It served with the United States military from 1964-1998, and with NASA until 1999. The SR-71 had been developed from the A-12 OXCART (no relation to the A-12 Avenger), a single-seat plane capable of making high-speed recon runs as well.
It was thought satellites and drones could replace the SR-71. The problem was that satellites are predictable, and too many drones just don’t have the performance or reliability. But Lockheed’s Skunk Works, which created the A-12/YF-12/SR-71 family, is now developing a SR-72, and they promise it will be faster than the Blackbird.
Lockheed noted that the SR-71 was designed on paper with slide rules. Even without the benefit of high-technology, the SR-71 proved to be superb at its role.
Four days, seven challenges, several dozen competitors, but only two may become champions.
Marines from far and wide accept this annual challenge, and there is no exception this year at the 2019 High Intensity Tactical Training Championship aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 9 through Sept. 12, 2019.
The championship has been hosted by Marine Corps HITT and Semper Fit for the past five years, and has evolved with every passing year. The HITT program’s primary mission is to enhance operational fitness and optimize combat readiness for Marines. The program emphasizes superior speed, power, strength and endurance while reducing the likelihood of injury.
“1-2 instructors have been pulled from major Marine Corps installations,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Atkins, a force fitness instructor for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. and Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. HITT centers. “We all came together to brainstorm what the Marines would be doing for the athletic events.”
Sgt. Miguel Aguirre, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., competes in the fourth challenge of the High Intensity Tactical Training Championship at Butler Stadium aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sep. 10, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank)
The events for the championship are drafted by HITT instructors and confirmed by a board of various Marine Corps fitness specialists.
“It’s a grind, straight grit,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Frank, a competitor from MCB Camp Pendleton. “You can’t just be good at one thing.”
“You have to be well rounded physically and mentally.”
The seven events for the 2019 HITT Championship included a marksmanship simulator, combat fitness test, weighted run, combat swimmer challenge, obstacle course, pugil stick fight, BeaverFit assault rig, live-fire fitness challenge, and HITT combine.
“We run through it ourselves so we can understand what they are going through too,” said Atkins.
A U.S. Marine competes in the fourth challenge of the High Intensity Tactical Training Championship at Butler Stadium aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sep. 10, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank)
The intensity and nature of the challenges, create a risk of injury. To mitigate an ambulance is always on site and numerous medical personnel were present. The Marines are also being monitored closely by high-tech equipment that records their heart rates, core temperature and other vital information, which gives an in-depth idea of their overall health provided by Western Virginia University.
“The tactical drill was my probably my favorite because it included live-fire, and it was awesome to see how your body reacts to being under physical and mental duress,” said 1st Lt. Frances Moore, a competitor from MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.
The competitors are awarded points based on each timed event. The goal at the end of the competition is to have the most points. The championship culminates at the end of day four, when the scores have been determined and the male and female champions are awarded.
“They come in and train every single day and get coaching advice from all the staff,” said Frank. “Then I get to come here and actually see them put all that effort into the competition.”
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
The 36 page indictment outlines a massive scheme to defraud the government through a series of kickbacks, money laundering, and medical malpractice.
The feds allege the conspiracy began in 2014 when Richard Cesario and John Cooper founded CCMGRX, LLC (later renamed CMGRX). The premise of the company was to market compounded prescriptions to service members, retirees, and their dependents, documents show.
Compound prescriptions are drugs which are mixed in an effort to provide a unique prescription that meets the specific needs of the patient. They are not approved by the FDA, but may be prescribed when a patient is unable to have a specific ingredient in a drug, or the drug is not available in a specific form, such as prescriptions for children who can’t swallow a pill and must have a liquid version of the medication.
Cesario and Cooper enlisted the help of three marketers, Joe Straw, Luis Rios, and Michael Kiselak, to recruit pharmacies and patients, the indictment shows.
The patients allegedly were oblivious to the scam, instead being told that they were taking part in a medical study being done by an independent non-profit organization, the Freedom From Pain Foundation. The company was operated by Cesario and Cooper, who used the company to launder the money they received from TRICARE, Justice says.
Money was allegedly paid to five different pharmacy owners and two doctors.
After paying beneficiaries for participating in the study, kickbacks were allegedly sent in the form of checks to the doctors, pharmacy owners, and marketers. The rest was pocketed by Cesario and Cooper, the feds say.
More than 30 separate counts were filed against the men, including conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.
The indictment also outlines some of the punishment the men will face should they be found guilty, beginning with a list of properties in Texas, Florida, and Costa Rica that the men will have to turn over to the government.
Additionally, 32 vehicles, including Ferraris; Maseratis; Aston Martins, Corvettes; Mercedes-Benz; Jaguars; Porsches; Hummers; Cadillacs; BMWs and several trucks and SUVs will be seized by the government upon conviction of any single offense.
The indictment goes on to list multiple boats and recreational vehicles, bank accounts in the names of the men and family members, cash, investment accounts, firearms, jewelry, other property, and “working interest” in several oil companies, as well as a “money judgement” that could all be seized by the government in an effort to recoup the over $100 million scammed by the group.
According to the press release regarding the indictment, Cesario and Cooper, who were placed in custody earlier this year, are being held until trial. The other 10 men all made bail until their trial.
Each of the charges against the men is punishable by between 5 and 10 years, and a $250,000 fine.
The FBI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service helped investigate and breaking up the alleged conspiracy ring.
It’s no secret that some of the brightest brains in the country are working around the clock to make our military stronger, faster, and safer. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the latest toys these geniuses are working on (the ones we can tell you about, at least).
The search for an effective rapid-fire weapon, particularly in the latter 19th century, took on some innovative designs, most of them of dubious battlefield utility and rarely employed. All this changed when the U.S. Army adopted the famed Gatling gun in 1866, which could reliably fire up to 400 rounds a minute and had already proven itself in small quantities during the Civil War. John Gatling — ironically a physician — had suddenly made warfare far more deadly.
Here is a look at some early attempts at automatic weapons before Gatling turned them into the staples of warfare they are today.
1. Repeating Crossbows
The Polybolos was a large repeating ballista dating back to the 3rd century B.C. It was supposedly the invention of a Greek engineer named Dionysus, who worked at the large arsenal on the island of Rhodes. Fed by a large wooden magazine holding several dozen bolts of the weapon’s cradle, it allowed its crew to crank a large windlass back and forth, allowing it to achieve a far greater rate of fire than conventional ballistics.
A replica built by the Discovery show “MythBusters” proved that it could have been a very feasible weapon, but would have suffered from severe reliability problems.
A device similar in concept called the Chu Ko Nu was in use by Chinese soldiers as early as the 4th century B.C., but it was conceived more as a rapid fire light crossbow. Holding up to 10 bolts, the soldier could rapidly crank a handle and fire every couple of seconds, an astonishing rate of fire for a weapon at the time. The bolts were light and its range was short, but it was intended for mass formations and made up for its lack of power with volume of fire. To increase lethality, its bolts were sometimes coated in poison.
2. Coffee mill gun
The American Civil War saw widespread experimentation in weaponry, and among the most sought was a rapid fire battlefield gun that could support the infantry. The “coffee mill,” or Agar gun, the namesake of it’s inventor Wilson Agar and mounted on a light artillery carriage, was one such attempt. Standard .58 rifle cartridges were loaded in special steel tubes and were placed in a large hopper on top of the weapon. A hand crank fed the cartridges and allowed a rate of fire of up to 120 rounds per minute. The feeding mechanism resembled an old-fashioned coffee mill, giving it its nickname. President Abraham Lincoln witnessed a demonstration and was very impressed by the weapon’s performance, and a small number were purchased by the Union Army.
Despite its impressive rate of fire, the weapon had serious disadvantages. Reloading the steel tubes was cumbersome, making keeping up the rate of fire difficult, and their loss made the weapon useless. The feed mechanism was vulnerable to jamming, and the weapon was highly prone to overheating. Its range was no greater than a standard rifled musket. Though it saw some action, its flaws, and the few number purchased ensured it played only a minor role in the war, and it was quickly replaced by the far more effective Gatling gun.
One approach to rapid fire was the clustering of large numbers of single-shot barrels together that were fed by a single large breach, firing in sequence before being loaded in again. The Mitrailleuse, from the French word for grapeshot, was the pinnacle of this concept. The original design came from it’s Belgian inventor Captain Fafchamps in 1851, but many variants saw service in the French Army leading up to the Franco-Prussian war.
Carrying up to 50 barrels and mounted on an artillery carriage, the weapon was breech loaded using large steel blocks studded with ammunition. A small crank was then turned to manually fire each round. A skilled gunner on some types could achieve over 100 rounds a minute. The Reffye variant which was most commonly used by the French used 13mm rounds with a range of over 2,000 yards. Unlike a modern machine gun, it was used more as artillery, with all its ammunition being expended on a single point target.
By the time the Franco-Prussian war broke out, the French had slightly more than 200 Mitrailleuses in service. The Prussians, despite having few rapid fire weapons of their own, were not particularly impressed by their enemies wonder weapon. It’s inability to be targeted quickly, and it’s rapid expenditure of ammunition onto a single target, rendered it tactically inflexible and redundant to conventional artillery. The small numbers deployed also limited the weapon’s effectiveness. After losing the war, the French phased the Mitrailleuse out.
It’s no surprise that heroes emerged from D-Day, the largest amphibious assault in history. What is surprising is that three of the four recipients of the Medal of Honor for that day came from one division. The Army’s 1st Infantry Division was sent to Omaha Beach, the most heavily defended beach of D-Day. Sheer cliffs and fortified positions blocked the Allied assault against the dug-in German units.
Here are 4 men who were key in breaking the “Atlantic Wall” around occupied France.
1. Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the 56-year-old son of President Theodore Roosevelt and a senior officer in the 4th Infantry Division, had twice verbally requested to join the assaulting forces on Utah Beach and was denied twice due to his age and rank. Finally, a written request was approved and Roosevelt became the only general officer to land in the first wave on D-Day. He walked on to the beach with his cane and began leading troops over the sea wall. He also provided key information to the senior officers of each new wave that landed, including his boss who didn’t want him on the beach.
He died of a heart attack the night before Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called to inform him that he’d been nominated for the Medal of Honor and promotion to major general, one month after D-Day. The award was given to his widow by his distant cousin, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His citation reads:
“For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France. After 2 verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt’s written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches. He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France.”
2. An infantry officer who led tanks when they got too scared to move up the beach
1st Lt. Jimmie W. Monteith, Jr.was drafted into the Army during World War II but quickly climbed the ranks, attaining corporal in basic training in 1941. He was accepted into officer school a few months later and was sent to the 1st Infantry Division after his commissioning. He fought with them in Sicily and Italy before the assault on Omaha Beach.
On D-Day, he saw two tanks buttoned up and unable to fire due to heavy artillery and machine gun fire. He walked up, completely exposed, and led the tanks through a minefield before directing their fire onto German positions. After that, he led a group of men onto the bluffs and repulsed Nazi counterattacks until he was killed.
His citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. 1st Lt. Monteith landed with the initial assault waves on the coast of France under heavy enemy fire. Without regard to his own personal safety he continually moved up and down the beach reorganizing men for further assault. He then led the assault over a narrow protective ledge and across the flat, exposed terrain to the comparative safety of a cliff. Retracing his steps across the field to the beach, he moved over to where 2 tanks were buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machinegun fire. Completely exposed to the intense fire, 1st Lt. Monteith led the tanks on foot through a minefield and into firing positions. Under his direction several enemy positions were destroyed. He then rejoined his company and under his leadership his men captured an advantageous position on the hill. Supervising the defense of his newly won position against repeated vicious counterattacks, he continued to ignore his own personal safety, repeatedly crossing the 200 or 300 yards of open terrain under heavy fire to strengthen links in his defensive chain. When the enemy succeeded in completely surrounding 1st Lt. Monteith and his unit and while leading the fight out of the situation, 1st Lt. Monteith was killed by enemy fire. The courage, gallantry, and intrepid leadership displayed by 1st Lt. Monteith is worthy of emulation.”
3. The radioman who kept shrugging off mortal wounds until he got comms up on Omaha Beach
Joe Pinder was a professional baseball player before he joined the Army. His first battles were in Africa and he fought in Sicily as well. At D-Day, Pinder was wounded multiple times and nearly lost some radio equipment during the struggle to reach the beach. He kept going back and forth in the surf, retrieving needed items despite sustaining other injuries.
“Almost immediately on hitting the waist-deep water, he was hit by shrapnel,” 2nd Lt. Lee Ward W. Stockwell said, according to Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice. “He was hit several times and the worst wound was to the left side of his face, which was cut off and hanging by a piece of flesh.”
After refusing medical treatment multiple times and finally getting his radio equipment all back together, Pinder was killed by a burst of machine gun fire to the chest.
His citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. On D-day, Technician 5th Grade Pinder landed on the coast 100 yards off shore under devastating enemy machinegun and artillery fire which caused severe casualties among the boatload. Carrying a vitally important radio, he struggled towards shore in waist-deep water. Only a few yards from his craft he was hit by enemy fire and was gravely wounded. Technician 5th Grade Pinder never stopped. He made shore and delivered the radio. Refusing to take cover afforded, or to accept medical attention for his wounds, Technician 5th Grade Pinder, though terribly weakened by loss of blood and in fierce pain, on 3 occasions went into the fire-swept surf to salvage communication equipment. He recovered many vital parts and equipment, including another workable radio. On the 3rd trip he was again hit, suffering machinegun bullet wounds in the legs. Still this valiant soldier would not stop for rest or medical attention. Remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire, growing steadily weaker, he aided in establishing the vital radio communication on the beach. While so engaged this dauntless soldier was hit for the third time and killed. The indomitable courage and personal bravery of Technician 5th Grade Pinder was a magnificent inspiration to the men with whom he served.”
4. The infantryman who swam back and forth in the D-Day surf, saving his floundering comrades.
A high school dropout and former cook, Carlton W. Barrett volunteered to join the Army in 1940, just before he turned 21. On D-Day, he was assigned to be a guide, showing the way for each successive wave of troops to hit the beach. This meant Barrett had to land at D-Day not once, but multiple times. During the fierce fighting, he ferried wounded troops from the water and beach to evacuation boats, despite fierce small arms fire and mortar attacks. What’s more, he also carried messages between assaulting elements on beach.
He survived D-Day and stayed in the military, retiring as a staff sergeant in 1963. His citation reads:
“For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in the vicinity of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France. On the morning of D-day Pvt. Barrett, landing in the face of extremely heavy enemy fire, was forced to wade ashore through neck-deep water. Disregarding the personal danger, he returned to the surf again and again to assist his floundering comrades and save them from drowning. Refusing to remain pinned down by the intense barrage of small-arms and mortar fire poured at the landing points, Pvt. Barrett, working with fierce determination, saved many lives by carrying casualties to an evacuation boat lying offshore. In addition to his assigned mission as guide, he carried dispatches the length of the fire-swept beach; he assisted the wounded; he calmed the shocked; he arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion. His coolness and his dauntless daring courage while constantly risking his life during a period of many hours had an inestimable effect on his comrades and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.”
In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded and occupied neighboring Kuwait in a move which brought swift condemnation from much of the rest of the world. In response, U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered planes, ships, and troops brought in to Saudi Arabia as quickly as possible to help mount a defense against possible Iraqi aggression. As Iraqi troops massed at the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, Operation Desert Shield began in full force, as the Coalition forces grew to 48 nations.
The United States isn’t known for its passivity when it comes to aggression against its interests, however. The U.S. was actively planning a response to the Iraqi invasion and a subsequent liberation of Kuwait, which happened between January and February 1991 in what became known as Operation Desert Storm.
We pretty much sent everyone. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel Jackson)
During the military build-up, planners wanted to fool Saddam into thinking the Coalition forces would invade Kuwait near the “boot heel” of the country, while planning to really hit the Iraqi occupation forces with a “left hook” strategy. The centerpiece of this deception effort was at Forward Operating Base Weasel, an effort unlike anything since Operation Fortitude during WWII, the misinformation campaign designed to cover the real location for the D-Day invasions.
FOB Weasel was what Rick Atkinson, author of Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War called “a Potemkin base… giving the impression of 130,000 troops across a hundred square kilometers.” Army truck drivers wearing the red berets of paratroopers would shuttle vehicles between FOB Weasel and logistic bases.
The U.S. army’s XVIII Airborne Corps established FOB Weasel near the phony invasion area. They set up a network of small, fake camps with a few dozen soldiers using radios operated by computers to create radio traffic, fake messages between fake headquarters, as well as smoke generators and loudspeakers blasting fake Humvee, tank, and truck noises to simulate movement. Inflatable tanks with PVC turrets and helicopters with fiberglass rotors were lined up on the ground as well. Inflatable fuel bladders, Camo netting, and heat strips to fool infrared cameras completed the illusion. The Americans even taped “Egyptian” radio traffic messages about the supposed American presence to be intercepted by the Iraqis.
As late as February 21st, Iraqi intelligence still thought the Americans were near the Kuwaiti boot heel, well after the Iraqis were expelled from Kuwait.
The Seventh Fleet may have a severe readiness problem, according to a government watchdog.
The warfare training certifications for eight out of eleven US Navy destroyers and cruisers based in Japan, home to the US Seventh Fleet, expired as of June, according to CNN, which cites an unpublished report from the Government Accountability Office. The certificates were for mobility and seamanship, air warfare, and undersea warfare.
For a number of these ships, the training certificates expired as seven sailors died aboard the USS Fitzgerald and another 10 perished on board the USS John McCain after massive merchant vessels struck the ships.
The fatal collisions are part of a string of serious incidents that have occurred over the past year. Both of the collisions are under investigation.
The Philippine-flagged container vessel ACX Crystal slammed into the side of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald before dawn June 17 in waters off Japan. Two months later, on Aug. 21, the oil tanker Alnic MC collided with the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John McCain near Singapore. Ten sailors were killed in the second incident, bringing the number of American sailors killed in the two accidents up to 17.
In the wake of the most recent collision, the Navy decided to relieve Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Seventh Fleet, of his command due to a lack of confidence in his leadership.
The Seventh Fleet handles most naval operations in the Pacific, from pressuring North Korea to freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea. The USS John McCain had actually just completed a freedom-of-navigation operation just prior to the collision.
Preliminary reports on the incident involving the USS Fitzgerald attributed the crash to poor seamanship. While the incidents are still under investigation, there have long been readiness concerns as the size of the fleet decreased while the number of ships deployed remained constant, with the length of deployments increasing.
“The Navy has had to shorten, eliminate, or defer training and maintenance periods to support these high deployment rates,” John Pendleton, director of the GAO defense capabilities and management, said in his written testimony, according to CNN.
“Navy officials told us that US-based crews are completely qualified and certified prior to deploying from their US homeports, with few exceptions,” he added. “In contrast, the high operational tempo of ships homeported overseas had resulted in what Navy personnel called a ‘train on the margins’ approach, a shorthand way to say there was no dedicated training time set aside for the ships so crews trained while underway or in the limited time between underway periods.”
A single weapon used predominantly in World War I and with a limited deployment in World War II was so effective and so terrifying that Germany lodged a diplomatic protest against its use by American forces. It wasn’t the flamethrower or the machine gun. It was shotguns, especially the Winchester Models 1897 and 1912.
The two shotguns were first entered into combat after America realized how brutal trench warfare really was. The soldiers and Marines serving on the Western Front needed a way to clear attackers from the American trenches as well as to quickly clear defenders from enemy trenches during assaults.
Standard shotguns were civilian versions of the weapon, often with a sling added for easy carrying. Riot guns were similar but with shorter barrels. The most heavily modified versions were the trench guns which featured shorter barrels — usually 20 inches or shorter, heat shields, and bayonet lugs.
The Model 97 quickly became one of the most popular shotguns issued, partially because of how well it stood up to the rigorous conditions on the Western Front. Operators could quickly clean mud and water from the weapons and get them ready to fire after a mishap, and the weapon continued to function even if it was dropped or slammed against trenchworks.
But the big reason that the Model 97 became so popular was that it could be “slamfired.” Typically, an operator readies a pump-action shotgun by pumping it to feed a round into the chamber and eject any empty casing currently in it. Then, they pull the trigger while aimed at their target to fire. Repeat.
But when slamfiring, they keep the trigger held back while pumping the weapon. When the new round feeds into the chamber, it will automatically fire. This meant the weapon could be fired as quickly as the operator could pump the handle.
The Model 97 held six rounds of 00 buckshot, each shell of which held nine pellets. A trained soldier slamfiring could fire all six rounds, 54 total lead pellets, in approximately two seconds. At the close ranges in many World War I trenches, the effect was devastating.
The Winchester Model 97 and Model 1912 would go on to serve similar functions in World War II, again clearing German defenders from trenches and bunkers as well as operating in the Pacific. The two Winchester shotguns were deployed to Korea and Vietnam, though the U.S. was slowly transitioning to newer shotguns by that point.
Reports and rampant speculation regarding Russia’s announcement of a new, high-threat nuclear cruise missile have many asking questions about the ultimate aims of the Pentagon’s recently released Nuclear Posture Review.
The Pentagon’s accelerated development of a “nuclear-armed” F-35 Joint Strike Fighter attack envelope, and other new nuclear weapons, is of critical importance to a new sweeping strategic nuclear weapons modernization and development strategy aimed at countering Russia, China, and North Korea — and addressing a much more serious global nuclear weapons threat environment.
Adding a nuclear-capable F-35 to the air portion of the nuclear triad — to supplement the existing B-2, B-52, and emerging B-21 — will bring a new dimension to US nuclear attack options and place a new level of pressure upon potential adversaries.
Discussion of the F-35’s role in nuclear deterrence emerged recently during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s recently published Nuclear Posture Review.
In written testimony, Defense Secretary James Mattis cited the F-35 as an indispensable element of US and NATO nuclear deterrence.
“Modernizing our dual-capable fighter-bombers with next-generation F-35 fighter aircraft will maintain the strength of NATO’s deterrence posture and maintain our ability to forward deploy nuclear weapons, should the security situation demand it,” his testimony states.
Mattis also cited the emergence of the F-35 as a “nuclear delivery system” in the context of expressing grave concern that US nuclear weapons modernization has not, in recent years, kept pace with a fast-changing global threat environment.
“Nuclear delivery system development over the last eight years shows numerous advances by Russia, China, and North Korea versus the near absence of such activity by the United States, with competitors and adversaries’ developing 34 new systems as compared to only one for the U.S. — the F-35 aircraft,” Mattis said in written statements.
Officials with the Office of the Secretary of Defense confirmed to Warrior Maven that Mattis here is indeed referring to an emerging “nuclear variant” of the F-35. Multiple news reports, such as Business Insider, cite senior officials saying a nuclear-armed F-35 is slated to emerge in the early 2020s, if not sooner. The F-35 is equipped to carry the B-61 nuclear bomb, according to a report in Air Force Magazine.
It makes sense that the F-35 would increasingly be called upon to function as a key element of US nuclear deterrence strategy; in recent months, F-35s deployed to the Pacific theater to participate in military exercises over the Korean Peninsula. The weapons, ISR technology, and multi-role functions of the F-35 potentially provide a wide range of attack options should that be necessary in the region.
Utilizing speed, maneuverability, and lower-altitude flight when compared to how a bomber, such as a B-2, would operate, a nuclear-capable F-35 presents new threats to a potential adversary. In a tactical sense, it seems that a high-speed F-35, fortified by long-range sensors and targeting technologies, might be well positioned to identify and destroy mobile weapons launchers or other vital, yet slightly smaller, on-the-move targets. As part of this equation, an F-35 might also be able to respond much more quickly, with low-yield nuclear weapons in the event that new intelligence information locating a new target emerges.
The F-35 recently completed a series of weapons separation tests and is currently able to be armed with the AIM-9X, AIM-120, AIM-132, GBU-12, JDAM, JSOW, SDB-1 and the Paveway IV, Lockheed Martin data states. While it is not yet clear exactly how a nuclear weapon might integrate onto the platform, the F-35 is configured to carry more than 3500 pounds of ordnance in stealth mode and over 18-thousand pounds uncontested.
While senior Pentagon leaders are understandably hesitant to discuss particular contingencies or attack scenarios, the NPR is quite clear that a more pro-active nuclear weapons posture is aimed at strengthening “deterrence.”
After analyzing the global threat calculus, the NPR calls for rapid inclusion of two additional nuclear weapons options — to include a sea-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile.
“A nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile and the modification of a small number of existing submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads to provide a low-yield option – will enhance deterrence by ensuring no adversary under any circumstances can perceive an advantage through limited nuclear escalation or other strategic attack,” Gen. Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.
Senior Pentagon leaders stress that neither of these new nuclear weapons recommendations in the NPR require developing new nuclear warheads or will result in increasing the size of the nuclear stockpile. NPR DoD advocates further stress that the addition of these weapons does align with US non-proliferation commitments.
Mattis and other senior leaders seem aware that elements of the NPRs strategic approach may reflect a particular irony or paradox; in response to questions from lawmakers about whether adding new low-yield nuclear weapons could “lower the threshold” to nuclear war and therefore introduce new elements of danger, Mattis told Congress that increasing offensive nuclear-weapons attack capability will have the opposite effect, meaning the added weapons would improve deterrence and therefore enhance prospects for peace.
Specifically, Mattis explained that a new, low-yield, submarine-launched ballistic missile could likely provide pressure on Russia to a point where they might be more inclined to negotiate about adhering to the INF treaty they have violated.
“We have an ongoing Russian violation of the INF. We want our negotiators to have something to negotiate with because we want Russia back in compliance,” Mattis told lawmakers.
Alongside this strategic emphasis, Mattis also stressed that the NPR stipulates that nuclear weapons will only be used in the most extreme cases, adding that the “use of any nuclear weapon is a strategic game changer. Nuclear deterrence must be considered carefully.”
Citing the rapid technological progress of adversary air-defense systems, Mattis further elaborated that a sea-launched cruise missile option might be necessary to hold potential enemies at risk in the event that air-dropped low-yield weapons were challenged to operate above necessary targets.
“To drop a gravity bomb that is low-yield means a bomber would have to penetrate air defenses. Air defenses are very different than they were 20 years ago,” Mattis told Congress.
For instance, Russian-built S-400s and an emerging S-500 are potentially able to detect aircraft at much further ranges on a larger number of frequencies. Furthermore, faster computer processing and digital networking enable dispersed air defenses to hand off targets quickly across wide swaths of terrain.
This phenomenon also provides indispensable elements to the argument in favor of the Pentagon’s current development of a new nuclear-armed, air launched cruise missile – the Long Range Stand-Off weapon (LRSO). In similar fashion, a nuclear cruise missile could hold enemy targets at risk in a high-tech threat environment where bombers were less able to operate.
Some critics of the LRSO maintain that the introduction of the LRSO brings a “destabilizing” effect to the possible use of nuclear weapons. In a manner quite consistent with the current NPR, senior Air Force weapons developers told Warrior Maven over the course of several interviews that, by strengthening deterrence, the addition of a new LRSO is expected to have the reverse – or “stabilizing” – effect by making it more difficult for a potential adversary to contemplate a first strike.
NPR proponents say a strengthened and more wide-reaching nuclear weapons approach is necessary, given the current threat environment which does, without question, seem to be raising the possibility of nuclear confrontation to a level not seen in years.
“We’re concerned about: some of the adjustments in potential adversaries’ thinking about nuclear weapons. With a greater reliance on nuclear weapons, a featuring of them, in some cases — for example, in the Russian nuclear doctrine, called “Escalating to De-escalate.” John Rood, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy told reporters when discussing the NPR.
From the Nuclear Posture Review
Russia’s belief that limited nuclear first use, potentially including low-yield weapons, can provide such an advantage is based, in part, on Moscow’s perception that its greater number and variety of non-strategic nuclear systems provide a coercive advantage in crises and at lower levels of conflict. Recent Russian statements on this evolving nuclear weapons doctrine appear to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first-use of nuclear weapons.
The text of the report specifically cites the importance of dual-capable aircraft (DCA) in Europe and states that the F-35 is fundamental to deterring Russia.
“We are committed to upgrading DCA with the nuclear-capable F-35 aircraft. We will work with NATO to best ensure — and improve where needed — the readiness, survivability, and operational effectiveness of DCA based in Europe,” the Nuclear Posture Review states.
The NPR also seeks to accelerate ongoing efforts to modernize the air, sea and ground portions of the nuclear triad. DoD is immersed in current efforts to fast-track development and prototypes of a new ground-based strategic deterrent ICBM, Air Force developers have told Warrior Maven.
Early prototyping, including expected prototype “shoot off” testing is slated for 2020, service developers have told Warrior Maven in recent interviews. Northrop Grumman and Boeing are both now under contract to build the new weapon. The Air Force plans to build at least 400 GBSDs, Air Force senior leaders have said.
Critical elements of the new ICBM, developed to replace the decades-old Minuteman IIIs, will feature a new engineering method along with advanced command control, circuitry, and guidance systems, engineers have said.
Regarding the air component, the Air Force recently completed a critical design review of its new B-21 Raider nuclear-capable stealth bomber. As is often the case with nuclear weapons, many of the details regarding the development of this platform are not available, but there is widespread discussion among US Air Force leaders that the bomber is expected to usher in a new era of stealth technology; much of the discussion focuses upon the bomber’s ability to operate above advanced enemy air defenses and “hold any target at risk anywhere in the world,” the Air Force Military Deputy for Acquisition Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch has told Warrior Maven in past interviews.
Early available renderings of the bomber show what appears to be an advanced B-2 like design, yet possibly one with a lower heat signature and improved stealth properties. However, service leaders are quick to point out that, given advancements in Russian air defenses, stealth will surge forward as “one arrow in a quiver” of nuclear attack possibilities.
Concurrently, the Air Force is surging forward with a massive B-2 modernization overhaul, involving new digital nuclear weapons capability and the integration of a developing system called the Defensive Management System. This enables the B-2, which Air Force developers acknowledge may indeed be more vulnerable to advanced air defenses than in earlier years when it was first built, to more quickly recognize locations of enemy air defenses at safer ranges as a means to avoid detection.
New nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine
Finally, shifting to a program widely regarded as among the most significant across the DoD enterprise, the Navy is already underway with early development of the new nuclear-armed Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. Several key current efforts with this, including early “tube and hull” forging of missile tubes, work on a US-UK common missile compartment, and little-discussed upgrades to the Trident II D5 nuclear missiles.
Undersea strategic deterrence, as described by Navy and Pentagon leaders, offers a critical means to ensure a second strike ability in the event of a catastrophic first-strike nuclear attack impacting or disabling other elements of the triad.
While it may seem obvious, nuclear deterrence hinges upon a recognizable, yet vital contradiction; weapons of seemingly limitless destructive power are ultimately employed to “keep the peace” and save lives. Along these lines, Senior Navy and Air Force nuclear weapons developers routinely make the point that, since the advent of nuclear weapons, the world has managed to avoid massive, large-scale major power force on force warfare.
While Pentagon leaders rarely, if ever, offer a window into current nuclear-strike capabilities, it is widely discussed that the current North Korean nuclear threat is leading US military planners to envision the full spectrum of nuclear weapons contingencies. Even further, the US did recently send B-2 bombers to the Asian theater — stationing them in Guam.
The US Navy said on Wednesday that one of its aircraft was intercepted by a Russian jet while flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea.
The US Navy P-8A Poseidon, an anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft, was flying over the Mediterranean Sea when it was approached by a Russian Su-35 fighter jet, US Naval Forces Europe-Africa said.
“The interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-35 conducting a high-speed, inverted maneuver, 25 ft. directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk,” the Navy said in a statement.
The crew of the P-8A Poseidon experienced “wake turbulence” during the 42-minute encounter, the Navy said.
“While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible,” the Navy added. “We expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents.”
A Russian Su-35 jet performed a similar maneuver toward a P-8A Poseidon over the Mediterranean Sea in June. The jet buzzed the US aircraft three times in three hours and conducted a pass directly in front of it.
“This interaction was irresponsible,” the Navy said in a statement at the time.
On both occasions, the Navy said its aircraft was flying in international airspace and was not provoking the Russian aircraft.
Russia performed another provocative test by firing an anti-satellite missile on Wednesday, US Space Command said.
Russia’s direct-ascent anti-satellite test “provides yet another example that the threats to US and allied space systems are real, serious and growing,” Gen. John Raymond, the head of Space Command and chief of space operations for US Space Force, said in a statement.
“The United States is ready and committed to deterring aggression and defending the nation, our allies and US interests from hostile acts in space,” Raymond added.
Defense officials at the Pentagon say they need up to $500 million more to finish the development phase for the F-35, the troubled fifth-generation fighter that’s already gone 50% over its original budget.
Its overall lifetime budget has ballooned to more than $1.5 trillion, making it the most expensive weapons system ever built by the US.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has in the past called those cost overruns a “disgrace.”
“It has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule, and performance,” he said in April.
Rising costs haven’t been the only problem of note for the F-35. The jet has had plenty of incidents while being built, such as electrical problems, major issues with its software, and problems related to its advanced helmet system.
Just four months ago, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester wrote in a memo the F-35 program was “not on a path toward success but instead on a path toward failing to deliver.”
Still, the Air Force and Marines have both declared the fighter “combat ready” and have begun integrating it into their squadrons. The military has only taken delivery of about 180 of the aircraft from Lockheed Martin so far, though it plans to buy more than 2,400.
The fighter, which features stealth and advanced electronic attack and communications systems, is a project with roots going back to the late 1990s. Lockheed won the contract for the fighter in 2001.
“Strong national security is an expensive endeavor but the existing concerns with the F-35 make calls for even more money harder to green light,” said Joe Kaspar, chief of staff for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“And the Pentagon never seems to be able to help its case on the F-35. Technical superiority is not cheap, but whether or not costs can be driven down is something Congress must look at it before throwing more money in the Pentagon’s direction.”