Members of the Senate on Friday confirmed Lloyd Austin, a retired Army four-star general, to run the Defense Department — a historic move that gives the military its first Black defense secretary.
Senators confirmed Austin’s nomination in a vote of 93 to 2. Austin is the second member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to be approved, following Avril Haines as director of national intelligence on Wednesday.
Austin arrived at the Pentagon just after noon Friday to be sworn in and begin work.
He tweeted immediately following the vote that he’s proud to be the first African American to hold the position.
The House and Senate on Thursday cleared the way for Austin to be confirmed after both chambers approved the waiver he needs to serve as defense secretary. He’s been out of uniform for less than the seven years required by law after retiring from the Army in 2016.
The House approved the waiver in a vote of 326 to 78 Thursday afternoon. The Senate followed suit, 69 to 27.
Austin said in a video message posted earlier this month that becoming the first Black defense secretary would be an honor and privilege. But it’s not the first time he’s broken barriers in his career.
Austin was the first African American to command an infantry division in combat. He was also the first African American to be vice chief of the Army and, later, the first Black general to lead U.S. Central Command.
“It shouldn’t have taken this long for us to get here,” he said. “There should’ve been someone that preceded me.”
Austin steps into the role as defense secretary at a time when the military is facing renewed scrutiny over the issue of racism and extremism in the ranks.
The military community is also overrepresented among those arrested following the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol. Nearly one in five, or almost 20%, of the people who have been charged over their alleged involvement in the attack appear to have a military history, NPR reported this week. Only about 7% of all American adults are military veterans, NPR noted.
Lawmakers from both parties have said Austin is the right person to lead the Defense Department at this time, despite not meeting the seven-year “cooling-off period” required to serve in the civilian leadership position.
Several senators said ahead of Friday’s vote that they would confirm Austin. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who’s on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Austin an exceptionally qualified leader with a long and distinguished career.
Still, both Reed and Sen. Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Congress should not overlook the importance of the law that bars recently retired leaders, like Austin, from serving as defense secretary.
“I’ll vote today to confirm a clear patriot with an impressive career,” McConnell said. “But I’ll cast that vote with the understanding that our new secretary of defense specifically commits to balancing civil-military relations, empowering civilian leaders at the Pentagon and playing an active role in the inherently political budget process to get our forces what they need.”
The retired Army general is the second retired officer to get a waiver in four years. Congress granted one to Jim Mattis when President Donald Trump nominated him to be SecDef a few years after he retired from the Marine Corps.
The two Republican senators to vote against Austin’s confirmation were Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
Staff Sgt. Sean Devoy, a 28-year-old medic, died after falling during hoist training near Robert Gray Army Airfield, officials said.
The cause of the incident, which is being called an “accident,” is under investigation, a news release said.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to Staff Sgt. Sean Devoy’s family and friends during this difficult time,” said Lt. Col. Khirsten Schwenn, 2nd GSAB, 1st Avn. Regt., commander. “The unexpected death of a family member is profoundly tragic. Staff Sgt. Devoy touched countless lives as a flight paramedic. We are deeply saddened by the loss of an extraordinary noncommissioned officer and teammate.”
Devoy, whose home of record is Ballwin, Mo., arrived at Fort Riley in December 2012 after joining the Army in March 2010. He was posthumously promoted to staff sergeant.
He deployed to Germany in 2010 and Afghanistan in 2011, 2013, and 2016.
He earned several awards and decorations throughout his career.
A team from the US Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., is leading the investigation.
Russia held large-scale military exercises with troops from Belarus earlier this year, during which Moscow claimed more than 12,000 soldiers took part in a variety of drills in both countries.
The Zapad 2017 exercises fell short of many of the sinister elements observers thought they might include, but one aspect of the electronic-warfare component of the drills elicited surprise among NATO officials.
“The amount of jamming of their own troops surprised me. It was at a level we haven’t seen,” the chief of Estonia’s military intelligence, Col. Kaupo Rosin, told Defense News. “And they did it in the different branches, so land force, Air Force. That definitely surprised us.”
Rosin said Russia has an advantage in that its forces can switch to civilian electronic infrastructure within its own territory should their military electronic networks get jammed or become compromised.
“They tested [their own troops] to learn how to switch into their own cable network and not to emanate anymore, but to deal with the problem,” he said.
Estonia and its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania, have warned about increasingly assertive Russian action along their shared borders. Estonia in particular has noticed increased Russian espionage activity.
The Russian special services are interested in both the collection of information and in influencing decisions important for Estonia. The Russian intelligence and security services conduct anti-Estonian influence operations, including psychological operations — in other words, influencing the defense forces and the general population of a potential enemy.
Rosin said NATO forces had a record of good communications, pointing to the bloc’s experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he noted that Russia is more capable than opponents faced in those countries, so NATO needs to look for new solutions and different ways to train its military leaders.
“We have to approach the problem as a complex problem — not just jamming, but also what other means can we use in order to disrupt the Russian communication system,” he told Defense News. “It probably includes some cyber activities.”
Baltic and British officials have said there is evidence of persistent Russian hacking efforts against European energy and telecommunications networks, as well as disinformation campaigns. Estonia itself hosted NATO’s biggest cyber-defense exercise this week, where “fictional scenarios [were] based on real threats,” a Estonian army officer said.
Rosin also said a foe with more robust electronic-warfare capabilities would require new ways of training officers to approach their commands. “If you have some limitations in communications, for example, how do you deal with that?” he said.
The military-intelligence chief cited Estonia’s military’s rapid troop call-up abilities and its relatively small size as potential advantages in a conflict, but, he added, communicating and coordinating with troops from other NATO members countries would complicate operations.
“When we are talking about the NATO command structure or different staff,” he told Defense News, “then I think the problem will kick in.”
NATO has itself assessed shortcomings in its command structure. An internal report seen by German news outlet Der Spiegal concluded that the alliance’s ability to rapidly deploy throughout Europe had “atrophied” since the Cold War ended.
The report recommended forming two new command centers: One to oversee the shipment of personnel and supplies to Europe, and another to oversee logistics operations in Europe. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in early November that the bloc’s defense ministers were set to approve a plan to create those commands.
Despite that change, Rosin said there remained operational and strategic challenges to NATO capabilities as well as questions about the bloc’s ability to deter threats.
Russia has advantages in time, personnel, and territory in which to operate, and Moscow would try to thwart a NATO military response, he said, noting vulnerabilities created by the Suwalki Gap and sea lines of communication.
“So the danger for us is if the Russians for some reason come to the conclusion that they might get away with some type of action in our region, then there is … [the possibility that they] might do some miscalculation and start something, which we don’t want,” he told Defense News. “In order to keep that under control, then our military posture must be adequate and the plans must be adequate. [Russia is asking]: Is really NATO coming to help or not?”
Russian action in Ukraine in 2014 and its continued involvement there — and NATO’s response to it — have been cause for concern in Eastern Europe, the Baltics in particular.
Earlier this year, Lithuania’s defense minister told The Guardian that his country was “taking very seriously” Russian threats to Batlic stability, drawing parallels between propaganda about Lithuania emanating from Moscow and events preceding Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
NATO has increased its troop and equipment deployment to the region in recent months to reassure allies there. (Lithuania has said it wants a permanent U.S. troop presence there.)
In June 2016, US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts practiced takeoffs and landings on an Estonian highway for the first time since 1984. Russian and NATO aircraft have also come into increasingly close contact in the skies over the Baltics in recent years.
Overall, Rosin said, NATO had improved is posture in relation to Russia. Asked about his 2015 comments that Moscow was playing hockey while everyone else was figure skating, he struck an optimistic tone.
“I’m not sure if we are in the same hockey league with the Russians. Definitely not yet,” he told Defense News. “We are in a good way, but there is a lot of room for improvement.”
Two MV-22B Osprey pilots and a tiltrotor crew chief walk toward an aircraft hangar at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California, April 15, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Gabino Perez)
Attention Marine aviators: The Marine Corps needs you to return to active duty.
That’s the call the Marine Corps issued this week in its quest to get its former pilots to come back into the fold. The service is sweetening the deal by making selectees immediately eligible for bonuses of up to $100,000.
“The Marine Corps, like all services, has been challenged in the recent past with shortages in pilot inventory,” Capt. Joe Butterfield, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, said. “… We designed the aviation bonus and Return to Active Duty opportunities to offset the deficits we have at the junior officer grades.”
The Marine Corps wants the pilots to sign two-, three- or four-year contracts to return to active duty. Those selected will be automatically career-designated if they weren’t prior to leaving the service, and those willing to stay in longer could be given preference.
Return to Active Duty submissions are due by Nov. 6. Officers in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve, Individual Ready Reserve, and Individual Mobilization Augmentee Detachments could all be eligible. Aviators who had left the service completely could also qualify once they affiliate with a Reserve component, the administrative message states.
The service’s pilot crunch is largely due to challenges with producing new aviators while the Marine Corps is transitioning to new platforms, Butterfield said. The service is in the process of upgrading several of its aircraft as it transitions squadrons to the F-35 or CH-53K.
Going back on active duty could make pilots eligible for the Marine Corps Aviation Bonus Program for fiscal year 2021, which starts on Oct. 1. That bonus program, announced earlier this month, offers aviators in certain grades and communities expected to face personnel shortfalls up to 0,000 for another six years of service.
Since the Marine Corps wants former captains and majors to come back and fly for between two and four years, bonuses for those coming back in under those timelines would top out at 0,000.
The military has been struggling to retain pilots who’ve been able to pick up bonus options to go to commercial airliners in recent years. But the coronavirus pandemic has left some airlines struggling as travel declined, raising the possibility that military pilot retention will improve in coming years.
The Marine Corps has semi-annual Return to Active Duty boards, and since the start of the pandemic, Butterfield said the service has seen more applicants.
“We are aware of the pressures that come with current airline furloughs, and are offering this interim board with decreased obligations (24, 36, and 48-month) compared to previous RAD boards [with] 48-month obligations,” he said.
The Marine Corps didn’t answer questions about which of its platforms face the greatest shortages. The service has identified operational tempo and airline hiring as just two challenges the Marine Corps faces in keeping its pilots.
“This interim board gives the opportunity for those no longer on active duty to fly with the Marine Corps again and continue their service to the nation,” Butterfield said.
Lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee recently released a draft of the fiscal 2021 defense spending bill that would set aside $1 million for the Army to fund the renaming of major installations named after Confederate leaders.
Calls for renaming Army posts such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Hood, Texas; and Fort Benning, Georgia, have gained momentum after a surge of protests against racism broke out across the country following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after being taken into custody by Minneapolis police in late May.
Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in early June that he was open to consider renaming these installations but backed off the effort days later when President Donald Trump said his administration would not consider such a move.
McCarthy told reporters at the Pentagon in late June that Defense Secretary Mark Esper has directed the services to look at Confederate symbols and other challenging issues involving race and “have deliberate conversations so we can make the best recommendations possible.”
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate, however, have taken steps to support removing symbols of systematic racism on military bases.
The House Appropriations Committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense spending bill would provide id=”listicle-2646370462″ million to the Army for the “renaming of installations, facilities, roads and streets that bear the name of Confederate leaders and officers since the Army has the preponderance of the entities to change.”
The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 includes a provision that would require the secretary of defense to “establish a commission relating to assigning, modifying, or removing of names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia to assets of the Department of Defense that commemorate the Confederate States of America.”
The eight-member commission would include service members, as well as members of both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
The provision authorizes million to be appropriated for the effort. If approved, the committee would have until October 2022 to brief Congress on a plan to include “collecting and incorporating local sensitivities associated with naming or renaming of assets of the Department of Defense,” according to the language.
Flying close to ground troops in combat in hostile and high-threat conditions requires a host of unique attributes for an aircraft — such as flying slow and low to the ground, absorbing some degree of small arms fire and having an ability to quickly maneuver in response to fast-changing ground combat conditions.
These and many more are among factors now being analyzed as proponents of both the A-10 Warthog and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter assess their respective abilities to perform the crucial and highly valued Close Air Support mission. The Pentagon and the Air Force are now conducting a thorough examination of each plane’s capability for this role – including extensive analysis, simulated tests, flights of both aircraft under combat-like conditions and a range of tests, Air Force and Pentagon officials have explained. While many of the details of the ongoing evaluation are not now being discussed publically, the results are expected to bear prominently upon the visible ongoing debate regarding the future mission scope of both the A-10 and the F-35.
While the cherished A-10 is unambiguously combat-tested in the role of Close Air Support, some F-35 advocates have mused that the JSF sensors, maneuverability, high-tech computers, 25mm canon and arsenal of weapons just might better position the 5th generation aircraft for the mission; at the same time, the A-10s titanium frame, built-in redundancy, famous nose-aligned 30mm cannon and wide-ranging precision-weapons envelope make clearly make it the best choice for close air support.
Sure enough, the A-10s performance against ISIS, Congressional lobby and broad adoration among ground troops are among the many factors believed to have influenced the Air Force’s current plan to both extend the life of the current A-10 and also explore requirements options for a future Close Air Support platform. Air Force officials have told Scout Warrior the ongoing requirements and analysis procedure is looking at three options – upgrading the existing A-10 airframe, using the best available commercial-off-the shelf aircraft, or simply engineering an building a newly designed A-10-like Close Air Support airplane.
Many A-10 proponents are convinced that there is no other plane capable of succeeding with the highly-dangerous, revered and essential Close Air Support Mission. Nevertheless, the Air Force does plan to use the emerging F-35 for Close Air Support moving into the next decade. In addition, F-35 advocates argue that the stealth aircraft’s speed, maneuverability and high-tech weapons and sensors give the F-35 a decisive Close Air Support advantage.
In the meantime, the F-35 weapons integration including live fire drops, weapons separation assessments and modifications for future munitions adaptions is progressing as well alongside the existing F-35/A-10 analysis.
The aircraft has already demonstrated an ability to fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDADM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), and AIM 9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
So-called “Block 3F” software for the F-35 increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb and 500-pound JDAM.
By the early 2020s, the F-35 is slated to be configured with a next-generation Small Diameter Bomb II
As a multi-role fighter, the F-35 is also engineered to function as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform designed to apprehend and process video, data and information from long distances. Some F-35 developers have gone so far as to say the F-35 has ISR technologies comparable to many drones in service today that are able to beam a “soda straw” video view of tactically relevant combat locations in real time.
Built-in ISR is an asset which could have the effect of greatly helping close-air-support efforts.
Also, F-35 advocates reiterate that the airplane’s high-tech Electro-Optical Targeting System and 360-degree sensors Distributed Aperture System will give the newer aircraft an uncontested combat and close-air-support ability. The F-35s so-called computer-enabled “sensor fusion” might enable it to more quickly ascertain and destroy moving targets by gathering, integrating and presenting fast-changing combat dynamics and circumstances.
Finally, the F-35’s stealth configuration and speed is expected to better enable it to evade air defenses and move closer to emerging ground-targets in many instances — and its air-to-air ability will enable the aircraft to respond to potential air-threats which could appear in the course of a ground-support mission.
AIM-9X Sidewinder Missile
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fired an AIM-9X Sidewinder infrared-guided air-to-air missile for the first time earlier this year over a Pacific Sea Test Range, Pentagon officials said.
The F-35 took off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and launched the missile at 6,000 feet, an Air Force statement said.
Designed as part of the developmental trajectory for the emerging F-35, the test-firing facilities further development of an ability to fire the weapon “off-boresight,” described as an ability to target and destroy air to air targets that are not in front of the aircraft with a direct or immediate line of sight, Pentagon officials explained.
“If you think if a boresight in terms of a firearm… that’s the adjustments made to an optical sight, to align the barrel of a firearm with the sights. If you think of it in aircraft terms… traditionally air-to-air missiles are fired at targets in front of the them,” Joint Strike Fighter Program Office spokesman Joe DellaVedova, told Scout Warrior.
The AIM-9X, he described, incorporates an agile thrust vector controlled airframe and the missile’s high off-boresight capability can be used with an advanced helmet (or a helmet-mounted sight) for a wider attack envelope.
“For example, instead of having to position the aircraft directly in front or behind the enemy fighter… a high off-boresight weapon enables the pilot to just look to the left, right or up and down to engage a target, fire it and the missile locks on for the kill,” he explained.
The AIM-9X missile, which can also be fired at surface-to-air and air-to-surface, is currently in use on a number of existing fighter aircraft such as the Air Force’s F-15E and F-16 and the Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet.
Engineered by Raytheon, the newest AIM-9X Block II weapons are built with a redesigned fuse for increased safety and a lock-on-launch capability. The missile is also configured with a data link to support what’s called “beyond visual range” engagements, meaning targets at much farther ranges picked up by sensors or early warning radar. This could provide a fighter jet with an ability to destroy enemy targets in the air while remaining at a safer stand-off distance less exposed to hostile fire.
“The AIM-9X Sidewinder is an infrared-guided, air-to-air missile employing a focal plane array sensor for unparalleled target acquisition and tracking, augmented by jet vane control technology for extreme maneuverability against a variety of high performance threats,” Mark Justus, Raytheon AIM-9X program director, told Scout Warrior in a written statement. “The missile also has proven capability in air-to-surface and demonstrated capability in surface-to-air missions.”
The AIM-9X Block II is the current version of the AIM-9 Sidewinder short range missile family in use by more than 40 nations throughout the world, Justus added.
“The AIM-9X missile has been acquired by twenty international partners. It is configured for easy installation on a wide variety of modern fighter aircraft and we are excited to complete this milestone of the first AIM-9X live fire from the F-35 as we progress through the aircraft/missile integration activities,” he said.
Weapons integration for the F-35 is designed to evolve in tandem with software advances for the aircraft, described as “increments.” Each increment, involving massive amounts of lines of computer code, improves the platform’s ability to integrate, carry and fire a wider range of weapons.
Block 2B, for example, is already operational and builds upon the enhanced simulated weapons, data link capabilities and early fused sensor integration of the earlier Block 2A software drop.
Block 2B enables the JSF to provide basic close air support and fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), JSF program officials have said.
The next increment, Blocks 3i will increase the combat capability even further and Block 3F will bring a vastly increased ability to suppress enemy air defenses.
The Air Force plans to reach operational status with software Block 3i in 2016. Full operational capability will come with Block 3F, service officials said.
Block 3F will increase the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, Air Force officials said.
F-35 25mm Gatling Gun
Last Fall, the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter completed the first aerial test of its 25mm Gatling gun embedded into the left wing of the aircraft, officials said.
The test took place Oct. 30, 2015 in California, Pentagon officials described.
“This milestone was the first in a series of test flights to functionally evaluate the in-flight operation of the F-35A’s internal 25mm gun throughout its employment envelope,” a Pentagon statement said.
The Gatling gun will bring a substantial technology to the multi-role fighter platform, as it will better enable the aircraft to perform air-to-air attacks and close-air support missions to troops on the ground – a task of growing consequence given the Air Force plan to retire the A-10.
Called the Gun Airborne Unit, or GAU-22/A, the weapon is engineered into the aircraft in such a manner as to maintain the platform’s stealth configuration.
The four-barrel 25mm gun is designed for rapid fire in order to quickly blanket an enemy with gunfire and destroy targets quickly. The weapon is able to fire 3,300 rounds per minute, according to a statement from General Dynamics.
“Three bursts of one 30 rounds and two 60 rounds each were fired from the aircraft’s four-barrel, 25-millimeter Gatling gun. In integrating the weapon into the stealthy F-35A airframe, the gun must be kept hidden behind closed doors to reduce its radar cross section until the trigger is pulled,” a statement from the Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter said.
The first phase of test execution consisted of 13 ground gunfire events over the course of three months to verify the integration of the gun into the F-35A, the JSF office said.
“Once verified, the team was cleared to begin this second phase of testing, with the goal of evaluating the gun’s performance and integration with the airframe during airborne gunfire in various flight conditions and aircraft configurations,” the statement added.
The new gun will also be integrated with the F-35’s software so as to enable the pilot to see and destroy targets using a helmet-mounted display.
The gun is slated to be operational by 2017.
Small Diameter Bomb II
The Air Force is engineering and testing a new air-dropped weapon able to destroy moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions at ranges greater than 40-miles, Air Force and Raytheon officials said.
The Small Diameter Bomb II, or SDB II, is designed to integrate onto the F-35 by 2022 or 2023; it is engineered todestroy moving targets in all kinds of weather, such as small groups of ISIS or terrorist fighters on-the-move in pick-up trucks.
A weapon of this kind would be of extreme relevance against ISIS fighters as the group is known to deliberately hide among civilian populations and make movements under cloud cover or adverse weather in order to avoid detection from overhead surveillance technologies.
While the Air Force currently uses a laser-guided bomb called the GBU-54 able to destroy moving targets, the new SDB II will be able to do this at longer ranges and in all kinds of weather conditions. In addition, the SDB II is built with a two-way, dual-band data link which enables it to change targets or adjust to different target locations while in flight.
A key part of the SDB II is a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker — a guidance system which can direct the weapon using millimeter wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared guidance and semi-active laser technology.
A tri-mode seeker provides a range of guidance and targeting options typically not used together in one system. Millimeter wave radar gives the weapon an ability to navigate through adverse weather, conditions in which other guidance systems might encounter problems reaching or pinpointing targets.
Imagining infrared guidance allows the weapon to track and hone in on heat signatures such as the temperature of an enemy vehicle. With semi-active laser technology, the weapon can be guided to an exact point using a laser designator or laser illuminator coming from the air or the ground.
Also, the SBD II brings a new ability to track targets in flight through use of a two-way Link 16 and UHF data link, Raytheon officials said.
The millimeter wave radar turns on first. Then the data link gives it a cue and tells the seeker where to open up and look. Then, the weapon can turn on its IR (infrared) which uses heat seeking technology, Raytheon officials said.
The SBD II is engineered to weigh only 208 pounds, a lighter weight than most other air dropped bombs, so that eight of them can fit on the inside of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Raytheon officials explained.
In October 2014, ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq was at its maximum. The radical Islamist group controlled land stretching from central Syria all the way to the outskirts of Baghdad including major cities like Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit, and Raqqa.
Although the region ISIS controlled was mostly desert, it encompassed an array of ethnic and religious groups, including Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Shiite Arabs, and Sunni Arabs. Many of the non-Sunni groups were the victims of targeted violence by ISIS, which perpetrated genocide against the Yazidis and Assyrians.
The map of ISIS territory from October 2017 shows that the group has lost all of its major urban strongholds and is now confined to the sparsely-inhabited border territories between Iraq and Syria.
Nevertheless, experts say the sparse desert area that ISIS has fallen back on is part of the same Sunni-majority region that fueled its rise.
“When we invaded and conquered Iraq in 2003 we created ungoverned space for Sunni Arabs in Iraq which then spilled over in nearby Syria,” Professor Robert Pape, who heads the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago, told Business Insider. “The worry here is that as that area of Iraq and Syria now could remain ungoverned space from the perspective of the Sunni Arabs, this problem may just simply fester and continue.”
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
The fitting Martin Luther King Jr. quote is a personal favorite of Staff Sgt. Nicholas Davis, C Battery, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) artillery cannon crew member and section chief. Davis, an Ellijay, Georgia native, received the Soldier’s Medal on Jan. 22 at Shaw Gymnasium in front of his unit and division leadership for his actions that saved two lives last year.
“Often in times in combat, we have moments of self-reflection,” said Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) commanding general. “We have visions of who we are, we have expectations of who we are, but it’s not until that first moment under duress that our strength and character is tested. Through that crucible of fire, we prove who we are. That’s exactly what Staff Sgt. Davis did.”
On June 9, 2017, Davis was traveling to Georgia when he came across an overturned vehicle. Trusting his gut and noting the lack of concern from other commuters, he pulled over to make sure no one was in danger.
“I was pulling up, and I noticed there was a small engine fire underneath the belly of the car, so I jumped out and ran up to the vehicle,” Davis said.
There he found Rick and Sharon Steiert, trapped and soaked in gasoline from a container that had been thrown from the back of the car. Davis immediately got to work and pulled Rick from the inverted vehicle first, and then began working to save Sharon, who was still trapped inside by her seatbelt.
As I was [unbuckling her seatbelt] the whole vehicle caught fire, and I just felt a blanket of fire wrap around my body, and everything just happened in a matter of seconds from there,” Davis explained. “But before I could get the other half of her body out, she caught fire from all the fuel that was on her. I noticed she was on fire [shortly] before noticing that I was on fire, too.
Davis worked quickly to free Sharon from the burning vehicle, then committed his efforts to extinguishing the flames that were still burning their legs.
After emergency personnel transported everyone to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Davis was diagnosed with severe second-degree burns on more than 75 percent of his lower leg. Sharon’s burns were more severe, and Rick also sustained injuries.
“They [doctors] said five seconds longer and I would have been halfway through a third-degree burn and almost into the fourth degree,” Davis said. “It was a very painful recovery, but nothing compared to what Sharon had to deal with; so I don’t complain about it.”
After a long recovery process, Davis received a heartfelt letter from Sharon’s daughter, Britney Balduc. In the letter, Balduc expressed her family’s desire to reunite with him.
“It was an emotional letter [sent] from their daughter because they were burned so badly and unable to write,” said Davis who was also eager to reconnect with the family he helped save.
Davis said that he and the Steiert family have since built a lifelong friendship. Sharon and Rick, along with their son, Scott Capodice, were also in attendance at Shaw Gymnasium and joined Davis and his family as he was honored.
The Soldier’s Medal is a military award that recognizes peacetime acts of valor where a Soldier voluntarily puts himself or herself in personal danger, something that Davis said he did without a second thought that day.
“I did it because that was somebody’s life, and that somebody’s life means something to someone,” Davis said. “I couldn’t imagine if I was in their situation and no one came to help me.”
During the ceremony, Poppas said that Davis serves as an example for all Soldiers to emulate.
“A lesser man, a lesser Soldier, a lesser person, never would have stopped, let alone gone in two separate times and pulled them to safety,” said Poppas. “We’re honoring his acts that are an example for us all. It’s who we should be, no matter what the endeavor, and how we should act when we come across an event like he did.”
Davis, a seven-year combat veteran with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, received praise for his heroism, and his leadership spoke highly of his character.
“He’s just an all-around good Soldier,” said 1st Lt. Charles Trumpfheller, Davis’ platoon leader. “He’ll do anything for anybody and really, he’s one of those [noncommissioned officers] who you can count on to get things done.”
Poppas shared Trumpfheller’s sentiments.
“You’re an inspiration to us all Staff Sgt. Davis,” he said after adorning the Soldier’s Medal onto Davis’ uniform. “Thank you for your actions; we all have something to learn from you.”
In the run-up to the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, North Korea bombed South Korea Air Flight 858, killing 115 people. Afterward, when South Korea remained steadfast in its desire to host the games, North Korea suddenly offered high-level talks. North Korea toned down its rhetoric and tried to negotiate a co-hosting of the Olympics, but this effort fell apart. This historical lesson is corroborated by one of the Flight 585 bombers who was caught and turned. She is still alive today and recently warned not to trust North Korea’s current dictator Kim Jong-un’s outreach.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea is well underway and once again North Korea is attempting to use the games for their ends. North Korea is trying to steal international attention, break sanctions, and drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea.
Kim has already made himself take center-stage, using a dramatic opening to South Korea to force the international spotlight onto himself. Right now, cooperation is his chosen tool of persuasion, as he spoke of reunification, restarted the North Korean-South Korean hotline, and worked to convince South Korea that both Olympic teams should march under one neutral flag. Kim also launched a charm offensive to show he is serious about negotiations. This has included toned-down rhetoric, a smaller military parade, and sending flashy bands to perform at the Olympics. He also sent North Korean pop star and propagandist Hyon Song-wol to find a venue for an orchestra, causing a sensation which bedazzled South Korean journalists and citizens.
In the background of all this distraction, North Korea is preparing to make a show of force. Satellite imagery showed 13,000 troops and 150 vehicles drilling for the small Feb. 8 military parade that featured a new missile system. Kim knows he can have a larger parade to send a message anytime he wants. It remains to be seen if he will engage in any missile or nuclear tests during or right after the Olympics.
North Korea’s appearance of reconciliation also purposefully includes sanctions violations. One of these sending senior North Korean officials to visit South Korea despite being banned from traveling. South Korea will have to decide if it wants to make an exception to the ban, but without certain waivers from the United Nations Security Council, such visits would violate the law. Meanwhile, it is unclear how the US would respond. Already Kim’s less notorious sister, Kim Yo-jong, who is not barred from visiting, has had a successful time charming the South Korean and American media.
Kim will likely get away with several sanctions violations because he will extract them as the cost of North Korean cooperation. Even if they are minor, these violations will test the limits of what others will tolerate. They will make the point that North Korea always has been – and always will be – able to do as it pleases.
Finally, Kim would love to see the South Korean-American alliance rendered a dead letter. Although it is a very unlikely goal, Kim attempts to accomplish this by contrasting South Korea’s willingness to talk with the bellicosity of US President Trump. North Korea’s aim is to create the perception that the Koreas are working together against interference by America. When North Korea returns to aggression, Kim will claim that it is America’s fault. By cozying up to South Korea and then walking out, Kim hopes to drive a small wedge into the alliance.
South Korea should talk to Kim, and so should America, mainly to lower the odds of accidental war. However, talks require realizing that nuclear weapons will not be up for serious discussion and that North Korea will continue its pattern of behavior. Sudden shifts to threats place pressure on South Korea and shifts to friendliness invite confused opponents to the bargaining table on Kim’s terms. Wise policymakers anticipate this pattern, rather than being angered or duped by it. To take Kim Jong-un’s overtures at face-value is foolish, and South Korea should assume that the Supreme Leader is after something more than the gold at these Olympics.
A four-man team of soldiers sits in a nondescript building on Fort Belvoir, Va., each at his own desk, surrounded by three monitors that provide them individual, 3D views of an abandoned city.
On screen, they gather at the corner of a crumbling building to meet another team — represented by avatars — who are actually on the ground in a live-training area, a mock-up of the abandoned city. They’re all training together, in real time, to prepare for battles in dense urban terrain.
That’s the central goal of the Synthetic Training Environment (STE) — immersive, integrated virtual training — presented during a Warriors Corner session at the 2018 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington. The Army has been working toward this kind of fully immersive training experience for decades, and leadership hopes to have it operational as early as 2025.
In May 1993, Army RDA Bulletin dedicated several articles to the concept and execution of distributed interactive simulation (DIS), “a time and space coherent representation of a virtual battlefield environment” that allowed warfighters across the globe to interact with one other as well as computer-generated forces, according to John S. Yuhas, author of the article “Distributed Interactive Simulation.”
Better, faster, stronger
While the name of the program seems to emphasize individual simulation units, its overarching purpose was to bring together thousands of individuals and teams virtually in real time. Central to DIS was the idea of interoperable standards and protocol, allowing each community — “trainer, tester, developer, and acquisitioner” — to use the others’ concepts and products, Maj. David W. Vaden wrote in “Vision for the Next Decade.”
The article explained that “distributed” referred to geographically separated simulations networked together to create a synthetic environment; “interactive” to different simulations linked electronically to act together and upon each other; and “simulation” to three categories — live, virtual and constructive. Live simulations involved real people and equipment; virtual referred to manned simulators; and constructive referred to war games and models, with or without human interaction.
DIS has much in common with STE. Both provide training and mission rehearsal capability to the operational and institutional sides of the Army (i.e., soldiers and civilians). They even share the same training philosophy: to reduce support requirements, increase realism and help deliver capabilities to the warfighter faster.
Users of STE will train with live participants and computer simulations, with some units training remotely. However, STE takes virtual reality training to a new level altogether by incorporating advances in artificial intelligence, big data analysis and three-dimensional terrain representation.
Current training simulations are based on technologies from the 1980s and ’90s that can’t replicate the complex operational environment soldiers will fight in. They operate on closed, restrictive networks, are facilities-based and have high overhead costs for personnel, Maj. Gen.
Maria R. Gervais, commanding general for the U.S. Army Combined Arms Training Center and director of the STE Cross-Functional Team, said in an August 2018 article, “The Synthetic Training Environment Revolutionizes Sustainment Training.”
Those older technologies also can’t support electronic warfare, cyberspace, and megacities, the article explained. For example, soldiers in the 1990s could conduct training using computers and physical simulators — like the ones showcased in Charles Burdick, Jorge Cadiz and Gordon Sayre’s 1993 “Industry Applications of Distributed Interactive Simulation” article in the Army RDA Bulletin-but the training was limited to a single facility and only a few networked groups; the technology wasn’t yet able to support worldwide training with multiple groups of users in real time, like the Army proposes to do with the STE.
Gervais presented a promotional video during “Warriors Corner #13: Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team Update,” which said the STE will provide intuitive and immersive capabilities to keep pace with the changing operational environment. The STE is a soldier lethality modernization priority of the U.S. Army Futures Command.
“With the STE, commanders will conduct tough, realistic training at home stations, the combat training centers and at deployed locations. The STE will increase readiness through repetition, multi-echelon, multidomain, combined arms maneuver and mission command training. And most importantly, the STE will train soldiers for where they will fight,” said Gen. Robert B. Abrams, then-commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, in the same video. Abrams is now commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, U.S. Forces Korea.
Today, simulations in the integrated training environment do not provide the realism, interoperability, affordability and availability necessary for the breadth of training that the Army envisions for the future. The STE will be able to do all that — it will be flexible, affordable and available at the point of need.
“This video helps us get to shared understanding, and also awareness of what we’re trying to achieve with the synthetic training environment,” Gervais said during the AUSA presentation. “But it also allows us to understand the challenges that we’re going to face as we try to deliver this.”
“We don’t have the right training capability to set the exercises up,” said Mike Enloe, chief engineer for the STE Cross-Functional Team, during the presentation. “What I mean by that is that it takes more time to set up the systems that are disparate to talk to each other, to get the terrains together, than it does to actually have the exercise go.”
The Synthetic Training Environment will assess Soldiers in enhancing decision-making skills through an immersive environment.
(US Army photo)
The Army’s One World Terrain, a 3D database launched in 2013 that collects, processes, stores and executes global terrain simulations, has been the “Achilles’ heel” of STE from the start, Enloe said. The Army lacks well-formed 3D terrain data and therefore the ability to run different echelons of training to respond to the threat. The database is still being developed as part of the STE, and what the Army needs most “right now from industry is content … we need a lot of 3D content and rapid ways to get them built,” Enloe said. That means the capability to process terrain on 3D engines so that it can move across platforms, he said, and steering clear of proprietary technologies. The STE is based on modules that can be changed to keep up with emerging technologies.
The Army also needs the ability to write the code to develop the artificial intelligence that will meet STE’s needs — that can, to some extent, learn and challenge the weaknesses of participants, he said.
Retired Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, 32nd vice chief of staff of the Army, emphasized during the presentation that the Army needs to move away from the materiel development of the STE and focus on training as a service. “I believe that a training environment should have two critical aspects to it,” he said: It should be a maneuver trainer, and it should be a gunnery trainer.
Changing the culture
Brig. Gen. Michael E. Sloane, program executive officer for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), said the leadership philosophy of STE’s development is about fostering culture change and getting soldiers capabilities faster. “We have to be proactive; the [cross-functional teams] have to work together with the PEOs, and we’re doing that,” he said. “Collectively, we’re going to deliver real value to the soldier, I think, in doing this under the cross-functional teams and the leadership of the Army Futures Command.”
Many organizations are involved with STE’s development. The U.S. Army Combined Arms Center-Training and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capability managers are working requirements and represent users. PEO STRI is the materiel developer. The U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence is responsible for the infantry, armor and combined arms requirement. And finally, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)) serves as the approval authority for long-range investing and requirements.
With the Futures Command and ASA(ALT) collaborating throughout the development of STE, Sloane believes the Army will be able to reduce and streamline acquisition documentation, leverage rapid prototyping, deliver capabilities and get it all right the first time.
Soldiers prepare to operate training technologies during the STE User Assessment in Orlando, Fla., in March 2018.
(Photo by Bob Potter)
Gervais reminded the AUSA audience in October that she had spoken about STE at the annual meeting two years ago, explaining that the Army intends to use the commercial gaming industry to accelerate the development of STE. “I did not believe that it couldn’t be delivered until 2030. I absolutely refused to believe that,” she said. In 2017, the chief of staff designated STE as one of the eight cross-functional teams for Army modernization, aligning it with soldier lethality.
Since then, STE has made quite a bit of progress, Gervais said. The initial capability document for the Army collective training environment, which lays the foundation for STE, was approved in 2018. The Army increased its industry engagement to accelerate the development of STE, according to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley’s direction, which led to the awarding of seven other transaction authority agreements for One World Terrain, followed by a user assessment in March 2018. In June, Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper and Milley codified STE in their vision statement. “We’re postured to execute quickly,” Gervais said.
In the meantime, she said, there has been a focused effort to increase lethality with a squad marksmanship trainer in the field to allow close combat soldiers to train immediately. The Army also developed a squad immersive virtual trainer. “We believe we can deliver that [squad immersive trainer] much quicker than the 2025 timeframe,” she said.
STE is focused on establishing common data, standards and terrain to maximize interoperability, ease of integration and cost savings, Gervais said. With the right team effort and coordination, she believes STE can be delivered quickly. Perhaps in a few short years, STE can achieve the lofty goal that DIS had for itself, according to Yuhas: Revolutionize the training and acquisition process for new weapon systems.
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal left the hospital in May 2018, after recovering from an assassination attempt. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent at his home in Salisbury in March 2018, by Russian spies, British counter-terror authorities have said.
One creepy prospect for the Skripals is that the would-be assassins may still be in the UK, living undercover as normal people, Russian espionage experts say. It’s easy to smuggle people out of Britain. For those of us not in the espionage business, it seems surprising that the attackers would stay in the country rather than escape immediately.
But Russia probably left its agents in place for an extended period after the attack.
Madeira told Business Insider that if a sleeper agent was used in the attempt on Skripal’s life, he or she probably remained in Britain after the attack rather than trying to immediately escape back to Russia.
“Why leave someone here, at risk of detection, after such a high-profile attack?” he told Business Insider. “I can only think of two scenarios where that might happen:
“An actual ‘illegal’ with an existing, years-long ‘legend’ would attract attention by going missing all of a sudden – i.e. friends, co-workers or neighbours might report a missing person to police, who might then put two and two together and tie that person to the Skripal attack. Better to keep him/her in place, living a mundane life again, their role in this operation now concluded.”
“Someone who isn’t an ‘illegal’ in the strictest sense of the word, but for now having to stay in hiding in the UK until things settle down a bit. Perhaps with a new set of ID papers, s(he) can eventually look to exit the country via a quieter, lower-profile exit point.”
Obviously, we cannot know exactly what the operative did after the attack. The Mirror reported in April 2018, that one suspect has flown back to Russia. Earlier that month, the Mirror’s source speculated that the sleeper agent would still be in the UK, ready for another mission. “Unless it were an absolute emergency and the operative had to chance a ‘crash escape’, this exit point would normally be carefully picked based on e.g. the set of ID papers available, the person’s appearance and overall profile, history in the UK if checked by the Border Force, how tight border controls were assessed to be at that exit point, etc.,” Madeira told Business Insider.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Jariko Denman loved two things as a kid: the military and movies.
Every day after school, he’d watch films like Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, or Uncommon Valor.
“I wanted to be in the military, and I was fascinated by war, and that was really the only way I could kind of get a glimpse at it was through movies,” Denman said.
Even then, he could tell when certain things were fake, or not as they would’ve happened in real life.
Photo courtesy of Jariko Denman.
“It’s always something that I’ve really kind of been drawn to is making those things better.”
Now, he gets to do it for a living as a tech advisor in Los Angeles, consulting for military films on everything from the screenplay to costumes and props.
“Anytime there’s a firefight or any big gun scenes, I’m working with the stunt department to choreograph those fight scenes to not only get a great shot that’s entertaining and looks good but also authentic — that guys are doing things they’d normally be doing and making it as authentic as possible,” he said.
Denman’s passion stems from a family history of military service; both of his grandfathers served in the Navy during World War II and his father and brother retired from the Army. He joined the Army straight out of high school and spent 20 years in the service, including a dozen or so in the 2nd Ranger Battalion at Fort Lewis, where he deployed 15 times (and met Black Rifle Coffee Company co-founder Mat Best).
Photo courtesy of Jariko Denman.
He ended his career in 2017 as an ROTC instructor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York City, and was thinking about traveling or going to school after retirement. That’s when a friend who knew someone in the film industry asked Denman if he’d be interested in advising on a National Geographic miniseries, The Long Road Home.
“It was something that I thought would just be a cool experience less than would be an opportunity for a future career,” Denman said. But a few months later, he got his second gig. Then another.
So far, he’s worked on a TV series, five recruiting commercials for the Army, and four movies, including The Outpost, which came out earlier this year and is based on the true story of the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan.
Photo courtesy of Jariko Denman.
Denman said he’s usually hired during a movie’s preproduction stage to help department heads know the type of uniforms and guns that would have been used at the time a movie is set.
The Outpost producer Paul Merryman said Denman gave him a full education on plate carriers and the type of equipment each soldier would have carried at the time that distinguished him from another.
“It was much more complex than any one of us thought,” Merryman said. “He was crucial because if something was wrong, we were going to get called out for it. Our director knew that early on. Jariko was always like, ‘They’re going to call bullshit on that. This is inaccurate. If you do it this way, you’re going to get laughed at.'”
“Jariko is very unfiltered in the best of ways,” he continued. “That made the collaboration work that much better because we can get straight down to it: What’s wrong? How do we fix it? How do we do this right?”
He said he once saw Denman yell at the director when one of the actors improvised a line and referred to someone as “Sarge.”
“He cares about how his brothers are portrayed, and he will fight tooth and nail to do something properly and make something look good to prevent someone or a group of someones from being embarrassed because he cares about reputation and integrity, and he cares about the craft,” Merryman said.
Denman sees it as a personal responsibility — not just a professional one.
Photo courtesy of Jariko Denman.
“Your average civilian doesn’t know any military members or veterans. They’re gleaning all their opinions about who a veteran or who a soldier or a Marine is through pop culture, and that’s through movies and TV now. So, it’s up to us as veterans in this industry to really try to make all these things as […] authentic as possible,” he said.
Denman’s dream is to produce and direct military movies himself, and he’s been using the slower pace of the last few months to work on a few projects.
He’s also currently working on a movie with a famous actor, whose name he can’t reveal just yet. And some days, he still has to pinch himself.
“I was like, Holy shit, I never thought I would be doing this — waking up to go and hang out with this dude all day every day and tell him war stories and wrestle and go shooting, you know,” he said.
“I do enjoy telling people what I do. It’s a cool fucking job. I’m very, very blessed to have it.”