The South China Sea is a powder keg, and one senior Chinese military officer seems interested in lighting the fuse.
Dai Xu, a People’s Liberation Army Air Force colonel commandant and the president of China’s Institute of Marine Safety and Cooperation, suggested at a conference in Beijing on Dec. 8, 2018, that the Chinese navy should use force to counter US freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, Taiwan News reported.
Taiwan News cited a report from Global Times, the nationalist, state-backed Chinese tabloid that hosted the conference, that quoted him as saying: “If the US warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it … In our territorial waters, we won’t allow US warships to create disturbance.”
Dai, known for his hawkish rhetoric, argued that the US Navy’s operations are provocations aimed at undermining China’s sovereignty rather than an attempt to ensure freedom of navigation in international waters. The US Navy regularly sails destroyers and cruisers past Chinese-occupied territories in the South China Sea, while US Air Force bombers tear past on routine overflights that often ruffle Beijing’s feathers.
In the latest operation, in late November 2018, the US Navy sent the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville to challenge China’s claims near the Paracel Islands.
The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville.
The Global Times is known for its often provocative articles, designed to differ from the more rigid state media outlets like Xinhua and appeal to an alternative audience. Dai’s rhetoric at the conference appears consistent with that, as he seemed to welcome an increase in tensions and suggest that confrontation in the South China Sea could create an opportunity for mainland China to retake Taiwan.
“It would boost the speed of our unification of Taiwan,” he was quoted as telling the conference, adding: “Let’s just be prepared and wait. Once a strategic opportunity emerges, we should be ready to take over Taiwan.”
Dai’s comments about the use of force in the South China Sea came on the heels of a near-miss incident in September 2018, in which a Chinese Luyang-class destroyer confronted the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur during an operation in the Spratly Islands.
During the incident, which the US characterized as “unsafe,” the Chinese vessel appeared to make preparations to ram the American warship and force it off course. A foreign-policy expert described the showdown as “the PLAN’s most direct and dangerous attempt to interfere with lawful US Navy navigation in the South China Sea to date.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The U.S. military in World War II kept women out of many of the front line areas of World War II, limiting much of their contributions to ferrying planes or sorting the mail. But women often rose to the occasion when they were called to serve within range of the enemy guns, possibly none more so than the four women recognized for valor at the Anzio beachhead.
The American advance in Italy stalled out in late 1943, and U.S. planners needed a way to draw off German forces from the Gustav Line or lance their way into Rome directly. The proposed solution: land troops at Anzio and Nettuno, just 35 miles from Rome. The bold amphibious assault didn’t initially go well.
The Army quickly took a beachhead, and the corps commander wanted to take a hill that would allow the soldiers to sever German supply lines. He didn’t have the troops to protect his own logistics lines if he took the hills, though, so he just held the area around his beachheads.
This did threaten German lines and drew off their forces, but not enough to allow the other allied forces to break through the Gustav Line. Instead, the troops at Anzio were confined to a small area and subject to constant artillery and air bombardment. Their field hospital included plenty of female nurses and, obviously, the German fire didn’t pay much attention to the nurses’ noncombatant status.
Troops unload tanks and other gear from Navy ships at the Anzio Beachhead.
Enter First Lt. Mary Roberts and Second Lts. Elaine Roe, Virginia Rourke, and Ellen Ainsworth. In February 1944, as the Germans built up their forces to contain and then pierce the American bubble, they rendered aid to wounded soldiers even as shells rained upon them.
There were rumors that the Germans were using the Red Cross on the hospital as an aiming marker, even though it should’ve marked it as a non-target. There were rumors that the counter assault was coming any day, that the hospital was going to be evacuated, that the hospital would never be evacuated because the damage to morale would be too great.
The Allies suffered 19,000 casualties.
The nurses kept as many of the men alive as they could. On Feb. 10, Roberts was running the operating room when the surgical tent took a direct hit. Two corpsmen were wounded, and equipment was destroyed, but she rallied the medical staff and kept the surgeries going so the wounded could keep receiving treatment.
Ainsworth was working in the surgical ward that same night and moved the patients to the floor, continuing to render aid as the explosions rocked the tent. She was hit in the chest and died six days later of her wounds.
Meanwhile, Roe and Rourke were working at another field hospital on the beachhead where they continued patient care without electricity, their calm demeanors soothing the fears of the wounded. When ordered to evacuate the wounded, they organized the troops and got their 42 patients out safely despite the threat.
And if you’re curious what happened next for the larger Anzio battle, Hitler got impatient. He ordered his generals to get rid of the American presence at Anzio. But, while the Americans didn’t have the forces to threaten and hold the German lines, they had been building up their defenses.
Today, the M16 rifle and M4 carbine are ubiquitous among American troops. These lightweight rifles, which both fire the 5.56mm NATO round, have been around for decades and are mainstays. The civilian version, the AR-15, is owned by at least five million Americans. But the troops hauling it around almost got a similar rifle in the 1950s that fired the 7.62mm NATO round.
It’s not the first classic rifle to be designed to fire one cartridge and enter service firing another. The M1 Garand, when it was first designed, was chambered for the .276 Pedersen round. The reason that round never caught on? The Army had tons of .30-06 ammo in storage, and so the legendary semi-auto rifle was adapted to work with what was available.
The story is much different for the M16. Eugene Stoner’s original design was called the AR-10 (the “AR” stood for “Armalite Rifle” — Armalite was to manufacture the weapon). This early design was a 7.62mm NATO rifle with a 20-round box magazine.
According to the National Rifle Association Museum, this rifle went head to-head with the FN FAL and the T44 to replace the M1 Garand. The T44 won out and was introduced to service as the M14. This doesn’t mean the AR-10 was a complete loss, however. Sudan and Portugal both bought the AR-10 for their troops to use and, from there, the rifle trickled into a few other places as well.
Portugal bought the AR-10 and used it in the Angolan War.
(Photo by Joaquim Coelho)
Armalite, though, wasn’t ready to give up on getting that juicy U.S. military contract, so they began work on scaling down the AR-10 for the 5.56mm cartridge. The Army tried the resulting rifle, the AR-15, out in 1958 and liked what the saw, pointing to a need for a lightweight infantry rifle. It was the Air Force, though, that was the first service to buy the rifle, calling it the M16, which serves American troops today.
The AR-10 made a comeback of sorts during the War on Terror. Here, a Marine general fires the Mk 11 sniper rifle.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Sharon E. Fox)
Despite the immense popularity of the M16, the AR-10 never faded completely into obscurity. During the War on Terror, operation experience called for a heavier-hitting rifle with longer range. In a way, the AR-10 made a comeback — this time as a designated marksman rifle in the form of modified systems, like the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System and Mk 11 rifle.
Variants of the AR-10 are on the civilian market, including this AR-10 National Match.
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
Over the years, the AR-10 has thrived as a semi-auto-only weapon, available on the civilian market, produced by companies like Rock River Arms and DPMS. In a sense, the AR-10 has come full circle.
On this week’s episode, Borne the Battle features guest Nathan Goncalves, who shares his story of struggle and perseverance.
While Goncalves didn’t have the intrinsic calling to join the military, he enlisted at 23, seeking reform and discipline. It was in the Army that Goncalves sharpened his focus and developed lifelong friendships and mentors.
However, Goncalves’ transition back to civilian life was not easy. In fact, it turned out to be some of his lowest valleys–involving addiction, PTSD, and anger management.
But things started to change when Goncalves heard he was going to be a father. In this episode, he discusses how an intense work ethic allowed him to achieve a bachelor’s degree at UCLA in less than three years.
Goncalves applied to UCLA’s Law school to study corporate law. He was accepted, but a bitter divorce hampered those plans. Through his own experiences, Goncalves realized there was no advocacy for situations like his own. So he sacrificed a potentially lucrative corporate law career and switched to family law to offer services to homeless and low-income veterans.
Goncalves is now hosted by Harriet BuHai Center for Family Law and sponsored in house by Equal Justice Works. He continues to fight for family integration for homeless and low-income veterans as they transition back into the civilian communities.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Because of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jimmie Howard’s perseverance and focus, a platoon was able to hang on during one of the Vietnam War’s fiercest battles.
Two years after earning two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, Jimmie Earl Howard arrived in Vietnam in April 1966, when he was 36 years old. The Burlington, Iowa, native enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1950 after completing a year at the University of Iowa.
Here’s a look back at GySgt Howard’s career and what he and his platoon managed to accomplish.
June 13, 1966: Staff Sgt. Howard’s platoon, which includes just 15 other Marines and two Navy hospital corpsmen from C Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, are helicoptered inside enemy-controlled Hiep Duc Valley in northern Southern Vietnam. Their landing point, Nui Vu Hill, is a 1,500-foot observation point. Known on military maps as Hill 488, it would quickly become rechristened as “Howard’s Hill.”
June 15, 1900: An Army SF team reports that a 300-person North Vietnamese Army battalion is moving toward Hill 488. Darkness is falling, and there’s no time to alert Howard or pull out the platoon.
2100: American personnel shoot a Viet Cong scout just 12 feet from their position, provoking a fire barrage that wounds one Marine. Howard pulls her men into a tight circle just 20 yards in diameter.
A lull in the firefight is short-lived. The NVA returns with reinforced lines that attack Howard and his unit with gunfire, grenades, mortars, and machine guns. Howard moves in between his young Marines, encouraging them, redirecting when necessary, and helping them pinpoint their targets. Despite his advice, every single Marine and both Navy corpsmen are wounded. Two are killed in fierce hand-to-hand combat. The enemy falls back – temporarily.
Howard uses the fall back to radio Lt. Col. Arthur J. Sullivan at nearby Chu Lai. He tells Sullivan, “You have to get us out of here.”
But there was no rescue force that could reach Howard and his men that night.
From deep in the valley comes the voice of the enemy. “Marines, you die in an hour.”
One young Marine looks at Howard and asks if he can respond. Howard tells him to yell anything you like. Soon, the entire platoon is shouting at the enemy with the worst schoolyard taunts. Later Howard would recall that when his unit started laughing at the enemy, something shifted for the NVA soldiers. “I think it had a chilling effect on them,” he recalled.
For five hours, the NVA alternates between small probes and full-on assaults of the entrenched platoon. Howard is hit in the back with grenade fragments and can’t move his legs. He continues to drag himself around the perimeter to encourage his platoon and distribute ammunition.
Soon the grenade supply is gone, so Howard issues one of the most basic military strategies – he tells his Marines to throw rocks at the enemy. The NVA mistake the sound of rocks as grenades and inadvertently expose themselves to single-shot fire.
At 0300, the radio dies. Commanders in Chu Lai fear that Howard and his Marines are gone. Three hours later, Howard sounds Reveille, as if his unit hadn’t been in a firefight all night. Demoralized, the NVA troops begin to fall back.
Dawn comes to the valley, and that’s when, finally, the helicopters start to arrive. By now, the surviving Marines have only eight rounds of ammunition between them, and they’re still under sporadic fire. Howard waves off the first of the rescue aircraft, and one gets shot down. It takes another five hours for a full relief force to fight its way from the hill’s base to where Howard and his Marines are on top. When the rescue arrives, just three Marines can walk without assistance. Six out of the 18 are dead.
Three Marines and one corpsman are awarded Navy Crosses, and 13 Marines receive Silver Stars. A year later, Howard received the Medal of Honor. The ceremony is attended by eleven of the surviving Marines.
Howard retired from the Marines in 1977 after serving 27 years in the Marine Corps. He died on Nov. 12, 1993. In 1998, Navy Secretary John H. Dalton named one of three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Howard in honor of GySgt. Howard and his courage in Vietnam.
The U.S. Air Force for months has been working to redesign gear and flight suits used by female pilots after many years of ill-fitting equipment.
But why stop there? It’s also updating current flight suit and gear designs to improve comfort and ease of wear, according to officials working on the project. At the same time, officials want to streamline and expedite the process of shipping these uniforms and support gear anywhere across the world to meet a unit’s requirement.
Since his tenure in the Air Force, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has called for improved, better-fitting uniforms — not only for comfort, but also for safety.
“We have women performing in every combat mission, and we owe it to them to have gear that fits, is suited for a woman’s frame and can be [worn] for hours on end,” Goldfein told reporters at a Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C. last year.
Capt. Lauren Kram, assigned to the 13th Bomb Squadron, poses for a portrait on Feb. 19, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kayla White)
Officials have been eager to create and field uniforms and flight equipment with better fit and performance, and make them more readily available for female aircrew, said Maj. Saily Rodriguez, the female fitment program manager for the human systems program office.
The problem for decades has been limited sizes, which has resulted in female airmen tailoring their own flight suits, or just wearing a suit too tight or too loose.
Rodriguez and her team have been tasked to “specifically … look at how the female body is shaped,” with a goal of “tailoring that flight suit to be able to accommodate the female shape,” she said in an interview with Military.com Thursday.
The project was launched within the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, with Rodriguez focused on the female perspective for better-fitted uniforms and gear.
“Everything that touches an aircrew member’s body, we manage in the program office,” she said. That includes everything from flight vests; G-suits, which prevents the loss of consciousness during high levels of acceleration or gravity pressure; helmets; boots; and intricate gear such as bladder relief apparatus.
Participants of the Female Flight Equipment Workshop demonstrate the issues women face with the current survival vests at AFWERX Vegas, Las Vegas, Jan. 30, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
Beyond female flight equipment, the office is gearing up for improved uniforms and devices for all.
“We’re going to be adding on what’s called the ‘combat-ready airman,'” Rodriguez said, “which is going to look at more roles than just aircrew members to ensure that those airmen, men and women, are being outfitted in standardized uniforms as well, that suit their need to be able to properly do their duties they’re assigned.”
Officials are still defining what a ‘combat-ready airman’ is, but the term eventually will “encompass the larger Air Force” beyond aviators, she said. As an example, work has begun on better-fitting vests for female security forces airmen.
“It all comes down to making sure that airmen have gear that they can use and … perform their missions,” Rodriguez said.
Getting uniforms Amazon-quick
On the shipment management side, leaders are using the Battlefield Airmen Rapid Resource Replenishment System, or BARS, a central equipment hub that sorts various gear and can ship the clothing directly to airmen across the globe.
An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, assigned to the 66th Rescue Squadron, flies during training on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Feb. 22, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Kevin Tanenbaum)
“BARS is a cloud-based software program … with [an additional] inventory control,” Depoy told Military.com. The program has been around a little over a year, he added.
The internal system, created and hosted by Amazon, gives individuals the authority to head to a computer and mark what they need and have it shipped over — with the proper military approvals, Depoy said.
“There is a checkpoint, but if they need something, they can go in and order it, and those items are on the shelf,” he said.
The items are stored and managed by the Air Force at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana.
Unlike in years past where it could take months to get gear overseas, it now takes between a few days and a few weeks, depending on the location, Depoy said.
The goal now is to speed up the existing process for men’s gear, and implement a similar one for female flight suits.
“BARS is an existing system, but I’m currently adding our ACC female aviators into the system,” said Shaunn Hummel, the aircrew flight equipment program analyst at Air Combat Command’s A3TO training and operations office.
Lately, Hummel has been working to add female flight suits, jackets, boots and glove to the list of available gear in the system. His job is to work with the Defense Logistics Agency to appropriately stock facilities so airmen can access items via BARS.
In September 2018, ACC made a bulk buy of roughly id=”listicle-2635292502″ million worth of these items, Hummel said.
Capt. Christine Durham (left), Pilot Training Next instructor pilot, gives a briefing to her students prior to a training mission at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Austin, Texas, Feb. 5, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)
“We’re working with DLA to try and decrease the lead time and increase productivity for the manufacturing of these suits,” Hummel said April 16, 2019. Female flight suits “are not manufactured all the time until there is a consistent demand of them.”
Hummel explained there are 110 different flight suits — between the “women” category, for curvier women, and the “misses” category, for those with slimmer builds — and they also have different zipper configurations.
Zippers have been a problem for men as well as women. Very tall or very short airmen may find their zippers ill-placed to relieve themselves conveniently, the service said in a recent release.
“We’re making sure we’re using data … to assess what are the sizes we need to get women outfitted” by cross-referencing stockpiles through the various offices, Rodriguez added.
Right now, the teams are working together to get more feedback on how the programs are working, and what else could be done to improve standard gear to keep pilots and aircrew safe in flight.
The service has held several collaborative “Female Flight Equipment Workshops,” the release said.
Rodriguez said it wants more airmen speaking up.
“We have an effort underway looking at how we can streamline feedback from the user … so that we can use it when we’re looking for improvements in the future,” she said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Air Force F-15 Eagle pilots are helping to guard the skies over Iceland for the eleventh time since NATO’s Icelandic Air Surveillance mission began.
The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron began flying operations here this week in support of the mission, highlighting America’s commitment to NATO and the strength of its ties with Iceland. The squadron is tasked with supplying airborne surveillance and interception capabilities to meet its host’s peacetime preparedness needs and bolster the security and defense of allied nations.
During their rotation, the squadron will maintain an alert status 24 hours a day, seven days a week as part of their peacetime mission. This means they are ready to respond within minutes to any aircraft that may not properly identify themselves, communicate with air traffic control or have a flight path on file.
Strengthening NATO Partnerships
“This deployment gives us the opportunity to strengthen our NATO partnerships and alliances and train in a different location while continuing to improve our readiness and capability for our alert commitment,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Cody Blake, 493rd EFS commander. “Our overall expectation is to maintain a professional presence in everything we do.”
To remain vigilant, the squadron performs daily “training scrambles” in which they simulate real-world alert notification and execute planned protocols to ensure a speedy response.
More than 250 airmen assigned to U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and 13 F-15C/D Eagles deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, with additional support from U.S. airmen assigned to Aviano Air Base, Italy. Four of the aircraft are tasked with direct support of the Icelandic Air Surveillance mission, while the additional nine aircraft will conduct training missions, providing pilots invaluable experience operating in unfamiliar airspace.
An F-15C Eagle flies over Iceland during a flight in support of the Icelandic Air Policing mission Sept. 15, 2010. The IAP is conducted as part of NATO’s mission of providing air sovereignty for member nations and has also been conducted by France, Denmark, Spain and Poland.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Andrew Rose)
While providing critical infrastructure and support, Iceland has looked to its NATO allies to provide airborne surveillance and interception capabilities to meet its peacetime preparedness needs since 2008.
“Every year, we experience how qualified the air forces of the NATO nations are and how well trained they are to conduct the mission,” said Icelandic Coast Guard Capt. Jon B. Gudnason, Keflavik Air Base commander. “This is what makes NATO such a great partner.”
NATO allies deploy aircraft and personnel to support this critical mission three times a year, with the U.S. responsible for at least one rotation annually. So far, nine nations have held the reigns in support of Iceland: Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal and the U.S.
On Saturday, October 14, Army West Point hosts Bucknell at Gillis Field House for a Patriot League match-up. Both Army and Bucknell are currently struggling for a positive record — and Saturday’s meeting just might be the switch in momentum needed.
Two Department of Energy security experts took off to San Antonio in March, 2017. Their mission was to retrieve potentially dangerous nuclear material from a nonprofit research lab. Just to be certain they were getting the goods, they were issued radiation detectors along with a disc of plutonium and a small amount of cesium to calibrate their sensors.
When these two security experts stopped for the night along the 410 beltway, they left the nuclear materials in their rented Ford SUV in a Marriott parking lot that was not in the best neighborhood. The next morning, they were surprised to find the vehicle’s windows smashed in and the nuclear materials gone.
For the uninitiated, plutonium is one of the most valuable substances on Earth. It’s also one of few elements that will undergo nuclear fission, which is used in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. It’s an extremely deadly and dangerous substance with a half-life of just over 24,000 years. One kilogram of plutonium can explode with the force of 10,000 tons of TNT. Luckily, the Idaho National Laboratory says the amount stolen isn’t enough to make a nuclear bomb — that requires nine pounds of uranium or seven pounds of plutonium.
Something the size and weight of a kettle bell could fill the material need for a nuclear weapon.
Cesium is an element that can be used in highly accurate atomic clocks and dirty bombs. It’s one of the most active elements on Earth and explodes on contact with water.
No one briefed the public, no announcement was made in the San Antonio area, and no one would say exactly how much fissile material was stolen and is currently in the hands of someone who thinks they’re just holding cool pieces of metal while slowly irradiating themselves and those around them.
And the military doesn’t have to do any of that, so they don’t. In fact, it happens so often there’s now an acronym for it: MUF – material unaccounted for. An estimated six tons of fissile material is currently considered MUF.
If there’s an acronym AND a powerpoint about it, you know that sh*t is happening all the time.
The Government Accountability Office doesn’t even have a thorough record of material it loaned to other nuclear nations, what the status of that material is, and if their systems are rigorously inspected. At least 11 of those sites have not been visited by U.S. inspectors since before the September 11, 2001, attacks.
In one instance, 45 pounds of enriched uranium — enough for five nuclear detonations — loaned from the military was listed as safely stored when it was actually gone as of 2009 and had been missing for as long as five years. Since 1993, the International Atomic Energy Agency tracked 270 incidents where dangerous fissile materials were trafficked with the intent of doing harm.
“He seems totally trustworthy to me. Let’s transfer our plutonium immediately.”
The security contracting firm who lost the equipment was given an award, government bonuses, and a renewed contract. Since the Idaho National Lab considered the amount of nuclear material stolen to be of little consequence, they closed the case.
The Syrian Civil War has been a testing ground for some of Russia’s latest weapons. Russia even sent their piece-of-crap carrier, the Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, to do a “combat deployment” in Syria (though the carrier’s planes operated from land). Russia made a big deal about the deployment but, as is typical of much of Russia’s arsenal, there wasn’t much behind the hype.
Now, it looks like the new Pantsir mobile air-defense system may join that list of weapons that fail to meet expectations. The Pantsir is a combined gun-missile system armed with enough SA-22 Greyhound missiles to, theoretically, shoot down an entire squadron of fighters.
As it turns out, the Pantsir made its combat debut as a result of the recent contretemps between Iran and Israel after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal. Unfortunately for the Russians, this debut was less than stellar. The video above, released by the Israeli Defense Forces, shows the last seconds of a Pantsir’s existence, right up to the moment of impact.
According to an IDF release, the Israeli Air Force carried out an attack in response to rocket-launcher fire from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Israeli defense systems, like Iron Dome, destroyed four of the Iranian rockets, preventing any casualties and damages.
During the IDF’s response, Syrian air-defense systems fired on Israeli planes. All IDF aircraft returned home safely. Conversely, Israel claims that it destroyed several Syrian aerial interception systems, including the Pantsir.
A Pantsir air-defense system takes part in a 2016 live-fire demonstration.
(Photo by Sergey Bobylev, Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)
This isn’t the only time that Syria has taken the latest gear from Russia into battle only to see it perform poorly. In the 1982 Lebanon War, Syria sent T-72 main battle tanks into combat with the Israelis. The T-72s lost in action against Israel’s home-grown Merkava in what would prove to be a preview of that tank’s abysmal performance in Operation Desert Storm.
To see more on the Israeli Defense Forces’ recent operations in Syria, check out the video below.
One thing that has happened a number of times this year are close encounters. Or, to put it bluntly, times where the U.S. military got buzzed. Three countries were major offenders: Russia, China, and Iran. Here’s a breakdown of the incidents by country.
There were at least four major incidents where Russia buzzed American forces. On Feb. 10, an Ilyushin Il-38 “May” maritime patrol aircraft and three Sukhoi Su-24 Fencers carried out multiple passes on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78). In May, a Su-27 Flanker came within 20 feet of a P-8 Poseidon. The following month, an Air Force RC-135 was buzzed by another Flanker. In November, another P-8 Poseidon had a Russian fighter come within 50 feet.
The Chinese have been major offenders in unsafe encounters. In 2001, one of their fighter pilots collided with a Lockheed EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance plane. The crew of the EP-3E made it, but the Chinese pilot was killed. In May, there were two incidents, starting with a Su-30 doing a Top Gun stunt. About a week after that, two Chengdu J-10 “Firebird” fighters buzzed a P-3. In July, there was a near-collision between a J-10 and an EP-3E.
The Iranians have had their history of unsafe interactions and picking fights. These are not just limited to aerial incidents, either. In January and April, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) was harassed by Iranian “fast attack craft” in the Straits of Hormuz. A third incident involving the Mahan took place in May.
In June, an Iranian vessel aimed a laser at a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion. July saw the Cyclone-class patrol craft USS Thunderbolt (PC 12) forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats. August saw two incidents where Iranian drones buzzed a carrier. The first incident, on August 8, nearly caused a mid-air collision with a F/A-18E Super Hornet. An Aug. 15 incident saw a close pass on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
Hopefully, 2018 will not see more of these passes, but these three countries do seem to make it a habit.
Ask around Fort Detrick and you’ll probably learn more about Operation Whitecoat — an Army program that exposed human participants to infectious pathogens. But outside the base, the experiments are virtually unheard of, according to Randy Larsen, a former Air Force pilot turned documentary filmmaker.
“I found there are very few people who have ever heard of Whitecoat, which is why there’s a good reason to tell the story,” Larsen said.
Larsen himself became fascinated with the program — which recruited more than 2,300 noncombatant conscientious objectors from the Seventh-day Adventist Church — after a friend suggested it as a documentary topic.
What he anticipated would be a five- to six-month hobby project eventually turned into a 20-month film production, culminating in an eponymously named documentary on the operation and its volunteers.
The film “Operation Whitecoat” made its debut in Frederick on May 30 at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the agency that conducted the tests from 1954 to 1973. But Larsen will also hold two public screenings on June 3 at the Frederick Seventh-day Adventist Church on Jefferson Pike.
Gary Swanson and Ken Jones, two Whitecoat participants who attended the screening on May 30, said outreach to the church was especially important. Despite the huge role played by Seventh-day Adventists, knowledge of the project has faded among church members.
“It’s very little-known, I’ve found that to be true,” Swanson said. “Even in the church, it doesn’t come up very often.”
A lasting legacy
Despite the relative obscurity of Operation Whitecoat, civilians around the country — and around the world — can thank the program for the development of several widely used vaccines. Tularemia, yellow fever, and hepatitis vaccines were all tested on participants in the project, Larsen said.
“That’s why I found it interesting to see that the yellow fever outbreak was a front-page story today,” he added at the May 30 screening, pointing out a USA Today article on the spread of the disease in Brazil. “Because the vaccine was developed here at Fort Detrick with the Whitecoat program.”
To research for his documentary, Larsen interviewed participants all across the country and dug deep into the documentation of the program.
Letters between military and church leaders indicate that the Army considered the program a viable alternative to battlefield service for church members, whose religious beliefs urge against combat.
“The general consensus is that it is just not morally responsible to bear arms,” said Swanson, who later worked in publishing for the Adventist church. “That the taking of life is not the business of a Christian.”
There is, however, strong scriptural support for serving one’s country in a peaceful capacity, he added. As a result, most church members served the U.S. either as medics or as Whitecoat volunteers once the program became an option.
While both Swanson and Jones participated in the program, their experiences were slightly different. Jones, 83, served from 1954 to 1955 and then worked as a corpsman for the program until September 1958.
As one of the inaugural volunteers, he distinctly remembers walking across a catwalk at Fort Detrick — then called Camp Detrick — to the “Eight Ball,” where participants were exposed to the pathogens.
He and the other men in his group were dosed with Q fever, a relatively common bacterial disease with flu-like symptoms. None of them got sick, Jones said, but the experiment did help researchers adjust the dose for future volunteers.
“It’s like this — when you start your car, you take little steps to get there,” he explained. “You don’t take one big step and just jump in. Well, the amount they gave us, they knew we handled it OK. Now, the next three that came up, they did get sick.”
Swanson served later, and was part of an even lesser-known aspect of the program — one that benefited scientists at NASA. He reported for service in October 1969, and was part of an experiment to determine how well astronauts could function should they became sick while on a mission.
In his study, teams of five men were exposed to sandfly fever and then trained on a simulated spacecraft console. Eight hours a day, three days a week, the teams pretended to operate the consoles, even while some of them developed nausea and fevers of up to 104 degrees.
“You had to keep calibrated and you had to keep it set,” Swanson said. “When you saw it going wrong, you had to figure out how to fix it. And we were told it was part of a study underwritten by NASA to anticipate astronauts’ ability to operate sophisticated equipment if they were sick.”
Beyond the benefit to NASA, USAMRIID still attributes the development of essential safety gear — including gas masks and biohazard suits — to Operation Whitecoat.
The program even played a small role in the Camp David Accords. In 1977, an outbreak of Rift Valley fever in Egypt killed thousands of residents and animals. The vaccine for the disease — tested by Whitecoat volunteers — was a major bargaining chip for both Egypt and Israel when leaders met with President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
“That was such a little-known piece of history that the people at USAMRIID didn’t even know about it,” Larsen said.
Larsen and researchers at USAMRIID also tout the program as the harbinger of stringent standards for human testing. Operation Whitecoat set a precedent for informed consent — the policy of clearly educating human test subjects on the details and risks of research experiments — and served as a foil to other horrific experiments conducting on unknowing subjects, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and human radiation exposure by the Atomic Energy Commission.
“It’s a story that all Americans can be proud of,” Larsen said. “The fact is, Operation Whitecoat is one of the highest standards of ethical research out there.”
One of the most striking details of the project, he added, is that military leaders and researchers at USAMRIID exposed themselves to the pathogens before subjecting their participants. Both Jones and Swanson said that it was strong leadership that prevented real fear among the volunteers.
“I’ve thought about this many times, and I can’t give you an answer on what went through my mind as I went across that catwalk,” Jones said. “I was 21 years old. We felt like we had good leadership. We trusted what they were telling us, and we followed.”
Let’s face it, when the Army bought the Stryker, in one sense, they were really just catching up with the Marines, who were making an 8×8 wheeled, armored vehicle work for quite a while. Now, though, the Marines are getting a new system for one variant of their Light Armored Vehicles, the LAV-AT, which will make them even deadlier and easier to maintain.
According to a release by Marine Corps Systems Command, the LAV-ATM project gives this version of the LAV a new turret. The LAV will still be firing the BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missile.
“Compared to the legacy version, the new turret is unmanned, it fires both wire-guided and radio frequency TOW missiles, and it can acquire targets while on-the-move with an improved thermal sight,” said Jim Forkin, Program Manager’s Office LAV-ATM team lead.
“The turret is important because it protects Marines and gives them an enhanced capability that they didn’t have before,” Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael S. Lovell, Ordinance Vehicle Maintenance officer, PM LAV team, explained.
A Marine tests the enhanced vision capability—part of an upgrade to the Light Armored Vehicle’s Anti-Tank Weapon System—during new equipment training Sept. 18-29, at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Marine Corps Systems Command completed its first fielding of four upgraded ATWS in September. (United States Marine Corps photo)
The new LAV also makes maintenance easier with an on-board trouble-shooting system that allows operators and maintenance personnel conduct checks on the systems involved with the vehicle and turret. Learning how to use the new turret takes about one week each for operators and maintainers. The Marines have also acquired 3D computer technology to enhance the training on the new LAV-AT.
But the real benefit of the turret is that “Marines who serve as anti-tank gunners will be able to do their job better,” according to Chief Warrant Officer Lovell. “We’re providing a product that gives Marines an enhanced anti-tank capability improving their forward reconnaissance and combined arms fire power on the battlefield.”
Enemy tanks will hopefully be unavailable for comment on these enhancements.