Puerto Rico National Guard faces a perfect storm - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Puerto Rico National Guard faces a perfect storm

A deadly pandemic, a Category 5 hurricane and two earthquakes. While this sounds like cataclysms from the Old Testament — it’s not. Puerto Rico has been dealing with a range of natural disasters for the past three years.

In the center of them all is the Puerto Rico National Guard, stepping up to the challenges each provides.


“It’s certainly showing that the Puerto Rico National Guard is a flexible and adaptable force,” Maj. Gen. José Reyes, adjutant general, said.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of just about every American. The mantra of elected officials has been, “Flatten the curve,” meaning stop the spread of the virus. PRNG is doing its part to accomplish that by conducting medical evaluations of everyone entering Puerto Rico.

Earlier this year, PRNG and other federal and state agencies started screening incoming passengers at the international airport in San Juan by installing 11 infrared cameras that measure a person’s body temperature.

If a passenger has a temperature of 100.3° or over, they are immediately taken to a triage area and tested for COVID-19.

This is a 24/7 operation with about 260 PRNG members participating — roughly 60 are assigned to each six-hour shift.

Laiza Rivera, a medical student at Central Caribbean University, took the oath of office to become a 2nd Lt. in the Puerto Rico National Guard on April 2. Here she signs her enlistment contract as Gen. José Reyes looks on. Photo by First Sgt. Luis E. Orengo.

In addition to military personnel, 150 students from Puerto Rico’s four medical schools have volunteered for this mission as well.

This actually worked as an unintentional recruitment campaign when four of them decided to join the PRNG. One of them is 2nd Lt. Laiza Rivera.

The 27–year-old says she was going stir-crazy being home all day because of the lockdown so she decided to volunteer at the airport. Rivera, whose major is ophthalmology, was already in the process of joining but inspired the other three student-volunteers to join as well.

PRNG has similar operations at other ports of entry.

Annual training

PRNG’s ability to adapt is illustrated in its revised plan for annual training. Ordinarily, large groups of personnel would attend exercises at the national training center in California, as well as another location in Louisiana. Not this year. In an effort to practice social distancing, those exercises will be modified to be conducted in smaller groups at Camp Santiago in Puerto Rico.

Additionally, classes that would normally be held in a conference room have switched to video conferencing.

Hurricane Maria

In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

Under Reyes’ command, the island’s combined military forces provided its residents with just about everything they needed.

They provided MPs to the local police departments to maintain law and order; engineers cleared hundreds of miles of debris from roadways; and they conducted search and rescue operations in flooded communities and evacuated stranded citizens. The Army aviation unit conducted countless flights to and from the center of the island (its most rural and isolated area) to deliver food, water and emergency supplies.

Puerto Rico still hasn’t fully recovered from the hurricane and the 56 year-old general predicts that won’t happen for another 10 to 12 years.

Two earthquakes  

If the hurricane wasn’t bad enough, Puerto Rico was shaken by two major earthquakes in January. There were 10,000 people who either partially or completely lost their homes.

Reyes, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, presented a plan to Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced to relocate these refugees. PRNG then established five major camps, each with a capacity of about 1,700. In partnership with FEMA and other agencies, they relocated over 10,000 people in 56 days.

Hurricane season 

While no one can predict when an earthquake will occur, there is an established hurricane season for the Caribbean and it’s happening now.

Under Homeland Security Presidential Directives Nos. 8 and 9, states and territories are required to conduct preparatory training in response to the threats that pose the greatest risk to national security, including natural disasters.

PRNG is on it conducting emergency management exercises for hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics and even tsunamis with all 78 municipalities on the island. Until last year, exercises were only for Category 5 hurricanes. The new exercises anticipate all these disasters happening concurrently.

Puerto Rico has had a lot thrown at it over the past three years and, in theory, it all could happen again. PRNG will be ready if it does.

Additionally, Reyes knows Guard units from other states, as well as additional DOD personnel, has Puerto Rico’s back and will be there to support him.

Reyes came out of retirement to take on this command and he’s glad he did.

“It’s a tremendous honor to command the Puerto Rico National Guard, eight-five hundred strong, fully committed men and women with an unbreakable sense of service towards the people of Puerto Rico and our nation,” he said. “I’m very proud of each one of them.”

This article originally appeared on Reserve + National Guard Magazine. Follow @ReserveGuardMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

As the fleet grapples with coronavirus, the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier hit a major operational milestone

Off the East Coast this month, the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford, reached several major milestones in a matter of hours, marking the advancement of the carrier’s crew and its systems.


The Ford completed flight deck certification and carrier air-traffic control center certification on March 20, after it achieved Precision Approach Landing Systems certification and conducted two days of flight operations.

F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets from four squadrons assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 conducted 123 daytime launches and landings and 42 nighttime launches and landings aboard the Ford over a two-day period, exceeding the minimum requirements for each by three and two, respectively.

“Our sailors performed at a level that was on par with a forward deployed aircraft carrier, and this was a direct result of the hardcore training and deployment-ready mentality we have pushed every day for the past year,” Capt. J. J. Cummings, the Ford’s commanding officer, said in a release. “Our team put their game faces on, stepped into the batter’s box and smashed line drives out of the park. It was fun to watch.”

The certifications, photos of which you can see below, are major achievements not only for the carrier but also for the Navy, as the Ford is now the only only carrier qualification asset — meaning it can conduct carrier qualifications for pilots and other support operations — that will be regularly available on the East Coast this year.

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Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class Jawann Murray, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s air department, signals an F/A-18E Super Hornet on Ford’s flight deck during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 21, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach

Before flight deck and carrier air-traffic control certification, the Ford did Precision Approach Landing Systems certification. PALS is a requirement for flight operations. along with air-traffic controllers, it aids pilots in night or bad-weather landings and guides them to a good starting position for approaches.

The Ford is doing an 18-month post-delivery test and trials period, now in its fifth month.

The carrier finished aircraft compatibility testing at the end of January, successfully launching and landing five kinds of aircraft a total of 211 times.

After that 18-month period, it will likely return to the shipyard for any remaining work that couldn’t be done at sea.

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Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Derrick Williams, USS Gerald R. Ford’s flight deck leading chief petty officer, goes over flight deck operations inside Ford’s flight deck control, prior to flight operations in the Atlantic, March 23, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Sean Rinner

The Ford’s carrier air-traffic control center team assisted the flight-deck certification and had to complete its own certification in concert with it. CATCC certification was the culmination of a process that started at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Florida last year.

Since that process began in October 2019, instructors from the training center have been working with Ford sailors during every phase — testing the sailors’ practical knowledge, reviewing their checklists, and observing their recovery operations.

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F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 launch from the USS Gerald R. Ford during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 21, 2020.

US Navy/Chief MCS RJ Stratchko

That training was vital to the Ford sailors’ success this month. “We had no rust to knock off,” said Chief Air Traffic Controller Lavese McCray. “We’ve tested and trained for so many operations that it made the [certification] scenarios look easy.”

Inspectors from Naval Air Forces Atlantic praised the carrier air-traffic control center sailors in their certification letter, according to the release.

“It was very apparent the entire CATCC team put forth a great deal of effort preparing for their CATCC certification,” the letter said. “All CATCC functional areas were outstanding. Additionally, the leadership and expertise exhibited by the Air Operations Officer and his staff were extremely evident throughout the course of the entire week.”

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F/A-18E and F Super Hornets assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 stack up in preparation for launch aboard USS Gerald R. Ford during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 21, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Ruben Reed

The certification process is meant to test pilots and crews on operations they’ll face when deployed. In one recovery scenario, aircraft were stacked behind the Ford in 2-mile increments, waiting to land every minute, which deployment-ready aircraft carriers are required to be able to do. The Ford landed aircraft 55 seconds apart.

“The human element critical to [flight deck certification] is the relationship between ship’s company and the air wing in the ‘black top ballet’ of flight deck operations,” the release said. “During hours-long evolutions, the teams work together to communicate pilots’ status, their requirements, and provide them services.”

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Lt. Scott “Gameday” Gallagher lands an F/A-18E Super Hornet for the 1,000th trap on USS Gerald R. Ford’s flight deck during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 19, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 1st Class Gary Prill

The March 20 certifications came a day after the Ford’s 1,000 recovery of a fixed-wing aircraft using its Advanced Arresting Gear on March 19 at 5:13 p.m. Moments later, the ship had its 1,000 launch with its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System.

The Ford’s first fixed-wing recovery and launch using AAG and EMALS were on July 28, 2017.

AAG and EMALS have been two of the most nettlesome of the Ford’s many new technologies, exceeded in their growing pains perhaps only by the Advanced Weapons Elevators, which are still not finished.

The Ford has the first new carrier design since the 1960s, which added to the difficulty of its construction. AAG and EMALS are both meant to support the greater energy requirements of future air wings and operate more safely than similar gear on older Nimitz-class carriers.

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Chief Air Traffic Controller Michael Knecht, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s operations department, monitors flight operations and tracks aircraft from Ford’s Carrier Air Traffic Control Center.

US Navy/MCS Seaman Apprentice Riley McDowell

The Ford’s accomplishments come as the Navy grapples with a fleet-wide challenge in the coronavirus. The service’s first case came on March 13, when a sailor on the USS Boxer, in port in San Diego, tested positive. The first underway case came on Tuesday on the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said Tuesday that three cases were detected on the Theodore Roosevelt. He said those were the first cases on a deployed ship and that the affected personnel were awaiting transfer off the carrier.

The “Big Stick,” which carries some 5,000 crew, visited Vietnam earlier this month. The Navy’s top uniformed officer said Tuesday that it wasn’t clear if the cases stemmed from that visit.

“Whenever we have a positive on any ship … we’re doing the forensics on each one of those cases to try and understand what kind of best practices, or the do’s and the don’ts, that we can quickly promulgate fleet-wide,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said at the Pentagon.

Asked about specific policy changes, Gilday said, “we’re on it” but “no specifics yet.”

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Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Christopher Nardelli, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s air department, arranges the “ouija board” in Ford’s flight deck control, during flight operations in the Atlantic, March 22, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach

There are no reported cases on the Ford, which Gilday said Tuesday was also carrying “a couple of hundred shipyard workers” who were “working on many of her systems to continue to keep her at pace and on schedule” for deployment.

“We’re very proud of the fact that they are out there at sea with us and that they’re so committed to the Navy,” Gilday said of the shipyard workers.

The Navy has clashed with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls over its work on the Ford.

But the Navy secretary said Tuesday that the service was in touch with industry partners to let them know it was aware of the challenge posed by the coronavirus.

“We rely particularly on our shipyards and our depots … We need them to continue to operate because you can’t lose those skills. We have to keep them maintained. So we’ve been very clear and very consistent in talking to our commercial partners,” Modly said.

“We are also concerned about the health of their people. We don’t want them putting them at risk either,” Modly added. “But we just need to be aware of what they’re doing in that regard, so that we can adjust our expectations about what they can deliver and when they can deliver.”

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

Articles

The Air Force tried to make the SR-71 Blackbird into a fighter

The SR-71 Blackbird is an awesome plane. But did you know that it could have been even more awesome than it was? The Air Force was planning to make a fighter version of the plane.


Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that as the early iterations of the SR-71 were being designed, there was a need for an interceptor. The F-108 program had been cancelled due to its high cost. However, there was still a desire for a high-speed, long-range interceptor.

The YF-12A – a fighter version of the Blackbird capable of carrying four AIM-47 Falcon missiles. (USAF photo)

The A-12 OXCART being developed for the CIA was seen as a likely basis for a fighter. Lockheed’s Skunk Works team soon figured out how to add a powerful radar, the AN/ASG-18, capable of detecting targets from as far off as 500 miles in some cases, and four AIM-47 missiles.

The resulting plane was designated the YF-12, and three prototypes were built.

Designation-Systems.net notes that the AIM-47 had a range of over 100 miles and a speed of Mach 4. While a 250-ton W42 warhead never materialized for this missile, it did get a 100-pound high-explosive warhead.

An AIM-47 Falcon being loaded into a YF-12. (USAF photo)

News of the the YF-12’s development was leaked in an effort to distract the public from the work being done to make a reconnaissance plane. But the plane – awesome as it was – would not ever see service due to the development of reliable inter-continental ballistic missiles.

The YF-12 would get a production order for 93 airframes from the Air Force. However, then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara refused to release the funds, and the project ended up being halted at the three prototypes. Two were handed over to NASA for research flights. One of those crashed after a fuel line caught fire in 1971, with the crew ejecting from the stricken plane.

A Fighter Squadron 211 (VF-211) F-14A Tomcat aircraft banks into a turn during a flight out of Naval Air Station, Miramar, Calif. The aircraft is carrying six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles.

The YF-12 will remain one of the biggest “could have been” planes in history. The jet still has a legacy – partially in the SR-71 Blackbird, but also in the form of the AWG-9 radar and AIM-54 Phoenix missiles used by the F-14 Tomcat. Even though this plane never got a chance to serve, it still did a lot for America’s military aviation development.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you should know about ‘Anchors Aweigh’

Today’s U.S. Navy can trace its origins to the Continental Navy of the Revolutionary War. It boasts the largest, most capable fleet in history, proudly serving its mission of “…winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas.” America’s sailors are the finest in the world, and their rousing song — born in victory — suits them well.


Also read: The complete hater’s guide to the US Navy


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Even if you can’t sing along, you’ve probably heard the familiar tune, but here are five things you might not know about “Anchors Aweigh:”

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1. It was written at the U.S. Naval Academy

Bandmaster Lt. Charles A. Zimmerman served as director of the U.S. Naval Academy Band from 1887 until his death in 1916, and he wrote a march for each graduating class. But it was “Anchors Aweigh” would be the one ultimately adopted by the U.S. Navy as its official song.

The Navy Midshipmen take the field in the 2012 Army-Navy game.

U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge)

2. It helped shut out the Army

By 1906, Navy had not beaten Army on the football field since 1900. Midshipman First Class Alfred Hart Miles approached Zimmerman with a request for a new march — one that would lift spirits and “live forever.” According to legend, Miles and Zimmerman got to work at the Academy’s chapel organ. Later that month, the band and brigade performed the song and the Navy swept the Army in a 10-0 victory.

Sailors secure a line to the capstan while hoisting the anchor chain.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Finley)

3. It’s chock full of naval jargon, starting with the title

An anchor is “aweigh” when it is hoisted from the bottom, freeing the vessel. This event is duly noted in the ship’s log.

Nimitz Carrier Strike Group conducts an underway.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael D. Cole)

4. It evolved over time

It wasn’t until 1997 that the lyrics were finally revised (by the 8th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, John Hagan) to be a little less college football and a little more domination of the high seas.

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5. It boasts ancient lore — like 2300 BC ancient

The revised lyrics include some naval lore, such as a reference to Davy Jones, whose locker on the ocean floor is home to drowned sailors and shipwrecks, and the “seven seas,” an ancient phrase for all the world’s oceans.

Here are the proud lyrics (both original and revised):

Original Lyrics

[Verse 1]

Stand Navy down the field, sails set to the sky.

We’ll never change our course, so Army you steer shy-y-y-y.

Roll up the score, Navy, Anchors Aweigh.

Sail Navy down the field and sink the Army, sink the Army Grey.

[Verse 2]

Get underway, Navy, Decks cleared for the fray,

We’ll hoist true Navy Blue So Army down your Grey-y-y-y.

Full speed ahead, Navy; Army heave to,

Furl Black and Grey and Gold and hoist the Navy, hoist the Navy Blue

[Verse 3]

Blue of the Seven Seas; Gold of God’s great sun

Let these our colors be Till all of time be done-n-n-ne,

By Severn shore we learn Navy’s stern call:

Faith, courage, service true With honor over, honor over all.

Revised Lyrics

(It is verse 2 that is most widely sung)

[Verse 1]

Stand Navy out to sea,

Fight our battle cry;

We’ll never change our course,

So vicious foe steer shy-y-y-y.

Roll out the TNT,

Anchors Aweigh.

Sail on to victory

And sink their bones to Davy Jones, hooray!

[Verse 2]

Anchors Aweigh, my boys,

Anchors Aweigh.

Farewell to foreign shores,

We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.

Through our last night ashore,

Drink to the foam,

Until we meet once more.

Here’s wishing you a happy voyage home.

[Verse 3]

Blue of the mighty deep:

Gold of God’s great sun.

Let these our colors be

Till all of time be done, done, done, done.

On seven seas we learn

Navy’s stern call:

Faith, courage, service true,

With honor, over honor, over all.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What did it sound like to land at Iwo Jima?

In this age of smartphones and social media, we often get unprecedented access to events that we normally would have just read about in a paper long ago. Many of us have seen videos of combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and countless other places. We see the perspective of our enemies as they strap on Go-Pros and launch attacks. We see camera footage of Special Forces carrying out operations. We see airstrikes from drones and watch enemy bodies get turned to hamburger meat by attack helicopters.


For older conflicts, however, we usually see sanitized footage released by the government or newsreels that were edited with sound effects added. But have you ever wondered what it sounded like to storm the beaches of Iwo Jima?

Well, now you can hear it for yourself. Audio from the actual Iwo Jima landings can be heard here.

In it, we hear two Marine Corps Correspondents give a ‘play by play’ as the Marines head toward the beach. The first person identified as one Sgt. Mawson of the 4th Marine Division goes first.

As gunfire sounds around him, Mawson is on board a landing craft en route to the beach. He sees Marines being tossed into the air from mortar and artillery fire and states the beach ‘seems to be aflame.’ As the landing craft clears the warships, he heads straight to the beach. As he gets closer, he can see a tank already aflame. When they are only a couple of hundred yards out, he can see Marines moving up and down the beach through wrecked vehicles. He makes reference to the abandoned Japanese navy ships that were left to corrode on the beach, a sign of the decimation the Japanese Imperial Navy experienced in early battles like Midway.

The second Marine is not known by name. However, his words are even more grave than the first correspondent as his audio conveys his arrival on the black sands of Iwo Jima.

He starts at the line of departure and about 2000 yards from shore. He states that the beach ‘looks to be practically on fire.’ In the fog of war, he reports that casualties in the first wave are light. We know now that the Japanese allowed the Marines on the island and opened up once most of the first waves were settled on the beach. It seems like this correspondent can see the Japanese attack, but the severity is not known to him yet. He tells us he sees dive bombers strafing enemy positions.

Then, upon fully seeing the absolute carnage on the beach, he has a very human moment. He talks about his wife and daughter back home. He wonders aloud if they are alright and then wishes that he would be able to go back home to them.

Many of us who have been overseas have had this moment when you have a firm vision of your own mortality and immediately think of your loved ones back home. Through his professional demeanor, it’s a human and heartbreaking moment.

As the craft gets closer, he observed machine gun fire coming down from Mt. Suribachi aimed at his craft, although for the moment, they are out of range.

The landing craft grounds on the beach, and the ramp goes down, and a machine gun goes off. You hear in the background, ‘what the hell was that?’ and wonder if some poor soul had a negligent discharge (although I am sure a few minutes later, no one cared).

As he wades ashore, he mentions that the water is so high that his pistol gets wet as he trudges ashore. He starts giving a matter of fact description of the beach and its make-up before coming back to what he is doing. The gunfire gets louder.

dod.defense.gov

He yells ‘spread out!’ as he and his stick get closer to the beach. You can hear incoming fire around him as he very calmly explains his situation. He states so far that no one around him has been hit, and you can hear a dive bomber flying overhead.

But unfortunately, as we know now, Iwo was not to be an easy operation.

He sees his first casualty, a Marine who is being evacuated. He then sees other Marines being hit by enemy fire, and his voice starts to dampen from the gravity of the situation. About 100 feet from the beach, we hear him as he sees more casualties. He sees a Marine lying on his back with ‘his blood pouring into the water.’ He is very calm as there are fire and death all around him.

Upon coming ashore, he is surprised to see that the Marines are still on the beach. He sees that the first waves are bogged down from the fire and sand. This was exactly the plan of the Japanese commander, and from the sound of the recording, it was initially very successful at bogging down the Marines and inflicting heavy losses.

The next thing he says tells of a courage that all Marines know of and admire. He talks of corpsman walking up and down the beach, seemingly unaffected by the incoming fire, checking up and down to make sure everyone who needs it, is being treated. Gotta love those Docs!

The recording ends with the correspondent headed toward the first wave as more Marines come in the waves behind him.

As we know now, what was supposed to be an easy landing and week-long battle turned into one of the bloodiest battles in World War II. Over 6,000 Marines died bravely to take Iwo Jima.

If anything, these recordings document a small part of their heroic journeys and horrible ordeals.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Pacific senior enlisted leaders meet for historic Red Flag-Alaska

Red Flag-Alaska 19-2, a Pacific Air Forces-directed exercise that allows U.S. forces to train with coalition partners in a simulated combat environment — is underway at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson through June 22, 2019.

Approximately 2,000 personnel are flying, maintaining and supporting more than 85 aircraft from more than a dozen units during this iteration of Red Flag-Alaska. The majority of participating aircraft are based at, and flying from, JB Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base.

In addition to the U.S., airmen from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, South Korean Air Force and Royal Thai Air Force are all working alongside one another, building relationships, fostering communication and sharing tactics, techniques and procedures.


Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright visited JB Elmendorf-Richardson during the exercise to engage with airmen and leaders of all participating countries.

“Any time we come together in a training environment like this, we get really good and realistic training opportunities with our partner nations,” Wright said. “I think opportunities like Red Flag are extremely important for us to get those repetitions in with our allies.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, Ra Young-Chang, chief master sergeant of the South Korean Air Force, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson senior enlisted leaders are briefed before an F-22 Raptor jet engine test cell function check at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, June 10, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Valdes)

“I encourage all participants to take advantage of these opportunities where you get to work at a tactical level with our Indo-Pacific and our European counterparts because you never know how those relationships might pay off one day.”

Following his own advice, Wright extended invitations to his senior enlisted leader counterparts from throughout the Pacific, marking the first time all four senior enlisted leaders from the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Thailand gathered in the same location.

“Instability is on the rise in the Indo-Pacific area of operations, so it’s extremely important for all allied nations in the region to sharpen our skills and strengthen our ability to work together to preserve the peace and stability of this very important region,” said Warrant Officer Masahiro Yokota, Japan Air Self-Defense Force senior enlisted advisor.

This iteration of RF-A, which began June 6, 2019, provides joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support and large-force employment training.

“I feel pleased, delighted and honored to have the opportunity to join in Red Flag and the senior leaders activities here at (JB Elmendorf-Richardson),” Royal Thai Air Force Flight Sgt. First Class Likhid Deeraksah said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to learn about different cultures and the ways of doing things in Korea, Japan and the United States. I’m excited to take some of these ideas back to our work centers in Thailand.”

An A-10 Thunderbolt pilot from the 25th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, performs pre-flight checks at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 10, 2019. The 25th FS is participating in Exercise Red Flag-Alaska 19-2, a large-scale training exercise, with units and allied nation’s’ air forces from around the Pacific.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stefan Alvarez)

All Red Flag-Alaska exercises take place over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex over central Alaska. The entire airspace is made up of extensive military operations areas, special-use airspace and ranges, for a total airspace of more than 67,000 square miles.

Red Flag-Alaska exercises, which provide unique opportunities to integrate various forces in realistic threat environments, date back to 1975, when the exercise was held at Clark Air Base in the Philippines and called exercise Cope Thunder.

Red Flag-Alaska executes the world’s premier tactical joint and coalition air combat employment exercise, designed to replicate the stresses warfighters must face during their first eight to 10 combat sorties. Red Flag-Alaska has the assets, range and support structure to train to joint and combined warfighting doctrine against realistic and robust enemy integrated threat systems, under safe and controlled conditions.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 13th Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, taxis at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 10, 2019. The 13th FS is participating in Exercise Red Flag-Alaska 19-2, a large-scale training exercise, with units and allied nation”s air forces from around the Pacific.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stefan Alvarez)

Wright offered a message to RF-A global airmen about how important their contributions are to the long-term advancement of the nations of the Indo-Pacific region.

“Come here, work hard, have a good time and enjoy the fruits of your labor, particularly when it comes to training and relationships. When our airmen get to work side by side with their counterparts, the long-term impact is that we’re going to be better and we’ll be ready for any scenario.”

Since its inception, thousands of service members from all U.S. military branches, as well as the armed services of countries from around the globe, have taken part in Red Flag-Alaska.

“This beautiful blue planet will lose its luster if we do not give it our all to protect and preserve it,” Yokota said. “Now, let us bring our strengths together to protect and preserve that beauty.”

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

Articles

This is how body armor can save your life

Propper, a relative newcomer to the body armor market, has – thankfully – recorded its first save.


Deputy Michael Hockett, Troup County (GA) Sheriffs Office, was struck by gunfire while in the line of duty back in January. Deputy Hockett responded to a residence to perform a welfare check (reportedly at the request of the resident’s father) and was subsequently engaged with gunfire by that resident. Matthew Edmondson shot at Deputy Hockett, then barricaded himself in the house. He eventually surrendered to SWAT personnel, was treated for a gunshot wound from Deputy Hockett’s return fire, and was formally charged.

Deputy Hockett was treated and released for what were described as “minor injuries.”

 

 

Says Propper,

“We are proud to be part of the reason Deputy Michael Hockett of the Troup County (GA) Sheriff’s Office is alive today. The innovative design of the 4PV concealed armor prevented the projectile from reaching the deputy better than a traditional 2-panel design that leaves the sides vulnerable.”

We were unable to source any additional information about the fight, so can do no more than report what you’ve read and seen here, but we’re glad Deputy Hockett is okay and happy we’re affiliated with a company that helps save lives on the sharp end.

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

Everything you need to know about the AC-130 Gunship

The AC-130 gunship is a devastating display of force and firepower. Through the years, the aircraft has been equipped with an array of side-fired canons, howitzers, mini-guns, wing-mounted missiles and bombs, and laser guided-missiles launched from the rear cargo door, earning it the moniker the “Angel of Death.”


The primary missions of the gunship are close air support, air interdiction, and armed reconnaissance.

The heavily armed aircraft is outfitted with sophisticated sensor, navigation, and fire control systems, allowing it to track and target multiple targets using multiple munitions with surgical precision.

Another strength of the gunship is the ability to loiter in the air for extended periods of time, providing aerial protection at night and during adverse weather.

The AC-130 relies heavily on visual targeting at low altitudes and punishes enemy targets while performing pylon turns around a fixed point on the ground during attack.

The Air Force is the only operator of the AC-130 and the gunship has been providing close air support for special operators for the last 50 years.

Development and Design

During the Vietnam War, the C-130 Hercules airframe was selected to replace the original gunship, the Douglas AC-47 Spooky (Project Gunship I). The Hercules cargo airframe was converted into AC-130A (Project Gunship II) because it could fly faster, longer, higher, and with increased munitions load capabilities.

The gunship’s AC identifier stands for attack-cargo.

The aircraft is powered by four turboprop engines and has a flight speed of 300 mph and a flight range of 1,300 miles, depending on weight.

The AC-130 gunship’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and force protection. Missions in close air support are troops in contact, convoy escort and urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include air base defense and facilities defense. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The AC-130A was equipped with down facing Gatling guns affixed to the left side of the aircraft with an analog fire control system. In 1969, the AC-130 received the Surprise Package, which included 20mm rotary autocannons and a 40mm Bofors cannon configuration.

The gunships have been modified with multiple configurations through the years with each update providing stronger avionics systems, radars and more powerful armament.

Currently, Air Force special operations groups operate the AC-130U Spooky II and the AC-130W Stinger II.

The Spooky II became operational in 1994, revitalizing the special operations gunship fleet as a replacement for the AC-130A aircraft, and to supplement the workhorse AC-130H Spectre, which was retired in 2015.

The Spooky II is armed with a 25mm GAU-12/U Gatling gun (1800 rpm), a 40mm L60 Bofors cannon (120 rpm), and a 10mm M102 howitzer (6-10 rpm). The AC-130Us have a pressurized cabin, allowing them to operate 5,000 feet higher than the H models, which results in greater range.

The AC-130W was converted from the MC-130W Dragon Spear, a special operations mobility aircraft and are armed with precision strike packages to relieve the high operational demands on AC-130U gunships until new AC-130Js enter combat-ready status.

Over the past four decades, AC-130s have deployed constantly to hotspots throughout the world in support of special operations and conventional forces. In South America, Africa, Europe and throughout the Middle East, gunships have significantly contributed to mission success.

An AC-130W Stinger II fires its weapon over Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Jan. 10, 2013. The AC-130W is one of the newest aircraft being flown at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)

As of Sept. 19, 2017, the AC-130J Ghostrider, the Air Force’s next-generation gunship, achieved Initial Operating Capability and will be tested and prepared for combat deployment in the next few years. The AC-130J is the fourth generation gunship replacing the aging fleet of AC-130U/W gunships.

The Ghostrider is outfitted with a Precision Strike Package, which includes 30mm and 105 mm cannons and precision guided munitions of GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs and AGM-176 Griffin missiles. The 105mm M102 howitzer system is a devastating weapon that can fire off 10 50lbs shells per minute with precision accuracy.

There are 10 Ghostrider gunships in the current fleet and the Air Force plans on purchasing 27 more by fiscal year 2021.

Operation and Deployment

The AC-130 Gunship operational history includes:

  • 1960s/70s – Vietnam/Laos
  • 1983 – Grenada – Operation Urgent Fury
  • 1989 – Panama – Operation Just Cause
  • 1991 – Persian Gulf – Operation Desert Storm
  • 1993 – Somalia – Operation Restore Hope
  • 1995 – Bosnia – Operation Deliberate Force
  • 2001 – Present – Afghanistan – Operation Enduring Freedom
  • 2003 – Present – Iraq – Operation Iraqi Freedom

An AC-130U Gunship aircraft from the 4th Special Operation Squadron jettisons flares over an area near Hurlburt Field, Fla., on Aug. 20, 2008. The flares are used as a countermeasure to heat-seeking missiles that can track aircraft during real-world missions. (Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

Air Force units that operate the current fleet of AC-130Us and AC-130Ws include:

AC-130U Spooky – 1st Special Operations Group, Hurlburt Field, Florida

AC-130W Stinger II – 27th Special Operations Group, Canon Air Force Base, New Mexico

VARIANTS:

AC-130A Spectre (Project Gunship II, Surprise Package, Pave Pronto)

Conversions of C-130As; 19 completed; transferred to the Air Force Reserve in 1975, retired in 1995

AC-130E Spectre (Pave Spectre, Pave Aegis)

Conversions of C-130Es; 11 completed; 10 upgraded to AC-130H configuration

AC-130H Spectre

Upgraded AC-130E aircraft; eight completed; last aircraft retired in 2015

AC-130U Spooky

Operational aircraft (active duty USAF); 17 in service

AC-130J Ghostrider

Based on MC-130J; 32 aircraft to be procured to replace AC-130H

AC-130W Stinger II (former MC-130W Dragon Spear)

Conversions of MC-130Ws (active duty USAF)

Also Read: This was the badass predecessor to the AC-130 Spooky gunship

Did you know?

– The original and unofficial nickname for the AC-130 gunship was “Puff the Magic Dragon” or “Puff.”

– The AC-130H Spectre was introduced in 1969 and was used for 46 years in service; the longest service time of any AC gunship.

– Air Force Special Operations Command plans to install combat lasers on AC-130 gunships within a year.

AC-130U Spooky Fact Sheet:

Primary function: Close air support, air interdiction and force protection

Builder: Lockheed/Boeing Corp.

Power plant: Four Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines

Thrust: 4,300 shaft horsepower each engine

Wingspan: 132 feet, 7 inches (40.4 meters)

Length: 97 feet, 9 inches (29.8 meters)

Height: 38 feet, 6 inches (11.7 meters)

Speed: 300 mph (Mach .4) at sea level

Range: Approximately 1,300 nautical miles; limited by crew duty day with air refueling

Ceiling: 25,000 feet (7,576 meters)

Maximum takeoff weight: 155,000 pounds (69,750 kilograms)

Armament: 40mm, 105mm cannons and 25mm Gatling gun

Crew: AC-130U – pilot, co-pilot, navigator, fire control officer, electronic warfare officer (five officers) and flight engineer, TV operator, infrared detection set operator, loadmaster, and four aerial gunners (eight enlisted)

Deployment date:  1995

Unit cost:  $210 million

Inventory: Active duty, 17; reserve, 0; Air National Guard, 0

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Russia is now buying modern long-range bombers

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Jan. 25 that modernized strategic bombers will boost Russia’s military power.


Speaking on a visit to an aircraft-making plant in Kazan, Putin said the revamped version of the Soviet-designed Tu-160 bomber features new engines and avionics that would significantly enhance its capability.

The Russian leader attended the signing of a 160-billion-ruble (about $2.9 billion) contract that will see the delivery of 10 such planes to the Russian air force.

He said the upgraded bomber is a “serious step in the development of high-tech industries and strengthening the nation’s defense capabilities.”

Also Read: This is the Russian version of the B-1 Lancer

The four-engine supersonic bomber developed in the 1980s is the largest combat plane in the world. During Russia’s campaign in Syria, the military used the Tu-160s to launch log-range cruise missiles at militant targets.

Putin also suggested that the plant develop a supersonic passenger jet based on the Tu-160, saying that Russia’s vast territory would warrant such a design.

The state-controlled United Aircraft Corp. said in a statement carried by Tass news agency that preliminary work has started on designing such a plane.

The Soviet-designed Tu-144 supersonic passenger jet that rivaled the British-French Concorde saw only a brief service with Aeroflot after Soviet officials decided it was too costly to operate. Concorde entered service in 1976 and operated for 27 years.

Articles

Vet congressman introduces legislation that tees up debate on females and the draft

Marines and sailors from the female engagement team with Bravo Battery, 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, conduct a medical outreach for residents in the village of Habib Abad, Afghanistan. (Photo: USMC)


Late yesterday afternoon Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Ca., added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would require female American citizens to register for the draft when they reached 18 years old. The amendment passed in the House by a vote of 32-30. Ironically, Hunter voted against his own amendment, saying that he added it only to force a debate about the issue.

“A draft is there to put bodies on the front lines to take the hill,” Hunter said. “The draft is there to get more people to rip the enemies’ throats out and kill them.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Ca. (Photo: House.gov)

But it looks like the Marine Corps veteran lawmaker’s plan may have backfired in that the measure actually passed and seems to have the support of many of his colleagues.

“I actually think if we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Ca., said.

Another veteran congressman, Rep. Martha McSally, who flew A-10s in combat and recently went after the Air Force over their close air support budgetary priorities, suggested that Hunter’s rhetoric was long on emotion and short on fact, pointing out that draftees aren’t all sent to the front lines but also used to fill support billets.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Born as a slave in February of 1840, William Carney’s father managed to escape and make his way north via the Underground Railroad, ultimately earning the funds to purchase his wife and son’s freedom.


The family moved to Massachusetts, where Carney began to get involved in academics even though laws and restrictions still prevented African Americans from learning how to read or write.

Although pursuing a career in the ministry, once the Civil War erupted, Carney determined the best way he could honor God was by enlisting in the military to help rid the world of oppression.

William Carney holding his flag. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In March 1863, Carney entered the Union Army and was assigned to Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment along with 40 other African American men. This was the first official black unit fighting on behalf of the North.

Carney and the other men were sent to James Island in South Carolina where they would see their first days in combat.

54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

On July 18, 1863, the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment were led on a charge on Fort Wagner. During the chaos, Carney witnessed the unit’s color guard as he was mortally wounded, nearly dropping their flag to the ground.

Carney, who was also severally injured, dashed toward the falling patriotic symbol and caught it before it touched the dirty ground.

With the flag in his hand, Carney crawled up to the walls of Fort Wagner while motivating his fellow troops to follow his lead. He managed to plant his flag at the base of the fort and angled it upright for display.

Although Carney suffered deadly blood loss, it’s reported he never allowed that flag to touch the ground. This action inspired his fellow troops, and the infantrymen managed to secure the fort.

For his bravery in action, Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900, making him the first African American to ever earn the distinguished accolade.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The truth about the threat MS-13 brings to the US

There’s one thing everyone can agree with President Donald Trump on about the street gang MS-13: The group specializes in spectacular violence. Its members attack in groups, in the woods, at night, luring teens to their deaths with the promise of girls or weed. One Long Island boy told me he doesn’t go to parties anymore because he worries any invitation could be a trap. A victim’s father showed me a death certificate that said his son’s head had been bashed in, then lowered his voice and added that the boy’s bones had been marked by machete slashes, but he didn’t want the mother to know that. A teenager who has left the gang told me he considers himself dead already, and is just trying to make sure MS-13 doesn’t kill his family.

I’m spending the year reporting on MS-13 members and their associates. I’ve been combing through their text messages. I’m talking with the detectives building cases against killers not yet old enough to buy cigarettes. And I’ve been spending long evenings with the gang’s victims, who often start crying as soon as they start talking about the violence that has marred their lives. Everyone agrees the gang is bloodthirsty. Most of the other assertions I’ve heard from the Trump administration about MS-13 have almost no connection to what I’m seeing on the ground.


1. MS-13 Is Not Organizing to Foil Immigration Law

Trump often talks about how MS-13 has carried out a string of murders in the suburbs outside New York City. One of the first things I did when I started reporting was talk to the ex-girlfriend of the gang leader charged with ordering six of those killings in 2016 and 2017. The girl sat at a Panera Bread in a Long Island strip mall and told how he had kidnapped and raped her shortly after her 15th birthday, threatened her family, and forced her to get a tattoo of his name on her arm. As I talked to her, I imagined a man like the ones I had seen in news reports on MS-13 — chins jutted out, arms strong from lifting weights, and gothic tattoos of the letters M and S on their faces and chests. I was shocked when I eventually saw this gang leader in court; he was a baby-faced 19-year-old who blushed when girls waved to him from the gallery. The indictment against him laid out killings that were ordered in response to adolescent trash talking.

A member of MS13 gang.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called MS-13 the most brutal of the gangs driving the drug trade, and promised to go after the group like the government went after mob boss Al Capone. Really, experts have found the gang has barely any role in the international drug trade. The Congressional Research Service said that it could be misleading to call MS-13 a transnational criminal organization at all, because it has no central leader or global ambitions. The gang is made up of sometimes competing cliques, often led by teenagers most interested in wielding power over other young people in their immediate circles.

On Long Island, a detective told me police officers call MS-13 members “mighty munchkins,” because they have often not yet hit their growth spurts and tend to commit their crimes in large groups. They meet at night because, while other criminal organizations have massive international revenue streams, these guys — even the leaders — have to work menial jobs and sometimes go to school during the day. Each clique has its own shot caller, and its own hyperlocal focus. On Long Island, the gang’s focus has often been on controlling the halls of a single high school.

2. MS-13 Is Not Posing as Fake Families at the Border

In justifying the policy of child separation, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “The kids are being used as pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers. Those are traffickers, those are smugglers and that is MS-13.” The theory is that Central American gang leaders are showing up at the border falsely claiming to be the parents of children, and are also instructing unaccompanied minors to go to the U.S. and claim territory.

Actually, there have been fewer than 200 cases of false family claims this year — a fraction of 1 percent of the total number of families apprehended at the border — and there is no indication that any of those cases involved MS-13. Of the hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors that have come to the U.S. since 2012, Border Patrol says only 56 were suspected of MS-13 ties.

The gang is trying to find new members, but there’s no need to step on the toes of the Mexican gangs that control human smuggling to do it. Long Island teenagers tell me that when they show up to school, gang members sit down next to them at lunch and ask them to join. Many— worn down by loneliness, boredom and the threat of violence if they try to refuse — accept the invitation.

People who study MS-13 agree that when young gang members travel from El Salvador to the U.S., they are driven by the same economic factors driving other Central American immigrants. Even the 19-year-old gang leader charged with six murders on Long Island told his ex-girlfriend he was not a member of the gang when he came to the U.S. from El Salvador. He said it was only later, in the New York suburbs, that he was recruited.

And some MS-13 members are born right here. The Suffolk County Police Department examined a sample of active MS-13 members and found that just a quarter had come to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. The natural conclusion: This is not a border issue. It’s a recruitment issue.

3. MS-13 Is Sticking Around, but It’s Not Growing

Trump talks about the gang as if it is suddenly taking over. “The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S.,” he wrote in a tweet.

MS-13 has been stubbornly persistent, but it remains a boutique criminal organization, accounting for a tiny portion of 1.4 million gang members nationwide. Trump’s Justice Department says there are about 10,000 MS-13 members in the U.S., the same number as 10 years ago. There’s also nothing new about MS-13 alarmism. Back in 2005, Newsweek ran a cover story about the group, citing its 10,000 members, under the headline, “The most dangerous gang in America.”

An MS gang sign and tattoos.

On Long Island, the murder people cite most often when talking about MS-13’s brutality is the killing of a two-year-old and his mother back in 2010. But the gang’s history goes back much further than that; the FBI set up a Long Island task force to crack down on the gang in 2003. And MS-13 never invaded the U.S at all. It was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and then mixed with California prison gang culture and was exported to El Salvador.

The group remains significantly smaller than the Crips, the Bloods and the Latin Kings; it’s also smaller than several gangs you’ve probably never heard of, like the Gangster Disciples in Chicago. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been labeled an extremist group for its anti-immigrant ideology, can’t come up with more than an average of 35 murders per year attributed to MS-13 — far fewerthan that Chicago gang you didn’t know existed.

MS-13 is not the largest, the most violent, or the fastest-growing gang, but it is the U.S. gang most strongly tied to Central America, which is where the majority of asylum-seeking teenagers come from. In that way, it’s the perfect focal point for Trump’s message of closed borders.

4. MS-13 Is Preying on a Specific Community, Not the Country at Large

When confronted in June 2018 with audio obtained by ProPublica of wailing children separated from their parents, White House Communications Adviser Mercedes Schlapp said, “What’s very heartbreaking is to watch Americans who have lost their children because of the MS-13 gang members.” But the vast majority of MS-13 victims are young immigrants, many of them undocumented.

I often think about this when I’m out reporting. In 2018 I have reached out to current gang members and added them as friends on Facebook. I’ve visited the homes of people on the local clique’s kill list, and heard their police-issued panic buttons hum under tables and behind doors. I’ve explored the wooded areas Long Island police call “the killing fields,” where bodies have been found. I feel safe doing this because MS-13 rarely goes after true outsiders — people who are not friends with any gang members or targets for recruitment. The closest I’ve found in Long Island to a totally random victim was a worker at a Central American deli who was hurt when a bullet passed through the head of a targeted victim.

The White House put out a statement in May 2018 that described recent murders carried out by “MS-13 animals.” Lost in the controversy over whether it was OK to call gang members animals was the fact that of the six identified victims, five were immigrants and the other was a child of immigrants.

5. Immigration Raids and Deportation Can Only Go So Far

Secretary Nielsen said in June 2018 that the presence of MS-13 in the U.S. is “the exclusive product of loopholes in our federal immigration laws.” The loopholes she is talking about are actually specific protections contained in United Nations conventions on refugees and torture, which the U.S. ratified. The U.S. is obligated to allow Central American immigrants to stay in the country while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years. If the person pleading asylum is a minor, they are supposed to be released to relatives.

Mara Salvatrucha Graffiti

But if U.S. officials determine that a teenager is a gang member, they stay in custody. And immigration officials can also re-detain teenagers who are recruited into MS-13 once they get here. Dozens of Long Island teenagers were re-detained in 2017 on suspicion of gang ties. The problem is that it can be hard to tell who is in the gang and who is just adopting gang style. MS-13 has its own music and aesthetic, bound up in Central American pride. On Long Island, some immigrant teens use MS-13 markers as a fashion statement, the way American kids might once have worn the blue bandanas associated with the Crips because they liked Snoop Dogg.

I sat in on one hearing for a Long Island 17-year-old who had been detained for half a year after he wrote the El Salvador telephone code, “503,” in a notebook at school. He had spent some of that time in a detention center now under investigation for child abuse. At the hearing, an immigration judge ordered the teen released and openly mocked the gang charges. “I note that ‘503’ is an area code,” the judge said. “He may have had his grandmother’s phone number written in his notebook. We don’t know. But I think this is slim, slim evidence on which to base the continuing detention of an unaccompanied child.”

That’s not to say that all of the immigrant teenagers accused of gang affiliation are innocent. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested some 8,000 suspected MS-13 members in the past decade. If deportation was all it took, the gang would be gone by now.

So What?

This all matters because the gang really is terrorizing a portion of the population: young Latino immigrants in a few specific communities.

In May 2018, I accompanied the mother of a high school freshman killed by MS-13 to a Trump event on Long Island. Inside a government building, the president railed against the gang. “They killed a cop for the sake of making a statement. They wanted to make a statement, so they killed a cop,” he said. (They did not kill a cop.)

Outside, the mother drifted between a pro-Trump rally and a counter protest. She took tranquilizer pills so she could face local reporters, and then told them she was unsure if Trump really cared about victims like her. She said she hoped the president’s fixation on MS-13 might spur changes that will keep other kids from being attacked and recruited by the gang.

But for any policy to work, it needs to be rooted in reality.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The F-35 can now act as the eyes of the fleet

The F-35 Lightning II, designed to be a stealthy sensor platform that can fly and fight nearly anywhere in the world, can now feed its targeting data back to Navy ships, allowing the task force to engage dozens of targets without the F-35 having to fire its own weapons and break stealth.


A Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II takes off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth on October 9, 2018, with inert GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs.

The change comes thanks to an upgrade on the ship side, not on the Lightning II. Basically, the Navy has a communications system known as the Ship Self Defense System. SSDS is typically built into carrier strike groups and the larger amphibious ships, like Landing Helicopter Assault and Landing Helicopter Dock ships.

So, basically anything that an F-35 can take off from. But now, the SSDS on the USS Wasp can accept communications from the F-35’s Link 16 Digital Air Control. This allows the F-35 to directly feed its sensor data into the fleet’s communications.

The most important application of this capability is that commanders can now see what the Lightning II sees and order surface ships to engage targets with missiles, other aircraft, or even naval artillery if it’s in range.

The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) steams through the Mediterranean Sea.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ryan G. Coleman)

This will be a huge boost for the F-35 in a war. F-35s and F-22 Raptors can’t carry many missiles and bombs while remaining stealthy, and firing their weapons can give away their positions.

Additionally, the fleet has many more missiles than the planes can carry — and that can be key during a complex fight. If Marines are landing ashore, they don’t want to hear that their air support is running low on missiles. They want to hear that there’s an endless rain of effects coming their way, and that all of them are going to be digitally targeted against the most dangerous threats.

While the digital communications upgrade is currently only placed on the USS Wasp, the rest of the carrier and LHA/LHD groups will receive it in the near future.

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Michael Lippert, test pilot with the F-35 Pax River Integrated Test Force, continues First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing) developmental test flights aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on Sept. 30, 2018.

(U.S. Navy photo by Dane Wiedmann)

In addition to passing targeting data, the F-35 sends back its status information, like fuel and weapon inventories, while receiving information from the mission commander, like assignment information.

The F-35 has been America’s single-most expensive weapons system in history, but senior generals have insisted for years that the troubled program would be worth it when it came to fruition. As setbacks, costs, and technological failures mounted, it seemed like the platform would never live up to its hype. And that would’ve been a huge deal since the plane is expected to fly until 2070 and to cost id=”listicle-2616611399″.5 trillion over the program’s lifetime.

But the Thunderbolt II has matured in the last few years, and breakthroughs like this one will continue to improve the F-35’s public image.