Brigadier General Carl Schaefer, the commander of the 412th Test Wing, put the endless speculation as to where the B-21 would be heading to rest during comments at the Antelope Valley Board of Trade and Business Outlook Conference, according to The Drive.
“For the first time ever, I would like to publicly announce that the B-21 will be tested at Edwards Air Force Base … Edwards has been the home of bomber test and now we also can publicly release that the B-21 is coming to Edwards and we will be testing it here in the near future,” Schaefer said.
The general’s remarks appeared to confirm that the B-21 will be headed for operational testing sooner than some had previously believed. There are no known images of the B-21, although concept art does exist.
The level of secrecy surrounding the B-21 is so intense that Congress doesn’t even know much about it. Previous reports speculated that the testing would be at the Air Force’s infamous Area 51 facility.
The Drive reporter Tyler Rogoway said that he noticed a number of changes to the base during his last visit to Edwards. “It was clear that the South Base installation was undergoing a major transition,” he said.
“The USAF’s B-52 and B-1 bomber test units had relocated to the expansive primary apron and South Base had been vacated, aside from the B-2 test unit, so that it could be prepared for a shadowy new program.”
Edwards Air Force Base has unique facilities that would help the testing and development of stealth aircraft, such as the Raider, and is the headquarters of the Air Force’s Test Center and Test Pilot School. Edwards is also the home of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.
The B-21 will phase out the B-1 and B-2 bombers, the Air Force announced in February 2018.
“Arlington National Cemetery is an iconic place devoted to honoring the memory of individuals in the armed services who made a significant commitment of service to the defense of our nation,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, during a House Armed Services Committee briefing about Arlington’s current and future plans, March 8, 2018.
“The Army recognizes that the cemetery is at a critical point in its history … changes to eligibility combined with expansion will ensure Arlington continues to be an active cemetery well into the future,” Durham-Aguilera said.
In February 2017, Army officials engaged with Congress to explain how the current space constraints limit the amount of time Arlington National Cemetery will be able to continue to serve veterans.
Current eligibility requirements for in-ground burial at ANC are the most stringent of all U.S. national cemeteries. Nevertheless, most veterans who have at least one day of active service other than training, and who have been honorably discharged, are eligible for above-ground inurnment at the cemetery, officials say.
“It’s a tough reality. The current veteran population is over 20 million. The retiree population is over two million. The total force, both active and reserve, is over 2 million right now. Today we have around 100,000 available burial spaces. We cannot serve that population,” Durham-Aguilera said.
During that 2017 meeting with Congress, Army officials outlined considerations for additional expansion opportunities beyond current boundaries, and evaluated alternative ideas for maximizing the space within the cemetery’s geographic footprint, Durham-Aguilera said.
“With no changes, we would be out of space in the early 2040s. If (Arlington) were to get a southern expansion, that can push us for another ten years,” said Katharine Kelley, Arlington National Cemetery superintendent. Still, she characterized the value of that possible expansion as not providing a significant gain for the cemetery.
In addition to the physical expansion, Arlington officials have considered increasing the amount of niche wall inurnment sites. However, that option would only serve as a temporary solution and could change Arlington’s “iconic look and feel,” Kelly said.
Moving forward, Army officials have determined a need to redefine Arlington’s eligibility criteria for interment and inurnment. The last significant change to Arlington’s eligibility criteria was in the late 1960s, Durham-Aguilera added. Another, more recent change occurred in 2016 when active duty designees were added to the above-ground eligible population at ANC. These groups consist of about 200,000 active duty designees, or nearly double the current capacity at the cemetery.
To help make a better-informed decision about the cemetery’s future, officials conducted an initial public survey about burial options in November 2017.
Out of the 28,000 people polled, 94 percent agreed that the cemetery should remain active well into the future. Additionally, over 50 percent of those who were in favor of expansion also recognized the need to modify eligibility policy. Further, if no expansion is possible, a full 70 percent were in support of restricting eligibility in some manner to extend the life of the cemetery.
Based off the survey results, officials are now considering restricting Arlington’s eligibility requirement to service members killed in action, Medal of Honor and high award recipients, former prisoners of war, and military members that were killed while on active duty during operations or training, Kelley said.
Arlington officials are slated to conduct another survey in the coming weeks. At the conclusion of the study, results and recommendations will be compiled by cemetery officials and released to the secretary of the Army. From there, information from the study will be shared with the other armed forces secretaries and the secretary of defense, and eventually released to Congress, Durham-Aguilera said.
Finding ways to keep Arlington National Cemetery open well into the future, while at the same time honoring all who served, will be a challenge, Durham-Aguilera said. “These hard choices are on our minds every single day, as we go out and lay our veterans and patriots to rest.”
It could be argued that the one persistent challenge faced by the Air Force over its 70-year history is how to best integrate Airmen with cutting-edge technology.
Most pressing, from the earliest days of aviation, was the need to protect the human body from the potentially deadly forces generated by advances in aircraft speed, maneuverability and altitude capabilities.
Even in the pre-Air Force days leading up to WWII, altitudes were being achieved that necessitated aircraft with oxygen systems to keep pilots and crews coherent and alive during missions. This was closely followed by the development of aircraft with a pressurized fuselage, such as the B-29, which allowed crews to fly high-altitude missions without oxygen masks and cumbersome heated flight suits to protect them from sub-zero temperatures.
The advent of the jet age led to ever increasing altitudes and gravitational forces (G-forces) on the pilot, necessitating the development of G-suits to push blood to the pilot’s brain, minimizing blackouts, and ejection seats to allow pilots to safely escape aircraft operating at high speed and altitude.
The testing of these technologies quickly became the public face of the Air Force’s human performance research and human factors engineering.
Baby Boomers routinely saw newsreel films and photos in magazines of researchers testing ways to protect pilots from the effects of high G-forces and altitudes with rocket sleds, centrifuges, atmospheric chambers and even balloons used in Project Excelsior as an Airman, Col. Joseph Kittinger, protected by a pressure suit, made a free-fall jump from 19 miles above the Earth’s surface.
It was physiological research necessary to keep advancing the Air Force’s capabilities in the air, and later, in space. But it also made for good theater for the public.
However, from the very beginnings of the Air Force, there has been concurrent, less theatrical study of another interface between humans and their machines that has been just as ground breaking; that between the machine and the human brain.
It is research that is pivoting from an emphasis on optimizing tools for use by Airmen to creating technologies that will work with Airmen, as a partner.
Cognitive research by the Air Force began with an issue created by the U.S.’s enormous production output during WWII: lack of uniformity between aircraft cockpits and displays.
“There wasn’t such a thing as a standard cockpit configuration and aviators were confusing things like landing gear and putting flaps down,” said Dr. Morley Stone, the Chief Technology Officer for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. “Of course, that was leading to a variety of mishaps … Really, that gave birth to the whole field of human factors engineering.”
Lt. Col. Paul Fitts led the research team at Wright Patterson AFB that developed a consistent method for laying out an aircraft cockpit and instruments allowing a pilot to quickly and efficiently comprehend the current state of the aircraft. They also developed methods to manipulate controls more reliably, no matter the airframe.
The autonomous capability that we currently have is fairly nascent. Current algorithms are limited, certainly imperfect. We want to design to remedy that … intelligent assistants that sit on your shoulder that sift through data that look for correlations and relationships and present those in an easily digestible way to our Airmen to consider. ILLUSTRATION // COREY PARRISH
“That key research that occurred here at Wright-Patterson (AFB), as well as elsewhere, enabled the standardization of the key instrumentation needed to fly an aircraft,” said Mark Draper, a principal engineering research psychologist with the 711th Human Performance Wing at the AFRL. “It’s called a T-scan pattern. Pilots quickly learned the T-scan to rapidly ascertain if their aircraft is doing they want it to do. That became the standard for decades.”
However as new weaponry, on-board radars, sensors, communications and command and control technologies were added to airframes, pilots and crews quickly became overwhelmed by too much information for the human brain to process efficiently, a condition that pilots call a “helmet fire.”
“A key milestone, which was really significant, was the introduction of the glass cockpit,” said Draper. “Over several decades of just adding more controls and hardware instruments here and there, the real estate became really limited.”
“If we were able to put in computer monitors, if you will, into the cockpit, we would be enabling the re-using of that real estate. We could tailor the information towards a particular mission or phase of flight. The controls and the displays could be changed. That opened up a wealth of opportunity to not only provide more capability to the pilot, but also to enable the introduction of graphics into cockpits to make the information more easily understood and utilized.”
These concepts advanced by human factors engineering at AFRL has led to further research making the workflow of Airmen in many career fields more efficient and has even crossed over into the public sector.
According to Stone, this type of research led to everything from the development of the mouse, optimizing how a person inputs information into a computer, to eye-tracking studies to analyze how Airmen best recognize and utilize intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance information displayed on a monitor, to wearable devices that can measure a human’s current physical state, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.
Yet for all of these advances in streamlining interfaces and presenting data in more digestible packets on ergonomic displays, the limits of human cognition still present an ubiquitous obstacle for the future Air Force to efficiently integrate main and machine.
Stone and Draper believe one way to scale this obstacle is to enable Airmen to share some of their workload with a partner – a silicon-based partner. Draper and his team at the Human Autonomy Lab at the AFRL focus on how to better interconnect human intelligence with machine intelligence as we move into the future.
“Seventy years into the future, we’ll still be limited by the fact that we have a very limited short-term memory, we get bored easily, we’re not known to just sit there and stare at one place for a long period of time. That’s why our eyes move a lot,” said Stone. “We’re looking at a whole variety of tools, not just wearable sensors, but other types of non-invasive standoff sensors that look at things like heart rate and respiration and other physical cues … and trying to get that information out in such a way that you can make it readable to that future synthetic teammate.”
These sensors, coupled with ever increasing computing capabilities, could lead to Airmen of 2087 routinely conducting missions with a synthetic partner that will not only shoulder some of the workload, but constantly monitor the carbon-based Airman’s physical, mental and emotional state before recommending mission options.
“Computational power is getting ever more powerful. Also, computational power is becoming more miniaturized, so you can start putting it more places,” said Draper. “At the same time, you’re increasing the reasoning capabilities of the machines to collect domain knowledge, assess the conditions and create courses of action.”
“We have sensors becoming very miniaturized and able to sense the human physiology without even being attached to the human,” Draper added. “In a vision of the future, Artificial Intelligence can serve to continually monitor the human while the human is engaged in various tasks, and then dynamically adapt the interaction with the machinery, the interaction with the environment, and the off-loading of tasks. All with the express purpose of better team performance.”
According to Draper, one of the Air Force’s first forays into the realm of operational autonomous computing was the introduction of flight management systems into cockpits during the 1980s.
“Up until then, you had pre-planning and the pilots did all the navigation with a navigator,” said Draper. “Then they introduced a flight management system, which would automatically generate routes … give you the waypoints all the way from point A to point B. However, the initial design of these systems was less than great and we ran into lots of problems, lots of mishaps. This inspired research in order to better design how humans interact with automation which is critical, especially when we start talking about increasingly intelligent systems that are going to be introduced to future military systems.”
These initial steps were the beginning of a slow gradation from applying of autonomous systems as advisors, to allowing them to shoulder some mission requirements, to a possible future of handling some tasks on their own.
“The Air Force in its history has focused very strongly on the cockpit and crew stations for aircraft. However, where we’re going is expanding well beyond the cockpit,” said Draper.
“The autonomous capability that we currently have is fairly nascent. Current algorithms are limited, certainly imperfect. We want to design to remedy that … intelligent assistants that sit on your shoulder that sift through data that look for correlations and relationships and present those in an easily digestible way to our Airmen to consider … We want to reduce the overall workload associated with the Airmen, but the Airmen still retain key decision making authority.”
The key ingredient in a symbiosis between carbon-based and silicon-based Airmen is the development of trust.
Consider the amount of trust you have that your consumer grade GPS or cellular navigation system will correctly plot the best route to your destination and give you timely cues to execute that route. This is the bridge that must be designed and optimized between Airmen and their synthetic counterparts.
“As autonomy becomes more trusted, as it becomes more capable, then the Airmen can start off-loading more decision-making capability on the autonomy, and autonomy can exercise increasingly important levels of decision making,” said Draper. “That’s a migration you slowly incorporate as you unleash autonomy, as its capability dictates, and then you reel it back in when you need to, when your trust in it drops and you know that you need to become more engaged, you tighten the leash. The Airman and machine will share decision making, and at times one or the other takes the lead depending on the particular context.”
Draper said this trust will be achieved by a paradigm designed with a series of checks and balances, where Airmen can override an autonomous decision and Artificial Intelligence can sense an Airman’s fatigue, stress or miscalculation and suggest an alternative course of action.
“Humans make errors too, right? We all know this,” said Draper. “We should have an almost equivalent Artificial Intelligence looking at overall system performance, telling the aiman, ‘Hey, human! What you’re doing here potentially can really disrupt some complex things. Do you really want to do that?'”
Draper believes autonomous systems will never be given the keys to the kingdom and turned loose to execute missions completely on their own without human management and authorization. There will always be an Airman in the loop working with technology, to do the right thing. The nature and level of Airman engagement will change with new technology, but the critical role of the Airman, as supervisor, teammate, overseer, will persist.
“Imagine a perfect assistant with you while you work on a car. You’re struggling and you’re switching between many different tasks. All the while, you have this intelligent assistant that is constantly supporting you; reaching and moving tools out of your way and bringing in new tools when you need it, or showing you pictures and giving you computer readouts of the engine at exactly the right time. That sort of symbiotic tight-synced relationship between humans and autonomy is what I envision 70 years from now. True teammates,” said Draper.
As the United States approaches the 20-year mark of the war on terror, the country continues to lose her service members. But we aren’t losing the vast majority of them to combat with the enemy. Instead, accidents and suicide are inflicting most of the devastation.
In 2019, a Congressional report compiled the data from 2006 through 2019. The results determined that 12,116 of the 16,652 killed in service during that period didn’t die from combat related causes. That’s 73% who weren’t lost due to fighting an enemy during war but instead – most died accidentally or by suicide.
Since 2015, the non-combat related deaths have been outpacing those lost while fighting. According to the Defense Reauthorization Act of 2019, in 2017, almost four times the amount of combat related deaths were attributed to training accidents. The number has continued to grow, causing alarm within the military and government.
These accidental deaths are often attributed to training and safety insufficiencies.
The increasing numbers led many members of the Armed Services Committee to state that America is “at a crisis point.” The committee’s 2019 proposal for funding addressed rebuilding the military so that its members can safely meet the needs of present and future threats to the country. That same proposal called for more training, equipment repair and increased readiness on land, at sea and in the air.
But some of the battles they will face are within their own minds.
Since 2004, the suicide rates for the military have increased substantially. Tragically, 23.2% of all service member deaths from 2006 to 2019 were labeled by the Department of Defense as “self-inflicted.” In 2019, the Air Force’s numbers were trending so high that their Chief of Staff called for a resiliency and suicide prevention stand down, which was unprecedented.
A 2019 historical study within the Army painted a picture for the increased numbers. The data within the study demonstrated that there was a decrease in suicides for the Army during the active combat of the U.S. Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. But beginning with the Vietnam War, the numbers changed and continued to climb. By 2012, the rates of suicide within the military surpassed the rates of suicide within the civilian world.
Accidental deaths and increasing suicide rates highlight the increased danger that America’s troops encounter a long way from the battlefield. Ensuring that those who raise their right hand to defend this country have effective and safe training environments with working equipment is vital. Their mental health support should also be continual and ongoing, with the stigma of seeking help eradicated from the top down. We owe them all of this – and so much more.
Recently, a Marine was kicked out of a wedding for wearing his Dress Blues instead of a regular suit and tie. According to the post on Reddit, he was polite and gentlemanly but was asked to leave because he didn’t follow the dress code and the bride felt he was taking the spotlight away from the marriage.
There’s still a lot of other variables that aren’t really known that could really determine who’s the a**hole in this situation. If he was pulling a “you’re welcome for my service” routine, totally justified. If he didn’t have any other suit and tie, he could have probably explained that. If he was flexing his bare pizza box and two ribbons, he’s a douche. Since he was a friend of the groom, did he ask first? So on and so forth.
I’m personally of the mindset that he didn’t follow the uniform of the day and weddings are one of those things where you just nod and agree with the bride. But that’s ultimately pointless since this wedding has no bearing on my life.
Anyways. Since we in the U.S. aren’t subject to the EU’s Article 13 ruling on copyright material and the gray area it puts on sharing memes – have some memes!
The Defense Department is looking to step up its development of hypersonic weapons — missiles that travel more than five times faster than the speed of sound — DOD leaders said at the National Defense Industrial Association-sponsored “Hypersonics Senior Executive Series” here today.”
In 2018, China has tested more hypersonics weapons than we have in a decade,” said Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. “We’ve got to fix that.”
Russia also is involved in hypersonics, Griffin said. “Hypersonics is a game changer,” he added.
If Russia were to invade Estonia or China were to attack Taiwan tomorrow, Griffin said, it would be difficult to defend against their strike assets. “It’s not a space we want to stay in,” he told the audience.
DOD is looking at air-breathing boost-glide hypersonics systems, the latter being used by China, Griffin said. The United States has the boost-glide system competency to get these developed today, he noted.
On the flip side, he said, the U.S. needs to develop systems to counter adversary hypersonics. The place to take them out is in their relatively long cruise phase, in which they don’t change course suddenly. It’s not a particularly hard intercept, he said, but it requires knowing they’re coming. Current radars can’t see far enough. “They need to see thousands of kilometers out, not hundreds,” Griffin said.
Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin.
(U.S. Army photo by Bryan Bacon)
The Western Pacific is a particularly difficult area, he noted, because “it’s not littered with a lot of places to park radars, and if you found some, they’d likely become targets.”
Space-based sensors, along with tracking and fire-control solutions, are needed in the effort to counter adversaries’ hypersonics, Griffin said, pointing out that hypersonics targets are 10 to 20 times dimmer than what the U.S. normally tracks by satellites in geostationary orbit. “We can’t separate hypersonics defense from the space layer,” he said.
Getting to production, fielding
Congress has given DOD the funding and authorities to move ahead with hypersonics development, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said, and the department wants competing approaches from industry.
Tough decisions lay ahead, he said in the development and engineering phase, operationalizing the technology and then in acquisition. Those decisions include how much to invest and how many hypersonics to produce. “Should it be tens of thousands or thousands?” he said.
Industry will respond, Shanahan said, but government needs to clear a path and help fuel the investments up front, as with the effort field intercontinental ballistic missiles decades ago.
DOD is not risk-averse, the deputy secretary said. “Break it,” he added. “Learn from the mistake. Move on. Break it again and move on, but don’t make the same mistake.” It’s much more expensive to do the analytics to prevent it from breaking than it is to break it, he said.
Since the ultra-new and always-correct rules of social correctness have dictated that the only acceptable thing we can discuss or see online from now until election day is voting, we thought it only appropriate to create an article on everything the military wishes they could have some say in, but in reality, never will.
Appropriate labels for MRE sides and snacks.
It is probably a good thing that MRE ingredients will always remain a secret. There is a big difference between assuming you are eating flame retardant and knowing it. If nothing else, soldiers should be allowed to suggest and vote on accurate MRE snack labeling.
Crackers to be re-labeled “desert sand molded to resemble inedible wafer.”
Bread to read “crust flavored chew toy similar to what you give your dog.”
Teriyaki beef sticks are really “tastes nothing like meat but we’ll fool you with the looks.”
All Captains must run for office
Enlisted ranks everywhere cannot wait to stand at attention for a “short” speech on what is inevitably to be an hour-long retelling of your life’s story. Imagine a world where Company Commander’s have to depend on how well they convinced Private I-just-want-to-go-play-XBOX-in-my-room of their ability to lead the Company.
All we’re asking is a choice between two, maybe three twenty-somethings in charge of telling a 40-year-old First Sergeant how “in their experience” the Company should fix bayonets for every field problem and assault across that open field like it’s 1918.
In the movies, every soldier carries top-of-the-line gear straight out of a Bond film. Yet, actual soldiers know this could not be farther from the truth. Try driving your 1970’s vehicles into battle with a Desert Strom-era issued carbine with night-vision goggles straight out of the Cold War instead. The job definitely lacks sex appeal when you realize that the Army is nothing like Call of Duty.
While opting for a vintage-looking dress uniform (the second change and counting in less than a decade) seems to be the most pressing thing to spend money on up at the top, we’re betting the Infantry may have other suggestions. After all, uniforms don’t kill the enemy, weapons do!
Warning labels for MRE consumption
You will only make the mistake once of consuming a new MRE flavor without first asking your veteran peers of the inevitable side effects unique to each meal. We think every soldier would benefit from putting up to date feedback on the packet. Besides, who wouldn’t love to vote on the year’s best review?
Beef taco Severe explosive diarrhea is likely. Best consumed within crawling distance of a latrine.
Chili with beans Days long blockage likely, leaving consumers with walking-fart syndrome. Public shunning period necessary due to lung health of the platoon.
Mandatory “fun day” funds
Nothing says fun like mandatory fun. To kick off the only free day you will have in the foreseeable future, Company Commanders seem to think that there’s nothing better than a day full of mandated activities and awkward bonding over low-quality meat and the local grocery’s prepared foods section.
Ah, yes, much better than an actual day off. Especially when you are forced to spend it with the same group of people you see all day for five days straight every single week for years on end. Year after year the idea that soldiers possess the ability to have fun outside what is regulated continues to perplex leadership. Is this the year to hear the will of the people?
Term limits for CIF staff
“This is dirty. Clean it and make an appointment to come back another day,” says the CIF employee with a shit-eating-grin about the still factory sealed part you just turned in. Good thing it was the last item you needed to turn in so you can clear CIF and PCS from the seventh circle of Hell you currently call home.
We’re not sure what the Training Manual on CIF Operations reads like, but find it likely that any study would show a correlation between the years a human spends at CIF and an increase in unrealistic, even psychopathic expectations. Save a soul, impose CIF term limits.
Holding a new private draft like schoolyard dodgeball
It’s no secret that standards at basic have slipped with each passing decade, resulting in Privates showing up to companies expecting amenities straight out of the Ritz. Nothing would bring more joy to sadistic Sergeants everywhere than to line up and publicly select incoming Privates to their unit like it’s the NFL draft. Perhaps a more accurate welcome to the company than what is currently in place would help the poor darlings adjust a little better.
China has announced plans to begin production of a new two-seat variant of the Chengdu J-20 fifth-generation fighter that would, according to Chinese officials, dramatically increase the platform’s offensive capabilities. This announcement comes on the heels of China’s other significant J-20 announcement this week, relating to China’s decision to stop sourcing Russian engines for their stealth fighter. China will instead modify an existing domestic power plant for its purposes.
The J-20 “Mighty Dragon” is China’s first operational stealth aircraft, entering active service in March of 2017. The J-20 is indeed stealthy, though there remains some debate about just how effective the jet’s design may be. Some still argue that its front canards could potentially offer a weapons-grade lock on the jet when it’s flying horizontally across an aircraft’s field of view. Like all other fifth-generation fighters, the J-20 isn’t just sneaky, it also boasts a secure data link and the sort of advanced avionics one might expect from a data-fusing flying computer of its ilk. It has, however, suffered from long delays in its purpose-built engine program, forcing the Chinese to utilize Russian-sourced AL-31F engines.
Earlier this week, China announced plans to stop using the Russian power plant and to discontinue efforts on their purpose-built WS-15 engine that had been slated for the advanced fighter. Instead, China will now work to modify its existing fourth-generation fighter engine, the WS-10C, for the stealth jet. According to Chinese claims, the WS-10C will be as capable as the Pratt & Whitney F119 engine that powers America’s top air superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor. This goal is hardly surprising, as the development of the J-20 was based largely on stolen plans for the F-22 in the first place.
The planned engine change is intended to offer the J-20 the same sort of thrust vector control the Raptor uses for acrobatic maneuvers during aerial warfare–a change that was already announced for the J-20B currently in production. In order to match the F-22, these modified engines will also have to offer super-cruising capabilities, or the ability to maintain supersonic speeds without the use of an afterburner, on par with that offered by the Raptor. Supercruising allows a fighter to fly further faster, while still keeping enough gas in its tank for a lengthy fight once it arrives.
But new engines aren’t the biggest change on the horizon for China’s J-20. A design change of a much broader stroke announced by the Chinese government earlier this week would see the aircraft modified to serve as a fighter bomber, adding a second seat in the cockpit for an onboard weapons officer and potentially increasing the aircraft’s payload capacity as a result of the design changes required to accommodate another crew member.
Every 5th generation fighter in operation on the planet is a single-seat aircraft, from the original F-22 Raptor to the advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and even Russia’s troubled Sukhoi Su-57 Felon. It’s unlikely that China will produce only two-seat J-20 variants in the future, but the addition of a J-20 fighter bomber could offer a new level of capability to China’s People’s Liberation Army.
Single-seat aircraft tend to be smaller and highly capable in the air, and while all fifth-generation fighters are considered multi-role in their range of capabilities, a two-seat J-20 could improve the aircraft’s survivability in contested airspace as well as its ability to effectively engage ground targets.
While a single-seat fighter has one operator tasked with managing everything from flying the jet to identifying and engaging targets, two-seat fighters have a second crew member to offload some of those responsibilities on. Most two-seat fighters utilize a single pilot and a second weapons officer (think Maverick and Goose, respectively, in Top Gun). While the pilot manages the battlespace, the weapons officer or co-pilot can manage weapons systems, communications, and electronic warfare capabilities.
Two-seat fighters are, however, much heavier than single-seat jets on average, so the added capability comes with a trade-off in performance.
“An upgraded twin-seat J-20 could carry more offensive weapons and have stronger air-to-ground attack capabilities, so … it would become both a fighter and a bomber,” Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor, said to the South China Morning Post.
Of course, building a two-seat J-20 isn’t as simple as just stretching the fuselage and bolting a new chair in. The aircraft itself will likely have to undergo significant modifications to support both the new crew member and any added capabilities the PLA wants incorporated into a new J-20 fighter bomber.
If China manages to bring its WS-10C engine into full fifth-generation maturity, it will offer a significant capability increase for the fighter itself, and it will almost certainly find a home in the two-seat J-20 as well. However, despite China’s headline-grabbing announcements over the past week, all of these changes should be regarded as notional at best right now. Of course, that doesn’t mean to discount the potential capability of the J-20 in the future, but as far as claims about military superiority go, China’s reputation is almost as compromised as Russia’s.
The US Air Force confirmed in early August that it would buy two Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental airliners and convert them to serve as future Air Force One planes for US presidents.
The decision to buy planes that were already built rather than custom-made aircraft stemmed from President Donald Trump’s push to cut costs.
Trump publicly criticized the Boeing-led program’s cost in December.
Earlier this year, Trump said he would be able to cut a billion dollars from the $4.2 billion Presidential Airlift Recapitalization program, though the White House later said those savings would only amount to “millions.”
Now the exclusion of a key feature to keep expenses down may attract objections from Congress.
“Strangely to me, the Air Force has just announced that the next version of Air Force One will not have in-flight refueling capability. What do you make of that?” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton asked Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford on Tuesday, during a hearing to confirm Dunford’s reappointment to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I think that was a decision that was not made by the Air Force, but made by the White House,” Dunford said, “and I think it had to do with the fiscal constraints on the program.”
Cotton, calling the decision strange, suggested lawmakers and military leaders might reverse it. “I think we might need to revisit that decision here on Capitol Hill,” he said, according to Air Force Times.
The Air Force said in August that it wouldn’t mandate the new planes have in-flight refueling systems, and officials have said adding that capability would add unneeded costs.
But while the 747-8 models can fly almost 1,800 nautical miles more than the jets they will replace without refueling, according to Defense One — and even though presidents have never used in-flight refueling on the current planes — Dunford said the need to make ground stops for refueling, even in the case of emergency, “will certainly be a limiting factor, and we’ll have to plan accordingly.”
The Air Force plans to start modifying the 747s in 2019 and have them enter service in 2024. By that time, the two Boeing 747-200-based VC-25A aircraft that serve as Air Force One when the president is aboard will be 34 years old.
The Boeing 747-8 platform was selected as the next presidential aircraft in January 2015. The two aircraft acquired for the program were built by Boeing for a Russian airline that went bankrupt before it could take delivery. The company then held on to the planes until a new buyer could be found. The Air Force has not disclosed how much it paid for them.
Air Force One acts as a mobile national command center, and expected modifications include a specialized communications system, electrical upgrades, a medical facility, and a self-defense system. What requirements will be put on the planes and how much they will cost have been the subject of wrangling between the Pentagon and contractors for months.
The Air Force is looking to cut costs by striking better deals on the materials going into the planes. A number of the plane’s interior furnishings will be commercially available products.
“From this point forward, any additional cost savings will arise from capitalizing on acquisition process opportunities,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Defense One this month.
Boeing has already gotten $170 million in development funding to study the future Air Force One’s technical requirements. Earlier this month, the Air Force awarded the company another contract worth a little less than $600 million to begin the preliminary design of the future Air Force Ones.
“Those [cost-saving] opportunities identified will be reviewed to ensure mission capabilities are not degraded,” the Air Force said at the time, according to Defense News. “The entire preliminary design effort will keep a focus on affordability.”
Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has apparently survived a bloody coup attempt that has left over 160 people dead, over a thousand injured, and over 2800 military personnel detained. Massive protests by Erdogan supporters, who were rallied by an address by the Turkish President on FaceTime, helped thwart the coup. The coup was condemned by many elements in Turkey, as well as President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Among events Friday night and Saturday were the shutdown of power for Incirlik Air Base, where the 39th Air Base Wing is deployed. British, Saudi, and German forces are operating from the air base, which is less than 70 miles from the Syrian border. That is a convenient locale for operations against the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack in Nice Saturday that left 84 people dead.
Air operations from Incirlik ordered to stop, although aircraft currently flying missions were allowed to land. American troops have not been threatened, although the apparent blockade of Incirlik, which has gone to THREATCON DELTA in the wake of the coup, is not a good sign. Nor is the FAA shutting down flights to and from Turkey. The Federation of American Scientists estimated in 2015 that the United States reportedly has many as 50 “special stores” located at Incirlik, adding to the stakes at Incirlik.
Erdogan in the past has not exactly been a friend to the United States. One of the more notorious incidents came early in his rule as prime minister, in 2003, when he suddenly denied permission for the 4th Infantry Division to land in Turkey and attack into northern Iraq during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lately, during his rule, he has shown a decided pattern of suppressing dissent, including seizing control of newspapers, throwing people in prison for “insulting” him, and drawing charges of both acting like a dictator and turning a blind eye to foreign fighters transiting Turkey to join ISIS.
Erdogan has accused Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who is residing in the United States after falling out with the Turkish President in 2013 over a corruption scandal and the closure of schools run by his group, Hizmet. According to reports, Gulen is a true moderate Moslem and a supporter of democracy, interfaith dialogue, and education.
With the failure of this coup, Erdogan will move to ensure that there will not be a chance to launch a more successful one. The Turkish president has declared the attempted coup a “gift from god” and has vowed to use it as a pretext to “cleanse our army” and said the elements who took part in the coup are guilty of “treason” and vowed they will “pay a heavy price” for trying to topple his regime.
The effects of this coup will reverberate through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Middle East. Turkey will likely slide further into an Islamist regime, one that becomes increasingly repressive as Erdogan asserts his rule in Turkey.
The Pentagon’s chief war crimes prosecutor, who, for six years, has been the most public booster of the military commissions, has decided to abandon a years-long practice of briefing reporters and holding news conferences.
“This is a principled decision based on the law and the posture of these cases,” prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said Oct. 29. “And it’s the right time.”
More restrictions may be to come. In a 2014 court filing in the Sept. 11 terror attacks case, prosecutors suggested to the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, that he may want to impose a gag order on all lawyers in the high-profile tribunal.
They argued that lawyers offering commentary or other information outside of court could prejudice the possibility of “a fair trial by impartial members” — a jury of US military officers, yet to be chosen — in the death-penalty case against accused plot mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other alleged accomplices. No trial date has been set.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Ben Sakrisson described Martins’ decision as part of an overall rethinking of public affairs strategy by the overseer of the war court, Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof. Throughout the Obama administration, the Pentagon regularly staged news conferences that gave the prosecutor, defense attorneys and families of terror victims a podium at the close of war court hearings.
Now, according to Sakrisson, “this is just the prosecution stepping away from engaging with the media directly. I wouldn’t characterize this change as extending to the defense teams.”
Family members and victims of terror attacks — chosen by Pentagon lottery and brought to the base as guests of the prosecution — will still be permitted to talk to reporters if they want, he said. “Going forward I expect there will be press conferences of some manner. But the final forum of participants is still under discussion.”
When Martins first started doing press conferences in a wooden shed built for $49,000 to look like a Pentagon briefing room, dozens of reporters would travel to Guantánamo. Broadcasters in particular needed the question-and-answer session because recording is forbidden at the post-Sept. 11 court.
For reporters who couldn’t make the trip to Cuba, the Pentagon would broadcast the news briefings to a viewing site at Fort Meade outside Washington, DC.
Under the Pentagon’s war court rules, the prosecutor needs explicit permission from the convening authority to speak with reporters about the hybrid military-civilian justice system set up in response to the 9/11 attacks.
Defense lawyers don’t. Many of them are civilians paid by the Pentagon, and the Manual for Military Commissions lets them talk freely with reporters about unclassified information, guided by their professional ethics.
The Pentagon “has a lot of restrictions around publishing or speaking to the press, designed to give a unitary message from the Department of Defense,” said defense attorney Jay Connell. The manual essentially waives a defense attorney’s obligation to puppet a US government talking point.
Connell, who regularly briefs reporters, represents Mohammed’s nephew, Ammar al Baluchi. He argues the rules recognize his duty “to inform the public about what’s going on in military commissions.”
For example, while Martins would recite how many legal motions were argued, how many hours of court were held, and how many pages of evidence were turned over, Connell would try to contextualize what happened in court from the defense point of view.
“So many things which happen in the military commissions relate to larger themes of secrecy, larger themes of torture, and larger themes of unfairness,” he said. “My goal in a press conference is to explain what happened that week in the larger context of Guantánamo.”
For now, soldiers record the briefings and the videos are posted on a Pentagon war court website set whose motto is Fairness * Transparency * Justice.
If the managers of media policy no longer host news conferences in the shed, Connell said, they’ll brief elsewhere. And, “if they get rid of the video recordings, then we would probably go to Facebook Live.”
Martins decided to pull the plug on press conferences soon after the Army postponed his Nov. 1 retirement until 2019. He has had the job for six years, and serves as both the chief overseer of war court cases and a case prosecutor in the Sept. 11 and USS Coledeath-penalty trials. Neither trial has a start date.
Among the first Americans to enter Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks were members of the Central Intelligence Agency’s shadowy Special Activities Division, along with elite special operations personnel from the US military’s various branches.
Tragically, it would be one of the CIA’s Special Operations Group – the armed paramilitary branch of the SAD – who would be the first to lay down his life in the War on Terror, becoming the first American casualty in Afghanistan.
In November 2001, Johnny “Mike” Spann, an SOG operative, found himself at Qala-i-Jangi, a century-old fortress positioned near Mazar-i-Sharif, where hundreds of Taliban fighters were held prisoner by Afghan Northern Alliance militia, having been captured during the Siege of Kunduz that same month.
Spann was a graduate of Auburn University and a former Marine, having served six years as an artillery officer before being recruited to the CIA in 1999. He later went on to join the SAD’s SOG soon afterwards, delving deeper into the world of black operations.
The CIA tasked Spann and another officer – an Uzbek language specialist – with interrogating the captives to glean intelligence on Taliban and Al Qaeda activity. The prisoners, as one might expect, were extremely uncooperative, and were additionally very poorly screened by their Afghan captors.
In a matter of minutes, the situation devolved into chaos.
A number of the prisoners rebelled against their captors, pulling out hidden hand grenades and detonating them in suicide attacks. Prisoners crowded around Spann during his questioning session began lunging at the SOG officer.
Spann and a fellow CIA operative immediately brought their guns to bear – the former pulling a pistol, and the latter grabbing an AK-47 from a Northern Alliance guard. In the blink of an eye, Spann was mobbed from all sides and disappeared under a mass of Taliban fighters, while his colleague attempted to make his way to his fallen comrade.
Reports estimate that Spann put down anywhere between three to seven enemy fighters with his pistol, before succumbing to the onslaught. The remaining CIA officer systematically dropped more Taliban fighters who had, by now, killed a number of Northern Alliance troops and took possession of their weapons, before running over to warn Red Cross and other civilian workers in the area to escape.
After contacting US diplomatic services in Uzbekistan, a quick reaction force consisting of American and British special forces hailing from Task Force Dagger was assembled and deployed to the area. The QRF established contact with the sole remaining CIA agent, while digging in for a long fight.
American fighter aircraft were directed to drop smart bombs on the fortress, while a pair of AC-130 Spectre gunships, operating under the cover of night, arrived on station, pounding the resistance into submission with concentrated fire.
After a two-day siege, the fort was retaken and most of rebels had escaped to the fort’s main dungeon.
The prisoners holed up in the dungeon finally surrendered after it was flooded with cold dirty irrigation water from nearby fields. Spann’s body was recovered with care in the aftermath of the battle, having found to be booby trapped by Taliban fighters. Of the 300-500 Taliban prisoners taken captive at the fortress, only 86 were recaptured alive.
Spann’s remains were repatriated to the US , and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star – equivalent to a Silver Star – and the Exceptional Service Medallion.
Today, a memorial still stands today at Qala-i-Jangi, commemorating Spann – the first American casualty in Afghanistan post-9/11.