US Marines have been on the ground in Syria since March, when a detachment from an amphibious task force arrived in the country, where they joined US special-operations forces to support US partner forces.
The Marine units deployed to Syria included elements of an artillery battery that can fire 155-millimeter shells from M777 Howitzers.
The military has already released footage and photos of Marines in Syria firing their howitzers in support of local coalition partners during their advance on Raqqa, ISIS’ self-declared capital in northwest Syria.
“The Marines have been conducting 24-hour all-weather fire support for the Coalition’s local partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces,” the Defense Department said at the time that footage was released.
During the first week of July, the US military released the first footage of Marine artillery units striking an ISIS target on May 14, destroying what the Defense Department called an ISIS artillery position in support of Syrian Democratic Forces.
The M777 howitzer has a range of 15 to 25 miles, and the artillery units in Syria have moved at least once to support the ongoing fight against ISIS there, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com in April.
“The fight evolves, so they’re moving to where they can best provide support based on the capability of the weapons system,” Neller said. “The commanders there understand the capability, and they’ll reposition them as required in order to provide the fire support and other effects they need to do to make the campaign successful, ultimately.”
Marine artillery units previously deployed to Iraq to support the fight against ISIS there were set up in a fixed position — though they came under fire just hours into their deployment in March 2016.
US forces in Syria are aiding local partner forces in what Defense Secretary James Mattis has called an “annihilation campaign,” seeking to surround and destroy ISIS fighters — foreign fighters in particular — “so we don’t simply transplant this problem from one location to another,” Mattis told reporters in May.
Mattis “asked me and the military chain-of-command to make a conscious effort not to allow ISIS fighters to just flee from one location to another,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Defense News in June.
“Our commanders on the ground have tried to meet that goal of annihilating the enemy in order to mitigate the risk of these terrorists showing up someplace else.”
Fighting to retake Raqqa has already begun, and over 2,000 ISIS militants are thought to remain there.
US special-operations forces are already working with Arab and Kurdish partners to vet and train a force to secure the city during and after the effort to oust ISIS. Questions remain about how Raqqa and the surrounding area will be secured, as well as about how territory wrested from ISIS around Syria will be divided among the various factions operating in the country.
The US-led coalition and its partner forces have already come into conflict with Syrian pro-regime forces, which are backed by Iran and Russia. Southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders has been a flashpoint for these confrontations, though a local ceasefire has recently gone into effect there.
The defence supremos of the U.S. and China had a face-off in Singapore at the weekend.
Both sides came for a compare-and-contrast contest conducted as a rhetorical rumble. The two biggest players in the game exchanged stares, plus plenty of jabs and a few kicks. The handshakes were less convincing than the glares.
The event was the 18th annual Shangri-La Dialogue, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, drawing defence ministers and military chiefs from ’38 countries across Asia, Australia, North America and Europe’.
In the opening keynote address, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the most important bilateral relationship in the world is beset by ‘tensions and frictions’ that’ll define the international environment for years to come.
Americans now talk openly of containing China, and to do so soon before it is too late — the way they used to talk about the USSR and the Soviet bloc. This negative view of China has permeated the U.S. establishment … In China, views are hardening too. There are those who see the U.S. as trying to thwart China’s legitimate ambitions, convinced that no matter what they do or concede on individual issues, the U.S. will never be satisfied … The fundamental problem between the U.S. and China is a mutual lack of strategic trust. This bodes ill for any compromise or peaceful accommodation.
So the stage was set for the showdown that framed the conference. As is traditional, the first session on June 1, 2019, was devoted to a speech by the U.S. defence secretary and questions from the audience.
Then came the novelty. The first session on June 2, 2019, was a mirror version, devoted to a speech by China’s defence minister, followed by questions. It’s only the second time China’s minister has come to Shangri-La. The previous visit was in 2011; that seems like an era long ago in calmer, happier times.
The U.S. acting defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, laid out the charge sheet against China and the terms of the U.S. challenge in the workmanlike manner to be expected from an engineer who spent 30 years at Boeing.
China’s defence minister, General Wei Fenghe, performed with the discipline of an artillery officer who joined the People’s Liberation Army at 16 and has risen to the Central Military Commission (a salute at the end of his speech, another at the end of questions). The PLA came ready to rumble, sending a delegation of 54 people, including 11 generals.
One of the best moments in Shanahan’s performance was his response to the final question of his session (posed by a Chinese major general) about how his Boeing experience would shape his Pentagon role.
‘China was our biggest customer and our biggest competitor; you have to understand how to live in that duality’, Shanahan replied. ‘We can develop a constructive relationship and we can understand how to compete in a constructive way.’
The duality dynamic was illustrated by a bit of simultaneous dual theatre from the Americans. As Shanahan rose to speak, the U.S. also released its Indo-Pacific strategy report.
The report reprised and amplified America’s critique of China as a revisionist power: ‘As China continues its economic and military ascendance, it seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and, ultimately global preeminence in the long-term.’ (The Russia headline was as sharp, calling Russia ‘a revitalized malign actor’.)
In response, Wei described security issues as ‘daunting and complex’ but said military relations with the U.S. were ‘generally stable, despite twists and difficulties’.
Chinese defense minister criticizes U.S. on trade war, Taiwan
‘As for the recent trade friction started by the U.S., if the U.S. wants to talk, we will keep the door open. If they want to fight, we will fight till the end’, Wei said.
‘As the general public of China says these days, “A talk? Welcome. A fight? We’re ready. Bully us? No way”.’
The general’s speech was Beijing boilerplate. Then came questions and Wei tackled almost everything tossed at him — around 20 questions delivered in two tranches. About the only question he didn’t touch was one on whether China is still a communist state.
On the militarisation of the South China Sea, Wei used the same line several times. China was merely responding to all those foreign naval vessels: ‘In the face of heavily armed warships and military aircraft, how can we not deploy any defence facilities?’
To a question about ‘concentration camps’ in Xinjiang (see ASPI’s mapping of the ‘re-education camps’), Wei replied that there’d been no terrorist attacks there in two years and China’s policy was to deradicalise and reintegrate people.
On this year’s 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Wei answered: ‘How can we say China didn’t handle the Tiananmen incident properly? That incident was political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence which is a correct policy. Because of that handling of the Chinese government, China has enjoyed stability and development.’
The result of the face-off? It was, of course, inconclusive. Not a draw. Just one round in a contest with many more rounds to come.
The debut novel from the National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment, Missionaries might be the perfect novel of all time. Phil Klay’s Missionaries examines the globalization of violence through four characters with interlocking stories and the harsh conflicts that define their lives.
Klay is an Iraq War veteran and the author of a short story collection, Redeployment, about the military’s misadventures in both Iraq and Afghanistan. After its publication, Redeployment was listed as one of the best books of 2014. Klay has now realigned his sites to examine not just the conquests of the Middle East and Central Asia but also unpacks the global conflicts one step further and attempts to provide readers with a complex and thought-provoking argument about American foreign policy over since the beginning of the Global War on Terror.
The basic plot is this: a group of Columbian soldiers prepares to raid a drug lord’s safe house along the Venezuelan border. The soldiers are watching him with an American-made drone and are planning to strike using military tactics taught to them by American soldiers, soldiers who’ve perfected their counter-insurgent skills while on deployment in Iraq.
Missionaries starts slowly with a familiar scenario – a journalist living in wartime Afghanistan, Lisette, can’t seem to get it together to file her news briefs on time. She’s had enough of the war, the sand, the loss. Lisette manages to leave Kabul, texts with an old boyfriend, a soldier turned contractor, and attempts to regain a footing in the world. She asks the old boyfriend if there are any wars in the world that America is winning, and the soldier-turned-contractor replies with a one-word answer, “Columbia.”
This is where the novel truly begins and where Klay’s masterful deft and skill with words truly begins to shine. Klay has a serious knack for setting scenes, providing meaningful irony, and showcasing deep human empathy. He does all of this so covertly that the weaving of the stories presented in Missionaries feels as much like it’s unfolding naturally as if the story simply has to be told.
The novel spans three decades, examining the lives of Young Abel, whose family is slaughtered in a Columbian village but who manages to rise in the ranks under his brutal boss, Jefferson; Juan Pablo, a colonel in the Columbian military whose daughter Valencia confront Jefferson; two American soldiers Mason and Diego, groomed to fight at the frontlines and who know how to adapt to a war whose core central mission is foggy at best; and Lisette, the reporter who brings everyone together.
Without a doubt, Abel is the central core of Missionaries. He struggles to be the force of good in the face of Jefferson’s brutal savagery and spends much of the novel feeling doomed – in part because Jefferson’s charisma is so electric. Brutal warlord Jefferson is at once both kind and sadistic. Abel struggles with his loyalty to Jefferson throughout the novel, wrestling with his own motivations.
The lurid appeal of this delayed universe is similar to Cormac McCarthy in its bleakness. But Klay isn’t just attempting to unravel the void of morality. He’s trying to unpack the violence in Columbia and relate it directly to the fiasco that has been Afghanistan, and he’s able to do that because of his own experiences in combat.
Klay’s sentences are meaty, compact, and rich. Dazzling details seem to exist in both the myopic and the overly dilated sense, allowing Klay the ability to zoom in on this world that he’s created or pan back when needed.
And underneath it all, Klay’s book serves as a reminder that war and idealism ultimately create who we are – both on the field and once home again. Missionaries is an excellent example of what can follow a great debut collection. It is intricate, ambitious, and converges in the way real life often does. The ceaseless engine that drives the novel forward is the same engine that’s pushing more troops forward – American foreign policy. Missionaries attempts to understand why. It’s both horrifying and refreshing and forces its reader to reflect on our own national policies and the implications of American power abroad.
“My dad’s name is Chad J. Simon, he was a staff sergeant, and I can’t say I can remember anything about him, I just wonder if he was the one who taught me how to tie my shoes,” said Dylan, who lost his father when he was too young to remember. Also on the boat were three sisters, Alexis, Starr and Kylee, who lost their dad, Spc. Grant Dampier.
Camp Hometown Heroes is a non-profit organization dedicated to counseling kids ages 7 through 17 who’ve lost loved ones while serving in the military. According to Dylan, the week-long camp is raising money to spread the organization to other locations where it can continue to serve kids for free.
There’s just something special about Duffle Blog articles. Most joke news sites make it completely obvious that they’re jokes and should never be taken seriously. Most rational people would read a headline like “Are Millenials killing the telegram industry?” and take the joke at face value. Then there’s satire – an art form truly mastered by the folks at DB.
Actual satire is a joke about something taken to the extreme so the audience can see the absurdity in whatever is being ridiculed. Think Stephen Colbert when he was on Comedy Central. Great satire blurs those lines so obscurely that no one can really tell the absurdity. Think Don Quixote and how people believed it was a story about how chivalrous knights were.
On a much lighter note, half of all social media users were unable to connect Wednesday, and we got a new trailer for the upcoming Avengers film. I’m not saying it’s a coincidence, but it definitely smells like the greatest viral marketing strategy for a film to date.
If you survived the “Snappening,” enjoy some memes!
China has carried out a military exercise in which “incoming missiles” were shot down over the Bohai Bay. The test came two days after Kim Jong Un’s regime carried out that country’s sixth nuclear test.
According to a report by the South China Morning Post, the “incoming missiles” were described as “low-flying,” and were shot down by a land-based unit of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. While the test came shortly after a North Korean test, Kim’s regime was not the only government China was sending a message to.
The South China Morning Post noted that Li Jie, a naval analyst in Beijing, explained that while China was condemning the North Korean actions, it was also sending a warning to the United States. President Donald Trump has tweeted threats of action in the event of a North Korean attack.
“At the moment, the US is showing some restraint, but Trump is not a predictable president, and he could make a surprise move,” Li explained.
The paper noted that the Bohai Bay is a prime location for the Chinese to test new naval vessels, due to its proximity to Beijing. The body of water, part of the Yellow Sea to the east of the Korean Peninsula, is one that China is warning America to keep out of.
“This drill, which came soon after the military parade [at a training base in Inner Mongolia], shows that Chinese weapons are ready for use in war,” Zhou Chenming of the Knowfar Institute for Strategic and Defence Studies said, adding that China would likely launch more drills as tensions increased between North Korean missile and nuclear tests on the one hand and joint South Korean/American exercises on the other.
Early Sunday, a fire broke out below decks on the USS Bonhomme Richard which is currently docked in her home port of San Diego.
The fire was reported to be as a result of an explosion below deck, possibly originating in the hangar bay of the amphibious assault ship. The first reposted call went out around 10am and was later expanded to a three-alarm call for the San Diego Fire Department.
Injuries have been reported for 17 sailors and 4 civilians, but no details have been confirmed.
The Bonhomme Richard, named after Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones’ famous ship, is primarily used to embark, deploy and land elements of a Marine assault force in amphibious operations by air, landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles. It can also act as a light aircraft carrier. The ship was commissioned in 1998 and San Diego became its home port in 2018. She has deployed numerous times in support of Operation Iraq Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and was part of humanitarian efforts in during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.
Aerodynamic heating at Mach 6.72 (4,534 mph) almost melted the airframe.
On Oct. 3, 1967, the North American X-15A-2 serial number 56-6671 hypersonic rocket-powered research aircraft achieved a maximum Mach 6.72 piloted by Major Pete Knight.
Operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft in the 1960s, the X-15 was a missile-shaped vehicle built in 3 examples and powered by the XLR-99 rocket engine capable of 57,000 lb of thrust.
The aircraft featured an unusual wedge-shaped vertical tail, thin stubby wings, and unique side fairings that extended along the side of the fuselage.
The X-15 was brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet by a NASA NB-52B “mothership” then air dropped to that the rocket plane would have enough fuel to reach its high speed and altitude test points. Depending on the mission, the rocket engine provided thrust for the first 80 to 120 sec of flight. The remainder of the normal 10 to 11 min. flight was powerless and ended with a 200-mph glide landing.
As the X-15 was falling from the B-52 he lit the engine and locked on to 12 degrees angle of attack. He was pushed back into his seat with 1.5 g’s longitudinal acceleration. The X-15 rounded the corner and started its climb.
During the rotation as normal acceleration built up to 2 g’s Pete had to hold in considerable right deflection of the side arm controller to keep the X-15 from rolling to the left due to the heavier LOX in the left external tank. When the aircraft reached the planned pitch angle of 35 degrees his scan pattern switched from the angle of attack gauge to the attitude direction indicator and a vernier index that was set to the precise climb angle.
The climb continued as the fuel was consumed from the external tanks, then at about 60 seconds he reached the tank jettison conditions of about Mach 2 and 70,000 feet. He pushed over to low angle of attack and ejected the tanks. He was now on his way and would not be making an emergency landing at Mud Lake.
“We shut down at 6500 (fps), and I took careful note to see what the final got to. It went to 6600 maximum on the indicator. As I told Johnny before, the longest time period is going to be from zero h dot getting down to 100 to 200 feet per second starting down hill after shutdown.”
Final post flight data recorded an official max Mach number of 6.72 equivalent to a speed of 4534 miles per hour.
From there down Pete was very busy with the planned data maneuvers and managing the energy of the gliding X-15. He approached Edwards higher on energy than planned and had to keep the speed brakes out to decelerate.
On final approach he pushed the dummy ramjet eject button and landed on Rogers lakebed runway 18. He indicated he did not feel anything when he activated the ramjet eject and the ground crew reported they did not see it. Pete said that he knew something was not right when the recovery crew did not come to the cockpit area to help him out of the cockpit, but went directly to the back of the airplane.
Finally when he did get out and saw the damage to the tail of the X-15 he understood. There were large holes in the skin of the sides of the fin with evidence of melting and skin rollback. Now we are talking Inconel-X steel that melts at 2200 degrees F. Later analysis would show that the shock wave from the leading edge of the ramjet’s spike nose had intersected the fin and caused the aerodynamic heating to increase seven times higher than normal. So now maybe we knew why the ramjet was not there.
The following 48-sec footage shows the extent of the damages to the X-15-2 aircraft. Noteworthy, the ramjet detached from the aircraft at over 90,000 feet and crashed into the desert over 100 miles from Edwards Air Force Base.
The X-15A-2 never flew again after the record flight. It is currently preserved and displayed at the United States Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
The Zumwalt-class destroyer, the largest and most advanced surface combatant in the world, was built to be a silent killer, but the revolutionary warship has faced a string of setbacks during development — including the embarrassing problem that its supergun still does not work right.
The two 155mm guns of the Advanced Gun System on the Zumwalt, intended to strike targets farther than 80 miles away, are ridiculously expensive to fire, as a single Long Range Land Attack Projectile costs almost $1 million. Procurement was shut down two years ago, leaving the Zumwalt without any ammunition to fire.
“We just cannot get the thing to fly as far as we want,” Vice Adm. William Merz, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems, told the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee Tuesday, explaining that the Navy may do away with the guns entirely if it can’t develop effective and cost-efficient ammunition, according to Breaking Defense.
The Navy “will be developing either the round that goes with that gun or what we are going to do with that space if we decide to remove that gun in the future,” he continued.
“The ship is doing fine, on track to be operational in 2021 in the fleet,” he said, adding that the Zumwalt-class destroyer remains a “very capable platform with or without that gun.”
This is what would happen if the USS Zumwalt fought a Russian battlecruiser
The Zumwalt-class destroyers were expected to serve as multi-mission ships, focusing primarily on land-attack and naval gunfire support missions with secondary anti-ship and anti-aircraft mission capabilities.
The Navy saw the ship operating in coastal areas and supporting ground troops, but that mission was changed late last year, according to The Diplomat.
The destroyer will now serve as a surface strike combatant, relying on a diverse arsenal of anti-ship and anti-air missiles capable of being launched from 80 Mk 54 Vertical Launch System cells, which Merz said were larger than those of other surface ships, creating more options for armaments.
The Zumwalt, however, has fewer missile cells than the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and the Ticonderoga-class cruisers, which have 96 and 122 missile launch cells that can carry interceptors, cruise missiles, and rocket-launched torpedoes.
It appears that the Navy intends to force the Zumwalt through the development process and then sort the rest out later.
“We determined that the best future for that ship is to get it out there with the capability that it has and separate out the Advanced Gun System, leaving everything else in place,” Merz said, according to Breaking News.
But the gun is apparently not the only problem when it comes to the Zumwalt.
The ship has been steadily becoming less and less stealthy as the Navy settles for bolt-on components — including satellite communication antenna systems mounted on the sides and the high-frequency vertical antenna bolted on the top — amid efforts to cut costs.
The Drive spotted these problems on one of three Zumwalt-class destroyers in the works. (There were initially supposed to be more than 30.) The publication speculated that these non-low-observable features would negatively affect the stealth capabilities of the ship, which was initially built to be as stealthy as a fishing boat.
These potential detriments were not visible on earlier versions of the Zumwalt-class destroyers.
The Zumwalt-class destroyers have also experienced serious engine and electrical problems during development. Nonetheless, the ship’s twin Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbines and advanced technological systems make it a candidate for future railgun and directed-energy weapons.
“She is going to be a candidate for any advanced weapon system that we develop,” Merz said Nov. 27, according to Breaking Defense.
The Zumwalt’s primary competitor is China’s Type 055 Renhai destroyer.
Though the Chinese warship is not as technologically advanced as the Zumwalt, which remains unmatched, the Renhai destroyers are equipped with 112 VLS cells able to fire HHQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles, CJ-10 land-attack cruise missiles, and missile-launched anti-submarine torpedoes, according to the South China Morning Post.
The missions vary a bit, as the Type 055 is expected to serve as an air-defense and anti-submarine warship, one that could escort Chinese aircraft carriers.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A deadly explosion at a missile test site last week appears to have been caused by a failed test of a nuclear-powered cruise missile, although Russia has yet to say what its engineers were working on at the time of the blast.
Five Russian nuclear scientists were buried on Aug. 12, 2019, after they were killed in an explosion last week. Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corp., Russia’s state nuclear agency, said they were testing a nuclear-powered engine at the time the blast occurred, BBC reported.
“The rocket tests were carried out on the offshore platform,” Rosatom said in a statement over the weekend, according to Foreign Policy magazine. “After the tests were completed, the rocket fuel ignited, followed by detonation. After the explosion, several employees were thrown into the sea.”
Rosatom did not clarify what exactly went wrong during testing, saying only that “there was a confluence of factors, which often happens when testing new technologies,” according to Foreign Policy.
Burevestnik nuclear unit.
The Russian defense ministry, by way of Russian state media, said earlier that only two people were killed when a liquid-propellant rocket engine blew up. The story has changed as the death toll has risen.
The scientists and engineers “tragically died while testing a new special device,” Alexey Likhachev, the head of Rosatom, said at the funeral on Aug. 12, 2019.
The men were buried in Sarov, a city known for nuclear research, Bloomberg reported, saying that experts suspect that what blew up might have been a compact nuclear reactor. Three other people were injured by the explosion at Russia’s Nyonoksa test range.
“The best thing for their memory will be our further work on the new weapons,” Likhachev said at Aug. 12, 2019’s funeral. “We are fulfilling the task of the motherland. Its security will be reliably ensured.”
US intelligence officials, The New York Times reported, believe that last week’s explosion involved a prototype of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, a kind of doomsday missile that NATO refers to as SSC-X-9 Skyfall. Several experts have arrived at the same conclusion.
This video grab shows the launch of what Russian President Vladimir Putin said was Russia’s new nuclear-powered intercontinental cruise missile.
Tweeting Aug. 12, 2019, President Donald Trump referred to what he called the “failed missile explosion in Russia” as the “‘Skyfall’ explosion.”
In March 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted that the missile was “invincible,” asserting that the weapon has “an unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory and ability to bypass interception.” But, so far, Russia has struggled to get the weapon to fly.
No country has ever fielded a nuclear-powered cruise missile, although the US briefly flirted with the idea decades ago.
“Was this stupid missile worth getting these young men killed?” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, rhetorically asked Aug. 12, 2019, in a Foreign Policy article on the incident.
In the article, he concluded that the weapon tested last week was likely the Burevestnik and said that an escalating arms race between the US and Russia could lead to more nuclear accidents.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Two Belgian physicists have analyzed both Russia and Turkey’s stories surrounding the Russian Su-24 that was shot down by a Turkish F-16 on Nov. 24. Their conclusion is that both countries are making claims that are physically impossible.
Physicists Tom van Doorsslaere and Giovanni Lapenta checked into Turkey’s claims and concluded that two of them were likely false. They reject the claim that the jet spent 17 seconds in Turkish air space and that the Turkish military issued ten warnings to the Russian jet.
The physicists also assert that Russia’s map showing the route of their jet is also bogus because the course change claimed by Russia could not have been caused by the relatively small missile that hit it.
When you’re asked what’s the most important tool for any U.S. service member who’s facing down a bad guy in battle, the most obvious response is his or her weapon.
When it comes down to it and the shots are flying, it’s the rifle or handgun that can make the difference between victory and defeat. But there’s a lot more to it than that, and oftentimes it’s what the trooper is actually wearing that can determine whether the bullets start flying in the first place.
Military uniform designers and suppliers over the last half century have been developing new ways to help soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines avoid fights if they want to and to survive them when things go loud. From things as simple as pocket placement and camouflage, to fabrics that won’t burn or show up in night vision goggles, the folks who build combat uniforms for America’s military have taken the best of material science and matched it with the conditions and operations troops are facing in increasingly complex and austere combat environments.
While the “modern” battle uniform traces much of its lineage to the Vietnam War, a lot has changed in the 50 years since that utilitarian design changed the course of what U.S. service members wear when they fight.
It was really the Korean war that introduced the pant-leg cargo pockets we all know today, according to an official Army history. But combat uniforms issued to troops in Vietnam took those to another level.
With bellowed pleats and secure flaps, there were few items the side cargo pocket couldn’t handle. Vietnam-era combat blouses also used an innovative angled chest pocket design that made it easier to reach items in the heat of battle.
In the 1980s, the U.S. military ditched the angled chest pockets for vertical ones, mostly for appearance, and the combat trousers maintained their six-pocket design until the 2000s.
But when America went to war after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, pocket placement and design took a quantum leap. Way more “utilitarian” than combat threads of Vietnam and the Cold War, the new battle rigs are like night and day — with everything from pen pockets near the wrist of a combat blouse, to ankle pockets on the trousers to bellowed shoulder pockets.
Interestingly, it was special operations troops that developed the shoulder pocket later adopted by both the Marine Corps and Army for their combat uniforms. During the opening days of the Global War on Terror, spec ops troops cut cargo pockets off their extra trousers and sewed them onto the arms of their combat jackets, giving them extra storage within an arm’s reach.
Modern combat uniforms now also incorporate internal pockets for knee pads and elbow pads, so when a trooper has to take a knee or go prone in a hurry, he’s not banging his joints on the dirt.
Marines in Iraq were issued fire-resistant flight suits to guard against burns from IED strikes.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
2. Combat uniform material
By Vietnam, the heavy cotton and polyester of the Korean War-era uniform were replaced with a tropical-weight cotton ripstop that was wind-resistant yet cooler for troops operating in the sweltering heat of Southeast Asian jungles.
Both trousers and jackets were made of this cotton-poplin material for years, until the Army adopted the so-called “Battle Dress Uniform” in the early 1980s. That uniform was made with a nylon-cotton blended material with was more durable and easier to launder than the Vietnam-era combat duds.
But the military was forced to offer a variation of the BDU in cotton ripstop after operations in Grenada proved the nylon-cotton blend material too hot in warmer climates.
Though today’s combat uniforms are made with similar materials to those of the BDU-era, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan proved that some front-line troops need kit that’s resistant to the flame and flash of roadside bombs and IEDs.
Early on, some troops — including Marines deployed to Iraq — wore flight suits manufactured with flame resistant Nomex during combat operations. But that fabric wasn’t durable enough for the rigors of battle on the ground. So companies developed new, more durable flame-resistant fabrics for combat uniforms like Defender-M and Drifire.
Now all the services offer variants of their standard combat uniforms in flame-resistant material that protects troops against burns from improvised bombs.
American Special Forces soldiers adopted the camouflage pattern of ARVN Rangers dubbed “tiger stripe” to blend into the Southeast Asian jungles.
(Image by Bettmann/CORBIS by Shunsuke Akatsuka via Flicker)
3. Combat uniform camouflage
It’s like the 1911 vs. (everything) debate, or the M-16 versus the AK-47 argument.
For decades, the question of camouflage patterns has been as much art as it was science. And over the last half century, the U.S. military has seen no fewer than 11 different patterns bedecking America’s warfighters.
The six-color Desert Combat Uniform is the iconic look of Operation Desert Storm.
Most Joes in the Vietnam War were clad in olive drab combat uniforms. But special operations troops began using camouflage garments in greater numbers during the war, and acted as the bleeding edge for pattern development within the wider military.
From ARVN Ranger “tiger stripes” to old-school duck hunter camo, the commandos in The ‘Nam proved that breaking up your outline saved lives. With the adoption of the BDU in 1981, the military locked into the service-wide “woodland” camouflage pattern.
The Marine Corps was the first service in the U.S. military to dramatically change its uniforms from the BDU design. The service also was the first to adopt a “digital” camo pattern.
In the early ’90s, the services developed desert combat uniform with a so-called “six-color desert” pattern (also known as “chocolate chips”). These uniforms were issued to troops conducting exercises and operations in arid climates and were more widely issued to service members deployed to Operation Desert Storm.
The woodland BDU dominated for more than 20 years until shortly after 9/11. And it was the Marine Corps that took the whole U.S. military in an entirely different direction.
Soldiers complained that the UCP didn’t really work in any environment
The Corps was the first to adopt a camouflage pattern with so-called “fractal geometry” — otherwise known as “digital camouflage” — that diverges from the curvy lines and solid colors of woodland to a more three-dimensional scheme designed to literally trick the brain. While the Marines adopted a digital woodland pattern and a desert version in 2003, the Army decided to try a single pattern that would work in a variety of environments a year later.
Dubbed the Universal Combat Pattern, or “UCP,” the green-grey pallet flopped, with most soldiers complaining that instead of working in a bunch of environments, it made Joes stand out in all of them. As in Vietnam, special operations troops engaged overseas adopted a commercial pattern dubbed “Multicam,” which harkened back to the analog patterns akin to woodland.
The Navy recently adopted a new camouflage uniform in a pattern developed by the SEALs.
Pressure mounted on the Army to ditch UCP and adopt Multicam, and by 2015, the service abandoned the one-size-fits all digital pattern and adopted Multicam for all its combat garments.
Likewise, the Air Force and Navy experimented with different patterns and pallets since the Army adopted UCP, with the Sea Service issuing a blue digital uniform for its sailors and the Air Force settling on a digital tiger stripe pattern in a UCP pallet. In 2016, the Navy ditched its so-called “blueberry” pattern for one developed by the SEALs — AOR 1 and AOR 2 — which looks similar to the Marine Corps “MARPAT” digital scheme.
The Air Force still issues its Airman Battle Uniform in the digital tiger stripe pattern to all airmen except those deploying to Afghanistan and on joint missions in the combat zone.
New uniforms incorporate innovative technology from the outdoor sports industry.
4. Combat uniform design
Aside from the rapid development and deployment of new camouflage patterns, some of the most impressive changes to U.S. military combat uniforms have been with their overall design.
Gone is the boxy, ill-fitting combat ensemble of troops slogging through the rice paddies and jungle paths of Southeast Asia. Today’s battle uniform traces its design to the high-tech construction of the extreme outdoor sports world, from high-altitude climbing to remote big game hunting.
Troops in the services now have uniforms that have pre-curved legs and arms, angled and bellowed pockets that stay flat when they’re empty, Velcro closures and adjustable waists. The services even use specially-designed combat shirts that ditch the jacket altogether and use built-in moisture-wicking fabric to keep a trooper’s torso cool under body armor yet provide durable sleeves and arm pockets for gear needed in the fight. With integrated pockets for knee pads and elbow pads, the new combat uniforms’ design takes “utilitarian” to a whole new level.
US Marines inside the Citadel in Hue City rescue the body of a dead Marine during the Tet Offensive.
(Photo via Flickr)
5. Combat armor
Aside from the actual clothing an American combat trooper wears, there are a host of new protective items that make up his or her battlefield loadout. These items have evolved exponentially over the last half century, and many uniform manufacturers have supplied protective accessories to integrate with their clothing.
Students from the Saint George’s University of Medicine pose with a member of the 82nd Airborne Division during Operation Urgent Fury.
(U.S. Military photo via Flickr)
Late in the war, the Vietnam-era soldier or Marine was issued a body armor vest that would protect him against grenade fragments and some pistol rounds. Made of ballistic nylon and fiberglass plates, the armor was best known as the “flak jacket.” It was heavy and didn’t protect against rifle rounds.
In the 1980s, the U.S. military developed a new body armor system using steel plates and Kevlar fabric that could stop a rifle round. First used in combat during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the so-called Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops, or PASGT, was a revolution in personal protection.
Today’s armor and helmets are lighter, more protective and offer a host of methods to modify the loadout for specific missions.
Still heavy and bulky, armor evolved over the years since 9/11 to be lighter, with a slimmer profile and much more protective than the flaks of yore. Today’s vests can protect against multiple armor-piercing rifle rounds, shrapnel and pistol shots — all in a vest that weighs a fraction of its PASGT brethren.
Like the armor vest, the “steel pot” of Vietnam has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. The new Army Combat Helmet and Marine Corps Lightweight Helmet can take multiple bullet strikes and shrapnel hits, allow for greater mobility than the Vietnam-era one or the PASGT and now incorporate various attachment points for accessories like night vision goggles, IR strobes and cameras.