Nadja Y. West became the Army’s first black surgeon general in 2016, and she was later promoted to lieutenant general, the first female U.S. Military Academy graduate as well as the first African-American woman to hold that rank.
West was also the first Army officer to hold a leadership role at the National Naval Medical Center, a top-tier center in Bethesda, Maryland where she served as a deputy commander.
“I was once an orphan with an uncertain future,” West said of her promotion in a piece from theGrio. “And I am incredibly honored and humbled to lead such a distinguished team of dedicated professionals who are entrusted with the care of our nation’s sons and daughters, veterans, and family members.”
According to her biography, West deployed to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Later, she was part of a medical mission with the 5th Special Forces Group. She has held command at two Army medical centers as well as Europe Regional Medical Command. Most recently, she was the Joint Staff Surgeon at the Pentagon.
As the Army’s surgeon general, West will advise the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff on all Army health care matters, according to a press release from the Office of the Surgeon General. West will also oversee Medical Command and its 48 hospitals which serve 4 million active duty service members, retirees, and their family members.
West graduated from West Point with a degree in engineering. She later earned a Doctorate of Medicine from the George Washington University School of Medicine.
Bill Withers died earlier in the week from complications from heart disease at age 81. Withers was known for his amazing vocals, soulful songs and was one of the best soul singers of all time. He was also a veteran of the United States Navy.
His death has resulted in an outpouring of mourning and grief from singers, artists and fans cross the world.
Regarded as one of the best songwriters of his generation, his influence has been seen in multiple genres of music and generations of artists. Withers gave us such classics as ‘Lean On Me,’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’ ‘Grandma’s Hands,’ ‘Just the Two of Us’ and ‘Lovely Day.’
But there is one song that really resonates with veterans. In 1973, Withers released a song he had written while America was still involved in Vietnam.
Withers was born July 4, 1938, in Slab Fork, West Virginia. He was afflicted with a stutter from the time he was a child. He enlisted in the Navy at 18 where he served as an aircraft mechanic. He had good reason for wanting that field.
Withers told Rolling Stone, “My first goal was, I didn’t want to be a cook or a steward. So I went to aircraft-mechanic school. I still had to prove to people that thought I was genetically inferior that I wasn’t too stupid to drain the oil out of an airplane.”
While he was in the Navy, he was able to do speech therapy so he could stop stuttering. In fact, he stayed in the Navy as long as he could so he could work on his speech. He overcame his stutter using various techniques while also developing an interest in singing and songwriting. After nine years of service, he was discharged in 1965 and moved to Los Angeles to try and break into the music business. Withers worked for the aviation industry during the day while playing local night clubs at night trying to get noticed. His hard work paid off, when in 1970, he was signed to a record contract. His first album came out a year later and his career took off shortly thereafter.
After a couple of years of hits, Withers would write and perform a song that would be hailed as one of the most poignant songs about veterans and the war in Vietnam.
“I Can’t Write Left-Handed” was written from the perspective of a wounded warrior. It wasn’t a political statement, it wasn’t self-righteous, it wasn’t inflammatory. It was simply what he thought Vietnam Veterans went through and what they were going to go through. It was one of the first songs to touch on the mental anguish and post traumatic stress many Vietnam Veterans experienced in the years after the war.
Withers opened the song with a spoken intro….
“We recorded this song on October the 6th. Since then the war’s been declared over. If you’re like me you’ll remember it like anybody remembers any war: one big drag. Lot of people write songs about wars and government … Very social things. But I think about young guys who were like I was when I was young. I had no more idea about any government, or political things or anything. And I think about those kind of young guys now who all of a sudden somebody comes up, and they’re very law-abiding, so if somebody says go they don’t ask any questions they just go. And I can remember not too long ago seeing a young guy with his right arm gone. Just got back. And I asked him how he was doing. He said he was doing all right now but he had thought he was gonna die. He said getting shot at didn’t bother him, it was getting shot that shook him up. And I tried to put myself in his position. Maybe he cried, maybe he said…”
The lyrics then tell us the story of the man with a missing right arm.
I can’t write left handed
Would you please write a letter to my mother Tell her to tell the family lawyer Try to get a deferment for my younger brother
Tell the Reverend Harris to pray for me, lord, lord, lord I ain’t gonna live, I don’t believe I’m going to live to get much older Strange little man over here in Vietnam, I ain’t never Bless his heart I ain’t never done nothin’ to, he done shot me in my shoulder
Boot camp we had classes You know we talked about fightin’, fightin’ everyday And lookin’ through rosy, rosy colored glasses I must admit it seemed exciting anyway But something that day overlooked to tell me Bullet look better I must say Rather when they comin’ at you. But go without the other way
And please call up the Reverend Harris And tell him to ask the lord to do some good things for me Tell him, I ain’t gonna live, I ain’t gonna live, I ain’t gonna live to get much older Strange little man over here in Vietnam, I ain’t never seen, bless his heart I Ain’t never done nothing to, he done shot me in my shoulder
After a long career with many hits, Withers withdrew from the music industry. He felt that he was too old and that touring and performing were a young man’s game. Withers will go down as one of the true icons of soul and one of the best vocalists of his generation. Let us also remember him for his service to our country as well as using his talent to give a voice to those who served in Vietnam. Rest in peace, Sir.
Concern is rising in Japan that the Chinese military may be training for a future mission in the disputed Senkaku Islands, where Beijing has been dispatching coast guard ships at increasing frequency in recent years.
Quoting the Pentagon’s 2017 survey of the Chinese military, Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported June 8 the People’s Liberation Army could be training for a raid of outlying areas, including the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, also claimed by China and Taiwan.
In a section on China’s amphibious capabilities, the report from the U.S. Department of Defense states the “PLA Army focuses its amphibious efforts on a Taiwan invasion while the PLA Navy Marine Corps focuses on small island seizures in the South China Sea, with a potential emerging mission in the Senkakus.”
The Japanese military also may be concerned that, according to the report, China’s PLA Navy Marine Corps brigades conducted “battalion-level amphibious training at their respective training areas in Guangdong,” or the Southern Theater.
“The training focused on swimming amphibious armored vehicles from sea to shore, small boat assault and deployment of special forces by helicopter,” the report states.
In May, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported China’s Navy Marine Corps is in the process of building a 100,000-strong military unit.
The Pentagon report states China has used “coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims.”
Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty applies to the Senkakus, and the United States is obligated to defend the islands if they come under attack.
In May, four Chinese coast guard ships entered Japanese territorial waters near Okinawa and the Senkaku Islands and in 2016, more than 100 Chinese ships trespassed into Japan’s territorial waters, the second-largest annual number of Chinese ships entering disputed areas since Japan announced the nationalization of the Senkakus in September 2012.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 26th that China would “probably” pose the greatest threat to the United States by 2025.
In a hearing before the Committee votes to reappoint Gen. Joseph Dunford in his current role as the top military advisor to the president, he addressed the rise of China, Russia’s increasing use of electronic and cyber warfare, and worries over threats from North Korea.
“The Russians, Chinese, and others are doing what I describe as conducting competition at a level that falls below conflict,” Dunford said. “In my judgment, we need to improve our ability to compete in that space and in the areas specifically … our electronic warfare and information operations capability.”
Although Dunford is expected to easily win support from Congress to remain on the job, he was asked about a variety of issues. Here’s what he said in response to a number of senator’s questions:
On how the US is faring in Afghanistan:
“I do not believe that we can attain our objectives in Afghanistan unless we materially change the behavior of Pakistan.”
Dunford’s answer was in relation to the Taliban and Haqqani Network’s use of Pakistan as a sanctuary, and its government’s lack of ability to combat those groups within the country.
On what’s going on in North Korea:
Although the war of words between the United States and North Korea has seemed to reach a fever pitch, Dunford told the commit ee the Pentagon had not “seen a change in the posture of North Korean forces.”
We are applying “economic and diplomatic means” on North Korea to denuclearize, he said, although he admitted that Kim Jong-un’s nuclear ambitions were a means to assure his regime’s survival. When one senator noted the tension stemming from rhetoric between the two nations, Dunford said that the military had been careful not to “exacerbate” the situation with statements about destroying the Kim regime, but he would not comment on “senior political leadership.”
Senior political leadership — i.e. President Trump — has repeatedly threatened North Korea with military strikes. In his recent speech to the United Nations, he said he would “totally destroy North Korea” in response to military action from Pyongyang.
As far as Pyongyang’s pursuit of a viable nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching US shores, Dunford said he agreed with US Strategic Command’s assessment that North Korea would likely develop that capable by the end of 2018.
“There are military options available to the president if our economic and diplomatic pressure campaign fails,” Dunford said.
On recent ship collisions and accidents that have resulted in the deaths and injuries of US troops:
There have been a number of deadly incidents in recent months involving ship collisions, helicopter crashes, and most recently, a Marine armored vehicle catching on fire at Camp Pendleton.
“I am confident,” Dunford said, that fiscal constraints and high operational tempo were behind at least some of those incidents.
When it comes to the Navy, which has had four ship collisions this year, Dunford said the demands on sailors “does exceed the supply.” Some sailors work 100 hours per week while underway, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.
Dunford told the committee that he had recently been onboard the USS Barry, which he learned had been out to sea for more than two-thirds of the past year.
“70% of the time underway is an unsustainable rate,” he said.
On the fight against ISIS:
Dunford was asked about the fight in and around Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital. That fight is currently underway, and while the general cautioned against giving timelines, he said that combat operations in the city would likely be complete within the next six months.
“We’ll continue to see a reduction in territory,” Dunford said. He added, however, that ISIS would not be completely destroyed, and the group would likely continue to carry out terror attacks despite losing its home base.
Other odds and ends:
Dunford said he was “concerned” about a recent Kurdish independence vote, which he said may possibly have some effect on cooperation between Kurds and Iraqi forces that are currently engaged against ISIS.
On transgender soldiers — which are currently in limbo as the Pentagon reviews the issue — Dunford said, “I do,” when asked if he believed that trans soldiers have served with honor and valor by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
He also told Gillibrand that he didn’t think “any of us are satisfied” with where the military is in terms of addressing the problem of sexual assault, and committed to working with her on the issue.
Dunford said that he supported lethal military assistance for Ukraine, which was still pending approval from The White House. “Their ability to stop armored vehicles would be esssential to them to protect themselves,” he said.
The general also said the military was working to support people devastated by the hurricane in Puerto Rico but they were having trouble with damaged ports and air fields. He said Secretary Mattis’ guidance was, “What they need they get. Just make it happen.”
Finally, Dunford and the committee exchanged a few book and television recommendations. At the opening of the hearing, Republican Sen. John McCain told Dunford he should be watching the Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War, and later, he was asked whether he had read Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster’s book “Derelection of Duty,” about the failures of the Joint Chiefs during the Vietnam War (he had).
“I’m not into morbid body counts, but that matters,” he said, speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference outside Washington, DC.
“So when folks ask, do you need more aggressive [measures], do you need better [rules of engagement], I would tell you that we’re being pretty darn prolific,” he added.
The increase between December and now may be attributable to stepped-up campaigns in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, but body counts are generally considered a dubious metric for a number of reasons.
In the case of ISIS, it’s difficult to first assess just how many fighters the terrorist group has.
According to Military.com, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in 2014 that ISIS had 100,000 militants in Iraq and Syria, while the Pentagon said in summer 2016 that there were just 15,000 to 20,000 fighters left in those two countries.
Complicating matters is the UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon’s estimate of the number of ISIS slain. “More than 25,000 Daesh fighters have now been killed,” Fallon said in December.
Differing assessments of ISIS’ manpower are likely to make it more difficult for the Trump administration and its allies to develop an effective strategy to counter the terrorist group.
Body-count assessments also have a bad reputation as a relic of the Vietnam War, when rosy estimates, often made by officers angling for promotions, earned scorn.
During the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US government reversed its policy on body counts more than once.
A body-count figure released by the Obama administration in mid-2015 was undercut several times.
“These are the types of numbers that novices apply,” a US military adviser told The Daily Beast at the time.
Chuck Hagel — who served as US defense secretary prior to Ash Carter — has also recently dismissed the policy of keeping body counts.
“My policy has always been, don’t release that kind of thing,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in December. “Body counts, I mean, come on, did we learn anything from Vietnam?”
“References to enemy killed are estimates, not precise figures,” Christopher Sherwood, a spokesman for the Defense Department, told CNN. “While the number of enemy killed is one measure of military success, the coalition does not use this as a measure of effectiveness in the campaign to defeat ISIS.”
Syria’s air defenses have again proven ineffective and even dangerous as they killed 15 Russian service members flying aboard an Il-20 spy plane during an air battle over the Mediterranean on Sept. 17, 2018.
Syria has Russian-made air defenses that it’s had ample opportunity to use as Israel regularly attacks the country and the US has twice fired missiles at its military facilities in response to chemical weapons use.
But, according to Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, Israel could have planned on using the Russian Il-20 for cover all along.
An Israeli F-16I.
(Major Ofer, Israeli Air Force)
If the Russian Il-20 was on a regular patrol route of the Mediterranean, Bronk said the Israelis may have tried to plot an attack under a leg of its planned flight path, that they would have observed via local intelligence assets or in information sharing with the Russians themselves.
“One of the Israeli hallmarks when they do these sort of fairly bold strikes within the coverage of the Syrian air defenses is heavy electronic warfare and jamming,” Bronk told Business Insider.
So not only do the Syrians face heavy electronic interference and jamming of their radars, the threat of Israeli bombs rocking their position, and a big, obvious Russian target flying just above the shrouded F-16s, history shows they’re just not that good at air defense.
“It would be very unlikely that the Israelis were trying to engineer a situation where the Syrians shot down a Russian plane,” Bronk said, but perhaps they did intend to use the Il-20 overhead to convince Syria not to shoot.
“The S-200 is not a very sophisictated system,” said Bronk. “It’s not going to distinguish between a fighter and a big plane.”
Syria could have easily communicated with the Russians, but likely relies on voice communications which can easily be overwhelmed in times of crisis.
If it weren’t for the Israeli strike, the 15 Russians likely would have survived to this day. But ultimately, the death of the Russians and downing of the Il-20 comes down to “sloppy fire discipline from Syrian air defenses,” said Bronk.
And for sloppy work from Syrian air defenses, this example hardly represents the first.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It appears that the nation’s top military officer is not in sync with his commander-in-chief on the need to label America’s enemy in the conflicts that have persisted since the 9-11 terrorists’ attacks as “radical Islamic extremists.”
Throughout his campaign and since taking office, President Donald Trump has insisted on using the term radical or extremists “Islamic” terrorists to describe ISIS and the other groups spreading conflicts throughout the Middle East and Africa.
Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and their administrations’ officials, including Pentagon leaders, deliberately avoided use of the “Islamic” label in an effort, they said, to avoid bolstering the terrorists’ propaganda that America was at war with all of Islam. But many Republicans in Congress protested that policy for denying the true nature of the threat.
During an appearance at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Feb. 23, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, repeatedly used the term “violent extremists” in talking about the “four plus one threat” the US military must face. That term refers to the possible future threats posed by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, plus the ongoing fights against extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and many parts of Africa.
Dunford also used that term in explaining the purpose of the review Trump ordered the Pentagon to conduct on ways to accelerate the fight to defeat ISIS and similar groups.
When challenged by a reporter on whether he does not feel the need to use the “Islamic” label used by Trump, Dunford carefully avoided the term.
“You ought not to read anything into my use of ‘violent extremism’ other than really trying to articulate exactly the point I’m trying to make now… It involves al Qaeda, it involves Hezbollah, it involves ISIS and other groups that present a trans-regional threat,” he said.
“If you ask about a specific group I could give you a more specific descriptor,” Dunford added. “I was using the term ‘violent extremism’ to refer to all of those groups,” that exist “as the result of individuals who take up arms to advance political and/or religious objectives through violence.”
In an earlier discussion about the complex situation the US is trying to deal with in Syria, Dunford noted there are issues with Sunni and Shia groups, the two main divisions of Islam, plus Kurds, Turks and others.
The Times’ journalists scanned the locations of nearly 150 coalition airstrikes across northern Iraq and found the rate of civilian deaths to be more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition.
Such negligence — a combination of simply flawed and outdated intelligence — amounted to what the Times noted “may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”
Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Department of Defense agency overseeing the US-led coalition, said “US and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes.” He told the Times that the US has been “conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”
The reality on the ground reportedly tells a much different story.
Data from coalition forces reported Iraqi civilian deaths have resulted in about one of every 157 airstrikes. The Times found that civilians were killed in one out of every five.
Basim Razzo was almost one of the victims, according to the Times. In September 2015, Razzo was sleeping in his bed in Mosul — then under ISIS control — when a US coalition airstrike reduced much of his home to a heap of rubble. He awoke drenched in blood. The roof of his house had been torn apart. Worst of all, he didn’t know if his family had been hurt. He soon discovered his wife, daughter, brother, and nephew had been killed.
Later that day, the US coalition uploaded a video to YouTube entitled, “Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul Iraq 20 Sept 2015.” The military claimed it had successfully demolished an ISIS car-bomb factory, but it now appears they actually struck the homes of Razzo and his brother, killing four innocent civilians in the process.
Human rights concerns
In July, the Iraqi Army liberated Mosul from ISIS forces, but people like Razzo couldn’t move on. Many still live with the fear of being misidentified as ISIS sympathizers, and the tragedy of losing innocent loved ones.
“We’re not happy with it, and we’re never going to be happy with it,” Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for the Central Command, told the Times regarding civilian casualties. “But we’re pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things.”
That’s not enough for human rights organizations, who often criticize coalition forces for poor reporting procedures that leave dozens, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of dead civilians unaccounted for. Human Rights Watch also called on President Donald Trump to do more to protect civilians abroad as news surfaced that he was modifying US military rules of engagement with suspected terrorists.
“Trump’s reported changes for targeting terrorism suspects will result in more civilian deaths with less oversight and greater secrecy,” Letta Tayler, a HRW researcher, said earlier this month. “The US should be increasing civilian protections off the battlefield, not dismantling them.”
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless businesses across the nation and around the world have been forced to close their doors, some for good. Nonprofits like the famous Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama have suffered even more.
As a result of the pandemic, attendance at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum and Space Camp has dropped significantly. Though Space Camp reopened following a four month closure, limited admission and a lack of international students forced the weeklong camp programs to close again.
(U.S. Space Rocket Center)
Overall, the organization has seen a 66% loss in revenue. Having exhausted all funding possibilities, the U.S. Space Rocket Center and Space Camp will be forced to close in October. To prevent this, the U.S. Space Rocket Center Foundation has started a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of id=”listicle-2646867862″.5 million.
Founded in 1982, Space Camp uses the U.S. space program as the basis to promote math and science to children. The idea for the camp came from famed rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. While touring the U.S. Space Rocket Center in 1977, von Braun noticed a group of schoolchildren admiring the rockets and said to the museum director, “You know, we have all these camps for youngsters in this country—band camps and cheerleader camps and football camps. Why don’t we have science camps?”
While Space Camp is generally used to describe any sort of educational program relating to space, the camp actually offers a variety of programs for different ages and durations of visit. Space Camp is a six-day program for children ages 9-11 and features a curriculum designed to balance education and entertainment. Space Academy caters to children ages 12-14 and is also offered in six-day sessions. Advanced Space Academy (originally called Space Academy Level II) is designed for 15- to 18-year-olds and offers attendees one credit hour of freshman-level general science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Family Camp allows parents or guardians to attend Space Camp with their children aged 7-12 years.
(U.S. Space Rocket Center)
Following its success, other variations of Space Camp were developed including Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students and Deaf Space Camp. The U.S. Space Rocket Center Foundation also offers scholarships for children who have disabilities, financial needs or other disadvantages to be able to attend Space Camp.
There are also internationally licensed Space Camps including Space Camp Canada, Space Camp Belgium and Space Camp Turkey. Space Camp Florida and Space Camp California opened in 1988 and 1996 respectively, but both closed in 2002 due to financial difficulties caused by low attendance rates.
Throughout its 38 years of operation, Space Camp has educated and inspired thousands of young people to achieve great things. Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger attended Space Academy in 1989 at the age of 14 and became a NASA astronaut in 2006, the first Space Camp alumna to do so. Jasmin Moghbeli, a U.S. Marine Corps test pilot and NASA astronaut, attended Advanced Space Academy in 1998 at the age of 15. Annika Rose Vargas, who donated an incredible 0 to the GoFundMe, found her calling at Space Camp and pursued an engineering degree at UAH. A 0 donation from Sam and Clara Bailey came with a note attesting, “I would not be a UH-60M pilot without [Space Camp].”
(U.S. Space Rocket Center)
It’s not just Space Camp alumni and their family members donating though. One anonymous contributor said, “My grandfather, James Milton Willis, would have been 100 today. He worked on the first Saturn V Rocket. In honor of his birthday, I’m donating 0 to the Space and Rocket Center. Every time I look at that Saturn V Rocket, it reminds me of him. I don’t want Huntsville to lose this national gem.”
As of July 30, 2020, the 2-day-old GoFundMe has had nearly 6,000 donations and raised over 0,000 of its id=”listicle-2646867862″.5 million goal. This incredible outpouring of support is a testament to the positive impact that Space Camp has had on thousands of people who hope that it can continue to do so for generations to come.
After polling members of the U.S. Air Force community, the service announced the name of the upcoming B-21 would be Raider on Sept. 19. Unlike the stealth bomber’s crowd sourced moniker, most of the flying branch’s planes get their official nicknames through a much less public process. In usual circumstances, some aircraft even get more than one.
On March 9, 2012, the Air Force announced Commando II as the formal name for the specialized MC-130J transport. For five months, crews had called the plane the Combat Shadow II.
“This is one of the first name changes we approved,” Keven Corbeil, a Pentagon official working at Air Force Materiel Command told Air Force reporters afterwards: “I think ‘Commando’ had historical [significance].”
The Air Force leads the shared office within Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base that approves all official aircraft and missile designations and their nicknames. According to records that We Are The Mighty obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the Air Force’s top commando headquarters felt both Combat Shadow II and Commando II had important significance. These were not the only names in the running either.
Starting in 1997, the flying branch had explored various options for replacing the MC-130E Combat Talon and MC-130P Combat Shadow. Both aircraft first entered service during the Vietnam War.
With the Combat Talons, aerial commandos could sneak elite troops and supplies deep behind enemy lines. The Air Force Special Operations Command primarily used flew the Combat Shadows to refuel specialized helicopters, though they could also schlep passengers and cargo into “denied areas.”
The Air Force’s new plane would take over both roles. For a time, the flying branch considered a plan to simply rebuild the older MC-130s into the upgraded versions.
More than a decade after the first studies for a replacement aircraft, the service hired Lockheed Martin to build all new MC-130s based on the latest C-130J aircraft. Compared to earlier C-130s, the J models had more powerful engines driving distinctive six-bladed propellers, upgraded flight computers and other electronics and additional improvements.
A basic C-130H transport has a top speed of just more than 360 miles per hour and can carry 35,000 pounds of equipment to destinations nearly 1,500 miles away. The regular cargo-hauling J variant can lug the same amount of gear more than 300 miles further with a maximum speed of more than 415 miles per hour.
So, on Oct 5, 2009, the Maryland-headquartered plane-maker started building the first of these MC-130Js. By the end of the month, the Air Force was already debating the plane’s name.
Four months earlier, Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, then head of Air Force Special Operations Command offered up three possible nicknames: Combat Shadow II, Commando II and Combat Knife.
“The MC-130J mission will be identical to the Combat Shadow mission,” the top commando headquarters explained in an email. “The MC -130E already has its namesake preserved in the MC -130H, Combat Talon II.”
Keeping around well-known monikers is important both to Air Force history and public relations. The nicknames are supposed to both reflect the plane’s mission and help make it catchy during congressional hearings and interviews with the media.
Combat Shadow II would easily convey to lawmakers and the public that the plane was the successor to existing MC-130s. And otherwise, there wouldn’t be another Combat Shadow anytime soon.
Dating back to World War II and when the Air Force was still part of the U.S. Army, Commando II had different historic relevance. Largely obscured from common memory by the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Curtis’ C-46 Commando was a vital contributor in the China, Burma India theater.
“The Commando was a workhorse in ‘flying The Hump’ (over the Himalaya Mountains), transporting desperately needed supplies from bases in India and Burma to troops in China,” the Air Force noted in the same message. “Only the C-46 was able to handle the adverse conditions with unpredictable weather, lack of radio aids and direction finders, engineering and maintenance nightmares due to a shortage of trained air and ground personnel and poorly equipped airfields often wiped out by monsoon rains.”
Though a Commando hadn’t flown in Air Force colors in more than four decades, the name fit with the air commando’s dangerous missions in unknown territory. In addition, the type had a storied history flying covert missions for the Central Intelligence Agency with contractors such as Air America.
The last option, Combat Knife, was a reference to the codename for the first unit to get the original MC-130E Combat Talon. In 1965, the Air Force created the element inside the 779th Troop Carrier Squadron at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.
As the unit evolved, it took over responsibility for training all Combat Talon crews. On Nov. 21, 1970, one of the group’s MC-130s flew into North Vietnam as part of the famous raid aimed at freeing American troops at the Son Tay prison camp.
As Lockheed began building the MC-130Js, Air Force Special Operations Command decided to try and have it both ways. In another memo , the top commando headquarters proposed calling the aircraft set up to replace the MC-130Ps as Combat Shadow IIs, while the planes configured to take over for the MC-130Es would become Combat Talon IIIs.
The only problem was that there weren’t really two different versions. The entire point of the new plane was to have a common aircraft for both missions.
This solution wasn’t really what Air Force Special Operations Command wanted for the newest member of its fleet. As early as March 2009, the elite fliers had argued in favor of Commando II if they had to pick a single moniker.
“If the MC-130J will ultimately take on both the Talon and Shadow missions, then perhaps ‘Commando II’ is a nice compromise,” the vice commander of Air Force Special Operations Command Wurster in a hand-written note. “I like it better regardless!”
Censors redacted the officer’s name from the message.
On Oct. 25, 2011, Wurster’s successor Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel asked Air Force Materiel Commando to change the name to Commando II. Over the course of the debate, air commandos had also put Combat Arrow into the running.
Until 1974, Combat Arrow was the nickname applied to the Air Force’s Combat Talon element based in Europe. Combat Spear was the moniker for the element flying missions in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, during the same period. However, the MC-130W – a less intensive upgrade of the MC-130H Combat Talon II – had already gotten that nickname.
With new plans to eventually replace the Combat Talon IIs with MC-130Js as well, Fiel wanted “a new popular name that embodies the broader lineage of special operations force aircraft,” according to his message. “[Commando II] best reflects the multimission role of the aircraft and the units that will fly them.”
The officials responsible for naming agreed with Fiel’s request. They no doubt appreciated his suggestion of a new, single name.
Since then, the Air Force has clearly considered the matter settled. No one is likely interested in going through another drawn-out debate to change the MC-130J’s nickname anymore.
As Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 3, controversy erupted when he mentioned the service’s plans to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II, affectionately known to troops as the “Warthog” and largely regarded as the most effective close air support aircraft in the inventory today.
For years, the USAF fought with congressional leaders about the fate of the Warthog. Congress laid down the law in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, requiring that the Air Force find a viable replacement for the airframe’s close-air support role before they would be allowed to retire it.
Originally, the Air Force tried to wedge the F-35 program into the CAS requirement, but Congress flat-out rejected it as an option. Thus, the A-10 was given a stay of execution until a congressionally-mandated, independent study determined the Air Force has such a suitable replacement.
In his recent testimony, Gen. Welsh told the Senate the USAF will use the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-15E Strike Eagle to fly close air support missions; however, those options didn’t work for the SASC, especially not the chairman, Senator John McCain, a former Navy attack pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam and spent six years as a POW in Hanoi.
“You have nothing to replace [the A-10] with, General,” McCain shot back. “Otherwise you would be using F-15s and the F-16s of which you have plenty of, but you’re using the A-10 because it’s the most effective weapons system. This is really, unfortunately disingenuous.”
As well as being the most tailored for the CAS mission, the A-10 also has the lowest cost per flight hour at $19,051 compared to the F-35 at $67,550, the F-16 at $22,470, and the F-15E at $41,921.
When Welsh tried to press the issue, McCain called his testimony “embarrassing.”
“Every Air Force pilot that I know will tell you that the most effective close air support system is the A-10,” McCain said.
The Air Force’s new F-35A multi-role, stealth Joint Strike Fighter brings an unprecedented ability to destroy targets in the air, attack moving enemies on the ground and beam battlefield images across the force in real time, an Air Force pilot told Scout Warrior in a special interview.
The stealth fighter makes it much easier for pilots to locate, track and destroy enemy targets across a wide range of combat circumstances — including attacks from farther ranges than existing fighters can operate, the F-35A pilot said.
Speaking to Scout Warrior as part of a special “Inside the Cockpit” feature on the F-35A, Air Force Col. Todd Canterbury, a former F-35 pilot and instructor, said the new fighter brings a wide range of new technologies including advanced sensors, radar, weapons for attack and next-generation computers.
Although he serves now as Chief, Operations Division of the F-35 Integration Office at the Pentagon, Canterbury previously trained F-35 pilots at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Canterbury is uniquely positioned to know the F-35’s margins of difference because he has spent thousands of hours flying legacy aircraft such as the service’s F-15 and F-16 fighters.
“The F-35 is a dream to fly. It is the easiest airplane to fly. I can now focus on employment and winning the battle at hand as opposed to looking at disparate information and trying to handle the airplane,” Canterbury told Scout Warrior.
Canterbury was referring to an often-discussed technological advance with the F-35 called “sensor fusion,” a system which places radar, targeting, navigation and altitude information on a single integrated screen for pilots to view. As a result, pilots can rely upon computer algorithms to see a “fused” picture of their battlespace and no longer need to look at different screens for targeting coordinates, air speed, mapping and terrain information, sensor feeds or incoming data from a radar warning receiver.
The F-35s Electro-Optical Targeting System, or EOTS, combines forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track sensor technology for pilots – allowing them to find and track targets before attacking with laser and GPS-guided precision weapons.
“I can turn my head and look left or right. There is an aiming cross on my helmet, an aiming symbology that tells me how to get there. The system will swivel over to the point on the ground I have designated,” Canterbury described.
The EOTs system is engineered to work in tandem with a technology called the Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, a collection of six cameras strategically mounted around the aircraft to give the pilot a 360-degree view.
“I can look through the airplane and see the ground below me. I can look directly below me without having to obscure my vision,” Canterbury said.
The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.
The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on-the-move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.
The F-35’s software packages are being developed in increments; the Marine Corps declared their Short-Take-off-and-Vertical-Landing F-35B with software increment or “drop” 2B.
Block 2B builds upon the enhanced simulated weapons, data link capabilities and early fused sensor integration of the earlier Block 2A software drop. Block 2B enables the JSF to provide basic close air support and fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air to Air Missile), JDADM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), JSF program officials have said.
The next increment, Blocks 3i will increase the combat capability even further and Block 3F will bring a vastly increased ability to suppress enemy air defenses.
The Air Force plans to reach operational status with software Block 3i this year. Full operational capability will come with Block 3F, service officials said.
Block 3F will increase the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, Air Force officials said.
Canterbury also talked about how Air Force engineers and experts were making progress building a computer library in the aircraft called the Mission Data Files.
“Experts are working feverishly to catalog all of the threats we might face,” he said.
Described as the brains of the airplane, the mission data files are extensive onboard data systems compiling information on geography, air space and potential threats in known areas of the world where the F-35 might be expected to perform combat operations, he explained.
Consisting of hardware and software, the mission data files are essentially a database of known threats and friendly aircraft in specific parts the world. The files are being worked on at reprogramming laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Air Force officials have said.
The mission data packages are loaded with a wide range of information to include commercial airliner information and specifics on Russian and Chinese fighter jets. For example, the mission data system would enable a pilot to quickly identify a Russian MiG-29 if it were detected by the F-35’s sensors.
The mission data files are being engineered to accommodate new threat and intelligence information as it emerges. For instance, the system might one day have all the details on a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter or Russian T-50 PAK FA stealth aircraft.
The first operational F-35A fighters have already been delivered to Hill Air Force Base in Utah, and Air Force leaders say the service has launched some small mini-deployments within the US to prepare the platform for deployment.
Apart from its individual technologies, weapons, sensors and systems, the F-35 is perhaps best appreciated for its multi-role capabilities, meaning it can perform a wide range of different missions from close-air support and air-to-ground attack to air-to-air engagements and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR.
The aircraft’s sensor technologies allow the platform to perform a much greater ISR function than previous aircraft can, giving it a “drone-like” ability to gather and disseminate surveillance information. As part of this, the F-35 can also use a specially engineered data-link to communicate in real-time with other F-35s and other aircraft and fighter jets.
“With the datalink’s network interoperability, we can talk to each other and talk to fourth-generation aircraft as well,” Canterbury explained.
The F-35A can function as a reconnaissance aircraft, air-to-air fighter, air-to-ground fighter or stealth aircraft engineered to evade enemy air defenses, Canterbury explained.
“While stealth is important in the early phases of warfare to knock out integrated air defenses and allow fourth-generation fighters to fly in, we don’t need stealth all the time,” Canterbury said. “I can use my stealth and electronic attack to see an adversary well before he sees me.”
For instance, the F-35A is well-suited to loiter over an area and provide fire support to units on the ground in a close-in fight. In order to execute these kinds of missions, the F-35 will have a 25mm Gatling Gun mounted on top of the aircraft operational by 2017.
The F-35 has 11 weapons stations, which includes seven external weapons stations for bombs or fuel.
“If we don’t need stealth, I can load this up with weapons and be a bomb truck,” Canterbury explained.
Eventually, the Air Force plans to acquire more than 1,700 F-35As.