US intelligence suspects that a mysterious and deadly explosion in early August 2019 was caused by Russia’s efforts to recover its new nuclear-powered cruise missile after another unsuccessful test, CNBC reports, adding another twist in the saga of what exactly happened at the Nyonoksa weapons testing range.
An explosion that killed at least five people and triggered a radiation spike in nearby towns on Aug. 8, 2019, has been linked to Russia’s development of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, a new doomsday weapon that NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. While the prevailing theory was that the blast was caused by a failed test, US intelligence has a slightly different explanation.
“This was not a new launch of the weapon, instead it was a recovery mission to salvage a lost missile from a previous test,” a source with direct knowledge of the latest intel reports told CNBC. Russia was reportedly salvaging the weapon from the ocean floor at the time of the incident.
“There was an explosion on one of the vessels involved in the recovery and that caused a reaction in the missile’s nuclear core, which led to the radiation leak,” said another source. This is not the first time Russia has had to go fishing for its nuclear-powered cruise missile, but this appears to be the first time a recovery effort has exploded.
A still image said to show Russia’s Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.
(YouTube/Russian Defence Ministry)
Using nuclear reactors to fuel missiles or airplanes has proven to be a “hazardous” technology that’s probably unnecessary, a leading defense expert told Insider.
Russia has not been particularly forthcoming with the details, sparking concerns of a cover-up.
The death toll has risen from two to five and could potentially be higher. Russia has flip-flopped on acknowledging radiation leaks. Local authorities ordered an evacuation but then mysteriously cancelled it. Nuclear monitoring stations nearby unexpectedly went offline due to technical problems. And the system that triggered the explosion has been described as everything but the nuclear-powered cruise missile Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted would be unstoppable last year.
“This is work in the military field, work on promising weapons systems,” Putin said recently, adding that “when it comes to activities of a military nature, there are certain restrictions on access to information.”
Russian data on the brief radiation spike in Severodvinsk, which state authorities finally decided to release, indicated that a nuclear reactor was involved, experts said. Russia, which has a history of covering up nuclear disasters, has yet to acknowledge that this was a nuclear accident despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Two Army infantrymen and U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit instructors competed in the double trap shotgun event on Aug. 10 in Rio de Janeiro where they placed seventh and 14th, failing to advance to the medal round.
Sergeants 1st Class Joshua Richmond and Glenn Eller are shotgun instructors for the USAMU and prior Olympians. Eller won gold in the Olympic double trap event in Beijing in 2008. Both NCOs competed in the Rio 2016 Qualifiers Aug. 10.
Double trap is a shotgun shooting sport where two clay targets are fired into the air at the same time, and the shooter has two shots to hit them.
Both athletes struggled in the early rounds of Rio qualification, but Richmond fought his way back up to seventh with a score of 135, just barely missing his chance to shoot in the semi-finals. Eller finished in 14th position with a score of 131.
While the result is disappointing for U.S. military fans, they still have a lot to look forward to over the next few days. SEAL training graduate and Navy officer Edward King will compete in the rowing finals on Aug. 11.
Marine Corps 2nd Lt. David Higgins, Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail, and Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Sanderson will compete in shooting events Aug. 12, while Naval Academy Cadet Regine Tugade will race in the 100-meter dash.
According to reports released through Chinese media, a modified version of their Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter, dubbed the J-20B, has just entered mass production. This new variant of their first fifth-generation fighter will continue to run dated Russian-built engines, but will utilize thrust vectoring control nozzles to grant the aircraft a significant boost in maneuverability.
“Mass production of the J-20B started on Wednesday. It has finally become a complete stealth fighter jet, with its agility meeting the original criteria,” the South China Morning Post credited to an unnamed source within the Government.
Chengdu J-20 (WikiMedia Commons)
“The most significant change to the fighter jet is that it is now equipped with thrust vector control.”
Thrust vectoring nozzle for a Eurojet EJ200 turbofan (WikiMedia Commons)
Thrust Vector Control
Thrust vector control, sometimes abbreviated to TVC, is a means of controlling a jet or rocket engine’s outward thrust. Thrust vectoring nozzles are used to literally move the outflow of exhaust in different directions to give an aircraft the ability to conduct acrobatics that a straight-forward nozzled jet simply couldn’t do.
When paired with an aircraft like Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, thrust vectoring control allows an aircraft to make sharper changes in direction, or even to continue traveling in one direction while pointing the nose, and weapons systems of the aircraft, down toward an enemy. Put simply, thrust vectoring nozzles let you point the engine one way, while the aircraft itself is pointed in another (to a certain extent).
In a jet like the F-22 (and soon in China’s J-20 stealth fighter), this technology gives fighter pilots a distinct advantage over non-thrust vectoring jets in a dogfight. You can see the thrust vector control surfaces on the F-22’s engine, which can direct the outflow of exhaust up to 20 degrees up or down, in this video clip:
Russia also employs thrust vector control technology in some of their more capable fighters, like the Sukhoi Su-35, which is widely considered to be among the most capable fourth generation fighters in service anywhere on the planet. While stealth and sensor fusion capabilities would give an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter the long range advantage against the non-stealth Su-35, the Russian jet would technically be capable of flying circles around America’s premier stealth fighter if stealth weren’t in the picture (luckily, however, it is).
Of course, that’s not what the F-35 was built for, and in a real conflict, an F-35 would likely shoot down a Su-35 before the Russian pilot was even aware of an American presence in his airspace. China’s J-20 stealth fighter, however, would very likely be extremely difficult to detect on radar or by infrared signature as it closed with an opponent from head on, and the J-20B’s thrust vector control abilities combined with that inherent sneakiness could make this new J-20 a serious adversary for the F-35, and even a worthy opponent for the F-22.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter versus China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter
While the F-35 tends to garner the lion’s share of attention, it truly was not built to serve in an air superiority role against near-peer or peer level adversaries. The F-35’s strengths don’t come from its speed or maneuverability, but rather from the extremely effective one-two punch it can deliver via stealth technologies, sensor fusion, and communications.
Many F-35 pilots, including Sandboxx News’ own Justin “Hasard” Lee, will tell you that the F-35’s role in many dogfights isn’t that of an up-close dog fighter, but rather more like a quarterback in the sky, accumulating and processing data into an easy-to-manage interface, and relaying that information to aircraft and other weapons systems in the battle space.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)
When it is up to the F-35 to take down an airborne opponent, the F-35’s speed and maneuverability limitations are usually not a significant concern, as the jet is designed to engage enemy aircraft more like a sniper than a boxer. The F-35’s data fusion capabilities make it easy for the pilot to identify enemy aircraft in their heads up display, and the fighter can even engage multiple targets from distances too far to see with the naked eye.
J-20 (WikiMedia Commons)
However, the J-20 may be difficult to see for even the mighty F-35, which, when combined with the J-20B’s higher top end and superior mobility thanks to thrust vectoring nozzles, it could be a real threat to America’s top tier stealth fighter. The front canards on the J-20, however, are believed by some to compromise the aircraft’s stealth when approaching from angles other than head-on. Debate continues on this front, but it could give the F-35 the advantage it needs.
Of course, that is if the J-20B performs as China claims it will.
USAF F-22 Raptor (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Samuel Eckholm)
The F-22 Raptor vs China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter
This match up is a bit more appropriate, as the F-35 was built to be a jack of all stealthy trades and the F-22 was built specifically to dominate a sky full of enemy fighters. Unlike the F-35, which is largely limited to subsonic speeds in both the Navy and Marine Corps’ iterations, the F-22 is fast, mean, and acrobatic in addition to its stealth capabilities.
China’s stealth fighter, the J-20, was designed using stolen plans for Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, giving it a similar profile and potentially similar combat capabilities. However, it seems unlikely that China has managed to replicate the complex process of mass producing stealth aircraft to the same extent the United States has, as America’s stealth work dates back to the 1970s and the development of the “Hopeless Diamond” that would eventually become the F-117 Nighthawk.
As previously mentioned, the J-20’s front canards could potentially limit the aircraft’s stealth capabilities as well, making the plane difficult to detect from head on, but potentially easier from other angles.
Some content that these canards compromise some degree of the J-20’s stealth capabilities. (Chinese internet)
Although China has announced that their J-20B will come equipped with thrust vector controls, just how effective their system will be remains to be seen, meaning that, like China’s stealth capabilities, their execution may potentially fall behind their bluster.
Assuming, however, that the J-20B performs exactly as China says it will, the aircraft could likely be a worthy opponent for the F-22 in some circumstances, especially when flying in greater numbers than America’s top intercept fighter, which just may be a serious issue in the near future, as America simply can’t build any more F-22s.
Chinese J-20s flying in formation (Chinese internet)
While it remains to be seen if China’s J-20 stealth fighter and upgraded J-20B will be a real match for America’s F-35 or F-22 in a one-on-one fight, the truth is, very few fights actually shake out that way. Pilots spend tons of time planning their combat operations to limit their exposure to high risk situations and to maximize the effectiveness of their stealth profile.
Thus far, it’s believed that China has built fewer than 50 J-20s, though production may pick up as China now seems comfortable using dated Russian power plants in their new fighters, rather than waiting on their long troubled WS-15 engine that was designed specifically for this application. Using these engine platforms may limit the overall performance of the jet, but it will also allow for more rapid production–which may create China’s only actual advantage in an air-to-air conflict.
Lockheed Martin produced only 186 total F-22 Raptors before the program was shut down, and today, far fewer are actually operational. In other words, America may have the world’s most capable air intercept fighter in the F-22, but it also has an extremely limited supply of them. The supply chain established for F-22 production has been largely cannibalized for the F-35, so there’s no hope in building any more either.
USAF F-22 Raptor (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Westin Warburton)
China’s J-20 stealth fighter, on the other hand, is still under production, and while Russian-sourced engines may make their fighter’s less capable than America’s stealth fighters, China may more than offset that disadvantage through sheer volume. Even if a J-20 doesn’t stand a chance in a scrap with an F-22, adding four or five more J-20s into the mix places the odds squarely in China’s favor.
Today, the United States maintains the largest fleet of stealth aircraft in service to any nation, but over time, that advantage could be eroded thanks to China’s massive industrial capabilities.
Two F-22 Raptors and a T-38 Talon from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, fly together during a 43rd Fighter Squadron Basic Course training mission Oct. 7, 2013 over Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. J. Wilcox)
America’s massive experience advantage in the skies
China’s J-20 stealth fighter may potentially end up a near competitor for America’s top stealth jets, and they may eventually overcome any advantage America’s fighters do have through volume, but there’s one integral place Chinese aviators still lag far behind American pilots: experience. America’s experience advantage manifests in two specific ways.
The first experiential advantage American pilots have on their side is practical flying time aboard their specific platforms. While the total number of required flight hours for pilots varies a bit from branch to branch, on average, a U.S. fighter pilot spends around 20 hours per month at the stick of their respective jets. That shakes out to around 240 flight hours per year devoted strictly to training for combat operations.
(U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane)
Chinese fighter pilots, on the other hand, average less than half of that per year, with most pilots logging between 100 and 120 hours flying their particular airframes. With more than double the annual flying experience to pull from, American fighter pilots across the board will be better prepared for the rigors of combat.
The second facet of America’s experience-advantage is in real combat operations. The United States has been embroiled in the Global War on Terror for nearly two straight decades, and while most of the flying American fighter pilots have done throughout has been for the purposes of ground attack or close air support missions, there’s no denying that American aviators have more experience flying in a combat zone than their Chinese competition.
A formation of F-35A Lightning IIs (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
Although there have been very few dog fights in recent years, it’s worth noting that one of the world’s more recent fighter-to-fighter shoot-downs took place over Syria and involved a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet engaging a Syrian military Su-22 Fitter. American pilots, and just as importantly, America’s military leadership, are no strangers to war, and that offers a unique insight into future conflicts.
China’s massive military has undergone a significant overhaul in recent years that still continues to this day, but their relative inexperience and likely inferior stealth technology keeps China at a disadvantage in a notional conflict with the United States, especially in the air.
Chengdu J-20 (Chinese internet)
So do the J-20B’s upgrades even matter?
While China may still have a ways to go before they can claim the sort of stealth dominance the United States enjoys, the upgraded systems placed in China’s J-20B certainly do matter. As former Defense Secretary and famed Marine General James Mattis once said, America has no pre-ordained right to victory on the battlefield.
It’s absolutely essential that we take an objective look at China’s growing military threat and remember that they don’t need to match America’s broad capabilities to gain an advantage–they need only to counter them. Working to devise creative solutions that offset tactical advantages has been an integral part of warfare ever since humans first started sharpening sticks, and it remains essential today.
The J-20B doesn’t need to be a match for the F-22 Raptor if its leveraged properly and in sufficient numbers, and that alone warrants consideration.
It said two U.S. F-22 and two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets flew to the location and escorted the Russian bombers out of the zone. The U.S. jets flew out of a base in the U.S. state of Alaska, the military said.
The reports did not specify the exact location of the encounter. The military monitors air traffic in the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone, which extends 320 kilometers off Alaska.
Russian state-run TASS news agency on Jan. 27, 2019, cited U.S. officials as saying the Russian jets did not enter “sovereign territory.”
It quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying the two strategic bombers “completed a scheduled flight over neutral waters of the Arctic Ocean [and] practiced refueling” during a 15-hour flight.
A Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor fighter jet.
There were no reports of conflict between the Russian and the U.S. and Canadian warplanes.
“NORAD’s top priority is defending Canada and the United States,” General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the NORAD commander, said in a statement.
“Our ability to protect our nations starts with successfully detecting, tracking, and positively identifying aircraft of interest approaching U.S. and Canadian airspace.”
NORAD, a combined U.S.-Canadian command, uses radar, satellites, and aircraft to monitor aircraft entering U.S. or Canadian airspace.
U.S. officials have reported several incidents of U.S. and Canadian jets scrambling to intercept Russian warplanes and escorting them from the region.
In September 2018, the Pentagon issued a protest after U.S. Air Force fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace west of Alaska.
In that incident, the jets followed the Russian craft until they left the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone.
In April 2017, Russian warplanes flew near Alaska and Canada several times, prompting air defense forces to scramble jets after a two-year lull in such activity.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the incident, saying the bombers were performing “scheduled flights over neutral waters” when they were escorted by the U.S. F-22 warplanes.
Encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes in various parts of the world have increased in recent years as Moscow demonstrates its resurgent military might.
Moscow said it scrambled a jet in June 2017 to intercept a nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bomber it said was flying over the Baltic Sea.
Kaleth Wright is the incumbent Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. He is the 18th CMSAF and only the second person of color to hold the rank. In the 27 years preceding his appointment, Chief Master Sgt. Wright (obviously) lead an illustrious career. But in late November of 2016, something miraculous happened.
One day, in a manger, a legend was born. It was nearly Thanksgiving in the cold, far-away land of the District of Columbia when the story of the man who come to be known as “Enlisted Jesus” first took root. On the following Valentine’s Day, Chief Master Sgt. Wright took the helm and, almost instantly, began to rain down blessings upon the world’s greatest airpower.
There are countless reasons airmen shower Enlisted Jesus in praise, but here are three very real, very specific justifications for his quickly-spreading moniker.
Come o’ ye little children
Enlisted Professional Military Education overhaul
Rumor has it that one of the first items on the agenda of Enlisted Jesus was to free up the time and energy of his airmen so that they could better serve this great nation. His first, well-known, crack at freeing up that time? EPME 21.
The new system did not get rid of the requirement, but it did get rid of the Time-in-Service bit that automatically signed up service members according to how long they’ve been in uniform, regardless of rank, and too often stripped them of the chance to attend EPME courses in-resident.
Have you heard of his goodness?
(Air Force Nation)
EPR? Not for E-3 and below!
One of the most dreaded moments in many an airman’s career is Enlisted Performance Review time! Even if you’ve been blessed with a sharp supervisor and have recorded all of your accomplishments meticulously, it’s still going to give you a spike in cortisol. They get easier to do as time goes along, but those first few can be downright scary.
For the supervisor — especially the young supervisor — this time is a fiery trial of skill and fortitude. You have your supervisor, who is getting sh*t from their supervisor, who is getting sh*t from their supervisor, who’s getting sh*t from the 1st Sgt, up your ass to get this done on time, even if you’re early.
Now put together a new supervisor and a green troop. What does this combination yield come EPR? A stressed out, ineffective set of airmen.
Enlisted Jesus decided to kill that noise by removing the requirement for anyone who is promotion-eligible.
No, Enlisted Jesus likely didn’t make the call to bring the OCP and move away from that sage grey, tiger stripe getup so many of us loathe. Hell, he probably didn’t even have too much of say in that decision at all.
He has, however, been very vocal in support of them and is largely seen as the face and force behind them finally becoming the official duty uniform of the Air Force.
The Army has officially scrapped its search for a short-term replacement for the M4/M16 rifle platform.
Funds for the Interim Combat Service Rifle have been redirected to the long-term project to design the Next Generation Squad Weapon, which will replace the current rifle platform for good. Military Times spotted the announcement on a post on the federal business opportunities website this week.
“Resulting from a change in strategy, the Government is reallocating the ICSR funding to the Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW). The NGSW will be a long-term solution to meet the identified capability gap instead of the ICSR, which was an interim solution,” the post says.
When it officially announced the project in August, the Army said it was looking for up to 50,000 commercially available rifles of 7.62 mm caliber.
“The Army has identified a potential gap in the capability of ground forces and infantry to penetrate body armor using existing ammunition,” the Aug. 4 notice said. “To address this operational need, the Army is looking for an Interim Combat Service Rifle (ICSR) that is capable of defeating emerging threats.”
Current and former Army officials have said for some time that the range and stopping power of the 5.56 mm round currently in use underperforms that of rounds used by adversaries.
The M4/M16 platform has also been criticized, in part because of concerns about jamming and overheating.
Most soldiers and Marines carry M4s, M16s, or M27s that fire 5.56 mm rounds. Specialized personnel, like machine-gunners or snipers, already use weapons that fire rounds of 7.62 mm or some other caliber.
The ICSR was seen as a near-term replacement for the M4/M16 to be distributed to selected units — those more likely to face combat — until the NGSW could be developed and implemented. The Army has said that not every soldier would be outfitted with a 7.62 mm rifle.
In June 2013, the Army ended a competition to replace the M4 without selecting a winner. The more recent ICSR program also took several twists during is short life.
In September, it was first reported by The Firearms Blog that the Army was scrapping the 7.62 mm ICSR plan. No official reason was given at the time, but The Firearms Blog cited sources saying it was canceled because of a lack of a pressing threat, poorly written requirements, and little support from rank-and-file troops or in the Defense Department.
Shortly after that report, however, Army Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings — who, as the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier, oversees the programs that provide most of a soldier’s gear and weapons — said the service was still evaluating a short-term stand-in for the M4/M16.
“It’s not dead,” he told Military.com of the ICSR plan. “The decision has not been made.”
In an Army report at the beginning of October, Cummings downplayed the prominence of the ICSR in Army planning.
“Right now, many are focused on the ICSR” or on the Squad Designated Marksman Rifle, Cummings said at the time. “But that’s not the long-term way ahead. The long-term way ahead is a brand new rifle for all of the Department of Defense called the Next Generation Squad Weapon.”
Cummings compared the NGSW program to the Modular Handgun System, which developed and introduced a new sidearm for the Army: “It’ll be one complete system, with weapon, magazine, ammo, and fire control on it and we will cut down on the load and integration issues associated with it.”
The NGSW would be “one end-all solution,” he added, with a carbine model replacing the M4 and a rifle version replacing the M249 squad automatic weapon. The weapon would likely fire a caliber between 5.56 and 7.62 mm. The Army is likely to see the first NGSWs by 2022, he said, with other enhancements arriving by 2025.
The United States is withholding a $255 million military aid payment from Pakistan until it cracks down on what President Donald Trump has called “safe havens” for anti- Afghanistan militant groups, officials said.
State Department officials said on August 31 that the funds won’t be released from an escrow account until the United States sees that Pakistan is moving against the Afghan Taliban and allied groups like the Haqqani network that U.S. intelligence agencies say have resided for years withinPakistan’s borders.
Pakistan has denied that it harbors terrorists and has said the United States is using Islamabad as a “scapegoat” for its own failure to win the 16-year war in Afghanistan.
The new U.S. stance toward Pakistan prompted a protest resolution in the Pakistani parliament this week as well as anti- U.S. protests in the streets that Pakistani police had to disperse using tear gas.
In announcing the new strategy last week, Trump said “we have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting… That will have to change.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the time that the administration was considering curtailing aid, severing Pakistan’s status as a major non- NATO ally, and even hitting Islamabad for the first time with sanctions, unless it tackles anti-Afghan militant groups within its borders.
“We’re going to be conditioning our support for Pakistan and our relationship with them on them delivering results in this area,” Tillerson said.
To Pakistan’s alarm, Trump also floated the possibility of inviting India – Pakistan’s archrival – to get more involved in Afghanistan unless Pakistan is more cooperative.
The administration’s notification to Congress of an indefinite “pause” in installments on a $1.1 billion military assistance package for Pakistan represented the administration’s first step to make good on those promised measures.
The United States has sought before to use aid to Pakistan as well as U.S. weapons sales as leverage to secure Islamabad’s cooperation onAfghanistan.
Pakistan maintains that it already is doing everything it can to eliminate terrorists in the country, and has been more successful at doing so than its next-door neighbor, Afghanistan, even with the help of thousands of NATO and U.S. troops.
Moreover, Pakistan has complained that the United States does not appreciate the sacrifices Islamabad has made by joining the U.S. antiterror campaign, which Islamabad said has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers.
Military vehicles in an underground facility at US Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, September 9, 2015. US Defense Department/Glenn Fawcett
A major Marine Corps force redesign is bringing big changes that could soon filter down to a secretive cave complex in Norway that the Corps has used since the Cold War.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said last year that the Corps needed to get rid of “big, heavy things” and build a more mobile force for naval expeditionary warfare in contested areas — namely the Asia-Pacific.
The Corps plans to cut its overall force 7% by 2030, shedding infantry battalions, eliminating helicopter squadrons, and getting rid of all of its tanks.
Marines in California have already said goodbye to their tanks, and more could leave soon, including those in a cave complex in Norway’s Trondheim region, where the Corps has stored weapons and other equipment for decades.
Entrances to the Bjugn Cave Facility in Norway with equipment outside to be taken to Estonia for a military exercise, June 30, 1997. US Defense Department
The Corps’ Force Design 2030 “is a worldwide program aimed to make our force posture around the globe even more strategic and effective. As such, it calls for a divestment of certain capabilities and increases in others,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman for Marine Corps forces in Europe and Africa, said in an email.
The Marine Corps Prepositioning Program in Norway “will continue to support US Marine Corps forces for bilateral and multi-lateral exercises” in European and Africa, Rankine-Galloway said.
“We expect that Marine Corps prepositioned equipment will be updated to meet our service’s needs, with excess equipment to be removed and newer equipment to be added to the prepositioned facilities,” Rankine-Galloway added.
Rankine-Galloway didn’t say what equipment that might be, but in the Force Design 2030, Berger said the Corps is “over-invested in” weapons like “heavily armored ground combat systems (tanks) [and] towed cannon artillery” and had “shortfalls” in rocket artillery, air-defense systems, and long-range unmanned aircraft.
Marine Corps leaders say savings from those cuts will pay for high-tech gear needed to counter China, Russia, and others.
M1A1 Abrams tanks and other equipment during a modernization of equipment at Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, August 13, 2014. US Marine Corps/Master Sgt. Chad McMeen
A changing strategic game
The Marines’ underground storage in Norway’s Trondheim region dates to 1982, when the US and Norway agreed to preposition supplies and equipment in six climate-controlled caves there, allowing the Corps to store equipment closer than the US East Coast and “minimize the time necessary to form for combat.”
Much of the equipment there was withdrawn for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A decade later, the Corps expanded its stocks, reportedly allowing tanks and other heavy vehicles to be stored there for the first time.
Changes to what the Marines store in Norway would come as the Corps alters its troop presence in the country.
US Marine Corps High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle stored at Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, February 10, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Joseph Atiyeh
Hundreds of Marines have been stationed in Norway on six-month rotations since 2017, but Norway’s military said earlier this month that the US would reduce that force.
Rankine-Galloway told several outlets the Corps wasn’t drawing down but rather adopting shorter, “episodic” deployments aligned with exercises — sometimes bringing more troops to the country than are there now — that allow it to balance Arctic warfare training with larger-scale training “as a naval expeditionary force.”
“We expect US Marine Corps forces deployed to the Nordic region to train and be prepared to fight in accordance with the Commandant’s vision for the force and that this transformation will make both US Marine Corps, allied, and partner forces more lethal and capable together,” Rankine-Galloway told Insider.
The Marines’ year-round presence in Norway angered Russia, whose border with Norway is near sensitive sites on the Kola Peninsula belonging to the powerful Northern Fleet, which oversees Russia’s nuclear ballistic-missile subs.
Russian missiles have changed “the strategic game” in the region, according to Thomas Nilsen, editor of Norway-based news outlet The Barents Observer.
“Living on the Norwegian side of the border, we don’t see a scenario of a Russian military invasion trying to capture” northern Norway, Nilsen said at an Atlantic Council event in February.
Weapons like the Kinzhal hypersonic missile could be launched from Russian fighter jets and within minutes strike airbases in those Scandinavian countries, Nilsen said.
Aircraft at those bases, like Norway’s F-35s, are “what Russia is afraid of,” Nilsen added. “Those capabilities on the Scandinavian side that might … disturb their deploying of the ballistic-missile submarines.”
The retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis used to doubt the need for the U.S.’s massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, but he has changed his tune since joining President Donald Trump’s administration as secretary of defense.
In 2015, Mattis questioned whether the U.S. still needed ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, as he found the risk of accidental launches a bit troubling. When the Senate was confirming him as Trump’s secretary of defense, Mattis refused to offer his support for a program to update the U.S.’s air-launched nuclear cruise missile.
But now, Mattis has signed off on a new nuclear position that not only will modernize the ICBMs and cruise missiles but also calls for the creation of two new classes of nuclear weapons.
“We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be,” Mattis wrote in the review, perhaps an acknowledgment that, as secretary of defense, Mattis learned something about U.S. national security that changed his mind.
The nuclear review, rolled out this year along with new national defense and national security strategies, points to a U.S. more focused on combating major powers like Russia and China. Before joining the president, Mattis openly questioned the purpose of U.S. nukes: Do they exist only to deter attacks? Or do they have an offensive value?
In the years since 2015, when Mattis spoke of reviewing the U.S.’s 400-some hair-triggered nuclear ICBMs, the world was a different place but starting to change. China was building islands in the South China Sea, and Russia had only just swept into Crimea.
Now the U.S. has resolved to match Chinese and Russian military strength and change up the rules of engagement. The nuclear review advocates using nuclear force against nonnuclear attacks, like massive cyber campaigns targeting U.S. infrastructure.
Mattis has always offered thoughtful answers and pledged to operate on the best information he had on the topic of nuclear weapons, but he has clearly done an about-face since joining the Trump administration.
The abrupt change in Mattis’ nuclear posture prompts the question: What new information did he receive upon joining the Trump team?
On June 6, 1944, the Allies embarked on the crucial invasion of Normandy on the northern coast of France. Allied forces suffered major casualties, but the ensuing campaign ultimately dislodged German forces from France.
Did you know these eight famous individuals participated in the D-Day invasion?
Actor James Doohan is beloved among Trekkies for his portrayal of chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in “Star Trek.”
Years before he donned the Starfleet uniform, Doohan joined the Royal Canadian Artillery during WWII. During the Normandy invasion, he stormed Juno Beach and took out two snipers before he was struck by six bullets from a machine gun, according to website Today I Found Out. He lost part of a finger, but the silver cigarette case in his pocket stopped a bullet from piercing his heart.
In 1963, activist Medgar Evers was assassinated due to his efforts to promote civil rights for African Americans. Decades earlier, Evers served in the 325th Port Company during WWII, eventually rising to the rank of sergeant. This segregated unit of black soldiers delivered supplies during the Normandy invasion, according to the NAACP.
“The Catcher in the Rye” author J.D. Salinger belonged to a unit that invaded Utah Beach on D-Day. According to Vanity Fair, Salinger carried several chapters of his magnum opus with him when he stormed the shores of France.
Director John Ford, famous for Westerns like “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers,” also went ashore with the D-Day invasion.
As a commander in the US Naval Reserve, Ford led a team of US Coast Guard cameramen in filming a documentary on D-Day for the Navy.
A temporary memorial installation is coming to the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. this Memorial Day weekend, courtesy of USAA and the National Park Service.
The Poppy Memorial is a translucent structure that measures 133 feet long, 8 1/2 feet tall and is filled with more than 645,000 poppy flowers — honoring every man and woman that gave their life in service of our nation since World War I.
The red poppy became synonymous with the fallen troops during the First World War — and has remained a symbol of their sacrifice ever since. This symbolism originated because of the war poem “In Flanders Field” written by the Canadian Physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.
“In Flanders fields the poppies grow, between the crosses, row on row…”
“The poppy flower symbolizes those who gave the last full measure in defense of our freedoms,” said Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Bird, USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs. “The Poppy Memorial visualizes the magnitude of that sacrifice and reminds us all of the price that was paid. We are grateful to the National Park Service for allowing us to display this inspiring and educational exhibit among the permanent monuments, as a testament to the enduring bravery of our men and women in uniform.”
This isn’t the first time a temporary memorial will be on display in Washington D.C., but it is a particularly meaningful one. As the United States approaches 18 years of combat deployments, the number of Americans who have served during wartime grows — and thus so too does the number of American families directly affected by war. Each Memorial Day holds a personal significance to our countrymen and women.
From May 25 through May 27, the Poppy Memorial will be open to the public daily for viewing from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET. The memorial will be displayed on the southwestern side of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool – with the Lincoln Memorial to the west, the Korean War Memorial to the south, the reflecting pool due north and the World War II Memorial to the east. The more than 645,000 poppies are a combination of VFW “Buddy”® poppies and poppies from the American Legion Family, both programs designed to encourage Americans to wear poppies in remembrance of the fallen.
Additionally, visitors to the installation on the National Mall will find on-site kiosks to dedicate a digital poppy. Those unable to visit the Poppy Memorial in Washington, D.C. can visit www.poppyinmemory.com to dedicate a digital poppy to a fallen loved one or as a gesture of appreciation for those who sacrificed all. The site also allows users to find previously dedicated poppies that memorialize the servicemembers lost since World War I, and to directly share a “Poppy In Memory” on Facebook and Twitter.
Russia’s new heavy attack drone, called the Okhotnik (Russian for “hunter”), just made its visual debut as a flying wing stealth platform intended to fight Moscow’s enemies from the air and inform the next generation of jet fighters.
The picture of the Okhotnik, posted on a Russian aviation blog and first reported at Aviation Week, shows a drone on a snowy runway with a flat flying wing design like the B-2 Spirit bomber of the US Air Force.
The B-2 represents the US’s stealthiest plane despite being originally built in the early 1980s, which owes to the flying wing design.
Fighter jets which hit supersonic speeds and maneuver tightly need vertical fins, meaning Russia’s Okhotnik likely places stealth above turning and air-to-air combat.
In July 2018, Russian media quoted a defense industry source as saying the Okhotnik could perform “any combat task in an autonomous regime,” but that the drone would require a human pilot to pull the trigger.
US drones only perform in an air-to-ground role, as they’re subsonic aircraft that would be sitting ducks to enemy fighters.
But the defense industry source claimed the “Okhotnik will become the prototype of the sixth generation fighter jet,” further suggesting some air-to-air role.
Again, this seems to suggest a connection between the combat drone and air superiority fighters, though Russia’s own media describes the drone as having a takeoff weight of 20 tons and an airspeed in the high subsonic range.
Russia frequently makes unverified and dubious claims about its combat aircraft. Russia dubbed the Su-57, meant to fight F-22 and F-35 fighter s or beat top-end air defenses, “combat proven” after a few days of dropping bombs on militants in Syria who had no anti-air capabilities.
But the sixth generation of fighter aircraft, or even the true purpose of the current, fifth generation of fighter aircraft, remains an open question. Many top military strategists and planners have floated the possibility of pairing advanced manned fighter jets with swarms of drones or legacy aircraft to act as bomb trucks or decoys.
When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.
In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?
The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.
The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.
As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.
We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.
When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.
At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.
As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.
Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.
The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.
Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.
Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.
In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.
These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.
The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.
Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.
(Photo by Ethan E. Rocke)
This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.
“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.