Marine Wing Support Detachment 31 conducted an aircraft recovery convoy exercise during a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort Aug. 2, 2018.
The exercise prepared the Marines for an aircraft mishap and ensured they were properly trained to recover personnel and equipment if called on.
“We used our own vehicles to conduct the convoy and assisted with the recovery process,” said Staff Sgt. Joel Contreras, the motor transportation operations chief with MWSD-31. “There were multiple training evolutions that pertained to different parts of the convoy.”
During the course of the exercise, MWSD-31 conducted convoy and sweeping operations by planning a route to the downed aircraft and back while simultaneously sweeping the area with combat mine detectors for explosive threats. Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Marines from Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron also aided in the training by salvaging the aircraft while also defueling the fuselage of the simulated aircraft to prevent fires and fuel leaks.
“I’m just one piece of the puzzle when we’re doing these kinds of events,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon Moody, a combat engineer with MWSD-31. “Once we get to a site, everyone has a job to do. We could be sweeping up and looking for ordnance while AARF Marines are defueling a gas tank. This exercise really painted a picture on how important teamwork is to mission accomplishment.”
Cpl. Danny L. Clark and Sgt. Jose R. Trujillovargas help to guide a downed F/A-18 Hornet into a secure position during a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Erin Ramsay)
MCAS Beaufourt is unique because it has the ability for Marines to conduct this type of training on base as opposed to having to go to another Marine Corps base in the fleet.
“Some of the Marines here only have the ability to do exercises like this during Integrated Training Exercise at Twentynine Palms, California and other places,” Contreras said. “If they don’t have the ability to do it there, we can do it here. We were fortunate that one of the squadrons gave us a retired aircraft to allow us to conduct this training.”
ITX is a month-long joint exercise that trains Marines so they can merge more easily into a Marine Air Ground Task Force, as well as, to maintain familiarity with basic military requirements.
Cpl. Tristin L. Hoffmaster inspects a simulated downed F/A-18 Hornet to ensure it’s secured properly during a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Erin Ramsay)
The mission of MWSD-31 is to provide all essential aviation ground support to designated fixed-wing component of a Marine Aviation Combat Element and all supporting or attached elements of the Marine Air Control Group. They offer support with airfield communications, weather services, refueling, and explosive ordinance disposal.
“I’m not sure if most Marines are familiar with what we do,” Moody said. “We’re here to support the wing units when stuff like this actually goes down. At the end of the day, if MCAS Beaufort needs something done, they can always rely on us.”
As Iraqi security forces continue the push to liberate Mosul, terrorists with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant find themselves trapped in the city’s west, a Pentagon spokesman said Feb. 7.
“At this point, ISIL fighters are stuck in Mosul,” the Defense Department’s director of press operations, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, told reporters.
With Iraqi forces closing in and bridge access to eastern Mosul severed, the terrorists in the western quadrant are unable to resupply and reinforce, he said.
“The fighters who remain in west Mosul face a choice between surrendering or annihilation, as there’s not a place to retreat,” Davis said.
It is nearly impossible to cross the Tigris River, which separates east and west Mosul, since access to the five bridges that spanned the river is closed off, Davis pointed out.
“Without the ability to resupply or reinforce, [ISIL] is in a situation there where their loss is certain,” Davis said.
The coalition continues its strikes in support of the shift to western Mosul operations, he said, noting since the push for Mosul began in mid-October, the coalition has conducted 10,850 strikes in support of operations to liberate the city.
“We know going into western Mosul that they are more dug in there; they have had more time to place encampments and firing positions [and] fighting positions,” Davis said, adding ISIL used its best fighters in eastern Mosul.
The strikes, he said, have destroyed vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, buildings and facilities, tunnels, boats, barges, vehicles, bunkers, anti-aircraft artillery, and artillery mortar systems.
Iraqi security forces are back clearing eastern Mosul, Davis said, pointing out they have disrupted raids, uncovered sleeper cells, and found terrorists in “spider holes.”
In addition, approximately once a day, Iraqi security forces are encountering small unmanned aerial vehicles that are dropping hand grenades, he said.
Davis pointed out tests have confirmed the presence of the skin irritant sulfur mustard from samples recovered from Mosul University, a central location in ISIL’s chemical weapons program.
ISIL is surrounded in the Syrian city of Al Abab on multiple axes, Davis said.
“We continue to conduct strikes, in fact there were just some strikes earlier today in Al Bab by the United States and the coalition in support of the Turkish operations,” he said.
Meanwhile, the fight to liberate the key city of Raqqa continues and a third axes, an eastern axis, kicked off in the last day, Davis said. The new axis adds to the northwest and northeast efforts where isolation is either in progress or complete.
The coalition has conducted bridge strikes south of Raqqa along the Euphrates to restrict ISIL’s ability to move fighters and equipment, he said.
“It further isolates [ISIL] fighters so that they’ll have to take their chances with either fighting or dying or surrendering to the SDF or using what narrow window they have of escape they have right now, which is really only in this direction [to the southeast], toward Deir ez-Zur,” he said.
In addition, the Syrian Democratic Forces have cleared an additional 48 square kilometers along two axes Feb. 6.
The coalition is taking steps to further limit ISIL’s ability to maneuver across Syria, and will continue to degrade, dismantle and militarily defeat the terrorists, Davis said.
The coalition has delivered 2,310 munitions since Nov. 5 in support of the SDF, he said.
“In the past 24 hours, we conducted an additional six strikes with a total of eight engagements using 18 munitions in support of SDF operations to isolate Raqqa,” he said.
The Trump administration reportedly rejected the leading candidate in a move that seems to confirm the worst fears of many on President Donald Trump’s approach to Pyongyang.
The White House turned down Victor Cha, a widely endorsed and highly qualified candidate for the ambassadorship to South Korea, on Jan. 30 2018, the Washington Post first reported. Cha had previously served as director for Asian affairs for the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration.
Cha’s dismissal owes to his disagreement Trump’s plan to attack North Korea with a “bloody nose” strike, or a limited military strike in response to some North Korean provocation, according to multiple outlets.
People familiar with the talks to bring Cha on board, which had been going on for about a year, said that the final straw came when Cha disapproved of plans to evacuate US citizens from South Korea’s capital of Seoul in the run-up to a US strike on North Korea, both the FT and New York Times report.
In a Washington Post op-ed published after news broke that he was no longer being considered for the ambassador post, Cha wrote, “The president would be putting at risk an American population the size of a medium-size US city — Pittsburgh, say, or Cincinnati — on the assumption that a crazy and undeterrable dictator will be rationally cowed by a demonstration of US kinetic power.”
Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea has brought about increased diplomatic, economic, and military pressure on Pyongyang. While many see Cha as a hawk on North Korea, as he has written extensively about forcing China’s hand to defund Pyongyang, even Cha apparently couldn’t stomach the lengths the Trump administration was willing to go to.
The case for a limited strike on North Korea asserts that the US can calculate a strike big enough to matter, but small enough to keep Kim Jong Un from retaliating. Since word of the “bloody nose” strategy made its way out of Trump’s inner circle, a growing chorus of experts have condemned the plan as downright absurd and dangerous.
California Rep. John Garamendi told Business Insider that the US should focus on diplomacy, which would require an adequately staffed White House and the reversal of the “destruction of the US Department of State and that soft power” which comes with it.
The dismissal of the hawkish Cha shows that the Trump administration is serious about using force against North Korea, and is willing to dispense with diplomatic manpower in favor of military muscle.
SERE — short for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape — training is one of the more psychologically challenging training courses the U.S. military has to offer. It is not really that physically challenging, other than having to overcome the short duration of enforced hunger and the occasional slaps and stress/discomfort techniques employed against the students in the course. But for a young man or woman who has never been a prisoner of some type, it is mentally jarring. Uncomfortable, even. That is where the real challenge is presented.
I won’t go deep into SERE training here, just because it is a school that should remain cloaked in some mystery for it to be truly effective as a training program, other than to share a few of the memories that stand out for me, almost 20 years after I went through it.
To be clear, I went through a SERE program run by the U.S. Navy, in the American northeast, in January, with a handful of my fellow SEALs, some Navy pilots, and a few Marines. The other service branches ran their own programs at that time, I believe, and presently, I am not sure how the program is run across the services. I am sure, though, that the training continues in some form given its perpetual relevance to service members in danger of becoming prisoners of war.
(U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Peter Reft)
The goal of SERE training is to prepare U.S. service members to survive, on the run from enemy forces and while evading capture, and to resist your captors should you find yourself a prisoner. It also touches on escaping from captivity, and aims to provide guidance on how to behave and organize if you find yourself in a prisoner situation with other Americans. Enough on that for this venue.
SERE is mostly a hazy memory for me now, in terms of the particulars, but certain scenes, events, sights, and smells, continue to bubble up every once in a while. They are lingering yet occasionally vivid impressions of a long-ago tribulation, I suppose.
(Senior Airman Jonathan Snyder, U.S. Air Force)
The Snow and the Cold
My SERE training took place in the far northeast in January. It was damn cold, especially for a Florida boy who had spent the previous year-plus in sunny San Diego and Norfolk, Virginia.
In SERE, we spent a significant chunk of time in our survival and evasion phase stumbling around in the woods, in a couple of feet of snow, with nothing but the minimal amount of gear we were supplied to keep us warm. It was not ideal. It was an enforced “pack light, freeze at night” situation. Some shared sleeping bags to stay warm, while others built shelters in the snow. We all shivered a lot.
The memory of all that snow and the bleak, wintry landscape still pops into my head occasionally, in photograph form. While it was lovely, especially to look back on now, at the time it was frosted misery.
(USAF Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
Okay, let’s be honest: Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training is not hard on the stomach. At no point in the training do they try to starve you, like they do in Ranger School, for example. In fact, in BUD/S, you can eat as much food in the chow hall as you can stuff down your gullet in the allotted meal time. And boy did I stuff myself, and yet I still lost 15 pounds during BUD/S training.
In SERE training, however, there is no food offered after a certain point, and you have to eat whatever you can forage. Let me tell you, there is not much edible out there in the hell-scape of a January New England forest. So we just didn’t eat for a few days, which made me very hungry. At the end, they advised us not to go out and stuff ourselves, since our stomachs would not handle it well. I failed to heed this advice, however, and paid the man for it. It was not pretty, but I doubt I will ever forget how good that (Italian) meal tasted my first night after SERE ended.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Amy M. Lovgren/ Released)
So, there is some physical discomfort inflicted on SERE students, all of which is to make it as realistic as possible. Part of the physical discomfort comes by way of open-handed slaps to the face and head. These aren’t too terrible, especially if you are ready and braced for them and they thus don’t whip your head and neck around too violently. It is really no worse, and mostly less painful, than taking a punch while sparring in the ring. I was used to the slaps by a certain point in SERE training, and ready for the men who administered them each time they approached me.
Well, in a very effective curveball thrown at me by the instructors, the details of which I will not divulge here in case this little surprise is still employed, I found myself at one point face-to-face with a woman captor whom I did not expect to hit me in the face. Needless to say, when she did in fact smack my face, at lightning speed and with some real force behind it, my entire upper body, neck, and head swiveled nearly 180 degrees. It was the most effective slap I received in the entire course, in terms of the pain and shock it caused, and kudos to that woman for catching me unawares.
Well done, madame. To this day, I still remember the surprise and the pain of that slap.
Senior Airmen Jonathan Harvey, a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Specialists with the 106th Rescue Wing, demonstrates how to contact friendly forces during survival training. (US Air National Guard Photos by Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy)
As noted above, by a certain day in the survival and evasion phase of SERE training, I was pretty damn hungry and would’ve eaten just about anything I could get my hands on. At just that point in time, we were told to link up with a notional “foreign contact” in the woods who would supply us with some sustenance.
This was to simulate resistance fighters in enemy territory who might help an evading American service member. The three or four of us in our small group were so damn excited to see what we’d get, and I had visions of bread and cheese and jerky and all the food. Well, it turned out to be just one thermos of “borscht” (soup) for all of us to share. Fine, whatever, anything at that point.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Amy M. Lovgren/ Released)
What happened next is frozen in my mind forever: One of our guys walking back to us from the link-up with the foreign contact, the steaming thermos of borscht in his hand, his eyes full of victory, hunger, and satisfaction. He had that same look that Ben Stiller had in one of the “Meet the Parents” movies when he arrived in triumph with the formerly-lost (and fake) Jinx the cat. Total victory.
And yet, right at that moment, the clumsy bastard tripped in the snow, fell in slow motion to the ground, and spilled the steaming thermos of life-giving soup all over the snowy ground. He then looked up in total defeat, and seemed to say with his eyes, “murder me, I deserve it.” To this day, I am not sure he was not a plant all along, in a highly effective and sick scheme to demoralize us. Oh well, we’ll never know.
Through all of SERE school, I never really went to that mental place that some go to, in which they start to believe they really are a prisoner, and that they might never get out. Apparently that happens to some, and they kind of lose it. I just went back into BUD/S mental mode, where I tune everything else out, and focus on surviving to the end, telling myself that everything ends at some point.
Still, when the end was signalled — in an admittedly moving and patriotic display orchestrated by the instructor cadre — I experienced a flood of relief. Some made audible sighs and expressions of relief, and some even cried right there in front of everyone. I was mostly happy to have finished another required training course, and excited to get some sleep in a bed that night. Mostly, though, I remember being excited to stuff my belly with that ill-advised Italian meal.
Navy Seaman 1st Class William Bruesewitz, killed at the Pearl Harbor attack, will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery Dec. 7, 2018, on the 77th anniversary of the incident.
Bruesewitz, 26, of Appleton, Wisconsin, was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft Dec. 7, 1941. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced in November 2018 that Bruesewitz was accounted for March 19, 2018 and his remains were being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Greg Slavonic who will be at the interment ceremony said he is honored to attend the ceremony for Bruesewitz.
“As battleship USS Oklahoma, which on Dec. 7, 1941, sustained multiple torpedo hits and capsized quickly, Petty Officer 1st Class Bruesewitz and other sailors were trapped below decks. He was one of the 429 Sailors who were killed that fateful day,” Slavonic said.
Seaman 1st Class William Bruesewitz’s name is etched in stone with the names of the 429 Sailors killed aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma during the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
(U.S. Navy photo by Tucker McHugh)
“Breuesewitz and his shipmates are remembered at the USS Oklahoma Memorial on Ford Island which was dedicated in their honor Dec. 7, 2007. Sailors like Bruesewitz who represent the ‘Greatest Generation’ gave so much and asked so little but when the time came to serve their Navy and nation, they answered the call.”
After Bruesewitz was killed in the attack, his remains were recovered from the ship, but they could not be identified following the incident. He was initially buried as an unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Forensic developments, like DNA analysis, allowed reexamination and eventual identification of his remains. Bruesewitz is the 118th crew member to be identified by the DPAA’s USS Oklahoma project. There were 388 personnel unaccounted for from the ship and 187 Sailors have been identified so far.
Renate Starck, one of Bruesewitz’s nieces, told us from Maryland that after Bruesewitz was identified and interment plans have started, the family requested that it be Dec. 7, 2018.
“Because we’ve been aware of loss of our uncle. Since he died, the family remembered him on this day. This is also easy for the young ones to remember. It gives us peace and forgiveness for his loss,” she said during a phone interview.
About 60 people, most of whom are family members and some close friends, will be attending the funeral ceremony at the Arlington National Ceremony which will begin at the administration building at 1 p.m.
Seaman 1st Class William Bruesewitz’s name is etched in stone with the names of the 429 Sailors killed aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma during the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
(U.S. Navy photo by Tucker McHugh)
A funeral service for him will be held earlier in the day starting at 7:50 a.m. at Salem Lutheran Church, Catonsville, Maryland, after which a procession to Arlington will take place. The Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore, dedicated their Dec. 1 and 2, 2018 performances of W. A. Mozart’s Requiem to Bruesewitz.
Explaining the historical process, a DPAA statement says that from December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries. In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Bruesewitz.
In April 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of unknowns associated with USS Oklahoma. On June 15, 2015, DPAA personnel began exhuming the remains from the Punchbowl for analysis. To identify Bruesewitz’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA analysis, anthropological and dental analysis, along with circumstantial evidence.
USS Oklahoma crew members have been honored Dec. 7, 2018, each year with a ceremony held on Ford Island at the USS Oklahoma Memorial to include, post of the colors, principle speaker, honoring those who served on the USS Oklahoma, 21-gun salute and taps. Leis are placed on some white standards in honor of each crew member where a picture is placed on a standard when they are identified.
Additionally, there is a USS Oklahoma Memorial in Oklahoma, which has a listing of the crew members lost, near the Oklahoma Capitol honoring 429 Sailors who were killed on USS Oklahoma during the Pearl Harbor attack.
Jan. 15, 2019, was the first missed payday for the US Coast Guard, the only military branch who’s working without pay during the government shutdown that started on Dec. 21, 2018.
A work-around secured money for Dec. 31, 2018 paychecks, but no such maneuver was possible for Jan. 15, 2019, and communities around the country have stepped in to support Coast Guard families amid protracted uncertainty.
The strain at home comes after a busy year at sea.
In 2018, the Coast Guard apprehended five times as many migrants at sea off the coast of Southern California as it did in 2017, according to records seen by The Washington Post.
Coast Guard crews interdicted multiple Dominican migrants attempting to illegally enter Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, Jan. 11, 2019.
(US Coast Guard photo)
The 1,022 migrants picked up off Southern California through the end of the 2018 fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2018, exceeded the 213 and 142 intercepted in fiscal years 2017 and 2016, respectively.
But across the entire US, the number of migrants caught at sea between 2017 and 2018 decreased from 2,512 to 1,668, according to The Post.
Most of the Coast Guard’s apprehensions at sea were for a long time off the coast of Florida; many of those caught were Cubans, who were allowed to pursue citizenship once reaching the US under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.
The Obama administration rescinded that policy in January 2017, and most migrants intercepted there now come from Haiti or other islands in the Caribbean.
While the number of people picked up in the area has fallen, the route remains active. The service said on Jan. 11, 2019, that 66 migrants were picked up around Puerto Rico in a 72-hour period and that 708 had been intercepted there since Oct. 1, 2018.
Migrants picked up off the California coast come from throughout the region, from Mexico to Bolivia. High-value migrant smuggling — which involves people who’ve paid large sums to come to the US from countries as far afield as China and Sri Lanka — has also increased, including in the waters around Florida, Coast Guard officers told Business Insider during a patrol over Miami in November 2018.
An overloaded vessel with about 35 migrants is interdicted approximately 34 miles west of Desecheo, Puerto Rico, Jan. 7, 2019.
Out in the Pacific, Coast Guard crews were busy with a more nefarious activity in 2018.
During that period, the service seized 458,000 pounds of cocaine — less than the record 493,000 pounds seized in 2017 but more than the 443,000 pounds seized in 2016, which was itself a record.
Having faced those challenges at sea in 2018, the Coast Guard begins 2019 with a government shutdown that at 25 days is the longest in US history.
Unlike the other four branches of the military, which are part of the Defense Department, funding for the Coast Guard, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, has yet to be approved.
Some 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members remain on duty without pay. The majority of the service’s 8,500 civilian employees have been furloughed, though about 1,300 remain at work.
A Coast Guard crew oversees the salvage of a privately owned Hawker Hunter aircraft off of Honolulu, Jan. 7, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Russ Strathern)
Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray said in a Jan. 10, 2019 letter that Coast Guard “leadership continues to do everything possible … to ensure we can process your pay as soon as we receive an appropriation,” but “I do not know when that will occur.”
In a letter two days later, Ray cautioned that “there is a distinct possibility that Retiree Pay and Survivor’s Benefit Plan (SBP) payments may be delayed if this lapse continues into late January.”
Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, who has missed his own paycheck, told Military.com that without a budget appropriation for fiscal year 2019, which began Oct. 1, 2019, a continuing resolution, or some other funding measure, the service won’t be able pay its 50,000 retirees on Feb. 1, 2019.
Measures have been introduced to Congress to pay the Coast Guard amid the government closure.
The Pay Our Coast Guard Act was reintroduced to the Senate on Jan. 4, 2019, and assigned to the Senate legislative calendar. The Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act was introduced in the House of Representatives on Jan. 9, 2019, and is with the Appropriations and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.
Those measures would have be approved by the other house of Congress and by the president in order to go into effect. On Jan. 15, 2019, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she was working with the White House and Congress on legislation to fund the service.
“Like the other branches of the U.S. military, active duty @USCG should be paid for their service and sacrifice to this nation,” Nielsen said on Twitter.
Despite support from each other and their communities, Coast Guard families around the country are feeling the strain.
“This is talking an emotional toll on us and all the families here at Fort Wadsworth,” Rebeca Hinger, a Coast Guard spouse and mother of three, told Staten Island Live. “Many of us here … live paycheck-to-paycheck, and without money we can’t pay our bills.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
President Donald Trump pulled off a large-scale attack on sites thought to contribute to Syria’s chemical weapons program — but even the Pentagon acknowledges the attack’s limitations.
The Pentagon says the strikes, made by the US, France, and the UK, took out the “heart” of Syria’s chemical weapons program. But Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the UN has linked to dozens of gas attacks, still maintains “residual” capabilities of creating and using chemical weapons, the Pentagon said.
Assad still has his jets, and helicopters. The air wing in Assad’s army that the US suspects of having carried out a chemical attack early April 2018, on the town of Douma went unpunished. The US-led strike did not target any personnel suspected of carrying out illegal orders to drop gas bombs on civilians.
“It is very important to stress it is not an attempt to change the tide of the war in Syria or to have a regime change,” Boris Johnson, the UK’s foreign secretary, said. “I’m afraid the Syrian war will go on in its horrible, miserable way. But it was the world saying that we’ve had enough of the use of chemical weapons.”
“The American strikes did not change anything for Syrians,” Osama Shoghari, an anti-government activist from Douma, told The New York Times. “They did not change anything on the ground.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the strike “precise and proportionate,” but while it may have involved precise, smart, new weapons, it’s unclear what Mattis thinks the strike proportional to.
What did the strikes change on the ground?
(DigitalGlobe satelite photo)
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed during the country’s seven-year civil war, which kicked off when Assad violently responded to pro-democracy rallies in 2011.
Millions in Syria have been displaced by the conflict; many have been tortured and abducted. Large swaths of the country fell under jihadist rule. A generation of Syrian children are growing up knowing only war.
The strikes on April 13, 2018, addressed none of that. The 105 weapons used against three facilities across Syria targeted only chemical weapons production in Syria, and they didn’t even remove all of those weapons or capabilities.
Instead, the strikes made a big show of punishing the Assad government over the attack on Douma that the US and local aid groups said involved chemical weapons, and it did so on a shaky legal premise.
Chemical warfare may continue in Syria. Widespread fighting, casualties, and abuses of power in the deeply unstable country will continue with near certainty. A hundred missiles, or even a thousand, couldn’t hope to reverse the deep problems faced by Syrians every day, or to punish Assad and his inner circle as much as they have punished their own people, but Trump never actually tried to.
Performative allyship in cruise-missile form
Assad, a leader whom Trump calls an animal who gasses his own people, remains in power. Chemical weapons remain in Syria. The world is no closer to finding peace there.
But Assad has been publicly spanked by the US, the UK, and France. Three nations told Syria, and its Russian backers, they meant business after years of turning a blind eye to reports of horrors in the country.
The Syria strike, viewed as a public spanking rather than a decisive military campaign, was a “mission accomplished” not because it changed anything, but because they made it loud.
Staff Sgt. August O’Neil, Air Force Wounded Warrior, and fellow pararescueman and Wounded Warrior, Staff Sgt. Nick Robillard, prepare to deliver the Care Beyond Duty flag during the opening ceremony of the 2016 U.S. Air Force Trials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 26, 2016. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Taylor Curry
In July 2011, Air Force Staff Sgt. August O’Neill, a pararescueman, was sent to rescue a group of Marines pinned down in Afghanistan when enemy insurgents opened fire on his team’s helicopter.
A round bounced off the helicopter’s door, tearing through both of O’Neill’s lower legs and critically wounding his left, resulting in 20 surgeries over the next three-and-a-half years as doctors tried to save the limb.
O’Neill finally told doctors to remove his left leg last year, but he remains determined to continue his career as a pararescueman.
Determined to Resume Career
“I haven’t looked back since,” said O’Neill, who’s training with the 342nd Training Squadron here, as he prepares to requalify for assignment to a pararescue team.
“I knew I wasn’t done doing this job,” he added.
Pararescue isn’t an easy job for any airman, let alone one who’s had their leg amputated just above the knee, but O’Neill believes he’s still up to the task.
“There are going to be issues that come up here and there,” O’Neill said. “But I’m sure I’ll make it back on a team. Just like anybody who hasn’t been in their job for a long time … I basically need to make sure everybody else knows that I’m capable of doing the job, and … I need to make sure I haven’t lost anything that I need.”
Pararescumen serve in one of the most physically demanding fields in the armed forces, with the journey from basic training to joining an operational unit spanning almost two years, according to the technical training course guide.
Seeking a ‘New Normal’
O’Neill said he isn’t expecting any special treatment as he trains over the next few months to demonstrate his mission readiness.
“I wouldn’t want to do this job if I couldn’t meet the same qualifications as everybody else, because that would put the people on my team at risk,” he explained. “You’re only as strong as your weakest member, so if I can’t keep up with them, that means they’re carrying me and that’s not something that I want.”
Living with a prosthetic is a minor annoyance in terms of his daily routine, O’Neill said. He doesn’t sleep with the leg on, for example, so he has to hop to the bathroom or the refrigerator when he wakes in the middle of the night.
“It’s just finding a ‘new normal’ for all the things I was able to do with two legs before,” he explained. “I’ve just been finding ways to get everything done.”
That minor annoyance turns into a bigger challenge during pararescue training, where O’Neill will have to depend on his ingenuity and adaptability to meet the other demands to the job.
“Anything from picking up a patient — where I can’t just roll down on a knee and lift them up — I have to find a different way to brace myself to get people up and move out,” he noted. “Everything is challenging, but it’s just a matter of finding out how to do it.”
As if navigating this “new normal” wasn’t enough, O’Neill said his training has been grueling.
“It’s tough mentally and physically,” he said. “You aren’t pushed to your limit — you’re pushed beyond that — to the limits that the instructors know you can reach. There are so many qualifications that you need to keep up with that you … can’t do so without being mentally prepared.”
One thing, at least, hasn’t changed for O’Neill since returning from his injury.
“I don’t like running,” he chuckled. “I’ve never been a distance runner and after four years of not running … that’s still difficult, but I can still run. It’s not as pretty as it was before, but I’m able to at least get the job done.”
As an international relations scholar who studies space law and policy, I have come to realize what most people do not fully appreciate: Dealing with space debris is as much a national security issue as it is a technical one.
Considering the debris circling the Earth as just an obstacle in the path of human missions is naive. As outer space activities are deeply rooted in the geopolitics down on Earth, the hidden challenge posed by the debris is the militarization of space technologies meant to clean it up.
To be clear, space debris poses considerable risks; however, to understand those risks, I should explain what it is and how it is formed. The term “space debris” refers to defunct human-made objects, relics left over from activities dating back to the early days of the space age. Over time that definition has expanded to include big and small things like discarded boosters, retired satellites, leftover bits and pieces from spacecraft, screwdrivers, tools, nuts and bolts, shards, lost gloves, and even flecks of paint.
A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95 percent of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item. The orbital debris dots are scaled according to the image size of the graphic to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth. The image provides a good visualization of where the greatest orbital debris populations exist.
From the 23,000 pieces of debris in Earth orbit that are larger than 5-10 centimeters that we can track and catalog, to the hundreds of millions that we cannot, there is little question that both big and small objects whizzing around at lethal speeds endanger the prospects for civilian, commercial and military missions in outer space. You may pick apart what the movie “Gravity” got wrong, but what it got unforgettably right was the sense of devastation wrought by an orbital debris cloud that destroyed equipment and killed three astronauts on impact. No matter its size, space debris can be lethal to humans and machines alike.
As of early 2018, the European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that there have been about 500 break-ups, collisions, explosions or other fragmentation events to date that yielded space debris. Some of these events are caused by accidents. NASA reported the first-ever known collision between two objects in space in July 1996, when a European booster collided with a French spacecraft. That incident created one new piece of debris, which was itself promptly cataloged. Yet accidents can also have a big impact on increasing the debris cloud. In 2009, for the first time ever, a functioning U.S. communications satellite, Iridium-33, collided with a non-functioning Russian one, Cosmos-2251, as they both passed over extreme northern Siberia. This single crash generated more than 2,300 fragments of debris.
Natural fragmentation versus deliberate destruction
Space debris may also be affected by the breakup of older spacecraft. In February 2015, a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP-F13) spacecraft, called USA 109, which had gone up 20 years earlier, blew up due to a battery malfunction. It may have contributed 100 debris pieces that were tracked by military radars on Earth, and possibly also 50,000 shards larger than 1 millimeter that defied tracking because they are too tiny. Because of the satellite’s original high altitude, all those fragments will remain in orbit for decades, posing risks for other spacecraft. In November 2015, again due to a possible battery failure, another decommissioned U.S weather satellite, NOAA-16, crumbled adding 136 new objects to the debris cloud.
Notably, debris itself can also fragment. In February 2018, a discarded tank from the upper stages of a Ukrainian-Russian Zenit-3F rocket fragmented.
Fuel tank of an Iridium satellite launched in 1997-1998 re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and crashed in a California orchard where it was discovered in late October 2018.
Debris can also fall back down on Earth, whether from natural orbital decay or controlled re-entry. Fortunately most such falling debris lands in the Earth’s oceans. But sometimes it does not, and these rare events may become a bigger hazard in the years ahead as the size of the debris cloud grows, and as the projected fleet of commercial small satellites becomes a reality. Recently, parts of Zenit rocket debris are reported to have ended up crash-landing in Peru. One of the most recent such events just took place in October 2018. The U.S. military identified a fuel tank from a decade-or-so-old Iridium satellite that crashed in a walnut orchard in Hanford, California.
Then there are the highly publicized deliberate events that add to the debris cloud. In 2007, China used a ground-based direct-ascent missile to take out its own aging weather satellite, the Fengyun-1C. This event created an estimated 3,400 pieces of debris that will be around for several decades before decaying.
China’s actions were widely seen as an anti-satellite test (ASAT), a signal of the country’s expanding military space capabilities. Having the ability to shoot down a satellite to gain a military advantage back on Earth exposes the basic nature of the threat: Those who are most dependent on space assets – namely, the United States, with an estimated 46 percent of the total 1,886 currently operational satellites – are also the most vulnerable to the space debris created deliberately. There is no doubt that the aggressor will also lose in such a scenario – but that collateral damage may be worthwhile if your more heavily space-dependent rival is dealt a more crippling blow.
Saudi officials inspect a crashed PAM-D module in January 2001.
Stealth ‘counterspace race’
The set of government or commercial solutions to counter orbital debris – whether lasers, nets, magnets, tethers, robotic arms or co-orbiting service satellites – have only fueled the prospects for a stealthy race for dominance in outer space.
The same technology that captures or zaps or drags away the debris can do the same to a functioning spacecraft. Since nobody can be sure about the intent behind such proposed “commercial” space debris cleanup technologies, governments will race to get ahead of their market competitors. It matters how and with what intent you counter space debris with dual-use technologies, and more so at a time of flux in the world order. Both the old and new space powers can easily cloak their military intentions in legitimate concerns about, and possibly commercial solutions to, debris hazards. And there are now a number of open assessments about space junk removal technologies that can double up as military programs, such as lasers or hunters.
This fusion of the market and the military is not a conspiracy but a reality. If you are a great power like the United States that is heavily dependent on space assets in both the economic and military realms, then you are vulnerable to both orbital debris and the technologies proposed for its cleanup. And both your allies and your rivals know it.
This is how we have ended up in a counterspace race, which is nothing like your grandfather’s space race. In a fundamental way, this new race reflects the volatile geopolitics of peer or near-peer competitors today, and there is no getting away from it in any domain. Just as on Earth, in the cosmos the world’s top space powers – the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India – have moved from merely space situational awareness to all-out battlespace awareness. If things stay the course, accidental or deliberate events involving orbital debris are poised to ravage peaceful prospects in outer space.
How then do we move forward so that outer space remains safe, sustainable and secure for all powers, whether big or small? This is not a task any one single nation — no matter how great — can carry out successfully on its own. The solutions must not only be technological or military, either. For peaceful solutions to last, deterrence and diplomacy, as well as public awareness, will have to be proactively forged by the world’s space powers, leaders and thinkers.
The Air Force is set to acquire new wings for its A-10 Thunderbolts in order to keep the vaunted attack aircraft in operation until the 2030s.
The Air Force told Congress in 2017 that 110 of its 283 A-10s were at risk of being permanently grounded unless money was apportioned to restart production and rewing the remaining planes.
The service has already paid to replace the wings on 173 of its A-10s, but Boeing, which originally built the wings, has since shut down production, and the Air Force didn’t have funding for new wings for the remainder — 40 of which would have to be grounded by 2021, according to CNN. Those aircraft are still flying with wings from the late 1970s, according to Aviation Week.
The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed by President Donald Trump in March 2018, included $103 million requested by the Air Force to fund the rewinging. That is enough to cover the production of four new sets of wings, but going forward, Boeing might not be supplying them.
The program is considered a “new start,” and under it, the new wings will come with a higher price, as engineers work through the hiccups of the design phase.
Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, mentioned that the service was looking for a new partner on the A-10 early 2018.
“The previous contract that we had was with Boeing, and it kind of came to the end of its life for cost and for other reasons,” he said in January 2018. “It was a contract that was no longer cost-effective for Boeing to produce wings under, and there were options there that we weren’t sure where we were going to go, and so now we’re working through the process of getting another contract.”
Because of the potential for A-10s to be grounded if they don’t get new wings, “acquisition is being expedited to the maximum extent possible,” according to a draft request for proposal for A-10 wings, issued in February 2018.
US Air Force
According to the anticipated schedule included in the draft request, a final request is expected by April 3, 2018, a proposal due date on June 5, 2018, and the awarding of the contract by the end of the March 2019. (The 2019 fiscal year runs from October 2018 to September 2019.)
The service has committed to maintaining six of the nine A-10 squadrons it has, but the contract will ultimately determine how many wings the service can actually buy, an Air Force spokeswoman told Aviation Week, saying “the majority of the A-10 fleet will fly and fight for the foreseeable future.”
The hard-fighting A-10 emerged in 2017 from a debate between lawmakers and the Air Force over whether it would stay in service, and in recent years it has seen duty all over the world.
It was a workhorse in Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, releasing 13,856 weapons between Aug. 8, 2014 and mid-2016 — second only to the F-15E Strike Eagle, which released 14,995 weapons over the same period.
The Thunderbolt has also seen duty in Afghanistan, where the government requested the A-10 return in late 2017. A squadron of 12 A-10s arrived in the country in January 2018, where it has taken part in an intensified air campaign against militants in the country — in particular the Taliban and its drug-producing facilities.
US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chris Drzazgowski
The venerable aircraft will soon face competition closer to home however, with comparison testing between it and the F-35— the plane originally meant to replace the A-10 — happening as soon as summer 2018, when the F-35 is scheduled for testing in close-air-support and reconnaissance operations.
Congress has said that the Air Force cannot shed any A-10s until that evaluation takes place. But whatever the results, the Thunderbolt looks likely to have vocal supporters.
“If I were to sit down to design a heavy attack platform, it would look just like the A-10,” Air Force Lt. Col. Bryan France told The Aviationist. “Our airframe was built to extend loiter times over the battlefield, deliver a substantial amount of ordnance, and survive significant battle damage. It does these things exceptionally well.”
“It is built to withstand more damage than any other frame that I know of. It’s known for its ruggedness,” A-10 pilot Lt. Col. Ryan Haden told Scout Warrior. “It’s deliberate, measured, hefty, impactful, calculated, and sound. There’s nothing flimsy or fragile about the way it is constructed or about the way that it flies.”
“I happen to be a fan of the A-10,” Wilson, the Air Force secretary, told lawmakers in December 2017.
Fifty years after the Battle of Hue City, retired Marine John L. Canley has moved a step closer to receiving the Medal of Honor for his “above and beyond” actions in the house-to-house fighting.
On Jan. 29, President Donald Trump signed a bill passed by Congress to waive the five-year limit on recommendations for the nation’s highest award for valor and authorized the upgrade of Canley’s Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor.
The bill (H.R.4641), sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-California, “authorizes the President to award the Medal of Honor to Gunnery Sergeant John L. Canley for acts of valor during the Vietnam War while serving in the Marine Corps.”
In a letter to Brownley last month, Mattis said, “After giving careful consideration to the nomination, I agree that then-Gunnery Sergeant Canley’s actions merit the award of the Medal of Honor.”
The 80-year-old Canley, of Oxnard, California, who retired as a sergeant major after 28 years of service, was Brownley’s guest of honor Jan. 31 at Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
Canley “is a true American hero and a shining example of the kind of gallantry and humility that makes our armed forces the best military in the world,” Brownley said in a statement Jan. 30.
“It is my great honor that he will be attending the State of the Union with me tomorrow — 50 years to the day of the start of the Tet Offensive, where his bravery and courage saved many lives,” she said.
In a statement to Brownley after Trump signed the bill, Canley said, “This honor is for all of the Marines with whom I served. They are an inspiration to me to this day.”
He earlier told Military.com that in the grueling 1968 fight to retake Hue from the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet-Cong: “The only thing I was doing was taking care of troops, best I could. Do that, and everything else takes care of itself.”
Canley also thanked Brownley and a member of her staff, Laura Sether, “for their effort and work to make this happen.”
They worked closely with the survivors from Alpha Co., 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, who fought with Canley at Hue and mounted a 13-year effort to get past the red tape to upgrade his Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor.
The distinguished Medal of Honor — Navy version. (Image from U.S. Navy)
John Ligato, a private first class in Alpha 1/1 and a retired FBI agent who was part of the effort to upgrade the medal, said of Canley: “This man is the epitome of a Marine warrior.”
At Hue, Canley took command of Alpha 1/1 when Capt. Gordon Batcheller, the company commander, was wounded and evacuated.
He fought alongside Sgt. Alfredo Cantu “Freddy” Gonzalez, who had taken command of Third Platoon, Alpha 1/1, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Canley’s Navy Cross cites his actions from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, 1968, when he had command of Alpha 1/1 before being relieved by then-Lt. Ray Smith, a Marine legend who earned the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during his tours in Vietnam and retired as a major general.
“On 31 January, when his company came under a heavy volume of enemy fire near the city of Hue, Gunnery Sergeant Canley rushed across the fire-swept terrain and carried several wounded Marines to safety,” the citation states.
Canley then “assumed command and immediately reorganized his scattered Marines, moving from one group to another to advise and encourage his men. Although sustaining shrapnel wounds during this period, he nonetheless established a base of fire which subsequently allowed the company to break through the enemy strongpoint,” it continues.
On Feb. 4, “despite fierce enemy resistance,” Canley managed to get into the top floor of a building held by the enemy. He then “dropped a large satchel charge into the position, personally accounting for numerous enemy killed, and forcing the others to vacate the building,” the citation says.
The battle raged on. Canley went into action again on Feb. 6 as the company took more casualties in an assault on another enemy-held building.
“Gunnery Sergeant Canley lent words of encouragement to his men and exhorted them to greater efforts as they drove the enemy from its fortified emplacement,” the citation states.
In speaking of Canley, Ligato, retired Maj. Gen. Smith, former Lance Cpl. Eddie Neas and others who served with him, both in battle and stateside, told of his indefinable command presence that made them want to follow and emulate his example.
“The most impressive combat Marine I ever knew,” Smith told Military.com.
Smith recalled that at his own retirement ceremony at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, he said, “All through my career, whenever I had to make a decision that would affect Marines, I’d always think — ‘What would Canley tell me to do?’ ”
Canley’s command presence was such that others who served with him to this day recall him in awe as a 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 tower of strength who would calmly pick up wounded Marines, put them on his shoulder, and run through fire to safety.
“They worshipped the ground the guy walked on,” Smith said of Canley, but “he was actually about six feet” tall.
On paper, the J-20 represents a “big leap forward in terms of the capabilities of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) have on scene,” Bronk said.
Compared with the US’s fifth-generation fighter jets, the F-22 and the F-35, the J-20 has “longer range, more internal fuel capacity, and larger internal weapons capability,” Bronk said.
This combination of factors presents a real risk to US forces in the Pacific. Long-range, capable strike fighters like the J-20 put the US AWACS, or airborne warning and control system, as well as “refueling tankers, and forward bases at risk much more than current types if flying in relatively large numbers” should any kind of kinetic conflict flare up in the Pacific, Bronk said.
David Goldfein, the chief of staff for the US Air Force, told Breaking Defense he was not overly troubled by the new Chinese jet.
“When I hear about F-35 versus J-20, it’s almost an irrelevant comparison,” Goldfein said in August.
Indeed, nothing indicates that the Chinese have built in the type of hyper connectivity and sensor fusions that make the US’s fifth-generation fighters so groundbreaking. Of the F-35 in particular, Bronk said: “Pilots are not spending a huge amount of time managing inputs — the machine does it for him. It produces one unified picture, which he can then interrogate as required.”
“We don’t know how much F-35 technology the Chinese have managed to steal,” Bronk said, adding that while it was “impossible to say for sure” what the J-20 is capable of, common sense dictates that the “the sensor fusion and network integration is significantly behind what the US has managed with the F-35 and F-22.
“This is purely based on the fact that sensor fusion has taken the most effort, time, and money,” he continued.
But one-on-one combat scenarios or feature-for-feature comparisons don’t capture the real threat of the J-20.
Long-range stealth fighters, if fielded in large numbers along with older Chinese aircraft, surface-to-air missile batteries, radar outposts, missiles, and electronic-warfare units, present another wrinkle in an already complicated and fraught operating envelope for US and allied forces in the Pacific.
But is it real?
Whether the Chinese will actually be able to field this plane by 2018, as Beijing has projected, remains the real question.
Bronk pointed out that it took a decade between US developers building a flying model of the F-22 and getting real, capable F-22s in the air. Even if the Chinese have accelerated the process through espionage, Bronk says, “We know how much money and time it takes to make a lethal and effective fighter like the F-22,” and it’s “very unlikely that China is that far along.”
Additionally, the J-20s in Zhuhai flew for only about one minute. They didn’t do low passes. They didn’t open up the weapons bay. They didn’t do much except fly around a single time.
“We learned very little,” Greg Waldron, the Asia managing editor of FlightGlobal, told Reuters. “We learned it is very loud. But we can’t tell what type of engine it has, or very much about the mobility.”
Bronk speculates that the models on display at Airshow China were not much more than showpieces: “It’s possible that the aircraft that were shown are still instrumented production aircraft,” or planes with “loads of sensors to monitor performance” instead of in a combat-ready formation.
Bronk points out that the aircraft most likely flew with underpowered engines and not the engines that would fly on the final version. “Engine performance is a key function of any aircraft,” he said, adding, “China and Russia continue to lag behind because of the really top-end manufacturing processes you need” to create and tune high-quality aircraft engines.
So while China’s new “impressive low-observable heavy strike” fighters could change the balance of power in the Pacific, whether they can field the planes in significantly large numbers at any time in the near future remains an open question.