The F-35 Lightning II, Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation fighter jet, is expected to miss a crucial deadline for successfully deploying its sixth and final software release, referred to as Block 3F.
Block 3F is part of the 8 million lines of sophisticated software code that underpin the F-35.
In short, if the code fails, the F-35 fails.
The latest setback for the F-35 stems from a 48-page December 11 report from Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester.
According to Gilmore, the stealth fighter won’t be ready by its July 2017 deadline.
As first reported by Aviation Week, the DoD report says “the rate of deficiency correction has not kept pace with the discovery rate,” meaning more problems than solutions are arising from the F-35 program.
“Examples of well-known significant problems include the immaturity of the Autonomic Logistics Information System (aka the IT backbone of the F-35), Block 3F avionics instability, and several reliability and maintainability problems with the aircraft and engine.”
One recommendation Gilmore gives for the F-35’s latest woes is to triple the frequency of weapons-delivery-accuracy tests, which are executed once a month.
Adding more tests to the troubled warplane will most likely add to the cost overruns and schedule delays, but Gilmore says decreasing testing to meet deadlines will put “readiness for operational testing and employment in combat at significant risk.”
According to the DoD report, the Block 3F software testing began in March, 11 months later than the planned date.
The nearly $400 billion weapons program was developed in 2001 to replace the US military’s F-15, F-16,and F-18 aircraft.
Lockheed Martin’s “jack-of-all-trades” F-35s were developed to dogfight, provide close air support, execute long-range bombing attacks, and take off from and land on aircraft carriers — all the while using the most advanced stealth capabilities available.
Adding to the complexity, Lockheed Martin agreed to design and manufacture three variant F-35s for different sister service branches.
The Air Force has the agile F-35A; the F-35B can take off and land without a runway, ideal for the amphibious Marine Corps; and the F-35C is meant to serve on the Navy’s aircraft carriers.
Despite the Block 3F software setback, the Marine Corps last year declared an initial squadron of F-35s ready for combat, making it the first service branch to do so.
The standard for readiness the Marines used, referred to as initial operational capability, is determined separately by each service branch when the aircraft has successfully demonstrated various capabilities.
IOCs are announced prematurely, however, in that all tests and upgrades to the aircraft, such as the Block 3F software update, have not necessarily been completed.
Still, Gen. Joseph Dunford, then the commandant of the Marine Corps, in July declared initial operational capability for 10 F-35B fighter jets.
The Air Force is expected to declare IOC for its F-35As later this year, and the Navy plans to announce IOC for the F-35Cs in 2018.
Even so, America’s most expensive warplane’s turbulent march to combat readiness is far from over.
Footage released as part of a documentary about life aboard a British warship shows an incident in which 17 Russian warplanes swarmed the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan as it sailed near Crimea in the Black Sea earlier this year.
Russia intervened in Ukraine and annexed Crimea in early 2014, and tensions between Russia and other countries in the West have been elevated since then, particularly in the Black Sea region and eastern Europe.
The Duncan’s transit near Crimea, sailing just 30 miles from the peninsula, is the closest any British navy ship has come to Crimea since Moscow annexed it.
SNMG2 exited the Black Sea after that tour on May 20. (An international treaty limits which warships from countries that do not border the Black Sea can enter it and restricts them to 21 days there.)
Commodore Mike Utley, who was leading the NATO group from the Duncan at the time, said in the clip that the British ship was “probably the only maritime asset that has seen a raid of that magnitude in the last 25 years.”
“To me it felt unprecedented,” said Cmdr. Eleanor Stack, the Duncan’s captain. “There were more aircraft than we have seen in a long time.”
The clip posted by Sky News shows the Duncan’s crew reacting as call signs and bearings are issued for Russian jets as they appear on radar.”
Our long-range radars are picking up air contact. The air team are trying to work out what type of aircraft that contact is and whether or not that contact poses any threat,” a British sailor in the Duncan’s command center explains.
“The assumption is that they are Russian, because they’re coming from Russian airspace and from a Russian point of origin,” another crew member says.
The herd of Russian jets flying out of Crimea — a mix of fighters and fighter-bombers — zoomed over the Duncan, sometimes as low as a few hundred feet, alarming crew members trying to determine whether they were there to attack or just intimidate.
The jets came so close that electronics systems they carried could have been affected by the Duncan’s radar, potentially causing a crash.
Upon departing, one of the Russian pilots sent the Duncan a brief message — “Good luck, guys” — which one of the Duncan’s crew members interpreted as a final rattle of the saber.
Utley scoffed at the show of force. “I think their tactics are naive,” he said. “What they don’t know is how capable the ship is.”
A Russian Su-27 fighter jet intercepts a US Navy EP-3 Aries reconnaissance plane over the Black Sea in January.
(U.S. Navy Screenshot via YouTube)
“When you see that much activity, I think it reinforces the nature of what people expect at the moment and why there is a challenge from Russia,” Utley added.
“They had 17 aircraft. We’ve got 48 missiles. I think we’re going to win that one,” a lieutenant commander in the Duncan’s command center said in the clip.
The Russian jets departed without incident, but earlier in the deployment the British ship scrambled its Merlin Mk2 helicopter to track down a Russian spy ship detected by the Duncan’s radar.
British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson praised the Duncan’s crew members, saying they “epitomized the nation we are going to be as we exit the EU — a truly global Britain.”
“As NATO flagship, she has faced down brazen Russian hostility in the Black Sea with jets buzzing overhead, been stalked by Russian spy ships and played a vital role protecting NATO allies during the British, American and French strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities,” Williamson said of the Duncan.
Tensions between Russia and Western countries have led to close encounters on and above the Black Sea.
In July, British fighter jets in Romania were scrambled to intercept a Russian fighter that flew close to NATO airspace over the sea.
Earlier this month, in the second close encounter publicized this year, a Russian jet flew close to a US Navy reconnaissance plane over the Black Sea and suddenly banked right, forcing the US aircraft to fly through turbulence.
The Army is working to engineer a sleek, high-speed, first-of-its-kind long-range ground-launched attack missile able to pinpoint and destroy enemy bunkers, helicopter staging areas, troop concentrations and other fixed-location targets from as much as three time the range of existing weapons, service officials said.
The emerging Long Range Precision Fires, slated to be operational by 2027, is being designed to destroy targets at distances up to 500 kilometers.
“The Long Range Precision Fires Missile will attack, neutralize, suppress and destroy targets using missile-delivered indirect precision fires. LRPF provides field artillery units with 24/7/365 long-range and deep-strike capability while supporting brigade, division, corps, Army, theater, Joint and Coalition forces as well as Marine Corps air-to-ground task forces in full, limited or expeditionary operations,” Dan O’boyle, spokesman for Program Executive Office, Missiles Space, told Scout Warrior.
The new weapon is designed to replace the Army’s current aging 1980’s era MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, a ground-launched missile able to fire at least 160 kilometers.
“The LRPF will replace the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) capability, which is impacted by the age of the ATACMS inventory and the cluster munition policy that removes all M39 and M39A1 ATACMS from the inventory after 2018,” O’boyle added.
A key aspect of the strategic impetus for the long-range LRPF weapon is to allow ground units to attack from safer distances without themselves being vulnerable to enemy fire, Raytheon and Army officials explained.
LRPF missile will have a newer explosive warhead and guidance technology aimed at providing an all-weather, 24/7, precision surface-to-surface deep-strike capability, O’Boyle added.
In addition, the LRPF will fire from two existing Army launchers, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, O’Boyle added.
The new weapons system will fire two missiles from a single weapons pod and uses a more high-tech guidance system than its predecessors.
Although additional competitions among vendors are expected in future years, however the Army did award a $5.7 million risk-mitigation contract to Raytheon for the LRPF program.
“We’re looking to replace a design originally from the 1980s,” said Greg Haynes, a Raytheon manager leading the company’s campaign for a new long-range weapon. “Missile technology has come a long way.”
The US Army was among the first-ever to deploy land-fired precision weaponry such as the GPS-guided Excalibur precision 155m artillery round and the longer-range Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS. These weapons, which were first used in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2006 through 2009 timeframe, ushered in the advent of a new kind of weapon engineered to give Commanders more attack options and pinpoint enemy targets with great precision from long distances. In fact, among other things, GMLRS successfully destroyed Taliban targets in Afghanistan.
While precision fires of this kind would, quite naturally, be useful in full-scale mechanized force-on-force combat – they proved particularly useful in counterinsurgency attacks as Taliban and Iraqi insurgents deliberately blended in with innocent civilians among local populations. As a result, precision attacks became necessary, even vital, to US combat success.
Since the initial combat debut of these weapons, however, the fast pace of global technological change and weapons proliferation has fostered a circumstance wherein the US is no longer among the few combat forces to have these kinds of weapons. As a result, the US Army sees a clear need to substantially advance offensive ground-attack technology.
“Adversaries are already equipped with long-range weapons that could inflict substantial damage at distances beyond the Army’s striking power,” said former Army colonel John Weinzettle, now a program manager in Raytheon’s Advanced Missile Systems business.
Let’s be honest, most movies don’t get the Marines right, but that doesn’t mean some characters don’t capture what the Corps is all about.
Even among the the incredible men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, Marines have a tendency to stand out. Whether it’s our cult-like affinity for adhering to regulations, our invariably over-the-top pride in our branch, our ability to hit targets from 500 yards out on iron sights, or the truck-load of ego we take with us into a fight, Marines are unquestionably a breed of their own.
In movies and television, Marines are often depicted as hellacious war fighters and disciplined professionals, but Marines themselves will be the first to tell you that, while we may work hard, we often party even harder. Marines aren’t war machines, but we are highly trained. Marines aren’t incapable of compassion, but we do often keep our emotions in check. Marines aren’t super human, but that won’t stop us from acting–and talking–like we are.
That swirling combination of bravado and humility, of violence and compassion, of action and introspection make Marines more complex than they’re often depicted on screens big and small. It’s just hard to cram the sort of paradox into a fictional character. Hell, it’s hard to cram that sort of paradox into a real person too–which is why, as any Marine Corps recruiter will tell you, the Corps isn’t for everyone.
So when it comes to fictional Marines, who does the best job of capturing the unique dynamic of Uncle Sam’s Devil Dogs? That’s just what we aim to find out.
Hicks, as we all know him, was technically a corporal in the United States Colonial Marine Corps, which may not exist now, but just may in the far-flung future of the Aliens movies. While Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson may have some of the more memorable lines (“Game over man! Game over!”) it’s Hicks that maintains his military bearing throughout most of the film. When their unit is decimated and Corporal Hicks finds himself as the senior Marine on station, he willingly assumes the responsibility of command, contradicts the unsafe orders given by the mission’s civilian liaison, and makes a command decision based on the evidence at hand.
If you ask me, that’s some pretty good Marine-ing right there.
Back in the 1990s, no one was cooler than the UFO-chasing FBI agents on the Fox series, The X-Files, but despite Mulder and Scully’s run ins with the supernatural, neither were particularly tough when it came time to fight. Fortunately, their boss was a Vietnam veteran U.S. Marine that had worked his way up to Assistant Director of the FBI.
Skinner didn’t only prove himself a capable fighter time and time again, he regularly put his life on the line to help the agents under his charge and frequently was stuck trying to insulate them from nefarious powers elsewhere in the U.S. government. Skinner was no pushover, and regularly dolled out disciplinary lectures, but when they needed him, Skinner was there with a solid right hook and a drive to protect his troops.
A good Marine isn’t just about the fight. A good Marine is a leader–and that’s just what Skinner is.
There are enough iterations of Jack Ryan for everyone to have a favorite. Whether you prefer Alec Baldwin’s Ryan squaring off with the best of the Soviet Navy in The Hunt for Red October or the John Krasinski’s TV version fighting modern day terrorism, there are some universal traits every character named Jack Ryan carries with them.
Ryan is the perpetual underdog, always starting his story arc as an unassuming CIA analyst and Marine veteran. Despite having all the usual Marine Corps training, a helicopter crash left Ryan with a long road to recovery and a new way of life–but that didn’t stop him from devoting himself to serving his country in any form he could.
Ryan is the perfect example of a Marine that could have done something else–with his smarts, capabilities, and drive, he could be successful in any industry. He chose service because his nation matters to the very fabric of his being. That’s what being a Marine is all about.
Two U.S. Air Force generals are being considered to become the military’s next top general with the anticipated retirement of Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford in 2019, according to a new Wall Street Journal report.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein and U.S. Strategic Command’s Air Force Gen. John Hyten are among those being considered by the White House to be next chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Journal reported Aug. 19, 2018.
Goldfein, Hyten and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are also under consideration to become the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Journal said, citing U.S. officials. The position is currently held by Air Force Gen. Paul Selva.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment to Military.com about the reported moves on Aug. 20, 2018. A Defense Department spokesman declined to confirm the moves, but noted that the military routinely makes senior command changes.
The reported proposal to elevate Hyten comes at a time when the Defense Department is focused heavily on expanding its space and nuclear enterprise. As the STRATCOM chief, Hyten has emphasized the need for nuclear modernization as well as the growing demand for bulked-up defenses in space as adversaries like Russia and China continue to exhibit hostile behavior in the domain.
While Hyten in recent months has not publicly commented on President Donald Trump’s proposed Space Force, the general has made clear that space is becoming a more contested arena.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford
“We have to treat space like a warfighting domain,” Hyten recently told audiences at the 2018 Space Missile Defense Symposium, reiterating previous comments he has made. “It’s about speed, about dealing with the adversary,” he said, as reported by Space News.
Goldfein has also made efforts to make his service more competitive and collaborative. As Air Force Chief of Staff, Goldfein has stressed the importance of partnerships with allies and joint services, as well as the imperative to develop a more streamlined approach to carry out the military’s global operations.
For example, with the Air Force’s ‘Light Attack’ experiment, Goldfein has said the importance of procuring new planes isn’t solely about adding new aircraft, but also about developing ways to work with more coalition members to counter extremism in the Middle East.
“Is this a way to get more coalition partners into a network to counter violence?” he told Military.com in a 2017 interview. “[This] isn’t an incentive for us not to lead,” he said. “It’s the incentive for us to grow … to have more partners in this fight.”
Trump is looking to nominate new leaders across various combatant commands as rotations for current leaders come to an end, Wall Street Journal reported.
Among the reported moves:
Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Jr., director of the Joint Staff, to command U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East. McKenzie, who was often seen briefing alongside Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White, would replace Army Gen. Joseph Votel.
Army Lt. Gen. Richard Clarke to lead U.S. Special Operations Command. Clarke is currently the director for Strategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. He would replace Army Gen. Tony Thomas in the job, which oversees all special operations in the U.S. Armed Forces. Thomas is anticipated to retire next year.
Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, current U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa commander, to become the commander of U.S. European Command and NATO supreme allied commander-Europe. Wolters would replace Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, who has overseen the steady buildup of forces on the European continent following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The US Navy announced on Oct. 25 that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier had left the Middle East, where it was conducting operations against ISIS, and heading to the Pacific on a previously scheduled visit.
The Nimitz will join two other US aircraft carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, amid ongoing tensions with North Korea.
Carriers often travel in formations called Carrier Strike Groups, as seen below.
A Carrier Strike Group consists of at least one cruiser, six to 10 destroyers and/or frigates, and a Carrier Air Wing. The carriers are used for offensive operations, while the other ships defend the carrier.
The Nimitz, Roosevelt, and Reagan are all currently accompanied by a Carrier Strike Group in the Pacific.
The last time three carriers were together in the Pacific was in June, and Navy Cmdr. Ron Flanders said it was rather unusual to have three carriers in the Pacific theatre.
The Pentagon also recently said that the three carriers are “not directed toward any particular threat,” and Flanders said the Nimitz’s visit had been planned for months, as it has to cross the Pacific to reach its home port at Naval Station Bremerton in Washington state.
When asked if the Nimitz would head straight home or stay in the Pacific for any given period of time, Flanders said only that when the Nimitz travels through the Pacific, it falls under the command of the 7th Fleet.
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) began dual-carrier sustainment and qualification operations Aug. 29, 2018 in the western Atlantic Ocean.
“By training and operating together, the USS Harry S. Truman and USS Abraham Lincoln strike groups enhance combat readiness and interoperability, and also demonstrate the inherent flexibility and scalability of carrier strike groups,” said Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group Commander Rear Adm. Gene Black. “The opportunity to conduct complex, multi-unit training better prepares us to answer our nation’s call to carry out a full range of missions, at anytime, anywhere around the globe.”
The operations include a war-at-sea exercise (WASEX), with scenarios testing the readiness of involved units to carry out strike and air operations as well as formation steaming. These evolutions provide both carriers, with embarked air wings and accompanying surface ships, the opportunity to operate in close proximity and coordinate maneuvers cooperatively.
“We are the best Navy in the world, and given the complex and competitive environment we are in, we can’t take anything for granted or settle for the status quo,” said Abraham Lincoln Strike Group Commander Rear Adm. John Wade. “Therefore, we have to work hard, train hard and uphold the highest standards and commit ourselves to excellence each and every day. The training conducted with Harry S. Truman Strike Group enabled us to increase our lethality and tactical proficiency. It also demonstrated our Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain sea control.”
USS Harry S. Truman.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristina Young)
Participating in the exercise are the embarked air wings of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 and CVW-1, as well as select surface assets from CSG-8 and CSG-12.
Harry S. Truman deployed on April 11, 2018, and is currently deployed conducting operations in the Atlantic Ocean.
Abraham Lincoln is underway in the Atlantic Ocean with Carrier Strike Group 12 conducting Operational Test-1 (OT1) for the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
US aircraft carriers are a “tremendous expression of US national power,” and that makes them a target for adversarial powers, the US Navy’s top admiral said Feb. 6, 2019.
“The big thing that is occupying our minds right now is the advent of long-range precision weapons, whether those are land-based ballistic missiles, coastal-defense cruise missiles, you name it,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said at the Atlantic Council, adding that the systems wielded by adversaries are “becoming more capable.”
Chinese media has recently been hyping its “carrier-killer” DF-26 ballistic missiles, which are reportedly able to hit targets as far as 3,500 miles away. China released footage of the Chinese military test-firing the missile in January 2019.
DF-26 medium-range ballistic missile.
The purpose is to send “a clear message to the US about China’s growing missile capability, and that it can hold at risk US strategic assets, such as carriers and bases,” Adam Ni, who researches China at Macquarie University in Sydney, recently told the South China Morning Post.
“There’s two sides, an offensive part and a defensive part,” Richardson said Feb. 6, 2019, stressing that the Navy’s carriers are adapting to the new threats. “The advent of some of new technologies, particularly directed energy technologies coupled with the emerging power generation capabilities on carriers, is going to make them a much, much more difficult target to hit.”
Speaking with the crew of the new supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford on Feb. 5, 2019, Richardson said, “You are going to be able to host a whole cadre of weapons that right now we can just start to dream about. We’re talking about electric weapons, high energy laser, high-powered microwave [and] very, very capable radars.”
Aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford.
(U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt)
The expensive billion carrier is expected to be deployed in the next few years.
“Rather than expressing the carrier as uniquely vulnerable, I would say it is the most survivable airfield within the field of fire,” Richardson said Feb. 6, 2019, in response to questions about carrier vulnerability. “This is an airfield that can move 720 miles a day that has tremendous self-defense capabilities.”
“If you think about the sequence of events that has to emerge to be able to target and hit something that can move that much, and each step in that chain of events can be disrupted from the sensing part all the way back to the homing part, it’s the most survivable airfield in the area,” he said.
Richardson said the carrier is less vulnerable now than at any time since World War II, when the US Navy was putting carriers in action, and those carriers were in combat taking hits. “The carrier is going to be a viable force element for the foreseeable future.”
US carriers are particularly hard, albeit not impossible, to kill.
“It wouldn’t be impossible to hit an aircraft carrier, but unless they hit it with a nuke, an aircraft carrier should be able to take on substantial damage,” retired Capt. Talbot Manvel, who served as an aircraft-carrier engineer and was involved in the design of the new Ford-class carriers, told Business Insider previously.
US carriers “can take a lick and keep on ticking,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Name a war, revolution, or revolt during the Cold War that involved the British Commonwealth, Western European nations or their allies and you’ve also named a conflict that had combatants fighting with the Fabrique Nationale FAL.
No wonder the FAL earned the nickname “the right arm of the free world” and became a symbol of the struggle against Communism.
In many ways, it was the West’s answer to the Kalashnikov, albeit one chambered to fire the heavier 7.62 x 51 mm NATO round instead of the AK-47’s 7.62 x 39 mm intermediate round.
Created in the years immediately after World War II, FN eventually produced 2 million FALs (Fusil Automatique Léger or “Light Automatic Rifle”) that were used by the militaries of more than 90 nations.
At one time, the FAL was even the official battle rifle of most NATO-member countries. It was even considered for the role as the United States’ main battle rifle.
Frankly, the FAL was everywhere. For example, consider the Six-Day War in 1967.
A common misconception is the 9mm Uzi was the weapon of choice for the Israeli Defense Forces. Actually, Israeli soldiers carried more FALs than Uzis when facing Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian troops.
Then, there was the 1982 Falklands War. The Argentine Army carried the full-auto version of the FAL; British troops had the semi-auto L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle model of the FAL.
When captured Argentine troops piled their weapons, British infantry and Royal Marines often walked over to the stack and retrieved the full-auto FAL so they could spray more lead at the enemy.
In Argentina, thousands of FALs underwent armory rebuilds in 2010, a sure sign that nation will continue to put the weapon in the hands of its troops.
How the FAL saw the light of day is a story that combines the tactical realities that emerged out of World War II and the politics of who would lead who during the Cold War.
The success of the innovative Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle convinced ordnance officers and weapons designers that era of the bolt-action battle rifle was dead and gone. Lighter cartridges in select-fire assault rifles captured the imagination of weapons designers.
Only the United States fielded a heavy caliber semi-auto battle rifle, the well-regarded M1 Garand .30-06 weapon that Gen. George S. Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” But the future was one that fired full auto – and the Garand did not.
Caliber was also an issue. As weapons designers on both sides of the Atlantic toyed with prototype battle rifles the British tested a 7 mm (.280-caliber) round in the new FAL and liked it.
In the United States, the Army wanted to stick with the .30-caliber round, flatly stating that no other cartridge could hold its own on the battlefield.
With the formation of the new NATO alliance in 1949, generals and civilian planners both talked of the necessity to standardize equipment, weapons and supplies.
“The laudable aim was one that had been much in the minds of many forward-looking military thinkers for a long time,” writes David Westwood, author of Rifles: An Illustrated History of their Impact. “For experience had shown that the United States and Britain often fought side by side, and commonality would be to the benefit of all including soldiers in the field.”
One thing was certain: the British were impressed with the FAL and were willing to choose it over other weapons.
It was deemed the superior firearm to competitors because it was easy to maintain, field strip, and clean. It reassembled without special tools and it was a select-fire weapon – but it fired the lighter round.
The “gravel belly” U.S. generals would accept nothing but a .30-caliber weapon, insisting on the superiority of a prototype called the T25, a forerunner of the M14 that was nothing more than a glorified Garand.
Soon, there was a “Battle of the Bullets” that went as high as the White House and 10 Downing Street. Pres. Harry Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill even held a mini-summit, where rumor has it they struck a quid pro quo – the U.S. would adopt the FAL as its main battle rifle if Britain backed NATO adopting the 7.62 x 51 mm round.
NATO relented and adopted the round. However, the U.S. reneged, developed the M14, which fired the NATO 7.62 mm cartridge, and adopted it as the American military’s main rifle.
In the end, it didn’t matter to FN because NATO countries (including Britain) began snapping up the FAL chambered for the NATO round.
Many consider that combination of weapon and cartridge the quintessential pairing of battle-rifle and bullet during the 20th Century – the FAL went into production in 1953 and FN continued to produce the rifle until 1988. The M-14 fell by the wayside as the main U.S. battle rifle within a few years, replaced by the M-16.
“Regardless of the political activity that went on before its adoption, the 7.62 x 51 mm NATO turned out to be an excellent, powerful military cartridge,” writes Robert Cashner, author of The FN FAL Battle Rifle. “With millions of FALs manufactured and internationally distributed, the rifle played a large part in making the 7.62 x 51mm NATO the success that it was.”
Vietnam is one often overlooked place where the FAL also proved a success. The weapon arrived there in the hands of Australian troops who fought as allies of the United States under the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO).
More than 60,000 Aussies would serve in the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1972, including the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. More commonly known as 1RAR, soldiers in the regiment fought in many significant battles during the war’s escalation in the mid-1960s.
During those the engagements, they often faced well-equipped Viet Cong who carried new AK-47s supplied by the Communist Chinese and East Bloc nations.
Despite its weight and size (the FAL is one of the longest battle rifles of the 20th Century), 1RAR’s troops considered their weapon suited for jungle warfare.
The powerful NATO round would punch through thick foliage, killing their concealed VC opponents. It was also a far more reliable weapon than the early version of the M-16 issued to U.S. forces – the FAL rarely jammed or misfired, two problems that plagued the M-16 for years.
The Navy has had a change of heart about the new expeditionary floating base sailing to the Fifth Fleet. The vessel USNS Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller (T ESB 3) will become USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), becoming a commissioned warship.
No matter the designation, in essence, the Kevin Costner box-office bomb “Waterworld” — where people were living on supertankers because ocean levels rose and covered almost all the land — partially become reality.
The Puller is a 78,000-ton vessel capable of operating up to four Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters. It has a crew of 145 and will be commanded by a Navy captain. It can also accommodate up to 298 additional personnel. Unlike the Exxon Valdez from “Waterworld,” the Puller is propelled by diesel-electric engines that give her a top speed of 15 knots.
It’s part of an ongoing program within the Navy and Marine Corps to create offshore bases for troops to execute raids and amphibious operations where countries are reluctant to base U.S. troops. Think of them as floating versions of the Chinese artificial islands cropping up in the South China Sea.
According to a report by USNI News, the decision to make the Puller a commissioned warship is due to requirements of the law of armed conflict. The current afloat base in the region, the Austin-class amphibious ship USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15, ex-LPD 15), is a commissioned warship that has supported mine countermeasures and special operations forces.
“Without going into specific details on missions USS Ponce carried out, warship status for ESB will greatly enhance the combatant commander’s flexibility in using the ship to respond to emergent situations,” Navy Lt. Seth Clarke told USNI News. “Without this status, there would be significant limitations on ESB’s ability to support airborne mine countermeasure and special operations missions.”
The Lewis B. Puller will operate alongside the Ponce for a while, until Ponce returns to Norfolk for a 2018 decommissioning. While some assets will be transferred during that time, one item that won’t be is the prototype Laser Weapon System on board the Ponce.
For over a year, the U.S. military has been looking at options for replacing the decades-old Beretta M9 handgun. As with most DoD programs, the so-called “Modular Handgun System” program is a sprawling, multi-million dollar plan to find a new pistol that takes advantage of innovations in the current firearms market and delivers a sidearm that works well for a variety of missions and troops.
Listen to the WATM podcast to hear the author and our veteran hosts discuss what the XM17 modular handgun program means to the military:
The M9 is a solid performer and is still popular among many in the U.S. military. But over the last 20 years, handgun technology — especially the use of polymers in handgun construction — has advanced well beyond the all-metal, one-size-fits-all frame of the flagship Beretta sidearm.
Both the Army and Air Force are running the search for an M9 replacement, dubbed the XM17, and have called for a do-all pistol that will fit in the hands of a wide range of troops, be more accurate and reliable than the Beretta and, most importantly, be configurable for different missions.
An ambitious goal to be sure, and some high-ranking officials in the Pentagon have argued it’s one that’ll wind up being too expensive and take too long to field, with the Army estimating it’ll take $17 million and 2 years to test the final version of the XM17.
“We’re not exactly redesigning how to go to the moon. This is a pistol,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in March. “You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.”
Despite Milley’s frustration, the program is set for a so-called “downselect” next month to three competitor designs to move into field testing. The safe money is that the Army will settle on options from Sig Sauer, Glock and a team composed of General Dynamics and Smith Wesson.
So what do each of these companies bring to the table for a modular handgun?
By far the most popular handgun among law enforcement, military special operations and a huge swath of civilian shooters, the Glock series of polymer-framed pistols has been considered the gold standard of modern handguns since its introduction in the 1980s.
In fact, the Glock 19 is the standard-issue handgun for Army special operations troops, Air Force special operations Airmen and has recently been chosen to replace Naval Special Warfare Sig Sauer P226 pistols. Sources say the company submitted versions of its G17 (a 5-inch barreled, 9mm handgun) and the G22 (a 4.5-inch barreled, .40 caliber handgun) to the MHS program.
A Special Forces soldier fires a Glock 19 pistol at a range during joint training with Hungarian special operations forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tyler Placie)
While Glock doesn’t have a so-called “modular” gun, the pistol uses so few parts that swapping a barrel or switching the backstrap of the grip for smaller-handed shooters takes no time. Glock offers several handguns that look and operate the same as the G17 and G22 — namely the G19, G43 and G21 — that are more compact or are optimized for different shooting situations.
Long a close second to the Glock family of polymer pistols, Smith Wesson’s MP series of handguns have made serious inroads in the law enforcement and civilian markets.
Check out the utility belt of a local cop or stroll down the shooting bays of your local range, and you’re bound to see a bunch of MP 9s in holsters or on the bench. Similar to the Glock, the MP pistol is simple to operate, has few parts and fits a wide range of shooters with replaceable backstraps on its grip.
Smith Wesson MP 9. (Photo from Smith Wesson)
And, like Glock, Smith Wesson doesn’t have a truly modular handgun system. But the company makes a longer barrel MP in a variety of calibers and the wildly popular MP Shield for concealed carry. All are based on the same design as the MP 9 and have the same ergonomics — so troops shifting from the 5-inch MP 5-inch CORE on one mission to the MP Shield on another won’t have to deal with a learning curve.
Sig Sauer has been most widely known for its double action handguns (ones that have hammers instead of strikers), and the P226 is perhaps the most famous gun the company makes since it’s been the go-to pistol for Naval Special Warfare’s sailors for years.
That changed this year when the SEAL community let slip that it would be replacing its inventory of P226s with Glock 19s — in line with other special operations units in the U.S. military. In 2014, Sig announced its newest handgun, dubbed the “P320,” which uses a similar polymer frame and striker fire system as the Glock and MP.
But what makes the P320 unique among its closest competitors is that it is truly modular. Buy a stock P320 and a shooter can purchase new frames and barrels in different sizes and calibers; you can literally change the P320 from a 4.7-inch combat handgun into a 3.6-inch subcompact concealed carry gun in about a minute with a new frame, slide and barrel.
Photo from Sig Sauer
You can even switch out a 9mm to a .40 with ease. The only common part of the Sig P320 is the “fire control group” which includes the trigger and internal safety module.
The problem is the Army (and other services) don’t have a great track record of making solid decisions on new weapons that take advantage of modern technology.
For several years in the early 2000s, the Army spent a lot of time and money looking into a replacement for the M4 carbine — a rifle that derives from a pre-Vietnam design. Despite test reports that showed other options performed better than the M4, the Army decided it wasn’t enough of an improvement over the existing rifle, and the service shelved the program.
Likewise, the Mk-16 and Mk-17 SOCOM Combat Assault Rifle — or SCAR — program was originally billed as a modular rifle program, one that would eventually see a combat rifle capable of switching from, say, a short-barreled entry gun into a longer-barreled one for more distant engagements. That program was also shelved, with special ops forces mostly using the .308 caliber Mk-17 on some missions as a battle rifle.
It’s still unclear whether the XM17 program will suffer a similar fate. But it’s there’s no argument that the Beretta M9 is facing an age problem and is increasingly causing armorers headaches.
So whether it’s a Glock 19 from Cabela’s or a futuristic, modular pistol, U.S. troops should see some kind of new handgun in their armory within a few years.
“I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.”
These words constitute the Spartan Pledge, a solemn oath meant to reverse the disturbing trend of suicide among veterans of the U.S. military and active duty personnel.
According the 2018 Annual Suicide Report released by the U.S. Department of Defense, 541 service members died by suicide in 2018, including 325 active duty troops. The data collected for this report show the suicide rate is 24.8 per 100,000 service members, up from 21.9 in 2017 and 18.7 in 2013. These 2018 numbers represent a six-year high.
Similarly, the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report published by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is bleak as well: 6,139 U.S. veterans took their own lives in 2017 — 16.8 per day, up from 5.9 in 2005. This rate is one and a half times that of the general (non-veteran) population.
Boone Cutler on deployment when he was a member of the U.S. Army.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler’s Facebook page.)
In 2010, retired U.S. Army paratrooper Boone Cutler decided it was time to do something about these tragic statistics. Cutler came from a family with a long-standing tradition of military service. His father served in Vietnam, his grandfather in World War II. “My grandpa was actually the longest held POW in World War II,” Cutler said. “We take a lot of pride in that and give him a lot of respect. He was captured the day after the Pearl Harbor attack and was held from December 8 until the end of the war.”
Cutler was inspired to join the Army after learning about the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. “I remember the headline,” he said. “The 82nd Airborne Division had just jumped into Panama. I left home at 17 and joined the Army Airborne Infantry when I was 18. He later reclassed his military occupational specialty (MOS) and joined the psychological operations (PSYOP) community. Cutler deployed to Sadr City, Iraq, in 2005 as a PSYOP Team Sergeant. Serious orthopedic and traumatic brain injuries sent him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for two years. While there, doctors told him he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a diagnosis he had no intention of accepting at the time.
The years that followed were difficult. Cutler was on several prescription drugs, and he grappled with violent outbursts and suicidal thoughts. In 2010, he was shocked to learn that he wasn’t alone. In a conversation with his closest “battle buddy” from Iraq, Cutler asked his friend if he’d ever considered suicide. “Every day,” his buddy answered.
Holy fuck, thought Cutler. How could guys be so close on active duty — literally covering each others’ backs in a kinetic environment, know everything about each other, every hiccup, every burp, every fart … literally everything … and we don’t know this about each other after we come home?
Shortly thereafter, he called another friend who had been on his team. He discovered that teammate was struggling, too. He had been contemplating taking his own life and hadn’t left his home in two years. This was the genesis of the Spartan Pledge — a battle drill that, in Cutler’s words, helps warfighters “know what to do when they don’t know what to do.”
“We made an agreement,” Cutler said. “We knew we couldn’t actually stop each other from killing ourselves, but it was kind of a respect thing — if you’re going to do that, I can’t stop you. But don’t leave me spinning around on this planet for the rest of my life, wondering what happened and if there was something I could have done. Now [the pledge] is two sentences, but it literally started out as, ‘Motherfucker, you’d better call me.'”
Around this same time, Cutler learned about GallantFew, a then-new organization with a mission to help veterans in transition. GallantFew executive director Karl Monger soon became a close friend and mentor to Cutler. While talking on the phone, the topic of veteran suicide came up, and Cutler mentioned how he and his buddies were dealing with it. Monger stopped him mid-sentence. “Boone,” he said. “I think you’ve really got something there. This is something we should promote.” GallantFew began to introduce the pledge through its network, during one-on-one meetings with veterans in crisis. From there, it took root around the country and continued to grow organically.
A 2017 video, aptly titled “The Spartan Pledge,” featured commentary by Cutler and conversations with others who were inspired to “pay the pledge forward” in unique ways. Army veteran and Redcon-1 music artist Soldier Hard shared his idea to incorporate the pledge into his concerts. “Every warfighter knows about taking an oath,” he said. “We take oaths very seriously. Why not invite warfighters in the audience to come up on stage and take the Spartan Pledge?”
The video also featured U.S. Navy veteran and New York City firefighter Danny Prince, who told Cutler he wanted to honor the victims of 9/11 — those who died in the attacks, as well as our fallen military in the Global War on Terrorism. Prince had collected some steel from the World Trade Center wreckage. He and former U.S. Marine and commercial airline pilot Steve “Luker” Danyluk proposed to forge that steel into a commemorative sword. Two months later, the project was complete.
U.S. Navy veteran and New York City firefighter Danny Prince used steel collected from the wreckage of the World Trade Center to forge this commemorative sword.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
“Every warfighter who joined in this current era is there because of what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11,” Cutler said. “So we’ve come full circle now by creating a sword out of that tragic event that inspires people to live. That’s humbling. That’s something that touches your heart. When people touch that sword, it’s like connecting with all the souls that were lost.”
In 2011, Cutler launched a weekly talk radio show in the Reno, Nevada, area, called “Tipping Point with Boone Cutler,” which served as a platform for the former paratrooper’s raw, no-holds-barred style. That show aired through 2016. These days, Cutler spends his time spreading the word about the Spartan Pledge and connecting with his brothers and sisters in arms, both active duty and retired. “We’ve built a solid network from all walks of life,” he said. “We put our differences aside to save lives. It’s an amazing unifier.”
Cutler was a featured guest at the 2019 VetXpo conference in Dallas in October, which was sponsored by the GallantFew. His presentation, one of the many highlights of the weekend, was a spot-on snapshot of the state of the veteran community, the civilian world’s perception of warfighters, and why warfighters have such a challenging time with transition.
A dog tag stamped with the Spartan Pledge.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
He shared his observation that, after Vietnam, Hollywood and the media habitually portrayed warfighters as “crazy vets.” As late as 2010, nearly half of all human resources managers said it was “difficult to hire” veterans due to PTSD — but they didn’t have a real understanding of PTSD. Cutler concluded that it was “PTSD phobia” that made it difficult to hire veterans, not PTSD itself. If PTSD was truly the problem, he continued, a woman who was raped or a person who lived through a natural disaster or a car wreck would also be difficult to hire. Yet, strangely, that did not seem to be the case — only veterans with PTSD posed this difficulty. Fortunately, due to advancements in mental health and organizations like GallantFew, the civilian population is beginning to understand PTSD, those affected by PTSD are talking about it more openly, and the associated phobias are fading.
As critical as he was of the civilian population, Cutler made it a point to hold his fellow warfighters accountable, too. He acknowledged that the transition to the civilian world is difficult, calling it a “different set of rules.” In the military, it is understood that everything can change and adjustments must be made. “If we’ve adjusted to those environments,” Cutler challenged the audience, “why are we so stubborn to adjust to this one?”
His answer was startlingly simple: At a time when most young people are learning to become independent — starting families, getting careers and making their own decisions — those who join the military are entering an authoritarian environment, in which they rely upon someone else, a squad leader, to tell them what to do and when to do it. The upshot? Warfighters have to develop their own “inner squad leader.”
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
“My squad leader talks to me all the time,” he admitted. “I’m gonna do some stupid shit. BAM! Squad leader talks to me: ‘Don’t do that.’ Every one of us needs to build that squad leader [into your brain] who tells you what to do. You’re not doing your PT? Squad leader ought to have a knee up your ass pretty quick!” As you can imagine, Cutler’s presentation was peppered by frequent, self-deprecating laughter.
However, the humorous tone quickly turned somber when he invited Annette, a Gold Star mother, to join him at the front of the room. Cutler shared Annette’s story with the audience, recounting how her son had tragically ended his own life after transitioning out of the military. He then asked everyone to come forward, circle around, and lay hands on Annette while he led the group in the Spartan Pledge.
“I authored it,” he said later about the pledge, “but it doesn’t belong to me. It’s important to me that your readers know [the Spartan Pledge] is hallowed ground. There’s a fiefdom everywhere in our community these days, so I don’t want to attach my personality to this thing. To be clear, I legally own it, but that’s just to make sure no one pulls any bullshit.”
The Spartan Pledge has been featured on a NASCAR vehicle, inked on the bodies of warfighters, and incorporated into special ceremonies across the country. In the final minutes of Cutler’s 2017 Spartan Pledge video, he said that people frequently ask what he plans to do with it next.
“I’m just the author,” he said, laughing. “I’m not doing anything with the Spartan Pledge because it belongs to the community. The question is: What are you going to do with it?”
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North Korean soldiers shot at and wounded a fellow soldier who was crossing a jointly controlled area at the heavily guarded border to defect to South Korea on Oct.13, the South’s military said.
North Korean soldiers have occasionally defected to South Korea across the border. But it’s rare for a North Korean soldier to defect via the Joint Security Area, where border guards of the rival Koreas stand facing each other just meters (feet) away, and be shot by fellow North Korean soldiers.
The soldier bolted from a guard post at the northern side of Panmunjom village in the Joint Security Area to the southern side of the village, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. He was shot in the shoulder and elbow and was taken to a South Korean hospital, the South’s Defense Ministry said. It wasn’t immediately known how serious the soldier’s injuries were or why he decided to defect.
South Korean troops found the injured soldier south of the border after hearing sounds of gunfire, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, requesting anonymity, citing department rules. South Korean troops didn’t fire at the North, he said.
The defection came at a time of heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and could escalate animosities between the rival countries. North Korea has typically accused South Korea of enticing its citizens to defect, something the South denies.
About 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, but most travel through China.
Panmunjom, once an obscure farming village inside the 4-kilometer-wide (2 1/2-mile-wide) Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas, is where an armistice was signed to pause the Korean War. Jointly controlled by the American-led U.N. Command and North Korea, the DMZ is guarded on both sides by hundreds of thousands of combat-ready troops, razor-wire fences and tank traps. More than a million mines are believed to be buried inside the zone.
American presidents often visit Panmunjom and other DMZ areas during their trips to South Korea to reaffirm their security commitment to the South. President Donald Trumpplanned to visit the DMZ to underscore his stance against North Korea’s nuclear program when he came to South Korea last week as part of an Asian tour, but his plans were thwarted by heavy fog that prevented his helicopter from landing at the border area.
At Panmunjom, North Korean soldiers wearing lapel pins with the images of late North Korean leaders often use binoculars to monitor visitors from the South. They stand only several meters (yards) away from tall South Korean soldiers wearing aviator sunglasses and standing motionless like statues. This makes the area a popular stop for visitors from both sides.
Areas around Panmunjom were the site of bloodshed and defection attempts by North Koreans in the past, but there have been no such incidents in recent years.
The most famous incident was in 1976, when two American army officers were killed by ax-wielding North Korean soldiers. The attack prompted Washington to fly nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ in an attempt to intimidate North Korea.
In 1984, North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers traded gunfire after a Soviet citizen defected by sprinting to the South Korean sector of the truce village. The incident left three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier dead. In 1998, a North Korean solider fled to South Korea via Panmunjom.