The US military spokesman for the coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria acknowledged on Wednesday that American military advisors have been knee deep in the offensive to retake the city of Mosul.
“They have been in the city at different times, yes,” Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters, according to ABC News. Though, he said, “they’ve advised Iraqi Security Forces as they’ve moved forward. They remain behind the forward line of troops.”
The battle to retake Mosul began in October, and Iraqi forces have encountered fierce resistance and significant casualties. For example, Iraq’s elite “Golden Brigade” of special operations troops have suffered upwards of “50 percent casualties” in the fight, which could eventually make them combat ineffective, according to a Pentagon officer who spoke with Politico.
Casualties have also hit US forces as well. Since October, the number of Americans wounded in combat has nearly doubled since OIR kicked off in August 2014.
That’s likely due to US forces working more closely with their Iraqi counterparts. Though US officials have often downplayed the role of American troops in the region as merely training, advising, and assisting Iraqi forces, the latest situation report from the Institute for the Study of War says that US and coalition forces have “embedded their advisors at lower-levels in the [Iraqi Security Forces].”
In other words, US special operations forces are often not remaining behind the front lines — especially considering a “front line” in the anti-ISIS fight is murky at best — but instead, are right in the thick of it with Iraqi troops.
The military has more than 5,000 troops on the ground in Iraq currently, a number which has steadily crept up since roughly 300 troops were deployed to secure the Baghdad airport in June 2014.
America has, by far, the largest, most powerful, well-equipped, and best trained military force to ever exist on Earth. This is probably why Americans can’t have any discussion about military spending without talking about which countries in the world can field an Army which even come close to the United States’.
On the list of the top military spenders in the world, it’s a fairly well-known fact the U.S. spends as much on its military as the next five countries on said list, combined. Which is fine by the military, because golf courses, and flat screen TVs (and if you’re in the Marines, a barracks next to a river of sh-t) don’t come cheap.
What’s more valuable than talking about the best armies in the world is talking about the worst armies in the world. What good is all the training, equipment, and resources if a country still fields an army who can’t win? These ten armies make the Salvation Army look like a credible fighting force.
10. Costa Rica
The Costa Ricans have to be at the bottom of the list, as they have no armed forces to speak of. What they do have is an Army of wealthy Westerners who come to teach Yoga to other Westerners visiting Costa Rica. But no one will ever want to invade Costa Rica because these people will have to come with it. Other countries without a military force include Iceland, Mauritius, Monaco, Panama, and Vanuatu, all without the significant number of would-be yogis. Can you imagine a world without military service?
What may have been the 4th largest army in the world under Saddam Hussein is now a shadow of its former self. Despite years of training from U.S. and British forces, as well as $26 billion in investments and military aid, the Iraqi Army has only 26 units considered “loyal.” On top of that, Iraqi lawmakers discovered 50,000 “ghost soldiers” in its ranks — troops who received a paycheck, but never showed up for work. In 2014, ISIS was able to overrun much of Western Iraq as Iraqi troops fled before the Islamist onslaught.
8. North Korea
On the outside, the North Korean Army looks like it’s the priority for the Kim regime. In many ways, it is. The border towns of Panmunjom and Kaesong, as well as Nampo (where a series of critical infrastructure dams make a concerted military effort necessary) and DPRK newsreel footage boast tall, strong-looking North Korean troops with new equipment, weapons, jeeps, and full meals. Deeper inside the Hermit Kingdom, however, the Army starts to look a bit thin. Literally. On a 2012 trip to North Korea, the author found most Korean People’s Army (KPA) troops to be weak and used mainly for conscripted labor. It would have been a real surprise if they all had shoes or could walk in a real formation. Most units appeared lightly armed, if armed at all.
A country is obviously great when it’s known as “Africa’s North Korea” in international relations circles. Eritrea’s armed forces has one of the highest concentrations of conscripted men of any army in the world, which it uses more for forced labor than to secure its borders or fight al-Shabab terrorists. This is the country so great that 2,000 people a month seek asylum in Sudan. Sudan is supposed to be an improvement. SUDAN.
Nigeria is struggling with an ISIS-affiliated insurgency from Boko Haram (of “Bring Back Our Girls” fame). Despite Nigeria’s oil wealth (the Nigerian oil industry is the largest on the continent), its military is ill-equipped to combat this Islamist uprising. One soldier described it to BBC as:
“Imagine me and you are fighting, we both have guns but while you are wearing a bullet proof vest, I’m carrying an umbrella.”
Soldiers in the country’s Northeastern Borno State are so underequipped, their armored vehicles don’t actually move. Some soldiers are known to flee with civilians as they tear off their uniforms.
5. The Philippines
The President of the Philippines vowed to upgrade the country’s aging Navy and Air Force to the tune of $1.7 billion, the Philippine Congress passed a bill appropriating $2 billion for the effort and … that’s it. Despite the Chinese military buildup in the region, with aggressive moves by the Chinese to claim areas and build islands close to the Philippines, the Philippines’ Naval and Air Forces are still nearly 60 years old and its ships are old U.S. Coast Guard cutters.
The Tajik Army is a mess. Unlike other Soviet states after the fall of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan had no native units to absorb into its new independent government. The Tajik military was not built around old Soviet units. The Tajiks were left defenseless with only a Russian peacekeeping force. In 1994, they formed their own Army, which immediately resulted in a Civil War. Just what one might expect from a country whose capital is named “Monday.” Tajiks prefer the Russian Army because the pay is better. Those who are drafted are often kidnapped and then sometimes hazed to death.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. As a landlocked country, the Mongols have no Navy or need of one. Unfortunately they’re also locked between Russia and China and could not possibly defend themselves from either. In fact, if a Russian-Chinese war ever broke out, part of it would likely be fought in Mongolia. The Mongols have sent forces to assist the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, but their expertise is in teaching U.S. troops how to recognize and use (if necessary) old Soviet-built arms and equipment.
2. Saudi Arabia
The Saudis are currently engaged in a coalition military operation in Yemen with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in an effort to expel Houthi tribesmen from Sana’a and re-establish the Sunni rulers. And they can’t. The Saudis and Emiratis have naval and air superiority, superior training, material, and numbers on the ground, and the backing of U.S. intelligence assets. They’ve been there since March 2015 and the Houthis are still in the capital.
Afghanistan makes the list despite the decade-plus of training from ISAF advisors. The sad truth is that all that nifty training doesn’t make up for the fact that the ANA will likely collapse like a card table when the U.S. leaves Afghanistan — if the U.S. ever leaves Afghanistan. Not that they can’t fight, but they can’t do much else. One advisor told al-Jazeera:
“In fact, talk to any coalition troops on the ground and they will tell you the Afghans can fight, but only after they have been fed, clothed, armed and delivered to the battlefield by NATO.”
President Donald Trump has reemphasized military strength, reportedly planning to ask for $716 billion in defense spending in 2019 — a 7% increase over the 2018 budget (though spending is currently limited by budget caps).
US defense spending is the highest in the world, more than the combined budgets of the next several countries. But US plans to ramp up acquisitions of military hardware will only add to an already booming arms industry.
Between 2012 and 2016, more weapons were delivered around the world than during any five-year period since 1990.
Below, you can see the world’s top 5 militaries, as ranked by Global Firepower Index.
The ranking assesses the diversity of weapons held by each country and pays particular attention to the manpower available.
“Balance is the key — a large, strong fighting force across land, sea, and air backed by a resilient economy and defensible territory along with an efficient infrastructure — such qualities are those used to round out a particular nation’s total fighting strength on paper,” the ranking states.
But a few defining aspects of those countries’ ability to muster military power are not directly related to their armed forces.
Geographical factors, logistical flexibility, natural resources, and local industry all influenced the final ranking, Global Firepower said.
Each of the top 10 countries have a labor force of more than 30 million people. Three of the top five — the US, China, and India — have more than 150 million available workers.
The following 15 countries vary more widely in labor-force size — from 123.7 million in Indonesia to 3.9 million in Israel — but they still have more than 37.2 million workers on average.
Industrial and labor capacity are complemented by robust logistical capabilities, including extensive railway and roadway networks, numerous major ports and airports, and strong merchant-marine corps. Extensive coastlines and waterways also facilitate the movement of goods and people.
For the US, those logistical capacities have been tested by increasing activity in Afghanistan as well as efforts to built up its presence in Europe.
The US Army’s 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade served as the logistics headquarters in Afghanistan in 2017. During its six-month deployment, the unit distributed more than 380 million gallons of fuel throughout Afghanistan — a landlocked country roughly the size of Texas.
“It’s not easy to [transport] fuel. You have to get it to the right place at the right time. You have to make sure it’s of the right quality, and you have to make sure you have storage on one end and distribution capability on the other end,” Col. Michael Lalor, the brigade commander, said in late February. “That’s what always kept me up at night.”
US Military Sealift Command (MSC), which oversees the US Navy’s fleet of mostly civilian-crewed support ships, is adding ships to boost its presence around Europe and Africa, in response to both insurgent activity and growing tensions with Russia — all of which have added tension to the US’s already strained supply lines.
In 2017, MSC moved twice as much ordnance, three times as many critical parts, and one-third as much cargo in Europe and Africa as it did in 2016.
“I definitely don’t see (activity) going down anytime soon,” Capt. Eric Conzen, MSC commander in Europe and Africa, told Stars and Stripes of his unit’s workload. “There’s a desire for it to increase.”
Both pilots ejected safely and are believed to be alive, The Belgian Air Force confirmed on Twitter, writing: “The pilots left the plane using their ejectable seats.”
Photos posted to social media show what appears to be a pilot hanging from an overhead electrical wire.
A National Police spokeswoman told the AP no injuries were reported among residents in the area. Police have set up a 500-meter security perimeter around the crash site.
The owner of the house damaged in the crash told Ouest-France: “We were in the garden. We heard a great boom and a sound of tearing metal. Moments later, a second explosion and another tearing of scrap metal.”
The F-16 was travelling from an air base in Florennes, near Namur, to the French naval air base at Lann-Bihoué, Morbihan, and was not armed, local officials told French media.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Single Barrel whiskey was first sold in 1997 and was such a success that the distillery created the ‘By The Barrel‘ program a year later.
“Over the entire span of when the program has existed, the US military is the largest purchaser. It has been represented by base exchanges, individual units, as well as other on-base military entities like Officers’ Clubs,” Arnett told Business Insider.
The buyer samples whiskey from 3 handpicked barrels along with the expert. After the tasting, a buyer selects a barrel and then later receives the empty barrel along with approximately 250 bottles.
The bottles are individually numbered and personalized with a custom metal hang tag. The top of the barrel is also engraved before it is shipped to the buyer.
And in the distillery’s Single Barrel room, the buyer gets their name engraved on a plaque.
Those who buy more than one barrel are given a medallion on their tablet.
MacDill Air Force Base’s plaque reflects the purchase of 7 barrels of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel whiskey.
A little bit about Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel
According to Arnett, Jack Daniel’s derives all of its’ color and most of the flavor from the handmade charred oak barrels.
Single Barrel whiskey sits on the highest level of the distillery’s barrelhouses where temperatures can reach up to 120-degrees Fahrenheit, the fluctuations in temperature give this whiskey the most interaction with the barrel, and therefore a darker color and more robust flavor.
The following four bottles show the impact time and temperature have on each whiskey product. The first bottle is whiskey directly from the still, next is Jack Daniel’s Green Label kept on the lowest floor of the barrel house, Old No. 7 comes from the middle floor, and Single Barrel Whiskey is kept on the top floor of the barrelhouses.
In his April 2017 book “Make Your Bed,” Admiral William McRaven described what it was like for him as a leader and military officer to receive the families of fallen troops — including those who died under his command.
The former SEAL officer vividly paints a scene at Dover Air Force Base, the first stop on American soil for the remains of U.S. troops killed in combat. The waiting rooms are filled with “wives with a far-off look of disbelief, … inconsolable children, … [and] parents holding hands hoping to gain strength from one another.”
A number of Navy SEALs died in 2011 when their helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan – all 38 men aboard were killed, including 30 Americans. It was the single greatest U.S. loss in the War on Terror. Then-President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and the military’s senior leadership were all present to receive the flag-draped coffins.
The admiral and his wife were there too. He writes in his book that he began to wonder if his words were any solace to the families, if they made any difference at all, or if the shock made his words incomprehensible to the bereaved. He knew what he said was never going to be enough, but he tried to empathize with them.
That’s when he noticed a then-Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly talking to a number of the families. He could tell that what Kelly was saying was actually hitting home to those who lost their loved ones. The effect was what McRaven described as “profound.” He hugged them and they hugged him in turn.
General Kelly talked to every person in the room.
The Marine’s word hit home because they weren’t the words of comfort from a commander to his troops’ families, they were the words of a parent who lost a son in combat, just as they had.
Only General Kelly could have said anything that would mean something to those who lost their children, parents, and spouses in combat. As McRaven puts it:
“When you lose a soldier, you grieve for the families but you also fear that the same fate may one day befall you. You wonder whether you could survive the loss of a child. Or you wonder how your family would get along without you by their side. You hope and pray that God will be merciful and not have you shoulder this unthinkable burden.”
Eric Viitala, 49, is an Air Force veteran of the Gulf War who lives in Maine. He experienced low levels of energy and concentration for years after his service. He had headaches, couldn’t finish projects, and was losing interest in things.
“My wife would tell me I left the cupboard doors open and she would walk into them. Or I’d put the recycling in the trash.”
Shortly after the Gulf War, Viitala hit his head in an accident in Saudi Arabia. When he visited the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) in East Orange, NJ, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. At the WRIISC, a doctor referred him to the VA Boston Healthcare System’s light-emitting diode (LED) therapy program.
VA’s Center for Compassionate Care Innovation has been working with VHA staff in Boston to explore the use of in-home LED treatment since 2018.
Last year, Viitala completed a 12-week course of in-home LED treatment while in communication with his VHA health care provider. He still uses the treatment at least twice a week.
Improvements in memory and energy way up
“There were huge improvements in my memory and concentration. My energy was way up. I’d pop up in the middle of the night and go clean the garage,” said Viitala. “It’s amazing because I have been dragging for years, but now I have the energy to go do things.”
During LED treatment, patients wear a lightweight headset affixed with light-emitting diodes. The arrangement of LEDs is customized for each person. The diodes do not generate heat and the treatment is painless and noninvasive. Each session lasts only 25 minutes. There is evidence to suggest that LED therapy promotes a healing response at the cellular level, due in part to increased blood flow.
When Viitala uses the LED equipment, he simply sits and relaxes with the LED headset on. The equipment was provided by VHA at no cost to the veteran and belongs to him permanently. He went to Boston for one round of treatment at the medical center and to pick up the equipment. But he communicated with his health care provider by phone during treatment.
“It’s worth every second.”
“That was really helpful and beneficial for her to call and keep encouraging me. She would ask how it’s going. It helped remind me to do it.”
Viitala credits the staff members at the New Jersey WRIISC for validating what he was feeling and referring him to the LED clinic in Boston. He encourages fellow veterans with similar symptoms to ask their providers about LED therapy.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out. There’s nothing to lose with LED. Nothing hurts. They don’t have to go inside your body. There’s no drugs, no side effects. It’s worth every second.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The Syrian government has asked Iran to take over the supervision and payroll of thousands of Shi’ite militiamen fighting alongside Russian and Syrian troops in support of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a government source and a news report.
The pro-opposition Syrian news website Zaman Al Wasel reported that it obtained a Syrian defense ministry document saying the Assad regime has approved a plan to give Iran responsibility for paying foreign fighters – mostly Shi’ites of varying nationalities. Shi’ite fighters mostly are paid in cash from Iran, the Syrian government and coffers of the Lebanese-based, pro-Iranian Hezbollah, according to analysts.
Iran would foot the bill alone in the future, a Syrian official told VOA on the condition of anonymity, confirming the Al Wasel report.
“The number of Shia militia has increased dramatically during the last two months,” the official said. “While a big part of these militia were recruited by Iran, a relatively big part was recruited by the Syrian government directly. We are speaking about more than 50,000 militants from different nationalities. The Syrian government requested that Iran provide for all of the mentioned militias.”
The document from Al Wasel put the number of fighters to be paid at 88,733 — a figure analysts say is exaggerated. They estimate that about 10,000 Iranian combat troops are in Syria fighting alongside thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Tehran-affiliated Shiite militia Hezbollah and assorted Shiite militia made up of renegade Pakistanis, central Asians and other nationalities. Since January 2013, more than 1,000 members of Iran’s elite Quds Force or other elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units have been killed fighting in Syria.
Tehran says its forces are in Syria to protect the Zeinab Shrine in Damascus, a Shi’ite holy site. But since 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime in its war with rebel groups across the country, at first sending advisers, then forces from the IRGC and expanding far beyond the shrine area.
Iran has long expressed a desire to command a unified army in the region, particularly in Syria, and its growing power in Syria and Iraq is causing unease in Western capitals. In an interview with the Mashregh news agency last August, Mohammad Ali Falaki, an IRGC leader, announced formation of a unified army in Syria which appears to have come to loose fruition.
“It would hardly be abnormal for Iran’s IRGC to be controlling yet more Shia jihadists,” said Talha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute.
In the long run, the formation of a unified army in Syria under Tehran supervision appears very practical, analysts say.
“It seems plausible that the Syrian government shift the responsibility for management and organization of the militias, especially where financial burden is concerned,” said Rasool Nafisi, a Middle East affairs expert in Washington.
Asserting its military prowess would help Iran push its political agenda in the region, some analysts believe.
“The bigger and more advanced army you control, the stronger voice you have,” said Daryoush Babak, a Washington-based retired Iranian military adviser.
But unifying Assad supporters under Tehran’s umbrella could worsen sectarian conflict in the region between Shi’ites and Sunni, analysts say.
Iran is looking for any chance to increase its influence and gain an upper hand against Saudi Arabia, its strongest rival in the war of minds and hearts, analysts say. Saudi Arabia and Iran support rival groups in Syria’s civil war. And In a speech in Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump accused Tehran of contributing to instability in the region.
“Tehran and Riyadh … keep contradicting each other to prove whose ideology leads the region,” said Nafisi.
While Syria has relied on Iran militarily in the fight against rebels and Islamic State, it’s unlikely to grant Tehran a controlling foothold in the country, analysts say.
“In Syria, it is not likely to happen as long as the Assad regime harbors ambitions of regaining sovereignty rather than being reduced to an Iranian protectorate,” said Alfoneh.
Air Force Special Operations Command is taking the mantra of “you can never have too much firepower” to heart.
The AC-130 — a modified cargo plane-turned-close air support platform outfitted with a deadly array of weaponry — is about to get a big weapons upgrade, to include another 105mm cannon added to the rear of the plane.
“I want to have two guns,” AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold said at a recent Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla, while also calling it “the ultimate battle plane,” according to the Air Force Times.
AFSOC plans to add a 105mm cannon to the rear of the plane. That is in addition to the weapons the aircraft is already slated to carry — dual electro-optical infrared sensors, a 30mm cannon, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, all-weather synthetic aperture radar and GBU-30 small diameter bombs. The package was developed to let the gunship identify friendlies and targets at night and in adverse weather.
The upgraded AC-130J “Ghostrider” is currently in the test phase and is slated to replace the AC-130H “Spectre,” AC-130U “Spooky,” and the AC-130W “Stinger II.”
With sophisticated sensors and electronics, the plane is a favorite among ground troops in need of close air support. The AC-130 was used extensively over the skies of Fallujah in 2004, where a reporter embedded with the Marines there remarked: “It’s the air power that really [tipped] the balance towards the Marines.”
A senior Afghan defense official said that country’s government wants the vaunted A-10, which is highly regarded for its durability and lethality in close-air-support operations, to return to Afghanistan.
No decision on A-10 deployments has been made, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, who directs U.S. air operations in Afghanistan. “The discussions of what forces we move to Afghanistan or drawdown from Iraq and Syria are all ongoing,” Bunch said.
After the liberation of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria in July and October, respectively, operations against ISIS in those two countries, in which the A-10 played a major role, have begun to wind down.
President Donald Trump has also started to pursue an expansion of U.S. operations in Afghanistan over the later half of 2017 and the Air Force may see increased operations in Afghanistan as a part of that expansion.
In September, the Air Force chief of staff said the force was “absolutely” reviewing greater involvement following Trump’s decision on Afghanistan strategy.
The Air Force has deployed six more F-16 fighter aircraft — bringing the total to 18 F-16s — and a KC-135 tanker aircraft to Afghanistan in recent months. And the air war in the country has already intensified. (Though the Pentagon has begun classifying previously available data about military operations in Afghanistan.)
The numbers of weapons released by U.S. combat aircraft in Afghanistan have hit highs not seen since the 2010 surge. Air Forces Central Command data released in October showed 751 weapons dropped in September, eclipsing the 503 released in August and setting a new five-year high. (Data released in November adjusted September’s total down to 414 and recorded a new high — 653 — in October.)
U.S. forces in Afghanistan have also turned their attention to the Taliban’s involvement in the drug trade in an effort to cut into the insurgent group’s financing. Advanced F-22 fighters, joined by B-52 bombers and Afghan A-29 Tucano propeller aircraft, attacked drug labs in November.
Since then, about 25 Taliban drug labs in northern Helmand province — a hotbed for Afghan drug production — have been destroyed, costing the Taliban almost $16 million in revenue, according to Bunch, who said the air campaign against Taliban financing had only “just begun.”
In 2017, area under opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 63% over the previous year, according to U.N. data. Even though eradication increased 111% during that period, the number of opium-poppy-free provinces declined from 13 to 10.
The Taliban has gotten heavily involved in the drug trade. The insurgent group has also expanded its territorial control in Afghanistan — from 11% of the country’s 407 districts in February to 13% in August.
Trump’s new strategy will also deploy more U.S. troops to Afghanistan — some of whom will embed with Afghan forces closer to the fighting. That could put them in harm’s way and will likely lead to more U.S. aircraft providing close air support, at which the A-10 excels.
The Air Force backed away from plans to begin mothballing its A-10 fleet earlier this year. The Air Force has pushed Congress for additional funding to produce new wings for 110 of its 283 Thunderbolts, and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson assured lawmakers this month that money allotted for that project would keep the A-10 dominant.
“I happen to be a fan of the A-10,” Wilson told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 7.
Edwards Air Force Base in California certainly has its fair share of oddball aircraft and eccentric pilots.
But a dude flying a top-secret airplane in a monkey suit?
In 1942, Bell aircraft was developing its P-59 Airacomet, the first jet engine fighter designed by the United States. And although it never saw action, it was an important step in the development of U.S. air power.
It was also a top-secret project at the time. The British had a jet fighter airframe in development since 1941 as did the Nazis.
It was so secret, in fact, that when the P-59 was taxiing, airmen put a fake wooden propeller on her nose so onlookers wouldn’t notice anything odd about the aircraft.
In the air, however, it was a different story. Pilots flying the usual piston-driven aviation engine would report back to base with sightings of a fast-moving plane without a propeller. They also said the plane was flown by a “gorilla, wearing a derby hat, waving a stogie at them.”
The Chief test pilot for Bell Aircraft was Jack Woolams. By the time Bell was testing its P-59 design, Woolams had already served 18 months in the Army Air Corps. He was the man behind the gorilla mask.
Other pilots who were exposed to Woolams’ prank were convinced by Air Force psychologists that they hadn’t really seen the gorilla flying the plane, “because everyone knows you can’t fly without a propeller.”
Woolams was also the first person to fly a fighter aircraft coast-to-coast nonstop and set an altitude record in 1943. Woolams died preparing for an air show in 1946, but he was a man ahead of his time — a harbinger of the nonstop, record-breaking, years of air power development to come for test pilots in the 1950s and 1960s.
As tensions rise to historic heights on the Korean Peninsula, both the U.S. and China have begun taking unprecedented steps to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Across North Korea’s border in China’s Jilin province, state-run media ran a full-page instructional package on how to survive a nuclear blast. The page doesn’t mention North Korea, but it doesn’t need to.
But China’s preparations don’t just indicate a defensive, wait-and-see approach. China’s air force engaged in exercises along “routes and areas it has never flown before” earlier this month, with surveillance aircraft over the Yellow and East seas near the Korean Peninsula, according to the South China Morning Post.
“The timing of this high-profile announcement by the PLA is also a warning to Washington and Seoul not to provoke Pyongyang any further,” Li Jie, a military expert based in Beijing, told the Post, using the abbreviation for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
In addition to flexing its military muscle against the U.S., China has been increasingly assertive in the South China Sea. It has also dispatched military spy planes to encircle Taiwan and provide up-to-date info, which the Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong told the Post was “very unusual.”
U.S. preparing to denuclearize North Korea, possibly by force
The U.S. appears resolutely determined to put the pressure on North Korea.
At a speech at the Atlantic Council last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. was preparing plans to seize loose nuclear weapons, should North Korea somehow collapse or become unstable.
President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, also flatly rejected the clearest path to peace by saying the U.S. would never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. He recommitted the U.S. to using force if necessary.
“We’re not committed to a peaceful resolution — we’re committed to a resolution,” McMaster told the BBC. “We have to be prepared, if necessary, to compel the denuclearization of North Korea without the cooperation of that regime.”
The Trump administration’s approach to North Korea explicitly calls for every means of pressure to bear down on the country. Threats of war, military deployments, increased drills, stealthier and more lethal weapons systems, sanctions, and even a possible shipping blockade could become a daily fact of life for Pyongyang under Trump.
But North Korea is not the only one to have noticed the U.S.’s new approach. China has closely watched the U.S. ratchet up tensions along its border, and its recent military movements reflect a country that is considering all-out war a possibility.
After polling members of the U.S. Air Force community, the service announced the name of the upcoming B-21 would be Raider on Sept. 19. Unlike the stealth bomber’s crowd sourced moniker, most of the flying branch’s planes get their official nicknames through a much less public process. In usual circumstances, some aircraft even get more than one.
On March 9, 2012, the Air Force announced Commando II as the formal name for the specialized MC-130J transport. For five months, crews had called the plane the Combat Shadow II.
“This is one of the first name changes we approved,” Keven Corbeil, a Pentagon official working at Air Force Materiel Command told Air Force reporters afterwards: “I think ‘Commando’ had historical [significance].”
The Air Force leads the shared office within Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base that approves all official aircraft and missile designations and their nicknames. According to records that We Are The Mighty obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the Air Force’s top commando headquarters felt both Combat Shadow II and Commando II had important significance. These were not the only names in the running either.
Starting in 1997, the flying branch had explored various options for replacing the MC-130E Combat Talon and MC-130P Combat Shadow. Both aircraft first entered service during the Vietnam War.
With the Combat Talons, aerial commandos could sneak elite troops and supplies deep behind enemy lines. The Air Force Special Operations Command primarily used flew the Combat Shadows to refuel specialized helicopters, though they could also schlep passengers and cargo into “denied areas.”
The Air Force’s new plane would take over both roles. For a time, the flying branch considered a plan to simply rebuild the older MC-130s into the upgraded versions.
More than a decade after the first studies for a replacement aircraft, the service hired Lockheed Martin to build all new MC-130s based on the latest C-130J aircraft. Compared to earlier C-130s, the J models had more powerful engines driving distinctive six-bladed propellers, upgraded flight computers and other electronics and additional improvements.
A basic C-130H transport has a top speed of just more than 360 miles per hour and can carry 35,000 pounds of equipment to destinations nearly 1,500 miles away. The regular cargo-hauling J variant can lug the same amount of gear more than 300 miles further with a maximum speed of more than 415 miles per hour.
So, on Oct 5, 2009, the Maryland-headquartered plane-maker started building the first of these MC-130Js. By the end of the month, the Air Force was already debating the plane’s name.
Four months earlier, Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, then head of Air Force Special Operations Command offered up three possible nicknames: Combat Shadow II, Commando II and Combat Knife.
“The MC-130J mission will be identical to the Combat Shadow mission,” the top commando headquarters explained in an email. “The MC -130E already has its namesake preserved in the MC -130H, Combat Talon II.”
Keeping around well-known monikers is important both to Air Force history and public relations. The nicknames are supposed to both reflect the plane’s mission and help make it catchy during congressional hearings and interviews with the media.
Combat Shadow II would easily convey to lawmakers and the public that the plane was the successor to existing MC-130s. And otherwise, there wouldn’t be another Combat Shadow anytime soon.
Dating back to World War II and when the Air Force was still part of the U.S. Army, Commando II had different historic relevance. Largely obscured from common memory by the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Curtis’ C-46 Commando was a vital contributor in the China, Burma India theater.
“The Commando was a workhorse in ‘flying The Hump’ (over the Himalaya Mountains), transporting desperately needed supplies from bases in India and Burma to troops in China,” the Air Force noted in the same message. “Only the C-46 was able to handle the adverse conditions with unpredictable weather, lack of radio aids and direction finders, engineering and maintenance nightmares due to a shortage of trained air and ground personnel and poorly equipped airfields often wiped out by monsoon rains.”
Though a Commando hadn’t flown in Air Force colors in more than four decades, the name fit with the air commando’s dangerous missions in unknown territory. In addition, the type had a storied history flying covert missions for the Central Intelligence Agency with contractors such as Air America.
The last option, Combat Knife, was a reference to the codename for the first unit to get the original MC-130E Combat Talon. In 1965, the Air Force created the element inside the 779th Troop Carrier Squadron at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.
As the unit evolved, it took over responsibility for training all Combat Talon crews. On Nov. 21, 1970, one of the group’s MC-130s flew into North Vietnam as part of the famous raid aimed at freeing American troops at the Son Tay prison camp.
As Lockheed began building the MC-130Js, Air Force Special Operations Command decided to try and have it both ways. In another memo , the top commando headquarters proposed calling the aircraft set up to replace the MC-130Ps as Combat Shadow IIs, while the planes configured to take over for the MC-130Es would become Combat Talon IIIs.
The only problem was that there weren’t really two different versions. The entire point of the new plane was to have a common aircraft for both missions.
This solution wasn’t really what Air Force Special Operations Command wanted for the newest member of its fleet. As early as March 2009, the elite fliers had argued in favor of Commando II if they had to pick a single moniker.
“If the MC-130J will ultimately take on both the Talon and Shadow missions, then perhaps ‘Commando II’ is a nice compromise,” the vice commander of Air Force Special Operations Command Wurster in a hand-written note. “I like it better regardless!”
Censors redacted the officer’s name from the message.
On Oct. 25, 2011, Wurster’s successor Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel asked Air Force Materiel Commando to change the name to Commando II. Over the course of the debate, air commandos had also put Combat Arrow into the running.
Until 1974, Combat Arrow was the nickname applied to the Air Force’s Combat Talon element based in Europe. Combat Spear was the moniker for the element flying missions in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, during the same period. However, the MC-130W – a less intensive upgrade of the MC-130H Combat Talon II – had already gotten that nickname.
With new plans to eventually replace the Combat Talon IIs with MC-130Js as well, Fiel wanted “a new popular name that embodies the broader lineage of special operations force aircraft,” according to his message. “[Commando II] best reflects the multimission role of the aircraft and the units that will fly them.”
The officials responsible for naming agreed with Fiel’s request. They no doubt appreciated his suggestion of a new, single name.
Since then, the Air Force has clearly considered the matter settled. No one is likely interested in going through another drawn-out debate to change the MC-130J’s nickname anymore.