Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues

Senior U.S. Navy officials in December 2018 sought to reassure lawmakers that the service’s staggering backlog for ship and submarine maintenance is improving despite having 17 warships out of service in 2018.

Seeking to dispel what GAO Defense Capabilities And Management Team Director John Pendleton called “a wicked problem for the Navy” at a joint hearing of the Senate Armed Service Committee subcommittees on Seapower and Readiness and Management Support, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and Adm. William Moran, vice chief of naval operations, said ships are going into drydock and getting out of shipyards, but more-utilized vessels, like aircraft carriers, take priority over submarines.


“It is the age old problem of what we talked about the last two years,” Moran said.

Pendleton told lawmakers that 2018 was “particularly challenging” for the Navy, with the equivalent of 17 ships and submarines not available because they were waiting to get into or out of maintenance.

“Since 2012, the Navy has lost more than 27,000 days of ship and submarine availability due to delays getting in and out of maintenance,” Pendleton said. “”Looking forward, I do see some cause for concern, because the dry docks are short about a third of the capacity that will be needed to conduct the planned maintenance that the Navy already has on the books.”

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues

Vice Adm. William F. Moran, Chief of Naval Personnel.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Russell)

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, was visibly shocked when Navy officials told him that the USS Boise, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, has been out of service for four years and is still waiting to go into dry dock for maintenance.

“It’s not there yet?” Rounds asked in disbelief.

Spencer said that the Boise is scheduled to go in for maintenance in January 2019.

“It’s been four years out of service for an attack submarine,” Rounds said. “Do we have any other attack submarines that are currently at dock not able to dive awaiting dry dock services?”

Moran said two more attack submarines “are not certified to dive today. Both of those go into dry dock after the new year, one in February and I think the next one May or June 2019.”

The Navy testified in late November 2018 that it plans to put a high priority on solving its attack submarine shortage by ramping up Virginia-class submarine production to two per year, with the potential for producing more than two per year in the future.

The service also has turned to using private shipyards to perform maintenance on submarines to take the strain off public shipyards.

Despite these steps, Seapower Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, asked “Why did that happen?” following up on the revelation of the Boise’s delay.

Moran explained that attack submarines have to wait behind warships that have “been ridden very hard” and have a higher priority for maintenance than submarines.

“We have begun to put them into private yards … and get submarines that need to be in dry dock into dry dock sooner.”

Rounds was not satisfied.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues

USS Boise enters Souda Bay, Greece, during a scheduled port visit Dec. 23, 2014.

“It appears to me that even with the resources we have allocated so far, we are going in the wrong direction, it would appear, with regard to the fleet that we’ve got,” Rounds said. “If it’s a matter of resources, and if you are not here in a public testimony to tell us what the impacts are of not having the additional resources that are necessary to keep these critical pieces in the defense of our country operational, how in the world can we ever go to what we know we need in a 355 ship Navy and support them?”

Spencer answered by saying “I couldn’t agree with you more senator, but as a fine example, so everyone truly does understand the ups and downs of this, the monies that you gave us to optimize the shipyards — that’s a two-year project at the least to get that up and running to the new flow rate.”

Spencer than offered a recent study of one of the shipyards to further illustrate the problem.

“They tracked one of the maintenance people for his hands-on time; he drove a golf cart around the area for four miles one day in search of parts,” Spencer said. “We have to bring the parts down to the ship. This is what I am talking about — the science of industrial flow that needs to be put into these old ship yards. We are doing it. The monies that you have given us will get after that; it’s two years to affect that, but to kill it now … would be a crime.”

Moran added that the Navy has just “got back the shipyard workers in the public yards to the level we wanted after sequestration five years ago.”

“This is a unique, highly-skilled workforce in our nuclear yards, and if they don’t feel like they are supported, if we are not given them the adequate resources to do their job and have the manning levels where they need to be — they walk,” Moran said.

“They can go other places because they are highly skilled, and it takes a long time to recover that.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump hints at breaking with generals on Iran

U.S. President Donald Trump appears increasingly willing to defy some of his top generals, as his administration grapples with how best to deal with Iran.


Trump is facing a May 2018 deadline to recertify the Iran nuclear deal and signaled again March 20, 2018, that he is not afraid to pull the U.S. out of the agreement unless other signatories are willing to make major changes.

“A lot of bad things are happening in Iran,” the president said during a visit to the White House by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Also read: How Mattis is the stabilizing force of the Trump White House

“The deal is coming up in one month, and you will see what happens,” he added.

Trump has long been critical of the 2015 Iran deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which aimed to contain Tehran’s nuclear program and block the country’s pathway to building nuclear warheads.

In January 2018, Trump said he was waiving nuclear sanctions against Iran for the “last time,” demanding U.S. lawmakers and Washington’s European allies “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws.”

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
President Donald Trump speaks with Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, during their meeting Tuesday, March 14, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

But since then, top U.S. military officials have pushed back, repeatedly describing the deal as mostly beneficial, even as they continue to voice deep concerns about Tehran’s aggressive behavior across the Middle East.

“As I sit here today, Iran is in compliance with JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action],” the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, General John Hyten, told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 20, 2018.

“From a command that’s about nuclear [threats], that’s an important piece to me,” he said. “It allows me to understand the nuclear environment better.”

Related: Why Russia, Syria, and Iran are no match for just 2,000 US troops

Hyten’s comments follow those made to the Senate Armed Services Committee by the commander of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. operations in the Middle East.

“The JCPOA addresses one of the principal threats that we deal with from Iran so, if the JCPOA goes away, then we will have to have another way to deal with their nuclear weapons program,” said CENTCOM’s General Joseph Votel.

“Right now, I think it is in our interest,” Votel added. “There would be some concern [in the region], I think, about how we intended to address that particular threat if it was not being addressed through the JCPOA.”

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
General Joseph Votel.

Both Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, have argued that staying in the deal is in the best interest of the U.S.

But despite having expressed confidence in his military advisers and officials early in his presidency, Trump has slowly been pushing aside those who have argued in favor of keeping the deal, most recently firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thinks it was OK,” Trump told reporters after announcing Tillerson’s removal. “I wanted to break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently.”

‘Destabilizing influence’

The man tapped to replace Tillerson, current U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo, has gained a reputation for favoring a much tougher approach to Iran.

“The deal put us in a marginally better place, with respect to inspection, but the Iranians have on multiple occasions been capable of presenting a continued threat,” Pompeo said during an appearance in Washington in October 2017.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
Mike Pompeo (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

“The notion that the entry into the JCPOA would curtail Iranian adventurism or their terror threat or their malignant behavior has now, what, two years on, proven to be fundamentally false,” he added.

Those concerns, both from the U.S. intelligence community and from defense officials, have only grown.

Top defense officials have criticized Iran for what they described as malign and destabilizing activities in places such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and even Afghanistan.

More: That time the US and Iran teamed up to fight the Taliban

“They [Iran] are not changing their behavior,” Mattis warned during a visit to the region. “They’re continuing to be a destabilizing influence.”

Other defense officials said such concerns cannot be discounted when contemplating U.S. policy toward Iran.

“We are taking a comprehensive look,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told reporters March 15, 2018.

“We remain in the agreement, but we want our partners to understand that Iran is the source of chaos and confusion in the region,” she said. “Everywhere you look, Iran is there.”

Articles

Trump names Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security advisor

President Donald Trump has announced that Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will be the new national security advisor.


McMaster replaces Michael Flynn, who resigned one week following reports that he discussed sanctions on Russia with the country’s ambassador to the US.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
Gen. H.R. McMaster, left, speaks to senior officers and non-commissioned officers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. | U.S. Army photo

Trump called McMaster “a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience” as he made the announcement Monday afternoon at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Trump also named Keith Kellogg, who had been the acting national security adviser, as the National Security Council’s chief of staff.

Here’s the Desert Storm tank battle that propelled Lt. Gen. McMaster to fame and blazed the way for his successful military career.

Articles

Increased civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria draw criticism

Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked militants are quickly moving to drum up outrage over a sharp spike in civilian casualties said to have been caused by U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, posting photos online of a destroyed medical center and homes reduced to rubble. “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants,” the caption reads.


The propaganda points to the risk that rising death tolls and destruction could undermine the American-led campaign against the militants.

During the past two years of fighting to push back the Islamic State group, the U.S.-led coalition has faced little backlash over casualties, in part because civilian deaths have been seen as relatively low and there have been few cases of single strikes killing large numbers of people.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter aids in securing the site of a car bomb explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, on December 4, 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In Iraq — even though sensitivities run deep over past American abuses of civilians — the country’s prime minister and many Iraqis support the U.S. role in fighting the militants.

But for the first time, anger over lives lost is becoming a significant issue as Iraqi troops backed by U.S. special forces and coalition airstrikes wade into more densely populated districts of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and U.S. -backed Syrian fighters battle closer to the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

That has the potential to undercut victories against the militants and stoke resentments that play into their hands.

At least 300 civilians have been killed in the offensive against IS in the western half of Mosul since mid-February, according to the U.N. human rights office — including 140 killed in a single March 17 airstrike on a building. Dozens more are claimed to have been killed in another strike late March, according to Amnesty International, and by similar airstrikes in neighboring Syria since Trump took office.

In Syria, as fighting around Raqqa intensified, civilian fatalities from coalition airstrikes rose to 198 in March — including 32 children and 31 women — compared to 56 in February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents Syria’s war. Over the course of the air campaign, from September 2014 through February, an average of 30 civilians were killed a month, according to the Observatory.

The U.S. military is investigating what role the U.S. played in the March 17 airstrike in Mosul, and American and Iraqi officials have said militants may have deliberately gathered civilians there and planted explosives in the building. The blast left an entire residential block flattened, reducing buildings to mangled concrete.

Among those who lost loved ones, resentment appears to be building toward the U.S.-led coalition and the ground forces it supports.

“How could they have used this much artillery on civilian locations?” asked Bashar Abdullah, a resident of the neighborhood known as New Mosul, who lost more than a dozen family members in the March 17 attack. “Iraqi and American forces both assured us that it will be an easy battle, that’s why people didn’t leave their houses. They felt safe.”

U.S. officials have said they are investigating other claims of casualties in Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State group fighters have overtly used civilians as human shields, including firing from homes where people are sheltering or forcing people to move alongside them as they withdraw. The group has imposed a reign of terror across territories it holds in Syria and Iraq, taking women as sex slaves, decapitating or shooting suspected opponents, and destroying archaeological sites.

Mass graves are unearthed nearly every day in former IS territory.

Now, the group is using the civilian deaths purportedly as a result of U.S.-led airstrikes in its propaganda machine.

Photos recently posted online on militant websites showed the destruction at the Mosul Medical College with a caption describing the Americans as the “Mongols of the modern era” who kill and destroy under the pretext of liberation. A series of pictures showing destroyed homes carried the comment: “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants under the rubble of houses bombed by American warplanes to claim victory. Who would dare say this is a war crime?”

In Syria, IS and other extremist factions have pushed the line that the U.S. and Russia, which is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime, are equal in their disregard for civilian lives.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
Spc. Alaa Jaza, an Arabic linguist, advises Iraqi Army soldiers on how to set battle positions to avoid friendly fire during a training event at Camp Taji, Iraq, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Cody Quinn, CJTF-OIR Public Affairs)

U.S. “crimes are clear evidence of the ‘murderous friendship’ that America claims to have with the Syrian people, along with its claimed concern for their future and interests,” said the Levant Liberation Committee, an al-Qaida-led insurgent alliance.

Some Syrian opposition factions allied with the U.S. have also criticized the strikes, describing them as potential war crimes.

An analysis by the Soufan Group consultancy warned that rumors and accusations of coalition atrocities “will certainly help shape popular opinion once Mosul and Raqqa are retaken, thus serving a purpose for the next phase of the Islamic State’s existence.”

Criticism has also come from Russian officials, whose military has been accused of killing civilians on a large scale in its air campaign in Syria, particularly during the offensive that recaptured eastern Aleppo from rebels late last year.

“I’m greatly surprised with such action of the U.S. military, which has all the necessary equipment and yet were unable to figure out for several hours that they weren’t striking the designated targets,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, speaking at the U.N. Security Council about the March 17 strike.

Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, acknowledged the spike in civilian casualty reports could change the way the coalition is conducting the war. He said it was a “very valid” concern that loss of life and destruction could play into the hands of IS or cause some coalition members to waver.

“But the coalition is not going to back down when (the fight) gets hard or there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “That’s what ISIS wants.”

In Syria, the deadliest recent strike occurred earlier this month in a rebel-held area in the north. Opposition activists said a mosque was hit during evening prayers, killing around 40 people, mostly civilians, and wounding dozens of others. The U.S. said it struck an al-Qaida gathering across the street from the mosque, killing dozens of militants, adding they found no basis for reports that civilians were killed.

In Mosul, the scale of destruction wrought by increased artillery and airstrikes is immense in some areas.

Abdullah, the resident of New Mosul, buried 13 members of his family in a single day.

Standing in a field now being used as a graveyard, he said: “This was not a liberation. It was destruction.”

Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Mstyslav Chernov in Mosul, Iraq, contributed to this report.

MIGHTY MOVIES

This Marine turned from scout sniper to singer songwriter

You know the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”?  That’s precisely what you should remember when you meet singer-songwriter, Brandon Mills.


The six-foot-tall dirty blonde haired blue-eyed Mills isn’t just another pretty face; behind those blue eyes, there is a bad ass who was once known as Sergeant Brandon Lanham, Marine Corps reconnaissance scout sniper.

He goes by Mills because, as he puts it, “Mills is my middle name, all my favorite singer songwriter’s names are 3 syllables, not sure why but I think there is a method to their madness.”

Mills joined the Marine Corps with his brother and they attended boot camp together and were later reunited in the Recon community.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
Photo courtesy of Brandon Mills.

Mills served his first tour in Afghanistan with Golf Co. 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines out of Hawaii. After some continued motivation from his brother, he took the leap, passed the requirements and indoctrination process, and got to 1st Recon Battalion, with whom he would deploy to his second tour in Iraq.

Also read: This musician and veteran invented Jell-O shots to beat base alcohol rules

All along the way, Mills was writing lyrics and honing his craft as a musician.

“I just wanted to travel and play music for everyone,” Mills said about his desire to perform.

“My youngest memory of recorded music is a Beach Boys greatest hits tape that I spent my lawn mowing money on,” reflects Mills as he explains his earliest passion for music that has stuck with him since playing the saxophone in school.

The love of music and the desire to create it has been a lifelong aspiration for Mills even before he joined, so it would make sense that he leave the Marine Corps and become a musician. Right?

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
(Photo courtesy of Brandon Mills)

Even after all his success and accolades in the Corps, Mills was not ready to aimlessly jump straight into the music scene when he left the Marines. He admits he was nervous — even scared — to chase the dream without a safety net, so he did what many Veterans do: he became a contractor.

Eventually, the bug bit harder and he found it impossible to not take the risk and pursue his true first love.

Now managing his own gigs, website, and social media, Mills has made his transition from Marine to musician rather successfully.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
(Photo courtesy of Brandon Mills)

He has played shows all over the country, supporting non-profits like Intersections International, Force Blue, and Society of Artistic Veterans. He has recorded several tracks and even shot a few music videos of himself performing.

Recently Mills finished a residency at Umami burger in Brooklyn and Manhattan, “That was just me hustling, literally going from business to business asking, do you guys do live music? If not, why? If you do, how do I get involved?”

That’s the work ethic and resolve all warriors take to their tasks.

(Brandon Mills | YouTube)It might go without saying that the persistence, determination, and even stubbornness are strong character traits in most, if not all, of our elite warriors.

You don’t make it into our military’s special units without being resilient, steadfast, and dedicated — Mills without a doubt carries those same values and characteristics into his music career.

I asked Mills if the transition was hard, going from stone cold warrior to writing and performing love songs. I wondered if there was any identity crisis there and how he dealt with it.

Also read: 8 songs that are essential to any successful military convoy

He explained that it was difficult dealing with other ideas of masculinity and letting that warrior machismo block his flow, but he has learned to temper those instincts and allow himself to feel the positive vibes and let his creativity through, not worrying about what others think and only focusing on great storytelling through song.

I don’t think Brandon would mind the comparison of his sound being somewhere between John Mayer in his vocal delivery and Jack Johnson in his light-hearted muted acoustic.  Mills’ vocals have that bluesy, gravely register that urges the listener to lean in and feel the lyrics, while his guitar style is playful and rhythmic like a campfire sing-a-long.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues
(Photo courtesy of Brandon Mills)

Mills isn’t commercially successful yet, or famous for that matter; however, he understands that it’s a long road in the music industry, requiring a ton of work — but he feels he has all that in him.

He wants to help veterans tell their stories through music and let them know that it’s okay to express themselves through art, using himself as an example. Brandon’s music is all about spreading positivity, uplifting spirits, and connecting people with passion.

“I hope that I can give some people what they need,” Mills said, when discussing his forthcoming album. “I’m so critical of myself, I know what I want — if it’s not good enough I will do it again.”

It’s relentless drive and focus like this that will push Mills into the spotlight, eventually.

The strength, tenacity, and perseverance saturated in his warrior spirit will undoubtedly meld with his passion and creativity to help Brandon Mills become a renowned singer-songwriter for years to come.

Lists

5 reasons why the Volunteer Service Medal is the most ridiculous medal

The awards that decorate a troop’s dress uniform have meaning. If a troop does something extraordinary, there are plenty of awards they might earn, depending on the specific heroics. There are medals for more mundane actions, as well. If they serve at a specific location, like going overseas or even to Antarctica, in support of a military campaign, they’re likely to earn a medal. Enlisting at a certain time during conflict adds the National Defense Service Medal to your ribbons rack. However, there’s one award that sticks out as ridiculous — the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (MOVSM).


All that’s required by this medal is that a troop (active duty, reserve, or national guard) performs a substantial volunteer service to the local community. The idea behind establishing the award in 1993 was to incentivize troops to do great deeds that would reflect highly on military service. In reality, it’s often seen as just another box to check.

We’re not disparaging charitable action, especially when it shines a good light on military service, but here’s why the award itself is silly.

5. The Humanitarian Service Medal already exists

The Humanitarian Service Medal is given to troops who participate in acts like disaster relief or the evacuation of refugees from a hostile area. The difference between this medal and the MOVSM is that this one is earned while on duty.

The HSM goes to the troops who were sent, let’s say, to New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The MOVSM, however, might go to the troop who helped put together a few potluck dinners. Both are the reward for doing a good deed but, according to the military, both nearly as prestigious as the other…



…which leads troops to not care about helping. (Image via GIPHY)

4. The criteria for earning one is vague

Every other award has clean-cut requirements. Have you been to this location or not? How does this act of heroism compare to other selfless acts? Were you able to be a good troop for three years or at least not get caught? This medal is an exception.

If a troop spends every weekend for a decade helping train the Boy Scouts, that’s a Volunteer Service Medal. If a troop says, “yeah, I got time. I can help you with that.” That act might be just as worthy, according to the nebulous criteria.



Basically… (Image via GIPHY)

3. Standards range from impossible to non-existent

Many units see this award as ridiculous and put unreasonable restrictions on it. According to Army Regulation 600-8-22, to earn the MOVSM, one must exceed 3 years and/or 500 hours of service. Many times, a unit will ask for a proof-of-hours sheet that highlights how each of those hours was spent.

On the other side of the coin, the only definitive requirement — as outlined by the DoD — is that the good deed has tangible results and is not a single act. Many troops can tell you that they’ve earned this act simply by preparing and then attending a charity event. Boom. Instant award. Meanwhile, the Soldier who became his son’s Scout Leader has two years, 11 months, and three weeks to go to earn the same accolade.



Chances are that it’ll still get denied. (Image via GIPHY)

2. There’s no citation

The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal is still a service medal. The award gets put in and, if it’s approved, the troop receives it. A commendation medal, on the other hand, is reflective of a specific, heroic action.

Technically speaking, there doesn’t need to be a formation and award ceremony for a MOVSM. The troop should just add it to their record and move on.

No need to waste everyone’s time with a BS award. (Image via GIPHY)

1. You can do the paperwork yourself and not need proof

By now, you’re probably already thinking about this point. If all that’s required is an hours sheet, how can you make sure a troop actually did what they claim? You can’t, really.

Troops who make a habit of volunteering, time and time again, over the course of three years are clearly not doing it for a single award worth five promotion points. They genuinely care. The guy who put on a couple of community potlucks doesn’t care about the volunteer service — they’re in it for the pat on the back.

Without a uniform standard on how to earn one, the award means almost nothing.



You don’t need to confess. Just know if you lied to get one, you suck. (Image via GIPHY)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How World War I ushered in the century of oil

On July 7, 1919, a group of U.S. military members dedicated Zero Milestone — the point from which all road distances in the country would be measured — just south of the White House lawn in Washington, D.C. The next morning, they helped to define the future of the nation.

Instead of an exploratory rocket or deep-sea submarine, these explorers set out in 42 trucks, five passenger cars and an assortment of motorcycles, ambulances, tank trucks, mobile field kitchens, mobile repair shops and Signal Corps searchlight trucks. During the first three days of driving, they managed just over five miles per hour. This was most troubling because their goal was to explore the condition of American roads by driving across the U.S.


Participating in this exploratory party was U.S. Army Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although he played a critical role in many portions of 20th-century U.S. history, his passion for roads may have carried the most significant impact on the domestic front. This trek, literally and figuratively, caught the nation and the young soldier at a crossroads.

Returning from World War I, Ike was entertaining the idea of leaving the military and accepting a civilian job. His decision to remain proved pivotal for the nation. By the end of the first half of the century, the roadscape — transformed with an interstate highway system while he was president — helped remake the nation and the lives of its occupants.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues

Eisenhower served in the Tank Corps until 1922.

(Eisenhower Presidential Library, ARC 876971)

For Ike, though, roadways represented not only domestic development but also national security. By the early 1900s it become clear to many administrators that petroleum was a strategic resource to the nation’s present and future.

At the start of World War I, the world had an oil glut since there were few practical uses for it beyond kerosene for lighting. When the war was over, the developed world had little doubt that a nation’s future standing in the world was predicated on access to oil. “The Great War” introduced a 19th-century world to modern ideas and technologies, many of which required inexpensive crude.

Prime movers and national security

During and after World War I, there was a dramatic change in energy production, shifting heavily away from wood and hydropower and toward fossil fuels – coal and, ultimately, petroleum. And in comparison to coal, when utilized in vehicles and ships, petroleum brought flexibility as it could be transported with ease and used in different types of vehicles. That in itself represented a new type of weapon and a basic strategic advantage. Within a few decades of this energy transition, petroleum’s acquisition took on the spirit of an international arms race.

Even more significant, the international corporations that harvested oil throughout the world acquired a level of significance unknown to other industries, earning the encompassing name “Big Oil.” By the 1920s, Big Oil’s product – useless just decades prior – had become the lifeblood of national security to the U.S. and Great Britain. And from the start of this transition, the massive reserves held in the U.S. marked a strategic advantage with the potential to last generations.

As impressive as the U.S.’ domestic oil production was from 1900-1920, however, the real revolution occurred on the international scene, as British, Dutch and French European powers used corporations such as Shell, British Petroleum and others to begin developing oil wherever it occurred.

During this era of colonialism, each nation applied its age-old method of economic development by securing petroleum in less developed portions of the world, including Mexico, the Black Sea area and, ultimately, the Middle East. Redrawing global geography based on resource supply (such as gold, rubber and even human labor or slavery) of course, was not new; doing so specifically for sources of energy was a striking change.

Crude proves itself on the battlefield

“World War I was a war,” writes historian Daniel Yergin, “that was fought between men and machines. And these machines were powered by oil.”

When the war broke out, military strategy was organized around horses and other animals. With one horse on the field for every three men, such primitive modes dominated the fighting in this “transitional conflict.”

Throughout the war, the energy transition took place from horsepower to gas-powered trucks and tanks and, of course, to oil-burning ships and airplanes. Innovations put these new technologies into immediate action on the horrific battlefield of World War I.

It was the British, for instance, who set out to overcome the stalemate of trench warfare by devising an armored vehicle that was powered by the internal combustion engine. Under its code name “tank,” the vehicle was first used in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. In addition, the British Expeditionary Force that went to France in 1914 was supported by a fleet of 827 motor cars and 15 motorcycles; by war’s end, the British army included 56,000 trucks, 23,000 motorcars and 34,000 motorcycles. These gas-powered vehicles offered superior flexibility on the battlefield.

Navy ships more ready for war, but submarine backlog continues

Government airplane manufactured by Dayton-Wright Airplane Company in 1918.

(U.S. National Archives)

In the air and sea, the strategic change was more obvious. By 1915, Britain had built 250 planes. In this era of the Red Baron and others, primitive airplanes often required that the pilot pack his own sidearm and use it for firing at his opponent. More often, though, the flying devices could be used for delivering explosives in episodes of tactical bombing. German pilots applied this new strategy to severe bombing of England with zeppelins and later with aircraft. Over the course of the war, the use of aircraft expanded remarkably: Britain, 55,000 planes; France, 68,0000 planes; Italy, 20,000; U.S., 15,000; and Germany, 48,000.

With these new uses, wartime petroleum supplies became a critical strategic military issue. Royal Dutch/Shell provided the war effort with much of its supply of crude. In addition, Britain expanded even more deeply in the Middle East. In particular, Britain had quickly come to depend on the Abadan refinery site in Persia, and when Turkey came into the war in 1915 as a partner with Germany, British soldiers defended it from Turkish invasion.

When the Allies expanded to include the U.S. in 1917, petroleum was a weapon on everyone’s mind. The Inter-Allied Petroleum Conference was created to pool, coordinate and control all oil supplies and tanker travel. The U.S. entry into the war made this organization necessary because it had been supplying such a large portion of the Allied effort thus far. Indeed, as the producer of nearly 70 percent of the world’s oil supply, the U.S.’ greatest weapon in the fighting of World War I may have been crude. President Woodrow Wilson appointed the nation’s first energy czar, whose responsibility was to work in close quarters with leaders of the American companies.

Infrastructure as a path to national power

When the young Eisenhower set out on his trek after the war, he deemed the party’s progress over the first two days “not too good” and as slow “as even the slowest troop train.” The roads they traveled across the U.S., Ike described as “average to nonexistent.” He continued:

“In some places, the heavy trucks broke through the surface of the road and we had to tow them out one by one, with the caterpillar tractor. Some days when we had counted on sixty or seventy or a hundred miles, we could do three or four.”

Eisenhower’s party completed its frontier trek and arrived in San Francisco, California on Sept. 6, 1919. Of course, the clearest implication that grew from Eisenhower’s trek was the need for roads. Unstated, however, was the symbolic suggestion that matters of transportation and of petroleum now demanded the involvement of the U.S. military, as it did in many industrialized nations.

The emphasis on roads and, later, particularly on Ike’s interstate system was transformative for the U.S.; however, Eisenhower was overlooking the fundamental shift in which he participated. The imperative was clear: Whether through road-building initiatives or through international diplomacy, the use of petroleum by his nation and others was now a reliance that carried with it implications for national stability and security.

Seen through this lens of history, petroleum’s road to essentialness in human life begins neither in its ability to propel the Model T nor to give form to the burping plastic Tupperware bowl. The imperative to maintain petroleum supplies begins with its necessity for each nation’s defense. Although petroleum use eventually made consumers’ lives simpler in numerous ways, its use by the military fell into a different category entirely. If the supply was insufficient, the nation’s most basic protections would be compromised.

After World War I in 1919, Eisenhower and his team thought they were determining only the need for roadways — “The old convoy,” he explained, “had started me thinking about good, two lane highways.”

At the same time, though, they were declaring a political commitment by the U.S. And thanks to its immense domestic reserves, the U.S. was late coming to this realization. Yet after the “war to end all wars,” it was a commitment already being acted upon by other nations, notably Germany and Britain, each of whom lacked essential supplies of crude.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

3 reasons it’s hard to tell how violent the ‘most violent’ cities in the world are

The most recent ranking of the world’s most violent cities by the Mexican research group Security, Justice, and Peace again drew attention to Latin America, home to 42 of the 50 cities on the list.

Latin America is indeed the most violent region, accounting for about 8% of the global population but tallying roughly one-third of the world’s intentional homicides.

While homicide is not the only kind of violent crime, it is generally considered the best measure of it.


“Of all the different types of crime, homicide is probably the easiest to track because there’s nothing more biologically evident than a dead body,” Robert Muggah, the research director at Brazil’s Igarapé Institute and an expert on crime and crime prevention, told Business Insider.

In most places, there are also legal procedures that authorities are supposed to follow when dealing with homicides.

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Robert Muggah, the research director at Brazil’s Igarapé Institute and an expert on crime and crime prevention.

(YouTube)

“So unlike, say, assault or robbery or sexual violence or domestic abuse, homicide is one of those variables that across time and space is relatively straightforward to capture,” Muggah said, adding that researchers can draw on a panoply of sources — law enforcement, public-health agencies, nongovernmental groups, the press, and the public — to tabulate and track homicides over time.

But, as Latin America illustrates, there are a number of recurrent challenges that arise when collecting homicide data that complicate efforts to make comparisons and compile rankings.

Where did it happen?

“Are we looking at national data, state data, city data, and if we are looking at city data, in this case, how are we defining a city?” Muggah said.

A city’s geographic limits can be defined in a number of ways. The UN has three: the city proper, delineated by administrative boundaries; the urban agglomeration, comprising a contiguous urban area; and the metropolitan area, the boundaries of which are based on social or economic connections.

The populations of each of those areas can vary enormously, as can the number of homicides.

“It turns out cities are surprisingly difficult to define. There is no unified or uniform definition of a city, and this has been a source of some consternation for geographers for over a century,” Muggah said.

The Igarapé Institute eschews homicide rankings but does maintain a Homicide Monitor that compiles data on killings, using the urban-agglomeration definition for cities, Muggah said.

The Mexican group adheres to some set of criteria, requiring minimum population of 300,000 people and excluding places with active conflicts, such as Ukraine or Syria.

But the group says in its methodology that whenever possible it includes all the municipalities that it assesses as part of a city — “localities that form a unique urban system, clearly distinguishable from others, independent of the geographic-administrative divisions inside the countries.”

Muggah and his colleagues noted issues with this method in relation to the 2015 ranking, which found Caracas, Venezuela, to be the most violent city. That year, others also said the group based its tally on the homicide total for the metropolitan area of Cali, in southwest Colombia, and, in their view, overstated the number of homicides.

The group’s ranking for 2018, its most recent, put Tijuana, Mexico, at the top of the list, with a homicide rate of 138.26 per 100,000.

Tijuana has seen a precipitous rise in deadly violence, but the city’s public-security secretary disputed its rank, citing the inclusion of the nearby city of Rosarito, Mexico, in the homicide count and the failure to account for Tijuana’s migrant population.

Security, Justice, and Peace rejected the criticism, saying that it based its population count on official numbers and that excluding Rosarito would have actually raised the homicide rate. (Though it did not say why it assessed Tijuana’s metropolitan area and not those of other cities.)

What’s a homicide?

“It turns out there are many kinds of homicide,” Muggah said. “We have homicide that’s intentional. We have homicide that’s unintentional, which we also call manslaughter. We have homicide committed by police, which sometimes isn’t included in the formal homicide statistics.”

Mexico has experienced an alarming increase in homicides, setting records in 2017 and 2018.

Mexico’s official crime data includes two categories for homicide: “homicidio doloso,” which refers to intentional homicides, and “homicidio culposo,” which refers to manslaughter or unintentional homicides.

The most recent tallies for intentional homicides in Mexico in 2017 and 2018 are 28,868 and 33,369, respectively. The totals for all homicides are 46,640 in 2017 and 50,373 in 2018.

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Missing persons in Mexico.

While official government tabulations distinguish between unintentional and intentional homicides as they are legally defined in those countries, counts by nongovernmental groups, the media, and the public can elide that distinction, grouping different kinds of lethal violence together.

“And that matters,” Muggah said, “because in some countries, including Mexico and Brazil, when you include police lethality, police killings, which fall under a different category, that can actually significantly augment the overall count.”

In many cases, Muggah added, “those deaths are not what you describe as illegal.”

In 2017, Brazil had 63,880 homicides — 175 killings a day — up 3% from 2016 and a record. (Homicides were trending downward through the first nine months of 2018, but full-year data for 2018 is not yet available.)

In 2017, there was also an increase in the number of people killed by Brazil’s police, rising 20% from 2016 to 5,144 people, or 14 a day. Authorities in Rio de Janeiro state have attracted special scrutiny for their lethality, drawing accusations of extrajudicial executions.

Not only where and how you measure, but also when?

Even when homicide data for a full calendar year is available — which is not always the case; Security, Justice, and Peace list in some cases extrapolates from partial-year data — it may change over time.

“In many cases, there are outstanding trials and judicial processes that are ongoing to determine … what in fact that lethal outcome was, and that can take months. It can take years,” Muggah said. “Typically though, there’s a delay when governments produce data to issue this information because they’re still dealing with many of the legalities around sorting out homicide.”

Full-year 2017 crime data for Mexico, released in January 2018, put the number of homicide victims at 29,168.

The most recent data for that year, updated in March 2019, indicates there were 28,868 homicide victims. (The Mexican government changed its methodology at the beginning of 2018 and updated previous tallies to reflect that.)

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Police on the street in the high crime area of Iztapalapa, Mexico City.

There are also 26,000 unidentified bodies in Mexico’s forensic system, and the government estimates that more than 40,000 people are missing. Hidden graves full of unidentified bodies are frequently found all around Mexico.

All of that — coupled with issues such as a lack of prosecution and suspicions about officials manipulating crime data — means Mexico’s homicide totals are subject to change for the foreseeable future.

“In many countries, Latin America, in particular, there are huge impunity rates and a great gap in processing some of these cases, precisely because of the volume but also the lack of capacity to go through all of these cases, and so there’s a reason” for a delay, Muggah said.

It’s necessary to reflect on violence and trends in crime, but, Muggah added, “the challenge is that many governments are operating at different speeds.”

Relaying on data for only part of a year, or drawing on only certain sources that are readily available can often “unintentionally bias our sample,” Muggah said.

Know what you don’t know.

A challenge for “all of us who are in the business of monitoring and tracking and building systems to better understand criminality is that there are many places or instances where crime, including lethal violence, is not particularly well reported, or if it is reported it’s reported very badly,” Muggah said.

Latin American countries release crime data fairly regularly, but closer examination reveals “great gaps in the data,” especially in parts of Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil, Muggah said.

“There’ll be reports that … don’t accurately capture the cause of death, and therefore you get misattribution. There’ll be a situation where they just can’t store the bodies because there’s insufficient space, and so you get undercounts,” he said. “There’ll be places where the governments themselves, police in particular, have no incentive to report on lethal violence and therefore will skew the figures.”

Outside the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, a 36-member group that includes most of North America and Europe, available information about crime is also lacking, Muggah said.

“If you go to Africa, with the exception of a few countries, it’s … a knowledge gap around homicide,” he added. That’s also the case in parts of Asia, “where governments just don’t want to report overall statistics on crime, citing it as a national-security issue.”

Incentivizing cities.

In the methodology included in its most recent report, Security, Justice, and Peace said that it compiles the ranking with the objective of “calling attention to violence in cities, particularly in Latin America, so that the leaders are pressured to fulfill their duty to protect the governed to guarantee their right to public security.”

“What we are also looking for is that no one … wants their city or cities to appear in this ranking, and that if their city or cities are [on it] already, they make the maximum effort so they leave it as soon as possible,” the group added.

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Brazilian Federal Highway Police.

There are positive and negative potential effects of inclusion on such a list, Muggah said.

“One hopes that as a positive outcome, [inclusion] would incentivize city leaders, business leaders in cities, civic activists, and common citizens to be alert to the many risks that are there and also to seek and strive to find ways to get themselves off that list,” he said.

Stigmatizing cities.

But there can be negative consequences. Reducing a complicated issue such as personal security to a single metric risks sensationalizing the problem and can skew public perceptions, potentially empowering leaders who push hardline punitive responses, Muggah said.

In some cases, it can “stigmatize cities,” Muggah said, affecting foreign and domestic investment, credit ratings, and business decisions. It can also have a particular effect on local economies, especially for tourism, on which many parts of Latin America rely.

“The hope is that by shining a light … on these challenges that somehow this will provoke” a constructive response from the city, its residents, and its leaders, rallying them around a common goal, such as reducing insecurity and getting off that list, Muggah said.

“It’s not clear yet if that in fact has ever happened, whether these lists have contributed positively to social change, and that might be asking too much of a list,” Muggah said.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Pentagon urges US to lead in 5G technology

The next advancement in cellular technology, 5G, is expected to be so fast that it’s able to surpass the speed of wired internet now provided by cable companies.

Current 4G technology provides download speeds of about 1 gigabit per second. With 5G technology, download speeds are expected to increase to 20 gigabits per second, said Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Lord spoke yesterday at the Atlantic Council here to discuss the Defense Department’s efforts to advance 5G technology in the United States and to ensure that when 5G does make its debut, it’s secure enough to transmit information between U.S. military personnel and its allies without being intercepted by potential adversaries.


U.S. and allies must take lead

That means the U.S. and its allies will need to take the lead in developing this next generation of telecommunications technology, she said.

“When we talk about 5G, everything is going to be moving over it, eventually,” Lord said. “What we need to do is make sure how that information is moving, and how you can get at it, and how you can keep it secure.”

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Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Lord likened development of the 5G infrastructure and technology to that of a new home. She said new home owners certainly would want to know that whoever built their home, wired it for electricity, installed the communications systems, or installed the doors and windows hadn’t also built in a way for them to sneak back into that house undetected after the new owners had moved in.

“That’s where we are with 5G,” Lord said. “If we are going to run our entire warfighting ecosystem though communications — which is where we are today — we need to make sure that when we send a critical message that others aren’t hearing it. We need to be able to test that.”

On the modern battlefield, and on the battlefield of the foreseeable future, communications is going to play a critical role, Lord said. Information must flow between mounted and dismounted soldiers, from ships at sea and from those under the sea, as well as to space and aircraft.

“In order to get relevant situational understanding, we are trading information back and forth all the time,” she said. “What will happen is, if we do not embrace 5G, and we are just getting going in 4G in a lot of areas, we are going to have a latency or a delay in those conversations that could render everything we have as ineffective.”

U.S. industry and partners must provide advancements

Advancements in 5G must come from U.S. industry and U.S. partners to be trustworthy and reliable, Lord said.

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The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense.

“Right now there is quite an intensive dialogue going on to understand where in Europe we might partner,” Lord said. “And there has been an enormous amount of discussion about the threat that we see by the Chinese — theft of intellectual property — coming into our networks. We have to collectively decide how we are technically going to secure our networks — how we legislatively have to have protection.”

Lord said a whole-of-government approach is needed to get a handle on 5G. The State, Treasury and Commerce departments and the National Security Council should be involved along with DOD, she said.

“I think you are going to see a huge call to action this year to come together with really what is almost a national industrial policy for 5G, because the stakes are high,” Lord added. “5G from a technology point of view is a huge opportunity, but it’s a huge threat.

“If we don’t embrace it and apply it towards our goals, we could be overcome quickly with technical overmatch,” she continued. “And we can’t allow that to happen. … We have a warfighting imperative. If we cannot communicate as quickly, or quicker than our adversaries, if we cannot have situational understanding as to what is happening on the battlefield, then we are going to be in a position where our national security is threatened.”

Articles

Here’s What Life Is Like For US Army Tankers

With a 68-ton armored vehicle packing a 120mm cannon, U.S. Army tankers can take the fight to the enemy in just about any environment.


Tankers consider themselves part of a brotherhood with roots in World War I. Now driving the M1 Abrams tank, these soldiers continue that legacy today. Here is a taste of what their life is like.

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Photo: US Army Sgt Sarah Dietz

Also Read: These Crazy Photos Show 30+ Ton Tanks In Flight 

The Abrams can fire different rounds for different purposes, and tank crews have to train in a variety of environments. That means they get a lot of time on the range.

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Photo: US Army Sgt. Kim Browne

The crews are tested at twelve different levels, referred to as tables. The tables demand crews prove they can drive, fire, and coordinate together in battle in a variety of conditions.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Caldwell

The main gun is what most people think of when it comes to tanks, but crews also have to certify on the machine guns mounted outside, as well as the M9 pistols and M4 carbines they’re equipped with.

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Photo Credit: Gertrud Zach/US Army

Crews generally have four members. There is a tank commander, a gunner, a driver, and a loader.

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Photo: US Army Spc. Marcus A. Floyd

 The inside of the tank can be a little cramped with equipment and crew.

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Photo: US Army Spc. Luke Thornberry

The driver sits in a small hole in the front of the tank. His control panel is located immediately in front of him.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tankers sometimes bring their family to see the “office.”

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Ruth Pagan

Much of the maintenance for the tank is done by the crew.

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Photo: US Army Spc. Marcus A. Floyd

Considering everything the M1 is designed to withstand, it can be surprising that tanks sometimes break down because of soft sand or loose soil pushing a track out of place.

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Photo: US Army Sgt. Richard Andrade

When tanks break down and have to be towed out, it takes specialized equipment. The main recovery vehicle for an Abrams tank is the M88. Here, an M88 rolls up the tread from a damaged Abrams before towing the Abrams to a maintenance area.

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Photo: Us Army Sgt. Richard Andrade

Transporting tanks can also be problematic due to the tank’s weight. Crews will generally take their tanks to railways …

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Photo: US Army Spc. Marcus A. Floyd

… or Naval ports for transport for deployments or exercises. Here, an Abrams tank is driven off of a ship.

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Photo: US Navy

When the mission calls for it, M1 tanks can also be flown on the Air Force’s largest planes.

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Photo: US Air Force Courtesy Photo

Air Force C-17s, like the one in the following photo, can carry one tank while C-5s can carry two.

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Richard Wrigley

While on deployment, tankers can end up working for 20-hour days.

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Photo: US Army

U.S. tank crews are commonly called on to train foreign allies. Recently, the Iraqi Army got a large number of Abrams tanks and U.S. soldiers provided training.

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Photo: US Army Sgt. Chad Menegay

Sometimes the mission calls for tankers to operate on foot or from other vehicles. Here, tank crews conduct a patrol in Humvees.

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Photo: US Army Sgt. Eric Rutherford

The tanker tradition dates back to WWI when the first combat cars and tanks took to the battlefield with tank crews leading the way into mechanized warfare.

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Photo: Poster by J.P. Wharton, Public Domain

 Today, US crews continue the tradition, carrying armored combat into the future.

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Photo: US Army Sgt. Aaron Braddy

Podcast

These are the best military movies by service branch


Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher | Spotify

In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake, Tim, and O.V. talk with stand-up comedian and Marine veteran Mitch Burrow about what their favorite military movies are broken down by branch.

Everyone loves to watch movies from all genres. Veterans and service members have a unique connection to military films for various reasons other than great characters and storylines.

In this episode, we talk on a wide-range of topics including:

  • [0:55] Mitch humorously plugs Monster energy drink for sponsorship and advises how to avoid drinking sip cans on accident.
  • [4:10] Who was more badass? Maverick or Iceman from “Top Gun.”
  • [4:37] What scene in “Top Gun” made Mitch go straight to Mach-3 and our favorite Navy movies.
  • [6:30] Our take on the only thing the film “Hurt Locker” got right.
  • [11:30] Whic Army movies are considered our all-time favs. But not Army movies in Vietnam like Blake tried to get us to talk about.
  • [15:11] We create the perfect list of Marine Corps movies that are freaking epic.
  • [21:00] How awesome “Generation Kill” is and if you haven’t watched it you’re wrong.
  • [23:24] How difficult it was to watch and finish “Jarhead 2.” Long story short, it was tough.
  • [25:15] What we loved the most from “Heartbreak Ridge.”
  • [28:00] The best Air Force movies ever made.
  • [30:30] Then lastly, we funnel in our short list of favorite Coast Guard films.

Hosted By:

With guest host Mitch Burrow:

Mitch is a Marine Corps veteran that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He then started a career in manufacturing before realizing that it sucked. Now, Mitch has found his true calling in acting silly on a stage in front of strangers on a nightly basis. To follow Mitch or check out one of his shows visit his website: Mitchburrow.com.

Originally published 11/2017.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy Commander sentenced to 18 months for ‘Fat Leonard’ scandal

A U.S. Navy commander was sentenced Dec. 1 to 18 months in prison for his role in a fraud and bribery scheme that cost the government about $35 million.


Cmdr. Bobby Pitts, 48, of Chesapeake, Va., was the latest person to be sentenced in connection with a decade-long scam linked to a Singapore defense contractor known as “Fat Leonard” Francis.

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Francis bribed Navy officials to help him over-bill the Navy for fuel, food, and other services his company provided to ships docked in Asian ports, according to prosecutors. The bribes allegedly ranged from cash and prostitutes to Cuban cigars and Spanish suckling pigs.

Pitts pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges that alleged he tried to obstruct a federal investigation while in charge of the Navy’s Fleet Industrial Supply Command in Singapore.

In handing down the sentence against Pitts, U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino told him that he had “betrayed the Navy and betrayed the country,” prosecutors said in a news release.

Also Read: This is why the ‘Fat Leonard’ scandal is a very serious problem

“Pitts deliberately and methodically undermined government operations and in doing so, diverted his allegiance from his country and colleagues to a foreign defense contractor, and for that, he is paying a high price,” said Adam Braverman, the U.S. Attorney in San Diego.

In addition to his prison sentence, Pitts was also ordered to pay $22,500 in fines and restitution.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus

Taliban officials have denied a report that its leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, died after contracting the coronavirus.

Foreign Policy magazine, citing unnamed Taliban officials, reported on June 1 that Mullah Akhundzada contracted COVID-19 and possibly died while receiving treatment abroad.

Foreign Policy quoted Mawlawi Mohammad Ali Jan Ahmad, a senior Taliban military official, as saying that Mullah Akhundzada was “sick” after contracting the virus but was “recovering.”


But three other Taliban figures in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Taliban leadership is believed to be based, told Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity that they believed Akhunzada had died of the illness.

Foreign Policy said the coronavirus has stricken a number of senior Taliban leaders in Quetta and in Qatar, where the militant group has a political office.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on June 2 denied that Mullah Akhundzada or any other senior leaders had contracted the disease or died.

In a tweet, Mujahid accused Foreign Policy of spreading “propaganda” and said Mullah Akhundzada was well and “busy with his daily activities.”

Sayed Mohammad Akbar Agha, a former Taliban military commander who lives in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told RFE/RL that the report of Mullah Akhundzada’s death was “untrue.”

But a Taliban official in Quetta told RFE/RL that he could neither confirm nor deny the leader’s death.

Mullah Akhundzada took over leadership of the Taliban after his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May 2016.

The reclusive leader is a former Taliban chief justice and heads the militant group’s religious council.

An Islamic scholar, he is said to have strong religious credentials, and has been responsible for issuing fatwas, or Islamic decrees, to justify military and terrorist operations.

Taliban officials told Foreign Policy that Mullah Akhundzada had not been seen for the past three months and had not made any voice recordings.

Some Taliban sources in Quetta told Foreign Policy that Mullah Akhunzada went to Russia for treatment.

Foreign Policy reported that many of the Taliban’s senior leaders in Quetta had caught COVID-19, including Mullah Akhunzada’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network.

The network, a Taliban faction, is believed to have been behind some of the deadliest attacks on Afghan and international forces and civilians in Afghanistan.

With the top two leaders out of action, Foreign Policy reported that the Taliban was now being run by Mullah Mohammad Yuqub, the eldest son of the Taliban’s founder and spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Mullah Omar’s death was revealed in 2015, more than two years after he had died in Pakistan.

Mullah Yuqub is a graduate of a seminary in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.

Believed to be in his early 30s, he is said to have the backing of a considerable number of field commanders and the Taliban’s rank-and-file.

Experts say that Mullah Yuqub supports the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February that is aimed at negotiating an end to the 18-year Taliban insurgency.

It is unclear how a possible change in the Taliban leadership would affect that deal, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which is committed to negotiating a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement with the Kabul government.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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