This is Iran's ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal signed with Iran and five other countries in 2015, Tehran has responded with one of its most frequent threats: closing the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel in the Persian Gulf through which roughly 30% of world’s oil flows.

“If Iran’s oil exports are to be prevented, we will not give permission for oil to be exported to the world through the Strait of Hormuz,” a Revolutionary Guards commander said in July 2018.


Coastal defenses and naval vessels would have a big role in that effort, but it would most likely revolve around one of Iran’s favorite military assets: sea mines, a vicious weapon that presents an acute challenge for a US Navy that is shifting between old and new mine-countermeasure systems.

Iran has laid mines at sea in past conflicts, and even these much less sophisticated weapons have disabled and nearly sunk US Navy warships.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter transits the Strait of Hormuz in May 2012.

(Photo by Alex R. Forster)

An asymmetric threat

“As far back as the early 1980s, Iran was mining waters in the Gulf to prevent oil tankers from coming in or out of ports in the Arab part of the Gulf — Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, etc. — and it has extensive experience in trying to also menace warships,” said Scott Savitz, a senior engineer at the Rand Corporation.

Sea mines remain “a big part of the Iranian approach,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The sea mines Iran used at that time were relatively unsophisticated — the mine that almost sank the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts in 1988 was a World War I-era device — but mines it can deploy now are more advanced and more dangerous, with some warheads weighing nearly 2,500 pounds.

As of 2012, Iran was believed to have grown its supply of sea mines from about 1,500 during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s to more than 6,000, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

That stockpile is not as vast as those of North Korea, China, or Russia, which also rely on anti-access or area-denial approaches to limit movement in contested areas, but it includes an array of mines, such as cheap, conventional ones and more advanced “smart mines,” which may be able to track multiple targets, discern different types of ships, and avoid detection by lurking on or near the seafloor.

Advanced mines can be triggered by sound, pressure, or magnetic influence. But even conventional ones that require contact to detonate are a threat to US warships and other commercial vessels. Iran also has an array of ships to lay them — some can even be deployed through submarine torpedo tubes.

Iran’s naval forces are no match for the US Navy, but sea mines are asymmetric weapons that a weaker side can use to foil a stronger opponent — even one with the world’s strongest navy. They can be deployed to deny access or freedom of movement and can be used to escalate tensions more incrementally than would a cruise-missile attack on an enemy warship.

“The Iranians see [mines] as a good tool for them to be able to threaten to close the strait and do it in a way that they can threaten it and you don’t know that the mines are really there,” Clark said, “and then if they do have some mines out there, the damage they’re going to inflict is going to be more in terms of preventing people from freely going back and forth rather than having to kill a lot of people to make a point.”

“You can threaten the use of mines and actually not have any out there,” Clark added. “However, a very small number of mines … in a place where someone’s likely to run into one, and then that damages a ship, and then you can say that you’ve got a much larger field, even though you may not.”

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

The USS Avenger off the coast of Hawaii during the Rim of the Pacific exercise in 2004.

(U.S. Navy photo)

Speed and scope

The US has previously said attempts to deploy mines would draw a military response, but the Navy also has means to counter mines.

The service keeps several of its 14 Avenger-class ships stationed in Bahrain all year.

The ships are designed for anti-mine warfare, using sonar and video systems, cable cutters, and a mine-detonating device to neutralize mines. Their hulls are made of wood covered with fiberglass for lower magnetic resonance. The engines are also designed to lower the ships’ magnetic and acoustic signatures. This is exceedingly dangerous work for these ships and their explosive ordnance disposal teams, which involves getting close to lurking mines to find and neutralize them.

The Avenger-class ships based in Bahrain are “immensely capable” and have multiple capabilities for and approaches to mine warfare, Rand’s Savitz said. They are lightly armed, however, and would require escorts.

But the Avenger class is aging, and the problem for the US Navy is that the mine threat looms as it struggles to move from those ships and the MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters that often accompany them to a newer platform that uses unmanned systems deployed aboard littoral combat ships.”

The US is in this transition from a more traditional minesweeping approach, where a minesweeper goes out and either drags minesweeping equipment behind it that physically entangles the mines or sets them off by magnetic influence,” Clark said.

“Now they’re transitioning to the use of unmanned vehicles to do a lot of this,” he added. “So they’ll have an unmanned ship drive out … sweep gear behind it to pick up mines, and they’ll have unmanned vehicles go around and hunt for mines that might be on the seafloor” or otherwise submerged.

Littoral combat ships are already in service, and there’s been recent progress with LCS-based mine countermeasures, such as the Knifefish unmanned undersea vehicle and the helicopter-mounted Airborne Laser Mine Detection System. That progress, amid struggles with littoral combat ships, may mean these systems end up being deployed aboard other ships, Clark noted.

But other cost overruns, delays, and malfunctions — like the cancellation of the Remote Minehunting System after nearly a billion dollars and almost two decades of work — have hindered the mine-countermeasure program.

Mine-countermeasure systems in general “don’t get as much attention as they need,” Clark said. “It’s not a sexy part of the Navy.” Older systems, he said, “could’ve been replaced a long time ago, or at least improved before this became an issue.”

The shift between older platforms and newer systems with limited capabilities is “a huge liability” for the Navy, Clark said.

“They’re in the middle of this transition, so they don’t have these unmanned systems really completely tested out and fully fielded, and so there’s still a lot of the traditional sweep gear and traditional approaches,” he said.

The Sea Dragon, which is the Navy’s oldest helicopter in service, was supposed to retire in 2005. But the service has yet to find a replacement for the heavy-lift helicopter, which can haul a variety of minesweeping gear and deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours. The Avengers, introduced in the early 1990s, have also had their service lives extended, requiring upgrades.

Those ships and helicopters remain capable, but they aren’t “scalable,” meaning they “can’t ramp it up when there’s a minefield,” Clark said. Those systems aren’t necessarily a problem because they’re old, he added, they’re “just limited in speed and scope.”

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

The Remote Minehunting System and an AN/AQS-20 mine-hunting sonar being brought aboard the littoral combat ship USS Independence during testing of the mine-warfare mission module package in 2012.

Timelines and risks

The issues facing US mine-countermeasure systems do not mean Iran has a clear advantage, however.

“While the Persian Gulf is not wide, it’s big enough that Iran would have to cover a swath in order to prevent ships from going through it without encountering mines,” Savitz said. “So it would be challenging for them.”

Moreover, because it lacks refining capacity, Iran needs to be able to ship oil and refined products in and out.

“It would be cutting its own throat if it tried to shut down all traffic in the Gulf,” Savitz said. “If it leaves open a significant pathway, then others can potentially use it too.”

If Iranian ships start behaving in ways that indicate they’re laying mines, “that can be interdicted,” Savitz added. And the US would watch closely for any effort to reseed minefields that had been cleared.

“That’s the best mine-countermeasure solution of all, is to catch the adversary laying the mines or to detect roughly where the mines are laid,” to focus mine-countermeasure efforts, Savitz said.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

A naval aircrewman preparing a Q-24 sonar side-looking vehicle to be lowered into the Persian Gulf from an MH-53E Sea Dragon during mine-countermeasure training on May 18, 2017.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Joshua Bryce Bruns)

But the scalability issue would loom over any effort to track down and clear mines from the area.

“Mine countermeasures is also typically a slow area of warfare that requires intense attention to detail, so it also entails thinking about trade-offs between timelines and risk,” Savitz said. “How quickly a water space can be opened up after … mine countermeasures have begun depends on what level of risk is acceptable.”

Former Adm. James Stavridis, who was the supreme allied commander in Europe before retiring in 2013, told CNBC in July 2018 that, should Iran try to use its military to close the Strait of Hormuz, the US and its partners “would be able to open it in a matter of days.”

That time frame is not so certain. It depends on how large the Navy and its partners believe the affected minefield to be.

“If it’s the whole Strait of Hormuz, the Navy says that could take weeks,” Clark said. While many modern tankers have features like double hulls that could mitigate some mine risks, closing or restricting access to the Gulf would upend the global economy.

Stavridis may have meant the US and its partners could clear a “very narrow channel” through a minefield during that period, Clark added, but that would slow down traffic, and each ship would need an escort. There would be “much less access than was previously available,” he said.

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

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These soldiers are the Army’s FBI and Secret Service

The Army has its own criminal investigation service filled with special agents that investigate major crimes, protect VIPs, and maintain criminal records.


The Criminal Investigation Command is often known as CID and its special agents carry CID badges. This is a tie to the unit’s history as the command was originally formed as the Criminal Investigation Division in 1918 by the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing.

 

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

Agents from the CID go in anytime the Army is — or might have been — a party to a major crime. This includes violent crimes like murder and rape as well as white-collar infractions like computer fraud.

Approximately 2,000 soldiers are assigned to CID, 900 of which are special agents. These soldiers investigate the crime on their own or in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies. Agents can build cases, request arrest warrants, and detain suspects the same as other federal law enforcement officers.

The Army CID gives commanders an option for investigating major crimes on their installations or at deployed locations, but the agents do not fall under their installation’s chain of command. The CID units report up the chain to the CIC commanding general who, in turn, reports directly to the Army Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army.

This allows CID agents to conduct their investigations with less fear of repercussions from senior leaders on base.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy
A U.S. Army reserve agent practices clearing a corner as part of responding to an active shooter training during Guardian Shield, Aug. 1, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Audrey Hayes)

 

During times of war, CID can be called upon to investigate war crimes. Massacres, the use of illegal weapons like chemical and biological agents, and many crimes against humanity would fall within their purview.

But CID agents do more than just investigate crimes. The 701st Military Police Group (CID) contains the U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion. The Protective Services Battalion is tasked with guarding key Army leaders, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Staff.

They also provide security for other leaders when tasked, including the senior leaders of allied militaries.

Agents for all CID positions are recruited largely from within the Army, though there is a direct accessions program that allows civilian college graduates to join.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The British Museum will return these war trophies to Afghanistan

Over the years, the British have taken a good many significant artifacts back to England with them. To its credit, the British Empire did an excellent job of preserving those relics. Still, plundering any country’s cultural treasures is kind of an a-hole thing to do. But there is one set of priceless antiquities that the British can feel good about rescuing and returning.

This one isn’t their fault.


One of the most troublesome incidents of the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years was the theft and complete loss of priceless cultural treasures from the distant fields and local museums around these two countries. Many of the things looted in the chaos of these two conflicts may never be seen again. Not so for nine sculpted heads from the Fourth Century AD. These were intercepted at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2002 on a flight from Pakistan. The British Museum took control of the sculptures and restored them – but how did they get there?

It’s because the Taliban are the a-holes in this situation.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

They usually are the a-holes in any situation.

These statue heads would have been atop artworks in the Buddhist temples of the ancient kingdom of Gandhāra some 1,500 years ago. The kingdom of Gandhāra straddled parts of what is today India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan at the time. As for what happened to the temples and the statues, the Taliban blew them up with dynamite. The terror group’s biggest destructive act was the use of anti-tank mines on Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Temples, which destroyed the beautiful pre-Islamic statues along the temple walls. The heads that were found in London were probably smuggled through Pakistan and on their way to the black market.

After their discovery, the British Museum was called in to document and catalog the priceless ancient sculptures. The heads will be on display in the museum for a short time, but will then be returned to the people of Afghanistan.

Articles

This is why landing on an aircraft carrier never gets easy

There’s a reason Navy carrier pilots are so cocky.


Their jobs would be challenging if they were just steering small hunks of metal through the air at high speed in combat, but they also take off and land on huge floating hunks of metal moving at low speed through the waves.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy
Most people only see successful carrier landings, but they can go horribly wrong. (GIF: YouTube/Superfly7XAF)

In this video from PBS, the already challenging task of landing on a floating deck gets worse in rough seas. With large waves striking the USS Nimitz, the flight deck pitches dozens of feet up and down, making the pilots’ jobs even harder.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how Pendleton will honor Marines and Sailors who died in Vietnam

A memorial honoring Marines and sailors who died during the Vietnam War and were part of the “Fighting Fifth” Marine Regiment is getting closer to being set in stone.


The groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial, a work of passion for Vietnam veterans Steve Colwell and Nick Warr, was held Friday, Oct. 27 in the memorial garden at Camp San Mateo. Participants included members of the 5th Marine Regiment, representatives from the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group, and active-duty Marines.

“The construction of this new memorial at the 5th Marine Regiment command post symbolizes the respect, gratitude, and honor today’s generation of Marines hold for Vietnam veterans,” said Lt. Col. John Gianopoulos, Executive Officer, 5th Marine Regiment. “This memorial will remind today’s Marines of the tenacity, courage, and character of the Vietnam Marines at Khe Sanh, Da Nang, An Hoa, and many more battles. It will provide us with a powerful reminder of what we owe to our nation and how we must represent the Marine Corps.”

The $400,000 to fund the memorial is coming from private and public sources. Four South Orange County cities have stepped up so far to help: Dana Point, with $10,000; San Clemente, $5,000; Rancho Santa Margarita, $2,500; and Irvine, $10,000. Colwell said he will ask the Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel city councils for help in the next few weeks.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy
Concept of the planned monument honoring Marines and sailors lost in the Vietnam War. Image from 5th Marine Regiment Support Group.

“After four years of fundraising, this is finally becoming a reality,” said Colwell, who was severely wounded in a bomb blast Dec. 16, 1967, in Vietnam. “It’s exciting to honor the 2,706 Marines and sailors. It will validate for the families the bravery and service of those lost in Vietnam.”

The garden was created and is funded by the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group. It is home to Marines who have died in action and is a place of reflection for those who remember them. Two monuments there honor Marines and sailors who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Purple Heart Monument was installed in the garden in February.

Also Read: 18 of the greatest photos of Marines fighting America’s wars

“Our Vietnam veterans suffered untold injures by our nation not acknowledging them,” said Terry Rifkin, executive director of the Dana Point group. “Vietnam veterans are as great a generation as any our country has ever produced. This monument of epic proportions, and unlike anything else at Camp Pendleton, will be a remarkable way to say thank you to those who served by recognizing those who did not make it home.”

The 50-ton black granite memorial is being crafted by Vermont’s Rock of Ages. It will have six panels honoring the 2,706 Marines, Navy corpsmen, and a chaplain who died in Vietnam while serving in the 5th Marine Regiment. Their names will be etched on the panels surrounding a 14-foot-tall black granite spire. It also will include the names of Marines and sailors who died as part of the 2nd Battalion, Fourth Marines.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy
A battle cross sits on display during sunrise, April 15, 2016, at Avon Park Air Force Range, Fla. USAF Photo by Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan.

The image of the iconic battle cross — helmet, rifle, bayonet, and boots — will be etched on all four sides of the granite. The monument also will have a combat chronology of the 5th Marines during the Vietnam War.

The 5th Marines, the most highly decorated regiment in the Marine Corps, deployed March 5, 1966, to Vietnam. They remained there for five years, until April 1971.

Colwell and Warr — who also was wounded in Vietnam — came up with the idea for the monument in 2014 after returning to Camp Pendleton for a 1st Marine Division reunion.

Colwell, 73, who served as an officer with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and Warr, 72, who fought as an infantry officer with Charlie Company in the 5th Marines, noted during the visit that there was nothing in the garden recognizing those who lost their lives in Vietnam.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

“I feel strongly there should be a representation for the Marines and sailors who were killed in Vietnam,” said Colwell. “These young men raised their hands and enlisted in the Marine Corps for an unpopular war.”

The hardest job, they said, was finding the names of those who served with the 5th Marine Regiment and died in Vietnam. That fell to Brian Coty, a board member of the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group, who has worked more than two years with the Coffelt Database of Vietnam casualties to make sure no name is left out.

Among the names are 13 Marines awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor for personal acts of valor.

The monument is set to arrive at Camp Pendleton on March 29, declared National Vietnam Veteran’s Day by President Donald Trump. It will be installed in the garden during a ceremony on Memorial Day, May 28, 2018.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US raided a Soviet arctic base in the Cold War

The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.


The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.

So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.

That was the Skyhook, an ingenious but dangerous tool that allowed planes to scoop people off of the ground using a system of hooks, wires, and balloons. A famous Batman clip actually shows the concept in very exciting detail. And, Russian Station NP 9 had recently been abandoned.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.

(CIA)

But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.

Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.

But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.

Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.

But the operation was short on time. NP 8 wasn’t expected to last long. It was drifting quickly and would soon be crushed in the ice. And the training and the surveillance of NP 9 and then NP 8 had used up the funds allotted for the operation. So the military went shopping for partners, and the CIA was happy to help. They had their own questions about Soviet drift stations.

So an aviation company and CIA front, Intermountain Aviation, got a polar navigator and prepared to drop the men.

The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.

They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.

(CIA)

Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.

Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.

The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.

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This is what we know about Area 51

Area 51 is a restricted site in Nevada with an almost cult-like mythology surrounding it. Some people claim it’s a standard military operation site, but others swear that it within its gated walls exists proof about extraterrestrial life.

Before we get into public knowledge, I want to throw in my thoughts on this. I was an intelligence officer in the Air Force and I maybe shouldn’t post this on the internet but my final assignment was in a place that rhymes with Rational Maturity Agency, and while the government definitely does some cool classified work there, I can say with high confidence that no one would be able to keep aliens a secret. At least not the kinds of aliens we tell stories about. Maybe Area 51 has some petri dishes of extraterrestrial amoebas…but I really doubt it.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy


What’s more likely is that the government tests advanced technology out in the desert. The flight pattern of an aircraft like the Harrier could totally be interpreted as a UFO at night.

As the video below states, “No doubt aircraft are still being secretly built and tested there today.”

You can check declassified documents to learn about what has been tested on site in the past. In fact, because of the Freedom Of Information Act, U.S. citizens have the right to request access to federal agency records; there are limitations, of course, but it’s a fun pastime to ask the “Rational Maturity Agency” for documents concerning things like aliens or Elvis or other conspiracies.

Check out this fascinating video to get a no-nonsense re-cap of what we know about Area 51 — then let me know what you think is going on out there!

MIGHTY TRENDING

6 reasons why vets are the best to go on vacation with

As the summer months come rolling around, families all over the nation will get together and begin planning trips. From hitting sunny beaches to visiting majestic national parks, there are tons of great places to visit this summer. After compiling a list of exciting locations, the next most important part aspect of a vacation is to consider the company you’ll keep.


When coming up with a list of potential vacationers, you’ll need to make sure you well mesh with everyone invited. For the best trip, you’ll want to bring people with a wide variety of characteristics and talents. Here’s a quirky idea: Make sure you invite one of your buddies who served in the military.

Why? We’re glad you asked!

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You’ll always have someone to drink with

Veterans love to drink; it’s no secret. Some of us are beer drinkers while others like to pound a glass of whiskey. While you might have to bribe a veteran to get them to try a new type of food, you can simply put a tasty drink in front of them and watch that f*cker disappear.

It’s like a magic trick — but better.

They’ll have plan ‘b’ through ‘z’ in mind — just in case

Troops are trained to always have contingency plans and that characteristic invariably follows them when they reenter civilian life. Even if you and your buddies are simply visiting a new pub or restaurant, the veteran is going to first locate the exits and identify any potential threats — just in case.

It’s just our way.

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They will always ask for a veteran discount

Who doesn’t like saving money? Having a veteran in the group could knock a few dollars off the bill at the end of the night. If you’re okay with paying full price for everything, then we don’t want to go on vacation with you.

They don’t have a problem waiting in lines

In the military, we often do this crappy thing called, “hurry up and wait.” It’s a sh*tty aspect of military service, sure, but it’s a realistic one. If your group wants to get into a club, the veteran among you is the best candidate for waiting out the long line.

Don’t exclusively use your veteran for waiting in lines, though — that’s just plain mean. But it is plus to have a vet who is willing to wait it out for the good of the group.

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They will always find their way

Troops are trained to find their way around to finish their mission. In the civilian world, that mission might be locating a specific pub or a way out of the camping grounds.

Regardless of the situation, the vet will pull their skills together and find their way — especially if there’s alcohol at their destination.

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Taking one for the team

The military instills in its troops the importance of the team in every way, shape, and form. It’s just how we get sh*t done.

So, if one of your fellow vacationers wants to hook up with someone who has a lonely friend, you can rest assured that the vet is going to step in and take one for the team.

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Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Lockheed Martin announced the F-35 program in 2001. Since then, hundreds of billions of dollars and 15 years of testing have brought the program to where it is today — on the verge of becoming the world’s premier fighter/bomber and the future of the US Air Force, Marines, and Navy.


But while the idea of launching a single, advanced, stealthy plane for all three service branches seemed good on paper, and ultimately won approval from US military planners at the highest level, it was never the only option.

Also read: The Pentagon wants a half-billion more dollars for the F-35

Former US Navy Commander and aviator Chris Harmer, also a senior naval analyst for the Middle East Security Project at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider that the F-35 only really holds a single advantage over the Cold War-era legacy aircraft it’s set to replace — stealth.

“The F-35 is very capable in a very specific way. The only thing it does that legacy can’t do is stealth,” said Harmer.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy
Lockheed Martin photo

Indeed the F-35’s low observability and integrated stealth design are central to the plane’s mission and tactics. Throughout its development, the F-35 notoriously lost to older legacy fighters in up-close dogfights. Combat-aviation expert Justin Bronk told Business Insider flat-out that the F-35 could “never in a million years” win a dogfight with an advanced Russian or British plane.

However, defense officials never planned for the F-35 to revolutionize dogfighting, but rather aerial combat as a whole. The F-35, nearly impossible for enemy aircraft to spot, can simply shoot down foes from long distance before they’re ever close enough to really dogfight.

But according to Harmer, who has spent much of his life around carrier-based aircraft, the F-35’s advantages begin and end with stealth. Harmer suggests that instead of building the F-35, the US simply should have updated existing aircraft, like the F-15, F-16, and F-18.

These platforms — proven, legacy aircraft — could easily be retrofit with the advanced avionics and helmet for targeting that set the F-35 apart.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy
An air-to-air view of two F-15 Eagle aircraft armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. | McDonnell Douglas photo

“For a fraction of the cost for F-35 development, we could have updated legacy aircraft and gotten a significant portion of the F-35 capabilities.” said Harmer. The F-18 for example, has already undergone extensive reworkings, and the F-18 Super Hornet, which is 25% larger than the original F-18, has a smaller radar cross section than its predecessor and is one of the US’s cheaper planes to buy and operate.

However, an F-15, the Air Force’s best air-dominance fighter, with fifth-generation avionics and targeting capability, still lacks the integrated stealth design of an F-35. Stealth must be worked into the geometry of the plane and simply won’t do as an afterthought. In today’s contested battle spaces, a legacy fighter, no matter how you update it, still lights up brightly and clearly on an enemy radar and is therefore less survivable to the pilots — something US military planners have refused to accept.

“The only advantage of the F-35 is to go into highly contested airspace,” said Harmer, adding that the US has “literally never done that.” Additionally, the US already has another fifth-generation aircraft with an even better stealth in its inventory — the F-22. In fact, when the US does discuss operations in the world’s most contested airspaces, it’s the F-22 they talk about sending.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy
The US already has a super-stealthy fighter — the F-22. | US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook

“There are other, less expensive ways to address highly contested airspace — cruise missiles, standoff weapons, radar jamming,” Harmer added.

But the F-35 ship has sailed. Despite a very troublesome development, the program is now at or very near readiness with all three branches.

“As a practical matter, the F-35 is a done deal; we’ve incurred the ‘sunk cost’ of the R D, and neither the USAF or USMC has any intentions of buying any more legacy airframes.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 milspouses who dare you to call them dependas

Military spouses get a bad rap. One need only mention that he or she is a military spouse and the dependa accusations start to flow, especially on social media. But that oft-maligned stereotype is far from the full picture. For every walking caricature, there are hundreds of hard-working, goal getters – pushing past those PCSes, deployments, and solo parenting struggles to blaze their own trails and grab those brass rings. Here are five butt-kicking milspouses who make us all proud.


This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

(live.staticflickr.com)

1. The news anchor

Brianna Keilar is a CNN anchor, a senior political analyst … and the wife of Army LTC Fernando Lujan. They met when Lujan was working on the National Security Council at the White House and Keilar was CNN’s Senior Washington Correspondent. Though Keilar is better known, by far, for her very public day job, she’s hardly a closeted milspouse. She hosted events for Blue Star Families in 2018 and 2019 and wrote this essay about covering the news with a husband deployed.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

Cadets in SS394: Financial Statements Analysis learned from Cracker Barrel Old Country Store CEO Sandy Cochran and Dollar General Chairman of the Board Mike Calbert.

(Image via West Point SOSH Facebook page)

2. The CEO

Sandy Cochran is pretty much who we all want to be when we grow up. The former Army brat doesn’t know how to fail. She was a member of the National Honor Society, the tennis team, captain of the cheerleading squad, and president of her class at Stuttgart American High School. She went to college on an ROTC scholarship and was honor grad of her Ordnance Officer Basic Course. She qualified as a paratrooper and served in the 9th Infantry Division first as a Missile Maintenance Officer in the 1st Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery, and then on the Division Staff, while attending night school to earn her MBA.

Cochran left the Army in 1985 (but not the Army lifestyle) and began working her way up the corporate ladder, while married to Donald Cochran, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and in Army Special Forces as a High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachute team leader. Fast forward through a couple of decades’ worth of both of the Cochrans’ amazing accomplishments (Seriously. They. Have. Done. So. Much.) and in 2009, Sandy was hired as the CFO of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. Two years later, she moved into the CEO job, where she has spent nearly a decade successfully leading the company and its 73,000 employees.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

President Obama announces nominee Pattie Millett.

(obamawhitehouse.archives.gov)

3. The judge

It’s a tale as old as time…Pattie Millett already had an impressive legal career when she met and fell in love with a sailor. Like so many other military spouses, Pattie decided to figure out a way to make it work. She and her husband Bob got married, had two children, and when he deployed, Pattie did the job of two parents raising their children … while also managing her heavy caseload as a lawyer in the United States Solicitor General’s office.

And this is where her story is a tad different.

She argued a case before the Supreme Court and briefed five more while her husband was deployed. Then, in August 2013, Pattie became Judge Millett when she was confirmed by Congress to serve as a United States Circuit Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to the seat vacated by Judge (ahem, now Justice) John Roberts, who was elevated to the United States Supreme Court — where our Pattie had already argued 32 cases. In fact, Pattie’s name even made it on the shortlist for a SCOTUS nomination — and we wouldn’t be surprised if she gets considered for that auspicious position again.

Oh, and did we mention that Pattie also has a 2nd Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do? She earned it during all her free time.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

(Image via Facebook)

4. The Olympian

When she’s all dressed up for her organization’s annual gala, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Sally Roberts for a fairy tale princess. But looks can be deceiving. Sally is hardly the type to sit around waiting to be rescued.

Not only is she a two-time Olympic Bronze Medal-winning wrestler and three-time National Women’s Wrestling Champion, she’s the founder and executive director of Wrestle Like a Girl, a national non-profit organization that is largely responsible for making girls’ wrestling a sanctioned high school sport in a growing number of states, bringing women’s wrestling into the NCAA, and for girls’ wrestling currently being the fastest growing sport in the nation.

Sally, an Army Special Operations veteran and the wife of a recently retired Army Special Forces soldier, started the organization not only to introduce more girls to the sport, but also to show girls that they can do anything.

We can’t imagine a better example of that than Sally.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy
ANNA CHLUMSKY

(farm9.staticflickr.com)

5. The famous actor

Anna Chlumsky’s character Amy Brookheimer on the television series “Veep” is unflappable, the kind of woman who can handle absolutely anything. The actor, however, admits that being a military spouse can make her a little … flappable.

Anna and her husband, Shaun So, met when they were both college students at the University of Chicago. He enlisted in the Army Reserves and deployed to Afghanistan while they were dating. Anna wrote about her experiences for Glamour magazine, saying, “Being a family member … of a serviceman or -woman is a lonely experience. Every military spouse or loved one has, at one time or another, felt as if no one understands what they’re going through.”

She said her friends were supportive, but they didn’t always understand. “The concept of war was so foreign in our cosmopolitan world,” Chlumsky wrote. “Either people didn’t pay attention at all, or they read too much. I’d meet strangers who, upon discovering my boyfriend was in the Army, would look at me like I was living out some eighties romantic comedy, dating a guy from the wrong side of the tracks.”

Sound familiar? Yeah, us too.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Military medevacs are facing a hidden emergency

The role of the Dustoff is sacred, enshrined in both the relationship between medical personnel and their patients as well as treaties that underlie the Law of Armed Conflict, but the practical concerns of providing medical care to troops under fire will be sorely tested in a war with a modern foe.


This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

An Army air ambulance picks up a simulated Marine casualty during a 2018 exercise in Romania.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Sturdivant)

Currently, the U.S. and most of its allies — as well as many of its greatest rivals — enjoy nearly unquestioned air superiority in their areas of operations and responsibility. So, a commander of a modern military force, whether they’re Italian, French, Chinese, or American, can request a medical evacuation with near certainty that the wounded or sick person can be picked up quickly.

Even in active theaters of war like Afghanistan, wounded personnel can often be delivered to advanced medical care within the “Golden Hour,” the first hour after injury when medical intervention will make the biggest difference between life and death, recovery, and permanent disability.

In one recent case, military personnel in Africa were able to save an Italian woman’s life after she was injured in a car crash, thanks to collaboration between medical personnel from six nations, multiple ambulance services and air crews, and a doctor-turned-linguist.

But the advanced medical capabilities available across NATO and in Russian and Chinese forces rely on an evacuation infrastructure built for uncontested environments, where the worst threat to aircraft comes from IEDs and machine gun fire.

In a new paper from RAND Europe, defense analyst Marta Kepe dovetails recent speeches from military leaders, war game results, and scholarly work. They all point to a conflict wherein troops may have to wait days or longer for evacuation, meaning that providing care at the point of injury, possibly while still under threat of enemy attack, will be the only real chance for life-saving intervention.

Take the case of war with North Korea, a much “easier” hypothetical conflict than one with China or Russia. While North Korea lacks advanced air defense assets and electronic warfare assets, that simply means that they can’t jam all communications and they likely can’t shoot down fifth-generation fighters.

But medevacs rely on helicopters that, by and large, are susceptible to North Korean air defenses. Fly too high and they can be targeted and destroyed by nearly any surface-to air missile that North Korea has. Fly too low and infantrymen with RPGs and machine guns can potentially kill them.

North Korean weapons and aircraft, while outdated, are numerous — there are over 1,300 aircraft in the arsenal and widely deployed anti-air missile sites on the ground. It might take months to wipe them all out during an invasion, the same period of time when ground commanders would expect to take the most casualties.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

An M113 ambulance drives through the Kuwaiti desert during a demonstration.

(U.S. Army)

And that’s before the helicopters’ traditional escorts in Afghanistan and Iraq, AH-64 Apaches that’re armed to the teeth, are tasked for more urgent missions, like taking out air defense and artillery sites.

All this combines to form a battlefield where command teams will need to use ground ambulances and standard vehicles to get their wounded far from the front lines before they can be picked up, tying up assets needed for the advance, taxing supply lines that now have competing traffic, and extending the time between injury and treatment.

Some battlefields, meanwhile, might be underground where it’s nearly impossible to quickly communicate with the surface or with air assets. People wounded while fighting for control of cave networks or underground bunker systems would need to be carried out on foot, then evacuated in ground vehicles to pickup sites, and then flown to hospitals.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

The hospital ship USNS Mercy pulls into port.

(U.S. Military Sealift Command Sarah Buford)

And the closest hospitals might be ships far offshore since role 3 and 4 hospitals on land take time to construct and are vulnerable to attack. While deliberately targeting a hospital is illegal, there’s no guarantee that the treaties would be honored by enemy commanders (Remember, Russia’s annexations of South Ossetia and Crimea were violations of international law, as were China’s cyber attacks and territory seizures in the Pacific).

All of which means that a war with North Korea would see tens of thousands of injured troops die of wounds that wouldn’t have been fatal in a more permissive environment. A similar story exists in Iran.

But China and Russia would be worse since they have the assets necessary to shutdown American communication networks, making it impossible for ground commanders to call for medical aid. They’re also more likely to be able to pinpoint signal sources, making it risky for a platoon leader to call for medical aid for wounded troops.

And China and Russia’s air forces and air defenses, while not quite as large as America’s, are much more potent and well-trained that Iran or North Korea’s. They could likely hold out for months or years while inflicting heavy casualties to American air assets, preventing the establishment of a permissive medevac capability for even longer.

A 2016 analysis by RAND even postulated that China would be nearly impossible to conquer by 2025. The same weapon systems expected to protect China’s mainland from successful invasion would make it nearly impossible to evacuate all the personnel injured while trying to effect the invasion.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

Air Force special operators render simulated medical aid during an exercise at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2017. The ability for non-medical personnel to render aid under fire is expected to become more important in the coming years.

(U.S. Army)

There is good news, though. The U.S. military has acknowledged these shortcomings and is trying to lay the framework for what a medical corps in a contested environment should look like.

The Army is expanding it’s “Tactical Combat Casualty Care,” or TC3, program where combat lifesavers are trained in military first aid. DARPA is working on autonomous or remotely piloted pods that can fly medical capsules with supplies in or casualty evacuation capsules out without risking flight crews. The Marine Corps already has an experimental autonomous helicopter for logistics.

Beyond that is re-building medical units to perform work closer to the front lines. This is a return to the old days to a certain extent. The only dentist to receive the Medal of Honor earned the award in World War II while acting as a surgeon in a hospital overrun by Japanese attackers.

They could also be more dispersed. Instead of building a few large hospitals with large staffs on easily targeted installations, surgical teams and other care providers could operate in small groups. That way, if one or two teams are destroyed or forced to retreat, there would still be a few groups providing medical care.

In addition to more dispersed and forward-positioned medical personnel, there’s room for expanding the medical capabilities of non-medical personnel.

In 2017, then-Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, the deputy commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, suggested that the non-medical soldiers trained in first aid could be sent on rotations with civilian paramedics and other medical personnel that treat trauma victims, building up their understanding of medical care and their resilience.

LaCamera was promoted to lieutenant general and commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps in January, 2018, increasing the chances that his directions will result in actual policy changes. He’s also the commander of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where special operations medical personnel have been sent to local hospitals to train for years.

Historically, those types of rotations have been limited to medics and other specialized troops. Medical personnel, meanwhile, would see an increased number of rotations into civilian trauma centers in the U.S. and allied countries.

But the most important aspect of medical care under fire in tomorrow’s war will be the same as it is today: Achieve and maintain fire superiority. The best way to open a window to evacuate your own personnel is by killing everyone on the enemy side wounding your troops and trying to prevent it.

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MATTIS: The Iraq war was a ‘strategic mistake’

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary called the invasion of Iraq a “strategic mistake” at a conference last year, in an audio recording obtained by The Intercept.


In a wide-ranging speech at an ASIS International Conference in Anaheim, California that covered everything from Iran, ISIS, and other national security issues, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis told attendees: “We will probably look back on the invasion of Iraq as a mistake, a strategic mistake.”

Also read: General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis got Trump to rethink his position on torture in under an hour

The assertion is not particularly controversial, given the faulty intelligence that led to the invasion, the many missteps afterward, and the unraveling of a country that eventually gave birth to the terrorist group ISIS.

But it is interesting as it’s the first known instance of Mattis portraying the invasion in a negative light, especially given his leadership of 1st Marine Division in 2003, which he led across the border and, eventually, into Baghdad.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy
General Mattis speaks to Marines in 2007. | U.S. Marine Corps photo

“I think people were pretty much aware that the US military didn’t think it was a very wise idea,” he said. “But we give a cheery ‘Aye aye, Sir.’ Because when you elect someone commander in chief — we give our advice. We generally give it in private.”

Mattis, like many other generals before the war, offered his advice to his boss Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the problems of going into Iraq. This frank advice is expected of high-ranking military officers, but ultimately it’s up to the civilian leadership to make the decision.

Still, seven retired generals eventually came out publicly against Rumsfeld in 2007 in what was dubbed “the generals’ revolt.” Mattis, still on active duty at the time, was not among them.

He was asked specifically about whether there was a scenario in which he may have retired in protest during a talk in San Francisco in April 2014. Mattis allowed some unethical orders and other scenarios that would lead him to do so, but he said, “you have to be very careful about doing that. The lance corporals can’t retire. They’re going. That’s all there is to it.”

He added: “You abandon him only under the most dire circumstances, where the message you have to send can be sent no other way. I never confronted that situation.”

Since retiring from the military in 2013, Mattis has given a number of speeches while working as a fellow at Dartmouth and Stanford. In July 2014, for example, he told students at Stanford: “There is no strategy right now for our engagement with the world. We need to know the political end state for what we want to achieve.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an F-22 pilot told the Iranian Air Force to go home

The opening few minutes of the movie Top Gun make for, arguably, one of the coolest aerial scenes ever caught on film. There’s a reason it’s the enduring air power movie of the 1980s. Too bad for the Air Force that Top Gun featured the Navy.

Except Air Force pilots do that sh*t in real life.


In 2013, two Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantoms moved to intercept an MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace near the Iranian border. The two IRIAF fighters were quickly shooed away by two F-22 Raptors who were flying in escort.

Except, they didn’t just get a warning message, they were Maverick-ed. That’s what I’m calling it now.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

How an F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian-built bomber.

The two F-22 Raptors were escorting the drone because of an incident the previous year in which two Iranian Air Force Sukhoi Su-25 close air support craft attempted to shoot down a different Air Force MQ-1. In the Nov. 1, 2012, incident, the drone was 16 miles from Iran, but still in international airspace. Iran scrambled the two Su-25s to intercept the drone, which they did, using their onboard guns.

The fighters missed the drone, which captured the whole incident with its cameras. The drone returned to base, completely unharmed. Not surprising, considering the Su-25 isn’t designed for air-to-air combat.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantom fighters.

The following year, another drone was being intercepted by Iranian aircraft. This time, however, it had serious firepower backing it up. The Iranians came at the drone with actual fighters, capable of downing an aircraft in mid-flight. The F-4 Phantom could bring what was considered serious firepower when it was first introduced – in the year 1960. These days, it’s a museum piece for the United States and most of its Western allies. Not so for the Iranians, who still have more than 40 of them in service. When the F-4s came up against the MQ-1, they probably expected an easy target. That didn’t happen.

One of the F-22 Raptor pilots flying escort for the drone flew up underneath the Iranian Phantoms. According to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the Raptor pilot checked out the armaments the Iranian planes were carrying, then pulled up on their left wing and radioed them.

This is Iran’s ace-in-the-hole in war with U.S. Navy

It wasn’t like this, but it could have been.

“He [the Raptor pilot] flew under their aircraft [the F-4s] to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there, and then pulled up on their left wing and then called them and said ‘you really ought to go home’,” Welsh said.

They did.

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