Ten female lieutenants completed the first step in becoming U.S. Army infantry platoon leaders on Wednesday by graduating from the first gender-integrated class of Infantry Officer Basic Leader Course.
Twelve women started the 17-week course at Fort Benning, Georgia, and 10 met the standards to graduate alongside 156 male classmates.
“The training of an infantry lieutenant is a process until they step in front of that rifle platoon, and this is but the very first step in that process,” Lt. Col. Matthew Weber, battalion commander of the course, told reporters Wednesday at Fort Benning. “It’s a critical one because we are very much focused on training and preparing the soldiers, the lieutenants, to ultimately lead a rifle platoon.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter in December ordered all military jobs, including special operations, opened to women. His directive followed a 2013 Pentagon order that the military services open all positions to women by early 2016.
Army officials maintain that it hasn’t taken long for gender integration to become the norm in training.
“We have been integrating women into the military for years; they have fought and bled beside us for years,” said Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning. “This is an important moment, but this is something that is in many ways business as usual.”
Fort Benning officials would not release the names of the 10 female graduates. Their next stop is Ranger School, Weber said.
Then, whether they are successful or not, they will go into other courses, including Airborne School, Striker Leader Course and then Mechanized Leader Course — a process that will take about a year to complete.
“Once they have completed all those courses, then we will have deemed them fit to lead whatever type formation out in [Forces Command] and they will depart Fort Benning,” Weber said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has directed that gender-integration first focus on leaders at those two installations, Wesley said.
“We are priming the pump and enabling success by initially focusing on two installations and then ultimately they will start to migrate out to other installations,” he said.
Griest and Haver are following the same path.
Griest, a military police officer from Connecticut, was granted transfer to the infantry branch April 25, 2016. Haver, an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot from Arizona, has been approved to transfer into the infantry, and “we are still awaiting final word on when that is going to come down,” said Brig. Gen. Peter Jones, commandant of the Infantry School.
“Upfront, I will tell you this makes us a better Army and the reason it makes us a better Army is that this whole issue has driven us — it has been a forcing function, to ensure that we had the right standards aligned to each occupational specialty in the Army,” Wesley said.
Establishing gender-neutral standards has been the “culmination of two years of different work done by Training and Doctrine Command, with physical scientists looking at what is the physiology of moving weight and what is the difference between infantrymen and field artillerymen?” Jones said.
“We have the scientific data that shows these are the propensity skills that you have to do and the physiology to do those.”
Benning officials maintain that gender integration has not lowered standards.
“There has been no change in the standards,” said Infantry Officer Basic Leader Course Command Sgt. Major Joe Davis. “There is no change in the course … we are in the business of producing leaders. It doesn’t matter if they are male or females.”
North Korea launched its longest-range, most capable missile ever on July 28, and experts say that all of the US, besides Florida, now lies within range of a nuclear attack from Kim Jong Un.
Fortunately, unlike an attack from a nuclear peer state like Russia, North Korea’s less-advanced missiles would only be expected to hit a few key targets in the US. And even that limited attack would still take North Korea years to prepare, since it still needs to perfect its missiles engines with more tests, in addition to guidance systems. It also needs to build and deploy enough of them to survive US missile defenses.
But a North Korean propaganda photo from 2013 showing Kim Jong Un reviewing documents before a missile launch (pictured below) may have inadvertently leaked the planned targets for a nuclear attack on the US. On the wall besides Kim and his men, there’s a map with lines pointing towards some militarily significant locations.
In Hawaii, one of the closest targets to North Korea, the US military bases Pacific Command, which is in charge of all US military units in the region.
San Diego is PACOM’s home port, where many of the US Navy ships that would respond to a North Korean attack base when not deployed.
Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana holds the US Air Force’s Global Strike Command, the entity that would be responsible for firing back with the US’s Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Washington D.C., of course, is the home of the US’s commander-in-chief, who must approve of nuclear orders.
All in all, the targets selected by North Korea demonstrate a knowledge of the US’s nuclear command and control, but as they come from a propaganda image, they should be taken with a grain of salt.
North Korea has developed nuclear weapons as a means of regime security, according to more than a dozen experts interviewed by Business Insider. If Kim ever shot a nuclear-armed missile the US’s way, before the missiles even landed, US satellites in space would spot the attack and the president would order a return fire likely before the first shots even landed.
As unique as Kim is among world leaders, he must know a swift disposal awaits him if he ever engages in a nuclear confrontation.
Brigadier General Carl Schaefer, the commander of the 412th Test Wing, put the endless speculation as to where the B-21 would be heading to rest during comments at the Antelope Valley Board of Trade and Business Outlook Conference, according to The Drive.
“For the first time ever, I would like to publicly announce that the B-21 will be tested at Edwards Air Force Base … Edwards has been the home of bomber test and now we also can publicly release that the B-21 is coming to Edwards and we will be testing it here in the near future,” Schaefer said.
The general’s remarks appeared to confirm that the B-21 will be headed for operational testing sooner than some had previously believed. There are no known images of the B-21, although concept art does exist.
The level of secrecy surrounding the B-21 is so intense that Congress doesn’t even know much about it. Previous reports speculated that the testing would be at the Air Force’s infamous Area 51 facility.
The Drive reporter Tyler Rogoway said that he noticed a number of changes to the base during his last visit to Edwards. “It was clear that the South Base installation was undergoing a major transition,” he said.
“The USAF’s B-52 and B-1 bomber test units had relocated to the expansive primary apron and South Base had been vacated, aside from the B-2 test unit, so that it could be prepared for a shadowy new program.”
Edwards Air Force Base has unique facilities that would help the testing and development of stealth aircraft, such as the Raider, and is the headquarters of the Air Force’s Test Center and Test Pilot School. Edwards is also the home of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.
The B-21 will phase out the B-1 and B-2 bombers, the Air Force announced in February 2018.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking new steps to use technology to improve access to health care for veterans across the country, including in rural areas.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin says the initiatives include using video technology and diagnostic tools to conduct medical exams. Shulkin says veterans will also be able to use mobile devices to schedule, reschedule, or cancel appointments with a VA doctor.
Shulkin says the new programs will make it possible to provide medical care to veterans wherever they are, whether they’re in their homes or are traveling.
The new programs are in addition to existing “telehealth” programs that Shulkin says provided care to more than 700,000 veterans last year.
Remember that guy who bought a Harrier? Well, now, Art Nalls is adding reality TV star to his resume as the only civilian owner of a Harrier jump jet.
According to a release by AARP Studios, Nalls is starring in Badass Pilot, which tells the tale of how he acquired a British Aerospace Sea Harrier FA2 retired by the Fleet Air Arm and made it into a civilian warbird. The series premiered Nov. 14 on the YouTube page of AARP Studios.
“I think the title of this show says it all. Art is, in fact, a badass pilot, and the perfect example or embodiment of how age doesn’t define anything,” AARP Studios Vice President Jeffrey Eagle said in the release. “Art certainly answers the question ‘How do you become the only civilian to own a Sea Harrier Fighter jet?’ but there’s a lot more to the series than that. Art’s purchase of the plane was just the beginning of the adventure.”
The Sea Harrier entered service with the Fleet Air Arm in 1978. Four years later, it proved instrumental in winning the Falklands War while flying from the carriers HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes (and, later, from the INS Vikrant). The Royal Air Force, United States Marine Corps, India, Spain, Italy, and Thailand have all flown versions of the Harrier.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Sea Harrier has a top speed of 734 miles per hour, a maximum range of 2,237 miles, and carries up to 5,000 pounds of ordnance. It’s able to carry various air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-132 ASRAAM, and the AIM-120 AMRAAM.
He told the crowd he planned to negotiate a system for the Veterans Affairs Department that would allow veterans to receive health care in a VA facility or at a private doctor of their choice.
Trump also reiterated his plan to aggressively promote “Americanism,” saying he would make sure American students recited the pledge of allegiance.
Clinton invoked Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” in her Wednesday address, promising to defend American exceptionalism. Trump continued the theme, saying he would enlist the American Legion’s help in promoting American values.
“We will stop apologizing for America and we will start celebrating America,” he said. “We will be united by our common culture, values and principles, becoming one American nation. One country under one constitution, saluting one American flag.”
Trump’s speech, which at 15 minutes was about half as long as Clinton’s, limited discussion of veterans’ policy to his plan to reform the VA.
While VA Secretary Robert McDonald told the American Legion on Wednesday that the department hoped to turn a corner in organizational reform this year, Trump said it was in “very sad shape,” adding that he had spoken with a number of veterans who had received unsatisfactory care.
Trump said he plans to carry out his VA overhaul by appointing a new secretary and firing anyone who failed to meet standards.
“I’m going to use every lawful authority to remove anyone who fails our veterans and breaches the public trust,” he said.
Trump also said he would make sure female veterans got the best possible access to medical care.
“We’re going to get you fantastic service. It’s going to happen, believe me,” he said. “Never again will we allow any veteran to suffer or die waiting for care.”
The Republican candidate, who on the previous day delivered a speech in Mexico promising to crack down on illegal immigration, drew applause when he reiterated promises to defend American borders.
In what appeared to be a pivot from 2015 comments in which he made disparaging many Mexican immigrants as drug smugglers and criminals, Trump praised Mexican Americans for their service in the U.S. military.
“I just came back from a wonderful meeting with the president of Mexico where I expressed my deep respect for the people of his country and for the tremendous contribution of Mexican Americans in our country,” he said. “Many are in our armed services. You know how good they are. I want to thank him for his gracious hospitality and express my belief that we can work together and accomplish great things for both our countries.”
Trump also received applause when he promised to stop Syrian refugees, many of whom he has characterized as terrorists and extremists, from entering the United States, citing plans to build a safe zone overseas to house them.
Thermobaric rockets can be carried by a single infantry soldier in addition to their normal weapon, but the rockets are so powerful they can destroy some buildings in a single shot. America’s main thermobaric rocket is the SMAW-NE. The Shoulder-launched Multi-purpose Assault Weapon-Novel Explosive fires a rocket that disperses a mist of metal and fuel. The chemicals then react with the oxygen in the air before exploding.
The resulting blast is strong enough to take out many small buildings, even those built with stone and heavy beams. The weapon is mostly used by the Marine Corps and was deployed during the Second Battle of Fallujah.
Of course, America isn’t the only country with thermobaric rockets. Russians use the Shmel-M. In the Russian military, thermobaric weapons are called, “flamethrowers,” but the rockets work the same way. The Shmel-M is actually a descendant of the Schmel, the first deployed thermobaric weapon.
Thermobaric weapons also come in the form of a bomb or grenade.
Germany’s military has been struggling with a variety of organizational and technical problems, like equipment shortages, debates over funding, and troop shortfalls.
Manpower in particular is a lingering issue for the Bundeswehr, which has shrunk since the end of the Cold War and further reduced after mandatory military service was ended in 2011.
From a high of 585,000 personnel in the mid-1980s, German troop levels have fallen to just under 179,000 as of mid-2018. In 2017, the Bundeswehr had 21,000 unfilled positions, and half of the force’s current members are expected to retire by 2030.
In mid-2016, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the Bundeswehr had to “get away from the process of permanent shrinking.” (Women weren’t allowed to be in the armed services until 2000.)
Von der Leyen said she would remove the 185,000-person cap on the military and add 14,300 troops over seven years — a total that was upped to 20,000 in 2017.
Ursula von der Leyen with German soldiers during a visit to the Field Marshal Rommel Barracks, Augustdorf.
That approach has general support among the governing parties, though not without qualifications. Defense experts and politicians have said that any foreign recruits should be offered citizenship, lest the force become “a mercenary army.”
Another strategy that has been underway for some time is the recruitment of minors. The Bundeswehr has mounted a media campaign to bring in Germans under 18.
The military’s official YouTube channel has over 300,000 subscribers, and its videos have garnered nearly 150 million views.
The Bundeswehr Exclusive channel, which posts video series, has more than 330,000 subscribers, and its videos — like the six-week series called “Mali” that followed eight German soldiers stationed with a UN peacekeeping force in the West African country — have drawn more than 68 million views.
The service is also active on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, among other social-media sites. The army’s recruitment spending in 2017, about million, was more than double what it spent in 2011.
And since that year the service has signed up more than 10,000 minors, according to Reuters. 2017 saw a record 2,128 people under the age of 18 sign up, 9% of all recruits and an 11.4% increase over the previous year.
“I wanted to experience something and to get to know my own limits, to see how far I can go,” said Marlon, who joined the Germany army a few months before he turned 18.
Because of his age, he needed his mother’s permission to join, which she was happy to give. He told Reuters that she is now pleased that her formerly messy son is now more organized.
‘This is not a normal profession’
After the destruction of World War II and the division of the Cold War, the military is still a controversial topic for Germans. Many are skeptical of the service, reluctant to spend more on it, and wary of overseas military operations.
The Bundeswehr still struggles with the legacy of the Nazi Wehrmacht, and instances of far-right extremism in the ranks strain civil-military relations. Some military officers wear civilian clothes to and from work to avoid the stigma attached to their duties.
That attitude may be changing among younger Germans.
A recent survey of 20,000 students there found that the military was the third most attractive place to work, behind the police in first place and sports brand Adidas. Marlon told Reuters that a career in uniform was much more appealing than working on a car-production line.
A German infantryman stands at the ready with his Heckler Koch G36 during a practice exercise in 2004.
But the recruitment of minors has proved to be an especially contentious issue.
Some politicians and children’s rights advocates have criticized the government for the approach, describing it as misleading and decrying the precedent it could set.
The record recruitment numbers indicate that von der Leyen “clearly has no scruples,” Evrim Sommer, a legislator from the pacifist Left Party, said in early 2018, after requesting Bundeswehr recruitment data.
“Young people should not be used as cannon fodder in the Bundeswehr as soon as they come of age,” Sommer added at the time. “As long as Germany recruits minors for military purposes, it cannot credibly criticize other countries.”
Ralf Willinger from the children’s rights group Terre des Hommes told Reuters in August 2018 that recruiting minors is “embarrassing and sends the wrong signal.”
“It weakens the international 18-year standard, encouraging armed groups and armies from other countries to legitimate the use of minors as soldiers,” he added.
Germany military officials have said their recruitment efforts are in line with international norms and stressed that they need to compete with private-sector employers to attract personnel.
The German military also has rules in place about what minors can do while in uniform. While they undergo training like adult recruits, they are not allowed to stand guard duty or take part in foreign missions, and they are only allowed to use weapons for educational purposes.
The Defense Ministry has also said that minors have the ability to end their service any time in the first six months.
To some, those stipulations don’t change the fundamental nature of what the military is training minors to do.
“This is not a normal profession,” said Ilka Hoffman, a board member of the GEW Union, which represents education and social workers.
“In no other profession does one learn to kill, and is one confronted with the danger of dying in war,” Hoffmann added. “That is the one difference.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The 2006 battle for Ramadi was one of the fiercest fights during the Iraq War.
Fear and grief were never an option for the soldiers, Marines, and Navy SEALs putting their lives on the line for control of the Al Anbar provincial capital. The fighting was intense; every troop had to remain focused and alert to stay alive.
The formation of a sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces for a space domain is all but official now. After months of floating the idea through Washington, President Donald Trump directed the Pentagon and the Department of Defense to begin the process of creating what will be called, in his words, the “Space Force.”
With all due respect — and believe me when I say I am in support of this endeavor — it should be called the “Space Corps,” as was proposed by the House Armed Services Committee almost a year ago. This is entirely because of how the proposed branch will be structured.
The “Space Force” is said to fall underneath the Air Force as a subdivision. Its Pentagon-level leadership and funding will come directly from the Air Force until both the need and ability to put large amount of troops into the stars arises. The soon-to-be mission statement of the space branch will be to observe the satellites in orbit, unlike the hopes and dreams of many would-be enlisted astronauts. Essentially, this new branch will take over the things currently done by the Air Force Space Command.
Who already have the whole “giving recruits’ false hopes of going into space” thing covered.
(Graphic by Senior Airman Laura Turner)
This would put them on the same footing as the Marine Corps, who receive their Pentagon-level leadership, funding, and directives from the Navy. The word “corps” comes from the Old French and Latin words cors and corpus, which mean body. In this context, it means it’s a subdivision.
Corps is also found in the names of many of the Army’s own branches, like the Signal Corps, the Medical Corps, and the Corps of Engineers. The most famous of these corps was the once Army Air Corps, which later became today’s Air Force.
They earned the term “Force” — it wasn’t just given to them because it sounds cool.
At the very start of World War I, when aviation was just a few years old, all things airborne were handled by the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. It was soon changed to the “Army Air Service” when it was able to stand on its own. It was again changed to the “Army Air Corps” between the World Wars.
When it blossomed into its own on the 20th of June, 1941, its name was changed to Army Air Forces — informally known as just the Air Force. The name stuck permanently when it became so far removed from the day-to-day operations of the Army that it needed to become an entirely new and completely distinct branch of the Armed Forces.
Many years down the road, such a “Space Force” may earn its name. Until it is no longer a subdivision of the Air Force, the name is etymologically incorrect.
Let’s just say that the benchmark should be when they can actually reach space without the aid of the Air Force.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade conduct an airborne operation from a U.S. Air Force 86th Air Wing C-130 Hercules aircraft at Juliet Drop Zone in Pordenone, Italy, June 8, 2017. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projective forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Command areas of responsibility within 18 hours.
Oregon Air National Guard Capt. Jamie Hastings, (Left), and Lt. Col. Nick Rutgers (right), assigned to the 123rd Fighter Squadron, 142nd Fighter Wing, prepare for an afternoon sortie in their F-15 Eagles at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., to support the Weapons Inspector Course, June 6, 2017.
A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System crew from A Battery, 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade fires a rocket off of the Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. dirt landing strip, June 7, 2017. 62nd Airlift Wing flew a HIMARS from Joint base Lewis-McChord to Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. to off load and fire a six round mission.
Maj. Gen. John Gronski, the deputy commanding general for the Army National Guard for U.S. Army Europe, participates in a ceremony honoring World War II veterans held at the Omaha Beach memorial in St. Laurent-Sur-Mer,, France, June 6, 2017. The ceremony commemorates the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the largest multi-national amphibious landing and operational military airdrop in history, and highlights the U.S.’ steadfast commitment to European allies and partners. Overall, approximately 400 U.S. service members from units in Europe and the U.S. are participating in ceremonial D-Day events from May 31 to June 7, 2017.
U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal technicians assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, and a member of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force, dive off the wreck of the Tokai Maru, a sunken WWII Japanese freighter in the Apra Harbor, off the coast of Guam June 9, 2017, as part of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium Diving Exercise (WPNS-DIVEX) 2017. WPNS-DIVEX 2017 is a biennial diving exercise conducted by WPNS nations to enhance cooperation, interoperability, and tactical proficiency in diving operations in support of disaster response.
PHILIPPINE SEA (June 6, 2017) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 1st Class Jesus Garcia stands safety observer as an F/A-18E Super Hornet, from the “Royal Maces” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27 launches from the flight deck of the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
VENTSPILS, Latvia – Marines with 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, transfer Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division and 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve, to the shores of Ventspils, Latvia, for a beach-assault training operation during Exercise Saber Strike 17, June 6, 2017. The beach landings took place concurrently between exercise Saber Strike and Baltic Operations. Exercise Saber Strike 17 is an annual combined-joint exercise conducted at various locations throughout the Baltic region and Poland. The combined training prepares NATO Allies and partners to effectively respond to regional crises and to meet their own security needs by strengthening their borders and countering threats.
ADAZI, Latvia – Marines with Alpha Company, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, fire from a M1 Abrams tank during Exercise Saber Strike 17 in the Adazi Training Area, Latvia, June 4, 2017. Exercise Saber Strike 17 is an annual combined-joint exercise conducted at various locations throughout the Baltic region and Poland. The combined training exercise keeps Reserve Marines ready to respond in times of crisis by providing them with unique training opportunities outside of the continental United States.
Seaman Mia Mauro, stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser, prepares to shoot the .50 cal machine gun during a joint gunnery exercise between allied and partner nations in the Caribbean Sea, June 8, 2017 during Tradewinds. Tradewinds 2017 is a joint combined exercise conducted in conjunction with partner nations to enhance the collective abilities of defense forces and constabularies to counter transnational organized crime and to conduct humanitarian/disaster relief operations.
Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Cimbak, an aviation maintenance technician at Coast Guard Sector San Diego, hoists a simulated survivor from the Secretaría de Marina vessel Centenario de la Revolucion to an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a joint search and rescue exercise with the Mexican navy off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico on June 7, 2017. The exercise simulated a vessel fire that required a coordinated international search and rescue effort.
Air Force scientists and weapons developers are making progress developing swarms of mini-drones engineered with algorithms which enable them to coordinate with one another and avoid collisions.
Senior Air Force officials have said that the precise roles and missions for this type of technology are still in the process of being determined; however, experts and analyst are already discussing numerous potential applications for the technology.
Swarms of drones could cue one another and be able to blanket an area with sensors even if one or two get shot down. The technology could be designed for high threat areas building in strategic redundancy, Air Force Chief Scientist Gregory Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Groups of coordinated small drones could also be used to confuse enemy radar systems and overwhelm advanced enemy air defenses by providing so many targets that they cannot be dealt with all at once, he said.
Zacharias explained that perhaps one small drone can be programmed to function as a swarm leader, with others functioning as ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) platforms, munitions or communications devices. He also said there is great strategic and tactical value in operating a swarm of small drones which, when needed, can disperse.
“Do you want them to fly in formation for a while and then disaggregate to get through the radar and then reaggregate and go to a target? They can jam an enemy radar or not even be seen by them because they are too small. The idea is to dissagregate so as not to be large expensive targets. In this way if you lose one you still may have 100 more,” he explained.
An area of scientific inquiry now being explored for swarms of drones is called “bio-memetics,” an approach which looks at the swarming of actual live animals — such as flocks of birds or insects — as a way to develop algorithms for swarming mini-drone flight, Zacharias added.
“It turns out you can use incredibly simple rules for formation flight of a large flock. It really just takes a few simple rules. If you think of each bird or bee as an agent, it can do really simple things such as determine its position relative to the three nearest objects to it. It is very simple guidance and control stuff,” Zacharias said.
Also, small groups of drones operating together could function as munitions or weapons delivery technology. A small class of mini-drone weapons already exist, such as AeroVironment’s Switchblade drone designed to deliver precision weapons effects. The weapon, which can reach distances up to 10 kilometers, is engineered as a low-cost expendable munition loaded with sensors and munitions.
Air Force plans for new drones are part of a new service strategy to be explained in a paper released last year called “autonomous horizons.” Air Force strategy also calls for greater manned-unmanned teaming between drones and manned aircraft such as F-35s. This kind of effort could help facilitate what Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said about mini-drones launching from a high-speed fighter jet.
In the future, fighter aircraft such as the F-35 or an F-22 may be able to control drones themselves from the cockpit to enhance missions by carrying extra payload, extending a surveillance area or delivering weapons, Air Force scientists have said.
Zacharias explained this in terms of developments within the field of artificial intelligence. This involves faster computer processing technology and algorithms which allow computers to increasingly organize and integrate information by themselves – without needing human intervention. Human will likely operate in a command and control capacity with computers picking the sensing, integration and organization of data, input and various kinds of material. As autonomy increases, the day when multiple drones can be controlled by a single aircraft, such as a fighter jet, is fast approaching.
Drones would deliver weapons, confront the risk of enemy air defenses or conduct ISR missions flying alongside manned aircraft, Zacharias explained.
The Pentagon is in the early phases of developing swarms of mini-drones able launch attacks, jam enemy radar, confuse enemy air defenses and conduct wide-ranging surveillance missions, officials explained.
The effort, which would bring a new range of strategic and tactical advantages to the U.S. military, will be focused on as part of a special Pentagon unit called the Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO.
While the office has been in existence for some period of time, it was publically announced by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during the recent 2017 budget proposal discussions. The new office will, among other things, both explore emerging technologies and also look at new ways of leveraging existing weapons and platforms.
Carter said swarming autonomous drones are a key part of this broader effort to adapt emerging technologies to existing and future warfighting needs.
“Another project uses swarming autonomous vehicles in all sorts of ways and in multiple domains. In the air, they develop micro-drones that are really fast, really resistant. They can fly through heavy winds and be kicked out the back of a fighter jet moving at Mach 0.9, like they did during an operational exercise in Alaska last year, or they can be thrown into the air by a soldier in the middle of the Iraqi desert,” Carter said. “And for the water, they’ve developed self-driving boats which can network together to do all kinds of missions, from fleet defense to close-in surveillance, without putting sailors at risk. Each one of these leverages the wider world of technology.”
Meanwhile, the Office of Naval Research is also working on drone-swarming technology through an ongoing effort called Low-Cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Swarming Technology, or LOCUST. This involves groups of small, tube-launched UAVs designed to swarm and overwhelm adversaries, Navy officials explained.
“Researchers continue to push the state-of-the-art in autonomy control and plan to launch 30 autonomous UAVs in 2016 in under a minute,” an ONR statement said last year.
A demonstration of the technology is planned from a ship called a Sea Fighter, a high-speed, shallow-water experimental ship developed by the ONR.
Army Defends Against Mini-Drones
While swarms of mini-drones clearly bring a wide range of tactical offensive and defensive advantages, there is also the realistic prospect that adversaries or potential adversaries could use drone swarms against the U.S.
This is a scenario the services, including the Army in particular, are exploring.
The Army launched swarms of mini-attack drones against battlefield units in mock-combat drills as a way to better understand potential threats expected in tomorrow’s conflicts, service officials said.
Pentagon threat assessment officials have for quite some time expressed concern that current and future enemies of the U.S. military might seek to use massive swarms of mini-drones to blanket an area with surveillance cameras, jam radar signals, deliver weapons or drop small bombs on military units.
As a result, the Army Test and Evaluation Command put these scenarios to the test in the desert as part of the service’s Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
The mini-drones used were inexpensive, off-the-shelf commercial systems likely to be acquired and used by potential adversaries in future conflict scenarios.
The drones were configured to carry special payloads for specific mission functions. Cameras, bomb simulators, expanded battery packs and other systems will be tested on the aircraft to develop and analyze potential capabilities of the drones, an Army statement said.
The mini-drones, which included $1000-dollar quadcopters made by 3-D Robotics, were placed in actual mock-combat scenarios and flown against Army units in test exercises.
“Acting as a member of the opposing force, the drones will be used for short-range missions, and for flooding the airspace to generate disruptive radar signatures. They will also be used as a kind of spotter, using simple video cameras to try and locate Soldiers and units,” an Army statement from before the exercise said.
There were also plans to fit the drones with the ability to drop packets of flour, simulating the ability for the swarm to drop small bombs, allowing the drones to perform short-range strike missions, the Army statement said.
“Right now there’s hardly anyone doing swarms, most people are flying one, maybe two, but any time you can get more than one or two in the air at the same time, and control them by waypoint with one laptop, that’s important,” James Story, an engineer with the Targets Management Office, Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, said in a statement last Fall. “You’re controlling all five of them, and all five of them are a threat.”
Like most general officers commissioned right after the Vietnam War ended, Gen. Martin Dempsey’s firsthand experience of dealing with combat losses came relatively late in his career. During the summer of 2003, then-Major General Dempsey was commanding “Task Force Iron” in Iraq when the post-invasion lull ended and the insurgency began going after American troops.
“We started taking casualties,” Gen. Dempsey recounted. “And during the morning briefing, after we talked about the high-level mission items and what we called ‘significant incidents,’ we’d flash up the names of the fallen and have a moment of silence.
“The names were up there on the screen and then, whoosh, they were gone,” he said. “After about two or three weeks of the same thing, I became really uncomfortable with that. One minute it was there and real, and then the next minute it was somebody else’s problem.”
Gen. Dempsey attended a number of the memorial services held at the forward operating bases downrange for those killed in action.
“They were both heart wrenching and inspirational,” the general said about the services. “To see the love that these soldiers had for each other made me take my responsibilities that much more seriously.”
But as he greeted the battle buddies of the fallen, Gen. Dempsey wasn’t sure what to say to them that would help at those moments. “I had nothing,” he said. “I mean, I’d say, ‘hang in there’ or ‘we’re really sorry about what happened’ . . . I felt so superficial.”
Then it hit him one morning after he was just waking up in his quarters in Baghdad. “A phrase was echoing in my head,” he remembered. “Make it matter.”
He did two things immediately after that: First, he had laminated cards made for every soldier who had been killed to that point. The cards were carried by all the general officers in theater as a constant physical reminder of the human cost of the war. In time the number of casualties became so great that it was impractical to carry the cards at all times, so he had a mahogany box engraved with “Make it Matter” on the top and put all but three of the cards inside of it. He would constantly rotate the three he carried in his pocket with the ones in the box.
Second, from that point forward when he would address the soldiers in units that had experienced losses, he’d simply say, “Make it matter.”
“They knew exactly what I meant,” Gen. Dempsey said.
Five years after Gen. Dempsey’s introduction to the challenges a two-star leader faces during periods of significant combat losses, Marine Corps Major David Yaggy, a veteran of three combat deployments, was an instructor flying in the rear cockpit of a Navy T-34C trainer on a cross-country flight between Florida and South Carolina when the airplane went down in the hills of Alabama. Yaggy and his flight student at the controls in the front cockpit were both killed in the crash.
The day of that crash is burned into the memory of Maj. Yaggy’s widow, Erin. She first heard from a realtor friend that a helicopter had gone down, and she immediately went online and saw a report that, in fact, a T-34 had crashed in Alabama. Fearing the worst, she put her 18-month-old daughter Lizzy in a stroller and went for a walk, in denial and hoping to avoid any officials who might show up to tell her that her husband had been killed.
During the walk, she received a phone call from her cousin. “Where are you?” she asked.
“I’m at your house,” he replied. That was all he said.
Erin ran home pushing the stroller, in her words, “like a crazy person.” When she arrived she caught a glimpse of a uniform, and she broke down, hysterical. “That didn’t go so well,” she said.
She had a long period of vacillating between shock, anger, and sorrow. “I felt like other people wanted me to cry,” she said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want permission to cry, I just want him here.”
The sister of the flight student killed with Erin’s husband convinced her to get involved with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), and she wound up making the short trip from Baltimore to Washington DC to attend her first Good Grief Camp — the organization’s signature gathering — when Lizzy was four years old.
General Dempsey had just taken over as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army when his aide briefed him that he was scheduled to address the TAPS Good Grief Camp attendees gathered in a hotel ballroom across the interstate from the Pentagon. Although the general had heard of TAPS and was armed with the requisite three-by-five cards filled with talking points provided by his staff, when he got there he realized he wasn’t fully ready for what he was walking into.
“I walked into this room with 600 kids all wearing big round buttons with images of their parents, and I knew I was ill-prepared,” Gen. Dempsey said. “It was emotionally overwhelming. It’s hard enough meeting a single family that’s had a loss. It’s another thing altogether meeting 600 families.”
Gen. Dempsey started his appearance with a question-and-answer session, and after a couple of innocent ones like “do you have your own airplane?” and “do you like pizza?” a little girl dramatically shifted the mood by asking, “Is my daddy an angel?”
“I was stunned,” Gen. Dempsey recalled. “How do you answer that question?”
The general thought for a few moments before calling an audible of sorts. Fearing that he could well break down if he tried to talk he decided to attempt something else.
“I knew I could sing through emotion instead of trying to speak,” he said.
So he answered that, of course, her father was an angel — like the fathers of everyone there — and that the entire group should sing together because singing is joyful and the fact that their fathers were angels should bring them great joy.
Then he launched into the Irish classic, “The Unicorn Song,” including a lesson in the proper hand gestures required during the chorus. Soon the entire room was singing.
After his appearance, General Dempsey asked Bonnie Carroll, the founder of TAPS, if he could meet the little girl who’d asked the question and her family, so Bonnie introduced him to the Yaggys. The general was immediately struck by Lizzy’s spark, and, as Erin put it, Lizzy was drawn to the man with lots of silver stars on his Army uniform who’d raised her spirits by singing with all of the kids.
“His timing was perfect,” Erin said. “Before [General Dempsey’s singalong], Lizzy had just said, ‘I don’t want to talk about daddy being dead anymore.’ Her attitude changed after she met General Dempsey.”
At the following year’s Good Grief Camp, they began what blossomed into a tradition: Lizzy introduced him as the keynote speaker.
“She stood up and said, ‘this is General Dempsey. We love him, and he loves to sing, and he makes us feel good,'” the general recalled. “And she finished with, ‘and now my friend, General Dempsey.'” With that, once again, General Dempsey had to fight back tears as he faced hundreds of military survivors.
General Dempsey and his wife Deanie stayed in touch with the Yaggys, exchanging email updates and Christmas cards. The third year Lizzy introduced the general he’d taken over as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon’s senior-most position. Before they got on stage together she gave him a little box with an angel-shaped medallion in it, saying, “You’re my guardian angel.”
The general was deeply moved and wanted to return the gesture, but all his aide had in his possession was a ballcap with the numeral “18” on the front of it, signifying the 18th CJCS. He wrote in black ink on the bill: “To Lizzy — From your chairman friend. Martin E. Dempsey.”
“It was so cute to see her wearing that hat for the rest of the night,” Deanie Dempsey said. “Here was this little girl in this long green dress with a ballcap on.”
“She wore that hat all the time after that,” Erin said. “She even took it to bed with her.”
The entire time General Dempsey served as the chairman he only had two things on his desk in the Pentagon: The mahogany “Make it Matter” box full of the laminated cards that profiled those who were killed under his command in Iraq and the guardian angel medallion Lizzy gave him.
When it came time for the general to retire, the Pentagon’s protocol apparatus sprang into action — after all, a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff change of command is like the Super Bowl of military ceremonies. As the officials were coordinating all the moving parts, including the details surrounding President Obama’s attendance, they were surprised to learn who the outgoing chairman wanted to introduce him. They pushed back, but the general was insistent.
The day arrived and at the appropriate moment in the event, a little girl on the dais confidently strode by the dignitaries and political appointees and the President of the United States and stood on the box positioned behind the podium just for her.
And without any hesitation, Lizzy Yaggy delivered her remarks to the thousands in attendance, and finished with, “Please welcome my friend, General Dempsey . . .”