On April 22, 1915, a stiff wind outside of Ypres helped loose the first systematic poison-gas attack in history.
On a sunny afternoon in April 1915, outside the Belgian city of Ypres, the wind began blowing in the direction the German troops wanted – toward the French lines. German soldiers set up over 5,000 barrels of chlorine gas along their position, and let loose a rolling cloud of thick, yellow death. More than 6,000 French troops died in what was the first systematic use of poison gas on the battlefield. Its effectiveness caught even the Germans off guard. Willi Siebert, a German soldier, noted in his diary, “When we got to the French lines, the trenches were empty, but in a half mile the bodies of French soldiers were everywhere. It was unbelievable.” Just over 99 years later, on June 17, 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed chlorine gas was used by the Syrian government in an attack on its own people.
Origins and evolution
In 1918, a German chemist named Fritz Haber won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for a method of extracting ammonia from the nitrogen in the atmosphere. The process made ammonia abundant and easily available. Haber’s discovery revolutionized agriculture, with some calling it the most significant technological discovery of the 20th century – supporting half of the world’s food base.
Haber was also a staunch German patriot who quickly joined the war effort at the outbreak of World War I. He was insistent on using weaponized gases, despite objections from some army commanders about their brutality, and treaties prohibiting their use. He personally oversaw the first use of chlorine gas at the front lines at Ypres. The next morning, he set out for the eastern front to deploy gas against the Russian army.
Chemical weapons quickly became a mainstay of warfare, public condemnation notwithstanding. They were employed by the militaries of Italy, Russia, Spain, and Japan, among others.
Timeline: chemical weapons use
During the Cold War, the United States and the U.S.S.R. made major advances in chemical-weapons technology. Their breakthroughs were accompanied by innovations in nuclear-weapons technology. It was during this period that the third generation of chemical weapons was invented: nerve agents.
Within a century of their devastating debut at Ypres, chemical weapons have increased in lethality a thousandfold.
Use in Syria’s Civil War
Organization For The Prohibition Of Chemical Weapons (background, locations, types of weapons, stockpiles, number of weapons destroyed)
United Nations Human Rights Council (Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic)
National Institutes Of Health (effects, history, and lethality)
Smithsonian Institute (history)
Violations Documentation Center in Syria (fatalities)
Human Rights Watch (types of weapons, attack locations)
People who like compelling, well-crafted tales of America’s soldiers in action will like Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s recently released book tells the story behind the first team of female soldiers to join American special operators on the battlefield. The key to this book, however, is not simply that they are strong females, but that they are strong soldiers.
That message appears in the very first pages of the book, where she follows two soldiers on their first mission. The “newbies,” as she calls them, are preparing to go on a dangerous operation with an aggressive, seasoned Ranger team to capture an insurgent leader deep in Afghanistan. Lemmon identifies the newbies as “Second Lieutenant White” and “Staff Sergeant Mason,” sharing only at the very end of the introduction that White and Mason are women.
The book then flashes back to the story behind the creation of this unique unit, called Cultural Support Teams or CSTs. In 2010, the military’s Special Operations Command faced a problem – due to cultural mores that at best frowned on male-female interaction, American combat troops were effectively prohibited from communicating with Afghan women. That left half of Afghanistan’s population – potential sources of intelligence and partners to build lasting relationships – out of reach to American troops. So senior special operations commanders developed the CSTs to place female soldiers with American special operators in combat situations and engage with Afghan women on sensitive missions.
In describing the genesis of the CSTs as a unit, Lemmon also presents several of the individuals who volunteered for the pilot program. They are a cast of real characters, but make no mistake – these are smart alpha-women who are as fit and committed to success as any elite athlete. Readers learn about Anne Jeremy, the “serious, no-nonsense” officer who proved herself in combat by leading her convoy through a Taliban ambush of heavy arms fire that endured intermittently for 24 hours; Lane Mason, the 23-year-old Iraq War veteran who was a high-school track star in Nevada and volunteered for the CSTs to face down some demons in her past; Amber Treadmont, the intelligence officer from rural Pennsylvania who printed out the CST application within one minute of learning about the program; and Kate Raimann, the West Point grad and military police officer who played on her high school’s football team for all four years even though she hated football, just to prove that she could do it.
Lemmon’s depictions of these women are vivid, giving readers a textured understanding of who they are and what drove them to volunteer for an unprecedented program that would place them in incredibly dangerous situations. In fact, these nuanced profiles raise my sole problem with the book – namely, that there were so many interesting personalities that I couldn’t keep track of them all. Lemmon used a few Homeric epithets, like reminding readers late in the book that Lane was “the Guard soldier and track star from Nevada,” but a few more mental cues might have helped keep everyone straight.
But those are small drops of concern amidst an ocean of good writing and compelling moments. Lemmon deftly draws readers through the brutal candidate assessment (“100 hours of hell”), the women’s anxiety about whether they would be selected, their post-selection training at Fort Benning, and their subsequent deployments to Afghanistan.
One scene in particular encapsulates the challenging nature of the CSTs’ role. Kate, the football-hating football player, was on a raid of a compound to capture a key Taliban fighter. Her job, like all of the CSTs, was to assemble the compound’s women and children, gather as much information from them as possible, and protect them if necessary. Soon after the Afghan and American forces entered the compound, heavy contact erupted, and Kate began shepherding the group of women and children to a building nearby.
As she directed [the interpreter], Kate scooped up a small baby, barefoot and crying. She threw the little guy over her left shoulder and took off running as the sound of gunfire grew louder behind her. Using her right arm she grabbed the hand of a small girl and drew her close to her body.
“Stay with me, stay with me!” Kate urged, hoping the child would trust and understand her movements even if she didn’t understand her words.
Suddenly Kate felt the jagged terrain take hold of her left foot. She began tumbling forward as one of her boots got trapped in a deep hole she hadn’t detected through the green film of her night-vision goggles.
The baby, Kate thought. Instinctively she held him tight against her chest as the momentum of her fall sent her spinning into a diving, forward roll. She released the little girl’s hand just in time to keep her from falling, too.
A second later Kate lay on her back with the baby tucked up against her body armor. He hadn’t moved despite the somersault and was now just looking at her wide-eyed and silent.
Kate felt the baby’s warm breath on her neck, looked up at the twinkling stars above, and heard the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire around her, maybe three dozen feet away.
What the fuck is my job right now? she asked herself as she hugged the baby tight and again took the hand of the little girl who was standing nearby. This is crazy.
The book juxtaposes “crazy” moments like that with poignant moments that further illustrate the CSTs’ unique position as women in combat environments. In one anecdote, a female civilian interpreter from California named Nadia meets three new CSTs, and they bond over perhaps the most non-military item of all: mascara.
The four women – Ashley, Anne, Lane, and Nadia – were in the washroom getting ready for the first meeting of the day when Anne and Lane broke out their traveling cosmetic kits. It was a small gesture, but for Nadia, it spoke volumes.
During her years overseas she had been around a lot of military women who frankly frightened her. They conveyed the impression that any sign of femininity would be perceived as weakness. But here, in this tiny bathroom, were three incredibly fit, Army-uniformed, down-to-earth gals who could embrace being female and being a soldier in a war zone. She found it refreshing – and inspiring.
“Oh my God, you wear makeup!” she burst out.
Anne laughed as she put the final touches on an abbreviated makeup regimen.
“Oh, yes, always have to have mascara on,” she replied. “I am blond and look like I have no eyelashes. I don’t want to scare people!”
Lemmon also peppers the book with several sidebars that add interesting and important context, like the value of interpreters and the history of military dogs. While a discussion about the evolution of female soldiers’ uniforms may not seem terribly interesting on its face, she deftly weaves it into the story because it mattered to the CSTs – the ill-fitting gear was obviously designed for men and therefore had bulges in places where the women didn’t need them and lacked material where they did. That seemingly whimsical anecdote illustrates just how unprecedented their mission was.
The book builds to an emotional climax with – spoiler alert – the first death of a CST soldier. It’s an undeniably tough moment, and Lemmon treats the subject – the agonized reaction of the soldier’s family and her sister CSTs – with appropriate respect. The Rangers serving with the deceased soldier sent the family a condolence card, with an important quote:
“Having a woman come out with us was a new thing for all of us,” wrote her weapons squad leader. “Being one of the first groups of CST, she really set a good impression not only on us, but also the higher leadership. I am sorry for your loss, but I want you to know that she was good at her job and a valuable member of this platoon.”
That statement, to me, seemed to summarize the whole point of the book: these women are not just strong females – they are strong soldiers.
Search and rescue efforts are underway for the pilot of a United States Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornet who was forced to eject from his aircraft 120 miles southeast of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
According to a Marine Corps news release, the Hornet was assigned to the 1st Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force and was on what the Marines described as a regular training mission when it went down.
An investigation into why the pilot was forced to eject is underway.
This latest mishap marks the fourth crashed or badly damaged Marine Corps Hornet so far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.
In October, an F/A-18C crashed on approach at Twentynine Palms, California, and in November, two Hornets collided in mid-air, losing one plane and badly damaging another.
So far the Marine Corps has suffered five major flight mishaps this year, while the service suffered eight in all of fiscal 2016.
The Marine Corps has had serious problems with its Hornet fleet specifically, including the need to pull nearly two dozen from the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base this past summer. It was unclear whether this one was of the “boneyard” birds, a Navy hand-me-down or a plane in the Corps’ regular inventory.
Marine Hornets had a rough summer, with a number of crashes prompting a 24-hour stand-down.
However, the August timeout seems to have had little effect, as FoxNews.com reported that there have been four incidents since October, including a mid-air collision between two Hornets in November.
The baseline F/A-18 Hornet has been out of production since Fiscal Year 1997, and the line now only produces the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare plane.
The Marines plan to replace both their F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B+ Harriers with the F-35B Lightning II. The F-35B has seen some delays, but was introduced in July, 2015. Marine Corps Lightnings are expected to operate off HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021 due to a shortage of airframes in the Fleet Air Arm.
If you ever watched “The Jetsons,” an animated sitcom (1963-1964) about a family living in fictional Orbit City in the 2060s, you likely remember the iconic depiction of a futuristic utopia complete with flying cars and robotic contraptions to take care of many human needs. Robots, such as sass-talking housekeeper Rosie, could move through that world and perform tasks ranging from the mundane to the highly complex, all with human-like ease.
In the real world, however, robotic technology has not matured so swiftly.
What will it take to endow current robots with these futuristic capabilities? One place to look for inspiration is in human behavior and development. From birth, each of us has been performing a variety of tasks over and over and getting better each time. Intuitively, we know that practice, practice, and more practice is the only way to become better at something.
We often say we are developing a “muscle memory” of the task, and this is correct in many ways. Indeed, we are slowly developing a model of how the world operates and how we must move to influence the world. When we are good at a task—that is, when our mental model well captures what actually happens—we say the task has become second nature.
‘WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS A MAN’
Let’s consider for a moment several amazing tasks performed by humans just for recreational purposes. Baseball players catch, throw, and hit a ball that can be moving faster than 100 miles per hour, using an elegant fusion of visual perception, tactile sensing, and motor control. Responding to a small target at this speed requires that the muscles react, at least to some degree, before the conscious mind fully processes visually what has happened.
The most skilled players of the game typically have the best mental models of how to pitch, hit, and catch. A mental model in this case contains all the prior knowledge and experience a player has about how to move his or her body to play the game, particularly for the position.
The execution of an assumed mental model is called “feed forward control.” A mental model that is incorrect or incomplete, such as one used by an inexperienced player, will reduce accuracy and repeatability and require more time to complete a task.
We can assume that even professional baseball players would need significant time to adjust if they were magically transported to play on the moon, where gravity is much weaker and air resistance is nonexistent. Similarly, another instance of incorrect models can be observed in the clumsy and uncoordinated movements of quickly growing children; their mental models of how to relate to the world must constantly change and adapt because they are changing.
Nevertheless, humans are quite resilient to change and, with practice, they can adapt to perform well in new situations.
A major focus of much current research going on now at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is moving toward creating a robot like Rosie, capable of learning and executing tasks with the best precision and speed possible, given what we know about our own abilities.
NOT QUITE ‘INFINITE IN FACULTY’
In general, we can say that Rosie-like robot performance is possible given sufficient advances in the areas of sensing, modeling self-motion, and modeling interactions with the world.
Robots “perceive” the world around them using myriad integrated sensors. These sensors include laser range scanners and acoustic ranging, which provide the distance from the robot to obstacles; cameras that permit the robot to see the world, similar to our own eyes; inertial measurement sensing that includes rate gyroscopes, which sense the rate of change of the orientation of the robotic device; and accelerometers, which sense acceleration and gravity, giving the robot an “inner ear” of sorts.
All these methods of sensing the world provide different types of information about the robot’s motion or location in the environment.
Sensor information is provided to the algorithms responsible for estimating self-motion and interaction with the world. Robots can be programmed with their own versions of mental models, complete with mechanisms for learning and adaptation that help encode knowledge about themselves and the environment in which they operate. Rather than “mental models,” we call these “world models.”
‘IN FORM AND MOVING HOW EXPRESS AND ADMIRABLE,’ SORT OF
Consider a robot acting while assuming a model of its own motion in the world. If the behavior the robot actually experiences deviates significantly from the behavior the robot expects, the discrepancy will lead to poor performance: a “wobbly” robot that is slow and confused, not unlike a human after too many alcoholic beverages. If the actual motion is closer to the anticipated model, the robot can be very quick and accurate with less burden on the sensing aspect to correct for erroneous modeling.
Of course, the environment itself greatly affects how the robot moves through the world. While gravity can fortunately be assumed constant on Earth, other conditions can change how a robot might interact with the environment.
For instance, a robot traveling through mud would have a much different experience than one moving on asphalt. The best modeling would be designed to change depending on the environment. We know there are many models to be learned and applied, and the real issue is knowing which model to apply for a given situation.
Robotics today are developed in laboratory environments with little exposure to the variability of the world outside the lab, which can cause a robot’s ability to perceive and react to fail in the unstructured outdoors. Limited environmental exposure during model learning and subsequent poor adaptation or performance is said to be the result of “over-fitting,” or using a model created from a small subset of experiences to maneuver according to a much broader set of experiences.
At ARL, we are researching specific advances to address these areas of sensing, modeling self-motion, and modeling robotic interaction with the world, with the understanding that doing so will enable great enhancements in the operational speed of autonomous vehicles.
Specifically, we are working on knowing when and under what conditions different methods of sensing work well or may not work well. Given this knowledge, we can balance how these sensors are combined to aid the robot’s motion estimation.
A much faster estimate is available as well through development of techniques to automatically estimate accurate models of the world and of robot self-motion. With the learned and applied models, the robot can act and plan on a much quicker timescale than what might be possible with only direct sensor measurements.
Finally, we know that these models of motion should change depending on which of the many diverse environmental conditions the robot finds itself in. To further enhance robot reliability in a more general sense, we are working on how to best model the world such that a collection of knowledge can be leveraged to help select an appropriate model of robot motion for the current conditions.
If we can master these capabilities, then Rosie can be ready for operation, lacking only her signature attitude.
DR. JOSEPH CONROY is an electronics engineer in ARL’s Micro and Nano Materials and Devices Branch. He holds a doctorate, an M.S. and a B.S., all in aerospace engineering and all from the University of Maryland, College Park.
MR. EARL JARED SHAMWELL is a systems engineer with General Technical Services LLC, providing contract support to ARL’s Micro and Nano Materials and Devices Branch. He is working on his doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Maryland, College Park, and holds a B.A. in economics and philosophy from Columbia University.
This article will be published in the January – March 2017 issue of Army ALT Magazine.
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Before we get into why the fight would be so funny, let’s just take a moment to say that there’s almost no chance that a war would break out. The whole argument centers over a mislabeled batch of trash that Canada paid to send to the Philippines. It was supposed to be filled with recyclables, but someone lied on the paperwork and filled it with municipal trash, including food and used diapers, instead.
That meant that it was hazardous waste, and there are all sorts of rules about shipping that stuff. Canada is working with diplomatic staff from the Philippines on how to bring the material back to Canada. But, for obvious reasons, the people on the islands are angry that Canadian trash has sat in the port for years as Canada tried to ship it back.
But the process is underway, Canada has said it will take the trash back, and there would be no good reason to go to war over the trash even if it was destined to stay there. But Duterte is not that logical of a leader, and he threatened war over the issue even though his staff was already working a fix. His military is, to put it mildly, not ready for that conflict.
Philippine Marines storm the shore during an exercise.
(Petty Officer 1st Class Nardel Gervacio)
First, let’s just look at what forces the two countries can bring to bear. Assuming that both countries were to meet at some unassuming, neutral field, Duterte would still struggle to even blacken Canada’s eye.
Canada is not the military power it once was, but it still has serious assets. Its military is comprised of about 94,000 personnel that operate 384 aircraft; about 2,240 tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery pieces; and 63 ships and boats including 12 frigates, 4 submarines, and 20 patrol vessels.
So, yeah, the top six state National Guards would outnumber them and have similar amounts of modern equipment, but Canada’s military is still nothing to scoff at.
The Philippines, on the other hand, has a larger but much less modern military. Its 305,000 troops operate only 171 aircraft of which zero are modern fighters, 834 armored vehicles and towed artillery pieces, and 39 patrol vessels that work with three frigates, 10 corvettes, and 67 auxiliary vessels.
So, you don’t want to get in a bar brawl with the Philippine military, but you’d probably be fine in a battle as long as you remembered to bring your airplanes and helicopters.
Canada has pretty good fighters, CF-18 Hornets based on America’s F/A-18 Hornet. So we would expect their unopposed fighter sweeps against Philippine forces to go well, allowing them to progress to hitting artillery pieces pretty quickly.
And Canadian ground forces, while small, are not filled with slouches. Their snipers are some of the best in the world, and their infantry gets the job done.
It sort of seems odd that Duterte thinks this would be a good idea. But, if war between two American allies seems scary to you, even if the closer ally is very likely to win, we have more good news for you.
There is essentially no way that Canada and the Philippines can effectively go to war against each other.
We’ll grant that the Republic of the Philippines Navy ship BRP Apolinario Mabini looks cool sailing in an exercise, but if it shows up off your shore, you just remove its batteries and wait it out.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark R. Alvarez)
The Philippines are the ones threatening the war, so they would most likely be the ones who would need to project their military across the Pacific.
They, charitably, do not have the ability to deploy significant numbers of their troops across the ocean to Canada, let alone to open a beachhead against Canadian defenders.
And if Canada decided to launch a preemptive strike against the Philippines after Duterte declared war, even it would be hard pressed to do so. Those 63 boats and ships Canada has? None of those are carriers or amphibious assault ships. None of them are designed to project significant force ashore.
And all of this is without getting into the fact that Canada is a member of NATO. No one in NATO really wants to go to war against the Philippines, but, in theory, Canada could invoke Article 5 and call on the rest of the alliance.
Since the world’s most powerful military is part of that alliance, NATO would probably win a larger war against the Philippines.
A female National Guard soldier is set to graduate and don the coveted Green Beret at the end of the month. SOFREP has learned that she passed Robin Sage, a unique Unconventional Warfare exercise and the culminating event in the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), earlier this week.
This marks a significant milestone for women across the force. She will be the first woman to have successfully completed a Special Operations pipeline and join and an operational team since President Obama opened all jobs within the military to women.
The graduation at the end of the month definitely will not be typical. Because of this historic milestone, graduation will be held in a closed hangar to conceal her identity. A Special Forces Engineer Sergeant (18C) with the 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, the female soldier has big hopes of going active duty. However, her warm welcome may not be as welcome as she may like.
Just over five feet tall, her walking into a Special Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) team room will not be high fives and handshakes. Culture takes time to adapt to change. There are plenty of older generations still within the Regiment that believe there’s no place for a woman on a team. However, when talking to newer graduates, they accept it, if she can pass the same standards. So did the new graduate pass with the same standards? All reports indicate yes. She did, however, have her fair of challenges, recycling at least one phase.
For personal security reasons, SOFREP is withholding her identity.
While this is an incredible feat, she won’t be the first. Captain Kathleen Wilder became the first woman to be eligible for the Army’s Special Forces in the 1980s (the selection was somewhat different back then). Captain Wilder attended the Officers Special Forces Course at Fort Bragg but was told just before graduation that she had failed a field exercise and could not be a candidate for the military’s premier Unconventional Warfare unit. She filed a complaint of gender discrimination. Brigadier General F. Cecil Adams, who investigated it, determined that she had been wrongly denied graduation. No reports were found on whether or not she ever graduated.
Additionally, in the 1970s, Specialist Katie McBrayer, an intelligence analyst, had served with Blue Light, a Special Forces counterterrorism element before the creation of Delta Force, in an operational role. She hadn’t graduated the Q Course, however.
Delta Force and other units Tier 1 units have been recruiting women for a variety of roles for decades. So what took the SF Regiment so long? Well for one, combat fields were previously closed to females. However at Group, since 2016, women have been working at the Battalion level. So to walk around Battalion these days and see women is now a very normal thing. And these roles could be right beside the operators while deployed as mechanics, SOT-As, intel, and now as actual operators themselves. So watch out Fort Bragg, you soon may see this woman wearing a long tab.
The commander of Program Executive Soldier today refuted recent media reports that the Army’s senior leadership has killed a requirement to field a new 7.62mm Interim Service Combat Rifle capable of defeating enemy body armor.
“It is not dead. The decision has not been made,” Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings (P) told Military.com.
Despite Cummings insistence, a source told Military.com that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has decided to cancel requirement, and ultimately the competition, but has not made yet made it official yet.
The Army identified a potential gap in the capability of ground forces and infantry to penetrate body armor using existing 7.62mm ammunition, according to the Aug. 4 solicitation.
The opening of the competition came just over two months after Milley revealed to Congress that the M4 Carbine’s M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round cannot penetrate modern enemy body armor plates similar to the U.S. military-issue rifle plates such as the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, or ESAPI.
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.
The Army intended to purchase up to 50,000 new 7.62mm rifles to meet the requirement, according to the solicitation.
It’s still unclear what changed; why the Army leadership decided to kill the effort.
It might have something to do with the U.S. Marine Corps’ lack of interest in the requirement and that it has decided to go in the opposite direction. In August, the Corps announced its plans to purchase more than 50,000 additional M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles (IARs), which are chambered for 5.56mm.
The US military’s growing reliance on special-operations units from its service branches may be straining those forces to a breaking point.
The US currently has around 200,000 troops deployed abroad. Roughly 8,600 of them — about 4% — are special-forces operators. They are deployed on missions ranging from training and advising to assaults and raids against enemy positions.
As of the beginning of 2017, US operators were deployed to 70% of the worlds countries, according to US Special Operations Command, or SOCOM.
The large number of deployments have officials in the Pentagon and Congress worried that members of the special-forces community may lose their edge on the battlefield.
Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees voiced their concerns at the Special Operations Policy Forum November 15th in Washington, DC.
“I do worry about overuse of SOF,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, referring to special-operations forces. “They are increasingly an organization of choice because SOF is very effective.”
“How many missions can you send them on? How many times can they do this? I think that’s what we don’t know,” added Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“The operational tempo is so incredible,” said Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The idea that you would have within six years, multiple deployments, some people every six months to deploy, that in and of itself causes lots of consequences,” he added. “And we haven’t seen a break in those deployments.”
Lawmakers have proposed a number of solutions. Among them are providing operators with more resources to deal with potential physical and mental-health issues; giving the train, advise, assist roles to more conventional units; and trying to delegate some of the diplomatic aspects of special-operations missions to diplomatic professionals, like those in the State Department.
The most obvious fix — increasing the amount of operators in the military — faces two problems. First, the US military is having difficulty bringing in new recruits, and second, simply adding more soldiers into the ranks of elite units may require lowering standards, which that could decrease their lethality.
“We cannot sacrifice quality for quantity,” said Reed. Nonetheless, lawmakers from both parties agree that increasing operator numbers is a good first step.
Some branches of the military are looking for ways to bring in more personnel as well. Last month, the Army announced it would be increasing bonuses for soldiers, and the force is likely to maintain some flexibility in its recruiting standards. (A report earlier this month cited an Army memo saying the force would offer waivers for some mental-health conditions; the Army disputed the report, saying the change was only administrative, and rescinded the memo.)
SOCOM is also reportedly investigating the possibility of using nutritional supplements, and perhaps even performance-enhancing drugs, to push the abilities and endurance of its forces beyond current human limits.
SOCOM leaders have emphasized that their units are still capable of conducting current operations and handling threats around the world. However, the fear of wear and tear is increasing, and most officials seem to agree that it is never to early to address the issue.
In the winter of 1795, a French cavalry regiment captured 14 Dutch ships and 850 guns without a fight. How’d they do it? They simply trotted across the ice. Universally regarded as one of the strangest victories in the history of warfare, the Battle of Texel is the only documented occurrence of a “naval” skirmish between warships and cavalry.
Capture of the Dutch fleet by the French hussars, Léon Morel-Fatio | Public Domain
Why were the French at war with the Dutch?
By 1792, Revolutionary France was looking to pick a fight with Europe’s monarchist powers. On 20 April, the Legislative Assembly declared war against the King of Bohemia and Hungary (meaning the Hapsburg Empire). Their plan worked. They ignited a twenty-three year conflict between France and the rest of the continent. In January 1795, the French Revolutionary Army invaded the Dutch Republic. They were met with little resistance.
What went down during the battle?
The winter of 1794-5 was particularly brutal. Stationed near the village of den Helder, the Dutch fleet was immobilized when the Zuiderzee bay froze overnight. It didn’t take long for the French commander to take stock of the situation—all the calvary had to do was gallop across the ice. The Dutch admiral was left with the embarrassing task of surrendering his ships to a handful of soldiers on horseback. A.G.M. Macdonell describes the French advance in his book Napoleon and his Marshals:
“The ragged men carried the Three Colours and sang the terrible song of Marseilles from Fleurus to the Rhine, and captured the fortresses of Flanders and the fortresses of Holland and Brabant…and entered Antwerp and Rotterdam and the Hague, and thundered on their horses across the ice to capture with naked swords the battlefleet of Holland.”
What happened afterwards?
The United Provinces of the Netherlands became the Batavian Republic. The French puppet state lasted until 1806, when it was replaced by the Kingdom of Holland after Napoleon decided to put his brother Louis on the throne.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
When the check engine light comes on… U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jeremiah Davidson with the 153rd Maintenance Group, Wyoming Air National Guard replaces a turbine overheat detector on a C-130H Hercules aircraft, Sep. 26, 2016 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron conduct a post-flight systems check on an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System Oct. 20, 2016, following a mission supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. JSTARS uses its communications and radar systems to support ground attack units and direct air support throughout the area of responsibility.
1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division Soldiers buddy-carry a simulated casualty to a casualty collection point during training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Nov. 11, 2016.
4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division paratroopers evacuate a simulated casualty during training conducted by U.S. Army Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Nov. 8, 2016.
CORONADO, Calif. (Nov. 14, 2016) The brightest moon in almost 69 years sets behind the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The ship is moored and homeported in San Diego. It is undergoing a scheduled Planned Maintenance Availability.
ARABIAN GULF (Nov. 14, 2016) An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Fighting Swordsmen of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 32 launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). The ship and its Carrier Strike Group are deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
An AV-8B Harrier assigned to Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223 conducting an aerial refuel near Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Nov. 15, 2016.
Dr. Ernest James Harris, Jr., a Montford Point Marine, received the Congressional Gold Medal on November 12.
“Anyone who knows a Marine, knows they are a Marine regardless of race, religion or creed and nowhere this is truer than in war.”
—U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz
Here is a portrait of one of our many courageous shipmates from Air Station Miami.
The Army plans to fly its Vietnam-era workhorse CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter for 100 years by continuously upgrading the platform through a series of ongoing technological adjustments designed to improve lift, weight, avionics and cargo handling, among other things.
The Army goal is to allow the helicopter, which was first produced in the early 1960s, to serve all the way into the 2060s – allowing the aircraft service life to span an entire century.
“Our primary goal is maintaining the CH-47F’s relevance to the warfighter,” Lt. Col. Ricard Bratt said in a special statement to Scout Warrior.
The latest model, called the Chinook F helicopter, represents the latest iteration of technological advancement in what is a long and distinguished history for the workhorse cargo aircraft, often tasked with delivering food, troops and supplies at high altitudes in mountainous Afghan terrain.
Able to travel at speeds up to 170 knots, the Chinook has a range of 400 nautical miles and can reach altitudes greater than 18,000-feet. Its high-altitude performance capability has been a substantial enabling factor in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan.
The aircraft is 52-feet long, 18-feet high and able to take off with 50,000 pounds. The helicopter can fly with a loaded weight of 26,000 pounds. In addition, the aircraft can mount at least three machine guns; one from each window and another from the back cargo opening.
The Chinook F is in the process of receiving a number of enhancements to its digital cockpit called the Common Avionics Architecture System, or CAAS, such improved avionics, digital displays, Line Replacement Units, navigational technology, multi-mode radios, software and emerging systems referred to as pilot-vehicle interface. Pilot-vehicle interface involves improved computing technology where faster processor and new software are able to better organize and display information to the crew, allowing them to make informed decisions faster.
By 2018, the Army plans to have a pure fleet of 473 F-model Chinooks. By 2021, the Army plans to field a new “Block 2” upgraded Chinook F which will increase the aircraft’s ability to function in what’s called “high-hot” conditions of 6,000 feet/95-degrees Fahrenheit where lower air pressure makes it more difficult to operate and maneuver a helicopter.
The Block 2 Chinook will also be engineered to accommodate a larger take-off maximum weight of 54,000 pounds, allowing it to sling-load the Army’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle underneath. This provides the Army with what it calls a “mounted maneuver” capability wherein it can reposition vehicles and other key combat-relevant assets around the battlefield in a tactically-significant manner without need to drive on roads. This will be particularly helpful in places such as Afghanistan where mountainous terrain and lacking infrastructure can make combat necessary movements much more challenged.
The Chinook F is also in the process of getting new rotorblades engineered with composites and other materials designed to give the helicopter an additional 1,500 pounds of lift capability, Army officials explained.
Another key upgrade to the helicopter is a technology called Cargo-On/Off-Loading-System, or COOLS, which places rollers on the floor of the airframe designed to quickly on and off-load pallets of equipment and supplies. This technology also has the added benefit of increasing ballistic protection on the helicopter by better protecting it from small arms fire.
“The COOLS system has been added to the current production configuration and continues to be retrofitted to the existing F fleet. We have completed approximately 50-percent of the retrofit efforts. Since its fielding we made very minor design changes to improve maintainability.
The helicopter will also get improved gun-mounts and crew chief seating, along with a new vibration control system.
“We are finalizing design efforts on an improved vibration control system that, in testing, has produced significant reduction in vibration levels in the cockpit area,” Bratt said.
The F-model includes an automated flight system enabling the aircraft to fly and avoid obstacles in the event that a pilot is injured.
Additional adjustments include the use of a more monolithic airframe engineered to replace many of the rivets build into the aircraft, Army officials said.
“The program is looking at some significant airframe improvements like incorporating the nose and aft sections of the MH-47G (Special Operations Variant) on to the CH-47F. In addition, the program office has conducted an in depth structural analysis with the intent of setting the stage for increased growth capacity of the airframe for future upgrades,” Bratt said.
The CH-47 F program is also planning to add Conditioned-Based Maintenance to the aircraft – small, portable diagnostic devices, which enable aircraft engineers to better predict maintenance needs and potential mechanical failures, service officials said.
The CIRCM system is an improved, lighter-weight version of Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures, called ATIRCM, — a high-tech laser jammer that is able to thwart guided-missile attacks on helicopters by using an infrared sensor designed to track an approaching missile. The system fires a multiband heat laser to intercept the missile and throw it off course,
ATIRCM has been fielded now on helicopters over Iraq and Afghanistan. CIRCM, its replacement, lowers the weight of the system and therefore brings with it the opportunity to deploy this kind of laser counter-measure across a wider portion of the fleet.
Chinooks are also equipped with a combat-proven protective technology called Common Missile Warning System, or CMWS; this uses an ultraviolet sensor to locate approaching enemy fire before sending out a flare to divert the incoming fire from its course.
Finally, over the years there have been several efforts to engineer a small-arms detection system designed to locate the source of incoming enemy small-arms fire to better protect the aircraft and crew.
When a senior al-Qaeda terrorist (or one from the Islamic State or Boko Haram) gets blown to smithereens, it makes the world a better place. An MQ-1 Predator drone made that happen late last month when its AGM-114 Hellfire missiles killed a senior al-Qaeda leader by the name of Farouq al-Qahtani.
According to a report by BBC News, al-Qahtani was hiding out in Kunar Provine, Afghanistan when the Predator carried out the strike on Oct. 23. Al-Qahtani’s death was confirmed by the Pentagon on Nov. 5. The Daily Caller reported that documents captured during the 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden mentioned al-Qahtani as a well-known figure, who was known by the alias Furuq al-Qatari.
“We have a good battalion over there led by brother Faruq al-Qatari,” one operative of the terrorist group wrote. The United States admitted Oct. 28 he was the target of a drone strike.
Predator and Reaper drones (also known as “Predator Bs”) have killed a number of high-ranking terrorists. Here’s some of the “greatest hits” that the MQ-1/AGM-114 Hellfire combination has pulled off:
Anwar al-Awlaki: A high-ranking member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar al-Awlaki was involved in the attempt to use an underwear bomb to bring down an airliner on Christmas Day 2009 and had been in contact with the perpetrator of the November 2009 terrorist attack at Fort Hood. He also preached at the mosque that was attended by at least two of the 9/11 hijackers. Awlaki died on Sept. 30, 2011.
Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harthi: Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harthi was one of the suspected masterminds of the attack on USS Cole in October 2000. The strike carried out in November 2002 that killed him and five other al-Qaeda operatives was the first time an unmanned aerial vehicle was used against a senior terrorist.
Hakimullah Mehsud: The leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed on Nov. 1, 2013. During his tenure, the Pakistani Taliban carried out the murder-suicide bombing at Camp Chapman in 2010 and the shooting of Malala Yousefzai on Oct. 9, 2012.
Baitullah Mehsud: The founder of the Pakistani Taliban and the immediate predecessor of Hakimullah Mehsud was killed on Aug. 5, 2009. Under his leadership the Pakistani Taliban had carried out the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
Not a bad start. Hopefully, there will be many more.