On January 13, 2018, a ballistic missile alert went out across televisions, radios, and cellphones in the state of Hawaii. The message went out at 0807 local time and civil defense outdoor warning sirens went off across the islands. However, the alert turned out to be an accident. On December 12, 2020, Ramstein Air Base had a similar alert.
Ramstein Air Base personnel were alerted to a real world inbound missile strike and received an Alarm Red MOPP 4 notification. “Take immediate action!” The alert read. “For further information refer to Airman’s manual.” While the alert certainly put a lot of people in the Kaiserslautern Military Community on edge, the “All Clear” was issued two minutes later. It is unknown what triggered the warning system’s mass alert. However, the alert was later attributed to an exercise.
“Attention Team Ramstein, today, the Ramstein Air Base Command Post was notified via an alert notification system of a real-world missile launch in the European theater. The Command Post followed proper procedure and provided timely and accurate notifications to personnel in the Kaiserslautern Military Community. The missile launch was then assessed to be part of a training exercise and not a threat to the KMC area. The situation is all clear. We’d like to thank our Command Post members for their quick response to ensure our people stay informed so they can take the proper safety precautions.”
Despite the all clear and the message from the Command Post, personnel in the KMC area remain on edge. “That’s not the kind of thing you joke about,” one anonymous service member told WATM. “Hasn’t 2020 been hard enough?” Neither USEUCOM nor Ramstein Air Base have released an official statement regarding the incident.
The erroneous 2018 Hawaii missile alert was corrected 38 minutes after it went out. Following the incident, the FCC and Hawaii House of Representatives conducted investigations into the cause of the event. These resulted in the resignation of the state’s emergency management administrator. Whether or not the alert at Ramstein was a training exercise, the reaction of the KMC community was very real.
Civilian pilot Adam Alpert of the Vermont Air National Guard wrote an interesting and enjoyable article on his training experience with the vaunted F-35 in a mock mission to take out nuclear facilities in North Korea.
Chief among the interesting points in the article is a quote from Alpert’s instructor pilot, Lt. Col. John Rahill, about the F-35’s dogfighting ability.
Speaking about the nuanced technical and tactical differences between the F-35, the future plane of the VANG, and the F-16, the VANG’s current plane, Rahill said this:
“If you get into a dogfight with the F-35, somebody made a mistake. It’s like having a knife fight in a telephone booth — very unpredictable.”
The F-35 has been criticized for its dogfighting abilities. But as more information comes to light about the F-35’s mission and purpose, it becomes clearer that measuring the F-35 by its ability to dogfight doesn’t make much more sense than measuring a rifle by its capability as a melee weapon.
“The pilot uses onboard long-range sensors and weapons to destroy the enemy aircraft before ever being seen. The combination of stealth and superior electronic warfare systems makes the F-35 both more lethal and safer,” said Rahill, according to Alpert.
In Alpert’s mock mission to North Korea, planners sent only four planes, two F-35s and two F-22s, instead of the older formation of F-18s for electronic attacks, F-15s for air dominance, and F-16s for bombing and airborne early warning. Altogether, the older formation totals about 75 lives at risk versus four pilots at risk with the F-35 version.
Alpert’s piece highlights many of the ways in which the F-35 outclasses the F-16 with an easier, more intuitive interface that allows pilots to focus more on the mission and less on the machine. In fact, Alpert compares the F-35’s controls to an “elaborate video game” with a variety of apps he can call up seamlessly to access any relevant information — including an indicator that tells him how stealthy he is.
The U.S. Navy commissioned its newest warship, the USS Omaha, on Feb. 3. The futuristic, $440 million vessel is named for the Nebraska hometown of billionaire Warren Buffett, who was on hand for the ceremony.
The Omaha, a 218-foot-long littoral combat ship, was commissioned at its new home port in San Diego.
Buffett’s daughter, Susie Buffett, who was designated as the ship’s sponsor, gave the traditional order for officers and crew: “Man our ship and bring her to life.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am,” they replied and ran to the ship as a band struck up “Anchors Aweigh.”
The aluminum-clad Omaha is designed for missions close to shore. It has high-tech computer capabilities and can be reconfigured for various missions, including anti-submarine warfare and anti-mine operations.
China claims it’s winning the race to bring long-range superguns to its growing fleet, but experts say that even if these weapons work, they won’t make a difference in high-end conflict.
China announced it will “soon” be arming its warships with railguns, a technology which uses electromagnetic energy rather than explosive charges to fire rounds farther than conventional guns and at seven or eight times the speed of sound. The US Navy has spent more than a decade pursuing this technology, but naval affairs experts contend that even the best railguns have huge problems that make them a poor substitute for existing capabilities.
“You are better off spending that money on missiles and vertical launch system cells than you are on a railgun,” Bryan Clark, a defense expert and former US Navy officer, told Business Insider.
The Chinese navy made headlines when images of a Chinese ship equipped with a suspected railgun first surfaced in January 2018. Photos showed the vessel, initially nicknamed the “Yangtze River Monster,” docked on the Yangtze River at a shipyard in Wuhan. That same ship — the Type 072III Yuting-class tank-landing ship “Haiyang Shan” — reappeared in late December 2018, having possibly set sail for sea trials.
“This is one of a number of interesting developments that indicates that the [People’s Liberation Army] is quite enthusiastic about emerging capabilities,” Elsa Kania, an expert on the Chinese armed forces at the Center for a New American Security, told Business Insider.
The Chinese PLA is actively looking at the military applications of cutting-edge technology, including artificial intelligence and quantum computing. China actually launched the first quantum communication satellite, which is said to be unhackable. For the Chinese navy, this means research into electromagnetic railguns, among other capabilities.
China says it has made major ‘breakthroughs’ with railguns
“Chinese warships will ‘soon’ be equipped with world-leading electromagnetic railguns, as breakthroughs have been made … in multiple sectors,” China’s Global Times reported recently, citing state broadcaster CCTV. The notoriously nationalist tabloid proudly asserted that “China’s naval electromagnetic weapon and equipment have surpassed other countries and become a world leader.”
China is expected to begin fielding warship-mounted electromagnetic railguns with the ability to fire high-speed projectiles as early as 2025, CNBC reported in summer 2018, citing US defense sources with direct knowledge of the latest intelligence reports on China’s railgun development.
Chinese military experts expect the new Type 055 stealth destroyers to eventually be armed with electromagnetic railguns.
‘It’s not useful military technology’
While conventional guns rely on gunpowder to propel projectiles forward, railguns use electromagnetic force to hurl projectiles at targets downrange at incredible speeds.
China is not the first country to take an interest in railgun technology. The US Navy took a serious look at the possibility of arming warships with the gun, which promised the ability to strike targets as far as 200 miles away with relatively inexpensive rounds traveling at hypersonic speeds.
During the development process, the US military discovered problems that make the gun more of a hassle than an asset.
“The engineering challenges that the US is seeing with railguns are fundamental to the technology,” Clark, a defense expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), told BI. “Any railgun is going to have these problems.”
While still cheaper than a missile, the rounds are more expensive than previously expected, as they require more advanced guidance systems to ensure that a simple GPS jammer doesn’t render them inoperable.
The rounds are more powerful than standard 5″ gun projectiles, but still lack the destructive power of missiles, making them less effective in strike missions. Missiles are also able to can chase down targets.
Even if each railgun shot packs a punch, its limited rate of fire — maybe eight rounds per minute — means it has little use for air and missile defense against fast-moving targets.
Maintenance and electricity generation are also huge problems. The gun requires an enormous amount of power to fire and the shear force of firing hypervelocity projectiles tends to wear out the barrel quickly. The barrel would likely need to be replaced after every few dozen shots, a problem that likely limits the gun to one short battle.
“They’re not a good replacement for a missile,” Clark said. “They’re not a good replacement for an artillery shell.”
“It’s not useful military technology,” he added.
Facing a handful of difficult-to-overcome challenges inextricably linked to railgun technology, the US Navy has slow-rolled its railgun development.
The US Navy has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and more than a decade researching railgun technology, and research continues despite development setbacks.
“They are thinking that down the road they will eventually get some technological breakthroughs that would enable it to be more militarily useful,” Clark explained. “That is why they are continuing to invest in it rather than dropping it entirely.”
During 2018’s Rim of the Pacific exercises, the Navy successfully test-fired hypervelocity projectiles meant for electromagnetic railguns out of the Mk 45 five-inch deck guns that come standard on cruisers and destroyers. The Army is looking at using the same high-speed rounds for its 155 mm howitzers.
So far, it appears the most beneficial thing to come out of US railgun research is the round.
For China, it’s a PR victory
China, which will likely encounter issues similar to those the US Navy has run into, is potentially continuing its railgun development for another purpose entirely.
“This is a part of China’s strategic communication plan to show that it is a rising power with next-generation military capabilities,” Clark told BI. “It is always in the details that they sometimes fall a little bit short.”
“It’s a useful prestige thing for them, which is similar to other military systems they’ve fielded recently where it looks cool but it maybe isn’t all that militarily useful,” he further remarked, comparing China’s railgun pursuits to the J-20 stealth fighter, which lacks some of the features required to make it a true fifth-generation aircraft.
“The US has found that a working railgun, even if it met all the promise of a railgun system, is going to have very limited utility in strike or air defense,” Clark concluded, explaining that this technology is a tool which advances the narrative that China is a formidable force.
The Chinese military wants to demonstrate that it is on the forefront of next-level technology.
The Chinese military, like the US, may also derive new capabilities from its railgun research
One other program the Chinese are very interested in are building modern aircraft carriers. The Chinese navy has one carrier in service, another undergoing sea trials, and a third mystery carrier in development.
While the first and second rely on ski jump-assisted short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) launch systems, their is speculation that the third aircraft carrier could employ the much more effective electromagnetic catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch system.
“The same program that’s working on railguns at the naval engineering university has also been involved in their development of electromagnetic catapult system for their next-generation aircraft carrier,” Kania told Business Insider.
“The Chinese military has often intended to explore advanced technologies, including those that the US has deemed less relevant operationally because there is enthusiasm about next-generation capabilities and it wants to understand the art of the possible,” she added.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
One of the best things about the military is its subculture and sense of humor. If you give any group in the military any leeway at all in regard to uniform wear, even the slightest bit, the chances are good that they’ll make jokes out of it. One such tradition is the morale patch. Usually worn during deployments and on aircrew, the morale patch is worn solely by the designation of a unit commander. They often make fun of some of the worst, most boring, or most defining aspects of a career field.
Recently, some Naval aviators got into hot water by wearing patches that may have been a little too close to political.
It’s not as if this is the military’s first Trump joke.
Many of the best morale patches often have a pop culture element to them. Some of them may have some kind of inside joke, or technical jargon. In the patch above, for example, a UARRSI is part of an aircraft’s in-flight refueling apparatus, specifically on the receiving end.
Unfortunately for the Navy aircrew sporting the red patch and the “Make (blank) Great Again” joke, using an image of the President’s 2016 campaign slogan might be a little too political for the Navy’s top brass, with or without the “p*ssy” joke the Air Force used in the second patch above. No matter what the reason, the military is increasingly concerned about U.S. troops and their acts of political affiliation in uniform.
Trump signed signature red “MAGA” hats for deployed troops during a New Years visit in 2018. What concerned brass then was that the White House didn’t distribute the hats, troops already brought them.
The Pentagon’s Uniform Code of Military Justice states “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.” This expressed line may be the cause of the Navy’s ire with the red Trump aircrew patch.
It’s possible that the aircrews were making a political statement, but it’s much more likely that the reference to the President and his 2016 campaign slogan is a pop culture one. Trump’s revival of the old 1980 Reagan election theme has permeated American culture since Trump adopted it and made it his own. Even the President’s detractors use some variation of the MAGA line to insult the President and his policies.
The problem is this time, U.S. troops were seen by members of the media sporting the patches during an official Trump visit to the USS Wasp in Tokyo Bay. The image of troops wearing the patch went viral, and people who don’t seem to know about the morale patch tradition called it “more than patriotism” and “inappropriate.”
President Trump delivers a Memorial Day speech aboard the USS Wasp.
(U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Shorter)
The Navy downplayed the patches officially, calling them “old news” but acknowledged it was conducting an inquiry to determine if the move was an overtly political act.
When you can’t afford to buy a lot of new planes, refurbishing the ones you have is a viable alternative. We’re seeing this play out, to an extent, in the ongoing saga of re-winging A-10 Thunderbolts in the Air Force inventory. But the United States is not the only country polishing up old birds.
According to a report by NavyRecognition.com, Russia is taking a bunch of Soviet-era flying boats in for some serious upgrades. The anti-submarine sensors in these airframes, including the radar and magnetic anomaly detectors, are being updated. They’ll also be outfitted with the latest Russian anti-submarine torpedoes and depth charges.
Flying boats have been on the decline since the end of World War II. Despite the fact that having them means any bay, inlet, or atoll can be a base, they have a somewhat shorter range than land-based planes and typically hold less of a payload. Russia, however, has found itself short on ASW planes, especially since the end of the Cold War.
The Soviets built all of 62 Il-38 May maritime patrol planes, 100 Tu-142 Bear F anti-submarine planes, and 143 Be-12 flying boats. That’s a total of 305 anti-submarine planes – and this total includes planes that were exported. By comparison, the United States and Japan have combined to produce 757 P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. The United States has also produced 280 Lockheed S-3 Vikings for carrier-borne ASW operations.
Today, the numbers for Russia look even worse. Russia has a grand total of 20 Il-38s and 24 Tu-142s in service, plus a half-dozen Be-12s for search-and-rescue missions. By comparison, the United States Navy has 67 P-3s in service, plus 69 P-8 Poseidon multi-mission planes. That figure does not include 30 P-8s on order.
Russia, it seems, is on the short end of the anti-submarine warfare stick. With this glaring shortage, you can see why Russia is looking to modernize some old planes.
Check out the video below to learn more about Russia’s refurbishing.
There are few things I love more than seeing badass women breaking barriers and proving to the world that powerful women are a force to be reckoned with. Women in the military have fought long and hard for equality, respect and recognition. While I feel like I could spend months researching and compiling lists of all of the amazing women who have served our country, I decided to start with these four, who proved that nothing is impossible.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Olivia G. Ortiz/Released)
Maj. Katie Higgins Cook
Like many service members, Maj. Cook’s calling to the military was a family affair. A third generation pilot, Cook has followed in the footsteps of both of her grandfathers, who served in both the U.S. Army Air Corps as well as the Air Force, and her father, who had a 26 year long career in the Navy. In an interview in Risen Magazine, she said of her paternal grandfather:
“He instilled in us this idea, because his parents were immigrants to this country from Sweden. The American dream in this country gave us all these opportunities and we needed to give back.”
Graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2008, she made the choice to go into the Marine Corps, after spending time training with Marines in Quantico, Virginia.
During her time in the Marine Corps, she was one of the few female pilots to fly combat missions during her deployment to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. After that, she spent time on assignment in Uganda, and had already accrued over 400 combat flight hours. It was during her time in Africa that she was approached by a Blue Angel pilot, who encouraged her to apply for the coveted flight demonstration team. Following an extensive interview process, Maj. Cook was officially the first female Blue Angel, and became the pilot of the Lockheed C–130 Hercules named “Fat Albert.”
(US Navy photo)
While Maj. Cook takes pride in her contribution to history, she stands firm on the fact that she was chosen due to her ability to perform, not because of her gender. She is also quick to remind those who praise her of all of the women who came before her, who paved the way for her and fellow female service members. Becoming a role model for young girls is something she takes great pride in, and she highlights the importance of hard work and dedication. She has garnered a respectable social media following, and has coined the hashtag “#flylikeagirl” — in order to encourage young girls to dream big.
When asked about the phrase, Cook explained, “The hashtag ‘fly like a girl’ is empowering. It’s positive. And being able to fly to the caliber of a female pilot is something to strive for. To me, it shows that the cockpit is a great equalizer. Both men and women can do equally awesome jobs, and in the end, there is no distinction between genders when it comes to performance. All of us are pilots with the same goal: get as many landings as take-offs.”
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade/Released)
Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody
Gen. Dunwoody has had a career full of firsts. While the one that sticks out the most in recent memory is her becoming the first woman to reach the rank of four-star general in the history of the U.S. military, this wasn’t the first time Dunwoody had helped pave the way.
Another service member coming from military lineage, Dunwoody’s father was a decorated Army Veteran, and much of her life was spent moving from base to base. Her own career in the Army began in the mid-70’s, and after receiving a two-year commission as a second lieutenant at Fort Sill, she fell into the groove of military life and ultimately decided to dedicate the next few decades to serving. By 1992, she had become the first female battalion commander for the 82nd Airborne Division, and in 2000, was named the first female general at Fort Bragg. Throughout her career she was also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal and the Defense Superior Service Medal.
(DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen)
After over 30 years of service, Dunwoody made history in 2008 with her promotion to four-star general.
When speaking on her promotion, Dunwoody said “I have never considered myself anything but a Soldier. I recognize that with this selection, some will view me as a trailblazer, but it’s important that we remember the generations of women, whose dedication, commitment and quality of service helped open the doors of opportunity for us today.”
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Pankau)
Admiral Michelle Howard
Prior to beginning her own career in the military, Michelle Howard already knew the road would not be easy. Joining the service was something Howard thought about often, even as a child. Her father, an Air Force master sergeant, was largely what influenced her to embark on her own journey in the service.
Luckily for Howard, just two years prior to her being old enough to enlist, President Ford signed the Military Procurement Bill which, beginning in 1976, allowed for the admission of women into military academies. Howard was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1978 and was one of only seven black women in her class of over 1,300. It was during her sophomore year that she first piloted a ship, and soon went on to distinguish herself as a bold and respected leader. After taking command of the USS Rushmore in 1999, Howard became the first Black woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Kristopher Wilson/Released)
Remember the 2013 movie Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks? Howard played a huge part in the real life story. She had taken the position of commander of an anti-piracy task force in the Gulf of Aden just three days before Captain Richard Phillips was kidnapped by Somali pirates. The movie doesn’t do justice to the real world nuances and complexities of Howard’s involvement. In an interview she shared that:
“The pirates were using the fuel in the life raft to steer toward shore–and it was obvious that if they got to shore with Captain Phillips, we were probably not going to get him back.”
She was integral in the four days of hostage negotiations that led to the successful rescue.
It was in 2014 that Howard made history again, when she was promoted to the rank of four-star admiral, the first woman in the Navy to do so. That same day she was also appointed as the 38th vice-chief of naval operations, which made her the second highest ranking officer in the Navy. As if that wasn’t already impressive enough, two years later she went on to become commander of naval forces in both Europe and Africa. She concluded her career as the Commander of Allied Joint Force Naples. Following her retirement in late 2017, she went on to teach cybersecurity and international policy at George Washington University.
Lieutenant General Nina Armagno
The end of 2019 brought the announcement of the inception of the United States Space Force. Aside from appealing to virtually every sci-fi fan in the country, the Space Force also started to assemble its ranks soon after it was officially unveiled. Among them was Major General Nina Armagno. Prior to her being promoted to Lieutenant General upon her transfer in the Space Force, Armagno had just over 30 years of experience in the Air Force as well as space systems operations, specifically.
Graduating from the USAF Academy in 1988, Armagno has gone on to have an impressively full military career, as well as picking up three degrees and numerous certifications along the way (including a Bachelors in Biology and two Masters degrees, in both Education Administration and National Securities Studies). She was also the only Air Force officer to command both East and West U.S. space launch facilities. Along with the completion of over 20 assignments and almost a dozen awards and decorations, she is also the recipient of the 2010 Women of Influence Award as well as the 2014 Gen. Jerome F. O’Malley Distinguished Space Leadership Award.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)
Upon her commission in the Space Force, Armagno was promoted to three star general on August 17th, 2020. She will be serving as staff director, and overseeing Space Force headquarters daily operations. Not only does this make her the Space Forces first female general officer, she’ll also be playing an integral role during the earliest years of the history making organization. In a statement, Armagno remarked, “We’re going to be agile, we’re going to be nimble, and we’re going to bring the best of everything into the Space Force”.
It happens almost every single year and it’s always a giant fuss. A new recruit who is barely out of boot camp will wear their branch’s dress uniform as they walk down the aisle at their high school graduation. The school will invariably be annoyed that someone isn’t wearing the same thing as everyone else, they’ll cause a fuss, and, suddenly, everyone is up in arms against that school.
Now, we’re not going to throw any individual under the bus — so we won’t name names — but trust me when I say that stunts like this are definitely boot moves.
This time, the near-annual graduation controversy started with two Marines in Michigan. They informed their school of their plans month before entering boot camp and the school, of course, rejected their proposal. The students graduated recruit training on a Friday and come back to Michigan to graduate high school the following Sunday.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Angelica I. Annastas)
First, it’s important to realize that schools don’t lack in compassion for the military and its troops, but the ceremony requires uniformity. The school made many concessions, including offering specially-made tassels, just like those worn by honor students, woven in red, white, and blue. They also offered to announce their military rank as they received their diploma and annotate their service in the rosters and the programs.
Even still, the students walked in their dress uniforms instead of the standard caps and gowns. The school’s superintendent allowed them to walk to keep their families happy. Afterward, an unnamed school board member discretely expressed to the students they were not happy with the rule violation, but that they also respected their service. This gentle aside then hit the internet, was blown out of proportion, and now the school board members are being made to look like as*holes.
The fact is that the uniform of the day was a cap and gown. These recruits disobeyed that order. When moments like this happen in the military because someone is trying to be an individual, the offenders swiftly disciplined. When this happens in the civilian world with recruits fresh out of boot camp (in this case, literally two days out of boot camp), the civilians who put out a simple rule (and offered many compromises) are made out to be the bad guys.
(Photo by Chris Moncus)
Each school has a policy on wearing uniforms to graduations. Some allow it, some don’t. The entire state of New Jersey, for instance, allows all troops to wear their uniform to their high school graduation. If the school allows troops who’ve completed their initial entry training to wear a uniform, outstanding! Go for it! If not, the school shouldn’t be vilified for asking a young troop (and student) to follow a guideline.
If you still feel compelled to wear your dress uniform in an unofficial manner, wear it under your cap and gown. It’s as simple as that.
On Saturday, December 12, the 121st Army-Navy football game will be played. The pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench in all of our lives and it’s no different for this rivalry. This will be the first time since 1943 that the game is held at West Point. While the football may not be the best, the trash talk of the week is top-notch. Soldiers, sailors and Marines united for their country and divided for one football game. Check out these top Army-Navy game tweets. We don’t know who will win on the field but there appears to be a winner in pregame shenanigans.
1. Duffel Bag Drag
Have to give it to Navy, the uniform is like a duffel bag with a number.
2. Nice Decor
They could pass for either bathroom decor or counter tops.
3. Top Tier?
I believe the Navy folks would say the same thing about Army.
4. You Had One Job
An epic failure that will never be forgotten.
The long-term health effects are real.
6. A Higher Power
I wonder if the church was on a Navy base.
That seems appropriate in 2020 with Navy’s losing record.
Looks like a tough final exam.
I see how it can get mixed up.
10. Power Move
A big time play to get two carriers lined up for this photo.
This must pain them dearly.
12. Big Baby
At least baby elephants are cute.
13. Look Closely
Have to give a round of applause on getting to the Superintendent’s house.
I’m hopeful for a high scoring game with a lot of touchdowns.
15. Tropic Lightning
It’s a taro leaf for the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii.
16. Top Gun
I heard a rumor that Pete Mitchell will be promoted in the new Top Gun movie.
17. Who Cares?
Something a lot of non-veterans don’t understand.
18. What Game?
Whether you are diehard Go Navy, Beat Army or forever Go Army, Beat Navy, it’s going to be a great weekend.
Twenty-nine years ago, on Jan. 16, 1991, the United States led the massive offensive coalition Operation Desert Storm, during the Persian Gulf War. The forces of this coalition were made up of 32 different countries, all combining efforts to stop and remove Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait the year prior.
There were over 900,000 coalition troops; 540,000 of them were American.
The U.S. began its invasion with air attacks that would decimate Iraq’s air defenses, taking out communications, weapons and oil refineries. Then, a covert and classified bombing mission began, known as Operation Senior Surprise. Its airmen were known as the Secret Squirrels.
Seven B-52G Stratofortresses took off from Barksdale Air Force Base in La., flying around 14,000 round-trip miles to launch 35 missiles at strategic locations in Iraq. They would require air refueling over the Atlantic, but all made it home safely. At the time, it was a world record for the longest bombing mission.
The world watched live on TV with CNN broadcasting around-the-clock coverage. General Norman Schwarzkopf and General Colin Powell would go on to become household names in America as citizens watched the war unfold in real-time.
The battle would intensify when the massive U.S. led ground offense began. Troops on foot would begin the “100-hour ground battle” on Feb. 24, 1991. This attack would lead to a liberated Kuwait in just under four days.
On Feb. 28, 1991, a cease-fire was officially declared, and Iraq pledged to honor future peace terms. One of the terms was that Saddam Hussein would get rid of all weapons of mass destruction. He would go on to refuse weapons inspectors admittance.
The Gulf War was a test in American diplomacy, with President Bush remembering the lessons of the Cold War. The war was backed by public and congressional support when that diplomacy failed. President Bush appeared to struggle greatly over going to war, even writing a letter to his children on New Year’s Eve of 1990 about the decision. It would go on to become the end of this kind of warfare and the beginning of a new era.
The United States lost 382 troops in the Gulf War, and the Department of Defense estimated that it cost the United States billion dollars. The costs to those who served during the conflict were far greater.
Troops returning from the gulf war began getting sick; 250,000 of them.
The illness was called Gulf War Syndrome. A very wide range of chronic symptoms have been reported, including cognitive problems, respiratory disorders, muscle pain, fatigue, insomnia, rashes and digestive problems. The troops were exposed to dangerous pesticides, and the pills given to them to protect against nerve agents would be proven to be part of the cause.
The intent of the United States getting involved in the middle east conflict was to prevent Saddam Hussein from gaining control of Kuwait’s oil, which would have led him to having 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves. This would have greatly impacted not just the United States, but many other countries who depend on oil for their way of life. However, it led to the U.S. becoming even more entangled in foreign politics, which would lead to more war, not less.
The Gulf War didn’t prevent the uprisings in Iraq, and we would end up right back there a decade later, losing another 6,967 troops as of 2019. This time we would attack without congressional approval and the support of the other surrounding Arab nations. We would not have the U.N. Resolution in our pocket or local support.
Nineteen years later, we are still at war. The lessons in the Persian Gulf War seem to have been forgotten. Twenty-nine years after the cease-fire was declared, it begs the question – was it worth it?
U.S. officials have sounded the alarm about growing Russian activity in the Arctic for some time, warning that Moscow’s expanding capabilities in the high latitudes threaten to leave the U.S. behind.
The Arctic region, and its natural resources, have become more accessible as the surrounding ice recedes.
In an interview at Coast Guard headquarters at the end of December 2017, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told Business Insider that while the U.S. should regard Russian activity in Arctic warily, the relationship between the two countries going forward may depend on “who you relate with.”
“Our natural relationship is with the FSB within Russia, and that’s their border security — equivalent to a coast guard when you look at maritime” activity, Zukunft said.
Operational exchanges between the U.S. Coast Guard and its Russian counterpart have gone well, the commandant said, citing fisheries enforcement as an area where cooperation has yielded positive outcomes.
“We have a boundary line between Russia and the United States. In years past we would have Russian vessels sneak over the line because the fishing was much better on the U.S. side of the Bering Sea because of our fishing-management protocols. That doesn’t happen anymore,” Zukunft said. “We have real-time communications with our Russian counterparts. If we detect a Russian vessel coming over the line, they will prosecute it on the other side.”
“At the same time, we’ve had allegations of fish being illegally harvested in Russian waters and then being sold or basically being distributed out of a port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska,” he added. “We interact with Russia in real time when we have those cases, and so [it’s] very transparent.”
“Across all these areas — law enforcement, search and rescue, environmental response, and waterways management — we see the relationship with Russia as positive,” McAllister said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. McAllister also called China “a good partner” in the Arctic.
Zukunft drew a distinction between Russian internal-security and law-enforcement activity and Russian naval activity, saying the latter presented more of a concern going forward.
“Now when you start looking at the Russia navy, or if you start looking at why is Russia launching icebreaking corvettes — these are really warships that can also break ice at the same time, that can operate in the high latitudes, at a point in time where Russia is claiming a good portion of the Arctic Ocean … to say that, ‘this is ours,'” Zukunft told Business Insider.
“This looks eerily familiar to what China is doing the East and South China Sea, what we could call access denial to all others … that you pay homage to Russia,” Zukunft said.
Russia has “not been transparent in what their intent is, and so we’re playing a strategic game of chess up in the Arctic,” he added. “And Russia’s got … all the pieces on the chessboard. I’ve only got a couple of pawns. I don’t even have a queen, let alone a king. Might have a rook.”
According to a Congressional Research Service report, as of May 2017, Russia — which has the world’s longest Arctic coastline and gets 20% of its GDP from activity in the region — had 46 icebreakers of all types. Four of those were operational heavy polar icebreakers, with another 23 medium or light icebreakers for polar or Baltic use.
The U.S. government had three icebreakers at that time, but just one, the Polar Star, was an operational polar icebreaker. The U.S. also has the Healy, a medium polar icebreaker, and the National Science Foundation operates another, primarily for scientific work.
The Polar Star entered service in 1976 and was refurbished in 2012, but it is beyond its 40-year service life and “literally on life support,” Zukunft said in early 2017. (Some parts for the Polar Star are no longer made and have to be ordered secondhand from eBay or scavenged from other ships.)
The U.S. was behind Finland, Canada, and Sweden — all of which had several operational polar icebreakers, though none were heavy. China also had three operational light icebreakers or ice-capable polar ships, according to the report.
Experts have downplayed the likelihood that the Arctic will become as contested as the South China Sea, but Zukunft and others have warned that the U.S. is well behind Russia in the icebreaker capability necessary to operate in the region — and may soon fall behind China as well.
Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area chief, said in December that even with progress on U.S. plans for new icebreakers, Moscow was still outspending Washington. “If you look at what Russia is doing, there’s almost a mini arms build up going on in the Arctic,” he told CBS News.
“Even the Chinese are building icebreaking tankers,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in November, emphasizing U.S. economic and national-security interests in emerging Arctic waterways. While China isn’t an Arctic country, Tillerson said, “they see the value of these passages. So we’re late to the game.”
Zukunft has said he hopes to begin construction on the first icebreaker early in fiscal year 2019, which starts in October. It could be in the water by 2023.
The commandant has said he eventually wants to add three heavy and three medium icebreakers, though he is open to trading mediums for heavies.
Some have argued that the challenge to U.S. security posed at sea comes less from icebreakers than Russia’s growing navy, which can project power far from the Arctic, but the Coast Guard is holding out the option of equipping its future icebreakers with offensive weaponry.
Zukunft said in early January that the newest icebreaker would have space, weight, and electrical capacity set aside for such armaments. Though he wouldn’t specify what types of weapons systems they would be — he has suggested cruise missiles in the past — Zukunft said they would need to be modular, allowing them to be switched out to meet different operational requirements.
“We do need to make an investment in terms of our surface capability to exert sovereignty in the Arctic,” Zukunft told Business Insider at the end of December.
“I think if you look across our entire military strategy, homage is paid to strength, and not so much if you are a nation of paper lions but you don’t have the teeth to back it up,” he added. “And that’s an area where we’re lacking the teeth.”
Sitting in the White House reading the citation for the Medal of Honor doesn’t give the real flavor of why retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer and special warfare operator Britt K. Slabinski is receiving the award.
The nicely air conditioned room with comfortable chairs, impeccable floors, historic artwork and gilt on many surfaces isn’t right, somehow.
The dispassionate words on the award talk of Slabinski’s heroism in assaulting bunkers, rallying his men, and going back into the center of the firefight.
The White House is literally half a world away from a mountain in Afghanistan in 2002, where Slabinski — and America — lost seven good men.
When the master chief talks of the action, you realize he is reliving his time atop Takur Ghar — a 10,000-foot mountain near Ghazni, on March 4, 2002. He is remembering his decisions. He is remembering what he felt. And he is remembering his brothers who were killed.
He speaks in present tense, because in his mind’s eye. It is still happening.
‘I Was Just Doing My Job’
He believes he did nothing special. “I was just doing my job that day,” Slabinski said during an interview.
Slabinski — then a senior chief petty officer — and his men were just supposed to set up an overwatch position on the mountain to support the conventional forces in the valley below. “Now the enemy gets a vote,” he said. “We plan, we train, we rehearse and we rehearse some more for every possible contingency, but sometimes the fog and friction of war is just out of your control and a leader has to adapt.”
The team was aboard an Army MH-47 helicopter and as it was landing, well dug-in al-Qaida fighters opened up. “When we land, the ramp goes down,” he said. “I’m standing on the very back of the helicopter … and almost immediately take an RPG rocket to the side of the aircraft. It goes off, fills the aircraft full of smoke and we are getting shot up right away. There’s bullets flying through the aircraft the size of your finger [from] 12.7 machine guns that were up there.”
The pilot was able to take off, but the bird was wounded and experienced what Slabinski called “the worst turbulence you could imagine.”
Those gyrations caused Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts to fall off the ramp. The crew chief grabbed Roberts’ pack, and the weight of the SEAL pulled him off the ramp, too. But the crew chief was tethered into the aircraft and was able to get back in. Roberts fell 10 feet into the meter-deep snow.
“It happens that fast,” Slabinski said as he snapped his fingers.
He told the pilot that he had lost a man, but with the chopper’s hydraulics shot out, there was no way the bird could circle and retrieve him. “[The pilot] was flying a brick,” Slabinski said. “It was basically a controlled crash into the enemy-held valley.”
The master chief assessed the situation. “Now my mission originally was to support the overwatch, then my teammate Neil fell out, and now I have a downed helicopter I have to deal with,” he said.
Calling For Support
The first problem he dealt with was the helicopter, and he called in a second aircraft to take the crew and team to a safe place. Once there, Slabinski was able to focus his attention on Neil.
The information he received was Roberts was alive. “I knew there was a superior enemy force up there and they had heavier weapons than I had,” he said.
The enemy, the cold, the altitude — “Everything that could be stacked against us, was stacked against us going back, and I had the feeling that this was a one-way trip,” he said. “I knew though, that if I go now, there’s a chance I could rescue Neil. I knew if I tried to develop a battle plan more on my terms, it would certainly be better, but I knew Neil didn’t have that time.”
The weight was on Slabinski’s shoulders. “I remember sitting in the helicopter,” he said. “The [rotors are] turning, it’s cold, trying to sort through the tactical piece of it … and this thought keeps coming back to me: If I go now what’s the cost going to be versus the cost if I wait. If you are the leader and you have peoples’ lives that you are responsible for, the decisions don’t come easy.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Matthew R. Loken)
This was Slabinski’s loneliest moment. He was sitting in the chopper with a headset on and people are talking to him. He was thinking of all the tactical problems and the lives. “And this thought kept coming back to me, and it’s the first line of the Boy Scout Oath … ‘On my honor, I will do my best,'” said Slabinski, who attained the rank of Eagle Scout at his hometown troop in Northampton, Massachusetts “The only thing that is in the back of my mind is, ‘On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best.’
“That’s when I said, ‘I’m gonna go do this.'”
The master chief assigned his men jobs, and the pilot of the first aircraft, Army Chief Warrant Officer Al Mack, went up to Slabinski and told him he would be flying them back in the new MH-47, even though he had just survived a harrowing experience with the first helicopter.
There was no other place to land, so the team had to go right back to the place the first bird took the fire. As the chopper took off, it got quiet for Slabinski and he thought of his son, who was 6 years old at the time. “I remember saying, ‘I love you. Sorry for what’s to come. Be great,'” he said. “Then I put it in another room in my brain and went on with my duties.”
This Chinook also took fire coming in to the landing area, and as soon as the ramp went down, the team went off the back of the ramp. Two men went to the right, two to the left and the master chief and Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, went out together.
Slabinski and Chapman were hit by a burst of automatic weapons fire. “The burst hit John and he went down,” Slabinski said. “The bullets from the same burst went through my clothes on each side, and I jumped behind a rock.”
The belt-fed weapon kept firing at them. “I looked for John and he is lying in a very odd position, and I look to my other guys and they are engaged with another dug-in position and the two to my left are engaged there. There are enemy muzzle flashes on three sides.”
There is no cover, and Slabinski tosses two grenades at the bunker, but the position is too well dug in. He looks to his men and sees Chapman still in the same odd position and the others engaging the enemy. His M60 gunner is next to me. “I have a 40mm grenade launcher … and I have six grenades,” he said. “I’m too close to the big bunker because they won’t go off. They have to spin to arm.”
He fired at the farther bunkers and silenced those, but the big bunker remains a deadly problem. He has the M60-gunner fire on the bunker and he wants to charge to the bunker to clear it under the cover of that automatic fire. Before he could do that, a grenade flies out of the bunker and explodes right in front of the barrel of the M60, wounding the gunner.
Slabinski again assesses the situation. “The gunner is down. John hasn’t moved and my other two guys are still engaged in contact,” he said. “The plan in my head isn’t working so I have to do something different.”
(Painting by Keith Rocco)
He decided to get his small band out of direct fire. As he is doing that another SEAL was hit in the leg from the same machine gun Slabinski was trying to take out. “I sent the wounded over first and I crawled over to John, looking for some sign of life from John and didn’t get anything,” he said.
The place he chose to seek shelter from the fire was just about 30 feet away over the side of the mountain.
Slabinski called for support from an AC-130 gunship to hit the bunkers. At the same time as the aircraft was hitting the mountain he noticed shell fragments were landing around the team. Slabinski thinks at first it is the AC-130, but it is from an enemy mortar that is ranging his position.
He moves again to a more protected area and now the U.S. Army Ranger quick reaction force is coming in. The first chopper is hit and crashes on the top of the mountain. Slabinski contacted the second bird and it lands on another spit of land and the Rangers work their way to the SEAL position and attack up the mountain to secure the top.
The master chief can’t move his wounded to the top of the mountain, so he moved to a place he could secure and await medevac, which came that night.
Estimates of the number of al-Qaida fighters on the top of that mountain range between 40 and 100. They had heavy weapons galore with automatic machine guns, mortars, RPGs and recoilless rifles. It was the headquarters for al-Qaida operating against U.S. forces engaged in Operation Anaconda. The SEAL team went in to try to rescue Roberts with six men.
Footage taken by a remotely piloted vehicle and examined later showed that Chapman was not dead. The technical sergeant regained consciousness and engaged the enemy killing two of them — one in hand-to-hand combat. “I was 100 percent convinced that John was dead,” Slabinski said. “I never lost track of John.”
He never would have left the airman on that mountain, he said, if he thought for an instant that Chapman was alive.
For his actions that day, Slabinski received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. As part of then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s directive to the services to re-examine all of the valor awards beginning in 2001, the Navy recommended upgrading that award to the Medal of Honor. The master chief — who retired from the Navy in 2014 — received a call from President Donald J. Trump in March telling him of the decision.
The master chief is conflicted about the award. He believes he was just doing his job and still feels the loss of the seven men — Navy, Army and Air Force — he served with that day. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about them,” he said. “If I could give up this medal to have them back, I would.”