Concern is rising in Japan that the Chinese military may be training for a future mission in the disputed Senkaku Islands, where Beijing has been dispatching coast guard ships at increasing frequency in recent years.
Quoting the Pentagon’s 2017 survey of the Chinese military, Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported June 8 the People’s Liberation Army could be training for a raid of outlying areas, including the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, also claimed by China and Taiwan.
In a section on China’s amphibious capabilities, the report from the U.S. Department of Defense states the “PLA Army focuses its amphibious efforts on a Taiwan invasion while the PLA Navy Marine Corps focuses on small island seizures in the South China Sea, with a potential emerging mission in the Senkakus.”
The Japanese military also may be concerned that, according to the report, China’s PLA Navy Marine Corps brigades conducted “battalion-level amphibious training at their respective training areas in Guangdong,” or the Southern Theater.
“The training focused on swimming amphibious armored vehicles from sea to shore, small boat assault and deployment of special forces by helicopter,” the report states.
In May, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported China’s Navy Marine Corps is in the process of building a 100,000-strong military unit.
The Pentagon report states China has used “coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims.”
Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty applies to the Senkakus, and the United States is obligated to defend the islands if they come under attack.
In May, four Chinese coast guard ships entered Japanese territorial waters near Okinawa and the Senkaku Islands and in 2016, more than 100 Chinese ships trespassed into Japan’s territorial waters, the second-largest annual number of Chinese ships entering disputed areas since Japan announced the nationalization of the Senkakus in September 2012.
One of Nazi Germany’s most deadly weapons wasn’t really a weapon at all – at least not when it first took flight. However, it did eventually became a deadly foe; not for what it could drop, but for what it could see. It also set the pattern for two iconic planes of the Cold War.
The Focke-Wolf Fw 200 Condor began its life as an airliner for Lufthansa, according to aircraftaces.com. As a civilian transport, it generated some export orders to Denmark and Brazil. As an airliner, the Fw 200 held 26 passengers, and was able to fly from Berlin to New York non-stop.
In World War II, the airliner versions were used as military transports by the Germans. But the real impact would come because the prototype for a reconnaissance version requested by the Imperial Japanese Navy. According to uboat.net, the Luftwaffe looked at the prototype, and requested that designer Kurt Tank make some changes.
What emerged was a plane that could fly for 14 hours, and carry 2,000 pounds of bombs. By February 1941 they were responsible for putting 363,000 tons of merchant shipping on the bottom of the Atlantic. That is the rough equivalent of four Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
But the Condor’s real lethality wasn’t from what it dropped, it was from what it told the Germans — namely the locations of Allied convoys necessary to keep England in the war. That allowed Karl Donitz to vector in U-boat “wolfpacks” to attack the convoys some more.
Ultimately, when the British began to field catapult-armed merchantmen and eventually escort carriers, the Germans had the Condors avoid combat and just report the positions. By 1943, though, the Condor had been shifted to transport missions.
At the end of the war, the Fw 200 returned to the maritime strike role, carrying Hs 293 anti-ship missiles.
The ultimate legacy of the Fw 200 Condor: P-8A Poseidon aircraft No. 760 takes off from a Boeing facility in Seattle, Wash., for delivery to fleet operators in Jacksonville, Fla., marking the 20th overall production P-8A aircraft for the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Boeing Defense)
The Fw 200, even though it was on the losing side of World War II, was a ground-breaking concept. In the Cold War, two major maritime patrol aircraft used by Germany’s World War II enemies — the Lockheed P-3 Orion and the British Aerospace Nimrod — were based on airliners themselves (the Lockheed Electra and the de Havilland Comet). The Boeing P-8 Poseidon, replacing the Orion and Nimrod, is based on the Boeing 737.
The Condor has a long legacy – one that continues to this day.
As of 2015 the Berlin Wall has been down almost as long as it stood separating the German people. The wall built by the Communist German Democratic Republic (GDR – better known as East Germany) around the Western sectors of Berlin became a longstanding symbol of the divide between Western Capitalism and Eastern Communism during the Cold War. In the 28 years it stood, no place on Earth was so central to world events as Berlin and the reason for that is the Berlin Wall. Twenty-six years after its fall, it’s worth a look to see the how Cold War history played out surrounding such a central, divisive symbol.
After World War II, West Germany was occupied by France, England, and the United States, East Germany was occupied by the Soviet Union. Berlin, despite being deep in Soviet-occupied territory, was also partitioned in a similar way. After the Berlin Airlift ended a Soviet blockade — really an attempt to push the West out of Berlin through economic strangulation — fears of further drifts toward a full Communist state in the East prompted many to emigrate to West Germany in exponential numbers. These were mostly young, well-educated Germans whose flight became known as a “Brain Drain” of East German intelligentsia and workers. Only 61% of the East’s working age population remained. Something had to be done and what better way to make people want to stay in your country than by walling them in and threatening them with constant torture and execution?
The borders around West Berlin were closed on August 13, 1961 as the Soviets tore up the streets, erected fences, and placed barbed wire. Families were suddenly split, jobs were lost and the United States had no official response. The U.S. didn’t actually think there was valid reason for its permanent erection. Then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk said, “The Wall certainly ought not to be a permanent feature of the European landscape. I see no reason why the Soviet Union should think it is—it is to their advantage in any way to leave there that monument to Communist failure.”
Erected in 1961, it was called the “Anti-Fascist Protective Wall” by the GDR, who placed rows of barbed wire a guard towers along the wall. It would soon become a symbol for the corruption and lack of freedom for those living in the Soviet Union-dominated Eastern Bloc, as the world recognized it as a true “Iron Curtain,” a means to keep East Germans from getting to West German freedom, instead of keeping West Germans out of the East Germany. It would be upgraded three times after its construction.
President Kennedy denounced its construction and appointed retired Army General Lucius D. Clay as Ambassador. Clay was the mastermind of the Berlin Airlift, former military governor of American-controlled Germany, nicknamed “the Kaiser” and was wildly popular with Berliners. Following Kennedy’s order to reinforce the Allied defenders of West Berlin, Clay ordered 1,500 men with vehicles and trailers from West Germany, through East Germany to West Berlin, where they were met by Clay and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson as a show of strength and a reassertion of the Allies’ access to Berlin.
In June, 1963, President Kennedy visited the Berlin for the first time with General Clay to reaffirm the U.S. dedication of support for West Germany and to remind the Soviet Union of that support.
Hundreds of East German died trying to get to freedom on the other side of the wall, thousands were successful in defecting across the wall. They would dig tunnels below the wall, flying hot air balloons, through the sewers, or just driving cars at max speed through weaker sections. One East German guard even drove his tank through the wall to defect. Western guards were not able to help defectors until they were on the Western side of the wall.
In 1988, the year before the Berlin Wall fell, Bruce Springsteen played the Berlin Wall in a concert organized by East German Communist authorities in an attempt to pacify East German youth. Communist authorities saw rock music as a “nefarious cultural weapon” (and for much of the music of the 1980’s, that assertion isn’t far off), so the concert was a surprising shockk to much of the world, most of all East Germans. Springsteen didn’t miss the importance of the event. After playing Born in the U.S.A. in front of 300,000 East Germans, he delivered a short speech in German:
“I’m not here for any government,” he began. “I’ve come to play rock and roll for you in the hope that one day, all the barriers will be torn down.”
The crowd went wild. Sixteen months later, on November 9, 1989, the government of the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany, announced Germans living in the East would then be free to visit West Germany and West Berlin. That day, East and West Germans crowded the Berlin Wall, and systematically chipped away and demolished it.
A photo released by AFRICOM reportedly shows a Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum jet flying over Libya.
The U.S. military has provided more details about an alleged Russian deployment of fighter jets to Libya, as officials in Russia continued to deny the presence of Russian military aircraft or personnel in the North African country.
The United States says Moscow deployed the jets to provide support for Russian mercenaries helping a local warlord battle Libya’s internationally recognized government.
The alleged deployment could have a big impact on the war pitting the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar and forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognized by the United Nations.
The conflict has drawn in multiple regional actors, with Russia, France, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates backing Haftar’s command.
Turkey, which deployed troops, drones, and Syrian rebel mercenaries to Libya in January, supports the government in Tripoli, alongside Qatar and Italy.
As Libya continues to be subjected to a UN arms embargo, the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) on May 26 said it assessed Russia had recently deployed military jets to Libya via Syria to support Russian mercenaries fighting alongside the LNA. It said the jets were repainted in Syria to remove Russian Federation Air Force markings.
In a tweet on May 27, AFRICOM added that MiG-29 and Su-24 fighters bearing Russian Federation Air Force markings departed Russia “over multiple days in May.”
After the aircraft landed at the Russian military base of Hmeimim in western Syria, the MiG-29s “are repainted and emerge with no national markings.”
AFRICOM wrote in a separate tweet that the jets were flown by “Russian military personnel” and were escorted to Libya by “Russian fighters” based in Syria.
The planes first landed near Tobruk in eastern Libya to refuel, it said, adding: “At least 14 newly unmarked Russian aircraft are then delivered to Al Jufra Air Base” in central Libya, an LNA stronghold.
Meanwhile, LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari denied that new jets had arrived, calling it “media rumors and lies,” according to Reuters.
Viktor Bondarev, the chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on defense and security, dismissed the U.S. claims as “stupidity.”
“If the warplanes are in Libya, they are Soviet, not Russian,” Bondarev said.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, said Russia had not sent military personnel to Libya and the Russian upper house of parliament has not received a request to approve such a dispatch.
Vagner Group, a private military contractor believed to be close to the Kremlin, has been helping Haftar’s forces. A UN report earlier this month estimated the number of Russian mercenaries at between 800 and 1,200.
The Bondarev and Dzhabarov comments are the latest denials from Moscow that the Russian state is responsible for any deployments.
But U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM, said on May 26: “For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth-generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way.”
Oil-rich Libya has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed popular uprising ousted and killed the country’s longtime dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, in 2011.
Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country, is seeking to capture the capital, Tripoli, from GNA forces.
But his LNA lost a string of western towns and a key air base in the past two months after Turkey stepped up military support for his rivals.
There’s nothing like a trial-by-combat to see if a new weapon is really worth its salt, so Russia has been using the Syrian Civil War to test out a lot of its new military technology.
In 2015, Russia’s Klub cruise missile made its combat debut, and Moscow has sent some of its most advanced planes to the war — including the Su-34 Fullback, the Su-35 Flanker, and the Tu-160 Blackjack — to carry out missions in support of Bashir al-Assad’s regime.
Now, it looks like the Russians are including the R-77 air-to-air missile among the systems being used in what has become an operational testing ground. The missiles have been seen on Syrian Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrums, a fighter that the Soviets and Russians have exported to a number of countries in the region.
The R-77 — also known as the AA-12 “Adder,” or “AMRAAMski” — is an active-homing radar-guided missile. It’s comparable to the earlier versions of the U.S.-made AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile. The Adder has a range of roughly 70 miles, and a top speed in excess of Mach 4. The Adder can be carried by just about any Russian aircraft, from the Su-35 Flanker to the Mig-21 Fishbed. It entered service in 1994.
The AIM-120 AMRAAM has a top speed of Mach 4, and entered service in 1991, although it was being delivered as early as 1988. Early versions of the missile had a range of 45 miles, but the latest variant has a range of over 100 miles. The AMRAAM has been mounted on a wide variety of combat aircraft, including upgraded F-5s for the Singaporean Air Force; the F-22; the F-35; the Tornado F.3; the JAS.39 Gripen; F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets; and even the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Russia’s move to improve its air-to-air capability is certainly intended to stymie any U.S.-led contingency plan of creating a no-fly zone over the war-torn region.
Three members of the U.S.-Russian crew have returned to Earth after spending several months at the International Space Station (ISS).
Russia’s Roskosmos space agency said the Soyuz MS-15 capsule carrying the crew chief, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, and NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan landed safely on April 17 in Kazakhstan.
Skripochka and Meir spent 205 days in orbit, while Morgan’s time in space lasted 272 days.
Expedition 62 crew portrait with NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir.
The crew was replaced by U.S. astronaut Christopher Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who docked with the ISS on April 10.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, instead of being brought to the city of Qaraghandy in central Kazakhstan for traditional welcome ceremonies, the crew members were taken straight to the Baikonur space complex near the city of Qyzylorda.
The U.S. astronauts will fly aboard a NASA plane directly from Qyzylorda to Houston, while the crew’s commander Skripochka will fly back to Russia.
The ISS, which orbits about 400 kilometers above Earth, is tasked with conducting scientific experiments.
If you were surprised to see some of the tearful farewells from those worst affected by the lifelong policies of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, you aren’t alone. Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years after helping free the country from British colonial rule. Mugabe was very much the central figure in then-Rhodesia’s struggle for freedom.
The African world rejoiced at his success, and then watched him plunge the country into every economic and human rights disaster there is.
At the end of the 1970s, African colonialism was taking its dying breaths. Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, was one of the last remnants of the African colonial era, where the minority white population ruled over the majority black population with an iron fist. The struggle to correct this resulted in the 15-year Rhodesian Bush War that saw thousands of Zimbabweans die at the hands of Rhodesian armed forces. The central figure to emerge from that struggle was Robert Mugabe, a charismatic freedom fighter and former college professor who idolized Mohandas Gandhi who started his firebrand career giving speeches in his home country.
After spending years in prison for sedition in Rhodesia, he left for neighboring Mozambique to join the militant wing of the struggle for freedom, the Zimbabwe African National Union. After the leaders of ZANU were assassinated by the Rhodesian government, Mugabe quickly rose to the top of its ranks. Rhodesia soon realized the writing on the wall, as Mugabe and other groups sent more insurgents into Rhodesia faster than the Rhodesians could kill or capture them. In the election that followed the political stalemate, Mugabe was victorious and became Prime Minister in 1980.
Mugabe with Joshua Nkomo at the Constitutional Conference on the future of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia at Lancaster House in London.
He renamed the country Zimbabwe and the capital Harare. He also expanded educational opportunities to most of the population. In 1987, he and his ZANU-PF party amended the Zimbabwean constitution and installed himself as Executive President, a new position he made for himself while his one-party dominated the Parliament. Mugabe became just one more African strongman. Mugabe betrayed his own revolution.
Although he was an educated man, he was not fit to rule an entire country on his own. After sending military forces into the countryside to root out dissent, Zimbabwe found itself deeply in debt and a mineral sector in virtual collapse. The value of its currency began to drop, and Mugabe began to exploit the ethnic differences in his country to stay in power, a textbook dictatorship move. The wealthy and educated began to flee the country, and by 2000 the economy was in freefall. Hyperinflation became synonymous with the Zimbabwean dollar. He created a repressive police state in order to stay in power, while stripping the rights of everyone, not just white farmers.
Mugabe died in Singapore on Sept. 6, 2019. He was 95. He will still be buried in the country he fought to loot for 37 years.
Even after the total collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, widespread corruption, and Mugabe’s brutal suppression of all opposition, Mugabe remained in power. He and his inner circle of cronies stole the revenues from the country’s mineral wealth while stealing elections and killing the opposition. Finally, after 30-plus years of brutality, Western powers slapped sanctions on him, the country, and anyone caught doing business with Zimbabwe. Yet only after he began to groom his second wife, Grace, to take his position after he died, did Zimbabweans organize his ouster. When he died, he was still working to undermine the government in Harare that had succeeded him.
So while Robert Mugabe was an undisputed liberating force for so many black Rhodesians-turned-Zimbabweans, along with those affected by the subsequent anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements that came after his success, he was also responsible for 37 years of pillaging the country he fought to liberate.
When Private First Class Ethan T. Ford first thought about joining the military, he immediately had his hopes set on being a combat photographer.
“Joining the military has given me a lot of options and I’ve done a lot of things I would have never had the option to do before. I wouldn’t have traveled to Korea, cover historical events, or be in a movie,” Ford said.
As a 25V Combat documentation/production specialist, Ford is his unit’s official videographer, tasked with shooting and editing footage and capturing every moment of garrison operations.
Like all soldiers, Army photographers get trained on basic combat skills and learn how to operate weapons, expertly engage in hand-to-hand combat and administer basic first-aid.
Army photographer Private First Class Ethan Ford practices photography techniques while on assignment in Seoul, South Korea.
(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)
But being an Army photographer requires dedication and resilience. When the rest of the unit goes home or finishes the mission, the Army photographers get to work to upload their photos and videos and create products for the historical record.
When his friends in Oregon ask him what it’s like to be in the Army, he says he gives them the honest truth.
“Being in the Army is not hard, at times it can be mentally draining, but anyone who is physically capable can do it.”
This is not a typical assignment, according to his supervisor, Staff. Sgt. Pedro Santos, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Yongsan Visual Information Support Center.
His team is made up of creative types who strive on challenges.
Army photographers have to be able to quickly react to any situation in any environment. You have to make sure you’re ready and that your equipment is in good shape and your batteries are charged.
Dancers perform traditional acts during a community relations event at US Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, Korea.
(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)
Between assignments, the soldiers are back in the office learning new skills, teaching each other new tips and critiquing each other.
Other parts of the job include handshake photos and designing PowerPoint slides, which isn’t the most inspiring for the truly passionate photographers like Ford, but meeting expectations is important.
One of the advantages to enlisting as a combat photographer, according to Santos, is that the experience and education you gain is unmatched.
“When it comes to someone who is passionate about something and they want to pursue that in the military as well I sometimes you get lucky and you get someone like Ford who is passionate about it,” Santos said.
Army photographer Private First Class Ethan T. Ford reflects on his various assignments while stationed in Seoul, South Korea.
(US Army photo)
Santos encourages his team to speak to the customer, usually a senior leader like a first sergeant or commander and find out what their goals are, what type of video or photography they would like and then you have to be creative and find out what kind of angles you are going to take the shot from and how you are going to prepare for it.
Some assignments can take up to one month of preparation and rehearsal.
“One thing you can’t really reach combat photographers is post editing, from my experience, you can take an amazing photo and be done with it, but when someone takes the time to perfect their work, it is impressive and it shows,” Santos said.
“You are in a great area, one of the biggest cities in the world. There is inspiration everywhere.”
Army photographer Private First Class Ethan T. Ford captures a nature scene near his hometown of McMinnville, Oregon.
(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)
On weekends, Ford goes out on his own on the weekend and practices different techniques and works on improving his craft. His favorite style of photography is capturing candid moments and doing street photography.
One of the highlights of his tour in South Korea was a special assignment in October 2018 when Ford witnessed history in the making and was the only photographer allowed in a meeting between North Koreans and South Koreans in the blue building at the Joint Security Area. The event was one of the first steps in a negotiation that is expected to result in officially ending the war between the two countries.
Outside of photography, Ford is a movie buff. He loves war movies and his favorite movies include Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, andHacksaw Ridge to name a few.
A river photographed near McMinnville, Oregon, the hometown of Army photographer Private First Class Ethan T. Ford.
(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)
Early 2019, Ford got to skip his normal routine of morning physical training, chow and VISC photography duties and was granted a two-day pass to play a movie extra in a Korean War film set in 1950 with actors Megan Fox and George Eads.
“Playing a movie extra was a lot like being in the military,” Ford said, “It was a hurry up and wait situation. It took several hours to drive there and several more to get dressed.”
One of the best parts of the experience was getting one-on-one acting advice and mentorship from actor George Eads, who plays MacGyver on TV.
Although the Department of Defense does not keep track of the numbers of service members who appear in television and film projects, there are many opportunities to play extras in movies because It is it is incredibly difficult for civilian actors to realistically portray the discipline of the U.S. warfighter without having served, according to Brian Chung, a military advisor to big Korean production studios in Seoul and in Los Angeles.
Private First Class Ethan T. Ford cast as an officer in a movie shot in Seoul, South Korea.
(US Army photo)
In fact, 90 percent of DOD-supported projects, including documentaries and reality television programs are unscripted, according to Master Sgt. Adora Gonzalez, a U.S. Army Film and TV Entertainment Liaison in Los Angeles.
“All service members have been trained since basic training to stand, walk and talk a certain way on duty,” Chung said.
Chung is a former U.S. Army Captain and was previously stationed in Yongsan as a military police company commander.
He understands how challenging it can be for soldiers stationed in Korea to be working long hours while displaced into a new culture, which is why he reached out to leaders at United States Forces Korea to get approval for the soldiers to be part of the movie.
(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)
“It was personally satisfying as a U.S. Army veteran of Korean decent, to honor the warriors of the Korean War with authentic portrayals that could only have been achieved by their successors serving on the same peninsula that they sacrificed so much to protect. Seeing the look of excitement on the young troops’ faces as they hustled around set from wardrobe, to the make up chair, to an authentic 1950’s set was an amazing icing on the cake,” Chung said.
The movie will be released around the same time that his tour ends in June 2019, when he will report to duty at his new assignment at Fort Meade, Maryland.
“I’m going to miss going out and eating in Itaewon, especially the fried chicken and ramen,” Ford said. “It’s some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. You won’t find anything like it in the U.S.”
After his time in the Army, Ford plans on taking more advanced courses and going back to Oregon and becoming a professional photographer.
“The Army is what you make of it. You can make it be miserable or make it be the best time of your life,” Ford said.
President Donald Trump signed a bill into law on June 23 that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, part of a push to overhaul an agency that is struggling to serve millions of military vets.
“Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to our nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said during a White House ceremony. “To every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words: Thank you.”
“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” Trump said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”
The measure was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died as they waited months for care. The VA is the second-largest department in the US government, with more than 350,000 employees, and it is charged with providing health care and other services to military veterans.
Federal employee unions opposed the measure. VA Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, stood alongside Trump as the president jokingly suggested he’d have to invoke his reality TV catchphrase “You’re fired” if the reforms were not implemented.
The legislation, which many veterans’ groups supported, cleared the House last week by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to employees. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote a week earlier.
Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, applauded the move, saying, “In a nasty, partisan environment like we’ve never seen, veterans’ issues can be a unique area for Washington to unite in actually getting things done for ordinary Americans.”
The bill was a rare Trump initiative that received Democratic support. Montana Sen. Jon Tester said the bill “will protect whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation.”
The new law will lower the burden of proof to fire employees, allowing for dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the Senate-passed measure was seen as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines. The Senate bill calls for a longer appeal process than the House version – 180 days versus 45 days. VA executives would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees.
USMC Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Boling
The bill also turns another of Trump’s campaign pledges into law by creating a permanent VA accountability office, which Trump established by executive order in April.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called the bill signing “a significant step to reform the VA with a renewed purpose and ability to serve our veterans.”
“The ultimate goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture within the VA so that our veterans receive the best care possible,” McCarthy said.
The VA has been plagued for years by problems, including the 2014 scandal, where employees created secret lists to cover up delays in appointments. Critics say few employees are fired for malfeasance.
As laser-guided bombs incinerated Iraqi tanks from the sky, surveillance aircraft monitored enemy troop movements and stealth bombers eluded radar tracking from air defenses in the opening days of Operation Desert Strom decades ago – very few of those involved were likely considering how their attacks signified a new era in modern warfare.
Earlier this year, when veterans, historians, and analysts commemorated the 25th anniversary of the first Gulf War in the early 90s, many regard the military effort as a substantial turning point in the trajectory or evolution of modern warfare.
Operation Desert Storm involved the combat debut of stealth technology, GPS for navigation, missile warning systems, more advanced surveillance plane radar, and large amounts of precision-focused laser-guided bombs, Maj. Gen. Paul Johnson, Director of Requirements for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, told Scout Warrior in a special interview earlier this year.
“We saw the first glimpses in Desert Storm of what would become the transformation of air power,” he said.
The five-to-six-week air war, designed to clear the way for what ultimately became a 100-hour ground invasion, began with cruise missiles and Air Force and Army helicopters launching a high-risk mission behind enemy lines to knock out Iraqi early warning radar sites. Two Air Force MH-53 Pave Low helicopters led AH-64 Apache Attack helicopters into Iraqi territory, Johnson explained.
The idea of the mission was to completely destroy the early warning radar in order to open up an air corridor for planes to fly through safely and attack Iraqi targets. The mission was successful.
“This was the dawn of GPS – the ability to precisely navigate anywhere anytime without any other navigation systems. The Pave Lows had it and the Apaches did not – so the Pave Low was there to navigate the Apache’s deep into Iraq to find the early warning radar sites,” he recalled. “Now, everybody has it on their iPhone but at that day and time it was truly revolutionary.”
Johnson explained the priority targets during the air war consisted of Iraqi artillery designed to knock out any potential ability for Iraq to launch chemical weapons. Other priority targets of course included Iraqi air defenses, troop formations, armored vehicles and command and control locations.
The air attack involved F-117 Night Hawk stealth bombers, B-52s, F-15 Eagles and low-flying A-10 Warthog aircraft, among other assets.
Desert Storm Heroism
At one point during the Air War, Johnson’s A-10 Warthog plane was hit by an Iraqi shoulder-fired missile while attempting to attack enemy surface-to-air missile sites over Iraqi territory.
“I found myself below the weather trying to pull off an attack that failed. I got hit in the right wing. I yelled out and finally keyed the mic and decided to tell everyone else that I was hit. I safely got the airplane back. They fixed the airplane in about 30-days. The enemy fire hit the right wing of the airplane and the wing was pretty messed up, but I had sufficient control authority to keep the wings level,” Johnson said.
On the way back from the mission, while flying a severely damaged airplane, Johnson received in-flight refueling from a KC-10 aircraft at about 25,000 feet. Johnson received the Air Force Cross for his heroism on another ocassion during the war, where he helped rescue a downed F-14 fighter jet.
The Combat Debut of New Technology
While there was not much air-to-air combat during Desert Storm, the Iraqis did try to field a few Mig-29 fighter jets. However, upon being noticed by U.S. Air Force F-15E radar – they took off, Johnson said.
The advent of much great air-fired precision weaponry, aided by overhead surveillance and GPS for navigation is largely referred to as the 2nd Offset – a moment in the evolution of warfare marked by significant technological leaps forward. Johnson explained that the 2nd Offset fully came to fruition in the late 90s during Operation Allied Force in Kosovo.
GPS guided bombs, called Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, did not yet exist at the time of the first Gulf War – but GPS technology for navigation greatly improve the ability of pilots and ground forces to know exactly where they were in relation to surrounding territory and enemy force movements.
This was particularly valuable in Iraq due to the terrain, Johnson explained. There was no terrain or mountainous areas as landmarks from which to navigate. The landscape was entirely desert with no roads, no terrain and no rivers.
In addition, massive use of laser guided weaponry allowed air assets to pinpoint Iraqi targets from a laser-spot – thereby increasing accuracy and mission efficiency while reducing collateral damage.
“Laser weapons had been around since Vietnam but we expended laser guided bombs in numbers that we had never done before,” he explained.
Some of the weapons dropped included Maverick missiles, the 2,000-pound Mk 84 penetrator and a 500-pound Mk 82 along with cluster weaponry. The Maverick missile is an anti-armor precision weapon which uses electro-optical precision weaponry to destroy targets.
“The Maverick has a camera in the front of the missile that would lock on and guide itself to the target. It is old technology but very precise,” Johnson added.
Also, airborne surveillance, in the form of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, provided attacking forces with an unprecedented view from the sky, Johnson said.
The aircraft used Ground Moving Target Indicator and Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, to deliver a “rendering” or painted picture of ground activity below.
“This allowed us to monitor the battlefield day or night regardless of the weather and detect movement of enemy ground formations. The Iraqi forces tried to make a movement on the village of Khafji. It was a large-scale movement by the Iraqi Army in the middle of the night because they thought we could not see them. We saw them,” Johnson explained.
Due to this surveillance technology, the commander of the air war moved an entire theater’s worth of air power to attack the Iraqi formation.
“In Desert Storm you had the ability to dynamically see what was going on in the battlespace and perform command and control in real time and divert assets in real time. You had the ability to navigate incredibly precisely and then the ability to apply precision weapons – one weapon kills one target at a time,” he added.
Desert Storm also involved the combat debut of beyond line-of-sight satellite communications which, among other things, provide missile warning systems, Johnson said.
“We did not shoot at every Scud that came in because we know where it was going to go,” Johnson recalled.
Johnson explained that the Gulf War changed the paradigm for the strategic use of air power by allowing one plane to precisely hit multiple targets instead of using un-guided bombs to blanket an area.
“We began a change in calculus. Since the dawn of air power, the calculus has always been – ‘How many airplanes does it take to destroy a target?’ A-10s can put a string of bombs through the target area and hopefully one of the bombs hits the target. By the end of the 90s, the calculus was – ‘How many targets can a single airplane destroy?’ Johnson said.
Desert Storm Ground War
The 100-hour ground war was both effective and successful due to the air war and the use of tactical deception. U.S. amphibious forces had been practicing maneuvers demonstrating shore attacks along the Kuwaiti coastline as a way to give the Iraqis the impression that that is how they would attack.
“The Iraqis saw these amphibious maneuvers because that is what we wanted them to see,” Johnson explained.
However, using a famous “left hook” maneuver, U.S. coalition forces actually attacked much further inland and were able to quickly advance with few casualties through thinner Iraqi defenses.
There were, however, some famous tank battles in the open desert during the ground attack. U.S. Army tanks destroyed large numbers or Iraqi tanks and fighting positions – in part because advanced thermal infrared imagers inside U.S. Army M1 Abrams battle tanks enable crews to detect the signature of Iraqi tanks without needing ambient light.
Although this gave U.S. forces and an advantage – and the U.S. Army was overwhelmingly victorious in Desert Storm tank battles – there were some tough engagement such as the Battle of Medina Ridge between the Army’s 1st Armored Division and Iraqi Republican Guard forces.
Effects Based Warfare – Changing Air Attacks
The use of such precision from the air marked the debut of what is commonly referred to as “effects based warfare,” a strategic air attack technique aimed at attacking specific targets from the air without needing to destroy the infrastructure of the attack area.
As a result, targets included command and control centers, moving ground troops or armored forces, supply lines and other strategic and tactical targets. Effects-Based warfare experts describe this as a “strategic rings” approach with command and control at the center of the inner circle and other enemy assets in the so-called outer rings.
One idea, among others, was to use precision weaponry from the air to cut off communication and supply lines between the command and control centers and outer forces on the move — in order to paralyze and destroy mobile enemy forces.
This approach was successfully used in Desert Storm, marking a historic shift in the strategic use of air power. In fact, a similar conceptual framework was used more than 10 years later in the opening attacks of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“There once was a time when we thought we had to go into the layers sequentially where we had to start at the out layers and peel it back to get into the inner layers. Desert Storm indicated that this is not the case. The first ordnance to hit the ground was at the inner layer,” Johnson explained.
The US Air Force on Nov. 6 said it had failed to record gunman Devin Patrick Kelley’s domestic violence conviction into a federal database following his discharge from the military, which could have prevented him from buying the rifle he used to kill 26 people.
Kelley was convicted of domestic violence from a military court after he was found guilty of assaulting his spouse and child, according to several media reports. The military’s failure to note Kelley’s conviction into the National Criminal Information Center, a federal database, allowed him to pass several background checks and purchase firearms.
“The Air Force has launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P. Kelley following his 2012 domestic violence conviction,” the Air Force said in a statement. “Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction.”
Kelley had passed background checks when he purchased a firearm in 2016, a sporting goods retail chain said in Reuters. He had also passed a check when he purchased a second firearm in 2017, Reuters reported.
Kelley, a former Airman who received a discharge for bad conduct in 2014 and was sentenced to a year in prison, purchased four firearms between 2015 and 2017, police said. Three of them, including an assault-style rifle, were located at the scene of the shooting.
Kelley, who police said is believed to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound following a brief chase, killed 26 people at First Baptist Church in rural Texas on Sunday. The shooting was the deadliest in Texas history.
The Air Force said it would also examine whether other convictions had gone unreported.
“The service will also conduct a comprehensive review of Air Force databases to ensure records in other cases have been reported correctly,” the Air Force statement said.