Before Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was blotted out by a US airstrike on June 7, 2006, he made an impression, especially on Stanley McChrystal, who, as a lieutenant general in charge of US Joint Special Operations Command, led the effort to take out the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Zarqawi’s zealotry made him a lodestar for an extremist movement that still roils Iraq and the region, McChrystal said on a recent episode of Business Insider’s “This Is Success” podcast.
“For about two and a half years, we fought a bitter fight against this guy. And Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had come from a tough town in Jordan, very little education, got involved in crime and things like that in his youth,” said McChrystal, who profiled al-Zarqawi in his most recent book, “Leaders.”
“But then, what happened was he realized that if he showed self-discipline to exhibit the conviction of his Islamic beliefs — if he did that overtly, if he became a zealot — other people were attracted to him,” McChrystal added. “He was living up to what he said and was demanding that they do.”
Arriving in Iraq in 2003 to lead a US Joint Special Operations Task Force, McChrystal recognized the strengths of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the mismatch the group presented for the US military’s traditional conception of its enemies.
“By habit, we started mapping the organization in a traditional military structure, with tiers and rows. At the top was Zarqawi, below him a cascade of lieutenants and foot soldiers,” McChrystal wrote in 2011, a year after retiring. “But the closer we looked, the more the model didn’t hold.”
AQI’s network was characterized by the free flow of information and resources.
Tactics changed quickly across broad swaths of Iraq. It became clear that Al Qaeda in Iraq was less a hierarchical fighting network than “a constellation of fighters” organized by relationships and reputations.
At the center was al-Zarqawi.
“When he became the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, he led the same way. He wore all black [and] looked like a terrorist leader,” McChrystal told Business Insider correspondent Richard Feloni.
In 2004, al-Zarqawi beheaded American contractor Nicholas Berg, McChrystal said.
That was “a gruesome thing to do,” he added, but it served as a message that “‘our cause is so important, I’m willing to do something that we all know is horrific.'”
“He was able to bring forth people to follow his very extreme part of Islam when most of them really didn’t,” McChrystal said. “The Iraqi Sunni population were not naturally adherents to Al Qaeda, but yet he was able to produce such a sense of leadership and zealous beliefs that they followed. He became the godfather of ISIS.”
In summer 2005, McChrystal was recalled to the White House to brief the National Security Council on al-Zarqawi.
“Are you going to get him?” President George W. Bush asked McChrystal.
President George W. Bush.
(White House photo by Eric Draper)
“We will, Mr. President,” McChrystal replied. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
As US forces whittled away the middle ranks of al-Zarqawi’s organization, which he had built into semiautonomous cells, the Al Qaeda in Iraq leader was seeking to ignite a sectarian war, stoking violence between Sunnis and Shiites.
By spring 2006, al-Zarqawi was a bigger priority for JSOC than Al Qaeda cofounders Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri, the latter of whom is still alive.
By May that year, JSOC had mapped out al-Zarqawi’s organization around Baghdad, including his spiritual adviser, with whom he met frequently.
On June 7, 2006, a drone tracked the adviser to a house in Hibhib, a village roughly 12 miles from McChrystal’s own headquarters, where US personnel watched intently as a man dressed black walked out and strolled through the driveway.
Just after 6 p.m., an F-16 dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb on the house, following it with another less than two minutes later.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)
Less than 20 minutes after that, US Army Delta Force operators arrived at the demolished house to find Iraqi police loading a still-alive al-Zarqawi into an ambulance. They watched him die.
“We didn’t just depose him. We killed him,” McChrystal told Feloni. “I stood over his body right after we killed him.”
McChrystal expressed no admiration for al-Zarqawi’s methods — “in many ways, he was a psychopath,” he said — but he acknowledged al-Zarqawi’s strengths as a leader.
“Your first desire is to demonize him, but you know the reality is I had to respect him. He led very effectively,” McChrystal said.
“Initially you just say we’re just going to get this guy, and then after a while you watch him lead, and you realize not only is he a worthy opponent, he’s making me better, [and] you’re also going after someone who truly believes,” he added.
McChrystal held his position in Iraq until 2008 and was credited with making JSOC more agile and more lethal, evincing “an encyclopedic, even obsessive, knowledge about the lives of terrorists” and pushing his command to kill as many of them as possible.
He took over command of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009, but his tenure was short-lived.
He resigned in the summer of 2010, after the publication of a Rolling Stone article in which his aides were quoted disparaging US officials, including Vice President Joe Biden.
Vice President Joe Biden.
The killing of al-Zarqawi looms large among McChrystal’s accomplishments, though he said that operation was reflective of how he learned to decentralize responsibility rather than indicative of his martial prowess.
“The myth is the counterterrorist who killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — went out, wrestled him to the ground, bare to the waist, and that’s total BS,” McChrystal told Feloni, when asked how he would describe his own biography.
“At times, do I like the myth, because people go, ‘Wow, look at him’?” he said. “Yeah, it’s kind of cool, and you never want to go, ‘no, that’s not true.’ But it’s not true.”
“The reality is that I built the team” that took out al-Zarqawi, he added. “Ultimately I’m more proud of enabling the team than I would be of wrestling [al-Zarqawi] to his death.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
There’s a term US soldiers give to one of their own who tries to shirk duty by making constant medical appointments: Sick call commando.
It looks like ISIS has the same problem.
Documents seized last month by Iraqi forces at a former ISIS base in Mosul, Iraq reveal that, despite its ability to recruit religious fanatics to the ranks, the so-called Islamic State has its fair share of “problem” fighters who don’t actually want to fight, The Washington Post reports.
The Post found 14 fighters trying to skate their way out of combat, to include a Belgian offering a note about having back pain, and a Kosovar with “head pain” who wanted to be transferred to Syria.
Another, a recruit of Algerian descent from France, told his superiors he wanted to return home and offered two suspicious claims: I’m sick, and if you send me home, I’ll continue to work remotely.
“He doesn’t want to fight, wants to return to France. Claims his will is a martyrdom operation in France. Claims sick but doesn’t have a medical report,” one note reads, according to The Post.
Of course, there are plenty within the ranks of ISIS who are still fighting on the front lines. But to see that at least some are trying to get out while they still can seems to suggest that the USand Iraqi military is doing something right.
Iraqi forces captured all of eastern Mosul late last month, and preparations are currently being made to start hitting the western side of the city. The top US general in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, is confident that both Mosul and the ISIS capital of Raqqa will fall “within the next six months.”
Keep it small, keep it simple, make it work. It’s what Marine Corps leaders want industry leaders and research and development agencies to keep in mind when making the latest and greatest tech for grunts on the battlefield, a top general said March 6, 2018.
Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said the service was interested in high-end electronics and robotics, but said he didn’t want to increase the load of ground combat Marines by adding on advanced gear.
“Technology is great, until you have to carry it, and you have to carry the power that drives it,” said Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
Walters said members of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, the service’s experimental infantry battalion, has been the first to test and field small tech and weapons. The service is interested in the new technology, but continues to keep the size and weight of new systems in mind, he said.
“Reorganizing for the future is what’s happening right now and robotics is clearly someplace where we’re investing,” Walter told audiences during the annual “Defense Programs” conference hosted by defense consulting firm McAleese Associates.
In a few months, 3/5 will debut its latest report on findings and lessons learned from using the newer tech, such as handheld drones and quadcopters, he said.
“But we’re not waiting,” Walters said at the event in Washington, D.C.
New, powerful equipment needs to be leveraged even more so than it is now, Walters said, adding, “they need to be more consumable.”
“We have 69 3D printers out and about throughout a mix of battalions,” Walters said. This added gear, he said, has made Marines more agile when they need to replace a broken part or create an entirely new solution for an old design.
“We have to have the speed of trust in our young people to seize and hold the technological high ground,” Walters said.
Amid the push for new tech, officials have been working to lessen the load for Marines who have been inundated with more equipment in recent years even as the service grows more advanced with streamlined resources.
For example, program managers have said they’re looking for a lighter, more practical alternative to the Corps’ iconic ammunition can.
Scott Rideout, program manager for ammunition at Marine Corps Systems Command, told industry leaders in 2016 that the rectangular can may be due for an upgrade.
Rideout, at the time, made the case during the Equipping the Infantry Challenge at Quantico that emerging technologies — such as the logistics drones that Walters mentioned March 6, 2018 — may also put limits on how much a future delivery of ammunition can weigh.
The calculus is simple, Rideout said: “Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.”
International diplomacy between nuclear nations, like the US and North Korea, doesn’t rate as an easy task for even the most seasoned statesmen, but for some reason it’s commonly discussed in horse racing terms — carrots and sticks.
In diplomatic negotiations, a nation will offer another nation a carrot, or some kind of benefit, while threatening a stick, some kind of mobilization of leverage.
Carrots can be economic benefits or normalizing relations. Sticks can be military force or economic sanctions. Today’s diplomats still talk about North Korea in these terms, or as you would talk about training a horse.
But Christopher Lawrence of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government told Business Insider that approach could be all wrong, and hidden in the history of failed talks with North Korea could be a better way forward.
North Korea won’t trade missiles for carrots
“If the regime ever agrees to give up nuclear weapons, it will not be for fleeting rewards or written security guarantees, but for a long-term, completely different political relationship with the United States going forward,” Lawrence wrote in his new paper on North Korean diplomacy.
In other words, carrots won’t solve the crisis. Demonstrably, sticks, in the form of sanctions and military threats, haven’t solved it either.
Instead, Lawrence proposes looking back to 1994, when North Korea’s nuclear program was in its infancy and the US actually significantly rolled back its plutonium capability, which it could use to make weapons, in exchange for building light water reactors, which are used for nuclear power.
No other acts of diplomacy with North Korea ever had the same level of physical results. Instead of the US simply cutting a check and promising not to invade, a US-led consortium began building energy infrastructure, which could function as a physical bond to imply a commitment to peace.
Therefore, US carrots to North Korea “will only be meaningful if they speak credibly about the political future — and physical, real-world manifestations of a changing relationship, such as shared infrastructure investments, often speak more credibly than written words,” writes Lawrence.
Talk is cheap. Infrastructure isn’t.
Kim Jong Un apparently wants the US to guarantee his security, but “written security assurances are less than credible,” Lawrence told Business Insider. “If we get what we want out of North Korea, why would we follow through?”
North Korea seems sensitive to shifting US rhetoric, as its reaction to being compared to Libya and Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal clearly show.
(Photo by Michael Vadon)
Instead, Lawrence said the US and its allies should focus on building real infrastructure in North Korea to improve the country. The US’s carrot here would happen at a synchronized pace to North Korea taking steps to denuclearize.
“I think think the main insight is we should not be thinking in terms of gifts to the regime, but points of US skin in the game,” Lawrence said.
A slow push of US investment and infrastructure in North Korea would allow Kim to control the propaganda narrative, and own the achievements as his own, rather than handouts from Trump, which could help sell the deal.
This could potentially solve the issue of North Korea opening up to the outside world too fast and becoming destabilized when its impoverished, closed-off population gets a taste of outside life.
The continuing US relationship with North Korea and the physical presence of US investment in the country provides a mechanism for keeping the talks on track. If North Korea doesn’t make good on its end, the US “can turn the lights out” on its investments, according to Lawrence.
Far from thinking about who will win or lose the upcoming summit by counting up the carrots and sticks at the end of the horse race, Lawrence offers a vision of what building a lasting peace in Korea could look like.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Whether you’ve served or not, you know the difficulty of leaving a job and moving away. For all you civilians out there, take the struggles and anxieties that come with moving away from a place, a people, and a function you know and amplify them ten-fold. In the military, you spend all day, every day getting to know your coworkers and becoming a family. When you finally leave that family and return to civilian life, it sucks — all of your best friends are now thousands of miles away.
Thanks to the age of the internet and social media, that gap is easily closed — but one thing us veterans (especially us grunts) miss the most is playing soldier with our brothers and sisters. Strangely enough, we’ve found that there is a way to reconnect with our veteran friends in the way we prefer, which is getting into gunfights.
If you’re a veteran and you’ve been looking to reconnect with your buddies, here’s why you should do it over a few rounds of a battle royale game:
Just like the old days, eh?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde)
Teamwork is essential
By playing with your friends, you’ll have a distinct advantage in a battle royale game. You already know how to work together and function in combat scenarios and that chemistry takes you far. You also know how to communicate with each other because you speak the same military language.
If you’re like us, this is the part you miss the most.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ricardo Hurtado)
You spend time with your veteran friends
While it may not be an in-person visit, you still get to hang out with your friends. In a way, the settings are surprisingly similar — you never really know what lies ahead.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Ryan Carpenter)
Your knowledge can help you dominate
In games like PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS, employment of real-world tactics is crucial. You didn’t know it at the time, but all that time you spent in training wasn’t just preparing you for real war — it was preparing you to dominate the digital domain, too.
The fact that you and your buddies have training and experience with each other gives you a distinct advantage — and we all love winning, so why not use everything you know? You’ve already done the hard part — once you get the controls down, it’s smooth sailing.
You’ll enjoy it.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Katherine M. Solano)
It’s just plain fun
Hanging out with your buddies and sh*t talking each other is the world’s greatest pastime. Even if you’re not dominating other teams, you’re still having fun reminiscing and joking with each other. So, why not take a crack at it?
“Russia will soon deploy an underwater nuclear-powered drone which will make the whole multi-billion dollar system of US missile defense useless,” MK.ru said, according to a BBC translation, making reference to the missile shield the US is building over Europe.
“An explosion of the drone’s nuclear warhead will create a wave of between 400-500 (1,300-16,00 feet) meters high, capable of washing away all living things 1,500 (932) kilometers inland,” the newspaper added.
While all nuclear weapons pose a tremendous threat to human life on Earth because of their outright destructive power and ability to spread harmful radiation, the Poseidon has unique world-ending qualities.
An LGM-30 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile being serviced in a silo.
What makes Poseidon more horrific than regular nukes
The US designed its nuclear weapons to detonate in the air above a target, providing downward pressure. The US’ nuclear weapons today have mainly been designed to fire on and destroy Russian nuclear weapons that sit in their silos, rather than to target cities and end human life.
But detonating the bomb in an ocean not only could cause tsunami waves that would indiscriminately wreak havoc on an entire continent, but it would also increase the radioactive fallout.
Russia’s Poseidon missile is rumored to have a coating of cobalt metal, which Stephen Schwartz, an expert on nuclear history, said would “vaporize, condense, and then fall back to earth tens, hundreds, or thousands of miles from the site of the explosion.”
Potentially, the weapon would render thousands of square miles of Earth’s surface unlivable for decades.
“It’s an insane weapon in the sense that it’s probably as indiscriminate and lethal as you can make a nuclear weapon,” Hans Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told Business Insider.
A briefing slide of the alleged Status-6 nuclear torpedo captured from Russian television.
Can Russia take over the world with this weapon? No.
MK.ru quoted a professor as saying the Poseidon will make Russia a “world dictator” and that it could be used to threaten Europe.
“If Europe will behave badly, just send a mini-nuclear powered submarine there with a 200-megaton bomb on board, put it in the southern part of the North Sea, and ‘let rip’ when we need to. What will be left of Europe?” the professor asked.
While the Russian professor may have overstated the importance of the Poseidon, as Russia already has the nuclear firepower to destroy much of the world and still struggles to achieve its foreign-policy goals, the paper correctly said that the US has no countermeasures in place against the new weapon.
US missile defenses against ballistic missiles have only enough interceptors on hand to defend against a small salvo of weapons from a small nuclear power like North Korea or Iran. Also, they must be fired in ballistic trajectories.
But the US has nuclear weapons of its own that would survive Russia’s attack. Even if Russia somehow managed to make the whole continent of Europe or North America go dark, submarines on deterrence patrols would return fire and pound Russia from secret locations at the bottom of the ocean.
Russia’s media, especially MK.ru, often use hyperbole that overstates the country’s nuclear capabilities and willingness to fight.
But with the Poseidon missile, which appears custom-built to end life on Earth, Russia has shown it actually does favor spectacularly dangerous nuclear weapons as a means of trying to bully other countries.
“The brave die never, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men.” – Minot J. Savage
On Saturday December 19th Staff Sergeant Matthew James Whalen suffered a massive stroke from which doctors determined he would not recover. The family decided to remove the 35-year-old four-combat-tour veteran from life support once they knew that his organs could save the lives of others.
Later, they would find out that two recipients were veterans.
This video posted by friend Sean Hatton shows Honor Guard and former service members standing at attention in the halls of Plaza Fort Worth Medical Center as Whalen was wheeled past them en-route to his last heroic act. The emotional clip has been viewed over 10 million times and shared close to a quarter-million times.
Whalen is survived by his wife, Hannah and three children: Logan, Mattix, and Sadie. A GoFundMe page was set up by friends to help provide for them, and pay for Matt’s hospital bills. To date, over $78,000 has been raised. In an update to donors, Brandon Bledsoe, the campaign’s originator wrote: “You have done God’s work, you have shown compassion to the reaches that only the best of humanity can achieve. You have helped a family in need, whether you knew them or not.”
I awake with a start. John isn’t in bed beside me. Throughout his military career, I never could grow used to an empty bed. Unlike before, I hear him breathing. He is in his recliner on the other side of the room. Either insomnia, a migraine or back spasms have pulled him away from me tonight. I ask if he is ok before realizing he is sound asleep. The rhythmic sound of his breath lolls me back to sleep as well.
There was a time, early in our marriage, where we both craved one another’s attention. We never wanted to leave each other’s side. Twenty years later, three kids, two deployments and many many nights apart, we’ve become more accustomed to absence then togetherness.
We are relearning what it looks like to be together, always.
Quarantine and Retirement
I’ve been hearing from friends whose spouses are either recently retired or working from home currently with no end in sight. The struggles are similar. Our routine at home is now chaotic. It’s similar to the disruption of reintegration but for a much lengthier stretch.
It is extremely difficult to continue forward with the routine when there is a new person in your space. Knowing that your spouse is just one room away while you are trying to get your to-do list complete is frustrating. It would be much more fun to join in watching that movie or whatever else is happening. I mean after all isn’t more time together what you craved during that last deployment?
Look, it’s ok not to want to be together 24/7 even if that’s all you were craving in the normality of 2019. For many of us, 2020 has brought more together time then we could have imagined. It’s ok not to spend every second together. It’s also equally ok to not finish that crazy to-do list and just enjoy some extra time with your soldier.
Drop the guilt. Everyone right now understands the need to focus on mental health. Plus, there’s no need to worry about unexpected guests dropping by, so yes, the dishes and laundry can wait.
2. Find time to be alone, even if you have to hide in a closet
I am an introvert. I used to wake at 0500 to see John off to PT and soak up the quiet early morning with a book and a cup of coffee before the kids woke up. Our new normal means that this house is never empty. The kids are doing e-learning and even the hobbies that once took John out of the house after retirement have ceased. There is much togetherness going on.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the extra time with one another, but sometimes it can be too much. In those moments, I need a timeout. I need to recharge by being alone.
What does this look like when the whole world is shut down?
Here are a few ways I’ve figured out how to get my alone time.
Long drives through backroads with the radio cranked all the way up
Walks through the neighborhood
Adult coloring books while listening to an audiobook
Noise-canceling headphones while writing
Sitting in the closet with the lights off enjoying the silence
3. Open communication makes all the difference
Communication while in the military had its challenges. We spent ten years learning how to communicate long distance, how to keep the dialogue going across oceans, and then how to understand one another after surviving vastly different challenges. My world of toddlers was not the same as his of war. It took effort to hear what the other was saying and the perspective we each brought to the conversation. The same is true now.
One of the things we’ve learned since retirement is that just because we’ve been married twenty years doesn’t mean we actually know the other person well. We may have been married but we inhabited very different spaces during that time.
All of this togetherness now is giving us the opportunity to get to know one another for who we are today. We are learning how to ask questions and how to listen in new ways. It’s a little like dating, the excitement and frustration are there. The only difference being the commitment to keep doing this, to keep trying, to keep growing together, and to maybe come out of this year closer then we were when it began.
The most important lesson I’ve learned during this time of increased togetherness and struggling to get everything done in the weirdness of 2020 is to be kind to myself. It’s time to drop the guilt because it isn’t mine to carry.
The U.S. Space Force, if fully formed, will eventually be in charge of all U.S. space operations, doctrine, training, and leadership. It’s least common mission is also one of the most threatening if they fail: stopping space threats like asteroids. Unfortunately for them, it turns out that asteroids are more resilient than scientists thought.
NASA currently tracks near-Earth objects but, unfortunately, even these maps fail to track all the potential threats to the planet since we haven’t found many of them.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University applied a new computer model to asteroid collisions, specifically one where an asteroid with a 25-kilometer diameter slams into an asteroid with a 1-kilometer diameter. Older models expected that the larger asteroid would break apart on impact, but the new models—which take many more factors into account—show that asteroids are stronger than previously thought and would likely survive.
Both models agree that cracks would form in the target asteroid, and earlier models thought this would result in a large cluster of rocks loosely held together by gravity. But the newer models expect that the smaller asteroid would deposit too little energy for the cracks to completely break apart the larger asteroid.
So, if the Space Force needed to destroy an asteroid that threatened the Earth, they would need much more explosive or kinetic power.
A composite image of a comet. Space objects can contain large amounts of valuable minerals, but they also threaten to strike the Earth and destroy all life on the planet.
So, no need to destroy it, just make it hit Venus instead of Earth. The Venusians have it coming, anyway.
Asteroids: good for future miners, bad for current planets if we don’t keep our eyes on the ball.
The study is good news for one group, though. Space miners could use explosives to send cracks through asteroids without completely destroying the object. Then they could mine along the faults they had created, allowing them to more quickly remove minerals from the surfaces and cores of the asteroids.
Probably a good idea to be careful with the explosives, though. Maybe use space drones to blow the asteroid long before the miners arrive. No sequences where Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck fight over who will stand on the surface of the asteroid as it blows up.
The Pentagon’s accelerated development of a “nuclear-armed” F-35 Joint Strike Fighter attack envelope is of critical importance to a new sweeping strategic nuclear weapons modernization and development strategy aimed at countering Russia, China, and North Korea — and addressing a much more serious global nuclear weapons threat environment.
Adding a nuclear-capable F-35 to the air portion of the nuclear triad — to supplement the existing B-2, B-52, and emerging B-21 — will bring a new dimension to US nuclear attack options and potentially place a new level of pressure upon potential adversaries.
Discussion of the F-35’s role in nuclear deterrence emerged recently during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s recently published Nuclear Posture Review.
In written testimony, Defense Secretary James Mattis cited the F-35 as an indispensable element of US and NATO nuclear deterrence.
“Modernizing our dual-capable fighter-bombers with next-generation F-35 fighter aircraft will maintain the strength of NATO’s deterrence posture and maintain our ability to forward deploy nuclear weapons, should the security situation demand it,” his testimony states.
Mattis also cited the emergence of the F-35 as a “nuclear delivery system” in the context of expressing grave concern that US nuclear weapons modernization has not, in recent years, kept pace with a fast-changing global threat environment.
“Nuclear delivery system development over the last eight years shows numerous advances by Russia, China, and North Korea versus the near absence of such activity by the United States, with competitors and adversaries’ developing 34 new systems as compared to only one for the U.S. — the F-35 aircraft,” Mattis wrote.
Officials with the Office of the Secretary of Defense confirmed to Warrior Maven that Mattis here is indeed referring to an emerging “nuclear variant” of the F-35. Multiple news reports, such as Business Insider, cite senior officials saying a nuclear-armed F-35 is slated to emerge in the early 2020s, if not sooner. The F-35 is equipped to carry the B-61 nuclear bomb, according to a report in Air Force Magazine.
It makes sense that the F-35 would increasingly be called upon to function as a key element of US nuclear deterrence strategy; in recent months, F-35s deployed to the Pacific theater to participate in military exercises over the Korean Peninsula. The weapons, ISR technology, and multi-role functions of the F-35 potentially provide a wide range of attack options should that be necessary in the region.
Utilizing speed, maneuverability and lower-altitude flight when compared to how a bomber such as a B-2 would operate, a nuclear-capable F-35 presents new threats to a potential adversary. In a tactical sense, it seems that a high-speed F-35, fortified by long-range sensors and targeting technologies, might be well positioned to identify and destroy mobile weapons launchers or other vital, yet slightly smaller on-the-move targets. As part of this equation, an F-35 might also be able to respond much more quickly, with low-yield nuclear weapons in the event that new intelligence information locating a new target emerges.
The F-35 recently completed a series of weapons separation tests and is currently able to be armed with the AIM-9X, AIM-120, AIM-132, GBU-12, JDAM, JSOW, SDB-1 and the Paveway IV, Lockheed Martin data states. While it is not yet clear exactly how a nuclear weapon might integrate onto the platform, the F-35 is configured to carry more than 3500 pounds of ordnance in stealth mode and over 18-thousand pounds uncontested.
While senior Pentagon leaders are understandably hesitant to discuss particular contingencies or attack scenarios, the NPR is quite clear that a more pro-active nuclear weapons posture is aimed at strengthening “deterrence.”
After analyzing the global threat calculus, the NPR calls for rapid inclusion of two additional nuclear weapons options – to include a sea-launched nuclear-armed cruise missile.
“A nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile and the modification of a small number of existing submarine launched ballistic missile warheads to provide a low-yield option – will enhance deterrence by ensuring no adversary under any circumstances can perceive an advantage through limited nuclear escalation or other strategic attack,” Gen. Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.
Senior Pentagon leaders stress that neither of these new nuclear weapons recommendations in the NPR require developing new nuclear warheads or will result in increasing the size of the nuclear stockpile. NPR DoD advocates further stress that the addition of these weapons does align with US non-proliferation commitments.
Mattis and other senior leaders seem aware that elements of the NPRs strategic approach may reflect a particular irony or paradox; in response to questions from lawmakers about whether adding new low-yield nuclear weapons could “lower the threshold” to nuclear war and therefore introduce new elements of danger, Mattis told Congress that increasing offensive nuclear-weapons attack capability will have the opposite effect, meaning the added weapons would improve deterrence and therefore enhance prospects for peace.
Specifically, Mattis explained that a new, low-yield Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile could likely provide pressure on Russia to a point where they might be more inclined to negotiate about adhering to the INF treaty they have violated.
“We have an ongoing Russian violation of the INF. We want our negotiators to have something to negotiate with because we want Russia back in compliance,” Mattis told lawmakers.
Alongside this strategic emphasis, Mattis also stressed that the NPR stipulates that nuclear weapons will only be used in the most extreme cases, adding that the “use of any nuclear weapon is a strategic game changer. Nuclear deterrence must be considered carefully.”
Citing the rapid technological progress of adversary air-defense systems, Mattis further elaborated that a sea-launched cruise missile option might be necessary to hold potential enemies at risk in the event that air-dropped low-yield weapons were challenged to operate above necessary targets.
“To drop a gravity bomb that is low-yield means a bomber would have to penetrate air defenses. Air defenses are very different than they were 20 years ago,” Mattis told Congress.
For instance, Russian-built S-400s and an emerging S-500 are potentially able to detect aircraft at much further ranges on a larger number of frequencies. Furthermore, faster computer processing and digital networking enable dispersed air defenses to hand off targets quickly across wide swaths of terrain.
This phenomenon also provides indispensable elements to the argument in favor of the Pentagon’s current development of a new nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile – the Long Range Stand-Off weapon (LRSO). In similar fashion, a nuclear cruise missile could hold enemy targets at risk in a high-tech threat environment where bombers were less able to operate.
Some critics of the LRSO maintain that the introduction of the LRSO brings a “destabilizing” effect to the possible use of nuclear weapons. In a manner quite consistent with the current NPR, senior Air Force weapons developers told Warrior Maven over the course of several interviews that, by strengthening deterrence, the addition of a new LRSO is expected to have the reverse – or “stabilizing” – effect by making it more difficult for a potential adversary to contemplate a first strike.
NPR proponents say a strengthened and more wide-reaching nuclear weapons approach is necessary, given the current threat environment which does, without question, seem to be raising the possibility of nuclear confrontation to a level not seen in years.
“We’re concerned about: some of the adjustments in potential adversaries’ thinking about nuclear weapons. With a greater reliance on nuclear weapons, a featuring of them, in some cases — for example, in the Russian nuclear doctrine, called “Escalating to De-escalate”. John Rood, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy told reporters when discussing the NPR.
From the Nuclear Posture Review
Russia’s belief that limited nuclear first use, potentially including low-yield weapons, can provide such an advantage is based, in part, on Moscow’s perception that its greater number and variety of non-strategic nuclear systems provide a coercive advantage in crises and at lower levels of conflict. Recent Russian statements on this evolving nuclear weapons doctrine appear to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first-use of nuclear weapons.
The text of the report specifically cites the importance of dual-capable aircraft (DCA) in Europe and states that the F-35 is fundamental to deterring Russia.
“We are committed to upgrading DCA with the nuclear-capable F-35 aircraft. We will work with NATO to best ensure—and improve where needed—the readiness, survivability, and operational effectiveness of DCA based in Europe,” the Nuclear Posture Review states.
Nuclear weapons modernization
The NPR also seeks to accelerate ongoing efforts to modernize the air, sea and ground portions of the nuclear triad. DoD is immersed in current efforts to fast-track development and prototypes of a new Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent ICBM, Air Force developers have told Warrior Maven.
Early prototyping, including expected prototype “shoot off” testing is slated for 2020, service developers have told Warrior Maven in recent interviews. Northrop Grumman and Boeing are both now under contract to build the new weapon. The Air Force plans to build at least 400 GBSDs, Air Force senior leaders have said.
Critical elements of the new ICBM, developed to replace the decades-old Minuteman IIIs, will feature a new engineering method along with advanced command control, circuitry and guidance systems, engineers have said.
Regarding the Air component, the Air Force recently completed a critical design review of its new B-21 Raider nuclear-capable stealth bomber. As is often the case with nuclear weapons, many of the details regarding the development of this platform are not available, but there is widespread discussion among US Air Force leaders that the bomber is expected to usher in a new era of stealth technology; much of the discussion focuses upon the bomber’s ability to operate above advanced enemy air defenses and “hold any target at risk anywhere in the world,” the Air Force Military Deputy for Acquisition Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch has told Warrior Maven in past interviews.
Early available renderings of the bomber show what appears to be an advanced, B-2-like design, yet possibly one with a lower heat signature and improved stealth properties. However, service leaders are quick to point out that, given advancements in Russian air defenses, stealth will surge forward as “one arrow in a quiver” of nuclear attack possibilities.
Concurrently, the Air Force is surging forward with a massive B-2 modernization overhaul, involving new digital nuclear weapons capability and the integration of a developing system called the Defensive Management System. This enables the B-2, which Air Force developers acknowledge may indeed be more vulnerable to advanced air defenses than in earlier years when it was first
built, to more quickly recognize locations of enemy air defenses at safer ranges as a means to avoid detection.
New nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine
Finally, shifting to a program widely regarded as among the most significant across the DoD enterprise, the Navy is already underway with early development of the new nuclear-armed Columbia-Class ballistic missile submarines. Several key current efforts with this, including early “tube and hull” forging of missile tubes, work on a US-UK common missile compartment – and little-discussed upgrades to the Trident II D5 nuclear missiles.
Undersea strategic deterrence, as described by Navy and Pentagon leaders, offers a critical means to ensure a second strike ability in the event of a catastrophic first-strike nuclear attack impacting or disabling other elements of the triad.
While it may seem obvious, nuclear deterrence hinges upon a recognizable, yet vital contradiction; weapons of seemingly limitless destructive power – are ultimately employed to “keep the peace” – and save lives. Along these lines, Senior Navy and Air Force nuclear weapons developers routinely make the point that – since the advent of nuclear weapons – the world has managed to avoid massive, large-scale major power force on force warfare.
While Pentagon leaders rarely, if ever, offer a window into current nuclear-strike capabilities, it is widely discussed that the current North Korean nuclear threat is leading US military planners to envision the full spectrum of nuclear weapons contingencies. Even further, the US did recently send B-2 bombers to the Asian theater – stationing them in Guam.
Moldova has expressed concern over what it says were unauthorized movements by Russian military forces in the breakaway Transdniester region.
The Reintegration Policy Bureau, a government department that handles the Transdniester issue and is led by one of Moldova’s two deputy prime ministers, said on June 15, 2018, that the Moldovan government had notified the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) about what it called the unauthorized deployment of military trucks and equipment in the region controlled by separatists.
A day earlier, Moldovan authorities filmed some 40 trucks and other military vehicles with Russian symbols and license plates moving along a main road linking the northern and southern parts of Transdniester, a sliver of land along the Ukrainian border in eastern Moldova, the statement said.
The US Air Force needs more tanker aircraft to ensure that America’s heavy hitters can take the fight to China should a conflict arise, according to the service’s senior leadership.
“The challenge in the Pacific is the tyranny of distance, and that means tanker squadrons are very important,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Congress in October 2018, Voice of America reported, noting that the Air Force plans to increase the number of tanker squadrons from 40 to 54 by 2030.
“When we project into the 2025, 2030 timeframe, our pacing threat, we believe, is China,” Wilson further explained to Congress. The tanker plans are part of a larger initiative to boost the overall strength of the Air Force.
The Air Force secretary announced in September 2018 that the service intends to increase the total number of force operational squadrons by nearly 25%, raising the number by 74 to a total of 386 squadrons. The expansion is in service of the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, which point to great power competition as the greatest threat.
In response to criticism about the potential costs, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis argued, “It’s expensive. We recognize that. But it’s less expensive than fighting a war with somebody who thought that we were weak enough that they could take advantage.”
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
Aerial refueling aircraft play a critical role in extending the operational range of America’s fighter and bomber aircraft.
In recent months, as tensions between Washington and Beijing have soared to “dangerous” levels, the US has increasingly sent B-52H heavy long-range bombers through the East and South China Seas. There have been over half a dozen flights since August 2018, with the most recent flight taking place on Oct. 10, 2018, a spokesperson for Pacific Air Forces told Business Insider on Oct. 12, 2018.
Tankers have typically accompanied the bombers on these flights, which China has characterized as “provocative.”
While the Air Force is upping its game, China is believed to be doing the same through intense research into advanced anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) weapons systems, including a new very long-range air-to-air missiles designed to cripple slower, more vulnerable support aircraft in the rear, such as tankers and airborne early warning aircraft.
The missile is suspected to have a range of around 186 miles, farther than US air-to-air missiles.
China does not necessarily need to defeat elite planes like the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in battle. It only needs to keep them out of the fight. China has also invested heavily in integrated air defense systems relying on indigenous and foreign combat platforms.
Some of the weapons systems China is looking at have made appearances in military exercises, but it is unclear how close China is to actually fielding these systems.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When the Continental U.S. North American Air Force Aerospace Control Alert Maintainer of the Year for 2020 was announced, there was some shock. The prestigious Air Force award went to … a coastie.
The Continental Division of the North American Aerospace Defense Command is comprised of the United States Air Force, Air National Guard, Army National Guard, Canadian Air Force and to the surprise of many – the Coast Guard.
The National Capital Region Air Defense Facility of the Coast Guard is housed under the command of NORAD in Washington, D.C and is their only permanent air defense unit. Operating simultaneously as both a military branch and law enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security allows the elite Coast Guard unit the ability to respond to potential threats on a moment’s notice. One of their most vital missions is protecting the restricted air space around the White House.
When a threat to the capital is detected, coasties are the first on deck to respond.
(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)
Avionics Technician First Class Andrew Anton is a member of the small crew of coasties tasked with protecting America’s capital and the only coastie to have ever been selected for the Maintainer of the Year award. “It was a surprise to me. I didn’t see it coming and it’s very humbling,” he said. Anton continued, “We don’t fly the helicopter by ourselves. This is a team award and a Coast Guard win.”
Anton is responsible for managing, scheduling and maintaining all of the helicopters at the unit. “We are the only rotary wing air intercept entity under the NORAD structure. We are Coast Guard but we work for the Air Force,” he explained.
Working within aviation is not without risk, which is why Anton feels his award is attributed to the team and not just him. A day in the life of a coastie working aviation involves dangerous chemicals, heavy parts and working in high lifts. Then, there’s the inherent risk of simply being up in the air in flight. “At the end of the day, there has to be a human factor in this. We all live and die together. This is a very dangerous job,” Anton shared. “This unit applies the best amount of leadership that I have ever seen. Although this is an individual award, it is a team. No one can be successful if the ones around you can’t do their jobs.”
(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)
Military service has been ingrained into Anton his entire life as his family has served in the Armed Forces for generations. “I have had a passion for aviation since I was very young. Every male in my family since World War II was a pilot, I am the only mechanic in my family. I love flying but I prefer to work with my hands,” he explained. When he finished college, he knew he wanted to join the Coast Guard.
“I work for Aviation Engineering and I am a maintainer, a mechanic,” Anton said. But he’s much more than that. Anton is a Coast Guard Rotary Wing Aircrew Member, an Enlisted Flight Examiner, Flight Standards Board Member, a facility Training Petty Officer and is responsible for primary quality assurance.
Since his unit is a part of NORAD and works alongside the Air Force, they have unique protocols to follow. “The Coast Guard regulations are one thing, but we also have to abide by the Air Force Regulations because we are an Air Combat Alert unit,” Anton explained.
Anton shared that when the Air Force completes the inspections for their Coast Guard unit, they are often left baffled. When they realize that only one Coast Guard maintainer does the job that it takes eight separate Air Force members to do, they’re shocked. “When they come for these assessments, it’s kind of funny to hear them ask, ‘I’d like to talk to your refueler’ or ‘I’d like to talk to your tool manager’ and I’m like – still here, all me. They’ll do that for everything. We take pride in our workload and what we are able to accomplish,” he said.
(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)
They maintain their high level of efficiency with just six maintainers on a daily basis.
“As coasties, there’s just so many hats that we take off and put on, but we do it well. We’re so accustomed to being adaptable,” Anton shared. Many may find themselves shocked at what the Coast Guard accomplishes in a single day and probably didn’t realize they are a vital part of protecting the President of the United States.
“We don’t have Coast Guard signs out front and this mission isn’t as heavily publicized because we are following POTUS around. It’s a way to mitigate risk,” Anton shared. The members of this unit are not allowed to wear their Coast Guard uniforms outside of the facility and much of what they do still remains shrouded in secrecy, as a matter of national security.
While this unit is lending vital support to Operation Noble Eagle, the Coast Guard as a whole is also engaging in Rotary Wing Air Intercept nationwide for the U.S. Secret Service. They guard the skies above National Special Security Events and the president, wherever he or she goes.
Receiving this award showcases the important role that the Coast Guard plays in not only guarding America’s waters, but her sky as well. Their missions are accomplished with pride and devotion, despite the challenges they encounter within their budget. “It’s important to know that these guys and this team manage it all. You don’t hear about it because they do it so well,” Anton said. “The Coast Guard is such a small branch that it must be that good.”