There have been many closely-fought battles that could have gone either way.
The Battle of Midway was one. The final outcome of Japan losing four carriers and a heavy cruiser compared to the United States losing a carrier and a destroyer looks like a blow out. But that doesn’t reflect the fact that the Japanese fought off five separate attacks before Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers fatally damaged the carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.
Other battles, though, were clearly blowouts from the beginning. As in, you wonder why the losing side even wanted to pick that fight in the first place. Three of these battles were so one-sided, they were labeled “turkey shoots.” Here’s the rundown.
1944: The Marianas Turkey Shoot
Within four days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured Guam. Two and a half years later, the United States Navy brought the Army and Marines to take it back.
In the Yom Kippur War, the Syrians and Egyptians surprised the Israelis with very good ground-based air defenses. The Israelis overcame that to win, but it was a very close call. When Syria and Israel clashed over Lebanon in 1982, three years removed from the Camp David accords, it was the Syrians’ turn to get handled roughly.
In the nine years since the Yom Kippur War, Israel started adding F-15 and F-16 fighters to their arsenal, but the real game-changer for the two-day battle of June 9-10, 1982 was the E-2 Hawkeye, which was able to warn Israeli planes of over 100 Syrian MiGs.
Final score over those two days: Israel 64 Syrian jets and at least 17 missile launchers, Syria 0.
1991: Desert Storm
While the air campaign was noted for what some sources considered a perfect 38-0 record for the Coalition (recent claims that Scott Speicher was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat notwithstanding), there was one other incident called a “turkey shoot.”
At the start of the new millennium, the United States military was a very different organization. But then, so too was the United States as a country. In the past 20 years, the military has experienced an incredible shift in not only demographics, but also in the way it is formed. This trend will only continue.
A Pew Research Center study of the Department of Defense analyzed all of the data released by the U.S. military on its demographic makeup and found some key facts about how the U.S. military and the men and women who served in it has changed.
The Army is still the biggest, and the other branches are shrinking
In 2015, the Army was more than a third of the total active-duty force of the United States military. The Air Force and Navy were about a quarter of the force each, with the Marines and Coast Guard comprising 14 percent and 3 percent, respectively. These days, the Navy and Air Force have seen a sizable shrinkage in terms of how big they are in comparison to Big Army. The Marine Corps has also shrunk, although not to the same extent.
The Coast Guard, however, has grown.
The profile of the American veteran will shift significantly
Right now, 91 percent of veterans are male, but by 2045, the share of female veterans is expected to double while the actual number of female veterans will increase to more than 2.2 million. The number of male veterans is predicted to drop by half, to 9.8 million in 2045. These groups will also become more ethnically diverse as the older generations of veterans die. The share of Hispanic vets is expected to double, and the expected share of African-American veterans will increase to 16 percent.
Fewer Americans are veterans and that number will only drop
As of 2015, seven percent of the American population were veterans, down from 18 percent in 1980. With it came a drop in the number of active-duty military personnel, and the numbers keep on dropping. In 2045, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates the number of veterans will drop by 40 percent of its current population, as Gulf War vets become the dominant era, and Vietnam veterans start to die off.
More women are joining – and more are in command
The number of women in the U.S. military is rapidly changing. According to the Defense Department, women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army, and almost 9 percent of the Marine Corps. More than one in five commissioned officers were women in 2017, a number that is projected to rise, a far cry from women being just five percent of officers in 1975.
The U.S. military is getting smaller – troops are seeing more action
One in five veterans today served after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As a result of being a smaller force than the U.S. military of the Cold War Era, which includes the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts of the time, Members of the post-9/11 military generation were more likely to have deployed and served in combat. They are also more likely to have experienced some kind of traumatic incident.
The fist bump was their thing in Afghanistan, where both Marines lost legs in the same attack, and the fist bump is still their thing in the hunt for child predators under a special law enforcement program to train and hire medically retired veterans.
Cpl. Justin Gaertner and Sgt. Gabriel Martinez in their dress blues bumped fists at an event earlier this year in Florida, just as they bumped fists while recovering from their wounds.
Gaertner, 26, of Tampa, Fla., has been partnered for the last two years with retired Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Nathan Cruz, 42, executing the computer forensics to track down sex traffickers in the ICE/HERO program.
Working out of the Tampa, Fla., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, Gaertner and Cruz use their newly-acquired computer skills to determine probable cause and go on raids to seize evidence hidden in computer hard drives, software programs and cell phones, much of it involving disturbing images of young children.
Martinez has just committed to training for the same job that falls under the Department of Homeland Security’s mandate in a program that began two years ago.
He was expected to start the year-long training in the fall for the program that was initially limited to U.S. Special Operations Command veterans but now is open to medically retired vets from all the services, said Tamara Spicer, an ICE spokeswoman.
Martinez and Gaertner were both wounded while on a route clearance mission outside Marjah in Afghanistan’s southwestern Helmand province on Nov. 26, 2010.
An improvised explosive device went off and “my best friend blew up right in front of me,” Gaertner said. He was wounded when he stepped on a mine while trying to clear a medevac landing zone.
STUNNED AT THE SCOPE
In phone interviews last week, Gaertner, who served five years in the Marines, and Cruz, a 15-year Army veteran, said they were both channeling the discipline and determination they brought from the military into going after child predators and pornographers. Despite their training, both admitted they were stunned at the scope of the problem.
“I don’t think we ever realized fully what we were getting into or the nature of the suspects we were going after,” Gaertner said. “We don’t really understand them. There’s no character to the people who do these crimes.
“We’ve seen schoolteachers to daycare workers to sports photographers to diplomats – there’s really no face to these crimes,” Gaertner said. “It’s been hard and it’s been a long road but luckily Nathan and I are in the same office and we have each other to fall back on.”
Cruz also said “I didn’t know what I was going to get into” at the start. “I wasn’t working, I wasn’t doing anything,” but “I heard from some SOCOM buddies about this so I thought I’d give it a shot.”
Now, as the father of three children, “I think there’s nothing better I should be doing,” Cruz said. “Kids are being victimized over and over. They need someone to get their back. We just want to put the guys that are hurting them behind bars.”
Cruz and Gaertner were part of the first HERO Corps (Human Exploitation Rescue Operations Corps) in 2013 working with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to meet the growing backlog of sex trafficking cases.
2,300 CHILD PREDATORS
Last year, ICE seized more than 5.2 million gigabytes of data related to child exploitation and pornography and arrested more than 2,300 child predators on criminal charges.
“The HERO program, and the resulting hiring of Nathan and Justin, has paid great dividends for HSI Tampa across the board,” said Susan L. McCormick, special agent in charge of HSI Tampa. “We gained skilled employees with valuable experience and training.”
In October 2013, the first class of 17 HEROs graduated from the initial training as computer forensic analysts and in October 2014 a second class of 13 HEROs graduated. In August, ICE was expected to begin training another 50 candidates for the HERO Corps.
In May, Congress passed a bill to make the ICE/HERO program a permanent part of Homeland Security and its budget. The bill was quickly signed into law by President Obama as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.
The program had been partly funded by a five-year, $10 million contribution from individuals and foundations through the non-profit National Association to Protect Children.
At a Washington ceremony last month, Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson and ICE Director Sarah Saldana swore 22 new vets into the HERO Corps designed “to allow wounded, ill or injured warriors the chance to continue serving their country on a new battlefield – the fight against child predators.”
“These heroes have all served their country with honor and distinction and, despite the traumas of war they all have endured, they have answered the call yet again,” Johnson said.
“The main thing we’re focusing on is child exploitation,” Cruz said. “I’d say maybe 80 percent of our cases are child pornography.” The average suspect might have about 1,000 images but “we’ve seen cases with more than 40,000 images. They trade them with their buddies so they can get more – that’s how it works. The more I find, the more years you’re going to get.”
Once they have zeroed in on an offender, the hardest, and most rewarding, part of the job begins – finding and rescuing those children in the images, Cruz said.
“We try to save that kid, try to see where he or she is from. That brings more satisfaction, knowing those kids are not going to be harmed anymore.”
Gaertner said that a recent case in which a suspect had 28,000 images led to the rescue of 130 children nationwide.
Cruz and Gaertner also said that part of the job was focusing on themselves and the potential effects of constantly dealing with the worst of society and the images of exploited children. “Luckily, Nathan and I are in the same office and we have each other to fall back on,” Gaertner said.
“We cannot bring work home, we were taught that during our military careers,” Cruz said. “I tell everybody that when I went to SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), the one thing they stress the most is ‘stay in the circle.’ I stay in the circle. Work stays at work, when I go home it’s Nathan the dad.”
While partnering with Gaertner, “we talk about it all the time,” Cruz said of the potential psychological effects. “He knows what I do, I know what he does. Me and Justin, we’re lucky that we’re here together.”
The Air Force is set to acquire new wings for its A-10 Thunderbolts in order to keep the vaunted attack aircraft in operation until the 2030s.
The Air Force told Congress in 2017 that 110 of its 283 A-10s were at risk of being permanently grounded unless money was apportioned to restart production and rewing the remaining planes.
The service has already paid to replace the wings on 173 of its A-10s, but Boeing, which originally built the wings, has since shut down production, and the Air Force didn’t have funding for new wings for the remainder — 40 of which would have to be grounded by 2021, according to CNN. Those aircraft are still flying with wings from the late 1970s, according to Aviation Week.
The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed by President Donald Trump in March 2018, included $103 million requested by the Air Force to fund the rewinging. That is enough to cover the production of four new sets of wings, but going forward, Boeing might not be supplying them.
The program is considered a “new start,” and under it, the new wings will come with a higher price, as engineers work through the hiccups of the design phase.
Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, mentioned that the service was looking for a new partner on the A-10 early 2018.
“The previous contract that we had was with Boeing, and it kind of came to the end of its life for cost and for other reasons,” he said in January 2018. “It was a contract that was no longer cost-effective for Boeing to produce wings under, and there were options there that we weren’t sure where we were going to go, and so now we’re working through the process of getting another contract.”
Because of the potential for A-10s to be grounded if they don’t get new wings, “acquisition is being expedited to the maximum extent possible,” according to a draft request for proposal for A-10 wings, issued in February 2018.
US Air Force
According to the anticipated schedule included in the draft request, a final request is expected by April 3, 2018, a proposal due date on June 5, 2018, and the awarding of the contract by the end of the March 2019. (The 2019 fiscal year runs from October 2018 to September 2019.)
The service has committed to maintaining six of the nine A-10 squadrons it has, but the contract will ultimately determine how many wings the service can actually buy, an Air Force spokeswoman told Aviation Week, saying “the majority of the A-10 fleet will fly and fight for the foreseeable future.”
The hard-fighting A-10 emerged in 2017 from a debate between lawmakers and the Air Force over whether it would stay in service, and in recent years it has seen duty all over the world.
It was a workhorse in Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, releasing 13,856 weapons between Aug. 8, 2014 and mid-2016 — second only to the F-15E Strike Eagle, which released 14,995 weapons over the same period.
The Thunderbolt has also seen duty in Afghanistan, where the government requested the A-10 return in late 2017. A squadron of 12 A-10s arrived in the country in January 2018, where it has taken part in an intensified air campaign against militants in the country — in particular the Taliban and its drug-producing facilities.
US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chris Drzazgowski
The venerable aircraft will soon face competition closer to home however, with comparison testing between it and the F-35— the plane originally meant to replace the A-10 — happening as soon as summer 2018, when the F-35 is scheduled for testing in close-air-support and reconnaissance operations.
Congress has said that the Air Force cannot shed any A-10s until that evaluation takes place. But whatever the results, the Thunderbolt looks likely to have vocal supporters.
“If I were to sit down to design a heavy attack platform, it would look just like the A-10,” Air Force Lt. Col. Bryan France told The Aviationist. “Our airframe was built to extend loiter times over the battlefield, deliver a substantial amount of ordnance, and survive significant battle damage. It does these things exceptionally well.”
“It is built to withstand more damage than any other frame that I know of. It’s known for its ruggedness,” A-10 pilot Lt. Col. Ryan Haden told Scout Warrior. “It’s deliberate, measured, hefty, impactful, calculated, and sound. There’s nothing flimsy or fragile about the way it is constructed or about the way that it flies.”
“I happen to be a fan of the A-10,” Wilson, the Air Force secretary, told lawmakers in December 2017.
The U.S. Navy has released video of a Su-27, a Russian fighter, conducting an extremely dangerous maneuver against the crew of an EP-3 Aries plane taking part in Trident Juncture, the massive NATO war games that have sent the Russian military into a tizzy.
The depicted aerial maneuvers, which included the Russian plane flying within a few feet of the U.S. aircraft with engines roaring, were seemingly conducted solely with the intention of threatening the unarmed plane. The intercept included two passes and lasted for approximately 25 minutes. According to a Navy statement,
On Nov. 5, 2018, a U.S. EP-3 Aries aircraft flying in international airspace over the Black Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-27. This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-27 conducting a high speed pass directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk. The intercepting SU-27 made an additional pass, closing with the EP-3 and applying its afterburner while conducting a banking turn away. The crew of the EP-3 reported turbulence following the first interaction, and vibrations from the second.
Article IV of the agreement specifically calls for commanders of aircraft to “use the greatest of caution and prudence in approaching aircraft and ships of the other Party,” something that this November 5 incident seems to be a flagrant violation of. This follows a November 2 incident in which a Russian bomber flew nearly directly over a U.S. command ship, the USS Mount Whitney.
A Pentagon spokesperson told Business Insider that Russia failed to make radio contact with the plane before conducting its maneuvers, making this interaction especially dangerous.
This sudden increase in incidents is no accident. NATO’s Trident Juncture war games are a response to increasing Russian aggression, including the illegal annexation of Crimea and election meddling across the Europe and the U.S.
The military exercises have triggered a series of responses from Russia, which include the dangerous intercepts, a huge missile exercise announced and held in the middle of NATO’s training, and an increased naval presence in the waters in and around the exercise.
Russia’s concerns about the large exercise ring hollow, though, since Russia held the Vostock 2018 war games in September, which it claimed was its largest exercise since the Cold War. While Russia inflated the size of Vostock, claiming 300,000 troops where there may have been as few as 150,000, it was still much larger than Trident Juncture, which has only 50,000 participants.
But Trident Juncture is still frightening for Russia as 30 nations are taking part. Vostock had only three participants: Russia, China, and a small Mongolian force. And Trident Juncture includes nations that are Russian neighbors and either members of NATO or friends of the alliance, posing a big threat to Russia’s ability to push around its neighbors.
The new red, white, and blue paint job would be a change from the light blue color scheme designed by President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in the 1960s and which has appeared on every presidential aircraft since.
On October 19, 1962, Boeing delivered a highly modified version of the civilian 707-320B airliner with the serial number 62-26000. It would be tasked with Special Air Missions and get the call sign “SAM Two-six-thousand.”
It was the first jet aircraft built specifically for the US president, and when he was on board the call sign changed to “Air Force One,” which was adopted in 1953 for use by planes carrying the president.
The SAM 26000 would carry eight presidents in its 36-year career — Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton — as well as countless heads of state, diplomats, and dignitaries.
Below, you can take a tour of the SAM 26000, which is now on display at the National Museum of the Air Force and which one Air Force historian said could justifiably be called “the most important historical airplane in the world.”
In addition to the blue and white colors they picked, the words “United States of America” were painted along the fuselage, and a US flag was painted on the tail. Kennedy reportedly chose the font because it resembled the lettering on an early version of the Constitution.
In June 1963, the plane flew Kennedy to Berlin, where he delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner,” or “I am a Berliner,” speech.
During the flight into Berlin, “The Russians put MiGs (fighter planes) up on both our wings so we would stay in the corridor over East Germany to West Berlin. They didn’t want us to spy,” said Col. John Swindal, who became commander of Air Force One at the start of Kennedy’s presidency.
That afternoon, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson helped staffers pull the the casket into the rear of the plane, where seats had been removed to make space. Johnson was sworn in as president on the plane prior to takeoff.
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Hames, who worked as a steward on Air Force One between 1960 and 1975, was one of the crew members who helped remove seats to make room for the casket.
“We served a lot of beverages (Scotch) on the way back,” Hames said in 1998. “It was a long ride back to Washington. Nobody wanted to eat. Mrs. Kennedy was in shock. She still had on the blood-stained clothes.”
“You can stand on that spot where President Kennedy’s casket came in — you think about the horror of what was going on and the shock of what happened,” Underwood said. “You can look forward toward the nose of the aircraft and know that’s where the transfer of power took place, and you can see where Mrs. Kennedy sat near the body of her slain husband.”
The SAM 26000 played a prominent role in the presidencies after Kennedy as well.
In 1998, retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Hames, a steward on Air Force One between 1960 and 1975, said the SAM 26000 “was so much faster that we had less time to prepare meals, but we got the job done.”
Kennedy was a “great person for soup. It was a comfort food for him,” Hames told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998. “President Johnson was kind of different. He told me that any beef prepared aboard Air Force One had to be well done. He didn’t care for rare beef the way the group from New England did.”
Nixon “ate fairly light … cottage cheese,” Hames said. “President Ford ate almost anything, but he was in such a short time.”
In 1964, Johnson invited reporter Frank Cormier and two colleagues into the plane’s bedroom for an improvised press conference. Johnson, who had just given a speech under the hot sun, “removed his shirt and trousers,” while answering their questions and then “shucked off his underwear” and kept talking while “standing buck naked and waving his towel for emphasis.”
As Nixon exited the plane in China, a “burly” aide “blocked the aisle” to keep staffers from following Nixon, Kissinger said later. Nixon didn’t want anyone messing up his photo with the Chinese premier.
Three months after ferrying him to China, the SAM 26000 took Nixon on an unprecedented visit to the Soviet Union.
Unsuccessful presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey was reportedly given a ride on the plane by President Richard Nixon, according to retired Chief Master Sgt. Stan Goodwin. During the trip between Washington and Minnesota, Humphrey made 150 phone calls to tell people he’d finally made it aboard Air Force One.
During a week of meetings with Soviet leaders, Nixon reached a number of agreements. One set the framework for a joint space flight in 1975. Another was the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), which contained a number of measures to limit the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
In October 1981, it took former presidents Carter, Nixon, and Ford on an uneasy trip to Egypt for the funeral of President Mohammed Anwar Sadat, who had been assassinated a few days before. Then-President Ronald Reagan did not attend because of security concerns.
Secretary of State Alexander Haig, as Reagan’s official representative, took the stateroom, leaving other officials with regular seats. The former presidents were “somewhat ill at ease,” Carter said later.
“It was one and only time that I’d seen three presidents and two secretaries of state standing in line to go to the men’s room,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Stan Goodwin, who manned the radio on the flight. Things were also tense among staffers on the trip. They reportedly bickered over who got bigger cuts of steak at dinner.
But it was Nixon, whose resignation in 1974 led to Ford taking office, who “surprisingly eased the tension” with “courtesy, eloquence, and charm,” Carter wrote later. Carter and Nixon’s interaction on the plane led to them developing a friendship.
The Boeing 707 that was acting as Air Force One got stuck in the mud at Willard Airport in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. The SAM 26000, waiting nearby as an alternate, was called in to pick up the president.
The SAM 26000 was officially retired in March 1998, after logging more than 13,000 flying hours and covering more than 5 million miles. While it made more 200 trips in 1997 alone, the lack of parts for the plane as well as its high exhaust and noise levels led to its retirement.
Then-Vice President Al Gore took the plane’s final flight, traveling from Washington to Columbia, South Carolina. “If history itself had wings, it probably would be this very aircraft,” Gore said after the trip.
In May 1998, the plane arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. In a nationally televised event, the Air Force retired the plane and turned it over to the National Museum of the Air Force.
A U.S. Air Force Operational F-35A may soon attack ISIS over Iraq and Syria, fly to the Baltics as a deterrent against Russian aggression or deploy to the Pacific theater as part of a key force posture build-up, service leaders said.
“We have a global force management process. The F-35 move into the Middle East is scheduled further down the road. If a combatant commander needed it sooner they would ask for it,” Gen. Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle, Commander of Air Combat Command, told reporters last year.
While actual combat deployment could be imminent orseveral years away, declaring the new stealth multi-role fighter operational means Combatant Commanders around the globe do now have the ability to request the F-35A when mission demands require its abilities, he explained.
This means that the operational aircraft is now ready for combat and could soon be called upon to meet mission requirements in the ongoing air campaign against ISIS. Although the US-led coalition already enjoys air superiority over Iraq and Syria, the F-35 could be useful firing laser-guided air-to-ground weapons or drop GPS-guided bombs on identified ISIS targets.
This would involve the additional combat deployment of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs. Precision and laser-guided air-to-ground weapons such as the Paveway II, a dumb munition converted into a precision-guided missile which made up more than one-half of the air-ground precision weapons fired during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The weapon has already been sucessfully test fired from an F-35.
Alongside the Middle East and Europe, Carlisle also addressed the prospect of moving F-35s to the Pacific Theater, explaining that groups of F-35s could go to the region as part of what the Air Force calls “Theater Security Packages.”
“These small deployments of about four ships are dispatched rapidly to global hotspots when needed. It’s kind of like providing the Combat Air Forces on tap. It’s possible that the F-35A’s first combat deployment will be in one of these TSPs,” Benjamin Newell, spokesman for Air Combat Command, told Scout Warrior.
Carlisle explained the potential deployment of F-35s to Europe and other strategic locations in terms of a prior move to deploy the F-22 to Europe as a deterrent against Russian aggression.
“When you send F-22s to the European theater last fall, it was great messaging that goes along with that.
Sending an F-35 would reassure friends and allies. It is a deterrent to potential adversaries. I don’t think it is provocative at all,” Carlisle said.
He went on to describe the stealth F-22 Raptor as the best air-to-air platform in the world and the F-35 as the best air-to-ground fighter in the world.
In addition to functioning as a deterrent in key global locations, the F-35 could readily be called upon to perform the widest possible range of missions, Carlisle added.
“When you have airplanes you have pre-planned strike missions, interdiction offensive counter air, defensive counter air and air superiority. Many of these are missions I could use it for. It would depend upon the threat environment,” he said.
For instance, should the F-35 attack ISIS, it would be in a position to use both high-altitude precision-guided air-dropped bombs and also use its 25mm gun and other weapons to perform close-air support missions.
The Air Force is now preparing to increase its number of operational F-35s in order to better refine tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs.
“The F-35A is fully combat capable now, and can perform missions as requested by combatant commanders. Our next hurdles are to ramp up the forces to provide an adequate number of aircraft to create a working fleet, on which we build TTPs, test new weapons and most importantly, train adequate numbers of Airmen who are the experts in their assigned platform,” Newell explained.
In order to make this happen, the service would need 2 full fighter wings consisting of 144 aircraft and 6 squadrons.
While experts acknowledge that Iran is “playing with fire” against the best navy in the world, don’t expect these incidents to stop any time soon.
“The number of unsafe, unprofessional interactions for first half of the year is nearly twice as much as same period in 2015, trend has continued. There’s already more in 2016 than all of 2015,” Commander Bill Urban of the Navy’s 5th fleet told Business Insider in a phone interview.
Urban stressed that despite the Iranian navy fast-attack craft being several orders of magnitude less potent than US Navy ships, the threat they pose in the gulf is very real.
“Any time another vessel is charging in on one of your ships and they’re not talking on the radio … you don’t know what their intentions are,” said Urban.
Urban confirmed that Iran sends small, fast attack ships to “swarm” and “harass” larger US Naval vessels that could quite easily put them at the bottom of the ocean, but the ships pose a threat beyond firepower.
According to Urban, these ships are “certainly armed vessels with crew-manned weapons, not unarmed ships. I wouldn’t discount the ability to be a danger. A collision at sea even with a much larger ship is always something that could cause damage to a ship or injure personnel.”
In the most recent episode at sea, Urban said that an Iranian craft swerved in front of the USS Firebolt, a US Coastal Patrol craft, and stopped dead in its path, causing the Firebolt to have to adjust course or risk collision.
“This kind of provocative, harassing technique risks escalation and miscalculation.”
The messages Iran wants to send
“In my view, Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic) decided it’s time to send a message — I’m here and I’m unhappy,” Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of Eurasia Group and expert on Iran, told Business Insider in a phone interview.
According to Kupchan, the Iranian navy carries out these stunts under directions straight from the top because of frustrations with the Iran nuclear deal. Despite billions of dollars in sanction relief flowing into Iran following the deal, Kupchan says Iran sees the US as “preventing European and Asian banks from moving into Iran and financing Iranian businesses,” and therefore not holding up their end of the Iran nuclear deal.
But despite their perception that the US has under delivered on the promises of the Iran nuclear deal, Kupchan says Iran will absolutely not walk away from the deal, which has greatly improved their international standing and financial prospects.
The lifting of sanctions on Iran’s oil has resulted in “billions in additional revenue … They’re not gonna walk away from that.”
So Iran seems to be simply spinning their wheels to score political points with hardliners, but what if the worst happens and there is a miscalculation in a conflict between Iranian and US naval vessels resulting in the loss of life?
“The concern is miscalculation,” said Kupchan. “Some guy misjudges the speed of his boat, people could die. There is a lot on the line.”
According to Kupchan, as well as other experts on the subject, Iran’s navy doesn’t stand a serious chance against modern US Navy ships.
“Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps boats and the Iranian Navy are not very capable or modern,” said Kupchan. The fast-attack craft we’ve seen challenge US Navy boats have simply been older speed boats, some Russian-made, outfitted with guns.
The Iranian craft can certainly bother US Navy ships by risking collisions and functioning as “heavily armed gnats, or mosquitoes” that swarm US ships, but a recent test carried out by the Navy confirms that the gunships wouldn’t have much trouble knocking them out of the water. The ensuing international incident, however, would dominate headlines for weeks.
“The wood is dry in US and Iranian relations,” said Kupchan, suggesting that a small miscalculation could spark a major fire, and that harassing these ships is “one of the ways the Iranian political system lets off steam.”
“Hardliners on both sides would go nuts,” said Kupchan, referencing both the conservative Islamist Iranians and the conservative US hawks who would not pass up any opportunity to impinge Obama over his perceived weakness against the Iranians.
Yet Kupchan contends that even a lethal incident would not end the deal. Both sides simply have too much riding on the deal’s success: Obama with his foreign policy legacy, and Iran with their financial redemption and status in the region as the main adversary to Western powers.
However Iran’s Khamenei may be sending a second message to incoming US leadership, specifically Hillary Clinton, who seems likely to be the next commander in chief. “They know Clinton is tough,” said Kupchan, and Khamenei may be addressing Clinton with a second message, saying “Madame Secretary, I’m still here, I know you’re tough, but I’m ready.”
For now, Kupchan expects these incidents at sea to carry on as Iran vents about their larger frustrations, and that a violent exchange would “not be the end of the deal,” or the start of a larger war, “but a serious international incident.”
Ahead of the historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea on April 27, 2018, political emblems depicting unity have been rolled out across South Korea.
One of these is an outline of the full Korean Peninsula, like on the Korean unification flag seen prominently at the Olympics. Inside Peace House, where Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-In will meet, chairs have been engraved with the same outline and a miniature version of the flag will be placed on a dessert later in the day.
But not everyone views the symbols favorably.
The Korean unification flag features a set of disputed islands between Japan and South Korea that have been a source of tension for over a millennia.
Both South Korea and Japan claim the pair of nearly uninhabitable islets located in the Sea of Japan, which are controlled by South Korea. South Korea refers to the islands as Dokdo, while the Japanese refer to them as Takeshima.
Internationally, they have been given the name of Liancourt Rocks to avoid dispute.
Japan claims it acquired the islands in 1905 as terra nullius during its occupation of Korea, while Korea maintains it was illegally occupied and that Japan’s claims to the islands amount to continued imperialism.
The islands holds significant symbolic importance to South Korea but Japan has protested the use of the islands in the Korean unification flag.
On April 25, 2018, Japan’s foreign ministry lodged a formal complaint about the use of the flag, which is set to be featured on top of a mango mousse served during the inter-Korean summit on April 27, 2018.
A Japanese official met with the South Korean embassy in Tokyo, telling them the use of the flag is “deeply regrettable and unacceptable for Japan,” according to NHK News.
The Japanese Embassy in Seoul has also lodged a complaint with South Korea’s foreign ministry.
This is not the first time the symbol has angered Japan.
In February 2018, Japan lodged a protest against the unification flag which was on display during a women’s ice hockey match between the joint North-South Korean team and Sweden.
South Korea later said it would not depict the islands on the flag it intended to use during the Olympics. But pictures of North Korea’s cheerleaders at the games show they appear to have used the controversial flag anyway.
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During a recent Army exercise, a prototype laser shot down so many drones that its operator started losing count. “I took down, I want to say, twelve?” Staff Sgt. Eric Davis told reporters. “It was extremely effective.”
The Army has made air defense an urgent priority, especially against drones. Once icons of American technological supremacy, unmanned aircraft have proliferated to adversaries around the world. The Islamic State uses them for ad hoc bombing attacks; the Russian army to spot Ukrainian units for artillery barrages.
So last month’s Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment threw 14 different types of drones against a slate of counter-UAS technologies, from a .50 caliber machine gun loaded with special drone-killing rounds, to acoustic sensors that listened for incoming drones, to jammers mounted on rugged, air-droppable Polaris 4x4s.
But the laser was the star.
The Army wants to arm the versatile Stryker combat vehicle with high-energy lasers to defeat a variety of threats — including drones. (Photo: US Army)
“We had a lot of fun with the Stryker vehicle this time,” said John Haithcock, the civilian director of the Fires Battle Lab at Fort Sill, which hosts the exercise. The Stryker is a moderately armored eight-wheel-drive vehicle, lighter than an M1 tank or M2 Bradley but much heavier and more robust than a Humvee or MRAP, and its boxy hull has proved adaptable to a host of variants.
Earlier MFIX exercises had tested a counter-drone Stryker, with radar and optical sensors to detect drones, plus jammers to scramble drones’ datalinks, causing them to lose contact with their operators and even crash. Two prototypes of this CMIC vehicle (Counter-UAS Mobile Integrated Capability) are now in Europe with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the unit on the cutting edge of testing new technology to counter the Russians.
But there’s still space and electrical power to spare on the CMIC Stryker, so for April’s MFIX the Army added the 5 kilowatt laser, derived from the Boeing-General Dynamics MEHEL 2-kw prototype. For November’s MFIX, they plan to double the power, 10 kilowatts, which will let it kill drones faster — since the beam delivers more energy per second — and further away. If November’s tests go equally well, Haithcock said, the 10 kw laser Stryker will graduate to an Army-led Joint Warfighting Assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas, where soldiers will test it in all-out mock battle.
Not that the MFIX exercise was easy: Soldiers operating the laser Stryker had to contend with real drones and simulated artillery barrages. Just managing the Stryker’s complex capabilities — laser, radar, jammers, sensors — was challenging. In fact, a big part of the experiment was assessing whether the soldiers’ suffered “task saturation,” a polite way of saying “overloaded.”
“The crew on the Stryker had never worked together….We didn’t know each other,” Staff Sgt. Davis said. “(But) all the systems were pretty easy to use, and after 15-20 minutes, I was able to program all the different types of equipment.”
Once the shooting started, he managed to multi-task, Davis said: “I was able to troubleshoot the radar while I was using the laser.” The artillerymen manning the laser Stryker were even able to continue acting as forward observers, spotting targets for artillery attack, at the same time they defended the force against incoming drones.
A Stryker-mounted 10 kw laser should be far more maneuverable and survivable on the front lines than the Army’s early experiment, a 10 kw weapon on an unarmored heavy truck. (The truck’s still in play as a platform for a 60 kw long-range laser to kill artillery rockets). But a Stryker is too much hardware for the Army’s light infantry brigades, which mostly move on foot with a smattering of Humvees and other offroad vehicles.
For those forces, this MFIX experimented with splitting the CMIC kit of sensors and jammers across two Polaris MRZR 4x4s. The Army also tested a heavy-duty jammer called the Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), currently mounted on a cargo pallet in the back of a medium truck but potentially Polaris-transportable as well. No word whether they can make a laser that compact — at least, not yet.
U.S. Strategic Command recently passed the leadership role in counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction mission to SOCOM, a move that has SOF leaders scrambling to figure out where it fits into this complex mission.
Michal Lumpkin, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, said he worries that SOCOM will try to take on too much of the mission.
Special Operations personnel are known for being “solution people,” he said. “They solve problems. They fill gaps, seams, and voids.”
“But every gap, seam, and void is not theirs to fill, so the interagency has to do their part,” Lumpkin told an audience Feb. 28, 2018, at National Defense Industrial Association’s 29th Annual Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium. “So, one of the things that I always fear is we would maybe get out in front of the headlights farther and faster than we should and accept too much of the mission.”
Lumpkin took part in a counter-proliferation panel discussion, where all the panelists agreed that chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are quickly becoming one of the top threats to the United States and its allies.
U.S. Army Col. Lonnie Carlson, director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy in the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, said keeping WMD out of the hands of ISIS extremists is one of his top priorities.
“Those real-world things are there, and the bottom line is, they are definitely terrorism-related, they are coming out of the Middle East, and they are not things we were worried about two months ago,” Carlson said.
Components of these mass-casualty weapons are also coming out of North Korea and turning up in places like Syria, said Michael Waltz, a former Special Forces officer and policy advisor to the Bush administration.
There have been “40 to 50 previously unknown, unreported shipments of essentially chemical weapons components or dual-use components from North Korea to Syria,” he said.
Syria’s legitimate chemical industry “isn’t exactly thriving, so I think it is safe to assume what those parts are for,” he added.
Waltz said he agreed with President Trump’s policy of “stopping the North Korean program in its tracks,” but said he thought the administration’s failure to fill key positions in the State Department would make it difficult to counter the proliferation of these types of weapons.
“I think we are really suffering in many respects … with the lack of appointments and with what is going on in the State Department,” Waltz said. “How do we work the non-proliferation piece, which State should and will lead, when they don’t have the manpower? The answer I think is, it’s going to fall on DoD, and it’s going to fall on SOCOM.”
Carlson pointed out that that SOCOM has been given the “synchronization” role in the effort, “but that doesn’t mean they own all the operations.”
“It’s still the global and geographic chain of command with their theater units and SOF operating commands that actually do the executions,” he said.
SOCOM has been given a “significant plus-up” in the proposed fiscal 2019 budget, mainly in the overseas contingency operations account, but that will not be enough to fund this new mission, Lumpkin said.
“There are still shortages for SOCOM and across the inter-agency [in] resourcing this issue,” he said. “The reality is, you can’t put a new mission on anybody without either taking something off the table, something else that they are doing, or you are going to have to give them more resources.”
SOCOM has no shortage of missions these days, Mark Mitchell, principal deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, said during his speech on Feb. 28, 2018.
In addition to leading the new WMD mission, “they also maintain their coordinating authority for countering violent extremists,” Mitchell said. “These are no-fail missions for the nation. … We are going to look at where we can shut some missions.”
Mitchell welcomed the conventional Army’s recent decision to stand up its new Security Force Assistance Brigades, units of highly trained officers and soldiers designed to take over the “advise-and-assist” mission of training foreign troops in conventional infantry operations.
The Army plans to have all six SFABs in place by 2022. Perhaps these new units can take some of the burden off of Special Forces units, who have traditionally assumed these foreign training missions, Mitchell said.
Waltz suggested turning to the National Guard and Reserves since many of its personnel have civilian expertise in some the areas needed in the counterproliferation mission.
“SOCOM isn’t going to solve this by themselves,” Lumpkin said. “The only way we are going to get our arms around the counter-WMD, counter-proliferation challenges is to do it in a unified, whole-of-nation approach.”
At one time, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria controlled a self-proclaimed caliphate that stretched from Syria to Iraq, but now that force in Iraq has been degraded so much that the remnants are hiding in caves, deep wadis, and tunnels in the desert and hills of western Iraq’s austere terrain, the commander of Task Force Rifles told Pentagon reporters Dec. 11, 2018.
Army Col. Jonathan C. Byrom, who also serves as deputy director of Joint Operations Command Iraq, spoke via video teleconference from Baghdad.
Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi security forces are conducting continuous clearance operations against these small pockets, the colonel said.
Checkpoints along the Iraq-Syria border have now been reopened, and Iraq’s border guard and security forces are operating along that border to prevent ISIS from crossing, he said. That includes “intense cross-border fires” by Iraqi and coalition forces in consultation and coordination with Syrian Democratic Forces, he added.
U.S. Marines with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command fire 120mm mortars in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve operations Sept. 18, 2018. CJTF-OIR is the military arm of the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS in designated parts of Iraq and Syria.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gabino Perez)
Iraqi security forces are large-scale clearance operations and are hunting ISIS leadership and trying to take out the terrorist group’s media, propaganda, and financial capabilities, Byrom said.
Assistance from U.S., coalition forces
U.S. and coalition forces are advising, assisting, and enabling Iraqi forces, he said, support that includes providing them with joint fires, intelligence, aerial surveillance, and training, along with some equipment. “It’s a good partnership” that’s preventing a resurgence of ISIS and continues to degrade their numbers and effectiveness, the colonel said.
Byrom emphasized that the Iraqis are conducting their own missions and making the decisions. “They are effectively targeting ISIS and regularly conducting operations that disrupt ISIS and preventing their resurgence,” he said.
Asked how many ISIS fighters remain in Iraq, Byrom said he doesn’t focus on the number. “What we’re really focused on is the capability and whether they can translate this capability into destabilizing or resurging,” he explained.
The good news story, he said, is that ISIS attacks “are not having that much of an impact on the population.”