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The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

Is Russia really flying combat missions from the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov? That is a question percolating as recent satellite photos caught some of the planes that are known to operate from the carrier at a land base, as opposed to operating directly from the carrier.


According to a report by IHS Jane’s, a satellite photo from Airbus Defence and Space shows eight Su-33 “Flanker D” fighters on the ramp of Humaymim Air Base.

That airbase, located near the coastal city of Latakia, has become Russia’s main center of operations during its intervention in Syria. Russia also has a naval facility in Tartus, roughly 45 miles to the south of Latakia, that has been used since 1971 under an agreement by the Soviet Union with the regime of Hafez al-Assad.

While it is not uncommon for carrier-based planes to operate from land bases (the n Cactus Air Force at Guadalcanal, which featured planes from the air groups of damaged carriers, is perhaps the most famous instance), this is a sign that Russia’s carrier is less than it seems. In essence, while the Russians are claiming that the Kuznetsov is carrying out a combat deployment and launching sorties, this ship really was more of a glorified aircraft ferry. This is the purported flagship of the Russian Navy.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Sukhoi Su-33 launching from the Admiral Kuznetsov in 2012. | Russian MoD Photo

The Kuznetsov displaces 61,000 tons, and usually carries 15 Su-33 Flankers, but is also capable of carrying up to 20 MiG-29s. One of the MiG-29s crashed earlier this month due to issues with the carrier’s arresting gear combined with an engine failure on the modern multi-role fighter.

The pilot ejected and was recovered, a very unexpected hiccup in Russia’s efforts to showcase the carrier, which has had a reputation for breaking down while on deployment. Since the crash, the MiG-29s have apparently been grounded.

Russia has used the conflict in Syria to test out new weapon systems like the Su-35 “Flanker E” and the SS-N-27 Sizzler. Russia also has deployed the S-400 surface-to-air missile system to defend its bases in Syria.

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The 6 craziest military myths

While the military keeps trying to debunk Jade Helm 15 rumors, there are plenty of other military myths that have gotten ridiculous. WATM has covered Army and Marine Corps specific myths before. Here are 6 more urban legends from around the Department of Defense.


1. The Army has more aircraft than the Air Force and more boats than the Navy.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Photo: US Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel McClinton

This is something that gets passed around Army circles with pride and is occasionally mentioned by other services with embarrassment. Well, buck up little sailors and airmen, the top rankings actually do go to their respective services.

The Army has 5,117 aircraft which is surprisingly high, but the Air Force still wins with 5,199 according to the 2015 Aviation Plan from the Department of Defense. Sometimes, the myth says the Navy has the most aircraft, but even when counting the Marine Corps helicopters and planes, the Department of the Navy comes in third with 3,847.

As for watercraft, the Army had the largest seagoing fleet in World War II, but now has only 118 watercraft in total. While the Navy certainly has more vessels than this, some semantic bastards will insist that most Navy vessels are “ships,” and so the Army could still have more “boats.” Well, the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command has 354 craft (page 6). The smallest are its Zodiac inflatable boats and the largest are its 85′ MK VI patrol boats. Also, there are the 700 craft of Naval Special Warfare, mostly 81-foot boats and smaller. So, yeah, the Navy seems to have this in the bag.

See also: These are the boats you didn’t know the Army had

2. Military recruits are people who couldn’t hack it in the real world.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Photo: US Navy Communication Specialist 3rd Class K. Ashley Lawrence

While this claim offends service members for a few reasons, the crux of the idea is that the average recruit joins the military because no one else will take them. Different recruits sign for different reasons, but military recruits are more likely to have a high school diploma than civilians. One of the Department of Defense’s biggest challenges now is finding recruits that are smart, fit, and disciplined enough to join the military. The mental and physical rigors of military service are actually so great, organizations of retired military leaders are worried there won’t be enough eligible recruits to fill military ranks in the future.

3. There is no gold at Fort Knox.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Cliff

This is one of the claims we can’t outright debunk, but it’s still ridiculous. The story goes that at the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky, there is actually just an empty vault. A former head of the mint claims the gold is all there and points out that a full audit in 1953 found that all of the gold was present, a visit by Congressional leaders and the news media in 1974 found nothing suspicious, and annual inspections by the Treasury Department and the U.S. Mint always report that the gold is in place.

Conspiracy claims that the vault in Fort Knox is empty generally fail to explain how the gold was smuggled out of the vaults and through the active Army base that surrounds the mint. It took an armed train and a cavalry brigade to get the gold into the vault.

4. At base flagpoles, there are items to destroy the flag with honor in case the base is overrun.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven L. Shepard

The story goes that military installation flags are supposed to be destroyed if a base is overrun, and there is a kit with each flagpole to accomplish the task. The items stored at the flagpole change depending on who’s telling the story. Generally, there is a razor or match for destroying the flag, a set of printed instructions, and a pistol round. Either these items are in the truck, the ball at the top of the flagpole, or they are buried in a footlocker nearby. There is supposedly also a pistol, almost always in a buried footlocker, that the service member uses with the pistol round to kill themselves when they’re done destroying the flag.

This is insane for a few reasons. First, if a base is being overrun, the military has bigger problems than the flag. Flags are important symbols, but the tanks, ships, classified documents, and personnel on military bases are typically more important. The military Code of Conduct orders service members to resist the enemy as long as they can, so they should use the pistol round to kill the enemy rather than themselves. Finally, as a military historian pointed out to Stars and Stripes, few service members would actually be able to climb the flagpole which can be as high as 75 feet tall.

5. There are self-destruct buttons on bases and ships.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Photo: Youtube.com

The idea that military bases, ships, or manned vehicles have self-destruct buttons likely comes from Hollywood, which uses the trope a ridiculous amount. Some foreign military vehicles have had self-destruct charges in rare instances, but the U.S. military typically guards its secrets in other ways.

Navy ships can be scuttled and the Air Force can bomb any downed airplanes or damaged vehicles. Modern computers can be “zeroized” to get rid of sensitive information. Any infrastructure on a military post that might need to be quickly destroyed could be destroyed with incendiary grenades nearly as quickly as with a built-in self-destruct mechanism.

But, some U.S. weapons and unmanned vehicles do have remote self-destruct mechanisms. DARPA is working on electronics that will automatically self-destruct after a certain time or when exposed to certain conditions.

6. Extraterrestrial life at Area 51

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Photo: Flickr/Steve Jurvetson

Like the gold at Fort Knox, this one can’t be firmly disproven. Those who want to believe that aliens landed in the desert in Nevada will continue to believe while the rest of us make jokes.

But, government agents have confessed to creating UFO hoaxes in the desert in order to keep classified aviation projects secret. Area 51 and other U.S. bases in the deserts were selected for secret projects during the Cold War due to their geographic isolation.

NOW: 5 wild conspiracy theories that turned out to be true

OR: Long-hidden photos from Roswell show aliens (or not)

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This is what you get when you name an armored vehicle ‘Gurkha’

Mexico’s Veracruz state may be one of the most dangerous places in the entire country. The extortion and kidnapping of civil servants and journalists are rampant, dismembered bodies are a common occurrence, and the city is on the front lines of Mexico’s ongoing drug war.


The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Mexico’s Fuerza Civil of Veracruz (Mexican government photo)

The Fuerza Civil – the Civil Forces of the Mexican state – is an elite security force designed to protect trade routes, migrants, agricultural areas, fisheries, and forests as well as assist with municipal authorities in preventing organized crime. They need all the help they can get.

Enter the Gurkha armored vehicle.

The Fuerza Civil equipped with next-generation weapons, armor, and vehicles to support that mission. One of those advanced armor vehicles comes from Canada’s Terradyne Armored, Inc. and is dubbed the Gurkha after Nepal’s feared elite warriors.

The Gurkha is a 4×4 light armored patrol vehicle, currently produced in three tactical configurations – each of which uses the Ford F550 chassis. They also run with Ford’s in-house built 6.7L Power Stroke V8 diesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Fuerza Civil officers deploy on the streets of Veracruz (Mexican government photo)

The power and armor make a huge difference in Veracruz. Civilians and police are regularly targeted or in the crossfire of ongoing violence between the Zetas, Sinaloa, and Gulf Cartels. Things got so bad the Mexican government had to deploy military forces to quell the fighting.

 

MIGHTY FIT

The 5 best military academy athletes who went pro

The Commander-in-Chief will allow military academy athletes who excel on the field to go pro before they have to repay their service on the battlefields, according to a May 6, 2019 statement President Trump made from the White House Rose Garden. Trump was hosting the West Point Black Knights football team at the time.


“I’m going to look at doing a waiver for service academy athletes who can get into the major leagues like the NFL, hockey, baseball,” Trump said. “We’re going to see if we can do it, and they’ll serve their time after they’re finished with professional sports.”

These days, service academies can sometimes get overlooked by scouts and fans alike. Cadets and Mids who are highly touted will often switch schools in order to get access to the world of professional sports, missing their chance to serve. But service academies have introduced some great players into our collective memories.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

Phil McConkey

McConkey was a former Navy Mid who spent most of his NFL career as a wide receiver with the NY Giants. McConkey was a rookie at 27 years old, but legend has it coach Bill Parcells signed McConkey based on a tip from one of his assistants who happened to have been an assistant coach at Navy, Steve Belichick. McConkey spent six years in the NFL, catching a TD pass in Super Bowl XXI that helped the Giants top the Denver Broncos.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

Chad Hennings

Hennings was an award-winning defensive tackle at Air Force who was picked by the Cowboys in the 11th round of the 1987 NFL draft. He spent four years as an Air Force pilot before getting back to the NFL and playing with Dallas in a career that included three Super Bowls.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

Mike Wahle

Wahle spent most of his career with the Green Bay Packers but also played in Carolina and Seattle – after playing in Annapolis. Though he spent his college years as a wide receiver, by the time he was ready to enter the draft, he was an offensive lineman. He resigned his commission before his senior year.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

Ed Sprinkle

The former Navy defensive end was a four-time pro bowl selectee who was often called “The Meanest Man in Football.” For 12 years, he attacked quarterbacks like they were communists trying to invade America. In one championship game (before the AFL and NFL merged to form the NFL we know today), Sprinkle injured three opposing players, crippling their offense.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Minnesota Vikings vs Dallas Cowboys, 1971 NFC Divisional Playoffs

Roger Staubach

Was there ever any question about who would top this list? Staubach isn’t just a candidate for best player from a service academy, or best veteran player, he’s one of the most storied NFL players of all time. The Heisman-winning Navy alum and Vietnam veteran served his obligation in Vietnam, won two Super Bowls, one Super Bowl MVP pick, was selected to the Pro Bowl for six of the ten years he spent in the NFL, and is in the Football Hall of Fame.

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Astronaut and retired Navy Captain Scott Kelly returns to Earth after a year in space

Even after 340 days in zero-gravity weakened his muscles, astronaut and retired Navy Captain Scott Kelly successfully returned to Earth strong enough to give a fist pump and thumbs up.


Kelly’s 144 million-mile star trek ended when his Souyuz capsule landed in Kazakhstan.

“The air feels great out here,” Kelly reportedly said as he was lifted out of the capsule.

His yearlong stay on on the International Space Station (ISS) gives him more days in space than any other U.S. astronaut. While on board, he worked alongside Russian, European, and Japanese personnel, circling the Earth 5,440 times.

Mars is a 2.5 year round-trip journey. Trouble starts with muscular atrophy.

Maintaining muscle is tough in zero gravity. Astronaut calf muscles compared after a six month mission on the ISS show even after aerobic exercise five hours a week and resistance exercise three to six days per week, muscle volume and power both still decrease significantly. In one of the more extreme cases, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield returned to Earth after two months and had to undergo strength training for a few weeks to re-acclimate to Earth’s gravity.

Kelly is part of a NASA experiment on the effects of extended time in space on the human body. It just so happens his brother Mark is also an astronaut, but more importantly, he’s a genetic twin. Mark Kelly, husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was the control subject on the ground. Both gave blood, saliva and urine samples, ultrasounds and bone scans, received flu shots and more, to be compared when Scott returned.

While in space, Kelly sent more than a thousand tweets, including beautiful images of Earth.

And he watched as the newsworthy events of the year unfolded from his high perch.

He stood with France after the terrorist attacks in Paris, even though his feet couldn’t reach the ground.

And he saw epic sunrises we on Earth could only dream.

Welcome home, Captain Kelly.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US tests another ground-launched cruise missile

The US conducted its second flight test of a missile that would have been banned under the restrictions of a now-defunct arms control agreement with Russia, Air Force officials told Insider on Thursday.

The US military tested a prototype conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) Thursday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“We are currently evaluating the results of the test,” officials told Insider.


Thursday’s missile launch marks the second such test since the US formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August in response to alleged Russian violations of the 1987 agreement.

On Aug. 18, 2019, the Defense Department conducted a flight test of a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile.

The first post-INF Treaty test was conducted in mid-August, when a conventional GLCM “exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight,” the Pentagon said at the time.

Thursday’s test saw the missile travel over 500 kilometers as well, Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver said in a statement. “Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities,” he said.

The INF treaty prohibited the US and Russia from developing, testing, and fielding missiles with intermediate ranges, ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles). Earlier this year, the US accused Russia of violating the accord with its Novator 9M729 missile, a weapon NATO refers to as SSC-8.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said that the “Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles,” calling efforts to develop ground-launched intermediate-range missile capabilities a “prudent response to Russia’s actions.”

Esper has also indicated that the US is looking at the development of these weapon systems to counter China.

“Eighty percent plus of their [missile] inventory is intermediate-range systems,” the secretary has said, adding that it “shouldn’t surprise [China] that we would want to have a like capability.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Military caregivers file lawsuit against the VA

Four spouses and two fiancées of veterans eligible for the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ family caregiver program have filed a lawsuit against the VA for denying or improperly revoking their benefits.

In a suit filed Jan. 22, 2018, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the plaintiffs, led by Florida resident Zamantha Tapia, fiancée of Army veteran Cesar Silva, allege that the VA did not follow the laws and regulations governing the department’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, which provides compensation and health benefits to those who provide care for seriously injured post-9/11 veterans.


According to the suit, Silva and Tapia’s application was denied, and the benefits of the other plaintiffs were inappropriately downgraded or terminated without proper investigation or determination.

In 2017, veterans and their caregivers enrolled in the program began seeing their benefits curtailed or terminated — often with no reason given, other than that their VA providers determined they no longer needed help with their daily activities.

In August 2018, the VA Office of Inspector General found that across the VA, facilities didn’t adequately manage the program, failing to provide consistent access to it, improperly accepting ineligible veterans and declining to monitor the health statuses of nearly half the veterans it discharged from the program.

The IG also learned that the department paid out .8 million to caregivers of veterans who weren’t eligible for the program, and the VA “failed to manage the program effectively because it did not establish governance that promoted accountability for program management,” staff members wrote in the report.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

In 2015, plaintiff Jennifer Wilmot and her husband George Wilmot, an Army National Guard veteran who served from October 2007 to May 2013, were booted from the program.

Wilmot had been injured during a 2009 deployment to Mosul, Iraq, when the Humvee he was riding in came under small-arms fire and crashed. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, fractured portions of his back and pelvis and nearly lost his left arm. He also has post-traumatic stress disorder and memory loss.

The Wilmots were accepted into the caregiver program in 2013 but should have received the highest level of compensation rather than the level they were awarded, according to attorneys Jason Perry and Luke Miller.

Then came the dismissal.

“After completing a comprehensive review of your medical records, it appears that you have met the intention of the program and your participation will be discontinued,” VA officials wrote to the Wilmots.

The lawsuit calls the termination “arbitrary and capricious.”

Silva was deployed to Iraq from November 2003 to August 2004, sustaining shrapnel injuries in an attack. According to the lawsuit, he received a VA disability rating of 70 percent in 2009 for rotator cuff strain and impingement and suffers from chronic headaches, degenerative joint disease, back pain and neuropathy. He also has PTSD, TBI, memory loss, depression and irritable bowel syndrome.

Tapia and Silva applied for the family caregiver program in 2014 but were denied. According to the suit, the VA found that Silva did not need assistance for physical injuries and said his mental health conditions were not service-connected. They reapplied in 2017, but following a phone assessment, VA officials said that Silva was not “receiving medical treatment” — an error, the lawsuit alleges — and that Tapia was “an enabler.”

According to Perry, an attorney in Wellington, Florida, and Miller, of Military Disability Lawyer LLC in Salem, Oregon, the plaintiffs have asked the court to certify the suit as a class action, meaning that other affected caregivers could sign on if it is approved.

They estimate that the VA received more than 100,000 applications for the family caregiver program between May 2011 and September 2018 and, therefore, thousands may be able to sign on to the possible class action.

The plaintiffs also are requesting that the VA stop what they perceive as arbitrary dismissals from the program and are seeking monetary compensation in an amount “to be determined at trial,” according to the suit.

The federal government has until March 25, 2019, to file a response in the case, and a status conference is scheduled for March 29, 2019, according to court documents.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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How the Battle of the Bulge would have gone if GIs had the Javelin

Let’s face some harsh reality, folks. While we won World War II in the European Theater, infantry anti-tank weapons were not one of the big reasons why. The sad fact of the matter is that the M1 and M9 bazookas were…well…GlobalSecurity.org notes that they “could not penetrate the heavy front armor of the German tanks.”


Suppose, though, that the GIs had perhaps the most modern anti-tank missile in the world. One that could reach out and touch the German tanks at a much safer range for the anti-tank specialists. In other words, imagine they had the FGM-148 Javelin. How might the Battle of the Bulge changed?

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
U.S. Army soldiers with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division shoot the Javelin, an anti-tank weapon. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Patrick Kirby, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division)

Let’s look at the Javelin to understand how the battle would change. According to militaryfactory.com, the Javelin uses imaging infra-red guidance. By contrast, the bazooka rounds were unguided. This meant that the Javelin missiles have a much better chance of hitting their targets.

The Javelin also has longer range, a little over a mile and a half, compared to the bazooka’s two-tenths of a mile, allowing the anti-tank teams to move out of the way — or reload.

But how would World War II GIs have used the Javelin? While some infantry units might have these missiles, it is far more likely that they would have been used for blocking and delaying the armored thrusts. The best vehicle for that purpose would have been the classic Jeep.

According to militaryfactory.com, this vehicle could carry a driver and four troops. Or, a two-man Javelin team and, say, six to eight of the 33-pound missiles and a 14-pound launch unit. A section of two vehicles could easily be expected to take out a company of German tanks.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
Photo: Wikimedia

Their most likely use would be in ambushes, using hit and run tactics to weaken German units and to buy time for reinforcements of heavy units (like Patton’s Third Army) to prepare a devastating counter attack.

But its sheer effectiveness may even have ended that battle much sooner simply because the initial attacks would likely have been blunted — and the German tanks would have required infantry to move ahead to clear likely ambush sites, and that would have made it impossible to achieve the objective of capturing Antwerp.

That said, while tactically this alternate Battle of the Bulge would have been a quicker win for the Allies, strategically German resources might not have been depleted so badly. This would mean a longer war and potentially more casualties — and the first atomic bomb may have been dropped on a city in Germany, not Japan.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

These are the guns from ‘Black Hawk Down’

The film Black Hawk Down has left an indelible mark in the minds of United States military members and gun enthusiasts alike. The movie recounts the story of Operation Gothic Serpent, involving the Task Force Ranger mission on Oct. 3 and 4, 1993. Released mere months after Sept. 11, it was one of the first film depictions of urban combat in a post-Operation Desert Storm world.

Firearms for the film were provided by lead armorer Simon Atherton (whose film credits include The Killing Fields, Aliens, and Saving Private Ryan) with the assistance of U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. veteran and military film advisor Harry Humphries.


When discussing film props, the term “hero” is used to describe the main prop weapons used by the lead characters in the film. Hero props are frequently used in close-ups and often garner the most screen time, becoming publicly recognizable or sometimes iconic.

Ironically, many of the M16s and CAR-15s used on screen were actually built as an export variation of the Colt M16. Simon Atherton, Black Hawk Down lead armorer and owner of Zorg Limited, provided examples of M16s and CAR-15s used in the movie. The CAR-15, notably, was configured with components used on the backup Gary Gordon hero prop rifle.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The blank-firing M16A2 (top) was an export M16A2 from Guatemala manufactured by Colt and redressed for The Green Zone. The rubber dummy prop (bottom) was used in the production of Black Hawk Down and carries the distinctive green duct tape used to recreate the Rangers’ weapons.

The blank-firing M16A2 in these photos was, in our best estimate, used as a Third Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment rifle. It’s nearly identical to the rifle carried by real-life Ranger Matt Eversmann, played on screen by Josh Hartnett. The Ranger M16s were ex-Guatemalan military M16A2s fitted with slings secured with green duct tape. The blank-firing M16 has been photographed, for comparison, with one of the rubber dummy rifles, still configured as used on set for Black Hawk Down.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The Guatemalan export M16A2 was configured with the M16A1 style lower emblazoned with Colt M16A2 roll marks as pictured. The fire control group markings were stamped on both sides of the lower (which is the common configurations for M16A2s) but with a BURST marking replacing the more common AUTO marking.

The rubber dummy prop M16 shows the on-screen configuration for Ranger M16s. Although the dummy’s M16A1 “slab side” lower is slightly different than the blank-firing prop — cast from a civilian Colt HBAR Sporter — it’s similar enough to pass unnoticed to most viewers.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

Most CAR-15 rifles were modified M16A2 rifles. This barrel was cut to approximately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back to accommodate the modified handguards, while retaining the traditional triangular M16A2 handguard cap.

(Photo by Jon Davey)

After receiving the M16s, Atherton’s team converted many of the ex-Guatemalan Colt M16A2s into CAR-15s. The Gordon CAR-15 blank-firing prop is the most iconic weapon in the film. Chris Atherton, Simon Atherton’s son and Zorg employee, was able to immediately locate the last known surviving Gary Gordon hero blank-firing prop CAR-15.

Master Sergeant Gary Gordon’s Colt Model 723 was represented in the film by a Guatemalan export Colt M16A2 modified into a carbine configuration similar to a Colt Model 727. The most significant visual difference between the Colt 723 and Colt 727 is in the rear sights. The Colt 723 uses an M16A1 sight, while the Colt 727 is fitted with a blockier “movable” sight.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

To produce the prop, the M16’s 20-inch barrel was cut to approximately 10 inches and the front sight post was moved back. A commercial two-position buffer tube and stock were also added. A 5-inch section of the center of the M16A2 handguard was removed to construct improvised carbine handguards. As a result, the handguards have eight holes (instead of the six- or seven-hole handguards found on production 723 and 727 carbines). This rifle, and many other of Atherton’s CAR-15s, retained the triangular M16A2 handguard cap instead of the circular handguard cap found on Colt-produced carbines.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The Gordon blank-firing prop (top) is fitted with a commercial stock and fake suppressor that carry the original paint scheme used during production. The rifle was subsequently used as the on-screen hero prop in Blood Diamond. The live-fire replica, manufactured by Enhanced Tactical Arms, (bottom) features a fully functional OPS Inc suppressor. The image of the semi-auto replica has been Photoshopped with BURST fire control markings and a full auto sear.

Analysis failed to confirm that the specific stock and dummy suppressor in the photos appeared on screen, but the paint scheme on those components leaves no doubt that those parts were used on an authentic Gordon hero prop. Although it’s impossible to confirm that the CAR-15 pictured was one of the Gordon hero rifles, it has been confirmed that this weapon was later used by Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond. The Zorg staff indicated that the rifle may have been repainted in the current tan paint scheme for the film The Green Zone.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The 8-hole CAR-15 handguards were manufactured from full-length M16A2 handguards when many of the M16A2s were configured into the CAR-15 configuration.

This CAR-15, manufactured by Enhanced Tactical Arms in Las Vegas, Nevada, is a replica of the on-screen prop representing Master Sergeant Gary Gordon’s CAR-15 — a replica of a replica, as it were. These images were Photoshopped to represent the rifle in its Class III configuration. The replica is fitted with an Aimpoint CompM red dot optic.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The ETAC Arms live-fire replica is equipped with an 8-hole carbine handguard constructed from an M16A2 full-length handguard and a Surefire tactical light. The duct tape and zip tie matches the configuration shown in the film.

Although Aimpoint 3000 and 5000 optics were used during the real-life operation, they were out of production by 2001. Filmmakers selected the CompM, fitted on a B-Square Mount with a 30mm Weaver split ring mount, as a substitute. The dummy suppressor used on the hero prop wasn’t available, so an OPS Inc. suppressor was used in its place. Although Zorg provided access to the Gordon CAR-15 prop, they indicated that the props used to represent Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart’s M14 were rented from Gibbons Limited and returned after filming.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

Gibbons sold the eight MDL.M1As to Independent Studio Services in 2008 or 2009. The ISS armory staff indicated that it was likely that the two tan weapons were used as the hero props in filming. Photo analysis by William DeMolee indicates that it is likely that the top MDL.M1A, which is equipped with a Leatherwood scope, was the hero prop used in close-ups. The live-fire replica was painted to match onset production photos and screenshots by Augee Kim.

Mike Gibbons, owner of Gibbons Limited Entertainment Armory provided eight Federal Ordinance MDL.M1A rifles to the production. Mike revealed that the weapons used to represent Shughart’s M14 were sold to Independent Studio Services between 2008 and 2009. Kate Atherton from Zorg provided specific serial numbers for the eight weapons used in the production. Travis Pierce, Enhanced Tactical Arms M14 Subject Matter Expert, then used these serial numbers to determine that most of the rifles were produced in the ’90s.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The fire control selector switch cutouts on the tan Federal Ordinance MDL.M1A have been filled in and the external surfaces refinished. Almost all traces of spray paint had been removed.

The reproduction Shughart M14 film prop is an M1A built on an LBR Arms receiver with primarily USGI Winchester parts. It was originally assembled by M14 enthusiast Cody Vaughan and then reconfigured to match the film prop by Enhanced Tactical Arms with an ARMS 18 scope mount, Aimpoint CompM red dot optic, M1907 sling, and given a screen-matching camouflage pattern by Enhanced Tactical Arms retro firearms expert Augee Kim.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The Norm “Hoot” Gibson CAR-15 rubber dummy prop, built as a rubber stand-in for Eric Bana’s blank-firing carbine, is an iconic prop worthy of special attention. The rubber dummy, cast from a semi-auto Colt AR-15A2 Carbine with a removable carry handle, was used on-screen in the close-up of the “This is my safety” scene. The prop was weathered with water-soluble aging spray and is fitted with a sling constructed from a piece of strap taken from a parachute lowering line assembly, looped through 550 cord and secured with black polycloth laminate tape.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

These include the type of handguard, delta ring, castle nut, stock, lower, and carry handle configuration. The lighting and camera angle make the differences difficult to detect as the story unfolds.

The live-firing prop replica, constructed by Enhanced Tactical Arms, was created using screenshots from the film, production photos, and the Hoot rubber dummy carbine as references. Although the Colt Gray lower on the Hoot CAR-15 appears to be an export M16A2, the black upper is distinctive. The Hoot blank-firing CAR-15 is configured with a 14.5-inch barrel, six-hole handguard, circular handguard cap, flat delta ring, and M16A1 birdcage flash hider.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The Hoot replica, which is similar in general configuration to a Colt 727, weighs in at slightly over 6 pounds and is as reliable and accurate as a modern M4. The helmet, goggles, and American flag were props used during production in 2001.


When we asked Mr. Atherton if the rifles used in the film were painted using an airbrush he laughed, indicating that the rifles were painted quickly, using techniques recommended by military advisor Harry Humphries.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The Hoot character is reported to be a composite of several Special Forces veterans involved in Operation Gothic Serpent.

Black Hawk Down is one of the first films to capture post-Vietnam warfare in a realistic manner and set the standard for how modern warfare (and weapons) would be represented in film. When discussing the long-term impact of the film in a 2013 interview, First Sergeant Matt Eversmann (U.S. Army, retired) stated, “…what I’ve found over the last decade is that, there are a lot of folks that really aren’t touched by the war on terror … watch Black Hawk Down and you have a really fair, accurate, and pretty authentic view of what urban combat is like … it is the reference point, both the book and the movie, that people are going to look at when they talk about getting involved in these type of conflicts in these countries we’ve never heard of …”

This endorsement, in conjunction with the pair of Academy Awards earned in 2002, illustrates why the film continues to receive praise from many film aficionados and military veterans nearly two decades after its release.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Pacific Thunder, aka why North Korea cries, kicks off in South Korea

One of the largest joint combat search and rescue exercises in the Pacific region, Exercise Pacific Thunder 18-1, kicked into full swing yesterday at Osan Air Base, South Korea.


This year, the exercise is the largest it has ever been. More than 20 U.S. Air Force squadrons and nine South Korean air wings are involved, giving the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons opportunities to train in simulated combat search and rescue missions all while working alongside their South Korean counterparts.

Also read: A-10 looks like it’s here to stay after new Air Force upgrades

“Pacific Thunder originally started in 2009 as a one-week exercise between the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd Rescue Squadron, and has since grown into a [Pacific Air Forces]-level exercise,” said Air Force Capt. Travis Vayda, the 25th Fighter Squadron Pacific Thunder 18-1 coordinator.

Although the annual exercise now has a vast range of units participating, it is still centered on the 25th Fighter Squadron, which operates A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, and the 33rd Rescue Squadron, which operates HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.

“Combat search and rescue is one of the most important mission sets we have in the A-10 community because we are really the only fixed-wing asset in the Air Force who trains to the CSAR mission,” Vayda said. “We are the close muscle, so essentially we are the bodyguards of the person on the ground and the helicopters that are rescuing them. Obviously in a CSAR [situation], you don’t want to have another type of shoot down or anything happen.”

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron from Kadena Air Base, Japan, prepares for a combat search and rescue mission during exercise Pacific Thunder 18-1 at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 23, 2017. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gwendalyn Smith

Realistic Training

During the exercise, the 33rd Rescue Squadron is able to directly work with A-10 pilots from the 25th Fighter Squadron, a level of joint training that both units typically have to simulate.

“The realism of the exercise gives us an opportunity to really see how the 25th FS operates,” said Air Force Capt. Dirk Strykowski, the 33rd Rescue Squadron’s HH-60 Pave Hawk flight lead. “Back in Kadena, we pretend as best we can to know what these guys are going to sound like on the radio, what calls they’re going to make and what kind of information they are going to provide, but being able to come up here and refresh what that’s actually going to be like is probably the biggest take away from the exercise.”

Related: Will this year’s massive military exercise finally provoke North Korea?

To make the exercise even more realistic, pararescuemen and survival, evasion, resistance and escape personnel from the 31st Rescue Squadron are not only participating in rescue missions, but also role-playing as isolated personnel.

“The intent of this exercise is to train like you fight, and we are trying to replicate that as best we can,” Strykowski said. “We have a lot of support from our pararescue and SERE. They’re out there on the ground now pretending to be downed pilots. So every step of the way, we are making it as realistic as it can get.”

Through combined CSAR training, exercise Pacific Thunder enhances the combat effectiveness between U.S. and South Korean air forces. Exercises like Pacific Thunder ensure the region remains ready to “Fight Tonight.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Kim Jong Un received a South Korean delegation for the first time

A 10-member South Korean delegation met face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on March 5, 2018 for the first time in history — and the talks could set the tone for later US engagement.


The meeting, which took place in Pyongyang, reportedly involved an elegant reception and banquet for the visiting diplomats, who will stay in what a representative of the South Korean president’s office told NK News was a “luxury resort” on the Taedong River.

“The North Korean side has been preparing a lot for warmly welcoming the South Korean delegation,” the representative said. North Korea is known to go all out when hosting foreign diplomats.

Related: South Korea’s special ops wants to kill Kim Jong Un with suicide drones

But while the South Koreans may have found a warm reception, the delegation’s leader promised they would talk about the most difficult topic at hand and most likely the elephant in the room: North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and ambitions.

Chung Eui-yong, the chief of South Korea’s National Security Office, told reporters at a briefing that, “more than anything,” the diplomats would “clearly deliver” South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s “firm will to achieve the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and create sincere and permanent peace.”

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
South Korean President Moon Jae-in. (Photo from official ROK Flickr.)

North Korea has consistently said its possession of nuclear weapons is non-negotiable; it’s even written into the country’s constitution. The US and South Korea maintain that their goal in engaging with North Korea is denuclearization and that any mutual talks must seek that end.

Since the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea, North Korea has been much more open to inter-Korean talks, with Kim even inviting Moon to Pyongyang to become the first head of state to meet him in person.

Also read: South Korea wants to lower its bar for peace talks with the North

Moon has not yet accepted the invitation, and US President Donald Trump has said talks must happen only “under the right conditions.”

But North Korea may be feeling pressure to engage diplomatically with the US and South Korea, as a new wave of sanctions and an aggressive policy by the Trump administration of policing North Korea’s exports threaten to hamstring the country’s economy.

Additionally, the US and South Korea are expected to return to normal military exercises in mid-March 2018 after the Paralympic Games; such exercises serve as a major irritant to North Korea, which often responds with missile tests. Experts calculate that Pyongyang still needs several tests to ensure the functionality of its latest intercontinental ballistic missile systems.

Articles

Navy standout safety says he’s transferring a month after pro policy change

An about-face from the Department of Defense appears to have been a factor in Navy losing a top player.


Safety Alohi Gilman announced he was transferring from Annapolis, Md., earlier this month on Twitter.

“We wish Alohi the best in his pursuit of his childhood dream to play in the NFL,” Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo told the Capital Gazette, which reported Gilman’s departure.

A direct path to the NFL was possible when Gilman entered Navy this past summer after spending a year at its prep school. But during the NFL draft in late April, the Department of Defense shifted its policy to again require service academy graduates to serve two years on active duty before applying for a shift in status to pursue professional sport. That two-year requirement had been removed in the summer of 2016.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Stan Parker

The shift was felt heavily at Air Force, where baseball player Griffin Jax had given up eligibility as a senior after last year’s MLB draft and several players had NFL aspirations. Most notable among them was receiver Jalen Robinette, who expected to be a mid-round draft selection. Robinette was not drafted and after spending time in mini-camps with the Bills and Patriots his future is further clouded by what his representatives call an ongoing discipline situation at the academy that prevented him from graduating with his class.

Gilman didn’t specifically cite the policy change in his social media post announcing his intentions to leave Navy.

“Presently, I find that my goals and passions are not the best fit with the Naval Academy,” he wrote.

Gilman was an honorable mention all- American Athletic Conference pick as a freshman this past season after finishing second at Navy with 76 tackles. He made six stops, including three solo, in a 28-14 loss at Air Force on Oct. 1.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Russell

It is not unique for players to leave service academies during their first two years before their commitment becomes binding. And it can be even more tempting for players who have enjoyed on-field success immediately to consider boosting their stock in less-restrictive environments.

Air Force basketball, for example, has lost standout players Tre’ Coggins and Matt Mooney in recent years as they transferred after excelling early. Coggins left for Cal-State Fullerton after averaging 16 points as a sophomore in 2013-14. Mooney transferred to South Dakota after his freshman campaign in 2014-15.

So, while Gilman’s path isn’t new, its timing is certainly noteworthy in that it came a month after the DOD reversed course on an athletic-friendly policy.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

In what’s believed to be a first, Air Force Recruiting Service’s top recruiter received an incentive flight with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds as a congratulations for all of his hard work.

Master Sgt. Gervacio Maldonado, a former Health Professions recruiter and now flight chief with the 318th Recruiting Squadron, was surprised and ecstatic when he learned winning the 2018 Maj. Gen. A.J. Stewart Top AFRS Recruiter award would take him even higher.

“I was blown away,” Maldonado said after hearing about the opportunity to fly. “The news stopped me in my tracks.”


The flight, with Thunderbird pilot #8, Maj. Jason Markzon, was a first for Maldonado in any fighter aircraft.

“I’d always wanted to fly in a fighter aircraft, however I never thought it would come to fruition,” Maldonado said. “I was so pumped to fly with the Thunderbirds.”

According to his supervisor, Maldonado is more than deserving of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds flew Master Sgt. Gervacio Maldonado, Top Recruiter in the Air Force for 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, May 11, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Cory W. Bush)

“His selection for this flight is an honor for all recruiters and airmen,” said Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Akridge, 318th RCS Production superintendent. “I’m honored to see the Thunderbirds bestow this opportunity to a hardworking airman such as Gervacio Maldonado.”

The top recruiter said he appreciates the opportunity of being the face of the Air Force at many local events where the Air Force doesn’t normally have a presence.

“Anyone selected for recruiting duty during the Developmental Special Duty process should embrace the opportunity,” Maldonado said. “Whether it is representing the Air Force at your local fairs or on larger stages, like the NBA All-Star game or the Super Bowl, you will have plenty of chances to enjoy these unique experiences.”

He recalls attending his first NFL game — an opportunity he had because of his recruiting duties. “I was on the 50-yard line! It was awesome.”

His production superintendent also shared many interesting things he has learned about the top performer since they began working together.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds flew Master Sgt. Gervacio Maldonado, Top Recruiter in the Air Force for 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, May 11, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Cory W. Bush)

“He’s an entrepreneur and a thrill seeker,” Akridge said. “He’s built a successful lodging business as well as conducted freediving all around the world, most recently in the Fiji Islands. But the most important aspect I’ve learned about him is his genuine passion to help others. He is a true wingman; always there to listen or help when and if needed.”

According to Akridge, when Maldonado was a firefighter, he directly responded to over 360 fire, rescue and medical calls, and he still volunteers as a firefighter in his off-duty time. Also, being a recruiter is a natural fit for Maldonado’s entrepreneurial spirit after spending the first part of his career as a weapons specialist.

“Being a recruiter is very business-like,” Maldonado said. “It lets you operate your very own Air Force franchise. You will have quite a bit of autonomy to conduct the business as you see fit—you will not find that in many career fields within the Air Force.”

Maldonado continually reminds himself it’s all about the opportunities. Most recruiters focus solely on the goal and not the experience, he said.

The Russians aren’t even bothering to fly planes off the Kuznetsov

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds flew Master Sgt. Gervacio Maldonado, Top Recruiter in the Air Force for 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, May 11, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Cory W. Bush)

“As a recruiter you are the face of the Air Force, the gatekeeper,” he continued. “You are a beacon of opportunity and will be sitting in the most opportune position to mentor and directly change lives. Just like any job there are challenges, but again, it is what you make of it. Stay positive and know that all your efforts are undoubtedly contributing to the betterment of people and the future of the Air Force.”

Those efforts are what got Maldonado his flight with the Thunderbirds, something he described as breathtaking.

“I still can’t believe people get paid to do this job,” he said. “They told me as I was preparing for the flight to be ready for the ride of a lifetime — and that’s pretty accurate!”

He praised the demonstration team members for their very high standard of professionalism and attention to detail.

“As a recruiter, my focus is on customer service and they provided that in very detail — from beginning to end,” he said.

Both Akridge and Maldonado agree they hope the tradition of flying the top recruiter with the Thunderbirds continues every year since the aerial demonstration team is an extension of professional Air Force recruiters.

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