Sure, sure, when you’re a fetus the water is balmy and occasionally they play Mozart in the pool. But you can’t knock a fetus’s breath holding record, now can you? What was yours last time you did pool training? Was it 9 months? And at the end of it, did you just bob like a big, doughy man-pontoon buoyantly to the surface or did you, like a fetus, get flushed down the drain hole, slapped till you screamed and then circumcised? So yeah, a fetus is tougher than you when it comes to amphibious operational readiness.
And we cry when they give us baths. We cry when they give us haircuts. We cry when they remove the kitten’s head from our mouths. We turn into babies and babies are wimps.
Water Survival, then, is just an easy way for the military to remind us soft adults how to be hard again. Hard like a fetus. It’s how they take us back to our Original Toughness, like when we did nine month tours of duty guarding the subterranean door to Fort Uterus.
You’ve probably caught the drift of the incontinents here, but Max was Captain of that particular detail. And we’re gonna tell you all about it, as soon as he puts you through some dryland drills designed to get your core up to code. Because this is stage 1 of Operation Fetal Preparedness.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China and its sister branch, the PLA Naval Air Force, operate a huge fleet of around 1,700 combat aircraft — defined here as fighters, bombers, and attack planes. This force is exceeded only by the 3,400 active combat aircraft of the U.S. military. Moreover, China operates a lot of different aircraft types that are not well known in the West.
However, most Chinese military aircraft are inspired by or copied from Russian or American designs, so it’s not too hard to grasp their capabilities if you know their origins.
The Soviet-Era Clones
The Soviet Union and Communist China were best buddies during the 1950s, so Moscow transferred plenty of technology, including tanks and jet fighters. One of the early Chinese-manufactured types was the J-6, a clone of the supersonic MiG-19, which has a jet intake in the nose. Though China built thousands of J-6s, all but a few have been retired. However, about 150 of a pointy-nosed ground-attack version, the Nanchang Q-5, remain in service, upgraded to employ precision-guided munitions.
Sino-Soviet friendship ended in an ugly breakup around 1960. But in 1962, the Soviets offered China a dozen hot, new MiG-21 fighters as part of a peace overture. Beijing rejected the overture, but kept the fighters, which were reverse-engineered into the sturdier (but heavier) Chengdu J-7. Production began slowly due to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, but between 1978 and 2013 Chinese factories turned out thousands of the pencil-fuselage jet fighters in dozens of variants. Nearly four hundred still serve in the PLAAF and PLANAF.
The J-7 is a 1950s-era hot rod in terms of maneuverability and speed — it can keep up with an F-16 at Mach 2 — but it cannot carry much fuel or armament, and it has a weak radar in its tiny nose cone. Still, China has worked to keep the J-7 relevant. The J-7G, introduced in 2004, includes an Israeli doppler radar (detection range: thirty-seven miles) and improved missiles for beyond-visual range capabilities, as well as a digital “glass cockpit.”
These aircraft would struggle against modern, fourth-generation fighters that can detect and engage adversaries at much greater ranges, though hypothetically mass formations could attempt to overwhelm defenders with swarm attacks. Still, the J-7s allow China to maintain a larger force of trained pilots and support personnel until new designs come into service.
Another Soviet-era clone is the Xi’an H-6, a twin-engine strategic bomber based on the early-1950s era Tu-16 Badger. Though less capable than the U.S. B-52 or Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers, the air-refuelable H-6K remains relevant because it could lug heavy long-range cruise-missiles and hit naval or ground targets as far as four thousand miles from China without entering the range of air defenses. The H-6 was originally tasked with dropping nuclear weapons, but the PLAAF no longer seems interested in this role. Xi’an is reportedly developing a new H-20 strategic bomber, though there’s little information available so far.
In the mid-1960s, China began working on genuinely home-designed combat jets, leading to the Shenyang J-8 debuting in 1979. A large twin-turbojet supersonic interceptor that could attain Mach 2.2 and resembled a cross between the MiG-21 and the larger Su-15 , the J-8 lacked modern avionics and maneuverability. However, the succeeding J-8II variant (about 150 currently serving) improved on the former with an Israeli radar in a new pointy-nose cone, making it a fast but heavy weapons platform a bit like the F-4 Phantom. Around 150 are still operational.
The two-hundred-plus Xi’an JH-7 Flying Leopards, which entered service in 1992, are beefy two-seat naval-attack fighter-bombers that can lug up to twenty thousand pounds of missiles and have a top speed of Mach 1.75. Though they wouldn’t want to get in a dogfight with opposing contemporary fighters, they may not have to if they can capitalize on long-range anti-ship missiles.
The Chengdu J-10 Vigorous Dragon, by contrast, is basically China’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, a highly maneuverable, lightweight multi-role fighter leaning on fly-by-wire avionics to compensate for its aerodynamically unstable airframe. Currently dependent on Russian AL-31F turbofans, and coming several decades after the F-16 debuted, the J-10 may not seem earthshaking, but the J-10B model comes out of the box with twenty-first-century avionics such as advanced infrared search-and-track systems and a cutting-edge Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which cannot be said for all F-16 types. However, the fleet of 250 J-10s has suffered several deadly accidents possibly related to difficulties in the fly-by-wire system.
The Flanker Comes to China—And Stays There
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a Russia starved for cash and no longer concerned about ideological disputes was happy to oblige when Beijing came knocking at the door asking to buy then state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-27 fighters, a highly maneuverable twin-engine jet comparable to the F-15 Eagle with excellent range and payload. This proved a fateful decision: today a sprawling family of aircraft derived from the Su-27 form the core of China’s modern fighter force.
After importing the initial batch of Su-27s, Beijing purchased a license to domestically build their own copy, the Shenyang J-11 — but to Russia’s dismay, began independently building more advanced models, the J-11B and D.
Moscow felt burned, but still sold seventy-six modernized ground- and naval-attack variants of the Flanker, the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2 respectively, which parallel the F-15E Strike Eagle. Chinese designers also churned out their own derivative of the Su-30: the Shenyang J-16 Red Eagle, boasting an AESA radar, and the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark, a carrier-based fighter based on a Russian Su-33 acquired from Ukraine. Around twenty now serve on China’s Type 001 aircraft carrier Liaoning. There’s even the J-16D, a jamming pod-equipped electronic-warfare fighter styled after the U.S. Navy’s EA-18 Growler.
The Chinese Sukhoi derivatives are theoretically on par with the fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 and F-16. However, they are saddled with domestic WS-10 turbofan engines, which have had terrible maintenance problems and difficulty producing enough thrust. Jet-engine tech remains the chief limitation of Chinese combat aircraft today. Indeed, in 2016 China purchased twenty-four Su-35s, the most sophisticated and maneuverable variant of the Flanker so far — likely to obtain their AL-41F turbofans engines.
The Stealth Fighters
In a remarkably short timeframe, China developed two distinct stealth fighter designs. Twenty Chengdu J-20s entered PLAAF service in 2017. Unlike the F-22 Raptor, designed to be the ultimate air superiority fighter, or the single-engine multirole F-35 Lightning, the J-20 is a huge twin-engine beast optimized for speed, range, and heavy weapons loads at the expense of maneuverability.
The J-20 might be suitable for surprise raids on land or sea targets — though its larger rear-aspect radar cross section could be problematic — or to sneak past enemy fighters to take out vulnerable support tankers or AWACs radar planes. Special-mission stealth fighters make sense for a country that is only just getting into the business of operating such technically demanding aircraft.
Meanwhile, the smaller, privately developed Shenyang J-31 Gyrfalcon (or FC-31) is basically a twin-engine remodeling of the F-35 Lightning — quite possibly using schematics hacked off Lockheed computers. Chinese designers may have developed an aerodynamically superior airframe by ditching elements supporting vertical-takeoff-or-landing engines. However, the J-31 probably won’t boast the fancy sensors and data fusion capabilities of the Lightning.
Currently, the J-31 appears intended for service on upcoming Type 002 aircraft carriers, and for export as a cut-price F-35 alternative. However, while there are flying Gyrfalcon prototypes with Russian engines, the type may only begin production when sufficiently reliable Chinese WS-13 turbofans are perfected.
Towards the Future
Roughly 33 percent of the PLAAF and PLANAF’s combat aircraft are old second-generation fighters of limited combat value against peer opponents, save perhaps in swarming attacks. Another 28 percent include strategic bombers and more capable but dated third-generation designs. Finally, 38 percent are fourth-generation fighters that can theoretically hold their own against peers like the F-15 and F-16. Stealth fighters account for 1 percent.
However, the technical capabilities of aircraft are just half the story; at least as important are training, organizational doctrine, and supporting assets, ranging from satellite recon to air-refueling tankers, ground-based radars, and airborne command posts.
For example, China has the intel resources, aircraft, and missiles to hunt aircraft carriers. However, the doctrine and experience to link these elements together to form a kill chain is no simple matter. A 2016 Rand report alleges Chinese aviation units are scrambling to reverse a lack of training under realistic conditions and develop experience in joint operations with ground and naval forces.
At any rate, Beijing seems in no rush to replace all its older jets with new ones. Major new acquisitions may wait until the Chinese aviation industry has smoothed out the kinks in its fourth-generation and stealth aircraft.
In 2007, China fired a missile that flew 537 miles above the earth and smashed one of its weather satellites, causing thousands of pieces of debris to drift endlessly through Earth’s orbit.
Just a year later, the US Navy responded by shooting down a satellite in danger of falling out of earth’s orbit at 133 miles and traveling at 17,000 mph with an SM-3 missile, which the US military fields hundreds of.
Since then, Russia has completed at least five anti-satellite missile tests.
Though US astronauts aboard the Apollo 11 left behind a plaque on the moon in 1969 with the inscription “We came in peace for all mankind,” in the intervening decades, space has become militarized as major superpowers now rely on satellite communications.
“Space is not a sanctuary, it is a war fighting domain,” US Air Force Brigadier General Mark Baird said at the Defense One Tech Summit last week.
The US military relies on space-based operations for everything including communications, coordination, navigation, and surveillance, Peter Singer, a senior fellow at non-partisan think tank New America and the author of “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War,” told Business Insider.
Even civilian systems like the stock market are reliant on satellites because GPS systems “time-stamp” stock trades, according to Singer.
“If you were an adversary attacking the US, you’d start by attacking satellites,” said Singer. “The first shots in a war between the US and China or Russia, no one would likely hear.”
China and Russia also rely on space systems for numerous functions, but the US is more heavily dependent. Chinese and Russian jets still use analogue systems in their older jets and tanks and boats, and could operate better without satellites.
In that way, the US’s strength in space assets has become a dragging liability.
New defenses emerging
Nimbus B1 Satellite. (Image from NASA.)
While the concept of a space-based conflict terrifies Baird, he said a range of growing technologies and possibilities also has him excited.
In response to the growing space threat, the House of Representatives passed a National Defense Authorization Act with money set aside for a proposed sixth military branch, the Space Corps. While the Space Corps seems unlikely to make it through the Senate, the Senate version of the NDAA does set aside extra money for increased space operations.
But even with a dedicated military branch, there is just no protecting satellites, which sit defenseless in geosynchronous or predictable orbits above earth.
Instead, companies and the military are leveraging shrinking processors and cameras to develop constellations of small satellites that can be easily launched, thus ending a reliance on large satellites that cost billions. The US would then be able to quickly replace downed satellites with smaller, cheaper ones that would simultaneously create more, lower-value targets for adversaries to find and destroy.
For example, the massive Stratolaunch airplane, founded by billionaire Paul Allen, could one day fly high in the atmosphere and launch three rockets, each carrying multiple small satellites into orbit.
Additionally, reusable rockets from companies like SpaceX could save the US time and money on launches, making it less damaging when a satellite is lost.
Stratolaunch Systems Corporation
The space debris problem
While replacing large satellites with smaller ones works as a quick fix, it comes with major environmental concerns.
Space debris from destroyed satellites clutters the domain and makes it harder for sensors and trackers to operate. In a worst-case scenario, the debris could potentially get into a very fast orbit around the earth and end up smashing holes into existing space systems.
“I worry about anti-satellite business from the orbital debris mitigation point of view,” Dr. Bhavya Lal, a research staff member at the IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute, said at the Defense One Tech Summit.
According to Lal, the Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007 added approximately 3,000 pieces of debris to the more than half a million pieces “bigger than a marble” in Earth’s orbit.
With enough high-velocity debris flying around, the entire upper atmosphere of Earth could become unsuitable for satellites, possibly resetting technology back decades before the proliferation of space systems.
1986 DIA illustration of the IS system attacking a target. (Ronald C. Wittmann via Wikimedia Commons)
Like all conflicts between major powers, space combat doesn’t happen because it is deterred.
The US’s anti-satellite tests have demonstrated that it too can down another nation’s satellites, to say nothing of the US’s ability to counter any serious attack with its formidable nuclear forces.
However, new technologies like Stratolaunch and others show that the US can can survive an initial space attack and get a new cluster of critical satellites up within a matter of hours if needed.
For the US, the world’s most powerful country, commanding forces is mainly about deterring aggression rather than fighting wars.
An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be able to use its sensors, weapons and computer technology to destroy Russian and Chinese 5th-Generation Stealth fighters in a high-end combat fight, service officials said.
“There is nothing that I have seen from maneuvering an F-35 in a tactical environment that leads me to assume that there is any other airplane I would rather be in. I feel completely comfortable and confident in taking that airplane into any combat environment,” Lt. Col. Matt Hayden, 56th Fighter Wing, Chief of Safety, Luke AFB, Arizona, told Scout Warrior in a special pilot interview.
Furthermore, several F-35 pilots have been clear in their resolve that the multi-role fighter is able to outperform any other platform in existence.
While Hayden was clear to point out he has not, as of yet, flown simulated combat missions against the emerging Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA 5th-Generation stealth fighter now in development or the Chinese Shenyang J-31 5th Generation Stealth aircraft. While he was clear to point out he did not personally know all of the technologies and capabilities of these Russian and Chinese aircraft, he was unambiguous in his assertion regarding confidence in the F-35. In addition, many Air Force officials have cited a strong belief that the F-35 is the best fighter in the world.
Available information says the Russians have built at least 6 prototype T-50 PAK FAs for their Air Force and Navy; the Chinese conducted a maiden test flight of its J-31 in 2012. In addition, China is in pre-production with its J-20 5th-Generation stealth fighter. This fighter, called the Chengdu J-20, made its first flight in 2011, and is expected to be operational by 2018, according to publicly available information and various news reports.
While Hayden did not elaborate on aspects of the J-20, he did say he would be confident flying the F-35 against any aircraft in the world.
“All those other countries (Russia and China) are trying to develop airplanes that are technologically capable as well — from an F-35 perspective. We are no less capable than any airplane and any fighters out there,” Hayden described.
In addition to leveraging the best available technologies on a fighter jet, winning a dog-fight or combat engagement would depend just as much on the air-tactics and decisions made by a pilot, Hayden explained.
“I have not flown against some of those aircraft. When you fight against an airplane, it depends upon the airspeed. If I maximize the effectiveness of an F-35, I can exploit the weaknesses of any other aircraft,” he said.
Many analysts have made the assessment that the J-20 does appear to be closely modelled after the F-35.
In fact, a Defense Science Board report, cited in a 2014 Congressional assessment of the Chinese military, (US-China Economic Security and Review Commission) makes reference to specific developmental information and specs of numerous U.S. weapons systems believed to be stolen by Chinese computer hackers; design specs and technologies for the F-35 were among those compromised by Chinese cyber-theft, according to the report.
An AIN Online report from the Singapore Air Show in February of this year catalogues a number of J-20 features and technologies – including those believed to be quite similar to the F-35.
“The J-20 is a large multi-role fighter with stealthy features similar to those found in the American F-22 and F-35. Although very little is known about its intended purpose, the aircraft appears to offer capability in a number of roles, including long-range interception and precision attack.
In terms of weapon carriage the J-20 has a similar arrangement to that of the Lockheed Martin F-22, comprising two lateral bays for small air-to-air missiles such as the agile, imaging-infrared PL-10, and a large under-fuselage bay for accommodating larger missiles and precision-guided surface attack weapons. The 607 Institute’s new PL-15 active-radar missile is thought to be the primary long-range air-to-air weapon, reportedly having been test-fired from a Shenyang J-16 platform last year. The PL-21, a ramjet-powered weapon in the same class as the MBDA Meteor, is another possibility for the J-20.
The sensor suite includes an electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) and a large-array AESA radar, which was developed by the 14th Institute at Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET, 14th Institute), and is possibly designated Type 1475/KLJ-5. Diamond-shaped windows around the fuselage suggest that a distributed aperture infrared vision system is installed.
In the cockpit, the J-20 sports three large color displays, plus other small screens, and a holographic wide-angle head-up display. An advanced datalink has been developed, and a retractable refueling probe is located on the starboard side of the forward fuselage. Much of the avionics suite has been tested by the CFTE (China flight test establishment) aboard a modified Tupolev Tu-204C, in much the same way as the systems of the F-22 were tested in a Boeing 757.”
Regarding the Russian T-50 PAK FA Stealth fighter, numerous reports suggest the aircraft has numerous technological problems and is a 5th generation plane “in name only.”
“Reporting from the Singapore Airshow 2016, IHS Jane’s reports that “Russian industry has consistently referred to the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA as a fifth-generation aircraft, but a careful look at the program reveals that this is an ‘in name only’ designation.”
This is largely because of a lack of evolutionary technology aboard the plane compared with previous jets that Russia and the US have designed. Indeed, the PAK FA’s engines are the same as those aboard Russia’s 4++ generation (a bridging generation between fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft) Su-35. Additionally, the PAK FA and the Su-35 share many of the same onboard systems.
And even when the PAK FA’s systems are different from the Su-35’s, the plane’s specifications are still not up to true fifth-generation standards.
RealClearDefense, citing Indian media reports that are familiar with a PAK FA variant being constructed in India, notes that the plane has multiple technological problems. Among these problems are the plane’s “engine performance, the reliability of its AESA radar, and poor stealth engineering.”
F-35 Sensor Fusion
Despite various reports about technologies being engineered into the Russian and Chinese 5th-Generation Stealth Fighters, it is in no way clear that either aircraft is in any way comparable to the F-35. Most publicly available information seems to indicate that the F-35 is superior – however, to some extent, the issue remains an open question. More information is likely to emerge once the Russian and Chinese aircraft are operational and deployed.
For example, the Chinese J-20 is cited as having an Electro-Optical targeting system, stealth configuration, datalink, AESA radar and precision weaponry quite similar to the F-35, according to the AIN report.
The computer algorithms woven into the F-35 architecture are designed to leverage early iterations of what could be described as early phases of “artificial intelligence.” Broadly speaking, artificial intelligence refers to fast-evolving computer technology and processors able to gather, assess and integrate information more autonomously in order to help humans make decisions more quickly and efficiently from a position of command-and-control.
“If there is some kind of threat that I need to respond to with the airplane, I don’t have to go look at multiple sensors and multiple displays from multiple locations which could take my time and attention away from something else,” Hayden added.
The F-35 software, which shows images on display screens in the cockpit as well as on a pilot’s helmet-mounted-display, is able to merge results from various radar capabilities onto a single screen for the pilot.
“The F-35 takes from multiple sensors around the airplane and combines them together in a way that is much more manageable and accessible — while not detracting from the other tasks that the pilot is trying to accomplish,” Hayden said.
For instance, the F-35’s Electro-Optical Target System, or EOTS, is an infrared sensor able to assist pilots with air and ground targeting at increased standoff ranges while also performing laser designation, laser range-finding and other tasks.
In addition, the plane’s Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, is a series of six electro-optical sensors also able to give information to the pilot. The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.
The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar, which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on the move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.
Hayden added that the F-35 has been training against other F-35s in simulated combat situations, testing basic fighter maneuvers. Having himself flown other fighter aircraft, he explained that many other F-35 pilots also fly the airplane after having experience flying an F-16, A-10 or other combat aircraft.
“The F-35’s low-observable technology can prevent detection. That is a strength that other airplanes do not have,” he said.
F-35 and F-22
At the same time, senior Air Force leaders have made the point that F-35 technological superiority is intended to be paired with the pure air-to-air dogfighting ability of the service’s F-22 – a stealth aircraft, with its speed, maneuverability and thrust-to-weight ratio, is believed by many to be the most capable air-to-air platform in the world.
“Every airplane has flaws. When you design an airplane, you design an airplane with tradeoffs – give something else up. If I was flying against an adversary in actual combat, my job would be to exploit the enemy weakness and play to my strength. I can compensate for certain things,” Hayden explained. “There is a certain way to fly and fight in an airplane, using airspeed to maximize the turning performance of the airplane.”
During a public speech in 2015, the Air Forces Air Combat Commander, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, said the F-22 is engineered such that it can complement the F-35.
“You will use the F-35 for air superiority, but you will need the raptors to do some things in a high-end fight to penetrate denied airspace,” he said. “The airplane is designed for multi-role capability, electronic warfare and sensors. The F-35 will win against any fourth-generation airplane — in a close-in fight, it will do exceedingly well. There will be a combination of F-22s and F-35s in the future.”
Hayden further elaborated upon these claims, arguing that the F-35 has another set of strategic advantages to include an ability to use internally built sensors. This prevents the need to use external pods on a fighter jet which can add drag, slowing down and restricting maneuverability for an aircraft.
“As an F-35 pilot, I can carry bombs to a target area where I can now take out air-to-ground threats. You have to look at the overall picture of the airplane. The airplane was designed to overwhelm the battlespace in a non-permissive threatening environment where 4th-gen fighters are not going to persist,” he added.
The F-35 is engineered with a 25-mm gun and has the ability to carry and fire a wide range of weapons. The aircraft has already demonstrated an ability to fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDADM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), and AIM 9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
So-called “Block 3F” software for the F-35 increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb and 500-pound JDAM.
As a multi-role fighter, the F-35 is also engineered to function as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform designed to apprehend and process video, data and information from long distances. Some F-35 developers have gone so far as to say the F-35 has ISR technologies comparable to many drones in service today that are able to beam a “soda straw” video view of tactically relevant combat locations in real time.
Finally, regarding dogfighting, it is pertinent to point out a “War is Boring” report from 2015 which cited an F-35 fighter pilot explaining how an F-16 was able to win a “mock dogfight” against an F-35; the F-35 Joint Program Office disputed this claim, saying the F-35 used in the scenario was in no way representative of today’s operational F-35s. The software, weapons and sensor technologies used in the mock dogfight were not comparable to the most evolved F-35.
Furthermore, F-35 proponents maintained that the aircraft’s advanced computer technology and sensors would enable it to see and destroy enemy fighters from much longer ranges – essentially destroying enemy fighters before they are seen.
The idea is to enable F-35 pilots to see and destroy enemies in the air, well in advance of a potential dogfight scenario. This can be explained in terms of a well-known Air Force strategic concept pioneered years ago by air theorist and pilot Col. John Boyd, referred to as the “OODA Loop,” — for observe, orient, decide and act. The concept is to complete this process quickly and make fast decisions while in an air-to-air dogfight — in order to get inside the enemy’s decision cycle, properly anticipate, and destroy an enemy before they can destroy you.
The F-35 is designed with long-range sensors and data fusion technologies such that, as a fifth-generation aircraft, it can complete the OODA Loop much more quickly than potential adversaries, F-35 advocates claim.
Mission Data Files
Described as the brains of the airplane, the mission data files are extensive on-board data systems compiling information on geography, air space and potential threats in known areas of the world where the F-35 might be expected to perform combat operations, Air Force officials explained.
Consisting of hardware and software, the mission data files are essentially a database of known threats and friendly aircraft in specific parts of the world. The files are being worked on at a reprogramming laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Air Force officials toldMilitary.com last year. The mission data files are designed to work with the aircraft’s Radar Warning Receiver engineered to find and identify approaching enemy threats and hostile fire.
The mission data packages are loaded with a wide range of information to include commercial airliner information and specifics on Russian and Chinese fighter jets. For example, the mission data system would enable a pilot to quickly identify a Russian MiG-29 if it were detected by the F-35’s sensors.
The mission data files are being engineered to adjust to new threat and intelligence information as it emerges. For instance, the system is engineered to one day have all the details on a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter or Russian T-50 PAK FA stealth aircraft.
As a high-visibility, expensive acquisition program, the F-35 has many vocal detractors and advocates; the aircraft has, to be sure, had its share of developmental problems over the years. some of these problems include complications with its main computer system, called ALIS, and a now-corrected engine fire aboard the aircraft. Overall, most critics have pointed to the program’s growing costs, something program officials claim has vastly improved through various money-saving initiatives and bulk-buys.
After the Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain in 1940, Hermann Goering ordered an ambitious new project he called the “3×1000” fighter. Goering wanted a plane that could deliver 1,000 kilograms of ordnance to a target 1,000 kilometers and fly 1,000 kilometers per hour.
Two brothers, Walter and Reimar Horten, proposed a design that not only would satisfy the ambitious concept, but that would also be the first stealth fighter.
The Horten 229 was the first blended-wing jet fighter ever built, but it only flew a handful of times in World War II. While its body looks similar to modern stealth planes like the B-2 Spirit, the 229 was never tested against radar.
The first prototype was destroyed in a crash during testing and the second was captured by the Allies who boxed it up and sent it to the U.S.
A team of Northrup Grumman model builders created a mockup of the 229 so that engineers could test the design against the types of radar used for the defense of Britain.
The results spelled probable doom for the British if the Horten had entered full production. Its reduced cross section could have allowed it to get closer to the coast before detection, and its speed might have gotten it to its target well before it could have been intercepted.
And, even if fighters or coastal artillery did reach the Horten before it destroyed the radar station and flew off, its speed and maneuverability would have made in nearly unstoppable in a fight.
See the full story of the engineers who rebuilt the Horten body and how the plane could have reshaped history in the National Geographic video below:
A United States Navy P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and a Chinese KJ-200 airborne early warning plane nearly collided over the South China Sea – the first such incident in the presidency of Donald Trump and reminiscent of a similar encounter that occurred in the first months of the George W. Bush administration.
The two planes reportedly came within 1,000 feet of each other. Incidents like this have not been unusual in the region. While not as close as past encounters (some of which had planes come within 50 feet of each other), this is notable because the KJ-200 is based on the Y-8, a Chinese copy of the Russian Antonov An-12 “Cub” transport plane.
Many of the past incidents in recent years involved J-11 Flankers, a Chinese knock-off of the Su-27 Flanker. Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and EP-3E electronic surveillance planes were involved in some of these encounters, which drew sharp protests from the Pentagon. China also carried out the brazen theft of an American unmanned underwater vehicle last December.
Perhaps the most notable incident in the South China Sea was the 2001 EP-3 incident. On April 1, 2001, a Navy EP-3E collided with a People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force J-8 “Finback” fighter. The EP-3E made an emergency landing on Hainan Island, where the 24 crew were detained for ten days before being released.
Such incidents may be more common. FoxNews.com reported that during his confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a hard line on Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
Many military service members and veterans have significant amounts of experience initiating, planning, leading, and briefing missions. Missions that have completion dates, and deliver unique results, capabilities, goods, or services to the commander. Since this is the very definition of projects, endeavors that are temporary and unique, it follows then that many military service members and veterans have significant amounts of project management experience.
The trick is translating it, as in our above example of mission and project.
service members and veterans can use the Project Management Body of Knowledge and the PMP Examination Content Outline (PMPECO) documents to translate their Military experience into a language that civilian hiring managers understand, value, and hire for. This article describes how.
When we write a mission up as a project, i.e. create a project description, it needs to be complete so it is more meaningful. What I mean is that we need to construct the project description with five or six full sentences, each describing one major project activity per process group. Examples of project activities we can use are found in the PMPECO, with each arrayed to its respective process group.
A soldier with the 110th Composite Truck Company, attaches a trailer to a vehicle as evening falls on Sept. 13, 2018. Soldiers worked into the night preparing vehicles for rapid deployment to hurricane-affected areas along the American East Coast.
Each project description needs to be concise; it should fit nicely within 550 characters or less, to include spaces, so we can transfer it onto the PMP Exam Application at some point. Doing so allows us to sit for the PMP exam so we can ‘validate’ all of our mission experience with this universally accepted, sought after project management credential. Think NCOER, OCER, or FitRep-type statements here.
Each project description should be coherent, i.e. readable. These project activity statements should be sequenced according to their presentation in the PMBOK; starting with Initiating Process Group and moving through the Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing Process Groups. That walks the reader through the project start to finish. Furthermore, the verb tenses should agree; past tense led stays led throughout the description, not I lead this and I led that. It makes the reading easier.
The description should be precise, using the terms and concepts depicted in the PMPECO (and PMBOK). Commander becomes Sponsor; Mission Paragraph 2 becomes Charter; POAM (plan of action and milestones) becomes project schedule; Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine becomes project team member; and foreign national becomes stakeholder.
They should also be accurate and personalized to the author’s experience. This can be done by counting the number of stakeholders involved in the briefings, or the types of risks analyzed and managed, or the total dollar value of the equipment purchased and shipped to units downrange. This quantification and qualification personalizes the statements to the authoring project manager.
Anything temporary and unique counts! Military, volunteer, recreational. Many veterans engage in volunteer activities, and these count as projects as well. Toys-for-Tots, command dine-ins, special event hosting on base, church functions, Scout trips and the like are just some examples. You want to document between 4,500 hours and 7,500 hours of experience leading and directing the project activities you see listed in the PMPECO. Doing so will qualify you to sit for the PMP or CAPM project management credentials, which ‘validates’ your experience because hiring managers know PMI saw it to approve you to take the exam.
Speaking of examples
Our first mission-to-project example is a weapons qualification event. The 542 character-long copy follows:
Obtained approval of Combat Marksmanship training event for USMC platoon and wrote Letter of Instruction as project charter.
Planned procurement of ammunition and developed schedule from event date backwards.
Acquired Corpsman, drivers, and range personnel as project team members.
Controlled risks through personnel monitoring and operating procedure compliance.
Closed project by cleaning up range, returning radios, arms, and vehicles, documenting shooter performance, and briefing the platoon and Battalion leadership on project results. It is sequenced, verb tenses agree, it is complete, accurate, and individualized, and it uses precise project management terms to root our military experience in.
The second example of a project description is a command inspection, and it too shows all process groups, is complete, and weighs in at 544 characters, to include spaces:
Developed charter for approval, to include inspection scope, reason, inspector(s), and inspected units. Defined scope by identifying the date, time, and location of the command inspection, and planned inspection of which units/elements/equipment when.
Sgt. Shuntaneque Greenwald, assigned to U.S. Army NATO Brigade, plots points on a map for night land navigation during the 2018 U.S. Army Europe Best Warrior Competition Aug. 16, 2018, at Grafenwoehr, Germany.
Managed stakeholders’ expectations through frequent communication with X key personnel during the planning and execution.
Controlled water, chow, and personnel formations, documented deficiencies during the inspection, and took corrective action.
Briefed commander on results and way ahead.
Our third and final example is extremely representative in today’s global environment, and helpful considering the nature of the prolonged Global War on Terror. It documents a fundamental military mission in the language of project management, a security patrol. In 368 accurate characters, we discuss it as Identified high-level risks and constraints for Charter inclusion and approval:
Planned personnel needs and equipment, and conducted risk planning.
Conducted project activities in accordance to schedule, logistics plans, and monitored and controlled risks; responding to triggered risks as planned.
Closed project through collected lessons learned and sponsor debrief.
The work civilian project management professionals, governing bodies, and academicians have done in the project management space has created a way for military service members and veterans to tell the story of their military experience in a language civilian hiring managers understand, value, and hire for.
We can use the PMBOK and the PMPECO to write up each temporary and unique mission as a project. When we aggregate these individualized, precise, accurate, coherent project descriptions, we have a resume full of project management experience.
And when we add the PMP or CAPM to this resume, it becomes validated in the minds of civilian hiring officials because they know PMI saw thousands of hours of project management experience before allowing to sit for the PMP or CAPM exam. Telling our military story in project management allows us to overcome one of the biggest challenges we will face during our transition.
This article originally appeared on G.I. Jobs. Follow @GIJobsMagazine on Twitter.
Significant activity has been spotted at North Korea’s main atomic test site’s west portal — an as-of-yet unused tunnel complex where little or no activity had been observed over the past several months — raising the possibility of preparations for a fresh nuclear test, an analysis of new satellite imagery showed Nov. 6.
In the report on the Punggye-ri atomic test site, the North Korea-watching website 38 North said that the imagery, dating from Sept. 8 to Nov. 1, showed “significant movement of equipment, mining carts, material, and netting within the area” of the west portal after Pyongyang’s sixth and most powerful nuclear blast on Sept. 3.
That test — which North Korea has claimed was of a hydrogen bomb — was held at the site’s north portal, where the isolated country’s last five nuclear tests were conducted.
According to the imagery, two temporary structures near that portal’s entrance believed to be associated with the September test have been removed, and no vehicles, mining equipment, or materials have been observed there since the test.
“While it is not possible to determine the exact purpose of these activities from imagery alone, they could be associated with new nuclear test preparations at the west portal, further maintenance on the west portal in general and/or the abandonment of the north portal,” the report said.
While noting little change at the test site’s south portal, the report maintained 38 North’s long-held stance that tunnels there “have been sufficiently prepared to accommodate a test at any time.”
The analysis also said that the available imagery could not corroborate a recent report by TV Asahi citing an unnamed North Korean source said that more than 200 personnel and rescuers had been trapped and feared dead in tunnel collapses at the site.
TV Asahi reported Oct. 31 that the accident had killed scores around Sept. 10. North Korea lashed out at Japan on Nov. 2, dismissing the report as “misinformation” and part of a bid “to secure a pretext for sending the Japan ‘Self-Defense Forces’ into the Korean peninsula on their own initiative by building up the public opinion over [the] ‘nuclear threat’ from the DPRK.”
The Japan Times could not independently confirm the report, but North Korea rarely acknowledges major accidents, and any incident related to its nuclear program would be especially taboo.
The Nov. 6 analysis by 38 North, however, said the movement of equipment and material at the west portal provided “sufficient evidence that mining personnel have been inside” at least some tunnels at the site.
It said that while the three most recent post-test tremors could have damaged the tunnel networks, there were no observable signs of such a tunnel collapse or intensive rescue or recovery operations outside any of the portals or within any of the support areas.
“While it is possible that the north portal has been at least temporarily abandoned in the aftermath of the Sept. 3 nuclear test, the overall Punggye-ri nuclear test site is neither abandoned nor mothballed,” the report concluded. “Significant tunnel related operations continue at the west portal, while the south portal remains in a continuing state of nuclear test readiness.”
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho warned in September that Pyongyang may consider conducting “the most powerful detonation” of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean amid rising tensions with the United States.
The country’s top diplomat made the comment after US President Donald Trump warned that North Korea, which has ramped up its development of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States, would be “totally destroyed” if it threatened the US or its allies.
A senior diplomat with the North’s Foreign Ministry said in an Oct. 25 interview with CNN that the threat of an atmospheric test over the Pacific should be taken “literally.”
Experts say that conducting such a test would be a way of demonstrating the North’s capability of striking the United States with nuclear weapons, since all of its previous tests have been underground.
In August, 1995, a series of events occurred that would just seem implausible today. A Taliban MiG fighter intercepted a Russian Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD, forcing it to land at Kandahar International Airport in the middle of a nationwide Civil War. The crew and its passengers were taken prisoner by the Taliban. They were held for a year while the Russian government tried to negotiate their release with the help of a U.S. senator
The 1990s were a crazy time. Even with our post-9/11 goggles off, it seems inconceivable that any number of the above could happen – just try to imagine these crazy things:
A Taliban MiG fighter
Forcing a Russian plane to land
Russian government negotiating
A U.S. Senator helping Russia
It’s all true, of course. In 1994, the Taliban exploded out of Kandahar and, by the time of this incident, controlled much of the country south of Kabul. When the Airstan plane was flying over, the Taliban were still deadlocked against the Afghan government of the time, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani.
It must have been an awkward ask for Rabbani, who spent years fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, only to ask them for weapons in trying to keep it away from other Afghans.
Even Jiffy Lube makes you keep the keys on the dashboard, guys.
The Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD was carrying a load of 30 tons of weapons from Albania bound for the legitimate Afghan government when it was intercepted by a Taliban MiG-21. It was an old fighter, even in the 1990s, but was still enough to bring down the Ilyushin II.
Upon landing, the crew of seven was taken into custody by the Taliban — but the story doesn’t end there. As negotiations between the Russians and the terrorist group began to stall, American Senator Hank Brown stepped in to facilitate the talks, not only buying the Russians time, but also the crew. It didn’t hurt that the Taliban wanted some of their people freed in exchange for their prisoners.
For over a year, the Russian aircrew prepared for their daring escape. Brown managed to get the Taliban to agree to let the Russian Airstan crew maintain their captured aircraft to ensure it was in working order when the time to take off finally came. Brown visited the crew and let them know they would be maintaining it.
But not only did the crew perform its routine maintenance, they also slowly but surely prepared it for their flight home. They finally got their big chance one day, just over a year after being captured. When half of the Taliban who regularly guarded them left the group to attend evening prayers, the crew tricked the others into leaving their weapons outside the plane.
They overpowered the remaining three guards and started the engines.
By the time the Taliban noticed the plane was getting ready for take off, it was already taxiing down the runway. They tried to block their takeoff using a fire truck, but to no avail, the Russians were airborne well ahead of the truck’s position on the runway. The Taliban missed catching the escaping Russians by a mere three to five seconds.
The crew had done the impossible and the Taliban were not able to scramble intercepting aircraft in time to catch them.
They left Taliban airspace as fast as possible and set course for the UAE. By the time they landed, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was waiting by the phone to congratulate them. They made it home to Russia shortly after. The crew is said to celebrate their escape from the terrible event like a second birthday. The Taliban are brutal to prisoners, and the crew of the Airstan Ilyushin Il considered the entire country a prisoner of the terror group.
“My heart really goes out to these people. I’ve seen what a poverty-stricken and miserable standard of living they have. They’re still fighting because they’ve nothing left to lose,” a member of the crew told the BBC.
Their daring escape was the subject of a Russian film, Kandagar, in 2010.
The Magnum P.I. and Blue Bloods star may be best known for Hawaiian shirts and the Gatling gun of mustaches, but did you know he also served in the Guard?
After he was drafted during the Vietnam War, Selleck joined the 160th infantry regiment of the California National Guard. “I am a veteran. I’m proud of it,” he said. “I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry, National Guard, Vietnam era. We’re all brothers and sisters in that sense.”
Selleck served from 1967 to 1973, including six months of active duty. Before his military career, however, Selleck had already begun to pursue the entertainment industry, including commercial work and modeling, which makes it no surprise that he would later appear on California National Guard recruiting posters.
Former National Guard member, Tom Selleck, shares Guard facts in this 1989 commercial
In the video, Selleck uses a mixture of voiceover and direct-to-camera dialogue interspersed with facts about the National Guard throughout modern conflicts and operations: “Some people think the National Guard is just an excuse for a bunch of guys to get together and have a good time. That they’re not as trained or committed as other branches of the military. That they’re weekend warriors — not real soldiers. And people wonder what business they have being in a foreign country. Well I can’t clear up all the misconceptions people have about the National Guard so let me leave you with one important fact: if you bring together all the ready forces of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Reserves, you still have only half the picture. The other half? The National Guard, skilled, capable, intelligent people. People like you and me. American’s at their best.”
The video is certainly different from what contemporary audiences are accustomed to. While modern recruiting videos show off assets and firepower, this one feels a little more solemn and defensive. This may be a reflection of the nation’s shift in National Guard duty rights during the 80s.
In 1986, Congress passed a Federal law known as the Montgomery Amendment, which removed state governors’ power to withhold consent for orders summoning National Guard units to active duty without a national emergency. The law was originally created in response to the decision made by several governors to withhold their consent to send units for training in Honduras. In 1989, a Federal appeals court upheld the law when it was challenged by the Massachusetts and Minnesota governors.
According to the 1989 Profile of the Army, additional missions were transferred to the National Guard and Army Reserve as the Army increased its focus as an integrated and cohesive “TOTAL FORCE” ready to respond to Soviet attacks on NATO or the Persian Gulf and defend U.S. interests abroad.
Selleck’s patriotism extended beyond his service to recruitment just in time to help boost numbers before the Persian Gulf War the following year.
One Navy Cross and one Silver Star were presented posthumously, including an upgrade from a Silver Star to a Navy Cross for SEAL Charles Keating, IV, who was killed during an ambush in northern Iraq while assisting anti-ISIS Peshmerga forces.
“Today we honor some of our nation’s finest heroes, not just for their individual acts of courage and bravery in the face of danger, but for the everyday selflessness that they and their peers demonstrate,” Mabus said. “This generation of Sailors, and particularly those serving as part of our Naval Special Warfare team, is an extraordinary group of men and women who have given so much to our country.”
These awards were upgrades to previously awarded medals for valor in combat and upgraded as a result of the Department of the Navy’s Post 9/11 Valor Awards Review Panel. This panel reviewed award nominations from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure members were appropriately recognized for acts of valor.
The Navy did not disclose the names of the SEALs whose awards were upgraded.
According to Keating’s Silver Star citation, he lead Peshmerga fighters in repelling an assault by 100 ISIS fighters, including intercepting a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device with sniper fire and rockets. Keating’s actions occurred in March 2016, two months before he was killed.
“Although today we recognize these individuals for their heroism and valor in combat, we are also honoring the Sailors and Marines who fought beside them and those who are still in the fight,” Mabus said.
The Department of the Navy reviewed more than 300 valor awards and the review was completed Nov. 15.
The Navy Cross, the U.S. Navy’s second highest decoration, is awarded for extraordinary heroism while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States. The act must be performed in the presence of great danger or at great personal risk.
The Silver Star is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States, while engaged in military operations with a friendly force. It is the fourth highest military honor that can be awarded to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and the third highest award for valor.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) 1st Class Jeffrey Thomas was awarded the Silver Star Medal during an awards ceremony, Sept. 20, at EOD Mobile Unit Three on board Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, California.
The Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Bill Moran, recognized Thomas for his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
“Today we recognize the heroic actions of individuals and the legacy of their teammates. This recognition is well deserved, and it’s an acknowledgment of bravery, training, and dedication to team and country,” said Moran.
On Oct. 20 and 21, 2016, while conducting combined clearance operations, Thomas’ element became engaged in a 10-hour firefight with forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Throughout the battle, he continuously maneuvered through heavy small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar fire in order to engage the enemy and clear paths for his teammates.
After the lead vehicle in the convoy struck an improvised explosive device, mortally wounding a teammate, Thomas exited his vehicle and swept the vicinity for additional explosive devices in spite of enemy mortar and small arms fire impacting near him.
This enabled medics to maneuver to the damaged vehicle and provide critical combat care to the casualty. Thomas then guided the remaining vehicles out of the minefield, ensuring all forces safely reached the medial evacuation zone.
“No one that was present on the 20th of October knew better than Jeff the dangers he was facing,” said Cmdr. Geoff Townsend, commanding officer, EODMU 3. “After the EOD supervisor, a friend and mentor, was mortally wounded, Jeff knowingly exposed himself to hazards in order to protect the lives of his teammates and brothers in arms, and secure a MEDEVAC for his wounded teammate. His actions that day saved the lives of his teammates and exceeded all measures of selflessness and devotion to his country.”
The ceremony also included the presentation of the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” to Lt. Morgan Dahl and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (with Combat Distinguishing Device) to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Senior Chief Jon Hamm. Dahl was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroic achievement during combat operations as vehicle commander and primary explosives ordnance disposal technician, when he safely guided the tactical advance of his combined convoy under constant direct and indirect enemy.
Hamm was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his heroic achievement when Islamic State fighters engaged Hamm’s element with effective automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fire, he maneuvered without hesitation under fire in order to clear a safe route allowing his team to suppress the enemy.
US Navy EOD enables special operations and conventional forces access to denied areas. Navy EOD technicians and Navy divers are instrumental in clearing the way for further combat operations. They render safe various types of ordnance, including conventional, improvised, chemical, biological, and nuclear.
A Taliban shadow governor who had planned and executed improvised explosive device attacks on Marines and Afghan soldiers for well over a decade was killed in a precision airstrike just days before Christmas, Marines in Afghanistan told Military.com.
Task Force Southwest, the 300-Marine element that deployed to Helmand province as an advisory force for the Afghan National Defense Forces in April, does most of its work from inside the wire, supporting the local troops who patrol and launch ground attacks. But this recent strike on local Taliban mastermind Qari Fida Mohammad illustrates the impact Marines continue to have on the active fight.
Mohammad, longtime shadow governor of the restive Helmand district of Marjah, was killed Dec. 20, task force spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz said.
Standing inside the unit’s operations center, where 11 large flat screens featured detailed live drone footage from around Helmand province, Capt. Brian Hubert explained how the strike happened.
“Through the work of the intelligence sections as well as the operations in here, and coordination with the Afghans as well, we were able to conduct a strike on him a few days ago,” said Hubert, battle captain for Task Force Southwest. “Basically, we’re very familiar with the battlespace now. So when we see the leaders we know are important there, we can kind of do a bead on them.”
The unit started tracking Mohammad with its eyes in the sky. When he was well positioned as a target, the Marines called in two Air ForceF-16 Fighting Falcons to execute the strike.
“He was in a vehicle traveling with deputies, bodyguards, and a cousin of his, who was also a sub-commander,” Hubert said. “We took the shot successfully, and [he was] dead on the spot, which was huge.”
Mohammad, who was based in the Taliban hotbed of Marjah, but operated throughout Helmand province, had been well-known to the Marines for years.
Col. Matthew Reid, deputy commander of the task force, told Military.com he had known about Mohammad in 2010, when he deployed to Helmand for active combat operations.
“We’re still not really fully aware of the exact ramifications of taking him out,” Reid said. “It was a pretty big takedown, so we’re pretty happy about it. He was behind a lot of attacks against Marines back in the day–really high profile attacks.”
Hubert said the task force was now tracking the impact of Mohammad’s elimination. Ahead of the strike, he said, Marines had watched via drone footage as local civilians took to their homes, fearful of being blamed and facing violent reprisal if any attack were launched on the shadow governor. Now, he said, newly leaderless Taliban fighters in southern Marjah are acting disorganized and confused, without orders to carry out.
“Supposedly, [Mohammad] also had a lot of intimidation where he killed full families; he was absolutely just a Mafia-style Taliban leader in that area,” Hubert said, adding that he regularly demanded ‘taxes’ from local civilians by force. “Taking him out … hopefully provides the residents of Marjah and the southern end a little bit of a ‘hey, maybe it’s a turn.'”
For the Marines, Marjah is a region full of history. It’s the site of some of the service’s most hard-fought battles in Helmand. Some 50 American troops died in the 2010 joint siege on Marjah, known as Operation Moshtarak. When Marines departed Afghanistan in 2014, Marjah was considered relatively stable; but by 2016 it had fallen back under Taliban control.
Marines are now working to empower Afghan troops from the local 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army to hold the line. When the small task force arrived, the provincial capital city of Lashkar Gah was on the verge of being overtaken by the Taliban, Marines said. Now, with support from the Task Force, the soldiers have restored stability to the town and are beginning to move offensively against the Taliban.
In a shura with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller on Dec. 23, Helmand provincial governor Hayatullah Hayat said Afghan troops continue to take daily casualties in the fight.
But task force personnel continue to exact a daily toll against the Taliban as well. On a December visit to the operations center, a dark plume of smoke rose from a road on one of the screens — evidence of a precision strike carried out only minutes before.
From the screens, Hubert said, Marines had watched a pair of Taliban fighters carrying weapons dig a hole in a road south of the Marjah district center, intending to emplace IEDs ahead of a trip Afghan National Security Forces intended to make to the center.
Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucanos were in the air at the time, and Marines reached out and shared what they were seeing, offering them the opportunity to take out the fighters.
“They couldn’t quite get it, so we stepped in,” Hubert said. “We took the shot with F-16s and killed the two enemy. So now, they’re free to move toward the Marjah district center unimpeded by any kind of enemy contact right now.”
The process of identifying targets and executing strikes is a collaborative one, Hubert explained. Often the Marines will share what they’re seeing and make recommendations to the Afghan troops about how to respond, but leave the decision-making to them. The Afghan troops also play a significant role in the intelligence-gathering: in addition to ground reports, they maintain their own ScanEagle drone, its footage featured on one of the screens at the operations center.
As one target smoldered on the screen, Marines were tracking another: two men traveling up a road, south of friendly forces, one carrying a weapon on his back, concealed by clothing.
“We can see [the weapon] by the shape and size of what it looks like, then we’ll see him take it out,” Hubert explained.
In the course of several hours that morning, the Marines would coordinate the elimination of a half-dozen Taliban fighters.
The recent strike against Mohammad, and the daily strikes on Taliban targets, illustrate the intensity of the fight the Marines are still waging, albeit from a greater distance than they were during active combat in support of Operation Enduring Freedom four years ago.
“I know we want to bring in governance, and I know we want institutional fixes. But right now, this is a fight,” said Reid, the task force deputy commander. “And as Marines, when we’re fighting, we’re going to kill the enemy, and we’re going to kill as many as we can.”