In 2015 and 2016, ISIS, the terrorist group also known as the Islamic State, carried out suicide attacks around the globe at a historic rate.
The group, founded in June 2014, has long demanded that its militants fight or die, and it often sends young men and even children on suicide-bombing missions.
But as the group weakens on the ground, it seems to have shifted course.
A US Department of Defense release on the battle for Hawijah cites “many sources reporting more than 1,000 terrorists surrendered.”
Unlike the battle for Mosul, once ISIS’ largest Iraqi stronghold, the terrorist group “put up no fight at all, other than planting bombs and booby traps,” Kurdish officials told The New York Times.
Strikingly, the same officials reported that ISIS commanders had ordered their fighters to turn themselves in, on the grounds that the Kurds would take prisoners while other opponents would be harsher.
Indeed, after three years of brutal conflict, the Iraqi Security Forces fighting have admitted to engaging in acts of savagery against defeated ISIS fighters.
After suffering defeat after defeat on the ground, ISIS has upped the aggression of its media operation in an attempt to save face. Recently the group released audio it said came from its top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was rumored to be killed or at least injured by airstrikes.
After last week’s shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, ISIS also made the dubious claim that the gunman was one of its followers.
US officials have shot this claim down, and ISIS’ claims do not match evidence that has since emerged on the gunman’s preparation for the attack.
In its early months and years, ISIS enjoyed a surge of battlefield victories. The group had political support in Sunni Muslim areas, where many felt disenfranchised by Iraq’s Shia-run government.
But it has since been ground down for years by US-led coalition airstrikes and a wide range of militias and national armies on the ground.
With the fall of Hawijah, only a small strip of territory along Syria’s border remains in ISIS’ control.
Six military parachute teams from around the world are training together with the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights to sharpen their skills and share lessons learned.
About 80 parachutists have been dotting the sky each day with colorful parachutes identifying them as Army, Air Force, Navy or one of the international training partners from the British Army.
“They learn from us. We learn from them,” said Lt. Col. Ned Marsh, commander of the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army Parachute Team. “We establish joint and combined interoperability. That familiarity boosts safety among parachutists in preparation for shows thousands of feet about the ground.”
Amazing Helmet Cam Footage From The U.S. Army Parachute Team “Golden Knights”
Amazing Helmet Cam Footage From The U.S. Army Parachute Team “Golden Knights”
Joint training is a normal part of the Golden Knights’ annual certification cycle; however, in the past, each of the other teams have come separately for training. This is the first time all seven of these teams have come to train together at the same time. Throughout the week they are developing advanced skills and maximizing safety standards for combined military performances at show sites for the 2019 season.
In addition to the Golden Knights, the teams here for training include: the British Army’s Red Devils, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Black Daggers, the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs, the U.S. Air Force Wings of Blue, the U.S. Special Operations Command Para Commandos, and Fort Benning’s Silver Wings.
Talk about precision.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brandan Parra)
“It’s great to be over here and get some cross training,” said British Sgt. Maj. Dean Walton, who is one of 13 Red Devils who traveled to Homestead for the week. “Each team does things differently, and we can always improve. If we can improve and do things better and safer, it’s great to learn from each other how we can perform public displays.”
During the demonstration season, the Golden Knights perform with other U.S. and foreign military parachute teams at numerous events across the globe. Providing training for these teams is a key mission of the Army Parachute Team.
“There is no rivalry between the teams,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Hardy, USASOC paratrooper from the Black Daggers. “We all have good bases and we build off of that. If you look at the little targets on the drop zone, it’s a friendly rivalry to see who can land closest to the ‘X.'”
The Black Daggers use this training to perfect their demonstration team skills.
(Photo Credit: Lara HartmanPoirrier)
For the British Army’s Red Devils, the camaraderie is about much more than coming together to train each year. The team’s history with the Golden Knights dates back to the 1960s.
“When the Red Devils were originally formed, it was the Golden Knights that helped us get set up,” Walton said. “During the 1960s for an event, we actually jumped into Stonehenge with the Golden Knights.”
In June the Golden Knights will jump with the Red Devils for a demonstration in the United Kingdom. “Personally, the best part is getting to train with these guys,” Walton said. “They are exactly the same as us. Similar sense of humor, similar experiences, and it’s great to meet up once a year. We have some quite good friends on the teams.”
The Golden Knights, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are one of U.S. Army Recruiting Command’s key outreach teams dedicated to creating awareness about the Army and educating the American public about the opportunities and benefits of service.
Career Incentive Pay is another part of the U.S. military’s Special and Incentive pay system and is intended to help the Services address their manning needs by motivating service members to volunteer for specific jobs that otherwise pay them significantly more in the civilian sector.
Each career incentive pay amount is in addition to base pay and other entitlements.
Title 37 U.S. Code, chapter 5, subchapter 1 outlines several types of S&I pay, and sections 301a, 301c, 304, 305a and 320 address incentive pays that are career specific.
1. Aviation Career Incentive
Who: Military pilots
How much: $125 to $840 per month, dependent on number of years serving as an aviator. This lasts the duration of the pilot’s aviation career.
2. Submarine Duty Incentive (SUBPAY)
Who: Navy personnel aboard submarines.
How much: The Secretary of the Navy has the ability to set SUBPAY up to $1,000 per month, but it is currently between $75 and $835 per month.
3. Diving Duty
Who: Service member divers.
How much: $340 for enlisted personnel and $240 for officers per month.
4. Career Sea
Who: Naval officers who’ve been assigned duties above and beyond what might be typical for an officer in the same rank and which are critical to operations.
How much: $50 – $150 per month, dependent on rank. There is a limit on payments made to O-3s to O-6s, and only a certain percentage of personnel in each rank can qualify for the pay.
5. Career Enlisted Flyer
Who: Enlisted personnel on flight crews for the Air Force and Navy.
How much: $150 – $400 depending on years in the aviation field.
In World War I, there was a need to hit targets either pretty far off, or which were very hard to destroy.
At the time, aircraft weren’t much of an option – in fact, they really had a hard time carrying big bombs. Often, an aircrewman would drop mortar rounds from a cockpit. So, how does one take out a hard target? They used naval guns mounted on railway cars.
Many of these guns came from obsolete armored cruisers – the most common of the rail guns was the BL 12-inch railway Howitzer. The British pressed 81 of these guns into service, and many lasted into World War II. These guns are obsolete now, rendered useless by the development of better aircraft for tactical strikes, from World War II’s P-47 Thunderbolt to today’s A-10 Thunderbolt II, as well as tactical missile and rocket systems like the ATACMS, Scud, and MGM-52 Lance.
The gun the British were moving didn’t actually serve in World War I. According to a release by the British Ministry of Defence, the BL 18-inch howitzer just missed the Great War, but it did serve in World War II as a coastal defense gun – albeit it never fired a shot in anger, since the Nazis never were able to pull off Operation Sea Lion. The gun was used for RD purposes until 1959, when it was retired and sent to the Royal Artillery headquarters.
In 2013, it was briefly loaded to the Dutch railway museum. Later that year, it went to the Royal Armouries artillery museum. It is one of 12 railway guns that survive. The video below from the Smithsonian channel shows how the British Army – with the help of some contractors – moved this gigantic gun.
Do you remember when former President George W. Bush gave a speech congratulating America for completing the mission in Iraq back in 2003? That took place aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (and is probably a moment the former POTUS would probably like to take back for obvious reasons but let’s stay on track here).
In May of 2017, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was redelivered back to the Navy after undergoing nearly a four-year mid-life Refueling and Complex Overhaul.
Approximately 2.5 million hours of labor were committed to the overhaul and restoration of this legendary aircraft carrier.
The vessel’s upgrades include various repairs and replacements of ventilation, electrical, propellers, rudders, and combat and aviation support systems.
With the innovated modification to the rudders and propellers, the USS Abraham Lincoln can now tactfully turn around with minimal support.
Ailani Myers wasn’t even three years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), an aggressive cancer of the blood. Although her battle is far from over, she and her family are focusing on something else too: saving other children.
Giggett Johnson is the sister of Ailani’s mom, Princecine Johnson, a 23-year veteran of the Navy.
“Ailani was born without complications and was healthy up until her second year, when they came to visit the family in Texas. We noticed she was acting different. She had a rash and an odd spot on her head so we rushed her to the hospital,” Johnson said.
It wasn’t long after that first hospital visit that Ailani received her diagnosis of ALL. The family quickly dove into treating her cancer and tried desperately to find a blood stem cell donor. But there wasn’t one on the registry. One barrier to finding a match that Ailani and many children like her face is being of mixed race. Her mother is black and her father white, which greatly reduced her chances of finding a transplant match.
Without a readily-available match, the family made the decision to bring Ailani to Johns Hopkins. It is one of the world’s leading experts in treating pediatric cancer and specifically doing haploidentical bone marrow transplants — a half-match transplant usually from a mother or father.In part because of her ethnicity, it was her greatest chance at a cure.
Ailani with her dad.
Ailani’s father, Kurt Myers, is an active-duty chief warrant officer in the Navy. The Navy gave the family orders to Fort Meade, Maryland, to allow the family to be close to the hospital. Ailani received a haploidentical transplant from her father in 2019 which was successful. But three days before her one-year transplant anniversary, a scheduled bone marrow biopsy indicated her leukemia had relapsed. Despite the devastating setback, she and her family remain committed to a cure.
Beth Carrion is the family’s Be The Match representative and she is imploring the public to register to be a possible donor, especially those with diverse ethnic backgrounds.
“We have to end the healthcare disparity and bridge that gap. We need help to do that,” Carrion said.
According to the Be The Match website, for over 30 years it has managed the largest and most-diverse marrow registry in the world. In the years since its founding, the nonprofit has helped lead the way for innovative advancements in transplants — and in the process, saved countless lives. But they need more people to register to donate, as there are thousands of children waiting.
Only 20% of patients will actually require a marrow transplant, with most of them being children under 10 years old. The rest desperately need parts of your blood for treatment. Unfortunately, medical television shows have dramatized the process and led potential donors away in fear. The donation is not as painful as it is portrayed in television and you are asleep while they do the procedure.
“I think when people hear the word ‘registry’ they think organ donation and that isn’t what it is. This is just a blood product and your body will replenish it,” Carrion explained.
The giving of blood and blood products is lifesaving. Ailani recently underwent a new treatment called CAR-T cell therapy where her own T-cells were filtered from her blood and re-engineered in a laboratory to target her leukemia. She then had to receive extensive chemotherapy to prepare her body to receive those re-engineered T-cells. Through it all, Ailani has remained positive – even as she continued to lose her hair yet again, something that broke her heart the first time she went through it.
If this treatment is unsuccessful, they will be going with another half-match transplant with her mother.
Although all seemed poised to be heading in the right direction, the family had another setback.
“She fell and scraped her knee and because she was immunocompromised from chemotherapy, she ended up with a fungal infection in the scrape. The fungus disseminated throughout her whole body resulting in several major complications. They had to give her white blood cell transfusions, extensive antifungals, and do surgery to clear the infection,” Carrion shared.
According to Ailani’s aunt, she was terrified when she got up from falling.
“When she fell, she said ‘Uh oh, uh oh. I fell I fell.’ She knew that something devastating could come out of a fall,” she said.
But even with the additional challenges Ailani is facing on top of battling her cancer, she hasn’t lost her happy disposition and sweet personality.
“Sometimes when my sister calls me to tell me how Ailani is, I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say other than we’re praying and trying to be strong for her,” Johnson said through tears.
Her family describes Ailani as a fighter, a beacon of light and good. It is their hope that by sharing their story more people will raise their hands and register for Be The Match. Registration is simple, easy and painless. For the potential children matched with prospective donors it’s a scientific miracle. It will also save their lives.
To learn more about how you can register for Be The Match and get your cheek swab, please click here or text “saveailani” to 61474.
While much of the world’s attention is focused on the effort by North Korea to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with working nuclear warheads, there is another weapon that is also quite deadly in the arsenal of Kim Jong Un’s regime. Ironically, it is quite low-tech.
That weapon is the An-2 Colt, a seventy-year-old design that is still in front-line service, which means it has the B-52 Stratofortress beaten by about eight years! So, why has this little plane stuck around, and what makes it so deadly in the hands of Kim Jong Un?
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the An-2 has a top speed of 160 miles per hour, and a range of 525 miles. Not a lot when you compare it to the B-52, which can go 595 miles per hour and fly over 10,000 miles. China is still producing the plane, while upgrade kits are being developed by Antonov. The plane was in production for 45 years, and according to the report from Korrespondent, thousands remain in service.
When it comes down to it, what seem like fatal weaknesses actually make the An-2 deadly in modern combat.
The reason? The plane usually flies low and slow – and as such, it is very hard for modern fighters like the F-22, F-35, and F-16 to locate, track, and fire on. Not only that, the slow speeds and low-altitude operations meant that large portions of the plane can be covered with fabric, according to Warbird Alley. There are also a lot of An-2s in North Korea’s inventory – at least 200, according to a report by MSN.com.
While the plane is often used to deliver troops or supplies, the real threat may be the fact that it could carry some other cargo. While North Korea is just now developing nuclear warheads that fit on missiles, there is the frightening possibility that a nuclear weapon could be delivered using an An-2.
That is how this 70-year-old biplane design could very well be North Korea’s deadliest weapon. You can see a video on the An-2 below.
The Army is looking at artificial intelligence to increase lethality, and a senior Army official said the key to A.I. is keeping a proper level of decision-making in the hands of soldiers.
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Dr. Bruce Jette spoke about artificial intelligence, modernization and acquisition reform Jan. 10, 2019, at a Defense Writers Group breakfast.
Jette said response times against enemy fire could be a crucial element in determining the outcome of a battle, and A.I. could definitely assist with that.
“A.I. is critically important,” he said. “You’ll hear a theme inside of ASA(ALT), ‘time is a weapon.’ That’s one of the aspects that we’re looking at with respect to A.I.”
Dr. Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, discusses artificial intelligence and modernization with reporters at the Defense Writer’s Group breakfast Jan. 10, 2019.
(Photo by Joe Lacden)
Army Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy has been very active in positioning the Army so that it can pick up such critical new technology, Jette said.
Artificial intelligence technology will play a crucial role in the service’s modernization efforts, Jette said, and should incrementally increase response times.
“Let’s say you fire a bunch of artillery at me and I can shoot those rounds down and you require a man in the loop for every one of the shots,” Jette said. “There’s not enough men to put in the loop to get them done fast enough,” but he added AI could be the answer.
He said the service must weigh how to create a command and control system that will judiciously take advantage of the crucial speed that technology provides.
A.I. research and development is being boosted by creation of the Army Futures Command, Jette said.
One year after the Army revamped itself under the guidance of Secretary Mark T. Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, the service has seen significant improvements in the acquisition process, Jette said.
The Army identified six modernization priorities and created new cross-functional teams under Futures Command, to help speed acquisition of critical systems.
One change involves senior leaders meeting each Monday afternoon to assess and evaluate a different modernization priority. Jette said those meetings have resulted in a singular focus on modernization programs.
Artificial intelligence, robotics and advanced manufacturing were the theme of the April-June 2017 issue of Army ALT magazine and its cover art is shown here.
(US Army photo)
“There’s much more of an integrated, collegial, cooperative approach to things,” Jette said.
The service took a hard look at the requirements process for the Army’s integrated systems. This enabled the Army to apply a holistic approach in order to develop the diverse range of capabilities necessary to maintain overmatch against peer adversaries, Jette said. One result is, the Army will deliver new air defense systems by December 2019, he said.
“I don’t deliver you a Patriot battery anymore,” Jette said. “I deliver you missile systems. I deliver you radars. I deliver you a command and control architecture.”
Now, any of the command and control components will be able to fire missiles against peer adversaries and can also leverage any of the sensor systems to employ an effector against a threat, he said.
“We’re looking at the overall threat environment,” Jette said. “Threats have become much more complicated. It’s not just tactical ballistic missiles, or jets or helicopters. Now we’ve got UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), I’ve got swarms. I’ve got cruise missiles, rockets, artillery, and mortars. I’ve got to find a way to integrate all this.”
A retired Army colonel, reporting directly to Esper, Jette provides oversight for the development and acquisition of Army weapons systems. He said that his role in the modernization efforts is to find a way to align procurement with improved requirements development processes.
While he’s more famous for being “The Man In Black,” Johnny Cash served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War and was the first man outside of the Soviet Union to learn of Premier Joseph Stalin’s death.
The Man In Black passed the message up the chain and returned to work. Cash’s job already required that he have limited off-post privileges and contact with locals. Still, he couldn’t discuss what happened with even his close friends.
The rest of the world would soon learn of Stalin’s death and the ascent of Georgy Malenkov.
Cash, meanwhile, would leave the service honorably just over a year later and return to Texas where he had trained. He married his first wife the same year and signed with Sun Records in 1955.
He played the Grand Ole Opry stage for the first time the same year.
Over the following 48 years, Cash wrote thousands of songs and released dozens of albums before his death in September 2003 at the age of 71.
It’s not often you see those three-letter titles A1C and Ph.D. used to refer to the same person. As a matter of fact, only one-hundredth of one percent of the Air Force’s enlisted force from E-1 through E-9 possess a doctor of philosophy degree, one of 33 enlisted airmen in the Air Force with a doctorate degree.
Yet one woman with a doctorate in chemistry found herself signing on the proverbial dotted line, completing basic training, and is now assigned to the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring center.
Airman 1st Class Cynthia A. Schroll enlisted in the Air Force in December 2017, though her unique career journey began much earlier, soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was in my senior year of high school in 2001, and after 9/11 happened, I told my parents I wanted to enlist,” Schroll said. “During the discussion, my mother said something that struck me even using the word ‘please’ and asking me to do something for the first time in my life instead of telling me to. She said, ‘please don’t enlist. I’ve been saving your whole life for you to go to college.’ I knew how much it meant to her and I respect my parents deeply, so I went to college.”
Airman 1st Class Cynthia A. Schroll, a radiochemistry technician at the Air Force Radiochemistry Laboratory, Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., pours solution from a test tube as she prepares reagent kits for AFTAC’s precious metals program.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)
Schroll attended Morehead State University in Kentucky and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2006. She bypassed the traditional path after her undergraduate studies and went straight into the doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati.
“It’s not uncommon for people looking into science degrees to forego a master’s program and go straight into a doctoral studies,” Schroll explained. “Most universities that offer a Ph.D. will let you obtain a master’s degree if you find yourself struggling with the Ph.D. work load.”
She joked, “someone once told me that the difference between a Ph.D. and a master’s degree is the Ph.D. project has to work in the end, while a master’s student can write up all the ways the project didn’t work!”
Upon completion of her doctorate in analytical chemistry with an emphasis in spectroelectrochemical detection of f-block elements, she went straight into the work force doing environmental sample preparation, product management and worked as a contract research assistant at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. She also taught general chemistry at the University of Cincinnati for two years. It was an enjoyable career, Schroll said, but military service was still on her mind.
“I had everything going for me: a great education, good job, supportive family, everything, yet I was still thinking about enlisting,” she said. “But I had some significant hurdles to overcome. I was overweight and knew that was going to be a factor as to whether I’d qualify or not. I had pets. I had a house and in 2014, I lost my mother to multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. It was devastating to my family and me. I took it quite hard and was lost without her influence.”
Air Force Basic Training graduation photo of Airman 1st Class Cynthia A. Schroll.
From that tragedy, however, came the realization that she still wanted to serve her country and thought it would be a lasting tribute to her beloved mother.
“I knew deep down from the beginning she didn’t want me to join the service, but through all the grief I was experiencing, I had to find a path that would bring me greater reward,” she explained.
So after several months of careful thought, consideration and a solid work-out program, Schroll paid a visit to her local recruiter to change her title from ‘Doctor’ to ‘Airman.’
“Before I left for basic, I had several lengthy conversations with my sister who served in the Army for almost 10 years and I spoke to several other female friends who had also gone through the experience,” she said. “They all told me about the mind games I should expect from the military training instructors and some of the difficulties that arise when you put 40 women together in small quarters for several weeks at a time. Needless to say, I found basic training quite entertaining!”
During basic, trainees are selected to fill certain jobs and responsibilities given to each flight: dorm chief, element leader, chow runner, and entry controller, just to name a few. Schroll volunteered to be the flight’s academic monitor. When the MTI asked what made her qualified for the job, she nonchalantly mentioned she had taught classes before. The MTI did some digging and learned that Schroll had a Ph.D.
“It all came out from there,” she said. “I tried to downplay it as much as I could, and I offered to help any of my flight mates with their study techniques, because we were all in this together. We had one trainee who had such bad test anxiety and we were all worried she was going to run out of the classroom before she finished the end-of-course exam. When our MTI started reading off our test scores, we collectively held our breath when hers was read and we cheered like mad when it was a passing score. A few of us even cried. By far my proudest moment as the academic monitor was the fact we all passed our exams the first time through.”
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Stein, 17th Training Group superintendent, presents the 312th Training Squadron Student of the Month award to Airman 1st Class Cynthia Schroll, 312th TRS trainee, at Brandenburg Hall on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, June 1, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Chapman)
She graduated basic training in February 2018 and was sent to Goodfellow AFB, Texas, to undergo special instruments training. While there, she became friends with a large contingent of Air Force firefighters.
“Our tech school was housed with the airmen who undergo firefighting training, and it was so much fun,” Schroll recalled. “I was selected to be a red rope, the person who oversees dorm activities, and they kept me so grounded. I had so much respect for them that on my last day I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to go to their daily formation so I could shake every single hand and say thanks. I love and respect them all so much.”
During her tenure at Goodfellow, she received a special visitor who requested to meet with her. She was surprised to learn it was a command chief master sergeant who made the trip to speak directly with her.
“I was pretty floored when I found out Chief Master Sgt. Michael Joseph came to the schoolhouse to discuss career options with me,” she said. “He introduced himself as the command chief for the Air Force Technical Applications Center, and said his commander was very interested in having me on his team at Patrick AFB. I can’t put my finger on it, but during my conversation with Chief Joseph, I realized this was my chance to live out my desire to serve, especially in the capacity of a scientist. I thought to myself, ‘These folks who have so much experience would know how best to use my skills,’ so I put my trust in them.”
Joseph was highly impressed when he met with Schroll.
“I heard about A1C Schroll as she was coming through the pipeline since AFTAC has a majority of the 9S100 airmen in the Air Force,” said Joseph. “Every airman has a story, and I wanted to hear hers. Her background was impressive — she had written two books and has a patent to her name, but it was her desire to serve that impressed me the most. With her chemistry background and our operational need for highly-skilled chemists, it seemed like a natural fit for her to come to AFTAC.”
Recruiting personnel who possess highly-technical scientific degrees and experience has been a challenge for the nuclear treaty monitoring center, but AFTAC’s senior enlisted advisor believes they’re seeking out ways to overcome that challenge.
Schroll is assigned to AFTAC’s radiochemistry laboratory working as a radiochemistry technician. She is responsible for preparing reagent kits in the lab’s tech room as well as co-managing the precious metals program.
“I love the responsibility that comes from knowing our chemists are counting on me to prep their reagents properly and in a timely manner,” said Schroll. “If anything goes wrong with the chemistry, the first place that is looked at is the reagent, so I want them to have confidence when they see my initials on the label that they were prepared correctly.”
When asked if she was looking at becoming a commissioned officer someday, Schroll said it’s not out of the question, but it’s not her immediate focus.
“Right now, I’m still brand new to the Air Force, so I am learning as much about it as possible. I’m an airman first class, and with that comes the responsibility of being the best A1C I can be. My focus is on doing the job I am fortunate to have, and doing it as best I can. When I look to the future, I only see broad opportunities. But I’ve never been one to look too far ahead because all too often we make this grand dream or goal, only to forget to focus on the little steps to get there. I’m focusing on the little steps right now.”
Since World War II, the US has dominated the skies in any region in which it wishes to project power — but recent competition from countries like Russia and China threaten to erode that edge, and only a small group of elite pilots maintain the US’s edge in air superiority.
Russia has deployed powerful missile-defense batteries to Syria and its European enclave of Kaliningrad. The US Air Force can’t operate in those domains without severe risk. US President Barack Obama himself has acknowledged that these missile deployments greatly complicate and limit the US’s options to project power in Syria.
China has undertaken the breathtaking feat of building and militarizing islands in the South China Sea, outfitting them with runways and radar sites that could allow Beijing to establish an air defense and identification zone, the likes of which the US would struggle to pierce.
Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, speaking during the State of the Air Force address at the Pentagon, said of the Air Force’s dwindling dominance: “I believe it’s a crisis: air superiority is not an American birthright. It’s actually something you have to fight for and maintain.”
The US has the world’s largest Air Force, but it’s important to remember that it’s a force stretched thin across the entire globe. In the Pacific or the Baltics, smaller, more concentrated powers have reached parity or near parity with the US’s gigantic fleet.
Only one US airframe remains head-and-shoulders above any and all competition — the F-22 Raptor.
The coming F-35 Lightning II, a stealthy technological marvel in its own right, has an impressive radar cross section approximately the size of a basketball. The F-22 however, blows it out of the water with a cross section about the size of a marble.
“Typically, we’ll train against the biggest and baddest threats because we want to train against the newest threat on the block,” one F-22 pilot told Majumdar.
“We’re fighting against the most advanced operational threats we can,” said another.
Even though the stealthy F-22s hold an overwhelming advantage at long range, because they can target enemies long before those enemies can see them, the Raptor pilots train for up-close-and-personal conflicts as well. While close range confrontations hugely disadvantage the F-22 pilots, they continue to train uphill and achieve impressive results.
As the most capable plane in the world, the F-22 pilots exist as a kind of “insurance policy” against the most advanced threats in the world, according to Majumdar.
“Even when flying against the most challenging simulated threats—advanced Russian fighters such as the Su-35 and S-300V4 and S-400—it is exceedingly rare for an F-22 to be ‘shot down’. ‘Losses in the F-22 are a rarity regardless of the threat we’re training against,'” an F-22 pilot told Majumdar.
US Army weapon officials just opened a competition for a new 7.62mm Interim Service Combat Rifle to arm infantry units with a weapon potent enough to penetrate enemy body armor.
“The Army has identified a potential gap in the capability of ground forces and infantry to penetrate body armor using existing ammunition. To address this operational need, the Army is looking for an Interim Combat Service Rifle that is capable of defeating emerging threats,” according to an August 4 solicitation posted on FedBizOpps.gov.
The service plans to initially award up to eight contracts, procuring seven types of weapons from each gun-maker for test and evaluation purposes. Once the review is concluded, the service “may award a single follow-on Federal Acquisition Regulation based contract for the production of up to 50,000 weapons,” the solicitation states.
“The Government has a requirement to acquire a commercial 7.62mm ICSR to field with the M80A1 Enhanced Performance Round to engage and defeat protected and unprotected threats,” the solicitation states. “The ultimate objective of the program is to acquire and field a 7.62mm ICSR that will increase soldier lethality.”
The opening of the competition comes just over two months after Army’s Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley revealed to Congress that the M4 Carbine’s M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round cannot penetrate modern enemy body armor plates similar to the US military-issue rifle plates such as the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, or ESAPI.
This past spring, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn released a directed requirement for a new 7.62mm rifle designed for combat units, prompting Army weapons officials to write a formal requirement.
The presence of a 7.62mm rifle in Army infantry squads is nothing new. Since 2009, the Army’s squad designated marksman rifle has been the Enhanced Battle Rifle, or EBR, 14 — a modernized M14 equipped with a Sage International adjustable aluminum stock with pistol grip, a Leupold 3.5×10 power scope and Harris bipod legs.
The Army adopted the EBR concept, first used in 2004 by Navy SEALs, in response to the growing need of infantry squads operating in Afghanistan to engage enemy fighters at longer ranges.
The EBR is heavy, just under 15 pounds unloaded, compared with the standard M14’s unloaded weight of 9 pounds.
The Army’s Interim Combat Service Rifle should have either 16-inch or 20-inch barrels, a collapsible buttstock, an extended forward rail, and weigh less than 12 pounds unloaded and without an optic, according to a May 31 Army request for information.
Multiple proposals may be submitted by the same organization; however, each proposal must consist of the weapons, proposal, and System Safety Assessment Report. All proposals are due by 3pm EST Wednesday Sept. 6, 2017, the solicitation states.
In addition to the weapons, gun-makers will also be evaluated on production capability and proposed price, according to the solicitation.
All weapons should include items such as a suppressor, cleaning, specialized tools, and enough magazines to support the basic load of 210 rounds.
The competition will consist of live-fire testing and evaluate the following:
Dispersion (300m – function, 600m – simulation)
Compatible with family of weapon sights – individual and laser
Weapon length (folder or collapsed)/ weight (empty/bare) / velocity (300m and 600m calculated)
Semi-automatic and fully automatic function testing (bursts and full auto)
Noise (at shooter’s ear) / flash suppression
Ambidextrous controls (in darkness or adverse conditions) / rail interface
20-30 round magazine to support a 210 round combat load
“Areas to be evaluated could include, but not be limited to: Controllability and Recoil, Trigger, Ease/Speed of Magazine Changes, Sighting System Interface (e.g., ability to acquire and maintain sight picture), and Usability of Controls (e.g., safety),” the solicitation states.
“Additionally, a small, limited user evaluation may be conducted with qualified soldiers,” it states.
Milley told lawmakers in late May that the Army does not believe that every soldier needs a 7.62mm rifle. These weapons would be reserved for the Army’s most rapid-deployable infantry units.
“We would probably want to field them with a better-grade weapon that can penetrate this body armor,” Milley said.