Marine Corps Air Station Futenma hosted the 2019 Okinawa Futenma Bike Race for the local and military community July 14, 2019, on MCAS Futenma, Okinawa, Japan.
The starting line was crowded with cyclists on edge and eager to hear the crack of a starting pistol. The blank round was fired, the timer started, and the cyclists took off. Friends and families cheered on their loved ones as they departed from the start line to negotiate their way through Futenma’s runways.
175 participants; a mix of Status of Forces Agreement personnel and Okinawan community members participated in the 2019 Futenma bike race.
Participants competing on road bikes took a 44 kilometer route, whereas participants on mountain bikes took on a 22 kilometer route.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Madero)
The airfield was closed for a 24-hour period to allow competitors to test the runways surface. Marine Corps aviation technologies were displayed for all participants to enjoy as they continued throughout the race’s route.
Every rider that made their way past the finish line was greeted with applause and cheers from the audience that awaited their finish.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Madero)
I think this a great opportunity to host people aboard the air station to get people out and exercise. — Col. David Steele, dedicated tri-athlete, commanding officer of MCAS Futenma, and competitor in the race
“Friendship through sport is a big part of what Marine Corps Community Services and Futenma wants to do”
The event was hosted by Marine Corps Community Services, a comprehensive set of programs that support and enhance the operational readiness, war fighting capabilities, and life quality of Marines, their families, retirees and civilians.
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
The 2004 Second Battle of Fallujah will be talked about among Marines for years to come, but for some who fought in those deadly streets and from room-to-room, the battle continues to play out long after they come home.
“The most difficult part of transitioning into the civilian world is the fact that I was still alive,” says Matt Ranbarger, a Marine rifleman who fought in Fallujah, in a new documentary released on YouTube called “The November War.”
The end result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, “The November War” gives an intimate look at just one event that changed the lives of the nearly dozen Marines profiled in the film: An operation to clear a house in the insurgent-infested city on Nov. 22, 2004.
“I remember we got a briefing that morning, and I didn’t like it,” squad leader Catcher Cutstherope says, describing how his leaders told the Marines they could no longer use frag grenades when room clearing. Instead, they were instructed to use flash or stun grenades, and only use frags if they were absolutely certain there was an insurgent inside.
“We were all pretty much ‘what the f–k are we gonna do with a flash grenade, it’s not gonna do anything,'” Nathan Douglas says. “We were pretty much right on that part.”
With part interview, part battle footage — shot by Marines during the battle with their own personal cameras — the film is unlike other post-9/11 war documentaries. Similar docs give the viewer insight into a full deployment — “Restrepo” and the follow-up “Korengal” are good examples — or a bigger picture look at both the planning and execution of a combat operation, like “The Battle for Marjah.”
“The November War” takes neither of these approaches, and the film is much better for it. Instead, Garrett Anderson, the filmmaker and Marine veteran who also fought in the battle, captures poignant moments from his former platoon-mates years after their combat experience is over. Some describe going into a room as an insurgent fires, while others talk through their thoughts after being shot.
In describing clearing the house — a costly endeavor that resulted in six Marines wounded — the film reveals the part of that day that still haunts all involved: The death of their friend, Cpl. Michael Cohen.
The documentary captures visceral stress among the Marines. Years later, sweat beads off their foreheads. As they speak, they are measured, but their voices are tinged with emotion. Viewers can tell they see that day just as clearly, more than a decade later.
Perhaps the most revealing part of the film is when Anderson asks all his interviewees whether it was worth it. One Marine filmed is offended by the question, answering that of course every Marine would answer yes. But that doesn’t play out onscreen, as two members of the unit express their doubts.
“Losing that many guys, friends … any of them,” says Brian Lynch, the platoon’s corpsman. “I don’t think it was worth it.”
In the end, “The November War” is one of those must-watch documentaries. It gives a look into what it’s like for troops in combat, and beautifully captures the raw emotion that can still endure long after they come home.
“You know how people say ‘freedom isn’t free?'” asks Lance Cpl. Munoz soon after the film opens.
“Well, you, the one watching this at home on TV right now … sitting eating popcorn, or a burger,” he says, pointing to the camera. “Living the high life. And if you’re a Marine watching this sh– and you’re laughing, it’s because you already went through this sh–.”
The Cold War was the ultimate worldwide, geopolitical game, pitting two disparate ideologies against one another. The battle lines were drawn — and they were clear. In one corner, you had the global Communist bloc and its allies, some perfidious, willing to pit the two superpowers against each other for their own gain. In the other was the West and its allies, defenders of capitalism and democracy (or… at least… they were just not Communists).
For nearly 50 years, this game dominated the world order. It became so ingrained in our brains that, today, it’s still difficult to think of Russia as anything but the Soviet Union, a democracy in name only, just waiting to turn back the clock and surprise us. So we must always be on guard.
Pictured: Chinese foreign policy.
The problem with American foreign policy makers is that they don’t really know if Russia is truly their main adversary these days. Recently, a top CIA Asia expert told the Aspen Security Forum that China was definitely enemy number one, but does not want a direct conflict. China is much more insidious than that. Where the Soviets Russians prefer to openly troll Americans and blatantly defy American objectives, China is subtly undermining American power in strategic locations all over the world. And it has nothing to do with trade disputes.
FBI Director Christopher Wray says China poses the most significant threat to U.S. national security.
“The volume of it. The pervasiveness of it. The significance of it is something that I think this country cannot underestimate,” Wray said. It was a sentiment echoed by many security experts in Aspen — China is ready to replace Russia as a global U.S. competitor and to supplant the U.S. as the economic powerhouse.
China has the second-largest defense budget in the world, the largest standing army in terms of ground forces, the third-largest air force, and a navy of 300 ships and more than 60 submarines — all in the process of modernizing and upgrading. The Chinese are also far ahead of the United States in developing hypersonic weapons.
They’re ready for the United States in a way that Russia hasn’t been prepared for in a long, long time.
“I’m sorry Xi, I misheard you. The future is what?”
And this isn’t exactly a new development. While the United States (and now Russia) were engaged in costly wars and interventions all over the world, China has slowly been expanding its worldwide economic footprint and partnerships. Russia has been harassing its neighbors since 2008 in Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, China began its Belt and Road Initiative, investing billions in infrastructure to link China with markets from Central Asia to Europe.
While no one was watching, Chinese investment dollars have filled coffers all over the world, bringing once-forgotten economic backwaters into the Chinese sphere of influence at the cost of American prestige. Chinese raw materials will build these developing marketplaces and the Yuan may soon even be the currency of choice. If the Belt and Road Forum takes off, it could even cut Chinese reliance on American markets.
Russia seems more threatening because that’s exactly what the Russians are good at. Vladimir Putin is no fan of the West or NATO and it seems like he takes real delight in NATO’s failures, especially in Ukraine. While hypersonic weapons, an increased nuclear weapons capacity, and a deeper relationship with Bashar al-Assad’s Syria seem like a significant threat (and may well be), the reality is those hypersonic weapons aren’t quite perfect and Syria isn’t going as well as planned.
Meanwhile, China is quietly preparing for the future.
Royal Danish Army Premierløjtnant Mads, a coalition member attached to the Building Partner Capacity team, Task Force Al Asad, practices combat movement up a flight of stairs alongside Iraqi security-force personnel during an urban combat and tactics course at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, May 9, 2015. | CJTF – Operation Inherent Resolve
Behind the successes in Ramadi and elsewhere lay the efforts of the US-led coalition to train and equip credible regional forces that can reclaim their country from the scourge of ISIS.
In addition to an impressive air campaign, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Hungary, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portrugal, Spain, and the UK have all contributed to the US-led effort to train and empower regional forces to defeat ISIS.
In the slides below, find out what the brave recruits go through when training with the US-led coalition to counter ISIS.
Here is a quick overview of Operation Inherent Resolve’s members and initiatives.
CJTF – Operation Inherent Resolve
Before the training started, the coalition had to move in with supplies. The coalition arms and equips Iraqi national forces and other regional groups like the Kurds.
Airmen from the 386th Expeditionary Operations Group and the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Squadron load two Mine Resistant Armored Personnel carriers (MRAPs) on a C-17 Globemaster III bound for Erbil, Iraq, December 30, 2014. | CJTF – Operation Inherent Resolve
A large part of the coalition’s efforts in training local forces is to build their confidence and capacity with thorough hands-on training.
Sgt. Jeremiah Walden, assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, checks to ensure an Iraqi trainee is observing his assigned sector of fire during infantry-squad tactical training, January 7 at Camp Taji, Iraq. | Master Sgt. Mike Lavigne, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs | U.S. Army
Virtually every phase of the training touches on marksmanship and weapons discipline. Here, a US soldier instructs an Iraqi army recruit.
CJTF – Operation Inherent Resolve
Iraqi recruits are put in high-pressure simulations of real combat. Trainers light fires to simulate the chaos of combat.
An Iraqi Army soldier with the 72nd Brigade, 15th Iraqi Army Division, simulates shooting at the enemy during a combined training exercise at Camp Taji, Iraq, Sunday, March 22, 2015. | Sgt. Cody Quinn, CJTF-OIR Public Affairs | U.S. Army
The training is not limited to infantry operations. Coalition forces also train the troops on proper tactics and deployment of tanks and armored vehicles.
An Iraqi Army tank clears an obstacle while an Iraqi Army Soldier the 72nd Brigade, 15th Iraqi Army Division, looks on at Camp Taji, Iraq, Sunday, March 22, 2015. | Sgt. Cody Quinn, CJTF-OIR Public Affairs | U.S. Army
As with any military training, there is a grueling physical-training component.
Iraqi soldiers from the Noncommissioned Officer Academy perform push-ups as part of their physical-training test at the Iraqi Military Complex, Iraq. | CJTR – Operation Inherent Resolve
But not all of the training focuses on fighting. Here Iraqi army medics are being trained to save lives on and off the battlefield.
Iraqi army medics treat a simulated casualty during an exercise with Australian army nurses and medics at the Taji Military Complex, Iraq. | CJTR – Operation Inherent Resolve
As IEDs are a preferred method of attack for ISIS and other insurgent groups, the Iraqis are trained in the removal of improvised bombs.
A US soldier leads a counter-IED demonstration for Iraqi troops. | CJTR – Operation Inherent Resolve
The fight against ISIS happens in a number of locations, so coalition forces train the troops for urban combat and clearing houses.
Royal Danish Army Premierløjtnant Mads, a coalition member attached to the Building Partner Capacity team, Task Force Al Asad, practices combat movement up a flight of stairs alongside Iraqi security-force personnel during an urban combat and tactics course at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, May 9, 2015. | CJTR – Operation Inherent Resolve
As chemical warfare is a reality in Iraq and Syria, the soldiers practice operations while wearing gas masks.
Iraqi soldiers assigned to the 71st Iraqi Army Brigade prepare to breach a door during protective-mask training at Camp Taji, Iraq, October 15, 2015. | Spc. William Marlow | U.S. Army
Should the fight get up close and personal, Iraqi troops are trained to use bayonets.
An Australian soldier, assigned as a Task Group Taji Trainer, demonstrates the en garde position during the instructional portion of bayonet training at Camp Taji, Iraq, January 3, 2016. | Sgt. Kalie Jones | U.S. Army
By February 13, 2015, 1,400 Iraqis had graduated from the intensive six-week basic-training course. Thousands more would follow in their footsteps during the coming months.
From left: US Army Lt. Col. Scott Allen, with 1st ABCT, 1st Inf. Division, presents a ceremonial knife to Staff Brig. Gen. Sa’ad during a graduation ceremony for Sa’ad’s brigade, February 13 at Camp Taji, Iraq. | Staff Sgt. Daniel Stoutamire, 1st. ABCT, 1st Inf. Div. | U.S. Army
Once forces like the Iraqi army reclaim a piece of territory, military police are needed to make sure the area stays safe. The Italian Carabinieri (military police) train Iraqi military police on marksmanship and search and policing procedures.
An Italian Carabinieri officer coaches an Iraqi policeman as he fires an M16 rifle during advanced marksmanship training at Camp Dublin, Iraq, January 23, 2016. | Staff Sgt. William Reinier| U.S. Army
In addition to the Iraqi national army and police forces, coalition troops are on the ground training the Kurdish Peshmerga, a group that has had particular success in booting ISIS out of the north of Syria and Iraq.
Peshmerga soldiers participate in a live-fire-assault drill under the supervision of Italian trainers near Erbil, Iraq, January 6, 2016. Coalition trainers in Northern Iraq have trained more than 6,000 Peshmerga soldiers in basic and advanced infantry skills. | Cpl. Jacob Hamby/Released | U.S. Army
Ultimately, the goal of Operation Inherent Resolve is to train credible ground forces in Iraq and Syria that can defeat ISIS and reclaim their countries on their own terms, with training, assistance, and air support from partner nations all over the world.
The most recent Health Related Behaviors Survey for the Department of Defense, conducted by the RAND Corporation, has been released recently — and, spoiler alert: it’s not looking so good.
While the study covers a wide array of health problems, the biggest standout — the one that ruffled everyone’s feathers — was that, across every branch, over sixty percent of troops are overweight or obese. The Army took top “honors” with a whopping 69.4 percent while the Marines achieved a slightly slimmer 60.9 percent.
But this isn’t the most alarming statistic.
Troops are also getting less sleep than before. There’s no denying the connection between lack of sleep and weight gain. Troops are still PTing their asses off early in the morning along with eating relatively well, which makes it pretty easy to identify the real root of the problem.
It’s not hard to point out why troop’s get little sleep nor why their sleep is so awful.
(U.S. Army photo)
As noted by the Military Times, nearly sixty percent of all troops have reportedly gotten far less sleep than needed. Another research study conducted by the Journal of Sleep Research concludes that both insomnia and sleep apnoea are on the rise among service members. This surely contributes to the nine-percent of all troops that have reported daily or near-daily use of sleep medication.
Contrary to popular belief, sleeping more is not a symptom of laziness, a laziness that many point to as the cause of weight issues. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. A lack of sleep throws a person’s hormones that regulate hunger, ghrelin and leptin, out of order. Getting just four hours of sleep will impact your body’s ability to accurately determine its food intake needs.
Your best bet is to eat three solid meals a day to curb hunger.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Riley Johnson)
Of course, eating too much junk food is going to increase weight gain. But did you know that the opposite — eating one meal a day (which is usually junk food or a late-night binge meal) — is often just as bad. Fat buildup is the body’s way of conserving energy. If you’re starving your body throughout the day and, right before going to bed, loading up on pizza and beer, your body will instinctively hold that junk food because that’s all you’re giving it.
While has been proven that intermittent fasting (intentional or not) does not have adverse effects on metabolism, it’s still very unhealthy — especially when combined with the metabolism drop that comes with a lack of sleep.
It’ll be a hell of a work out, I’m sure. But don’t expect it or the training to cut fat off the formation.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kelsey Miller)
Which scenario is more likely within the military? That a slight change in PT schedule was so widespread and disastrous that well over half of troops are now more fat — or that an increasingly competitive and stressful environment is causing troops to skip meals and sleep to accomplish arbitrary missions in a garrison environment?
And since the projected Army Combat Readiness Test, the new PT test for the Army, seems like it will be focusing more on physical strength over cardiovascular endurance, expect them to keep the top spot for the foreseeable future.
The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law in December, provides the military justice system new tools to prosecute service members who maliciously distribute sexually explicit images of others.
The 2018 NDAA adds Article 117a to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. “The new article is titled ‘Wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images’,” said Lt. Col. Jay L. Thoman, a judge advocate and the chief of the Army’s Criminal Law Policy Branch.
The “Marines United” scandal of 2017 was a driving force behind the addition of Article 117a to the UCMJ, Thoman said.
As part of that scandal, more than 30,000 active duty and retired armed forces members were initially accused of being involved in the distribution or viewing of private, intimate, or sexually explicit imagery. A portion of the distributed material included images of female service members and military spouses.
“Posting compromising pictures of fellow service members not only works to undercut the trust within the unit but is completely counter to the values the services represent,” Thoman said. “It has the potential to destroy unit cohesion, hurts the victim, and is destructive.
“With the implementation of Article 117a, there is now a clearer way to bring offenders to justice,” Thoman said.
“It seems that Congress wanted to make sure that this type of behavior was unmistakably not acceptable. Criminalizing the conduct sent just that message,” Thoman said.
With the passing of the 2018 NDAA, those who distribute the kinds of images that were part of the “Marines United” scandal are now on notice that they could be found “guilty of wrongful distribution of intimate visual images or visual images of sexually explicit conduct and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
Article 117a, now part of the UCMJ, goes to great lengths to clarify what constitutes wrongdoing, and defines specific terminology, Thoman said.
According to the article, the accused should know that the person depicted in the image retains a reasonable expectation of privacy.
In addition, the accused should know that the broadcast of imagery was likely to cause “harm, harassment, intimidation, emotional distress, or financial loss to the person depicted in the image, or harms substantially the depicted person’s health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation, or personal relationships.”
To provide even further clarity, lawmakers defined in detail the language used in the law.
The term “broadcast,” for instance, means to “electronically transmit a visual image with the intent that it be viewed by a person or persons.”
The term “sexually explicit conduct” is defined to include “actual or simulated genital-genital contact, oral-genital contact, anal-genital contact, or oral-anal contact, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, bestiality, masturbation, or sadistic or masochistic abuse.”
Other terms defined include “distribute,” “intimate visual image,” “reasonable expectation of privacy,” and “visual image.”
A necessary change
According to Thoman, there was a limit to the actions the U.S. military legal system could take against a service member prior to inclusion of Article 117a in the UCMJ.
“While it has been illegal to create an indecent photo of an unknowing subject, if they willingly participated, the legality of forwarding that picture to a third party was uncertain,” he said.
An example of this most commonly occurs in a relationship turned bad. If two Soldiers are dating, Soldier A can legally take a graphic picture of themselves and then send it to Soldier B, in most situations.
“However, just because it is legal does not necessarily make it a good idea,” he added.
Soldier B cherishes the picture and did not think of showing it to anyone else until the relationship sours and the two Soldiers breakup. Soldier B, still feeling angry about the breakup, forwards the picture to Soldier A’s squad. While Soldier B is temporarily upbeat about thinking of such an easy way to get back at Soldier A, in all likelihood, Soldier B has just committed a federal crime, Thoman said.
According to Thoman, the legal analysis to get to a federal conviction is now more straightforward for that case.
The accused knowingly distributed an image of another person. The image depicted the private area of that person. The person was identifiable. The identified person did not give their consent. The accused knew the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy and was caused emotional distress as a result of the distribution. Finally, under the circumstances, the accused’s conduct had a reasonably direct and evident connection to a military environment.
In addition to the changes to the UCMJ, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program officials want to ensure that support is available to Soldiers impacted by the illegal broadcast of intimate or sexually explicit imagery.
Considered to be a form of sexual harassment, victims of the crime as spelled out in Article 117a who choose to receive services will receive support from a victim advocate who can provide crisis intervention. That intervention includes such things as referrals to behavioral health, chaplains, special victim witness liaisons, and the victim witness assistance program.
Additionally, Soldiers will have access to safety planning, accompaniment to interviews and appointments, and assistance with obtaining a military or civilian protective order, according to LeWonnie Belcher, SHARP program office branch chief for communications, outreach, and leadership engagement.
According to Thoman, the implementation of Article 117a fills a gap in military law. And while technology will continue to evolve, he said, the new law was written broadly enough to accommodate those changes.
“I think ‘revenge porn,’ as it is commonly called, is a growing issue across society,” Thoman said. “Because of that, we see an increase in the frequency in the military as well. Ultimately, Article 117a could help prevent that divisiveness in the future that could disrupt a unit when something like this happens.”
U.S. Army leaders say the next war will be fought in mega-cities, but the service has embarked on an ambitious effort to prepare most of its combat brigades to fight, not inside, but beneath them.
Late 2017, the Army launched an accelerated effort that funnels some $572 million into training and equipping 26 of its 31 active combat brigades to fight in large-scale subterranean facilities that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.
For this new type of warfare, infantry units will need to know how to effectively navigate, communicate, breach heavy obstacles, and attack enemy forces in underground mazes ranging from confined corridors to tunnels as wide as residential streets. Soldiers will need new equipment and training to operate in conditions such as complete darkness, bad air, and lack of cover from enemy fire in areas that challenge standard Army communications equipment.
Senior leaders have mentioned small parts of the effort in public speeches, but Army officials at Fort Benning, Georgia’s Maneuver Center of Excellence — the organization leading the subterranean effort — have been reluctant to discuss the scale of the endeavor.
(U.S. Army photo by John Lytle)
“We did recognize, in a megacity that has underground facilities — sewers and subways and some of the things we would encounter … we have to look at ourselves and say ‘ok, how does our current set of equipment and our tactics stack up?'” Col. Townley Hedrick, commandant of the Infantry School at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, told Military.com in an interview. “What are the aspects of megacities that we have paid the least attention to lately, and every megacity has got sewers and subways and stuff that you can encounter, so let’s brush it up a little bit.”
Left unmentioned were the recent studies the Army has undertaken to shore up this effort. The Army completed a four-month review in 2017 of its outdated approach to underground combat, and published a new training manual dedicated to this environment.
“This training circular is published to provide urgently needed guidance to plan and execute training for units operating in subterranean environments, according to TC 3-20.50 “Small Unit Training in Subterranean Environments,” published in November 2017. “Though prepared through an ‘urgent’ development process, it is authorized for immediate implementation.”
A New Priority
The Army has always been aware that it might have to clear and secure underground facilities such as sewers and subway systems beneath densely-populated cities. In the past, tactics and procedures were covered in manuals on urban combat such as FM 90-10-1, “An Infantryman’s Guide to Combat in Built-up Areas,” dated 1993.
Before the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mission for taking large, underground military complexes was given to tier-one special operations units such as Army Delta Force and the Navy‘s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.
But the Pentagon’s new focus on preparing to fight peer militaries such as North Korea, Russia and China changed all that.
An assessment last year estimates that there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that are intended to serve as subterranean cities, an Army source, who is not cleared to talk to the press, told Military.com.
The Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group — an outfit often tasked with looking ahead to identify future threats — told U.S. military leaders that special operations forces will not be able to deal with the subterranean problem alone and that large numbers of conventional forces must be trained and equipped to fight underground, the source said.
The endeavor became an urgent priority because more than 4,800 of these underground facilities are located in North Korea, the source said.
Relations now seem to be warming between Washington and Pyongyang after the recent meeting between U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But in addition to its underground nuclear missile facilities, North Korea has the capability to move thousands of troops through deep tunnels beneath the border into South Korea, according to the Army’s new subterranean manual.
“North Korea could accommodate the transfer of 30,000 heavily armed troops per hour,” the manual states. “North Korea had planned to construct five southern exits and the tunnel was designed for both conventional warfare and guerrilla infiltration. Among other things, North Korea built a regimental airbase into a granite mountain.”
For its part, Russia inherited a vast underground facilities program from the Soviet Union, designed to ensure the survival of government leadership and military command and control in wartime, the manual states. Underground bunkers, tunnels, secret subway lines, and other facilities still beneath Moscow, other major Russian cities, and the sites of major military commands.
More recently, U.S. and coalition forces operating in Iraq and Syria have had to deal with fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria operating in tunnel systems.
Learning to Fight Underground
To prepare combat units, the Army has activated mobile teams to train the leadership of 26 brigade combat teams on how prepare units for underground warfare and plan and execute large-scale combat operations in the subterranean environment.
The 3rd BCT, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado is next in line for the training.
Army officials confirmed to Military.com that there is an approved plan to dedicate $572 million to the effort. That works out to $22 million for each BCT, according to an Army spokeswoman who did not want to be named for this article. The Army did not say where the money is coming from or when it will be given to units.
Army leaders launched the subterranean effort in 2017, tasking the AWG with developing a training program. The unit spent October-January at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, developing the tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs, units will need to fight in this environment.
“Everything that you can do above ground, you can do below ground; there are just tactics and techniques that are particular,” the source said, adding that tactics used in a subterranean space are much like those used in clearing buildings.
(U.S. Army photo by Erick Warren)
“The principles are exactly the same, but now do it without light, now do it in a confined space … now try to breach a door using a thermal cutting torch when you don’t have air.”
Three training teams focus on heavy breaching, TTPs and planning and a third to train the brigade leadership on intelligence priorities and how to prepare for brigade-size operations in subterranean facilities.
“The whole brigade will be learning the operation,” the source said.
Army combat units train in mock-up towns known as military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, sites. These training centers often have sewers to deal with rain water, but are too small to use for realistic training, the source said.
The Defense Department has a half-dozen locations that feature subterranean networks. They’re located at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Story, Virginia; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Indiana; Tunnel Warfare Center, China Lake, California and Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, according to the new subterranean training manual.
Rather sending infrastructure to these locations, units will build specially designed, modular subterranean trainers, created by the AWG in 2014. The completed maze-like structure is fashioned from 15 to 20 shipping containers, or conexes, and sits above ground.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, talked about these new training structures at the Association of the United States Army’s LANPAC 2018 symposium in Hawaii.
“I was just at the Asymmetric Warfare Group recently; they had built a model subterranean training center that now the Army is in the process of exporting to the combat training centers and home stations,” Townsend said.
“I was thinking to myself before I went and saw it, ‘how are we going to be able to afford to build all these underground training facilities?’ Well, they took me into one that wasn’t underground at all. It actually looked like you went underground at the entrance, but the facility was actually built above ground.But you couldn’t tell that once you went inside of it.”
Shipping containers are commonplace around the Army, so units won’t have to buy special materials to build the trainers, Hedrick said.
“Every post has old, empty conexes … and those are easily used to simulate working underground,” Hedrick said.
Training is only part of the subterranean operations effort. A good portion of the $22 million going to each BCT will be needed buy special equipment so combat units can operate safety underground.
“You can’t go more than one floor deep underground without losing comms with everybody who is up on the surface,” Townsend said. “Our capabilities need some work.”
The Army is looking at the handheld MPU-5 smart radio, made by Persistent Systems LLC, which features a new technology and relies on a “mobile ad hoc network” that will allow units to talk to each other and to the surface as well.
“It sends out a signal that combines with the one next to it, and the one next to it … it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” the source said.
Off the shelf, MPU-5s coast approximately $10,000 each.
Toxic air, or a drop in oxygen, are other challenges soldiers will be likely to face operating deep underground. The Army is evaluating off-the-shelf self-contained breathing equipment for units to purchase.
“Protective masks without a self-contained breathing apparatus provide no protection against the absence of oxygen,” the subterranean manual states. “Having breathing apparatus equipment available is the primary protection element against the absence of oxygen, in the presence of hazardous gases, or in the event of a cave-in.”
Soldiers can find themselves exposed to smoke, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane natural gas underground, according to the manual.
Breathing gear is expensive; some apparatus cost as much as $13,000 apiece, the source said.
Underground tunnels and facilities are often lighted, but when the lights go out, soldiers will be in total darkness. The Army announced in February 2018 that it has money in its fiscal 2019 budget to buy dual-tubed, binocular-style night vision goggles to give soldiers greater depth perception than offered by the current single-tubed Enhanced Night Vision Goggles and AN/PVS 14s.
The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle B uses a traditional infrared image intensifier similar to the PVS-14 along with a thermal camera. The system fuses the IR with the thermal capability into one display. The Army is considering equipping units trained in subterranean ops with ENVG Bs, the source said.
Units will also need special, hand-carried ballistic shields, at least two per squad, since tunnels provide little to no cover from enemy fire.
Weapon suppressors are useful to cut down on noise that’s significantly amplified in confined spaces, the manual states.
Some of the heavy equipment such as torches and large power saws needed for breaching are available in brigade engineer units, Hedrick said.
“We definitely did put some effort into trying to identify a list of normal equipment that may not work and what equipment that we might have to look at procuring,” Hedrick said.
Jason Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for new American Security, was skeptical about the scale of the program.
Dempsey, a former Army infantry officer with two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, told Military.com that such training “wasn’t relevant” to fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He questions spending such a large amount of money training and equipping so many of the Army’s combat brigades in a type of combat that they might never need.
“I can totally understand taking every brigade in Korea, Alaska, some of the Hawaii units — any units on tap for first response for something going on in Korea,” said Dempsey, who served in the combat units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division.
“Conceptually I don’t knock it. The only reason I would question it is if it comes with a giant bill and new buys of a bunch of specialized gear. … It’s a whole new business line for folks whose business tapered off after Afghanistan.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
President-elect Donald Trump caused a genuine uproar in the combat-aviation community when he tweeted in December, “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”
The idea that an F/A-18 Super Hornet could be “comparable” to the F-35 met swift and intense condemnation, and Lockheed Martin quickly lost billions in value on its stock.
Virtually everyone pointed to a single aspect of the F-35 that the F/A-18 lacked: stealth.
But the US and other countries already have in their sights a modern update on the F/A-18 that is meant to complement the F-35. The update may be poised to deliver even more capability than Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter in some areas, even without being as stealthy.
Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18 programs, told Business Insider that even with the coming F-35C naval variant, US carrier air wings would still field versions of the F/A-18 into the 2040s. The company is planning considerable updates that will focus on “addressing the gaps” in naval aviation.
Gillian and the Boeing team call it the Advanced Super Hornet, a modern update on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which itself was an update on the original F/A-18 Hornet. Gillian says Boeing designed the Super Hornet “from the beginning in an evolutionary way with lots of room for growth in power, cooling, and weight so it could adapt to changes over the years.”
Gillian says Boeing could start fielding Advanced Super Hornets by the early 2020s at the latest, while some limited contracts to bring elements of the Advanced Super Hornet are already underway. So even though the designs of the F-35 and the F/A-18 reflect different missions, they certainly are comparable in terms of price, availability, and capability.
So what does a 2017 update of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet look like?
“When we talk about the Advanced Super Hornet package, it can be delivered to a build of new airplanes and it can be retrofitted to existing airframes,” Gillian said.
“An airplane that I’m building today off the line has some systems that have matured over time that a Super Hornet would not have,” he added, saying there would essentially be no difference between a 2017 Advanced Super Hornet and a Super Hornet plucked off an aircraft carrier and brought up to date.
The physical characteristics of a fully decked out Advanced Super Hornet would be as follows:
Shoulder-mounted conformal fuel tanks to carry 3,500 pounds of fuel and reduce drag. These fuel tanks could “extend the reach about 125 nautical miles,” meaning the planes can “either go faster or carry more,” according to Gillian.
An infrared search and track radar, which would be the first such capability included on a US fighter jet since the F-14 Tomcat. This will allow the Advanced Super Hornets to counter enemy stealth capability and to get a read on heat-emitting entities without emitting any radar signal of their own. “There was a fixation on stealth attributes,” Gillian said of fifth-gen fighters, “which is an important attribute for the next 25 years, but tactical fighters are designed for stealth in one part of the spectrum, all planes emit heat.”
Advanced electronic warfare capabilities. Currently, the F-18 family leads the US military in EW platforms with the Growler, an EW version of the Super Hornet in which Boeing has “taken out the gun and installed more EW equipment … Instead of missiles on the wing tips it has a large sensing pods,” Gillian said. The Navy has scheduled the F-35C to eventually carry the advanced EW pod, but the initial generation of F-35s will have to rely on Growlers for EW attacks. The Advanced Super Hornet will have EW self-protection, but not the full suite present on the Growler.
An advanced cockpit system with a new 19-inch display. Basically “a big iPad for the airplane, allowing the pilot to manage all the information and data that’s out there,” Gillian said, comparing its utility to the F-35’s display.
Improved avionics and computing power as well as increased ability to network to receive targeting data from platforms like the F-35 or the E-2 Hawkeye. The Advanced Super Hornet would also feature an improved active electronically scanned array radar.
Further enhancements still to be considered by the US Navy for Advanced Super Hornets include the following:
An enclosed weapons pod would make the plane more aerodynamic while also cutting down on the plane’s radar cross section. Combined with the form-fitting fuel tanks, the Advanced Super Hornet could cut its radar signature by up to 50%.
An improved engine could increase fuel efficiency and performance. Boeing hasn’t yet begun earnestly working toward this, and it could add to the overall cost of the project significantly.
Hypothetically, Advanced Super Hornets could field IRST before F-35Cs come online. Growlers will also serve in the vital role of EW attack craft, without which the F-35 cannot do its job as a stealth penetrator.
So while an Advanced Super Hornet will never be comparable to the F-35 in all aspects, it could certainly develop some strengths that the F-35 lacks.
Additionally, Gillian said the Advanced Super Hornets would not cost much more than the current F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, which run about $70 million apiece. Even if that price rose by $10 million, it would still be lower than that of the cheapest expected F-35s, which come in at $85 million.
Conclusion: Could Boeing create an F/A-18 ‘comparable’ to the F-35?
“The Advanced Super Hornet is really a collection of systems and design changes that when implemented achieve a significantly different capability for the air wing,” said Gillian, who stressed that the Super Hornet and Growler platforms were “well positioned” to improve in scope and capability over time.
Gillian made it clear, however, that the Advanced Super Hornet program had been, since its inception, meant to accompany the F-35, with carrier air wings consisting of three squadrons of Super Hornets and one squadron of F-35s into the 2040s.
The US Navy has contracts already underway to update its existing Super Hornet fleet with elements of the Advanced Super Hornet package, and it seems the US will end up with both Advanced Super Hornets and F-35s, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
The F/A-18, not designed with all-aspect stealth in mind, will most likely never serve as a penetrating aircraft for heavily contested airspace, but its future onboard America’s aircraft carriers is well defined for decades to come.
But with Boeing’s field record of delivering F/A-18 projects on time and on budget, and the US Navy left waiting by overrun after overrun in the F-35 program, the two planes are starting to look like apples and oranges — both good choices. Choosing which to buy and when may simply come down to what is available on the market.
Taliban rebels killed seven people and kidnapped another six along a highway in western Afghanistan, official sources told EFE Ingles July 12.
The incident, in which 10 rebels were also killed, took place on July 11 along a national highway near Farah, capital of a province by the same name, when the Taliban stopped several vehicles and captured more than 10 people, according to Nasser Mehri, spokesperson for the provincial governor.
“According to initial information, they killed seven of the kidnapped passengers,” explained Mehri, adding that five of the victims were former members of the Afghan security forces.
Mehri added the insurgents were planning to capture more people when the Afghan troops arrived and there was a shootout.
A police official from the province, who asked not to be named, told EFE that at least seven passengers are still being held hostage by the Taliban, and that security forces have launched a rescue operation in areas around the incident spot.
In 2016, the Taliban abducted hundreds of people from the country’s unsafe highways, including members of the security forces traveling in buses or in specific vehicles.
Afghanistan is witnessing its most violent phase since 2001, when the Taliban regime was overthrown with the help of the United States.
Since then, insurgents have been gaining ground in various parts of Afghanistan and currently control, influence, or are in dispute with the government over at least 43 percent of the territory, according to the US.
Ask any military historian: Tactical aggression is a game changer. Throughout history, forces who were more aggressive in combat saw a lot more success compared their predecessors. Ulysses S. Grant’s determination to take the war to the Confederates led to a win for the Union in the Civil War. When Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredenhall was soundly beaten by the aggressive Nazi Afrika Corps in Tunisia, he was replaced by the famously aggressive George S. Patton, who saw resounding success. The U.S. strategy of building an overwhelming force to push Iraq out of Kuwait led to a decisive victory in a mere 40 days during the Gulf War.
In a game of strategy like NFL football, the same kind of aggression pays off.
For anyone who saw the Bengals-Chiefs game on Oct. 21, 2018, watching Cincinnati opt to take a field goal in the 3rd quarter while down by 30-plus points was a real head-scratcher. Why not risk the turnover when you’re running out of the time it takes to score the four touchdowns you need?
That call — still a bad one — is one made over and over by conservative coaches, even in situations not quite as extreme as the one Cincinnati faced that Sunday night. If a team is facing a 4th down with 4 yards to go on their opponent’s 40 yard line, there’s a good chance they’ll still opt to punt the ball away.
Well, maybe the Bengals always should. Anyway…
Kicking the ball, either for a punt or a field goal, is the safe choice. Whenever a team opts for the kick, fans and sportscasters alike praise the coach for making that decision. Economists and statisticians, on the other hand, lose their minds.
Why? Because there’s no real reason for a coach to be so conservative. Brian Burke, a former Naval aviator who used to fly the F-18C, is a nationally recognized expert on advanced sports analytics. Burke is currently an analyst for ESPN. In 2014, he published a study on Advanced Football Analytics that took a look at 4th-down decision making.
The longitudinal study assumes that coaches want to maximize the number of points they score while minimizing the number of points the other team scores. Then, it took thousands of real NFL plays on 4th down to calculate the potential value of each situation. Every down versus yardage situation has an “expected point” value and a value attached to the result of previous play, which affects the value of that play.
For example, the expected points value of a touchdown is actually 6.3 points because the opponent gets the ball back on the next play, whose value is .07. If you understand the value of the situation a team is in on 4th down, then you can find the statistically-driven decision the coach should make on that down.
If you don’t understand the math, don’t worry about it. People who do understand math created a handy graphic for the New York Times, based on Burke’s calculation. So we can look at the Bengals horrible performance in Kansas City a different way.
The horrible ball handling that led to the turnover aside, the Bengals tried for a fake punt on 4 and 9 from their own 37-yard-line with almost the entire second quarter remaining. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis tried a play that worked against the Chicago Bears in a preseason matchup. No matter how the ball was handled, the Times‘ 4th Down Bot says they should have punted it away.
Later in the game, with 6:20 left in the 3rd quarter and the Bengals down 28-7, Lewis opted to kick the field goal from the Kansas City 15-yard-line. Bengals fans everywhere were livid, given the score. While the the bot created by Burke’s formula and the New York Times doesn’t account for what to do in a blowout situation, Lewis made the mathematically correct call.
Too bad math isn’t enough to make Bengals fans hate Marvin Lewis any less.
Looking at the 2018 season, let’s see if there’s a correlation between game-winning success and 4th down aggression.
As of week 7, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a staggering 4-4 when comes to first downs on 4th down — but their record is still a measly 3-3. That doesn’t correlate, but the teams with the next-highest percentages in 4th down conversions are the Saints (at 87.5 percent) and the Chiefs (at 80 percent). New Orleans and Kansas City are first in their respective divisions. Five of the ten most successfully aggressive teams on 4th down also lead in total yardage, points per game, and total points this season.
One caveat: the least successful on 4th down conversions are also the least successful teams so far this year. So… know your own limitations.
In 2015 and 2016, ISIS, the terrorist group also known as the Islamic State, carried out suicide attacks around the globe at a historic rate.
The group, founded in June 2014, has long demanded that its militants fight or die, and it often sends young men and even children on suicide-bombing missions.
But as the group weakens on the ground, it seems to have shifted course.
A US Department of Defense release on the battle for Hawijah cites “many sources reporting more than 1,000 terrorists surrendered.”
Unlike the battle for Mosul, once ISIS’ largest Iraqi stronghold, the terrorist group “put up no fight at all, other than planting bombs and booby traps,” Kurdish officials told The New York Times.
Strikingly, the same officials reported that ISIS commanders had ordered their fighters to turn themselves in, on the grounds that the Kurds would take prisoners while other opponents would be harsher.
Indeed, after three years of brutal conflict, the Iraqi Security Forces fighting have admitted to engaging in acts of savagery against defeated ISIS fighters.
After suffering defeat after defeat on the ground, ISIS has upped the aggression of its media operation in an attempt to save face. Recently the group released audio it said came from its top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was rumored to be killed or at least injured by airstrikes.
After last week’s shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, ISIS also made the dubious claim that the gunman was one of its followers.
US officials have shot this claim down, and ISIS’ claims do not match evidence that has since emerged on the gunman’s preparation for the attack.
In its early months and years, ISIS enjoyed a surge of battlefield victories. The group had political support in Sunni Muslim areas, where many felt disenfranchised by Iraq’s Shia-run government.
But it has since been ground down for years by US-led coalition airstrikes and a wide range of militias and national armies on the ground.
With the fall of Hawijah, only a small strip of territory along Syria’s border remains in ISIS’ control.
Trident Juncture officially started Oct. 25, 2018, with some 50,000 troops from all 29 NATO members and Sweden and Finland preparing for drills on land, sea, and in the air from the Baltic Sea to Iceland.
As a NATO Article 5 exercise, Trident Juncture “will simulate NATO’s collective response to an armed attack against one ally,” the organization’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said in October 2018. “And it will exercise our ability to reinforce our troops from Europe and across the Atlantic.”
NATO has increased deployments and readiness in Europe since Russia’s 2014 incursion in Ukraine, as countries there have grown wary of their larger neighbor.
Stoltenberg has said the exercise will be “fictitious but realistic.” But Russia has still taken exception.
Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare for a cold-weather training hike in Iceland, Oct. 19, 2018
(US Marine Corps photo)
“NATO’s military activities near our borders have reached the highest level since the Cold War,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Oct. 24, 2018, adding that the exercise will be “simulating offensive military action.”
But Moscow may be most piqued by inclusion of two non-NATO members, Finland and Sweden, who work closely with the alliance.
Those two countries are “very important NATO partners,” US Navy Adm. James Foggo, the commander of US naval forces in Europe who is overseeing the exercise, said in October 2018 on his podcast, “On the Horizon.”
“I was just talking to the Swedes last month, and they’re pretty excited about it. They’ve confirmed their participation … and have committed their advanced military and highly professional forces,” Foggo said. “So we look forward to having them on board.”
Sweden and Finland, both members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, have joined NATO exercises in the past and invited NATO members to their own exercises.
US and Swedish marines check out Swedish mortars during a practice amphibious assault as part of Exercise Archipelago Endeavor on the island of Uto, Harsfjarden, Sweden, Aug. 30, 2018.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Averi Coppa)
At the end of 2017, 19,000 Swedish troops were joined by NATO members in the Baltic region as well as France and the US for Aurora 17, Sweden’s largest exercise in 23 years.
In May 2018, Finland hosted Arrow 18, an annual multinational exercise, in which US Marine Corps tanks participated for the first time.
Russian officials have also warned both of them.
Shoigu, the defense minister, said in 2018 that a deal between Stockholm, Helsinki, and Washington to ease defense cooperation would “lead to the destruction of the current security system, increase mistrust and force us to take counter-measures.”
Moscow has specifically reproved Finland, with which it shares an 830-mile border and a history of conflict. In mid-2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested he could move troops closer to the border if Finland joined the alliance.
“Do you guys need it? We don’t. We don’t want it. But it is your call,” Putin said at the time.
US Marines review the scheme of maneuver for a live-fire exercise as part of Exercise Arrow 18 in Pohjankangas Training Area near Kankaanpaa, Finland, May 16, 2018.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Averi Coppa)
Russia has said “if you guys join, we will take military measures … to take into account that you two are in the alliance,” said Jim Townsend, a transatlantic security expert at the Center for a New American Security.
Moscow has carried out “cyberattacks and threatening aircraft maneuvers around Sweden as well,” added Townsend, who was deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy during the Obama administration. “Both those nations have been bullied by the Russians and warned by the Russians not to do something with NATO.”
But both Sweden and Finland have mulled NATO membership with varying intensity in recent years.
Ahead of Sweden’s general election in early September 2018, the four main opposition parties all backed membership — which Stoltenberg seemed to welcome, saying in January 2018, “If Sweden were to apply to join, I think there would be broad support for that within NATO.”
Public sentiment in Sweden has shifted toward membership, but support rarely tops 45%. (A January 2018 poll put it at 43%.) There would also be political and administrative hurdles. A month and a half after the election, leaders in Stockholm are still struggling to form a government, which is already a record.
Swedish military personnel taking part in Aurora 17, Sept. 13, 2017.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Housey)
Finns are much cooler on membership. A poll at the end of 2017 found just 22% of them supported joining, while 59% were opposed; 19% didn’t give a response. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has said membership is a possibility, and an endorsement from him may change many minds.
Sweden and Finland, both wary of their larger neighbor, have sought to boost defense spending and upgrade their forces.
They’ve made plans to increase defense cooperation with each other, and at least one NATO official has said the alliance has an obligation to come to their defense, as their non-membership increases the likelihood of aggression against them.
“Those two are probably the closest partners that NATO has in the Partnership for Peace. You see that in Trident Juncture, where they’re part of that NATO Article 5 exercise,” Townsend said.
“It used be that those nations wouldn’t take part in a major exercise if it was about Article 5, because that was just too close to NATO,” he added. “Now they’re taking part not just in the Article 5 exercise, but they’re taking part in one of NATO’s largest exercises in many years.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On Sept. 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler set World War II in motion when he invaded Poland. Germany attacked from the west, and 16 days later the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, by secret agreement with Hitler, invaded from the east. Poland kept fighting… but it never had a chance.
When Poland surrendered on Oct. 6, it disappeared from the map, its territory carved up and incorporated into Germany and the USSR. The dismemberment of Poland was but the first in a series of rapid-fire victories by the Nazis: On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded both Denmark, which fell that same day, and Norway, which fell on June 10. By then Hitler had also invaded Belgium, which surrendered after 18 days; Luxembourg, which fell after one day; the Netherlands, which held out for five; and even mighty France, which capitulated on June 22, after just five weeks of fighting.
Then on July 10, Hitler began bombing England in preparation for Operation Sea Lion, his planned invasion of the British Isles. The British faced the threat almost entirely alone: by then every other country in western Europe had either fallen to Germany, was allied with it, or had declared its neutrality in the hope of avoiding Hitler’s wrath.
Even the United States was officially neutral, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was under tremendous pressure from isolationists to keep America out of the war. What little aid he was able to send to Great Britain was menaced by German U-boats patrolling the North Atlantic.
With the threat of invasion looming, Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued new orders to Porton Down, a secret military facility in southern England set up during World War I to study the use of poison gas as a military weapon. The facility was created after the Germans introduced chlorine gas to the battlefield in 1915, and work at Porton Down had continued ever since. Now Churchill gave it a new project: find a way to use the deadly disease anthrax in battle. It was out of this crash germ-warfare program that Operation Vegetarian was born.
Anthrax is the name of a disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, which lives in soil. If the seedlike spores of the bacteria enter a cut in a person’s skin (a form of the disease known as cutaneous anthrax), the result is a serious infection whose most distinctive feature is a coal-black scab. That’s how anthrax gets its name—anthrakis is the Greek word for coal.
When left untreated, cutaneous anthrax is deadly about 20 percent of the time. When the spores are eaten or inhaled, the danger is far greater: gastrointestinal anthrax kills animals or people who eat the spores about 60 percent of the time, and inhalational anthrax kills its victims about 95 percent of the time. (Modern treatments have cut the mortality rates considerably, but those treatments weren’t available in the 1930s.)
DEATH FROM THE SKY
When anthrax spores are eaten by grazing livestock, even if the infected animals don’t die, their meat cannot be eaten because it will spread the disease to anyone or anything that consumes it. This was what the scientists at Porton Down decided to focus on: they came up with a plan to disrupt the German meat supply by wiping out vast herds of grazing cattle across northern Germany.
They would accomplish this by dropping anthrax-tainted “cattle cakes” (concentrated dietary supplements that are typically fed to cattle) from Royal Air Force bombers over the pastures and grazing fields. Any cattle that ate the cakes would die within a few days, as would many thousands—or perhaps even millions—of Germans who came in contact with the cattle or the cakes.
Once a portion of the German meat supply was shown to be poisoned, the thinking at Porton Down went, the country’s entire meat supply would become suspect. Terrified Germans would abstain from eating meat entirely (hence the name Operation Vegetarian) making wartime food shortages—and German morale—even worse.
Officials at Porton Down placed an order with a supplier for enough raw materials to make for five million cakes. Then it contracted a London toilet soap manufacturer to cut the material into individual cakes about an inch in diameter and weighing less than an ounce apiece. Finally, Porton Down hired a dozen soap makers, all of them women, to come to the secret facility and inject the cattle cakes with anthrax spores supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, which produced them in a lab.
By the spring of 1944 all five million cakes had been manufactured and pumped full of anthrax; the modified RAF bombers that would drop them over northern Germany were ready as well. Porton Down’s planners estimated that it would take about 18 minutes for the bombers to reach their targets over Germany. Upon arrival they would drop 400 cakes every two minutes in a bombing run that lasted 20 minutes, dropping 4,000 cakes in all. If 12 bombers were used in the mission, they’d drop 48,000 cattle cakes. When they finished, most of the grazing land in northern Germany would be contaminated with anthrax. And there would be millions of cattle cakes left over for future bombing runs in other parts of Germany.
“The cattle must be caught in the open grazing fields when lush spring grass is on the wane. Trials have shown that these tablets are found and consumed by the cattle in a very short time,” Dr. Paul Fildes, director of Porton Down’s biology department, observed. And because the anthrax spores can remain viable in the soil for a century or more, the poisoned land would remain uninhabitable for generations. No cattle would be able to graze there, nor would humans be able to step foot there for many decades to come.
All that remained was for Winston Churchill to give the order for Operation Vegetarian to proceed. The order never came. Why not? Because by then the war had turned decisively against Germany. Operation Sea Lion, Hitler’s plan for a land invasion of England, was never put into effect: British fighters shot so many German planes out of the sky in the run-up to the invasion that Hitler was forced to put it aside. Instead, he set his sights on Russia, and invaded his former ally in a sneak attack on June 22, 1941.
After months of steady progress, by October 1941 the Nazi invasion of Russia began to bog down, and Hitler failed to take Moscow before winter set in. Instead of finding shelter in the city, his ill-equipped, poorly clothed troops suffered through the brutal Russian winter in the open countryside, and many thousands died or were incapacitated by frostbite. Moscow never did fall, and by spring the Russians had regrouped and began to push back against the Germans. Then on December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into the war. His hands no longer tied by the isolationists, President Roosevelt could now back Great Britain with all of the military might at his command.
When Hitler’s attempt to take the city of Stalingrad failed in February 1943, the German advance against Russia was halted completely. For the rest of the war, the Russians pushed the Nazis relentlessly back toward Germany. The Allied invasion of Italy followed in July 1943; then on D-Day, June 6, 1944, the long-awaited Allied invasion of France began.
THANKS, BUT NO THANKS
With Great Britain’s survival no longer in question and the defeat of Germany just a matter of time, in the spring of 1944 Winston Churchill opted against putting Operation Vegetarian into action. At the war’s end in 1945, all five million cattle cakes were fed into an incinerator at Porton Down and destroyed.
Any doubts as to just how deadly an anthrax attack over thousands of square miles might have been were laid to rest in the one place where the British actually did use anthrax during the war: Gruinard Island, a 520-acre island less than a mile off the coast of northwest Scotland. Early in the war, the British requisitioned the island, and in 1942 and 1943 they used it as a test site for anthrax bombs. In one such test, 60 sheep were tethered in a line and an anthrax bomb was detonated upwind from them. The sheep inhaled the anthrax spores, and within a few days all of them were dead.
Gruinard Island, Scotland, was a testing site for Anthrax (Image Père Ubu Flickr)
If you had to dispose of 60 anthrax-infected sheep without getting yourself killed in the process, how would you do it? The Porton Down scientists dumped them at the bottom of a cliff on the island, then buried them (or so they hoped) by dynamiting the cliff. But one of the sheep was blown into the water and floated to the Scottish mainland, where it washed ashore on a beach. There it was partially eaten by a dog. The dog died, but not before spreading anthrax to seven cows, two horses, three cats, and 50 more sheep, all of whom died as well.
Quick payments to the farmers who owned the animals hushed up the incident, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the truth about what killed their dog, cows, horses, cats, and sheep finally became known.
When the British government requisitioned Gruinard Island at the start of the war, it planned to return the island to its owners once the war was over and the anthrax spores were removed. But several attempts to clean the spores failed, and in 1946 the government gave up. It bought the island outright and ordered the public to stay away. To drive the message home, it posted scary signs on Gruinard’s beaches that read:
THIS ISLAND IS GOVERNMENT PROPERTY UNDER EXPERIMENT THE GROUND IS CONTAMINATED WITH ANTHRAX AND DANGEROUS LANDING IS PROHIBITED BY ORDER 1987
The government promised to sell the island back to its owners for £500 (about $620 today) if a way to render it “fit for habitation by man and beast” was ever found. For decades afterward, Porton Down scientists visited the island regularly and took soil samples to see if the anthrax spores were still there. They were.
Finally in the 1980s, the government gave up on waiting for the spores to disappear naturally. It hauled away tons of the most contaminated topsoil and injected 280 tons of formaldehyde into the island’s groundwater to see if that would kill the remaining spores. They also reintroduced sheep to the island. In 1990, when those sheep failed to die and fresh soil samples showed no signs of anthrax, the scary signs were removed and the descendants of the original owners were permitted to buy the island back for £500, just as promised.
So is that the end of the story? The British government believes (and certainly hopes) so, but the Ministry of Defence has set up a fund to compensate any future victims of anthrax on Gruinard Island…just in case.