By now, everyone who follows the fight against terrorism will know that there was an unsuccessful VBIED attack on Aug. 30 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in which a suicide bomber attempted to ram the embassy gates before detonating. This attack only managed to kill one person – the bomber – though it wounded several others. In the past year, Kyrgyzstan’s authorities have successfully foiled multiple alleged plots and an estimated 500 of its citizens are believed to be in territory controlled by ISIL. Whether or not ISIL eventually claims credit for this attack, it will likely have been carried out by ethnically Uighur separatists from Western China – a population that not only has a presence in ISIL’s ranks, but also is actively being trained for attacks on Chinese targets by Dutch jihadi Israfil Yilmaz.
The ongoing conflict between East Turkestan separatists/Uighur jihadists and the Chinese government has been at a low-broil for decades. Strict movement controls, an intense intelligence collection apparatus with an emphasis on big data analysis, and a heavy occupying presence in Muslim majority areas of China will largely continue to prevent successful mass casualty attacks against prestige targets. However, small-scale incidents, such as stabbings and rudimentary IED attacks, continue to affect cities in Western China from time to time – probably more than is possible to independently verify, given the inability of Western journalists to report in these areas.
In the meantime, at risk of sounding cliché, China is rising. President Xi Jinping has embarked on a well-known effort to modernize China’s oversized, lumbering, corrupt, Cold War-era military into an efficient, combat-ready force ready for contingencies wherever they occur – from the South China Sea to the transportation infrastructure in its Western near-abroad known as the New Silk Road. This “Silk Road” seeks to modernize the ancient trade route of the same name and will undoubtedly re-orient Central Asian economies towards China.
These Central Asian countries, run by aging autocrats, are universally known as some of the least free nations in the world and are potential tinderboxes. They clamp down heavily on religion (the local religion is largely Sunni Islam). They rely on trade with Russia and high energy prices – and energy prices have been low for a while now. They have restive and young populations. Saudi Wahhabis fund unemployed youths’ spiritual journeys, and some of these very youths are already trained and combat-experienced from battlefields in Syria, Iraq, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. Expect more attacks against Chinese targets where and when possible.
So what does this imply for the United States? Several things, but it does not mean a straightforward area of potential military and diplomatic cooperation. China will likely reluctantly find itself more combat-experienced than it currently is (it last fought a war in 1979 against Vietnam – it did not go well for China). It will bring China to the world stage like never before as it picks up the slack it previously left for the US alone. However, China has signaled strongly that is not aligned with US counter-terrorism policy. When the heartbreaking video of wounded Syrian child Omran Daqneesh emerged, Chinese state-media ridiculed it as faked, saying that he was “eligible for an Oscar.” The People’s Liberation Army has instituted a training mission for Syrian forces (taking place safely in Mainland China). In other words, China is stepping up – and will continue to step up – but it will do so in a manner more aligned with Russia and Iran than with the United States and NATO.
Many Western analysts believe that for a country of its size, China really ought to do more to stabilize the world. Given what we know about the Chinese government and Xi’s modus operandus, and given the pressure China will be under from its nationalist netizens should a more successful attack against Chinese interests occur, we should be careful what we wish for. China stepping up will not mean closer partnership with the United States.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
Most of us can’t take a seven-month leave of absence from work, but most of us don’t have as good of an excuse as Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.
Mayor Buttigieg, better known as “Mayor Pete,” took office January 1, 2012, at the age of 29 — making him the youngest mayor in America to serve a city with more than 100,000 residents. He assumed command while still fulfilling his monthly commitments as a member of the Navy Reserve, but after about two years in office, he was called to serve abroad.
After a few months of preparation with his mayoral team, Buttigieg left South Bend in the hands of his Deputy Mayor Mark Neal and departed to perform intelligence counter-terrorism work in Afghanistan for seven months.
Buttigieg grew up in South Bend. His parents were transplants that arrived a few years before his birth to pursue work at the University of Notre Dame. Although his family found opportunity in the Indiana city, Buttigieg would come to learn while growing up that his hometown was a city in crisis: the all-too-familiar tale of a Midwestern town in an economic tailspin due to loss of industry. In South Bend’s case, it was the shuttering of the Studebaker car company, which until 1963, when its factories closed, was the largest employer in town.
After high school, Buttigieg left South Bend to pursue higher education, first at Harvard and later, at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After spending some time in the private sector doing consulting work, he joined the Navy as a reservist in 2008, putting into practice his childhood admiration of his great uncle, a family hero who died while serving in 1941.
The Great Recession hit South Bend hard, and Mayor Pete recalls following his hometown’s news from a distance.
“I was reading headlines from home,” says Buttigieg, “I was thinking, ‘Jeez, we gotta do more, we gotta change things a little bit back home.’ And then beginning to stop asking that question ‘why don’t they…’ and start asking that question ‘why don’t we?’ or ‘why don’t I?'”
Buttigieg returned to South Bend in 2008 and made his first foray into politics: a run for Indiana State Treasurer in 2010 (an effort he lost decisively to incumbent Richard Mourdock). While contemplating his next step, it became apparent that South Bend would soon have an open-seat mayor’s race for the first time in 24 years. Encouraged by his supporters in town, Buttigieg ran and was elected mayor on November 8, 2011, with 74 percent of the vote.
Buttigieg’s administration works hard to reinvent South Bend, while still acknowledging and celebrating its past, including work to redesign the old Studebaker campus into a turbo machinery facility in partnership with Notre Dame. By taking advantage of its excellent Internet capability (thanks to fiber optic cables that run through the town via old railroad routes), the city is attracting tech start-ups. Additionally, a 311 line has been set up for city residents.
But what might be called Buttigieg’s signature program is his plan to demolish, renovate or convert 1,000 vacant homes in 1,000 days. Since 1960, South Bend has lost about 30,000 residents, and empty homes pepper the entire town — attracting crime and lowering property values. This ambitious program, dubbed the Vacant Abandoned Properties Initiative, was launched in February 2013. As of January 10, 2015, 747 properties have been addressed, putting South Bend is ahead of schedule.
Buttigieg recently announced that he is running for a second term, perhaps surprising those who assumed he was only interested in using the mayor’s office to further his career. He is also personally renovating a home in the neighborhood where he grew up, while continuing to give one weekend a month to the reserves. He sees the recent initiatives in South Bend as a way to establish the next era for the community and is excited about the way South Bend is once again investing in itself.
“I would like to believe that if the work matters to you,” says Buttigieg, “and the importance of it is what fills your sails, that people can see that.”
When you hide behind a keyboard and computer screen, it’s easy to lie about who you are or what you’ve done. Almost anyone can go on the internet and say they’ve done this, that, and the other thing — and the veteran community is just as guilty of this.
There are shameless veterans everywhere who will go on the comments section and start shooting off lies faster than a GAU-8 Avenger dispenses 30mm rounds.
But honest veterans everywhere know the truth because they’ve been there and they know which lies are the most common.
This one is just plain stupid. If you’re proud of your service, there’s absolutely no reason to lie about what you did while you were in. Everyone plays a part in the big picture, so nothing you did is better or worse than what someone else did. Maybe you didn’t go to combat — so what? Take pride in the fact that you helped others prepare for it.
2. What they did “in-country”
No matter when or where troops are deployed, there tons of POGs out there who never see direct combat. For whatever reason, these veterans will lie to make their deployment sound like a Call of Duty mission. Maybe they feel ashamed. Or maybe they want to seem cool because they have that Afghanistan Campaign Medal on their chest but not a Combat Action Ribbon.
3. How badass they are at shooting/fighting
If someone really is a great shooter, they’ll have proof. Someone who made rifle expert will have the badge to prove it and those who are just really good shots will have pictures of their targets.
But veterans who were always garbage on the rifle range will not only lie about their skill but, when cornered, they’ll throw out excuses for why they didn’t do well on the range.
4. That time they were with Special Forces
POGs will read this and go, “but I was with Special Forces,” conveniently leaving out the fact that they were administrative specialists who just made sure the operators got paid on time. Chances are, they didn’t spend much time — if any — sleeping outside or eating MREs.
Veterans who are insecure about their service will do everything mentioned above and then go on to say that they did a ton of other things. They’ll tell you about that one time they rescued a cat out of a tree or saved an Afghan child from a whole squad of Taliban while carrying their best friend on their back.
They’ll tell you Medal of Honor-worthy stories, but what they won’t tell you is that the cat was in the Patrol Base and their platoon commander ordered them to get it out — or that they couldn’t carry the wounded the whole way and the child was never there.
Some veterans will go on the internet and make it seem like it was an easy day after they got the infamous peanut butter shot. But every other veteran knows damn-well they couldn’t sit down or walk properly because they were in so much pain.
*Bonus* How much free time they had
Some veterans like to go online and claim that they were always “in the sh*t,” but everyone knows they had a ton of free time.
They probably spent an unholy amount of time watching adult films, playing video games, or playing cards with their buddies.
Distinguishing between the bravery of warfighters like these is tough. After all, what’s the exchange rate between five Navy Crosses and two Medals of Honor? These men cannot be ranked, but they can and should be commemorated. And in that spirit WATM presents this lineup:
1. Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly
Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly was called the “fightenest Marine I ever knew” by the famed Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler. In perhaps his most famous action, he encouraged the Marine advance at Belleau Wood in 1918 by turning to his men and yelling, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”
Daly was recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions at Belleau Wood, but received the Distinguished Service Cross. He also received two Medals of Honor, a Navy Cross, and a Silver Star in addition to a number of foreign awards for other battles during his career.
2. Maj. Audie Murphy
Commonly called the most decorated soldier of World War II, Maj. Audie Murphy received the Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit with Combat V, and two Bronze Stars with Combat V.
Murphy’s foreign awards were especially impressive. He received the French Forrager, Legion of Honor, and Croix de Guerre with Palm and Silver Star and the Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm. He also received the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.
3. Col. Edward V. Rickenbacker
When America entered World War I in 1917, race car driver Edward Rickenbacker volunteered for service. He started off as a staff driver but a chance meeting with Col. Billy Mitchell, an aviation pioneer, saw him reassigned to the new Army Air Corps where he became an “Ace of Aces” with 26 kills in only nine months.
The Distinguished Service Cross and one Navy Cross were received for actions Puller took at the Chosin Reservoir where he personally oversaw the Marine and Army defenses while under withering machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire over five days of fighting.
5. Boatswain’s Mate First Class James Williams
Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James Williams holds every level of valor award with a Medal of Honor, a Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit with Combat V, two Navy and Marine Corps Medals, three Bronze Stars with Combat V, and two Navy Commendation Medals with Combat V.
In his Medal of Honor action, Williams was commanding a river patrol boat when he took fire from two enemy Sampans in Vietnam and gave chase. He was lured into an ambush but fought against overwhelming odds for three hours, leading a fight that saw 65 enemy ships destroyed by Williams’ crew and a detachment of helicopters that eventually reinforced him.
Saudi Arabia said on Nov. 6 that Lebanon had declared war against it because of attacks against the Kingdom by the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan told Al-Arabiya TV that Saad al-Hariri, who announced his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister on Saturday, had been told that acts of “aggression” by Hezbollah “were considered acts of a declaration of war against Saudi Arabia by Lebanon and by the Lebanese Party of the Devil.”
“We will treat the government of Lebanon as a government declaring a war because of Hezbollah militias,” Sabhan said, according to state-owned news channel Al Arabiya.
Sabhan’s accusations reportedly included smuggling drugs and providing training for acts of terrorism.
Hariri’s resignation came as a surprise for many, particularly when he made his announcement during a trip to Saudi Arabia. The country is politically split between Saudi Arabia loyalists and Iran, which is represented by Hezbollah.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on Kabul International Airport Wednesday morning targeting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who was making an unscheduled visit to Afghanistan.
Mattis had left the airport by the time the attack started, NBC News reports, and no casualties have been reported.
The airport said two missiles were fired toward the airport at around 11:00 a.m. local time, and the U.S. embassy warns that the attack may still be ongoing.
“At 11.36 am two missiles were fired on Kabul International Airport from Deh Sabz district, damaging the air force hangers and destroying one helicopter and damaging three other helicopters, but there were no casualties,” airport chief Yaqub Rassouli said according to USA Today.
While ISIS also claimed responsibility for the attack, that doesn’t necessarily mean the group had any involvement in carrying out the attack.
“We fired six rockets and planned to hit the plane of U.S. secretary of defense and other U.S. and NATO military officials,” one Taliban commander told NBC News. “We were told by our insiders that some losses were caused to their installations but we are not sure about James Mattis.”
NBC spoke with two unidentified Taliban commanders, who claimed that their inside sources who work security at the Kabul airport tipped them off to Mattis’s visit.
Mattis was holding a press conference away from the airport at the time of the attack, and told reporters that Afghan forces would strongly oppose the action.
“If in fact there was an attack … his is a classic statement to what Taliban are up to,” Mattis said. “If in fact this is what they have done, they will find Afghan security forces against them.”
North Korea’s involvement in major hacking offensives appears to be growing.
The country has been linked to a recent attack on South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges, according to cybersecurity experts.
Researchers from the U.S. cybersecurity firm Recorded Future say a new hacking campaign targeting South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Coinlink employed the same malware code used in the 2014 attack on Sony Pictures and last year’s global WannaCry attack.
Beginning in late 2017, hackers attempted to collect the passwords and emails of employees at Coinlink, but were unsuccessful.
Recorded Future released a full report on Jan. 16 analyzing the methods used in the recent Coinlink attack versus methods used in previous cyberattacks. The firm found what it called strong evidence that a cybercrime unit called the Lazarus group was behind the Coinlink attack, as well as several previous large-scale campaigns, based on the type of code they have used in previous attacks.
According to the report, the Lazarus group operates under a North Korean state-sponsored cyber unit.
The group has been conducting operations since at least 2009, when they launched an attack on US and South Korean websites by infecting them with a virus known as MyDoom, the report said. The group has mainly targeted South Korean, U.S. government, and financial entities, but has also been linked to the major attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.
In recent years, researchers noticed a change in North Korean cyber operations as they began to shift their focus to attacking financial institutions in order to steal money to fund Kim Jong Un’s regime, the report said.
In 2017, the group began targeting cryptocurrencies, and their first offensive was aimed at Bithumb, one of the world’s largest bitcoin exchanges. Lazarus hackers stole $7 million in the Bithumb heist at the time, according to the report.
The WannaCry attack in 2017, which affected computer systems at schools, hospitals, and businesses across 150 countries, also used malware code that was linked to Lazarus.
Additionally, a December attack on the South Korean bitcoin exchange YouBit reportedly mirrored previous North Korean offensives, leading experts to suggest that groups associated with the North were behind that attack as well.
Recorded Future’s report comes amid recent allegations that North Korea has begun mining and hacking cryptocurrencies in order to sidestep crippling economic sanctions.
“This is a continuation of their broader interest in cryptocurrency as a funding stream,” Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic-threat development at Recorded Future, told the Wall Street Journal this week.
The U.S. has released statements blaming North Korea for several recent attacks. North Korea still denies any involvement, despite mounting evidence.
Russia is not in talks with the United States about its potential role at an expanded Group of Seven (G7) summit later this year, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on July 4.
“We have not had negotiations of this kind and are not having any,” Ryabkov told TASS.
Ryabkov’s comments countered those of John Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Russia, who told RBC TV on July 3 that Washington was “engaged with the Russian Foreign Ministry and with the other G7 governments about whether there is an appropriate role for Russia at the G7.”
U.S. President Donald Trump raised the prospect of Russia’s return to the group of leading economic powers in May when he announced plans to postpone the meeting until September because of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time he said he would expand the list of invitees to include Australia, Russia, South Korea, and India.
Russia was formerly in the group but was expelled in the wake of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Trump said it was “common sense” to invite President Vladimir Putin to rejoin the group, but other G7 countries, including Canada and France, have objected to the idea.
Ryabkov also said an expanded G7 meeting should include China.
“The idea of the so-called expanded G7 summit is flawed, because it is unclear to us how the authors of that initiative plan to consider the Chinese factor. Without China, it is just impossible to discuss certain issues in the modern world,” he said, according to TASS.
Ryabkov also noted that Russia has proposed holding a summit of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
“This is a completely different format. We believe that work in that format, including on the most pressing current issues, is optimal,” Ryabkov said.
Ryabkov said Moscow has continued diplomatic efforts to draw up the agenda of a summit.
“We have submitted appropriate proposals to other partners in the P5 (permanent members of the Security Council), and we are waiting for their reaction,” he said.
Units from the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group returned home to Norfolk, Virginia, in July 2018, only three months after deploying.
The Truman’s time at sea was only about half as long as typical deployments, and the early return reflects the Pentagon’s shift toward “dynamic force employment,” a concept touted by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as a way to make the military more responsive to emerging threats.
“The National Defense Strategy directs us to be operationally unpredictable while remaining strategically predictable,” US Navy Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Christopher Grady said a release announcing the return to port, which he said was “a direct reflection of the dynamic force employment concept and the inherent maneuverability and flexibility of the US Navy.”
Grady said the carrier group “had an incredibly successful three months in the US 6th Fleet area of responsibility,” an area that stretches from pole to pole between the mid-Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
The Russian Yasen-class nuclear attack submarine Severodvinsk
However, the Truman and its accompanying vessels finished their time at sea much closer to home — in the western Atlantic closer to Canada than to Europe, according to USNI News.
The cruiser Normandy and destroyers Forrest Sherman and Arleigh Burke are set to return to Norfolk in July 2018, while the destroyers Bulkeley and Farragut remain at sea, a Navy official told The Virginian-Pilot. An official with Fleet Forces Command did not return a request seeking details about what operations these ships have been performing. But anti-submarine operations have become a bigger priority for the US and its allies.
The Truman’s anti-submarine capabilities are limited to the helicopters it carries, but the strike group did deploy in early 2018 with more destroyers than usual.
Those ships are outfitted with sophisticated anti-submarine-warfare assets that aren’t typically used in the Atlantic, Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former submariner, told USNI News in June 2018. Operating in the Atlantic would give carrier strike groups opportunities to carry out high-end exercises with partner forces, he said.
An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from the “Dragon Slayers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 11 alongside the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Scott Swofford)
The North Atlantic become an area of renewed focus for NATO in recent years. Alliance officials have said Russian submarine activity in the area is at levels not seen since the Cold War (though intelligence reports from the era suggest that activity is far from Cold War peaks).
“The Russians are closing the gap,” Magnus Nordenman, director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said in early 2018. “And they have departed from their traditional sort of approach — with lots of mass and lots of submarines but of sort of varying quality — and they are taking a page from our playbook, which is go for quality instead.”
The US and its allies have put more energy and resources into anti-submarine warfare. That includes a new focus on the Cold War maritime surveillance network that covered the sea between Greenland, Iceland, and the UK — known as the GIUK Gap. The US Navy has spent several million dollars refurbishing Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland to handle the advanced P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft, though the Navy has said those upgrades don’t necessarily mean a permanent presence will be reestablished there.
Nevertheless, focusing on the GIUK Gap may fall short of the challenge NATO now faces.
For much of the Cold War, the Soviet navy lacked land-attack cruise missiles and would have had to leave its “bastion” in the Barents Sea in order to engage NATO forces, which made the GIUK Gap an important choke point at that time, according to Steven Wills, a military historian and former US Navy surface-warfare officer.
But with the development of sub-launched missiles — especially the modern Kaliber cruise missile — “Today’s Russian Navy can remain within its Barents bastion and still launch accurate attacks against ships in the Norwegian Sea and NATO land targets without leaving these protected waters,” Wills argues in an article for the Center for International Maritime Security, a professional military journal focused on naval strategy.
NATO should adopt a deterrent posture like that of the Cold War, Wills says, “but the locus of the action is much further north than Iceland.”
NATO’s decision to reestablish an Atlantic Command, to be based in Norfolk, is a welcome one, Wills writes, but that headquarters should focus on air and port facilities around the Norwegian and Greenland seas, even forward-deploying to oversee activity there. Surface vessels may need to partner with unmanned assets to cover a greater area as sea ice recedes.
Russia’s Northern Fleet is based on the Kola Peninsula on the Barents Sea, and a more active NATO naval presence in the area would almost certainly draw protests from Moscow, which has accused the alliance of trying to box in it and its allies in Europe. But a presence in the northern seas is necessary, according to Wills.
“The real ‘Gap’ where NATO must focus its deterrent action is the Greenland, Svalbard, North Cape line at the northern limit of the Norwegian and and Greenland Seas,” he writes. “It is again time to consider deterrent action and potential naval warfare in the ‘High North.'”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Ships from the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group are deploying without their carrier and accompanying air wing after the flattop suffered an unexpected electrical problem that required maintenance, the Navy revealed Sept. 12, 2019.
The destroyers USS Lassen, USS Farragut, and USS Forrest Sherman, along with the cruiser USS Normandy, will set sail from their homeports in Norfolk, Virginia, and Mayport, Florida, in the near future. These ships will be accompanied by helicopters from Helicopter Maritime Squadron 72 out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida. The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, however, will remain behind.
The move is unusual. Normally, if a carrier is down for maintenance or some other reason, it will simply be replaced with another carrier. But, the East Coast carrier fleet is currently short a suitable alternative in the inventory due to maintenance backlogs and delivery delays, among other issues.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) underway in the Atlantic Ocean.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)
In late August 2019, the Truman aircraft carrier experienced an “electrical malfunction within the ship’s electrical distribution system requiring analysis and repair,” US Fleet Forces Command spokesman Capt. Scott Miller told USNI News, which first reported the news of both the electrical issue and the unusual deployment.
US 2nd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis characterized the latest developments as “unfortunate” in talks with USNI News. “The situation with Truman frankly is unfortunate,” he told the naval affairs outlet. “Obviously, we’re working really hard to fix it, and we will fix it, but it’s unfortunate — nobody wanted that to happen certainly.”
The Navy said Sept. 12, 2019, that “repairs are progressing and all efforts are being made to deploy the carrier and air wing as soon as possible.” But, as there are still a number of unknowns surrounding the issue, it is unclear when the Truman will again be ready to sail.
USS Harry S. Truman in drydock at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
“Not having the aircraft carrier,” Lewis explained to USNI News, “it does detract from the symbolism and the deterrent effect, no question.”
“The aircraft carrier is a behemoth beast with an amazing capability, it shows up off your shores, and if you’re not our friend you become our friend quickly if you know what’s good for you. There is no question that that effect is lost with smaller ships.”
The deploying ships have formed a Surface Action Group, and the admiral insists that these ships bring the kind of capability to confront both low- and high-end threats.
Explaining that the ships have anti-submarine, air-and-missile defense, and strike warfare capabilities, he insisted that this is a “very capable group” that is ready “to do the nation’s bidding in this great power competition,” an apparent reference to 2nd Fleet’s role in countering a resurgent Russia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In the later years of the Cold War, Lockheed proposed arming their high-flying U-2 spy plane with experimental long-range anti-ship missiles that would have made it a terror over the high seas. Had the concept been coupled with American efforts to field the U-2 aboard aircraft carriers, it could have offered the U.S. Navy a ship killer with a long scope and even longer range.
When the U-2 first entered service in 1955, it brought with it an incredible jump in America’s reconnaissance capabilities. Designed and built by Kelly Johnson’s legendary team at Lockheed’s Skunk Works in less than a year, the U-2 was capable of flying at altitudes higher than 70,000 feet, well beyond the reach of even the most advanced and capable Soviet missiles or fighters of the day.
But it wasn’t just incredible altitudes that made the U-2 special. In an era when aerial refueling had only recently become commonplace for fighter operations, the original U-2 design could cover 3,000 miles without the need for tankers, giving it incredible range and endurance for covert operations over enemy territory. The original camera mounted in the payload bay of the U-2 could capture images with a resolution of just 2.5 feet from an altitude of 60,000, but the U-2 has since seen a slew of updated equipment housed within its fuselage, from the most powerful optical sensors in the U.S. arsenal to some of the first line-of-sight data link systems.
But with all the high-tech gear to grace the U-2 spy plane’s interior, one thing the aircraft has never carried is missiles… but Lockheed had plans to change that.
An element of that story that got left on the cutting room floor during its initial edit was Lockheed’s drive to find a good reason to ramp up U-2 production and sell Uncle Sam as many high-flying Dragon Ladies as the taxpayer would allow. In all, Lockheed built and sold some 104 U-2 spy planes between 1955 and the end of the latest production run in 1989, but the firm knew they could dramatically increase that tally if only they could find another good use for the unusual platform.
By the late 1970s, Lockheed wasn’t considered one of the world’s best defense contractors as it had been in the past and would be again in the future. A series of financial scandals, poor business decisions, and terrible press had put the company’s future in jeopardy. In 1971, Lockheed was forced to accept a $200 million loss (about $1.3 billion in 2021 dollars) over cost overruns and contract disputes with the Pentagon.
That same year, one of Lockheed’s primary commercial engine suppliers, Rolls Royce Ltd, filed for bankruptcy, and the firm was once again forced to approach the U.S. government for a $250 million loan to keep it in operation. By the end of the decade, Lockheed’s value had slipped all the way down to 6th place in the list of American defense contractors, lagging behind competitors like General Dynamics, coming off its success with the F-16, and McDonnell Douglas, who was riding high on their own fighter program, the F-15 Eagle.
Lockheed needed a win, and although they had a number of programs under development, the U-2 was already a proven performer with an existing production line. And despite being incredibly difficult to fly, there was good reason to look for ways to expand its operational uses. Some may have thought Gary Powers’ U-2 being shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 would have spelled the end for the aircraft; after all, it was designed to fly high specifically to operate beyond the reach of Soviet air defenses, but the U-2’s broad capabilities as an extended-range, long duration, reconnaissance platform were too potent to ignore, even as the faster and higher-flying SR-71 came into service and satellites were coming of age.
If they could convince the U.S. Navy to buy into the U-2 program, it could have meant a fairly quick influx of revenue the company sorely needed.
Arming the U-2 with missiles to go ship hunting
Although Lockheed failed to convince the Navy to operate a sensor-packed version of the U-2 from aircraft carriers for maritime surveillance, they still had one more trick up their sleeve.
When U-2 designer Kelly Johnson first approached the U.S. Air Force with his CL-282 design that would culminate in the U-2, he was dismissed outright by legendary commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), Curtis LeMay. According to reports, LeMay told Lockheed that he had no interest in an airplane “without wheels or guns.”
Lockheed seemed to take that criticism to heart, and while they didn’t change out the landing gear or add any guns to the U-2, they did take a crack at missiles.
Dubbed the 315B design, this new iteration of the U-2 would come with a second crew station, not unlike the two-seat U-2 training aircraft Lockheed already had in production. That second crew member would serve as a sort of Radar Intercept Officer, not unlike the backseater in operational Navy fighters of the day like the F-14 Tomcat.
The 315B U-2 would be armed with new and experimental (at the time) AGM-53 Condor long-range air-to-surface missiles to engage enemy warships at distances of up to 60 miles. The Condor missile utilized an electro-optical (television) guidance system with a data link back to the aircraft that would allow the secondary crew member to literally guide the weapon into its target via remote control. The missiles could also be “locked” onto a target using this system, freeing up the crew aboard the U-2 to start scouring for other enemy ships.
Eventually, the Condor missiles were intended to carry both conventional warheads and nuclear ones, which would have made the U-2 a potential nuclear attack aircraft had the 315B design and Condor missiles ever come to fruition. Unfortunately for Lockheed and for the Condor’s designer, Rockwell, neither effort would make it into production.
The missiles meant for the U-2 turned out to be duds
The AGM-53 Condor missile was riddled with issues and setbacks throughout its development in the latter half of the 1960s, from an unreliable propulsion system to the skyrocketing costs of fielding a capable data link for the weapon. Worse still, the missile’s relatively small warhead made its exorbitant price tag (largely due to the expensive data link technology) seem downright unreasonable. Despite originally placing an order for 250 missiles to be delivered in 1976, the program was canceled that year before any could be.
Like the missiles that would arm it, the 315B U-2 Lockheed proposed would never make it into service with the U.S. Navy either. Lockheed would find itself once again leading the way in military aviation just a few short years later, however, when the world’s first operational stealth aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk, would begin test flights.
The U-2 spy plane would continue to find valuable uses for the U.S. Air Force extending all the way into the 21st century. Today, there are more than 30 U-2s in operational service filling a wider variety of roles than ever. Some have even been used as nodes in secure data links between the most advanced fighters the U.S. has to offer, the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter–both of which come from the same Lockheed Skunk Works stable as the U-2 did itself decades ago.
The VA will provide a headstone for any eligible veteran, even if they’re already in an unmarked grave, in any cemetery around the world. In selecting a headstone, the National Cemeteries Administration has approved only 66 possibilities to date — which includes the Hammer of Thor for any believers of Norse gods out there.
Anyone can request a new emblem of belief to be added to this list. All you have to do is establish that there is, indeed, a need for the icon, that the deceased sincerely held the belief, and “submit a three-inch diameter, digitized, black and white representation of the requested emblem that is free of copyright or trademark” to the Memorial Products Service, found here:
Memorial Products Service (41B) Department of Veterans Affairs 5109 Russell Road Quantico, VA 22134-3903
In the meantime, feel free to choose from the following.
Walking the show floor of the 2017 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran saw a lot of fast-developing technology that impressed him.
He didn’t see the one thing he wants, even though it’s a technology that first appeared in 1974, “where you walk into a room and you were in a virtual environment and you could do almost anything,” Moran said Dec. 27 during a panel discussion at the conference, known by the acronym I/ITSEC.
Never mind that this virtual room made its debut on “Star Trek: The Animated Series.”
“I want a holodeck,” Moran said, referring to the room where Star Trek characters are able to interact with virtual, holographic environments, people and objects. “And we’re kind of getting there. You put on some [virtual reality] goggles downstairs [on the show floor], I tried on a few of those, and since I was here a couple years ago, it is fascinating how quickly that is becoming a reality.
“Now, if we could just get rid of the goggles and just have a room.”
Neither did Moran find what he asked industry leaders for two years ago at the 2015 I/ITSEC-a Conex shipping container where a trainee can walk inside and have training scenarios rendered on virtual reality panels.
“Torpedo room, engine room, bridge room,” he said. “It knows when you were there last, it knows how effective you were, what you’re performance levels were, how much experience you have, and it starts to test you.”
“That same box could take a team-bridge team, combat team, maintenance team-that has to do a project together, and it could set up the scenario virtually,” Moran continued. “That’s the holodeck of the future, that’s what we need. I challenged some folks in here two years ago, and everybody ran off and wanted to get there. I’ve only been on maybe 10 percent of that floor, but I haven’t found a holodeck or the Conex box yet.”
Still, despite the lack of holodecks or virtual-reality shipping containers, Moran was encouraged by the progress he did find on the floor of the convention.
“It’s just amazing how fast things are moving,” he said.
Naval Aviation took “the baby step into this world of live-virtual-constructive” last year with the opening of the Air Defense Strike Group Facility at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, said Rear Adm. Daniel Cheever, commander, Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center.
The ADSGF currently houses integrated simulators for the F/A-18E-F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, E-2 Hawkeye and AEGIS air defense system but Cheever said it will eventually comprise all Navy aviation simulators, integrated and connected so that they can communicate securely with outside locations.