Today there are over 40,000 nonprofits that focus on military and veteran issues, according to Charity Watch.
Most of those registered as nonprofits are chapters of larger organizations, but some of them are single chapter projects that focus on specific needs within the veteran community.
Here at We Are the Mighty, we wanted to explore some of those advocacy groups you might not have heard of in a bit more depth.
The Military Health Project & Foundation is based in San Francisco and is run by Jacob Angel. Founded in April 2013, the nonprofit was originally designed to address mental health issues through pushing national legislation.
Angel tells us it took the nonprofit eight months to realize where it was failing.
“We were making the same mistake that the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense were making,” he says. “We were treating mental and physical health care as two separate areas of care.”
The nonprofit re-aligned itself to better connect mental health and physical health, and in March 2014 it went to work garnering support for the Excellence in Mental Health Act, a bill that Angel says eventually became law after a long battle.
“Thus far, the program is going very well,” Angel says. The law, according to Angel, makes counseling and other mental health service available to everyone “regardless of socioeconomic status or insurance coverage.”
In March 2015, The Military Health Project & Foundation announced the creation of the Military Support Fund, a dedicated financial resource to address coverage gaps for military and veteran families.
Angel tells that since its creation, the Military Support Fund has assisted 40 families in securing funding for specialized medical services and equipment.
Chief Petty Officer Carla Burkholder’s son was the recipient of a $2,500 grant for specialized medical equipment from The Military Health Project & Foundation.
“It feels like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she wrote.
The organization is focused on addressing both physical and mental health needs through direct assistance and legislation.
“We are now a hybrid organization,” Angel says.
The Military Health Project is the advocacy wing where the nonprofit helps to create policy that addresses the ever-changing needs of the military and veteran community through legislation.
The Military Health Foundation works to provide for military and veteran families in the interim.
“They should not have to wait for treatments that they require and frankly deserve.”
The US and Russia have become engaged in an increasingly hot war of words over the warfare and suffering in Syria, and Russia was seen sending heavy naval firepower to the region around the same time it threatened to retaliate to any US strikes.
Russia has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad for years during his country’s seven-year-long civil war. Russia provides military support and airpower to help Assad cling to power as he fights off Islamist insurgents and a popular uprising in a war where his forces have reportedly killed the wide majority of the half-million now dead.
Russia agreed to remove Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons in 2013, but international inspectors concluded in 2017 that Syria had used sophisticated chemical weapons in a massive attack on civilians.
The US responded with a naval strike that destroyed much of the airbase the Pentagon alleges carried out the attack. The next day, Russia vowed to retaliate if the US struck Syria, by destroying any missiles or launchers used.
After verbally sparring with Russia at the UN, the US, on March 12, 2018, said in no uncertain terms that if Russia could not hold to the UN-backed ceasefire, as multiple reports indicate it had not, the US would strike Syria again.
On both March 13 and 14, 2018, Devrim Yaylali, the man behind TurkishNavy.net and the popular Bosphorus Naval News, spotted Russian Navy frigates transiting the Bosphorus Strait into the Mediterranean.
The frigates specialize in anti-submarine warfare, according to Yaylali, who told Business Insider that the deployments may or may not be routine, as sometimes Russian ships continue on past the Suez Canal.
But tensions between Russia and the West are peaking after Russia’s threats to fight back against the US in Syria and the UK accused the Russian state of carrying out a nerve agent attack on a former spy in the British countryside.
Sub hunting in the Mediterranean or routine deployment?
When the US attacked Syria as punishment for the chemical weapons attack in April 2017, it did so with Navy destroyers firing 59 cruise missiles.
The US also has submarines that can mount a similar attack, and if the US wanted to repeat the assault, it may be wiser to send a submerged vessel. A submarine would likely not create the obvious red flag of US destroyers returning to the shores where they once laid waste to a significant portion of Assad’s air force.
But the US has plenty of options to strike Russia in Syria if they chose, including air power and ground systems.
Additionally, it’s standard practice for any military to move supporting platforms into an area where it bases troops, so Russia’s introduction of naval power into the Mediterranean may be simple protocol for protecting Russian servicemen in Syria.
China’s commander-in-chief has ordered the military command overseeing the contested South China Sea to “concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” according to the South China Morning Post.
Chinese President Xi Jinping inspected the Southern Theater Command Oct. 25, 2018, again stressing the need build a force that can “fight and win wars” in the modern age. “We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war,” he explained, adding that the command has a “heavy military responsibility” to “take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly.”
“You’re constantly working at the front line, and playing key roles in protecting national territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” Xi said, according to the China Daily, “I hope you can fulfill such sacred and solemn missions.”
The powerful Chinese leader has made strengthening and modernizing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a top priority.
As Xi delivered his speech in Guangdong province, Chinese Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe warned that China will not give up “one single piece” of its territorial holdings, adding that “challenges” to its sovereignty over Taiwan could lead China to use military force.
Chinese President Xi Jinping.
(DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
Tensions have been running particularly high in the South China Sea in recent months, with regular US B-52 bomber flights through the region and Chinese PLA Navy warships challenging American military ships and aircraft that venture too close to Chinese-occupied territories in the disputed waterway.
So many North Koreans have disappeared from fishing villages along the Hermit Kingdom’s east coast that the villages dotting the coastline are becoming known as “widow’s villages.”
Where do their husbands go?
They end up dead on boats adrift in the Sea of Japan. Their ships and bodies wash ashore on Japan or are picked up by the Japanese Coast Guard. Last year alone, 50 or more North Koreans were found on Japanese beaches.
For years, the phenomenon of these fishing boats full of dead men was a mystery. But now a few anonymous complaints to the United Nations may explain the “Ghost Boats” phenomenon. China has been poaching fish in North Korean waters, according to an investigation by the Irish Times.
In March 2020, two countries reported that 800 Chinese fishing vessels violated the sanctions placed on North Korean fishing waters. The sanctions were intended to prevent the North from selling the rights to fish in those waters. The area is a heavily-contested and poorly watched region of the ocean as it is but Chinese fleets compound the issue by switching off their location transponders.
Two countries provided the UN with satellite imagery that prove China is operating fishing fleets in the areas. External watchdogs estimate the Chinese have depleted the waters of stocks by up to 70 percent for some species.
The flotilla of Chinese fishing boats has also allegedly forced smaller, less well-equipped North Korean fishermen to pursue waters further from their villages, further from shore and further than their victualing can reasonably accommodate the crews of those ships. Once too far from shore, the North Korean peasants’ boats are susceptible to engine failures and storms – but don’t have the supplies to survive being adrift for very long periods.
Once the engines fail, the boats are likely caught up in the Tsushima current that runs up the west coast of the Japanese home islands. These flat-bottomed boats, filled only with fishing supplies and a few jugs of water, are usually found with tattered North Korean flags, and heavily decomposed bodies, if any remains are found at all.
The fishermen chase squid populations and end up with dead engines in the middle of the ocean, where they will probably spend the rest of their days, dying of thirst or exposure.
With the decommissioning of the interim afloat staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15, ex-LPD 15), the Navy removed the prototype Laser Weapon System that had been on the ship which was built as an Austin-class amphibious transport. The Ponce’s replacement, USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), did not get the laser.
Now, according to a report by the Daily Star, we have found out the lucky vessel that did get the laser. That ship is the San Antonio-class amphibious transport USS Portland (LPD 27).
The Portland was commissioned in the middle of December, and is slated to be home-ported in San Diego. The vessel will not only test the Laser Weapon System, it will also serve as flagship for the upcoming RIMPAC exercise.
The Portland displaces 25,000 tons, and has a top speed of 22 knots. According to the Sixteenth Edition of The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, it can carry two LCAC (Landing Craft, Air Cushion), roughly 700 Marines, and up to four helicopters. It is armed with the Mk 31 launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile and two 30mm Bushmaster II chain guns.
General Dynamics Land Systems has unveiled a new heavily armed, yet lighter-weight expeditionary armored vehicle as part of an effort to build a future Army war platform, a new combat vehicle being engineered to support maneuvering infantry — and ultimately change land war.
Called the Griffin III, the General Dynamics Land Systems offering is a 40-ton armored vehicle with both deep-strike technology and counter-drone sensors, Michael Peck, GDLS Director of Enterprise Business Development, told Warrior.
“This is a deployable tracked vehicle with the armor protection required by the Army,” Peck said in an interview.
While referred to by some as a “light tank,” Army officials specify that plans for the new platform seek to engineer a mobile combat platform able to deploy quickly.
The new vehicle represents an Army push toward more expeditionary warfare and rapid deployability; it is no surprise that two Griffin IIIs are being built to fit on an Air Force C-17 aircraft.
“In the future it will be important to get off-road. Mobility can help with lethality and protection because you can hit the adversary before they can disrupt your ability to move,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9, TRADOC, told Warrior Maven in an interview in early 2018.
Smith’s emphasis upon how lighter-weight armored vehicles can address terrain challenges, and off-road mobility aligns with findings from analytical historical research performed years ago by the Dupuy Institute.
U.S. Soldiers load the .50-caliber machine gun of an M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams main battle tank during a combined arms live-fire exercise in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Nov. 19, 2015.
(U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)
Commissioned by the US Army Center for Army Analysis, the study concluded that heavily armed, yet lighter-weight, more maneuverable armored combat platforms could provide a substantial advantage to combat infantry in many scenarios.
“Vehicle weight is sometimes a limiting factor in less developed areas. In all cases where this was a problem, there was not a corresponding armor threat. As such, in almost all cases, the missions and tasks of a tank can be fulfilled with other light armor,” the study writes.
Drawing upon this conceptual premise, it also stands to reason that a medium-armored vehicle, with heavy firepower, might be able to support greater mobility for advancing infantry while simultaneously engaging in major combat, mechanized force-on-force kinds of engagements where there is armored resistance.
Current Abrams tanks, while armed with 120mm cannons and fortified by heavy armor, are challenged to support infantry in some scenarios due to weight and mobility constraints.
As Smith explained, bridges, or other terrain-oriented impediments preclude the ability of heavy tanks to support maneuvering IBCTs.
Smith also explained that Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), expected to operate in a more expansive battlespace, will require deployable, fast-moving close-to-contact direct fire support.
Also, while likely not able to match the speed of a wheeled Stryker vehicle, a “tracked” vehicle can better enable “off-road” combat, as Smith explained.
Also, rapid deployability is of particular significance in areas such as Europe, where Russian forces, for instance, might be in closer proximity to US or NATO forces.
Tactically speaking, given that IBCTs are likely to face drones armed with precision weapons, armored vehicle columns advancing with long-range targeting technology and artillery, infantry on-the-move needs to have firepower and sensors sufficient to outmatch an advanced enemy. General Dynamics plans to model construction of eight new prototypes, is one of several industry offerings for the Army to consider.
Soldiers inspect an M1A2 Abrams tank.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Battles)
While many details of the GDLS Griffin III have yet to be revealed, Peck did say the vehicle is engineered to accommodate built-in Active Protection Systems — sensors, fire control radar and interceptors used to detect, track and destroy incoming enemy fire, Peck said.
GDLS is pursuing a two-fold strategy with its Griffin III; the firm plans to work with the Army to adjust as needed and refine aspects of the platform, while also jumping in front of the Army’s current plan to build prototypes in the next few years.
The Army’s new lightweight armored vehicles are expected to change land war by outmatching Russian equivalents and bringing a new dimension to advancing infantry as it maneuvers toward enemy attack.
Long-range precision fire, coordinated air-ground assault, mechanized force-on-force armored vehicle attacks, and drone threats are all changing so quickly that maneuvering US Army infantry now needs improved firepower to advance on major adversaries in war, Army leaders explain.
All of these factors are indicative of how concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver are evolving to account for how different land war is expected to be moving forward. This reality underscores the reason infantry needs tank-like firepower to cross bridges, travel off-road and keep pace with advancing forces.
For the Army, the effort involves what could be described as a dual-pronged acquisition strategy in that it seeks to leverage currently-available or fast-emerging technology while engineering the vehicle with an architecture such that it can integrate new weapons and systems as they emerge over time.
An estimation of technologies likely to figure prominently in the Army’s future vehicle developmental process leads towards the use of lightweight armor composites, Active Protection Systems and a new generation of higher-resolution targeting sensors. Smith explained how this initiative is already gaining considerable traction.
This includes the rapid incorporation of greater computer automation and AI, designed to enable one sensor to perform the functions of many sensors in real-time. For instance, it’s by no means beyond the imagination to envision high-resolution forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors, electromagnetic weapons, and EO-IR cameras operating through a single sensor.
“The science is how do I fuse them together? How do I take multiple optical, infrared, and electromagnetic sensors and use them all at once in real-time ” Smith said. “If you are out in the desert in an operational setting, infrared alone may be constrained by heat, so you need all types of sensors together, and machines can help us sift through information.”
In fact, the Army’s Communications Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) is already building prototype sensors with this in mind. In particular, this early work is part of a longer-range effort to inform the Army’s emerging Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV). The NGCV, expected to become an entire fleet of armored vehicles, is now being explored as something to emerge in the late 2020s or early 2030s.
One of the key technical challenges when it comes to engineering a mobile, yet lethal, weapon is to build a cannon both powerful and lightweight enough to meet speed, lethality and deployability requirements.
U.S. Army’s Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy specifically cites the need to bring large-caliber cannon technology to lightweight vehicles. Among other things, the strategy cites a lightweight 120mm gun called the XM360 — built for the now-cancelled Future Combat Systems Mounted Combat System. While the weapon is now being thought of as something for NGCV or a future tank variant — which seeks to maximize lightweight, mobile firepower.
Special new technology was needed for the XM360 in order to allow a lighter-weight cannon and muzzle to accommodate the blast from a powerful 120mm tank round.
Elements of the XM360 include a combined thermal and environmental shroud, blast deflector, a composite-built overwrapped gun, tube-modular gun-mount, independent recoil brakes, gas-charged recuperators, and a multi-slug slide block breech with an electric actuator, Army MCS developmental documents describe.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Any attempt to make a network TV show about Marines feels forced. I mean, c’mon, if you’ve ever been around Marines for more than 5 minutes, they will already have: cussed 30 times, tried to talk you into day-drinking, and drawn a penis on something nearby. They can be hilariously fun.
But they’re in a courtroom for this one, so maybe this one will feel… different — right?
Not so fast. Maybe it’s the out-of-regs hair, maybe it’s the hacky love storyline, or maybe it’s the fact that every Marine is portrayed as so serious — but something about The Code feels off, in the same way, many others before it have…
The Code is basically if you put JAG and Law and Order in a blender with flat soda.
There have been a lot of shows about the military. As soon as one is dropped, another cookie-cutter copy is dropped in its place. It’s like one big hair-out-of-regs version of Medusa.
But some have been really good: M*A*S*H, Band of Brothers, JAG (for the first 8 seasons), even the under-appreciated The Unit. More have been not-so-good: The Brave, Valor (which ran walked alongside The Brave for the entirety of their short run walk), Combat Hospital, Last Resort, the last 2 seasons of JAG, and many more.
Some people enjoy the “not-so-good” ones, and that’s fine, too. It would be an awfully boring world if everyone loved the same things.
But the “flyover state” blue collar audience is often overlooked by major networks. There is something irksome about the military shows that are churned out; they’re interchangeable and one-dimensional, and therefore come across as pandering. None of it feels real, it feels like someone giving a book report on something you know they didn’t read—and you can only stand to stomach someone BS-ing the same classroom about Catch 22 for so long.
Yes, the show has to be dramatized for effect. Yes, some things are going to be “Hollywood” for the sake of a wider audience (at one point a judge literally declares “you will be held in contempt of court” like a Saturday Night Live cold open). I’m sure doctors are sick of the medical procedurals where everyone has lupus, but millions of people love and watch them.
But The Code has some inaccuracies that are particularly grating for a military audience that is worthy of something more dynamic.
One is obvious—get that man a damn haircut.
Also, it’s no surprise that the lead is a heartthrob with no discernible personality traits other than being uber handsome. Dude is literally a walking Ken doll. Not exactly an embodiment of the Marines I’ve met, many of whom are some of the zaniest and insanely crass men ever. They’re not a milk-toast copy/pasted trope—they’re fully dimensional people with faults and ambitions and shadows and humor. Reducing every Marine to a simple hardass archetype, (or worse, force an overly polished Marine without specificity) isn’t just hard to believe—it’s boring.
The uniform on the female captain does appear to be short for the military too. And private school. Maybe public school.
You could poke holes in the battle scene of any TV show, but this one is just annoying, you got the fore-grip man, use it! That’s like eating cereal with a fork, it works, but you look like you got some milk on your lip.
And lastly, you may be hard pressed to find someone who refers to the Uniform Code of Military Justice as “the code.”
Compile all of those, and it’s no wonder why it feels “off” to watch. But The Code does have redeeming qualities: it covers the increasingly significant issue of troops with traumatic brain injuries, it translates military-speak to a civilian audience in a seamless fashion, and it sidesteps being “preachy” or political.
So it’s not all bad. It’s just too familiar. We’ve seen this all before, and it leaves you with an itchy deja vu feeling.
Is the latest out-of-regs entry onto the head of Medusa. The Code? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects agency’s drone submarine hunter — more properly known as the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel or ACTUV — just successfully tested a new piece of equipment that dramatically increases the range of its sensors and communications gear.
The ACTUV is designed to patrol the oceans without a human crew, searching for potentially hostile submarines and then following them. But the small vessels have a limited sensor range since all of their antennas are relatively close to the water’s surface. Getting these antennas and sensors higher would give the ship a larger detection radius.
The TALONS — Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems — is basically a parachute towed behind a vessel like what would carry a tourist on a parasailing trip. But instead of flying your drunk Uncle Greg, the TALONS sports a sensor and antenna payload of up to 150 pounds. This raises those sensors to altitudes between 500 and 1,000 feet above sea level.
While aloft, TALONS demonstrated significant improvements to the range of the sensors and radios it carried compared to mounting them directly on a surface vessel. For example, TALONS’ surface-track radar extended its range by 500 percent—six times—compared to its range at sea level. Its electro-optical/infrared scanner doubled its observed discrimination range. The TALONS team plugged in a commercial handheld omnidirectional radio; that radio’s range more than tripled.
Ships besides the ACTUV could use the TALONS to extend their sensor ranges as well. Even carrier islands sit just a few hundred feet above the waterline, meaning that carriers could get greater range for their sensors by towing the lighter ones on the TALONS — provided that engineers could find a setup that wouldn’t interfere with aircraft traffic.
A new, flexible hood a little more than an inch thick is expected to better protect military working dogs at risk for short-term or permanent hearing loss on the job, the Army Research Office announced Nov. 20, 2019.
Funded by an Army small business innovation grant, Zeteo Tech Inc. and the University of Cincinnati developed the Canine Auditory Protection System (CAPS) to replace often rigid products that are hard to put on dogs, according to a recent news release.
Dr. Stephen Lee, senior scientist at the Army Research Office, said in the release that CAPS could extend dogs’ working lives, protecting them from high-decibel noise during training, transport and operations.
“Even a short helicopter flight can affect a dog’s hearing, resulting in impaired performance and inability to hear the handler’s commands, which can hinder the mission,” he said.
The Canine Auditory Protection System, resembling a close-fitting hood, uniformly distributes the pressure required to hold the dogs’ hearing protection in place, while avoiding challenges associated with straps.
The researchers found a “significant” reduction in short-term hearing loss when wearing the product during helicopter operations.
CAPS is also compatible with other gear, like goggles, and was tested for usability and comfort on canines working in the military or federal law enforcement. It is designed to conform to each dog’s unique head shape, and its flexibility ensures a proper sealing around their ears for maximum sound reduction.
Lee said CAPS could broaden the use of military working dogs in operations in the future, extending their ability to work in a wide range of environments with soldiers and autonomous systems.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The report details a situation in which Russia’s navy, behind only those of the US and China in size, may soon be capable of denying the US Navy access to the Black and Baltic seas.
Russia’s landgrab in Crimea as well as its enclave in Kaliningrad could lock US forces out of the Black or Baltic seas.
US Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges spoke to this in a Pentagon news briefing earlier this month, saying the nearly 25,000 Russian troops illegally stationed in Crimea had “the ability to really disrupt access into the Black Sea.”
Earlier this year, Russia’s defense ministry announced plans to revive and increase the size and scope of the country’s Black Sea submarine fleet.
The new submarines are designed to excel at warfare in shallower water while being arguably the quietest submarines in the world.
“The new submarine and ship classes will incorporate the latest advances in militarily significant areas such as: weapons; sensors; command, control and communication capabilities; signature reduction; electronic countermeasures; and automation and habitability,” the report states.
The report also describes Russia’s Kalibr missiles, which were put on display in October when Russian boats in the Caspian Sea fired missiles at ground targets in Syria.
The report also speculates that Russia’s fifth-generation aircraft, the PAK FA aka T-50, could be ready for deployment as soon as 2016.
The increased stealth capabilities of the plane, as well as its potential role aboard a new Russian aircraft carrier, could spell big problems for the US.
According to the report, Russia is “reorganizing its personnel structure to more accurately reflect the needs of modern warfare” and will do so by attempting to transition to an all-volunteer force.
The report acknowledges that Russia is under heavy financial strain because of sanctions and historically low oil prices, but the country is nonetheless determined to create a modern navy that is capable of undermining the military superiority of the West.
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This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A US soldier stationed in South Korea has “tested positive” for COVID-19, the military said in a statement on Wednesday morning.
The 23-year-old unnamed male soldier is in self-quarantine at an off-base residence, the US military added. Health officials are investigating whether others were exposed, as the soldier had visited several US bases in the country, including Camps Walker and Carroll, in the past week.
The incident marks the first time a US service member tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
United States Forces Korea “is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” the military said in a statement.
A 61-year-old widowed US military dependent was previously found to have tested positive in the country on Monday, prompting US forces to raise the risk level to “high.”
The woman visited a post exchange, the military’s shopping center, at Camp Walker in Daegu, where South Korean health officials have cautioned there was a “high possibility that COVID-19 could spread nationwide.”
“We are going to begin to limit all soldier movement,” US Army Col. Michael Tremblay, the garrison commander of Camp Humphreys, said on Tuesday.
South Korea is addressing an influx of confirmed coronavirus cases, which have passed 1,100 in the country. At least 11 people there have died of COVID-19.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday issued a travel advisory warning that people should avoid all nonessential travel to South Korea.
U.S. Army leaders say the next war will be fought in mega-cities, but the service has embarked on an ambitious effort to prepare most of its combat brigades to fight, not inside, but beneath them.
Late 2017, the Army launched an accelerated effort that funnels some $572 million into training and equipping 26 of its 31 active combat brigades to fight in large-scale subterranean facilities that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.
For this new type of warfare, infantry units will need to know how to effectively navigate, communicate, breach heavy obstacles, and attack enemy forces in underground mazes ranging from confined corridors to tunnels as wide as residential streets. Soldiers will need new equipment and training to operate in conditions such as complete darkness, bad air, and lack of cover from enemy fire in areas that challenge standard Army communications equipment.
Senior leaders have mentioned small parts of the effort in public speeches, but Army officials at Fort Benning, Georgia’s Maneuver Center of Excellence — the organization leading the subterranean effort — have been reluctant to discuss the scale of the endeavor.
(U.S. Army photo by John Lytle)
“We did recognize, in a megacity that has underground facilities — sewers and subways and some of the things we would encounter … we have to look at ourselves and say ‘ok, how does our current set of equipment and our tactics stack up?'” Col. Townley Hedrick, commandant of the Infantry School at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, told Military.com in an interview. “What are the aspects of megacities that we have paid the least attention to lately, and every megacity has got sewers and subways and stuff that you can encounter, so let’s brush it up a little bit.”
Left unmentioned were the recent studies the Army has undertaken to shore up this effort. The Army completed a four-month review in 2017 of its outdated approach to underground combat, and published a new training manual dedicated to this environment.
“This training circular is published to provide urgently needed guidance to plan and execute training for units operating in subterranean environments, according to TC 3-20.50 “Small Unit Training in Subterranean Environments,” published in November 2017. “Though prepared through an ‘urgent’ development process, it is authorized for immediate implementation.”
A New Priority
The Army has always been aware that it might have to clear and secure underground facilities such as sewers and subway systems beneath densely-populated cities. In the past, tactics and procedures were covered in manuals on urban combat such as FM 90-10-1, “An Infantryman’s Guide to Combat in Built-up Areas,” dated 1993.
Before the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mission for taking large, underground military complexes was given to tier-one special operations units such as Army Delta Force and the Navy‘s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.
But the Pentagon’s new focus on preparing to fight peer militaries such as North Korea, Russia and China changed all that.
An assessment last year estimates that there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that are intended to serve as subterranean cities, an Army source, who is not cleared to talk to the press, told Military.com.
The Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group — an outfit often tasked with looking ahead to identify future threats — told U.S. military leaders that special operations forces will not be able to deal with the subterranean problem alone and that large numbers of conventional forces must be trained and equipped to fight underground, the source said.
The endeavor became an urgent priority because more than 4,800 of these underground facilities are located in North Korea, the source said.
Relations now seem to be warming between Washington and Pyongyang after the recent meeting between U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But in addition to its underground nuclear missile facilities, North Korea has the capability to move thousands of troops through deep tunnels beneath the border into South Korea, according to the Army’s new subterranean manual.
“North Korea could accommodate the transfer of 30,000 heavily armed troops per hour,” the manual states. “North Korea had planned to construct five southern exits and the tunnel was designed for both conventional warfare and guerrilla infiltration. Among other things, North Korea built a regimental airbase into a granite mountain.”
For its part, Russia inherited a vast underground facilities program from the Soviet Union, designed to ensure the survival of government leadership and military command and control in wartime, the manual states. Underground bunkers, tunnels, secret subway lines, and other facilities still beneath Moscow, other major Russian cities, and the sites of major military commands.
More recently, U.S. and coalition forces operating in Iraq and Syria have had to deal with fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria operating in tunnel systems.
Learning to Fight Underground
To prepare combat units, the Army has activated mobile teams to train the leadership of 26 brigade combat teams on how prepare units for underground warfare and plan and execute large-scale combat operations in the subterranean environment.
The 3rd BCT, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado is next in line for the training.
Army officials confirmed to Military.com that there is an approved plan to dedicate $572 million to the effort. That works out to $22 million for each BCT, according to an Army spokeswoman who did not want to be named for this article. The Army did not say where the money is coming from or when it will be given to units.
Army leaders launched the subterranean effort in 2017, tasking the AWG with developing a training program. The unit spent October-January at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, developing the tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs, units will need to fight in this environment.
“Everything that you can do above ground, you can do below ground; there are just tactics and techniques that are particular,” the source said, adding that tactics used in a subterranean space are much like those used in clearing buildings.
(U.S. Army photo by Erick Warren)
“The principles are exactly the same, but now do it without light, now do it in a confined space … now try to breach a door using a thermal cutting torch when you don’t have air.”
Three training teams focus on heavy breaching, TTPs and planning and a third to train the brigade leadership on intelligence priorities and how to prepare for brigade-size operations in subterranean facilities.
“The whole brigade will be learning the operation,” the source said.
Army combat units train in mock-up towns known as military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, sites. These training centers often have sewers to deal with rain water, but are too small to use for realistic training, the source said.
The Defense Department has a half-dozen locations that feature subterranean networks. They’re located at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Story, Virginia; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Indiana; Tunnel Warfare Center, China Lake, California and Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, according to the new subterranean training manual.
Rather sending infrastructure to these locations, units will build specially designed, modular subterranean trainers, created by the AWG in 2014. The completed maze-like structure is fashioned from 15 to 20 shipping containers, or conexes, and sits above ground.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, talked about these new training structures at the Association of the United States Army’s LANPAC 2018 symposium in Hawaii.
“I was just at the Asymmetric Warfare Group recently; they had built a model subterranean training center that now the Army is in the process of exporting to the combat training centers and home stations,” Townsend said.
“I was thinking to myself before I went and saw it, ‘how are we going to be able to afford to build all these underground training facilities?’ Well, they took me into one that wasn’t underground at all. It actually looked like you went underground at the entrance, but the facility was actually built above ground.But you couldn’t tell that once you went inside of it.”
Shipping containers are commonplace around the Army, so units won’t have to buy special materials to build the trainers, Hedrick said.
“Every post has old, empty conexes … and those are easily used to simulate working underground,” Hedrick said.
Training is only part of the subterranean operations effort. A good portion of the $22 million going to each BCT will be needed buy special equipment so combat units can operate safety underground.
“You can’t go more than one floor deep underground without losing comms with everybody who is up on the surface,” Townsend said. “Our capabilities need some work.”
The Army is looking at the handheld MPU-5 smart radio, made by Persistent Systems LLC, which features a new technology and relies on a “mobile ad hoc network” that will allow units to talk to each other and to the surface as well.
“It sends out a signal that combines with the one next to it, and the one next to it … it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” the source said.
Off the shelf, MPU-5s coast approximately $10,000 each.
Toxic air, or a drop in oxygen, are other challenges soldiers will be likely to face operating deep underground. The Army is evaluating off-the-shelf self-contained breathing equipment for units to purchase.
“Protective masks without a self-contained breathing apparatus provide no protection against the absence of oxygen,” the subterranean manual states. “Having breathing apparatus equipment available is the primary protection element against the absence of oxygen, in the presence of hazardous gases, or in the event of a cave-in.”
Soldiers can find themselves exposed to smoke, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane natural gas underground, according to the manual.
Breathing gear is expensive; some apparatus cost as much as $13,000 apiece, the source said.
Underground tunnels and facilities are often lighted, but when the lights go out, soldiers will be in total darkness. The Army announced in February 2018 that it has money in its fiscal 2019 budget to buy dual-tubed, binocular-style night vision goggles to give soldiers greater depth perception than offered by the current single-tubed Enhanced Night Vision Goggles and AN/PVS 14s.
The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle B uses a traditional infrared image intensifier similar to the PVS-14 along with a thermal camera. The system fuses the IR with the thermal capability into one display. The Army is considering equipping units trained in subterranean ops with ENVG Bs, the source said.
Units will also need special, hand-carried ballistic shields, at least two per squad, since tunnels provide little to no cover from enemy fire.
Weapon suppressors are useful to cut down on noise that’s significantly amplified in confined spaces, the manual states.
Some of the heavy equipment such as torches and large power saws needed for breaching are available in brigade engineer units, Hedrick said.
“We definitely did put some effort into trying to identify a list of normal equipment that may not work and what equipment that we might have to look at procuring,” Hedrick said.
Jason Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for new American Security, was skeptical about the scale of the program.
Dempsey, a former Army infantry officer with two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, told Military.com that such training “wasn’t relevant” to fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He questions spending such a large amount of money training and equipping so many of the Army’s combat brigades in a type of combat that they might never need.
“I can totally understand taking every brigade in Korea, Alaska, some of the Hawaii units — any units on tap for first response for something going on in Korea,” said Dempsey, who served in the combat units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division.
“Conceptually I don’t knock it. The only reason I would question it is if it comes with a giant bill and new buys of a bunch of specialized gear. … It’s a whole new business line for folks whose business tapered off after Afghanistan.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.