The paramilitary wing of influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr on Dec. 11 agreed to disband its forces and hand over its cache of weapons to the Iraqi government, making it the first Shia militia to lay down its arms in the aftermath of Islamic State’s defeat in the country.
During a televised speech Dec. 11, Mr. al-Sadr called upon the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to allow members of his militia, known as Saraya Al-Salam, to join Iraqi security forces or take positions within the federal government. He also demanded Baghdad “look after the families of the martyrs” who were killed during the three-year war against ISIS via compensation and support.
Other Shia paramilitaries, such as the Iranian-backed Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba’, a militia force of roughly 10,000 fighters, vowed last month to turn over any heavy weapons it had to Iraqi security forces once Islamic State had been driven from the country. Despite such promises, Mr. Sadr’s forces remain the only Shia militia under the Popular Mobilization Forces or PMF banner to hand over its arms to government forces.
At its height during the fight against ISIS, Saraya Al-Salam held sway over 2,000 square kilometers of Shia-dominated territory in northern Iraq, mostly in Nineveh province. Militia spokesman Safaa al-Timeemi told the Washington Times last September that the group would acquiesce to Baghdad’s control — but only if Mr. Sadr made the order.
“We commit to the direction and orders of [Muqtada al-Sadr],” Mr. al-Tameemi said during an interview in Baghdad at the time.
“If he says we should be part of this new organization, then we will. If not, then we will not,” he said, adding the militia “are not a replacement for the [Iraqi] army but we are in support of the army,” he said.
The Sadr group’s decision to disarm comes as other Iranian-backed paramilitaries with the PMF, with the direct backing of military commanders in Tehran, gained more popular support in Shia enclaves newly liberated from ISIS control.
That expanding support has allowed Iran to lock in so-called “Shia Crescent” of influence across the heart of the Middle East, assembling a network of Tehran-backed proxy forces now spanning from nation’s border with Iraq all the way to Lebanon. And in Iraq “the PMF is the guarantor” of the land bridge tying Tehran to the Mediterranean, Sarhang Hamasaeed, the head of Middle East Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told The Times earlier this month.
Prior to the rise of ISIS in Iraq, Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army and other Sadrists battled U.S. and coalition forces in Najaf and Sadr City during some of the worst fighting of the American occupation of the country in mid-2000. A known Shia hardliner, Mr. Sadr’s position had begun to soften as other Iranian-backed paramilitaries with the PMF gained more popular support in Shia enclaves newly liberated from ISIS control.
A September meeting between Mr. Sadr and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was seen as an effort by Riyadh to hedge its bets against increased Iranian influence in Iraq. Mr. Sadr was reportedly invited at the time by the crown prince and Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Iraq Thamer al-Sabhan, to the country for “discussions of common interest” between the kingdom and Iraq.
It was the first visit back to Saudi Arabia for the controversial Iraqi Shia cleric since 2006, al Jazeera reported at the time. Saudi Arabia officially reopened its embassy in Iraq in 2015, after a 25-year diplomatic absence in the country, according to the report.
Army reservists deployed to Europe were wrongly denied housing allowance payments, subjected to humiliating criminal investigations, and forced into debt by the service after the Army “willfully disregarded” its own policies to refuse benefits owed, according to a federal court complaint.
The complaint, filed in April 2018, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, accuses the Army of “gross negligence,” saying it caused financial and professional damage by intentionally denying benefits it should have paid.
The lawsuit also says the soldiers faced threats that “jeopardized their careers and security clearances by flagging them as subjects to fraud or larceny investigations.”
The dispute began in 2016 after reservist soldiers deployed to Europe and received benefits authorized by the Army, which included basic housing allowance, or BAH, for their stateside homes. They also received overseas housing allowance, or OHA, in Europe after being ordered by the Army to live off post because of a lack of available housing.
The benefit is spelled out in the Joint Federal Travel Regulations, which govern how allowances are paid: “A Service member called/ordered to active duty in support of a contingency operation is authorized primary residence-based BAH/OHA beginning on the first active duty day . . . This rate continues for the duration of the tour.” Army regulations reiterate the policy.
Months into their respective deployments, the finance office at U.S. Army Europe decided the benefits should no longer be paid, said Patrick Hughes, the Washington attorney representing the seven soldiers who filed the lawsuit.
Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Nina Hill declined to comment on the case, citing “ongoing litigation.”
The Army Reserve and National Guard officers, who were dispatched to Europe for contingency operations, are seeking to restore their benefits and abolish Army-imposed debts that have been levied.
Over the past two years, Hughes said, soldiers have seen entire paychecks wiped out through wage garnishments as the Army seeks to collect on debts that range from $13,000 to $94,000.
Investigated, reprimanded, indebted
Hundreds of reservists could have been affected by the Army’s actions, Hughes said.
The court is expected to respond to the complaint within 30 days. If it’s accepted as the proper venue, the soldiers will move to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit that other reservists could join.
“You do need power in numbers to get action to be taken in these situations. We are trying to address it at a massive scale,” Hughes said. “This an effort to resolve the issue in its entirety for everyone.”
In some cases, soldiers were issued general officer reprimands, which are often considered career-killers.
Col. Bradley Wolfing, one of the plaintiffs in the case, successfully appealed his reprimand, which was the result of being “erroneously placed under investigation by the Army’s CID, and ultimately punished for BAH fraud on or about March 24, 2017,” the complaint says.
A grade determination review board determined Wolfing satisfactorily served as a colonel and was allowed to retire as such, the complaint states.
In conjunction with that ruling, Defense Financing and Accounting Services reviewed the case and “concluded that the Army’s decision to ignore (the Joint Federal Travel Regulation) and deny COL Wolfing his primary residence location BAH entitlement was erroneous.”
That conclusion will likely factor into any future litigation.
“This DFAS opinion is of great significance, because its analysis is applicable to virtually all of those affected by the Army’s primary residence location BAH entitlement denial,” the complaint says.
Still, the Army continues to garnish soldiers’ wages, a move the complaint says “amounts to gross negligence.” The Army indebted Wolfing for $94,000.
In 2016, the Army launched criminal investigations into the reservists who received the benefits that the Army itself had authorized when the reservists were mobilized.
“Basically, I was criminally processed, all because they are saying I shouldn’t (have been) collecting BAH for my Connecticut residence. I was stunned,” said Capt. Tim Kibodeaux, an intelligence officer with 27 years in the National Guard.
Criminal Investigation Command agents fingerprinted him and took his mug shot for their records during the investigation.
The Army levied a $50,000 debt on Kibodeaux for BAH payments it says he wasn’t entitled to and has repeatedly garnished his wages, the soldiers’ complaint says. Meanwhile, he hasn’t received about $16,000 in owed benefits.
The six other service members in the complaint are in similar situations.
“My credit has been completely ruined,” Kibodeaux said. “I am disgusted at this point. We think about 340 people were affected by this.”
At least 140 soldiers were snared in the BAH investigation in Europe, according to the complaint, which cites information relayed by the Criminal Investigation Command.
Given the high numbers of reservists who have been rotating through Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve — the campaign to deter Russian aggression in the region — the lawsuit says that the numbers are likely much higher. If the complaint grows, millions of dollars could be at stake in future litigation.
One concern now, Kibodeaux said, is that lower-ranking reservists could have been intimidated into silence and may be unaware that their rights to certain benefits have been violated.
“Several Plaintiffs were informed through their chain-of-command that any future inquiries into this issue would be met with negative consequences, and that the denial of the housing entitlement was a final decision,” the complaint says.
Kibodeaux said he and his colleagues never received a clear explanation from the Army why benefits were taken away or why they were subjected to criminal investigations.
During the probe, Kibodeaux said, he told Army finance officials about the regulation that allowed for the allowance. He said the Army investigators told him they didn’t recognize the policy, which for decades has allowed reservists on deployment overseas to receive BAH for their home of record.
(Photo by Timothy Hale)
“They said, ‘We don’t go by that. We go by the active duty one,'” Kibodeaux said.
When Kibodeaux pointed out the military’s regulations governing allowances for reservists to a criminal investigator, the agent’s response was, “We just do what finance tells us to do,” Kibodeaux said.
In recent years, the military has struggled to interpret federal regulations dealing with living allowances.
In 2013, a reinterpretation of overarching State Department regulations by the Defense Department put nearly 700 civilians in debt by cutting off their housing allowances. Special waivers were required to eliminate debts that in some cases reached six figures.
Europe-based reservists have also been affected by new interpretations of long-standing regulations. In 2013, the Army decided to stop paying BAH to reservists who lived in Germany and deployed on Army missions in other parts of Germany that were hours away from their home.
The Army, which imposed debts on about 10 soldiers at the time, never fully explained its legal rationale for changing the rules.
Service members and civilians who have gotten caught up in benefits disputes have complained that there is little internal recourse in a one-on-one fight with the military bureaucracy over benefits. And the idea of taking on the federal government in a lengthy court fight also is daunting and costly.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
A Russian businessman who was found dead in southern England six years ago likely died of natural causes, a British inquest has found.
Aleksandr Perepilichny collapsed while out jogging near his home south of London in November 2012, and there have been suspicions that he might have been murdered by poisoning.
“I am satisfied on the evidence I have heard I can properly and safely conclude that it was more likely than not that he died of natural causes, namely sudden arrhythmic death syndrome,” Nicholas Hilliard, who led the inquest into Perepilichny’s death, said on Dec. 19, 2018.
“There really is no direct evidence that he was unlawfully killed,” Hilliard added.
Perepilichny, a Russian tycoon and Kremlin critic who sought refuge in Britain in 2009, had been helping a Swiss investigation into a massive Russian money-laundering scheme. He also provided evidence against Russian officials linked to the 2009 death of anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail.
While police said at the time that there was nothing to suggest foul play, suspicions were fueled when an expert told a hearing that traces of a rare, deadly poison from the gelsemium plant had been found in his stomach.
Aleksandr Perepilichny collapsed while out jogging near his home south of London.
His stomach contents were flushed away during the first post-mortem investigation, making further testing difficult, but scientists concluded the unidentified compound had no link to the gelsemium plant species and was found in cheese and meat.
Perepilichny had eaten soup containing sorrel for lunch the day he died, a fact that stoked speculation it had been replaced with gelsemium. But his wife Tatyana also ate the soup, and told the inquest she did not believe her husband was murdered.
Hilliard said that he could not totally rule out the use of poison, but that none of the evidence pointed to it.
Hilliard said that London police contacted him in December 2018 to confirm they were not conducting an investigation into Perepilichny’s death and that there was no evidence of “any hostile state actor” being involved.
He also said that he had considered the case in the context of the killing of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned in London in 2006 with radioactive polonium-210.
A 2016 inquiry concluded Litvinenko’s murder was carried out by two Russians and was probably ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
In September 2018, Hilliard ruled that material about possible links between Perepilichny and British spy agencies would remain secret.
He said the material was “marginal” to resolving the question of how the businessman died and that releasing documents from British spy agencies MI5 and MI6 relating to Perepilichny could harm national security.
The British government earlier said police had completed a review of the Perepilichny case and 13 other deaths linked to Russia following the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury in March 2018.
It concluded there was no need to reopen any investigation.
Britain blames the Russian government for the poisoning of the Skripals with the nerve agent Novichok. Moscow denies any involvement.
North Korea publicly unveiled a special operations unit for the first time during a military parade marking the Day of the Sun, the anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, reports Yonhap News Agency.
The soldiers were armed with grenade launchers and presented with night-vision goggles on their helmets.
“Once Supreme Commander Kim Jong-un issues the order, they will charge with resolve to thrust a sword through the enemy’s heart like lighting,” a North Korean broadcaster said.
The North Korean special operations forces marched across Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang behind the Navy, Air Force, and other strategic forces. The new unit is believed to be led by North Korean Col. Gen. Kim Yong-bok.
North Korea’s special operations forces could be used to counter allied pre-emptive strike plans. Special operations troops recently drilled in preparation for a possible strike on an enemy missile base, the Korean Central News Agency reported. The force also practiced combating enemy commandos.
U.S. and South Korean reports have suggested that allied war plans include the possibility of “decapitation strikes” designed to eliminate the North Korean leadership. South Korea reported that this year’s Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills included exercises focused on “incapacitating North Korean leadership.”
“The KPA will deal deadly blows without prior warning any time as long as the operation means and troops of the U.S. and South Korean puppet forces involved in the ‘special operation’ and ‘preemptive attack’ targeting the [Democratic Republic of Korea] remain deployed in and around South Korea,” the North Korean military warned in late March.
The North also unveiled several new missiles, intercontinental ballistic missile models, during the parade.
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Over 29 days in spring 2018, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity documented this 360-degree panorama from multiple images taken at what would become its final resting spot in Perseverance Valley. Located on the inner slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater, Perseverance Valley is a system of shallow troughs descending eastward about the length of two football fields from the crest of Endeavour’s rim to its floor.
“This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery,” said Opportunity project manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “To the right of center you can see the rim of Endeavor Crater rising in the distance. Just to the left of that, rover tracks begin their descent from over the horizon and weave their way down to geologic features that our scientists wanted to examine up close. And to the far right and left are the bottom of Perseverance Valley and the floor of Endeavour crater, pristine and unexplored, waiting for visits from future explorers.”
The trailblazing mission ended after nearly 15 years of exploring the surface of Mars, but its legacy will live on. Opportunity’s scientific discoveries contributed to our unprecedented understanding of the planet’s geology and environment, laying the groundwork for future robotic and human missions to the Red Planet.
This image is an edited version of the last 360-degree panorama taken by the Opportunity rover’s Pancam from May 13 through June 10, 2018. The version of the scene is presented in approximate true color.
This image is a cropped version of the last 360-degree panorama taken by the Opportunity rover’s Pancam from May 13 through June 10, 2018. The panorama appears in 3D when seen through blue-red glasses with the red lens on the left.
The panorama is composed of 354 individual images provided by the rover’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) from May 13 through June 10, or sols (Martian days) 5,084 through 5,111. This view combines images taken through three different Pancam filters. The filters admit light centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near-infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet).
A few frames remain black and white, as the solar-powered rover did not have the time to record those locations using the green and violet filters before a severe Mars-wide dust storm swept in on June 2018.
Taken on June 10, 2018 (the 5,111th Martian day, or sol, of the mission) this “noisy,” incomplete image was the last data NASA’s Opportunity rover sent back from Mars. Click here for full image and caption.
The gallery includes the last images Opportunity obtained during its mission (black-and-white thumbnail images from the Pancam that were used to determine how opaque the sky was on its last day) and also the last piece of data the rover transmitted (a “noisy,” incomplete full-frame image of a darkened sky).
These two thumbnail images, with the ghostly dot of a faint Sun near the middle of each, are the last images NASA’s Opportunity rover took on Mars. Click here for full image and caption.
After eight months of effort and sending more than a thousand commands in an attempt to restore contact with the rover, NASA declared Opportunity’s mission complete on Feb. 13, 2019.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, managed the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
Hundreds of representatives from businesses small and large attend the 2019 Small Business Forum in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the U.S. Space Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., Oct. 24, 2019. (U.S. Army/Stephan Baack)
Veteran unemployment rates fell in May by nearly three points to 9%, from 11.7% in April — the first signs of an economic rebound from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The drop in the unemployment rate for veterans of all generations exceeded the 1.4% decrease in the rate for the general population, from 14.7% to 13.3%, reflecting “a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed” by the virus, the monthly report said.
May’s 9% jobless rate for all veterans compared to 2.7% overall in May 2019 during the economic surge, and 3.8% in March before the first effects of the novel coronavirus hit the economy, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.
The unemployment rate for all female veterans in May was 7.8%, compared to 2.7% in May 2019, BLS said.
For post-9/11, or Gulf War II, veterans, the unemployment rate remained in double digits at 10.3%, but was down from 13.0% in April, BLS said. A year ago, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 2.8%.
The figures showed remarkable resiliency in a hard-hit economy among older veterans who began their service in the 1990s, referred to as Gulf War-I veterans by BLS. For those veterans, the unemployment rate was 4.8% in May, BLS said.
However, the unemployment rates remained in double digits for the oldest generation of veterans from Vietnam, Korea and World War II, it said. For those veterans, the unemployment rate in May was 11.9% compared to 2.7% in May 2019.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Wall Street analysts had warned that the overall unemployment rate could approach 20% in May and June and remain in double digits through the end of this year, depending on a range of variables.
However, BLS Commissioner William Beach, in a statement accompanying the report, said that non-farm payroll jobs increased by 2.5 million in May despite the pandemic “and efforts to contain it.”
The 2.5 million figure was the largest monthly gain in new jobs since BLS began tracking the data in 1939, it said.
At the White House, President Donald Trump hailed the unexpected drop in the unemployment rates as “an affirmation of all the work we’ve been doing.”
He called predictions of jobless rates in the range of 20% “the greatest miscalculation in the history of business shows” and said the economy is now poised to take off “like a rocketship.”
In a statement, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said the May jobs report showed “much higher job creation and lower unemployment than expected, reflecting that the reopening of the economy in May was earlier, and more robust, than projected.”
He said, “It appears the worst of the coronavirus’s impact on the nation’s job markets is behind us.”
Walter Reed National Medical Center announced this week a plan to expand a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Defense Department that focuses on creative art therapy for service members, veterans, and family members.
The “Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network” focuses on art therapy such as writing, painting, and singing to help service members address and deal with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
It’s currently offered at Walter Reed in Maryland and Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are notoriously complex conditions to treat,” the NEA chairman Jane Chu said, noting that day long workshops don’t dig deep enough into the issues surrounding PTS and TBI.
Understanding that, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence decided to add a therapeutic writing program to its already existing creative art therapy program. That program now incorporates visual arts and music therapy.
The program, which received an additional $1.98 million funding in fiscal year 2016, has plans to expand to Marine Corps Bases Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune; Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska; and Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.
The NEA and DoD have enough funding to open those and five other sites around the country in 2017, the Pentagon says.
Readiness, diversity, location, population density and leadership were all taken into consideration when determining where to open expansion clinics, Chu said. Leadership is “critical to the success of our work together,” Chu explained, adding that the expansion will also work with a network of community based nonprofit organizations.
The goal with the expansion, according to Chu, is to develop a web of resources and tools to help local organizations and communities as they work with the military community among them.
Chu reports that, through the program, veterans are better able to manage stress.
“We’re seeing such transformational results in our service members and our expansion plans have come as a result of them saying that they want this program to be closer to their communities as they make a transition back into civilian life,” Chu explained. “This is a way to help service members and veterans … understand the dignity that they already have and so much deserve.”
A Chinese military official has warned that war between the US and China is becoming “a practical reality” following the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
On January 20, an official from the People’s Liberation Army wrote on its official website that the US’s “rebalance” in Asia, its deployments to the region, and its push to arm South Korea with the THAAD missile-defense system were provocative “hot spots getting closer to ignition,” The South China Morning Post reported Friday.
Before his inauguration, Trump sparked controversy in China when he took a phone call from the president of Taiwan, going against the US’s decades-long protocol to respect a “One China” policy. At the time, Chinese officials lodged a complaint with the White House but referred to the call as a “shenanigan by the Taiwan side.”
But that hasn’t put to rest all of China’s concerns. “The Taiwan question” is a core interest to the country, which, two PLA authors wrote in December, could push a more aggressive response as the US supports independence for Taiwan and more exports of weaponry.
“We hope that the US will rein in at the brink of the precipice and avoid going farther and farther down the wrong path,” the authors wrote on the Chinese military’s official website.
For now, China seems to be trying to get a read on what a Trump administration might do, especially in the contested South China Sea. But it is continuing to build up military preparedness and overhaul its ranks,according to SCMP.
“As it’s highly unlikely that China will compromise its sovereignty claims in the face of US pressure, we can be sure that the dispute will increasingly become a risky point of contention between Beijing and Washington,” Ian Storey, a senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told the paper.
The Pentagon says Islamic State militants in the Iraqi city of Mosul are holding civilians in buildings by force and then deliberately attracting coalition strikes.
A Pentagon spokesman on March 30 said the U.S. military will soon release a video showing IS fighters herding people into a building, then firing from the structure to bait coalition forces.
The comments come as the U.S. military responds to criticism from within Iraq and internationally over a separate incident in which as many as 240 civilians are believed to have been killed.
“What you see now is not the use of civilians as human shields,” said Colonel Joe Scrocca, a spokesman for the coalition. “Now it’s something much more sinister.”
He said militants are “smuggling civilians so we won’t see them” into buildings and then attempting to draw an attack.
He said he was working on declassifying a video showing militants conducting such an operation.
Human rights group Amnesty International, Pope Francis, and others have urged for better protection for civilians caught in the war, with calls intensifying after a separate March 17 explosion in the Mosul al-Jadida district, killing scores of people.
The U.S. military previously acknowledged that coalition planes probably had a role in the explosion and subsequent building collapse, but it said the ammunition used was insufficient to explain the amount of destruction observed.
Officials said they suspect the building may have been booby-trapped or that the damage may have been caused by the detonation of a truck bomb.
U.S.-backed forces are attempting to push IS fighters out of west Mosul after having liberated the less-populated eastern part of Iraq’s second-largest city.
Scrocca estimated that some 1,000 militants remain in west Mosul, their last stronghold in Iraq, down from 2,000 when the assault was launched on February 19.
They are facing about 100,000 Iraqi government forces, he added.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon, originally developed by General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin), is a proven compact, single-engine, multi-role fighter aircraft. Since the F-16A’s first flight in December 1976, this highly maneuverable air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack aircraft has provided mission versatility and high-performance for the U.S. and allied nations at a relatively low-cost.
In an air combat role, the F-16’s maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter.
In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.
The U.S. Air Force officially named the F-16 “Fighting Falcon” on July 21, 1980, during a ceremony at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the home of the first F-16 unit.
The F-16V, or Viper, is the latest variant of the F-16 fourth-generation fighter aircraft. The upgrade integrates advanced capabilities to better interoperate with fifth-generation fighters, such as the F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor.
The last F-16 was delivered to the U.S. Air Force on 18 March 2005. The F-35 was developed to replace the F-16.
Development and design
The first operational F-16A was delivered in January 1979 to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill AFB.
The F-16 was built under an agreement between the U.S. and four NATO countries: Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway. These countries jointly produced with the U.S. an initial 348 F-16s for their air forces.
The consortium’s F-16s are assembled from components manufactured in all five countries. Belgium also provides final assembly of the F100 engine used in the European F-16s.
Recently, Portugal joined the consortium. The long-term benefits of this program will be technology transfer among the nations producing the F-16, and a common-use aircraft for NATO nations. Additionally, the program increases the supply and availability of repair parts in Europe and improves the F-16’s combat readiness.
All F-16s delivered since November 1981 have built-in structural and wiring provisions and systems architecture that permit expansion of the multirole flexibility to perform precision strike, night attack and beyond-visual-range interception missions.
This improvement program led to the F-16C and F-16D aircraft, which are the single- and two-seat counterparts to the F-16A/B, and incorporate the latest cockpit control and display technology. All active units and many Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units have converted to the F-16C/D.
Avionics systems include a highly accurate enhanced global positioning and inertial navigation systems, or EGI, in which computers provide steering information to the pilot. The plane has UHF and VHF radios plus an instrument landing system. It also has a warning system and modular countermeasure pods to that can be used against airborne or surface electronic threats. The fuselage also has space for additional avionics systems.
The cockpit and its bubble canopy give the pilot unobstructed forward and upward vision and greatly improved vision over the side and to the rear.
The F-16’s incredible maneuverability is achieved by its “relaxed stability” design. The airframe is inherently unstable, as the center of mass and lift are much closer together than on other designs, however this allows the aircraft to respond quickly to pilot control input and with tighter maneuvers.
While a fully analog jet aircraft of this design would require the pilot to make too many control inputs to fly safely, the F-16 pilot maintains excellent flight control through the aircraft’s “fly-by-wire” system.
The YF-16 became the world’s first aircraft to be aerodynamically unstable by design. With a rearward center of gravity, its natural tendency is to nose up rather than down. Level flight is created by the elevator pushing the tail up rather than down, and therefore pushing the entire aircraft up. With the elevator working with the wing rather than against it, wing area, weight, and drag are reduced.
The airplane is constantly on the verge of flipping up or down totally out of control. This tendency is being constantly caught and corrected by the fly-by-wire control system so quickly that neither the pilot nor an outside observer can tell. If the control system were to fail, the aircraft would instantly tumble; however, this has never happened.
Through a side stick controller, the pilot sends electrical signals to actuators of flight control surfaces, such as ailerons and rudder, while powerful onboard computers constantly adjust those inputs to enable stability in level flight and high maneuverability in combat. The side stick controller, in lieu of a center-mounted stick, allows the pilot easy and accurate control during high G-force combat maneuvers.
In designing the F-16, advanced aerospace science and proven reliable systems from other aircraft such as the F-15 and F-111 were selected. These were combined to simplify the airplane and reduce its size, purchase price, maintenance costs and weight. The lightweight of the fuselage is achieved without reducing its strength. With a full load of internal fuel, the F-16 can withstand up to nine G’s, nine times the force of gravity, which exceeds the capability of other current fighter aircraft.
Operation and deployment
More than 4,000 F-16’s are in service in 24 countries. There are 110 different versions of the aircraft. The main user of the F-16 is the U.S. The country with the largest F-16 fleet outside the U.S. is Israel. The four European Participating Forces who developed the midlife update for the F-16 are the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and later also Portugal. Other users of the F-16 are Bahrain, Chile, Egypt, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Venezuela, United Arabian Emirates and South Korea.
U.S. Air Force F-16s were deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm, where more sorties were flown than with any other aircraft. These fighters were used to attack airfields, military production facilities, Scud missiles sites and a variety of other targets.
During Operation Allied Force, U.S. Air Force F-16 multirole fighters flew a variety of missions to include suppression of enemy air defense, offensive counter air, defensive counter air, close air support and forward air controller missions. Mission results were outstanding as these fighters destroyed radar sites, vehicles, tanks, MiGs, and buildings.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the F-16 has been a major component of the combat forces committed to the war on terrorism flying thousands of sorties in support of operations Noble Eagle (Homeland Defense), Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom
Did you know?
Many military pilots refer to the F-16 as the “Viper”, because of its similarities to the head of the snake.
The F-16 was the first fighter jet to use a side-mounted control stick. The stick lets pilots rest their arm while flying, giving them better control of the jet in high-G maneuvers.
With its high thrust-to-weight ratio, extreme maneuverability, and pilot ergonomics and visibility, the F-16 has been one of the most respected and feared fighter aircraft of the past 40 years.
In 1976, Tech. Sgt. Joseph A. Kurdel, photosensor shop supervisor for the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, MacDill AFB, Florida, won the “Name-the-Plane Contest” with the name Fighting Falcon. He won a free dinner at the MacDill AFB NCO Mess.
F-16 Fighting Falcon fact sheet:
Primary function: multirole fighter
Contractor: Lockheed Martin Corp.
Power plant: F-16C/D: one Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-200/220/229 or General Electric F110-GE-100/129
Thrust: F-16C/D, 27,000 pounds
Wingspan: 32 feet, 8 inches (9.8 meters)
Length: 49 feet, 5 inches (14.8 meters)
Height: 16 feet (4.8 meters)
Weight: 19,700 pounds without fuel (8,936 kilograms)
Maximum takeoff weight: 37,500 pounds (16,875 kilograms)
Fuel capacity: 7,000 pounds internal (3,175 kilograms); typical capacity, 12,000 pounds with two external tanks (5443 kilograms)
Payload: two 2,000-pound bombs, two AIM-9, two AIM-120 and two 2400-pound external fuel tanks
Speed: 1,500 mph (Mach 2 at altitude)
Range: more than 2,002 miles ferry range (1,740 nautical miles)
Ceiling: above 50,000 feet (15 kilometers)
Armament: one M-61A1 20mm multibarrel cannon with 500 rounds; external stations can carry up to six air-to-air missiles, conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions and electronic countermeasure pods
Crew: F-16C, one; F-16D, one or two
Unit cost: F-16A/B , $14.6 million (fiscal 98 constant dollars); F-16C/D,$18.8 million (fiscal 98 constant dollars)
Initial operating capability: F-16A, January 1979; F-16C/D Block 25-32, 1981; F-16C/D Block 40-42, 1989; and F-16C/D Block 50-52, 1994
Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, said his rocket company’s toughest mission yet has arrived — and you can watch it live online.
Sometime between 11:30 p.m. ET on June 24, 2019, and 2:30 a.m. ET on June 25, 2019, a Falcon Heavy rocket will try to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Tonight’s launch attempt marks SpaceX’s third-ever with Falcon Heavy. The rocket design debuted in February 2018, has three reusable boosters, and is considered the planet’s most powerful launch system in use today.
“This will be our most difficult launch ever,” Musk tweeted on June 19, 2019.
What makes this mission, called Space Test Program-2 (STP-2), so challenging is what’s stacked inside the rocket’s nose cone: 24 government and commercial satellites that together weigh about 8,150 pounds (3,700 kilograms). When fully fueled, a Falcon Heavy rocket weighs about 1,566 tons (1,420 metric tons), or more than 300 adult elephants’ worth of mass.
An 8,150-pound (3,700-kilogram) stack of 24 government and commercial satellites inside the nose cone of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in June 2019.
After getting its behemoth rocket off the pad at Launch Complex 39-A, SpaceX has to deploy the two dozen spacecraft into multiple orbits around Earth over several hours. To do this, it must shut down and reignite the engine of an upper-stage rocket four times, according to the company.
One satellite holds NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock, which may change the way robots and astronauts navigate space. Another spacecraft is the Planetary Society’s LightSail, an experiment that could change how vehicles propel themselves to a destination. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also launching six small weather satellites built in partnership with Taiwan.
There’s even a spacecraft holding the ashes of 152 people, and it will orbit Earth for about 25 years before careening back as an artificial meteor.
But SpaceX will also be attempting to land all three of the rocket’s 16-story boosters back on Earth for reuse in future launches. The two attached to the side of the Falcon Heavy rocket are set to touch down on land a few minutes after liftoff.
Meanwhile, the central or core booster — which will fire longer and disconnect from the upper-stage rocket later in the flight — will try to land on a drone ship sitting about 770 miles (1,240 kilometers) off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean.
Watch SpaceX’s launch attempt live on Monday night
SpaceX is streaming the STP-2 mission live on YouTube, and the company said its broadcast would begin about 20 minutes before liftoff (about 11:10 p.m. ET).
There’s a 20% chance that SpaceX will delay its launch because of thunderstorms, according to a forecast issued by the US Air Force on Monday morning. If the launch is pushed to its backup window 24 hours later, there’s a 30% chance of delay.
If you want to follow the launch and deployment events, we’ve included a detailed timeline below the YouTube embed.
Launch events and timing relative to the moment Falcon Heavy lifts off the pad are outlined below and come from SpaceX’s press kit for the STP-2 mission.
-53:00— SpaceX launch director verifies go for propellant load -50:00— First-stage RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading begins -45:00— First-stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading begins -35:00— Second-stage RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading begins -18:30— Second-stage LOX loading begins -07:00— Falcon Heavy begins prelaunch engine chill -01:30— Flight computer commanded to begin final prelaunch checks -01:00— Propellant tanks pressurize for flight -00:45— SpaceX launch director verifies go for launch -00:02— Engine controller commands engine-ignition sequence to start -00:00— Falcon Heavy liftoff
Once the rocket lifts off, Falcon Heavy hardware and its payload will go through a series of crucial maneuvers. The side boosters and core booster will try to separate and land. Following that, the rocket’s upper or second stage will propel into orbit, then attempt to deploy its 24 satellites from a device called the Integrated Payload Stack over several hours.
The timing and events below are also relative to liftoff, in hours, minutes, and seconds.
00:00:42— Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket) 00:02:27— Booster engine cutoff (BECO) 00:02:31— Side boosters separate from center core 00:02:49— Side boosters begin boost-back burn 00:03:27— Center core engine shutdown/main engine cutoff (MECO) 00:03:31— Center core and 2nd stage separate 00:03:38— 2nd stage engine starts (SES-1) 00:04:03— Fairing deployment 00:07:13— Side boosters begin entry burn 00:08:41— Side booster landings 00:08:38— 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1) 00:08:53— Center core begins entry burn 00:11:21— Center core landing 00:12:55— Spacecraft deployments begin 01:12:39— Second-stage engine restart (SES-2) 01:13:00— Second-stage engine cutoff (SECO-2) 02:07:35— Second-stage engine restart (SES-3) 02:08:04— Second-stage engine cutoff (SECO-3) 03:27:27— Second-stage engine restart (SES-4) 03:28:03— Second-stage engine cutoff (SECO-4) 03:34:09— Final spacecraft deployment
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
But the centerpiece of the US Navy’s fleet has a decade-old gap in its submarine defenses, and filling it may require new, unmanned aircraft.
A US Navy S-2G Tracker in the foreground, accompanied by its successor, the S-3A Viking, over Naval Air Station North Island, California, in July 1976.
(US Navy photo)
‘It’s got legs’
During the Cold War and the years afterward, aircraft carriers had fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for anti-submarine-warfare operations. For much of that period, the fixed-wing option was the S-3 Viking.
Introduced in 1974, the turbofan S-3 was developed with Soviet submarines in mind. It replaced the propeller-driven S-2 Tracker, carrying a crew of four. It wasn’t particularly fast, but it had a 2,000-mile range and could stay airborne for up to 10 hours to hunt submarines.
“It’s got legs,” said Capt. John Rousseau, who flew the Navy’s last Vikings as part of an experimental squadron before their retirement in early 2016.
It had strong surface-search abilities to find periscopes, a magnetic anomaly detector to search for submerged subs, and gear to analyze sounds from sonobuoys it dropped in the ocean. Its search and processing capabilities tripled its search area. And in a war scenario, it could fire Harpoon missiles at ships and drop torpedoes and depth charges to destroy submarines.
An S-3A Viking with a Magnetic Anomaly Detection boom extending from its tail in May 1983.
(US Navy photo)
“It can go fast and long. The radar, even though it’s old, there’s not many better. We still spot schools of dolphins and patches of seaweed” when patrolling off California, Rousseau said in 2016.
The Viking performed a variety of missions, including cargo transport, surveillance and electronic intelligence, search and rescue, and aerial refueling, but it was a mainstay of the carrier anti-submarine-warfare efforts.
Helicopters deployed on carriers typically perform close-in ASW, usually within about 90 miles of the ship. The S-3, with a longer range and the ability to linger, filled the midrange-ASW role, operating about 90 to 175 miles from the carrier.
Land-based aircraft, like the P-3 Orion and now the P-8 Poseidon, have flown the longest-range submarine patrols.
‘The leadership totally turned over’
As the sub threat lessened after the Cold War, the S-3 was reoriented toward anti-surface operations. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, an S-3 attacked a ground target for the first time, firing a missile at Saddam Hussein’s yacht.
“Navy One,” a US Navy S-3B Viking carrying President George W. Bush, lands on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003.
(US Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Gabriel Piper)
An S-3 designated “Navy One” even flew President George W. Bush to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Some of the Navy’s last S-3s operated over Iraq in the late 2000s, looking for threats on the ground.
The S-3 was eventually able to deploy torpedoes, mines, depth charges, and missiles.
With the addition of Harpoon anti-ship missiles, the S-3’s designation in the carrier air wing shifted from “anti-submarine” to “sea control,” according to “Retreat from Range,” a 2015 report on carrier aviation by Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy officer who took part in force-structure planning and carrier-strike-group operations.
Amid shifts in Navy leadership and the rise of new threats after the Cold War, the S-3 lost favor. It officially left service in 2009. There was nothing to replace it.
“There was a slow transition in the makeup of the air wing, as well as a slow transition in the changeover in the leadership of the air-wing community,” Hendrix, now a vice president at Telemus Group, told Business Insider. As a naval aviator, Hendrix spent over a decade in P-3 patrol squadrons that routinely conducted maritime patrols looking for foreign submarines.
“By the time we got … to replace the S-3, essentially the leadership totally turned over to the short-range, light-attack community, led by the F/A-18 Hornet pilots, and also they’ve been operating for the better part of 20 years in permissive environments,” Hendrix said, referring to areas such as the Persian Gulf, where threats like enemy subs are almost nonexistent.
Because of the lack of other threats, the S-3 was relegated largely to a refueling role during its final years, mainly as a recovery tanker for aircraft returning to the carrier.
“When it came time to make a decision, they said, ‘Well, we really don’t need the recovery tanker. I can do recovery tanking with other Hornets, and this anti-submarine warfare doesn’t seem all that important to us because there’s not submarines around us,'” Hendrix said. “So they made a decision to get rid of the S-3.”
A US Navy S-3 Viking refuels another S-3 Viking over the Caribbean Sea in May 2006.
(US Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Christopher Stephens)
The S-3s that were retired had thousands of flying hours left in their airframes. Dozens are being held in reserve in the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
“They actually got rid of the S-3 early in the sense that the community still had a viable population of aircraft,” Hendrix said.
Their departure left a hole in carrier defenses that remains unfilled, especially when carrier groups are far from the airfields where P-8 Poseidons are based.
More helicopters have been added to the carrier air wing, Hendrix said. “However, the helicopters don’t have either the sensors or the mobility to be able to really patrol the middle zone” in which the S-3 operated.
Sailors on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell load a MK-46 torpedo on an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter during an ASW exercise in the Pacific Ocean in March 2014.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Chris Cavagnaro)
Nor does the arrival of the P-8 Poseidon — a vaunted maritime patrol aircraft introduced in 2013 to replace the P-3 — make up for the Viking’s absence, according to Hendrix.
“We haven’t brought the P-8s in in a one-to-one replacement basis for the older P-3s, and so they’re not really in sufficient numbers to do the middle-zone and outer-zone anti-submarine-warfare mission for the carrier strike groups,” he said. “So we haven’t filled that requirement in force structure.”
‘The Navy could mitigate this vulnerability’
Amid the increasing focus on facing a sophisticated adversary, discussion has intensified about changing the composition of the carrier air wing to replace the capabilities — anti-submarine warfare in particular — shed after the Cold War.
“ASW will become an increasingly important [carrier air wing] mission as adversary submarine forces increase in their size, sophistication, and ability to attack targets ashore and at sea using highly survivable long-range weapons,” said a recent report on the carrier air wing by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
A Navy S-3B Viking from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on January 23, 1995. It carries a refueling pod under its left wing, and openings in the fuselage for dropping sonobuoys are visible in the rear.
(US Navy photo by PH1 (AW) Mahlon K. Miller)
Longer-range anti-ship missiles allow subs to be farther outside carrier helicopters’ operational range, the report argued. (Long-range land-based weapons may also hinder ASW by reducing the area in which the P-8 can operate.)
“The increasing range of submarine-launched cruise missiles may result in [carrier air wing] aircraft being the only platforms able to defend civilian and other military shipping as well as high-value US and allied targets ashore from submarine attack,” the report added.
Unmanned systems — sensors as well as unmanned underwater and surface vehicles — are seen as an option to extend the carrier’s reach. (The Navy has already awarded Boeing a contract for unmanned aerial refueling vehicles.)
“The Navy could mitigate this vulnerability using distributed unmanned sensors to find and track enemy submarines at long ranges and over wide areas,” the CSBA report said, adding that ships and aircraft in the carrier strike group could then use anti-submarine rockets to keep enemy subs at bay rather than trying to sink all of them.
Boeing conducts an MQ-25 deck-handling demonstration at its facility in St. Louis, Missouri, in January 2018.
(US Navy/Boeing photo)
The need to operate at longer ranges with more endurance and higher survivability also makes unmanned aerial vehicles appealing additions to the carrier air wing, according to the CSBA report.
“There’s potential there,” Hendrix said, but he added that using the vehicles in the ASW role would be complicated.
“A lot of times doing anti-submarine warfare, there’s a lot of human intuition that comes into play, or human ability to look at a sensor, which is a very confused sensor, and pick out the information” that may indicate the presence of a submarine, he said.
Much of the midrange mission vacated by the S-3 Viking is done within line-of-sight communication, meaning a range in which sensors can communicate with one another, so, Hendrix said, “you could use an unmanned platform to go out and drop sonobuoys or other sensors … and then monitor them, or be the relay aircraft to send their information back to” the ASW station aboard the carrier, where humans would be watching.
“I could see an unmanned platform playing in that role in the future.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.