When a civil war between Chinese powers ended with victory for the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1949, the Republic of China’s government retreated to a region of the nation that had only recently been returned from Japanese control, known as Taiwan. They quickly established a provisional capital in Taipei, and so began a half-century long staring contest from across the Pacific Ocean’s Taiwan Strait. Today, tensions remain high between these two Chinese governments, prompting complex foreign relations and sporadic military posturing between each government and their respective allies.
On Tuesday, Taiwan conducted an unusual series of military exercises aimed at preparing the nation to defend itself against a Chinese attack even after its military installations had been rendered useless by wave after wave of Chinese air strikes and naval bombardments. Taiwan knows China could feasibly neuter their military response capabilities fairly quickly, and in order to stay in the fight, they’d need to get creative with how they field their intercept and attack aircraft. When you’re fresh out of airstrips but still have fighters to scramble, what do you do?
You close down the freeways.
Freeway or Runway? It all depends on the circumstances.
(Photo courtesy of Taiwan’s Freeway Bureau)
“Our national security has faced multiple challenges,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen told the press on Tuesday. “Whether it is the Chinese Communist Party’s [People’s Liberation Army] long-distance training or its fighter jets circling Taiwan, it has posed a certain degree of threat to regional peace and stability. We should maintain a high degree of vigilance.”
As a part of the drills, Taiwan launched four different types of military aircraft from portions of highway that were shut down for use as makeshift airstrips. Long stretches of blacktop normally reserved for slow-moving commuters fighting their way through workday traffic instead became packed with American sourced F-16 Fighting Falcons and Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, along with French Mirage 2000s and Taiwan-made IDF fighters. Each aircraft took off carrying a full combat load.
The drills not only demonstrated Taiwan’s ability to scramble fighters and support aircraft from the freeway, it also proved conclusively that Taiwan’s troops can conduct refueling and ammunition replenishment operations right there on the highway, redeploying jets back into the fight quickly even after their air bases have been destroyed.
Taiwan fighters land on highway for Chinese ‘invasion’ wargames
“There are only a few military air bases which would become the prime targets in the event of an attack. The highway drill is necessary as highway strips would be our priority choice if the runways were damaged during a war,” Air Force Colonel Shu Kuo-mao explained.
Over 1,600 military personnel took part in the drills, along with Taiwan’s new variant of the F-16 that has been called the “most advanced fourth-generation fighter on the planet” by its builder, Lockheed Martin. The F-16V offers advanced AESA Radar sourced through Northrop Grumman, as well as a variety of updates and upgrades to avionics and combat systems meant to make it a formidable opponent for just about anything in the sky that isn’t Lockheed Martin’s flagship fighter, the F-35, or its sister in stealth, the F-22.
The F-16V is touted as the world’s most advanced fourth generation fighter by Lockheed Martin
(Promotional image courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
The F-16s that took part in Tuesday’s drills notably flew carrying two Harpoon anti-ship missiles, two AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles, and two AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, sourced from the United States, meaning their primary role in a fight would be to engage with encroaching aircraft and vessels, rather than air-to-surface strikes against the Chinese mainland.
With only about a hundred miles separating Taiwan’s shores from China’s, it stands to reason that combat operations would begin with a heavy bombardment of Taiwan’s few operational airstrips. These drills, however, suggest that even such an offensive may not be enough to stop Taiwan from responding with some of the best fighters on the planet.
The F-22 Raptor is kind of an underrated badass. Now overshadowed by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Raptor never really got its chance to stand out on its own. But with the U.S. Air Force increasingly butting heads with other air forces around the world, the real power of the Raptor is starting to show.
General Mark Welsh, then-Air Force Chief of Staff once told the story of a Raptor pilot who snuck up on an Iranian F-4 Phantom who was moving to intercept and shoot down a U.S. drone. After flying below two Iranian planes to check out their armaments, he pulled up to their left wing, surprising them, and told them to go home. They did.
The F-22 was born out of a desire to replace both the F-16 and F-15 with an air superiority fighter unrivaled in air-to-air kills. Even with the development of the F-35, there are those who still believe the F-22 is the superior airframe and that Raptor production stopped too soon.
They have a valid point.
Nowadays, the F-22 is mostly being wasted on patrols and alert missions or other exercises that don’t require the Raptor’s particular set of skills, according to a Government Accountability Office report. And since such missions don’t require the F-22 specifically, pilots aren’t able to trained to make use of capabilities unique to the aircraft, meaning it rarely has its full range of abilities realized.
In combat zones, the mere presence of an F-22 commands respect. Currently, Russian, Syrian, and Iranian aircraft are operating in the skies above Syria. In 587 encounters there, the Raptors forced the other aircraft to back off without further aggression.
A U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter jet (front) taxis past a C17 aircraft after landing at Kadena U.S. Air Force Base on Japan’s southwestern island of Okinawa
The success (though limited) in Syria showcases not only the capability of the Raptors and their pilots, but also what other air forces’ pilots think of the airframe — and the potential for future roles in other battlespaces, specifically China.
The Commander of Pacific Air Forces, Gen. Charles Brown, has an idea of what that role might look like. While the Chinese are certain to try to jam U.S. communications in the event of a conflict, Brown wants the F-22 to frustrate and confuse the Chinese. The idea has been dubbed “Rapid Raptor” and features four escort F-22s and a USAF C-17 transport plane to be deployable within 24 hours to go anywhere in the PACOM area of responsibility.
The “Rapid Raptor” idea calls for the Elmendorf AFB, Alaska-based 3rd Wing of F-22s to quickly disperse in the event of a conflict, being able to refuel from the C-17’s wing tanks wherever they go. The idea quickly spread to the rest of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet, most notably in Eastern Europe where F-22s are a deterrent to Russian aggression. The Air Force even wants to use the Rapid concept on other airframes.
In the event of a conflict, these spread-out fighter formations could more easily communicate through Chinese jamming via the use of satellite communications. They would also receive target orders this way. In the event of the Chinese disabling or destroying satellites, the small formations would have enough information to make informed battlefield decisions and operate independently.
The U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) has rejected Russia’s claim that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on May 29 that the aircraft reflected Russia’s goal to establish a foothold in the oil-rich country.
Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director for intelligence at ARFICOM, said the U.S. military tracked the 14 MiG-29 fighter jets and SU-24 fighter bombers that were flown in by the Russian military, landing at Libya’s Jufra air base.
The base is the main forward airfield for Khalifa Haftar and his eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), which has been waging an offensive to capture Tripoli.
Hadfield said Russia’s activities in Libya gave it access to that country’s oil and a military base in striking distance of Europe.
“Backing the LNA and backing Field Marshal Haftar — it really isn’t about winning the war, it’s about developing strongholds,” Hadfield said in an interview on May 29 with a small group of reporters.
A big U.S. concern would be if Russia placed missiles in such a location, he added.
“If Russia secures a permanent position in Libya and, worse, deploys long-range missile systems, it will be a game changer for Europe, NATO, and many Western nations,” Hadfield said.
Russia has denied links to the aircraft, calling the claim “stupidity.” Viktor Bondarev, the former Russian Air Force chief who heads the Defense Committee in the upper house of parliament, said the planes were not Russian, but could be Soviet-era aircraft owned by other African countries.
Hadfield disputed that, saying there were none of those aircraft in that part of Africa. And, he said, “not only did we watch them fly from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya, we were able to photograph them at multiple points.”
AFRICOM first released information about the arrival of the Russian aircraft in Libya on May 26. It provided more details on May 27, saying Moscow deployed the jets and bombers to provide support for Russian mercenaries helping Haftar battle forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognized by the United Nations.
AFRICOM said that MiG-29s and Su-24s bearing Russian Federation Air Force markings departed Russia “over multiple days in May.”
After the aircraft landed at the Russian military base of Hmeimim in western Syria, the MiG-29s “are repainted and emerge with no national markings.”
Hadfield said the fighter aircraft will likely provide close air support and offensive strikes for the Vagner Group, a private military contractor believed to be close to the Kremlin that has been helping Hafter’s forces.
The aircraft have not yet been used, but he said they will have to be flown either by pilots from Russia or contractors employed by Vagner.
Also on May 29 the U.S. State Department announced that Malta on May 26 seized id=”listicle-2646139035″.1 billion worth of counterfeit Libyan currency that it said was printed by a Russian state-owned company.
The money was printed by Joint Stock Company Goznak and ordered by “an illegitimate parallel entity,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in the statement.
The statement said the influx of Russian-printed Libyan currency in recent years “has exacerbated Libya’s economic challenges,” adding that the United States remained committed to working with the United Nations and international partners to deter illicit activities in Libya.
“This incident once again highlights the need for Russia to cease its malign and destabilizing actions in Libya,” Ortagus said.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country is now split between a government in the east allied with Hafter and the UN-backed GNA in Tripoli.
The Russian Foreign Ministry says the situation in Libya is continuing to deteriorate and that a cease-fire announced in January is in tatters.
The cease-fire “has definitively collapsed, and hostilities have resumed in full,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on May 29, according to Interfax.
The balance of power differs significantly from what it was when the cease-fire came into effect due to “massive foreign assistance,” she said.
Russia is in contact with all sides in the conflict and will insist it is resolved through diplomatic means, she said.
It was once the most heroic thing a soldier could do. They’d strap themselves up with the barest of combat essentials and jump out of the back of a perfectly good aircraft into uncertain danger — often ending up miles away from their intended drop zone and, sometimes, completely on their own.
Combat jumps led the Allied Forces to victory in WWII. These same tactics were employed during the Korean War and Vietnam War and, eventually, were used by Rangers and Green Berets in Grenada and Panama. When it came time for the Global War on Terrorism, well, let’s just say there are only a handful of combat jumps that come without asterisks attached.
It should be noted that this list cannot be exhaustive, as there are likely some jumps that that have yet to be declassified. Also, there were many airborne insertions done in-theater, but those don’t qualify you for the coveted “mustard stain,” so they don’t make the list.
The following are the only jumps that have happened since September 11, 2001 that satisfy all the requirements to fully classify as combat jumps.
Now it is known as Kandahar Airfield, home to the ISAF command, several NATO nation’s commands, a TGI Fridays, and a pond full of human excrement.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Tony Wickman)
Just 38 days after the horrific attacks of September 11th, the 75th Ranger Regiment sent 200 of their most badass Rangers to meet with the 101st Airborne Division 100 miles south of Kandahar, Afghanistan — the last bastion of complete Taliban control in Afghanistan. The Rangers landed on a derelict strip of land and expected heavy resistance. In actuality, they found just one, lone Taliban fighter who presumably sh*t himself as 200 Rangers dropped in on him.
There, they established a sufficient forward operating base, called FOB Rhino, which opened the way to take back Kandahar for the Afghan people.
Fun fact: they technically beat the next entry by a few days, forever solidifying their bragging rights.
The 75th Rangers, who are featured heavily on this list, led the way into Iraq by making combat jumps into Iraq in March, 2003 — the first in Iraq since Desert Storm.
The Rangers landed in the region a few weeks earlier by airborne insertion to capture the lead operational planner of the September 11th attacks. They accomplished this within three days of touching boots to the ground. The next wave of 2nd Battalion 75th Rangers came to secure al-Qa’im and Haditha before making their way into Baghdad.
If you didn’t know about this one… Don’t worry. Literally everyone in the 173rd will remind you of this whenever their personal Airborne-ness is brought into question.
(U.S. Army photo by Specialist Adam Sanders)
Operation Northern Delay
In the early morning of March 26th, 2003, 996 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Division jumped into the relatively empty Bashur Airfield and stopped six entire divisions of Saddam’s army from continuing on to Baghdad.
This marked the first wave of conventional troops in the region and the beginning of the end of Saddam’s regime. This was also the only jump conducted by conventional USAF airmen as the 786th Security Forces Squadron also jumped with them.
Come on, 75th Rangers! You guys are leaving out all the good, juicy details of your classified missions!
Various Regimental Reconnaissance Detachment jumps in Afghanistan
Very little is known about the last two publicly-disclosed combat jumps, as is the case with most JSOC missions, other than the fact that they were both conducted by the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Regimental Reconnaissance Company Teams 3 and 1.
RRC Team 3 jumped into Tillman Drop Zone in southeast Afghanistan on July 3rd, 2004, to deploy tactical equipment in a combat military free-fall parachute drop.
This was the last RRC time made a jump until Team 1 jumped five years later on July 11th, 2009, into an even more remote location of Afghanistan — but this time, scant reports state that the jumps including a tandem passenger to aid in deploying tactical equipment.
We’ll just have to wait for the history books to be written, I guess.
The PCU Sioux City will be commissioned on November 17, 2018.
(U.S. Navy Stan Bailey)
The Sioux City is a Freedom variant of the LCS, and it carries a 57mm gun, Rolling Airframe Missiles, .50-cal. machine guns, and the ALEX decoy system by default. The Sioux City also has a Mk. 50 torpedo, a lightweight torpedo that’s great for hitting fast-moving and deep-diving submarines.
The 57mm Bofors gun can fire airburst or conventional rounds at up to 4 rounds per second, shredding small boats or attackers on shore. The RAM allows the ship to engage anti-ship missiles, aircraft, and surface vessels and can even track and engage multiple targets at once. And the ALEX decoy allows the ship to create a massive radar signature to spoof missiles heading at the LCS or a fleet that it’s supporting.
One of its best core assets is the new radar, which can keep track of 1,000 contacts at once.
The Future littoral combat ship USS Sioux City transits the Thames River as it arrives at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, Nov. 9, 2018.
(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Hoskins)
The surface warfare module adds an MH-60R helicopter equipped with Hellfire missiles, a Firescout drone helicopter that can be equipped with guided rockets, and a pack of 24 Longbow Hellfire missiles that can be launched in rapid succession if necessary. This allows the LCS to slaughter swarm attacks as well as threaten ships and troops operating near the shore. The ship carries rigid-hull inflatable boats in this configuration which it can launch and recover from its stern ramp.
When the ship is equipped for anti-submarine warfare, it brings an MH-60S and the Firescout, but it pads those out with an active sonar, a towed sensor array, and a decoy system that fools incoming torpedoes. The Sioux City even brings a NETFIRES Precision Attack Munition with it in this configuration, allowing it to punch through armored targets up to 25 miles away.
The Future littoral combat ship USS Sioux City pulls alongside the pier at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, Nov. 9, 2018.
(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Hoskins)
When working against mines, the MH-60S and Firescout stay, but the ship brings airborne mine detection and neutralization systems, additional sensors for scanning the coastal areas, and multiple drones, including the Knifefish underwater drone.
The ships can reach speeds up to 50 knots, but it tops out at 45 knots in sea state 3. Going that fast drains fuel, though; its maximum range at 50 knots is 1,500 nautical miles. If it slows to 20 knots, it can travel 4,300 nautical miles.
The Sioux City will be the fifth of the Freedom-class LCSs, and the Navy already has 11 Independence-class littoral combat ships.
The future USS Sioux City is launched into the Menominee River seconds after ship sponsor Mary Winnefeld, wife of retired Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, christened the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship.
The LCS add a lot of capability to the fleet in small packages and with small crews — the Sioux City can be fully manned with 75 sailors, and it can do most of its core missions with only 15 to 50 sailors — but they have been critiqued for their high cost and limited survivability systems.
The LCS program has been rife with cost overruns, the ships have needed excessive maintenance, and they’re fragile for combat. They are highly susceptible to damage with little protection for critical ship systems and limited redundancy for propulsion, sensors, etc. This is obviously a problem for ships supposed to operate near enemy shores and mine layers.
The Times’ journalists scanned the locations of nearly 150 coalition airstrikes across northern Iraq and found the rate of civilian deaths to be more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition.
Such negligence — a combination of simply flawed and outdated intelligence — amounted to what the Times noted “may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”
Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Department of Defense agency overseeing the US-led coalition, said “US and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes.” He told the Times that the US has been “conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”
The reality on the ground reportedly tells a much different story.
Data from coalition forces reported Iraqi civilian deaths have resulted in about one of every 157 airstrikes. The Times found that civilians were killed in one out of every five.
Basim Razzo was almost one of the victims, according to the Times. In September 2015, Razzo was sleeping in his bed in Mosul — then under ISIS control — when a US coalition airstrike reduced much of his home to a heap of rubble. He awoke drenched in blood. The roof of his house had been torn apart. Worst of all, he didn’t know if his family had been hurt. He soon discovered his wife, daughter, brother, and nephew had been killed.
Later that day, the US coalition uploaded a video to YouTube entitled, “Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul Iraq 20 Sept 2015.” The military claimed it had successfully demolished an ISIS car-bomb factory, but it now appears they actually struck the homes of Razzo and his brother, killing four innocent civilians in the process.
Human rights concerns
In July, the Iraqi Army liberated Mosul from ISIS forces, but people like Razzo couldn’t move on. Many still live with the fear of being misidentified as ISIS sympathizers, and the tragedy of losing innocent loved ones.
“We’re not happy with it, and we’re never going to be happy with it,” Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for the Central Command, told the Times regarding civilian casualties. “But we’re pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things.”
That’s not enough for human rights organizations, who often criticize coalition forces for poor reporting procedures that leave dozens, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of dead civilians unaccounted for. Human Rights Watch also called on President Donald Trump to do more to protect civilians abroad as news surfaced that he was modifying US military rules of engagement with suspected terrorists.
“Trump’s reported changes for targeting terrorism suspects will result in more civilian deaths with less oversight and greater secrecy,” Letta Tayler, a HRW researcher, said earlier this month. “The US should be increasing civilian protections off the battlefield, not dismantling them.”
Wondering what it takes to cut the mustard in Special Forces selection?
The time of my first (just) two-year enlistment in the Army was coming to an end. I originally enlisted for the shortest amount of time in the Army in the event that if I really hated it too much I only ever had two years to endure. There were two things that I was positively certain of:
I really DID want to stay in the Army
I really did NOT want to stay right where I was in the Army
It wasn’t a matter of being so fervent about wanting to excel into the ranks of Special Forces soldiers at that time; rather, it was the matter of getting away — far away — from the attitudes and caliber of persons I was serving with at the time in the peace- time Army as it was. I understood, so I thought, that the way to ensure I could distance myself from the regular army aura was to go into Special Forces, namely the Green Berets.
(Special Forces Regimental insignia)
That was a great path forward, but with a near insurmountable obstacle — you had to be a paratrooper! Jumping from an airplane in flight was fine by me, the problem associated with that was that most airplanes had to be really high up before you jumped out of them. I was then as I am still horrendously terrified of heights — woe is me! My fear of altitudes was keeping me from going to Airborne Jump School and stuck in my current morass of resolve.
Well, just two short years in the regular “go nowhere, do nothing” Army and I was ready to jump out of high-in-the-sky airplanes parachute or no parachute. I was ready to jump ship!
Jump School was indeed terrifying despite the small number of jumps, just five, that we were required to make. All of the jumps were in the daytime though mine were all night jumps. All that is required to qualify as a night jump is to simply close one’s eyes. I did. I figured there was nothing so pressing to see while falling and waiting for the intense tug of the opening of the parachute, so I just closed my eyes.
(Every jump can potentially be a night jump, so says I — Wikipedia commons)
There were 25 of us paratroops headed to the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) upon graduation from Jump School. I was the highest ranking man even as an E-4 in the group, so I was designated the person in charge of the charter bus ride from Jump School to Ft. Bragg, NC for the course — of course! I imagined that duty would not entail much on a bus ride of just a few hours. I was shocked when approached by two men from my group who wished to terminate their status as Green Beret candidates.
Well, the course certainly MUST be hard if men are quitting already on the bus ride to the course.
“Sure fellows, but can you at least wait until we get to Bragg to quit?” I pleaded.
Once at Ft. Bragg, it was our understanding that we were on a two-week wait for our SFQC class to begin. Our first week we tooled about doing essentially nothing but dodging work details like cutting grass and picking up pine cones. The second week was an event that the instructors called “Pre-Phase,” a term that I didn’t like the sound of and braced for impact.
“Pre-Phase,” in my (humble) opinion, was a pointless and disorganized suck-athon. It was a non-stop hazing with back-breaking, butt-kicking, physical events determined to crush the weak and eliminate the faint of heart. In the end we had a fraction of the number of candidates that we started with. I noted that of the 25 men I brought over from Jump School, only me and one other very reserved soldier survived. We nodded at each other and shook hands at the culmination of the mysterious Pre-Phase.
“Good job, brother-man!” I praised him.
“Thank you; my name is Gabrial, you can call me Gabe,” he introduced.
“Great job, Gabe — George is my name — please, call me Geo!” I invited.
The documented entry-level criteria included the ability to pass the standard Army Physical Readiness Fitness Test (APRFT) in a lofty percentile, though one I am loath to admit I do not remember. There was also a swim test that was required of us to perform wearing combat fatigues, combat boots, and carrying an M-16 assault rifle.
We did it in the post swimming pool. It was a bit of a challenge but by no means a threat to my status as a candidate. I was nonetheless dismayed at several men who were not able to pass it after having gone through all they had. It was sad.
(Special Forces have a charter for conducting surface and subsurface water operations — Wikipedia commons)
The first month of the SFQC was very impressive to me as a young man barely 20 years old. It was all conducted at a remote camp in the woods where we lived in structures made of wood frames and tar paper — barely a departure at all from the outdoor environment. We endured many (MANY) surprise forced marches of unknown distance, very heavy loads, and extreme speed that were hardly distinguishable from a full run.
Aside from the more didactic classroom environment learning skills of every sort, there were the constant largely physical strength and endurance events like hand-to-hand combat training, combat patrolling, rope bridge construction with river crossings, obstacle course negotiating, living and operating in heavily wooded environments. We learned to kill and prepare wild game for meals: rabbits, squirrels, goats, and snakes. Hence the age-old term for Special Forces soldiers — “Snake Eaters,” a moniker I bore with proud distinction.
(Survival skills are essential in Special Forces — Wikipedia Commons)
We all had to endure a survival exercise of several days alone. There were dozens of tasks associated with that exercise that we had to accomplish in those days: building shelter, starting and maintaining a fire for heat and cooking, building snares and traps to catch animals for food, and building an apparatus to determine time of day and cardinal directions.
Since the same land was used time after time by the survival training, it was understood by the cadre that the land was pretty much hunted out, leaving no animals to speak of for food. Therefore there was a set day and time that a truck was scheduled to drive by each candidate’s camp to throw an animal off of the back. When the animal hit the ground it became stunned and disoriented. We had just seconds to profit from the animal’s stupor to spring in and catch it before it ran away… or go hungry for the duration.
Hence the sundial I built and my track of the days, to have myself in position to capture my animal when the time came. The time and the truck came. I crouched along the side of the terrain road. The cadre slung a thing that was white from the truck. It hit the ground and was stunned. I pounced on what turned out to be a white bunny rabbit.
“Oh… my God!” I lamented earnestly in my weakened physical and mental capacity, “I’ve stumbled into Alice in Wonderland’s enchanted forest… I can’t eat the White Rabbit!”
(He’s late, he’s late, for a very important date — Wikipedia Commons)
Some men were unfortunately unable to capture their rabbits in time before they ran away. One man was overcome by grief at the prospect of killing his rabbit — his only source of companionship. He rather built a cage for it and graced it with a share of the paltry source of food that he had. Me, I was a loner and swung my Cheshire rabbit by the hind legs head-first into a tree. I ate that night in solace and in the company of just myself.
Men who could no longer continue sat on the roadside each morning and waited for a truck, one that I referred to in disdain as the hearse, to be picked up and removed from the course. One of them was carrying a cage lovingly constructed from sticks and vines in which sat therein a nibbling white rabbit. The man was washed out of the course for failing tasks, backed up by quitting. There was no potential for a man to return for a second time if he had quit on his first try — quitting was not an option.
The event that cut the greatest swath through the candidate numbers was the individual land navigation event. It lasted a week or so with some hands-on cadre-lead instruction, some time for individual practice, culminating in a period of several days and nights of individual tests. The movements were long, the terrain difficult, the stress level very high. Every leg of the navigation course was measured on time and accuracy — we had to be totally accurate on every move, and within the speed standard.
(SF troop candidate during Land Navigation Phase of SFQC moves quickly with heavy loads — DVIDS)
I recall a particular night when all of us lay in our pup tents waiting for our release time to begin our night movements. Just as the hour was on us a monumental torrent of rain began to gush down. The men scrambled and clambered back to their tents like wet alley cats. I performed a simple mathematical equation in my head:
time equals distance
hiding in a tent for an undetermined period equals zero time
zero time equals zero distance
choosing one’s personal comfort over time equals failure
I had a Grandma Whipple’s rum-soaked cigar clenched tightly in my teeth; it was lit before the rain but no more, and I assure you most fervently that it was never in any way Cuban! Plowing through the vegetation for many minutes I came to a modest clearing that I came to be very familiar with over the days. It told me that I was thankfully on course for the moment. The rain was tapering off generously and I felt a leg up on the navigation for the night.
I reached for my cigar but there was none there save the mere butt that remained clenched in my teach. To my disgust the waterlogged cigar had collapsed under its weight and lay in a mushy black track down my chin and neck edging glacially toward my chest. There would be no comfort of the smoke, nor deterrence of mosquitoes by the smoke of the Grandma Whipple’s rum-soaked positively non-cuban cigar that night.
More than five months later I sat on my rucksack (backpack) of some 50 lbs just having completed a timed 12-mile forced ruck march, nothing any longer between me and graduation from the SFQC course. There were plenty of things to think of that had happened or did not happen to me over the nearly half-year, though I somehow chose the bus ride from Jump School to Ft. Bragg to ponder. How rowdy and arrogant the crowd had been, all pompously sporting green berets that they hadn’t even earned yet. Me, I had chosen to wear my Army garrison cap — nothing fancy.
I filtered through the events that had taken each man who had not already quit from that arduous bus ride from Jump School. I remember how they had all failed or quit one by one except that one brother whose hand I shook at the end of pre-phase.
Buses pulled up to move us back to some nice barracks for the night, some barrack at least 12 miles away by my calculation. Usually everyone snatched up his own rucksack by his damned self, but on this occasion the brother next to me pulled up my rucksack to shoulder height for me in a congratulatory gesture of kindness.
I in turn grabbed his rucksack in the same manner though with a deep admiration and respect for the man who had come all the way with me from Jump School through the SFQC fueled by reserved professionalism. His name was Gabriel, but I just called him Gabe.
According to the Hartford Courant, a Russian naval vessel is operating off the coast of Connecticut. The vessel, described as a “spy ship,” has been operating up and down the East Coast.
A FoxNews.com report identified the Russian ship as the Viktor Leonov, noting that it was also been loitering around Norfolk Naval Station, the largest naval base in the world.
“The presence of this spy ship has to be regarded very seriously because Russia is an increasingly aggressive adversary. It reflects a clear need to harden our defenses against electronic surveillance and cyber espionage,” Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in a press release.
The Viktor Leonov is a Vishnya-class intelligence ship. According to GlobalSecurity.org, Vishnya-class vessels are very lightly armed with two SA-N-8 missile launchers and two AK-630 close-in weapon systems. The ship has a top speed of 16 knots, and is loaded with gear for carrying out signals intelligence (SIGINT) and communications intelligence (COMINT).
The Soviet Union built seven of these vessels in the 1980s, and all remain in service with the Russian Navy until 2020, when they will be replaced by a new class of vessels. The Leonov carried out a similar operation in early 2015 with much less fanfare.
Effective immediately, commands can now order the Improved Flame Resistant Variant (IFRV) coverall. Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) announced manner and occasion of wear guidance for the IFRV Feb. 5 2018.
The approval of the IFRV as a fleet organizational clothing item to replace the legacy Flame Resistant Variant (FRV) coverall was announced in early January 2017 after the completion of a series of afloat wear tests. The IFRV addresses comfort and durability issues found with the original FRV coverall.
“The original FRV was rapidly introduced to the fleet because Sailor safety is our top priority,” said CAPT Mark Runstrom, director, Fleet Supply Operations/Services, USFF. “However, we recognized immediately that we needed a coverall that is more durable, functional, and comfortable as well as safe. That is what the IFRV is all about.”
Sailors stationed aboard ships and submarines will be issued a minimum of two IFRV coveralls with units authorized to procure name tags using unit operating target funds. The manner of wear will be the same as the FRV coveralls, prescribing wearers to don full sleeves and secured fastenings. The current 9-inch black, steel-toed boot and Navy or command ball caps are authorized for wear with the coverall.
Approved belts include a black cotton web belt for E1-E6, a khaki cotton web belt for chief petty officers and officers and; rigger’s belts are authorized at command discretion.
Rank tabs and insignia are authorized to be sewn or pinned on the coverall based on the wearer’s duties and unit preference.
Rectangular, Velcro-backed name tags will be worn centered, 1/4-inch above the left breast pocket-similar in size, shape, and content to the V-neck sweater name tag. Embossed leather name tags or fabric embroidered unit specific name tags similar to those worn on the green Nomex flight jacket will be authorized for wear at the discretion of unit commanders.
Blue or brown undershirts are authorized for wear with the IFRV, although blue undershirts are being phased out with the introduction of the Navy Working Uniform Type III.
Members will not be authorized to stencil or serialize any portion of outer fabric of the IFRV nor attach unit or flag patches due to the risk of degrading the flame resistant fabric. However, Sailors are allowed to stencil the inner parts for identification purposes.
The IFRV will be prescribed as an underway uniform and the appropriate attire for events such as sea and anchor detail. Commands can authorize the IFRV for wear ashore or in-port and when working in conditions where excessive wear to the uniform could occur or when needing arc or flash protection.
The IFRV coverall is made from a flame resistant, tri-fiber blend designed to offer arc flash protection and provide improved moisture management by allowing the fiber to breathe more efficiently. The IFRV coverall is also designed for sustained durability lasting nearly twice as long as the FRV.
Additionally, feedback during fleet testing of the IFRV revealed a desire for a two-piece FRV. USFF has developed several versions with varying design features that will be tested in the spring of 2018.
The name Wilmer McLean may not be found in most history books, but if it isn’t in the Guinness Book, it should be. The man moved his family during the Civil War and if real estate is all about location, then Wilmer McLean was probably the luckiest home buyer of all time.
Or unluckiest, depending on your point of view.
The opening shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor in April 1861. With the exception of a cannon accident that killed a Union artilleryman after the fort surrendered, there were no casualties. The major outcome of that was that the Civil War was officially on.
It was in Virginia, three months later, that the Confederate and Union Armies would meet in the first major battle of that war. General P.G.T. Beauregard (who happened to command the Confederates at Fort Sumter) used McLean’s house as his headquarters during that engagement, what would become known as the First Battle of Bull Run.
During the fighting, a Union cannonball came crashing down McLean’s chimney, into his fireplace. Beauregard later wrote: “A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House.”
McLean served in the Virginia militia but was too old to return to military service for either army. He was a merchant-trader for the Confederate Army, but operating his business so close to the Union lines was hazardous, so after that first battle, he moved his family south…to a small area called Appomattox Court House.
On Apr. 8, 1865, Generals Lee and Grant sat in McLean’s parlor, discussing the terms of the Confederate surrender and the end of the Civil War.
After the two generals left the house, Union officers began taking everything in the room — as souvenirs. Some paid McLean for their prizes, some didn’t, but they took everything, including his daughter’s toy doll.
The opening scenes of Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn introduce viewers to a charismatic and devoted father deep in the joys of parenthood. Crawling on the floor, swimming and blowing out birthday candles with his toddler and infant sons, he is right where he should be. Until the day he isn’t. Through interviews, reports and a thoroughly researched investigation, the filmmaker poses some incriminating questions.
Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Was it the mechanic who told him his helicopter was cleared for flight two hours before it slammed tail-first into the ocean? Was it the manufacturer who produced the faulty wiring blamed for the explosion? Was it the upper ranks of the Navy who disregarded multiple letters of concern purportedly choosing flight hours over safety? How about the Congressional and Executive branches of our government that teamed up with arms manufacturers and focused on new bloated defense contracts instead of investing in the people and machinery already in place?
Van Dorn’s wife, Nicole, living in the shadow of her husband’s unnecessary death, is on a mission to find out. Catalyzed by her and others’ search for answers, this gripping 2018 documentary investigates events leading up to Navy lieutenant J. Wesley Van Dorn’s death one month before his 30th birthday. His untimely demise occurred during a training exercise when an explosion killing three of the five crewmen aboard caused the crash-prone helicopter to fall from the sky into frigid waters below. Van Dorn was not the only one who had expressed concerns about the safety of this aircraft, nor was he the only one to die in it as a result of misguided leadership and mechanical failure.
Written, directed, and narrated by Zachary Stauffer as his first feature documentary, this film offers a sobering look into chronic institutional failings that have resulted in 132 arguably preventable deaths. Diving unforgivably into one family’s agonizing loss, Stauffer invites us to ponder heavy questions while constructing a wall of outrage in his viewers. What is the price of a life? How many lives does it take before change takes place? When will avarice and the “just get ‘er done” attitude stop undermining the American defense establishment?
Built by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the MH-53E Sea Dragon is the Navy’s nearly identical version of the Marine Corps’ CH-53-E Super Stallion. Since entering service in 1986, it has never succumbed to enemy fire but holds the worst safety record in the Navy’s fleet making it the deadliest aircraft in military history. The 53-E is a powerful machine used by the Navy for dragging heavy equipment through water to sweep for mines while the Marine version is used for transporting people and gear.
Stauffer explains that due to issues with these aircraft that cropped up even in their initial test flights at the manufacturer and in training missions, the Navy tried to get away with using less powerful helicopters and alternate minesweeping tactics but nothing was as effective as the relic Sea Dragon. Since they were fated to be replaced at some point, the higher ranks avoided investing too much into them so funding for spare parts and maintenance was lean. Members of Congress allegedly chose the path of greed and corruption when defense contractors offered them flashy new weaponry and vehicles as well as comfortable retirement packages. The upper echelons flourished while those training, fighting, and dying on the ground, as well as the American taxpayers, suffered needlessly as top-down decision makers claimed their hands were tied.
With fewer and fewer resources, those maintaining the Sea Dragon had to do more with less. They began cutting corners and developing bad habits. When voicing their worries in person or through over a dozen letters and memos to the upper ranks, they were “belittled, humiliated and cut down,” as one pilot explained. More than 30 years before Van Dorn’s crash, Sikorsky recommended replacing the faulty Kapton wires on all Navy aircraft. This was suggested not once, not twice, but three times before the Navy decided to start looking into the issue. Eventually they named Kapton as the highest ranked safety risk in the fleet and devised a long-term plan to replace it in phases but claimed to never have enough funding to refit all the wiring in the 53s. Only months prior to Van Dorn’s crash the Pentagon re-budgeted funding away from this critical project. Thus, problems that had been escalating over decades while the issue was known and actively overlooked perpetuated, yet the birds were still allowed to fly.
By the time Van Dorn signed on the dotted line in 2010, the run-down helicopters that required about 40 hours of maintenance for a single hour of flight time should have been retired. He and his wife made the decision together to request a spot in the squadron flying 53s because others told them it was an ideal position for a family man who wanted to be home for dinner every night.
Van Dorn was one of those who voiced his opinions about the safety of this aircraft. In an ominous voice recording foreshadowing his own death, he stated “If anyone should care about what’s happening on that aircraft, it should be me and the other pilots, I think. It makes sense to me, because I’m the one who’s going to get in it and have something terrible happen if it doesn’t go right.” His wife Nicole later explained that, “He felt that no matter what he said or what he wrote or who he complained to, nothing was changing.”
On a particularly cold morning in January 2014, Van Dorn’s own portentous sentiments were realized 18 nautical miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. Chafing from a single nylon zip tie exposed naked wiring to a fine spray of fuel causing it to arc, sending a blast of fire into the cockpit. Hours later Nicole lay on her husband’s chest just before they pronounced him dead.
Dylan Boone, a Naval aircrewman and one of two survivors of the wreck declared, “You don’t expect to give up your life for this country because you were given faulty equipment.”
Dynamic cinematography combined with a subtly haunting score by composer William Ryan Fritch creates the backdrop for this solid investigative report. Crisp and flowing visuals paired with thrilling military footage complement the feelings portrayed by those interviewed. These primary sources include Van Dorn’s mother, wife, friends, and fellow airmen as well as a mechanic, pilots, a general, a Pentagon Analyst and a military reporter. Throughout the documentary they and the narrator explain the multifaceted issues connected to Van Dorn’s death and the trouble with the 53s from a variety of angles.
Woven skillfully together, a poignant story is told of decades of negligence that continues to result in tragedy. Wholesome home movies of a young involved father raising two sons with his lovely wife are contrasted with the aching void ripped into the Van Dorn family’s home after his death. Stirring visions of military life ignite the urge to join in viewers who have ever felt compelled to do so, whereas the deep frustration of stifled dreams and a scarred body and soul are almost tangible to someone who has been there before as hard truths are drawn out throughout the film.
Centering on the death of a handsome, beloved father, husband and seaman who was liked by all humanized an issue that might have otherwise been unrelatable. Utilizing the audience’s heartstrings as a focal point was a powerful way to bring attention to a predicament that could have been swept under the rug. Despite the fact that the C-53 airframes experienced serious accidents more than twice as often as the average aircraft and that internal investigations were performed with alarming results, the Navy continues to risk its servicemembers’ life and limb to keep these helicopters performing their critical mission in the air. With this in mind, this documentary might just put enough pressure on the Navy to make the changes necessary to save an untold number of lives.
Winner of the Audience Award in Active Cinema at the 2018 Mill Valley Film Festival, Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn is an intriguing and effective piece of military reporting presented in comprehensible terms for the layman. It is a successful examination of not only the serious failings of a controversial aircraft and the misled priorities keeping it aloft, but also hints toward the fact that anyone who brings up the disturbing issue of safety of these helicopters will be forced out of service. I would recommend this professional-level documentary, especially to anyone with interests in the military or national defense.
The Navy, the Pentagon, Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin declined to participate in this well-researched film. Major funding to make this documentary possible was provided by supporters of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Investigative Studios.
After viewing this film, you can decide for yourself who killed Lt. Van Dorn. Regardless of the answer, his unwarranted death will not have been completely in vain if it successfully carries out his final mission: righting the deep and longstanding problems with the CH-53 helicopters, thus preventing the death and destruction of countless others just as it ultimately took him.
In a stunning reversal after years of tight-lipped silence, Army officials have revealed the capabilities of the “physical training belt,” a reflective band soldiers wear around themselves to ward off everything from bullets to badgers to STDs.
“The Department of Defense has previously hidden the details of this lifesaving technology for fear of it falling into the wrong hands,” an Army spokesman said in a conference. “But our NATO allies and the American people deserve to know the simple fact: PT belts save lives.”
The PT Belt, also known as the “glow” or “reflective” belt, is worn around the chest or waist. According to newly released documents, it bends gravity. Here’s what it can do:
The PT Belt’s ability to manipulate gravity allows it to reduce the weight of any item it is wrapped around. This means that soldiers carrying a 100-pound ruck and 40-pounds of armor can reduce that load to about 50 “effective pounds” if they use two reflective belts.
The gravity reduction from the combat load can be redirected into an extremely small black hole that guides the bullet away from the soldier. An incoming round headed for center mass won’t be pulled away, but can be guided to hit an extremity. A shot originally headed for an extremity will usually miss.
The reflective layer in a PT belt is actually a mesh of microscopic crystals that provide constant holistic healing and realign the service members’ chakras. Different PT belts align the chakra in different ways to allow for different benefits:
Yellow PT belts reduce upper brain function, allowing junior troops to act without question.
Green PT belts prevent the buildup of certain pathogens and parasites.
Blue PT belts increase muscular strength but reduce cardiovascular endurance.
4. Animal attacks
PT Belts can reach into the primal part of animal brains to allow the wearer limited control of the creature. Typically this is just enough for troops to more effectively “shoo” animals away, but those with innate beastmaster powers may be able to command the forces of nature. They are typically recruited into the previously top-secret “Camel Spider Corps.”
The microscopic crystals in a PT belt reflect the laser beam and break it up, rendering it useless.
Pretty straight forward, the belt increases the visibility of the soldier, allowing vehicles to avoid hitting troops.
It’s a simple fact that military uniforms increase the chances that a citizen or fellow service member will approach an individual for sexual relations. Like the classic BCG eyewear, the PT Belt not only wipes out the increase afforded by the uniform but also erodes the original appeal of the soldier. Basically, it’s anti-sexy.
The Marine Corps plans to begin replacing its legacy Light Armored Vehicle with modern Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle late in the next decade.
The ARV will be highly mobile, networked, transportable, protected and lethal. The capability will provide, sensors, communication systems and lethality options to overmatch threats that have historically been addressed with more heavily armored systems.
“The ARV will be an advanced combat vehicle system, capable of fighting for information that balances competing capability demands to sense, shoot, move, communicate and remain transportable as part of the naval expeditionary force,” said John “Steve” Myers, program manager for MCSC’s LAV portfolio.
Since the 1980s, the LAV has supported Marine Air-Ground Task Force missions on the battlefield. While the LAV remains operationally effective, the life cycle of this system is set to expire in the mid-2030s. The Corps aims to replace the vehicle before then.
Marine Corps Systems Command has been tasked with replacing the vehicle with a next-generation, more capable ground combat vehicle system. In June 2016, the Corps established an LAV Way-Ahead, which included the option to initiate an LAV Replacement Program to field a next-generation capability in the 2030s.
U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicle.
Preliminary planning, successful resourcing in the program objectives memorandum and the creation of an Office of Naval Research science and technology program have set the conditions to begin replacing the legacy LAV with the ARV in the late-2020s.
“The Marine Corps is examining different threats,” said Kimberly Bowen, deputy program manager of Light Armored Vehicles. “The ARV helps the Corps maintain an overmatched peer-to-peer capability.”
The Office of Naval Research has begun researching advanced technologies to inform requirements, technology readiness assessments and competitive prototyping efforts for the next-generation ARV.
The office is amid a science and technology phase that allows them to conduct advanced technology research and development, modeling and simulation, whole system trade studies and a full-scale technology demonstrator fabrication and evaluation.
These efforts will inform the requirements development process, jump-start industry and reduce risk in the acquisition program.
The office is also supporting the Ground Combat Element Division of the Capabilities Development Directorate by performing a trade study through the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center in Michigan. This work will help to ensure ARV requirements are feasible and to highlight the capability trade space.
U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicles with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division standby to be armed with ammunition to conduct a platoon level gunnery range at Fort Irwin, California, March 22, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Smith)
ONR has partnered with industry to build two technology demonstrator vehicles for evaluation. The first is a base platform that will comprise current, state-of-the-art technologies and standard weapons systems designed around a notional price point. The second is an “at-the-edge” vehicle that demonstrates advanced capabilities.
“The purpose of those vehicles is to understand the technology and the trades,” said Myers.
In support of acquisition activities, PM LAV anticipates the release of an acquisition program Request for Information in May 2019 and an Industry Day later in the year to support a competitive prototyping effort. The Corps expects a Material Development Decision before fiscal year 2020.
“We will take what we’ve learned in competitive prototyping,” said Myers. “Prior to a Milestone B decision, we’ll be working to inform trade space, inform requirements and reduce risk.”
The Corps believes the ARV will support the capability demands of the next generation of armored reconnaissance.
“This vehicle will equip the Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion within the Marine Divisions to perform combined arms, all-weather, sustained reconnaissance and security missions in support of the ground combat element,” said Myers. “It’s expected to be a transformational capability for the Marine Corps.”
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.