully sank” by 3:30 a.m. local time at the 82nd Repair Shipyard in the village of Roslyakovo near the port city of Murmansk, regional Governor Marina Kovtun said on Twitter.
“Unfortunately, one person has not yet been found,” Kovtun said.
The Admiral Kuznetsov.
She said that two injured workers were hospitalized and two were treated without hospitalization.
One of the injured was in very serious condition, said Viktor Rogalyov, the head of the local Disaster Medicine Center.
She said that rescue divers from the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet were working at the site and that it was “hard to say” what caused the sinking.
Authorities said at least one crane fell when the dry dock sank, damaging the aircraft carrier.
Aleksei Rakhmanov, head of the state-run United Shipbuilding Corporation, said experts are assessing the damage but that “the vitally important parts of the aircraft carrier were not affected.”
The PD-50 was one of the world’s largest dry docks.
Russia sent the 305-meter Admiral Kuznetsov to the Eastern Mediterranean in 2016 as part of its ongoing military campaign in support of Syrian government forces in the Middle Eastern country’s devastating war.
An Su-33 military jet crashed while trying to land on the aircraft carrier there in December 2016, and a MiG-29 crashed a few kilometers from the vessel three weeks earlier.
A fire on board the carrier killed a sailor during a 2008-09 deployment, and an oil spill was spotted by the Irish Coast Guard near the vessel afterwards.
The Fighting Season is a six part documentary series that captures what ending a war looks like. The film, which is out now, shows the sacrifices of the men and women who fought for the freedom and security of Afghanistan as America’s longest war drew to an end. Producer Ricky Schroder put himself in harm’s way as an embedded cameramen to deliver the best account possible.
In this edition of “At The Mighty,” Schroder discusses his motivations for filming this series and his experience with the troops in Afghanistan.
NATO does not want “a new Cold War” with Russia, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the end of a four-day parliamentary assembly of the alliance.
“We are concerned by…[Russia’s] lack of transparency when it comes to military exercises,” Stoltenberg said on October 9 in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.
He mentioned the Zapad exercise that Russia held with Belarus in September, which brought thousands of troops close to NATO’s eastern members and caused concerns about Moscow’s intentions given its military interference in Ukraine.
At the same time, Stoltenberg said: “Russia is our neighbor…. We don’t want to isolate Russia; we don’t want a new Cold War.”
He said the 29-member alliance has stepped up jet patrols over the Black Sea in “response to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.”
Romanian and Bulgarian pilots have conducted air exercises in the Black Sea in recent months, designed to reassure NATO members after Russia’s interference.
Russia occupied and seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and backs separatists in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine.
At the end of the parliamentary session in Bucharest, NATO also announced the launch of a new multinational force in Romania, its latest move to protect its eastern flank and to check a growing Russian presence in the Black Sea.
Initially, a small force composed mostly of troops from 10 NATO states including Italy and Canada as well as host Romania, the land, air, and sea deployments are expected to complement some 900 U.S. troops already in place separately throughout the country.
“Our purpose is peace, not war,” Romanian President Klaus Iohannis told the session.
“We are not a threat for Russia, but we need a long-term NATO strategy; we need dialogue from a strong position of defense and discouragement,” he said.
A photo of Piper, the famous bird-chasing dog who keeps the runways clear at Michigan’s Cherry Capital Airport, won the 2016 Shutter Shootout and claimed the top prize as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Photo of the Year.
Piper and his handler, Airport Operations Supervisor Brian Edwards, work as a K9 Wildlife Control team at Traverse County’s Airport. The pup works in all conditions and recently returned to the job after a foot injury.
The Coast Guard’s Shutter Shootout is a social media-driven online competition to showcase Coast Guard men and women from around the world who captured remarkable photographs of rescues, patrols, operations and training days. The contest is a March Madness-type bracket competition. You can see other entries and previous winners on the Coast Guard’s Shutter Shootout blog.
Piper and Edwards’ work keeping the runways clear is documented on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.Piper even has his own website: http://www.airportk9.org/
The House Armed Services Committee will reexamine the Selective Service System’s viability and explore possible alternatives in this year’s review of the National Defense Authorization Bill, the legislation that sets the spending guidelines and policy directives for the coming fiscal year.
Congressional staffers told the Military Times that the move comes after all the hand wringing over the idea of women registering for the draft now that they can be assigned to combat jobs in the military. Some of the representatives who sit on the House committee were part of a group who entered legislation to abolish the Selective Service System entirely, which they deem to be obsolete and outdated.
U.S. law says all male citizens of the United States and male immigrants (and bizarrely, illegal immigrants, too) have to register for the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday. After the Vietnam War, President Gerald Ford abolished the draft, but President Jimmy Carter reestablished it as a response to the potential threat posed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The SSS costs roughly $23 million per year to operate, but nobody’s actually been drafted since 1973. Even at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the option of instituting a draft was deemed unnecessary.
The draft isn’t dead yet, however. Before any changes are made to the current system, the Senate would also have to approve the legislation, and then it would move over to the President’s desk for his signature (or his veto).
For a radio tower and surrounding buildings operated by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) near the Texas-Mexico border, vultures are no joke. Around 300 of the carnivorous birds have roosted in its radio tower, and are creating communications issues thanks to their corrosive vomit and feces.
Quartz reports that CBP filed a request for information that includes details about the problems the vultures have created at the radio tower, which is now entirely coated in “droppings mixed with urine” that have also fallen on the ground and surrounding buildings below, where people work and equipment is kept.
Furthermore, a CBP spokesperson told Quartz that workers have anecdotes of the vultures dropping prey from as high as 300 feet above, creating a “terrifying and dangerous” work environment for the past six years.
Vultures regurgitate a corrosive vomit as a defense mechanism that can kill bacteria on their legs but also eat away at the metal radio tower, making it unsafe for maintenance workers to climb it and reducing the tower’s lifespan.
An adult Turkey Vulture at Santa Teresa County Park, San Jose, California, USA.
Large groups of vultures also smell like corpses – the species is known, of course, for feeding on dead flesh, or carrion. Undigested bones and fur can be found at the base of where vultures roost.
But CBP can’t kill the vultures, as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act made that illegal in 1918. Instead, the agency is searching for a “viable netting deterrent” to stop the vultures from roosting on the radio tower. CBP told Quartz that it’s working with the Fish and Wildlife Agency, the USDA, environmental experts, and the Texas State Historical Preservation Officer to find a solution that doesn’t harm any of the vultures.
The agency also says there are no nests or baby birds in the tower. There are plans to clean and repair the radio tower before installing nets by August, before the natural heavy roosting cycle begins in the fall.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
The Veterans Affairs Department’s watchdog said Oct. 3 it is reviewing Secretary David Shulkin’s 10-day trip to Europe with his wife that mixed business meetings with sightseeing.
Shulkin disclosed last week he traveled to Denmark and England to discuss veterans’ health issues. Travel records released by VA show four days of the trip were spent on personal activities, including attending a Wimbledon tennis match and a cruise on the Thames River. The VA said Shulkin traveled on a commercial airline, and that his wife’s airfare and meals were paid for by the government as part of “temporary duty” expenses.
A spokesman for VA inspector general Michael Missal described the review as “preliminary.”
Shulkin is one of several Cabinet members who have faced questions about travel after Tom Price resigned as health chief.
Curt Cashour, a VA spokesman, said the travel activities had been approved as part of an ethics review.
“The secretary welcomes the IG looking into his travel, and a good place to start would be VA’s website where VA posted his full foreign travel itineraries, along with any travel on government or private aircraft,” Cashour said.
The site lists Shulkin’s travel itineraries but does not detail costs to the government.
Joy Lofthouse was one of the women who pushed the envelope of what women did in World War II. She was a pilot for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, shuttling fighters between air bases, factories, and maintenance facilities.
Now, 70 years after she last flew a Spitfire, she’s back in the cockpit. Check out the video below:
Army and Marine first sergeants have to talk a lot, considering their duties as company-level senior enlisted leaders. While they primarily act as advisors to company commanders and deal with administrative issues, they sometimes say things that drive troops crazy.
1. “It would behoove you … “
Often used by first sergeants to tell troops that it would be a good idea to do something — “it would behoove you to wear your eye-pro on the range” — it’s often overused and mispronounced as “bee-who-of-you.”
2. “Hey there, gents”
Short for gentlemen, first sergeants sometimes refer to their troops as gents. Of course, this is totally fine and not a big deal, except when you are called a gent all of the time.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, “utilize” means to use. So stop making a word choice so complicated and just freaking say use.
4. “All this and a paycheck too!”
In the Army and Marine Corps, you get to work out, shoot stuff, and blow things up, and you get paid for it. It’s often pretty fun — who doesn’t love explosives?! — but the “all this and a paycheck too!” comment from the first sergeant doesn’t usually come at these moments. It comes at halfway point of a 20-mile hike when you are sucking wind and hoping for death.
Also, you make way more than everyone else here. And is that a pillow in your rucksack?
Just one of the many things first sergeant mentions in his lengthy talk before allowing the company to leave for the weekend, “if you’re gonna drive, don’t drink” is solid advice that should be followed. But it’s also part of a boring brief that he repeats word-for-word EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.
Other phrases troops may hear during the libo brief include, “If you’re gonna tap it, wrap it,” and “take care of each other out there.” In first sergeant’s defense, he’s required to give this brief to cover his own butt, in addition to it being a hopeless attempt at avoiding the inevitable 3am phone call to come on Saturday.
6. “The first sergeant”
When you pick up staff non-commissioned officer in the Army or Marine Corps, they must take you in a room and tell you that you can start talking in the third-person, because it happens a lot. Hearing about what “the first sergeant” would do, as opposed to what “I” would do is eye-roll worthy.
“The first sergeant would make sure to let his battle buddy know.”
7. “Good to go? / Hooah?”
First sergeants like to use common catchphrases to make sure their troops understand. While a “good to go?” makes sense to gauge whether troops are listening, when it comes after every sentence in the liberty brief, it can get old very quick. For Army first sergeants and others, it’s pretty common to use the motivational “hooah” in a questioning manner. Hooah?
8. “We got a lot of moving parts here.”
Let’s not get wrapped around the axle here, gents. We’ve got battalion formation in the A.M., the general is coming in, so we need to be there at 0400, good to go? We got a lot of moving parts here, so let’s try to all stay on the same page, good to go?
9. “Give me three bodies!”
If you ever need a great example of language that makes you feel like you are just a number in the military, look no further than someone asking “for bodies.” What first sergeant means here is that he needs three motivated U.S. Marines to carry out a working party.
“Just get my goddamn bodies, turd.”
“Roger, first sergeant.”
10. “You trackin’?”
Often used just like “good to go?” or “Hooah?” the phrase “you trackin’?” is first sergeant’s other way of making sure we all understand. We’re all looking in your direction, listening to the words you are saying, tracking along just fine.
11. “Got any saved rounds?”
Last but certainly not least is the phrase “got any saved rounds?” which is a way of asking if anyone has anything to add. This one usually comes at the end of long meetings and should be followed by complete silence, so we can get out of this godforsaken room.
Inevitably, Carl over there is going to say something.
So, got any saved rounds? Any phrases we missed? Let us know in the comments.
Bass, a Belgian Malinois, served more than six years in Marine Corps special operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. During his time in Iraq, Bass conducted more than 350 explosive detections with his handler, Staff Sgt. Alex Schnell.
On Nov. 14, 2019, Bass was awarded the Medal of Bravery on Capitol Hill for his work with the Marines. The award, the first of its kind, was issued by Angels Without Wings, a nonprofit aiming to formally acknowledge valor of working animals at home and abroad. The Medal of Bravery was inspired by the Dickin Medal, a British award introduced in WWII to honor brave animals who served in combat.
The efforts of dogs in the military has received greater attention in recent weeks since Conan, another Belgian Malinois, helped hunt down Islamic State leader Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi — the most wanted terrorist in the world. But Bass and Conan are two of many military working dogs who sniff out bombs, track down bad guys and assist troops on a wide range of missions overseas. Dogs and other animals have always supported troops in combat.
Staff Sgt. Alex Schnell, with Bass on patrol in Somalia.
Bass was joined Thursday by Bucca, a dog that served with the New York City Fire Department. Bucca also received the Medal of Bravery and six posthumous medals were awarded to Cher Ami, a pigeon [WWI]; Chips, a dog, and GI Joe, a pigeon [WWII]; Sgt. Reckless, a horse [Korean War]; Stormy, a dog [Vietnam War], and Lucca, a dog [Iraq and Afghanistan wars].
In Somalia, Bass was involved in at least a dozen operations for high-value targets. Special operations units relied heavily on Bass to detect explosives. In Afghanistan, Bass was used to conduct 34 raids for high-profile individuals and lead troops during dangerous building clearings. Through Bass’ four deployments across three countries, there were no Marine fatalities on his missions, according to the dog’s award citation.
When special operators clear a building, the dog can be the first one through the door to attack and make it safer for troops to enter quickly to kill or detain enemies.
Staff Sgt. Alex Schnell kneels next to Bass, after the dog was awarded the Medal of Bravery for valor in combat.
(Steve Beynon/Stars and Stripes)
“The dog is often used like a flashbang,” Schnell said. “The dog will enter first because a lot of times it’ll distract the enemy. Especially if it’s dark, it’s hard for them [the enemy] to pick up on the dog. It gives you those seconds that are really valuable in that dangerous situation.”
Beyond attacking terrorists, Bass has also routed out enemy fighters from hiding spots.
“His nose isn’t just for finding stuff [explosives, drugs], it’s for finding personnel,” Schnell said. “They [enemies] have hiding holes and tunnels in these buildings. It’s an awesome capability.”
Bass retired from active duty in October 2019 and was adopted by Schnell. However, bringing a military working dog home isn’t for everyone, and Belgian Malinois is a tough high energy breed that Schnell doesn’t recommend as a family pet.
“They are definitely not chihuahuas,” he said. “They are not for your average homeowners, especially for those that don’t know anything about dog training. If you’re going to buy one of these animals definitely research fully trained ones and that you know a bit about dog training yourself, or these dogs will control your whole life and possibly lead you to euthanize or get rid of them. That isn’t good for anyone or the dog.”
Here are some of the efforts of the military animals who received awards other than dogs:
During World War I, hundreds of American troops were trapped behind enemy lines without food or ammunition and were beginning to receive friendly fire from artillery units that didn’t know their location. A pigeon named Cher Ami was able to carry a message to stop the artillery despite being shot by German troops. The bird was blinded in one eye and lost a leg.
During World War II, another pigeon known as GI Joe carried a message that prevented a potentially devastating friendly fire tragedy. Allied forces planned a bombing campaign on an Italian town. However, it was occupied by British troops. GI Joe flew 20 miles in about 20 minutes to rely the message friendly forces occupied the town just before bombing planes took off.
Staff Sgt. Reckless, a pack horse for Marines during the Korean War, quickly became as well treated as the troops. She roamed freely around camp and would even sleep in tents with Marines on cold nights. In one battle, the horse made 51 solo trips, covering more than 30 miles, to resupply front-line units with ammunition. Reckless was wounded twice by shrapnel.
This article originally appeared on Stars and Stripes. Follow @starsandstripes on Twitter.