U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, has warned that the alliance will not be “dominant” in certain areas in five years if it fails to modernize and adapt to the growing threat from Russia.
“I certainly have concerns with respect to Russia,” Scaparrotti told a press conference in Brussels on Jan. 17 following a meeting of top NATO defense officials.
“I think that, as an alliance, we are dominant. There are domains within this that were challenged. I think cyber is one of those. They are very competent in that,” he also said, referring to Russia.
“There are others where because of the modernization you noted, while we are dominant, we will not be in five years per se if we aren’t adapting like this to include our structure but also within the nations, our capabilities, across the military functional areas as well as our domains.”
Addressing the session of the Military Committee, the alliance’s highest military authority, Scaparrotti said earlier that “a resurgence of Russia as a strategic competitor, growing unrest, and instability in Africa and the Middle East, as well as terrorism, [are] reshaping our strategic environment.”
Relations between Moscow and the West have been severely strained over issues including Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and its support for separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine.
The war between Kyiv’s forces and the Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
Amid growing tensions, NATO stepped up its defenses in Eastern member nations near Russia.
Speaking alongside Scaparrotti at the press conference, Czech General Petr Pavel, chairman of the Military Committee, called Russia an “obvious security challenge.”
“We characterize Russia as a peer competitor and we obviously follow closely all the development and modernization and taking all the measures that are necessary to be ready for any contingency,” he added.
Ahead of the meeting, NATO said the top defense officials would discuss “the challenging security environment on NATO’s southern flank and the alliance’s contribution to its stabilization” and would review NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and the international coalition against the extremist group Islamic State.
They also held separate talks with top defense officials from Ukraine and Georgia on “the security situations on the ground, defense reform progress, and the way ahead.”
After the meetings, Pavel told reporters that the defense officials “noted the challenge for Ukraine of achieving security and defense reforms alongside reestablishing Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
They also “stressed their commitment on furthering the capability and interoperability of the Ukrainian armed forces,” he added.
On Georgia, Pavel said the defense officials “stressed continued support” to the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package to enhance the country’s defense readiness.
The House passed a nearly $700 billion bipartisan defense bill on Nov. 14, boosting the number of jet fighters, ships, and other weapons in an effort to rebuild what critics say is a depleted US military.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018 also calls for an increase of more than 20,000 active-duty and reserve troops, as well as a 2.4% hike in troop pay.
It is the largest defense bill in US history, and lawmakers say the funding increase will improve military readiness and low retention rate.
“Over the last several years, we have seen an increase in threats and a decrease in funding for our military,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, said in a statement. “This year’s NDAA begins to rebuild our military and to ensure we can defend the American people.”
Critics have complained that the Pentagon has abandoned the military in recent years. As a result, they say, the military has suffered from a low retention rate, lack of preparedness, and preventable officer misconduct.
“The military readiness crisis has impacted every service from ship collisions, aircraft crashes, and vehicle accidents to personnel shortages in critical roles, like aviation and cybersecurity,” Sen. John McCain said during a hearing on Nov. 14. “And by the way, the Congress is also complicit in this almost criminal behavior.”
Under the newly proposed defense policy, the Army would see the greatest troop increase, with an added 7,500 active-duty and 1,000 reserve troops.
The Army has said they need more money in order to meet retention goals. Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey told an audience in February that the Army would need more money in order to offer bonuses and other incentives to increase retention.
“We are going to go back and ask for more money,” Dailey said, referring to the then-upcoming NDAA.”That is exactly what we intend to do because we have to.”
House Democrats have also previously pushed for higher military pay, citing private sector opportunities that may pay more. The NDAA’s proposed 2.4% would match wage growth in the private sector.
“Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines deserve pay increases that are competitive with opportunities in the private sector and that better reflect the gravity of their sacrifices on behalf of our nation,” Rep. Ruben Gallego said in a statement in June. “We should demonstrate our respect for their service not just in speeches and public gestures, but in their paychecks.”
Congress helps Trump fulfill a campaign promise
The NDAA exceeds President Donald Trump’s initial budget request by at least $26 billion, but the $700 billion total may not come to fruition if Congress doesn’t roll back a 2011 law that set strict limits on federal spending. Those limits would cap defense spending at $549 billion, according to Reuters.
The Senate will vote on the defense bill later this month. If it passes, Trump is expected to sign it into law, assuming Congress is able to resolve spending cap issue.
Trump had previously set the military pay raise at 2.1%.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to rebuild the military, criticizing former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for overseeing military cuts.
“As soon as I take office, I will ask Congress to fully eliminate the defense sequester and will submit a new budget to rebuild our military,” Trump promised during an interview on CNN. “It is so depleted. We will rebuild our military.”
GNC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday night, announcing that it expects to close between 800 and 1,200 stores while on the hunt for a buyer for its business. The vitamins and supplements retailer had about 7,300 stores as of the end of March.
In a letter to shoppers, GNC said the COVID-19 pandemic “created a situation where we were unable to accomplish our refinancing and the abrupt change in the operating environment had a dramatic negative impact on our business.”
GNC identified 248 stores that would close imminently as part of the restructuring process. Stores are closing in 42 states, as well as in Puerto Rico and Canada.
Here are the first of the locations GNC plans to close, arranged alphabetically by state:
Quintard Mall, 700 Quintard Drive, Oxford, AL
Flagstaff Mall, 4650 E 2 N Hwy 89, Flagstaff, AZ
Arrowhead Town Center, 7700 West Arrowhead Towne, Glendale, AZ
Madera Village, 9121 E. Tanque Verde Rd, Suite 115, Tucson, AZ
Benton Commons, 1402 Military Road, Benton, AR
Northwest Arkansas Plaza, 4201 North Shiloh Dr, Fayetteville, AR
The Mall at Turtle Creek, 3000 East Highland Ave, Space # 309, Jonesboro, AR
Park Plaza, 6000 W. Markham, Little Rock, AR
North Park Village Shopping Center, 103 North Park Dr, Monticello, AR
McCain Mall Shopping Center, 3929 McCain Blvd, North Little Rock, AR
Brawley Gateway, Brawley, CA
Rancho Marketplace Shopping Center, Burbank, CA
La Costa Town Square, 7615 Via Campanile Suite, Carlsbad, CA
Centrepointe Plaza, 1100 Mount Vernon Ave, Suite B, Colton, CA
Mountain Gate Plaza, 160 W. Foothill Parkway, #106, Corona, CA
Town Place, 787 1st Street, Gilroy, CA
Victoria Gardens, 12379 S Main St., Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Monterey Marketplace, Rancho Mirage, CA
Red Bluff Shopping Center, 925 South Main Street, Red Bluff, CA
Tierrasanta Town Center, San Diego, CA
Grayhawk Plaza, 20701 N. Scotsdale Rd, Suite 105, Scottsdale, AZ
Buena Park Mall, 8312 On The Mall, Buena Park, CA
East Bay Bridge Center, 3839 East Emery Street, Emeryville, CA
Vintage Faire Mall, 3401 Dale Road, Modesto, CA
Huntington Oaks Shopping Center, 514 W. Huntington Drive, Box 1106, Monrovia, CA
Del Monte Shopping Center, 350 Del Monte S.C., Monterey, CA
Antelope Valley Mall, 1233 Rancho Vista Blvd, Palmdale, CA
Town Country Village, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA
Rancho Bernardo Town Center, Rancho Bernardo, CA
Rocklin Commons, 5194 Commons Drive 107, Rocklin, CA
Westfield Shoppingtown Mainplace, 2800 North Main Street, Suite 302, Santa Ana, CA
Gateway Plaza Shopping Center, 580b River St, Suite B, Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Rosa Plaza, 600 Santa Rosa Plaza, Suite 2032, Santa Rosa, CA
The Promenade Mall, 40820 Winchester Road, Temecula, CA
West Valley Mall, 3200 N. Naglee Rd., Suite 240, Tracy, CA
Union Square Marketplace, Union City, CA
Riverpoint Marketplace, West Sacramento, CA
Yucaipa Valley Center, 33676 Yucaipa Blvd, Yucaipa, CA
Chapel Hills Mall, 1710 Briargate Blvd at Jamboree Drive, Colorado Springs, CO
The Citadel, 750 Citadel Drive East, Space 1036, Colorado Springs, CO
River Landing, 3480 Wolverine Dr, Montrose, CO
Monument Marketplace, 15954 Jackson Creek Pkwy, Monument, CO
Central Park Plaza, 1809 Central Park Dr., Steamboat Springs, CO
Larkridge Shopping Center, 16560 N. Washington St, Thornton, CO
Woodland Park Plaza, 1115 E US Hwy 24, Woodland Park, CO
The Plaza At Burr Corners, 1131 Tolland Pike, Manchester, CT
Dover Mall, 1365 N. Dupont Highway, Dover, DE
Gateway West Shopping Center, 1030 Forest Ave, Dover, DE
Rockford Shops, 1404 North Dupont St, Wilmington, DE
Boynton Beach Mall, 801 N Congress St, Suite 763, Boynton Beach, FL
Clearwater Plaza, 1283 S. Missouri Ave, Clearwater, FL
Coral Square, 9295 West Atlantic Blvd, Coral Springs, FL
Dupont Lakes Shopping Center, 2783 Elkcam Blvd, Deltona, FL
The Shops @ Mission Lakes, 5516 South State Rd 7, Space # 128, Lake Worth, FL
Wickham Corners Shopping, 1070 North Wickham Road, Unit 106, Melbourne, FL
The Taliban has reportedly rejected an offer by the Afghan government for a cease-fire, with militant commanders vowing to carry on their attacks after Taliban fighters in the north seized nearly 200 hostages from a convoy of passenger buses.
A Taliban spokesman said Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada on Aug. 20, 2018, rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s offer a day earlier of a “conditional” cease-fire with the Taliban to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The cease-fire was meant to begin on Aug. 20, 2018, and run for three months, conditioned upon Taliban participation.
But the Taliban spokesman told Reuters by telephone on Aug. 20 that Akhunzada had rejected the new offer on grounds that it would only help the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.
“Our leadership feels that they’ll prolong their stay in Afghanistan if we announced a cease-fire now,” the Taliban spokesman said, declining to be identified.
Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada
An official in Ghani’s office said the Afghan government would continue its military operations against the Taliban if the militants did not respect the cease-fire.
Afghan officials say government security forces on Aug. 20, 2018, freed 149 people who had been taken hostage by the Taliban several hours earlier in the northern province of Kunduz.
Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL that the militants continued to hold 21 others hostage on Aug. 20, 2018, after they ambushed a convoy of passenger buses traveling to Kabul for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
He said fighting in the area had halted while Afghan authorities used local elders as intermediaries in negotiations with the Taliban for the release of the remaining hostages.
The buses were stopped in the province’s Khan Abad district, an area under Taliban control — prompting a battle against government forces deployed in a rescue operation.
Rahimi said the rescue operation had killed at least seven Taliban fighters before the militants fled the scene. He said the Taliban had left behind the 149 freed hostages because the militants were unable to transport all of the group due to the rescue operation.
Rahimi said the remaining 21 hostages were taken by the Taliban to an undisclosed location. He said none of them were government employees or members of Afghanistan’s security forces.
However, a Taliban spokesman said the militants were conducting their own investigations to determine if any of the remaining hostages work for the Afghan government or security forces.
Sayed Assadullah Sadat, a Kunduz provincial council member, said earlier on Aug. 20, 2018, that the buses “were packed with people and maybe there were army soldiers and police” among those taken hostage.
Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the Kunduz provincial council, said he thinks the Taliban were looking for government employees or members of the security forces.
Abdul Rahman Aqtash, the police chief in neighboring Takhar province, says the passengers were from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces.
The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
President Donald Trump tweeted Jan. 2 that he had a “Nuclear Button” to launch a missile attack — but the process is much more complicated than the President made it seem.
Trump’s tweet was a direct response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who recently warned that nowhere in the U.S. is safe from his country’s nuclear missiles. Despite warnings from the international community, Kim said, North Korea would produce as many missiles and nuclear weapons as possible.
“The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat,” Kim said during his New Year’s speech. “This year, we should focus on mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment. These weapons will be used only if our society is threatened.”
Trump responded, tweeting, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.'”
“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump tweeted.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
“The President’s ability to exercise that ability and direction is ensured by people, processes, and capabilities that comprise the nuclear command and control system,” Kehler said. “This is a system controlled by human beings — nothing happens automatically.”
In short, there is no button.
Inside the ‘football’ and the ‘biscuit’
It would be more accurate to say that there is a phone, and a long line of advisors, both civilian and military, that present all the facts and all the options on the table.
Once the decision is made, the President himself must authenticate that he is the one giving the order by calling the senior officer in the Pentagon. That officer will give the President a “challenge code” that requires a matching response, which the President or one of his aids carries at all time on a laminated card called the “biscuit.”
Once the order is confirmed by the highest ranking official, it works its way down the chain of command until it reaches those who are responsible for turning the keys and carrying out the action.
The missile could be launched from either the sea or from land. In both cases, multiple people need to authenticate the order even after it comes down from the Pentagon.
Bloomberg determined that the process could take anywhere from five to 15 minutes after the President’s order.
Even the famous “nuclear football” that is in reach of the President at all times does not contain a button.
Instead, it contains books with strike options, classified sites to shelter the President, instructions, codes, and likely some type of communication device.
Though the President has the authority to launch nuclear weapons, a press of a button on his desk will not send ICBMs hurling towards targets.
“The nuclear decision process includes assessment, review, and consultation between the president and key civilian and military leaders, followed by transmission and implementation of any presidential decision by the forces themselves” Kehler said.
“All activity surrounding nuclear weapons are characterized by layers of safeguards, tests, and reviews.”
A recent ambush of British special operations forces in Mosul reportedly required hand-to-hand combat for survival.
Military sources told The Daily Star on July 2 that an intelligence gathering operation by Special Air Service personnel in Iraq turned into a firefight with roughly 50 ISIS terrorists. Over 30 were killed near a riverbed before the British troops ran out of ammunition.
“They knew that if they were captured, they would be tortured and decapitated,” a source told the Star. “Rather than die on their knees, they went for a soldier’s death and charged the ISIS fighters who were moving along the river bed. They were screaming and swearing as they set about the terrorists.”
The Daily Star reported that the SAS operators had roughly 10 rounds between them, so they charged the ISIS bad guys with knives, bayonets and improvised weapons.
One terrorist was reportedly drowned in a puddle by an operator.
“[The warfighter] then picked up a stone and smashed it into the face of another gunman wrestling with one of his colleagues,” the source said. “Another killed three of the fighters by using his assault rifle as a club. Others were stabbing at the gunmen who wanted to capture the British troops alive.”
The team, all suffering injuries, eventually met up with Kurdish allies after the remaining ISIS fighters fled.
For Veterans Day, the Call of Duty Endowment held the Race to Prestige. Five gamer personalities – GoldGloveTV, TmarTn, Jeriicho, Hutch, and VernNotice – played Call of Duty: Black Ops III for 96 hours straight in a live stream marathon. The goal? To help veterans get high quality jobs.
The Call of Duty Endowment helps veterans find high quality careers by supporting groups that prepare them for the job market and by raising awareness of the value vets ring to the workplace.
Activision matched the donations raised by gamers from all over the Internet. The event collected $450,000 for the endowment. Navy veteran and Executive Director of the Call of Duty Endowment Dan Goldenberg lauded the goal-breaking fundraising, “Our goal initially was to raise $25,000 and they blew that away in the first two hours… basically, every $600 puts a vet in a job.”
By that math, the event raised enough money to help 750 veterans find great, long-term employment.
The following video was filmed at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on Dec. 21, 2016, during the final flight with the U.S. Air Force of the legendary F-4 Phantom.
As explained by Skyes9, the user who posted it on YouTube, the long footage shows the start-up, taxi out, and flyby of the F-4s, followed by water cannon salute and then shut down of the USAF McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.
Interestingly, it also shows (actually, it lets you hear) the double “sonic boom” caused by two Phantoms flying overhead.
Lt. Col. Ronald King, the only active duty U.S. Air Force F-4 pilot flew AF 349, the last QF-4 Phantom II in the USAF story.
“This has been a humbling experience,” said King, the Det. 1, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron commander in an Air Force release. “There is no way to truly understand what this aircraft has done without talking to the people who lived it.”
In 53 years of service, the Phantom set 15 world records, including aircraft speed – 1,606 miles per hour – and absolute altitude – 98,557 feet. Moreover, it has been the only aircraft to be flown by both the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
Nicknamed Double Ugly, Old Smokey, and the Rhino, the aircraft was retired from the active service in 1997. However, it continued to serve with the flying branch: re-designated the QF-4 and assigned to the 82nd ATS, 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, 53rd Wing, at Holloman, the QF-4 has flown as manned and unmanned aerial target until Dec. 21, 2016.
During its service as an aerial target, the QF-4 has helped test an array of weapons that have contributed improving 4th and 5th generation fighters and weapons systems.
It flew its last unmanned mission in August 2016 and will be replaced by the QF-16 in 2017.
Air Combat Command declared initial operational capability for its replacement, the QF-16 full-scale aerial target, that has been flying with the 82nd ATRS, based at Tyndall AFB, Florida, since September 2014, on Sept. 23: therefore the QF-4 flown by the 82nd ATRS Det. 1 at Holloman AFB were retired on Dec. 21.
Whilst unmanned operations ended, the last unmanned mission in a threat representative configuration was flown on Aug. 17, 2016, “against” an F-35 Lightning II.
During that sortie, the Vietnam-era remotely piloted aircraft was shot at by the F-35 Lightning II with two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles). However, the aircraft was not destroyed in the test.
Northern Afghanistan is at risk of falling to the Islamic State. Their latest attack in Sar-e Pul Province killed 15 Taliban fighters at prayer, but it’s just the latest in a series of ongoing conflicts that have seen hundred killed on both sides. The ISIS stronghold in Nangarhar Province is pushing westward in an effort to undermine the al-Qaeda-affiliated Taliban there.
All the groups involved in the fighting, including those who support the Ghani government in Kabul, are having the same logistical and intelligence problems faced by anyone fighting in the mountainous country — fighters and civilians switch their allegiances as often as their clothes.
The two terrorist groups are vying for power in the country’s eastern and northern regions. The Taliban want to push the Islamic State out of the country before it can establish a clear footprint. In June 2018, the Taliban launched two sweeping offensives in Kunar and Laghman. ISIS, for its part, did not observe the recent three-day ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday observed by government and Taliban troops.
The black represents ISIS support as of December 2015.
(Institute for the Study of War)
It was during that holiday, the holiest of days for the world’s Muslim population, that ISIS killed 25 in a suicide car bomb attack in Nangarhar. According to The National, a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates, ISIS sources say the recent Taliban advances were effective and that the Islamic State is experiencing “setbacks” in the rocky provinces of Kunar.
Fighters from Islamic State arrived in force in Afghanistan in 2015, just as ISIS fortunes in Iraq and Syria started to turn sour. The strength the group projected outside the country in recent years invited many defections from other terrorists groups and militias, especially from the Pakistani Taliban. The Afghan Taliban and ISIS have been butting heads ever since.
The Taliban dislikes the Islamic State’s brand of Islamic fundamentalism.
A lot. A whole lot.
ISIS hates that the Taliban draws its legitimacy through ethnic and nationalistic foundations, not Islamic jurisprudence like the kind declared by the Islamic State. To ISIS, Afghanistan is a province they call “Khorasan” and subject to the rule of their self-proclaimed caliphate. The Afghan Taliban’s alliances with Pakistan’s intelligence services and even Shia Muslims are just a few more reasons ISIS declares the Taliban to be non-Muslim nationalists.
There will be no possibility for peaceful resolution between the two.
Four days, seven challenges, several dozen competitors, but only two may become champions.
Marines from far and wide accept this annual challenge, and there is no exception this year at the 2019 High Intensity Tactical Training Championship aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 9 through Sept. 12, 2019.
The championship has been hosted by Marine Corps HITT and Semper Fit for the past five years, and has evolved with every passing year. The HITT program’s primary mission is to enhance operational fitness and optimize combat readiness for Marines. The program emphasizes superior speed, power, strength and endurance while reducing the likelihood of injury.
“1-2 instructors have been pulled from major Marine Corps installations,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Atkins, a force fitness instructor for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. and Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. HITT centers. “We all came together to brainstorm what the Marines would be doing for the athletic events.”
Sgt. Miguel Aguirre, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., competes in the fourth challenge of the High Intensity Tactical Training Championship at Butler Stadium aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sep. 10, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank)
The events for the championship are drafted by HITT instructors and confirmed by a board of various Marine Corps fitness specialists.
“It’s a grind, straight grit,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Frank, a competitor from MCB Camp Pendleton. “You can’t just be good at one thing.”
“You have to be well rounded physically and mentally.”
The seven events for the 2019 HITT Championship included a marksmanship simulator, combat fitness test, weighted run, combat swimmer challenge, obstacle course, pugil stick fight, BeaverFit assault rig, live-fire fitness challenge, and HITT combine.
“We run through it ourselves so we can understand what they are going through too,” said Atkins.
A U.S. Marine competes in the fourth challenge of the High Intensity Tactical Training Championship at Butler Stadium aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sep. 10, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank)
The intensity and nature of the challenges, create a risk of injury. To mitigate an ambulance is always on site and numerous medical personnel were present. The Marines are also being monitored closely by high-tech equipment that records their heart rates, core temperature and other vital information, which gives an in-depth idea of their overall health provided by Western Virginia University.
“The tactical drill was my probably my favorite because it included live-fire, and it was awesome to see how your body reacts to being under physical and mental duress,” said 1st Lt. Frances Moore, a competitor from MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.
The competitors are awarded points based on each timed event. The goal at the end of the competition is to have the most points. The championship culminates at the end of day four, when the scores have been determined and the male and female champions are awarded.
“They come in and train every single day and get coaching advice from all the staff,” said Frank. “Then I get to come here and actually see them put all that effort into the competition.”
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
It turns out a massive flood control project is an excellent way to unearth dinosaurs. At least, that’s what happened back in 1993 in Coralville, Iowa.
In 1993, Coralville, Iowa, experienced 28 days of rain. More than 17,000 cubic feet of water flowed over a spillway, wiping out the state’s yearly crop of soybeans and corn. Roads were obliterated, people’s lives were in jeopardy, and the city was literally drowning.
The Coralville Dam was built in the 1950s by the US Army Corps of Engineers to help provide flood protection for the Iowa River Valley to the south. It was named after the city, which had weirdly received its name from the ancient fossilized reefs that stud the river’s limestone.
Once the rains stopped and the citizens of the city could step outside without being swept away, the Corps returned to the site to assess the damage and explore the choices for reconstructing the dam. What they discovered shocked everyone.
The Corps discovered that the floods eroded five feet of limestone from the edge of the spillway. This created a gorge and unearthed several fossil beds, most of which were about 375 million years old. The fossils were mainly marine creatures that had once lived in the sea that used to cover Iowa. Because the Corps discovered them, all the sea creatures immediately became the property of the US Army.
That’s not to say that the Army will be opening a theme park filled with these fossils any time soon, but it’s pretty exciting to think that the Army has done its part to help advance the field of paleontology.
The survey archaeologist for the Corps, Nancy Brighton, said that the collection spans the entire paleontological record. So anything relating to animals and the natural world that existed before humans are included in that.
Because the Corps of Engineers manages more than 8 million acres of land across the United States, finds like the one in Iowa aren’t super uncommon. In fact, the Corps asl owns one of the most intact T. rex skeletons ever found. More on that later.
All thanks in part to the Flood Control Act, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 that decreed the need for dams, levees, and dikes all across the country. But before construction could begin on those early-iteration dams, the Corps had to complete a thorough survey. Those surveys almost always exposed ancient fossil beds.
In fact, it’s assumed that most of what American archeologists have discovered are thanks in part to the efforts of the Corps. All of the hydropower and flood control projects that started back in the 1950s certainly paved the way for new discoveries.
The greatest of all of these discoveries didn’t happen way back, though. It was just a few decades ago, in 1988, on Labor Day. That morning, Kathy Wankel, a hiker, and amateur fossil collector, was trekking through Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir when something caught her eye.
At first, she thought it was a shoulder blade pushing up through the rocky soil. The lighting was perfect, according to Wankel, which allowed her to see the webby pattern of bone marrow, and that’s when she knew she’d discovered something big.
And by big, of course, we mean enormous. Wankel and her husband had stumbled on the remains of a T. rex thought to have roamed the Montana area some 66 million years ago. The discovery that Wankel and her husband made was one of just eight at the time. Since then, about 50 other skeletons have been discovered.
It took nearly a year to figure out who owned the land where the skeleton was found. At long last, the Corps began to dig. It took several years and a large team to unearth the 38-foot skeleton weighing in at nearly six tons. The most astonishing part? It was almost one hundred percent complete, making it the first specimen to be discovered with small lower arm bones fully intact.
Since 2017, the T. rex has called the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History home. The Corps of Engineers has agreed to a 50-year loan to ensure that all Americans have a chance to see it – when the world’s not locked down with COVID, at least.
By choosing the already-fielded Heckler Koch M27 as the new service rifle for Marine Corps infantry squads, the service saved up to $24 million and avoided years of delay, top leaders told a congressional committee early March 2018.
In a hearing on readiness before a panel of the House Armed Services Committee on March 6, 2018, Marine Corps brass defended the service’s decision to publish a request for proposal for more than 15,000 of the M27, which is already serving as the Corps’ infantry automatic rifle.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the HASC subcommittee on readiness, expressed concern for the U.S. industrial base as the Corps prepares to make the large purchase from German company HK.
“Do you believe the U.S. defense industrial base could support such a request and … do you believe that issuing a sole-source contract for such a large number of rifles from an internationally based company poses any logistical readiness challenge in meeting the demand for not only rifles but supplementary parts?” Wilson asked the three general officers testifying.
Lt. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, deputy commandant for Plans, Policies, and Operations, said the Marine Corps had held an open competition before the M27 was originally fielded in more limited quantities in 2008.
“It would cost probably … I’ve seen a figure as high as $24 million, to go through a recompetition for that weapon,” he said. “There’s no additional requirements, it’s to purchase as-is, and it’s simply an increase in a quantity of a weapon.”
Beaudreault said the Government Accountability Office had also completed a report looking at the Corps’ request and found it “within legal parameters” to pursue the sole-source contract the service wants. He added that the Marine Corps is now in the final stages of setting a price with HK for the lot of M27s.
“Do I think the industrial base could support those types of quantities? Absolutely,” Beaudreault said. “But what we would experience by reopening a competition would be, perhaps not being able to recover the additional money that would go into the [competition] … and probably a two-year delay in fielding that weapon to the rest of the infantry.”
Commandant Gen. Robert Neller confirmed to Military.com in December 2017 that the Corps had committed to purchase the M27 for all members of infantry squads to replace the M4 carbines they currently carry. Weapons experts say the M27 is more accurate and has a longer effective range than the M4, and would place greater combat power and lethality in the hands of infantrymen.
What hasn’t been clear until now is how many of the high-end rifles the Marine Corps planned to purchase. In February 2017, the service published a request for information for 11,000 infantry automatic rifles; then in August 2017, it published a pre-solicitation for up to 50,000 M27s.
Beaudreault told Wilson the request send to industry was for 15,000 rifles, enough to equip squads, with some left over for others as well.
Neller told Military.com he was considering giving the weapon to other ground combat Marines, including artillery forward observers, fire support teams, and even engineers.
A U.S. Marine with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, fires aanM27 infantry automatic rifle at simulated enemies during an Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez)
“I’m going to wait and see,” he said in December 2017. “It’s not that much [money].”
The Marine Corps does expect to get a good deal on the rifles this time around. At SHOT Show in Las Vegas in January 2018, HK executive Robert Reidsma told Military.com that global demand for the M27 was driving down cost. The larger order the Corps is making will help too.
“Obviously, they want a bigger quantity and the economies of scale have changed,” he said then. “I think it’s one of the most affordable prices I’ve seen for the capability they’re getting.”
On March 6, 2018, Beaudreault emphasized that going with the M27 isn’t just the cheap and fast choice for the Corps. It’s also the best option, he said.
“The Marine Corps looked at some other options, and the M27 outperformed some of the other weapons that we’re also considering,” he said. “So it’s a great weapon, gets great reviews from Marines, and we were very eager to try to get it fielded as rapidly as we could.”
The US Army is considering various systems to better shield tanks and armored vehicles from RPGs, antitank missiles, and other enemy fire.
But the latest version of the RPG, a staple in the arsenals of Russia and other forces, may already be a step ahead of the active-protection systems the US may soon adopt.
The Pentagon has purchased active-protection systems to test out on Abrams tanks and Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles, and may even mount them on lighter vehicles, like the successor to the Humvee, according to a report from Scout Warrior.
“The Army is looking at a range of domestically produced and allied international solutions from companies participating in the Army’s Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program,” an Army official told Scout Warrior.
The Army intends to outfit Abrams tanks with the Israeli-made Trophy APS and Bradley vehicles with the Iron Fist system, which is also Israeli-made. It plans to put the US-made Iron Curtain system on Stryker vehicles. (The Army leased several of the Trophy systems last spring, working with the Marine Corps to test them.)
“The one that is farthest along in terms of installing it is … Trophy on Abrams,” Lt. Gen. John Murray, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement. “We’re getting some pretty … good results. It adds to the protection level of the tank.”
The US’s look to APS comes as other countries adopt the technology.
Israeli’s Merkava comes standard with the Trophy, as does Russia’s new T-14 Armata. Both Israel’s and Russia’s tanks, as well as the UK’s Challenger 2, are considered by US officials to be close to or at parity with the US’s mainstay, the Abrams tank. (Though some officials don’t consider the Armata fielded.)
As militaries have adopted active-protection systems and other means to up-armor tanks, arms makers have looked for new antitank weaponry to counter them. Whenever US vehicles equipped with APS join similarly outfitted vehicles in the field, they will face a new challenge from an old foe, the RPG.
The most recent variant, the RPG-30, unveiled in 2008, has a 105 mm tandem high explosive antitank round, and features a second, smaller-caliber projectile meant to bait the active-protection systems that have become common on armored vehicles in recent years.
A tandem HEAT round carries two explosive charges. One neutralizes a vehicle’s reactive armor (which uses explosions to counter incoming projectiles), and the other is designed to penetrate the armor of the vehicle itself.
“The novelty of the Russian rocket launcher is that two rockets are fired at the target at the same time. One is a so-called ‘agent provocateur’ 42 mm in caliber, followed a bit later by a primary 105-mm tandem warhead rocket,” Vladimir Porkhachyov, the director general of arms manufacturer NPO Bazalt, told Russian state news agency Tass of the RPG-30 in September 2015.
The RPG-30 reportedly cleared testing and went into active service with the Russian military sometime between 2012 and 2013. At that point, according to a 2015 report by Russian state-owned outlet Sputnik, the Pentagon put it on its list of “asymmetrical threats to the US armed forces.”
The effectiveness of the RPG-30 against active-protection systems, and whether those systems need be upgraded to adapt to the RPG-30 and similar munitions, remains to be seen. But the RPG — though limited by the size of its warhead — has long been potent on the battlefield, even against modern tanks.
The previous model, the RPG-29, was introduced in 1991 and is still in service with the Russian armed forces. It fires a 105 mm tandem HEAT round and can also fire a thermobaric fuel-air round against bunkers and buildings.
Russian RPG-29s were used by Hezbollah in the mid-2000s, deployed against Israeli tanks and personnel during the 2006 Lebanon War.
According to a Haaretz reportfrom the time, Hezbollah antitank teams using RPG-29s managed on some occasions to get through the armor of Israel’s advanced Merkava tanks.
In other cases, Hezbollah fighters used the RPG-29 to fire on buildings containing Israeli troops, penetrating the walls.
“The majority of Israel Defense Forces ground troops casualties, both infantry and armored, were the result of special antitank units of Hezbollah,” which used other antitank missiles as well, according to the Haaretz report, published in the final days of the conflict and citing intelligence sources.
Those RPG-29s were reportedly supplied to Hezbollah by the Syrian military, which got them from Russia. Moscow disputed those origins, however, with some suggesting they were exported from former Communist bloc countries after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In August 2006, a RPG-29 was used successfully against a British Challenger 2 tank in southern Iraq.
During operations in Al Amarah, an RPG-29 rocket defeated the reactive armor installed on the Challenger, penetrating the driver’s cabin and blowing off half of one soldier’s foot and wounding several other troops.
UK military officials were accused of a cover-up in 2007, after it emerged that they hadn’t reported the August 2006 incident.
Two years later, during fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr City — a Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital — a US M1 Abrams tank was damaged by an RPG-29. (The US has long avoided reactive armor systems but accepted them in recent years as a cheap, easy way to up-armor vulnerable parts of the Abrams, particularly against RPGs.)
During fighting in Iraq, RPG-29s penetrated the armor on the Abrams tanks twice and the Challenger once, according to The National Interest. Other Abrams tanks in Iraq were knocked out by antitank missiles, like the Russian-made AT-14 Kornet.
The threat goes beyond tanks. Seven of eight US Army helicopters shot down in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009 were brought down by RPGs.
RPGs remain in service around the world, filling the arsenals of both state and non-state actors, according to the Small Arms Survey. The weapon and parts for it have popped in arms bazaars in Libya in recent years.
The RPG-7, the RPG-29’s predecessor, would be or would likely be used by forces in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Central, South, and East Asia.
Regular and irregular forces in Latin America also have RPGs, and the weapons have made their way into the hands of criminal groups in the region. The Jalisco New Generation cartel reportedly used one to down a Mexican military helicopter in early 2015.