Turkish warplanes struck suspected Kurdish rebel positions in Iraq and Syria on April 25, drawing condemnation from Baghdad and criticism from the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, which is allied with Kurdish factions in both countries.
Syrian activists said the attack killed at least 18 members of the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which is a close U.S. ally against IS but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels.
The airstrikes also killed five members of the Iraqi Kurdish militia known as the peshmerga, which is also battling the extremist group with help from the U.S.-led coalition.
The YPG said the strikes hit a media center, a local radio station, a communication headquarters and some military posts, killing an undetermined number of fighters in the town of Karachok, in Syria’s northeastern Hassakeh province.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group which monitors all sides of the conflict, said the strikes killed 18 YPG fighters.
The YPG is among the most effective ground forces battling IS, but Turkey says it is an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and that PKK fighters are finding sanctuaries in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
A Turkish military statement said the pre-dawn strikes hit targets on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq and a mountainous region in Syria. It said the operations were conducted to prevent infiltration of Kurdish rebels, weapons, ammunition and explosives from those areas into Turkey.
The military said in a later statement that the air strikes hit shelters, ammunition depots and key control centers, adding that some 40 militants in Sinjar and some 30 others in northern Syria were “neutralized.”
In an emailed statement to The Associated Press, the U.S.-led coalition said Iraq’s neighbors need to respect Iraqi sovereignty.
“We encourage all forces to … concentrate their efforts on ISIS and not toward objectives that may cause the Coalition to divert energy and resources away from the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” it said, using another acronym for IS.
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry denounced the strikes as a “violation” of its sovereignty and called on the international community to put an end to such “interference” by Turkey.
“Any operation that is carried out by the Turkish government without any coordination with the Iraqi government is totally rejected,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Jamal told The Associated Press.
He cautioned against a broader Turkish military operation, saying it would “complicate the issue and destabilize northern Iraq.”
Although Turkey regularly carries out airstrikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq, this was the first time it has struck the Sinjar region. Turkey has long claimed that the area was becoming a hotbed for PKK rebels.
Sinjar Mayor Mahma Khalil said the strikes started at around 2:30 a.m., killing five members of the peshmerga and wounding nine. Khalil said he was not aware of any casualties among PKK rebels.
The peshmerga command called on the PKK to withdraw from the Sinjar region, saying the ” PKK must stop destabilizing and escalating tensions in the area.”
The PKK has led an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984, and is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies.
Last year, Turkey sent troops into Syria to back Syrian opposition fighters in the battle against IS and curb the expansion of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.
The Syrian Kurdish forces denounced the April 25 strikes on their positions as “treacherous,” accusing Turkey of undermining the anti-terrorism fight. The Syrian Kurds have driven IS from large parts of Syria and are currently closing in on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the extremists’ self-styled caliphate.
“By this attack, Turkey is trying to undermine Raqqa operation, give (IS) time to reorganize and put [thousands of lives in danger],” the YPG said on its Twitter account.
An airstrike in Idlib on April 25 killed at least 12 people, including civilians, the Observatory said. The area is controlled by hard-line rebel factions, some associated with al-Qaida. The Observatory said it suspected a Russian jet was behind the strike.
Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Philip Issa in Beirut, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.
James Zumwalt is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who served in the Vietnam war, the 1989 intervention into Panama and Operation Desert Storm. The son of the late Navy Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., he’s also a best-selling author, speaker and business executive. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
On Jan. 2, 2000, less than 48 hours into a new millennium, the U.S. Navy lost a 20th-century hero and revered, visionary leader.
Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., 79, had succumbed to mesothelioma — a lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, incurred during his naval career. He died at Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.
As a grieving family focused on making preparations for a funeral to be held Jan. 10, 2000, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Marine Col. Michael Spiro stepped forward to escort the remains home.
Spiro had served as Zumwalt’s Marine aide, initially during the Vietnam war and later when the admiral was promoted to the Navy’s top position as (the youngest ever) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in the summer of 1970.
Zumwalt had been most impressed with Spiro’s professionalism and sense of duty. As CNO, the admiral was about to embark upon various programs that would shake up the naval service. He knew success turned on having a loyal staff in place to support his changes.
When Zumwalt asked Spiro to join him at the Pentagon, there was no hesitation on the colonel’s part. Immediately accepting, Spiro knew by doing so, time spent working for Zumwalt’s Navy was not time spent working in a Marine Corps billet to further his own career. Yet, driven by a sense of personal loyalty, Spiro answered the admiral’s call. The two men developed a close friendship.
As CNO, Zumwalt faced enormous challenges implementing changes that TIME magazine credited with bringing the U.S. Navy “kicking and screaming into the 20th century.”
With re-enlistment rates at an all-time low in 1970, Zumwalt focused on making the Navy a much more people-oriented service. His changes eventually leveled the playing field for all serving — especially for long, over-looked minority service members.
Meanwhile, Spiro, who might well have gone on to make brigadier general had he elected to leave Zumwalt and take a Marine Corps command billet, opted instead to serve at his friend’s side.
Spiro was committed to helping Zumwalt achieve his goal — and with him, Zumwalt did. By the time the admiral retired in 1974, the Navy’s re-enlistment rates had tripled. The evidence the playing field for minorities has successfully been leveled today can be found by examining the faces of the Navy’s top leadership.
Although Spiro retired in 1976, he donned his Marine Corps uniform during the first week of January 2000 to escort Admiral Zumwalt’s remains home from North Carolina.
Having become an Annapolis resident after his own retirement, Spiro, for years after the admiral’s death, often visited the gravesite. Brushing off winter leaves or recently-cut summer grass, Spiro occasionally left a rock on the headstone. The significance of this custom, lost to many today, is a sign of respect a friend had visited.
The year Zumwalt died, then-President Bill Clinton announced the Navy would build a new class of warship — unlike any other ever built. A stealth ship, it was to be the world’s largest destroyer. The ship would bear Zumwalt’s name.
Sixteen years after Clinton’s announcement, USS ZUMWALT became a reality. Built by General Dynamics Corp.’s Bath Iron Works in Maine, this magnificent vessel is now to be commissioned Oct. 15, 2016, in Baltimore.
After her commissioning and official entry upon the Navy’s active ships registry, USS ZUMWALT will depart from Baltimore, undertaking a most unique mission.
Col. Spiro, 86, passed away on Nov. 28, 2015. As was his wish, he was cremated.
Upon the USS ZUMWALT’s arrival in Baltimore in October, Spiro’s son, Peter, will present his father’s remains to the ship’s commanding officer. Following her Baltimore departure, somewhere in route to her homeport of San Diego and at the mandatory distance offshore, USS ZUMWALT will come to a dead stop. The ship’s crew will then conduct a brief ceremony rendering Spiro final honors as the colonel’s ashes are committed to sea.
Sixteen years earlier, Col. Spiro was honored to escort Admiral Zumwalt’s remains home. Later this year, the USS ZUMWALT seeks to return the honor.
Operation Inherent Resolve, the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, is now a year and a half old and has cost $6.2 billion. The Pentagon is asking for another $7.5 billion to continue the fight. The cost of the war against ISIS is relatively cheap (s0 far) when compared to the Iraq War, which came to almost $2 trillion over the eight years it was fought.
The war against ISIS isn’t going to get any cheaper, especially especially in light of the fact that it’s spreading to other countries like Libya and Afghanistan. Combating their forces on the ground will require more air power and more special operations units backed up by all the necessary logistics commands.
As of March 9, 2016, U.S. and coalition aircraft launched a total of 10,870 air strikes, with nearly twice as many in Iraq than in Syria. The strikes have hit a total of 21,501 targets, mostly buildings and ISIS fighting positions.
The average daily cost of the operation is $11.5 million. The most expensive ops belong to the U.S. Air Force, a whopping 69 percent of the total cost.
The American Legion is calling on Congress to reconsider its position on marijuana, asking lawmakers to remove the drug from Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it as a drug with “potential medical value.”
In a resolution passed at the 98th National Convention of the American Legion on Sept. 1, the Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Convention Committee unanimously recommended the delegates pass a resolution urging the DEA to “license privately-funded medical marijuana production operations in the United States to enable safe and efficient cannabis drug development research.”
Officials with the American Legion say there’s some evidence marijuana helps in the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD. Research conducted by the Legion’s Ad Hoc Committee on TBI/PTSD found that the conditions cost the economy $60 billion.
“The response of the membership has been very positive,” says William Detweiler, the chairman of the Legion’s Ad Hoc Committee on TBI/PTSD. “Our veterans deserve the best medical care that we can offer. We believe that funding additional medical research in this field will provide another ‘tool’ in the physician’s toolbox for treatment.”
In 2011, the Ad Hoc Committee was formed to look into the issues surrounding the treatment of veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress. The goal was to determine what treatments are being employed by VA and DoD currently and what other treatments and protocols that may be available that are not being currently used or approved.
Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act includes drugs like marijuana, heroin, and LSD while Schedule 2 includes oxycodone, morphine, and Ritalin.
Now that the national convention passed the resolution supporting medical marijuana research for veterans with certain conditions, the National Commander of the American Legion and the staff can urge Congress and the DEA to provide funds for research on medical cannabis.
Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West said marijuana is still an illegal drug and soldiers using it will face discipline, but she sees some benefit to using chemicals within pot to treat PTSD and TBI.
“Using marijuana has a lot of adverse health effects, it’s surprising that’s not brought out when they’re trying to legalize it. … It’s more dangerous that some of the carcinogens that are in tobacco,” West said during a media roundtable in Washington. “But if there’s some component of [marijuana] that can be useful to treat our service members, anyone who has post-traumatic stress disorder … I’m for that.”
The American Legion did not survey the 2.4 million veterans it represents to find their feelings on medical marijuana but has found their constituents to be generally receptive to the idea.
“Veterans are exhausted and feel like guinea pigs; they’re getting desperate,” said Dr. Sue Sisley, a researcher from Arizona who spoke at the Legion’s National Convention. “It’s a big breakthrough. While I can’t say definitively that medical marijuana works for PTSD – we are three years away from published data – we owe it to veterans to study this plant.”
Staff Sergeant Tom McArthur of the Alaska Air National Guard practices it regularly: rappelling by rope from a helicopter. Whether it’s to rescue people who are lost in the woods, who are stranded because of a snowmobile accident, or who have been attacked by animals, making that descent is a standard part of his job.
So after descending from a height of 70 feet on June 5, 2019, with the torch for the 2019 National Veterans Golden Age Games in Anchorage, Alaska, he sounded nonchalant about it.
“We’re pretty consistent about this,” McArthur says. “It’s one of the things we train for. Throughout the year, we do it a number of times.”
McCarthur’s breathtaking feat was the opening stage of a ceremonial passing of the torch, the theme of which was “Mission Impossible.”
The torch will be on display during the “Parade of Athletes” at the opening ceremonies of the Golden Age Games on June 6, 2019, at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. The Golden Age Games, which include nearly 900 veterans age 55 and older and serve as one of VA’s premier sports events, began on June 5, 2019, and run until June 10, 2019.
On a clear, sunny day amid the backdrop of the snow-sprinkled Chugach Mountains outside of Anchorage, McArthur descended from a Black Hawk helicopter that hovered over the fairway of the 10th hole at the Moose Run Golf Course. One of his colleagues, Technical Sergeant Jason Hughes, rappelled just before him.
McArthur ran for a short distance with the gold-covered torch and handed it off. Master Sergeant Chris Bowerfind of the Alaska Air National Guard. Bowerfind and 21 other people then ran three-quarters of a mile in one direction along Arctic Valley Road, which is parallel to the golf course, and three-quarters of a mile in the other direction back to the starting point.
Taml, an emotional support dog who has spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, ran alongside Bowerfind. He was also accompanied by four officials from the Alaska VA Healthcare System, which is sponsoring this year’s Golden Age Games, some Veterans who are competing in the event, and members of the local community that support VA and the military.
The officials from the Alaska VA Healthcare System included Dr. Tim Ballard, director of the facility. He’s excited that the Alaska VA is sponsoring the Golden Age Games.
An Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk of the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment hovers over a field to drop off two Alaska Air National Guard pararescuemen of the 212th Rescue Squadron and a torch for this year’s National Veterans Golden Age Games at Moose Run Golf Course, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, June 5, 2019.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Pvt. Grace Nechanicky)
“We’re one of the smallest VA stations in the country,” he says. “So for us to be given this opportunity is really great. It’s a testament to our staff who are very dedicated to taking care of veterans. Often times, it’s the big facilities that get this sort of stuff. So it’s really cool that we’re a small fry in a great big VA, and we’re having an opportunity to host this event.”
Ballard explains that even though the Alaska VA is an outpatient ambulatory care facility, it has a major partnership with Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson (JBER) in Anchorage, a combined Army and Air Force installation.
“We have in-patient staff assigned to the hospital at JBER who see both Department of Defense and VA patients,” he says. “Roughly 85 members of our staff are embedded in JBER doing many inpatient activities. We’ve got a myriad of staff that are in the specialty clinics over there, including orthopedics, urology, cardiology, and the like. So even though we are outpatient from VA’s perspective, we really consider JBER’s hospital our hospital.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Eugene Taylor remembers how eager enlisted airmen like him were to fly.
Taylor, who enlisted in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam, first worked as an avionics technician. Nearly a decade later, Taylor, a tech sergeant, became a T-37 and T-38 flight simulator instructor with the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. He became so adept that he was occasionally given the chance to fly the T-38, with permission from the pilot, during stateside flights.
It has been decades since enlisted airmen had the chance to sit in the cockpit. But as the Air Force faces the greatest pilot shortages since its inception, service leaders are contemplating a return to a model that includes enlisted pilots. A Rand Corp. study, set to be completed this month, is exploring the feasibility of bringing back a warrant officer corps for that purpose. And another, separate Air Force study is examining, in part, whether enlisted pilots could benefit from new high-tech training that leverages artificial intelligence and simulation.
With these moves, the Air Force is inching just a few steps closer to someday getting enlisted airmen back in the cockpit, on a formal basis, for the first time since World War II.
“We have enlisted airmen in our Guard and reserve component who have private pilot’s licenses and fly for the airlines. So it’s not a matter of can they do it, or hav[ing] the smarts or the capability, it’s just a matter of us, as an Air Force, deciding that that’s a route that we want to take,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright, the 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.
Military.com sat down with the service’s top enlisted leader in February 2018, to talk about enlisted aviators and reinstituting the warrant officer program.
“It’s something we walked away from years ago, and I won’t say that we haven’t been willing to relook at [it],” Wright said, of having enlisted pilots. “It’s nothing that we can’t overcome.”
Creating a Cadre
Wright noted there may be a few bumps in the road before an enlisted cadre could be instituted.
The main challenge would be to structure an appropriate career development path for the airmen, answering questions regarding when and how they would promote and when they would rotate to a new squadron. Wright said thus far officers “naturally float” to a flight commander or squadron commander from base to base, according to a system that has been in place for decades, but questioned whether the same system would work for enlisted pilots.
Additionally, the service would have to study whether enlisted airmen should be granted the right to employ weapons from an aircraft.
“Whether it’s manned or unmanned, if there’s an enlisted airman that’s going to be flying and employing weapons, it requires certain authorities we would have to get by,” Wright said.
For example, enlisted airmen are currently only authorized to be remotely piloted aircraft pilots on the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, a surveillance-only platform.
Photo courtesy of Eugene Taylor
“That’s just part of our age-old doctrine, that the employment of weapons, that the authority and responsibility lies with officers,” he said.
Reinstituting the warrant officer program could also help leaders decide on acceptable policies that would “determine if it makes us a more lethal and ready fighting force,” Wright said.
“What this is about is not just aviation or flying — it’s about maintaining the technical expertise,” Wright said. “In some cases, having warrant officers will allow us retain that talent and keep those folks doing what they love.”
The Air Force in the past has commissioned studies to look into bringing back warrant officers, with another study from RAND, a nonprofit institution that provides research and analysis studies on public policy, on the way.
“The Air Force is partnering with RAND for a study on the feasibility of warrant officers and we are projecting a completion by the end of March 2018,” Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Kathleen Atanasoff told Military.com.
February 2018, the Air Force began a separate study on whether it could benefit from someday allowing enlisted pilots.
Air Education and Training Command said the study, called the pilot training next initiative, explores how pilots can learn and train faster “by using existing and emerging technologies that can decrease the time and cost of training,” but with the same depth of understanding to produce quality pilots.
That includes using virtual reality simulation and A.I. to get airmen in an aircraft faster, with the potential of expanding the streamlined training.
The study is expected to conclude in August, in hopes of advancing all 20 students in the program: 15 officers and five enlisted airmen.
Foundation of Skills
Taylor, the Vietnam-era airman, served in the 341X1 career field for T-37 and T-38 trainers, which would quickly disappear once the Air Force reasoned enlisted personnel were needed elsewhere.
Once airmen were taught scenarios in a classroom, they would go to him to practice the maneuvers in the simulator.
“I was one of those people as an enlisted instructor, and it was the best job I ever had,” Taylor said in a recent interview with Military.com.
Through months of simulation tech school paired with his past experience working on planes, Taylor had gained the skills he needed to know the aircraft. Taylor’s instructor career field, however, dissolved only a year later, and he moved back into avionics at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. But he remembers his “flight time” and experience with the T-37 and T-38 fondly.
“As a master avionics superintendent, I did get to fly in the back seat of the [T-38] aircraft six times to perform aircraft maintenance at off-station sites,” he said. “I told the pilot that I was a flight simulator instructor pilot at Vance. And when I flew, the pilot would say, ‘You know how to fly this, you do it.’ So, I would,” Taylor said.
Taylor recalled flying the aircraft from Columbus to MacDill Air Force Base,Florida.
“I [then] repaired another T-38 from our base and flew the aircraft back to Columbus. The pilot made the takeoff and landing on both legs of the flight, but I did all radio calls, and navigation,” he said.
Taylor would fly similar routes twice more with the same pilot.
“So yes, enlisted people can definitely perform the job,” he said.
According to a1992 paper for the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute, the 341X1 and 341X2 career fields, born out of very early service ideals that enlisted members should work side-by-side with officer pilots, were Analog and Digital Trainer Specialists. The fields were part of the larger Aircrew Training Devices 34XXX specialty.
“The contributions of the enlisted men and women in the training devices career field were great,” noted the paper, written by Air Force student Senior Master Sgt. G. A. Werhs of the Senior Noncomissioned Officer Academy. “From its very beginning in 1939 until its end in the late 80s, [the 34XXX] was [an] entirely enlisted career field. All maintenance and operations were performed by highly skilled personnel. Every aircraft in the Air Force inventory had a simulator associated with it and enlisted members were there to operate and maintain it.
“[H]ow many people realize that for nearly 50 years those pilots received much of the initial training on the ground from enlisted soldiers and airmen[?]” Werhs asked.
Taylor suggested the career field closed because the service didn’t want enlisted troops to get to that next level: flying among officers. The service, he said, also had an abundance of pilots at the time.
“The Vietnam War had wound down, so they had more pilots than the Air Force needed,” Taylor said. “By taking away the enlisted instructors, it let them use the pilots that were qualified to fly the T-38 instead of kicking them out of the service.”
But there are many who believe that enlisted airmen, in some capacity, deserve the chance to once again get up in the air.
Rooted in History
Before the Air Force became a breakout service independent of the Army, enlisted pilots were known as “flying sergeants,” receiving a promotion to staff sergeant once they completed pilot training.
Enlisted pilots, in one form or another, date back to 1912. But it wasn’t until 1941, when Congress passed the the Air Corps Act of 1926 and Public Law 99, that enlisted troops were able to receive qualified training.
“We never thought about whether we wanted to be an enlisted pilot or an officer pilot,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward Wenglar, a former enlisted pilot. “We just wanted to be pilots, and we would gladly have stayed privates forever just to have the chance to fly,” Wenglar said in a 2003 service release.
Wenglar, who served overseas during World War II, holds the distinction of “achieving the highest rank of any former enlisted pilot,” according to the Air Force. He died in 2011.
Photo courtesy of Eugene Taylor
During World War II, whoever was in the cockpit got grandfathered in and could remain flying. But in 1942, the passage of the Flight Officer Act meant new enlisted recruits no longer got the chance to fly.
The act, Public Law 658, replaced the program’s sergeant pilot rank with the warrant officer rank.
When the Air Force was created in 1947 out of the Army Air Forces, it would bring more than 1,000 legacy warrant officers in. The service stopped the program in 1959, the same year it created the senior and chief master sergeant ranks. The last warrant officer would retire from active duty in 1980.
With more than 3,000 enlisted sergeant pilots throughout the service’s history, 11 of them would become generals and 17 would become flying aces, according to information from the Air Force. More than 150 enlisted pilots would be killed in action.
“Our careers as enlisted pilots made us better men and gave us opportunities later in the civilian world that we never would have been offered,” Wenglar said in 2003.
New Focus on Warrant Officers
“If the Air Force is so very concerned about the pilot shortage, they should consider warrant officers in … the transport pilot, flight engineer, boom operator and drone pilot fields,” said Will Stafford, a former staff sergeant with similar maintenance, tech and simulator experiences as Taylor.
While in the Air Force in the 1970s and 80s, Stafford, outside of his military duties, would fly smaller aircraft such as Cessna 310s, Beechcraft Model 18s and some Douglas DC-3s. On his own, he would eventually become qualified “on 25 different makes and models of fixed-wing aircraft,” he told Military.com.
“If the [Air Force] wants their veteran airmen and airwomen to return, then they had better look at how it has squandered the talent, training and dedication that many of us had, and make some serious changes, beginning with the restart of the warrant officer corps,” Stafford said, referencing the Air Force’s initiative to bring back retirees into staff-rated positions to balance out the ongoing pilot shortage.
“This is cost-effective, and many professional fully-rated civilian pilots who have military experience would have no problem,” he said.
Stafford has tried, unsuccessfully, to start a White House petition on Whitehouse.org to get the administration’s attention about reinstituting the warrant officer corps. He has even tried to petition the Air Force directly by writing to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who Stafford got the chance to meet and work with when Schwartz was just a captain.
Schwartz told Stafford it just wasn’t in the Air Force’s plans.
Key Decisions Ahead
Wright says the new RAND study may give him and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein fresh perspectives.
“We have to be smart about this, right?” Wright said. “This can’t just be, ‘Oh, this is nice to have.’ We have to know exactly what we’re buying [into] and we have a plan to implement it.”
Wright said cost-benefit analysis would play into the decision.
“I’m looking to learn, and the boss [Goldfein] is looking to learn, again, that simple question: Will this make us a more lethal force? Will it make us more efficient?” Wright said.
“There is a chance through the RAND study and through some of our internal studies that the evidence reveals and the analysis reveals that warrant officers won’t move the needle that much,” he said.
While Wright said it’s hard to say when enlisted pilots or a warrant officer program may come back into the Air Force’s ranks, he believes the feat can be achieved in roughly five to 10 years.
“I think it would help would shortages in career fields, I think it would help with retention, I think it would help with career development.
“Now there’s nothing that says that, within our current system we can’t do that same thing. But if you’re asking me what the obvious benefits are,” he said, ” … I think it’s a good thing.”
Britain’s Special Air Service is full of elite special operators who know how to get the job done. In World War II, one of their tasks was breaking the back of the Luftwaffe in North Africa, and they did so in spectacular fashion.
The top-tier warriors of the SAS bolted a bunch of weapons, sometimes as many as 10 Vickers machine guns with a .50-cal. kicker, to Willy Jeeps and then conducted lightning raids through German airfields, hitting grounded planes with incendiary rounds.
Enemy combatants lurking in tunnels have attacked US troops throughout history, including during both world wars, Vietnam, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Detecting these secretive tunnels has been a challenge that has been answered by the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s engineers at the Geotechnical and Structural Laboratory in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
The lab developed the Rapid Reaction Tunnel Detection system, or R2TD, several years ago, according to Lee Perren, a research geophysicist at ERDC who spoke at the Pentagon’s lab day in May.
R2TD detects the underground void created by tunnels as well as the sounds of people or objects like electrical or communications cabling inside such tunnels, he said. The system is equipped with ground penetrating radar using an electromagnetic induction system.
Additionally, a variety of sensors detect acoustic and seismic energy, he added.
The detection equipment data can then be transmitted remotely to analysts who view the data in graphical form on computer monitors.
The system can be carried by a soldier or used inside a vehicle to scan suspected tunnel areas, he said.
R2TD has been deployed overseas since 2014, he said. Feedback from combat engineers who used the system indicated they like the ease of use and data displays. It takes just a day to train an operator, Perren said.
Jen Picucci, a research mathematician at ERDC’s Structural Engineering Branch, said that technology for detecting tunnels has been available for at least a few decades.
However, the enemy has managed to continually adapt, building tunnels at greater depths and with more sophistication, she said.
In response, ERDC has been trying to stay at least a step ahead of them, continually refining the software algorithms used to reject false positives and false negatives, she said. Also, the system upgraded to a higher power cable-loop transmitter to send signals deeper into the ground.
The improvements have resulted in the ability to detect deeper tunnels as well as underground heat and infrastructure signatures, which can discriminate from the normal underground environment, she said.
Picucci said ERDC has shared its R2TD with the Department of Homeland Security as well as with the other military services and allies. For security reasons, she declined to say in which areas R2TD is being actively used.
Besides the active tunneling detection system, a passive sensing system employs a linear array of sensors just below the surface of the ground to monitor and process acoustic and seismic energy. These can monitored remotely, according to an ERDC brochure.
While current operations remain classified, ERDC field engineers have in the past traveled in to Afghanistan according to members of the team.
In 2011, for example, ERDC personnel set up tunnel detection equipment to search the underground perimeter of Camp Nathan Smith, Afghanistan, said Owen Metheny, a field engineer at ERDC who participated in the trip.
His colleague, Steven Sloan, a research geophysicist at ERDC in Afghanistan at the time, said the goal was to ensure safety at the camp.
“We make sure nobody is coming into the camp using underground avenues that normally wouldn’t be seen and wouldn’t be monitored,” Sloan said. “We check smaller isolated areas — usually areas of interests and perimeters.”
The researchers did a lot of traveling around Afghanistan.
“We travel to different regional commands and help out in the battle spaces of different military branches,” Sloan said. “We use geophysical techniques to look for anomalies underground. We look for things that stick out as abnormal that might indicate that there is a void or something else of interest. As we work our way through an area we look for how things change from spot to spot.”
“I really enjoy my job,” Metheny said. “I’m doing something for my country and helping keep people safe. Plus, where else could a bunch of civilians get to come to Afghanistan and look for tunnels?”
The US Navy is going to eventually arm all of its destroyers with hypersonic missiles that are still being developed, White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien said Wednesday, according to Defense News.
“The Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program will provide hypersonic missile capability to hold targets at risk from longer ranges,” O’Brien said at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
“This capability,” he continued, “will be deployed first on our newer Virginia-class submarines and the Zumwalt-class destroyers. Eventually, all three flights of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers will field this capability.”
Hypersonic missiles — high-speed weapons able to evade traditional missile-defense systems — are a key area of competition between the three great powers. Earlier this month, Russia test-fired its Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile from the frigate Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov.
Given the ongoing hypersonic missile arms race, it is easy to see why the US Navy might want hypersonic missiles for its destroyers, something the Navy has previously discussed, but there are challenges.
The CPS missile is a combination of the developmental Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) and a two-stage booster, according to the Navy’s fiscal year 2021 budget overview.
Newer Zumwalt-class destroyers have larger vertical launch system (VLS) cells that could accommodate a large diameter missile with a hypersonic warhead in a boost-glide vehicle configuration, but older Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have much smaller VLS cells that would need to be modified or replaced altogether.
“I think it’s a terrible idea to try to outfit these destroyers with hypersonic missiles,” Bryan Clark, a retired Navy officer and defense expert at the Hudson Institute told Insider. Retrofitting dozens of Navy Arleigh Burkes to carry new hypersonic missiles would be expensive, he said.
What the Russian military appears to be doing is developing a new hypersonic missile to fit existing warships. The US military would be going about this in reverse, refitting existing ships to suit a new missile, a weapon that could be quickly replaced by a smaller, cheaper alternative down the road given the rapid pace of technological development.
“If the Navy makes this massive investment in retrofitting only to find in five years that these smaller weapons are now emerging, that money will be largely wasted,” Clark said, adding that the plan “doesn’t make sense.”
In addition to the steep costs of retrofitting dozens of destroyers and arming them with expensive missiles, of which the Navy may only be able to afford limited numbers, other challenges include taking warships offline and tying up shipyards for extended periods of time, potentially hindering other repair work.
Changes risk making the 500-ship plan ‘unaffordable’
Defense News reported that O’Brien also pushed the Trump administration’s vision for a 500-ship Navy, a vision that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper unveiled earlier this month to counter China’s growing naval force.
The plan, known as “Battle Force 2045,” calls for a mixture of manned and unmanned vessels and is based on recommendations from the Hudson Institute, which presented what Clark said was an affordable path to a 500-ship Navy.
A major difference between the Pentagon’s plan and the Hudson Institute study is that the Pentagon wants to build a larger submarine force, which could drive up sustainment costs, making the vision impossible to realize from a cost perspective. Each Virginia-class attack submarine with a larger missile launcher is estimated to cost .2 billion.
Retrofitting destroyers to carry hypersonic missiles would pull away funding as well. “This missile launcher thing, the additional submarines, all the additional ornaments that the Navy is looking at hanging on this fleet are going to make it unaffordable,” Clark said.
He argued that the Navy should focus on arming Virginia-class submarines with hypersonic missiles and let the destroyers be. “You don’t have to rebuild the ship to do it,” Clark explained. “That makes more sense. The Navy should be pursuing that for its boost-glide weapons.”
“That would be sufficient to provide maritime launch capability to complement what the Air Force and the Army are doing,” he said. Both the Army and the Air Force have been pursuing hypersonic weapons for existing launch platforms, such as the AGM-183 ARRW for the B-52 Stratofortress bomber.
Enlisted pilots have not been in the Air Force since its inception in 1947. They were not paid well, they did not have many opportunities for promotion, and were treated “harshly” in training. Even the title of the book about enlisted pilot heritage is called They Also Flew.
The lack of commissioned officers to handle global aircraft transport and other monotonous work led to three generations of enlisted pilots. Non-commissioned officers were usually certified to fly in the civilian world, but not qualified to be commanders.
After “months of study,” the Air Force is working to fix the issues of its drone operations programs. Drones have become the signature tool in the Global War on Terror in recent years, operating in intelligence, counter-terrorism, and surveillance roles. Drone pilots complain they are overworked and stressed out while Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says Air Force commanders demand more and more drone operations.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobbi Zapka)
Now enlisted personnel will be allowed to pilot the unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawk spy drone and may eventually be permitted to operate the missile-firing MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones. The Air Force says the initial step of opening the Global Hawk is because it is easier to operate.
In days gone by, enlisted pilots usually were assigned to fly light reconnaissance and artillery-spotter aircraft, cargo aircraft, and medium- and heavy-weight bombers. In 1942, Congress passed the Flight Officer Act, which replaced flying sergeants with Warrant Officers, which were also discarded by the Air Force. In 1943, all enlisted flyers were promoted to the new “Flight Officer” rank. The enlisted legacy is a long and storied one. Enlisted pilots taught Charles Lindbergh to fly. One of the last members of the enlisted pilot training program was Gen. Chuck Yeager, who would become famous for breaking the sound barrier later in his career.
Drone pilots already complain that they are held in lower regard than traditional fighter pilots and that allowing enlisted airmen in will only increase the stigma.
A Belgian Air Force F-16 has been destroyed and another aircraft damaged when the M61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon on board a third F-16 was accidentally fired on the ground by maintenance personnel at Florennes Air Base in the Walloon area of Southern Belgium on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018.
Multiple reports indicate that a mechanic servicing the parked aircraft accidentally fired the six-barreled 20mm Vulcan cannon at close range to two other parked F-16s. Photos show one F-16AM completely destroyed on the ground at Florennes. Two maintenance personnel were reported injured and treated at the scene in the bizarre accident.
In a nearby hangar, positioned at the extension of the flight line, a technician was working on an F-16. It is said that by accident the six-barrel 20mm Vulcan M61A-1 cannon of that F-16 was activated. Apparently, the cannon was loaded and some ammunition hit the FA128. This aircraft had just been refuelled and prepared together with another F-16 for an upcoming afternoon sortie. After impact of the 20mm bullets, FA128 exploded instantly and damaged two other F-16s.
The airbase at Florennes is home to the Belgian 2nd Tactical Wing which comprises the 1st ‘Stingers’ Squadron and the 350th Squadron.
A report on F-16.net said that, “An F-16 (#FA-128) was completely destroyed while a second F-16 received collateral damage from the explosions. Two personnel were wounded and treated at the scene. Injuries sustained were mainly hearing related from the explosion.”
The news report published late Oct.12, 2018, went on to say, “The F-16 was parked near a hangar when it was accidentally fired upon from another F-16 undergoing routine ground maintenance. Several detonations were heard and thick black smoke was seen for miles around. Civilian firefighters have even been called in to help firefighters at the airbase to contain the incident. About thirty men were deployed on site and several ambulances were dispatched. The Aviation Safety Directorate (ASD) is currently investigating the exact cause.”
The accident is quite weird: it’s not clear why the technician was working on an armed aircraft that close to the flight line. Not even the type of inspection or work has been unveiled. For sure it must have been a check that activated the gun even though the aircraft was on the ground: the use of the onboard weapons (including the gun) is usually blocked by a fail-safe switch when the aircraft has the gear down with the purpose of preventing similar accidents.
A report ten days after the incident said the search for the missing weapon was called off. The missile was never located. “All the theoretical impact points of the missile have now been carefully searched,” said Commander of the Estonian Air Force Col. Riivo Valge in an EDF press release.
“Over the past two weeks, we employed three helicopters, five ground patrols and fifty-strong units of personnel to undertake the search on the ground. We also got help from the Rescue Board (Päästeamet) Explosive Ordnance Disposal Centre and used Air Force drones in the search,” Col. Valge added.
“Despite our systematic approach and actions the location of the impacted missile has not been identified and all probable locations have been ruled out as of now,” Col. Valge concluded in the Aug. 17, 2018 media release ten days after the missile was accidentally fired.
Because strict weapons safety protocols, especially with live ammunition, are in place during ground handling it is extremely rare for maintenance personnel to accidentally discharge an aircraft’s weapon.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
In 1944, the U.S.’s progress in its island-hopping campaign through the Pacific brought it to Ulithi Atoll. From March to September, they bombed the Japanese forces stationed there until they eventually withdrew, believing the atoll was too small to accommodate an airfield and therefore not of value to either side.