A Harvard Institute of Politics poll, conducted in the days following the 2015 Paris attacks, found overwhelming support among American youth for deploying U.S. combat troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria… and even more American youth who would not join the U.S. military to join that fight.
Sixty percent of 18 to 29-year-olds in the United States say they support the idea, with sixty two percent saying they would “definitely not join the fight.”
The Harvard IOP has polled millennials, the largest generation in America today, for fifteen years. This was the third poll conducted in 2015 and the three polls show increased support for the use of U.S. troops, not a real surprise given the timing. In March 2015, the support for ground troops was fifty seven percent and actually dropped nine points to forty eight percent by the end of Summer.
“I’m reminded of the significant degree of distrust that this generation has about all things related to government,” he said. “I believe if young people had a better relationship with government they’d be more open to serving.”
Is mistrust of government really a reason to avoid military service? Are millennials afraid of combat? The real question here seems to be, who does join the military and why?
A Syracuse University study from 2008 looks at the history the three largest racial-ethnic groups in the U.S. military. This study finds the most important predictor of military service is found in family income. Families with lower incomes and socioeconomic status are more likely to join the military. The study cites previous research confirming military service as a means of occupational opportunity and has fewer incentives for upper-class participation.
The Harvard poll did not take socioeconomic status into account but even the poorest among Americans would be unable to join the military. The lowest on the socioeconomic ladder are less likely to finish high school or get a GED, requirements of military service. Extreme poverty also correlates with poor physical health, obesity, and criminal records, all of which would get an applicant denied at the recruiter’s office.
Access to education and economic participation among today’s 18 to 20-year-olds has changed drastically over previous decades. Poverty rates across the board, despite a recent bump since the 2008 economic crisis, show a decline. The reason behind the decline in willingness to join the military may simply be that fewer people need the military to raise their socioeconomic status.
Among those who did join, a 2011 Pew poll found the major reasons for joining included serving the country (90%), education (77%), travel (60%), and civilian job skills (57%). Note that this poll asked those already in uniform. It did not ask civilians with an inclination to serve. That difference is important. For most of us, our perception of ourselves and of military service changes after we earn the uniform, no matter what the reason we enlisted in the first place.
Before World War II, the U.S. armed forces only boasted 180,000 in uniform. During the Vietnam War, 8.7 million troops served in the military between 1965 and 1973, and only 1.8 million of those were drafted. 2.7 million of those in the military fought in Vietnam and only 30% of the combat deaths in the war were draftees. The demographics of troops deployed to Vietnam were close to a reflection of the demographics of the U.S. at the time. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. military received a huge recruitment boost. Males age 16 to 21 were more inclined to serve, their numbers increasing eight percent immediately after the attacks and remaining high until 2005. The last time the Air Force failed to meet its recruiting goal was the last fiscal year before 9/11.
So while the Harvard poll may disturb some and seems to back recent opinions in Chinese media that the U.S. is a “paper tiger,” it’s important to remember that American wars have historically been fought by American youth, whether they liked it or not.
SpaceX is gearing up to launch a third top-secret spacecraft for the U.S. government, a mission the company calls “Zuma” but has said little else about.
The mystery satellite is tentatively slated to lift off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday, November 17, after 8 p.m. ET though possibly as late as 10 p.m. ET. SpaceX plans to broadcast the launch live via YouTube starting about 15 minutes beforehand. (You can watch the video feed at the end of this post.)
SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by tech mogul and Mars-colonizing hopeful Elon Musk, initially planned to launch the clandestine spacecraft on Wednesday. However, the company delayed the launch multiple times.
The reason for the delay doesn’t appear to be weather-related, given the current forecast. Previous delays were made “to allow engineers to complete additional mission assurance work,” according to Spaceflight Now. SpaceX said in laterstatements that a fairing (i.e. rocket nosecone) inspection “for another customer” caused the company to stand down, and that it “will take the time we need to complete the data review and will then confirm a new launch date” — so a Friday lift-off may be canceled.
SpaceX has loaded the Zuma payload atop a reusable Falcon 9 rocket earlier this week.
When it lifts off, the Falcon 9’s roughly 133-foot-tall booster — the largest and most expensive part — will lug Zuma a few dozen miles above Earth, then detach and attempt to land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Right after separating from the booster, a smaller second-stage rocket will fire up and finish pushing the secret payload into orbit.
A clandestine mission without a mysterious customer
The Zuma mission is more secretive than most, as public filings don’t even mention the launch customer paying SpaceX.
It’s not clear whether the satellite is owned by the U.S. military or a commercial entity. The National Reconnaissance Office typically launches spy satellites, but a representative told Aviation Week that Zuma doesn’t belong to the NRO.
SpaceX declined to answer questions about the Zuma mission, but Northrop Grumman — one of the largest defense contractors in the world — has acknowledged that they’re playing a role.
Lon Rains, the communications director for Northrop Grumman’s space systems division, sent Business Insider this statement:
“Northrop Grumman is proud to be a part of the Zuma launch. This event represents a cost effective approach to space access for government missions. The U.S. Government assigned Northrop Grumman the responsibility of acquiring launch services for this mission. We have procured the Falcon 9 launch service from SpaceX.
“As a company, Northrop Grumman realizes this is a monumental responsibility and we have taken great care to ensure the most affordable and lowest risk scenario for Zuma.
“The Zuma payload is a restricted payload. It will be launched into Low Earth Orbit.”
Low-Earth orbit, or LEO, is considered to be less than about 1,000 miles above the surface of the planet. Rains declined to provide further detail about the mission, however, cautioning that the company is “not saying anything else or answering any other questions.”
Zuma’s secrecy has spurred rampant speculation
Satellite trackers found out about the launch via public yet cryptic FCCfilings in October, and shared them in a NASA Spaceflight forum thread.
Since then, the vacuum of information has led to evolving speculation about the details and purpose of the launch. NASA Spaceflight’s thread about Zuma and a Nov. 15 story from Spaceflight Now have floated a number of ideas and theories:
If the National Reconnaissance Office isn’t behind Zuma (although Ars Technica claims it is the NRO’s), the payload may be for the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, or some other non-military U.S. government agency.
Estimates of Zuma’s orbit around Earth may be good for spying on China and North Korea, though its trajectory can’t be confirmed until after launch.
The predicted orbit is similar to that if the NRO’s USA-276 (or NROL-76) satellite. With Zuma launching around 8:00 p.m. ET, it could go into orbit less than 10 minutes behind USA-276 — very close in terms of outer space.
This has led some to suggest Zuma may be a refueling mission for USA-276, or part of a spy satellite constellation or program associated with that mission.
Watch the launch live
You can watch the launch live via SpaceX’s YouTube feed around 8 p.m. ET on Friday.
Ninety-four-year-old Melvin Rector had one last item on his bucket list: He wanted to return to England where he’d served as a B-17 crewman. So earlier this month he hopped on an airliner and flew across the Atlantic to a place where he’d come of age 71 years earlier.
As reported by Florida Today, Rector was scheduled to visit his former base RAF Snetterton Heath in Norfolk but started the tour at the Battle of Britain Bunker in the Uxbridge area of London that first day.
“He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done,” said Susan Jowers, 60, who first met Rector when she served as his guardian during a 2011 Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C.
As he walked out, Rector told Jowers that he felt dizzy, according to Florida Today. Jowers took hold of one of Rector’s arms while a stranger grasped the other.
Rector died quietly there just outside the bunker. When the locals found out about it, they made sure his memory was honored appropriately.
“They just wanted something simple, and when I found out a little background about Melvin, there is just no way that we were just going to give him a simple service,” funeral director Neil Sherry told British ITV Network. “We wanted it to be as special as possible.”
Though no one knew him, the Royal Air Force, U.S. Air Force and historians in London attended and participated in the funeral with military honors.
“He certainly got a beautiful send-off,” Jowers said. “People everywhere, from Cambridge to London heard his story.”
U.S. Army Maj. Leif Purcell told ITV he thought he and a few other U.S. military personnel would be the only ones to attend the funeral, but was surprised.
“The representation from the Royal Air Force and the British Army that I saw here was phenomenal,” he said.
A funeral service for Rector, a father of six, is set for 11 a.m. June 9 at First Baptist Church of Barefoot Bay, Florida. Jowers told Florida Today that his remains were being repatriated on May 31.
Jowers, who said Rector became like a father to her after their first meeting in 2011, summed up his passing with this thought: “He completed his final mission.”
A Navy helicopter crew rescued a civilian pilot who ejected from a contracted fighter jet off the coast near Point Loma August 22, Navy and Coast Guard officials said.
The pilot ejected safely from the single-seat Hawker Hunter jet, for unknown reasons, roughly 115 miles off the coast, Navy officials said. No information about the pilot’s condition was available.
The Navy-contracted plane had participated in a pre-deployment training exercise for the ships of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, Navy officials said. The Composite Training Unit Exercise, which tests the strike group’s deployment readiness, began earlier this month, according to the Navy.
The Coast Guard was summoned about 4:30 p.m. to assist in the pilot’s rescue, but a helicopter crew assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 6 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt hoisted the pilot out of the ocean before a Coast Guard helicopter crew responded, officials said.
The pilot was taken to Naval Medical Center San Diego for a medical evaluation.
In the past, Hawker Hunter jets have been contracted by the Navy to play the role of an enemy aircraft in offshore training.
In two instances, in October 2014 and May 2012, the pilots who assisted in the training exercises crashed in a field near Naval Station Ventura County as they prepared to land. Both pilots died.
American submarines have some impressive tales of taking down enemy ships – from the big one that didn’t get away to a classic revenge tale. But one of the most interesting tales involves perhaps the most decisive battle of the Pacific Theater, two Japanese cruisers, and an American submarine that damaged them both without firing a shot.
As the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu was in her final throes in the early morning June 5, 1942, a force of Japanese cruisers — the Kumano, Suzuya, Mikuma, and Mogami — were headed towards Midway with two destroyers. These were powerful ships, nowhere near compliant with the London Naval Treaty that had been in force when they were designed and built.
CombinedFleet.com reports that they each carried ten 8-inch guns, and had 12 24-inch torpedo tubes carrying the Type 93 “Long Lance,” probably the best surface-launched torpedo in the war. The ships also carried reloads for the torpedo tubes.
As the ships were retreating from Midway, the submarine USS Tambor (SS 198) came across them. At 4:12 AM, the Japanese sighted Tambor, and the commander of the force, Takeo Kurita, ordered a turn. The Kumano and Suzuya made the turn correctly, but a mixup in signals caused a collision involving the Mikuma and Mogami.
Mogami’s bow was damaged, while the Mikuma began to trail oil.
The Tambor shadowed the damaged ships briefly before losing track, but not before a contact report was sent. Kurita left the destroyers with the damaged cruisers, but within four hours of the collision, dive bombers from Midway arrived. None of the planes scored anything more than a near-miss, but when the SB2U Vindicator flown by Marine Capt. Richard Fleming was hit, Japanese witnesses report that Fleming crashed his plane into Mikuma. Fleming became the only Medal of Honor recipient for the Battle of Midway.
On June 6, 1942, Task Force 16 launched three waves of dive-bombers. The Mikuma took five hits, while Mogami took six. Both cruisers were set ablaze. The Mikuma’s torpedo reloads exploded, causing her to sink. Mogami’s crew was able to get their reloads off the ship before that happened – and the cruiser ended up spending a lot of time being rebuilt.
The Tambor saw 12 war patrols during World War II, sinking 11 Japanese vessels. She was decommissioned in December, 1945, and sold for scrap 14 years later.
Her wartime heroics are many, but she may best be known for the shots she didn’t fire.
The Army’s “live-fire” combat exercises involve large-scale battalion-on-battalion war scenarios wherein mechanized forces often clash with make-shift, “near-peer” enemies using new technologies, drones, tanks, artillery, missiles and armored vehicles.
The Army is expanding its training and “live-fire” weapons focus to include a renewed ability to fight a massive, enemy force in an effort to transition from its decade-and-a-half of tested combat experience with dismounted infantry and counterinsurgency.
Recent ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created an experienced and combat-tested force able to track, attack and kill small groups of enemies — often blended into civilian populations, speeding in pick-up trucks or hiding within different types of terrain to stage ambushes.
“The Army has a tremendous amount of experience right now. It has depth but needs more breadth. We’re good at counterinsurgency and operations employing wide area security. Now, we may have to focus on ‘Mounted Maneuver’ operations over larger distances,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While senior Army leaders are quick to emphasize that counterinsurgency is of course still important and the service plans to be ready for the widest possible range of conflict scenarios, there is nonetheless a marked and visible shift toward being ready to fight and win against a large-scale modernized enemy such as Russia or China.
The Army, naturally, does not single out these countries as enemies, train specifically to fight them or necessarily expect to go to war with them. However, recognizing the current and fast-changing threat environment, which includes existing tensions and rivalries with the aforementioned great powers, Army training is increasingly focused on ensuring they are ready for a mechanized force-on-force type engagement.
At the same time, while large-scale mechanized warfare is quite different than counterinsurgency, there are some areas of potential overlap between recent warfare and potential future great power conflict in a few key respects. The ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over a period of more than a decade, involved the combat debut of various precision-guided land attack weapons such as GPS guided artillery and rocket weapons.
Weapons such as Excalibur, a GPS-guided 155m artillery round able to precisely destroy enemy targets at ranges greater than 30-kilometers, gave ground commanders an ability to pinpoint insurgent targets such as small gatherings of fighters, buildings and bomb-making locations. Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System, or GLMRS, is another example; this precision guided long-range rocket, which can hit ranges up to 70-kilometers, was successful in killing Taliban targets in Afghanistan from great distances, among other things.
These kinds of precision munitions, first used in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the kind of weapon which would greatly assist land attack efforts in a massive force-on-force land war as well. They could target key locations behind enemy lines such as supplies, forces and mechanized vehicles.
Drones are another area of potential overlap. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan featured a veritable explosion in drone technology and drone use. For example, the Army had merely a handful of drones at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, the service operates thousands and has repeatedly relied upon them to find enemy locations, spot upcoming ambushes and save lives in combat. These are the kinds of platforms which would also be of great utility in a major land war. However, they would likely be used differently incorporating new tactics, techniques and procedures in a great power engagement.
“This is not back to the future…this is moving towards the future where Army forces will face adaptive enemies with greater lethality. This generation of Army leaders will orchestrate simultaneous Combined ArmsManeuver and Wide Area Security” Smith said.
Nevertheless, many Army leaders now experienced with counterinsurgency tactics will need to reexamine tactics needed for major conventional warfare.
“You have a generation of leaders who have to expand learning to conduct simultaneous ‘Combined Arms’ and ‘Wide Area Security” Smith said.
“The Army has to be prepared across the entire range of military operations. One of these would be ‘near-peer’ operations, which is what we have not been fighting in recent years,” Smith explained.
Massive Land War “Decisive Action”
The new approach to this emerging integrated training is called “Decisive Action,” Maj. Gen. Wayne Grigsby, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said.
Grigsby explained that live-fire combat at Fort Riley, Kan., affords an opportunity to put these new strategies into effect.
“Every morning I could put a battalion on the north side and a battalion on the south side – and just joust working “Combined Arms Maneuver.” I can do battalion-on-battalion and it does involve “Combined Arms” live fire,” said Grigsby. “Because of the airspace that we have here – and use the UAS – I can synchronize from 0-to-18,000 feet and do maneuver indirect fire.”
This includes the use of drones, Air Force air assets, Army attack aviation along with armored vehicles, artillery, tanks and infantry units equipped for small arms fire, he explained.
Some of the main tactics and techniques explored during “Decisive Action” live fire exercises include things like “kill what you shoot at,” “move to contact,” “synchronize indirect fire,” and “call-in 9-line,” (providing aircraft with attack coordinates from the ground), Grigsby said.
Grigsby explained that “live-fire” combat exercises now work to incorporate a wide range of emerging technologies so as to better anticipate the tactics, weapons and systems a future enemy is likely to employ; this includes the greater use of drones or unmanned systems, swarms of mini-drones in the future, emerging computing technology, tank-on-tank warfare tactics, electronic warfare, enemy aircraft and longer-range precision weaponry including anti-tank missiles, guided artillery and missiles.
In order to execute this kind of combat approach, the Army is adapting to more “Combined Arms Maneuver.” This warfare compentency seeks to synchronize a wide range of weapons, technologies and war assets in order to overwhelm, confuse and destroy an enemy force.
Smith likened “Combined Arms” to being almost like a symphony orchestra where each instrument is geared toward blending and contributing to an integrated overall musical effect.
In warfare, this would mean using tank-on-tank attacks, indirect fire or artillery, air defenses, air assets, networking technologies, drones, rockets, missiles and mortar all together to create a singular effect able to dominate the battlespace, Smith explained.
For example, air assets and artillery could be used to attack enemy tank or armored vehicle positions in order to allow tank units and infantry fighting vehicles to reposition for attack. The idea to create an integrated offensive attack – using things like Apache attack helicopters and drones from the air, long-range precision artillery on the ground joined by Abrams tanks and infantry fighting vehicles in a coordinated fashion.
Smith also explained how preparing for anticipated future threats also means fully understanding logistics and sustainment — so that supplies, ammunition and other essentials can continue to fortify the war effort.
Current “Decisive Action” live fire training includes an emerging emphasis on “expeditionary” capability wherein the Army is ready to fight by tonight by rapidly deploying over large distances with an integrated force consisting of weapons, infantry, armored vehicles and other combat-relevant assets.
At the same time, this strategy relies, to some extent, on an ability to leverage a technological edge with a “Combined Arms” approach as well, networking systems and precision weapons able to destroy enemies from farther distances.
In order to incorporate these dynamics into live-fire training, Grigsby said the battalion -on-battalion combat exercises practice a “move to contact” over very large 620 kilometer distances.
“This builds that expeditionary mindset,” he explained.
North Korea has again lobbed a vague year-end threat at the Trump administration, saying the US can expect a “Christmas gift” if talks between US and North Korean officials don’t lead to substantive concessions for North Korea.
As the year-end deadline that the hermit kingdom has given the US runs out, North Korea may renege on the only concession it has given President Donald Trump — the promise to abandon nuclear and long-range weapons testing.
In November, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state-run news outlet, released a statement saying that time was quickly running out for the US to resume talks that had stalled after Trump’s much-touted visit to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in June. While US diplomats have said that tentative negotiations in Stockholm last month went well, North Korea’s latest missive indicates otherwise.
For comparison, the MFA statement of July 7, 2017, shortly after the first Hwasong-14 ICBM test, included: “the test-fire of the inter-continental ballistic rocket conducted by the DPRK this time is a ‘gift package’ addressed to none other than the U.S.”https://kcnawatch.org/newstream/1499418128-531979580/statement-of-dprk-foreign-ministry-spokesman/ …
North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister of US Affairs Ri Thae Song told KCNA that, “The DPRK has done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps it has taken on its own initiative,” referring to its promise not to test ICBMs or nuclear weapons, but that the US hasn’t held up its end of the bargain — which, to North Korea, means sanctions relief.
As researcher Joshua Pollack of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (CNS) wrote on Twitter, North Korea has historically tested missiles between February and September. But the language of a “Christmas gift” echoes a July 2017 statement from North Korea’s ministry of foreign affairs that referred to the launch of three ICBMs, all of which landed west of Japan.
“A ‘Christmas gift’ in the form of a test into the Pacific seems not out of the question,” Pollack wrote Tuesday.
“It’s not implausible that they could give the world a Christmas or New Year gift of an ICBM test,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT and a member of a member of MIT’s Security Studies Program, told Insider.
“It’s possible this is all aimed at generating pressure and leverage against Trump now, but by the same token, given the consistency and insistence on the deadline, and North Korea’s history of doing what it says it is going to do… let’s see what gift we get,” Narang said.
“North Korea is very careful with its words,” Shea Cotton, also a researcher at CNS, told Insider, indicating that it’s no coincidence North Korea is again using the language of a threatening “gift.”
Dashing through the snow…
North Korean state media KCNA publish fresh pictures of leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse while visiting battle sites around Mount Paektu
On Dec. 4, new photos surfaced of Kim Jong Un visiting battle sites at Mt. Paektu, a legendary site for North Korea where Kim’s grandfather, the founder of the country, fought Japanese forces as a guerilla. Along with the photos of Kim with family members and military leaders, North Korea also announced a meeting of the Plenary Session of the Central Committee in December, before Kim’s annual New Year’s speech, the equivalent of the State of the Union. It’s expected that this plenary meeting could herald a major announcement about the country’s policy toward the US.
Should North Korea continue this pattern, the US will have lost the only concession Trump managed to wrangle from the DPRK. But experts say that unless the US is willing to take denuclearization off the table, North Korea will likely be testing ICBMs or intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in the near future — but this time, there may be a few new details, like an overflight of Japan instead of “lofting” its launches, solid-fueled missile launches, or a satellite launch, Cotton told Insider.
The Dec. 3 statement accused Trump of trying to stall ahead of the 2020 elections.
“The dialogue touted by the US is, in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the US,” Song said in the statement.
For the second time in two months, Kim Jong Un rides a white horse https://reut.rs/2sK7NKs pic.twitter.com/c2O6pI7tXC
“It’s possible they also see Trump as someone they’re more likely to get a good deal with (compared to a more competent administration) and think he might not be around for much longer, given the looming impeachment and 2020 election,” Cotton told Insider.
Thus far, Trump has done little more than resurrect his “Rocket Man” nickname for Kim Jong Un and threaten a military response to North Korean provocations at a NATO summit Tuesday.
When asked the likelihood that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is bluffing, Cotton said, “Probably zero.”
“North Korea has a pretty sophisticated missile program,” he said. “They can probably test whenever they want more or less. If North Korea ends up not doing something like resuming testing it would only be because they found a reason not to, like the resumption of serious talks with the US.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Pentagon released the name of a Special Forces soldier who was killed by an improvised bomb attack during a night raid with Afghan commandos in the restive Helmand province, a reminder that the fight continues 15 years after American troops first landed there.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Thompson, 28, of Irvine, California, was killed while accompanying Afghan special forces on a raid near Lashkar Gah. Thompson was a Green Beret with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces group based in Washington and died Aug. 23 alongside six of his Afghan comrades.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. — Staff Sgt. Matthew V. Thompson, 28, of Irvine, California, died Aug. 23, 2016, of wounds received from an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. (Photo: U.S. Army)
Another American servicemember was wounded in the attack and remains in stable condition at a hospital in Afghanistan, officials say.
“This tragic event in Helmand province reminds us that Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, and there is difficult work ahead even as Afghan forces continue to make progress in securing their own country,” Pentagon chief Ash Carter said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with the government of Afghanistan and our NATO partners to bolster the capabilities of the [Afghan national defense and security forces] so they can provide the people of Afghanistan the peace they deserve.”
The deaths came on the eve of a brazen attack on the American University in the Afghan capital Kabul that killed 14 and wounded 35. No Americans are among the casualties so far.
The top spokesman for the NATO mission in Afghanistan said special operations troops, many of them Americans, are on missions nearly every night throughout the country advising Afghan commandos who are targeting Taliban holdouts in key areas. He said that about 10 percent of Afghan special forces missions include NATO troops, but they’re not usually engaged in the fighting.
Commandos from the 7th Special Operation Kandak prepare for the unitís first independent helicopter assault mission, March 10, 2014, in Washir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan The mission was conducted to disrupt insurgent activity. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Richard B. Lower)
“This is something that we do nationwide [so] it’s possible that we have some NATO [special operations force] element out in the field on any given night,” said Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland during an Aug. 25 press conference. “Our role in that, of course, is that we don’t participate, we don’t go on the objective, but we provide the assistance they require.”
Cleveland said about 80 percent of Afghan special operations missions are conducted solo, with another 10 percent incorporating NATO and U.S. help in the rear, including intelligence and surveillance support.
He added that the Taliban have been unable to hold any major city or town, and typically raid a checkpoint, steal equipment and are pushed out by Afghan forces some time later.
The operation in which Thompson was killed included an effort by Afghan special forces to interdict Taliban insurgents on the outskirts of the key Helmand town of Lashkar Gah. It was a “fairly large operation,” Cleveland said.
“It was an effort to clear out Taliban strongholds so conventional forces could move in,” he said.
Though violence has been on an upsurge as the summer fighting season crests, officials say the Taliban isn’t able to mount an effective, large-scale assault to win coveted territory and sanctuary.
“The idea that they’re this invincible force, moving ahead and claiming territory we don’t believe is accurate,” Cleveland said. “We don’t think there’s a massive, invincible offensive coming from the Taliban.”
A Russian Su-27 Flanker came within five feet of an American reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea. The incident came shortly after a major multi-national exercise concluded.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the advanced Russian fighter armed with air-to-air missiles buzzed an Air Force RC-135. Since June 2, there have been 35 encounters between American and Russian aircraft, but this incident was notable due to how close the Flanker came to the American plane.
It was not immediately clear which version of the RC-135 was intercepted by the Russians in this incident. The Air Force has three variants of the RC-135. The RC-135S Cobra Ball specializes in ballistic missile tracking. The RC-135U Combat Sent is an electronic intelligence aircraft that specializes in locating emitters for radar systems. The RC-135V/W Rivet Joint specializes in electronic intelligence – and is even capable of intercepting communications.
Air Force Space Command concluded its fourth iteration of the Department of Defense’s premier space exercise December 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Space Flag 19-1 took place over the course of two weeks, testing airmen from the 50th Space Wing and the 460th SW. SF 19-1 also included airmen from the 27th and 26th Space Aggressors squadrons, which are tenant units of Air Combat Command located at Schriever Air Force Base, Louisiana.
The goal of the exercise is to enable forces to achieve and maintain space superiority in a contested, degraded, and operationally limited environment.
“The intent of Space Flag is to allow tactical operators the ability to learn how to fight and defend their systems as an enterprise with other tactical operators in an arena we currently do not have,” said Col. Devin Pepper, 21st Operations Group commander and SF 19-1 space boss.
To prepare airmen for any conflict, space operators are thrown a dynamic range of scenarios.
“We train the way we fight,” said Capt. Josh Thogode, 27th SAS flight commander and SF 19-1 space aggressor. “My goal as an aggressor is to make blue (United States) lose in any scenario. If they lose during the exercise, then we can win when it matters. At the end of the day, we are all on the same team. The aggressors can add value to our techniques, tactics and procedures moving forward – that’s what we bring to the fight.”
The training space operators see is diverse and comes from several perspectives. In addition to aggressors testing space operators, senior space operators, referred to as tactical mentors, also provide training. The mentors observe and counsel airmen throughout the exercise and look for opportunities to give feedback to the space operators on how to improve their response to the threat.
“Space Flag really brings out the creativity in our space operations crew force,” said Maj. Justin Roberts, 50th SW weapons officer and SF 19-1 tactical mentor. “This exercise is an excellent opportunity for our space operators to think and test out new ideas. I, alongside other mentors, am there to gauge and guide their ideas. I have now been a tactical mentor for SF three times and I have seen a huge increase in the quality and capabilities of the operators coming to the exercise.”
Before Space Flag, facing an adversary in a space training environment was a rare thing.
“Space had always been benign,” Pepper said. “Back in our lieutenant days, we didn’t expect to have to defend our assets on orbit. We weren’t actively training against those threats. The war-fight is shifting though, so we have to be ready to encounter anything against our land-based and terrestrial systems. Having living, thinking aggressors acting as adversaries in the training environment prepares us for that day, if it ever comes.”
During calendar year 2017 and 2018, Space Flag occurred twice a year. During fiscal year 2019, Space Flag will increase to three times a year.
“Our adversaries have made tremendous strides in contesting us in the space domain,” said Pepper. “We have transitioned our culture and our way of thinking from just providing a service to the warfighter to actually being a space warfighter. We are a part of the fight, and the fight is on today.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary called the invasion of Iraq a “strategic mistake” at a conference last year, in an audio recording obtained by The Intercept.
In a wide-ranging speech at an ASIS International Conference in Anaheim, California that covered everything from Iran, ISIS, and other national security issues, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis told attendees: “We will probably look back on the invasion of Iraq as a mistake, a strategic mistake.”
The assertion is not particularly controversial, given the faulty intelligence that led to the invasion, the many missteps afterward, and the unraveling of a country that eventually gave birth to the terrorist group ISIS.
But it is interesting as it’s the first known instance of Mattis portraying the invasion in a negative light, especially given his leadership of 1st Marine Division in 2003, which he led across the border and, eventually, into Baghdad.
“I think people were pretty much aware that the US military didn’t think it was a very wise idea,” he said. “But we give a cheery ‘Aye aye, Sir.’ Because when you elect someone commander in chief — we give our advice. We generally give it in private.”
Mattis, like many other generals before the war, offered his advice to his boss Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the problems of going into Iraq. This frank advice is expected of high-ranking military officers, but ultimately it’s up to the civilian leadership to make the decision.
Still, seven retired generals eventually came out publicly against Rumsfeld in 2007 in what was dubbed “the generals’ revolt.” Mattis, still on active duty at the time, was not among them.
He was asked specifically about whether there was a scenario in which he may have retired in protest during a talk in San Francisco in April 2014. Mattis allowed some unethical orders and other scenarios that would lead him to do so, but he said, “you have to be very careful about doing that. The lance corporals can’t retire. They’re going. That’s all there is to it.”
He added: “You abandon him only under the most dire circumstances, where the message you have to send can be sent no other way. I never confronted that situation.”
Since retiring from the military in 2013, Mattis has given a number of speeches while working as a fellow at Dartmouth and Stanford. In July 2014, for example, he told students at Stanford: “There is no strategy right now for our engagement with the world. We need to know the political end state for what we want to achieve.”