Since the close of the Cold War, military parades have been associated with authoritarian powers, like China, Russia, and North Korea, who show off their newly built military platforms to the chagrin of military analysts around the world.
While the U.S. has the best military in the world, there are some things Russia, China, or North Korea can do in a parade that the U.S. simply can’t.
For example, Pennsylvania Avenue probably can’t handle a long convoy of heavy military vehicles. Today’s M1 Abrams tanks weigh a whopping 67 tons. World War II-era military parades featured tanks that weighed about half that.
The weight and treads of an Abrams tank might just tear up the road. When China and Russia put on military parades, they roll through state-of-the-art military vehicles, while the U.S.’s main battle tank was first built in 1979. In many ways, Russia and China’s parades would likely outclass the U.S.’s in terms of how new their equipment is.
Will Trump show nukes?
Additionally, Russia, China, and North Korea like to parade their ICBMs around, but the U.S. can’t really do that. Unlike the authoritarian nuclear powers across Asia, the U.S. parks its ICBMs in silos, not atop huge military trucks.
When the U.S. does move its ICBMs around, it does so in plain-looking trucks. The U.S. has paraded nuclear weapons down Pennsylvania Avenue before, but today’s nuclear weapons are far more discrete looking.
But there is a nuclear platform that would make sense for a parade and avoid tearing up the road — nuclear bombers. The U.S. could fly B-2 and B-52 bombers overhead, as well as stealth jets, like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II.
In terms of air power, the U.S. has much more to show off than Russia, China, or North Korea, which can’t even fly its planes due to a lack of fuel.
The U.S. has something Russia, China, and North Korea can’t touch
While the U.S. military doesn’t exactly lend itself to parading, it has something worth showing off that China, Russia, and North Korea can’t touch — soldiers who actually want to be there.
The pride of the U.S. military is not any one single platform, or any combination thereof. All major militaries have planes, tanks, and missiles, but the U.S. has an all-volunteer force, while Russia, China, and North Korea rely on conscripts.
Even more important than troops marching though, are the people watching. In the U.S., anyone of any status can think and say or write what they like about the soldiers. They can attend, or not. The revelers on the sidelines of the parade w0uld be proud U.S. citizens attending of their own free will.
That’s simply not the case in North Korea, Russia, and China.
All across the nation everyone is dealing with the Polar Vortex. It’s colder than balls outside for everyone in the military. That is unless you’re one of the lucky bastards stationed in Hawaii.
No. I get it. “The grass is always greener” or whatever nonsense the retention NCO tried to peddle off to you before they sent you to Fort Bumpf*cknowhere. I don’t care if the cost of living is slightly higher in Hawaii.
At least the troops there aren’t dealing with hearing their salty platoon sergeant try to “well back in my day” every complaint about it being below negative twenty degrees. I’ll pay that extra dollar for a Big Mac if it gets me out of that.
Anyways, stay warm out there guys. Thankfully the Coast Guard has money to pay their heating bills.
Oh boy, picking just one military news story and riffing on it is going to be hard this week.
Let’s see… The Coasties beat the Marines in a sniper competition. The Marines drew another skydick over Miramar. Civilians learned that the Air Force has enough money to waste hundreds of thousands on easily broken coffee mugs. A soldier got arrested in South Korea for kicking a policeman in the nads. And the Commander-in-Chief said he’d, “send in the military — not the guard — but the military,” effectively discrediting the efforts of over half a million guardsmen.
Because I can’t come up with anything funnier than reality has been this week for the military, I’ll just remind you that your Cyber Security cert is almost expired. You should probably get on that.
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)
(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
(Meme via Hooah My Ass Off)
(Meme via Smokepit Fairytales)
(Meme via Battle Bars)
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(Meme via Private News Network)
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13. The perfect Halloween costume doesn’t exi-
No, seriously. You should probably get your Cyber Security training done.
Turner’s mother was unable to make it to California, so the Marine Corps made the funeral arrangements. However, the plan to ship Staff Sergeant Turner’s remains to Georgia would hit a snag.
Instead, the Patriot Guard Riders stepped in to caravan Turner’s remains to Georgia. The group, which started as a way to provide a barrier between a group protesting military funerals and grieving families, has since expanded to fill out the ranks for homeless veterans who died and welcomes home troops returning from overseas.
“We did this primarily because his mother was unable to attend the services, and he had been cremated and we didn’t want him to go home in a Fed Ex box,” David Noble, the Vice President of Members for the group, told Tribunist.org. Riders from nine states took part in the cross-country trek.
Below, see the video of Patriot Guard members handing over Staff Sgt. Turner’s remains.
On Oct. 22, 2019, the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, in partnership with the Missing in American Project (MIAP), provided a memorial service with full military funeral honors for three veterans who donated their bodies for medical education and research.
“Every veteran with honorable service has earned the right to be interred in a national cemetery and has paid the price by their service to this great nation. There is no cost to the family for this service; it simply is the right thing to do,” said Douglas Maddox, Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery assistant director. “I want to point out that these veterans continued to serve their country and their community even after their death.”
The veterans interred were:
Paul Alexander Rogers, Navy veteran (Seaman), who served from July 1951 to March 1953 (Korean War);
Cameron Wayne Scott, Air Force veteran (Sgt.), who served from November 1977 to December 1983;
Lawrence Dale Stout, Army veteran (Spc.3), who served from November 1954 to November 1956 (Korean War).
The service included a rifle salute by the Dallas-Fort Worth Honor Guard, a live bugler and flag presentation. The North Texas Patriot Guard Riders escorted the urns to the committal shelter, with carrying by cadets from the Oak Cliff High School JROTC.
Entrance gate at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.
Honor and respect
In conformation with Texas state law, all bodies are cremated upon completion of studies.
“Our mission is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans. We strive to provide honor and respect to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes,” said Tyler Carver, from MIAP who organized the service along with Joyce Earnest, the Texas Coordinator for the MIAP.
The 638-acre Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery opened in May 2000. Since that time, the cemetery has conducted more than 59,000 interments of veterans and eligible dependents. The cemetery scheduled a Veterans Day ceremony honoring military veterans for November 11 at the cemetery.
Burial in a national cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. A veteran’s spouse, widow or widower, minor dependent children, and under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities, may also be eligible for burial. For details, visit www.cem.va.gov/burial_benefits/eligible.asp.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
In the distant future, teams of soldiers equipped with high-powered exoskeletons disembark a series of autonomous personnel carriers outside the enemy’s position. Overhead, a small fleet of drones scans the engagement area, giving each soldier a real-time view of the battlefield through their heads-up display.
As each team moves into position, they hear a series of explosions on the other side of the enemy base. From over 2,000 meters away, the Army’s high-energy precision fires systems have just disabled the enemy’s anti-access and area-denial capabilities.
At the same time, teams of soldiers use their exoskeleton suits to leap over the perimeter wall to engage the enemy and secure the compound.
This is one scenario of a future operating environment. In reality, it is nearly impossible to predict how the Army will operate and fight in a distant future, said Matt Santaspirt, an Army Futures Command intelligence representative.
To guide the Army in the right direction, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Mad Scientist team functions like a scout on the battlefield, always looking ahead and evaluating ideas to help build the force, he said.
Nested within both Army Futures and Training and Doctrine Commands, the MadSci initiative was created to address opportunities and challenges in the Army’s near-, mid-, and far-term future, said Allison Winer, the team’s deputy director of engagement.
(courtesy of Mad Scientist Initiative)
The goal is to maximize the Army’s limited resources and help soldiers fight and win in a futuristic operational environment, she added.
“The Army only knows what it knows; and [the Army] always talks to itself,” Santaspirt said. “We want to break out of that echo chamber.”
“We are harnessing the intellect of the nation to describe the art of the possible,” he added. “We know that you can’t predict the future, but we’re trying to say, ‘Here is a range of possibilities.’ [The goal] is to be less wrong than our adversary.”
To accomplish this goal, the MadSci team compiles information from a wide range of sources, in support of Army senior leaders’ priorities, Santaspirt said.
These sources include traditional mediums: academia, industry, think tanks, labs, reports, and white papers; to the more nontraditional platforms: crowdsourcing, social media, science fiction, and cinema, to name a few.
Beyond the collection of materials, the MadSci team often organizes themed conferences, bringing communities together to address key Army topics. For example, the team recently conducted the Mad Scientist Disruption and the Future Operational Environment Conference in Austin, Texas.
During the conference, presenters addressed robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomy, the future of space, planetary habitability, and the legal and ethical dilemmas surrounding how these disruptive technologies will impact the future of warfare, specifically in the land and space domains, according to MadSci officials.
“We had somebody come in and talk about robotics and how we can use them in an austere environment,” Santaspirt said, adding there were specific examples of robotics used in Fukushima, Japan.
“The approach is to bring together experts … so we can refine those key ideas, and disrupt [the Army’s] assumptions,” he said.
(courtesy of Mad Scientist Initiative)
A week after the event, the team posted some key takeaways from the conference on the Mad Scientist Blog. The MadSci blog and other social media platforms are often used as a crowdsourcing tool to help poll an audience or generate conversation about key Army topics, Winer said.
Some of the conference findings included: a need to set left and right boundaries for artificial intelligence and autonomy, increased crowding of assets in space will cause operational challenges, and fake news coupled with hyper-connectivity is changing the nature of information warfare.
Additionally, the MadSci team organizes science fiction writing competitions to help determine possible futures for crucial Army programs, Winer said. For years, science fiction has depicted worlds that are both logically possible, but functionally different than current society.
“Science fiction is used as a kind of forecasting to see what possible futures might look like,” she said. “Aside from being just plain-on cool, it gives the Army a way to use storytelling, historical analysis, and outsourcing to write about the realm of the possible. And it is an effective tool for a lot of businesses and other leaders in industry to try.”
Through their research and continual online engagements, the MadSci team creates a range of possibilities, then later presents their findings to Army senior leaders and key decision makers, Santaspirt said.
“It is a different way of thinking,” Santaspirt said. “If [the Army] can get that out there and start meeting the right people, make certain decisions or investments, or get people thinking in a different way … you might see what we’ve discovered — as it comes to light down the road.”
The VA 3D printing community leads the effort to see how 3D printing can solve potential supply chain deficiencies. It shares 3D printed designs on the NIH 3D Printing Exchange and tests submitted designs for rapid FDA approval. Meanwhile, America Makes is connecting medical facilities that need 3D-printed supplies with the manufacturers who are best equipped to make them. The result is a relationship between the manufacturers who make supplies and the health care providers who need them.
VA and its partners are developing a responsive network of 3D printing manufacturers who use effective, validated PPE designs. They determine which PPE designs are safe and useful and establish the industry standard. They use their knowledge of 3D printing, human-centered design and front line medicine.
“VA has been at the forefront of using 3D printing technology to benefit our patients,” said Dr. Beth Ripely, chair of the VHA 3D Printing Advisory Committee. “With the collective actions of our partners, we’re bringing our medical expertise and 3D printing experience to the front line of the fight against COVID-19. We’re helping health care providers and patients stay safe.”
You can help, too
If you are interested in getting involved and have a 3D-printed PPE design, you can submit it to the NIH 3D Print Exchange. If you have the ability to help test designs, head here. If you are able to donate 3D printing services, get in touch with America Makes. Together, through collaboration and innovation, we can tackle this challenge.
Another aircraft will fly at the Air Force’s OA-X light attack competition next week.
Air Tractor and L3 announced August 1 they will offer the AT-802L Longsword to participate in the fly-off at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on August 8 and 9, according to a release.
Together, the companies developed the L variant off its predecessor, the AT-802U, the release said. The Longsword is a light attack and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft.
“We are proud of the Longsword and the opportunity to participate in OA-X. We are looking forward to flying at Holloman AFB and showcasing our capabilities to the Air Force and to our partner nations,” said Jim Hirsch, president of Air Tractor.
“The AT-802L Longsword provides a highly effective capability based on a rugged, proven platform that adds class-leading technologies integrated by L3 for a simple, yet powerful solution,” added Jim Gibson, president of L3 Platform Integration and the L3 Aircraft Systems sector.
L3 developed a “certified, state-of-the-art glass cockpit and the L3 Wescam MX-15 EO/IR Sensor,” ideal for medium-altitude ISR and search-and-rescue missions, according to the New York-based company.
Air Tractor, based in Texas, and L3 in March showed the aircraft during the Avalon Airshow in Australia, rebranding it the OA-8 with hopes of securing Asia-Pacific partners. Variants are operated by countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, and Kenya.
The Air Force distributed formal invitations to the fly-off in March.
Sierra Nevada in May announced the Super Tucano will participate in the event, pitching it as “A-29 for America.”
Textron and AirLand LLC will showcase the Scorpion jet, as well as the AT-6B Wolverine, an armed version of the T-6 Texan II made by Textron’s Beechcraft Corp. unit and Raytheon Co., according to an April release from Textron.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and other leaders have said the light attack plane will not replace the service’s beloved A-10 Warthog.
“We need to look and see if there are ways to save costs and do this in an efficient and effective manner … [and] it could create a building partnership capacity. Not every nation we want to build a partnership with needs an F-16 or an F-35,” Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, said at the time of the invite announcement.
Bunch reiterated the light-attack concept — should the “experiment” prevail and the Air Force choose to fund it — is a needed platform for current manpower levels.
“Why are we even exploring this concept? The need is, we need to be able to absorb fighter pilots,” he said. “Another reason is we want to look at a concept so we could have a lower operating cost, a lower unit cost, for something to be able to operate in a permissive … environment than what I would require a fourth- or a fifth-gen aircraft to be able to operate in.”
Marine Corps System Command today gave defense industry representatives a glimpse of the service’s new equipment wish list that includes lighter, more flexible body armor, more comfortable individual equipment and rifle barrels with built-in suppressors.
Col. Michael Manning, who oversees weapons and equipment programs for MCSC, told industry that Marine equipment is still not integrated as much as it could be.
It used to be that the Marine Corps selected weapons, accessories and equipment and just expected Marines to carry it, Manning told an audience at Modern Day Marine 2017.
“We said ‘you know what, if it adds 10 more pounds, so be it. Get over it,'” Manning said. “It’s time for all of you to help me stop getting over it. Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain.
“When you can throw it on top of an already 70- ton tank, then that is one thing. When you throw it on top of a 200 pound marine, it’s completely another.”
The U.S. Military has come a long way in the development of individual body armor in the past 20 years, Manning said.
“We have come a long way in the past five years, when it comes to technologies that can defeat multiple rounds,” he said.
But ceramic rifle plates have not changed that much, Manning said.
“We have dropped ounces off of everything we carry, but we haven’t dropped weight on ceramic plates,” Manning said. “There are other technologies out there. Maybe we don’t have to defeat threat whatever multiple times. Maybe it’s only a one or two hit in this caliber.”
Ceramic plates are also too rigid, Manning said.
“Our current plates — you can’t shape them; you can’t mold them to the individual Marine and we all know that,” Manning said. “Let’s get to the next step. Let’s figure out how to mold them.”
The Marine Corps also wants better knee and elbow pads, Manning said.
“The issue is not that we don’t have them out there; the issue is Marines won’t wear it if it’s not comfortable or it falls off or it’s a pain to get over top of everything they are already wearing,” Manning said.
“They fall off, they slide around, so we tear ourselves apart.”
Marines are also working on a Squad Common Optic.
“In the last 10 years we have done a lot of technology improvements, but what we haven’t done is merge all of those improvements into singular optics,” Manning said.
“So now we have infantry squads that are carrying multiple optics. We need to merge thermal, we need to merge I-squared, we need to merge all those technologies together” without adding extra weight.
The current technology for individual weapon suppressors also needs improving, Manning said, explaining that Marines need built-in suppressors.
“Get rid of the suppressor on the end of the barrel … so now when we have a 14.5 inch barrel or a 16 inch barrel, you just added four or five inches and I am right back to 20 inches,” Manning said.
“There are a couple out there now that integrate with the weapons themselves, that is really where we want to go.”
Awkward names for things that could save lives on the battlefield as well as on the streets of America. But these and other tools can be found in the search and rescue and personnel recovery arsenal of the elite Air Commandos.
Earlier in October, Pararescuemen and Combat Control operators from the 125th Special Tactics Squadron refreshed their extrication skills, showcasing along the way the importance of a little known but important skillset.
Utilizing old vehicles, the Air Commandos simulated the extrication of troops or civilians from wrecked vehicles with a variety of methods tools. However, it’s important to remember that the Air Commandos will often have to carry the tools on them, so the equipment must be effective yet portable.
An operator from the 125th Special Tactics Squadron uses a chainsaw during extrication training at Portland Air National Guard Base, Portland, Ore., Oct. 8, 2020, to simulate removing trapped personnel from a vehicle or aircraft. The members may use these techniques in combat environments or humanitarian assistance and disaster response zones. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Valerie R. Seelye)
“By using non-salvageable vehicles, we are able to develop a scenario in which all procedures and tools are utilized, enhancing proficiency in this specific Tactic, Technique, and Procedure,” said the 125th Special Tactics Squadron flight commander in a press release. “The non-salvageable vehicles provide the most realistic training possible.”
The advent of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has made extrication capabilities that much more important. If a vehicle, regardless if it’s armored or not, triggers an IED, chances are that it will suffer significant, if not catastrophic, damage. But if the explosive charge in the IED isn’t sufficient to destroy the vehicle altogether, the crew might survive, probably trapped inside the wreck. That’s why the extrication capability becomes important. But the skillset is also important in domestic or humanitarian scenarios, especially considering that this particular unit is part of the National Guard and might be called on to help civilians in distress as it has been doing in the past months.
“We also use this equipment during state emergency response operations or humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations to establish landing zones,” added the officer. “Or in the case of hurricanes, we’d possibly cut holes in the tops of houses to evacuate personnel by helicopter. These procedures were also utilized by Special Tactics Pararescuemen during the earthquake response in Haiti in 2010.”
Break it down, boys (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Valerie R. Seelye).
Part of the Oregon Air National Guard, the 125th Special Tactics Squadron is based in Portland.
Pararescue is the only career field in the whole Department of Defense (DoD) that is specially trained and equipped to conduct combat search and rescue and personnel recovery.
Back in 1993 and the Battle of Mogadishu, the Air Commandos’ extrication training proved crucial. When the first MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed during the “Black Hawk Down” incident, several of the crew members were trapped inside the twisted metals of the battered machine.
The moment the two pilots are finally extricated in the very realistic movie Black Hawk Down (Sony Pictures).
Even though the two Night Stalkers pilots who had been killed, the rest of Task Force Dagger resolved to not leave them behind. But only specialized equipped and trained men could extricate them. So, the burden fell on the Pararescuemen of the elite 24th Special Tactics Squadron. In the end, and after another day and night of fighting, the rescue force managed to extricate the two pilots.
Recent events, new suicide data and employer survey results paint a difficult picture of veterans in America. Veterans need to take an active role in changing trends and perceptions.
The disheartening events in Dallas struck a heart-breaking blow to the families affected by the loss of life and the community around them. The veteran community, more broadly, reacted with shock and dismay when details surrounding the likely perpetrator indicated he was an honorably discharged Army veteran.
Two other news items that same week added to the negative narrative that continues to hover unfairly over all veterans. First, the Department of Veterans Affairs published the most comprehensive study on veteran suicide to date, which more accurately estimated the number to be 20 per day. Most concerning in the new findings are the risks to younger veterans and women veterans when compared to non-veteran counterparts. Veterans under age 30 have twice the suicide rate when compared to older veterans (who still account for the largest portion of veteran suicides). Similarly, young women veterans are nearly four times as likely to die by suicide compared to non-veteran women.
Second, Edelman released some of the results of its recent survey which found 84 percent of employers viewed veterans as heroes, but only 26 percent viewed veterans as “strategic assets.” Similar studies in recent years show an increasing division between veterans and other Americans with no military connection. A general lack of understanding between those who have served and those who have not plagues many veterans seeking future opportunities.
In less than 72 hours, Americans read articles depicting veterans as homicidal maniacs, suicidal victims and employees of little value. These stories have the potential of reversing progress made by many government and private sector leaders who have worked tirelessly to create a more responsible narrative reflecting the spectrum of attributes (both positive and negative) relating to service member and veteran experiences. Leaders at the White House’s Joining Forces Initiative, led by Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden, along with former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen and General Dempsey, and private sector stakeholders and advocates have helped dispel myths about veterans in recent years.
Yet, despite these public-facing efforts and campaigns, the convergence of several news items has the potential to reverse progress. Coupled with the Joint Chiefs of Staff ending its biggest advocacy effort aimed at helping service members transition, the Chairman’s Office of Reintegration (formerly Office of Warrior and Family Support), our nation’s veterans, service members and military-affiliated families will continue to be plagued by false narratives, misallocated resources and stereotypes.
With these challenges in mind, veterans and military families need to take an active role in setting the record straight and in voicing real needs to ensure resources are directed where needed most. Here are several ways families can start:
1. Tell your story
Sociologists teach us that societies are always changing. These changes are often the result of modification in social relationships. Sharing your experiences with others is a vital step in reducing the civilian-military drift. As Gen. Martin Dempsey articulated, “If you want to stay connected to the American people, you can’t do it episodically.” The most powerful way to reconnect with the rest of America is to openly share your military experiences without exaggeration or diminishing the realities.
2. Participate in surveys
Academic institutions, government agencies and nonprofit organization are often seeking survey responses from veterans or military families. Taking 10 or 15 minutes to provide input could ensure you and other military-affiliated families get the resources they need. One such survey, conducted by Military-Transition.org, is ongoing and actively seeking recently transitioned service member respondents. The Center for a New American Security is also running a Veteran Retention Survey.
3. Give Feedback
We all know the power of customer reviews. Sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Google+ are some of the first places consumers look before choosing a location for dinner, planning a vacation or making a purchase at a retailer. As veterans, we know there is an inherent trust of other veterans. Many of us rely on fellow veterans to help us find credible counselors, get information about a new community we’re moving to or help us find an employer who has values similar to those experienced while in uniform. Now is the time to merge these two realities (the value of aggregated online reviews and inherent veteran trust of fellow veterans). Are you giving feedback and leaving reviews for businesses that offer discounts to service members and veterans? Have you accessed services from a nonprofit organization or public agency and if so, did you leave them feedback so they can improve their services? If you’re not doing so, I’d encourage you to leave feedback. To make it simple, try a new site, WeVets.us, designed exclusively to capture veteran and military family feedback so fellow services members and veterans can find valuable services.
4. Self-identify in the workplace
CEB Global reviewed the records of more than one million employees and found veterans to be 4 percent more productive than non-veteran employees and have a 3 percent lower turnover rate. While the Edleman survey above indicates an employer perception problem, the CEB data indicate a strong business case for hiring veterans. As a veteran in the workforce, are you self-identifying to your employer? Are you serving your company in a way that leverages your prior military experiences? It is through self-identification and exemplary service that employer perceptions will shift over time.
One of the most coveted freedoms service members defend is our right to vote. As defenders and former defenders of that right, exercise your own right to vote. Elect public officials who have veteran and military family interests in mind. Register to vote and then vote in upcoming elections. If you’re overseas or a military voter, register here.
Chris Ford is a champion for veterans and military families; advocating for solutions that eliminate barriers to the successful transition and reintegration of service members and their families. As the CEO of NAVSO, he expresses his passion and commitment to improve the lives of veterans and military families by providing essential resources to those who serve them. Chris is a 20-year Air Force veteran who retired in 2014 from the Joint Chiefs of Staff where he served in the Chairman’s Office of Warrior and Family Support. During his Air Force career, he deployed in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and earned many decorations and awards including the Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor.
Photo by Tech. Sgt. Carmen Cheney
NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan.
“No foreign invader has ever won a war in Afghanistan.”
It’s one of the first things the instructor told the next rotation of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) as we began our training for our deployment to Afghanistan. While I don’t believe his point was, “It’s a fool’s errand to try and change that statistic,” over a decade later, I wonder if that is what he was trying to tell us — even then.
We were encouraged to read “Three Cups of Tea” so we could learn about building schools in Afghanistan. I read it as requested, and as I walked through each chapter, I wondered if the leadership who had highly recommended the book had actually read it themselves.
“Three Cups of Tea” shares the story of Greg Mortenson, who began working to build schools in Pakistan. When Mortenson met with village elders, he learned they first needed a bridge, not a school. It took listening, a number of projects and lots of time to make progress in this one village. The U.S. was trying to make an impact with rotating teams that were under-equipped and only in the country for nine months.
A hope was placed on the PRTs. We were supposed to change the tide in the war: Win their hearts and minds.
Although we received months of training, nowhere in our manual did it say how we actually could “win hearts and minds.” We found ourselves in a country trying to do a job without everything we needed. We were managing huge construction projects with a pencil and a laptop. There was no support from the leadership when we expressed our concerns or the challenges we were facing.
As a Civil Engineer, I was tasked to manage projects and create new ones. We were required to follow the plans from Kabul. We were told to construct two-story schoolhouses in a community where people lived in makeshift shacks and mud huts. When we expressed our concerns about how these blueprints included generators (which the Afghans didn’t have fuel for), buildings (the Afghans had no idea how to maintain), and the overall lack of planning from the local Kapisa government, we were told we needed to focus on submitting more projects.
Our words fell on deaf ears.
When we told leadership we were limited due to the new rules that prevented our office from taking on more projects, they encouraged us to have more members on our team get the training certification so their name could be on the project instead of ours. The names didn’t matter — we were still tasked with managing projects that were doomed to fail from the start.
The focus was not on winning hearts and minds. Instead, it was encapsulated in how good of a performance report could be written by the dollars spent and projects created.
The PRT had lost their way. Now, as Afghanistan falls, I want to be shocked and surprised, but I’m not.
For a long time, I stopped thinking about my deployment. It hurt too much to think of the pain I endured. For so long, I questioned if anything I did mattered. What was it all for?
To cope with my deployment, I focused on the ways the deployment changed me into the person I am today. I made three close friends that I group chat with almost daily. I learned I am more capable than I ever thought. I took the courage and strength to create a business and help others share their story. Instead of focusing on our collective failures, I am trying to find the nobility in the services we rendered while we were there. It’s difficult to process 20 years of war “ending” with the Taliban back in control… with our interpreters and those who worked for us left in a panic, trying to escape. It’s hard for me to process and not to feel anything but anger. If nothing else, when we look back at these decades, may we learn from our biggest mistake: trying to change hearts and minds when we should have been listening.
The Air Force is vigorously pursuing new avionics, radar, targeting sensors, weapons, glass cockpit displays and Artificial Intelligence for its F-22 stealth fighter to try to sustain air supremacy amid Russian and Chinese 5th-generation stealth fighter technical modernization, service officials said.
The service has an ambitious, wide-ranging set of objectives woven into this initiative; the Air Force aims enable the F-22 to ID targets at longer ranges, respond more efficiently to sensor input, sustain an air-to-air combat superiority over near-peer rivals and lay down a technical foundation such that the aircraft can quickly embrace new weapons, technologies, sensors and software as they emerge – all so that the F-22 can serve all the way out to 2060.
The multi-pronged effort is inherently connected to early iterations of increased computer automation and AI, as a mechanism to integrate otherwise disparate elements of F-22 avionics, sensors and mission systems. Common IP protocol standards, including both software and hardware, are engineered to provide a technical backbone enabling upgrades and integration of a variety of interconnected systems—to include radar warning receivers, AESA radar, LINK 16 connectivity, improved weapons, emerging sensor and targeting configurations and new transponders, able to identify friend or foe.
“The Air Force has made progress with efforts to upgrade sensors on the F-22. The Air Force continuously looks for ways to upgrade and enhance capabilities based on threats around the world, to include the F-22 sensors,” Capt. Emily Grabowski, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
In concept and application, AI can lower a hardware footprint and increasingly use advanced algorithms to perform processes without requiring as much human intervention. For instance, a more integrated computer processor is better-equipped to potentially perform real-time analytics during a mission to make adjustments as maintenance and combat circumstances may require. Faster analytics, relying on newer forms of computer automation, can more quickly identify problems, recognize threats and streamline various cockpit functions.
In particular, this can mean the emergence of multi-function sensors where single systems can simultaneously perform different missions and organize incoming data. Such AI-oriented technologies can have targeting benefits for combat, threat-recognition improvements, longer-range enemy identification or weapons delivery applications.
Ken Merchant, Lockheed Vice President of F-22 Programs explained this to Warrior Maven in an interview, “we are starting AI, which includes what includes what we call enterprise sustainment organization. Our cockpit is still a series of six displays. Should we go to glass and synthesize new sensor inputs in front of the pilot? Can I squeeze all that information into a small display and sustain those for next 20-years, or should I go to glass?”
Many of these considerations, in terms of specifics, are expected to inform an upcoming mid-life upgrade and sustainment enterprise for the F-22 fleet. Merchant said the mid-life upgrade will not only extend the functional service life of the aircraft for several more decades, but also reduce technical risk. The mid-life work on the aircraft, slated for 2024, is primarily geared toward maintaining F-22 technological superiority while both China and Russia fast-track 5th-generation stealth aircraft.
Exploration of AI for the F-22 aligns, in many respects, with the current “sensor fusion” technologies built into the F-35; this includes organizing and displaying information from Electro-Optical/Targeting Systems (EOTS), Distributed Aperture Systems (DAS) and other sensors onto a single screen. Relying on advanced algorithms, this system is often referred to as man-machine interface, able to lower the “cognitive burden” placed on pilots, who can be freed up to focus on other priorities and decisions.
Specifically, Merchant said, F-22 engineers were already exploring a lightweight DAS-like sensor system for the F-22, able to bring advanced tech to the F-22 without compromising stealth advantages or maneuverability.
Computer-enabled AI, naturally, can greatly expedite completion of the Air Force’s long-discussed OODA-loop phenomenon, wherein pilots seek to quickly complete a decision-making cycle – Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action – faster than an enemy fighter. The concept, dating back decades to former Air Force pilot and theorist John Boyd, has long informed fighter-pilot training and combat preparation.
If pilots can complete the OODA loop more quickly than an enemy during an air-to-air combat engagement, described as “getting inside an enemy’s decision-making process,” they can destroy an enemy and prevail. Faster processing of information, empowering better pilot decisions, it naturally stands to reason, makes a big difference when it comes to the OODA loop.
This entire effort synchronizes with a current 3.2b software upgrade (covered extensively in Part 2 of the F-22 series), which uses agile software development to, among other things, upgrade F-22 weapons systems.
This progressive series of F-22 modernization enhancements feeds into a commensurate effort to update 1980s and 1990s computer technology, in some cases drawing on commercially available technical innovations, such as RedHat open-source software, Merchant explained. The mid-life upgrade will address much of this in an effort to ensure the pumps, valves and integrated core processors are brought up-to-date.
Newer F-22s are already getting advanced AESA radar, not unlike what is already on the F-35, engineered to accommodate software upgrades as they emerge. This architecture enables the aircraft radar warning receiver to broaden its threat library to identify new enemy aircraft. These upgrades involve the installation of new transponders able to quickly identify “friend or foe” aircraft more efficiently, developers explained.
“You can see air-to-air targets coming your way and a ground target will appear as a blip on a screen – with an information tag on it based on intel telling you what it is,” Merchant said.
Interoperability with the F-35 and 4th-gen aircraft will also be greatly improved by the addition of more LINK 16 data-link technology; the F-22 will be able to wirelessly transmit targeting, mapping and other sensor information to other aircraft without needing to rely upon potentially “hackable” voice transmissions, Merchant explained. Merchant said Lockheed and the Air Force are planning some initial flight tests of this transmit improvement by the end of this year.
“This will help everybody that is airborne see a common picture at the same time,” Merchant added.
A hardware portion of the upgrades, called a “tactical mandate,” involves engineering new antennas specifically designed to preserve the stealth configuration of the F-22, John Cottam, Lockheed F-22 Program Manager, told Warrior Maven.
“New antennas have to be first constructed. They will be retrofitted onto the airplane. Because of the stealth configuration putting, antennas on is difficult and time consuming,” he said.
Air Force is already using wirelessly-enabled automation to facilitate real-time analytics for conditioned based maintenance on board F-16s.
Automated CBM can help identify potential points of failure while an aircraft is in-mission and therefore increase safety and reliability while also lower costs and streamlining maintenance. AI is one of the emerging ways this can increasingly be accomplished. At the same time, AI is also fundamental to rapid targeting, navigation and other aircraft functions – it allows the aircraft to keep pace with rapid technology change and add new algorithms or computer processing tech as it becomes available.
Upgrading computer tech is something the Air Force is pursuing across the fleet, recognizing its significance to future combat; for instance, the service is progressing with an ongoing effort to equip the F-15 with the fastest jet-computer processor in the world, called the Advanced Display Core Processor, or ADCPII. Boeing developers tell Warrior Maven the system is capable of processing 87 billion instructions per second of computing throughput.
The F-22 will also continue to upgrade its collision avoidance technology which is somewhat different than the F-16s ground collision avoidance system which can automatically re-route an aircraft headed for collision. The F-22 system simply keeps the aircraft above a certain altitude in the event that a pilot is incapacitated. Also, auto-navigation software could be used to help an F-22 maneuver, re-position during an air-to-air engagement or land in challenged circumstances. A technology of this kind, called Delta Flight Path, is already operational on the F-35; the software helps guide the aircraft independently in circumstances where that might be necessary.
Autonomous, or semi-autonomous, flight is a fast-evolving technology across the US military services which increasingly see AI as a key wave to future warfare; the Air Force has already experimented with unmanned F-16s and there is a lot of work going more broadly in this area. Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus once said the service’s F-35C will likely be the last “manned” fighter. This question, continues to inform an ongoing debate. AI enabled autonomous flight, while bringing some advantages without question, also has limitations, military scientists and engineers explain.
Thus far, AI-enabled computer programs are able to complete procedures much more quickly than efficiently, in many instances, than a human can. At the same time, there is still not as of yet a suitable substitute for the kind of problem-solving and dynamic decision-making ability provided by human cognition, scientists explain. For this reason, future explorations place a premium on machine-learning and autonomy as well as man-machine interface wherein algorithms are advanced to support a human functioning in the role of command and control.
For instance, Air Force former Chief Scientist Dr. Gregory Zacharias often talked about these questions over the course of several interviews with Warrior Maven in recent years. As an expert specialist in the area of autonomy, he talked about a fast-approaching day wherein pilots will be able to control nearby drone “wing-men” from the cockpit of an F-35 or F-22. Such a technology, naturally, could enable forward operating drones to conduct reconnaissance missions, test enemy air defenses and even fire weapons – all while a pilot remains at a safer standoff distance acting in the role of command and control.