Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

One of the largest joint combat search and rescue exercises in the Pacific region, Exercise Pacific Thunder 18-1, kicked into full swing yesterday at Osan Air Base, South Korea.


This year, the exercise is the largest it has ever been. More than 20 U.S. Air Force squadrons and nine South Korean air wings are involved, giving the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons opportunities to train in simulated combat search and rescue missions all while working alongside their South Korean counterparts.

Also read: A-10 looks like it’s here to stay after new Air Force upgrades

“Pacific Thunder originally started in 2009 as a one-week exercise between the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd Rescue Squadron, and has since grown into a [Pacific Air Forces]-level exercise,” said Air Force Capt. Travis Vayda, the 25th Fighter Squadron Pacific Thunder 18-1 coordinator.

Although the annual exercise now has a vast range of units participating, it is still centered on the 25th Fighter Squadron, which operates A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, and the 33rd Rescue Squadron, which operates HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.

“Combat search and rescue is one of the most important mission sets we have in the A-10 community because we are really the only fixed-wing asset in the Air Force who trains to the CSAR mission,” Vayda said. “We are the close muscle, so essentially we are the bodyguards of the person on the ground and the helicopters that are rescuing them. Obviously in a CSAR [situation], you don’t want to have another type of shoot down or anything happen.”

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea
An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron from Kadena Air Base, Japan, prepares for a combat search and rescue mission during exercise Pacific Thunder 18-1 at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 23, 2017. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gwendalyn Smith

Realistic Training

During the exercise, the 33rd Rescue Squadron is able to directly work with A-10 pilots from the 25th Fighter Squadron, a level of joint training that both units typically have to simulate.

“The realism of the exercise gives us an opportunity to really see how the 25th FS operates,” said Air Force Capt. Dirk Strykowski, the 33rd Rescue Squadron’s HH-60 Pave Hawk flight lead. “Back in Kadena, we pretend as best we can to know what these guys are going to sound like on the radio, what calls they’re going to make and what kind of information they are going to provide, but being able to come up here and refresh what that’s actually going to be like is probably the biggest take away from the exercise.”

Related: Will this year’s massive military exercise finally provoke North Korea?

To make the exercise even more realistic, pararescuemen and survival, evasion, resistance and escape personnel from the 31st Rescue Squadron are not only participating in rescue missions, but also role-playing as isolated personnel.

“The intent of this exercise is to train like you fight, and we are trying to replicate that as best we can,” Strykowski said. “We have a lot of support from our pararescue and SERE. They’re out there on the ground now pretending to be downed pilots. So every step of the way, we are making it as realistic as it can get.”

Through combined CSAR training, exercise Pacific Thunder enhances the combat effectiveness between U.S. and South Korean air forces. Exercises like Pacific Thunder ensure the region remains ready to “Fight Tonight.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army to upgrade firepower for two brigade combat teams

The U.S. Army announced that the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division (1/1 AD) stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, will convert from a Stryker brigade combat team (SBCT) to an armored brigade combat team (ABCT); and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division (2/4 ID) stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, will convert from an infantry brigade combat team (IBCT) to an SBCT.

“Converting a brigade combat team from infantry to armor ensures the Army remains the world’s most lethal ground combat force, able to deploy, fight, and win against any adversary, anytime and anywhere,” Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper said.



This conversion contributes to Army efforts to build a more lethal force and is an investment to increase overmatch against our potential adversaries — one more critical step to achieving the Army Vision. This effort also postures the Army to better meet combatant commander requirements under the 2018 National Defense Strategy.

“The Army leadership determined that we needed to covert two brigade combat teams to armor and Stryker in order to deter our near-peer adversaries or defeat them if required,” said Maj. Gen. Brian J. Mennes, director of force management.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

A Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle.

(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Ellen Brabo)

Conversion of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, will begin in the spring of 2019 and spring of 2020 respectively.

This will provide the nation a 16th ABCT bringing the total number BCTs in the Regular Army (RA) and Army National Guard (ARNG) to 58. There will be a total of 31 BCTs in the RA, to include 11 ABCTs, 13 IBCTs and seven SBCTs. The ARNG will have a total of 27 BCTs, to include five ABCTs, 20 IBCTs and two SBCTs, ensuring a more balanced distribution between its light and heavy fighting forces.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Putin Attends Naval Parade, Promises New Ships, Weapons

President Vladimir Putin said the Russian Navy will get 40 new ships and vessels this year, as he attended a naval parade in St. Petersburg marking Navy Day in Russia.

The parade in St. Petersburg on July 26 featured 46 ships and vessels and over 4,000 troops and aimed to “demonstrate the growing power of our navy,” Putin said.


Putin said 40 ships and vessels of different classes will enter service this year, and that the Russian Navy will be equipped with hypersonic weapons to boost its combat capabilities.

The combination of speed, maneuverability, and altitude of hypersonic missiles, capable of travelling at more than five times the speed of sound, makes them difficult to track and intercept.

Russia has made military modernization its top priority amid tensions with the West that followed Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.

Similar parades marking Russia’s Navy Day on July 26 took place in the Far Eastern cities of Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk, Sevastopol in the annexed Crimea region, the seaport towns of Severomorsk and Baltiysk, Kaspirsk in the south of Russia, and the port city of Tartus in Syria.

Earlier this week, during a ceremony of keel-laying for new warships in Crimea, Putin pledged to continue an ambitious program of building new warships, saying that Russia needs a strong navy to defend its interests and “help maintain a strategic balance and global stability.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S.-Taliban deal signing expected next week, if reduction in violence is successful

A deal between the United States and the Taliban is expected to be signed on February 29 provided a “reduction in violence'” due to enter into force at midnight proves successful, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on February 21.


The United States and the Taliban have been engaged in talks to facilitate a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan and reduce the U.S. presence in the region, Pompeo said in a statement.

“In recent weeks, in consultation with the Government of National Unity, U.S. negotiators in Doha have come to an understanding with the Taliban on a significant and nationwide reduction in violence across Afghanistan,” Pompeo said.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

“Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward. We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29,” Pompeo said, adding that intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter, with the final aim of delivering “a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”

In a written statement, the Taliban confirmed the planned signing of a deal on February 29 “in front of international observers” and said that “the groundwork for intra-Afghan talks will be resolved,” although it did not mention when such talks would start.

The Taliban had previously refused to speak directly to the Afghan government, which it labeled a U.S. puppet.

archive.defense.gov

Earlier on February 21, a senior Afghan official and several Taliban leaders said that the week-long “reduction in violence” will begin at midnight local time on February 22.

“We hope it is extended for a longer time and opens the way for a cease-fire and intra-Afghan talks,” Javed Faisal, Afghanistan’s National Security Council spokesman, was quoted as saying.

The talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives began in Qatar in 2018.

Afghan government troops will keep up normal military operations against other militants, such as the Islamic State (IS) group, during the reduction in violence period, Faisal said.

He added that Afghan troops will also retaliate to the smallest violation of the understanding by the Taliban.

“Local government and security officials have been instructed by the president [Ashraf Ghani)] himself on how to follow the regulations agreed upon for the period [reduced violence],” Faisal said.

One Taliban leader based in Qatar’s capital, Doha, told Reuters that the week-long lull could not be called a “cease-fire.”

“Every party has the right of self-defense but there would be no attacks on each other’s positions in these seven days,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

Both NATO and Russia hailed the announcement.

“It will be an important event for the peace process in Afghanistan,” Moscow’s Afghanistan envoy, Zamir Kabulov, told the state news agency RIA Novosti, adding that he would attend the signing ceremony if invited.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the agreement opened a possible route to sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

“I welcome today’s announcement that an understanding has been reached on a significant reduction in violence across Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

NATO has a 16,000-strong mission in Afghanistan to train, support, and advise local forces.

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

Articles

When US bases need backup, this is who they call: FAST Marines

The Marine Corps is a small organization that does a good job of producing a united front. Marketing people call it consistent messaging, and the Corps has long made it a part of their communications strategy. It’s simple. Marines are Marines. There are no special Marines.

While this narrative approach gives the Corps a consistent message and appearance, it also fails to highlight many of the special missions the Corps accomplishes that involve small teams of elite, specifically trained, war fighters. Today we are going to highlight one of those small teams of elite service members, commonly called FAST Marines.

FAST stands for Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team. These FAST units fall under the branch’s Security Force Regiment, which provides a dedicated security force and anti-terrorism unit made up of Security Force Marines. These Marines usually guard a variety of installations like Naval bases and others too sensitive to leave without an armed presence.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

FAST Marines have a very specific and specialized job. FAST teams are highly trained Marines who deploy across the world to serve as security at United States government installations. Imagine an embassy is threatened, and they need an immediate shot of highly trained Marines with a whole lot of guns.

They call FAST, and those Marines live up to their acronym. FAST Marines do non-traditional deployments to Guantanamo Bay, Bahrain, Spain, and Japan, where they essentially stage as a just-in-case precaution. These ‘staging’ deployments allow them to deploy at a moment’s notice to nearly anywhere in the world. On these deployments, they train extensively and keep their skills sharp in case they are called upon. FAST Marines also deploy stateside to aid Marine Security Forces in guarding nuclear subs and ships during nuclear rod replacement.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

History of FAST

FAST saw its establishment in 1987. The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of modern terrorism, and American interests overseas become targets of it. The President issued an order for the military and federal law enforcement to enhance their anti-terrorism capabilities. The Marines did as ordered and found a weakness in their Security Force infrastructure.

In the event of an attack that could overwhelm a Security Force detachment, they had no dedicated quick reaction force to enhance a Security Force’s numbers and capabilities. Thus, FAST Marines were born. Their mission was simple: they exist to reinforce an installation’s security force when the threat outguns the security forces on hand.

Since then, FAST has been called in to help secure Naval stations In Panama, where they engaged with what they believed to be Cuban special forces in an intense 30-minute firefight. From there, the Fast Marines would continue into Operation Just Cause, or the full invasion of Panama, in December of 1989.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. William Chockey)

FAST Marines deployed to Bahrain to protect the Naval Installations during Desert Storm, and in 1991, helped evacuate U.S. personnel from Liberia. When the U.S. established a liaison office in Mogadishu, they called FAST to provide security.

Without going through the entire history of FAST, it’s easy to say they’ve operated at a relatively high tempo since their inception, and have always been there when the Marine Corps and their nation called upon them.

How to become a FAST Marine

FAST Marines have a long pipeline of training before they become active-duty operators. It starts with speaking to a recruiter and obtaining a Security Forces contract. Like everyone in the Corps, it starts at a recruit training depot.

From there, Security Force Marines will attend Infantry Training At the School of Infantry West or East and obtain a MOS of 0311. Security Force Marines will maintain an infantry MOS as their primary MOS.

After SOI, they attend Security Force School. Here they can volunteer for FAST company. There is no guarantee for acceptance, and it’s all based on the needs of the Corps.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

After acceptance into FAST Company, they begin 5 Weeks of FAST training. From there, they go to an 8-week Close Quarter Battle School. The CQB school teaches FAST Marines how to fight in extremely close quarters. Here they become experts in clearing rooms, hallways, stairways, as well as dynamic entry and various other tasks associated with urban combat.

Following CQB school, they take a tactical driving course. Here Marines learn Motorcade Operations, high-risk driving, evasive driving, PIT maneuvers, ramming, close proximity driving, and driver down drills.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

Marines then become bodyguards at a High-Risk Personnel course where they learn close quarters protection tactics.

From there, they begin training in individual nonlethal weapons. This course teaches them tactics and weaponry they can use to deal with threats in a nonlethal manner. Finally, they attend the Helicopter and Rope Suspension Techniques Master Course, where they learn how to fast rope, rappel down structures and out of helicopters, and use SPIE rigging.

Life as a FAST Marine

After all that training, they’ll still be expected to know basic Marine skills. This includes basic and advanced trauma medicine, how to use nearly every weapon in the Corps’ arsenal, how to use night vision and thermal optics, land navigation, HMMWV course, and more.

FAST Marines will be stationed in either Naval Station Norfolk or Naval Weapons Station Yorktown in beautiful Virginia in companies Alpha, Bravo, or Charlie. 400 Marines and Sailors make up a FAST company.

From there, they can look forward to a potential deployment at the Platoon level to one of several naval stations where they can further their training and be on call for a mission. FAST Marines can expect to be constantly training in one direction or another.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dawson Roth)

FAST Marines utilize a lot of the same gear as their infantry counterparts. This includes the M4 and likely the M27 in the near future, as well as the Beretta M9, the M249 SAW, and M240B medium machine gun. Shotguns from Mossberg and Benelli offer a powerful close-quarters fighting tool, as well as a nonlethal option with the right rounds. Some Senior FAST Marines may have even been to designated marksman school and be wielding specialized rifles for that role.

Per their contract, a Security Force Marine will only serve two years active duty with Security Forces. After these two years, most will be reassigned to conventional infantry forces. It’s an odd system that doesn’t make much sense to me. It seems like after an expansive series of schools that FAST Marines would stay FAST Marines, but the Force dictates differently.

In the Infantry

Security Force Marines often have difficulty adjusting to the infantry. They’ve spent years in Security Forces and often come to the infantry as Non commissioned officers. Their specialized training is just that, specialized. It doesn’t translate over to conventional infantry operations, and because they lack the experience of most infantry Marines, they can feel like a fish out of water in the new surroundings and operational environment.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

FAST Marines do come to the ‘fleet’ with a more advanced set of skills and can serve as excellent advisors in close quarter’s combat, however. Urban terrain has been a big factor in recent wars, and knowing how to properly fight in it is invaluable.

Loaded Up

FAST is simply one small cog in a large Marine Corps. These small teams of specialists always interest me, and I think the Marine Corps does a disservice to itself by failing to highlight their unique capabilities. Regardless, when American installations overseas dial 911, it’s FAST that answers the call.

This article by Travis Pike was originally published by Sandboxx News. Follow Sandboxx News on Facebook.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How a Pave Hawk helicopter gets to the War in Afghanistan

While the Air Force is best known for dropping bombs on the enemy — and they’ve done a lot of that throughout the War on Terror — there is one critical mission that some elite airmen carry out: evacuating wounded troops in the middle of a firefight. Air Force Pararescue took that mission on in Afghanistan, even though it’s not exactly what they were trained for — the original mission was to recover downed aircrews.


As a result, the Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk has had quite a workout. This is the Air Force’s standard combat search-and-rescue helicopter, which replaced the older HH-53s. According to an Air Force fact sheet, the HH-60 has a top speed of 184 miles per hour, a maximum unrefueled range of 504 nautical miles, and the ability to use 7.62mm miniguns or .50-caliber machine guns. It has a crew of four and has a hoist that can haul 600 pounds.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea
Members of the 26th and the 46th Expeditionary Rescue squadrons scramble for a personnel mission at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Dec. 29. From notification, the units have 15 minutes to be airborne and must transfer the patient to Camp Bastion’s Role 3 in one hour. (USAF photo)

But there is one question: How do you get a Pave Hawk to Afghanistan? Or to other disaster areas, like Mozambique in 2000? Well, believe it or not, the helicopters fly in — but not by themselves. Despite the fact that they can be refueled in mid-air thanks to a probe, the helicopters often are flown in on the Air Force’s force of C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes.

You may be surprised, but the HH-60 is actually an easy cargo for one of these planes to carry. It comes in at 22,000 pounds — or 11 tons. The C-17 can carry over 170,000 pounds of cargo, per an Air Force fact sheet. The C-5 carries over 281,000 pounds. With weight out of the way, the only remaining issue is volume — and the HH-60 addresses that with folding rotor blades.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea
Believe it or not, the Pave Hawk is easy for a C-17 to lift. However, it is a tight fit in terms of volume. (U.S. Air Force photo)

So, if a Pave Hawk needs to go to Afghanistan, they fold the rotor blades, roll the chopper onto the C-5 or C-17, and take off. The cargo planes reach Afghanistan with a bit of mid-air refueling. Once it lands, the HH-60 rolls off, the rotor blades are unfolded, and it’s ready to save lives.

Check out the video below to see an HH-60 arrive in Afghanistan:

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the Navy backed off railguns (and China should too)

The prototype Chinese railgun is the first technical demonstrator of the tech on a ship at sea, but there are real reasons why the Navy is slow-rolling the railgun, and it’s unlikely that China has broken the code on how to make railguns viable.


First, for anyone who isn’t up on what railguns are, they’re a type of naval artillery that uses massive amounts of electricity to propel the round instead of a chemical reaction (read: gunpowder). This would be a major improvement in logistics and safety as the Navy would no longer need to ship bags of gunpowder around the world, but the best advantages come in range and lethality.

Railguns can hurl rounds very far. Navy engineers have said they think they can reach 230 miles with current technologies. And when the rounds hit the target, they’re going so fast that the total amount of damage on a target is like it was hit by a missile or a massive, high-explosive warhead but the fast-flying rounds can also pierce most armor and even underground targets and bunkers.

Oh, and the rounds are super cheap, costing about ,000 dollars per shot while the missiles they could sometimes replace are usually 0,000 a shot or more. Also, this hasn’t been proven yet, but railguns might be able to fire as fast as every 6 seconds.

Rain. Of. Fire.

So, railguns can fire up to 10 times as far as conventional artillery with a safer round that does more damage when it hits the target. And this isn’t theoretical — railguns have actually achieved these things in Navy tests. Time to put them on ships before China can, right?

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

High-speed photograph of Navy prototype railgun firing.

(U.S. Navy)

Not exactly. Because while railguns are a huge step up from conventional artillery and have a lot of advantages, there are also some serious drawbacks. First, they need a decent amount of deck space as well as a ton of space below decks. That’s because the guns require a ton of electricity, up to 9 kilowatt hours per shot. That’s how much energy an average U.S. house uses over 7 hours. The only surface ships with that kind of power on tap are the three Zumwalt-class destroyers and aircraft carriers.

Meanwhile, the weapons have improved in maintenance requirements in recent years, but still need new launcher cores every 400 shots and barrels every thousand.

But the biggest problem is the range. While a 230-mile range is phenomenal for artillery, it’s still a paltry reach compared to missiles. Tomahawk cruise missiles can reach between 810 miles and 1,550 miles depending on the type, and China’s “Carrier Killer” DF-26 is thought to strike at 1,200 miles or more. Meanwhile, a carrier-launched F-35 has a 1,380-mile range that can be extended with aerial refueling.

A railgun fires during testing at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 2016.

(Monica Wood, Fort Sill Public Affairs)

So, were railguns obsolete before they were launched? No. There are still plenty of niche uses for the railgun, and the Navy has slowed development but is still pursuing the weapon. Accurate railgun fire could intercept enemy missiles and fighter jets for cheap, possibly while plugged into the super capable Aegis combat system.

And while railgun-equipped ships would likely be too vulnerable to missile strikes to be “door-kicking” ships that take out enemy defenses on day one of a conflict, they would still be very valuable for shore bombardment, strike missions, and other tasks after the first week or so of a war, after the worst of the enemy’s missiles are taken out.

So why is China pursuing the weapon so hard? It’s unlikely that it has solved the power-generation problems of the railgun. And the U.S. is working hard to get the barrels right so they could fire 1,000 rounds instead of the 10 or less that were standard pretty recently. There’s a chance that China is still struggling with that and similar problems.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

An artist’s illustration of a Navy Joint High-Speed Vessel with the prototype railgun installed for testing.

(U.S. Navy)

But being the first navy to put a railgun to sea has already granted China a pretty great and relatively easy propaganda victory. The country has worked hard on their technology in recent years in order to be seen as a great naval power, potentially positioning themselves as an arms exporter while deterring conflict.

And the U.S. will have to prepare for the possibility that the railgun is for real. The first pilots to fly within the ship’s range if a war breaks out have to reckon with the possibility that a 20-pound shell might be flying at Mach 7 towards their aircraft at any moment. Missile attacks against a fleet with the ship will have to decide whether to concentrate on the railgun or an aircraft carrier or another combatant.

But, again, this could all be China exploring the tech or bluffing, but with none of the breakthroughs needed to make the weapons viable in combat. If so, they would be wise to concentrate on the many other breakthroughs their military could use for an actual fight.

MIGHTY SPORTS

The new Army Football uniforms will be in honor of the Big Red One

Every second Saturday of December, the soldiers of West Point settle their differences with the sailors and Marines of Annapolis in a good, old-fashioned football game. It’s a fiercely heated contest — and not just for the players on the field, but between entire branches.

Remember, when it comes to the troops, any little thing that can be used as bragging rights will be — even the uniforms are a type of competition. Traditionally, each team dons a new military history-inspired uniform for the Army-Navy game. Bringing the best threads to the gridiron isn’t officially a contest, but if it were, hot damn the Army would be winning.


Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

It’s unclear at this time if all Cadets on the field will be wearing the Black Lion or just the ones wearing the 28th Infantry Regiment on their lapel.

(West Point Athletics)

This year, the soldiers are honoring the First Infantry Division by sporting a uniform inspired by the Big Red One. It was chosen because 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. While there were many American units that fought, several of whom are still around, the 1st ID is often heralded for their decisive victory at the Battle of Cantigny.

The iconic Black Lions of Cantigny have been incorporated into the shoulders of the uniforms. The rest of the uniform is a flat black with red trimmings. It features, of course, the Nike logo (the team’s sponsor) and the unit insignia. On the collars are insignias that represent the various regiments of the 1st Infantry Division that fought in World War I.

On the back of the helmet, if you look closely, you’ll spot a subtle American flag. Sharp football fans will notice that the flag only has 48 stars on it. Keeping with WWI legacy, this was the flag that the soldiers of WWI fought under, long before Alaska and Hawaii became part of the Union in 1959.

Check out the announcement video below that was posted to the official Army West Point Athletics Facebook page.

Go Army! Beat Navy!

MIGHTY TRENDING

Coast Guard struggling to keep up with surge of narco subs

Through September 2018, Colombia’s navy had captured 14 “narco subs” on the country’s Pacific coast — more than triple the four it captured in 2017 and another sign of drug traffickers’ ingenuity.

Colombia is not alone. The US Coast Guard reported in September 2017 that it had seen a “resurgence” of low-profile vessels, the most common kind of “narco sub,” capturing seven of them since June 2017.


“We’re seeing more of these low-profile vessels; 40-plus feet long … it rides on the surface, multiple outboard engines, moves 18, 22 knots … and they can carry large loads of contraband,” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told Business Insider in October 2018 during an interview aboard the Coast Guard cutter Sitkinak in New York harbor.

“They’re very stealthy in terms of our ability to see them from the air [and] to detect them by radar,” Schultz added.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

US Coast Guardsmen sit on a narco sub in the Pacific Ocean in early September 2016.

(US Coast Guard photo)

‘Era of experimentation’

Low-profile vessels were the earliest kind of narco sub, a category that includes self-propelled semi-submersibles, which use ballast to run below the surface, and true submarines, which are the most rare.

They emerged in the early 1990s, as traffickers who had made a fortune moving drugs into the US — like George Jung and members of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel — encountered more obstacles.

“In the ’80s, the drug traffickers … were using go-fast boats, they were using twin-engine aircraft, and those were very easily detected by radar systems that we had,” particularly in the Caribbean and the southeastern US, said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

“So they started to counter those efforts by building submarines or semi-submersibles, because they were much more difficult to detect,” Vigil added. “They were made out of … wood, fiberglass, and then sometimes they had a lead lining that would reduce their infrared signature.”

The early 1990s was “the era of experimentation,” for Colombian narco subs, according to Vigil, who was stationed on the country’s Caribbean coast at the time and recalls encounters with them on the Magdelena River, which stretches nearly 1,000 miles from southwest Colombia to the Caribbean.

“They were not full-fledged submarines. They would float … just slightly underneath the water, but you could still see the tower, and they were not sophisticated at all,” he said. “Their navigational systems were poor; communications systems were poor.”

There are varying figures for how many narco subs have been caught over the years.

The first such vessel seen at sea by US law enforcement was intercepted in 2006, carrying 3 tons of cocaine about 100 miles off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The first one encountered in the Caribbean was stopped in summer 2011 — despite efforts to scuttle it, US authorities were able to recover 14,000 pounds of cocaine.

Criminal groups in Colombia continue to churn out homemade narco subs — 100 a year, according to Vigil — building them in the interior and using the country’s extensive river network, where law enforcement is scarce, to get them to sea.

The technology has advanced, and criminal groups, flush with profits from Colombia’s booming cocaine production, have been able deploy more sophisticated vessels for covert runs to Central America and Mexico, where cargos then move overland to the US. The routes have also grown more circuitous, likely to avoid detection at sea.

Better technology “has upped the chess game” between criminals and the military and law enforcement, Vigil said.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

Suspected drug-smuggling routes in the eastern Pacific Ocean in 2016.

(US Southern Command)

‘A drop in the bucket’

The recent increase in low-profile vessels intercepted by authorities indicates traffickers will adjust their tactics.

“There was certainly an uptick where the semi-submersibles were being utilized quite frequently, and then we had a lot of success against them,” Lt. Cmdr. Devon Brennan, head of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety and Security Team in New York, said during an interview aboard the Sitkanik.

“The drug-trafficking organizations are very agile and adept organizations, so they try to shift back,” Brennan said. “For one reason or another, they thought [low-profile vessels] might be a better option because of the success we’ve had against the [self-propelled semi-submersibles], so we have seen an increase in them.”

“This thing called the low-profile vessel, it’s evolutionary,” Schultz said. “The adversary will constantly adapt their tactics to try to thwart our successes.” The increase “reflects the adaptability, the malleability” of traffickers, he added.

Schultz and Brennan both emphasized that the Coast Guard is having success capturing narco subs. And Colombian officials have said that intercepting those vessels at sea — along with arresting traffickers on land — lands a serious blow to criminal organizations.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

A abandoned low-profile vessel found by the Guatemalan coast guard on April 22, 2017.

(Guatemalan army / US Southern Command)

Vigil was skeptical of the true impact, saying the DEA estimated at least 30% to 40% of drugs coming to the US were moving on narco subs, but authorities were likely only intercepting 5% of those vessels.

“They may be capturing more but, again, that’s because there’s a hell of a lot more being using to smuggle drugs,” Vigil said. (Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray has said the service faces “a capacity challenge” in trying to patrol trafficking routes through the eastern Pacific, an area the size of the continental US.)

Vigil also noted that the costs seemed to favor the traffickers.

“The submarines cost id=”listicle-2611789516″ million or million … depending on the communications systems, the engine, the materials used in them, the navigational systems,” Vigil said. Even though many are likely only used once, he added, “they have absolutely no economic impact on the cartels.”

Each kilogram of cocaine is worth only a few thousand dollars in Colombia. But the multiton cargos narco subs can carry are worth hundreds of millions of dollars once they’re broken up and sold in the US or Europe.

The cost to build a narco sub is “a drop in the bucket compared to the payload that they carry,” Vigil said. “So a million, million is nothing to them.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Preserving the legacy of Veterans buried in unmarked graves

Toni Craig, Larisa Roderick and Paul LaRue. These are the names of people who cared enough to preserve the legacy of Veterans interred in unmarked graves by obtaining headstones or markers from VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA).

An unmarked gravesite has no permanent headstone or any way to identify the decedent buried in the grave.


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Toni Craig visits her cousin Harry Martin’s grave.

For Craig, a special education world history teacher in Martinsville, Va., her quest was to obtain a marker for her cousin, Pfc. Harry Pemberton Martin, a Marine and Purple Heart recipient from the Vietnam War. He laid in an unmarked grave for 52-years.

Craig started her research in November 2019 with an obituary that her mother gave her. That search included working the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs in Danville, which allowed her to obtain all the necessary documentation to receive a flat marker. Martin now lays at Meadow Christian Church Cemetery in Martinsville.

“Harry is a hero to my family because he did not have to go to Vietnam. He served his time in the Navy, but decided to join the Marines after,” she said. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service, but to us his heart was and still is golden.”

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LaRue’s students laying a headstone.

This action (of preserving the legacy of Veterans who lay in unmarked gravesites) happens all across the country. A June 2019 story on clickorlando.com shows how concerned resident Larisa Roderick secured 61 headstones for Union Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II Veterans buried at Mt. Peace Cemetery in St. Cloud, Fla.

Retired Ohio high school teacher, Paul LaRue, involved his students to secure and install more than 70 headstones in five cemeteries since 2002. More than half were for African American Civil War Veterans. Those include Beach Grove, the historic African American cemetery, in Cincinnati, for World War I Veterans. The other is Washington City Cemetery in Washington Court House, Ohio, where African American Civil War Veterans lay.

“This unique preservation project began in our local city cemetery after a student asked, ‘Don’t these men deserve better?'” LaRue said.

The researchers only needed proper documentation to prove a Veteran’s service in order to obtain a headstone or marker through NCA. Each of them worked with local officials, the National Archives and Records Administration, and state and federal Veterans departments.

Requesting a headstone or marker

Anyone can request a burial headstone or marker if the service of the Veteran ended prior to April 6, 1917. Veterans who died prior to November 1, 1990, and whose graves are marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker in a private cemetery are not eligible to receive a second headstone or marker from NCA. However, a medallion is available to all decedents in this category who served on or after April 6, 1917. The medallion can be affixed to the existing headstone to show the Veteran’s branch of service.

In 2019, NCA furnished 161,939 headstones and markers, and 13,168 medallions, to Veterans interred in private cemeteries worldwide. For more information about the NCA headstone, marker and medallion program, visit https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/memorial-items/headstones-markers-medallions/.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.


Articles

General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis got Trump to rethink his position on torture in under an hour

President-elect Donald Trump often asserted that “torture works” on the campaign trail. But one meeting with legendary Marine Gen. James Mattis appears to have made him rethink that stance.


On Saturday, Trump met with the retired four-star general at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course for about an hour to discuss the possibility Mattis could be tapped to serve as defense secretary.

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General Mattis speaks to Marines in 2007. | U.S. Marine Corps photo

Details about the private conversation are hard to come by, but Trump did reveal an interesting bit Tuesday to reporters at The New York Times when asked about waterboarding.

From the Times:

“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,'” Mr. Trump said, describing the general’s view of torturing terrorism suspects. He added that Mr. Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terror suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better.'” He added: “I was very impressed by that answer.”

Torture, Mr. Trump said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”

It amounts to a “remarkable” reversal for the president-elect, as the Times put it. It also somewhat contradicts the position of  Trump’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has said that “all options are on the table.” Before he campaigned for Trump, however, Flynn criticized the practice.

If indeed Trump has changed his tune on the use of torture, that’s good news to a number of national-security experts who expressed concerns in light of Trump’s election win.

“I don’t think it’s going to come back,” Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College speaking of his personal views, said recently. “But that’s more hope than anything else.”

Mattis appears to be the frontrunner for the job of defense secretary. Trump told the Times he was “seriously considering” the retired officer for the position.

The debate over waterboarding in enhanced interrogations has a larger legal barrier than what President George W. Bush faced in the past. While Bush authorized the practice after the 9/11 terror attacks through legal memos, President Barack Obama ordered the practice to stop through an executive order. That order was later codified into law in 2015.

Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in March that the use of waterboarding is “inconsistent with the values of our nation.” Dunford previously served as Mattis’ deputy at 1st Marine Division.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia accuses Navy of controlling devastating drone swarm

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said a January 2018 drone swarm attack on a Russian military base in Syria had been commanded from a US Navy P-8A Poseideon, Russian media reported.

A swarm of 13 drones on Jan. 5, 2018, and Jan. 6, 2018, targeted Hmeymim air base and Tartus Naval Facility, but Russia repelled the attacks, it said at the time.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense released photos of fixed-wing, unsophisticated drones that the US doesn’t acknowledge as part of its inventory.


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, described the allegation as “very alarming,” Radio Free Europe reported.

“Any suggestion that U.S. or coalition forces played a role in an attack on a Russian base is without any basis in fact and is utterly irresponsible,” the Pentagon responded at the time.

The Poseidon P-8A does have the capability to communicate with drones, but it’s entirely unclear if it can command a fleet of 13 drones. Russia initially displayed the drones after the attack, but did not produce any hard evidence that they communicated with the US Navy.

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Russian Ministry of Defense display of the drones that allegedly took part in the attack.

Russia has some of the world’s best air defenses around its bases in Syria, which Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of Russia’s National Defense journal, told Russian media contributed to the attack.

The US “pursued several goals,” with the alleged attack, said Korotchenko.

“There were three such goals: uncovering the Russian air defense system in Syria, carrying out radio-electronic reconnaissance and inflicting actual harm to our servicemen in Syria,” he said.

Without citing evidence or sources, Korotechenko alleged the US carried out the attack to uncover “the strong and weak points in our air defense system in Syria.”

In April 2018, the US would attack targets in Syria suspected of participating in chemical weapons attacks on civilians, but Russian air defenses stood down.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army is getting an advanced new Bradley Fighting Vehicle

The Army is working on a future Bradley Fighting Vehicle variant possibly armed with lasers, counter-drone missiles, active protection systems, vastly improved targeting sights and increased on-board power to accommodate next-generation weapons and technologies.


Also designed to be lighter weight, more mobile and much better protected, the emerging Bradley A5 lethality upgrade is already underway – as the Army works vigorously to ensure it is fully prepared if it is called upon to engage in major mechanized, force-on-force land war against a technically advanced near-peer rival.

As the Army pursues a more advanced A5, engineered to succeed the current upgraded A4, it is integrating 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared sensors for Commanders and Gunners sights, spot trackers for dismounted soldiers to identify targets and an upgraded chassis with increased underbelly protections and a new ammunition storage configuration, Col. James, Schirmer Project Manager Armored Fighting Vehicles, said earlier this Fall at AUSA. (Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium).

BAE Systems, maker of the Bradley, told Warrior the platform’s modernization effort is designed in three specific stages. The first stage in the modernization process was the Bradley Track Suspension to address suspension upgrades, BAE statements said. The subsequent Bradley A4 Engineering Change Proposal, soon to enter production, improves mobility and increases electrical power generation. More on-board power can bring the technical means to greatly support advanced electronics, command and control systems, computing power, sensors, networks and even electronic warfare technologies.

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An M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle crew with Chaos Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Scott Walters, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division)

Maj. Gen. David Bassett, former Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems, described the upgrades in terms of A3 and A4 focusing upon the Bradley from the turret ring down – leading the A5 effort to more heavily modernize Bradley systems from the turret up. This includes weapons sights, guns, optics, next-generation signals intelligence and even early iterations of artificial intelligence and increased computer automation.

During several previous interviews with Warrior, Bassett has explained that computer-enabled autonomous drones will likely be operated by nearby armored combat vehicles, using fast emerging iterations of artificial intelligence. These unmanned systems, operated by human crews performing command and control from nearby vehicles, could carry ammunition, conduct reconnaissance missions, test enemy defenses or even fire weapons – all while allowing manned crews to remain at a safer stand-off distance. At one point, Bassett told Warrior that, in the future, virtually all armored vehicles will have an ability to be tele-operated, if necessary.

Also, while Army Bradley developers did not specifically say they planned to arm Bradleys with laser weapons, such innovation is well within the realm of the possible. Working with industry, the Army has already shot down drone targets with Stryker-fired laser weapons, and the service currently has several laser weapons programs at various stages of development. This includes ground-fired Forward Operating Base protection laser weapons as well as vehicle-mounted lasers. A key focus for this effort, which involves a move to engineer a much stronger 100-kilowatt vehicle-fired laser, is heavily reliant upon an ability to integrate substantial amounts of mobile electrical power into armored vehicles.

Space, Weight and Power considerations, as Army developers describe it, are an indispensable element of the calculus information Bradley modernization; this means managing things like weight, mobility, ammunition storage space and electromagnetic signatures as they pertains to vehicle protection and firepower.

Also Read: 3 powerful upgrades Bradley Fighting Vehicles could get in 2018

“If you emit a signal, you can be hit,” a senior Army weapons developer said.

Finding ways to lower vehicle weight, while simultaneously increasing protection and adding new systems such as Active Protection Systems technology, presents a particular challenge for developers. BAE has developed lighter-weight more mobile “band-tracks” for the Bradley as a way to help address this challenge, company and Army officials said.

Schirmer said equipping the Bradley with new suspension, reactive armor tiles and APS can increase the vehicle by as much as 3,000-pounds.

“We are working closely with the Army to understand the capability requirements they require, and develop solutions that address the current gaps and allow room for future growth,” Deepak Bazaz, vice president, Combat Vehicles programs, BAE Systems, told Warrior in a written statement.

As part of this strategic approach, BAE has already configured Bradleys with Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) weaponry designed to attack enemy drones, low flying aircraft or even incoming missile attacks. The Army is already testing and developing Stryker-fired Hellfire missiles and other SHORAD weapons as a way to meet the near-term threat gap introduced by the rapid proliferation of enemy drones and possible air attacks upon armored vehicle formations. BAE has independently configured a Bradley with SHORAD weapons ability and is in the process of presenting it to the Army for consideration.

APS technology, now being accelerated for multiple Army combat vehicles, uses sensors and radar, computer processing, fire control technology and interceptors to find, target and knock down or intercept incoming enemy fire such as RPGs and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, or ATGMs. Systems of this kind have been in development for many years, however the rapid technological progress of enemy tank rounds, missiles and RPGs is leading the Army to more rapidly test and develop APS for its fleet of Bradleys.

The Army is now testing the Bradley with an Israeli-manufactured IMISystems’ Iron Fist APS, a technology which uses a multi-sensor early warning system with both infrared and radar sensors.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea
An M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle crew with Chaos Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, engages a target during a platoon live-fire exercise at the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, July 28, 2017. 1st Bn., 68th Armor Regt. is testing company readiness while training toward the battalion’s participation in 3/4 ABCT’s live-fire exercise during Combined Resolve IX in August. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Scott Walters, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division)

“Electro-optical jammers, Instantaneous smoke screens and, if necessary, an interceptor-based hard kill Active Protection System,” IMISystems officials state.

IRON FIST capability demonstrators underwent full end-to-end interception tests, against all threat types, operating on the move and in urban scenarios. These tests included both heavy and lightly armored vehicles.

“In these installations, IRON FIST proved highly effective, with its wide-angle protection, minimal weight penalty and modest integration requirements,” company officials said.

Merging APS SHORAD

As part of these ongoing efforts to develop enhanced ground combat lethality, such as the emerging Stryker-fired 30mm cannon along with SHORAD possibilities and APS vehicle weapons technology, Army program managers are beginning to consider the possibility of merging APS sensors and fire control with some of these larger vehicle-integrated weapons.

“There is not a specific program, but we are evaluating the technology to see if the sensors we use for active protection could be married with the lethality from a Stryker-fired 30mm air burst round,” Col. Glenn Dean, Project Manager, Stryker Brigade Combat Team, told Warrior in an interview during AUSA this past October.

In this conceivable scenario, APS could in theory vastly expand its target envelope beyond merely intercepting things like RPGs or ATGMs and function in a fast-moving counter drone or counter aircraft defensive capacity.

“In the future, we could use directed energy, traditional missiles or a direct-fire cannon to shoot out countermeasures,” Dean added.

Also Read: Abrams, Stryker and Bradley to get active RPG protection

Overall, despite the promise of increasingly innovative offensive and defensive weaponry for ground combat vehicles, service leaders often reflect upon the unpredictability and wide-ranging nature of enemy threats.

“There are rounds like sabo rounds which will go through reactive armor. There is no silver bullet when it comes to protection,” the senior Army weapons developer said.

Land War vs. Russian Chinese Armored Vehicles

The Army is accelerating these kinds of armored vehicle weapons systems and countermeasures, in part because of an unambiguous recognition that, whoever the US Army fights, it is quite likely to encounter Russian or Chinese-built armored vehicles and advanced weaponry.

As part of this equation, recognizing that Army warfighters are often understandably reluctant to articulate war plans or threat assessments, it is indeed reasonable and relevant to posit that service war planners are looking at the full-range of contingencies – to include ground war with North Korea, Russian forces in Europe, Iranian armies in the Middle East or even Chinese armored vehicles on the Asian continent.

Citing Russian-built T-72 and T-90 tanks, Army senior officials seem acutely aware that the US will likely confront near-peer armored vehicles, weapons systems and technologies.

“If the Army goes into ground combat in the Middle East, we will face equipment from Russia, Iran and in some cases China,” a senior Army official told Warrior. “The threat is not just combat vehicles but UAVs (drones), MANPADs and other weapons.”

Bradley upgrades are also serving as a component to early conceptual work on the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, an entirely new platform or fleet of vehicles slated to emerge in the 2030s.

Bassett said the Army has set up cross-functional teams to explore early concepts for requirements for the new vehicles; although the service has not yet decided upon a particular chassis or vehicle, the Army is looking at Abrams, Bradley and Howitzer-type configurations as experimental platforms.

“We may want to use Bradleys as surrogate vehicles to try out some of the technologies available in the marketplace,” Schirmer said.

“We are leveraging new and emerging technology, with an eye towards commonality across many of the BAE Systems built vehicles in the formation, to provide superior capabilities for our troops,” Bazaz said.

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea
Soldiers from Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 150th Cavalry Regiment, West Virginia National Guard, perform preventative maintenance checks and service on their M121 120 mm mortar system at the Hobet reclaimed mine site Jan. 12, 2018 in Southern West Virginia. The Soldiers conducted maneuver and armored reconnaissance training during their three day drill period. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Holli Nelson)

Next Generation vehicles, for the 2030s and beyond, Army developers say, will be necessary because their are limits to how far an existing armored vehicle can be upgraded. This requires a delicate balancing act between the short term operational merits of upgrades vs. a longer-term, multi-year developmental approach. Each has its place, Army acquisition leaders emphasize.

The emergence of these weapons, and the fast-changing threat calculus is also, quite naturally, impacting what Army developers call CONOPS, or Concepts of Operations. Longer range sensors and weaponry, of course, can translate into a more dispersed combat area – thus underscoring the importance of command and control systems and weapons with sufficient reach to outrange attacking forces. The idea of bringing more lethality to the Bradley is not only based upon needing to directly destroy enemy targets but also fundamental to the importance of laying down suppressive fire, enabling forces to maneuver in combat.

As part of these preparations for future ground warfare, Army concept developers and war veterans are quick to point out that armored vehicles, such as a Bradley or even an Abrams tank, have also been impactful in certain counterinsurgency engagements as well. Accordingly, the term “full-spectrum” often receives much attention among Army leaders, given that the service prides itself on “expecting the unexpected” or being properly suited in the event of any combat circumstance. The Army has now evolved to a new Doctrinal “Operations” approach which places an even greater premium upon winning major power land wars.

“We need to be ready to face near-peers or regional actors with nuclear weapons. It is the risk of not being ready that is too great,” a senior Army official said.

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