Air Force pilots attached to deployable squadrons have started dropping real bombs off of their F-35s during training missions, according to a report posted at CNN.com.
“This is significant because we’re building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the airplane instead of simulating weapon employment,” Lt. Col. George Watkins said in an Air Force statement.
The inert precision guided bombs were dropped from airplanes based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
The F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, could use whatever good publicity it can manage at this point. The test program has been plagued with failures at every turn, from wrestling with the millions of lines of code needed to make the cockpit suite communicate with the $500,000 helmet the pilot is supposed to wear to having to redesign the tailhook so the airplane will actually catch the wire across the flight deck and stop when trying to land on an aircraft carrier.
The program’s original “initial operational capability” or “IOC” date was in 2012, but that goal was missed due to setbacks. The overall program cost is currently at $400 billion, and that’s expected to go up to more than $1 trillion over the life of the airplane.
F-35 supporters marvel at the fighter’s “fifth generation” capability, which includes radar-evading stealth technology and data sharing between airplanes. Critics say the Joint Strike Fighter is a procurement nightmare that can’t match the A-10 as a close air support asset or the F-16 as a dogfighter.
It was a cold February in 2014 when I was staying at a tiny U.S. Army installation right near the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea with the rest of my company. We hadn’t been there long before we got our first mail drop, right before Valentine’s Day. Some of us got care packages, but everyone in my platoon got a letter.
These letters were sent by elementary school kids back in the States — probably around third grade — and they were just as you’d expect: immaculate spelling, artwork that rivaled the classic greats, and fine calligraphy. Jokes aside, receiving that letter put me in an interesting head-space.
At that point, the war in Iraq had mostly died down. Marines were still being sent to Afghanistan, but just a handful of months prior, we were reflecting upon the 12th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks that kick-started the whole shebang.
1st platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in South Korea. C. 2014.
What I realized then and there is that, just a decade earlier, I was the elementary school kid writing a letter to some service member who was, at that time, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact, I was even younger than whoever penned my letter when I saw the events of that fateful September day repeated on the news. The kid who wrote the letter in my hands now wasn’t even around in 2001.
It never occurred to me, especially back at the turn of the century, that I would one day enlist to fight in the same war that started when I was a kid.
When I was growing up, you’d hear this left and right: “Don’t join the military, you’ll go to war and die.” I always dismissed it as ignorant. After all, my father fought in the war before this one and he came back, didn’t he? But, at the time, half of that statement was true. If you enlisted immediately after 9/11, there was a near guarantee you’d go to war.
That sentiment followed me through boot camp.
I joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17 and I was still sure I’d go to war. But, with time comes change — and that’s exactly what happened. From the time I went to MEPS and had an old guy tell me to turn my head and cough to the time I walked across the parade deck at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, everyone said I would go to war. My recruiter, my drill instructors, everyone.
But once I got to the School of Infantry, things had mellowed out a bit.
I never went to war. In fact, a lot of people I served with never did. The crazy thing is that it was the reason we enlisted. We were kids when 9/11 happened and we grew up during the war that it spawned. We had time to grow angry about what had happened and we enlisted for a lot of the same reasons as our predecessors.
Marine Corps Ball in 2014. That’s me on the left.
What blows my mind the most, however, is that I completed my service over two years ago and that war is still going on, even if the Marine Corps infantry isn’t actively involved. Meanwhile, that kid who wrote me the letter is probably sitting in a high school classroom learning about 9/11 as a historical event — not as something that happened to them.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
President Donald J. Trump waves at spectators during the 58th presidential inauguration parade in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. More than 5,000 military members from across all branches of the armed forces, including Reserve and National Guard components, provided ceremonial support and Defense Support of Civil Authorities during the inaugural period.
52nd AMXS Airmen compete in annual load crew competition.
A soldier provides security after capturing a high-value target during a training exercise on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Jan. 9, 2017.
4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division Soldiers conduct a fire mission using an M777 towed 155mm howitzer at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Jan. 12, 2017.
NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY PANAMA CITY Fla. (January 23, 2017) – Navy Diver 2nd Class Kent Knudson, a command diver at the Navy Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU), carries some wrenches through the Ocean Simulation Facility, where he will be one of six Sailors being compressed to a depth of 500 feet for the first saturation dive in 10 years.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 25, 2017) Sailors prepare an F/A-18F Super Hornet from the “Bounty Hunters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2 for take-off on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) flight deck. The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment as part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet-led initiative to extend the command and control functions of U.S. 3rd fleet.
Sgt. Maj. Willy D. Carrion, right, squadron Sergeant Major of Marine Wing Communications Squadron (MWCS) 28, speaks with Lance Cpl. Connor W. Gunnip, a data specialist, during their semi-annual field event, the Spartan Cup, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Jan. 20, 2017. MWCS-28 conducts the Spartan Cup to raise morale and improve unit cohesion.
Marines with Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 4th Marines, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), rush to simulated patients to assess and apply in-scenario medical treatment during tactical casualty combat care training as part of Exercise Alligator Dagger, Dec. 14. The first phase of TCCC is to ensure the patient is alive and conscious at the point of injury before executing the follow-on procedures.
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, with 75,000 horsepower and its 13,500-ton weight, is guided by its crew to break through Antarctic ice en route to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station, Jan. 15, 2017. The ship, which was designed more than 40 years ago, remains the world’s most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker.
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, Jan. 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.
Russia has begun massive military exercises across its central and eastern regions, starting weeklong war games the Defense Ministry says will involve some 300,000 personnel — twice as many as the biggest Soviet maneuvers of the Cold War era.
The Sept. 11-17, 2018 exercises, called Vostok-2018 (East-2018) and billed by Moscow as its biggest in decades — or in history — come amid persistently high tension between Moscow and the West and are being closely watched by NATO.
The war games demonstrate “Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” NATO spokesman Dylan White said in late August 2018, stating that the Western alliance had been briefed about Vostk-2018 and would monitor it.
“It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time — a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence,” White said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the opening day of a Sept. 11-13, 2018 economic forum in the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok, is expected to observe the exercises briefly during his trip.
Chinese and Mongolian troops are taking part, amid ongoing Kremlin efforts to pursue closer ties with Beijing and other Asian capitals.
“We have a trusting relationship [with China] in the spheres of politics, security, and defense,” Putin said at the start of his meeting with Xi.
At a news conference after their talks, Xi also touted the relationship between Russia and China, which has a far larger population and an economy several times the size of Russia’s.
Xi, whose country is locked in a tense confrontation with the United States over trade and tariffs, said that Russia and China should work together to oppose protectionism and what he called unilateral approaches to international problems.
He said that an increasingly unpredictable geopolitical climate made partnership between Russia and China particularly important.
Up to 3,500 Chinese military personnel will take part in the “main scenario” of the drills at the Tsugol proving ground, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Sept. 4, 2018.
Alex Kokcharov, a Russia analyst at the London-based risk assessment firm HIS Markit, said that China has never before participated in war games on Russian soil that were not under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
“Fundamentally, the goal of this specific exercise is to project Russian military power in the Asia-Pacific region,” Kokcharov said. “If Russia had not invited China, that would have been viewed by Beijing as a potentially dangerous activity by Russia.”
President of China Xi Jinping awarded the Order of Friendship of the People’s Republic of China to Vladimir Putin, June 2018.
Russian officials have said that the war games are not meant as a threat to any particular country but are justified by what Putin’s spokesman described on Aug. 28, 2018, as a hostile international environment.
Russia’s “ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is often aggressive and unfriendly to our country, is justified, essential and without alternative,” Peskov said.
On Sept. 10, 2018, Peskov called Vostok-2018 part of “a regular, routine training process aimed at improving skills and coordination in our armed forces.”
“This is a very important exercise, but it is still part of the annual routine development of the Russian armed forces,” he said.
Relations between Russia and the West have been severely strained by Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and its alleged interference in elections in the United States and European countries.
The war games demonstrate “Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” NATO spokesman Dylan White said in late August 2018, stating that the Western alliance had been briefed about Vostok-2018 and would monitor it.
“It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time — a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence,” White said.
Shoigu said that about 300,000 military personnel would take part, twice as many as the largest war games conducted by the Soviet Union: the Zapad-81 exercises in 1981.
“In some ways (Vostok-2018) will repeat aspects of Zapad-81, but in other ways the scale will be bigger,” Shoigu said.
He said it would involve more than 1,000 warplanes, helicopters, and drones; up to 80 combat and logistics ships; and up to 36,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other vehicles.
“Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles — and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible,” Shoigu said.
The drills are being held in Russia’s Eastern and Central military districts, which encompass more than half of the country’s territory.
When it comes to self-defense, what do SEALs recommend? Well, Jocko Willink – a former Navy SEAL who served alongside Chris Kyle and Michael Monsoor in Task Unit Bruiser, earning the Silver Star and Bronze Star for heroism – has some answers. And they are surprising.
When it comes to self-defense, Willink’s top recommendation isn’t a martial art in the strictest sense. It’s a gun and concealed carry.
“If you are in a situation where you need to protect yourself, that is how you protect yourself,” he said, noting that potential adversaries will have weapons, they will be on drugs or suffer from some psychotic condition. “If you want to protect yourself, that is how you do it.”
Okay, great. That works in the states that have “constitutional carry” or “shall issue” carry laws. But suppose you are in California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, or Delaware which the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action notes are “Rights Restricted – Very Limited Issue” states where obtaining a concealed carry permit is very difficult?
Willink then recommends Brazilian jujitsu, followed by Western boxing, Muay Thai, and wrestling (the type you see in the Olympics, not the WWE – no disrespect to the WWE). Willinck is a proponent of jujitsu in particular – recounting how he used it to beat a fellow SEAL in a sparring match who had 20 years of experience in a different martial art.
He noted that people should not buy into the notion of a “magical instructor” who can help them defeat multiple attackers. He said martial arts like Krav Maga can augment jujitsu and other arts.
He also noted that you have more time than you think. The attack isn’t likely to happen next week – it could be a lot longer, and one can learn a lot by training in a martial art two or three times a week for six months.
Willick notes, though, that martial arts have a purpose beyond self-defense. They can teach discipline and humility. He notes that few who start jujitsu get a black belt – because it takes discipline to go out there on the mat constantly, especially when you are a beginner.
The Air ForceWC-130H aircraft veered to the left on the runway, almost rolling into the grass before the crew was able to get it airborne.
The pilot quickly made the decision to return to the Georgia airfield they had just departed. The pilot directed the shutdown of engine one, operating on the remaining three.
“Coming back,” the pilot repeated five times over the next 30 seconds.
Investigators said that within those few seconds the pilot improperly applied nine more degrees with the left rudder, “which resulted in a subsequent skid below three-engine minimum controllable airspeed, a left-wing stall, and the [mishap aircraft’s] departure from controlled flight.”
No other “meaningful direction” was given to the crew other than an order to “brace” just before impact.
The plane was airborne for two minutes overall before it crashed down into Georgia State Highway 21 roughly 1.5 miles northeast of the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, killing all aboard.
A newly released mishap report determined that the WC-130 crash that claimed the lives of nine members of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard in 2018 was largely due to pilot error. But troubling engine and maintenance issues documented in the aging aircraft raise more questions about the cause of the catastrophic May 2, 2018 mishap.
C-130J Hercules and WC-130J Hercules fly in formation during an Operation Surge Capacity exercise April, 5, 2014, over the Mississippi Gulf Coast region.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Monteleone)
The WC-130, which belonged to the 156th Airlift Wing, Muñiz Air National Guard Base, Puerto Rico, had recurring issues with its first engine, according to the Aircraft Accident Investigation
Board Report released Nov. 9, 2018. The issues were documented a month before the aircraft’s final flight, as well as the day of the deadly crash.
The crew should have more closely followed emergency procedure and called for immediate action after discovering one of the aircraft’s engines was malfunctioning, Millard said. Instead, the malfunction led to loss of control of the plane, causing it to crash, the report found.
Experts who spoke with Military.com, however, pointed out that lapses in maintenance deeply disadvantaged the crew even before the aircraft left the runway. The plane, which had been in service more than 50 years, was on its final journey to the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona when it went down.
“The engine malfunction is most definitely large factor and I would say the catalyst for the events that unfolded,” said an Air Force instructor pilot who flies a mobility aircraft and agreed to speak to Military.com on background about the report’s findings. “It appears the [report] narrowed in on a particular piece of the engine (the valve housing assembly) which had intermittent issues with [revolutions per minute] over its lifetime with multiple different engines.”
Nine died in the crash: Maj. José R. Román Rosado, the pilot; Maj. Carlos Pérez Serra, the navigator; 1st Lt. David Albandoz, a co-pilot; Senior Master Sgt. Jan Paravisini, a mechanic; Master Sgt. Mario Braña, a flight engineer; Master Sgt. Eric Circuns, loadmaster; Master Sgt. Jean Audriffred, crew member; Master Sgt. Víctor Colón, crew member; and Senior Airman Roberto Espada, crew member.
The Air Force ordered an immediate investigation into the accident. Days later, after Military Times published an in-depth report showing that military aviation accidents have increased over the last five years, the service directed its wing commanders to hold a one-day pause in order to conduct a safety review with airmen, assessing trends and criteria that may have led to the recent rash of crashes.
Unsolved maintenance problems
The newly released investigation shows that the plane was cleared for flight even though the recorded oscillation data of the plane’s outermost left engine did not match its intended performance.
The WC-130 made its ferry flight from Puerto Rico to Savannah, Georgia, on April 9, 2018. And the flight crew operating the [mishap aircraft] “experienced an RPM issue with engine one, and reported the incident for troubleshooting and repair,” the report said.
While the crew found a fix, maintainers struggled to replicate both the in-flight operations and the solution the pilots used to better understand the what went wrong. They found they couldn’t recreate the crew’s original solution, which was to switch “on the propeller governor control to mechanical governing,” to see if that rectified the issue, it said.
A U.S. Air Force Lockheed C-130E-LM Hercules (s/n 64-0510) from the 198th Airlift Squadron, 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico Air National Guard, prepares to take off from Muniz ANGB, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 29, 2004.
According to post-mishap interviews, during a second maintenance engine run, the “mishap maintainers observed engine one produced 99% revolutions per minute,” the report said.
But the digital flight data recorder (DFDR) said otherwise.
The DFDR indicated “engine one never reached sustained RPM above 96.8% and had significant oscillations between 95% and 98%,” it said.
The Air Force investigators said that when performing an engine run, the [technical order] requires a range “of 99.8% to 100.02% RPM, as displayed on a precision tachometer, to verify an engine is operating properly at 100%.2.”
The maintainers, who failed to use a precision instrument, missed a chance to diagnose a fluctuating, weaker engine.
“Good enough” mentality
The maintainers should have noted these red flags, the instructor pilot who spoke with Military.com said.
“The maintainers… failed to properly conduct the inspection of the engine,” the instructor pilot said. “The crew likely would have never stepped to the aircraft that day, at least not without the engine being verified to have reached the required power threshold, versus over 2 percent lower than the minimum.”
In the report, maintainers are faulted for having a “good enough” mentality about the aircraft’s condition.
Twitter user @MikeBlack114, a self-identified Air Force aircraft maintenance officer, also faulted the “good enough” mentality as a reason mistakes were made in a tweet thread. Furthermore, leadership should have paid better attention, he said.
“I’ll let someone with wings address the aircrew piece, but the mx [maintenance] portion is almost unfathomable,” Black said in a Twitter thread. “If you’re in a leadership position of an organization involved with flying and you aren’t uncovering the skeletons (believe me, they’re there, just a question of how severe they are) you aren’t looking hard enough.”
Another problem, according to the report, was the maintainers observing the aircraft did not use a tachometer to justify the data.
The report noted that they had conducted the engine test runs without the instrument because the compatible adapter plug to connect the precision tachometer to the aircraft was not available.
“During the engine runs and without the use of a precision tachometer, [mishap maintainer one] and [mishap maintainer two] knew that 100% RPM was the speed the engine should operate at, but believed 99% was sufficient to conclude their maintenance because of the wider gauge range provided in the [technical order],” the report said. “Thus, the mishap maintainers never corrected the engine one discrepancy and did not resolve the RPM issue.”
On May 2, 2018, engine one’s RPMs once again revealed an anomaly.
During takeoff, engine one’s RPMs fluctuated and couldn’t be stabilized when the first mishap pilot “advanced the throttle lever into the flight range,” according to the report.
“Engine one RPM and torque significantly decayed, which substantially lowered thrust,” investigators added.
While the banked turn the pilots made into the failed engine “was well below the minimum air speed needed for proper control of the aircraft, the [mishap aircraft] did still have enough airspeed to maintain flight,” the report said.
“The crew put the aircraft in a disadvantageous energy state by rotating (lifting off) 5 knots early and failing to accelerate as required by the procedures,” the instructor pilot said. “Unfortunately, this was not an unrecoverable situation by any means, and one crews in all airframes train to regularly.”
The reason for the initial flight in April 2018 was to conduct routine in-tank fuel cell maintenance in Georgia. The 165th Airlift Wing at Savannah Air National Guard Base had the means to do this, unlike the Puerto Rico Guard’s 156th Wing.
Puerto Rico’s facilities sustained substantial damage during Hurricane Maria and could not offer the maintenance at home station, the report said.
Although Adjutant Gen. Isabelo Rivera, the commanding officer of the Puerto Rico National Guard, said at the time of the crash the aircraft was more than 60 years old and one of the oldest C-130s in the fleet, its history and maintenance record say otherwise.
The aircraft, tail number 65-0968, rolled off the assembly line in 1965 as a standard C-130E, its records show.
“Sometime in the early 1970’s, it was converted to a WC-130H for use in weather reconnaissance (the “W” designation indicates the weather modifications),” the report said.
The engines were also “upgraded from T56-A-7 to the T56-A-15 at that time (which changed the “E” designation to “H”),” it said.
The aging aircraft life was extended because the wing had been expected to change missions. But that transition never came.
The fiscal 2016 budget “initially divested the six WC-130H aircraft from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard “and provided direction to move the 156th Airlift Wing to the RC-26, a manned Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform,” the report said. “However, this direction did not prove viable, as there was no requirement for a manned ISR mission in the United States Northern Command Theater.”
Millard, the investigator, said in the report there were no outstanding time compliance technical orders that would have restricted the plane from from flying.
Still, there should have been more transparency, the instructor pilot said.
“As an aircraft commander, there’s a ‘trust but verify’ mentality with the maintenance crews, but our knowledge is limited. So when a crew chief hands me the signed forms,” he said, “I have to trust those procedures and previous discrepancies have been fixed in accordance with the maintenance technical orders.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The Pentagon warned on Thursday morning that anyone who tries to breach the US Embassy in Baghdad would face a “buzzsaw.”
Swarms of violent protesters and apparent supporters of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia targeted by recent US airstrikes stormed the gates of the embassy on Tuesday, forcing the Pentagon to react.
About 100 Marines from a special crisis-response unit created after the 2012 attacks on US diplomatic posts in Benghazi, Libya, were sent in to reinforce the embassy, and 750 paratroopers from the Army 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force deployed to the US Central Command area of operations.
At a press briefing on Thursday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, said that “we are very confident in the integrity of that embassy.”
“It is highly unlikely to be physically overrun by anyone,” he said, adding that “anyone who attempts to overrun that will run into a buzzsaw.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley
(DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Burden)
The US on Sunday conducted airstrikes against five positions of the militia, Kataib Hezbollah, in retaliation for a rocket attack days earlier on an Iraqi base that killed a US contractor and wounded several American service members.
President Donald Trump has pinned the blame for both the rocket attack and the assault on the embassy on Iran.
“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible,” he tweeted on Tuesday, later adding: “Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
The past year has been largely characterized by heightened tensions with Iran, which the US military has deployed roughly 15,000 troops to counter since May.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at the briefing on Thursday, according to Voice of America, that the US would “take preemptive action” against Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias in Iraq “to protect American forces, to protect American lives.”
He added: “The game has changed. We’re prepared to do what is necessary.”
Esper said that there were indications that groups opposed to the US presence in the area might be planning additional attacks.
“Do I think they may do something? Yes. And they will likely regret it,” he said.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper.
(DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
The Department of State told Insider on Wednesday that the situation at the embassy “has improved” and that the Iraqi security forces had stepped in to provide additional security, clearing protesters away from the outpost.
The embassy, which cost an estimated 0 million, is in a 104-acre compound in the fortified Green Zone, making it the world’s largest embassy.
“Though the situation around the Embassy perimeter has calmed significantly, post security posture remains heightened,” the emailed statement read. The Pentagon has left the door open to sending more troops to the Middle East to counter threats to US personnel in the region.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Boeing’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) fires a beam of concentrated light that can disable anything from drones in flight to incoming mortar shells.
Lasers are already in use on military trucks and Navy ships, but Boeing premiered a new version that can fit inside a suitcase earlier last week in New Mexico, Wired reports.
HEL MD works by shooting a 10 kilowatt beam of focused light at light speed towards airborne targets.
The beam will then quickly heat the surface of the target until it bursts into flames. Boeing claims the laser works with “pinpoint precision within seconds of [target] acquisition, then acquires the next target and keeps firing.”
Potentially these lasers could serve to defend against hypersonic missiles, which fly too fast for conventional missile defense.
Wired reports that the laser is accurate within a few inches, and it can disable or destroy the flying foe depending on what the situation calls for. So an incoming mortar can be detonated from a safe distance.
The laser also has the benefit of being totally electronic, so no dangerous projectiles will be fired, and as long as the electricity flows, the machine can fire indefinitely. For that reason, the HEL MD system is a rare instance of a high tech defense product having a low operational cost.
Boeing hopes to have the system available for purchase within a year or two, according to Wired, who also report that Boeing will add sound effects to the silent machine.
The U.S. Air Force will soon need to make a decision on whether its plan to grow to 386 operational squadrons should focus on procuring top-of-the-line equipment and aircraft, or stretching the legs of some of its oldest warplanes even longer, experts say.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced in September 2018 that the service wants at least 74 additional squadrons over the next decade. What service brass don’t yet know is what could fill those squadrons.
Some say the Air Force will have to choose between quantity — building up strength for additional missions around the globe — or quality, including investment in better and newer equipment and warfighting capabilities. It’s not likely the service will get the resources to pursue both.
“It’s quite a big bite of the elephant, so to speak,” said John “JV” Venable, a senior research fellow for defense policy at The Heritage Foundation.
Wilson’s Sept. 17, 2018 announcement mapped out a 25 percent increase in Air Force operational squadrons, with the bulk of the growth taking place in those that conduct command and control; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and tanker refueling operations.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson speaks with members of the workforce during a town hall at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., April 5, 2018.
An additional 14 airlift squadrons using C-17s could cost roughly billion; five bomber squadrons of fifth-generation B-21 Raider bombers would cost roughly billion; and seven additional fighter squadrons of either F-22 Raptors or F-35s would be .5 billion, Venable said, citing his own research.
“Tanker aircraft, that was the biggest increase in squadron size, a significant amount of aircraft [that it would take for 14 squadrons] … comes out to .81 billion,” he said.
By Venable’s estimates, it would require a mix of nearly 500 new fighter, bomber, tanker, and airlift aircraft to fill the additional units. That doesn’t include the purchase new helicopters for the combat-search-and-rescue mission, nor remotely piloted aircraft for the additional drone squadron the service wants.
And because the Air Force wants to build 386 squadrons in a 10-year stretch, new aircraft would require expedited production. For example, Boeing Co. would need to churn out 20 KC-46 tankers a year, up from the 15 per year the Air Force currently plans to buy, Venable said.
The Air Force thus would be spending closer to billion per year on these components of its 386-squadron plan, he said.
New vs. old
In light of recent Defense Department spending fiascos such as the Joint Strike Fighter, which cost billions more than estimated and faced unanticipated delays, some think the Air Force should focus on extending the life of its current aircraft, rather than buying new inventory.
The Air Force will not be able to afford such a buildup of scale along with the modernization programs it already has in the pipeline for some of its oldest fighters, said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Harrison was first to estimate it would cost roughly billion a year to execute a 74-squadron buildup, tweeting the figure shortly after Wilson’s announcement.
F-16 Fighting Falcons in flight.
If the Air Force wants to increase squadrons quickly, buying new isn’t the way to go, Harrison told Military.com. The quickest way to grow the force the service wants would be to stop retiring the planes it already has, he said.
“I’m not advocating for this, but … as you acquire new aircraft and add to the inventory, don’t retire the planes you were supposed to be replacing,” said Harrison.
“That doesn’t necessarily give you the capabilities that you’re looking for,” he added, saying the service might have to forego investment in more fifth-generation power as a result.
By holding onto legacy aircraft, the Air Force might be able to achieve increased operational capacity while saving on upfront costs the delays associated with a new acquisition process, Harrison said.
The cost of sustaining older aircraft, or even a service-life extension program “is still going to be much less than the cost of buying brand-new, current-generation aircraft,” he said.
Just don’t throw hybrid versions or advanced versions of legacy aircraft into the mix.
“That would just complicate the situation even more,” Harrison said.
“Why would you ever invest that much money and get a fourth-generation platform when you could up the volume and money into the F-35 pot?” Venable said.
Boeing is proposing a new version of its F-15 Eagle, the F-15X.
Running the numbers
Focusing on squadron numbers as a measure of capability may not be the right move for the Air Force, Harrison said.
The Navy announced a similar strategy in 2016, calling for a fleet of 355 ships by the 2030s. But counting ships and counting squadrons are two different matters, he said.
“While it’s an imperfect metric, you can at least count ships,” Harrison said. “A squadron is not a distinct object. It’s an organization construct and [each] varies significantly, even within the same type of aircraft.”
Still less clear, he said, is what the Air Force will need in terms of logistics and support for its planned buildup.
Harrison estimates that the aircraft increase could be even more than anticipated, once support and backup is factored in.
For example, if it’s assumed the squadrons will stay about the same size they are today, with between 10 and 24 aircraft, “you’re looking at an increase [in] total inventory of about 1,100 to 1,200” planes when keeping test and backup aircraft in mind, he said.
A squadron typically has 500 to 600 personnel, including not just pilots, but also support members needed to execute the unit’s designated mission, he said. Add in all those jobs, and it’s easy to reach the 40,000 personnel the Air Force wants to add by the 2030 timeframe.
“It’s difficult to say what is achievable here, or what the Air Force’s real endstate is,” said Brian Laslie, an Air Force historian who has written two books: “The Air Force Way of War” and “Architect of Air Power.”
“[But] I also think the senior leaders look at the current administration and see a time to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak,” Laslie told Military.com. “Bottom line: there are not enough squadrons across the board to execute all the missions … [and] for the first time in decades, the time might be right to ask for more in future budgets.”
The way forward
Air Force leaders are having ongoing meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill ahead of a full report, due to Congress in 2019, about the service’s strategy for growth.
So far, they seem to be gaining slow and steady backing.
Following the service’s announcement of plans for a plus-up to 386 operational squadrons, members of the Senate’s Air Force Caucus signaled their support.
“The Air Force believes this future force will enable them to deter aggression in three regions (Indo-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East), degrade terrorist and Weapons of Mass Destruction threats, defeat aggression by a major power, and deter attacks on the homeland,” the caucus said in a letter authored by Sens. John Boozman, R-Arkansas; John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “We are encouraged by the Air Force’s clear articulation of its vision to best posture the service to execute our National Defense Strategy.”
For Air Force leadership, the impact of the pace of operations on current and future airmen must also be taken into account.
The secretary said the new plan is not intended to influence the fiscal 2020 budget, but instead to offer “more of a long-term view” on how airmen are going to meet future threats.
“I think we’ve all known this for some time. The Air Force is too small for what the nation is asking it to do. The Air Force has declined significantly in size … and it’s driving the difficulty in retention of aircrew,” Wilson said.
There will be much to consider in the months ahead as the Air Force draws up its blueprint for growth, Laslie said.
“I think the Air Force looks at several things with regard to the operations side of the house: contingency operations, training requirements, and other deployments — F-22s in Poland, for example — and there is just not enough aircraft and aircrews to do all that is required,” Laslie said. “When you couple this with the demands that are placed on existing global plans, there is just not enough to go around.”
It’s clear, Laslie said, that the Air Force does need to expand in order to respond to current global threats and demands. The question that remains, though, is how best to go about that expansion.
“There is a recognition amongst senior leaders that ‘Do more with less’ has reached its limit, and the only way to do more … is with more,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
An Iraqi grandmother who leads a militia of 70 men fighting the Islamic State in the Salahuddin province to avenge the killings of her family members doesn’t mess around.
Wahida Mohamed Al-Jumaily, better known as Um Hanadi, started fighting al-Qaida in 2004 and later made ISIS the target of her war against jihadis. ISIS is responsible for the deaths of Um Hanadi’s first two husbands, father and three brothers, which she says justifies any means to kill them.
“I fought them, I beheaded them, I cooked their heads, I burned their bodies,” she told CNN.
Um Hanadi, 39, now says she’s at the top of ISIS’s most wanted list. Bombs have been detonated outside her house several times and she has received death threats from the group, including personal ones from leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Six times they tried to assassinate me,” she told CNN. “I have shrapnel in my head and legs, and my ribs were broken. But all that didn’t stop me from fighting.”
The force is backed by Iraqi ground forces in the area, which provides the militia with weapons.
“She lost her brothers and husbands as martyrs,” Gen. Jamaa Anad, commander of Iraqi ground forces in the Salahuddin province, told CNN. “So out of revenge she formed her own force.”
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A ceasefire between U.S.-backed rebels and Russian-backed Syrian forces went into effect in Syria on Feb. 27 — the first major respite in five years of warfare that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The volunteer rescuers from the Syrian White Helmets group reported the ceasefire “holding in the main.”
“Today very quiet,” the group tweeted. “Long may it last.”
But the ceasefire doesn’t apply to Islamic State, of course — nor to Syrian, Russian, American and rebel attacks on the militant group. The Pentagon reported that its allies in the “New Syrian Forces” repulsed Islamic State attacks along the Mar’a Line in northern Syria while U.S.-vetted rebels in the Syrian Democratic Forces group gained control of the Tishreen Dam east of Aleppo as well as Shaddadi, a strategic logistical hub for militants in the northeastern part of the country.
Islamic State also attacked Kurdish SDF forces holding Tel Abyad, a Syrian town on the Turkish frontier that was a key border crossing for the militant group before the Kurds liberated it in July 2015. U.S. Air Force A-10 attack jets flying from Incirlik air base in Turkey strafed the militants, apparently drawing heavy ground fire. The distinctive sound of the A-10s’ powerful 30-millimeter cannons — and the chatter of small-caliber guns presumably firing back — is audible in the video below.
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.”
The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 87,000 with over 1.4 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.
Here’s a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast regions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told cabinet ministers and regional heads to prepare to battle the coronavirus as he outlined steps being taken to counter the outbreak.
“Right now we need to get ready to fight for the life of each individual in every region,” Putin said during a video conference from his residence outside Moscow on April 8 during which he outlined measures being implemented to counter the growing outbreak in the country.
Russia has more than 8,670 officially confirmed coronavirus infections and at least 63 fatalities.
However, critics have cast doubt over the veracity of the figures, saying the actual toll could be much higher.
Among the steps publicized by Putin during his address was extra pay for medical personnel and the freeing up of 10 billion rubles (3 million) from the federal budget to be disbursed among the country’s more than 80 administrative regions.
In addition, he said that medical personnel who are in direct contact with coronavirus patients would be in line for an additional bonus.
Addressing the economy, Putin said that there was “practically no such thing as a total shutdown of business,” despite the obstacles and restrictions being faced.
“We must realize what kind of damage and destructive consequences this can bring about,” he said.
Putin also told the nation that he realized it is difficult to “remain inside four walls all the time.”
“But there is no choice,” he said. “One has to make it through self-isolation,” he told chiefs of Russia’s regions, which are mostly under strict lockdown.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani has urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to provide Tehran a multibillion-dollar emergency loan it had requested to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
The epidemic has further damaged Iran’s economy, already battered by U.S. sanctions that were reimposed after Washington in 2018 withdrew from a landmark deal between Tehran and world powers to curb the country’s nuclear program.
Tehran, as well as several countries, the United Nations, some U.S. lawmakers, and human rights groups have urged the United States to ease the sanctions to help Iran respond more effectively to the virus.
The outbreak has officially infected more than 62,500 people and killed over 3,800 in the country. Iranian officials have been criticized for their slow initial response to the pandemic, and experts have been skeptical about the veracity of official figures released by the authorities, who keep a tight lid on the media.
“We are a member of the IMF…. There should be no discrimination in giving loans,” Rohani said in a televised cabinet meeting on April 8.
“If they do not act on their duties in this difficult situation, the world will judge them in a different way,” he added.
Last month, the Central Bank of Iran asked the IMF for billion from its Rapid Financing Initiative to help to fight the pandemic in one of the hardest-hit countries in the world.
An IMF official was quoted as saying the Washington-based lender was in dialogue with Iranian officials over the request.
Iran has not received assistance from the IMF since a “standby credit” issued between 1960 and 1962, according to the fund’s data.
U.S. President Donald Trump has offered some humanitarian assistance, but Iranian officials have rejected the offer, saying Washington should instead lift the sanctions, which Rohani on April 8 equated to “economic and medical terrorism.”
Medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the U.S. sanctions but purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process transactions for fear of incurring large penalties in the United States.
In one of the few instances of aid, Britain, France, and Germany used a special trading mechanism for the first time on March 31 to send medical supplies to Iran in a way that does not violate the sanctions.
The three countries sent supplies via Instex, the mechanism set up more than a year ago to allow legitimate humanitarian trade with Iran.
On April 7, Iran’s parliament reconvened for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak forced it to close, and rejected an emergency bill calling for a one-month nationwide lockdown.
More than two-thirds of the legislature’s 290 members gathered in the absence of speaker Ali Larijani, who tested positive for the virus last week.
During the session, deputy speaker Massud Pezeshkian criticized the Rohani administration for “not taking the outbreak seriously.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 7 condemned the detention of journalist and workers’ rights defender Amir Chamani in the northwestern city of Tabriz after he posted tweets about the health situation in Iran’s prisons and protests by inmates.
The Paris-based media freedom watchdog quoted Chamani’s family as saying he was detained on April 2 after being summoned by the cyberpolice.
The authorities have given no reason for the arrest of Chamani, who was transferred to a detention center run by the intelligence department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, according to RSF.
Romania has confirmed another 344 cases of COVID-19 to reach 4,761, with 18 more fatalities that brought the toll to 215, the country’s coronavirus task force said on April 7, amid renewed calls for a sustained increase in the number of tests.
More than 700 of those infected are health-care workers.
The first fatality among medical staff was reported on April 8 — an ambulance paramedic from the northeastern city of Suceava who had reportedly kept working without being tested for days, although his health was deteriorating rapidly.
Suceava is the epicenter of the outbreak in Romania and has been under lockdown since last week.
The first coronavirus death was registered in Romania on March 22.
An additional 631 Romanians tested positive for COVID-19 abroad, most of them — 412 — in Italy, the world’s hardest-hit country. Some 37 Romanians have died so far in Italy, Britain, France, Spain, and Germany.
The country has been under a state of emergency since March 16, and President Klaus Iohannis on April 6 announced his intention to extend it by one month, while the government decided to postpone local elections that should have been held in early summer.
The Suceava paramedic’s death adds to worries about how Romania’s system is coping with the epidemic. Doctors and nurses have spoken out in recent weeks over insufficient equipment for those treating COVID-19 cases, and many medical staff have resigned over the shortages as well as mismanagement and fatigue.
Romanian platform for online activism DeClic has launched an Internet campaign urging the authorities to speed up the testing under the slogan “Mr. [Prime Minister Ludovic] Orban, don’t toy with our lives.”
Romania, a country of 19.5 million, has tested 47,207 people for coronavirus. By comparison, fellow EU member the Czech Republic has tested almost 99,000 people out of a total of 10.5 million. The Czech death toll stands at 99, less than half of Romania’s.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Romanian Service, digi24.ro, g4.ro, Reuters, and hotnews.ro
A former top official of the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Akhmed Zakayev, has been hospitalized in London with coronavirus symptoms.
Zakayev’s relatives told RFE/RL that the exiled former member of the Chechen separatist government was hospitalized on April 6 after he experienced difficulties breathing.
The relatives added that three days prior to his hospitalization, other family members were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever and cough, as well.
Medical officials asked Zakayev’s relatives to sign a consent paper to use artificial respiration during his treatment.
Zakayev, 60, served as culture minister, deputy prime minister, prime minister, and foreign minister in Chechnya’s separatist government.
He and his immediate family members have been residing in exile in London since 2002.
He is wanted in Russia for alleged terrorism, which he and his supporters deny.