US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

A drone-killing, directed energy weapon prototype is now in the hands of Marines. The Compact Laser Weapons System — or CLaWS — is the first ground-based laser approved by the Department of Defense for use by warfighters on the ground.

“This was all in response to a need for counter unmanned aerial systems to take down drones,” said Don Kelley, program manager for Ground Based Air Defense at Program Executive Officer Land Systems. “We developed a CLaWS prototype for Marines to use and evaluate.”

In recent years, the Defense department has assessed directed energy weapons — more commonly known as “lasers” — as an affordable alternative to traditional firepower to keep enemy drones from tracking and targeting Marines on the ground.


CLaWS is not intended to be a standalone system for Marines to use to counter enemy drones. Rather, if the prototype continues to do well in the current research and development phase, it will serve as a component to an overall system used to counter drones.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

“We’re providing CLaWS to Marines as a rapid prototype for evaluation,” Kelley said. “Depending on the results, CLaWS could become part of a larger capability set.”

Rapid prototyping, rapid delivery

The GBAD program, managed within the portfolio of PEO Land Systems procured the CLaWS prototype through the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium — or DOTC — which was commissioned by the then-Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to foster collaboration between government, industry and academia regarding ordnance technology development and prototyping.

“The typical acquisition timeline can be lengthy,” said Lt. Col. Ho Lee, product manager for GBAD Future Weapons Systems at PEO Land Systems. “But this project, from start to finish — from when we awarded the DOTC contract, to getting all the integration complete, all the testing complete, getting the Marines trained, and getting the systems ready to deploy — took about one year.”

From a production standpoint, Lee said that the program office and its partners integrated various commercial items to create CLaWS.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

(U.S. Marine Corps)

“We’ve been doing rapid prototyping, rapid delivery,” said Lee. “With this and a lot of the other efforts we are doing, we are using items currently available and integrating them to meet a capability. Little development, if any, went into this.”

Leveraging expertise for increased lethality

Obtaining the green-light to deliver and deploy CLaWS requires a bit more finesse, which is why PM GBAD leveraged DoD interagency partnerships to fulfill the need.

The operational use of new laser weapons, such as CLaWS, requires approval from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as it involves various factors such as legal reviews, concepts of employment, rules of engagement, tactics, potential collateral damage and human effects, proposed public affairs guidance and other relevant information.

“This program lives and dies with the leveraging of expertise and resources with others,” said Kelley. “It’s about getting these capabilities quickly into the hands of Marines and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Move fast and laser things

As Marines evaluate the CLaWS systems over the next few months, the GBAD program office already has their next target in mind: upgrading it.

Depending on the results, the program office says it could incorporate the CLaWS into other fixed-site and mobile C-UAS defeat capabilities.

“What’s interesting about CLaWS for the Marine Corps is, usually for things like this, we’re on the back end,” said Lee. “With this one, we’re actually in front. Everybody is watching closely to see what’s going to happen.”

This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Air Force F-35As make first combat appearance

Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft conducted an airstrike at Wadi Ashai, Iraq, in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, April 30, 2019.

This strike marked the F-35A’s first combat employment.

The F-35As conducted the airstrike using a Joint Direct Attack Munition to strike an entrenched Daesh tunnel network and weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains, a location able to threaten friendly forces.


“We have the ability to gather, fuse and pass so much information that we make every friendly aircraft more survivable and lethal,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th Fighter Squadron commander and F-35A pilot. “That, combined with low-observable technology, allows us to really complement any combined force package and be ready to support AOR contingencies.”

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

A KC-10 Extender refuels an F-35A Lightning II above an undisclosed location, April 30, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

The F-35As, recently deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, joined the Combined Forces Air Component team in the U.S. Central Command area of operations on April 15. This marks the F-35A’s third deployment and first to the CENTCOM AOR. In preparation for deployment, crews prepared and trained on the aircraft for the AFCENT mission.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

A KC-10 Extender boom operator refuels an F-35A Lightning II above an undisclosed location, April 30, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

“We have been successful in two Red Flag exercises, and we’ve deployed to Europe and Asia,” said Morris. “Our airmen are ready and we’re excited to be here.” Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise which includes U.S. and allied nations’ combat air forces.

There are many airmen ensuring the planes are ready for their combat missions.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

A F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron taxis down the flightline before taking off from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, April 24, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

“This jet is smarter, a lot smarter, and so it can do more, and it helps you out more when loading munitions,” said Staff Sgt. Karl Tesch, 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons technician.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

A F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. takes off from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, April 24, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

A central tenant to the F-35A’s design is its ability to enhance other battlefield assets. In this case, the aircraft joins the combined joint airpower team already in place to maintain air superiority and deliver war-winning airpower.

“The F-35A has sensors everywhere, it has advanced radar and it is gathering and fusing all this information from the battlespace in real time,” said Morris. “Now it has the ability to take that information and share it with other F-35s or even other fourth generation aircraft in the same package that can also see the integrated picture.”

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

President Trump wants to free an American held in Turkey

President Donald Trump appealed to Turkey for the release of the American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who is being held on accusations that he supported a failed military coup in 2016.

Brunson is originally from North Carolina, but has lived in Turkey for 25 years, serving as leader of a Christian church in the town of Izmir, about 360 miles southwest of the capital Ankara.


He has remained in custody for the last 18 months, facing charges that he helped support Turkish soldiers who tried to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016. Brunson has denied any wrongdoing.

“Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump said in a Twitter post on April 17, 2018.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

“They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is,” the US president said. “Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”

Trump’s declaration that “I am more a spy” than Brunson is hits at the crux of Turkey’s argument about Brunson and the vast swath of the Turkish population arrested and accused of subverting Erdogan’s government.

Some people did a double-take on Trump calling himself a spy.

In an apparent gesture to coax Turkey into freeing Brunson, the US dropped charges against members of Erdogan’s security detail who were accused of brawling with protesters during the Turkish president’s visit to the US in 2017.

By all accounts, Turkey was unmoved.

Articles

The Pentagon is worried about the missile threat from these countries

The North Korean ballistic missile threat has been receiving significant attention in recent weeks, but missile threats are surging worldwide, a new Pentagon report suggests.


North Korea has made significant strides in developing its weapons program in recent months, successfully testing multiple new ballistic missile systems, but other countries, such as Iran, Russia, and China, are also rapidly advancing their missile capabilities. “Many countries view ballistic and cruise missile systems as cost-effective weapons and symbols of national power,” defense intelligence agencies said in a report viewed in advance by Bloomberg News.

“China continues to have the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world,” the Pentagon assessed.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, which oversees China’s land-based nuclear and conventional missiles, has received much more attention as China pursues an extensive military modernization program putting greater emphasis on technological strength rather than manpower.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
The HQ-9 is a Chinese medium- to long-range, active radar homing surface-to-air missile.

China tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile — the DF-5C — with 10 warheads in January, and there have been rumors that another developmental Chinese ICBM has already been deployed. China conducted its seventh successful test of the DF-41 with two inert warheads last spring. The Chinese armed forces are expected to substantially increase the number of warheads on the ICBMs capable of threatening the continental US over the next few years, the new Pentagon report suggests.

The Chinese military has also deployed new and improved DF-16s, highly-accurate, mobile medium-range ballistic missiles, to further threaten Taiwan. The precision missiles could also be used to target US bases located along the “first island chain.” At the same time, China can field DF-21D anti-ship missiles and the DF-26, which could be used against US forces in Guam, according to the Pentagon’s China Military Power report.

Russia, which has more deployed nuclear warheads than the US, is “expected to retain the largest force of strategic ballistic missiles outside the United States,” according to the new defense report.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
A Russian Topol M mobile nuclear missile. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Both China and Russia are also working to develop hypersonic glide vehicle technology. “HGVS are maneuverable vehicles that travel at hypersonic (greater than Mach 5) speed and spend most of their flight at much lower altitudes than a typical ballistic missile,” defense agencies revealed.

High speed, maneuverability, and low-altitude flight make missile interception via missile defense systems significantly more difficult. Russia is believed to be moving closer to fielding a hypersonic cruise missile — the Zircon — that can threaten enemy ships. Some observers, however, suspect Chinese and Russian claims regarding their various achievements in this area are exaggerated.

Iran has extended the range and effectiveness of its mid-range Shabab-3, a weapon based on a North Korean model, and the Pentagon is under the impression that Iran, much like North Korea, ultimately intends to develop an ICBM.

“Tehran’s desire to have a strategic counter to the United States could drive it to field an ICBM. Progress in Iran’s space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles (SLV) use inherently similar technologies,” the report explained.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Photo from Tasnim News Agency.

Iran has also been working to advance its Fateh-110 missiles, which it tested in March. Iran launched missiles into Syria last week, firing off a mid-range weapon in combat for the first time in three decades.

Expert analysts have noted significant cooperation between Iran and North Korea in recent years.

North Korea has, this year alone, tested new short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, experimenting with different fuels and engines. The North has also been testing new transporter erector launchers, which offer greater mobility and survivability. Similar developments are being seen in other countries.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
North Korean Missile. (Associated Press image via NewsEdge)

North Korea has repeatedly threatened that an ICBM test is not far off, and while the regime will most likely test a liquid-fueled ICBM, such as the KN-08 revealed a few years ago, the North has also presented two canister-launched ICBMs in military parades resembling two foreign missiles, specifically the Chinese DF-31 and the Russian Topol.

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North Korea’s ballistic missiles aren’t as scary as you might think (yet)

North Korea’s inter-continental ballistic missiles still have a lot of work to do in order to be ready for prime time, the Defense Intelligence Agency claims. North Korea in the past has had problems getting its missiles up – but that technological hitch may not last long.


According to a report by Bloomberg News, North Korea still faces a number of “important shortfalls” in its longer-range missiles like the Taepo-dong 2 and the KN-08 inter-continental ballistic missiles. Last month, North Korea saw a failure when it attempted to launch a missile during a test.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
The test-fire of Pukguksong-2. This photo was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on February 13. (KCNA/Handout)

That said, senior American intelligence officials note with concern that North Korea is not letting the failures prevent a push toward developing a reliable ICBM inventory.

“North Korea has also expanded the size and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces—from close-range ballistic missiles (CRBMs) to ICBMs—and continues to conduct test launches. In 2016, North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests. Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States; it has publicly displayed its road-mobile ICBMs on multiple occasions. We assess that North Korea has taken steps toward fielding an ICBM but has not flight-tested it,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a written statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee prior to a May 11, 2017 hearing.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Hwasong missile (North Korean variant). (Photo: KCNA)

“North Korea is poised to conduct its first ICBM flight test in 2017 based on public comments that preparations to do so are almost complete and would serve as a milestone toward a more reliable threat to the US mainland,” Coats added later in the statement.

The United States has currently deployed a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile battery to South Korea, and also operates MIM-104 Patriot missile batteries – systems also owned by South Korea and Japan. All three countries also have Aegis warships, capable of launching SIM-66 Standard SM-2 and RIM-161 Standard SM-3 missiles.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
USS Hopper (DDG 70) fires a RIM-161 SM-3 missile in 2009. (US Navy photo)

The United States has deployed a carrier strike group to the area around North Korea as tensions have increased.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This stunning photo of Marine One’s Osprey escort over NYC

On May 23, 2018, Donald Trump traveled to New York City in one of the Presidential VH-3D helicopters operated by the U.S. Marine Corps HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron One).

Here’s a video of the Marine One helicopter flying over NYC the POTUS shared on his favorite social media:


MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. accuses Russia of sending jets to Libya to support mercenaries

The United States says Moscow has deployed military jets to Libya to provide support for Russian mercenaries helping a local warlord battle the North African country’s internationally recognized government.

The Russian military aircraft flew to Libya via Syria, where they were repainted to disguise their identity, the U.S. Africa Command said in a statement on May 26.


“For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth-generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way,” said U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM.

AFRICOM said the Russian jets had arrived in Libya recently. It did not say how many aircraft were transferred.

Vagner Group, a private military contractor believed to be close to the Kremlin, has been helping Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces in their fight against the Government of National Accord (GNA). A UN report earlier this month estimated the number of Russian mercenaries at between 800 and 1,200.

Moscow has denied the Russian state is responsible for any deployments.

There was no immediate comment from Russia’s Defense Ministry following the latest U.S. accusations.

But Andrei Krasov, deputy head of the Defense Committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, rejected the U.S. claim as “disinformation,” according to the Interfax news agency.

The United States posted 15 photographs of what it said were the Russian jets in Libya.

Townsend said that neither Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) nor Vagner had the ability to operate and finance the jets without Russian government support.

“Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya,” he said.

Oil-rich Libya has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed popular uprising ousted and killed the country’s longtime dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, in 2011.

Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country, is now seeking to capture the capital, Tripoli, and his LNA is battling GNA forces.

The conflict has drawn in multiple regional actors, with Russia, France, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates backing Haftar’s command.

Turkey, which deployed troops, drones, and Syrian rebel mercenaries to Libya in January, supports the government in Tripoli, alongside Qatar and Italy.

In a phone call with Libyan parliament speaker Aguila Saleh on May 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “there needs to be a constructive dialogue involving all the Libyan political forces” and “an immediate cease-fire,” according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

Haftar and the GNA have held several rounds of peace talks in France, Italy, Russia, and Germany, but they have failed to reach an agreement to end the fighting.

U.S. Air Force General Jeff Harrigian said that if Russia seized bases on Libya’s coast, it could potentially deploy permanent capabilities to deny area access.

“If that day comes, it will create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

US intel officials report that Russian leaders think US wants to topple Putin

Kremlin leaders believe the United States wants regime change in Russia, a worry that is feeding rising tensions between the two former Cold War foes, a US defense intelligence report says.


The Defense Intelligence Agency report, which was released on June 28, says Moscow has a “deep and abiding distrust of US efforts to promote democracy around the world and what it perceives as a US campaign to impose a single set of global values.”

Despite Russia’s largely successful military modernization since the Cold War, the report says “Moscow worries that US attempts to dictate a set of acceptable international norms threatens the foundations of Kremlin power by giving license for foreign meddling in Russia’s internal affairs.”

“The Kremlin is convinced the United States is laying the groundwork for regime change in Russia, a conviction further reinforced by the events in Ukraine,” the report says, noting that President Vladimir Putin’s government has accused the United States of engineering the popular uprising that ousted Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich, in February 2014.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Russia responded by illegally annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and by supporting a separatist war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 people since it began in April that year. Moscow’s actions in Ukraine led to rapidly deteriorating relations with the United States and its NATO allies, which imposed sanctions on Russia in retaliation.

While the report does not forecast a new, global ideological struggle akin to the Cold War, it cautions that Moscow “intends to use its military to promote stability on its own terms.”

The 116-page intelligence document, titled Russia Military Power: Building A Military To Support Great Power Aspirations, offers a comprehensive assessment of Russian military power, saying the Kremlin has methodically and successfully rebuilt Russia’s army, navy, and air force since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Russian military today is on the rise — not as the same Soviet force that faced the West in the Cold War, dependent on large units with heavy equipment,” the report says. It describes Russia’s new military “as a smaller, more mobile, balanced force rapidly becoming capable of conducting the full range of modern warfare.”

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Spetsnaz. Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin

Speaking on June 28 at a graduation ceremony for military and police academy graduates in Moscow, Putin said that the Russian Army has become “significantly stronger” in recent years.

“Officers have become more professional. This was proven in the operations against terrorists in Syria,” he said. “We are intending to be growing further the potential of our army and fleet, provide balanced and effective ground for development of all kinds of military units based on long-term plans and programs, improve the quality and intensity of military education.”

“Only modern, powerful, and mobile armed forces can provide sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country and protect us and our allies from any potential aggressor, from pressure, and blackmailing from the side of those who don’t like a strong, independent, and sovereign Russia,” Putin said.

The DIA report portrays Russia’s intervention in Syria since 2015 as largely successful at “changing the entire dynamic of the conflict, bolstering [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s] regime, and ensuring that no resolution to the conflict is possible without Moscow’s agreement.”

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (right). Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Besides boosting Assad’s fortunes in his six-year civil war against Syrian rebels, the report says the Syria intervention was intended to eliminate Islamic extremist elements that originated on the former Soviet Union’s territory to prevent them from returning home and threatening Russia.

As Russia continues to modernize and encounter military success, “within the next decade, an even more confident and capable Russia could emerge,” the intelligence agency’s director, Marine Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, said in the report’s preface.

The report was prepared before the election of President Donald Trump and reflects the Pentagon’s view of the global security picture shifting after nearly two decades of heavy American focus on countering terrorism and fighting small-scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With its focus on the modernized Russian army and Russian insecurities about US intentions, the report is sure to fuel debate over how to deal with Putin in Congress.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This Russian attack helo was supposed to be the deadliest in the USSR

Sharks have a reputation for being fearsome, man-eating killers — you can thank 1975’s Jaws for that. The shark, in nature, claims dominion over the seas, but its ferocious countenance has been painted on planes since the American Volunteer Group (also known as the “Flying Tigers”) put it on noses of their P-40s.

Russia has its own aeronautical shark, and it’s one of two attack helicopters the Soviet Union was developing in the 1980s to supplement — if not actually replace — the famous Mi-24 Hind. That helicopter is the Kamov Ka-50 Hokum, a single-purpose gunship.


The Kamov Ka-50 Hokum is a very unique helicopter. Like the vast majority of other Kamov designs, it uses contra-rotating main rotors. Most of Kamov’s helicopters have been used by the Soviet Navy — and were passed on to the Russian Navy once the USSR collapsed. Mil helicopters, like the Mi-24 Hind and the Mi-8/Mi-17 Hip, have historically gone to the Soviet Army (and, afterward, the Russian Army).

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

Kamov’s primary customer was the Soviet — and later the Russian — Navy. They’ve delivered a high-performance attack helicopter.

(Photo by Dimitri Pichugin)

While in development, the Hokum was competing with the Mi-28 Havoc. In fact, the Russian Army first selected the Hokum, but later settled on the Havoc. The end of the Cold War delayed the programs, but now both helicopters are being procured.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

This three-view graphic shows off some of the Hokum’s unique features: The main rotors and the lack of a tail rotor, for instance.

(U.S. Army)

The Hokum has a number of other unique features. It is a single-seat helicopter, while most other attack helicopters require a crew of two. It has an ejection seat for the pilot, which is commonly found on fixed-wing vessels, but not on rotary-wing aircraft.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

A look at some of the weapons the Ka-50 can pack. Not easily seen: the same 30mm cannon on the BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle is mounted on this helicopter.

(Photo by Tomasz Szulc)

The Hokum has a top speed of 193 miles per hour and a maximum unrefueled range of 393 miles. It can carry AT-16 missiles, rocket pods, gun pods, and even bombs, and it packs the same 30mm cannon as the BMP-2 does.

Currently, Russia has 32 of these lethal helicopters in service. Learn more about this airborne “Black Shark” in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWr6vVTE1Ug

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Special Forces roots of Acting SECDEF Christopher Miller

As of Monday, Christopher Miller is the new (acting) Secretary of Defense. He is now responsible for the entire US military behemoth. A tough proposition, despite his experience navigating bureaucracy as the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict.

But Miller has a vast special operations background to assist him in his new position.

When the terrorist attacks took place on 9/11, Miller, who was a major at the time, was commanding a Special Forces company in 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group.

Army Special Forces primarily specialize in Unconventional Warfare, Foreign Internal Defense, Direct Action, and Special Reconnaissance. Their ability to partner with a government or guerilla force and train, organize, and lead it to combat is what distinguishes the unit from the rest of America’s special operations forces.

Christopher Miller as a major in Afghanistan (Image found in Eric Blehm’s book “The Only Thing Worth Dying For.”)

A mere few days after the 9/11 attacks, Colonel John Mulholland, the then commander of the 5th Special Forces Group, sent Miller to Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) with instructions to get the unit into the fight. SOCCENT is responsible for all special operations in the Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of operations, which is Central Asia and the Near and Middle East.

At the time, the Pentagon was somewhat at a loss on how to respond to the attacks. The shadow of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan loomed above the planning process. There was no question that the US military could pound to history Al-Qaeda and their Taliban protectors. But a full-blown invasion would be susceptible to the same tactical and strategic woes the Soviets had encountered – fast forward 19 years, and this has become apparent.

So, the unconventional warfare approach gained traction in some planning circles. Why shouldn’t we send Special Forces teams with all the airpower they can handle to partner with friendly forces and defeat the enemy, a small group of planners asked.

Known as the “True Believers,” these men pushed for an unconventional warfare approach to Afghanistan. And they managed to persuade their superiors. The outcome was a sweeping campaign, with Special Forces soldiers, CIA operatives, and Tier 1 operators at the forefront, that defeated Al-Qaeda and drove the Taliban out of power.

Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group talking with General Tommy Franks, the commander of CENTCOM, in the early days of the war in Afghanistan (U.S. Army).

In all of this, Miller was key in getting his unit to be a core part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Dagger, which led the fight. (If you wish to learn more about how that campaign was fought from a Special Forces perspective, Eric Blehm’s “The Only Thing Worth Dying For” offers a brilliant account.)

Miller went on to participate in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And, as the commander of 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, Miller was responsible for all Special Forces operations in central Iraq in 2006 and 2007. All in all, he was responsible for 18 Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (ODAs) and three Special Forces Operational Detachment Bravos (ODBs).

Now, after almost two decades, Miller is still advocating for the unconventional warfare approach, remaining a true believer.

Interestingly, Miller’s appointment as the Secretary of Defense means that both the top civilian military leader and the top military leader, General Mark Miller, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are Special Forces qualified, both having served in the 5th Special Forces Group.

On a side note, like in General James Mattis’s case, the administration will have to obtain Congress’ approval in order for Miller to become a permanent Secretary of Defense. By law, no person who has served in active duty as a commissioned officer can be appointed as the secretary of defense within seven years of his separation from the service. Miller retired in 2014, so he is a year away from meeting the constitutional (non-waivered) requirements for the permanent position. With a new administration coming in, however, that might not be necessary.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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This is why a US Army brigade just blasted 1 million rounds of ammo in Europe

Fort Carson soldiers have put up a series of startling statistics during six months of heavy training in Europe.


In the 180 days deployed, the soldiers have put in 153 days of training with allies and community engagements across a swath of the continent from the Baltic to the Black Sea. To supply the brigade’s more than 4,000 troops, the unit’s truckers have logged more than 100,000 highway miles.

After taking part in the biggest European training exercise for US troops since the Cold War, which wrapped up in Germany last week, the brigade’s troops had fired more than 1 million rounds from their pistols, rifles, machine guns, tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and artillery pieces.

“It has been absolutely tremendous,” said the brigade’s boss, Col. Christopher Norrie.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Col. Christopher Norrie (right) US Army photo by Sgt. William Tanner

The colonel spoke to The Gazette by phone last week as his soldiers packed up their gear for yet another mock war, this time in Hungary. His soldiers had just fought mock battles alongside a full team of American allies, including the usual suspects from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and newer partners including Ukrainian tankers and Albanian infantry.

“We fired 7,000 rounds of artillery,” Norrie said of the 10-day exercise. The unit also drilled with allied Air Forces and coordinated with a French command team.

“I think the dynamic here that was most interesting was the international environment.”

With tensions on the rise across Europe fueled by an increasingly aggressive Russia led by president Vladimir Putin, the training has sent a clear message: Don’t mess with the US or its friends.

The brigade headed to the continent from Colorado Springs in January, bringing more than 2,000 tanks, trucks, and artillery pieces across the Atlantic by ship. The goal was to demonstrate how quickly a US-based unit could be ready to fight overseas.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Army photo by Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke

After gathering in Poland, the unit spread out from Estonia to Bulgaria.

Moving the unit across the vast expanse of Europe showed how quickly its soldiers could show up for battle. The training exercises that followed have shown how they can win the fight, Norrie said.

“We view deterrence as presence plus lethality,” Norrie said.

At a German training area, the brigade’s M-1 tanks proved dominant in a simulated war that included traditional combat and modern-day threats including a cyber attack.

“We seized seven objectives in 48 hours,” Norrie said.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
An M1A2 Abrams Tank belonging to 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division prepares to fire during tank gunnery qualification at Presidential Range in Swietoszow, Poland, January 27, 2017. The arrival of 3rd ABCT, 4th Inf. Div., marks the start of back-to-back rotations of armored brigades in Europe as part of Atlantic Resolve. This rotation will enhance deterrence capabilities in the region, improve the U.S. ability to respond to potential crises and defend allies and partners in the European community. U.S. forces will focus on strengthening capabilities and sustaining readiness through bilateral and multinational training and exercises. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke)

Large-scale tank training has been a rarity for the Army and 3rd Brigade in recent years. Since 2001, the unit has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but its tanks and other heavily-armored rigs were parked as its soldiers fought as infantry against insurgent groups.

Now, the Army is focused on its ability to take on “near-peer” enemies, like Russia and China.

That explains the abundance of training rounds fired by the brigade — numbers unheard of in recent years as the Pentagon tightened its belt to deal with budget cuts.

Having the unit overseas also allowed 3rd brigade to practice working with allies.

“There are things we need to improve, things our allies need to improve, and things we are very good at,” he said.

Norrie said his unit was successful in bridging language and cultural barriers thanks to liaison teams. The unit put its troops in the headquarters of allied forces and the other nations reciprocated, creating an instant solution for problems as they arose.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Army photo by Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke

He said cooperation was also fueled by having a clear common goal.

“That shared interest of expressing the will of the alliance, it’s a very powerful motivator,” he said.

The training for the brigade is also proceeding at a pace unseen outside wartime.

After wrapping up the training in Germany, tank crews were busy washing mud off their tracks and heading out for training in Hungary.

The brigade, which will head back to Fort Carson in about three months, has become expert at shipping gear across the continent.

“We have done 180 different rail movements throughout Europe,” Norrie said.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers
Army photo by Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke

The pounding pace of the unit’s work would be enough to grind down even the most veteran of soldiers.

But Norrie said it has actually had the opposite effect.

Instead of dragging, 3rd Brigade soldiers are walking taller, he said. The platoons, companies, and battalions have become close knit families during weeks of intense work.

Mechanics have set records for the number of vehicles available for war despite their heavy use. Gunnery scores have gone sky-high as soldiers hone their skills, he said.

Norrie said the brigade has the swagger of an undefeated team.

“If you see our soldiers they are so proud of what they have done,” he said.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The need for upgrade: Capabilities of modern thermal imaging systems for armored vehicles

The ability to detect and identify targets at night and under poor visibility conditions has long been an essential military requirement. History has shown that the ability to maneuver under the cover of darkness gives tacticians a big advantage over the enemy. Since its invention, night-vision technology has taken a firm place not only in individual soldiers’ kits, but in almost every component of the tactical spectrum, ranging from the perimeter defense to helicopter pilots and tank drivers.


US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ford Williams)

Today’s reality: Modernizing and retrofitting

Today, many governments face the costly need to upgrade their fleets of armored vehicles (AVs) that have become obsolete with time. Despite budget cuts and insufficient funding, armies around the world still need effective, affordable modernization options for their AV fleets.

India is a good example. Surrounded by hostile neighbors, like China and Pakistan, India’s government has quickly identified the need to modernize its tank fleet. The biggest defense vulnerability were gaps in the night-vision capabilities. Eventually, the government decided to equip its army’s old 3,500 battle tanks with modern night-vision devices.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were great lessons, too, in terms of understanding the usefulness of this modern technology. Many new technologies sprang up during these wars, ranging from unmanned platforms to smart sensors, but night-vision technology offered a completely new dimension to tactical operations and, possibly, changed the course of war.

As a response to similar demand around the world, many companies started offering retrofitted thermal imaging cameras and driver vision enhancement kits that can be installed on refurbished vehicles or added as an upgrade to new vehicles. Using these upgrades, older-generation military machinery can be modernized relatively inexpensively.

But what are these systems capable of? Let’s explore what thermal imaging systems can do and what they cannot.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini)

​Fighting tank blindness: Improved situational awareness

Thermal imaging is a boon to the armed forces, especially for ground troops. Nowadays, armored vehicles are required to operate in all-weather battlefield environments, and there is the need for proactive situational awareness (SA). Modern thermal imaging cameras certainly provide the necessary technological innovation to achieve this end.

A tank, besides being a formidable machine, is also a large target. For tank crews, it is important to detect before they are detected. Modern thermal imaging systems can offer up to 360° visibility and generate higher-resolution images — this will help AV crews get crucial information before they physically encounter a potential threat.

Such systems also typically have a wide-view screen with the ability to select a point of interest anywhere on the screen, and the capability to zoom in to study the object further, or the ability to switch between multiple camera feeds. To improve the operators’ tactical edge, such cameras have different screen orientations with options for secondary views of the periphery. What’s more, these systems can provide supporting analytics and alert operators to important events for faster decision-making and therefore higher survivability.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Richard Wrigley)

​Improved maneuvering

Besides the rich SA about what is happening around them, AV operators need to know the nature of the terrain on which they are advancing to successfully maneuver and tactically position themselves for battle.

This is what modern thermal imaging technology excels at. It gives AV operators the ability to reconnoiter, identify, and tag targets at greater distances or at close range, 24/7 and in any weather conditions. By being able to see the terrain ahead in total darkness, through tall grass, camouflage, dust, light fog, sand storms, and rain, drivers are able to detect obstacles or potential threats sooner and will have more time to react. Thermal imaging can also see through smoke, which is exactly what AV crews need on a smoke-covered street or battleground.

US Marine Corps at the forefront for ground-based lasers

(DoD photo by Benjamin Faske)

How effective thermal imaging is for AVs?

Since zero-visibility conditions have zero impact on thermal imaging cameras, they are capable of “seeing” in environmental conditions that are impenetrable to any other technology on the market. The types of threats these systems can detect are diverse: IEDs, vehicles, human targets, anti-tank missiles, and various terrain features and obstacles (cliffs, large boulders, waterways etc.).

This technology is not infallible though. Thermal imaging will have difficult time detecting AVs that use invisibility cloaks or other stealth technology, for example, the one in use by the Russian army.

New advances

The modern army’s growing need to operate at night and under poor visibility conditions has led to development of more and more sophisticated thermal imaging devices. One example is a research project that an experimental physicist Dr. Kristan Gurton and electronics engineer Dr Sean Hu are conducting for the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL). Their new camera, which relies on sensing polarized light, can see small hidden objects such as tripwires and booby traps, and it shows images in such detail that AV crews soon may be able to detect and identify specific individuals, for example, in urban environments or in the open field. Other advances, such as battle management systems, can be integrated as well with thermal imaging units for improved capabilities.

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