On the front lines of the unrest in Hong Kong are the Raptors, an elite subdivision of the Hong Kong Police Force. Their official name is the Special Tactical Squad, but that moniker doesn’t really cover everything the Raptors do, from crowd control and riot control to clearing roadblocks and infiltrating disruptive groups. The STS was created in the midst of chaos and will be there whenever Hong Kong descends back into it.
The Special Tactical Squad was formed in 2014 in the middle of the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, a civil unrest that was a response to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress’ efforts to undermine the democratic system in Hong Kong. The police response to the 100,000 protestors that flooded the city’s streets was underwhelming. They had no apparatus in place to handle such protests. The Raptors were created to contain the widespread protests and were deployed in 2016 during the “Fishball Revolution” and are again deployed on the streets.
Every time the Chinese government tries to impose its will on the city of Hong Kong, its people crowd the streets in massive protests, and the Raptors are called in. The latest protests see upwards of a million people protesting in the streets in 2019.
Around the Police Tactical Unit, which the Special Tactical Squad is a part of, they’re called the “Removal Team,” as they’re usually tasked with removing debris and clearing roadblocks, as well as removing unruly protesters. For the last, the local media call them “The Professional Removal Team.” When the Hong Kong police are overwhelmed, the Raptors special training and gear are able to work over crowds in sizes that regular police forces just couldn’t manage. Now they’re doing much more than responding to civil unrest – they’re actively preventing it.
People close to the organized protests say Raptors officers went undercover in protest groups to undermine the most radical protesters. On Aug. 12, Raptors arrested 15 organizers in a carefully coordinated decoy operation to remove the most violent of rioters. The Raptors are now being comprised of counterterrorism officers, which probably explains the shift in tactics on the ground. Protestors with a violent past can now be arrested in secret.
The Raptors would usually have just done battle with those protesters. Times sure have changed.
The Army has a new non-lethal weapon to help soldiers in Afghanistan “irritate and deter” potential adversaries with pepper-filled balls, Army Times reports.
The non-lethal launcher, known as the Variable Kinetic System (VKS), is made by PepperBall Technologies. It fires projectiles much like paintballs containing a hot pepper solution.
“We are truly honored the US Army has selected PepperBall’s VKS to use as its non-lethal protection in its mission to defending the United States,” Ron Johnson, CEO of United Tactical Systems, which owns PepperBall, said in a statement.
“Our VKS platform was the only non-lethal source that was capable of complying to the US Army’s standards,” Johnson added.
The projectiles have a range of around 50 yards and leave a “debilitating cloud,” impacting the eyes, nose and respiratory system. The irritant, which is 5% pelargonic acid vanillylamide (PAVA) and a synthetic version of pepper spray, is released when the projectile makes contact.
The weapon is built like a paintball gun and can carry up to 180 rounds when it’s in “hopper mode” and 10 or 15 rounds when it’s in “magazine mode.”
The Army awarded a $650,000 contract for the weapons, which reportedly have the same controls and ergonomics of the M4/M16 weapons system, which many soldiers already carry. In other words, it will not be tough for most soldiers to transition into using these non-lethal launchers.
In total, the Army reportedly purchased 267 of the weapons, which are currently being used in training.
Weapons like this can help soldiers in high-intensity, urban settings and especially during crowd control situations.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
But it wasn’t always this way. During the Cold War, Airborne forces relied on the M551 Sheridan, an Airborne-capable light tank first fielded in 1969.
The Sheridan was a replacement for the World War II-era Mk. VII Tetrarch tank and the M22 Locust Airborne tank. The Tetrarch was a British glider-capable light tank and the M22 was an American tank custom-built for glider insertion.
The M551, unlike its predecessors, was airdrop-capable, meaning it could be inserted using parachutes instead of gliders. The tank was also used with the Low-Altitude Parachute Extraction System, an airdrop system that allowed the U.S. to drop the tanks from a few feet to a few dozen feet off the ground.
The tank used an experimental 152mm gun that could fire missiles or tank rounds. Even its tank rounds were experimental, though — they used a combustible casing instead of the standard brass casings.
The Sheridan served well in Vietnam and Panama. During Operation Just Cause, it was even airdropped into combat, allowing paratroopers to bring their own fire support to the battlefield.
The tank’s main gun could inflict serious damage at distances of up to 2,000 feet, allowing it to punch out enemy bunkers from outside the range of many enemy guns.
Unfortunately, the light armor of the Sheridan posed serious issues. Some Sheridans were pierced by enemy infantry’s heavy machine guns, meaning crews had to be careful even when there was no enemy armor or anti-armor on the field. Worse, the main gun started to develop a reputation as being unreliable.
Firing the main gun knocked out the electronics for the longer-range missile, meaning that a tank firing on bunkers or enemy armor at close range would usually lose their ability to punch targets at long range. And there was no way to avoid this issue as the Shillelagh missile couldn’t hit targets at less than 2,400 feet.
The only way for an M551 to punch at close range was to give up its capability at long ranges.
By 1980, most cavalry units were moving to the M60 Patton Main Battle Tank, which was actually introduced before the Sheridan. The Patton featured heavier armor, more power, and a more reliable gun. It had also just been upgraded with new “Reliability Improved Selected Equipment,” or “RISE.”
The airborne forces would keep the Sheridan through 1996, partially because they had no other options. A number of potential replacements were canceled and modern airborne forces just make do without true armored support.
A completed, comprehensive Navy analysis says producing more Virginia-Class attack submarines on a much faster timetable is “achievable” and necessary to ensure future undersea dominance for the U.S. — in an increasingly contested strategic global environment.
The current or previous status quo had been for the Navy to drop from building two Virginia-Class boats per year to one in the early 2020s when construction of the new Columbia-Class nuclear armed submarines begins.
The completed study, however, maintains that the Navy and industry can produce two Virginia-Class boats and one Columbia-Class submarine per year, increasing the current plan by one Virginia-Class boat per year.
Navy leaders have consistently talked about an expected submarine shortfall in the mid 2020s and that more attack submarines were needed to strengthen the fleet and keep stay in front of near-peer rivals, such as Russia and China.
The study found that sustainment of the two-per-year Virginia-Class submarine production rate during the procurement years of the Columbia-Class SSBNs is achievable and that it provides significant benefit to the Navy and the SSN (Attack Submarines) force structure, Navy officials told Scout Warrior.
Maintaining a two-per-year Virginia Class build-rate will help the Navy reach its goal of 66 SSNs, as identified in the December 2016 Force Structure Assessment, Navy officials added.
Increasing production will, to a large extent, rely upon the submarine-building industry’s capacity to move up to three submarines per year.
The Virginia-Class Submarines are built by a cooperative arrangement between the Navy and Electric Boat, a subsidiary of General Dynamics and Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.
Each industry partner constructs portions or “modules” of the submarines which are then melded together to make a complete vessel, industry and Navy officials explained.
Virginia-Class Attack Submarine Technology
Virginia-Class subs are fast-attack submarines armed with Tomahawk missiles, torpedoes, and other weapons able to perform a range of missions; these include anti-submarine warfare, strike warfare, covert mine warfare, ISR, anti-surface/ship warfare and naval special warfare, something described as having the ability to carry and insert Special Operations Forces.
Future Virginia-Class submarines provide improved littoral capabilities, sensors, special operations force employment, and strike warfare capabilities, making it an ideal platform for the 21st Century security environment, Navy developers said.
Compared to prior Navy attack subs like the Los Angeles-Class, the Virginia-Class submarines are engineered to bring vastly improved littoral warfare, surveillance and open ocean capabilities, service officials said.
For instance, the ships can be driven primarily through software code and electronics, thus freeing up time and energy for an operator who does not need to manually control each small maneuver.
The Virginia-Class submarine are engineered with this “Fly-by-Wire” capability which allows the ship to quietly linger in shallow waters without having to surface or have each small move controlled by a human operator. With this technology, a human operator will order depth and speed, allowing software to direct the movement of the planes and rudder to maintain course and depth.
Also, unlike their predecessor-subs, Virginia-Class subs are engineered with what’s called a “Lock Out Trunk” – a compartment in the sub which allows special operations forces to submerge beneath the water and deploy without requiring the ship to surface.
Unlike their “SSBN” Columbia-Class counterparts to be armed with nuclear weapons, the Virginia-Class “SSN” ships are purely for conventional attack, Navy officials said.
Development of Virginia-Class submarines are broken up into procurement “Blocks.” Blocks I and II have already been delivered.
The Block III subs, now under construction, are being built with new so-called Virginia Payload Tubes designed to lower costs and increase capability.
Instead of building what most existing Virginia-Class submarines have — 12 individual 21-inch in diameter vertical launch tubes able to fire Tomahawk missiles – the Block III submarines are being built with two larger 87-inch in diameter tubes able to house six Tomahawk missiles each.
Although the new tubes were conceived and designed as part of what the Navy calls its “Design for Affordability” strategy to lower costs, the move also brings strategic advantages to the platform, service officials say. Specifically, this means that the submarines are constructed such that they will be able to accommodate new technologies as they emerge – this could mean engineering in an ability to fire upgraded Tomahawk missiles or other weapons which may emerge in the future.
The Block III Virginia-Class submarines also have what’s called a Large Aperture Bow conformal array sonar system – designed to send out an acoustic ping, analyze the return signal, and provide the location and possible contours of enemy ships, submarines and other threats.
Virginia-Class Block V – Virginia Payload Modules
For Block V construction, the Navy is planning to insert a new 84-foot long section designed to house additional missile capability. “Virginia Payload Modules.”
The Virginia Payload Modules, to come in future years, will increase the Tomahawk missile firepower of the submarines from 12 missiles up to 40.
The VPM submarines will have an additional (approximately 84 feet) section with four additional Virginia Payload Tubes (VPTs), each capable of carrying seven Tomahawk cruise missiles, for a ship total of 40 Tomahawks.
The idea is to have additional Tomahawk or other missile capability increased by 2026, when the “SSGN” Ohio-Class Guided Missile Submarines start retiring in larger numbers.
Early prototyping work on the Virginia Payload Modules is already underway and several senior Navy leaders, over the years, have indicated a desire to accelerate production and delivery of this technology – which will massively increase fire-power on the submarines.
While designed primarily to hold Tomahawks, the VPM missile tubes are engineered such that they could accommodate a new payload, new missile or even a large unmanned underwater vehicle, Navy officials said.
The reason for the Virginia Payload Modules is clear; beginning in the 2020s, the Navy will start retiring four large Ohio-class guided-missile submarines able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles each. This will result in the Navy losing a massive amount of undersea fire power capability, Navy officials explained.
From 2002 to 2008 the U.S. Navy modified four of its oldest nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines by turning them into ships armed with only conventional missiles — the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia. They are called SSGNs, with the “G” designation for “guided missile.”
The news comes after the first major talks between North Korea and South Korea in two years, which began earlier this month amid soaring tensions between the U.S., its ally South Korea, and North Korea. Both the unified Korean flag and the inclusion of North Korean athletes in the games were discussed during those talks.
South Korea’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, floated the idea of North Korea participating in the games early in his presidency, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed a willingness to engage in talks about the Olympics during his New Year’s address, during which he also threatened the U.S. with nuclear annihilation.
Despite the invitation, North Korea has few athletes capable of competing in the games.
Pyongyang will also reportedly send a 180-member orchestra to the games, but it’s closely tied to North Korean propaganda that glorifies the country’s missile and nuclear programs and the government.
While the inclusion in the Olympics may seem a bright spot for improved relations, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser reportedly dismissed the talks between the Koreas as “diversions,” and his secretary of state on Jan. 17 did not rule out a military strike on North Korea.
The new defense chief, a former Boeing employee, has reportedly been extremely critical of Lockheed Martin’s embattled F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in private meetings, raising questions about whether he is biased in overseeing the largest weapons program in history.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who took over when Jim Mattis resigned, spent over 30 years at Boeing before joining the Department of Defense in 2017 as the deputy secretary of defense.
Though he signed an ethics agreement recusing himself from matters involving Boeing, Shanahan has continuously bashed the F-35, a key program for one of Boeing’s top competitors, in high-level meetings at the Pentagon and at other private gatherings, Politico reported on Jan. 9, 2019, citing former government officials who heard Shanahan make the comments.
US Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter crew chief Tech. Sgt. Brian West watches his aircraft approach for the first time at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base in 2011.
(US Air Force Photo)
A former senior Defense Department official told Politico that Shanahan described the F-35 stealth fighter as “f—ed up” and said its maker, Lockheed Martin, “doesn’t know how to run a program.”
“If it had gone to Boeing, it would be done much better,” the former official recalled Shanahan saying, Politico reported.
Lockheed beat out Boeing in the Joint Strike Fighter competition, with the Department of Defense ultimately picking Lockheed’s X-35 — which became the F-35 — over Boeing’s X-32 in 2001. Had Boeing been awarded the contract, the military’s JSF might look very different.
A former Trump administration official told Politico that Shanahan “dumped” on the aircraft regularly and “went off” on the program in 2018.
“He would complain about Lockheed’s timing and their inability to deliver, and from a Boeing point of view, say things like, ‘We would never do that,'” the former official said.
In other private meetings, the former official added, Shanahan has called the program “unsustainable,” complaining about the cost of the stealth fighters, with separate versions built for the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force. The F-35 is expected to cost more than id=”listicle-2625627238″ trillion over the life of the program, making it the most expensive weapon in US military history.
Maintainers from the 388th Maintenance Group preparing an F-35A for its mission.
(United States Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)
Current administration officials, however, told Politico that Shanahan’s comments were being taken out of context, stressing that he was not advocating for Boeing.
“I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I think he’s agnostic toward Boeing at best,” one official said, adding, “I don’t think there’s any intent to have Boeing favored in the building.”
It’s not the first time Shanahan’s loyalties have been called into question. The Pentagon is said to be planning a request for id=”listicle-2625627238″.2 billion for 12 Boeing F-15X fighter jets, a decision that was made at Shanahan’s urging, Bloomberg reported.
Air Force leaders had previously said there was no reason to buy these advanced fourth-generation fighters because they lack the necessary stealth capabilities provided by fifth-generation planes like the F-35, according to Defense News.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
Shanahan’s office told Politico he remained committed to his recusal. In public, he has spoken highly of the F-35 program.
“I think we can all agree that it is a remarkable aircraft, with eye-watering capabilities critical to the high-end fight,” he added. “I tip my hat to its broad team of government, industry, and international partners. Having worked on programs of similar size and complexity, I have enormous respect for your talent and commitment.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Imagine you’re in a country that tends to pinch pennies when it comes to the defense budget. Now imagine that you’re looking to upgrade your armored fighting vehicles (tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers), but you’ve just been told you can’t buy new ones — even second-hand vehicles aren’t an option. Sounds like you’re stuck with obsolete vehicles, right?
Not necessarily. Believe it or not, those old tanks can be given new life, and the process is actually very simple and relatively cheap. More often than not, your real problem isn’t the armored fighting vehicle itself, it’s what goes on top: the turret.
This is where the firepower of your typical armored fighting vehicle resides. Thankfully, the great thing about turrets is that they can be replaced quite easily if you have the proper facilities and trained maintenance personnel. If you have a perfectly good hull, swapping out the turret is a great way to buy time and extend the service life of an otherwise-outdated and outmatched system.
The baseline BTR-80 has a KPV 14.5mm machine gun, but a new turret can make this a BTR-80A with a 30mm auto-cannon.
Russia is doing just this with their BTR-80 and BTR-82 armored personnel carriers. The baseline versions had a manned turret with a KPV 14.5mm heavy machine gun. However, the Russians replaced the initial turret with one that houses a 2A72 30mm auto-cannon — similar to the 2A42 auto-cannon used on the BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle and the Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopter — thus creating the BTR-80A and the BTR-82A. According to some reports, Russia may make another turret switch for the latter vehicle, giving the BTR-82A a 57mm gun.
During Reforger 82, when this photo was taken, the M60A1 tank was still in widespread service, even as the M1 Abrams was starting to replace it.
Tanks also benefit from this upgrade treatment. For example, Turkey was able to extend the life of 170 M60 Patton tanks by going with the Israeli Sabra upgrade, which essentially puts a Merkava III turret on the Patton’s hull (a few other upgrades were made while they were at it). Egypt is also looking to do this with its fleet of M60 main battle tanks.
The centerpiece of the M60T in Turkish Army service is a new turret like that on Israeli Merkava tanks.
(Photo by Natan Flayer)
The fact is, if you have an older armored vehicle, just junking it or passing it on may not be the best option. You might find that the better bargain is in getting a new turret instead.
One of the most legendary successes of the Royal Air Force in World War II was a bombing raid that was written off for decades as a largely symbolic victory, but was actually a technically challenging operation that choked Nazi industry in 1943 and helped ensure that German factories couldn’t produce the materiel necessary to win.
A Lancaster bomber with the special Upkeep bomb bay and bomb used in Operation Chastise in May, 1943.
(Royal Air Force)
The Dam Busters Raid, officially known as Operation Chastise, was the result of a series of bombing raids that hit target after target in the Ruhr region of Germany, but failed to significantly slow German industrial output. Planners needed a way to cripple German industry, and large-scale bombing wasn’t getting the job done.
So, they presented an alternative: Instead of attacking individual factories and areas, they’d wipe out an entire productive region with the destruction of key infrastructure. Some of the best and most obvious targets were the dams in the Ruhr region.
The dams fulfilled a few key roles. They channeled water to where it was needed, provided hydroelectric power, and kept thousands of acres of farmland protected for regular cultivation.
Workers construct tanks in factories in Germany during World War II. Factories like this one, and the factories that fed them raw materials, were targeted during Operation Chastise, the “Dam Busters Raid.”
Destroying the dam would wreak worse havoc, allowing flood waters to damage dozens of factories essential for everything from coke production to tank assembly as well as additional farmland. The raid would tip the scales of 1943 and 1944 — provided they could figure out how to pull it off.
And figuring it out would prove tough. This was before England’s “earthquake” bombs, so the weapons available at the outset of the raid were basically just normal gravity bombs. But hitting a narrow dam with a bomb is challenging, and even a direct hit on the top of the dam would be unlikely to actually cause any sort of breach.
It would take multiple strikes, potentially dozens, in almost the exact same spot to really break a dam from the top.
An inert, practice bouncing bomb skips along the water in this video still from training drops by the Royal Air Force 617 Squadron. The bomb is one of the “Upkeep” munitions, the barrel-form of the weapon aimed at destroying German dams.
(Imperial War Museums)
But if the bomb could strike the dam, that would be much different. A bomb strike against the air-exposed side of the dam could heavily damage it, and a bomb in the right spot on the water side of the dam would cause the whole thing to shatter under the combined pressure of the blast and the water.
So, Britain went shopping for options, and they found a weapon under development by British engineer Barnes Wallis, who wanted to create a better bomb for taking out destroyers.
His thought was fairly simple: A bomb with the right shape and spin could skip across the water until it struck a ship. Then, the spin would drive the bomb underwater as it basically rolled itself down the outside of the ship. It would explode under the waterline with a payload much larger than a torpedo, dooming the ship. These became known as the “Bouncing Bombs.”
One of the flight crews from the Dam Busters Raid pose in July 1943. Their successful attack made the brand new 617 Squadron world-famous overnight and crippled German infrastructure.
(Royal Air Force)
His weapon was adapted slightly for Operation Chastise. The original “High Ball” design, basically a sphere, evolved into the “Upkeep” bomb, a more barrel-shaped weapon.
The British created an all-new squadron to conduct the mission, the 617. Pilots from across the Western Allies, including U.S., British Canadian, Australian, and Kiwi personnel, were assigned. The plan was for a low-level, nighttime raid targeting three dams in the valley. The squadron began intense training with the special bombs.
The most successful method they found was flying 60 feet above the water at 232 mph ground speed. While this gave the greatest chances of success and minimized the likelihood that surprised, tired anti-aircraft crews would get a shot at them, it also made for spectacularly dangerous and tricky flying.
The dam at Edertalsperre in Germany after the Dam Buster raid. The hole in the dam was estimated to be 230 feet wide and 72 feet high.
At 9:28 p.m. on May 16, 1943, the 133 men took off in 19 bombers aimed at three separate and challenging targets. They flew in three waves and successfully breached two of the dams while damaging the third.
The next morning, the attacks were reported in Germany and England. Germany tried to downplay the results, and Britain played up the success. For a generation, the exact results were in controversy. Even British historians would claim that the attack was over-hyped.
The English King George VI inspects the airmen of the 617 Squadron, the Dambusters, on May 27, 1943, after their widly successful mission.
(Royal Air Force)
The workers had to repair the physical dam before the fall rains or risk the region running low on water and electricity — even after the dam was repaired. They had to repair 100 damaged factories, not counting the 12 factories completely destroyed. Thousands of acres of farmland, necessary to feed the armies on the march, were ruined.
And, all of this came while the German army was desperately trying to stave off Soviet advances and just a year before the Normandy landings, increasing the chances of success there.
In other words, the mission was a stunning success. But it didn’t come without cost. Two bombers were lost on their way to the target. One struck the water’s surface and another hit electrical wires. Eight bombers were shot down.
53 Allied personnel were killed and another three captured.
US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the US military in the Pacific, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 15, 2018, that the US isn’t planning a one-off, “bloody nose” strike on North Korea, but rather it’s planning to go all out in war or not at all.
Senior administration officials are reportedly exploring the “bloody nose” strategy, which entails a limited strike to humiliate and intimidate North Korea. When asked about this during the Senate hearing, Harris said no such plan existed.
“We have no bloody nose strategy. I don’t know what that is,” Harris said in response to a question from Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, USNI reported.
“I am charged by the national command authority of developing a range of options through the spectrum of violence, and I’m ready to execute whatever the President and the national command authority directs me to do, but a bloody nose strategy is not being contemplated,” Harris continued.
Experts uniformly reacted in horror at the news that President Donald Trump’s administration was reportedly planning a limited strike on North Korea, as they allege it would likely result in an all-out, possibly nuclear retaliation from Pyongyang.
“If we do anything along the kinetic spectrum of conflict, we have to be ready to do the whole thing,” Harris said, pouring cold water on the idea of a limited strike that would only have rhetorical ramifications.
Speculation over Trump’s willingness to strike North Korea peaked after he dismissed Victor Cha, a widely respected Korea expert, as US ambassador to South Korea after almost a year of consideration.
Cha’s dismissal owed to his disagreement Trump’s plan to attack North Korea, multiple outlets reported at the time.
In his opening statement at his confirmation hearing Thursday, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis said it would be an honor to serve again, mentioned myriad challenges in the world, and brought up a touching personal story about his mother — showing how his family’s military ties and career have come full circle.
“Finally, on a personal note, I’ve worked at the Pentagon twice in my career,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “A few people may know I’m not the first person in my family to do so, when, in the wartime spring of 1942, my mother was 20 years-old and working in military intelligence. She was part of the first government employees to move into the still unfinished Pentagon.”
“She had come to America as an infant and lives today on the banks of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Little could she imagine in her youth that more than 90 years after she immigrated to this country and 75 years after she first walked through the doors of the War Department, one of her sons would be sitting here in front of you today.”
Mattis is right about that. A neighbor and close friend of his mother in Richland, Washington told a reporter in December that she was amazed at what he had accomplished in his career, and apparently his mother said “I can’t even believe he’s my son.”
Neither his mother nor other family members made the trip to Washington, D.C. to see the 66-year-old retired general testify. When asked by Republican Sen. John McCain whether he wanted to recognize any family members in the audience, Mattis quipped: “Thank you Senator. They are safely west of the Rockies.”
Before Mattis spoke, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen testified in support of the general and also mentioned his 94-year-old mother, who he said he was a “devoted son” to. Cohen also mentioned Mattis remains a member of a local food bank in the area.
Veterans will continue to see improvements in VA services, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said at “State of the VA” speech Feb. 5 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
These improvements for Veterans include increased innovation—including the VA’s first 5G hospital—along with decreased wait times for appointments and better overall care.
The secretary pointed to several programs designed to provide better Veteran care.
The VA hospital in Palo Alto, California, is about to become one of the first 5G enabled health facilities in the world, with portions becoming operational this week. The secretary said will deliver is richer, more detailed three-dimensional images of patients’ anatomy. He added the resolution is so clear and consistent that it will give VA a reliable means of delivering telesurgery services to Veterans.
“That means we will have the capacity to allow VA’s best physicians to consult during surgery even if they’re not in the same room and are halfway across the country,” he said.
Wilkie also pointed to VA’s work on exoskeletons, which do the work patients can’t do on their own. The VA currently has a pilot program to develop exoskeletons that stimulate the spinal cord.
“Instead of the exoskeleton moving the patient around, the patient can increasingly control the exoskeleton as their own muscles are reactivated,” he said. With further research at VA, we are hoping to turn the exoskeleton from a mobility device into something that trains injured people to walk again under their own power.”
The secretary also pointed to a VA partnership to help Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and pain management.
The partnership is with the University of Southern California, a non-profit called Soldier Strong, and AppliedVR. Veterans with PTSD use virtual reality relive and reimagine traumatic events in a controlled setting, under the care of a clinician. The program gives Veterans a chance to process these emotions, which can be an effective treatment for PTSD. He said virtual reality can also help block pain signals from reaching the brain, and thus is a drug-free supplement to traditional pain therapies.
Veteran wait time is shorter at VA than compared to private sector. This decreased wait time is for primary care and two of three specialty areas. Wilkie said that’s coupled with a record-high 59.9 million Veteran visits in fiscal year 2019. That’s 1.7 million more appointments for Veterans than ever before. He added 90 percent of Veterans surveyed trust the care they get at VA.
When Wilkie took over, only 25% women vets were enrolled in VA care. Now, he said 41% receive VA care.
Overall Veteran care is improving, Wilkie said. He said VA will implement a provision of the MISSION Act in 2020. This will extend Caregiver benefits to Veterans who served before 1975.
Veterans also receive better mental health care, Wilkie said. This includes same-day mental health care and a universal screening process to identify Veterans who may be at risk. Since late 2018, VA screened more than 4 million Veterans. He said the Veterans Crisis Line is taking more than 1,700 calls each day, and VA takes emergency action on about 100 of those calls.
“I believe that Veterans can show the country the way on how to deal with this terrible problem,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie said the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide, or PREVENTS, task force is weeks away from releasing recommendations. The task force will include a community integration and collaboration proposal, a national research strategy and an implementation strategy. Wilkie said he will recommend that VA opens up financial support. This includes charities, local governments and non-governmental organizations to help Veterans.
Overall, the MISSION Act gives Veterans choice, Wilkie said. In the first six months, VA approved nearly 2.8 million referrals to private sector care for 1.5 million Veterans. Wilkie said just like the MISSION Act rollout, he expects the upcoming Electronic Health Records Modernization will improve Veteran care.
Veterans also see changes in how VA uses Whole Health, setting a standard for care. Wilkie said programs like yoga, aqua therapy, music therapy and art therapy were unheard of decades ago. Now, he said VA uses a Whole Health approach to develop a personalized health plan.
Wilkie also addressed Veterans stationed at Karshi-Khanabad base in Uzbekistan, better known as K2. U.S. forces occupied the old Soviet base shortly after 9/11. Wilkie had candid advice for any Veteran who served there.
“I want all Veterans who have been there and who feel they need to see us to come forward,” he said. He added all Veterans should seek out VA to use the benefits they’ve earned.
“Come see us. File the claims. Come speak to us. This is not your grandfather’s VA where the paperwork is going to take 10 years.”
Army reservists deployed to Europe were wrongly denied housing allowance payments, subjected to humiliating criminal investigations, and forced into debt by the service after the Army “willfully disregarded” its own policies to refuse benefits owed, according to a federal court complaint.
The complaint, filed in April 2018, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, accuses the Army of “gross negligence,” saying it caused financial and professional damage by intentionally denying benefits it should have paid.
The lawsuit also says the soldiers faced threats that “jeopardized their careers and security clearances by flagging them as subjects to fraud or larceny investigations.”
The dispute began in 2016 after reservist soldiers deployed to Europe and received benefits authorized by the Army, which included basic housing allowance, or BAH, for their stateside homes. They also received overseas housing allowance, or OHA, in Europe after being ordered by the Army to live off post because of a lack of available housing.
The benefit is spelled out in the Joint Federal Travel Regulations, which govern how allowances are paid: “A Service member called/ordered to active duty in support of a contingency operation is authorized primary residence-based BAH/OHA beginning on the first active duty day . . . This rate continues for the duration of the tour.” Army regulations reiterate the policy.
Months into their respective deployments, the finance office at U.S. Army Europe decided the benefits should no longer be paid, said Patrick Hughes, the Washington attorney representing the seven soldiers who filed the lawsuit.
Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Nina Hill declined to comment on the case, citing “ongoing litigation.”
The Army Reserve and National Guard officers, who were dispatched to Europe for contingency operations, are seeking to restore their benefits and abolish Army-imposed debts that have been levied.
Over the past two years, Hughes said, soldiers have seen entire paychecks wiped out through wage garnishments as the Army seeks to collect on debts that range from $13,000 to $94,000.
Investigated, reprimanded, indebted
Hundreds of reservists could have been affected by the Army’s actions, Hughes said.
The court is expected to respond to the complaint within 30 days. If it’s accepted as the proper venue, the soldiers will move to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit that other reservists could join.
“You do need power in numbers to get action to be taken in these situations. We are trying to address it at a massive scale,” Hughes said. “This an effort to resolve the issue in its entirety for everyone.”
In some cases, soldiers were issued general officer reprimands, which are often considered career-killers.
Col. Bradley Wolfing, one of the plaintiffs in the case, successfully appealed his reprimand, which was the result of being “erroneously placed under investigation by the Army’s CID, and ultimately punished for BAH fraud on or about March 24, 2017,” the complaint says.
A grade determination review board determined Wolfing satisfactorily served as a colonel and was allowed to retire as such, the complaint states.
In conjunction with that ruling, Defense Financing and Accounting Services reviewed the case and “concluded that the Army’s decision to ignore (the Joint Federal Travel Regulation) and deny COL Wolfing his primary residence location BAH entitlement was erroneous.”
That conclusion will likely factor into any future litigation.
“This DFAS opinion is of great significance, because its analysis is applicable to virtually all of those affected by the Army’s primary residence location BAH entitlement denial,” the complaint says.
Still, the Army continues to garnish soldiers’ wages, a move the complaint says “amounts to gross negligence.” The Army indebted Wolfing for $94,000.
In 2016, the Army launched criminal investigations into the reservists who received the benefits that the Army itself had authorized when the reservists were mobilized.
“Basically, I was criminally processed, all because they are saying I shouldn’t (have been) collecting BAH for my Connecticut residence. I was stunned,” said Capt. Tim Kibodeaux, an intelligence officer with 27 years in the National Guard.
Criminal Investigation Command agents fingerprinted him and took his mug shot for their records during the investigation.
The Army levied a $50,000 debt on Kibodeaux for BAH payments it says he wasn’t entitled to and has repeatedly garnished his wages, the soldiers’ complaint says. Meanwhile, he hasn’t received about $16,000 in owed benefits.
The six other service members in the complaint are in similar situations.
“My credit has been completely ruined,” Kibodeaux said. “I am disgusted at this point. We think about 340 people were affected by this.”
At least 140 soldiers were snared in the BAH investigation in Europe, according to the complaint, which cites information relayed by the Criminal Investigation Command.
Given the high numbers of reservists who have been rotating through Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve — the campaign to deter Russian aggression in the region — the lawsuit says that the numbers are likely much higher. If the complaint grows, millions of dollars could be at stake in future litigation.
One concern now, Kibodeaux said, is that lower-ranking reservists could have been intimidated into silence and may be unaware that their rights to certain benefits have been violated.
“Several Plaintiffs were informed through their chain-of-command that any future inquiries into this issue would be met with negative consequences, and that the denial of the housing entitlement was a final decision,” the complaint says.
Kibodeaux said he and his colleagues never received a clear explanation from the Army why benefits were taken away or why they were subjected to criminal investigations.
During the probe, Kibodeaux said, he told Army finance officials about the regulation that allowed for the allowance. He said the Army investigators told him they didn’t recognize the policy, which for decades has allowed reservists on deployment overseas to receive BAH for their home of record.
(Photo by Timothy Hale)
“They said, ‘We don’t go by that. We go by the active duty one,'” Kibodeaux said.
When Kibodeaux pointed out the military’s regulations governing allowances for reservists to a criminal investigator, the agent’s response was, “We just do what finance tells us to do,” Kibodeaux said.
In recent years, the military has struggled to interpret federal regulations dealing with living allowances.
In 2013, a reinterpretation of overarching State Department regulations by the Defense Department put nearly 700 civilians in debt by cutting off their housing allowances. Special waivers were required to eliminate debts that in some cases reached six figures.
Europe-based reservists have also been affected by new interpretations of long-standing regulations. In 2013, the Army decided to stop paying BAH to reservists who lived in Germany and deployed on Army missions in other parts of Germany that were hours away from their home.
The Army, which imposed debts on about 10 soldiers at the time, never fully explained its legal rationale for changing the rules.
Service members and civilians who have gotten caught up in benefits disputes have complained that there is little internal recourse in a one-on-one fight with the military bureaucracy over benefits. And the idea of taking on the federal government in a lengthy court fight also is daunting and costly.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Scout Snipers are some of the most elite warfighters on the planet. Often serving a unit’s personal team of spy-assassins, they’re trained to be self-sufficient, resilient, and deadly silent.
Whether they’re sent to collect intelligence or precisely remove specific members of a certain population, you won’t know they’re there until it’s far too late. But snipers don’t have the ability to teleport to a vantage point (not yet, at least) — they have to get there somehow. That’s where stalking comes in.
It’s their way of getting from point A to point B while avoiding detection by the enemy on which they prey (hence the term ‘stalking’), and it can put them in some really uncomfortable situations.
Here are some of the worst things you can stalk through as a sniper.
When you need to go, you need to go. When you’re a sniper, there isn’t always time to dig a hole or find some nice spot to drop your payload. Sometimes, you just have to drop your trousers and go.
But, when you inevitably find yourself stalking through that same place a week or so later, you may forget about it for just long enough to realize you’re crawling right through it.
2. Someone else’s poop
Hopefully, you’re stalking through someplace that offers plenty of concealment. Unfortunately, if it’s a good place for sneakin’, someone else may have been there before you. That someone, maybe an enemy, maybe a friend, might have felt the undying urge to let it go right then and there.
Again, you probably won’t even know it’s there until you’re laying directly on top of it.
3. Fire ants
Snipers are fearless and they feel no pain. But it’s still unpleasant to find a good spot to take a shot at your target and realize you’ve become one yourself — to a colony of angry fire ants.
They’re probably pissed that you just destroyed the mound they’ve been working on all day and now they have to rebuild — but they’ll probably sting you first.
When you find yourself stalking to a vantage point, depending on where you are in the world, there might be some bodies of water between you and your destination. So, it makes a lot of sense that you might have to go through the water to get to your objective.
Just make sure you have a dry set of clothes ready before you leave so you can immediately change when you come back… whenever that may be.