What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

The littoral combat ship was intended to carry out a wide variety of missions for the United States Navy in the 21st century. From mine-countermeasures to coastal anti-submarine warfare to combating small and fast enemy surface craft, these vessels are intended to fight and win. But how well would they fare against perhaps the epitome of the small fast surface craft in World War II?

The PT boat was built in very large numbers by the United States during World War II. While its most famous exploits were in the Philippines in late 1941 and early 1942, particularly the evacuation of General Douglas MacArthur, these boats saw action in all theaters of the war. There were two primary versions of the PT boat: The Higgins and the Elco.


These boats had slight variations in a number of sub-classes, but their main armament was four 21-inch torpedoes. In addition to the powerful torpedoes, the PT boats also packed two twin .50-caliber mounts. Other guns, ranging from additional .50-caliber machine guns to a variety of automatic cannons ranging from 20mm Oerlikons to the 37mm guns used on the P-39 Airacobra, to 40mm Bofors also found their way onto PT boats – and the acquisitions may not have been entirely… official.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

USS Freedom (LCS 1) is one of the lead ships of the two classes of littoral combat ship in service at present.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

Now, the littoral combat ships also come in two varieties: The Freedom-class monohull design and the Independence-class trimaran design. Their standard armament consists of a 57mm main gun, a number of .50-caliber machine guns, a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, and two MH-60 helicopters. Modules can add other weapons, including 30mm Bushmaster II chain guns, surface-launched AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and even the Harpoon or Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile as heavier anti-ship missiles.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

This was one of 45 PT boats at the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

Looking at just the paper, you’d think that the littoral combat ship has an easy time blowing away a PT boat. In a one on one fight, you’re correct. But the whole point of the PT boat wasn’t to just have one PT boat – it was to have a couple dozen attacking at once. The classic example of this was the Battle of Surigao Strait, part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in October 1944. According to Volume XII of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, “Leyte,” the Japanese force heading up Surigao Strait was facing 45 PT boats.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

A Mk 13 torpedo is launched from a PT boat. Now imagine that over a hundred have been launched at your force.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

Never mind the fact that those PT boats were backed by six older battleships, four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 28 destroyers, the sheer number of PT boats had an effect against a force of two Japanese battleships, one heavy cruiser, and two light cruisers. Incidentally, only one Japanese destroyer survived that battle.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

USS Independence’s helicopters and onboard weapons would help it put up a good fight, but sheer numbers could overwhelm this vessel.

(Photo by U.S. Navy)

The same situation would apply in a PT boat versus littoral combat ship fight. The littoral combat ship’s MH-60 helicopters would use AGM-114 Hellfires to pick off some of the PT boats, but eventually the numbers would tell. What could make things worse for the littoral combat ship is if those PT boats were modified to fire modern 21-inch torpedoes. Such a hack is not out of the question: North Korea was able to graft a modern anti-ship torpedo onto a very low-end minisub and sink a South Korean corvette.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How American soldiers turned the tide of World War I

By March 1918, it appeared that Germany was gaining the upper hand in its fight against allied forces during World War I.

The Russian army on the Eastern Front had collapsed, allowing about a million soldiers from Germany and other Central Powers nations who had been engaged there to move against British, French, Canadian, and a small contingent of U.S. forces on the Western Front.

The German Spring Offensive, March through June 1918, was designed to win the war before U.S. troops arrived in substantial numbers, said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark E. Grotelueschen.


And the Germans nearly succeeded, said Grotelueschen, who authored the U.S. Army Center of Military History World War I pamphlet “Into the Fight: April-June 1918.”

By April 1, the Germans had 26 percent more soldiers than all the allied force, and had captured more territory than they had since the war started in 1914. By May 27, they came within 35 miles of Paris. More than a million people fled the French capital and the British contemplated an evacuation of the continent.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
The third battle for Aisne took place May 27 – June 6, 1918 and is one of the U.S. Army’s campaign streamers. However, most of the combatants were French, British and German.
(U.S. Army photo by Travis Burcham)

When the Spring Offensive began March 21, there was just one American division, the 1st Infantry Division, at the line of trenches that marked the front line. The other divisions — the 2nd, 42nd and 26th — were still in their final phase of training by the French in a quiet sector away from the front.

In May and June, around 460,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines poured into France to bolster the war effort, he said.

Battle for Cantigny

On April 17, the 1st Infantry Division marched toward Cantigny, in northern France. Before their march, Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, gave them a pep talk that left a lasting impression, Grotelueschen said.

Pershing said in part: “You are the finest soldiers in Europe today. … Our people today are hanging upon your deeds. The future is hanging upon your action in this conflict.”

Among those soldiers listening intently to Pershing was Lt. Col. George C. Marshall, the future Army chief of staff, who would later lead the Army through World War II, Grotelueschen said.

During the division’s first few weeks, there were no German infantry attacks, Grotelueschen said. But that didn’t mean it was a safe zone.

The artillery fire was nearly continuous and often included mustard gas, he said. Enemy aircraft adjusted artillery fire and occasionally bombed and strafed the American positions.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Battle of Cantigny



The battle for Cantigny lasted from May 28-30. It was the first American attack ever to use airplanes, tanks and flamethrowers, in addition to mortars and artillery — what is today referred to as combined arms warfare.

It was also the first American-led battle of the war, with the other participants being French troops, Grotelueschen said.

The bulk of the fighting was done by soldiers of the 28th Infantry Regiment. They suffered 941 killed or wounded, while the German toll was around 1,500.

“In the gruesome calculus of an attritional war, the fledgling AEF had done what it needed to do. It had killed and wounded more of the enemy than it had lost,” Grotelueschen noted, adding that it “showed friend and foe alike that Americans will both fight and stick.”

The Cantigny battle would become a theme for the months to follow until the end of the war, Nov. 11, 2018, he said. “The inexperienced Americans helped stop German attacks with tenacious defense; proved able to push the Germans back at various points along the line; and, with rare exceptions, held on to whatever terrain they seized.”

Defense of Chateau-Thierry

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
The battle for Lys took place April 9 – 27, 1918 and is one of the U.S. Army’s campaign streamers. However, most of the combatants were French, British and German.
(U.S. Army photo by Travis Burcham)

On May 31, elements of the 3rd Infantry Division began arriving in the vicinity of the Chateau-Thierry in northern France.

House-to-house fighting ensued. At one point, the French thought that the Germans would capture the city, so they blew up the main bridge across the Marne River, leaving some American forces stranded on the other side.

The U.S. soldiers put up a brave counterattack, making a “critical contribution to the massive French effort to stop the Germans,” who were now within artillery shelling distance of Paris, Grotelueschen said.

Philippe Petain, commander of the French army, wrote a special citation for the U.S. 7th Machine-Gun Battalion, he said. It read in part: “In the course of violent combat, particularly the 31st of May and the 1st of June, 1918, it disputed foot by foot with the Germans the northern outskirts of Château-Thierry, covered itself with glory, thanks to its valor and its skill, costing the enemy sanguinary losses.”

Joint operations

While the 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions were engaged in battle, the 2nd Infantry Division, made up of a conglomeration of Army and Marine regiments, was arriving in the vicinity of Lucy-le-Bocage, also in northern France.

Some of the most brutal fighting of the war was done by U.S. Marines in a forest known as Belleau Wood June 6-26.

“The allies were desperate not merely for good news, but especially for reassurances to the tired French and British forces that the Americans had entered the fight at last,” Grotelueschen said. “For their part, the Germans could not ignore the fact that in those battles the rookie 2nd Infantry Division (had) severely damaged regiments from four experienced German divisions. The tide was turning.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia improving range of feared Kalibr cruise missile

The Russian Navy is apparently developing a new long-range cruise missile, Russia’s state-run Tass News Agency reported Jan. 8, 2019, citing a source in the military-industrial complex.

The weapon in the works is reportedly the new Kalibr-M cruise missile, a ship-launched weapon able to deliver a precision strike with a conventional or nuclear warhead as far as 2,800 miles away. That’s roughly three times the range of the US’s Block III TLAM-C Tomahawk cruise missiles.


The new missile will be carried by large surface ships and nuclear submarines once it is delivered to the fleet, which is expected to occur before the conclusion of the state armament program in 2027.

The Kalibr-M, with a warhead weighing one metric ton, is said to be larger than the Kalibr missiles currently in service, which are suspected to have a range of roughly 2,000 km (roughly 1,200 miles).

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

US Block III Tomahawk cruise missile.

(US Navy photo)

Although state media, citing its unnamed source, reported that the Russian defense ministry is financing the weapon’s development, Russia has not officially confirmed that the navy is working on the new Kalibr-M cruise missile.

Senior US defense officials have previously expressed concern over the existing Kalibr missiles, noting, in particular, the weapon’s range.

“You know, Russia is not 10 feet tall, but they do have capabilities that keep me vigilant, concerned,” Adm. James Foggo III, commander of US Naval Forces Europe, told reporters at the Pentagon in October 2018.

“They’re firing the Kalibr missile, very capable missile,” he explained. “It has a range which, if launched from any of the seas around Europe, … could range any one of the capitals of Europe. That is a concern to me, and it’s a concern to my NATO partners and friends.”

The Kalibr missile, around since the 1990s, made its combat debut in attacks on Syria in 2015.

Russia is, according to a recent report from the Washington Free Beacon, planning to deploy these long-range precision-strike cruise missiles on warships and submarines for Atlantic Ocean patrols.

Featured image by Brian Burnell, CC-BY-SA-3.0.

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

popular

Here’s the most influential US general you’ve never heard of

Winfield Scott, the longest-serving general officer in the history of the United States Army, served an astonishing 53 years in a career stretching from the War of 1812 to the Civil War. Known as “Ol’ Fuss and Feathers” for his elaborate uniforms and stern discipline, he distinguished himself as one of the most influential U.S. commanders of the 19th century.

Born in Virginia , he briefly studied at the College of William and Mary before leaving to study law, and served for a year as a corporal in the local militia. He received a commission as a captain of artillery in 1808, but his early career was less than auspicious. He vehemently criticized Senior Officer of the Army James Wilkinson for allegations concerning treason, and after a court-martial was suspended by the Army for a year.

After being reinstated, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel as the War of 1812 was getting underway. Serving in the Niagara Campaign, he was part of surrendering American forces during the disastrous crossing of the river into Ontario and exchanged in 1813.

After his successful capture of Ft. George, Ontario in 1813, he was promoted to brigadier general at the exceptionally young age of 27. He played a decisive role at the battles of Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane, earning him acclaim for personal bravery and a brevet promotion to major general, but his severe wounds during the second battle left him out of action for the rest of the war.

Following the war, Scott commanded a number of military departments between trips to Europe to study European armies, whom he greatly admired for their professionalism. His 1821 “General Regulations of the Army” was the first comprehensive manual of operations and bylaws for the U.S. Army and was the standard Army text for the next 50 years.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Legend says he can be summoned if you put your hands in your pockets while in uniform and say “Winfield Scott” three times. (Portrait by George Caitlin/ Wikimedia Commons)

After serving in a series of conflicts against the Indians, including the Blackhawk, Second Seminole and Creek Wars. When President Andrew Jackson ordered the Cherokee removed from Georgia and other southern states to Oklahoma in 1838-39, Scott commanded the operation in what became known as the “Trail of Tears,” when thousands of Cherokee died under terrible conditions during the long journey.

In 1841, Scott was made Commanding General of the U.S. Army, a position he would serve in for 20 years. When President James Polk ordered troops to territory disputed with Mexico along the Texas border, Scott appointed future president general Zachary Taylor to lead the expedition while he stayed in Washington. This was under pressure from Polk, who worried about Scott’s well known presidential aspirations. When the Mexican War subsequently broke out, Taylor grew bogged down in northwest Mexico after an initial series of victories, and it became clear that the northern route to Mexico City was no longer viable. Scott decided to personally lead a second front in order to break through to the Mexican capital.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
A little war going on is no excuse to not look your best. (Copy of lithograph by Nathaniel Currier, 1847/Wikimedia Commons)

Scott and his army’s landing at Vera Cruz, Mexico marks the first major amphibious landing by a U.S. army on foreign soil, and they seized the strategic port after a short siege. Roughly following conquistador Hernan Cortes’s historical route to Mexico City, U.S. forces won a series of victories against generally larger Mexican armies. Scott showed great skill in maneuver warfare, flanking enemy forces out of their fortifications where they could be defeated in the open. He successfully gambled that the army could live of the land in the face of impossibly long supply lines and after six months of marching and fighting, the U.S. seized the capital, putting the end to most resistance. The campaign had been a resounding success, with no less an authority than the Duke of Wellington, hero of Waterloo, declaring him “the greatest living general.”

Scott was an able military governor, and his fairness towards the conquered Mexicans gained him some measure of popularity in the country. But his vanity and political rivalry with Taylor, along with intercepted letters showing a scathing attitude towards Washington and Polk, lead to his recall in 1848.

Scott’s presidential aspirations were dashed when he badly lost the 1852 election to Franklin Pierce after a lackluster campaign. Continuing as commander of the Army, he was only the second man since George Washington to be promoted to Lieutenant General. By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, Scott was 75 years old and so obese he couldn’t even ride a horse, and Lincoln soon had him replaced by general George B. McClellan. His strategic sense had not dulled. His “Anaconda Plan” to blockade and split the South, first derided by those seeking a quick victory, proved to be the strategy that won the war.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Scott’s Great Snake by J.B. Elliot (Library of Congress)

Scott was a vain man, prone to squabbling with other officers he held in contempt, and his political aspirations lead to great tensions with Washington during the Mexican War. His command of the “Trail of Tears” put him at the forefront of one of the most disgraceful episodes in the U.S. treatment of Native Americans. But his determination to turn the U.S. Army into a professional force, his immense strategic and tactical skill, and a career that spanned over five decades makes him one of the most influential figures in U.S. military history.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why soldiers can now pretty much say goodbye to counter-insurgency training

An increased emphasis on large-scale ground combat and a greater focus on cybersecurity during combat operations are among key changes in the Army’s updated Field Manual 3-0, Operations, released Oct. 6.


America’s potential enemies now have capabilities greater than what Soldiers faced from insurgents in the Middle East. Threats from near-peer adversaries today include the infiltration of communication networks and cybersecurity compromise during combat.

“They have the ability to reach out and touch you — to interrupt your networks, to amass long-range artillery fires on your formations,” said Col. Rich Creed, director of the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “How to consider protection is different… (they) force you to dig in, or stay mobile and to consider air defense of your key assets … those are the kinds of challenges we’re talking about.”

The changes, directed by Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, mark the first updates to the manual since 2011, when the Army moved from the AirLand Battle concept to unified land operations focusing on the joint force. To revise the guidance, the CADD worked closely since last fall with Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy at the Combined Arms Center and Gen. David Perkins at the Training and Doctrine Command.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
General Mark Milley. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Marisol Walker.

The updates highlight a shift in readiness from counter-insurgency and stability operations to large-scale combat. Three chapters of the new manual will heavily focus on large unit tactics during large scale ground combat, addressing both the offense and the defense during operations. The emphasis on large-scale combat stems from the perception that conflict with a peer adversary is more likely now than any time since the end of the Cold War. Conflict with a nation state able to field modern capabilities approaching our own is quite different than facing insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, Creed said.

“Those adversaries have modernized,” Creed said. “They represent a type of capability that would be more challenging in many ways than what we’ve been doing. That type of warfare — large-scale ground combat — is a very different environment.”

Creed said CAC researchers examined which countries had the most dangerous conventional capabilities that were proliferated around the world so that doctrine could take a more threat-based approach to operations.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Photo under Creative Commons license.

While the Army has focused resources on cybersecurity for years, Creed said the new manual will help account for cyberspace threats during combat and large-scale operations.

“There’s always been hackers,” Creed said. “We didn’t generally worry about that during military operations because the people that we were fighting couldn’t really do a whole lot to affect our operations. However (China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea) are very active in cyberspace and have significant capabilities in cyberspace that extend into the military realm. So there’s no separation of cyberspace between civilian and military; you have to be aware of it all the time.”

Other areas addressed by the manual include consolidation after tactical victories, one of the Army’s strategic roles. Creed said after US forces seized Baghdad during the Iraq invasion of 2003, after the quick strike, the enemy was allowed to extend the war.

“(We) gave the enemy the opportunity to reorganize and protract the conflict for a long time,” Creed said. “Because we didn’t account for the different possibilities that they could continue resistance … There’s a lot of other things you need to do after the initial battles to secure an area and make those gains enduring.”

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

Each of the manual’s chapters aligns with the Army’s strategic roles of shaping operational environments, preventing conflict, prevailing in large-scale ground combat, and consolidating gains.

The manual will also emphasize the roles of echelons above brigade. Creed said building around brigades won’t be enough in large-scale combat and that divisions, corps and theater armies take increased importance in large-scale operations. Finally, CAC made adjustments to the operational framework, the model commanders use to plan and conduct ground operations.

Creed said the revisions in the FM 3-0 will help deploying units continually prepare for future conflicts as the Army remains wary of threats from these nation states.

“We needed to make sure from a doctrine perspective that we had adequate doctrine to address those kinds of conflicts — the high-intensity type of conflicts,” Creed said. “If you are engaged in large-scale combat with a nation-state adversary with modern capabilities, you’ve got a different problem set to deal with. So that’s the underlying reason for what we’ve done.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

The long and difficult road to changing Feres Doctrine

In high school, Jordan Way played football and lacrosse, as well as participating in ballroom dancing. He worked with the school’s Best Buddies program, partnering with special needs students in a mentoring capacity. “One of our nicknames for him was ‘Adventure,'” said his father, Dana Way. “Hiking, fishing, shooting, bow and arrows — he did not turn down a challenge.” Jordan was devoted to his family and devoted to his role as a U.S. Navy corpsman.

Yet only four years into his time in the Navy, Jordan was dead from opioid toxicity following shoulder surgery at the military hospital at Twentynine Palms Base. His parents were shocked to discover that a longstanding legal precedent known as the Feres Doctrine prevented them from suing the government for medical malpractice.


“My son never left the United States,” said Suzi Way, Jordan’s mother. “He was not in a war situation. He was having routine surgery, and he died. And he has no voice because of the Feres Doctrine.”

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

U.S. Navy sailor Jordan Way died following shoulder surgery and while under the care of military medical professionals.

(Photos courtesy of Suzi Way.)

Jordan was one of thousands affected by the Feres Doctrine in the 70 years it has been in effect. But as of Dec. 20, 2019, active duty military personnel will finally have legal recourse in cases of medical malpractice. President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2020, which includes a new mechanism holding the Department of Defense accountable for medical malpractice in military medical facilities. It was a hard-fought battle, but one that has potentially far-reaching consequences for service members who suffer from negligent care.

In 1950, the case Feres v. United States was heard and decided by the Supreme Court. The court held that the United States cannot be sued by active duty personnel under the Federal Torts Claims Act for injuries sustained due to medical negligence. As clarified four years later in United States v. Brown, “The peculiar and special relationship of the soldier to his superiors, the effects of the maintenance of such suits on discipline, and the extreme results that might obtain if suits under the Tort Claims Act were allowed for negligent orders given or negligent acts committed in the course of military duty, led the Court to read that Act as excluding claims of that character.”

Natalie Khawam, the lawyer representing the Way family as well as other families that have been affected by Feres, saw this as a fundamental insult to the civil rights of active duty service members and has been fighting to change the precedent through an act of Congress. “We consider ourselves a superpower, but our military has less rights than our civilians, and less rights than other countries, our allies,” Khawam said. “Shame on us.”

Dana Way vociferously agreed. “Our active duty servicemen who volunteer by signing that line — where in that document does it say, ‘I give up my Constitutional rights’?”

In eighth-grade Pop Warner football, Jordan Way severely broke his wrist. “His hand was hanging almost 180 degrees off his arm,” said his mother Suzi. She added that he was a longtime “fitness nut” and injured his shoulder in 2017. His parents wanted him to return home to see the surgeon who had fixed his wrist years earlier. But as a corpsman, Jordan trusted in the team of military medical professionals who would be overseeing his care.

This proved to be a mistake. Following the shoulder surgery, Jordan was left in agony. Five hours after the surgery, he went to the emergency room and lost consciousness from the pain. ER doctors increased his oxycodone dosage and sent him home. The next day, when nothing had improved, his surgeon increased the dosage again. But the doctors had all failed to see what was happening.

“He was getting the physical effects of the opioids; he was not getting the analgesic pain relief,” explained Dana. As a result, the high dosage of oxycodone left his body unable to move food through his digestive tract — he was not processing any nutrients. He became hypoglycemic and his organs began to shut down. In the end, he fell asleep and never woke up.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

Jordan Way, back row center, with his family.

(Photo courtesy of Suzi Way.)

“These doctors, they didn’t maliciously kill our son,” Suzi said. “I pray for them all the time because I know they have to go to bed at night with the woulda, coulda, shoulda. But they also didn’t help Jordan. They were negligent. They were complacent. They didn’t do their jobs.”

After a long and arduous process of trying to determine what exactly had happened to their son, Army Colonel Louis Finelli, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System Director, admitted to the Ways that Jordan’s case was a “preventable and avoidable death.”

Dana Way sees the Feres Doctrine as a roadblock to quality medical care within the military. “The people in power know ultimately nobody’s going to get held responsible for it,” he said. “If you’re active duty military, you’re essentially a piece of equipment. You are a typewriter, you’re a calculator. If you break, you get thrown into a pile and they move on to the next one. To me, that’s wrong.”

Although Feres has not been overturned, it will be substantially diminished in scope by the NDAA signed last week. Service members will still be unable to sue in federal court for damages caused by medical malpractice, as was originally proposed in the Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act. That act was part of the House of Representatives’ version of the bill, named after another of Khawam’s clients who is battling terminal stage 4 lung cancer. Instead, active duty military personnel will be able to submit claims to the Department of Defense itself.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

Rich Stayskal and lawyer Natalie Khawam in Washington.

(Photo courtesy of Natalie Khawam.)

Khawam sees this as an unmitigated victory. “I don’t think anybody will be upset that they can’t go to federal court if they have the remedy, the recourse, of federal court decisions,” she said. “It’s the best of both worlds.” As specified in the NDAA, the Department of Defense will be held to the same standards as those outlined in the Federal Torts Claims Act, and Khawam hopes that it will actually lead to much faster resolution of claims than if the cases were to be seen in federal court.

In its original form as the Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act, all claims would have been seen in federal court, but that proposal faced a roadblock from Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Graham was a staunch opponent of any changes to the Feres Doctrine, stating that such changes would be like “opening Pandora’s Box.” Despite a concerted effort among Stayskal and his advocates, any attempt to contact Graham was met with “crickets,” according to Khawam.

In an innovative tactical maneuver, by taking the process out of federal courts and into the Department of Defense itself, the proposal was approved by the far-more-amenable Senate Armed Services Committee. By doing an end-run around Graham, the act, in its new form, made it into the final reconciled version of the NDAA and was signed into law by the President.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

Jordan Way’s funeral.

(Photo courtesy of Suzi Way.)

Fittingly, Trump was revered by Jordan Way, who was buried with a Trump/Pence button on his dress uniform. Given their struggle to get answers about their son’s death from the military, Suzi Way is wary that claims will now be handled by the Department of Defense. “I know how exhausting it has been for my husband and I to find out how and why our son died. That took hundreds of phone calls, hundreds of emails to our elected officials, hundreds of emails to DOD from the very top of the food chain down. How can one ensure the standards are being upheld if they are standards that are privileged to the DOD’s eyes only?”

Khawam, however, is “on cloud nine,” she said. “I feel like it’s been Christmas every day. 70 years of this awful injustice — I felt like it was this locked-up vault that everybody kept saying, ‘It’s never going to change, it’s never going to change.’ And we finally unlocked that vault and cracked it open.”

Of course, “now the work starts from here,” Khawam added. The next step is actually pursuing the claims for Stayskal, Way, and others who have been denied legal recourse because of the Feres Doctrine.

Even Suzi Way, despite her hesitance about the final form of the bill, is glad that there has been momentum. “I went to bed last night,” she said, “and for the first time in almost two years, I didn’t hear Jordan in my mind saying, ‘Mom, I did nothing wrong. I did everything the doctors told me to do, let people know!’ My son’s voice is being heard that was once silenced due to Feres, and this is balm to my grieving soul.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How these Marines ensured a Purple Heart was awarded properly

When Marines graduate recruit training, not only are they gaining the title of Marine, they are also gaining a family. The bonds of the Marines to their left and right often run thicker than blood.


Marines would give their lives for each other and when one of their own needs help, they never hesitate to step up. This link lasts a lifetime, even when their active duty time is finished. If there are two phrases that every Marine takes to heart, it’s “once a Marine, always a Marine” and “never leave a Marine behind.”

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Sergeant Sara McGaffee, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native, receives a Purple Heart Medal, Dec. 16, in front of a detail of Marines and her local friends and family. On Oct. 20th, 2010, while deployed with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, McGaffee’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while conducting convoy operations in support of Operation Steel Dawn II in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. (Image Sgt. Michelle Reif)

Because of these two deeply understood Marine Corps sentiments, the Recruiting Sub Station Sioux Falls Marines did not think twice about helping a Marine receive what she rightfully deserved.

Sergeant Sara McGaffee joined the Marine Corps in 2008 out of Sioux Falls, S.D. On Oct. 20, 2010, while deployed with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, McGaffee’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while conducting convoy operations in support of Operation Steel Dawn II in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

McGaffee sustained considerable injuries in the blast.

Also Read: Here are the criteria that entitle a servicemember to the Purple Heart

Due to an administrative oversight, however, McGaffee was never awarded the Purple Heart Medal. But, when the award finally came through, it was set to be mailed to McGaffee directly. Gunnery Sgt. Paul Odonnell, the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of RSS Sioux Falls, heard her story and refused to let her receive such a prestigious award in the mail despite the fact that McGaffee was no longer on active duty.

McGaffee was awarded her Purple Heart Medal, Dec. 16, during a traditional Marine Corps ceremony in front of Marines and her local friends and family.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Sergeant Sara McGaffee, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native, poses for a photo with the Marines of Recruiting Sub Station Sioux Falls after being awarded the Purple Heart Medal. On Oct. 20th, 2010, while deployed with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, McGaffee’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while conducting convoy operations in support of Operation Steel Dawn II in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. McGaffee was awarded her Purple Heart, Dec. 16, 2017 in Sioux Falls, S.D., in front of a detail of Marines and her local friends and family. (Image Sgt. Michelle Reif)

The Purple Heart Medal is awarded to members of the military of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy.

“Having Sgt. McGaffee’s friends and family here today just goes to show how incredible the state of South Dakota is,” said Odonnell. “We had an opportunity to do this ceremony the right way and I think we captured what it really means to always be a Marine. We support our family.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The last camouflage is up to the scientists

A camouflaged soldier almost invisible to the naked eye may light up like a Christmas tree on a high-end thermal imaging device, which is why advanced thermal detection capabilities are among the greatest threats to the concealed warfighter.

Thermal imaging systems have the ability to detect a soldier’s infrared heat signature, light or electromagnetic radiation outside the visible spectrum emitted by a warm body. These sensors can distinguish between a person’s body heat and the ambient temperature of their surroundings.

“Defeating a thermal signature is probably the hardest thing,” an Army sniper previously told Business Insider, adding that “emerging technology by our near-peer enemies” is making it increasingly difficult for soldiers to hide.


Thermal detection “is dangerous to a sniper because you can’t hide from that,” he explained.

Agreeing with the sniper’s assessment, two masters of modern camouflage explained to BI why this particular threat is so difficult to defeat.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

How a human being appears to the naked eye vs how they appear to a thermal sensor.

(Youtube Screenshot)

“The big thing here is physics,” retired Army Lt. Col. Timothy O’Neill, a consultant for HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. and the inventor of digital camouflage, said. “For a thermal signature, you are talking about energy at one end of the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s energy. Energy, we recall, cannot be created or destroyed.”

This principle, known as the First Law of Thermodynamics, complicates everything.

“You can put a soldier inside a suit that traps the heat inside so that he can’t be seen, but he gets roasted inside,” O’Neill, who did his doctoral dissertation on camouflage, added. “The heat’s there.” The problem is figuring out what to do with the heat energy.

“It has to go somewhere somehow,” Guy Cramer, president and CEO of HyperStealth, told BI. “You either need to vent it or convert it to a non-detectable signal.” There are certain fabrics that will actually cool the body down, but it doesn’t eliminate the person’s heat signature altogether.

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” he said.

“You get outside the visible spectrum, and you do have problems,” O’Neill added. “Right now, almost all of the threats that we face have late-generation image intensification and thermal detection. It’s not an easy fix.”

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

How a human being appears to the naked eye vs how they appear to a thermal sensor.

(YouTube Screenshot)

“There are things you can do, but you are still up against physics,” the father of digital camouflage said. “So, almost anything you do to reduce a thermal signature is going to be high-tech and a little difficult for the soldier.” He said that there are some strides being made in this area, but it’s difficult to know what, if anything, will be a game-changer.

US Army scientists, for example, are researching new infrared obscurants, aerosol particles that block infrared light to obscure the warfighter on the battlefield. The service also put in a multi-million dollar order for Fibrotex’s Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System (ULCANS), a new kind of advanced camouflage specifically designed to conceal troops from night vision, thermal imaging, radar, and more.

Cramer told BI that he is currently patenting an idea known as “quantum stealth,” a light-bending camouflage material able to bend the electromagnetic spectrum around a target to achieve multi-spectral invisibility. This technology has not yet been publicly demonstrated.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

How a human being appears to the naked eye vs how they appear to a thermal sensor.

(YouTube Screenshot)

The Army’s top general revealed earlier this month that the service is pursuing new camouflage systems to better protect soldiers waging war on future battlefields, and thermal is a priority.

“Advanced camouflage technologies are critical,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley explained to lawmakers. “We are putting a fair amount of money into advanced camouflage systems, both individual, unit, vehicle, etc.”

“We know that adversary [target] acquisition systems are very capable in that, if you can see a target, with precision munitions, you can hit a target, so camouflage systems that break up electronic signatures and break up heat signatures are critical.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 of the biggest ways the Marines prepares you for college

College is an amazing thing. In fact, there’re few better ways to spend your time after the Marines than going to get an education in whatever way you see fit. Chances are, you got out because you were done with the military lifestyle and you were ready to move forward with your life. You were ready to find the next big challenge.

Contrary to what your chain of command told you, getting out of the military does not guarantee that you’ll spend your days living in a van down by the river. Not only did you build an arsenal of great life skills while in the service, you also earned yourself the G.I. Bill, which, in some cases, pays you to go to college.

Don’t be nervous at the prospect. The truth is, the Marines (or any other branch for that matter) has prepared you for the adventure of college in ways you might not have noticed.


What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

Take the big tasks, break them into smaller ones.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Lucas Hopkins)

Task organization 

Organizing your college life is a lot like writing a mission order: You take the biggest task and break it into manageable chunks. Having this kind of organizational talent can make group projects easier, too — if you think you can trust the other group members to carry out their assigned tasks, anyways.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

Hurry up and wait will definitely apply in a lot more areas of your life.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Master Sgt. Keith A. Milks)

Time management

When you get out of the Marines, it’s going to be hard to break out of the “fifteen minutes prior” mentality. You’ll be showing up everywhere super early, even if no one is waiting to yell at you for being late. Unlike a lot of kids fresh out of high school, you’ll already know how to make the time you need to do the work that needs to be done.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

You know where your limits are and you’ll continue pushing them.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Benjamin E. Woodle)

Not settling for bare minimums

As Marines, we’re taught to never settle. We’re taught to push ourselves to be our absolute best — and this helps a lot in college. You might experience a little anxiety over an exam or project, but when it comes time to deliver, you’ll exceed your expectations — because that’s just who you are now.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

You won’t stop until the job gets done.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Discipline

This can’t be stressed enough. Marines are able to train themselves to set a goal and work toward it at any cost. Our laser focus helps us avoid distractions until the mission is not only accomplished, but done with 110% effort.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

Good thing you can sleep anywhere, right?

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brian Slaght)

Sleep deprivation

In college, there are times where you’ll miss out on plenty of sleep because of deadlines. Luckily, you’ve spent enough time in fighting holes and on duty that you know how it feels to be truly tired, and it’ll never stop you from continuing to perform like you’ve had plenty of sleep.

Articles

Hello, Seaman: Navy ditches ratings after review

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Rear Adm. speaks to the crew of USS Iwo Jima during an all hands call. | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Murray


The Navy is jettisoning its complex ratings system to make sailors’ jobs more understandable and allow them to more easily transfer occupations.

The move, which allows sailors to be addressed by rank, such as seaman, petty officer and chief, aligns the service for the first time with the other three military branches, which address troops by rank instead of job specialty.

“I’ve never heard of a Marine who introduced himself as ‘Infantry Corporal Smith,’ ” Cmdr. John Schofield, a spokesman for Navy Personnel Command, told Military.com. “This is exactly what every other service does; it completely aligns us with the other services. I would just say that it makes complete sense in terms of putting more emphasis on rank and standardization.”

The changes are the result of an eight-month review initiated by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in January in as part of an effort to make job titles gender neutral as women entered previously closed fields.

In June, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke announced that the review was being expanded with input from the master chief petty officer of the Navy and other senior leaders to examine ways to make job descriptions more inclusive, improve the job assignment process, and facilitate sailors’ transition between military jobs or into civilian ones.

A Navy administrative message published Thursday announced that the ratings system that included job and rank information — intelligence specialist first class or chief hospital corpsman — is being replaced with a four-digit alphanumeric Naval Occupational Specialty, or NOS, parallel to the military occupational specialties used by the Marine Corps, Army and Air Force.

Sailors in ranks E-1 to E-3 will be addressed as “seaman;” those in ranks E4 to E-6 will be called petty officers third, second or first class; and those in ranks E-7 to E-9 will be called chief, senior chief or master chief, in keeping with their paygrade, according to the message.

“There will no longer be a distinction between ‘Airman, Fireman, and Seaman.’ They will all be ‘Seamen,’ ” the message states.

The new NOSs will be categorized under logical job fields, similar to the organizational system used by the other services. According to a ratings conversion chart provided by Navy officials, the old ratings of Navy diver, explosive ordnance disposal specialist, and special warfare operator will be classified as NOS E100, E200 and E300, respectively.

Schofield said sailors will be able to hold more than one NOS, a shift that will allow them to collect a broader range of professional experience and expertise while in uniform. Each NOS, he said, will be ultimately matched with a parallel or similar civilian occupation to “enable the Navy to identify credentials and certifications recognized and valued within the civilian workforce.”

“This change represents a significant cultural shift and it is recognized that it will not happen overnight, but will take time to become fully adapted,” the message states.

While the review began with an eye to gender neutrality, the ranks of “seaman” in the Navy and “midshipman” at the Naval Academy will stay, Schofield said. The terms were allowed to remain, he said, because they are ranks, not job titles.

While the new NOSs will largely retain the original ratings titles, some — such as yeoman — may change to become more inclusive or more descriptive of the sailors’ jobs. The updated list of job titles is still being finalized, Schofield said.

The Navy’s message to sailors is that the process isn’t over yet, and it’s not setting timelines for the completion of the ratings changeover.

“Changes to personnel management processes, policies, programs and systems will proceed in deliberate and thoughtful phases that will enable transitions that are seamless and largely transparent to the fleet,” the message states. “Fleet involvement and feedback will be solicited during each phase of the transformation. All aspects of enlisted force management to include recruiting, detailing, advancements, training, and personnel and pay processes are being carefully considered as we move forward.”

Articles

Pentagon revs up Hellfire missiles to attack ISIS

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jon Soles


Ongoing U.S. and allied drone, helicopter and aircraft attacks against ISIS have led the Army to massively rev up its production of air-launched HELLFIRE missiles, a weapon regularly used to destroy Islamic State buildings, bunkers, armored vehicles, fighter positions and equipment.

The war against ISIS has depleted existing inventory of the weapon and generated a fast-growing national and international demand for HELLFIRE missiles, Army officials told Scout Warrior.

“Production of HELLFIRE has increased for quantities ordered in Fiscal Year 14 and Fiscal Year 15,” Dan O’Boyle, spokesman for Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, said in a written statement.

As the principle manufacturer of HELLFIRE missiles, the Army provides the weapon to national and international entities to include the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy arsenals, among others. Overall, there as many as 15 or more international customers using HELLFIRE missiles, many of them partners in the U.S.-led coalition to destroy ISIS.

While Army officials did not provide specific numbers of production increases or plans to provide particular allied nations with HELLFIREs, the Pentagon has requested $1.8 billion in its 2017 budget for munitions, bombs and missiles needed to replenish or maintain stockpiles and sustain the attacks against ISIS.

As part of a separate effort, the Air Force did request and receive $400 million in reprogrammed dollars to address an air-to-ground munitions shortage, particularly with Hellfire missiles.

“The Air Force worked with the Army to re-prioritize HELLFIRE missile deliveries to the Air Force, requested additional funding for HELLFIRE missiles, reduced aircrew training expenditures, and is working a procurement plan to increase production to reconstitute munitions stocks as quickly as possible,” an Air Force official told Scout Warrior.

While precision-guided air-to-ground weapons are typically needed during aerial bombing efforts, they are of particular urgent value in the ongoing attacks on ISIS. ISIS fighters regularly hide among civilians and at times use women and children as human shields, making the need for precision all the more pressing.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
U.S. Army photo by Spc. Bryanna Poulin

In service since the 1970s, HELLFIRE missiles originated as 100-pound tank-killing, armor piercing weapons engineered to fire from helicopters to destroy enemy armored vehicles, bunkers and other fortifications.

In more recent years, the emergence of news sensors, platforms and guidance technologies have enabled the missile to launch strikes with greater precision against a wider envelope of potential enemy targets.

HELLFIRE Missile Technologies and Platforms

These days, the weapon is primarily fired from attack drones such as the Air Force Predator and Reaper and the Army’s Gray Eagle; naturally, the HELLFIRE is also used by the Army’s AH-64 Apache Attack helicopter, OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and AH-1 Marine Corps Super Cobras, among others. Although not much is known about when, where or who — HELLFIREs are also regularly used in U.S. drone strikes using Air Force Predators and Reapers against terrorist targets around the globe.

The HELLFIRE missile can use radio frequency, RF, guidance – referred to as “fire and forget” – or semi-active laser technology. A ground target can be designated or “painted” by a laser spot from the aircraft firing the weapon, another aircraft or ground spotter illuminating the target for the weapon to destroy.

There are multiple kinds of HELLFIRE warheads to include a High-Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, weapon and a Blast-Fragmentation explosive along with several others. The HEAT round uses what’s called a “tandem warhead” with both a smaller and larger shaped charge; the idea is to achieve the initial requisite effect before detonating a larger explosion to maximize damage to the target.

The “Blast-Frag” warhead is a laser-guided penetrator weapon with a hardened steel casing, incendiary pellets designed for enemy ships, bunkers, patrol boats and things like communications infrastructure, Army documents explain.

The “Metal Augmented Charge” warhead improves upon the “Blast-Frag” weapon by adding metal fuel to the missile designed to increase the blast overpressure inside bunkers, ships and multi-room targets, Army information says. The “Metal Augmented Charge” is penetrating, laser-guided and also used for attacks on bridges, air defenses and oil rigs. The missile uses blast effects, fragmentation and overpressure to destroy targets.

The AGM-114L HELLFIRE is designed for the Longbow Apache attack helicopter platform; the weapon uses millimeter-wave technology, radar, digital signal processing and inertial measurement units to “lock-on” to a target before or after launch.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Spike Call

The AGM-114R warhead is described as a “Multi-Purpose” explosive used for anti-armor, anti-personnel and urban targets; the weapon uses a Micro-Electro Mechanical System Inertial Measurement Unit for additional flight guidance along with a delayed fuse in order to penetrate a target before exploding in order to maximize damage inside an area.

The AGM-114R or “Romeo” variant, which is the most modern in the arsenal, integrates a few additional technologies such as all-weather millimeter wave guidance technology and a fragmentation-increasing metal sleeve configured around the outside of the missile.

The “Multi-Purpose” warhead is a dual mode weapon able to use both a shaped charge along with a fragmentation sleeve. The additional casing is designed to further disperse “blast-effects” with greater fragmentation in order to be more effective against small groups of enemy fighters.

“The “Romeo” variant is an example of how these efforts result in a more capable missile that will maintain fire superiority for the foreseeable future,” O’Boyle said.

Additional HELLFIRE Uses

Although the HELLFIRE began as an air-to-ground weapon, the missile has been fired in a variety of different respects in recent years. The Navy has fired a Longbow HELLFIRE from a Littoral Combat Ship, or LCS, to increase its lethality; the Navy’s 2017 budget request asks for Longbow HELLFIRE missiles, beginning with the LCS surface-to-surface mission module, Navy officials told Scout Warrior.   Also, the Army has fired the weapon at drone targets in the air from a truck-mounted Multi-Mission Launcher on the ground and international U.S. allies have fired the HELLFIRE mounted on a ground-stationed tripod.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US troops guarding oil fields in Syria wait around for military orders

United States troops stationed in Syria have yet to receive guidance on their mission, including the basic rules of engagement, according to a military official in a CNN report published Nov. 4, 2019.

Some military commanders deployed to Eastern Syria were reportedly still waiting to receive their directives to guard oil fields in the region. For some of these troops, it was unclear where their destinations would be and how long they were expected to stay there, according to CNN.

President Donald Trump and his congressional allies in recent weeks have shown interest in the oil fields in the country, even deploying additional troops and armored vehicles to protect the oil reserves.


“What I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly,” Trump said on Oct. 27, 2019, adding that he wanted to “spread out the wealth.”

“The oil is so valuable for many reasons,” Trump added.

US troops in northeastern Syria were called back after Trump ordered their withdrawal, ahead of Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish forces earlier this month.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship

US troops in Northern Syria.

(Public Domain)

But Trump also ordered troops into the region to protect oil fields from Islamic State militants, Syria, and Russia.

Roughly 1,000 US troops were deployed to the region when Turkey embarked on its offensive on Oct. 9, 2019. After accounting for the new troops, around 900 US service members are expected to remain.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, the majority-Kurdish forces that were allied with the US for the war against ISIS, have operated the oil fields after seizing them from the terrorist group in 2017. The SDF has been selling the crude oil to the Syrian regime through a sanctioned broker, according to a Wall Street Journal report, citing sources familiar with the situation.

The confusion wrought from the abrupt military repositioning also comes shortly after artillery rounds landed about 1 kilometer away from US troops. US forces patrolling northeast Syria on Nov. 3, 2019, reportedly noticed the artillery fire, according to the Military Times. No US service members were injured.

The event follows another similar incident on Oct. 11, 2019, when Turkish artillery fire landed a few hundred meters away from a location with US forces. Following the incident, a US official demanded that Turkey “avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action.”

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

Articles

Why NATO should use Russia’s massive wargame as an intel dump

When thousands of Russian troops wheeled and maneuvered through the steppes of southern Siberia two years ago, as part of massive military exercises known as Tsentr, Western experts spotted something unusual.


Amid Defense Ministry orders for tank brigades, paratrooper battalions, motorized rifle divisions, and railroad cars carrying howitzers, there were orders for the federal fisheries agency.

“And I wondered, ‘What the hell is the fisheries ministry doing?'” recalls Johan Norberg, senior military analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency. The eventual conclusion, he says, was that the Russian fisheries fleet was seen by military planners as an intelligence asset, playing a small role in national defense.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Tsentr-2015 strategic headquarters military exercises. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

It’s an example offering a small window into not only how Russian commanders approach large-scale military games. It’s also the kind of insight that Western analysts hope to gain beginning next week when one of the largest exercises Moscow has conducted on its western borders since the Cold War get under way: a real-world, real-time glimpse at what Russia’s military is truly capable of, after years of institutional reforms.

The Zapad drills, taking place in Belarus and the regions east of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are formally kicking off on Sept. 14. They’re the first to be held in close proximity to NATO member countries since Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

For that and many other reasons, they are giving heartburn to NATO allies from the Baltic to the Black Sea, with some observers predicting that the number of participating personnel could exceed 100,000, along with tanks, artillery units, aircraft, and other equipment.

Midterm Exam

Though few, if any, Western planners anticipate any outbreak of hostilities with Russia, NATO states have taken steps to reassure their populaces and to show they are taking the Russians seriously. US Air Force fighter jets are now patrolling Baltic airspace; Poland is closing its airspace near Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad; and four NATO battle groups, featuring 4,500 troops, are on alert in the Baltics and Poland.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
USMC Photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon.

That said, as much as anything, the Zapad exercises serve as a midterm exam for Russian armed forces and military planners, a measure of reforms made over the past decade.

“The exercise is actually a very good opportunity for us to… get a better sense of what the Russian military is actually capable of: how it can handle logistics, move different units, or, in an operation, exercise command and control over combined armed formations in the Baltic theater, which is the one we’re principally concerned with, right?” says Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA Corporation and a fellow at the Kennan Institute in Washington.

“This one is a lot more interesting to us because we don’t plan on fighting Russia in Central Asia,” Kofman says.

Preparations have been ongoing for weeks, with large numbers of railroad cars shipping heavy weaponry and vehicles into Belarus and civilians mobilized at some large state-owned enterprises in Kaliningrad and elsewhere.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Zapad 13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

“As we’ve seen before, Russians train exactly as they intend to fight,” Kristjan Prikk, undersecretary for policy at the Estonian Defense Ministry, said during a July event at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “Thus, Zapad will give ample information on their military development and certainly on their political thinking, as it is right now.”

Structural Reforms

In 2008, when Russia invaded its former Soviet neighbor Georgia, its armed forces easily overcame Georgia’s defenses and some of its US-trained personnel, but the five-day war showcased significant weaknesses. For example, some Russian officers were reportedly unable to communicate with others over existing radio frequencies and were forced to use regular mobile phones. Russian surveillance drones performed poorly.

Other reforms already under way at the time included a shift from the Soviet military structure, organized around divisions, to a smaller brigade structure and the increased use of contract, rather than conscripted, soldiers.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Zapad 13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Reforms also included a substantial increase in defense budgets, something made possible by high world oil prices that stuffed Russia’s coffers. A 10-year plan to upgrade weaponry and other equipment originally called for Russia to spend $650 billion between 2011 and 2020, according to NATO figures, though Western sanctions, plummeting oil prices, and the economic downturn in 2015-16 are believed to have slowed some purchases.

“They’ve had now, say, eight or nine years with plenty of money and the willingness to train, and they have a new organization that they want to test,” Norberg says.

While the Defense Ministry conducts a cycle of exercises roughly every year, alternating among four of the country’s primary military districts, Western analysts got a surprise lesson in early 2014 when Russian special forces helped lead a stealth invasion of Crimea and paved the way for the Black Sea region’s illegal annexation by Moscow in March.

Real-World Laboratory

That, plus the outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine in the following months, offered a real-world laboratory for testing new tactics and equipment for Russian forces, including new drones, some manufactured with help from Israeli firms.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Pro-Russian rebels shoot in the air at funeral of a fellow fighter killed in a battle for Marinka near Donetsk. Eastern Ukraine, 6 June, 2015. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

The Crimea invasion was preceded by the months of civil unrest in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, which culminated in deadly violence and the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.

For many Kremlin and defense thinkers, that was just the latest in a series of popular uprisings, fomented by Western governments, that toppled regimes and governments stretching back to Georgia in 2003 and lasting through the Arab Spring beginning in 2010.

The scenario that Russian and Belarusian commanders have announced ahead of Zapad 2017 hints at that thinking: The theoretical adversary is one seeking to undermine the government in Minsk and set up a separatist government in western Belarus.

What happens if a PT boat took on a Littoral Combat Ship
Russia celebrating National Guards’ Day. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Inside Russia, the thinking that NATO and Western governments used the popular uprisings as a strategy led to the reorganization of internal security forces, such as riot police and Interior Ministry special troops into a specialized National Guard under the command of President Vladimir Putin’s former bodyguard. Some parts of that force, whose overall numbers are estimated at 180,000, are expected to participate in the Zapad exercises.

That, Kofman says, should yield insight into “how Russia will mobilize and deploy internal security forces to suppress protest and instability…basically how the regime will protect itself and defend itself against popular unrest.”

Do Not Sell My Personal Information