Russia is building up strength near NATO's weak point - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

In the months leading up to the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump in Finland, Moscow appears to have ramped up activity in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

Satellite imagery gathered by Planet Labs and reported by Defense One shows activity around bunkers in Baltiysk, a town that hosts a major Russian port and two air bases.

Between March and June 2018, “the visible change … appears to be the fortification of buildings, characteristic of explosive storage bunkers, utilizing earthen berms to further insulate these structures,” Matt Hall, a senior geospatial analyst at 3Gimbals, told Defense One.


Hall said other structures shown in the images appeared to have been reinforced over that period. Activity in a forested area was partially obscured by foliage, but there appeared to be more structures among the trees, some covered and some uncovered with different levels of fortification.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

Aerial photo of Baltiysk

“In this area some of the structures have changed, potentially showing roofing structures or tarps that have since been removed to reveal caches of items,” Hall said. “Additionally, there appear to be new or redistributed items — potentially identifiable as shipping containers.” Hall also told Defense One a railroad line was visible in the photos.

Kaliningrad — 86 square miles of land bordered by Poland and Lithuania — was an important asset to the Soviet Union, and military activity there has grown amid Russia’s recent military buildup. It also hosts Russia’s Baltic Fleet and its 11th Army Corps.

Russian weapons in Kaliningrad have been a point of contention with NATO. In late 2016, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the transfer of nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to the exclave “means an aggressive, open demonstration of power and aggression against not the Baltic states but against European capitals.”

Iskander missiles have a range of about 310 miles and in the past were stationed in Kaliningrad on a temporary basis. But in February 2018, Grybauskaite said Russia had deployed more of the missiles there “for permanent presence.”

The head of Russian parliament’s defense committee confirmed that deployment, saying it was a response to NATO’s buildup in Eastern Europe. A Kremlin spokesman said at the time that Russia had the “sovereign right” to station military forces on its territory.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

(Russian Defense Ministry)

Satellite imagery of another area within Kaliningrad showed renovations of what appeared to be an active nuclear weapons storage site, according to a June 2018 report by the Federation of American Scientists.

Images “show one of three underground bunkers near Kulikovo being excavated in 2016, apparently renovated, and getting covered up again in 2018 presumably to return operational status soon,” the report said.

The imagery provided few conclusive details, but “features of the site suggest it could potentially serve Russian Air Force or Navy dual-capable forces,” the report said. “But it could also be a joint site, potentially servicing nuclear warheads for both Air Force, Navy, Army, air-defense, and coastal defense forces in the region.”

The missiles deployed to Kaliningrad have raised concern about threats to Western Europe, but the exclave also positions Russian forces near the Suwalki Gap, a weak point in the NATO alliance, according to a recent report from the Center for European Analysis, coauthored by retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who was head of US Army Europe.

The gap, stretching between eastern Kaliningrad and western Belarus, is the only land connection between NATO and its three Baltic member states: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

“The Suwałki Corridor is where the many weaknesses in NATO’s strategy and force posture converge,” the report says.

“If Russia attempted to establish control over the Suwałki region, or even threatened the free movement of NATO personnel and equipment from within the borders of Kaliningrad and Belarus, it could cut the Baltic states off from the rest of the Alliance” and hinder reinforcement efforts. NATO forces did exercises focused mobility and interoperability in the Suwalki region early 2018

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

Suwalki Gap crossing

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kevin Wang)

A dispute over the gap “could escalate with alarming speed,” the report says, though Hodges believes a Cold War-style Russian ground invasion is unlikely.

“I don’t think that Russia intends to invade Europe as though its 1991. They don’t have the capacity to do that anymore,” he told Defense One.

Moscow may instead look to use a crisis in the area to undermine NATO by showing it was unable to response effectively, or at all, to a threat.


“If you accept that premise, that they might do a limited attack to demonstrate that NATO cannot protect its members,” he told Defense One. “That would create a problem.”

Russia is believed to have a substantial military force stationed along NATO’s eastern border, and its ability to deploy it quickly could make it harder for Western forces to distinguish between a military exercise and an actual military operation.

During the Zapad war games in 2013 and 2017, Russian troops simulated advances on the gap, cutting off the Baltic states from the rest of Europe. There has also been an increase in close encounters between NATO and Russian aircraft in the skies over the Baltics.

In the years since Russia’s 2014 incursion in Ukraine, Baltic countries have warned about possible aggression against them.

In 2017, Lithuania said it worried Russia was laying the groundwork for “kinetic operations” through propaganda and misinformation — a manner similar to what preceded Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Lithuania, which is under pressure from Moscow to allow a permanent Russian-controlled transit corridor to Kaliningrad, has also called for a permanent US troop presence on its soil and started building a fence along its border with Kaliningrad.

The CEPA report lays out several scenarios through which Russia could provoke a crisis to justify action against Suwalki, using disinformation and hybrid-warfare techniques to deflect blame and confuse observers.

“If [Russian forces] ever tried anything, they would do it asymmetrically so that they could achieve whatever they wanted to achieve before the alliance caught on,” Hodges told Defense One.T

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Marines honored for cool heads during aerial fire

The Marine Corps presented the Air Medal to three U.S. Marines on July 24, 2018, at Marine Air Station Miramar, California, for their actions while crewing a CH-53E Super Stallion that caught fire off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, during aerial refueling operations.


Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

Capt. Molly A. O’Malley stands during an award ceremony where she and two other Marines received the Air Medal.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dominic Romero)

The awards were presented to Capt. Ryan J. Boyer, Capt. Molly A. O’Malley, and Sgt. Garrett D. Mills of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 462, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 16. The Marines were serving in Japan last year and were conducting operations near Okinawa’s Northern Training Area, an area often used for jungle training.

The in-flight fire was severe, with locals reportedly hearing a series of small explosions soon after the crew managed an emergency landing in a privately-owned field near the coast. The pilots acted quickly to get the helicopter back to land and the crew rushed off a number of passengers, allowing everyone to escape without injury before the helicopter burned too badly.

The helicopter itself was almost completely destroyed by the fire. The engine, most of the rotor blades, and the fuselage are visible as just a pile of slag in the Japanese field in images and video released by Japanese media after the crash.

www.youtube.com

Additional helicopters rushed to the scene to secure the crew and passengers and another CH-53 came on station with a helibucket to drop water and control the flames until Japanese firefighters and American first-responders from the nearby base could respond.

The quick actions of the crew and first responders prevented any property damage to anything except the plants directly under the burning helicopter.

This success by the crew and emergency workers had positive consequences beyond protecting the life and health of the passengers and local population. American military aviation in the area is extremely controversial, and nearly all incidents on the island trigger local protests and condemnation from politicians. Limiting the property damage and protecting all human life reduces the amount of backlash.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

Capt. Ryan J. Boyer, Capt. Molly A. O’Malley, and Sgt. Garrett D. Mills pose with their air medals and a CH-53 Super Stallion after their award ceremony.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dominic Romero)

The Marine Corps’ fleet of CH-53E Super Stallions are quickly becoming obsolete as their heavy rate of use in ongoing conflicts across the world — as well as normal operations and training — take a toll. The average CH-53E is 15 years old.

The aircraft are being used at three times the originally expected rate and many airframes have logged over 3,000 flight hours. A Jane’s Defense analysis of the aircraft estimated that the frames will last an average of 6,120 hours.

The aircraft is being replaced by the CH-53K, a very similar version of the helicopter but with a significantly more capability.

See more photos from the award ceremony below:

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

A U.S. Marine receives the Air Medal from Maj. Gen. Kevin M. IIams during a July 24 ceremony honoring three Marines’ quick actions during an Oct. 11, 2017 in-flight fire.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dominic Romero)

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

Capt. Ryan J. Boyer, Capt. Molly A. O’Malley, and Sgt. Garrett D. Mills stand during an award ceremony as Maj. Gen. Kevin M. IIams gives his remarks.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dominic Romero)

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

Capt. Ryan J. Boyer, Capt. Molly A. O’Malley, and Sgt. Garrett D. Mills stand in front of Maj. Gen. Kevin M. IIams during a July 24 award ceremony honoring their actions during an Oct. 11, 2017 fire in their CH-53E Super Stallion.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dominic Romero)

popular

The daring sabotage raid that kept Nazis from getting The Bomb

For much of the Second World War, German engineers and scientists were at the top of their game in developing nuclear fission. As early as 1939, the best minds in Germany were put to work on splitting the atom. They were attempting to use heavy water to control the fission process. Their main source of heavy water production was in occupied Norway, which was a devastating mistake.

They would never get the chance to develop an atomic bomb because Norwegian resistance fighters would blow up the heavy water facilities rather than help the Nazis win World War II.


Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point
Their objective, the Vemork Heavy Water facility in Norway. (Wikimedia Commons)

British commandos tried to destroy the Vemork heavy water facilities in 1942 but were unsuccessful. Operation Grouse planned for Norwegian scouts to recon the area and provide intelligence for British commandos, who would land in gliders and assault the facility under Operation Freshman. But the gliders carrying the Freshman commandos crashed in the local area. One hit a mountain, killing everyone aboard. The other crashed, and some of the commandos survived, but were summarily executed by the Gestapo.

But the Grouse Norwegians were still operating in the area, living off the land, waiting for further instructions.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point
These are Norsemen we’re talking about, after all. (Wikimedia Commons)

With the Norwegians still in position, the plan was given a second go-ahead. The Grouse scouts were now called Operation Swallow and the second raid on Vemork was dubbed Operation Gunnerside. The Gunnerside assault team would be an all-Norwegian squad, parachuting in to rendezvous with the Swallow team. Gunnerside launched on Feb. 16, 1943 – and immediately, things went wrong.

Though not as catastrophic as the first raid on Vemork, these problems caused major delays. The infiltrating Norwegians were dropped into Norway under the cover of snowfall, but they were accidentally dropped miles away from their target. It took the team five days to get to Vemork. They made it, though, and were able to connect with the Swallow group.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point
Reconstruction of the Operation Gunnerside team planting explosives (Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately for the new raiders, the failure of the previous raid on Vemork prompted the Nazis to improve the facilities defenses. All the direct routes into the facility were now heavily guarded or mined. The raiders were forced to climb down into a gorge, cross a frozen river, and then climb a 500-foot cliff wall to access the building. There was a piece of luck for the Norwegians, however. A railroad line in the gorge led to the facility and was relatively unguarded.

After cutting into the facility’s fence, the group split into two teams: a four-man explosives unit and a five-man cover unit. The explosives team was accidentally split up after two men entered the facility through an access tunnel. The two others, presumably lost, broke in through a window. Each team set their explosives independently, cut their timing cord from two minutes to thirty seconds, and bolted.

Operation Gunnerside
Members of the team for Operation: Swallow meeting King Haakon VII in 1948

The successful saboteurs fled on skis toward the town of Rjukan, where they split up. The four men in the explosive unit skied in full British uniforms the entire 200 miles to the border with Sweden. The cover team spread out to draw the Germans away. The Nazis launched a full search for their infiltrators, but none were captured or killed in their pursuit.

The commanding officer of all German forces stationed in Norway called the damage caused by Operation Gunnerside as “the most splendid coup.” The facility was up and running again soon after, but an American bombing raid would force the Germans to move their heavy water production to Germany. All the heavy water from the plant was moved to a ferry for safekeeping in Germany.

That ferry was sunk by Norwegian saboteurs on its way back to the Reich.

Articles

First female Marine recruit signs infantry contract

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point
Two sergeants take cover while maneuvering to conduct an enemy counter-attack during a pilot test at Range 107, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, March 2, 2015. | Photo by Sgt. Alicia R. Leaders


The first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps with an infantry contract is headed to boot camp later this year.

A 19-year-old female applicant had contracted into the Marines’ delayed entry program, selecting to enlist in the infantry, Jim Edwards, a spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Command, told Military.com.

The contract means that she will enter the 0300 community, with her specific military occupational specialty to be determined according to the needs of the Marine Corps at School of Infantry training in Camp Geiger, North Carolina, he said.

The poolee is set to ship to recruit training between October and December of this year, Edwards said. At this point, she has not been publicly identified and she has opted not to conduct any interviews, he said.

There will be numerous physical hurdles to cross before she gets to an infantry unit in the fleet.

In order to qualify for the infantry contract, the recruit had to pass an enhanced initial strength test including a mile-and-a-half run, three pullups, an ammunition can lift and crunches, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Philip Kulczewski told Military.com.

She will have to pass this enhanced IST again after she reaches boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. Non-infantry recruits, on the other hand, take a strength test with no ammunition can lift requirement and the option for women to conduct a flexed-arm hang, instead of pullups.

About 45 days into boot camp, the recruit and all other recruits slated for infantry jobs will need to pass a physical fitness test that includes a six-pullup requirement, Kulczewski said.

If a recruit fails to pass any of these tests, they risk being reclassified into a non-infantry job.

And that is proving to be a stringent requirement.

According to data obtained by Military.com and first reported by the Associated Press, seven female recruits have attempted to pass the enhanced strength and physical fitness tests since January. One has passed, and six have been reclassified to different jobs.

Among male recruits, 1,457 have taken the tests and 46 have been reclassified.

Kulczewski said the female recruits who were counted in this data were attempting to enter one of 11 ground combat jobs that the Marine Corps opened to women in 2014, ahead of the mandate at the start of this year to allow women into every combat specialty. These previously opened jobs include low-altitude air defense gunner, field artillery radar operator, and repairer/technician for a variety of combat vehicles, among others.

Before getting assigned a specific MOS, men and women entering the infantry field also must pass a range of job-specific physical skills tests administered once they reach the School of Infantry.

Applicants for all infantry jobs must demonstrate the ability to conduct a casualty evacuation of a combat-loaded teammate, scale a wall, and conduct an MK-19 machine gun lift. Other job-specific skills include breaching a door with a battering ram, conducting a 20-kilometer ruck run, lifting a tank towbar, and more.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Get a look at the Air Force’s new PT uniforms

The Air Force physical training uniform issued in the mid-2000s was never really beloved by anyone in the Air Force. The shorts were sized four times too small, the plastic-like fabric made a racket while running, and the moisture-wicking shirts seem glued on after absorbing even the slightest sweat. They were only a marginal improvement over their all-cotton, all-gray predecessors.

Well, it’s looking like all of that could be gone in the near future. A new PT uniform may be on the way.


New half-zips, compression technology, and optional designs are just a few of the new features that reflect recent innovations in popular sportswear. As for the shorts, the new ones will have two length options: standard and runner.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

The alleged new Air Force PT uniform options.

(Air Force LCMC)

The above is supposedly a slide from an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center presentation, dated Nov. 20, 2018. This is in line with comments made by Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, who, just a few months ago, said the service had a new PT uniform in the works.

As you can see in the diagrams above, the new design is much more versatile and modern. Each iteration of the uniform has several options in terms of size and color. The addition of compression pants and shirts is a big step up from the simpler track pants or shorts options of the previous uniforms.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

The header slide from the new PT uniform presentation.

(Air Force LCMC)

The slides first made an appearance on the Air Force-themed Facebook humor page Air Force amn/nco/snco and have since found their way to a report in Air Force Times. Airmen regularly privately submit such information to the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page, which says the slides are legit. The same Facebook page broke the story of the Air Force move to its new Operational Camouflage Pattern combat battle uniforms.

The new uniforms will maintain the same gray-blue color schemes but could come with better material features, like improved moisture-wicking material and shorts that don’t feel like swim trunks.

Chief Wright previously estimated the Air Force would release the new PT uniforms in mid-to-late 2019.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The hilarious ways Chinese police are combating jaywalkers

China is so desperate to stop jaywalkers it has turned to spraying them with water.

In Daye, in the central Hubei province, one pedestrian crossing has had a number of bright yellow bollards installed that spray wayward pedestrians’ feet with water mist.


The pilot system works by using a laser sensor that identifies movement off the curb when the pedestrian light is still red. The bollard then emits its water spray, set to 26 degrees Celsius, and announces, “Please do not cross the street, crossing is dangerous.”

Unsurprisingly, the bollards are also equipped with facial recognition technology and photographs of jaywalkers are displayed on a giant LED screen next to the crossing.

The use of facial-recognition technology is soaring in China where it is being used to increase efficiencies and improve policing. AI is being used to find fugitives, track people’s regular hangouts, predict crime before it happens, but, most commonly, to stop jaywalkers.

While many Chinese cities are displaying jaywalkers’ photos, names, and identification numbers on giant public screens, and even government websites, some cities are becoming more creative.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

Shenzen has begun immediately texting jaywalkers after they commit their traffic infringement, while other cities only allow pedestrians to have their photos removed from public screens after helping a traffic officer for 20 minutes.

But why, of all crimes, does China focus so heavily on stopping jaywalkers?

Crossing roads in China can be very dangerous, and local governments are likely trying to minimize traffic jams and change pedestrians’ behaviors for their own safety.

According to the World Health Organization, China had more than 260,000 road traffic deaths in 2013.

An anecdotal contributor to this number appears to be the country’s compensation system. In China, drivers who injure someone customarily pay expenses, but paying up to $50,000 for a funeral or burial is far cheaper than what may be life-long medical bills. So for some drivers its more frugal to ensure a victim is deceased.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point
(Photo by Leo Fung)

There could also be less altruistic reasons for the clamp-down.

When one city built pedestrian gates at a busy intersection it was linked to attempts to strengthen “public morals.” In a country where the government attempts to — and largely succeeds in —censoring its citizens behaviour in accordance with morality and socialist values, the constant flood of jaywalkers flaunting the law and creating havoc is hardly an ideal scenario.

And while the new water spray system seems like a light-hearted solution to these problems, the consequences could be severe.

If Daye’s system is rolled out across the city, Global Times reported that the behavior of repeat jaywalkers may lower offenders’ social credit scores. People with low social credit scores can be blocked from traveling, applying for certain jobs, sending their kids to certain schools, and even throttling internet speeds.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea has a meltdown over South Korean military drills

North Korea’s top negotiator called South Korea’s government “ignorant and incompetent” on May 17, 2018, in the latest installment of Pyongyang lashing out at the US and Seoul for essentially carrying out business as usual.

Ri Son Gwon, the North Korean negotiator, slammed South Korea for participating in military drills with the US, following up a series of statements on May 15, 2018, when Pyongyang canceled talks with Seoul and threatened to cancel a planned summit with President Donald Trump.


While North Korea commonly complains about US and South Korean military drills, which it sees as a rehearsal for invasion, the timing of the recent complaints struck many as odd.

The drills in question, called Max Thunder, have been going on since May 11, 2018. North Korea endured four solid days of the drills before saying anything about them. In fact, one day into the drills, North Korea announced it would invite foreign journalists to cover the destruction of its nuclear test site.

But on May 15, 2018, that all changed with North Korea slamming the drills and their inclusion of the US’s B-52 nuclear-capable bomber, something which regional media had reported. The Pentagon told Business Insider that the B-52s were never scheduled to take part in the drills.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point
B-52
(Photo by Michael Weber)

Before Max Thunder, two other massive drills had taken place in April and May 2018, with hardly a peep from Pyongyang.

In past months, Kim, who reportedly said he “understands” why the drills were going on, had gone forward with peace talks without asking for them to be toned down.

Nevertheless, North Korea cited the drills as its main reason for canceling talks with South Korea.

“Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of South Korea,” Ri said, according to Reuters.

In a separate statement from North Korean media, Pyongyang said it couldn’t open up its country or work with others.

“It is a lesson shown by the past history that it would never be possible to write a new history of opening up the prospect of the country and nation even though we may sit with those without trust and confidence and without manners,” it wrote.

Kim, what are you doing?

Kim Jong Un began and led his country toward peace and diplomacy with South Korea and the US beginning in his 2018 New Years’ address. Since then, he’s put on a spectacular diplomatic offensive and made history by leaving his country for the first time since taking power to meet at least twice with China’s President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

But since May 15, 2018, North Korea has begun a marked backslide towards the old rhetoric of hostilities, and it all kicked off with a meltdown over days-old military drills.

As for why North Korea may have went back to tough talking points, read here.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

NATO leaders discuss how to fight Russian hybrid warfare

Russia is disturbing the peace, and NATO countries must combat its hybrid strategy, the alliance’s supreme allied commander for Europe said on Sept. 29, 2018.

Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, who also commands U.S. European Command, spoke to reporters covering the NATO Military Committee meeting, alongside Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Scaparrotti said Russia already is a competitor that operates in domains “particularly below the level of war,” the general said, but in an aggressive way, noting that the Russians use cyber activity, social media, disinformation campaigns, and troop exercises to threaten and bully other countries. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its actions Eastern Ukraine show their determination to continue to intimidate neighboring countries.


Undermining Western values, governments

“[They are] operating in many countries of Europe in that way, with basically the common theme of undermining Western values and the credibility of Western governments, in my view,” Scaparrotti said.

Short of conflict, Russia sends money to organizations in Europe at both ends of the ideological spectrum, the general said. “Really, their view is — I call it a destabilization campaign. That’s their strategy,” he added. “If they can destabilize these governments, if they can create enough questions, then that is to their benefit.”

The Russians’ doctrine looks to achieve their ends without conflict, Scaparrotti said. “They have the idea that ‘I don’t have to put a soldier there or fire a shot, but if I can undermine the government, then I’ve achieved my ends,'” he explained. “That is particularly true of the countries that are in the Eastern part of the alliance that are on their border.”

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

U.S. Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti.

The Soviet Union subjugated those countries after World War II, and Russia sees those countries as areas where it should still have privileged influence, he said. “They want to keep those governments in the position that they could influence them, and this is a tactic for doing that.”

The environment surrounding it has changed, he noted. “They were ahead of us in terms of changing their posture with respect to NATO,” he said, and the Russians have maintained a purposeful military modernization program that they have maintained even as their economy strains.

“It took us some time in NATO to recognize that [Russia] is not our friend, not our partner right now, and we have to pay attention to what’s happening in our environment and how they are acting,” he said. “Of course 2014 was a real wake-up. Russia violated international law and norms, which I will tell you they continue to do in other ways.”

Scaparrotti said he has no doubt that Russia would repeat its actions in Crimea and Ukraine “if they saw the opportunity and they thought the benefits exceeded the costs.”

This strategy is called a hybrid war, he said, and NATO is coming to grips with the concept. “One of the things about hybrid war is defining it. What is it?” he added. “It’s a lot of things, and most of it is not in the military realm.”

Whole-of-government approach

Planners need to determine what the military can do as part of a counter-strategy and what other agencies, branches efforts can contribute, he said. “And then [you must decide] how should you work with them, because we can’t just work on this on our own,” he said. “This really does talk about the whole-of-government approach and bringing others into it and deciding what needs to be done.”

In each NATO nation that approach has got to be different, Scaparrotti said, because the nations themselves have different strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. They also must factor in what Russia’s interest or activity is.

“We are working in this realm with military capacity as well,” the general said. “We have special operations forces, and this is their business. They understand it. To the extent that they can identify hybrid activity, they can help our nations build their ability to identify and counter it.”

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

A Meeting of the NATO Foreign Minsiters in Brussels, Belgium, on April 27, 2018.

NATO can, for example, reinforce each nation’s capacity for understanding disinformation and how to counter it, he said, noting that these issues are among the Military Committee meeting’s topics..

The bottom line is that Russian leaders need to understand that a conflict with NATO is not what they want, Scaparrotti said. “We are 29 nations. We’re strong. I am confident of our ability to secure the sovereignty of our nations in NATO,” he said.

Readiness critical to deterrence

NATO readiness is crucial to the deterrent success of the alliance, and Scaparrotti now has the tools to work on this aspect. Readiness in NATO means the commander gets a specific capability, and that capability is available on a timeline that’s useful given the environment, he explained.

“Then, of course, [readiness] is a mindset, which is perhaps the most important thing that has changed,” he said. “It is changing now.”

The NATO summit held in Brussels in July 2018 gave Scaparrotti the authority and directive to deal with alliance readiness.

“We are back to establishing force where I, as the commander, now have the authority to require readiness of units on a specific timeline and the ability to check them to ensure they can actually do it,” he said. “This all comes together with our ability to move at speed to meet the environment to do what we need to do.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

Articles

Soldiers sue for benefits after non-honorable discharges related to PTSD

Hyper-vigilant during his military stint in Iraq, always on the alert that he was in danger of being killed, Steve Kennedy found he could not turn it off.


An Army soldier who had led several teams during his time in Iraq, and won numerous awards, Kennedy uncharacteristically started using alcohol and putting himself in dangerous situations, hoping to get hurt.

Diagnosed with major depression they could not treat, the military gave Kennedy a less than honorable discharge blamed on an absence without leave to attend his wedding. Once out of the service he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point
According to RAND, 20-30% of veterans are diagnosed with PTSD. (Courtesy photo illustration)

Alicia Carson took part in more than 100 missions in less than 300 days with an Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan, and served in combat on a regular basis. When she returned home, she was found to have PTSD and a traumatic brain injury.

After presenting a physician’s diagnosis, she asked to be excused from National Guard drills. The National Guard then discharged her with a less than honorable discharge because of her absenses.

The two Army veterans filed a federal class-action suit April 17 asking that the Army Discharge Review Board give “liberal consideration” to their PTSD diagnoses as former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hegel had instructed in 2014.

They are being represented by supervisors and student interns at the Jerone N. Frank Legal Services Organization at the Yale Law School.

Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, members of the Yale Law School team and others held a press conference on the suit at the law school after it was filed with U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton in Bridgeport’ federal court.

Kennedy and Carson are filing on behalf of themselves and more than 50,000 similarly situated former military personnel.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point
In 2014, only 42% of veterans were enrolled in the VA. (Veterans Affairs photo)

Blumenthal had worked with the former secretary of defense to put in place the Hegel memo to correct discharges that were based on actions tied to brain trauma and PTSD.

“This cause is a matter or justice, plain and simple. …Steve Kennedy has been through hell. The special hell of a bad paper discharge resulting from post-traumatic stress, one of the invisible wounds of war,” the senator said.

He introduced Conley Monk, a Vietnam veteran, who was part of a different war but experienced the same bad papers due to actions committed while suffering from PTSD, something that was not even recognized medically in that era.

Monk, however, benefitted from the review board following Hegel’s memo after a lawsuit filed against the Department of Defense.

Also read: 5 things military spouses need to know about PTSD

Blumenthal said the discharges resulted in a stigma for both of them and Carson, as well as a loss of benefits.

Kennedy has since put himself through school and is expected to get his doctorate this year in biophysical chemistry at New York University. With an honorable discharge, he would have been eligible for $75,000 in benefits he never received.

The senator said a lawsuit should not have been necessary to move the review board to do the right thing and follow the law.

“The Department of Defense has failed to provide the relief the law requires,” Blumenthal said.

The Army does not comment on pending lawsuits.

Blumenthal said he has spoken to Secretary of Defense James Mattis about this issue.

“He has been sympathetic, but these men and women are not seeking sympathy. They want real results. …They deserve consistent standards and fair treatment,” he said. Blumethal said they are not seeking any financial renumeration.

Kennedy lives in Fairfield, while Carson lives in Southington. She was not at the press conference.

Related: Not all PTSD diagnoses are created equal

Carson suffered from severe PTSD-related symptoms, such as nightmares, loss of consciousness, loss of memory, trouble sleeping, irritability, feelings of being dazed and confused, and photosensitivity, a vision problem recognized as a symptom of traumatic brain injury.

Jonathan Petkun, who is among the law students representing Kennedy and Carson, is also a former Marine and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With this lawsuit, we are asking the Army to live up to its obligations and to fairly adjudicate the discharge upgrade applications of individuals with PTSD,” he said.

Petkun said since 2001, more than 2.5 million military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than half deployed more than once. At the same time, some 20 percent are estimated to be suffering from PTSD or PTSD-related conditions.

“Instead of giving these wounded warriors the treatment they deserve, too often the military kicks them out with less than honorable discharges based on minor infractions, many of which are attributable to their untreated PTSD,” Petkun said.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 of the deadliest mercenary armies throughout history

Mercenaries are warriors who are paid for their martial services by a nation’s leader or other “employer,” and who get a little extra coin from the spoils of war.


Most mercenaries once fought in professional armies before joining the motley ranks of private forces. They have no allegiance to a nation unless that nation pays well, and even that is transient.

But throughout history they’ve been seen as skilled warriors — albeit dubious about ethical conduct — and have proven effective for leaders who need an extra punch in an all out fight.

Here is a list of some of the most notable mercenaries in history:

5. The Apiru/Habiru

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When the Amarna Letters were discovered, the world was introduced to a group of people the Egyptians called Apiru or, in Akkadian, “Habiru.”

The Habiru were described as a group of Asiatics wandering about the Levant, much like the Hebrews. The Sumerians were the first to mention this group as the SA.GAZ as far back as 2500 BCE. Hittite texts also refer to them as SA.GAZ. Texts found at Boghazkoi in Anatolia use both names, Habiru and SA.GAZ, interchangeably. The term also is associated with the Akkadian habbatu (“plunderer” or “robber”) or saggasu (“murderer”).

Instead, SA.GAZ means “one who smashes sinews;” this is typically in reference to a small band of soldiers who are employed as local mercenaries. This wandering body lived on the social fringes of civilization.

Also read: This is what you need to know about Hawaii’s ancient special forces

The Habiru were indeed an enemy to many, but a useful and complex one.

The philosopher Martin Buber described them as, “…people without a country, who have dissociated themselves from their national connections and unite in common journeys for pasture and plunder; semi-nomadic herdsmen they are, or freebooters if opportunity offers.”

While it’s well documented that the Habiru were viewed as landless undesirables who at times served as mercenaries in military ranks throughout the Near East and Egypt, it was their civil skills that were often overlooked and most desired. While it is tempting to correlate the Habiru with the Bedouin, that’s not always accurate.

The Habiru traveled in much larger groups and their social structure was complex. They were highly skilled pastoral people who were tenders of cattle, vintners, stonecutters, stockbreeders, agriculturalists, merchants, construction workers, skilled government employees, and fishermen.

4. The Ten Thousand

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Heroic march of the Ten Thousand Greek mercenaries. (Painting by Bernard Granville Baker (1870-1957)

The “Mighty” Ten Thousand were mentioned in Xenophon’s Anabasis. The Ten Thousand, according to Xenophon, were a mixed bag of motley Greek warriors hired by Cyrus the Younger to help oust his brother King Artaxerxes II from the Persian throne.

In 401 B.C., the hardened Greek veterans of the Peloponnesian War fought alongside Cyrus near Baghdad against the Persian forces led by Artaxerxes. While the Ten Thousand fought bravely, it was not enough; Cyrus was killed in the battle. Afterwards, Tissaphernes, a local satrap (governor), met with the Greek commanders to negotiate new terms, but Tissaphernes refused their services and they were murdered.

Once word of the event got out, the Greeks elected new leaders and fled.

As the forces of Artaxerxes were pursuing them, the Ten Thousand banded together and fought their way out of enemy territory. Once Xenophon had been elected as one of their new leaders, the mercenary army embarked on a grueling nine-month journey that took them from the province of Babylonia all the way to the Greek Black Sea port at Trapezus.

During their journey, they fought off bad weather, famine, ambushes, and hallucinogenic honey. Once back on friendly soil, only three-fourths of their numbers remained.

3. The Varangian Guard

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Varangian Guardsmen, an elite unit that served as bodyguards for Byzantine Emperors. (Image: an illumination from the Skylitzis Chronicle)

The Varangians were an elite guard that one served as the personal bodyguards of Byzantine rulers from the 10th to the 14th centuries. When not protecting the ruler, they were sent to the front in times of war to protect and expand the borders of the Byzantine Empire.

The Varangians were Swedish merchants who penetrated eastern Russia. Their story begins in 874 when the Kievan Rus and Constantinople established a peace treaty in which the Kievan Rus was obliged to send the Byzantines military assistance, but it would not be for some time. The first appearance of Varangians acting in the interest of the Byzantine state was during the reign of Emperor Michael III (842–867), in which they served as his personal security entourage. This peace opened the door for the Kievan Rus not only economically but also militarily. The establishment of the Varangian guard as permanent security organization started in 911.

What made the guard so exceptional was their loyalty to the emperor. Of course, if one is being paid a substantial wage while allowing the best pickings of loot from pillage cities, ones loyalty is hard to sway. They were instrumental in keeping the empire together and requiring lost territory, but also in protecting the Byzantine throne. However, the Varangians’ time would soon end after the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by Western Europeans during the Fourth Crusade; the Varangians never fully regained their once regal position and eventually faded away.

2. The White Company

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John Hawkwood lead The White Company, a fighting unit shrouded in both myth and reality. (Image: Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello, 1436)

The famed mercenary leader John Hawkwood was in charge of the infamous White Company. The White Company was one of the most notorious mercenary groups of the so-called “free companies” to conduct warfare in 14th century Italy. The unit first rose to prominence in the 1360s under the leadership of Albert Sterz before falling under the command of Sir John Hawkwood. John Hawkwood was an Englishman who served in the English army during the Hundred Years’ War, and he was knighted for his service.

Once Hawkwood took command of the White Company, they soon became known as an elite (if not the elite) mercenary army in Italy. The cultural makeup of the White Company was an amalgamation of English, German, Breton, and Hungarian adventurers. These well-trained mercenaries provided a combined arms approach to warfare. Their swift tactics and willingness to fight in harsh conditions terrified opponents.

More Elite Forces: This is why there are four musketeers in every ‘Three Musketeers’ movie

What made the White Company so effective in 14th Century Italy is because Italia was fractured into many small provinces and city-states. Loyalties swayed as quick as the wind and because of this, Hawkwood saw the lucrative benefits awaiting him. From 1363 and 1388, Hawkwood’s While Company fought nearly nonstop, for and/or against the Papal States, the city of Milan, and the city of Florence.

1. Henry MacIver

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Henry Ronald Douglas McIver (1841–1907) was a soldier of fortune who fought for 18 countries. (Image courtesy of Richard Harding Davis’ “Real Soldiers of Fortune”)

Most people have never heard of Henry MacIver had it not been for author Richard Davis and his book Real Soldiers Of Fortune published in 1906.

MacIver was born in Virginia in 1841. Much later in his life, his family sent him to finish his education with his uncle General Donald Graham. The reason for this is once MacIver had finished with school he would be sent to West Point. However, MacIver ditched West Point and joined the army of the East India Company. He was only 16 years old.

While with the East India Company, he would see his first action at age 17 during the Sepoy Mutiny. MacIver nearly died after being seriously wounded in the arm and head. Not long after, he made his way to Italy, where he fought alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi.

After mixed success, he found his way under the command of the Don Carlos, who was the pretender for the Spanish crown. In 1861, Civil War broke out in the United States and MacIver made his way to join the Confederacy, in which he served with distinction.

After the war was over, MacIver fled to Mexico and joined Emperor Maximilian and his war against the Juarez rebels. However, his fighting was short-lived. He was captured by Indians, but he would escape three months later and rejoin Maximilian’s forces. He would be given the title of Count for his valiant efforts on the field of battle at Monterrey.

Related: Shaolin monks have a colorful history as elite martial artists

Soon after, the Juarez rebels won the war and executed Emperor Maximilian. MacIver fled for South America and laid low for a time.

When the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) broke out, MacIver made his way to the Balkans and offered his services to the Serbians. He was given the rank of colonel and led a company of volunteers but would soon rise to the rank of general and cavalry commander of the Serbian contingents. MacIver considered this the highest point of his career and was his happiest.

After Serbia, MacIver raised more volunteers and planned further expeditions in Central America. Before that could happen, however, he found himself serving as the United States Consul. He would offer his services once again to President McKinley during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

By this time, he had grown older and his services on the field of battle were not needed. MacIver would go on to find more lucrative enterprises elsewhere in the America’s but as Davis says, MacIver’s “…life is, and, from the nature of his profession, must always be, a lonely one. Still he has his sword, his blanket, and in the event of war, to obtain a commission he has only to open his tin boxes and show the commissions already won. Indeed, any day, in a new uniform, and under the Nineteenth Flag, the general may again be winning fresh victories and honors.”

MacIver would die the following year in 1907, but is remembered as a true soldier of fortune.

MIGHTY CULTURE

DOD survey finds that most spouses are satisfied with military life

The latest survey of active-duty and reserve-component service members’ spouses shows the spouses are, by and large, happy with the military lifestyles they lead.

Defense Department officials briefed reporters at the Pentagon Feb. 21, 2019, on the results of the surveys, which were conducted in 2017.

The survey of active-duty spouses and a similar survey of National Guard and Reserve spouses showed similar results, they said. Among active-duty spouses, 60 percent claimed they are “satisfied” with their military way of life. Among the reserve components, 61 percent were satisfied.


While both surveys showed a slight decrease from the last previous survey, conducted in 2015, the 2015 and 2017 results both were higher than results from the same question on the 2008 survey, officials noted.

James N. Stewart, performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told reporters the surveys cover areas including satisfaction with military life, spouse employment, deployment and reintegration. Questions also touch on issues such as finances and the impact of deployments on families and military children.

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A soldier from the Florida Army National Guard’s 806th Military Police Company greets his family.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa)

Survey results inform decisions

Results are used to inform decisions about how the U.S. military provides services to families, he said.

“These surveys allow us to identify areas of concern and understand what’s working, and more importantly, what’s not,” Stewart said. “This information also helps our internal leaders evaluate programs, address issues and gaps, and determine the need for new services.”

Paul Rosenfeld, the director for DOD’s Center for Retention and Readiness, said positive results of the surveys included general spouse support for military members continuing to serve. Among reserve component spouses, for instance, 81 percent support continued service for their spouse.

Regarding financial matters, 71 percent of active-duty spouses report being comfortable with their financial situation, while 68 percent of reserve-component spouses say the same thing.

Of concern, Rosenfeld said, is that among active-duty spouses, 61 percent support continued military service for their spouse — that’s a drop from 68 percent in 2012. “Spouse support for service members staying on duty predicts actual member retention,” Rosenfeld said.

Other points of concern revealed by the surveys are high levels of “loneliness” reported by spouses when military members are deployed and unemployment rates for active-duty military spouses. Among active-duty spouses, Rosenfeld said, unemployment sits at 24 percent. Among the spouses of junior enlisted members in the E-1 through E-4 pay grades, he said, that number sits at 29 percent.

It’s all about the kids

When it comes to military spouses, Rosenfeld said, family is most important, and children top the list.

“Child care continues to be a key need for active-duty families,” he said, adding that 42 percent of active-duty spouses with children under age 6 report regularly using child care. It’s 63 percent for spouses who are employed.

Carolyn S. Stevens, director of DOD’s Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, said some 40 percent of military members have children. Of those children, she said, about 38 percent are under the age of 6.

Past survey results showed that availability of child care — in particular, hours of operation — had been an issue for military families, Stevens said. Where hours of operation for child care may have affected service members’ ability to do their mission, hours were expanded, she added.

Subsequent survey results show that now, among those who don’t make use of child care on installations, only 2 percent say it’s due to hours of operation, she said.

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Sinead Politz kisses her daughter, Lorelai, at the return of Lance Cpl. Ryan L. Politz.

“We believe, then, that those responses are a confirmation that we’ve listened to a concern, that we’ve responded to that concern, and that in fact we’ve hit the mark,” she said.

Also of concern when it comes to child care is cost and availability. About 45 percent of respondents on the survey say cost of child care is a problem for military families, Stevens said. She noted that in some situations, appropriated funds can be used to lower the cost of child care for families who use installation child care. And for some families, she said, fee assistance programs can be used to lower costs for those who use community-based child care.

Still, Stevens acknowledged, that’s not possible for every family who needs it, and more work needs to be done. “We are unable to provide fee assistance to all of our families, and we continue to see this as an issue that requires more attention and focus as we try to find solutions for families,” she said.

Next survey: 2019

For the 2017 survey, about 45,000 active-duty spouses were asked to participate, and about 17 percent of those responded. Among reserve-component spouses, 55,000 were invited to participate, with a response rate of 18 percent.

Invitations to participate in the 2019 survey went out to reserve component spouses in January 2019. An invitation will be sent to active-duty spouses in May 2019.

A.T. Johnston, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, said the results from the 2017 survey, and the now ongoing 2019 survey, will continue to be used to improve quality of life for military families.

“The research information we receive guides me and my team to ensure we provide the tools, information and services that military families need to be successful, fulfilled, and able to manage the challenges they may encounter during military service,” Johnston said.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is Hollywood’s deadliest action star

Hollywood is really, really good at killing the bad guys. And even though they haven’t quite gotten to ISIS just yet, there is a trail of bloody, dismembered evil in the wake of action stars like Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, and everyone else who may have been considered for a part in The Expendables.

Despite Hot Shots! Part Deux and Charlie Sheen’s claim to the contrary, there is an undisputed number one deadliest action star in the annals of Hollywood military history. That title goes to the Terminator: Arnold Schwarzenegger.


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Who was also in the Expendables. Three times.

(Lionsgate)

Big Data is back to settle the debates about everything we love. Just like the time a statistical analysis settled who was the best general in history, another data enthusiast set out to determine who was the deadliest onscreen action star in cinema history.

Granted, this is before the Expendables 3 and the newest Rambo movie, but unless Rambo kills an entire Colombian drug cartel (which I admit, he might), the winner should still be pretty clear.

Randal Olson, a data scientist at Life Epigenetics, merges cutting edge epigenetics research with advanced machine learning methods to improve life expectancy predictions. He put data collected from MovieBodyCounts.com to put together data visualizations for the deadliest action heroes. At the top, was the star of Predator, Total Recall, and my personal favorite, True Lies.

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Thank you, sir.

As of Olson’s 2013 writing, Arnold was at the top of the list with 369 kills. His highest single movie record came in Commando where in the final island scene alone, he managed to off 74 guys, mostly using firearms but featuring the best use of a toolshed. Hey, Alyssa Milano ain’t gonna rescue herself.

Of the 200 actors listed in the data, the top ten include Chow Yun-Fat in second, Sylvester Stallone in third, and then Dolph Lundgren (thanks, Punisher!), Clint Eastwood, Nic Cage, Jet Li, Clive Owen, and Wesley Snipes. In fourth place comes Tomisaburo Wakayama, who got 150 of his 266 onscreen kills in a single movie, 1974’s Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell.

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

The top 25 deadliest actors, visualized.

(Randal Olson)

Olson notes that the deadliest woman onscreen is Uma Thurman, who has 77 kills because remember: the Crazy 88s only had 40 members.

MIGHTY GAMING

Army turns to virtual battlefield to train squads

A four-man team of soldiers sits in a nondescript building on Fort Belvoir, Va., each at his own desk, surrounded by three monitors that provide them individual, 3D views of an abandoned city.

On screen, they gather at the corner of a crumbling building to meet another team — represented by avatars — who are actually on the ground in a live-training area, a mock-up of the abandoned city. They’re all training together, in real time, to prepare for battles in dense urban terrain.


That’s the central goal of the Synthetic Training Environment (STE) — immersive, integrated virtual training — presented during a Warriors Corner session at the 2018 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington. The Army has been working toward this kind of fully immersive training experience for decades, and leadership hopes to have it operational as early as 2025.

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In May 1993, Army RDA Bulletin dedicated several articles to the concept and execution of distributed interactive simulation (DIS), “a time and space coherent representation of a virtual battlefield environment” that allowed warfighters across the globe to interact with one other as well as computer-generated forces, according to John S. Yuhas, author of the article “Distributed Interactive Simulation.”

Better, faster, stronger

While the name of the program seems to emphasize individual simulation units, its overarching purpose was to bring together thousands of individuals and teams virtually in real time. Central to DIS was the idea of interoperable standards and protocol, allowing each community — “trainer, tester, developer, and acquisitioner” — to use the others’ concepts and products, Maj. David W. Vaden wrote in “Vision for the Next Decade.”

The article explained that “distributed” referred to geographically separated simulations networked together to create a synthetic environment; “interactive” to different simulations linked electronically to act together and upon each other; and “simulation” to three categories — live, virtual and constructive. Live simulations involved real people and equipment; virtual referred to manned simulators; and constructive referred to war games and models, with or without human interaction.

Sound familiar?

DIS has much in common with STE. Both provide training and mission rehearsal capability to the operational and institutional sides of the Army (i.e., soldiers and civilians). They even share the same training philosophy: to reduce support requirements, increase realism and help deliver capabilities to the warfighter faster.

Users of STE will train with live participants and computer simulations, with some units training remotely. However, STE takes virtual reality training to a new level altogether by incorporating advances in artificial intelligence, big data analysis and three-dimensional terrain representation.

Current training simulations are based on technologies from the 1980s and ’90s that can’t replicate the complex operational environment soldiers will fight in. They operate on closed, restrictive networks, are facilities-based and have high overhead costs for personnel, Maj. Gen.

Maria R. Gervais, commanding general for the U.S. Army Combined Arms Training Center and director of the STE Cross-Functional Team, said in an August 2018 article, “The Synthetic Training Environment Revolutionizes Sustainment Training.”

The Synthetic Training Environment

www.youtube.com

Those older technologies also can’t support electronic warfare, cyberspace, and megacities, the article explained. For example, soldiers in the 1990s could conduct training using computers and physical simulators — like the ones showcased in Charles Burdick, Jorge Cadiz and Gordon Sayre’s 1993 “Industry Applications of Distributed Interactive Simulation” article in the Army RDA Bulletin-but the training was limited to a single facility and only a few networked groups; the technology wasn’t yet able to support worldwide training with multiple groups of users in real time, like the Army proposes to do with the STE.

Gervais presented a promotional video during “Warriors Corner #13: Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team Update,” which said the STE will provide intuitive and immersive capabilities to keep pace with the changing operational environment. The STE is a soldier lethality modernization priority of the U.S. Army Futures Command.

“With the STE, commanders will conduct tough, realistic training at home stations, the combat training centers and at deployed locations. The STE will increase readiness through repetition, multi-echelon, multidomain, combined arms maneuver and mission command training. And most importantly, the STE will train soldiers for where they will fight,” said Gen. Robert B. Abrams, then-commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, in the same video. Abrams is now commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, U.S. Forces Korea.

Today, simulations in the integrated training environment do not provide the realism, interoperability, affordability and availability necessary for the breadth of training that the Army envisions for the future. The STE will be able to do all that — it will be flexible, affordable and available at the point of need.

“This video helps us get to shared understanding, and also awareness of what we’re trying to achieve with the synthetic training environment,” Gervais said during the AUSA presentation. “But it also allows us to understand the challenges that we’re going to face as we try to deliver this.”

Challenges ahead

“We don’t have the right training capability to set the exercises up,” said Mike Enloe, chief engineer for the STE Cross-Functional Team, during the presentation. “What I mean by that is that it takes more time to set up the systems that are disparate to talk to each other, to get the terrains together, than it does to actually have the exercise go.”

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The Synthetic Training Environment will assess Soldiers in enhancing decision-making skills through an immersive environment.

(US Army photo)

The Army’s One World Terrain, a 3D database launched in 2013 that collects, processes, stores and executes global terrain simulations, has been the “Achilles’ heel” of STE from the start, Enloe said. The Army lacks well-formed 3D terrain data and therefore the ability to run different echelons of training to respond to the threat. The database is still being developed as part of the STE, and what the Army needs most “right now from industry is content … we need a lot of 3D content and rapid ways to get them built,” Enloe said. That means the capability to process terrain on 3D engines so that it can move across platforms, he said, and steering clear of proprietary technologies. The STE is based on modules that can be changed to keep up with emerging technologies.

The Army also needs the ability to write the code to develop the artificial intelligence that will meet STE’s needs — that can, to some extent, learn and challenge the weaknesses of participants, he said.

Retired Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, 32nd vice chief of staff of the Army, emphasized during the presentation that the Army needs to move away from the materiel development of the STE and focus on training as a service. “I believe that a training environment should have two critical aspects to it,” he said: It should be a maneuver trainer, and it should be a gunnery trainer.

Changing the culture

Brig. Gen. Michael E. Sloane, program executive officer for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), said the leadership philosophy of STE’s development is about fostering culture change and getting soldiers capabilities faster. “We have to be proactive; the [cross-functional teams] have to work together with the PEOs, and we’re doing that,” he said. “Collectively, we’re going to deliver real value to the soldier, I think, in doing this under the cross-functional teams and the leadership of the Army Futures Command.”

Many organizations are involved with STE’s development. The U.S. Army Combined Arms Center-Training and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capability managers are working requirements and represent users. PEO STRI is the materiel developer. The U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence is responsible for the infantry, armor and combined arms requirement. And finally, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)) serves as the approval authority for long-range investing and requirements.

With the Futures Command and ASA(ALT) collaborating throughout the development of STE, Sloane believes the Army will be able to reduce and streamline acquisition documentation, leverage rapid prototyping, deliver capabilities and get it all right the first time.

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Soldiers prepare to operate training technologies during the STE User Assessment in Orlando, Fla., in March 2018.

(Photo by Bob Potter)

Gervais reminded the AUSA audience in October that she had spoken about STE at the annual meeting two years ago, explaining that the Army intends to use the commercial gaming industry to accelerate the development of STE. “I did not believe that it couldn’t be delivered until 2030. I absolutely refused to believe that,” she said. In 2017, the chief of staff designated STE as one of the eight cross-functional teams for Army modernization, aligning it with soldier lethality.

Since then, STE has made quite a bit of progress, Gervais said. The initial capability document for the Army collective training environment, which lays the foundation for STE, was approved in 2018. The Army increased its industry engagement to accelerate the development of STE, according to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley’s direction, which led to the awarding of seven other transaction authority agreements for One World Terrain, followed by a user assessment in March 2018. In June, Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper and Milley codified STE in their vision statement. “We’re postured to execute quickly,” Gervais said.

In the meantime, she said, there has been a focused effort to increase lethality with a squad marksmanship trainer in the field to allow close combat soldiers to train immediately. The Army also developed a squad immersive virtual trainer. “We believe we can deliver that [squad immersive trainer] much quicker than the 2025 timeframe,” she said.

Conclusion

STE is focused on establishing common data, standards and terrain to maximize interoperability, ease of integration and cost savings, Gervais said. With the right team effort and coordination, she believes STE can be delivered quickly. Perhaps in a few short years, STE can achieve the lofty goal that DIS had for itself, according to Yuhas: Revolutionize the training and acquisition process for new weapon systems.

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

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