No misconduct was involved in the decision by personnel in the American-lead Combined Air Operations Center to carry out an air strike that killed a number of Syrian-government aligned forces on Sept. 17.
That is the central finding of an investigation by Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard Coe.
“In my opinion, these were a number of people all doing their best to do a good job,” Coe said of the personnel on duty when the incident happened, according to an official report released Nov. 29.
The strike took place near Dayr Az Zawr. A release from Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve for that day noted the incident, stating that one strike “believed to have engaged an ISIL fighting position, may have mistakenly struck a Syrian military unit and destroyed Syrian military vehicles.”
While “friendly fire” is nothing new — in the War on Terror, coalition forces had over three dozen such incidents — the question is always the same: How did such a mistake happen?
Well, that’s been asked over the years after other incidents, like when Stonewall Jackson was shot by Confederate soldiers on a picket line, or when Allied ships off Sicily opened fire on C-47 transports carrying elements of the 82nd Airborne Division in 1943, downing 23 transports.
The report reveals a few of the causes. First, the Syrian forces were not exactly in uniform when they were first detected by an unmanned aerial vehicle. Yet they were packing a lot of firepower, and were near tunnels and other fighting positions.
This lead planners to believe they’d spotted an ISIS unit out in the open. It was a classic case of mistaken identity, compounded by a misunderstanding (the United States personnel used the wrong reference point when informing the Syrian allied Russians of the strike).
And it was made worse by some good old-fashioned Russian paranoia.
According to the report, when the Russians called on a de-confliction hotline, they waited 27 minutes for their normal point of contact to arrive before passing on the news that Syrian forces were being hit. During that time, 15 of the 37 attack sorties were carried out.
Coe’s report not only recommended that in the future both sides not only pass critical information immediately, but also that the entire Flight Safety Memorandum of Understanding that helps keep Syrian and Russian targets from being struck by coalition air power be reviewed and updated.
Top CENTCOM commander Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian has ordered Coe’s recommendations be implemented, saying, “In this instance, we did not rise to the high standard we hold ourselves to, and we must do better than this each and every time.”
While the changes recommended will hopefully lessen the chance of friendly fire incidents in the future, friendly fire will still always be a risk on a complex battlefield.
According to a report from BreakingDefense.com, the situation’s gone from a bad deficit of 1,500 pilots this summer, to an ugly shortage of 2,000 pilots. To combat this shortage, the Air Force formed an Aircrew Crisis Task Force, upped flight pay to as much as $1,800 a month, and increased bonuses as high as $35,000 — all with no luck.
It should be noted that when increased flight pay was announced, the hike wasn’t to take effect until Oct. 1, so we could still see the impact of this change. Still, there are other factors that have been weighing heavily on airmen.
“Surge has become the new normal,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said. “Less than one percent of Americans serve in uniform and protect the rest of us, and they’re carrying a heavy burden. We are burning out our people because we are too small for what the nation is asking of us.” A lack of budget is also causing problems, Wilson said.
“The fiscal 2018 continuing resolution is actually delaying our efforts to increase the readiness of the force, and risk accumulates over time,” Wilson said Nov. 9, during the State of the Air Force address. “We are stretching the force to the limit, and we need to start turning the corner on readiness.”
To illustrate the situation, WATM noted in February that at the end of the Cold War, the Air Force had 134 fighter squadrons — a total that has declined to 55 today. The Air Force is not the only service affected by a lack of personnel and budget. In June of 2016, the Marine Corps had to pull a number of F/A-18 Hornets out of the boneyard to address an airframe shortage.
1. Pfc. Charles Barker slowed an enemy advance with hand-to-hand fighting.
Army Pfc. Charles Barker was part of a platoon in Korea that came upon enemy soldiers digging emplacements on a slope June 4, 1953. The patrol engaged the diggers but found itself facing heavy enemy resistance. As mortars began to fall on the platoon, the platoon leader ordered a withdrawal. Barker volunteered to cover the platoon move and was last seen engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
2. Pfc. William McWhorter absorbed an explosive blast to save his assistant gunner.
Army Pfc. William McWhorter was manning a heavy machine gunner in combat on Leyte Island in the Philippines on Dec. 5, 1944 when an enemy demolitions squad rushed his position. McWhorter and his assistant gunner successfully killed some of the attackers, but one managed to throw a fused demolition charge into the trench. McWhorter grabbed it and pulled it into his body just before it exploded. His actions saved the life of the assistant gunner who was able to continue fighting.
3. Lance Cpl. James “Donnie” Howe jumped on a grenade to save another Marine.
Marine Lance Cpl. James “Donnie” Howe was in a defensive position on a beach bordering bamboo thickets in Vietnam on May 6, 1970. A group of enemy sappers crept unnoticed to the position in the dark of early morning and launched a grenade attack. Howe and two others moved to a better position and began suppressing the enemy. When another grenade landed in the middle of the group, Howe jumped on it and saved the others.
4. Pvt. Furman Smith single-handedly held off an enemy counterattack.
During the Allied advance in Italy in World War II, Army Pvt. Furman Smith was part of an infantry company attack on a strong point. Smith was in the lead element when an attack by 80 Germans succeeded in wounding two men. While the rest of the lead element pulled back to the company’s position, Smith rushed forward. He recovered the wounded and placed them in shell craters that provided some cover. He then took a position nearby and held off the Germans with rifle fire until he was ultimately overrun.
ABOARD USS AMERICA — The Marine Corps’ F-35B is almost ready for its close-up.
The F-35B has entered the home stretch of sea trials on the amphibious-assault ship USS America off the coast of San Diego, California. The third and final stage of testing is 21 days of fine-tuning the fifth-generation stealth fighter’s capabilities.
Stacking the deck, planners purposefully placed the amphibious warship in rough waters in order to evaluate how the pilot and aircraft would adapt.
Stationed at 176 embassies and consulates around the globe, Marine watch-standers and detachment commanders with Marine Corps Embassy Security Group keep a watchful eye on diplomats, classified information, and equipment vital to U.S. national security.
In many hotspots — Yemen, Pakistan, and Iraq for example — their presence, professionalism, and training is an absolute necessity for diplomats to be able to do their jobs. But before they can go overseas, they need to pass one of the Corps’ toughest schools: MSG School in Quantico, Virginia.
“To go in there knowing that people have been dropped from school for sneezing when they should be keeping their bearing, or having a single Irish pennant on their uniform,” Ben Feibleman, a Marine veteran who served as an MSG in Liberia, Malta, and Iraq, told WATM. “Knowing that however true it may be, is nerve wracking. The entire time you are walking on pins and needles.”
While noting the schoolhouse is filled with rumors and exaggerations (which likely include the above anecdote) of why past Marines failed, Feibleman said, “things that will get you yelled at in the fleet will get you dropped.”
The school has a number of challenges, from weapons qualification under State Department (rather than Marine Corps) guidelines, classes ranging from alarms and electronics to State Department acronyms, physical training, peer evaluations, and a board that interviews every student before signing off on whether they can become an MSG.
“They give you hypothetical questions: ‘What would you do if someone had a kid out front [of the embassy] with a knife to their throat. What would you do, would you open the door?'” said Feibleman, of a potential question asked in a room typically packed with high-level Marine officers, government contractors, and intelligence officers.
Perhaps the roughest part of MSG training is when students are pepper-sprayed. Not only that, they have to be able to perform a number of movements and fight a potential assailant while they are blinded.
“It may be the greatest pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Feibleman said.
Once they graduate, Marines on MSG duty can expect varying tours and experiences at posts worldwide.
“I got to Liberia [in 2003] and the embassy had just been shelled. There’s bullet holes in the windows and in the house. [It was] a not f–king around post. We would go out running and the detachment commander would bring a pistol in a fanny pack.”
While Feibleman said “each post is different,” there are typical duties for watch-standers that can be expected regardless of embassy.
“Your job is to stand in this very small room that’s kind of the size of a deep walk-in closet. It’s got a lot of communications equipment. It’s got a desk. Bulletproof glass.”
With a pistol at their side and a shotgun and M4 carbine in a rack, MSG’s quite simply maintain security 24 hours a day.
According to the official MSG website, “the primary mission of the Marine Security Guard (MSG) is to provide internal security at designated U.S. diplomatic and consular facilities in order to prevent the compromise of classified material vital to the national security of the United States.”
Now check out this video from the Marine Corps that gives an inside look at MSG School:
The United States Navy is about to offer experience SEAL officers up to $25,000 a year on top of their pay and allowances to stay in the Navy for up to five years.
According to an All Navy administrative message released last month, the service is offering this Naval Special Warfare Officer Retention Bonus to any active duty officer with at least 15 years of active-duty commissioned service, and who has screened positive for an XO tour will get as much as $25,000 a year if they sign an agreement to stay in the Navy for five years.
For signing a three-year agreement, officers will get up to $15,000 per year. Active-duty officers who successfully screen for a CO tour will get $25,000 a year for three years. Reserve officers who screen successfully for an XO tour will get $20,000 a year for signing a five-year contract and $10,000 a year for a three-year deal.
The reason for this was outlined by Lt. Cdr. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the Chief of Naval Personnel, who told WATM, “Top talent is tough to draw in and even tougher to keep. We are seeing some fraying around the edges in terms of SEAL Officer retention, as our control grade officers (O4/O5) in the Navy SEAL community are currently undermanned.”
“This program seeks to retain more Naval Special Warfare Officers with vital military skills that cannot be easily or quickly replaced,” Christensen added. “These officers are highly trained leaders and their unique skill sets are in high demand within military and civilian sectors. We believe this helps reduces this potential loss of that talent and experience.”
Ward Carroll, the President of Military One Click and a former Naval Flight Officer who served as a radar intercept officer on F-14 Tomcats, noted that this is not an unusual approach, saying, “Bonuses like this have been around for years.” Carroll added that similar bonuses were paid out to Naval Aviators and NFOs back in the late 1980s.
Echoing this when asked for comment was Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who now serves as a Senior Fellow for National Defense at the Family Research Council, who noted, “Our special operations people are great patriots and the best of our fighters but they are also human.”
“Those I know suffer from deployment fatigue and especially the baggage like broken families,” Maginnis said. “This comes to a head at the 10 to 12-year point.”
“I’d argue a Special Operations CD-R or XO is perhaps one of the most valuable personnel in the entire armed forces,” he added. “They are skilled, experienced and have the respect of likeminded warriors.”
Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness blamed the White House for the shortage, saying that Navy Sec. Ray Mabus focused too much on social change within the service rather than helping sailors who are fighting worldwide every day.
“I would add, however, that the Navy has not improved the situation by relentlessly pursuing social agendas that will make SEAL life more difficult and dangerous,” she said, adding the Navy ignored surveys expressing opposition to women serving in special operations assignments and empirical data that she felt warranted a request for an exemption.
“$25,000 retention bonuses may help to retain SEAL warriors, but breakdowns in vertical cohesion, meaning trust between commanders and the troops they lead, may be even more costly,” Donnelly concluded.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson had strong words for the National Guard and the Pentagon after allegations emerged that the DoD is forcing California Guard troops to reimburse the government for enlistment bonuses it paid in error.
“It is beyond the bounds of decency to go after our veterans and their families a decade later,” he said in a statement obtained by We Are the Mighty. “These are rounding errors to the Pentagon, but these demands for repayment are ruining lives and causing severe hardships for service members whose sacrifices for the nation can frankly never be adequately be repaid.”
Johnson was referring to a Los Angeles Times story that alleges the National Guard is forcing nearly 10,000 guardsmen from California to repay reenlistment bonuses they were awarded 10 years ago.
According to the paper, more than 14,000 California Guardsmen were awarded the reenlistment bonuses as a result of the Army’s incentive program to retain soldiers during the height of the Iraq war.
The U.S. government investigated the California Guard reenlistment bonuses and found a majority of the requests had been approved despite the soldiers’ not qualifying for the bonus. There has been no suggestion that any of the Guardsmen who received the reenlistment bonuses were aware that they did not qualify for them.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe was the California Guard’s incentive manager at the time, and that after the Pentagon discovered the overpayments 6 years ago, Jaffe pleaded guilty to fraud. She was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Three other officers associated with the fraud also pled guilty, receiving probation after being forced to pay restitution.
Major Gen. Matthew Beevers, the deputy commander of the California Guard, accused the nearly 10,000 soldiers of owing a debt to the Army.
In his statement to The Los Angeles Times, Beevers claimed that the soldiers were at fault and that the Guard couldn’t forgive them. “We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law,” he said, not addressing whether the Guard was breaking the law by reneging on the contracts.
Several of the Guardsmen went on to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom sustained injuries as a result.
Military Times reports that the Pentagon is searching for ways to overcome the issue. “This has the attention of our leadership, and we are looking at this to see what we can do to assist,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said Monday.
A host of lawmakers have stepped forward to condemn the Pentagon for harassing the Guardsmen who received the reenlistment bonuses, calling for congressional investigations into the matter. Though as of publication, no presidential candidate other than Johnson had addressed it.
Calling on President Obama and Congress to act immediately on the impacted Guardsmen, Johnson said, “The Pentagon needs a good dose of common sense far more than it needs these dollars, and making our service members pay for the government’s incompetence is beyond the pale.”
President Donald Trump announced on August 18 that he would elevate US Cyber Command to its own unified combatant command.
“I have directed that United States Cyber Command be elevated to the status of a Unified Combatant Command focused on cyberspace operations,” Trump said in a White House press statement.
“This new Unified Combatant Command will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our Nation’s defense,” the statement said. “The elevation of United States Cyber Command demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries.”
This would be the US’ 10th unified combatant command, which are combat branches that operate regionally, such as Pacific Command, or world-wide, such as Special Operations Command, often in support of regional commands.
Cybercom will “help streamline command and control of time-sensitive cyberspace operations by consolidating them under a single commander with authorities commensurate with the importance of such operations,” the statement said.
Elevating Cyber Command will help secure funding for cyberspace operations, Trump said.
Trump also said that Defense Secretary James Mattis will study whether Cyber Command should split from the NSA altogether. But Mattis’ recommendations will be “announced at a later date.”
Two former senior US officials told Reuters on August 17 that it would be a 60-day study.
United States Army veteran Tony Fife-Patterson started smoking when he was 17 because “the cool guys in the neighborhood were doing it, and I wanted to fit in.” Eventually, he settled in to a pack a day habit, and never considered that he might be addicted to nicotine. Occasionally, someone would tell him he ought to quit, but it only made him want to smoke more.
A couple of years ago, Tony’s daughter called him about his 5-year-old grandson who was crying after watching a “Truth Ad” on television. The ad is part of a national campaign to eliminate teen smoking. Tony’s grandson never liked how smoking made Tony smell, but the advertisement made him worry about how smoking could hurt his grandfather’s health.
Although Tony began contemplating his cigarette smoking, he still didn’t think he had a problem. Yet a few days later, after lighting a cigarette, Tony had an epiphany.
“At that moment, I realized I really was getting tired of this habit,” Tony said. “It had become something that no longer was fun.”
At his next VA appointment, Tony asked his provider about quitting and learned about Truman VA’s “Thinking About Quitting?” program.
Tony agreed to attend the program’s orientation class. At first, he had doubts; however, once he learned that his smoking was an addiction, he knew he didn’t want tobacco to control him.
“Wait a minute,” Tony thought. “This really DOES control me!”
The realization that he was controlled by cigarettes offended him and he was determined to do something about it.
Tony enrolled in Truman VA’s Quit program with other veterans who wanted to quit tobacco. The first three classes helped Tony develop a personal plan to manage the physical, psychological and habit parts of his smoking addiction. He also learned how to get through urges to smoke without giving in. On the program’s “Quit Day,” Tony found it was helpful to quit with other motivated veterans. The final three classes focused on lifestyle changes to help him remain tobacco-free and avoid a relapse.
In the photo above, proud “Thinking About Quitting” graduate Tony poses with Joseph Hinkebein, Ph.D., Truman VA psychologist and tobacco cessation coordinator.
It’s now a year-and-a-half since Tony’s “Quit Day,” and he remains tobacco-free.
As part of his success, Tony uses a quit smoking smart phone app to track how long he has been tobacco-free and how much money he has saved since quitting. He’s saved almost id=”listicle-2641557022″,400 so far.
More importantly, Tony loves the tobacco-free lifestyle. His sense of taste and smell has improved, and he no longer gets complaints from his grandson about smelling like smoke.
“I didn’t realize how bad I smelled, but now I get it,” Tony said.
Most of all, he is proud to no longer be controlled by cigarettes. While the thought of smoking still crosses his mind every now and then, when stressed, he reminds himself, “I don’t need a cigarette to cope with stress anymore!”
Tony tries to lead by example and never “lectures or nags” those who still smoke. He just wants other veterans to know that they can quit when they are ready to do it for their own reasons. He encourages veterans to attend the “Thinking About Quitting” orientation class to learn how to successfully quit. The program provided education and support to help him be successful, but Tony gets all the credit.
“I never thought I could do this,” Tony said. “But I did it. It is something I am immensely proud of!”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The U.S. Army has no current plans to replace its Cold-War era AH-64 Apache, a still-lethal attack helicopter that the service plans to fly into combat for at least another three decades, according to the head of Army aviation.
“Right now, it’s an incredibly capable aircraft that we know we are going to be flying well into the 40s,” Maj. Gen. William Gayler, who commands the Army’s Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Alabama, told an audience Sept. 5, 2018, at the Association of the United States Army’s Aviation Hot Topic event.
Gayler’s comments on the future of the AH-64 offer a new perspective on the Army’s evolving Future Vertical Lift program. FVL is the third priority under the Army’s bold new modernization plan, and until now Army leaders have focused on talking about the program’s goals of building a new long-range assault aircraft to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk and an armed reconnaissance aircraft — leaving the future of the AH-64 an open question.
Senior Army leaders continually hammer away that the service’s modernization vision is to begin fielding a new fleet of combat platforms and aircraft by 2028 that will replace the Cold War “Big Five:” the M1 tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, Black Hawk, Apache, and Patriot air defense system.
“Does it mean you now have to have a replacement for the AH-64? I would say somewhere in the future, absolutely, 64s will no longer be in the inventory, just like [UH-1] Hueys are no longer in the inventory … they have a lifespan,” Gayler said. “But the timing of what replaces it and the affordability what replaces it has yet to be seen.”
An AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter from 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, based at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq.
The new armed reconnaissance aircraft, or ARA, is designed to take on a burden that AH-64 has long shouldered, Gayler said.
“What that armed reconnaissance aircraft is designed to do is replace an AH-64 used as a reconnaissance and security platform in an armed reconnaissance squadron,” Gayler said. “That aircraft was not designed to do that, therefore that’s why we are pursuing something does it optimized for that mission.”
For the long range assault aircraft, the Army selected two firms to develop demonstrators in 2014. Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter created the V-280 Valor, which completed its first test flight in December 2017. Sikorsky, part of Lockheed Martin Corp., and Boeing Co. built the SB1 Defiant, a medium-lift chopper based on Sikorsky’s X2 coaxial design.
The FVL family will also include an advanced unmanned aerial system to deliver targeting data to long range precision fires and launch electronic attacks on enemy radar systems.
Future Vertical Lift is competing with five other modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, a mobile network, air and missile defense and soldier lethality.
To be successful, Army aviation leaders have to focus on “what you can afford to do and prioritize where you have greatest need,” Gayler said, pointing to the ARA and “long range assault aircraft.”
“That Apache is still very, very capable … made more capable by the armed reconnaissance aircraft that complements it and the long range assault aircraft that further enables it to be successful,” Gayler said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
As an international relations scholar who studies space law and policy, I have come to realize what most people do not fully appreciate: Dealing with space debris is as much a national security issue as it is a technical one.
Considering the debris circling the Earth as just an obstacle in the path of human missions is naive. As outer space activities are deeply rooted in the geopolitics down on Earth, the hidden challenge posed by the debris is the militarization of space technologies meant to clean it up.
To be clear, space debris poses considerable risks; however, to understand those risks, I should explain what it is and how it is formed. The term “space debris” refers to defunct human-made objects, relics left over from activities dating back to the early days of the space age. Over time that definition has expanded to include big and small things like discarded boosters, retired satellites, leftover bits and pieces from spacecraft, screwdrivers, tools, nuts and bolts, shards, lost gloves, and even flecks of paint.
A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95 percent of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item. The orbital debris dots are scaled according to the image size of the graphic to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth. The image provides a good visualization of where the greatest orbital debris populations exist.
From the 23,000 pieces of debris in Earth orbit that are larger than 5-10 centimeters that we can track and catalog, to the hundreds of millions that we cannot, there is little question that both big and small objects whizzing around at lethal speeds endanger the prospects for civilian, commercial and military missions in outer space. You may pick apart what the movie “Gravity” got wrong, but what it got unforgettably right was the sense of devastation wrought by an orbital debris cloud that destroyed equipment and killed three astronauts on impact. No matter its size, space debris can be lethal to humans and machines alike.
As of early 2018, the European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that there have been about 500 break-ups, collisions, explosions or other fragmentation events to date that yielded space debris. Some of these events are caused by accidents. NASA reported the first-ever known collision between two objects in space in July 1996, when a European booster collided with a French spacecraft. That incident created one new piece of debris, which was itself promptly cataloged. Yet accidents can also have a big impact on increasing the debris cloud. In 2009, for the first time ever, a functioning U.S. communications satellite, Iridium-33, collided with a non-functioning Russian one, Cosmos-2251, as they both passed over extreme northern Siberia. This single crash generated more than 2,300 fragments of debris.
Natural fragmentation versus deliberate destruction
Space debris may also be affected by the breakup of older spacecraft. In February 2015, a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP-F13) spacecraft, called USA 109, which had gone up 20 years earlier, blew up due to a battery malfunction. It may have contributed 100 debris pieces that were tracked by military radars on Earth, and possibly also 50,000 shards larger than 1 millimeter that defied tracking because they are too tiny. Because of the satellite’s original high altitude, all those fragments will remain in orbit for decades, posing risks for other spacecraft. In November 2015, again due to a possible battery failure, another decommissioned U.S weather satellite, NOAA-16, crumbled adding 136 new objects to the debris cloud.
Notably, debris itself can also fragment. In February 2018, a discarded tank from the upper stages of a Ukrainian-Russian Zenit-3F rocket fragmented.
Fuel tank of an Iridium satellite launched in 1997-1998 re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and crashed in a California orchard where it was discovered in late October 2018.
Debris can also fall back down on Earth, whether from natural orbital decay or controlled re-entry. Fortunately most such falling debris lands in the Earth’s oceans. But sometimes it does not, and these rare events may become a bigger hazard in the years ahead as the size of the debris cloud grows, and as the projected fleet of commercial small satellites becomes a reality. Recently, parts of Zenit rocket debris are reported to have ended up crash-landing in Peru. One of the most recent such events just took place in October 2018. The U.S. military identified a fuel tank from a decade-or-so-old Iridium satellite that crashed in a walnut orchard in Hanford, California.
Then there are the highly publicized deliberate events that add to the debris cloud. In 2007, China used a ground-based direct-ascent missile to take out its own aging weather satellite, the Fengyun-1C. This event created an estimated 3,400 pieces of debris that will be around for several decades before decaying.
China’s actions were widely seen as an anti-satellite test (ASAT), a signal of the country’s expanding military space capabilities. Having the ability to shoot down a satellite to gain a military advantage back on Earth exposes the basic nature of the threat: Those who are most dependent on space assets – namely, the United States, with an estimated 46 percent of the total 1,886 currently operational satellites – are also the most vulnerable to the space debris created deliberately. There is no doubt that the aggressor will also lose in such a scenario – but that collateral damage may be worthwhile if your more heavily space-dependent rival is dealt a more crippling blow.
Saudi officials inspect a crashed PAM-D module in January 2001.
Stealth ‘counterspace race’
The set of government or commercial solutions to counter orbital debris – whether lasers, nets, magnets, tethers, robotic arms or co-orbiting service satellites – have only fueled the prospects for a stealthy race for dominance in outer space.
The same technology that captures or zaps or drags away the debris can do the same to a functioning spacecraft. Since nobody can be sure about the intent behind such proposed “commercial” space debris cleanup technologies, governments will race to get ahead of their market competitors. It matters how and with what intent you counter space debris with dual-use technologies, and more so at a time of flux in the world order. Both the old and new space powers can easily cloak their military intentions in legitimate concerns about, and possibly commercial solutions to, debris hazards. And there are now a number of open assessments about space junk removal technologies that can double up as military programs, such as lasers or hunters.
This fusion of the market and the military is not a conspiracy but a reality. If you are a great power like the United States that is heavily dependent on space assets in both the economic and military realms, then you are vulnerable to both orbital debris and the technologies proposed for its cleanup. And both your allies and your rivals know it.
This is how we have ended up in a counterspace race, which is nothing like your grandfather’s space race. In a fundamental way, this new race reflects the volatile geopolitics of peer or near-peer competitors today, and there is no getting away from it in any domain. Just as on Earth, in the cosmos the world’s top space powers – the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India – have moved from merely space situational awareness to all-out battlespace awareness. If things stay the course, accidental or deliberate events involving orbital debris are poised to ravage peaceful prospects in outer space.
How then do we move forward so that outer space remains safe, sustainable and secure for all powers, whether big or small? This is not a task any one single nation — no matter how great — can carry out successfully on its own. The solutions must not only be technological or military, either. For peaceful solutions to last, deterrence and diplomacy, as well as public awareness, will have to be proactively forged by the world’s space powers, leaders and thinkers.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a welcomed appearance at the 1st Marine Raider Battalion Ball and delivered a sobering speech that took many US Marines by surprise Nov. 3.
The 1st Marine Raider Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, California, is comprised of elite Marines under the command of Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC), the Marine Corps’ expeditionary force that typically operates in austere conditions.
Musk was invited to the event as a guest of honor because the Raiders wanted an “equally innovative” keynote speaker to honor the battalion on its birthday, a former Marine Raider commander who asked not to be named, told Business Insider. Around 400 people attended, including World War II veterans and Gold Star family members, the Marine Raider said.
Much like the secrecy of the Marine Raiders’ operations, Musk’s appearance at the event was closed to the press and kept low-key in order to “avoid a media frenzy,” the Marine Raider said.
Like other branches of the military, formal military events are steeped in deep tradition. The Marine Corps, however, pride themselves in being a distinct group from the other branches, and their customs were reportedly noticed by Musk.
“You can tell he was a little nervous,” said Joe Musselman, the CEO of The Honor Foundation. “He was walking alongside the commanding officer of the 1st Raider Marine Battalion. You have this polished officer who’s walking in step to very traditional music.”
Musselman was invited to the event as the CEO of an organization that supports veterans.
As the Marine Raiders brought out a celebratory cake, the commanding officer of the battalion reportedly drew a sword.
“Elon kind of stepped back like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on. Why did you draw your sword at me,'” Musselman said.
The officer proceeded to serve Musk with the first piece of cake, using his sword to set it onto Musk’s plate.
“That’s intimidating for any person,” Musselman said. “A Marine Raider just served [Musk] a piece of cake off his sword. I don’t know if that was necessary in the scripts or the notes for Elon to review beforehand.”
‘The whole room, you could’ve heard a pin drop.’
As the guest of honor, Musk reportedly delivered the opening statement that appeared to make an impact to the group of elite Marines.
“I will never forget it; it set the tone for his entire talk,” Musselman said. “He said, ‘I wanted to come and speak to this group,’ and I get the chills even saying it, ‘Because whenever there’s danger in the world, you all are the first to go and die.”
Musk continued to say he had a great amount of respect for their service to the country, according to Musselman.
“And the whole room, you could’ve heard a pin drop,” Musselman said. “When he said that, the way he said it, it wasn’t prepared, there was no script. He was genuinely looking up in the air to find the words to say ‘Thank you for doing this for our country.'”
Following the speech, Musk offered some lessons he’s learned throughout his career in the Silicon Valley. One particular lesson he reportedly said was to always question authority — a trait that could be seen as counterintuitive to the military’s doctrine of strict obedience.
One Marine was said to have made light of the discrepancy, shouting, “You’re in the wrong room for that, sir,” and drew a few laughs.
Musk went on to discuss his companies’ involvement in the veteran community and emphasized Silicon Valley’s need for leadership and talent from veterans.
“It was quite a treat for us to have Mr. Musk,” the former Marine Raider commander said, “He [recognized] Marines and sailors would be one of the first ones in harms way.”
MARSOC, a relatively new command compared to other special operations groups, was founded in 2006 to integrate Marines into the special operations community. Although media coverage of the special operations forces have largely centered on Navy SEALS and Green Berets, MARSOC Raiders have proven itself as a capable special operations force and screens its applicants as rigorously as other branches — with around 120 applicants graduating from its individual training course each year.
When you gotta go, you gotta go. It doesn’t matter what you might be doing or who might be shooting at you for doing it. This, of course, includes the military personnel who get put in a lot of situations that would test anyone’s nerves. And bladders.
There are the times when having to go came in handy. There were times when it was absolutely necessary. There were times when there was no other way. They answered the call of duty while answering the call of nature.
1. Cooling down a Vicker’s machine gun.
During WWI, British-made Vicker’s machine guns needed a waterjacket to keep the weapon cool as it fired hundreds of rounds of flaming death at oncoming enemy troops who fail to understand the meaning of “No Man’s Land.”
As long as you kept the barrel cool by replacing the water jackets when they heated, the guns would shoot for hours and hours, totally reliably. But if troops didn’t have a cool water handy to replenish the water, they would instead pee into the gun’s waterjacket. One gunner said it “made the war a bit more personal.”
One of the guys who made it back to England was Airman Maynard “Snuffy” Smith, a gunner over St. Nazaire, France – a place called “Flak City.” It was here Snuffy’s plane was torn to shreds by fighters. The fuel tanks started pouring gas into the plane, which of course caught fire. As Snuffy fired his guns at oncoming Nazi fighters, he forcefully pissed the fires out, tended to his crewmates’ wounds, and chucked the flammable items out the window.
Six more men made it back to England with Snuffy, who was awarded the Medal of Honor. The plane broke in half upon landing, though.
3. Forcing NASA to answer the pressing questions.
In 1961, NASA was still testing the things they would have to be prepared for during space missions – namely, answering President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon within ten years. Anyone who’s ever been on a long road trip can probably guess what one of the first issues they encountered was.
Except Mercury Redstone 3 wasn’t a long road trip. At 15 minutes, it wasn’t even a long space trip. So what do you do with an astronaut who has to pee at an inopportune time? Simple. Pee in the suit.
Even though it meant short-circuiting the equipment designed to measure his vital signs, Alan Shepard did as instructed by NASA and went in the suit. For better or for worse. His colleagues couldn’t believe Houston told him to do it. (If you’re wondering, Buzz Aldrin was the first to pee on the moon).
4. General Relief.
It would take a psychologist of some specialty to detail what is about peeing on your enemy’s territory and fortifications that makes world leaders and generals want to do it. In fact, it’s the first thing they think of. When Winston Churchill visited Hitler’s Siegfried Line in 1945, he wore a “grin of intense satisfaction.”
In 1950, American troops under Gen. Douglas MacArthur led a complete rout of North Korean forces. After almost pushing the Americans and South Koreans into the sea at Pusan, the entire Communist force fell apart after the Inchon Landing. They were driven all the way to the Chinese border at the Yalu River.
President Truman ordered that only South Korean troops be allowed in the Yalu zone, to keep from provoking China. As every military history buff knows, that’s not what happened. MacArthur pushed Gen. Edward Almond’s X Corps to the Yalu as fast as possible. When he got there, he took the ritual pee in the river.
Unfortunately, his race to the river dispersed his forces and allowed the sneak attack by the Chinese (who weren’t thrilled with the pee in their river) to succeed.