With Russia’s announcement of a new permanent naval base in Tartus, Syria – long a port used by Russian (and prior to 1991, Soviet) forces, Moscow’s expansion into that war torn country continues even as the Assad regime is wracked by civil war.
But Russia has had a long history in the Med.
Tartus Naval Base has been used by the Russians since 1971. In those 45 years, it served as a forward operating location for the Fifth Eskadra (5th Operational Squadron). This unit was intended to counter the presence of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Med. The base had not been able to permanently support major vessels like the Kuznetov-class carrier; the Kirov-class battlecruisers; the Slava-class cruisers; or even modern destroyers and frigates in Russian service. The new construction at the base is intended to make it a permanent base for carriers and larger vessels as opposed to just a place to park.
The Fifth Eskadra was formed in 1967 after the Egypt-Israel Six Day War. The Soviets had been unable to find a way to inflict damage on the Sixth Fleet in the event of a war with the United States. This was not a solid strategic position from its perspective, and Russian naval legend Sergei Gorshkov pestered his superiors until the unit was formed.
The unit usually consisted of as many as 80 vessels, including two guided-missile cruisers and a number of smaller escorts like the Mod Kashin-class destroyer or Krivak-class frigate, ten diesel-electric submarines, and a host of auxiliary vessels. The Sixth Fleet usually had half that total, but much of its strength would be concentrated in a carrier battle group which could make life exciting (not to mention short) for the Soviet vessels.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians disbanded the Fifth Eskadra at the end of 1992 — a little over 25 years after the squadron was formed. Two decades later, in 2013, the Russians re-formed the squadron as the Syrian civil war heated up.
Now with about 10 vessels, it is a shadow of the force that faced off with the Sixth Fleet. Still, it is a sign that Russia is reasserting itself in the region.
When filmmaker Ken Burns and his collaborators previously tackled sprawling documentaries about the Civil War and World War II, their first obligation, he said, was to strip away the “barnacles of sentimentality” attached to both events.
That was never a problem with his latest military epic, “The Vietnam War.”
“No such sentimentality attaches itself to Vietnam,” Burns says. “So there’s a through line to the tragedy and the the essential horror and cruelty of war that is manifested everywhere.”
Covering 18 hours over 10 installments, the film recalls one of the most tragic chapters in American history — a conflict so divisive that, in the words of a soldier quoted in the film, it “drove a stake right into the heart of America.”
Ten years in the making, “The Vietnam War” (Sept. 17, 8pm, PBS) might be Burns’ greatest achievement yet in a career that dates back to 1981. It’s certainly his most complicated and challenging. To get to the heart of it all, he and co-director Lynn Novick relied on a wealth of archival materials, including stunningly revelatory audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations.
Most notably, they solicited accounts from more than 80 witnesses from all sides of the war’s vast social divide: soldiers who fought in the war and Americans who opposed it, as well as North and South Vietnamese combatants and civilians. It was what the filmmakers call a “bottom up” approach with a preference toward mostly ordinary people with incredible stories to tell, rather than the usual talking heads. John McCain, John Kerry, and Jane Fonda, for example, are not interviewed.
Along the way, the filmmakers didn’t encounter as much reticence from their subjects as some might expect. Credit the passage of time.
“We generally found that there was enormous interest in having their story told,” Novick says. “They saw it as a chance to share experiences with the wider world that were very important to them and seminal, informative, and sometimes very, very painful.”
The result is a panoramic, immersive, intensely intimate and often heart-wrenching film experience that captures the human stories embedded within a war that claimed the lives of more than 58,000 Americans, and more than 3 million Vietnamese military personnel and civilians.
Burns, of course, realizes that many viewers will bring their “personal baggage” and hardened perspectives to the film. But he and Novick insist that they were intent on being as even-handed as possible.
“There isn’t a single truth in the war,” Burns says. “In fact, there’s many truths that can coexist, and that might help to sort of take the fuel rods out of the division and polarization that was born in Vietnam that continues to this moment.”
The Vietnam conflict had long been on Burns’ cinematic to-do list. But early in his career he felt the wounds were too fresh. And when he finally did approach the subject, he went in thinking he knew a lot about it, only to immediately learn he didn’t.
“It was a daily humiliation,” he recalls. “And the humbleness that you have to assume in order to get through the next 10 years is just that — humbling. So we just kept our heads down and worked to get it right.”
According to Novick, one of the key discoveries they encountered along the way was the continual privately expressed skepticism from government officials that the US could prevail in the conflict, which was carried out under five presidents.
“There never was a time when the people in our government who were pushing the war forward had total confidence that it was winnable,” she says. “You hear this drumbeat of doubt and lack of sureness that it can come out well, that we can accomplish our goals, that it’s sustainable. And that goes back to the earliest days of American involvement in Vietnam. … That was rather revelatory and devastating.”
It’s Burns’ hope that the film can open a national dialogue about Vietnam and get people to talk about it in a “calm way.” After all, so much of what occurred during the war resonates with the present: Images of mass protests across a deeply divided nation; a White House paranoid about leaks and at odds with the media; disagreements over American military strategy in far-off territories; acrimony over what defines patriotism…
“History doesn’t repeat itself. We’re not condemned to repeat what we don’t remember,” he says. “It’s that human nature never changes.”
In the 1970s, the Soviet Union designed the MiG-27 Flogger as a dedicated ground-attack plane based on the MiG-23 Flogger, an air-superiority fighter turned multi-role fighter. It was well-built for that mission, able to haul just over 8,800 pounds of ordinance, according to globalaircraft.org.
It also could bring two varieties of BRRRRRT! Airforce-Technology.com reports that the MiG-27 had a 30mm Gatling gun, the GSh-6-30, with 260 rounds that could kill tanks. In addition to the 30mm gun, this Flogger also packed twin-barrel 23mm gun with 200 rounds that the MiG-23 had. Double the BRRRRRT!, double the fun?
The F-15 Eagle made a similar transition in the late 1980s, going from an air-superiority plane to a deadly ground-attack bird (albeit still with powerful air-to-air capabilities). For the MiG-27, though, its only mission was to be ground attack. The Soviets removed the radars but did armor up the cockpit. The MiG-27 stayed in production until 1986 in the Soviet Union, but India then got a license to build the plane.
In Indian service, the MiG-27 is known as the Bahadur. India acquired a production license for the MiG-27, starting with 80 kits from Russia. Then, India began to build MiG-27s from scratch – eventually acquiring a total of 165 in that manner. India also imported MiG-27. According to FlightGlobal.com, India has 84 MiG-27s in service.
But these are not the Cold War MiG-27s.
GlobalSecurity.org noted that India carried out one upgrade starting in 2002, which included new navigation systems, improved target tracking systems, and a cockpit that made things easier for the pilot. That was finished by 2009. But a more advanced MiG-27 has been designed by India
MilitaryFactory.com reports that this advanced version of the MiG-27, known as the MiG-27H, would take it beyond a ground attack machine. The MiG-27H not only lightened the plane, but added multi-function displays to the cockpit, and a multi-mode radar that would enable the Flogger to fight aircraft and carry out anti-shipping missions.
Mexico’s Veracruz state may be one of the most dangerous places in the entire country. The extortion and kidnapping of civil servants and journalists are rampant, dismembered bodies are a common occurrence, and the city is on the front lines of Mexico’s ongoing drug war.
The Fuerza Civil – the Civil Forces of the Mexican state – is an elite security force designed to protect trade routes, migrants, agricultural areas, fisheries, and forests as well as assist with municipal authorities in preventing organized crime. They need all the help they can get.
Enter the Gurkha armored vehicle.
The Fuerza Civil equipped with next-generation weapons, armor, and vehicles to support that mission. One of those advanced armor vehicles comes from Canada’s Terradyne Armored, Inc. and is dubbed the Gurkha after Nepal’s feared elite warriors.
The Gurkha is a 4×4 light armored patrol vehicle, currently produced in three tactical configurations – each of which uses the Ford F550 chassis. They also run with Ford’s in-house built 6.7L Power Stroke V8 diesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
The power and armor make a huge difference in Veracruz. Civilians and police are regularly targeted or in the crossfire of ongoing violence between the Zetas, Sinaloa, and Gulf Cartels. Things got so bad the Mexican government had to deploy military forces to quell the fighting.
“Raven 08, Deci Tower, cleared for take-off, wind calm.”
I’m in the backseat of a Tornado IDS belonging to the 154° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 6° Stormo (Wing) from Ghedi, currently deployed to Decimomannu airbase, Italy, for the yearly training activity in the Sardinian firing ranges. The words of the controller, that I can hear quite clearly before the noise will spread through the cockpit making all the subsequent communications barely readable, have a double meaning to me: first, they give the “go ahead” to the most exciting part of my flight in a Tornado (the very first one on this kind of aircraft); second, they mark the end of the long and delicate stage of the jet flight preparation; a preparation that determines either the success or failure of the sortie from the journalistic point of view.
Italian aircraft IDS Tornado flies over a live fire range in exercise Eager Centaur II in an undisclosed location, Southwest Asia, March 14, 2016. Eager Centaur II is conducted to complete initial joint terminal attack controller training and exercise the SPMAGTF-CR-CC Fire Support Coordination Center, to include combined arms live-fire tactics, techniques, and procedures. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Clarence A. Leake)
A flight in a jet usually lasts between 45 and 110 minutes (longer if it includes aerial refueling, but it’s not the case): in my case, fully exploiting the (short) time available to “observe” a mission from the inside and collect all the photos and video material for both aviation magazines, this blog and its connected social networks, is paramount. A flight in a combat aircraft represents an almost unique opportunity and it is important to make the most out of it. If something in the backseat goes wrong, if a camera body fails or a lens proves to be unsuitable for the photo session, there will hardly be a second chance. In about 20 years I’ve had this opportunity quite a few times, hence here are a few suggestions based on my little (if compared to others) experience in a combat aircraft. If you are going to fly in a fast jet for the first time, because you were invited or simply because you’ve paid for a ride, maybe the following few tips will help you maximize your experience.
Even though the thrill of flying in a jet fighter is always the same, learning from the past mistakes as well as the experience gained over the years, have been pivotal to perfecting the preparation of the mission so as to minimize the risk that something unexpected can jeopardize the reportage’s success. For example, during one of my first jet flights, to have a back-up in case of problems with the main camera, I decided to put a compact camera in one of the pockets of the flight suit, the one located more or less over the right’s lower leg. Fortunately, I did not need it. In fact, I hadn’t taken into account that the anti-G suit, dressed over the normal flight suit, would have made the “emergency” camera inaccessible during the flight! Since then, I only use the pockets of the anti-G pants for all those small accessories I might need in the cockpit.
With regard to the flight gear, in addition to my mask, I always try to use my own helmet, which is also easily recognizable by the bright yellow-green checkerboard on the cover. However, this is not always possible: for instance, in the case of the Eurofighter, the aircrews have to use the specific flight equipment designed for the Typhoon flight line which differs from that used on any other Italian Air Force aircraft and includes, among the other things, a Gentex ACS (Aircrew Combat System) helmet and an EFA / ACS mask. For my flight in the Tornado, I had to use to an HGU-55G helmet, with the characteristic 154th squadron’s “red devil” symbol painted on the cover, that I was lent by the unit.
Back to the preparation of the mission, once the flight gear’s check and fitting have been completed, I think the most important thing is the inspection of the rear cockpit of the aircraft: it is essential to know how to “move” in the backseat, where to attach the GoPro so that it is both stable and reachable (to modify some settings or move it), evaluate the size of any storage compartment to see if it can be used to accommodate a camera body or lens. In fact, digital cameras have greatly simplified life in a jet: when I was still using color slide films I needed to change the rolls several times during the flight. This forced me to continuously estimate the number of photographs I could take so that I didn’t run out of shots during a maneuver: in order to replace the finished roll with a new one, it was necessary to remove the gloves, be more or less stable (that is, in level flight) and have the time to safely remove and store the used roll before inserting a new one; an operation that would take just a few seconds in other conditions but, performed in a very narrow space, strapped into the ejection seat, wearing the heavy helmet, the mask, the Secumar, etc., was, especially at the beginning, quite challenging. With the advent of digital photography, this problem has been solved.
Returning to the preparation of the flight, once understood how to move (or not move) in the rear cockpit, it is important to discuss with the crews that will take part in the mission and determine which phases of the missions will be suitable for some aerial shots. Although I have had the opportunity to arrange “pure” air-to-air photo sessions, I usually prefer to take part in missions that bring me in the aircraft’s operational environment: I am a journalist and I find it much more interesting for my readers (and for myself) to see and recount the mission from a privileged point of view, focusing on both the tactical aspects of the flight and the technical details of the employed weapon systems. This means that the time available for photography is normally reduced to about ten minutes: during the transition to the operating zone or during the RTB (Return To Base) phase.
Obviously, a sortie with well-defined operational goals leaves little room for aerobatics or formations flying in favor of light: if you are part of a 3-ship that is acting as “Red Air” in a 4 vs 3 supersonic training mission, as in my flight in the Eurofighter, the aircraft will fly towards the operational area in fighting wing, with a significant spacing from one another, and the time for close formation will be reduced to a few minutes. However, as I have already explained, I prefer a few clicks from a realistic operational situation rather than taking part in a sortie that is particularly cool from a photographic point of view, but “poor” from the operational one. Generally, “how to arrange the aircraft” and “when to take photographs” are topics discussed with the aircrews during the briefing and reviewed, if necessary, during the flight, asking the pilot in the front seat to assume a specific attitude so as to obtain a particular shot.
Dealing with the photographic equipment, in addition to the GoPro and camera, I bring with me what I need inside a large removable pocket that comes with velcro to be attached to the anti-G at the thigh: here is where I put spare batteries or extra lenses, like fisheye and zoom for the iPhone, used to take short videos or photos that complement the work of the DSLR camera. As for the camera, I strongly recommend removing any type of strap to prevent it from coming into contact with the stick, throttle or, worse, with the ejection seat handle. From 1999 to today, I have carried several camera bodies with me, but the lens I prefer in the back seat is almost always the Canon 28-135 USM, an extremely reliable, versatile and lightweight lens, more than adequate for my needs. If you do not have hundreds of flights under your belt, photographing air-to-air from the cockpit of a military aircraft is not an easy task: properly framing the other jets during some maneuvers requires some physical effort (the camera is subject to the same accelerations as aircraft meaning that in a 5 g turn the camera weighs five times its weight on the ground …) and gives very nauseous feelings, too. Luckily, I have never needed it, but I always bring a bag for nausea in the anti-G pocket; I also drink a lot of water and limit carbohydrates, alcohol, or spicy foods ahead of flying. Anyway, pro photographers, with hundreds if not thousands of flight hours in fast jets, such as Katsuhiko “Katsu” Tokunaga, Jamie Hunter, or Frank Crebas (to name but few), may provide much more expert advice about air-to-air photography and related tips and tricks.
The opportunity to fly in a high-performance aircraft every now and then has given me some exciting and long-lasting memories: the formation aerobatics with the TF-104, the BBQ (Ultra-low level flying) with AMX, the LIFT (Lead In Fighter Trainer) sortie with the T-346A or the supersonic BVR (Beyond Visual Range) interception flown as Aggressor with the Eurofighter.
It’s time to get out your stars and stripes – it’s Flag Day! June 14, 1777, is the date that Congress officially chose the design for our flag, and Americans have been pledging their allegiance to it ever since. While you’ll only get the day off work if you live in Pennsylvania, the state where the flag originated, the holiday’s history and meaning are important to know. Whether you’re reading this on Flag Day or any other day, these facts are fun enough to learn all year long.
Betsy Ross is often cited as the designer of the first American Flag, but we have little evidence to support that claim. Her grandson presented statements by his own family in 1870, but beyond that, there’s no proof. Some historians want to transfer the credit to Francis Hopkinson, who was named as the flag’s designer in journals from the Continental Congress.
3. There have been 27 official versions of the American flag
On the American flag, the stripes represent the 13 original colonies, while the stars represent each state. Since there weren’t always 50 states, there weren’t always 50 stars. Each flag was similar, but with a different number of stars. If you visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, you can see the remnants of the 15-star, 15-stripe flag that inspired the national anthem.
4. The colors of the flag have important meanings
Red, white and blue were chosen to represent, respectively, valor, liberty and purity. The colors also have specific names; “Old Glory Blue,” “Old Glory Red”, and white. Just plain white.
5. The current version of the flag was designed by a student
In 1949, 17-year-old Robert G. Heft created an updated flag for a class project, and the poor kid only got a B-. Luckily, that didn’t dissuade him. He submitted his idea to President Eisenhower when Alaska and Hawaii gained statehood. Our of over 1500 submissions, his design was chosen.
6. The flag has rules of its own. Lots of them.
According to the U.S. Flag Code:
– The flag shouldn’t be flown in bad weather. – It should be raised and lowered slowly. – No other flags should be placed above it. – When flags from two or more nations are flown, they should rest on separate poles at the same height. They should also be about the same size. – It must be flown at every school and during all school days. – If flown at night, the flag should be illuminated. – Flags can be burned if they become damaged and can no longer be flown. – And many more.
7. You can’t sign your name on it
Despite what flag-signing politicians would have you believe, The Flag Code strictly prohibits adding any markings or drawings to the flag.
8. … or put it on a t-shirt
Every 4th of July, half the country is decked out in stars and stripes. As it turns out, we’re not really supposed to do that. The Flag Code actually specifies that the Stars and Stripes should never be used on clothing, bedding, or decorations. Considering how much Americans love our flag merch, that’s one rule we’ll probably keep breaking for a long, long time.
9. Flying a flag upside down isn’t necessarily disrespectful
At least not in the way you’re thinking of. An upside-down flag isn’t usually a signal of protest, rather, it’s a signal of distress. On your next cruise, if you see someone frantically waving an upside-down flag on a nearby island, he’s probably not a rebel. He’s stranded.
10. Burning a flag isn’t technically illegal
Historically, unlike flying a flag upside down, burning the flag WAS done as an act of protest. The Flag Protection Act of 1968 made this illegal, but the act was revoked 20 years later. The Supreme Court ruled that the government couldn’t limit citizens’ First Amendment rights, making it legal to do whatever you want to a flag with no legal consequences.
11. Indestructible flags exist
Historically, enemies of the United States have burned or defaced our flag to make a statement. (That’s why messing with the flag is a really, really bad idea, even if it’s not illegal!) To protect defaced flags from being used as a propaganda tool by enemies, a Green Beret veteran has designed an all but indestructible flag. Made out of kevlar and Nomex, the new materials ensure the flag can’t be burned or torn while still allowing it to fly naturally. Here’s how to order your Firebrand Flag today (and the first 150 WATM readers to order get off and free shipping – a additional savings!)
12. Using the American flag in burial ceremonies isn’t just for veterans
While draping the flag over the coffins of government officials and veterans is common practice, it’s not their exclusive right. Anyone can adopt this tradition if they like it!
13. Old Glory was the nickname of a specific American flag
We now refer to any ol’ flag as Old Glory, but that wasn’t always the case. It started with a sea captain named William Driver, who nicknamed the flag on his ship “Old Glory” when he saw it flying on his ship’s mast back in 1831. It was such a good nickname that it stuck for good.
14. After 9/11 we held our flag a little closer
National tragedies are known for bringing our country together. According to Karen Burke of Walmart’s Corporate Communications, their stores sold 115,000 flags on September 11, 2001, compared to only 6,400 flags in 2000. In the following year, they sold a whopping 7.8 million US flags- around triple the sales of the previous year.
15. There are 6 American flags on the moon
…but only 5 are standing. Over the course of many moon expeditions, six US flags have been planted. The wind generated by the landing and takeoff of a shuttle, however, dislodged the original flag placed there by Neil Armstrong during the first-ever moon landing.
16. ‘Gilligan’s Island’ directors respected the flag.
During the opening sequence of the first season of the show, the American flag is filmed at half-staff. This was done to honor President Kennedy, who was assassinated the day the pilot episode was filmed.
Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard served in the Marine Corps during World War II and was wounded in action. But he never lost a love for aviation, also serving in the Air Force and as an airplane mechanic in his civilian life.
Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard (Youtube screenshot)
So, for his 99th birthday, one friend decided to pick up the former Marine’s spirits after Leonard became a widower and moved to the Phoenix area, Fox10Phoenix.com reported.
What was selected for that task was another World War II veteran — a restored B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.
In a day and age where we lose 492 World War II veterans a day, according to the National World War II Museum, those few remaining are a link to the heroic history of that conflict.
The same can be said for the planes. In this case, one World War II vet was able to give another one a brief pick-me up.
Here is Fox10Phoenix’s report on Staff Sgt. Leonard’s flight:
The president greets firefighters, police and rescue personnel, Sept. 14, 2001, while touring the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attack in New York. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
When we think about September 11, we picture where we were, what we saw and how it felt. Iconic images and video from the moments before, during and after the attacks sit in our hearts and minds.
So maybe that’s why these lesser-seen photos have so much power. They serve as reminders of both what we lost that day and the resolve we gained.
On September 11 we pause and remember where we were, what we saw and how it felt.
Where were you when the towers fell? When the Pentagon burned? When heroes forced the plane to the ground in Pennsylvania, sacrificing themselves and saving others?
These photos are reminders of those moments and the patriotic fervor that welled inside us in the days that followed.
President George W. Bush turns around to watch television coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, as he is briefed in a classroom at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by Eric Draper, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
The aftermath in Washington of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2001. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Houlihan)
An aerial view of the damage at the Pentagon two days after Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, five members of al-Qaida, a group of fundamentalist Islamic Muslims, hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757-200, from Dulles International Airport just outside Washington and flew the aircraft and its 64 passengers into the side of the Pentagon. (Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill)
View of a damaged office on the fifth floor of the Pentagon. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)
President George W. Bush talks with Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and other advisors during meetings at the President’s Emergency Operations Center, Sept. 11, 2001. (National Archives)
A clock, frozen at the time of impact, inside the Pentagon. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)
Vice President Dick Cheney sits with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in the President’s Emergency Operations Center during meetings on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (National Archives)
Smoke rises from the site of the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001. (Photo by Paul Morse, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
Burned and melted items sit atop an office desk inside the fifth floor of the Pentagon. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)
President George W. Bush talks on the telephone Sept. 11, 2001, as senior staff huddle aboard Air Force One. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
Secretary of State Colin Powell gets briefed inside the President’s Emergency Operations Center, Sept. 11, 2001. (National Archives)
Wearing a gas mask, a New York National Guard soldier from the “Fighting” 69th Infantry Division pauses amid the rubble at ground zero. (New York National Guard)
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney meet in the President’s Emergency Operations Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (National Archives)
New York National Guard soldiers from the 69th Infantry Division and New York City firefighters band together to remove rubble from ground zero at the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (New York National Guard)
President George W. Bush grasps the hand of his father, former President George H. W. Bush, after speaking at the service for America’s National Day of Prayer and Remembrance at the National Cathedral in Washington, Sept. 14, 2001. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
The president greets firefighters, police and rescue personnel, Sept. 14, 2001, while touring the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attack in New York. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice look on inside the President’s Emergency Operations Center during meetings on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (National Archives)
President George W. Bush greets rescue workers, firefighters and military personnel, Sept. 12, 2001, while surveying damage caused by the previous day’s terrorist attacks on the Pentagon. (Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library)
Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) render honors as firefighters and rescue workers unfurl a huge American flag over the side of the Pentagon while rescue and recovery efforts continued following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. The garrison flag, sent from the U.S. Army Band at nearby Fort Myer, Virginia, is the largest authorized flag for the military. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Pendergrass)
Sandra Dahl, left, is the widow of Jason Dahl, the pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which went down in Somerset, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001. The plane was believed to have been en route to the White House. Here, she holds an American flag along with Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Low after flying in the back seat of his F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter. (Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Darin Overstreet)
A rocket narrowly missed the US Embassy compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2019, during the first few minutes of the 18th anniversary of 9/11.
Loudspeakers inside the office broadcast a warning that “an explosion caused by a rocket has occurred on compound,” The Associated Press reported.
No one was injured, the nearby NATO mission told the AP.
A US State Department official told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: “We can confirm there was an explosion near the US Embassy in Kabul. US mission personnel were not directly impacted by this explosion.”
Nosrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, told Gulf News that the rocket hit a wall at the defense ministry and that no one was hurt.
The news came amid heightened tensions between the US and the Taliban, the insurgent group that rules over large swathes of Afghanistan.
US and Taliban officials were due to meet at Camp David in Maryland on Sept. 8, 2019, to discuss a peace process and an end to the US military presence in Afghanistan, but President Donald Trump abruptly canceled the talks the day before.
About 14,000 US troops remain in the country, a situation that has angered Trump. Last month, the US and the Taliban reached a provisional agreement to remove several thousand troops.
The P-8A Poseidon, introduced in 2013 to replace the P-3 Orion, has quickly become one of the most highly regarded maritime-patrol aircraft in service, fielded by the Navy and sought after by partner countries all over the world.
But the P-8A is dealing with some lingering issues that could affect the force as a whole, according to the fiscal year 2018 annual report produced by the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.
US Navy crew members on board a P-8A Poseidon.
(US Navy photo)
The Poseidon’s capabilities now include receiver air refueling, employment of the AGM-84D Harpoon Block I anti-ship missile, and several upgrades to its communications systems.
But, the report said, “despite significant efforts to improve P-8A intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors, overall P-8A ISR mission capabilities remain limited by sensor performance shortfalls.”
Moreover, the report found, data from the operational testing and evaluation of the P-8A’s latest software engineering upgrade as well as metrics from the Navy “show consistently negative trends in fleet-wide aircraft operational availability due to a shortage of spare parts and increased maintenance requirements.”
A Boeing and a Raytheon employee complete installation of an APY-10 radar antenna on P-8A Poseidon test aircraft T2.
Forward-deployed P-8A units have reported “relatively high mission capable rates” when they have access to enough spare parts, sufficient logistic supply support, and priority maintenance.
However, the report said, focusing on supporting forward-deployed units “frequently reduces aircraft availability and increases part cannibalization rates at other fleet operating locations.”
Shortages in spare parts for the Poseidon are exacerbated by the nature of the contracting and delivery system for the P-8A, according to the report.
Naval aircrewman (Operator) 2nd Class Karl Shinn unloads a sonobuoy on a P-8A Poseidon.
(US Navy photo by Chief Mass Comm. Specialist Keith DeVinney)
The use of engineering model predictions rather than reliability data from the fleet itself, “ensures that some mission critical spare part contracts lag actual fleet needs,” lengthening the already long six- to nine-month contracting process.
These delays are exacerbated by consumable-item processes at the Defense Logistics Agency, which requires depleting stocks and back orders before starting to procure new items, according to the report.
“These delays are a major contributing factor to the observed increases in aircraft downtime awaiting parts and higher part cannibalization,” it added, saying that the P-8A program is working with Naval Supply Systems Command to procure parts on a more flexible and proactive basis and to start basing procurement on fleet-reliability data.
Keeping an eye on things
More than 60 P-8As are in service for the US Navy. The plane is based on Boeing’s 737 airliner but built to withstand more stress and outfitted with a suite of electronic gear to allow it to detect and track ships and subs — even just their periscopes — across wide swaths of ocean, as well as to conduct surveillance of ports and coastlines.
“I went up on a training flight, and basically … they could read the insignia on a sailor’s hat from thousands of feet above,” Michael Fabey, author of the 2017 book “Crashback,” about China-US tensions in the Pacific, told Business Insider in early 2018. “It’s not the aircraft itself of course,” he added, but “all the goodies they put in there.”
The Navy plans to improve the aircraft’s capability going forward by adding the Advanced Airborne Sensor radar and by integrating the AGM-84 Harpoon Block II+ missile and the High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability MK 54 torpedo.
Interest in the P-8A continues to grow.
US Navy aircrew members on a P-8A Poseidon.
(US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith DeVinney)
India has bought 12 of the P-8I variant, and the country’s navy chief has said it’s looking to buy more. Australia is buying eight and has an option for four more.
Other countries in the Asian-Pacific region are looking to buy, too, including South Korea, to which the US State Department approved the sale of six in 2018.
NATO countries are also looking to reinvigorate their airborne anti-submarine-warfare capabilities, including the UK and Norway, which are adjacent to the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, a chokepoint for submarines traveling between the Atlantic and the Arctic, where Russia’s Northern Fleet and nuclear forces are based. The US recently sent P-8As back to the Keflavik airbase in Iceland, though it does not plan to reestablish a permanent presence.
At the end of January 2019, Boeing was awarded a .46 billion modification to an existing contract for the production and delivery of 19 P-8A Poseidons — 10 for the US Navy, four for the UK, and five for Norway.
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Operation Credible Sport was hatched in the wake of the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw, the attempt to rescue hostages held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran that resulted in a collision at a refueling point in the desert that destroyed two aircraft and killed 8 service members. The mishap caused commanders to call off the mission.
But the hostages were still in Iranian hands and a new attempt at rescue had to be made. The Air Force decided to attempt the mission using a C-130 modified with rockets to takeoff and land in short distances. The modified aircraft would land in a soccer stadium near the U.S. embassy, allow the assault team out to rescue the hostages, then pick everyone up and fly them out.
Rocket-assisted takeoffs, or RATOs, is a technique where rocket engines provide the lift necessary to let heavy aircraft takeoff on a short runway. The tactic had been in use since World War II and C-130s had already successfully employed the technique. The more well-known JATO, jet-assisted takeoffs, worked in a similar manner with jet engines doing the heavy lifting.
But Operation Credible Sport called for rockets to also assist in the landing, which required three sets of rockets to fire at precise times in the process. First, a set of forward-facing rockets would act as an air brake. Then downward-facing jets would slow the aircraft’s descent and after touchdown a third set of rockets would stop the C-130 on the short runway.
Unfortunately the C-130 test flight was less than successful. When the pilots attempted to land the plane, the first set of rockets blinded the pilots. Then the flight engineer was dazzled by the first rockets and thought the plane had already reached the ground. Thinking he just needed to stop the aircraft, he fired the final braking rockets and halted the plane’s forward momentum.
This stopped the wings from creating lift. The second set of rockets, designed to slow the plane’s descent and soften the landing, had not been fired. So the plane fell the final twenty feet to the runway almost straight down.
The shock of the landing broke part of the right wing off. The rockets then lit the jet fuel on fire, and the entire airplane was destroyed.
Luckily, the crew made it out of the wreckage alive. The Air Force buried the plane at the test site and ordered the rockets placed on a backup C-130 so testing could continue.
But negotiators were able to reach a settlement that freed the hostages and made the modifications unnecessary. The plans for a rocket-landed airplane were then scrapped.
Watch the modified aircraft fly below, (and check out 1:40 to see the crash):
Though former national security adviser Michael Flynn was rather controversial — the retired general peddled conspiracy theories and ultimately resigned because of his ties to Russia — I don’t suspect anything other than professionalism and solid advice being given to the president by McMaster.
He commands a great deal of respect among his troops.
Much like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was revered by his troops while serving as a general in the Marine Corps, McMaster has earned a great deal of respect from soldiers. That’s because his career has been marked by personal heroism, excellent leadership, and his tendency to buck traditional ways of thinking.
As a captain during the Gulf War in 1991, McMaster made a name for himself during the Battle of 73 Easting. Though his tank unit was vastly outnumbered by the Iraqi Republican Guard, he didn’t lose a single tank in the engagement, while the Iraqis lost nearly 80. His valor and leadership that day earned him the Silver Star, the third-highest award for bravery.
Then there was his leadership during the Iraq War, during which he was one of the first commanders to use counterinsurgency tactics. Before President George W. Bush authorized a troop “surge” that pushed US forces to protect the population and win over Iraqi civilians, it was McMaster who demonstrated it could work in the city of Tal Afar.
He’s far from a being a ‘yes’ man.
McMaster is the kind of guy who says what’s on his mind and will call out a wrongheaded approach when he sees one. That tendency is something that junior officers love, but those maverick ways are not well-received by some of his fellow generals. Put simply: McMaster isn’t a political guy, unlike other officers who are trying to jockey for position and move up in their careers.
In 2003, for example, McMaster criticized then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Iraq War plan that placed too much of an emphasis on technology. McMaster also pushed back on his boss’ refusal to admit an insurgency was starting to take hold in 2004.
He’s been held back in his career because of it — he was passed over two times for his first star — but it wasn’t due to incompetence. Instead, his fight to be promoted from colonel to brigadier general was seen as pure politics, and McMaster doesn’t like to play. He was eventually promoted in 2008, but that hasn’t made him any less outspoken.
He’s a strategic thinker with a Ph.D.
McMaster has a lot in common with another famous general: David Petraeus.
In fact, he was one a select few officers that were in the Petraeus “brain trust” during the Iraq War.
McMaster is an expert on military strategy, counterinsurgency, and history. And he, like Petraeus, stands out among military officers, since both earned advanced degrees. McMaster holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina, where his dissertation went far beyond the readership of just a few professors.
Titled “Dereliction of Duty,” McMaster’s dissertation became an authoritative book on how the United States became involved in the Vietnam War. Much of the book’s focus is on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were heaped with criticism for failing to push back against President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“McMaster stresses two elements in his discussion of America’s failure in Vietnam: the hubris of Johnson and his advisors and the weakness of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” reads a review on Amazon.
Whether McMaster can transition well from the Army to the White House is the big question now, but he’s one of the best people Trump could have picked. And like Mattis, he’s not afraid to challenge the president’s views.
“He’s not just a great fighter, and not just a conscientious leader,” one Army officer told me of McMaster. “He’s also an intellectual, a historian and a forward-thinking planner who can see future trends without getting caught up in bandwagon strategic fads.”
Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, addresses Marines and Sailors during his visit aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD 8), moored at Changi Naval Base, Singapore, November 22, 2016.
Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the US fleet is facing an “acute problem” with the coronavirus pandemic and that it needs to make drastic measures to combat the disease.
In a “Pod Save The World” podcast released on Wednesday, Mabus pointed out why Navy sailors and Marines were particularly susceptible to the disease. News of the podcast was first reported on by the Navy Times.
“People do not have any way to social distance on any Navy ship, but particularly a carrier,” Mabus said. “You’ve got almost 5,000 people here. And they literally are on top of each other.”
Mabus said it was “distressing that it doesn’t look like they have a plan” implemented after the political scandal that roiled aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt earlier this month.
As of Wednesday, 615 sailors aboard the ship tested positive. The majority of its crew members have been evacuated to in hotels in Guam, where the ship is in port.
The ship’s commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, was relieved of command on April 2 after he emailed a letter to his colleagues about the urgent situation aboard his ship. The letter was eventually leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published its contents. Crozier was fired for what the then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly described as circumventing the chain of command.
Modly later resigned on April 7, after he visited the USS Theodore Roosevelt and delivered a profanity-laced speech about the situation on the ship.
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) sails in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.
According to Mabus, Capt. Crozier’s instincts were correct.
“I think what they need to do is bring every ship in,” Mabus said. “Offload, like the captain said, offload most of the crew … a little bit in a rolling fashion … leave a very skeletal force on board, sanitize the ship, quarantine people for two weeks, make sure nobody’s got COVID.”
“And then once they go back on that ship, whether it’s in port or it’s going to sea, they don’t get off the ship until this crisis is mitigated,” Mabus added.
Mabus admitted that the unorthodox approach of calling in every ship in the service was not ideal, but added it was necessary given the spread of the disease.
“It’s going to be hard because they may be inport in Norfolk or in San Diego, and once they go back on the ship and the ship is COVID-free, they’re not going to get off to see their families,” Mabus said. “But if we don’t do that, I think you’re going to see the situation that played out on the [USS Theodore Roosevelt] play out over and over again — not just on those big ships, but virtually every ship that we have in the Navy.”
Mabus’ comments come as the Defense Department reported over 5,000 coronavirus cases. Over 2,800 of the personnel are US service members, 85 of which are hospitalized as of Wednesday. One Navy sailor has died after contracting the coronavirus.
Mabus served as the Navy secretary from 2009 to 2017 and also served in the Navy as a surface warfare officer in the 1970s.