There hasn’t been a more shining example of how great the military meme community can be than when its faced with a possible WWIII. The media is reporting every last detail, the civilians are clutching their pearls, and the vets? We’re completely unphased at the prospect of another multi-decade war.
All geopolitics and possible danger aside, at least gearing up for war is a hell of a lot better than just sitting around doing CQ, motor pool Mondays, and online correspondence courses…
Actual war may be benched – but the meme war will continue!
Mexican legislators proposed ending cooperation with the US on immigration, counterterrorism, and fighting organized crime “as long as President Donald Trump does not act with the respect that migrants deserve.”
The proposal was made on June 20, 2018, by the Mexican Congress’ Permanent Commission, which meets while Congress is in recess, and asks the executive branch to “consider the possibility of withdrawing from any bilateral cooperation scheme” with the US on those issues.
Mexican legislators called on their US counterparts to “end the inhumane and criminal action of separating migrant families, taking into account the best interests of the children and giving priority to the respect of human rights.”
It also called on the international community and human-rights defense groups to condemn the detention and separation of children and to end the policy and asked Mexican representatives to international bodies to use diplomatic means to halt the policy. (Trump rescinded the policy on June 20, 2018, in the face of domestic backlash.)
While announcing the proposal, Ernesto Cordero Arroyo, a senator for the conservative National Action Party, said the US “is a partner, allied in diverse causes and a friend that doesn’t deserve a government like that of Donald Trump,” adding that Mexico would not support a country that “systematically violates human rights and that doesn’t have respect for the life and dignity of people.”
Cordero said Trump “incentivizes and defends a discourse of hate inside and outside of his country,” encouraging racists groups and generating stereotypes of minorities, and that the US president has started a “trade war” through tariffs and rejected international cooperation, citing the US’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.
Other Mexican officials have criticized Trump’s immigration policy. Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who has developed a close relationship with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, condemned the separation policy as “cruel and inhumane” on June 19, 2018.
On June 20, 2018, Videgaray welcomed Trump’s decision to end the policy as “good news” but said the Mexican government would continue to provide consular protection to children in vulnerable situations.
Victor Manuel Giorgana — the president of the foreign-relations committee in Mexico’s lower house and a member of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party — said Trump had not done enough to protect migrant children and that Trump only backed down in order further his political agenda, namely securing funding for a border wall.
“The situation didn’t change in any way, except that [the children] are not separated,” he told newspaper Milenio, adding that those children would still be held in “inhumane” conditions.
The senate commission’s proposal is not the first of its kind.
In that resolution, senators urged Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to suspend bilateral cooperation with the US “on matters of migration and the fight against transnational organized crime as long as President Donald Trump does not conduct himself with the civility and the respect that the people of Mexico deserve.”
US officials have also warned of the deleterious effects Trump’s harsh comments and hardline policies would have on relations with countries in the region — specifically on security cooperation.
“In jeopardizing counternarcotics collaboration, President Trump risks cutting off his nose to spite his face,” Rebecca Bill Chavez, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in February 2018.
“A deterioration in our defense cooperation, it threatens stability and security of our hemisphere in areas from illicit trafficking to migration and natural-disaster-related humanitarian crises to destabilizing crime and violence,” she added.
Mexican officials have expressed disdain for Trump and his policies, and the US president has been the target of protests around Mexico — though Trump has little influence on Mexican domestic politics, and many there are more critical of their own government for its failings.
The Mexican government has also worked to counter Trump through economic policy. Legislators have called on the government there to cut purchases of US corn, a $2.5 billion industry. More recently, in response to US tariffs on steel and aluminum, the Mexican government levied $3 billion in tariffs on US pork, steel, cheese, and other goods.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The horrific shooting rampage in Las Vegas — and its mounting death toll — has made it the worst mass shooting event in U.S. history, eclipsing Virginia Tech, the Pulse Nightclub and Sandy Hook Elementary School in its barbarity.
Yet, in the face of such horrors, shining glimmers of hope emerge — among them the courageous police who responded to the incident, and even some veterans in the crowd who sprang into action when the bullets were flying.
Of the approximately 22,000 people in attendance, many were veterans, according to multiple accounts.
Iraq war veteran Colin Donohue told Fox News “I looked around and went ‘Oh crap this is actually happening.’ So I started pushing people out and said ‘Alright, let’s go. You need to go here.” He continues, “We started taking care of those who are injured. There were a lot of people and it gives me chills because there’s nothing I could do. I’m not a doctor, but you have a lot of people out there helping out.”
Russell Bleck, eyewitness at the Route 91 Harvest festival, tells TODAY show “Thank god it was at a country concert, there were so many ex-military there. You saw these men jump into action, their training … not even in uniform. These people just knowing what to do and treating their wounds.”
Veterans on site were giving aid; even plugging bullet hole wounds with their fingers. Bleck concludes “I didn’t see a single one taking cover, these guys were just running directly into the danger zone.
A man in the middle of the volleys stood up, beer in one hand, raised a middle finger towards the shooter as others begged him to “get the f*ck down” in a video released by The Sun. He’s still unidentified but if it turns out that he was a veteran, I don’t think it’d surprise anyone.
Humans have a long history of being creative with their weapons. Necessity is the mother of invention, and there’s no necessity greater than not dying because you can’t shoot back. As a result, humans have come up with more than their share of surprising weapon systems – with varying degrees of success.
The tround, short for triangular round, was designed by David Dardick in the mid-1950s for use in his open-chamber line of weapons. It may sound strange, but the open cylinder allowed rounds to be fed into the weapon via the side as opposed to the front or rear. But the real draw was that triangular rounds would allow a weapon’s user to carry fifty percent more ammunition in a case.
Trounds also allowed for different cartridges to be used in place of the tround ammo, where the triangular casings were used as chamber adapters.
The gyrojet weapon was developed by an engineer who worked at Los Alamos who was trying to scale down the bazooka concept to create an antitank weapon that was also compact. The gyrojet was a rocket launcher shaped like a gun firing ammunition that actually accelerated as it got further from the weapon.
It had no recoil, could be fired underwater, and could penetrate armor at 100 yards. The only problem was that its accuracy was so terrible that hitting anything at 100 yards was problematic.
The Puckle Gun was an early development in the history of automatic weapons. It was a single-barreled flintlock weapon that was designed to keep boarders from getting onto another ship. The weapon was never actually used in combat, but it featured two rounds of ammunition; circular rounds for fighting Christians and square bullets for shooting Muslims, because square bullets apparently cause more damage. According to the patent, its purpose was to “convince the Turks of the benefits of Christian civilization.”
Lazy Dog missiles
What you see is what you get with the lazy dog ammo. There’s no cartridge, no propellant, no explosive – just a solid piece of metal attached to fins. They were dropped from high altitudes en masse and by the time they reached the ground were able to penetrate light armor.
It’s one of the most persistent myths in the U.S. Military. I was even told it in basic training a mere 11 years ago, almost 90 years after the .50-caliber M2 was first designed. It goes like this: Weapons firing a .50-caliber round can be aimed at equipment, but not people. So, if you need to kill a person with a .50-cal., you have to aim at their load-bearing equipment (basically their suspenders).
Look at this. War crimes at night. What is wrong with troops today?
(U.S. Army 1st Lt. Robert Barney)
But, uh, really? The U.S. has and deploys a weapon in an anti-personnel role that can’t legally be fired at people? And we’ve just been hoodwinking everyone for a century?
That’s… surprising, if not unbelievable. That would require that every enemy in World War II never brought war crimes charges against the U.S. If you assume that the rule was put in place after World War II, when a lot of modern war crimes were defined, then you still have to assume that no one in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, or Afghanistan protested the illegal American actions.
And, even more odd, militaries brag about their top ranged sniper kills. Five of the top six longest-range kills, at least according to Wikipedia right now, were made with .50-cal. rounds (Number six was made by Carlos Hathcock with a machine gun, because he’s awesome). Since all of those snipers were targeting individuals, if you accept this premise, aren’t they war criminals?
Extremely accurate war crimes, huh, buddy?
(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Conner Robbins)
Uncool, Wiki editors — do not list war crimes made by war heroes. Let the military justice system do its work without your amateur meddling…
The actual rules for weapons in combat ban specific categories of weapons, like poisonous gasses or plastic landmines, and weapons that cause more unnecessary suffering than they provide military advantage.
If that sounds vague, that’s because it is. Nations occasionally argue about what weapons cause unnecessary suffering, but the militaries involved would typically rather keep all their options open, and so combatants usually decide that any given weapon is fine.
Look at this guy and his belt-fed war crimes. Horrible.
(U.S. Army Spc. Deomontez Duncan)
Shotguns came under some serious contention in World War I. The U.S. brought them over the Atlantic to clear German trenches, and they were ridiculously effective. Germany complained that the weapons, which often left their troops either blown in half or with pellet-filled guts, caused unnecessary suffering. America just pointed out that Germany was already using poisonous gasses, and so they should screw off.
This is the target that the .50-cal. is best for. It can pierce light armor at decent ranges unlike 5.56mm or 7.62mm rounds. So, if you have a limited supply of the ammo, you want to hold it for the vehicles. The command is thought to have grown from simple ammo conservation to belief of a war crime.
But no, if it’s an enemy combatant, you can legally kill it with any weapon at your disposal, as long as you don’t damage civilian structures or intentionally cause undue suffering. You don’t need to aim a .50-cal at their suspenders, belt buckle, or buttons.
The government of Montenegro has defended its contribution to peace in response to a comment from the U.S. President Donald Trump, who said in July 2018 that the tiny Balkan state’s “aggressive” people were capable of triggering “World War III.”
In a July 19, 2018 statement, the Montenegrin government said, “We are proud of our history, our friendship and alliance with USA is strong and permanent.”
“[Montenegro] was the first [country] in Europe to resist fascism, and today as a new NATO member and a candidate for EU membership it contributes to peace and stability not only on the European continent but worldwide, and along with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan,” the statement said.
The statement also stressed that while building friendly relations with other countries, Montenegro was ready “to boldly and defensively protect and defend our own national interests.”
U.S. President Donald Trump
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
“In today’s world, it does not matter how big or small you are, but to what extent you cherish the values of freedom, solidarity, and democracy. Therefore, the friendship and the alliance of Montenegro and the United States of America is strong and permanent,” the statement concluded.
In his interview to Fox News television aired on July 17, 2018, Trump said Montenegrins were strong, “very aggressive” people and suggested he feared NATO’s newest member could drag the alliance into World War III.
Trump then acknowledged that under Article 5, which enshrines the principal of collective defense, NATO would have to defend Montenegro if it is attacked because “that’s the way it was set up.”
Montenegro became NATO’s 29th member in June 2017, marking a historic geopolitical turn toward the transatlantic alliance amid opposition from Russia.
Russia has long opposed any further NATO enlargement and has bitterly criticized Podgorica’s accession to the alliance.
Camp Bonifas in Panmunjom, South Korea is named for Captain Arthur Bonifas who was killed by North Korean soldiers in 1976 during the infamous Axe Murder Incident. Sitting next to the Demilitarized Zone, the buffer area between North and South Korea, the base serves as a frontline outpost against any possible North Korean incursion. In addition to the heavy security and first-response troops, Camp Bonifas also hosts what has been called the “World’s Most Dangerous Golf Course.”
The one-hole, 192-yard par-3 is made of artificial turf and sits less than 500 yards from the DMZ. Forget playing through roughs and trying to read greens. A duff here could send your ball into a literal minefield. There’s also an abandoned bunker and a ginseng field to make playing through that much more difficult. The tee box sits 50 yards above the fairway which was built on top of an old machine-gun position. Strong winds from the North Korean side of the DMZ also make shots here difficult.
ESPN reporter Shelley Smith visited Camp Bonifas during the 1988 Seoul Olympics and again in 2012. “It’s about the same,” she said of the golf course during her second visit. Although the idea of a golf course so close to the DMZ seems silly, it is a much-needed distraction for the American and Korean soldiers stationed there. Strategically, a base like Camp Bonifas is not expected to hold out against an all-out invasion by North Korea. Spending some time on the green is a welcome distraction from this grim reality.
Because of the nature of the base, soldiers are not allowed to bring family members when they are assigned to Camp Bonifas. However, the base is a popular tourist destination. As many as 1,000 visitors come through the base daily (pre-COVID). Troops posted at Bonifas have to memorize a 13-page history of the Korean War in order to give tours and answer questions. The base even has a gift shop stocked with DMZ-themed knick knacks.
Famous visitors to Camp Bonifas include professional athletes Andrew Luck, Randy Johnson, and Paula Creamer. “It’s so humbling because the way I look at them, I feel like I have the most respect,” Creamer said of the troops stationed at Bonifas when she visited and played a round. “I don’t know how they do it being so far away from their families and keeping your country safe and fighting for us. Their faces light up when you talk about sport in general but being a female golfer coming in there and being able to hit chip shots or balls on the range and play the toughest par-3 in the world, that’s pretty cool.”
The relaxation provided by a round of golf sits in stark contrast to the ever-present North Korean threat that sits across the DMZ. For the soldiers there, this is the reality of their duty. Shooting on the green with a club can quickly turn into shooting on the green with a rifle at Camp Bonifas.
Every issued weapon in military history was inspired by asking the same question: “How can we make our boys kill better?” Around the turn of the 20th century, one engineer answered that question with, “hold my beer” before rolling up their sleeves going on to invent the Mark 1 trench knife.
Knives, in one form or another, have been used in combat for as long as people have been sharpening things and, pretty soon after that, people have put metal guards on their blades to prevent their hands from getting sliced up while stabbing.
But it was during World War I when the fine folks at Henry Disston & Sons took a pair of brass knuckles and added a knife and a spiked pommel to it because… f*ck it. Why not?
Fighting in the trenches of WWI was brutal. During the day, opposing fortifications hurled shots at one another and No Man’s Land, the space between opposing trenches, was a hellscape under constant barrage by artillery fire. So, any kind of advance was likely done under cover of night.
Once raiders made it into the enemy line, they would need to keep quiet for as long as possible as to not give away their position, alerting more than just an enemy sentry. They needed something both quiet and lethal to get the job done. Bayonets were plenty, but the trenches were way too narrow to properly utilize what is, essentially, a long spear. This is where detachable bayonet knives came into play.
By the time the Americans arrived in WWI, the American Expeditionary Forces decided to adapt the M1917 trench knife. It wouldn’t have the signature knuckleduster just yet, but it did sport spikes where they’d eventually go. The knife also had the infamous triangular tip that was hell for a medic to suture (and would probably be illegal today under the Geneva Convention’s rule against “unnecessary suffering”).
The blade was extremely flimsy and it was meant exclusively for stabbing. This was (mostly) improved with the introduction of the M1918 trench knife that everyone knows and loves today. This new version sported proper brass knuckles and a dual-sided blade. Unlike the earlier knife, the M1918 could be used for both slashing and thrusting. This knife was upgraded once again, using a more durable steel that was less likely to snap the first time it struck a German, and it was dubbed the the Mark I Trench Knife.
The spikes weren’t just for punching people, despite what you’ve seen in movies. They were designed more to prevent anyone from simply taking the knife out of your hand.
Finally, there’s the never-manufactured, but still-patented trench knife called the Hughes Trench Knife. Take all of the lethal features of previous designs and then turn it into a spring-loaded switchblade. You can see why it never made it past the design phase.
Trench knives lived on through WWII, were issued sparingly in the Korean War, and again in the tunnels of Vietnam — today, they’re are only sought after by collectors.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was looking for transports. They needed these transports to support their numerous airborne divisions. By the Cold War’s end, the Soviets had six airborne divisions but historically, they had as many as 15 active airborne divisions, which makes for a lot to move.
They also had the same need for tactical airlift to supply personnel. While the United States met that need with the C-130 Hercules, the Soviets turned to the Antonov design bureau to address their needs. The plane that emerged was the An-12, nicknamed the “Cub” by NATO.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the An-12 can reach a speed of 480 miles per hour and has a maximum range of 3,540 miles. It can carry up to 60 paratroopers or two BMD airborne armored fighting vehicles. It was in production for sixteen years and 1,248 airframes were produced.
What distinguishes the Soviet-designed plane from the C-130 is that some variations of the An-12 sport a twin 23mm turret. The other big difference is the accident rate. Aviation-Safety.net reports that of the 1,248 Cubs produced, 232 have been lost in accidents. By comparison, that same site notes that 353 C-130-type transports (including the civilian-model L-100) have been lost in accidents out of the more than 2,500 airframes.
China also has a version of the Cub known as the Y-8, a pirated design that was reverse-engineered after the Sino-Soviet split in the last 1960s. According to FlightGlobal.com, China has over 100 Y-8s in service, including airborne early-warning, maritime reconnaissance, and electronic-warfare variants. China also has the Y-9, a stretched version, with seven airframes in service.
You can see a video about this Russian ripoff of the Hercules below. That said, if you need a tactical transport, an An-12 “Cub” is not the way to go. Just buy a real C-130.
Snipers face countless threats on the battlefield. Ambush. Exposure. Separation from friendly forces. But, one of the most dangerous is being hunted by another deadly sharpshooter.
“It becomes a game of cat and mouse,” US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, the sniper instructor team sergeant at the sniper school at Fort Benning, said in a recent interview with Business Insider. “You have to be very cautious.”
Sniper duels like those seen in “Enemy at the Gates” and that well-known scene from “Saving Private Ryan” are rare, but they do happen. During the Vietnam War, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock battled several enemy snipers, reportedly putting a shot clean through the rifle scope and eye of a North Vietnamese Army sniper.
We asked a handful of top US Army snipers, marksman with years of experience and multiple combat deployments, how they hunt enemy sharpshooters. Here’s what they had to say.
Spc. Dane Pope-Keegan, a Scottsdale, Arizona native and sniper assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, performs reconnaissance and collects information during air assault training on July 10, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew McNeil / 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
US snipers have been fighting insurgents in the Middle East for nearly two decades. These enemies, while dangerous, are often considered lower level threats because they lack the training that US forces have.
“Some of our lower threat level [enemies], just because they are carrying a long gun, they may not have the actual experience of a sniper,” Rance told BI. The far greater threats are from professionally trained shooters from advanced militaries like those of China, Russia, and possibly even Iran.
“As you get into the near-peer threats, adversaries that have the proper tools and training, it’s a greater challenge for us to go get them because often they are professional school-trained snipers,” he said. They know the tricks of the trade, and that makes them much more deadly.
When there is a suspected sniper holed up nearby, there are a few different options.
“The best answer might be to go around,” Army Capt. Greg Elgort, the company commander at Fort Benning, told BI. “But, if your mission requires you to go through, you have a lot of different offensive options that are available.” They don’t necessarily have to hunt the enemy down one-on-one.
Snipers regularly support larger military force elements, scouting out enemy positions and relaying critical information to other components of that larger force, which can strike with mortars, artillery or infantry assault to “root out and destroy” the enemy. The snipers can then assess damage caused by the strikes from a safe distance.
But, sometimes eliminating the threat falls squarely on the shoulders of the sniper.
A U.S. Army sniper and infantryman with the U.S. Army Sniper School poses during a video shoot at Fort Benning, Georgia, Dec. 13, 2018.
(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Capt. David Gasperson)
The hunt is a tedious and dangerous game, as Rance said. US troops must pinpoint the emplaced sniper and range them without exposing themselves to fire.
“It’s going to take patience,” First Sgt. Kevin Sipes, a veteran sniper with more than a decade of experience, explained to BI recently. “You are waiting to see who is going to make a mistake first. Basically, it is going to take a mistake for you to win that fight, or vice versa, you making a mistake and losing that fight.”
Snipers are masters at concealing themselves from the watchful eyes of the enemy, but disappearing is no easy task. There’s a million different things that go into hiding from the enemy, and a simple mistake could be fatal.
According to the story of Hathcock, the renowned Vietnam War sniper, it was reportedly the glare of the enemy’s scope that gave away his position. “As a sniper, you are looking for anomalies, anything that sticks out, going against the pattern,” Rance explained.
U.S. Army Spc. Artemio Veneracion, a native of North Hills, Calif., a sniper with Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, stationed out of Vilseck, Germany, looks through the scope of an M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS), during a combined squad training exercise with the Finnish Soldiers of the Armoured Reconnaissance Platoon at the Tapa Training Area, Estonia, June 15, 2016.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steven M. Colvin)
These fights could easily be long and drawn out.
“In a real scenario, you could be in a situation for two, three weeks, a month maybe, determining a pattern, waiting for a mistake to be made,” Sipes said. Eliminating a threat could involve taking the shot yourself or using your eyes to guide other assets as they force the enemy “into a position to effectively neutralize them.” Either way, it takes time.
And, the waiting is tough.
“Staying in a position for an extended period of time, obviously it’s difficult,” Sipes told BI. “Patience is key. It’s terrible when you’re in that situation because it’s incredibly boring and you’re not moving. I’ve come out of situations with sores on my stomach and elbows and knees from laying there for so long.”
“It’s a cool story later,” he added.
No matter how tough it gets, a sniper must maintain focus, keeping his concentration. A sniper really only gets one shot, maybe two best case scenario.
“If they were to miss,” Rance explained, “they only have a few seconds to do that second shot correction before that target, seeks cover and disappears.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Army recruits from 10 Southern states are the most unfit and prone to injury in training compared to other regions of the country, according to a new study.
The study finds that recruits from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas “are significantly less fit, and consequently are more likely to encounter training-related injuries [TRI] than recruits from other U.S. states.”
Although the South is the top recruiting region, the study, based on U.S. Army data, shows that “male and female soldiers coming from these states are 22 to 28 percent more likely to be injured” in training.
The study was released by the Citadel, the military school in Charleston, South Carolina, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Public Health Center and the American Heart Association.
Soldiers assigned to Schofield barracks are doing THIS for PT. (U.S. Army photo by Kristen Wong, Oahu Publications)
“Our results suggest that the [Southern] states identified here pose a greater threat to military readiness than do other states,” the study says.
“Each recruit lost to injury has been estimated to cost the Department of Defense approximately $31,000,” says the study, published Jan. 10 by the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.
A Citadel release said the study is the result of a four-year effort led by Citadel Health, Exercise, and Sports Science professor Daniel Bornstein, Ph.D.
Other participants in the study include Laurie Whitsel, Ph.D., of the American Heart Association and Keith Hauret and Bruce Jones, M.D., of the U.S. Army Public Health Center. Participants from the University of South Carolina include George Grieve, Morgan Clennin, Alexander McLain, Ph.D., Michael Beets, Ph.D., and Mark Sarzynski, Ph.D.
“It is our hope that the states identified through this analysis, along with federal entities, work to establish policies and environments proven to support physically active lifestyles,” Bornstein said in a statement.
“If such actions were taken, physical fitness levels among residents of these states would rise and each state’s disproportionate burden on military readiness and public health could be minimized,” he said.
The report says, “Many states in the southern region of the United States are recognized for higher rates of obesity, physical inactivity, and chronic disease. These states are therefore recognized for their disproportionate public health burden.”
In addition, the 10 Southern states “are also disproportionately burdensome for military readiness and national security,” the report states.
The study notes the presence of “high physical inactivity and obesity prevalence” in the South, and says “physical inactivity and obesity are well recognized among the most critical public health challenges of the 21st century.”
The study warns that the overall recruiting pool for the military is dwindling and cites estimates that 27 percent of Americans aged 17-24 are too overweight to qualify for military service, “with obesity being the second-highest disqualifying medical condition between 2010 and 2014.”
In comments to the Citadel on the study, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said the findings provide “critical insight into the real national security issues posed by recruits who are less physically fit and less prepared for military service than they have ever been in our history.”
“I know firsthand the challenges faced in addressing the fitness levels of our youth after having served as commander of all U.S. Army basic training units,” said Hertling, now a CNN analyst.
“While commanding in combat, I saw the effect training-related injuries had on mission accomplishment,” and “in basic training, the number of unfit recruits forced changes to our physical training procedures and dining menus,” he said.
Days later, another Flanker mimicked the move over the same waters, zooming in front of a P-8 and exposing the sub hunter aircraft to its jet exhaust.
Top U.S. officials in Europe and the Defense Department said the incidents involved Russian pilots behaving in an unsafe, unprofessional manner. Experts argue that, while the intercepts expose a pattern of behavior from the Russian military, they also show that Russia is willing to capitalize on the publicity the aerial maneuvers bring, even during a global pandemic.
The Russian military “feels as if it’s necessary to let everybody know that they’re still on the world stage, that they’re still on the scene, and that they have pretty good military power,” said retired Gen. Frank Gorenc, the former commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Gorenc, an F-15 Eagle pilot, headed the command during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, when the U.S. sent sophisticated aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor to the theater in show-of-force missions to deter Russian aggression.
“It’s not only the pandemic, which obviously is keeping the western countries occupied, but also the oil [crash] too,” he said in an interview this week.
In recent weeks, Russia, one of the world’s leading oil exporters, was also hit by the unprecedented collapse in the market for crude oil.
“Declining powers have to do [something],” Gorenc said.
Opportunity to Go Viral
Unlike the Cold War, when pilots would return to their squadron and file a debrief of an aerial intercept, then simply move along to their next mission, being buzzed or barrel-rolled is gaining more visibility with the help of social media, said Doug Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.
“You know, it goes kind of viral,” Barrie said. “So you wonder if there’s an element of that, of how it plays on social media and in wider Western media, whether or not if it’s valuable.”
Notably, the recent incidents involved Russia’s multi-role Su-35 fighter jet, which has received improvements over the last few years — a significant upgrade from other aircraft used in past intercepts, such as the Su-27 Flanker or the Su-24 Fencer, Barrie said.
“It’s perhaps unsurprising that these aircraft have been bumped into [the rotation] more often than we’ve previously seen them; the imagery of the Flanker is great,” he said.
“The Su-35 is a highly capable airplane that they produce,” Gorenc added. “They’re obviously … trying to sell it. And this is a good way to show it off.”
Gorenc stressed that, while these incidents tend to flare up once in a while, pilots need to stick to the rules of engagement and try to be as predictable as possible.
The 1972 bilateral Russia-U.S. agreement “Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas,” followed by Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA), are accords that establish basic “rules of the road” for both countries to safely navigate near one another.
Holding Russia accountable for its behavior in international airspace can be tricky, Barrie explained. “To some extent, these things are difficult to kind of legislate around because it really comes down to the units, the pilots [and their behavior],” he said.
More often than not, intercepts are conducted in a safe manner, but errors happen because of a loss of communication or a human or technical mistake, officials have said.
For example, then-Gen. Petr Pavel, the former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, told reporters in 2018 that most aerial scrambles are seen as “routine.”
“From time to time, we can see some measures as provocative, especially in the areas that we exercise … both to the ships and in the air,” he said. “But it’s up to the captain [or pilot] to judge if it’s dangerous or not.”
Last week, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO supreme commander and head of U.S. European Command, described the first incident on April 15 as the result of “unprofessional” conduct by a Russian fighter pilot acting on his own, rather than a deliberate attempt by Moscow to provoke an incident.
“My conclusion at this point is that it was probably something more along the lines of unprofessional as opposed to deliberate,” Wolters said April 16.
“Given the unpredictability, you have to make sure that you maintain a safe distance and don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they even see you, because they may not see you,” Gorenc said.
Not Backing Down
Like the U.S., it’s unlikely that Russia will back down from what it sees as military priorities despite the pandemic, Barrie said.
“We’re not completely dissimilar. … You can see the messaging coming out of these NATO nations, including the U.S., which says, ‘OK, we recognize a pandemic is an enormous problem … but [we’re still] taking care of the day-to-day national security needs,'” he said.
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. military should be mindful that rivals like Russia will look to test any weaknesses among the U.S. and its allies during the coronavirus crisis.
“We are postured and maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice,” he said.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper renewed the message. “Our adversaries are not standing down,” he said. “We will continue to make sure that the [Defense Department] is ready to protect the USA.”
Barrie added: “The Russian Su-35 incident, in part, is simply a reflection of that [response]. It is simply a reflection of Russia doing what it does.”