The Pentagon is looking to boost counterterrorism cooperation with an elite Indonesian special forces group, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Jan. 23 during a visit to Jakarta.
The special forces unit, known as Kopassus, has been accused of a range of human rights abuses, including killings and torture, mostly in the 1990s. Mattis says the group has since reformed.
“That was upwards of 20 years ago, and we’ll look at it since then,” Mattis said after meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, and other leaders.
Mattis’ visit aims to expand overall military cooperation with Indonesia, which is modernizing its military and has shown an increased willingness to push back against China’s territorial claims.
Indonesia is also dealing with the possible return of hundreds of Indonesians who fought with the Islamic State terror group in Syria and Iraq.
“We are out to expand in ways that respond to any requests from Indonesia on counterterrorism to include the special forces units,” Mattis said alongside his Indonesian counterpart.
Following those talks, Ryacudu said he would like Mattis to help relax the legal limitations on closer U.S. ties with the elite special forces group.
Kopassus’ alleged abuses include massacres in East Timor, the abduction and forced disappearance of student pro-democracy activists, and a torture campaign in Aceh during a now-ended insurgency. Rights groups say many of those responsible have not been held accountable.
Amid those concerns, the United States severed ties with Kopassus in 1999. In 2010, the Pentagon took initial steps toward reestablishing cooperation, but the ties have been limited and non-lethal, consisting of staff exchanges and low-level subject matter dialogue.
Mattis says he believes the group has reformed and would now stand up to the scrutiny of the so-called Leahy Law, which prohibits the United States from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that violate human rights.
Joseph Felter, the top U.S. defense official on Southeast Asia, said the Pentagon sees “real value and potential in working with Kopassus as a partner in counterterrorism,” if the State Department were to loosen restrictions.
“They are a very, very effective counterterrorism unit,” Felter said.
The United States already has very close ties with the Indonesian military. Since 2013, Felter said the United States has sold more than $1.5 billion to Indonesia under the foreign military sales program, including the Apache helicopter and the F-16. And Felter says Jakarta is considering buying more F-16s.
“Anytime we can help a partner uphold a free and fair rules-based order in a free and open Indo-Pacific, that’s what we’re here for,” the deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia said.
On Jan. 24, Mattis heads to Vietnam, where China is likely to be a major focus.
The Pentagon last week unveiled a new National Defense Strategy that prioritizes the U.S. geopolitical rivalry with China and Russia.
Vietnam is one of the most vocal critics of China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea and has repeatedly clashed with Chinese ships in the area.
During his visit to Indonesia Tuesday, Mattis repeatedly spoke about the importance of the “rule of law” and “freedom of navigation” – comments apparently aimed at China.
A Taliban shadow governor who had planned and executed improvised explosive device attacks on Marines and Afghan soldiers for well over a decade was killed in a precision airstrike just days before Christmas, Marines in Afghanistan told Military.com.
Task Force Southwest, the 300-Marine element that deployed to Helmand province as an advisory force for the Afghan National Defense Forces in April, does most of its work from inside the wire, supporting the local troops who patrol and launch ground attacks. But this recent strike on local Taliban mastermind Qari Fida Mohammad illustrates the impact Marines continue to have on the active fight.
Mohammad, longtime shadow governor of the restive Helmand district of Marjah, was killed Dec. 20, task force spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz said.
Standing inside the unit’s operations center, where 11 large flat screens featured detailed live drone footage from around Helmand province, Capt. Brian Hubert explained how the strike happened.
“Through the work of the intelligence sections as well as the operations in here, and coordination with the Afghans as well, we were able to conduct a strike on him a few days ago,” said Hubert, battle captain for Task Force Southwest. “Basically, we’re very familiar with the battlespace now. So when we see the leaders we know are important there, we can kind of do a bead on them.”
The unit started tracking Mohammad with its eyes in the sky. When he was well positioned as a target, the Marines called in two Air ForceF-16 Fighting Falcons to execute the strike.
“He was in a vehicle traveling with deputies, bodyguards, and a cousin of his, who was also a sub-commander,” Hubert said. “We took the shot successfully, and [he was] dead on the spot, which was huge.”
Mohammad, who was based in the Taliban hotbed of Marjah, but operated throughout Helmand province, had been well-known to the Marines for years.
Col. Matthew Reid, deputy commander of the task force, told Military.com he had known about Mohammad in 2010, when he deployed to Helmand for active combat operations.
“We’re still not really fully aware of the exact ramifications of taking him out,” Reid said. “It was a pretty big takedown, so we’re pretty happy about it. He was behind a lot of attacks against Marines back in the day–really high profile attacks.”
Hubert said the task force was now tracking the impact of Mohammad’s elimination. Ahead of the strike, he said, Marines had watched via drone footage as local civilians took to their homes, fearful of being blamed and facing violent reprisal if any attack were launched on the shadow governor. Now, he said, newly leaderless Taliban fighters in southern Marjah are acting disorganized and confused, without orders to carry out.
“Supposedly, [Mohammad] also had a lot of intimidation where he killed full families; he was absolutely just a Mafia-style Taliban leader in that area,” Hubert said, adding that he regularly demanded ‘taxes’ from local civilians by force. “Taking him out … hopefully provides the residents of Marjah and the southern end a little bit of a ‘hey, maybe it’s a turn.'”
For the Marines, Marjah is a region full of history. It’s the site of some of the service’s most hard-fought battles in Helmand. Some 50 American troops died in the 2010 joint siege on Marjah, known as Operation Moshtarak. When Marines departed Afghanistan in 2014, Marjah was considered relatively stable; but by 2016 it had fallen back under Taliban control.
Marines are now working to empower Afghan troops from the local 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army to hold the line. When the small task force arrived, the provincial capital city of Lashkar Gah was on the verge of being overtaken by the Taliban, Marines said. Now, with support from the Task Force, the soldiers have restored stability to the town and are beginning to move offensively against the Taliban.
In a shura with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller on Dec. 23, Helmand provincial governor Hayatullah Hayat said Afghan troops continue to take daily casualties in the fight.
But task force personnel continue to exact a daily toll against the Taliban as well. On a December visit to the operations center, a dark plume of smoke rose from a road on one of the screens — evidence of a precision strike carried out only minutes before.
From the screens, Hubert said, Marines had watched a pair of Taliban fighters carrying weapons dig a hole in a road south of the Marjah district center, intending to emplace IEDs ahead of a trip Afghan National Security Forces intended to make to the center.
Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucanos were in the air at the time, and Marines reached out and shared what they were seeing, offering them the opportunity to take out the fighters.
“They couldn’t quite get it, so we stepped in,” Hubert said. “We took the shot with F-16s and killed the two enemy. So now, they’re free to move toward the Marjah district center unimpeded by any kind of enemy contact right now.”
The process of identifying targets and executing strikes is a collaborative one, Hubert explained. Often the Marines will share what they’re seeing and make recommendations to the Afghan troops about how to respond, but leave the decision-making to them. The Afghan troops also play a significant role in the intelligence-gathering: in addition to ground reports, they maintain their own ScanEagle drone, its footage featured on one of the screens at the operations center.
As one target smoldered on the screen, Marines were tracking another: two men traveling up a road, south of friendly forces, one carrying a weapon on his back, concealed by clothing.
“We can see [the weapon] by the shape and size of what it looks like, then we’ll see him take it out,” Hubert explained.
In the course of several hours that morning, the Marines would coordinate the elimination of a half-dozen Taliban fighters.
The recent strike against Mohammad, and the daily strikes on Taliban targets, illustrate the intensity of the fight the Marines are still waging, albeit from a greater distance than they were during active combat in support of Operation Enduring Freedom four years ago.
“I know we want to bring in governance, and I know we want institutional fixes. But right now, this is a fight,” said Reid, the task force deputy commander. “And as Marines, when we’re fighting, we’re going to kill the enemy, and we’re going to kill as many as we can.”
After a handful of quiet days in President Donald Trump’s trade war, it looks as if a further escalation may be on its way following reports that another round of tariffs on China could be announced imminently and a statement from the Chinese government saying it is readying a retaliation.
According to Bloomberg, the Trump administration is considering levying tariffs of 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods shipped to the US, a move that would inevitably deepen tensions between the two nations. Trump so far has publicly threatened 10% tariffs on this tranche of imports.
Citing three sources familiar with the plans, Bloomberg said the US would raise its threat to 25% tariffs as a means of getting the Chinese government to enter into negotiations to de-escalate the conflict, which has seen tit-for-tat tariff impositions largely on industrial goods.
The increased tariff proposals could be announced in a Federal Register notice as early as Aug. 1, 2018, one of Bloomberg’s sources said.
The US has already placed 25% tariffs on about billion worth of Chinese goods, and it has just finished consulting on another set to be imposed on goods worth billion. It earlier imposed tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from China and other countries.
White-hot steel pouring out of an electric arc furnace.
“I’m not doing this for politics — I’m doing this to do the right thing for our country,” he told CNBC during the interview in which he made that threat. “We have been ripped off by China for a long time.”
The latest reports of Trump’s willingness to increase tariffs on China were met with anger in Beijing, with a government representative accusing the US of attempting to “blackmail” China. The government also made clear that it was willing to hit back at any additional tariffs.
“US pressure and blackmail won’t have an effect,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said, according to Reuters. “If the United States takes further escalatory steps, China will inevitably take countermeasures and we will resolutely protect our legitimate rights.”
During a meeting in Washington, DC, on July 25, 2018, Trump and the European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, agreed to the beginnings of a deal meant to lower tensions between the two parties.
In the meeting, the EU agreed to import more American soybeans and liquefied natural gas. The two sides committed to work to lower industrial tariffs and adjust regulations to allow US medical devices to be traded more easily in European markets.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Air Force F-15 Eagle pilots are helping to guard the skies over Iceland for the eleventh time since NATO’s Icelandic Air Surveillance mission began.
The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron began flying operations here this week in support of the mission, highlighting America’s commitment to NATO and the strength of its ties with Iceland. The squadron is tasked with supplying airborne surveillance and interception capabilities to meet its host’s peacetime preparedness needs and bolster the security and defense of allied nations.
During their rotation, the squadron will maintain an alert status 24 hours a day, seven days a week as part of their peacetime mission. This means they are ready to respond within minutes to any aircraft that may not properly identify themselves, communicate with air traffic control or have a flight path on file.
Strengthening NATO Partnerships
“This deployment gives us the opportunity to strengthen our NATO partnerships and alliances and train in a different location while continuing to improve our readiness and capability for our alert commitment,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Cody Blake, 493rd EFS commander. “Our overall expectation is to maintain a professional presence in everything we do.”
To remain vigilant, the squadron performs daily “training scrambles” in which they simulate real-world alert notification and execute planned protocols to ensure a speedy response.
More than 250 airmen assigned to U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and 13 F-15C/D Eagles deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, with additional support from U.S. airmen assigned to Aviano Air Base, Italy. Four of the aircraft are tasked with direct support of the Icelandic Air Surveillance mission, while the additional nine aircraft will conduct training missions, providing pilots invaluable experience operating in unfamiliar airspace.
An F-15C Eagle flies over Iceland during a flight in support of the Icelandic Air Policing mission Sept. 15, 2010. The IAP is conducted as part of NATO’s mission of providing air sovereignty for member nations and has also been conducted by France, Denmark, Spain and Poland.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Andrew Rose)
While providing critical infrastructure and support, Iceland has looked to its NATO allies to provide airborne surveillance and interception capabilities to meet its peacetime preparedness needs since 2008.
“Every year, we experience how qualified the air forces of the NATO nations are and how well trained they are to conduct the mission,” said Icelandic Coast Guard Capt. Jon B. Gudnason, Keflavik Air Base commander. “This is what makes NATO such a great partner.”
NATO allies deploy aircraft and personnel to support this critical mission three times a year, with the U.S. responsible for at least one rotation annually. So far, nine nations have held the reigns in support of Iceland: Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal and the U.S.
A top defense strategy think tank recently released a report hat looks at the implications of a possible war between the U.S. and China. The news is almost universally bad, but the assessment of a full-scale war between the U.S. and China in 2025 paints a dire picture of the aftermath of a conflict between the world’s two biggest superpowers.
While a war today would be costly for the U.S., China’s increasing anti-access, area denial arsenal as well as its growing carrier capability and aircraft strength could make it impossible for the U.S. to establish military dominance and achieve a decisive victory in 2025, the report by the RAND Corporation says.
“Premeditated war between the United States and China is very unlikely, but the danger that a mishandled crisis could trigger hostilities cannot be ignored,” RAND says. “Technological advances in the ability to target opposing forces are creating conditions of conventional counterforce, whereby each side has the means to strike and degrade the other’s forces and, therefore, an incentive to do so promptly, if not first.”
Instead, the two sides would fight until its home populations got fed up and demanded an end to hostilities, something that may not happen until the body counts get too high to stomach.
RAND declined to state a number of expected casualties in any potential war, but it estimated the loss of multiple carriers and other capital platforms for each side. Nimitz-class carriers carry approximately 6,000 sailors and Marines on a cruise. The loss of a single ship would represent a greater loss of life and combat power than all losses in the Iraq War.
The study predicts a stunning display of technological might on both sides, which isn’t surprising considering what each country has in the field and in the works. The paper doesn’t name specific weapon systems, but it predicts that fifth-generation fighters will be able to shoot down fourth-generation fighters with near impunity.
The U.S. recently fielded its second fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 Lightning II. America’s other advanced fighter, the F-22 Raptor, has been in service since 2005. China is developing four fifth-generation fighters — the J-20; the J-32; the J-23; and the J-25.
The J-20 and J-32 will likely be in the field in 2025 and would potentially rival America’s fighters.
By 2025, China could have two more aircraft carriers for a total of three. It currently owns one functional carrier purchased from Russia and is manufacturing a second.
Despite America’s greater numbers of both fifth-generation fighters and total aircraft carriers, China’s growing missile arsenal would force America to act cautiously or risk unsustainable losses, RAND argues.
Outside of the conventional war, cyber attacks, anti-satellite warfare, and trade disruptions would hurt both countries.
Both belligerents have anti-satellite weapons that are nearly invulnerable to attack, meaning that both countries will be able to destroy a substantial portion of each other’s satellites. The destruction of the American satellite constellation would be especially problematic for the rest of the world since nearly all GPS units connect to American satellites.
Cyber attacks would cripple vulnerable grids on both sides of the Pacific, likely including many of the computer servers that maintain public utilities and crucial services like hospitals.
Trade disruptions would damage both countries, but China would be affected to a much greater extent, RAND says.
A lot of American commerce passes through the Pacific, but China does a whopping 95 percent of its trade there and is more reliant on trade than the U.S. For China, any large Pacific conflict would be very expensive at home.
While it’s very unlikely that China could win a war with the U.S., RAND says the fighting would be so bloody and costly for both sides that even average Americans would suffer greatly. Service members and their families would have it the worst.
“By 2025, U.S. losses could range from significant to heavy; Chinese losses, while still very heavy, could be somewhat less than in 2015, owing to increased degradation of U.S. strike capabilities,” RAND says. “China’s [anti-access weapons] will make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to gain military-operational dominance and victory, even in a long war.”
There are two pieces of good news. First, leaders on both sides are hesitant to go to war. Even better, RAND’s assessment says that neither country is likely to risk nuclear retaliation by firing first, so the war would likely remain a conventional affair.
The bad news is that increasing tension could trigger an accidental war despite political leaders best intentions. RAND recommends that leaders set clear limits on military actions in the Pacific and establish open lines of dialogue.
Much has been written about the threat of Islamic State militants’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly known as drones, over the embattled city of Mosul.
IS was quick to weaponize UAVs with small improvised explosive devices.
On Jan. 24, they released a video showing up to 19 different aerial attacks by commercially purchased UAVs — the kind of drone you can buy in any shopping center. Iraqi forces have followed suit by attaching modified 40mm grenades with shuttlecock stabilizers onto their larger UAVs to drop on IS positions.
A crude inaccurate way of killing terrorists, its effectiveness is questionable. Weaponized IS UAVs have mainly been used to target Iraqi military commanders and troops congregating in the open near the front line.
It’s a low-end, low-altitude attack that can be thwarted by keeping in hard cover.
But both sides use the UAV’s more effectively as a means of providing Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, known as ISR.
Islamic State UAVs in the air, once identified, are the warning that something is about to happen — either mortar fire, which is typically one hastily fired inaccurate round — before coalition air superiority can locate and target the firing point.
Or, more devastatingly, the launching of a Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, an SVBIED.
Since the Battle for Mosul officially started on Oct. 16, 2016, hundreds of SVBIEDs have been launched.
Recently, Sky News’ Special Correspondent Alex Crawford and cameraman Garwen McLuckie faced a number of SVBIEDs during their reporting from West Mosul’s front line.
Each time a small UAV was hovering high above. One occasion two were spotted.
Chief Correspondent Stuart Ramsay, cameraman Nathan Hale and Producer Haider Kata were also targeted by a SVBIED. On this occasion the UAV filmed the SVBIED (an armored Fronting Loader) to its intended target, a tank.
Later, the video was posted on Islamic State websites.
Due to the built-up urban area and the ever-changing nature of the battle, IS drivers of the SVBIEDs are believed to be hiding in garages with their heavily armoured explosive-laden vehicles. Modified with armor at the front and cameras on the wing mirrors, they provide militants with a 360-degree view of the battlefield and are notoriously difficult to stop.
They wait as the Iraqi forces move slowly forward, seizing ground and minimizing the driving distance to strike.
If they launch too early, the SVBIED will be exposed to air strikes or anti-tank fire, the only two real ways of neutralizing the vehicle.
But hidden IS drivers may not know the exact location of the moving Iraqi forces or be familiar with the streets and or access routes to their targets.
This is where the UAV is the key component to the attack.
The operators of the UAV act as navigators for the suicide driver; guiding him by radio or cell phone through battle-worn streets, they can help deliver the driver to his intended target with greater efficiency and accuracy.
This is a deadly combination.
The coalition has attempted to blanket all of Mosul in a red no-fly zone for commercially purchased UAVs, but this has been thwarted by either smart software adjustments to the unit or by placing aluminum material over the GPS.
Other methods have included the Battelle Drone Defender gun (hand portable beam type weapon) and the Spynel infrared camera, which is used to locate incoming UAVs. Both have been very limited, as UAV use is usually confined within a few hundred meters at the very front of the fight where these systems are not always deployed.
If an IS UAV is sighted, the immediate response by Iraqi forces is to engage it with small and heavy weapons, a difficult shot when aiming at a high flying fast moving object of no more than a meter wide.
After the firing has stopped, all attention shifts to street level as experienced operators know the next thing coming will be more deadly.
Many harmless recreational drones have now become deadly tools of war.
The various developers of these off-the-shelf UAVs probably never envisaged that their products would be used in a lethal cat and mouse hunt through Mosul’s war-torn streets.
If there ever was a Marine that took the motto “adapt, improvise, overcome,” to heart it’s Rob Jones — a retired Marine Corps combat engineer who lost both legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
It’s not enough that he won a Bronze Medal in the Paralympics. Or that he was the first and only double above-the-knee amputee to ride a normal bicycle 5,180 miles across America. Now, he is on a journey to run 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 major cities.
Jones will run 26.2 miles in the selected city on his own, travel to the next city, and repeat, ending appropriately on Veterans Day in our Nation’s Capital.
“I came up with the idea for 31/31/31 because I learned that I had a talent for running when I was training for triathlons,” says Jones. “I hope that by completing this challenge, my fellow veterans will be able to see what I accomplished, and can have an easier time envisioning themselves doing so.”
While in Afghanistan, Jones was tasked with clearing a path through an area thought to have a buried explosive device. “The IED found me, before I found it,” Jones described.
During his rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Jones was fitted with prosthetics and learned how to walk again with two bionic knees.
Jones is a true hardcharger and credits the Marine Corps for “forging” him into the man he has become. He hopes that other veterans will be inspired and wants them to know they are not alone.
“Seek out your brothers for advice,” says Jones. “No one will think less of you for struggling to cope with hell on earth. It is our duty to each other to support one another in war and at home.”
Many veterans leave the military and lose that sense of mission and purpose that drives them to be the best they can be. Rob Jones is a stellar example that the mission can go on and that veterans can find a renewed sense of purpose for their lives.
Jones’ suggestion? Find purpose in challenging yourself to do something that seems impossible. Harness the power of the veteran community, get up, and make it happen.
All was quiet in the world of military memes until a Blue Star mom chimed in on Twitter about her yeoman son and the internet went freakin’ nuts. All political undertones aside, the most hilarious part of the meme was her bragging about her son being “#1 in boot camp and A school” and how he was awarded the coveted “USO Award” — pretty much every vet laughed because none of those are a thing.
The Navy vet took it all in stride. He and his brother verified themselves on Twitter and he set the record straight after his mom’s rant that turned into the latest and greatest copypasta. He’s down to Earth, loves his cat, and doesn’t seem like the kinda guy who’d brag about nonsense to his mother.
And, to be completely honest, it was kind of bound to happen. She had the best of intentions and military mommas embarrassing their baby warfighters is nothing new. Personally, I’m just glad my mom doesn’t know how to use her Twitter or else I’d be in the exact same situation.
Army Air Forces Lt. Col. Louis E. Curdes got a piece of every original signatory to the Axis Pact: Germany, Italy, and Japan. If that wasn’t outstanding enough, it’s how he got an American flag kill mark on his fuselage that earned him a place in military history — and maybe even the Distinguished Service Cross.
It’s not a mistake. The young, 20-something pilot earned every single one of his kill marks. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 at the age of 22 to fly planes against the Nazis. By 1943, he was a hotshot lieutenant scoring three kills against Nazi Messerschmidt Bf-109s, the workhorse of the German Luftwaffe, in his P-38 Lighting. That was ten days into his first assignment. Within the next month, he notched up two more kills, earning fighter “ace” status.
In August of that year, he ran into an Italian Macchi C.202 and shot that one down. Unfortunately, that was his last combat kill over Europe. He was shot down by Nazi pilots over Italy and captured by the Italians, resigning himself to spending the rest of the war in a POW camp.
But that didn’t happen. Italy capitulated a few days into Curdes’ internment.
Curdes was then sent to the Philippines and put behind the stick of the new P-51 Mustang fighter, going up against talented Japanese pilots. He was quickly able to shoot down a Japanese recon plane near the island of Formosa. His hat trick was complete, but that’s not where the story ends.
He and his plane, “Bad Angel,” were fighting over Japanese-held Bataan when his wingman was shot down over the Pacific. Soon after, he saw a C-47 transport plane, wheels-down, headed to land on the Japanese island. When he was unable to make radio contact, he tried to physically wave the transport off, but came up empty. So, rather than allow the American plane and its crew to be held prisoner by the Japanese, he used the option left: He shot them down over the ocean.
Curdes skillfully took out one engine and then the other without blowing the entire cargo plane to bits. He was able to bring the C-47 down just yards from his downed wingman. Curdes returned to the site the next morning as an escort to an American “flying boat.” The pilot, crew, and its human cargo were completely intact.
Among the passengers he shot down was a nurse Curdes dated just the night before, a girl named Valorie — whom he later married. The story was rewritten by Air Force Col. Ken Tollefson in his book US Army Air Force Pilot Shoots Down Wife.
US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts are back in the Baltics, practicing for rough landings on improvised runways as a part of Saber Strike 18, the annual exercise where NATO and partner forces work to improve their ability to operate across Europe and with NATO’s forward-deployed battle groups.
In early June 2018, A-10s from the Michigan Air National Guard’s 107th Fighter Squadron, based at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, practiced landing and taking off from a rural highway in Latvia and an abandoned runway in Estonia.
During the Cold War, highways were considered an option for fixed-wing aircraft, as standard airstrips were likely to be targeted first in the event of conflict. But the A-10s only recently resumed the exercise.
“The requirement that we’ve been tasked with to be able to force project into battle spaces where the assumption is that the enemy is going to immediately try to destroy or limit capabilities on known airfields,” said Air Force Maj. David Dennis, the detachment director of operations for the 107th Fighter Squadron.
“So the A-10 has been tasked with being able to forward deploy into areas a little bit more austere,” he added, “whether they’re old airfields, riverbeds, old highways, whatever the case may be, so we continue to provide close air support to the guys on the ground.”
The 107th Fighter Squadron is currently deployed to Latvia. Working with members of the 321st Special Tactics Squadron’s combat controllers, the 107th’s A-10s carried out landings and takeoffs from an abandoned runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, on June 7, 2018.
The exercise is part of Saber Strike 18, the latest version of a US Army Europe-led training exercise involving NATO countries and partner forces. This year’s iteration focuses on improving land- and air-operational capabilities, with the additional goal of training with NATO’s enhanced forward presence battle groups.
(US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. David Kujawa)
NATO’s enhanced forward presence battle groups have been deployed to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland over the past two years and are made up of units from various NATO member countries. They are still on station in those four countries and now number over 4,500 personnel in total.
“We’re landing on Estonian soil, so we have Estonian defense forces here, providing security. We have local fire departments on standby, in case there is some sort of incident,” Dennis said. “So it involves a host of people.”
Austere-landing exercises contribute to the goal of providing close air support. “So day five, day six, day ten of the war, the assumption is that the airfields that the Air Force has been operating out of are probably compromised in some manner,” Dennis said.
A US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, assigned to the 107th Fighter Squadron from Selfridge, Michigan, practice landing on a non-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, during Saber Strike 18, June 7, 2018.
“So in order to continue to force project, and to continue to drop bombs and protect the troops on the ground, we’re going to have to find other suitable means with which we can continue our combat operations,” Dennis added. “So they would literally truck in the bombs, the bullets, all the things they need to, to austere environments, like an old airfield, a highway, whatever have you, so that we can continue to operate and ultimately save lives on the ground.”
US Air Force Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, checks an A-10 after landing in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
The A-10, introduced in the 1970s, was a key component of the NATO’s frontline defense during the Cold War. It served as the main antitank platform and was equipped with heavy armaments, like the AGM-65 Maverick missile and a 30 mm Gatling gun, and was heavily armored itself in order withstand ground fire.
US Air Force Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, marshals an A-10 after landing in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
A-10 pilots were given a coloring book to help train them to recognize Soviet tanks. The book, filled with deadpan humor and titled “What you always wanted to know about the T-62 but were afraid to ask,” color-coded sections on Soviet vehicles to instruct pilots on which parts to target and which to avoid.
“The point of the article is to highlight for newly assigned pilots the improved vulnerabilities of the tank from a side or rear attack,” Andy Bush, a retired A-10 pilot, told War is Boring in 2014. Bush said he had “no idea who wrote it or where.”
Cold War planners were not optimistic about the A-10’s chances in a war. In the 1980s, the Air Force planned to put 68 A-10s at each of six forward operating bases in West Germany. Their estimates assumed a 7% loss rate for each 100 flights, meaning each forward operating base would lose at least 10 A-10s every 24 hours. At that rate, the roughly 700-plane A-10 fleet would be shot down in less than two weeks.
US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Alex Goulette, crew chief assigned to 127th Wing maintenance squadron in Selfridge, Michigan, and Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, communicate with A-10 pilots about landing in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
Current tensions with Russia are far from the level seen between the Soviet Union and the West during the Cold War. But the austere-landing exercise and other drills are meant to keep pilots and aircrews sharp and reassure allies.
A US Air Force A-10 practices landing on a non-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
“Why did we choose Haapsalu over other areas? Inside the country of Estonia, essentially inside the Baltic region … it’s part of reassuring our NATO alliances,” Dennis said. “We continue to force-project airplanes, not just the A-10 but other NATO assets, all throughout the Baltic region. So what we have done is we’ve analyzed different areas, not just inside of Estonia, but also in Latvia and Lithuania as well, that are suitable landing sites.”
US Air Force Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, marshals an A-10 after landing in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
There are three important training objectives, Dennis said.
“The first is, trust the pilots right? So the larger Air Force in a whole needs to trust that the A-10 pilot group is capable of executing this in a very important mission set.”
“The next thing is the pilot trusting the airplane. As you operate this these sort of austere environments, the pilot has to have confidence that he or she can actually land in these environments, and execute the operation safely.”
“And the third, and I think equally as important, is we exercise the Special Tactics Squadrons, and other people that are involved in controlling us, and keep them proficient and current.”
Even in a training situation, landing on rough surfaces poses risks. “The airplanes can blow tires. The concrete isn’t as well grooved. In this case, the concrete is not even nearly the same as it would in a normal airfield,” Dennis said. “So there’s a lot of challenges that, physically, the airplane will face when … the rubber actually meets the concrete.”
US Air Force Master Sgt. Wolfram Stumpf, public affairs assigned to the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, records an A-10 Thunderbolt practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
“There’s a lot of detailed planning that goes into ensuring that all of these areas have been properly looked at,” Dennis added. “The Special Tactics Squadrons have a very methodical way with which they come and analyze and basically evaluate these landing surfaces.”
US Air Force Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, checks the runway for foreign-object debris after A-10 landed in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
The A-10, however, is the best plane for this kind of job. “The reason the A-10 does this is because it was designed to do this,” Dennis said. “In the design phase of the actual airplane, [there] was the consideration for this type of environment. So landing gear all the way up to the high-bypass engines, that sit above the airplane, all of that is specifically designed so the airplane is not just survivable, but can operate in these austere environments.”
US Air National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, says it has started checking the legality of the BBC World News channel’s Russian operations and its websites, following a statement by British media watchdog Ofcom that Russia’s RT television channel had violated impartiality rules.
Roskomnadzor said on Dec. 21, 2018, that the goal of the verification is to establish whether the content of the BBC operation is consistent with Russian laws.
The statement comes a day after Ofcom said it was considering sanctioning Russia’s state-financed RT, saying it had broken impartiality rules in seven programs in 2018, including coverage of the poisoning in Britain of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Britain blames the Russian government for the poisoning of the Skripals in the city of Salisbury in March 2018.
Russia has repeatedly denied that its agents were behind the poisoning and accused British intelligence agencies of staging the incident to stoke what they called “Russophobia.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Skripals survived the poisoning, in which a Soviet-made military nerve agent known as Novichok was used.
Two other British citizens were exposed to the same nerve agent in June 2018, apparently by accident; one of them, Dawn Sturgess, died.
Ofcom since 2012 has repeatedly found RT to have breached its rules on impartiality and of broadcasting “materially misleading” content.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Dec. 21, 2018, that Roskomnadzor’s move was in response to Ofcom’s announced checks of RT operations.
“Many have questions for the BBC regarding its biased coverage of some events, as they are covered not like a media outlet should do but in a preprogrammed and biased way,” Peskov said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hailed Roskomnadzor’s move, writing on Facebook that “it is high time to do that.”
“…the British government’s blatant interference in the activities of Russian medias outlets (constant propaganda against the RT channel, attempts to defame our reporters and so on) leave us no choice but to give a tit-for-tat response,” Zakharova wrote.
The BBC said on Dec. 21, 2018, that it worked in full compliance with Russia’s laws and regulations to deliver independent news.
“As everywhere else in the world, the BBC works in Russia in full compliance with the country’s laws and regulations to deliver independent news and information to its audiences,” said a BBC spokesperson.
The nation, writ large, has a moral responsibility to ensure the needs of veterans are met, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at a ceremony where the Newman’s Own Foundation distributed funds to charities serving service members, their families and veterans.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford praised Newman’s Own for its dedication to service members, veterans and their families. The group distributed $200,000 to five organizations during the Oct. 5, 2018 ceremony in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
Actor and World War II veteran Paul Newman founded Newman’s Own in 1982 with the goal of donating all of the company’s after tax profits to charities. In the years since, Newman’s Own has donated more than $530 million to thousands of charities. In 1999, the company partnered with the Fisher House Foundation and Military Times publications to aim donations at innovative groups that improve the quality of life for service members, veterans and their families. Since it started, Newman’s Own has recognized 179 programs with awards totaling $1,925,000.
Quality service members
“The reason the United States military has been able to do the things it does … throughout my career is because of the quality of young men and women we’ve been able to recruit over time,” the general said at the ceremony.
When Dunford entered the military, the all-volunteer force, which began in 1973, was in its infancy. There were many critics who believed the force would fail. The all-volunteer military has become the superb force of today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks to James Ferguson, founder of the Warrior Reunion Foundation of Cockeysville, Maryland, during the 2018 Newman’s Own Awards at the Hall of Heroes in the Pentagon, Oct. 5, 2018.
(DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The American people do appreciate the military and the sacrifices military families make, Dunford said. “But I am concerned about keeping this up,” he said. “It goes back to something George Washington said … ‘The manner in which we treat our veterans will determine the willingness of future generations to serve.'”
He said the recipients of the Newman Own Awards this year cover the full spectrum of services Americans want their vets to have. “We would want them to have housing. We would want them to have a job. We would want them to have health care, and a piece of that is we would want them to be connected to men and women with which they served so they don’t feel isolated when they leave active duty,” he said.
Appreciation of troops’ service
What these groups — and many more like them across the nation — do “really does send a loud and clear message that we really do respect, we value, we appreciate the service of those in uniform,” he said.
In 2018, the Warrior Reunion Foundation of Cockeysville, Maryland, received a ,000 grant from Newman’s Own. The group looks to help combat vets reconnect with their comrades they served in combat with. It lets veterans sit down with each other knowing that they experienced the same conditions, same uncertainties and sometimes the same traumas.
The Vets on Track Foundation of Garrisonville, Virginia, received a grant of ,500. The foundation furnishes homes for vets and their families who were previously living in shelters or the streets.
Code Platoon of Chicago received ,500 to educate vets and spouses to become software developers.
The West Virginia Health Right of Charleston received ,500 to provide free dental care for West Virginia vets without dental coverage.
And finally, Healing Warriors Program of Boulder, Colorado received ,500 to help provide non-narcotic therapies for the treatment of pain and symptoms of post-traumatic stress for vets.
President Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, and the national cemeteries are inextricably connected in American history. Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, 2019, is especially noteworthy this year because a historic tablet cast with his Gettysburg Address was recently installed in the lobby of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs headquarters. This meaningful object exists only because the nation observes Lincoln’s birthday.
President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, on a battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Over three days of Civil War fighting on July 1-3 that year, more soldiers died here than any single battle fought in North America before or since. In just 272 words, Lincoln conveyed the importance of the proposition “all men are created equal” to America’s past, present and future. Thousands had gathered to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Lincoln did not know that his brief but poignant words would become one of the most famous speeches in American history.
The Gettysburg Address tablets were placed in national cemeteries in 1909 when the nation celebrated the centennial of Lincoln’s birth as an official observance. Efforts included designating Feb. 12 a national holiday and a memorial highway connecting Lincoln-related sites. Publishers printed colorful postcards. The Federal government issued the first penny featuring an historic figure and a 2-cent stamp.
Congress also authorized the original Gettysburg Address tablets, 77, to place in the national cemeteries. They were produced and delivered in 1909—but not by Feb. 12. “The delay was almost entirely due to difficulty in determining the text of the Gettysburg Address,” according to the [Washington D.C.] Sunday Star (May 30, 2018). Lincoln had produced five versions of the speech. The government chose Memorial Day to announce it would use the Col. Alexander Bliss version, the only copy dated and signed by Lincoln, to become the “standard use of the Lincoln Gettysburg Address.” The large tablets (56 inches x 33 inches) became an essential feature in the national cemeteries.
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, taken on Nov. 8, 1863, eleven days before his famed Gettysburg Address.
For the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the federal government purchased 62 additional tablets. At the same time, a damaged tablet at Los Angeles National Cemetery was removed and secured in the NCA History Collection. Both original and replica tablets were produced through the U.S. Army Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. This NCA project assured that Lincoln’s words and the tablet remains a relevant part of the cemeteries as the system continues to grow. Re-installation of the un-restored Gettysburg Address tablet from California at VA headquarters marks the first time one has been displayed outside of a national cemetery — and this was realized for Veterans Month 2018.
Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg and cast in metal are part of national cemetery heritage. VA employees and visitors are invited to stop by this historic object and learn more at NCA History Program website.