While the US’s new aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, was undergoing testing off the East Coast last month, the Royal Navy’s new carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, was landing and launching jets in UK waters for the first time in a decade and the venerable French carrier Charles de Gaulle was setting off on its first deployment since its 18-month-long midlife overhaul ended late last year.
That activity is a sign the French and the British “are now back in the big carrier business,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the Navy’s recently reestablished 2nd Fleet, said this month in Washington, DC.
“Having that global carrier force is real beneficial. That helps our operational dilemma quite a bit,” Lewis added in response to a question about his command’s partnerships with European navies.
The Queen Elizabeth and its sister carrier, Prince of Wales, have a long life ahead of them, and France is wrapping up studies on a potential future carrier of its own. The Ford and the two carriers following it will also serve for decades, but changes could be coming for the size and role of the US carrier fleet.
Lewis deployed as an exchange pilot aboard the British carrier HMS Invincible, which was sold for scrap in 2010, and while on the USS Harry S. Truman, he sailed with the carrier HMS Illustrious, which was sold for scrap in 2016.
The Illustrious had already turned in its airplanes, “so we actually used US Marine AV-8Bs,” Lewis said, referring to the AV-8B Harrier short takeoff and vertical landing jet, which is being replaced by the F-35B.
“They used US Marine AV-8Bs on that ship then, and it’s something that’s pretty easy to do,” Lewis said. “The Queen Elizabeth is a pretty nifty ship because … it was basically designed around the F-35.”
“We’ll be sailing through the Mediterranean into the Gulf and then to the Indo-Pacific region with F-35B variants, both UK and US Marine Corps,” Edward Ferguson, minister counsellor defense at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, said this month.
“This is a really powerful, interoperable US-UK capability that has huge potential that hasn’t yet been tested in the high north, but I think we certainly see potential in the North Atlantic, up into the high north, as well as globally,” Ferguson said at an Atlantic Council event. “This is a 50-year capability. It’s been designed to be flexible.”
The first-in-class Ford finished aircraft compatibility testing at the end of January, successfully launching and landing five kinds of aircraft a total of 211 times. The second-in-class carrier, John F. Kennedy, was launched in December.
The next two Ford-class carriers have been named — Enterprise and Doris Miller, respectively — but won’t arrive for years, and it’s not certain what kind of fleet they will join.
“The big question, I think at the top of the list, is the carrier and what’s the future going to look like and what that future carrier mix is going to look like,” acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said on January 29 at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments event. Modly spoke as the Navy conducted its own force structure assessment.
The carrier and its strike group are now the Navy’s centerpiece, with the carrier air wing as the main offensive force and the strike group’s destroyers and cruisers mostly in a defensive role.
The future fleet will have to be “more distributed to support distributed maritime operations,” its sensors and offensive weapons spread across different and less expensive ships, Modly said.
Modly pointed to the Indo-Pacific region as one where the Navy has to be a lot of places and do a lot of things at once, and the Navy has experimented with breaking those escort ships away from the carrier to act in a more offensive role as surface action groups.
The Ford-class carrier “is going to be an amazing piece of equipment when it’s done,” but those carriers are billion apiece, Modly added, “and that’s not including the cost of the air wing and everything else.”
“I think we agree with a lot of conclusions that [carriers are] more vulnerable,” Modly said. “Now of course we’re developing all kinds of things to make it less vulnerable, but it still is a big target, and it doesn’t give you that distribution.”
The Navy is required by law to have at least 11 carriers in service, and plans for a 355-ship fleet include 12 carriers, a number the Navy is set to reach by 2065. But Modly said the focus should be on the coming years rather than planning to 2065, when “we’ll all be dead.”
“You should think about what we can actually do,” he added, “and I think that number is going to be less” than 12.
Such a shift could spark backlash like when the Navy broached plans to cancel the Truman’s mid-life refueling, which would have cost billion and kept it in service for 25 years, in order to pay for unmanned vessels and other emerging technologies to counter the carriers’ vulnerabilities to new weapons, like long-range Chinese missiles.
The Navy relented on that, but Modly admitted the changes he mentioned would require further discussion with lawmakers.
“We’d have to talk to them about this, and I think this … can’t be a discussion that we just have inside the walls of the Pentagon,” Modly said. “I think as many people that get involved in this, the better. Congress obviously has interest. Our shipbuilding industry has interest. We all do.”
The carrier’s future will have to be considered when formulating the acquisition and building plan for the carrier after the Miller, the as-yet unnamed CVN-82, Modly said, adding that such thinking will be influenced by changes in the surface fleet and the threat environment.
But the Miller likely won’t arrive until the early 2030s.
“Thankfully, we have some time to think about that,” Modly said. “We don’t have time to think about the other things, like the unmanned systems, the smaller [amphibious ships], that amphib mix,” he added. “We’ve got to start getting answers to those now.”
An updated helmet-mounted night vision system is beginning to make its way to infantry units. Marine Corps Systems Command accelerated the acquisition of about 1,300 Squad Binocular Night Vision Goggles using existing Defense Logistics Agency contracts.
“We have employed a bridge capability to give Marines the best gear right now available in the commercial marketplace,” said Lt. Col. Tim Hough, program manager for Infantry Weapons. “A final procurement solution will allow a larger pool of our industry partners to bid on the program.”
Army/Navy Portable Visual Search devices, or AN/PVS, have been employed by the military since at least the 1990’s and upgraded with next-generation systems as funding and technology became available.
Marines took delivery of the Squad Binocular Night Vision Goggles during new equipment training in December 2018 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
(Photo by Joseph Neigh)
The move to the SNBVG is expected to enhance the infantry’s lethality and situational awareness in reduced visibility. It combines two systems: a binocular night vision device and an enhanced clip-on thermal imager.
“It’s a little bit lighter than the current system, and gives Marines better depth perception when they are performing movements,” said Joe Blackstone, Optics team lead at MCSC.
Marines took delivery of the equipment and learned how to use them in December 2018 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Known as NET, the new equipment training entails teaching Marines about the operations, characteristics, maintenance and use of the new devices.
“The lethality that it’ll bring is exponential [sic],” said Cpl. Zachary Zapata, a Marine who participated in the training. “With these new [BNVGs], having the ability to not only use thermal optics along with it, but just the entire depth perception and speed that we can operate in is going to significantly increase, as opposed to what we were able to do in the past.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron James B. Vinculado)
The initial buy and follow-on procurement is being funded with Marine Corps dollars as prioritized by the Department of Defense Close Combat Lethality Task Force, which concentrates on the squad-level infantry and is aimed at ensuring close combat overmatch against pacing threats. The SBNVG acquisition strategy is to procure the devices incrementally and concurrently as the Corps looks toward future technologies.
“Right now, we are participating with the Army on their next generation night vision systems, both the Enhanced Night Vision Device-Binocular and Integrated Visual Augmentation System Programs,” Hough said. “We are eager to see the maturation of these capabilities for adoption to improve the effectiveness of our Marines.”
The program office plans on releasing a final request for proposals to procure an estimated 16,000 additional systems on the basis of full and open competition. According to program officials, a draft request for proposals was posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website in mid-November 2018, and closed on Dec. 19, 2018. The Government is currently adjudicating comments and anticipates release of a final RFP in the near future.
Additional fielding of the systems is planned for September 2019. While the devices may eventually make their way to the entire Ground Combat Element, for now the first priority is given to the Marine Rifle Squad, program officials said.
“This program office is committed to bolstering the combat lethality, survivability, resilience and readiness of the GCE,” said Hough.
Next-generation fighter jets, simulated aerial combat, and some of the best pilots from the US, British, and French air forces – no, this isn’t a scene from the next Hollywood blockbuster. It’s the latest combined exercise testing pilots’ ability to operate, communicate and dominate in a combat environment.
Called “Atlantic Trident,” this month-long exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, focused on anti-access and aerial-denial missions, which were meant to place the US, British, and French pilots in situations that tested their limits and capabilities.
“This exercise is great because it brings our best and some of our allies best fighters together to train and learn from each other in a very challenging environment,” said Col. Pete Fesler, 1st Fighter Wing commander. “It’s also a great way to test the capabilities of these advanced aircraft.”
The advanced aircraft participating included the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightning II, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the Dassault Rafale – all of which bring a lot of capabilities to the fight. The aircraft were supported by USAF Air Combat Command E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control aircraft and Air Mobility Command KC-10 Extender refueling aircraft.
According to Lockheed Martin, the Raptor’s unique combination of advanced stealth, supercruise, advanced maneuverability, and integrated avionics allow it to “kick down the door,” and then follow up with 24-hour stealth operations and freedom of movement for all follow-on forces – fully leveraging the Raptor’s technological advantages.
The F-35, meanwhile, is no slouch, either. The F-35 combines fifth generation fighter aircraft characteristics — advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and superior logistics support — with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. This means the Lightning II can collect and share battlespace data with other friendly aircraft and commanders on the ground and at sea.
“The F-35 brings an unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability, and adaptability to joint and combined operations,” said Maj. Mike Krestyn, an F-35 pilot with the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
Pilots of both the F-22 and F-35 refer to their jets as aerial “quarterbacks,” capable of controlling an airspace by locating, identifying and sharing the location of enemy threats within a battlespace.
Then, allied aircraft like the Typhoon and Rafale can use their advanced weaponry to eliminate these threats.
All of these advanced aircraft provide lethality never before seen in aerial combat, and their pilots training and flying together enhances tactics, ensures coalition teams are on the same page and strengthens relationships.
“The Air Force and our partners must seek opportunities to develop, expand and sustain relationships wherever possible,” said Heidi Grant, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs. “This enables us to amplify our collective strengths and improves our ability to confront shared challenges.”
From the pilots’ viewpoint, this is also a matter of “training like we fight.”
“We won’t go to war without our allies,” said Capt. Nichole Stilwell, a T-38 pilot with the 71st Fighter Training Squadron. “So we have to train together to make sure we get the most out of our capabilities.”
The Human Element
But, none of these capabilities mean anything without one crucial component.
“People,” Fesler said. “It doesn’t matter how advanced an aircraft is if we don’t have quality people flying and fixing them.”
It’s easy to get distracted by the sleek aircraft and their state-of-the-art capabilities, but this shouldn’t take away from how important the human element still is to air operations, he added.
“There is so much more to this than simply flying an advanced jet and shooting stuff,” Fesler said. “There are people on the ground making sure these planes fly, people in support functions making sure missions happen and go smoothly, and there are people making sure pilots receive the training they need to be effective.”
So, exercises like this are really all about people – training them, developing them, testing them – and relationship building, he added.
Throughout the exercise, US, British and French pilots planned, flew and evaluated missions together, working side-by-side to develop tactics and talk about lessons learned from each day’s flights.
“This type of training is invaluable,” said Royal Air Force Wing Cmdr. Chris Hoyle, 1 (Fighter) Squadron. “It really places a premium on people and relationships, which both are very important to our success as allies.”
These bonds and friendships made at Atlantic Trident can also carry over into other operations.
“This is a great foundation for us to build on,” Hoyle said. “Some of the US or French people I’ve met, or some my guys have met, can really create great opportunities in the future. If I need something, I can pick up the phone and call … and then the relationships we started here can really pay off down the road.”
Still, as pilots of each aircraft are quick to point out, a conversation about people can’t happen without talking about maintainers.
“We simply borrow the jets for a little while, the maintainers own them,” said Krestyn. “They fix them and care for them and then they let us use them.” This sentiment is echoed by Hoyle.
“As pilots, we have the easy part,” he said. “We fly the plane, but it’s the maintainers and support personnel who make everything happen. It doesn’t matter how advanced a jet is, if no one fixes it or makes sure it’s able to take off and accomplish the mission, then it’s a useless piece of equipment.”
Sharpening the Sword
Once these advanced fighters do get in the air, testing them and their pilots is still important. This is where the adversary squadrons come in.
Made up of T-38s from Langley and F-15E Strike Eagles from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, these “adversaries” acted as enemy combatants during the exercise to test friendly force’s air-to-air abilities.
Flying outdated, past-their-prime trainer jets against the most technologically superior fighters in the world may seem futile, but the adversary pilots have a different outlook.
“I think of it as our sword is very sharp, we just help make it sharper,” Stilwell said. “We make pilots adapt their tactics, we make them think and we try to test them as much as possible.”
At the end of the day, though, exercises like Atlantic Trident do more than give pilots time behind the stick. These exercises are providing relevant, realistic training so that when pilots do experience stressful combat situations for the first time, they are prepared.
“Air superiority is not an American birthright,” said Gen. David Goldfien, Air Force Chief of Staff. “It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain.”
Air superiority doesn’t just mean having the most technologically sophisticated aircraft in the world. It also means having highly trained and experienced pilots to fly them.
Working together also helps each of the players learn to speak the same language – that of winning.
“Really, the goal of exercises like this is to train and learn together so that on day one of a future conflict, we dominate,” Fesler said.
Drafted into the Army in March of 1968, George Lang graduated boot camp and went right into advanced infantry training before heading off to the jungles of Vietnam.
In February of 1969, Lang was scheduled to go on leave when an intelligence officer got word of enemy movement closing in.
Lang had just spit-shined his boots when the company first sergeant updated him on his new mission. Lang put his leave on hold and geared up without hesitation. He and his squad loaded up on “tangos” (boats) and proceeded down the river toward their objective.
Lang and his men maneuvered down the canal toward Kien Hoa Province in South Vietnam, where they eventually dismounted the “tangos” and proceeded inland on foot.
After only 50-meters of patrolling, the anxious squad came in contact with a series of bunkers, linked together by communication wires.
Taking point, Lang was first to spot five armed men guarding the area — he quickly engaged. After expelling a full magazine and getting hit by enemy artillery, the squad came under attack by an additional, but unexpected force — red ants.
The squad dashed toward a shallow pond while under fire to wash off the six-legged attackers. Cleaned off and ready to go, the soldiers located a blood trail and followed it to find the bodies of the VC troops they previously engaged.
Suddenly, another barrage of incoming fire opened up from a nearby bunker, killing a handful of Americans. Lang sprinted toward the dug-in position and took it out with his rifle and a few hand grenades.
Lang destroyed a total of three enemy bunkers, which were also full of weapons. Upon returning to his squad, a deadly rocket detonated nearby, shooting hot shrapnel into Lang’s back, damaging his spinal cord.
Unable to move his legs and suffering unbelievable pain, Lang continued to direct his men. After several hours of coordinating troop movement and medical evacuations, Lang was finally removed from the battlefield and brought to safety for treatment.
On March 2, 1971, George Lang was awarded the Medal of Honor from former President Richard Nixon.
Check out the Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to hear this incredible story from the legend himself.
Former Cold War rivals Russia and Pakistan are moving forward with their first-ever joint military exercises, an event that signals the two nations are working more closely together to combat terrorism in their respective countries.
The exercise is small in size – only 70 Russian soldiers and officers joining 130 Pakistani counterparts. But the implications are huge.
Called Friendship 2016, the Russian troops arrived in Rawalpindi on Friday aboard an Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane, according to Radio Pakistan. The exercise will continue through October 10.
“It is planned that the Russian and Pakistani military servicemen will share their experience and employ teamwork in fighting in mountainous areas, particularly destroying illegal armed groups,” the Russian news service TASS reported.
TASS also reported that personnel from a mechanized infantry unit of the Russian Southern Military Command’s Mountain Mobile Brigade are part of the exercise.
“The Southern Military Command’s mechanized infantry servicemen are fully equipped and have their mountain gear with them, as well as ammunition for their standard weapons,” TASS stated, quoting the military command’s media service.
The exercise’s name is symbolic, indicating a lessening of tensions between Moscow and Islamabad that started last year when Russia lifted its arms ban against Pakistan.
The result was the sale of four MiG Mi-35 attack helicopters – the first sale of its kind between the two countries – to help replace Pakistan’s aging fleet of U.S.-made AH-1 Cobras. In addition, Pakistani army, navy, and air force representatives visited Russia during the last year to consult with their opposite numbers.
This is in stark contrast from the days when Pakistan under the leadership Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was an ally of the United States that helped transport arms and men into the fight against Soviet forces after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. In recent years, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan cooled after Washington accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye to Taliban fighters using Pakistan as a refuge.
Pakistan denies that it is sheltering the Taliban. In the meantime, the United States improved ties with India, Pakistan’s bitter enemy.
At first, the location of at least some of the war games was both in doubt and controversial. Initial reports indicated that the exercises would be held in what the United Nation’s calls Pakistan-administered Kashmir, an area on the border between India and Pakistan marked by tension since 1947.
Pakistan calls the area Azad Kashmir; India refers to the area as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
According to a clarification issued by the Russians, “The Russia-Pakistan anti-terror exercise is not being held and will not be held in any point of so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’ or in any other sensitive or problematic areas like Gilgit and Baltistan. The only venue of the exercise is Cherat.”
Cherat is about 34 miles southeast of Peshawar and located at about 4,500 feet in the Khattak Range. It serves as a base for the Special Services Group, the primary special operations force of the Pakistan Army.
Meanwhile, Russia is still moving forward with long-standing joint exercises with India called Indra 2016, hosting more than 500 Indian soldiers in Vladivostok. Russia and India have held the counterterrorism exercises together since 2003.
Peter with his platoon at Army boot camp. He is third row from bottom, far right. Photo credit Peter Markle.
Peter Markle grew up during a period of intense change for the country with the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War etched into his mind. His father proudly served in WWII in the Pacific where he brought those hard-learned lessons and values back to the family, which greatly impacted Peter. After time in the U.S. Army Reserves and on the USA Hockey Team, Markle decided to become a filmmaker. He has directed many great films, especially military and historical ones, to include Bat 21, Faith of my Fathers, Flight 93, Saving Jessica Lynch, Nightbreaker and Youngblood. Markle has also directed numerous episodes for hit shows including the X-Files, CSI, Without a Trace, Life, NYPD Blue, Burn Notice, Rescue Me, ER and Homicide: Life on the Street.
WATM: Tell me about your family and your life growing up?
I was born in Danville, PA. in the Geisinger Hospital that my mother’s father started. We lived on a farm outside Hazelton, PA. I have vivid memories from my first years there. The barn and particularly the hay loft, the fresh fruit that was picked daily in season, the creek where one of the workers killed a water moccasin one day. In first grade we moved to Minneapolis where my father got a job at a bank and I was introduced to a real winter. And the rink directly across the street in the park where I discovered ice hockey.
When I grew up there was no social media and absolutely no restrictions what you did with your free time when not in school. We had a black lab that left the house in the morning with us, went on his own way when he got bored with our activities which included exploration, sports, fishing etc. My dad hung a huge bell that could be heard
a half a mile away which was rung for lunch and dinner. The dog was always the first one back. Times have changed. We had enormous freedom and there was no temptation to bury our faces in smart phones. All activity was self-created.
I distinctly remember being fascinated the movies and got completely lost in them at the local cinema which is still there today. One of my favorites was Shane with Alan Ladd. Years later his son, Alvan Ladd, Jr. greenlit one of my films (Youngblood).
Markle with Flint Generals (IHL). Photo credit PM.
I continued hockey throughout high school and my senior year was asked to join the Olympic Hockey development program which ran through the summer. I played at Yale, had a tryout after my senior year with Boston, played minor league hockey and then three years with the US National team participating in two World tournaments.
Markle with the USA team. First row second from the right. Photo credit PM.
WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?
My parents were very social and community involved. My dad was one of the founders the youth hockey program in our area which started with one team and expanded in a few years into 500 participants. My mother worked throughout her life for hospitals concentrating on rehabilitation. Her interest in health care no doubt emanated from her father who was first assistant surgeon to Will and Charlie Mayo and at one point in his career became President of the American College of Surgeons. They were both extremely social and the vast majority of their best friends served in some way during WW2, many as Naval pilots. My dad was interested in everyone he met. He was the best listener I’ve known. That did not imply he didn’t have a point of view. His advice was judicious and more than often accepted. My mother was a community organizer. That would include in her community as well as her hospital work. Her friends would call her in the morning for their marching orders for the day.
WATM:What values were stressed at home?
It was the traditional ‘Golden Rule’. It’s a timeless aphorism and sometimes hard to follow in a competitive world like film but being honest and empathetic wins out in the short and long run. My mother also told me that lying not only was reprehensible but far more difficult to keep track of than the truth. Both underscored that failure was the inevitable pathway to success. It all depends on how you react to it.
WATM: What influenced you to join the US Army, what was your experience and what lessons did you take away from your service?
I graduated from college at the height of the Vietnam conflict and joined the rest of my class in deciding what was the next move. A significant number of the class including myself applied for the Naval OCS (officer candidate school) in the language division which was in Monterey, Ca. The sample copy of the test which was based on a made-up language was circulated around the campus. I remember looking at it and getting the gist of the concept. Apparently, the other students there got the gist as not one of several hundred who took it missed a question. There was some sort of investigation by the Navy, but it was dropped. I did not attend OCS and assumed upon graduating I would be drafted. I was playing professional hockey when I was told to report to Fort Snelling where the Minnesota Army Reserve was located. I was with four other players at the end of a 200-person line when our names were called, and we were told to report to the front. We were all inducted into the Reserves and told that we would all get time off when playing for the US National hockey team including world tournaments. A month later I was in Stockholm.
Peter lining up for the action shot even before becoming a director. Photo credit PM.
I did basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in the middle of the summer. It was incredibly hot and humid. I made fast friends in my platoon and had a great drill sergeant. It was a lot like summer football camp but with longer hours. Up at 4am for a 5-mile run in army boots to lights out at 10pm. I was told that you had to learn how to stand in formation while asleep. Done. We had soldiers who gained 80 pounds (never had more than one meal a day) and others who lost 80 (never ran over 10 yards in their lives before). It was a very different mix from my fraternity in college where we had 4 Olympic Swimmers (including Don Schollander who won 5 gold medals and Calvin Hill who was All Pro in the NFL. As a footnote The President of the frat my sophomore year was Fred W. Smith, founder/CEO of FedEx and decorated US Marine in Vietnam, and for my senior year it was George W. Bush who also ended up in the Air Force Reserves.
The harassment was handed out pretty democratically until the PT contest. Parallel bars, low crawl, 100-yard man carry, the 6-minute mile in army boots, push ups etc. I scored the only perfect score in my company (200 men) and was given the weekend off. That would not have happened if my 98-pound roommate, Eddie Pragg, didn’t let me use him for the man carry.
I have to underscore that my boot camp experience on every level was positive. It was tough but extremely well organized. The officers were exacting but fair. The staff was totally professional. It ran like clockwork at a time when so many were going through the turnstile each day. There are some correlations to making a film where it demands a unified front and an ability to make quick adjustments according to the situation at hand. I was just a grunt in the machine but there were numerous examples among the staff on every level as well as my fellow platoon mates that have stayed with me my entire life.
No one knew other than a small handful of reservists as to whether they would end up in Vietnam. I did not have to confront the prospect of being shipped out. I realized that I was uniquely privileged. I did OJT (on the job training) at Fort Ord in Chicago before ending back in Minneapolis for weekend duty once a month at Fort Snelling. Motor pool, clerical work, city public projects. No riots or disasters to contend with. We did summer camp at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and in addition to my normal duties and drills I was an editor of the camp newspaper distributed the last day. I decided to take a somewhat satirical angle on the experience and was surprised at the reception. There was laughter, soldiers reading bits out loud and fortunately no reprisals from the brass. I was encouraged to write by my freshman English professor in college and never took it seriously until listening to the reception of my version of ‘The Onion’ distributed around camp.
I would be remiss not to mention that it was my father who was the real soldier. He dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania to join the Navy. He got his pilot license at 17 and became one the youngest flight instructors in the armed forces during WW2. He was assigned to the USS Bataan, a light aircraft carrier, and fought in the last years in the Pacific through the surrender which he witnessed being docked next to the Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Because of his flight experience he was put in charge of the CIC (combat information center) directing planes when airborne, spotted bogies (enemy planes) and skunks (unidentified surface ships) basically directing aerial combat operations along with the brass. They were in the middle of the kamikaze blitz and had numerous close calls. He witnessed both the Bunker Hill and the Franklin take direct hits some less than 200 meters away with the loss of over 1000 sailors. During one Kamikaze attack a sister ship got hit and 19 soldiers were thrown overboard. Dad marked his ship’s position using the DTR (dead reckoning system) and he convinced the brass to take 8 ships after dark for a search. They implemented a staggered zig zag course for six hours and miraculously found the sailors within 10 minutes of the search stop order. To be noted as well, his brother, Alvan, landed on Omaha Beach, fought 5 major battles in the Bulge as an artillery captain and was honored the Chevalier of the Legion of Honneur by the French. He attended the 70th Anniversary of Normandy.
Peter’s father (Thomas) during WWII. Photo credit PM.
Pictures from Peter’s father during his time in the Navy. Photo credit PM.
Pictures from Peter’s father during his time in the Navy. Photo credit PM.
Pictures from Peter’s father during his time in the Navy. Photo credit PM.
Pictures from Peter’s father during his time in the Navy. Photo credit PM.
Pictures from Peter’s father during his time in the Navy. Photo credit PM.
Pictures from Peter’s father during his time in the Navy. Photo credit PM.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into directing and writing?
It’s a tiresome analogy but it would be teamwork. I’ve been on series where one show had 4 stages in use at the same time. One devoted primarily to build sets designed for a particular episode, another three with sets for shooting a current episode, pickups from previous episodes and for the next one. Well over 100 people will be working to accomplish the same goal. Each department head is crucial to the mission (production; accounting; director and assistant directors; art; camera; casting; catering; construction; costume; lighting; grip; locations; makeup/hair; medic; post-production; property; publicity; research; script supervision; set dressing; sound; special effects; stand-ins; stunts; transportation; video playback; visual effects. The similarity to the chain of command in the military is obvious. Lots of departments. Lots of personnel. And all interdependent with one another. I guess the ‘weakest link in the chain’ is a prevalent dynamic in both film and the armed forces. I was shooting a film in Borneo (Bat 21) and the special effects department head had set a series of explosions along a path through the jungle Gene Hackman and Danny Glover would run by. This was primarily done using a nail-board which each nail represented an explosion. After going hot contacting the individual nails with metal (could be a screwdriver) set off the blast. The department head said that he was going to use a computer program instead of the old system, the ‘eyeball approach’. I questioned whether it made sense to switch now but he said it was safer. I called action and Danny and Gene started running along a riverbank. An explosion (representing a bomb) goes off so close to them that they both instinctively duck and cover their faces but continue running. The second explosion is closer, and we get the same reaction for the talent. I look over at effects and he is white as a ghost. The shot was incredible, but we almost lost two actors. Back to the nail board. We never told Gene or Danny.
WATM: What is the most fulfilling project you have done and why?
I guess it’s always the first one because you actually pulled off the impossible. It was a low budget comedy called The Personals where no one was paid. It got great reviews and a crazy learning experience. Bat 21 was up there for the subject matter, the location and working with Gene and Danny. Flight 93 was the first 9/11 film and it was done for AE TV. It was nominated for and won a bunch of Emmys. It was also a challenge to write because the majority of the account took place on the plane. The 9/11 Commission report had just come out and had a great deal of information that I was able to incorporate into the film. We covered not only the drama on the plane but also the families as well as the air traffic controllers and military involvement on the ground.
WATM: What was your experience like in working with such talents as Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, Senator John McCain, Kiefer Sutherland, Dennis Hopper, Daryl Hannah, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Cynthia Gibb, John Candy, Jerry Reed, Joe Pantoliano, Ed Lauter and the like?
After a tryout with the New York Islanders and being assigned to a farm team I made the abrupt decision to become a filmmaker. A good friend of my parents told me something that I never forgot – ‘If you do something you love you increase the odds a hundred-fold that you will be happy and successful.’ I gave it a shot. I ended up doing several military related projects including Bat 21 with Gene Hackman, Faith of my Fathers with Scott Glenn and Shawn Hatosy, Saving Jessica Lynch, Flight 93 and Nightbreaker with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.
All were based on true stories. Bat 21 chronicled the rescue of a 52-year-old Air Force Colonel who was flying a mission to identify through electronic surveillance SAM missile sites that would be knocked out by fighter jets prior to a B52 carpet bombing. His plane was hit by a SAM and he ended up in enemy territory with no ground combat experience. He was guided to his rescue by a spotter plane that flew daily missions tracking him. Gene Hackman played the Colonel and Danny Glover the pilot. Both actors were terrific to work with. Gene prepped at night and arrived early in the day to walk the ‘set’ (only locations in our case). I don’t think I ever did more than 3 takes with him in a scene. Danny is a natural and had great insights into his character. All day aerial shooting was done with him in the plane. It was 95 degrees, humid and our takes had to be limited to seconds in some cases. It was major hazard duty, but Danny embraced it. At times he had control of the stick and relied on our stunt pilot in the other seat to let him know when to bank away.
On the set of Bat 21 with Gene Hackman and Peter. Photo credit Peter.
Clayton Rohner and Danny Glover in Bat 21. Photo credit IMDB.com
Faith of my Fathers was based on John’s McCain’s early days at Annapolis through his release from the Hanoi Hilton where he was imprisoned for 5 years. Shawn Hatosy was remarkable as he had to age 20 years over the course of the film in portraying John. Scott Glenn was perfect, giving an understated yet powerful performance as his father who was commander of all U.S forces in the Vietnam theater. McCain himself visited the set in New Orleans where we reconstructed an abandoned brewery into the prison. One day I watched him walk over to a cell by himself and enter. I joined him and asked him what he thought. His reply, ‘it’s identical. But you know at times I actually miss it.’ Perplexed, I asked, ‘miss what?’ John replied, ‘being there. I made some great friends. It was one of those shared experiences that forms you for the rest of your life.’ That summed up John McCain for me.
Peter, Shawn Hatosy and Senator John McCain on the set of Faith of my Fathers. Photo credit Peter.
Saving Jessica Lynch was a jingoistic, short of the facts script when I received it. I did extensive research which included interviewing soldiers who were in Iraq and one we hired as an extra who was part of the actual rescue effort. The final product told the real story: A convoy consisting of essentially non-combat personnel (cooks and clerks) made a couple of bad decisions and ended up driving through a town inhabited by Fedayeen. The New York Times and other reputable news outlets broke stories that our film debunked. Lynch did not shoot back during the attack. Eleven American soldiers died. She was taken to a hospital and was on her back through her rescue. The Times wrote a retraction after the film aired praising the film for its authenticity.
Laura Regan in Saving Jessica Lynch. Photo credit IMDB.com
Pete and Laura on set. Photo credit PM.
A scene from Saving Jessica Lynch. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Peter directing a scene of Saving Jessica Lynch. Photo credit PM.
Just before filming starts on the set of Saving Jessica Lynch. Photo credit IMDB.com
An action sequence from Saving Jessica Lynch. Photo credit PM.
Nightbreaker was a pet project of Martin Sheen. It chronicled the use of army soldiers as guinea pigs to determine the short- and long-term effects of being exposed to a nuclear blast. This was a story from the 50s when nuclear proliferation was at its apex. Emilio plays Martin role as a young man during the actual tests. It tracks the character in middle age trying to come to terms with his involvement. Both actors were terrific to work with and inhabited the pervasive guilt from being involved in the malignant endeavor. Joey Pantoliano played a Sergeant who was in charge of a platoon of guinea pig soldiers and brought the entire range of conflicted emotions to his part.
Peter with Martin Sheen on the set of Nighbreaker. Photo credit Peter.
Joe Pantaliano, Peter and Emilio Estevez on set for Nightbreaker. Photo credit IMDB.com
Peter and Martin on set. Photo credit Peter.
Flight 93 was the first film about 9/11. Obviously, there was a military component as soon as it was discovered that it was a coordinated terrorist attack. I remember someone seeing the film and mentioning that it must have been harrowing to make. I noted that our fuselage (the real interior of a 757) was flying at an altitude of one meter, zero knots and within a 15 second walk to craft services (snacks). The best we could do would imagine how we would have reacted in the situation. Would we have been that heroic? Would we be at the head of the conga line attacking the cockpit or hiding in the bathroom in the back? Maybe somewhere in the middle? The coordination between the military and the civilian air services was impressive even though three of the four targets were hit. The passengers on 93 had more time to gather information and communicate with ground control so enable them to coordinate an attack.
Peter on the set of Flight 93. Photo credit IMDB.com
What the outside of the set looked like. Photo credit PM.
Peter working with the cast on Flight 93. Photo credit IMDB.com
More on set work for Flight 93. Photo credit IMDB.com
93 was an intense journey as are all films. Lots of moving parts, decisions, conflicts and compromises. But ultimately it is teamwork that wins out.
Rob Lowe, Pete and Patrick Swayze on set for Youngblood. Photo credit IMDB.com
Pete (bottom center) with the cast and some crew of Youngblood. Photo credit IMDB.com
Youngblood was a passion project and a blast to make. It was about a young hockey player from the US trying out for an elite Canadian junior team. Rob Lowe, Pat Swayze and Cindy Gibb were the leads. Keanu Reeves played a goalie and it was his first job in a film. Goalies are characters because it’s such an insane position and he was totally quirky in the audition. Rob was great to work with. He had no previous experience skating but progressed quickly enough for us to make it work. He had two doubles who filled in the action scenes who were both elite players.
Pat was a figure skater and quickly adjusted to hockey skates. Rob would agree with me that Pat was a force of nature. He’d be working on 10 other personal projects when not on the set. He composed the song ‘She’s like the Wind’ in his hotel room using a portable mixing setup. We had two scrimmages a week during prep with crew and our hockey extras. Our extras were elite players (two went into the NHL a month after wrap and had huge careers). An executive from MGM came up to make sure I wasn’t participating in the games for obvious reasons and was taken to the rink and just as he sat down, he saw me collide with another player. Pat who knew the exec was there skated over to me and said ‘stay down. He’ll have a heart attack.’
Rob, Peter, Ed Lauter and Ken James. Photo credit PM.
Pete on the ice with his DP Mark Irwin. Photo credit PM.
Tony Danza, Pete, Nick Tuturro and Samuel L. Jackson on the set of Dead and Alive: The Race for Gus Farace. Photo credit IMDB.com
Frank Vincent, Tony Danza and Pete on Dead and Alive: The Race for Gus Farace. Photo credit IMDB.com
Danny Glover and Pete sharing a moment. Photo credit PM.
Dayton Callie, Michael Madsen, Pete and Dennis Hopper on the set of The Last Days of Frankie the Fly. Photo credit IMDB.com
Pete on the set of “The X-Files” with David Duchovny. Lily with the poncho, Pete, David and Melinda (Pete’s wife) Photo credit IMDB.com
Peter and Louis Gossett Jr. on the set of El Diablo. Photo credit IMDB.com
Pete and Daryl Hannah taking a break on The Last Days of Frankie the Fly. Photo credit IMDB.com
WATM: As a veteran, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?
There are so many diverse stories that can be told. The multiple perspectives include what branch of service, when, the mission, the soldiers involved, fact or fiction etc. Like any project it depends on the strength of the narrative and its ability to attract the actors that help finance the project and the studio/production company to green light it. Personally, I think the number is infinite. All conflicts are different just like every individual is different.
Dennis Hopper, Pete and Kiefer Sutherland on The Last Days of Frankie the Fly. Photo credit IMDB.com
Gillian Anderson and Peter on the set of “The X-Files”. Photo credit IMDB.com
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
First would be having a family which I did at an advanced age. I met my wife, Melinda, while casting a television film. I guess you could call it an acceptable version of the casting couch. That is to say I wasn’t the only one in the room and it wasn’t at the Peninsula Hotel. She was the best actress for the part, and I was immediately attracted to her by her performance and presence. We laughed and argued (about the role) in the room. I knew she was going to be a challenge, but it has made our lives infinitely interesting. And, of course, I’m a guy and like most of our species have not progressed that much from the stone age. We have two kids, Lily and Lucas. As moms and dads know, when children make an appearance, life as you knew it evaporates. But in a good and challenging way. When they got into their teens, I learned so much. Such as I was a horrible dresser and not to yell at basketball or soccer officials. We taught them both to ski and the progression of literally carrying them down the hill to not being able to ski any of their favorite double black runs with them is humbling. You realize that you can give them some direction but that they are on their own paths and need to fumble and fall and learn to pick themselves up again.
Per career I think it would be not willing to quit. To keep trying. I never had a film gross 100 million and did not play one game in the NHL, but I was rewarded in countless ways for my efforts. I have met so many wonderful, dedicated, talented people along the way which is one of the most valid ways to judge one’s life. And I can say that my time spent in the Army was an integral part of the on-going journey.
The U.S. Navy began taking delivery on the first Block III F/A-18 Super Hornets for testing last year, and while the jet may look strikingly similar to its predecessor on the outside, a peek inside the cockpit shows just how much this fighter has changed.
The new Block III Super Hornet promises to be as significant a jump in capability as the earlier transition from the Block I Hornet to Block II Super Hornet in the early 2000s. As a result, the new F/A-18 Super Hornet (called the Super “Duper” Hornet by some) will join the Air Force’s new F-15EX Eagle II in serving as among the world’s most advanced non-stealth fighters in operation today. In all, the U.S. Navy intends to purchase some 78 all-new Block III Super Hornets, while also upgrading its existing fleet of 550 or so jets to match.
Originally designed and built by McDonnell Douglas, the first F/A-18 Hornet took to the skies in 1978 and made its way into service as the U.S. Navy’s go-to carrier fighter in 1984. The Hornet design was intended to serve as a replacement for a variety of carrier aircraft, including the A-4 Skyhawk and F-4 Phantom IIs, while complimenting the dogfighting dynamo of the era, the famed F-14 Tomcat. The Hornet’s broad capability set and impressive performance made it a standout platform for both the Navy and Marine Corps, thanks in no small part to its multi-role focus. Indeed, it’s F/A prefix is indicative of this multi-role skillset, with F standing for Fighter and A standing for Attack.
By 1992, the U.S. Navy was ready to double down on the Hornet, but in order to keep up with the changing times, the aircraft needed a significant facelift. In truth, this new Super Hornet was a largely new aircraft that simply carried over the F/A-18 designation, in part, to convince Congress that the program was a cost-effective derivative effort, rather than a pricey clean-sheet design.
The change from Hornet to Super Hornet, which are also known as the Block I and Block II orders of this aircraft, was dramatic. The Block II Super Hornet, sometimes called the Rhino by pilots, is larger than its predecessor and has some standout design cues that you may not notice at first pass, but become hard to ignore once you’re familiar with these two fighters.
Those changes granted the Super Hornet 33% more internal fuel storage and 15,000 more pounds in maximum weight, allowing for a 41% increase in operational range. The changes inside the cockpit were dramatic too. The old physical keyboard was swapped out in favor of a touchscreen display, as well as the addition of an Engine Fuel Display (EFD) and Reference Standby Display (RSD). Those displays and others throughout the cockpit also went to full color, instead of the previous monochrome.
Other avionics tucked inside the fuselage were upgraded, including onboard radar (the Super Hornet was equipped with a APG-79 radar system that could keep track of more enemy aircraft and spot them from much further distances). In order to support this improved air-to-air capability, additional weapons stations for weapons like the AIM-120 were added, alongside improved radar warning receivers, a ALQ-214 jammer, and more chaff and flares than the Hornet could manage.
The legacy Hornet was still a capable fighter, however, and Marine Hornets remained aboard America’s flattops all the way until February of this year.
The Block III Hornet is flying straight into the 21st century
Last June, the U.S. Navy accepted delivery of its first two Block III Super Hornets for testing; a single-seat E-model and a two-seat F model. Both iterations of the new fighter have undergone significant upgrades and design changes over the Block II version of the jet, broken up into five major design features.
The Super Hornet cockpit has undergone a serious overhaul for Block III, incorporating a single touchscreen design in place of a litany of gauges and readouts.
“The advanced cockpit system (ACS) takes the legacy displays of the Block II and puts them all into one big touchscreen piece of glass that’s almost like an iPad interface for the pilot,” Jennifer Tebo, Boeing director of development for F/A-18 and EA-18G programs, explained.
The intent behind the streamlining of these screens isn’t to reduce the data available to pilots, but rather, to help manage it more effectively. Fighter pilots have to glean information from multiple screens and the world around them and then fuse it all together in their heads to develop a well-rounded concept of the battlespace they’re in. While flying supercomputers like the F-35 makes this process even easier for pilots, the Block III Super Hornet promises to bridge the gap between fourth-generation jets like the Super Hornet and computing powerhouses like the F-35.
“It’s customizable and expandable and you can set it to how you want your displays to show up every time you jump in the cockpit. I’m left-handed so I like my keypad on the left side with fuel and engine information on the right,” an unnamed Navy test pilot told Forbes last year.
Conformal Fuel Tanks
One of the most pressing issues facing the U.S. Navy in the 21st century is the lack of fuel range in its carrier-based fighters. Neither the existing Block II Super Hornet nor the advanced F-35C Joint Strike Fighter have the range they’d need to engage Chinese targets without placing their carriers in direct range of China’s hypersonic anti-ship missiles. As such, a slew of efforts are underway to pull more range out of these aircraft, including the development of the MQ-25 Stingray refueling drone for use on America’s flattops.
But in order to address this problem on the aircraft itself, the Block III Super Hornet includes the addition of conformal fuel tanks that add 3,500 pounds of fuel. These additional tanks are called “conformal” because they hug the fuselage of the fighter, limiting added drag. While this won’t be enough to offset the capability gap created by China’s anti-ship missiles, it is an important step in the right direction.
Earlier this year, Aviation Week reported that “technical, structural, and sustainment” issues had risen the anticipated cost of incorporating these conformal fuel tanks, placing their future in jeopardy. However, with the Navy concerned about the range of its existing fighters, it stands to reason that the service will find a way to work out these issues.
The Block III Super Hornet is leaning into the future of data with its Distributed Targeting Processor-Networked (DTP-N) mission computer and its Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) data link. The DTP-N is 17 times more powerful than the existing mission computer aboard the Super Hornet, but more importantly, utilizes an open architecture that will allow for software to be changed or updated without having to actually replace any of the aircraft’s hardware.
All of that computer power will support the rest of the force in the area, not unlike the “quarterback in the sky” F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, thanks to that TTNT data link.
According to Tebo, the TTNT “will allow all of the information to come into the jet from the battlespace that we need to be processed for decision making as well as pushing it back out to the rest of the air wing so that we can share common pictures of data and get better situational awareness,”
Advanced as these systems are, they are not on par with the F-35’s onboard systems, nor are they compatible, so the Block III Super Hornet will be forced to communicate with F-35s via the longstanding Link-16 tactical data link system.
Tougher to spot on radar
The F/A-18 was never designed to be a stealth fighter, and despite an improved radar cross-section, the Block III Super Hornet isn’t either. However, making it tougher to manage a weapons-grade lock on the new fighter has been a focus among Boeing designers, and although much of what has been done in this effort has been kept secret, reports indicate a serious improvement in minimizing detectability.
The Block III Super Hornet’s reduced radar cross-section won’t make it a “stealth” fighter, but like other less-than-perfect stealth jets, the intent may not be to completely evade detection, so much as delay engagement. Enemy fighters and surface-to-air missile platforms may be able to spot the Block III Super Hornet, but the goal is to impede securing a weapon’s grade lock to buy the aircraft time to escape or evade.
The Block II Super Hornets in operation for the U.S. Navy today are each rated for 6,000 flight hours, so it goes without saying that the past two straight decades of combat operations in the Middle East and elsewhere have wrought havoc on maintenance schedules and aircraft availability. In another one of those significant changes that are tough to spot with the naked eye, the Block III Super Hornet is rated for an additional 4,000 hours, bringing the total up to 10,000.
This is still a far cry from the F-15EX’s reported lifespan of 20,000 hours, but offers a significant jump over both existing F/A-18s and the F-35C, which is also rated for 6,000 hours.
This longer lifespan will make the new Block III Super Hornet a most cost-effective means of delivering air power than ever before, while also offering the Navy itself greater latitude in logistical planning.
Bonus Improvement: Infrared Search Track System
Technically not considered a “Block III” improvement, the addition of a centerline tank-mounted infrared search track system (IRST) in the Block III Super Hornet has been called “integral” for the capability of the fighter by Boeing officials.
This passive detection capability is aimed squarely at fifth-generation competitors like Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 or China’s Chengdu J-20. The IRST can be used to scan the horizon for radar-beating fighters, picking up on the infrared heat released by their jet engines without broadcasting a signal through space to tell others you’re on the hunt. This will give the non-stealth Block III Super Hornet a real fighting chance against stealthy jets, potentially spotting them against the sky backdrop from a hundred miles away.
Historically, the military has relied on clearly defined boundaries of acceptable interaction between the officer and enlisted ranks to maintain good order and discipline.
It is a long-standing custom that dates back hundreds of years and has proven itself effective time after time. But not everyone feels it’s a custom worth holding on to.
“I think there should not be a difference between officer and enlisted ranks,” said former Air Force officer Shannon Corbeil. “I believe we should all reach rank based on experience and accomplishment.”
On the other hand, Chase Millsap — another former officer — believes the military should maintain its course because officers bring leadership experience accomplished through higher learning and training.
More than a year after announcing it was experimenting with a rifle for infantrymen, the Marine Corps has said it will distribute the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle to more Marines, including those outside of the infantry squad.
The M27 is currently carried by just one member of the fire team, the automatic rifleman. But Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com in December that the service plans to field the rifle more widely.
Each member of the rifle squad will receive the $3,000 rifle, as will others outside the squad, though the exact number has not been finalized.
“I don’t think mortars and javelin guys need the M27,” Neller told Military.com, but artillery forward observers, fire-support team members, and engineers might get them. “I’m going to wait and see,” Neller said. “It’s not that much [money].”
The M27 was introduced in 2010, initially meant to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines carried out pre-deployment exercises with the M27 in late 2016 to evaluate it for wider use in infantry units.
Neller — who has said he thinks a “big-ass fight” is on the horizon — suggested in April he was considering providing all riflemen with M27s, which have a slightly longer effective range than the M4 used by other members of the squad.
M27s also have a free-floating barrel, which reduces the effects of rifle movement during firing on accuracy, as well as a proprietary gas-piston system that makes it more reliable and reduces wear. The rifle’s cost and the possibility its higher rate of fire could lead to more ammunition use were two potential drawbacks Marine Corps officials examined in late 2016.
A request for information issued by the Marines in February asked for 11,000 M27s, which would be sufficient to equip every squad. A pre-solicitation issued in August requested up to 50,800 of the rifle — a move by the Marines to make sure that gunmaker Heckler Koch was able to supply an order that big, according to Military.com.
‘I’m ready to say yes’
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the weapons officer for 2nd Marine Division, told Military.com that competition and larger orders had helped bring down the price the service would pay for new M27s, making it comparable to what the Corps paid for M4s.
Marines may be getting a plethora of new gear in the near future. A 13-man infantry squad that Wade called the “Über Squad” was outfitted this summer with a range of equipment for an 18- to 20-month experiment, with plans for the squad to take their new kit on a full training and deployment cycle in Europe.
Squad members were given an M27 with a suppressor and Ops-Core helmets with built-in hearing protection systems to muffle loud noises while enhancing other sounds a Marine may need to hear in combat. The squad was also outfitted with 60-round Magpul polymer drum magazines as well as light body armor used by Marine Special Operations Command and advanced night-vision goggles.
Late last year, Marines were spotted doing live-fire drills with the M38 Squad Designated Marksman Rifle, which carried a more advanced scope than the M27 as well as a suppressor. The Corps plans to designate one infantry squad member as “marksman” and equip them with the M38, allowing them to engage targets at 300 to 600 meters.
The Marines have tested new ammo for the M27, looking to switch from M855 5.56 mm rounds to the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round used by the Army.
Marine officials have said the M855A1 round causes reliability and durability issues with the M27, but lawmakers have complained that maintaining two types of rifle round leads to waste.
The Marine Corps has also been looking at outfitting entire infantry battalions — from M4s to .50-caliber machine guns — with suppressors.
Wade said in late 2016 that three companies were using suppressors on all their rifles, including their M27s. Bravo company of 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines was the first of those units to deploy, arriving in Norway in May 2017. That unit’s members heralded the new ease of communications allowed by the suppressors.
The Corps is also considering testing a new kind of optic. Wade told Military.com he hopes to test different scopes with different infantry squads to build a case for more powerful gear. The Marines are planning to outfit infantry squads with new rifle-mounted laser range-finders, allowing squad leaders to call in airstrikes and artillery.
All the gear being tested may not end up with Marine units, and more equipment may be rolled out in the future. And Neller downplayed the expense, indicating he could sign off on new gear soon.
“The money to buy all that other stuff, the suppressors, the ear protection enhancement, the different helmets, it’s not a lot of money in the aggregate,” he told Military.com. “So I’m just waiting for them to come back, and I’m ready to say yes.”
With soldiers increasingly being asked to shoulder heavier workloads, the Army hopes to compensate them for their efforts with a 3.1 percent pay raise.
The Army’s $182.3 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 includes the highest pay increase for soldiers in a decade. Additionally, the service plans to raise basic housing allowances by 3.2 percent and basic subsistence allowances by 2.4 percent.
After launching a new recruiting initiative this year, the Army is aiming for a modest end-strength target next year, hoping to have 480,000 active-duty soldiers, 336,000 National Guard members and 189,500 reservists by 2020.
While much of the Army’s fiscal year 2020 budget focus has centered on modernization efforts, Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy and Lt. Gen. Thomas Horlander, the military deputy for Financial Management and Comptroller, discussed the importance of readiness and quality of life during a budget briefing at the Pentagon March 12, 2019.
“Readiness will continue to be the number-one priority for the Army,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said two-thirds of the Army’s brigade combat teams are at their “highest state of readiness.” Army leaders have asked for steady and consistent funding to supplement its readiness efforts, which helped support 32 combat training center rotations this year.
Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy.
“Because of the consistent funding that we’ve gotten at a higher level here over the last couple of years, [it] has really allowed us to make some readiness gains,” Horlander said.
To meet its readiness goals, the Army proposes to increase its operations and maintenance budget to .6 billion. The plan covers an increase to infantry one-station unit training from 14 to 22 weeks. It will also provide funding to train 58 brigade combat teams, six security force assistance brigades and 11 combat aviation brigades. The service additionally plans to increase spending for flight crew hours for both active-duty and National Guard members.
The operations budget funds multi-lateral exercises in the Pacific region and in Europe to help bolster partnerships with allies, a crucial element identified in the National Defense Strategy.
“There are a lot of efforts to strengthen the partnerships with our allies,” Horlander said.
The service has prioritized improving housing standards, as senior leaders have visited post housing at different installations in recent months. The Army is asking for an additional 0 million for the restoration and modernization of soldiers’ barracks and installation facilities. Some funding will go toward three new housing projects, Horlander said.
The Army is seeking billion for its research, development and acquisition funding that will go toward newer weapons systems.
Capt. Bryson McElyea fires the M16 rifle.
(U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach)
The Army will cut funding from certain weapons platforms and legacy systems will be cut to funnel more funding toward the Army’s modernization efforts. McCarthy said that 93 programs were eliminated and an additional 93 will be reduced or delayed beginning in fiscal year 2020 to fiscal 2024.
“These choices were complex and difficult. At times people will focus in on … winners and losers,” McCarthy said. “But what we look at is the choices we had to make from a modernization standpoint to be the Army that we need by 2028.
While the Army will shift its focus from legacy programs, McCarthy said that some of the platforms will still be needed. Those programs will be gradually enhanced to bridge the gap between newer and older weapons systems.
The Army’s FY20 budget request now awaits approval from Congress.
A U.S. attack on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad killed more than 100 in the country’s north on Feb. 8, and the regime came roaring back with airstrikes of its own on rebel forces near Damascus.
The airstrikes from Assad killed 21 and injured 125, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Feb. 8.
The U.S. responded with artillery, tanks, and rocket fire.
In the exchange, no U.S. forces were reported hurt or killed, but 500 of Assad’s were said to be engaged, many wounded, and 100 dead.
“We suspect Syrian pro-regime forces were attempting to seize terrain SDF had liberated from Daesh in September 2017,” a U.S. military official told Reuters.
The pro-Assad forces were “likely seeking to seize oilfields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for [ISIS] from 2014 to 2017.”
But Syrian state media characterized the event differently, saying the U.S. had bombed “popular local forces fighting” ISIS, and that it was a U.S. “attempt to support terrorism.” The Assad regime and its Russian backers have an established history of calling anyone who doesn’t support the regime a terrorist.
Though some of the anti-Assad resistance has become entwined with Islamist groups like al-Qaeda, the U.S. vets the groups it works with and maintains that the SDF are moderate rebels who were instrumental in the defeat of ISIS.
Syria wants the U.S. out, but it won’t go without a fight
Syria’s air offensive on rebel-held areas near Damascus has been going on for days, with local reports claiming that airstrikes from the Syrian government and Russia killed scores of civilians.
Activists and first responders said that at least 55 people were killed after the airstrikes on Feb. 6.
Though Russia announced its forces would withdraw from Syria in December 2017, the recent rash of renewed strikes shows they have stayed put, and are likely responding to an increased need to support the Assad regime.
In January 2018, Syria vowed that it would eject U.S. troops from the country, but since then the U.S. announced plans to stay there long enough to counter Iran’s growing influence.
Meanwhile, the U.S. began a more vocal campaign of accusing Syria and Russia of using chemical weapons in the conflict.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo, working on research grants from the Army Research Office, have discovered a way of layering plastics that results in a material 14 times stronger than steel and eight times lighter. The layering technique is inspired by the way clams make pearls, and the final result is strong, light, but still slightly flexible armor.
A new lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter than steel may lead to next-generation military armor.
The results are outstanding. Current body armor can contain up to 28 pounds of small arms protective inserts. The Kevlar plates used are about 80 percent of the weight of a steel plate of similar size. A UHMWPE plate of the same size would be about 12-13 percent the weight of a steel plate. That would put the plates needed for a large set of UHMWPE body armor at about 4 pounds instead of the 28 pounds for ceramic Kevlar armor.
Anyone who has worn 30 pounds of body armor and 50 pounds of additional gear while carrying an 8-pound weapon can tell you that shaving 24 pounds off the total load makes a huge difference. (Even though, in mortar sections, they’ll probably just make troops carry more ammo to make up the difference.)
The wide range of potential applications is partially thanks to the strength to weight ratio. But it’s also more flexible than other materials. This makes it easier to form the material into a variety of shapes for different uses.
“Professor Ren’s work designing UHMWPE to dramatically improve impact strength may lead to new generations of lightweight armor that provide both protection and mobility for Soldiers,” said Dr. Evan Runnerstrom of the ARO. “In contrast to steel or ceramic armor, UHMWPE could also be easier to cast or mold into complex shapes, providing versatile protection for Soldiers, vehicles, and other Army assets.”
So it’s much lighter, stronger, and more adaptable than any armor you’re currently wearing.
But before you throw your SAPI plates off the roof in celebration, be aware that it will take time to create suitable manufacturing methods and products. The researchers used a 10-step process to create the small samples for their experiments and testing. It will be years before you and your vehicle are rocking this super-light armor.
The alert sowed confusion, fear, and, pandemonium — especially among tourists — in the 38 minutes before it was officially declared a false alarm. Some hotel guests peered through windows and doors to catch a glimpse of the incoming threat. Others scrambled to their rooms to stuff a bag and dash for the car (which you should never do in a nuclear attack).
One married couple in town from St. Louis rebuffed their hotel’s instructions to stay inside and instead stepped out onto nearby Waikiki Beach.
“We were afraid of being inside a building and getting crushed, like in 9/11,” the couple told Business Insider in an email. “We were afraid to follow all of the hotel employees calmly telling us to go into a ballroom.”
That is, until one of them googled “safety nuclear bomb how shelter” from the beach — and found a Business Insider article titled “If a nuclear bomb goes off, this is the most important thing you can do to survive.”
Our story advises going inside if there’s a nuclear explosion, which the couple said they then did.
It does not address how to act if there’s an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile launched by a nation like North Korea. As Hawaii’s false alarm suggests, the latter may come with a few minutes to a half-hour of warning.
“The good news is the ‘get inside, stay inside, stay tuned’ phrase works for both for the threat of a potential nuclear detonation as well as a nuclear detonation that has occurred,” Brooke Buddemeier, a health physicist and expert on radiation and emergency preparedness at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Business Insider.
But Buddemeier, who has worked for more than 15 years with federal, state, and local stakeholders on response plans to nuclear-disaster scenarios, says there are some important differences that can improve your chances of survival.
“Having a plan and knowing what to do can really help alleviate a lot of anxiety,” he said.
Here’s how to act and where to take shelter if you get an alert about an ICBM or other nuclear threat.
A flash, a burst, and a blast
Knowing what you’re trying to avoid can help keep you safe. All nuclear blasts are marked by a handful of important effects:
1. A flash of light.
2. A pulse of thermal (i.e., heat) energy.
3. A pulse of nuclear radiation.
4. A fireball.
5. An air blast.
6. Radioactive fallout.
The first three arrive almost instantaneously, as they travel at light-speed — though thermal radiation can last several seconds and inflict severe burns miles from a blast site.
The final two effects travel close together, but the air blast goes much farther. It causes the most damage in a nuclear explosion by tumbling vehicles, toppling weak buildings, and throwing debris. The majority of fallout arrives last, as it’s lofted high into the sky and sprinkles down.
There are two upshots: Going inside can greatly limit or even block these devastating effects, and a nuclear weapon’s power is not infinite but limited to the device’s explosive yield. That makes a single blast or even a limited nuclear exchange survivable for most people.
Arms-control experts suspect a nation like North Korea may have missile-ready warheads that would explode with 10 to 30 kilotons’ worth of TNT. That ranges from less than to roughly twice the yield of either nuclear bomb the US dropped on Japan in 1945.
The worst destruction, where the chances of survival are least likely, is confined to a “severe damage zone.” For a 10-kiloton blast — equivalent to two-thirds of the Hiroshima bomb blast, or 5,000 Oklahoma City truck bombings — that’s about a half-mile radius.
Vehicles offer almost no protection from radiation, including fallout, and a driver can experience dazzle — or flash blindness — for 15 seconds to a minute.
“The rods and cones of your eyes get overloaded and kind of have to reboot,” Buddemeier. “It’s just long enough to lose control of your car. If you happen to be driving at speed on the roadways, and you and all the other drivers around you are suddenly blind, I think that would probably result in crashes and injuries and road blockages.”
If there’s a missile alert, the best move is to get to the closest place where you can safely pull over, get out, and make your way into a building.
“When you go inside, go into the interior middle of the building, or a basement,” he said. “This would prevent injuries from flying glass from the blast, it would prevent dazzle from the blast, and it would prevent thermal burns.”
The deeper and lower in the building you can get, and the farther from windows (which can shatter), doors (which can fly open), and exterior walls (which can cave in), the better your odds.
“When I think of where I would go for protection from prompt effects, and from the blast wave in particular, I think of the same kinds of things that we do for tornadoes,” Buddemeier said. “If your house is going to be struck by a wall of air or a tornado or a hurricane, you want to be in a place that is structurally sound.”
Another tip: Steer clear of rooms with a lot of ceiling tiles, fixtures, or moveable objects.
“Be in an area where if there’s a dramatic jolt, things aren’t going to fall on you,” he said.
Buddemeier said that at his office building, he’d go to the stairwell.
“It’s actually in the core of the building, so it has concrete walls, and it doesn’t have a lot of junk in it,” he said. “So that would be an ideal place to go.”
At home, a three-story condo building, he’d head toward the first floor and move as much toward its center as possible.
“I do not have a basement, but if I did, that’s where I’d go,” Buddemeier said. “The storm cellar Auntie Em has in Kansas is great too.”
Staying inside can also limit how much invisible nuclear radiation produced by a blast will reach your body.
Too much exposure over a short time can damage the body enough to limit its ability to fix itself, fight infection, and perform other functions, leading to a dangerous condition called acute radiation sickness or syndrome.
Typically, about 750 millisieverts of exposure over several hours or less can make a person sick. This is roughly 100 times the amount of natural and medical radiation that an average American receives each year. A 10-kiloton blast can deliver this much exposure within a radius of about a mile, inside the “moderate damage zone.” (Several miles away, radiation dosage drops to tens of millisieverts or less.)
But Buddemeier says most exposure assumptions are based on test blasts in the desert.
“There’s no assumption that there’s some kind of blocking going on,” he said, which is all the more reason to put as much concrete, steel, and other radiation-absorbing building materials between you and a blast.
Buddemeier said a decent shelter could reduce your exposure by tenfold or more.
The shelter you find before a blast, however, may not be the best place to stay afterward.
How to avoid radioactive fallout after an explosion
The next danger to avoid is radioactive fallout, a mixture of fission products (or radioisotopes) that a nuclear explosion creates by splitting atoms.
Nuclear explosions loft this material high into the atmosphere as dust-, salt-, and sand-size particles, and it can take up to 15 minutes to fall to the ground. High-altitude winds can make it sprinkle over hundreds of square miles, though it’s most intense near the blast site.
The danger is from fission products that further split up or decay. During this process, many shoot gamma rays, an invisible yet highly energetic form of light that can deeply penetrate the body and inflict significant radiation damage.
But a nuclear attack would probably create more radioactive fallout than a missile-launched warhead. That’s because warheads are often designed to explode high above a target — not close to the ground, where their fireballs can suck up and irradiate thousands of tons of dirt and debris.
Regardless, Buddemeier says sheltering in place for at least 12 to 24 hours — about how long the worst of this radiation lasts — can help you survive the threat of fallout.
“If your ad hoc blast-protection shelter is not that robust and there’s a bigger robust building nearby or a building that has a basement, you may have time to move to that building for your fallout protection after the detonation has occurred,” Buddemeier said.
He added that, depending on your distance from the blast, you might get 10 to 15 minutes to move to a better shelter — ideally, a windowless basement, where soil and concrete can help block a lot of radiation.
Buddemeier said that at his basement-less condo, he’d move to the center of the middle floor after a blast “because the fallout is going to land on the ground around my house, and that first floor would have slightly higher exposure than the second floor.”
But it’s best to hunker down in your blast shelter if you’re unsure whether it’s safe to move, he said. Fires and obstructive debris, for example, are likely to be widespread.
“The most important thing in both cases is to be inside when the event occurs, either when the detonation occurs or when the fallout arrives,” Buddemeier said.
A 2014 study suggests that waiting an hour after fallout arrives to move to a better location that’s within 15 minutes can be a smart idea in limited situations.
Buddemeier is a fan of the phrase “go in, stay in, tune in”: Get to your fallout shelter, stay in for 12 to 24 hours, and tune in with a radio, phone, or other device for official instructions on when to evacuate and what route to take to avoid fallout.
“Fallout casualties are entirely preventable,” he previously told Business Insider. “In a large city … knowing what to do after an event like this can literally save hundreds of thousands of people from radiation illness or fatalities.”
Other tips for making it out of a nuclear disaster alive
There are many more strategies to increase your chances of survival.
Having basic emergency supplies in kits at home, at work, and in your car will help you prepare for and respond to any disaster, let alone a radiological one.
For preventing exposure to fallout after a blast, tape plastic over entryways or broken windows at your shelter and turn off any cooling or heating systems that draw in outside air. Drinking bottled water and prepackaged food is also a good idea.
And if you’ve been exposed to fallout, there’s a process to remove that radioactive contamination:
–Take off your outer layer of clothes, put them into a plastic bag, and remove the bag from your shelter.
–Shower if you can, thoroughly washing your hair and skin with soap or shampoo (no conditioner), or use a wet cloth.
–Blow your nose to remove any inhaled fallout.
–Flush your eyes, nose, and facial hair (including eyebrows and eyelashes) with water, or wipe them with a wet cloth.
–Put on uncontaminated clothes (for example, from a drawer or plastic bag).
Potassium iodide pills, while often billed as anti-radiation drugs, are anything but fallout cure-alls. Buddemeier estimates that radioiodine is just 0.2% of the overall exposure you may face outdoors and says the pills are more helpful for addressing longer-term concerns about food-supply contamination. (The government will provide them for free if they’re needed, according to the Food and Drug Administration.)
The single most important thing to remember if a nuclear bomb is supposed to explode, he says, is to shelter in place.
“There were survivors in Hiroshima within 300 meters of the epicenter,” Buddemeier said. “They weren’t in [buildings] to be protected. They just happened to be in there. And what major injuries they received were from flying glass.”