How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

The Pentagon is throwing $700 million at a rapidly progressing program to combat the threat of commercial drone use by the Islamic State, The New York Times reports.


The program has commissioned U.S. defense contractors to begin attempting to find solutions to the drone threat, including using lasers to shoot them out of the sky. The technology is in its infancy and has yet to yield any significant results. ISIS has pioneered the use of relatively cheap commercial drones as airborne improvised explosive devices, for surveillance, and propaganda purposes.

The Pentagon program comes as it increases the number of U.S. troops in Syria to assist training for the Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIS. The Pentagon reportedly worries that its bases could be vulnerable to ISIS drone attacks, and it sees the broader trend in warfare.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The terrorist group used some commercial drones to drop cheap IED’s on the Iraq Security Forces during the Battle for Mosul. ISIS announced the formation of a new drone warfare unit in January, whose sole purpose is to inflict “a new source of horror for the apostates.” The terrorist group said the new unit killed nearly 40 Iraqi soldiers in just one week.

The threat may not just be limited to the battlefield. Georgetown terrorism expert Dr. Bruce Hoffman recently warned that drone “swarms” could become a facet of western terrorist attacks. Hoffman outlined one such scenario, telling readers, “picture Paris on November 13, 2015 [the night when people were slaughtered at a rock concert and in sidewalk cafés] with drone attacks superimposed on top of it. Authorities would have been completely overwhelmed. This elevates our greatest fear, which is simultaneous urban attacks—now with swarming on top of them.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy just commissioned a new Littoral Combat Ship

The U.S. Navy commissioned its newest warship, the USS Omaha, on Feb. 3. The futuristic, $440 million vessel is named for the Nebraska hometown of billionaire Warren Buffett, who was on hand for the ceremony.


The Omaha, a 218-foot-long littoral combat ship, was commissioned at its new home port in San Diego.

Buffett’s daughter, Susie Buffett, who was designated as the ship’s sponsor, gave the traditional order for officers and crew: “Man our ship and bring her to life.”

“Aye, aye, ma’am,” they replied and ran to the ship as a band struck up “Anchors Aweigh.”

The aluminum-clad Omaha is designed for missions close to shore. It has high-tech computer capabilities and can be reconfigured for various missions, including anti-submarine warfare and anti-mine operations.

“She is a beautiful ship,” said Cmdr. Michael Toth, the commanding officer. “To be at her helm is more akin to flying an aircraft with a pilot and a co-pilot than to conning a traditional warship.”

Other dignitaries at the ceremony included Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, and former Nebraska Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Navy veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.

“I am proud to share our name, our heritage, and our community values with USS Omaha and its commander,” Stothert said. “We wish you safety on your missions.”

Also Read: The Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships are getting hellfire missiles

Ricketts, whose state is landlocked, said it was a unique honor, and designated the entire crew as “an admiral in the great Navy of the state of Nebraska.”

The ship is the fourth to carry the Omaha name since 1869. The last vessel was an attack submarine that was decommissioned in 1995.

“She represents the strength and the fortitude of her city and her state,” U.S. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said at the ceremony. “This ship is ready to deliver the fight tonight.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy’s newest fleet needs to improve after Trident Juncture

NATO troops and partner forces converged in Norway in October 2018 for Trident Juncture, the alliance’s largest exercise since the Cold War, taking place in and over the Nordic countries and on the Baltic and Norwegian seas.

Trident Juncture is a regularly scheduled exercise, and 2018’s version was meant to test the alliance’s ability to respond collectively to a threat — in this case an attack on Norway — and the logistical muscles needed to move some 50,000 troops, thousands of vehicles, and dozens of ships and aircraft on short notice.


Trident Juncture also saw the first time a US aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, sailed above the Arctic Circle since the early 1990s. The Truman strike group was joined by the USS Iwo Jima expeditionary strike group.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

German infantrymen board a MV-22B Osprey at Vaernes Air Base in Norway during Trident Juncture 18, Nov. 1, 2018.

(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira)

Working in the harsh conditions found in the northern latitudes in autumn was also part of the plan, said US Navy Adm. James Foggo, who commands US naval forces in Europe and Africa and was in charge of Trident Juncture.

“One of the things that we took advantage of was the opportunity to do this in October and November,” Foggo said on the most recent episode of his podcast, “On the Horizon.”

“When I was in the States [prior to the exercise], people asked me, ‘Hey, why’d you do this in October and November? It’s pretty nasty and cold in the high north at that time of year,'” Foggo said. “That’s exactly why. We wanted to stress the force, and we truly did get some lessons learned out of this.”

After nearly two decades operating in the Middle East, focusing on smaller-scale operations like counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, the US military has started to shift its focus back toward operating against sophisticated, heavily armed opponents and in harsh conditions.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

US Marines fire an M240B machine gun during a live-fire range as part of exercise Arctic Edge in Alaska, March 1, 2018.

(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira)

US Marines have been in Norway conducting such training since early 2017. During exercise Arctic Edge in February and March 2018, more than 1,500 US soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines gathered in Alaska “to train … to fight and win in the Arctic,” the head of Alaskan Command said at the time.

What these troops are learning isn’t necessarily new, but it is needed, according to Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, who took command of the US Navy’s 2nd Fleet in August 2018.

“I think most of what we are gathering from lessons in [Trident Juncture], I think we kind of knew, because we’re getting back into a geographic space in a time of year, and we haven’t been operating that way for a long, long time,” Lewis said during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Nov. 28, 2018.

“We’ve been operating in the Persian Gulf, where it’s like a lake, and it’s really hot, whereas now we’re operating up off the coast of Norway, where it’s blowing a gale, the decks are moving around, the ships are getting beat up, and the people are getting beat up,” Lewis added.

“We’re not used to being out on the flight deck for long periods of time where it’s really cold,” said Lewis, a career pilot.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

An aviation ordnanceman moves ordnance on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Oct. 23, 2018.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)

Second Fleet was reactivated in May 2018, seven years after being shut down as part of a cost-saving and restructuring effort. Now back in action, the fleet will oversee ships and aircraft in the western and northern Atlantic Ocean.

Soviet and NATO forces were active in those areas during the Cold War, especially the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap, which was a chokepoint for ships traveling between the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic.

The fleet’s reactivation was part of an effort to prepare for a potential conflict with a rival “great power,” like Russia or China.

As Lewis noted, returning to the high north didn’t go off without a hitch. Even before the live portion of the exercise began, four US soldiers were injured when their vehicles collided and one slid off a road in Norway.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

Sailors and Marines aboard the dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall observe an underway replenishment with the fleet-replenishment oiler USNS John Lethall, Oct. 6, 2018.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Colbey Livingston)

The amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall and amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, both of which were taking US Marines to the exercise, also had to return to Iceland days before the official start because of rough seas, which damaged the Gunston Hall and injured some of its sailors.

Gunston Hall underwent repairs in Iceland and departed on Nov. 5, 2018.

Discussing the effects of rough weather on the exercise, Foggo said NATO forces would “look for operational risk management first,” and a spokeswoman for the Truman strike group told Business Insider that the group took steps to prepare for “colder temperatures, higher winds, and unpredictable seas.”

US personnel will need more preparation in order to operate effectively in that part of the world, Lewis said.

“Our kids, they adapt really quickly, but not without repeat efforts,” he said. “I think most of it’s been … those kind of lessons, and I think overall we did pretty well, but we can do better.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

WWII Museum explores homefront’s ‘Arsenal of Democracy’

Museums, by definition, are repositories of the past.


But the good ones continue to keep things fresh – and not with small changes.

That certainly applies to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which continues to add exhibits and space.

Following the success of its Air Power Expo and the launching of the restored PT 305, the museum’s latest permanent exhibit, “The Arsenal of Democracy,” opens to the public Saturday, the week of the anniversary of D-Day.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The 10,000-square-foot salute to the homefront is funded by the Brown Foundation, of Houston, which is linked to the war by Brown Shipbuilding, a major supplier to the military during WWII.

“Until now, the museum’s main focus has been on the fighting,” said Rob Citino, the museum’s senior historian. “But if you want to tell the story of World War II, you have to give at least equal time to the homefront.”

Indeed. Although 16 million Americans were in uniform during the war, that’s only a little more than 10 percent of the country’s population at the time.

And not all of the young men were away. Of the major combatants, only the U.S. and China had less than half of its men ages 18-35 in the military.

But there were few, if any, American families who weren’t directly affected by the war to some degree, even those without a close relative in the service.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

“There are so many stories wrapped up in the big story of World War II,” said Kim Guise, the museum’s assistant director of curatorial services. “We’ve kind of kept the homefront on the back burner until now.

“But now it’s time to bring it forward.”

The exhibit also is a reminder of the origins of the museum – outgoing museum CEO Nick Mueller and museum founder Stephen Ambrose, both then history professors at the University of New Orleans, were intrigued by the contributions of the Higgins boat, manufactured in New Orleans, in helping to win the war. The desire to tell that story resulted in what began as the D-Day Museum, which opened in 2000.

“Arsenal of Democracy,” which has been two years in development and is on the second floor of the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, spotlights the massive mobilization of American manufacturing, which produced more goods than the Axis combined, tipping the scales in the Allies’ favor.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

It’s a tribute to American ingenuity and know-how. Seemingly overnight, factories went from making typewriters to machine guns and from refrigerators to airplane parts, because there was no time to waste.

The exhibit also highlights the domestic side, complete with a “Main Street” showing how shop windows and movie marquees of the time looked, along with a home decorated in the style of the period – right down to a Radio Flyer, the classic little red wagon, sitting on the back porch full of metal collected for a scrap drive.

The living room features a world map, a reminder of a February 1942 fireside chat in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked listeners to follow along as he described the status of the global conflict.

There are poignant reminders of the human cost of war, too, such as letters home from Myron Murphy, a sailor from Vermont who died aboard the battleship Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor, along with the gold star flag his mother hung in her window to signal her loss.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Photo from USAF

There’s also the oral history of Lorraine McCaslin, who was alone at home when the word was delivered that her brother had been killed in action.

Noble sacrifice was a hallmark of the times. But there also were discordant voices.

The first gallery – “The Gathering Storm” – addresses the arguments made by isolationists that America should stay out of the war.

After the fall of France in spring 1940, those voices were less prominent, and in December, Roosevelt coined the phrase “arsenal of democracy” in a radio address, announcing manufacturing support for Great Britain.

The war effort demanded that the nation utilize more of its human capital than ever. Women went to work, and new employment opportunities emerged for African-Americans, both in the South and in places such as Ford’s Willow Run assembly line in Michigan.

It’s cliché now to say that the homefront was unified in its fight against the Axis. And it’s not entirely true.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

Thousands of Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps during the war. There were riots in Detroit and Los Angeles and continuing discrimination against African-Americans. The military was still segregated.

In fact, the war created tremendous social upheaval from the beginning of civil rights movement to the diaspora of thousands of African-Americans from the South to the Midwest and West Coast. Women’s horizons broadened with the absence of so many men in previously all-male fields.

Those are issues that didn’t get much play when the museum opened in 2000, when the heroism of “The Greatest Generation” was unquestioned.

“History can be messy sometimes,” Citino said. “As heroic as the American war efforts were, then and now this country has work to do to build a just society.”

The war changed American life in other ways, too.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

There were momentous developments in science, technology, food production and medicine, ranging from the creation of the atomic bomb to the invention of MM’s because ordinary chocolate rations for soldiers melted too easily.

The exhibit itself has more interactive features than its predecessors. And, Citino added, the museum isn’t finished. “Liberation” is the next major project, and the postwar world has yet to be addressed.

“With visionary leadership and good fundraising, you can move mountains,” he said. “We’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeves.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Nebraska’s last Pearl Harbor survivor has died at 102

Edward “Ed” Guthrie was Nebraska’s last living survivor and eyewitness of the attack on Pearl Harbor. On January 10, 2021, he passed away at 102 years old. 

A Navy Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class, he shared in a previous interview that he was reading a comic book aboard the USS Whitney on the fateful morning of December 7, 1941. Records show that at 0749, explosions were heard. Guthrie shared in a previous interview in 2016 with his local Omaha newspaper that he saw one of the Japanese pilots fly by and he sat in stunned disbelief. The pilot waved at him, so he was under the impression that all was well. 

It was not. 

His ship was miraculously not damaged during the attack since they were in repair and away from battleship row. The attack on Pearl Harbor would claim the lives of 2,403 Americans and injure 1,178. In that same interview he shared that he and his shipmates would spend three days pulling bodies out of the water. “All those white sailor suits and that black oil … they didn’t mix very well,” Guthrie said to the Omaha World-Herald. “It’s something you don’t forget.” 

Edward “Ed” Guthrie was Nebraska’s last living survivor and eyewitness of the attack on Pearl Harbor

Following the attack, he was reassigned to the USS Banner and headed to the Pacific for the duration of the war. He witnessed the atomic bomb testing over the South Pacific. When the war was over he went home to Omaha where he met his wife Janet. They would go on to have three children and he would spend 34 years working for Omaha Power. He was able to attend the 75th memorial event in Hawaii in 2016. Throughout his life he would often give talks and share his memories of World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In August of 2020, his wife passed away from cancer after 72 years of marriage. His daughter Peggy Murphy shared in an interview with their local paper that he was lost without her. She also shared that he was healthy up until his last 28 hours of life. “He faced so much without complaint,” Murphy said in the interview with Omaha World-Herald. “Whatever happened he accepted. It was his personality; he was easygoing, gentle and kind.”

His daughter is a member of the Nebraska chapter of Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors. She told the paper that “It’s important to keep the word out so that younger people will understand what happened, why it happened and where our country went from there.” She has committed to keep her father’s memories and experiences alive by telling them.

The loss of Guthrie is another reminder that our nation is slowly losing its World War II heroes and their stories. It is up to all of us as American citizens to continue sharing the lessons and memories for them. It is because of their deep courage, sacrifice and devotion to this country that we live with the freedoms we do. Never forget. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

The COVID-19 effect: Navy ships

When the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) returned to sea in late-May following a two-month long battle against the novel coronavirus, the aircraft carrier was ground zero for a new normal for Navy ships at sea.

In the early months of the global pandemic, the Roosevelt had become itself a COVID-19 “hotspot.” The virus ultimately cost one Roosevelt crewmember his life and infected 1,150 sailors. As the ship resumed its mission with a scaled-back crew, facemasks, frequent handwashing, enhanced cleaning measures, reduced mess deck seating, one-way corridors and other protocols to mitigate COVID-19 had become the norm within the fleet.


“We can protect our force, we can deploy our Navy, and we will do both,” Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy, told reporters on an April 15 call. “Face-coverings, hand-washing, ship-disinfecting are now part of our daily routine throughout the Navy.”

Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, argues the pandemic has served as a wake-up call for the Navy.

“The Navy trains for all sorts of contingencies but if operating during a global pandemic was one, it was so far down the list as to be irrelevant,” Rubin said. “Politicians thought we were past this age and flag officers and civilian planners were no different.”

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

Navy Seaman Kyle Pavek stands lookout watch aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during a replenishment-at-sea with the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO 197). Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Julian Davis.

Less than a month after the first sailor aboard the Roosevelt tested positive for the coronavirus, the Navy issued updated guidance aimed at maintaining ongoing fleet operations and defeating “this unseen enemy.” The Navy’s “Pre-Deployment Guidance” and a “COVID-19 Recovery Framework” outline shipboard changes that will be experienced by sailors:

Pre-deployment:

  • Mandatory medical screenings for existing medical conditions that place personnel at higher risk for COVID-19 complications.
  • Daily personal screening questionnaires and temperature checks.
  • Testing and isolation of anyone with flu-like symptoms.
  • 14-to-21-day restriction of movement (ROM) period for potentially asymptomatic people to present symptoms.
  • 14-day ROM period before external crew, ship riders (contractors, technical representatives) and direct support personnel can embark during an underway.

Deployment:

  • Enforcement of personal hygiene practices and, whenever possible, physical distancing.
  • Ongoing screening for potential COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Maximum personal protective equipment (PPE) use.
  • Separate and segregate cleaning teams from critical watchstanders.
  • Restrict visitors.
  • Minimize contact with delivery personnel.

Additional guidance outlines specific steps to be taken to clean a ship or facility following a COVID-19 outbreak, using three categories of requirements depending on the degree to which the space is operationally significant and the level of access required.

“These measures allow fleet leadership the ability to monitor the health of the force in a controlled and secure environment so they are ready to accomplish assigned missions and support to the goal of preventing the spread of the COVID virus to U.S. forces, allies, partners and the community. These frameworks cover testing for personnel as well,” Cmdr. Patrick L. Evans, Public Affairs Officer for Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in an email response. He noted commanders have the authority to issue more specific guidance to units within their areas of responsibility.

“In addition, our ships are enforcing social distancing, minimizing group gatherings, wearing PPE and cleaning extensively,” he added. “Quarterdeck watchstanders are screening anyone who walks on board and referring sailors with symptoms to medical evaluation.”

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

Navy Quartermaster 3rd Class Patrick Souvannaleut, left, and Quartermaster 3rd Class Elizabeth Weil, right, stand spotter lookout during a replenishment-at-sea as the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt approaches the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos (T-AO 197). Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zachary Wheeler.

Navy officials have acknowledged “day-to-day actions must assume COVID is present” because asymptomatic personnel are likely to be aboard all ships. That point was driven home in mid-May when 14 Roosevelt sailors who previously contracted the virus tested positive a second time after returning to the ship following a mandatory quarantine period and two negative COVID-19 tests.

Retired Navy Capt. Albert Shimkus, a registered nurse and certified nurse anesthetist who previously commanded the hospital ship USNS Comfort, maintains sailors must take individual responsibility for following COVID-19 prevention protocols and “recognizing you could potentially be a carrier that could affect and infect your shipmates.”

As the Navy adjusts to the operational realities the pandemic presents, Shimkus, whose views are his own and do not represent the U.S. Naval War College, U.S. Navy or Department of Defense, stresses the Navy’s core values must ring true.

“Given the nature of what this crisis is ‘Honor, Courage and Commitment’ speak volumes about how we will treat ourselves and each other and about doing the ethically and morally correct thing,” said Shimkus, Associate Professor, National Security Affairs, Naval War College. “That’s all related to a command environment that is healthy and a command environment that is willing to do what’s right for the members of their command.”

Shimkus is confident Navy leaders at sea and ashore will rise to the challenge.

“Good leadership in the context of this crisis is being transparent to their crew and members of their organizations,” he explained. “Telling the truth and being able to be understood by your crew, opening up questions and answering them to the best of your ability is part of good leadership and commitment to doing the right thing.”

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

Articles

US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

The sun has set over the scrubby Savannah. The moon is full. It is time for Ryan Tate and his men to go to work. In camouflage fatigues, they check their weapons and head to the vehicles.


Somewhere beyond the ring of light cast by the campfire, out in the vast dark expanse of thornbushes, baobab trees, rocks and grass, are the rhinos. Somewhere, too, may be the poachers who will kill them to get their precious horns.

The job of Tate, a 32-year-old former US Marine, and the group of US military veterans he has assembled in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa is simple: keep the rhinos and the rest of the game in the bush around their remote base alive.

The men are not mercenaries, or park rangers –they work for Tate’s Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (Vetpaw), a US-based nonprofit organization funded by private donations. All have seen combat, often with elite military units, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
DoD Photo by Staff Sgt. Shejal Pulivarti

Though equipped with vehicles, trail bikes, assault rifles, sniper suits, and radios, the most important weapons in the war against poaching, Tate believes, are the skills and experiences his team gained on successive deployments in conflict zones over the last decade and a half.

“We are here for free. We are not going anywhere. Whether it is cold or hot, day or night… we want to work with anyone who needs help,” Tate says.

The initiative is not without controversy. Some experts fear “green militarization” and an arms race between poachers and gamekeepers. Others believe deploying American former soldiers to fight criminals in South Africa undermines the troubled country’s already fragile state.

But the scale of the challenge of protecting South Africa’s rhinos is clear to everyone, with a rise in poaching in recent years threatening to reverse conservation gains made over decades.

Though rhino horns are made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, a kilo is worth up to $65,000. The demand comes from East Asia, where rhino horn is seen as a potent natural medicine and status symbol, and is met by international networks linking dirt-poor villages in southern Africa with traffickers and eventually buyers. Patchy law enforcement, corruption and poverty combine to exacerbate the problem.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In South Africa, home to 80% of the world’s wild rhinos, only 13 were poached in 2007. In 2015, the total was nearly 1,200, though losses have declined slightly since.

“These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth, well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing,” a South African government spokesman said in February.

Tate founded Vetpaw after seeing a documentary about poaching and the deaths of park rangers in Africa. His team now works on a dozen private game reserves covering a total of around 200,000 hectares in Limpopo, the country’s northernmost province. One advantage for local landowners is the protection heavily armed combat veterans provide against the violent break-ins feared by so many South Africans, particularly on isolated rural farmsteads. The team has also run training courses for local guides and security staff.

But if one aim of Vetpaw is to counter poaching, another is to help combat veterans in the US, where former servicemen suffer high levels of unemployment and mental illness.

“Everyone gets PTSD when they come back from war … you are never going to get the brotherhood, the intensity again … [There are] all these veterans with billions of dollars of training and the government doesn’t use them. I saw a need in two places and just put them together,” says Tate.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Vetpaw operates primarily in Limpopo, the northern-most province of South Africa (in red). Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Vetpaw base in the bush in Limpopo, though considerably less spartan than most “forward operating bases”, is familiar to anyone who has spent time with US forces. There is a rack of helmets and body armor, a detailed map pinned to the wall, and banners with the insignia of US Special Forces hung above a dining table. There is the banter, and the jargon. The team talks of tactical missions, intel, and “bad guys”.

Despite lines on a whiteboard reading, “In the absence of a plan move towards the sound of gunfire and kill everything,” Tate says he has selected combat veterans because they will resist the temptation to use lethal force. Poachers are told to put down their arms, and then handed over to the police.

“This is textbook counterinsurgency here. It’s unconventional warfare,” says Kevin, a British-born veteran who quit US Elite Special Forces last year after a decade and a half largely on active duty, frequently in close quarter combat. “Shooting and killing is easy. The hardest thing is not shooting but figuring stuff out… if you kill someone do you turn a family, a village against you?” Like other members of Vetpaw, Kevin did not want to be identified by his full name.

The thinking is rooted in the “hearts and minds” approach developed by the US military a decade ago when senior officers realized their massive firepower was winning battles, but not campaigns.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Tate says poachers coerce local communities into providing safe houses or other support – much as US army officers once explained assistance given to insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Francois Meyer, who grew up in northern Limpopo and runs a local conservation NGO that works with Vetpaw, says villages vary. “In some, the poachers are seen as heroes. They give out money. There is a kind of Robin Hood syndrome. Taking from the rich white man to give to the poor. But in others, the poachers get the living shit kicked out of them,” Meyer said.

There is little consensus on what response to the problem of poaching might work best, and fierce debate rages among conservationists, farmers, and officials.

A moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn in South Africa implemented in 2009 was controversially overturned by a court in April. Though there has been an increase in arrest of poachers, there are few convictions and “a lack of political will” means many of the “kingpins” remain untouched.

The complexities of the issue seem distant to the veterans out on patrol in remote northern Limpopo, high on a rocky crag, listening to the grunt of a leopard or the cough of the baboons in the gathering night.

“After what I’ve done, I couldn’t just go and do a nine to five. I’ve never had nightmares or flashbacks or anything … [but] after years of doing what I’ve done, this is good for the soul,” says Kevin, the former Green Beret. “It’s in a good cause and you get to watch the African sunset.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

You won’t believe this F/A-18D flyover cost a U.S. Marine Corps Squadron Commander his job

A few days ago reading the news that Lt. Col. Ralph Featherstone, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 225 squadron commander since last April, had been fired on Jan. 24 after performing a flyover during a “sundown” ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, “due to concerns about poor judgment” I immediately thought his F/A-18 had performed some kind of insane low passage or buzzed the Tower as done in the famous Top Gun scene.


Then, I found the video obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune that shows the actual flyover. According to the media outlet, an air wing official confirmed the removal was linked to the flight shown in the following video:

What is more, “Featherstone was in the rear seat of the jet when it flew lower and faster than was approved in the day’s flight plan.”

In about 30 years attending airshows and events and 25 years reporting about military aviation I’ve seen many many “stunts” (i.e. aggressive maneuvers at low altitude) far worse than the one in the video above. Maybe we miss some detail about the whole story here, but that flyover is far from being “low”! No matter you are an expert or not, I think you won’t find it dangerous from any point of view.

Let’s not forget that the sundown ceremony celebrated the squadron’s transition from the “Legacy Hornet” to the F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Lightning II aircraft. It’s an event aimed at boosting the morale of the squadron as it moves to another chapter of its history. Do you see anything “unsafe” in that passage?

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

3 countries where Russian mercenaries are known to operate

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed in April 2018, that the US killed hundreds of Russians during a large firefight in Syria in early February 2018.

“In Syria now, a handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match,” Pompeo said. “A couple hundred Russians were killed.”


The Russians were part of Wagner Group, or Vagner Group, a private mercenary company reportedly contracted by the Syrian government to capture and secure oil and gas fields from ISIS.

The Wagner Group started getting attention in 2014 when its mercenaries fought alongside Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, before moving to Syria.

While little is still known about the shadowy mercenary group, they are believed to be operating in at least the following three countries:

1. Syria

1. Syria

There are currently about 2,500 Wagner mercenaries in Syria, according to the BBC, but the figures have varied.

In 2015-2016, Wagner mercenaries moved from Ukraine to Syria, Sergey Sukhankin, an associate expert at the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv, told Business Insider in an email.

The mercenary group was contracted by Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp to capture and secure gas and oil fields by ISIS, reportedly being given 25% of the proceeds, according to the Associated Press.

A Russian journalist who helped break the story about the mercenaries killed by the US military in February died earlier this month after mysteriously falling from a balcony.

2. Sudan

Wagner mercenaries were sent to Sudan in early January 2018, according to Stratfor.

The Wagner mercenaries were sent to Sudan “in a conflict against the South Sudan” to back up Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s government “militarily and hammer out beneficial conditions for the Russian companies,” Sukhankin said.

The mercenaries are also protecting gold, uranium and diamond mines, Sukhankin said, adding that the latter is the “most essential commodity.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a cozy relationship with al-Bashir. The two leaders met in Moscow in late 2017, where al-Bashir asked Putin for protection from the US.

The Hague has had an arrest warrant out for al-Bashir since 2009 for crimes against humanity.

3. Central African Republic

In early January 2018, Stratfor reported that Wagner mercenaries might soon be sent to CAR, and Sukhankin said that there are now about 370 mercenaries in CAR and Sudan.

Sukhankin said that Wagner mercenaries have the same general mission in CAR — protecting lucrative mines and propping up the government regime.

In December 2017, the UN allowed Russia to begin selling weapons to the CAR, one of the many ways Moscow is trying to influence the continent. The CAR government is trying to combat violence being perpetrated by multiple armed groups along ethnic and religious lines.

“Russian instructors training our armed forces will greatly strengthen their effectiveness in combating plunderers,” President Faustin-Archange Touadera said in early April, according to RT, a Russian state-owned media outlet.

“The Russian private sector is also seeking to invest in the country’s infrastructure and education,” RT reported.

“Moscow seems more interested in filling its coffers through the Wagner deals than in preparing for a massive investment drive [in Africa],” Stratfor reported.

The Wagner Group might also be operating in other countries now or in the future.

The Wagner Group might also be operating in other countries now or in the future.

“Potentially, the Balkans if any conflict erupts,” Sukhankin said. “The Russians had sent PMC’s in 1992 to Bosnia. In case something occurs, this might happen once again.”

Wagner mercenaries might also soon be sent to Libya, one Wagner commander told RFERL in March 2018.

“There are many fights ahead,” the commander told RFERL. “Soon it will be in Libya. [Wagner] is already fighting in Sudan.”

Russia has been engaging more and more with Libya since 2016, supporting the faction led by military commander Khalifa Haftar. Meanwhile, NATO backs the the Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj.

Wagner commanders said that demand for their mercanaries will continue to grow as “war between the Russian Federation and the United States” continues, RFERL reported.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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Marines temporarily ground planes in wake of Hornet crash

The Marine Corps has ordered all non-deployed aircraft squadrons to observe a 24-hour “operational pause” after a Miramar-based squadron suffered a third F/A-18C Hornet crash in 12 months — two within the span of a week, one fatal.


Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns told Military.com there would be an operational pause for all Marine Aircraft Wings, exempting deployed units.

“This operational pause is to happen within the next seven business days,” she said in an email. “Operational pauses are routine and are a time to align, discuss best practices and look at ways to continue to improve.”

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
US Marine Corps photo

The news of this grounding throughout Marine Corps aviation was first reported by Marine Corps Times.

Burns said the timing of the pause was at the discretion of the wing commanders. Investigations into the most recent crashes are still ongoing, she said.

Pilot Maj. Richard Norton of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232 was killed July 28 when his F/A-18C Hornet went down during training near Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.

A second pilot attached to the squadron, who has not been identified, is being treated after ejecting from his F/A-18C Hornet on Aug. 2 over Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, during a training flight.

That aircraft had been temporarily assigned to Fallon’s Strike Fighter Wing Pacific Detachment, officials said.

In October 2015, a Marine pilot also attached to VMFA-232, Maj. Taj Sareen, was killed when his Hornet crashed near Royal Air Force Airfield Lakenheath in England during a flight from Bahrain to Miramar at the completion of a six-month deployment to the Middle East.

No cause has been publicly released for any of these three crashes.

Officials said recently they have wrapped up an investigation into a deadly Navy F/A-18C crash that happened earlier this summer. Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, a soloist with the Blue Angels demonstration team, was killed June 3 when his aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff in what was supposed to be a rehearsal flight ahead of an airshow in Smyrna, Tennessee. The results of that investigation have yet to be released.

In a discussion at a think tank in Washington, D.C., on July 29, the Marines’ head of aviation, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, said he did not believe diminished flight hours for Hornet pilots had contributed to the tragic July 28 crash.

“I track [flight hours] each week. This particular unit was doing OK,” he said.

Davis added he did not believe that reduced flight hours, a function of limited resources and available aircraft, were making Marine Corps squadrons less safe, but added the Corps was “not as proficient as we should be.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

These Army docs are revolutionizing pain management – especially for burns

Doctors at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston are utilizing a novel method of administering pain medication to burn patients in the burn intensive care unit in hopes to mitigate opioid addiction and other complications associated with burn care.


“It’s something different,” said Dr. Clayne Benson, assigned to Brooke Army Medical Center, collocated with the USAISR Burn Center. “But the promise and benefits are huge.”

The pain medication is managed with the placement of an intrathecal catheter and infusion of preservative-free morphine. The concept is similar to epidural anesthesia used during labor for pain relief, except the catheter resides in the intrathecal space where the cerebrospinal fluid resides instead of the epidural space.

The catheter used is exactly like an epidural catheter used for laboring women.

“It’s an FDA-cleared device for a procedure that a lot of anesthesiologists have done for other reasons,” Benson said. “It had never been done on burn patients and we presented the idea of the study to the burn center leadership [Drs. Booker King, Lee Cancio, Jennifer Gurney, Kevin Chung and Craig Ainsworth] and they agreed to try this initiative.”

Read Now: 8 new projects that will revolutionize military medicine

Benson, an Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel, got the idea of using this technique in the intensive care unit while taking care of polytrauma soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany from 2009-2012. Benson said he is excited about the potential of this new pain management for burn patients.

“The results are amazing,” he said. “The best thing about it is that it only uses one-one hundredth of the amount of pain medication used with the traditional [intravenous] method.”

Intrathecal medication is delivered straight to where it is effective, the spinal cord, thereby minimizing systemic complications of IV medications.

Intravenous medication disperses pain medication throughout the entire body and only a tiny percentage of it gets to where it is needed.  This is especially beneficial for burn patients who require numerous painful operations and traditionally require being placed on a ventilator, with one of the reasons being pain control.

Longer ventilator times lead to complications like deconditioning, delirium, and pneumonia, which all impact quality of life and time in the Burn Intensive Care Unit.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Dr. Richard Erff, chief of the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center Pain Clinic, administers cervical epidural steroid injections to a Soldier who suffers from chronic neck and back injuries stemming from his deployment to Iraq. (Army Photo by Patricia Deal)

“Also, the majority of patients who are mechanically ventilated are diagnosed with delirium and are likely to have increased length of hospitalization, increased ventilator days, and higher rates of long-term cognitive dysfunction,” Benson said.

Delirium is another complication burn patients experience with exposure to sedatives and pain medications.

“Delirium is when a patient’s awareness changes and they become confused, agitated, or they completely shut down,” said Sarah Shingleton, chief wound care nurse and clinical nurse specialist at the USAISR Burn Center Intensive Care Unit. “It can come and go, and is caused by a number of things to include different pain medications, pain, infections, a disturbed sleep cycle, or an unfamiliar environment.”

Members of the USAISR Burn Center Intensive Care Unit will present the data of the initiative at the 2018 American Burn Association meeting in April 2018. The presentation will describe a patient who sustained 45 percent burns to her body and had her pain and sedation managed with the placement of the intrathecal catheter.

The abstract prepared for the ABA meeting states, “During intrathecal administration of morphine, IV infusions of ketamine, propofol, and dexmedetomidine were discontinued. The patient was awake and responsive, reporting adequate pain control without systemic opioid administration. Following removal of the intrathecal morphine infusion, the patient’s opioid requirement remained lower than prior to catheter placement despite repeated surgical interventions.”

Also Read: This is why wounded troops don’t spend entire wars in field hospitals anymore

“This novel way of achieving pain control helped us get our patients off mechanical ventilation faster and shorten the time they needed to be in the [intensive care unit],” said Maj. (Dr.) Craig Ainsworth, Burn Intensive Care Unit medical director. “We are excited to share this treatment option with other members of the burn care community so that we can better care for our patients.”

Benson’s goal is to someday apply this type of pain management to patients with polytrauma to reduce pain and the amount of pain medication which could potentially lessen addictions to pain medication.

“It’s a new approach and I hope that eventually it becomes the main mode of pain control for burn and polytrauma patients,” Benson said. “It has been a good team effort with the burn staff and their ‘can do’ attitude. I’m looking forward to where this leads. I believe it will change pain management as well as help to prevent opioid addiction in patients who have suffered from polytrauma and burns.”

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U.S. detects, tracks multiple North Korea missile launches

Defense Department officials detected and tracked multiple missile launches out of North Korea Monday, four of which landed in the Sea of Japan, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters this morning.


Davis said the four medium-range ballistic missiles were launched from the northwest corner of North Korea, traveled over the Korean Peninsula and out into the sea, totaling about 1,000 kilometers in distance, or more than 620 miles.

Related: 4 things you need to know about North Korea’s missile program

Missiles Land Off Japan’s Coast

The missiles landed in the vicinity of Akita Prefecture off the coast of Japan near that nation’s exclusive economic zone, he said. The EEZ is defined as a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Explosive ordnance disposal technicians prepare for an EOD mine-countermeasure exercise with members of a South Korean navy underwater dive team off the coast of Jinhae, South Korea. | Navy Combat Camera photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alfred A. Coffield

“The North American Aerospace Defense Command detected that the missiles from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” Davis said. “This [North Korean missile launch] is very similar in terms of the path and the distance of the three missiles that flew into Japan’s EEZ in September 2016.”

He added, “These launches, which coincide with the start of our annual defensive exercise, Foal Eagle, with the Republic of Korea’s military, are consistent with North Korea’s long history of provocative behavior, often timed to military exercises that we do with our ally,”

Also read: Navy fleet commanders warn of potential fight in North Korea

The United States stands with its allies “in the face of this very serious threat and are taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles, such as the deployment of a [Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense] battery to South Korea, which will happen as soon as feasible,” Davis said.

U.S. Strikes AQAP in Yemen

Also overnight, the United States made an airstrike on Yemen’s Abyan Governorate against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula fighters, bringing to 40 the strikes there in the past five nights, Davis said.

Since the first airstrike against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen on Feb. 28, “We will continue to target [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] militants and facilities to disrupt the organization’s plot and protect American lives,” the captain said.

The strikes have been coordinated with and done in full partnership with the government of Yemen with the goal of denying al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists’ freedom of movement within traditional safe havens, Davis emphasized.

The captain also confirmed the deaths of three al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operatives in March 2 and 3 airstrikes in Yemen.

Usayd al Adani, whom Davis described as a longtime al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula explosives expert and facilitator who served as the organization’s emir, was killed in a U.S. airstrike March 2 within the Abyan Governorate. Killed with him was former Naval Air Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainee Yasir al Silmi.

Killed March 3 was al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula fighter and communications intermediary for Adani, Harithah al Waqri, Davis said.

“[Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] has taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terror attacks against the United States and our allies,” he said. “And we will continue to work with the government of Yemen to defeat [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula].

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F-35s may fly with loaded up B-52s as ‘arsenal planes’

The Pentagon’s emerging “Arsenal Plane” or “flying bomb truck” is likely to be a modified, high-tech adaptation of the iconic B-52 bomber designed to fire air-to-air weapons, release swarms of mini-drones and provide additional fire-power to 5th generation stealth fighters such as the F-35 and F-22, Pentagon officials and analysts said.


It is also possible that the emerging arsenal plane could be a modified C-130 or combined version of a B-52 and C-130 drawing from elements of each, Pentagon officials said.

Using a B-52, which is already being modernized with new radios and an expanded internal weapons bay, would provide an existing “militarized” platform already engineered with electronic warfare ability and countermeasures designed to thwart enemy air defenses.

“You are using a jet that already has a military capability. The B-52 is a military asset, whereas all the alternatives would have to be created. It has already been weaponized and has less of a radar cross-section compared to a large Air Force cargo plane. It is not a penetrating bomber, but it does have some kind of jamming and countermeasures meant to cope with enemy air defenses. It is wired for a combat mission,” said Richard Aboulafia, Vice President of analysis at the Teal Group, a Virginia-based consultancy.

Flying as a large, non-stealthy bomber airplane, a B-52 would still present a large target to potential adversaries; however, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said part of the rationale for the “Arsenal Plane” would be to work closely with stealthy fighter jets such as an F-22 and F-35, with increased networking technology designed to increase their firepower and weapons load.

An “Arsenal Plane” networked to F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters would enable the fighter aircraft to maintain their stealth properties while still having substantial offensive bombing capability. If stealth fighters attach weapons to their external pylons, they change their radar signature and therefore become more vulnerable to enemy air defenses. If networked to a large “flying bomb truck,” they could use stealth capability to defeat enemy air defenses and still have an ability to drop large amounts of bombs on targets.

Such a scenario could also likely rely upon now-in-development manned-unmanned teaming wherein emerging algorithms and computer technology enable fighter jets to control the sensor payload and weapons capability of nearby drones from the cockpit of the aircraft. This would enable Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets to more quickly relay strategic or targeting information between fighter jets, drones and “Arsenal Planes.”

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
China’s J-20 | Chinese Military Review

Aboulafia explained that air fighters being developed by potential adversaries, such as the Chinese J-20 and other fighters, could exist in larger numbers than a US force, underscoring the current US strategy to maintain a technological edge even if their conventional forces are smaller.  An “Arsenal Plane” could extend range and lethality for US fighters, in the event they were facing an enemy force with more sheer numbers of assets.

“There is a concern about numbers of potential enemies and range. When you are dealing with a potential adversary with thousands of jets and you’ve got limited assets with limited weapons payloads, you have got to be concerned about the numbers,” he said.

An effort to be more high-tech, if smaller in terms of sheer numbers, than rival militaries is a key part of the current Pentagon force modernization strategy.

“In practice, the “Arsenal Plane” will function as a very large airborne magazine, networked to fifth generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create wholly new capabilities,” Carter told reporters. Aboulafia added that an idea for an “Arsenal Plane” emerged in the 1980s as a Cold War strategy designed to have large jets carry missiles able to attack Soviet targets.

Carter unveiled the “Arsenal Plane” concept during a recent 2017 budget drop discussion at the Pentagon wherein he, for the first time, revealed the existence of a “Strategic Capabilities Office” aimed at connecting and leveraging emerging weapons and technology with existing platforms. This effort is aimed at saving money, increasing the military’s high-tech lethality and bringing new assets to the force faster than the many years it would take to engineer entirely new technologies.

“I created the SCO (Strategic Capabilities Office) in 2012, when I was Deputy Secretary of defense to help us to re-imagine existing DOD and intelligence community and commercial systems by giving them new roles and game-changing capabilities to confound potential enemies — the emphasis here was on rapidity of fielding, not 10 and 15-year programs,” he said.

Carter said “Arsenal Plane” development would be funded through a $71 billion research and development 2017 budget request.

While Carter did not specify a B-52 during his public discussion of the new asset now in-development, he did say it would likely be an “older” aircraft designed to function as a “flying launchpad.”

“The last project I want to highlight is one that we’re calling the “Arsenal Plane,” which takes one of our oldest aircraft platforms and turns it into a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads,” Carter added.

The Air Force is already surging forward with a massive, fleet-wide modernization overhaul of the battle-tested, Vietnam-era B-52 bomber, an iconic airborne workhorse for the US military dating back to the 1960s.

Engineers are now equipping all 76 of the Air Force B-52s with digital data-links, moving-map displays, next-generation avionics, new radios and an ability to both carry more weapons internally and integrate new, high-tech weapons as they emerge, service officials said.

The technical structure and durability of the B-52 airframes in the Air Force fleet are described as extremely robust and able to keep flying well into the 2040s and beyond – so the service is taking steps to ensure the platform stays viable by receiving the most current and effective avionics, weapons and technologies.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
Did you bring enough for the rest of the class?

Weapons Upgrade

Aboulafia said the new B-52 “Arsenal Plane” could, for the first time, configure a primarily air-to-ground bomber as a platform able to fire air-to-air weapons as well – such as the Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile, or AMRAAM.

The integration of air-to-air weapons on the B-52 does not seem inconceivable given the weapons upgrades already underway with the aircraft.  Air Force is also making progress with a technology-inspired effort to increase the weapons payload for the workhorse bomber, Eric Single, Chief of the Global Strike Division, Acquisition, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.

The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade, or IWBU, will allow the B-52 to internally carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” bombs in addition to carrying six on pylons under each wing, he explained.

B-52s have previously been able to carry JDAM weapons externally, but with the IWBU the aircraft will be able to internally house some of the most cutting edge precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, among others.

“It is about a 66 percent increase in carriage capability for the B-52, which is huge. You can imagine the increased number of targets you can reach, and you can strike the same number of targets with significantly less sorties,” said Single.

Single also added that having an increased internal weapons bay capability affords an opportunity to increase fuel-efficiency by removing bombs from beneath the wings and reducing drag.

The first increment of IWBU, slated to be finished by 2017, will integrate an internal weapons bay ability to fire a laser-guided JDAM. A second increment, to finish by 2022, will integrate more modern or cutting-edge weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, JASSM Extended Range (ER) and a technology called Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD. A MALD-J “jammer” variant, which will also be integrated into the B-52, can be used to jam enemy radar technologies as well, Single said.

IWBU, which uses a digital interface and a rotary launcher to increase the weapons payload, is expected to cost roughly $313 million, service officials said.

The B-52 has a massive, 185-foot wingspan, a weight of about 185,000 pounds and an ability to reach high sub-sonic speeds and altitudes of 50,000 feet, Air Force officials said.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones
B-52s in the Pacific. | US Navy photo

Communications, Avionics Upgrades

Two distinct, yet interwoven B-52 modernization efforts will increase the electronics, communications technology, computing and avionics available in the cockpit while simultaneously configuring the aircraft with the ability to carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” precision-guided weapons internally – in addition to carrying six weapons on each wing, Single said.

Eight B-52s have already received a communications (coms systems) upgrade called Combat Network Communication Technology, or CONECT – a radio, electronics and data-link upgrade which, among other things, allows aircraft crews to transfer mission and targeting data directly to aircraft systems while in flight (machine to machine), Single explained.

“It installs a digital architecture in the airplane,” Single explained. “Instead of using data that was captured during the mission planning phase prior to your take off 15 to 20 hours ago – you are getting near real-time intelligence updates in flight.”

Single described it key attribute in terms of “machine-to-machine” data-transfer technology which allows for more efficient, seamless and rapid communication of combat-relevant information.

Using what’s called an ARC 210 Warrior software-programmable voice and data radio, pilots can now send and receive targeting data, mapping information or intelligence with ground stations, command centers and other aircraft.

“The crew gets the ability to communicate digitally outside the airplane which enables you to import not just voice but data for mission changes, threat notifications, targeting….all those different types of things you would need to get,” Single said.

An ability to receive real-time targeting updates is of great relevance to the B-52s close-air-support mission because fluid, fast-moving or dynamic combat situations often mean ground targets appear, change or disappear quickly.

Alongside moving much of the avionics from analogue to digital technology, CONECT also integrates new servers, modems, colored display screens in place of old green monochrome and provides pilots with digital moving-map displays which can be populated with real-time threat and mission data, Single said.

The new digital screens also show colored graphics highlighting the aircraft’s flight path, he added.

Single explained that being able to update key combat-relevant information while in transit will substantially help the aircraft more effectively travel longer distances for missions, as needed.

“The key to this is that this is part of the long-range strike family of systems — so if you take off out of Barksdale Air Force Base and you go to your target area, it could take 15 or 16 hours to get there. By the time you get there, all the threat information has changed,” said Single. “Things move, pop up or go away and the targeting data may be different.”

The upgrades will also improve the ability of the airplane to receive key intelligence information through a data link called the Intelligence Broadcast Receiver. In addition, the B-52s will be able to receive information through a LINK-16-like high-speed digital data link able to transmit targeting and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or ISR information.

The CONECT effort, slated to cost $1.1 billion overall, will continue to unfold over the next several years, Single explained.

Twelve B-52 will be operational with CONECT by the end of this year and the entire fleet will be ready by 2021, Single said.

B-52 History

Known for massive bombing missions during the Vietnam War, the 159-foot long B-52s have in recent years been operating over Afghanistan in support of military actions there from a base in Guam.

The B-52 also served in Operation Desert Storm, Air Force statements said.  “B-52s struck wide-area troop concentrations, fixed installations and bunkers, and decimated the morale of Iraq’s Republican Guard,” an Air Force statement said.

In 2001, the B-52 provided close-air support to forces in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, service officials said. The B-52 also played a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 21, 2003, B-52Hs launched approximately 100 CALCMs (Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missiles) during a night mission.

Given the B-52s historic role in precision-bombing and close air support, next-generation avionics and technologies are expected to greatly increase potential missions for the platform in coming years, service officials said.

WATCH: B-52s are blasting ISIS targets

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