Ever see those signs on the highway that read “speed limit enforced by aircraft”?
Well, if you’re in South Africa, you might just start seeing similar signage declaring anti-poaching laws are being enforced by the country’s Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that illegal hunting could be dealt with using a JDAM strike, or even a gun run with the Gripen’s 27 mm Mauser cannon. However, it definitely does herald a new mission for the South African Air Force, and brings to the forefront the struggles the country has had over the years with curbing rampant poaching across its outback.
The SAAF aims to use the Litening III pod to track poachers at night near the South Africa-Zimbabwe border. Built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems of Israel, the Litening is widely used as to designate targets for guided munitions, enhancing their effectiveness in combat situations.
Instead of designating poachers for an airstrike, the SAAF will use Litening’s reconnaissance capabilities, allowing them to see activity on the ground clearly, even while flying at night. The pod can be slung underneath the aircraft on its wings, or beneath its fuselage on a “belly pylon.”
Litening has already more than proven its worth in night operations in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 15 years.
Using a datalink developed in South Africa known as “Link ZA,” information on the location of poachers as well images of them in action can be shared with other aircraft in the area, or even controllers on the ground. This would presumably be used to vector rangers on the ground to the general location of the poachers.
Poaching has been a widespread and seemingly unstoppable issue in South Africa for decades, causing an alarming decrease in the country’s rhino population. Combat veterans, hired by private security companies and smaller organizations such as Vetpaw have been deployed to the area to combat poaching in recent years.
The Gripen is a multirole fighter with air-to-ground and air-to-air capabilities, serving with a number of countries across the world. Designed and manufactured in Sweden, it was built as a versatile competitor to the likes of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale and other similar fighters of the current era.
The single-engine fighter currently flies in Thailand, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Sweden, in addition to South Africa, and will soon enter service with the Brazilian Air Force. Saab is still aggressively courting a next-generation version of the Gripen, called the Gripen NG – slightly more on par with Boeing’s Advanced Super Hornet.
South Africa began taking delivery of its Gripens in 2008, purchasing a total of 26 planes — a mix of single and two-seaters. In 2013, less than half of these aircraft were operational at any given time. Slashes made to the country’s defense budget forced the SAAF to limit flight operations while placing a group of its brand new fighters in storage as they could not be flown.
It was reported last year that the SAAF began rotating its Gripens in and out of storage, activating some of the mothballed fighters to return to service, while storing others to be reactivated later on. Since South Africa does not face any military threats, none of these Gripens have ever been involved in combat situations.
It’s possible that using fighters in such a role might prove to be too expensive for the South African government, though, necessitating the SAAF to explore utilizing a different aircraft for its anti-poaching operations. However, this in itself could be problematic as the Litening pod can only be equipped to fighter and attack jets.
Using Gripens, orbiting high above poaching target zones, will likely turn out to be a decent interim solution while the South African government comes up with a cheaper and more cost-effective solution. Until then, poachers beware, you’re being watched by state-of-the-art fighter jets in night skies above.
Adam West was born, and drafted into the Army, as William West. In the military, he was in charge of standing up TV stations at San Luis Obispo, California, and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. But if it seems odd that the star of a farcical show like the 1966 version of “Batman” got his start in the Army, it was actually the perfect way to prepare for such a ridiculous show.
Here are six reasons why:
1. Renaming everything to some arbitrary standard like “bat cuffs,” “bat time,” and “bat channel,” makes sense for anyone who has had to relearn names for Velcro, Duck Tape, and zipper
Those are ridiculous ways of referring to Velcro, Duck Tape, and zippers, which are all brand names that the Army can’t use in official doctrine. So young Billy West would have gotten used to using the Army names. It was probably easy to start calling everything “bat” later in life.
2. Dealing with a group of ne’er-do-wells like the “Batman” villains is old hat for anyone who has dealt with an Army squad
Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Archer, and other crazy villains were always hatching insane schemes in the Batman TV show. But, once again, the Army would’ve prepared the future Bruce Wayne for this.
Soldiers decide to get high with spice and bath salts? Yup, sounds about right. Troops smuggling liquor overseas by pouring it into Listerine bottles and mixing in food coloring? Seen it. Enlisted hijinks are basically Silver Age Batman ridiculous, just without the fancy gadgets and costumes.
3. Having to mentor a grown adult while treating them like a child is how all specialists deal with new privates
One of the more awkward truths about the Batman is that Robin, the Boy Wonder, was actually a 21-year-old man when the show began. The grown adult Adam West had to act like mentoring another grown man while treating him like a child wasn’t sort of weird.
But again, the Army is perfect preparation for this. After all, most specialists have only been in the military for a few years and they can be assigned responsibility of a private first class who has been in the Army a couple of years. So, 24-year-old supervising 20-year-olds.
4. Spending all of your time with an attractive lady without giving in is easy for any NCO who had to ignore their co-ed lieutenant’s good looks
One of Batman’s greatest villains was Catwoman, who definitely had a thing going on with Batman. But Batman refused to give in to it (though he almost kissed her once, and a later incarnation of Batman ran off to Europe with her).
But any specialist or sergeant who has pulled overnight duty with an even moderately attractive officer knows what it’s like to weigh the consequences of “fraternization” over and over. Chances are, young and attractive Billy West had to say no to a few female sergeants and officers, or at least find the right place to give in without getting caught.
5. Only in the military and “Batman” can the little stuff be crucial during an emergency
This is a small one, but most organizations will let little things go during an emergency. But Batman doesn’t accept any of that crap from Robin. Proper grammar is important, and Batman corrects Robin even as Catwoman tries to get away on a rocket.
You know, just like a sergeant major yelling about gloves during a firefight or reflective belts during literally anything.
6. Working within made-up rules is easy for anyone who has dealt with UCMJ and Rules of Engagement
Batman runs into some pretty stupid bureaucratic problems during the show, like that time the Riddler sues Batman (while using riddles to explain his scheme, because of course he did) for false imprisonment and assault.
The Air Force is looking at possible plans to retire the F-15C/D Eagle as early as the mid-2020s, officials told lawmakers Wednesday.
While the decision would mean divesting an entire aircraft class, officials said the F-15 capability would be replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a potential cost-saving measure that would allow pilots to train on fewer platforms.
Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice said the Air Force as a total force is in “deep discussions” and will further assess the F-15 inventory next year.
“The F-15C [has] served our nation well, as have its pilots for decades. And it was our air superiority fighter; now F-22 has taken that role,” said Maj. Gen. Scott D. West, director of current operations and deputy chief of staff for operations for the service at the Pentagon.
Air Force officials were testifying before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness on Capitol Hill.
“We do have capacity in the F-16C community to recapitalize that radar to serve the same function as the F-15 has done and thereby reduce the different systems that we have to sustain and operate, so that makes it more efficient,” West said about the effort to minimize the number of systems pilots operate.
Taking questions from reporters after the hearing, Rice elaborated, “It’s a bigger picture. There’s a balance between capability and capacity — capacity being, do we have … 1,900 to 2,000 fighters in our inventory? But at the same time, we also look at capability. Does it have all the right radar on it [at] the right time? Certainly, an F-15 right now is a very capable platform … [but] as we move into maintaining our capacity and keeping our capability, we have to address those needs.”
Rice said “planning choices” for the F-15C within the 2019 budget started last fall.
The F-15 is all-weather, tactical fighter; the now-retired F-15A made its maiden flight in 1972. The single-seat F-15C and two-seat F-15D models entered the Air Force inventory beginning in 1979, and have been in almost every theater across the globe, according to the service.
American F-15s are stationed at overseas bases such as RAF Lakenheath, England, and Kadena Air Base, Japan. A deployment of F-15s moved across Europe last summer as a deterrent for Russia during Operation Atlantic Resolve, and F-15E Strike Eagles have been used throughout the air war against the Islamic State.
Rice said planned F-15 upgrades will be fulfilled. However, the Air Force may want to look at the next block of upgrades to save on future sustainment and operational costs, he said.
Rep. Martha McSally, a former Air Force pilot and advocate for the A-10 Thunderbolt, questioned the choice to scrap the F-15 — a capable fighter, “the best in air-to-air” as a fourth-generation aircraft.
“The F-16 kind of fills in those gaps, [but] comparing the capabilities side-by-side we have to be careful through that analysis,” the Arizona Republican said. “But I realize the funding challenges that you have as you go through this decision process — but it doesn’t bring the same capability.”
Rice said he believes the Air Force is getting beyond comparing aircraft platforms “especially in the digital age” when looking at the platforms as systems and “how they integrate is as important and, in the future, will be even more important than the platform itself,” he said.
The Air Force wants more manpower, more maintenance, more pilots to ramp up readiness and sustain the force for a high-end fight with a near-peer adversary.
West, Rice and Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller, chief of the Air Force Reserve, testified they need pilots to sustain each part the force: at least 800 for the Guard; 300 for the Reserve; and nearly 1,500 — including 700 fighter pilots — for the active-duty component.
When asked if retiring the F-15 is a good idea amid a push to ramp up pilot — especially fighter pilot — production in the next few years, Rice said, “That’s true that is a challenge, because it’s not just capability-capacity, it’s all sorts of things. The readiness, the training, the people, the equipment. They all have to be at the right balance.
“So as we look at potentially doing a ‘what if’ drill [with the F-15 retirement] … over a certain period of time, ‘How much will that hurt? How much do we have to fill in the gap? Where do we go to gain that capability back at the right time, in the right place?’ ” he said.
It will be about “fitting into a system of systems,” Rice said.
It’s almost springtime, that special time of year where the weather starts to turn, the flowers bloom, and the United States and South Korea hold the massive combined Foal Eagle and Key Resolve (formerly known as “Reception, Staging, Onward movement, and Integration” or RSOI). The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) rattles its saber for two reasons. First, it will raise tensions whenever it needs something; money, food aid, or concessions from the United Nations, things of that nature. The second reason is the Foal Eagle/Key Resolve exercise.
These exercises serve the dual purpose of preparing for a potential North Korean invasion while reminding the North of just how devastating an invasion would be for them. This reminder has become more important than ever in recent years, as the North nullified its agreement to the 1953 armistice, which ended the Korean War. Since then, it had grown its military force and nuclear arsenal and become ever more belligerent toward the West. The war never ended, only the shooting. Now the North claims it has the authority to start shooting again.
The isolated North lives (ostensibly) under Songun, a policy of putting their limited resources toward the military first, before any other person or institution. It also prioritizes the military in the affairs of state, which is a partial explanation of why they accept the sanctions that come with their development of nuclear weapons. The DPRK currently boasts the fourth largest army on Earth, but is that really a formidable force? Ask Saddam Hussein if a large army makes the difference between winning and losing a war.
A 2015 Congressional report from the Pentagon says the Korean People’s Army (the land component of the North Korean Armed Forces) fields 950,000 troops, 4,200 tanks, 2,200 armored vehicles, 8,600 pieces of field artillery, and 5,500 multiple rocket launchers. The report reads “North Korea fields a large, conventional, forward-deployed military that retains the capability to inflict serious damage on the ROK, despite significant resource shortfalls and aging hardware.” Simply put, the North can rain death and destruction on the South, and it doesn’t even have to cross the 38th Parallel (the current land border) to hit the South Korean capital.
Korean People’s Army
4-5% of the DPRK’s 24 million people are in the Korean People’s Army, with another 25 to 30 percent are assigned to a reserve or paramilitary unit. 70% of its ground forces and 50% of its air and naval forces are deployed within 100 kilometers of the demilitarized zone (DMZ). The report says that few of its weapons systems are modern and some are as old as the 1950s.
Korean People’s Navy
The North Korean Navy floats 60,000 sailors, 430 patrol combatant ships, 260 amphibious landing craft, 20 mine warfare vessels, about 70 submarines, 40 support ships between two seas, the Yellow Sea to the West and the Sea of Japan to the East. Its specialty is amphibious landings and the DPRK has the largest submarine force in the world as well, though many are coastal subs and midget subs. The DPRK is working on developing a homegrown design for a ballistic missile submarine.
It’s also important to note that North Korea does not have a blue water navy. The navy is centered around an aging fleet of coastal defense forces. They might still be a little nervous about the Inchon Landing, also known as General MacArthur’s Rope-A-Dope.
Korean People’s Air Force
With 110,000 troops, over 800 combat aircraft, 300 helicopters, and more than 300 transport planes North Korea boasts the OLDEST fleet of aircraft in the world. Its fighters are 1980s MiG-29s bought from the Soviet Union and some MiG-23 and SU-25 ground attack aircraft. The pilots are not well trained because training burns fuel and fuel is definitely one thing North Korea does not have. Its oldest aircraft are 1940s An-2 COLT aircraft, a single-engine biplane.
Its air defense systems are mostly aging but with the deteriorating air force, the North relies on its ground-base air defense systems. In a 2010 military parade, it showed off a surface-to-air SAM system that looked a lot like the formidable Russian s-300, which Iran sought so desperately to bolster its own air defense systems.
The most highly trained, most well-equipped, best fed forces the Korean People’s Army can muster (only with North Korea would you have to mention how well-fed they are). Asymmetric warfare will grow to be a cornerstone of the DPRK’s armed forces, especially as its conventional forces continue to decline in strength and quality.
Nuclear Weapons and Ballistic Missiles
As previously mentioned, the North wants the ability to launch ballistic missiles from its submarine fleet, but so far those attempts have failed. Still, the North also pursues intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental U.S. Those two types are the Hwasong- 13 and Taepodong-2. Testing on these missiles is forbidden by UN Security Council Resolution 1718, which forbids the country from using ballistic missile technology. The North is likely using satellite launches to cover for its missile testing, its most recent test was February 7th, 2016, launching a Kwangmyongsong satellite into orbit.
North Korea also fields a cyber army as a cost-effective, low-risk way to disrupt enemy operations.
They have extensive external and internal intelligence and security agencies, as well as special units that infiltrate the South to establish pro-North Korea groups and political parties to foment unrest.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
An A-10 Thunderbolt II departs after receiving fuel from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve April 19, 2017. The 340th EARS, part of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, is responsible for delivering fuel for U.S. and coalition forces, enabling a persistent 24/7 presence in the area of responsibility.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and Patrouille de France fly together over Death Valley, Calif., April 17, 2017. The Thunderbirds and Patrouille de France are two of the oldest aerial demonstration teams in the world.
U.S. Soldiers with the 20th CBRNE Command conduct a 7.5 mile ruck march for their German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge (GAFPB) at the Yakima Training Center, Wash., April 22, 2017. The ruck march is one of five events in the Military training portion of the GAFPB that requires participants to wear a 35-pound ruck and complete it in one to two hours or less depending on the distance.
U.S. Vice President Michael R. Pence shakes hands with South Korean Gen. Leem Ho-Young, deputy commanding general of Combined Forces Command, near the demilitarized zone in South Korea, April 17, 2017. Pence is making his first trip to South Korea in order to receive a strategic overview of the peninsula.
NORFOLK (April 27, 2017) Quartermaster 1st Class Jose Triana, assigned to the Pre-Commissioning Unit aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), attaches signal flags to a line. Ford’s “over the top” lines are being weight tested by the ship’s navigation department.
PHILIPPINE SEA (April 28, 2017) The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG 178), foreground, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) transit the Philippine Sea. The U.S. Navy has patrolled the Indo-Asia-Pacific routinely for more than 70 years promoting regional peace and security.
U.S. Marines with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment are transported by a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 466 during an exercise as part of Weapons and Tactics Instructors course (WTI) 2-17 near Yuma, Ariz., April 20, 2017. WTI is held biannually at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Ariz., to provide students with detailed training on the various ranges in Arizona and California.
U.S. Marines with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division provide security during a CH-53 day battle drill in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructors course (WTI) 2-17 at Fire Base Burt. Calif., April 8, 2017.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Rollin Fritch Sector North Carolina comes alongside the 43-foot sailboat Tuesday, April 26, 2017, 13 miles south of Hatteras, North Carolina. Several Coast Guard assets came together to tow the Nanette through storms to moor up in Morehead City, North Carolina.
An aircrew member from Air Station San Diego is being hoisted up to a Coast Guard MH60 Jayhawk helicopter at Point Vicente Lighthouse in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. April 26, 2017. Consistently training helps the aircrews stay adept for situations where they will have to perform an actual cliff side rescue.
Taking off the uniform and retiring is fraught with fear and uncertainty. Luckily, you’ll live. It might not seem like it sometimes after spending so much of your life in the military, but with a little persistence and patience, everything will be fine.
First, 10 things you can look forward to:
1. Higher pay
This is what everyone gets excited for and it’s a good deal after you get through the searching, preparing, and interviewing processes. It takes time and can cause night sweats wondering where you’ll end up after retirement, but if you play your cards right and land a decent job then your net pay can increase by about 50 percent. It’s not Easy Street, but it’s Easier Than Before Street.
This is a double-edged sword. Some people like the nomadic lifestyle the military gives us and actually struggle with sitting still in one place. We enjoyed seeing new places and wondering where we’ll be sent next. So when that train stops, it’s hard for some people to deal with. Others can’t wait to put down roots in a community and never move again. It’s nice to finally have an address that doesn’t change and no chance of another deployment order.
3. PT on your time
If you hated early morning PT then good news … you can hit the gym at whatever time you like. Leave work early and go for an afternoon run? Why, yes, I will thanks.
This can be fun or a pain depending on how you look at it. Networking is always a good idea, especially if you’re a professional. If a post-military job doesn’t work out and you want to try something else, you have to know people who can help. So now you have a valid excuse to get out there and mingle.
5. Health insurance
While your co-workers at your new job are complaining about co-pay, premiums, and Obamacare, you’ll be comfortable in knowing Tricare and/or the VA system is cheap and effective … okay, now that I read that back it sounds kinda ridiculous. However, if you happen to be in an area that has a good military hospital and your family doesn’t have any major medical issues, the money you save on healthcare can be significant. I’m probably one of the few people who has nothing bad to say about the Army healthcare system, but I live outside Ft Belvoir (huge hospital) and have not had anything significant to deal with.
Never had time for one before? You do now. And if your hobby is hanging out with family, even better. Build a drone, write a novel, or hike the Grand Canyon finally.
7. Joining the “old farts” organizations
The American Legion, VFW, IAVA, and everyone else will try to get you to join their club. These groups do good things for the collective good of the military but they’re honestly not for everyone. As soon as I retired I joined my local outpost but just never really connected with them on a personal level. But I continue to pay my dues and support them because those organizations are great advocates for the veteran community.
8. Running into old friends again
The American military is the biggest fraternity in the world. I live in DC and during any given month an old friend has to come here for one reason or another and we invariably get together, have a few drinks and enjoy Reason Number 9 to look forward to retirement …
9. Reliving old tales
Over and over and over again. And history seems to change with each telling of the tale.
10. Facial hair
Come on … you know you want to grow that sweet goatee.
Now, five things not to look forward to:
1. Loss of camaraderie
You take the uniform off the soldier, but not the soldier out of the uniform…or something like that. The people you served with are what makes the life special. They had your back and you had theirs and it’s hard to find that camaraderie in the civilian world.
2. Lack of respect from young bucks
Get it through your head that your former rank doesn’t mean anything when you get out. Even if you were a general officer, you’re Mister Jones now, so when some brazen E4 cuts in front of you in line at the PX because he’s in uniform, get over it.
3. Not being able to do what you did on active duty
This is more of an age thing, but the days of running 5 miles in body armor or going on a drinking binge the night before a Company run are over. Long walks through the neighborhood are the routine now. And naps.
4. Going to the bottom of the list of priorities
Whether you’re picking up a prescription or trying to get on a MAC flight, retirees are the last priority for everything. In an instant, you go from priority one to priority none.
5. Dental insurance
For some strange voodoo reason, Delta Dental is 4 times more expensive than any of the dental insurance plans of the civilian companies I’ve worked for since retiring. Weird.
There may come a day when I stop making military Rick and Morty memes. But today is not that day!
To all the troops out there providing aid to the regions affected by Hurricane Irma, these memes are for you.
#13: Leave an infantry platoon alone for too long and it would probably start taking orders from a severed blow-up doll head.
#12: Recruiters never lie about “traveling the world and getting f*cked every day.”
#11: Toxic leadership is just like another thing that floats in sewers…
#10: Drop weapon. Carry on.
#9: Picking up women outside of a military base is like being a wolf in the arctic, fighting for any (barracks) bunny he can find. Leaving the military, you take that exact same wolf and throw him in a petting zoo.
#8: I swear, people from Florida are the LCpls of the civilian world.
#7: I don’t know which is more terrifying. Seeing a killer clown in the movie theater during a movie about killer clowns or seeing that clown you call “sir” in civilian clothes.
#6: Good going, Captain Ahab. You finally caught that whale!
#5: Still a better salute than most military movies (and a good quarter of the military)
#4: Come for the shirtless beach volleyball, stay for the 4 year contract.
#3: This dude is also probably the same Sergeant who hides in the smoke pit with the E-4s, lives in the barracks, and tries to set up a DD game while deployed.
#2: Drinking water, changing your socks, and staying motivated
#1: “Okay. Let me break this down again Barney style…”
North Korea’s been carrying out a lot of missile tests. And according to the latest info, April 16’s test was another flop. So, what are we looking at with these launches? What is being tested?
The fact is, the North Koreans have been really making a lot of missiles. So, here’s a scorecard to tell the Nodongs from the Taepodongs (which sound like the names of villains from an adult film starring Jay Voom).
North Korea’s missile inventory started out with the Scud – that V-2 knockoff the Soviets produced and then exported to their allies and a lot of the globe’s most disreputable citizens, including Saddam Hussein, Moammar Qaddafi, the Hafez al-Assad regime (where they were passed down to Bashir al-Assad), and the Iranians.
North Korea developed advanced versions of the Scud, known as the Hwasong-5, Hwadong-6, and Hwasong-7 missiles. These missiles were widely exported from Cuba to Myanmar. The Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that the Hwasong-5 has a range of 186 miles, and can deliver 2,170 pounds of explosives. The Hwasong-6 and Hwasong-7 are longer-range variants that trade payload for more range.
Bad enough, right? Well, the North Koreans didn’t leave well enough alone. They made an improved version that South Korean and American media called the Nodong. The Nodong is a modified Scud able to send 2,750 pounds of high explosive warhead almost 1,000 miles away, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
North Korea’s been developing other missiles, including the Taepo-dong series. The Taepo-dong 1 is a missile with a range of up to 3,106 miles. The Taepo-dong 2 is an ICBM able to reach over 9,300 miles away.
The North Koreans are also developing the KN-08, a road-mobile ICBM, with a range of almost 7,150 miles, and the KN-14, a regular ICBM with a range of over 6,200 miles. Shorter-range missiles are also in development, including the KN-15, which blew less than 15 seconds into its launch on April 15 of this year, and the BM-25 Musudan.
Of course, North Korea’s had problems getting its Nodongs up recently so, this scorecard could be subject to change. But this should give you a rough roadmap to the North Korean missiles that they may – or may not – get up in the future.
Venezuelan Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello is warning his party that United States Marines are going to be coming for Venezuela soon. This declaration comes after aircraft from the two countries were involved in an airborne confrontation where a Venezuelan fighter shadowed a U.S. Navy plane in international airspace.
“Their problem will be getting out of Venezuela,” the political leader also said.
A week after a Russian-made Venezuelan SU-30 Flanker fighter “aggressively” shadowed a U.S. Navy plane at an unsafe distance on July 9, 2019, Venezuelan and leftist politicians from around Central and South America met at the Sao Paulo Forum. It was there that Venezuelan politician Diosdado Cabello issued the baseless warning to the gathered crowd that United States Marines were on their way to his country and would be entering soon.
Most Western governments, including the United States, don’t recognize Nicolas Maduro’s regime as the rightful rulers of Venezuela. Instead, they recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is in control of the country’s National Assembly. While the Trump Administration isn’t ruling out military action, it has so far preferred diplomacy and sanctions as a means to deal with Maduro.
Cabello is the leader of an alternative legislative body, one not recognized by the National Assembly, loyal to Nicolas Maduro’s government. Cabello is believed to be the second most powerful person in the South American nation.
“We are few, a small country, we are very humble, and here it is likely that the U.S. Marines enter. It is likely that they enter,” he said.
The U.S. Navy plane shadowed by the Flanker fighter was a manned intelligence and reconnaissance aircraft, conducting a routine patrol of the region in international waters, though Venezuela claims the craft violated its airspace. the Lockheed EP-3 operated by the Navy was “performing a multi-nationally recognized approved mission in international airspace over the Caribbean Sea.”
In the movies, secret agents face their adversaries with guns, weapons, and flashy cars. And they’re so proficient in hand-to-hand combat that they can bring enemies to their knees with the right choke hold or take them down with a well-placed aimed shot. As much as I’d like to think I was that cool, in reality, life in the CIA is much more pedantic.
What most people don’t know is that the CIA is really a massive sorting agency. Intelligence officers must sift through mountains of data in an effort to determine what is authentic and useful, versus what should be discarded. We must consider the subtleties of language and the nuance of the nonverbal. We must unwind a complicated stream of intelligence by questioning everything. In the counterterrorism realm, this process has to be quick; we have to weed out bad information with alacrity. We can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to the collection, processing, dissemination, and evaluation of terrorism intelligence. As we say in the CIA, “The terrorists only have to get it right once, but we have to be right every time.”
Contained in that massive flow is an incredible amount of useless, inaccurate, misleading, or fabricated information. The amount of bad reporting that is peddled, not only to the CIA but to intelligence agencies all over the world, is mind-boggling.
That’s precisely why one of the greatest challenges we faced as counterterrorism experts was figuring out who was giving us solid intelligence and who wasn’t. And when we were dealing with terrorists, getting it wrong could mean someone’s death.
In early 2007 when Iraq was awash with violence, many Iraqis who had formerly counted the United States as the Great Satan for occupying their country switched sides and were willing to work with Coalition Forces against Iraqi terrorists. Brave locals were rebelling against al-Qa’ida’s brutal tactics and were doing whatever they could to take back the streets from these thugs. This was a turning point in the war. Our counterterrorism efforts became wildly successful, fueled by accurate and highly actionable intelligence.
In one such case, we were contacted by one of our established sources, who was extremely agitated. Mahmud had come from his village claiming that he had seen something that sent chills down his spine. As Mahmud was driving not far from his home, he saw an unknown person exit a building that one of his cousins owned. The building was supposed to be empty and unoccupied. For reasons Mahmud could not explain, he thought that something bad was going on and that maybe the man he saw was a member of Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI).
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
Up until this point, Coalition Forces had found Mahmud’s information extremely reliable. Of course, they did not know his name or personal details, but they made sure we knew that his information had checked out. They contacted us on numerous occasions to praise us for the source’s reporting, explaining that it had allowed them to disarm IEDs and detain insurgents who were causing problems in his village.
Mahmud had a solid track record. But the bits he provided this time were sketchy and lacked sufficient detail. You can’t just disseminate intelligence reports saying that a location “feels wrong,” “seems wrong,” or that some random dude you just saw “looked like a bad guy.” That kind of information does not meet the threshold for dissemination by the CIA. In this case, however, the handling case officer and I went against protocol and put the report out.
Within the hour, we were contacted by one of the MNF-I (Multi-National Force-Iraq) units with responsibility for that AOR. They regularly executed counterterrorism operations in that village and wanted to know more about the sourcing. They were interested in taking a look at the abandoned building because they had been trying to locate terrorist safe houses they believed were somewhere in the vicinity of the building mentioned in our report. They had a feeling that nearby safe houses were being used to store large amounts of weaponry and a few had been turned into VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) factories. But there was one big problem: Military units had acted on similar intelligence reports before, but the reports had been setups—the alleged safe houses were wired to explode when the soldiers entered.
A spate of these types of explosions had occurred east of Baghdad in Diyala Governorate, and while we had not yet seen this happen out west in al-Anbar Governorate, one could never be too careful. Basically, the military wanted to know: How good is your source? Do you trust him? Do you think he could have turned on you? Could this be a setup?
This was one of the hardest parts of my job. While I had to protect the identity of our sources when passing on intelligence, I had to balance this with the need to share pertinent details that would allow the military to do their job. It was critical to give them appropriate context on the sources, their access, and their reporting records, and to give them a sense of how good the report may or may not be. Given our positive track record with these military units, I knew that they would trust my judgment, and therefore, I needed to get it right. Lives were at stake.
My mind was spinning.
What do I think? Is this a setup? He’s usually such a good reporter, but what if someone discovered he was the mole?
Even if Mahmud was “on our side,” the insurgents could turn him against us by threatening the lives of his wife and kids. Similar things had happened before. I prayed, “Please, Lord, give me wisdom.”
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
The bottom line was, I didn’t know anything for sure, and I told the military commander that. But I also remembered that just the week before, Mahmud had provided a report that MNF-I units said was amazingly accurate regarding the location of an IED in his village. They found the IED and dug it up before the Coalition Humvee rolled over it. So as of then, he was definitely good, and I told the commander that as well.
The next day, the case officer came to my desk and said, “Did you hear?”
“Mahmud’s information was spot on!”
“Really?” What a relief, I thought. “What happened?”
“When the soldiers entered the abandoned building, they found seven Iraqis tied up on the floor, barely clinging to life. It was more than a safe house. It was a torture house. There were piles of dead bodies in the next room.”
Mahmud’s intuition about the stranger he saw exiting that building had been correct. Something about the unidentified man’s behavior or appearance—the look on his face, the posture of his body, the way he walked or the way he dressed—had hit Mahmud as being “off” or “wrong.” It turned out that local AQI affiliates had commandeered the building and were using it as a base to terrorize the local population.
My colleague pulled out copies of the military’s photographs that captured the unbelievable scene. The first images showed the battered bodies of the young men who had just been saved from certain death. According to the soldiers, when they entered the building and found the prisoners on the floor, the young men were in shock. Emaciated and trembling, they kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” They could barely stand, so the soldiers steadied them as the young men lifted up their bloodstained shirts for the camera, revealing torsos covered in welts and bruises. If that unit hadn’t shown up when they did, those men would have been dead by the next day.
I swallowed hard as I flipped through the photographs of the horrors in the next room, and my eyes welled up with tears. The terrorists had discarded the mutilated bodies of other villagers in the adjacent room, leaving them to rot in a twisted mound. I could hardly accept what I was seeing. It reminded me of Holocaust photos that were so inhumane one could not process the depth of the depravity: men and women . . . battered and bruised . . . lives stolen . . . eyes frozen open in emptiness and horror.
My stomach began to churn, but I made myself look at the pictures. I had to understand what we were fighting for, what our soldiers faced every day. As much as I wanted to dig a hole and stick my head in the sand, I needed to see what was really happening outside our cozy encampment in the Green Zone.
They say war is hell; they don’t know the half of it.
Michele Rigby Assad is a former undercover officer in the National Clandestine Service of the US Central Intelligence Agency. She served as a counterterrorism specialist for 10 years, working in Iraq and other secret Middle Eastern locations. Upon retirement from active service, Michele and her husband began leading teams to aid Christian refugees.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here is the best of what they shot this week:
F-16 Fighting Falcons taxi down the runway March 3, 2015, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The F-16s are assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson AFB. Aggressor pilots returned after completing a mobile training team exercise.
Sailors aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) heave line during an underway replenishment and ammunition onload with the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8). Theodore Roosevelt deployed from Norfolk and will execute a homeport shift to San Diego at the conclusion of deployment.
EAST CHINA SEA (March 17, 2015) Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) taxi an AV-8B Harrier assigned to Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 238.
Bach, a military working dog, takes down an Army military policeman during a demonstration at Fort Sill, Okla., March 12, 2015. The demonstration showed how Fort Sill’s K9 Unit assists with searches for narcotics, explosives and assists in apprehending suspects.
Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unitconduct a daytime boat operation exercise using Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts as part of amphibious integration training aboard the USS Green Bay, at sea, March 11, 2015. The Marines and sailors are currently conducting their spring patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.
Marines with 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conduct a nighttime boat operation exercise using a Combat Rubber Raiding Craft as part of amphibious integration training aboard the USS Green Bay, at sea, March 11, 2015. The Marines and sailors are currently conducting their spring patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.
Petty Officer 1st Class Denis Butierries holds his son Jacob so he can get a view of Honolulu Harbor during a tour of the Coast Guard Cutter Rush Dec. 23. 2014. Six-year-old Jacob was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy when he was four months old and was given between four months and one year to live. His longtime wish was to see the Rush where his grandfather served as the engineering officer.
Coast Guard Station Golden Gate lifeboat crews conduct surf training in Sausalito, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. The crews train in high surf to ensure they are prepared to respond to any maritime emergency during rough weather conditions.
One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.
The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Feb. 12, 2019, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10, 2019.
“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”
Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.
“For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’ ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Whatever loss we feel now must be tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues – both on the surface of Mars with the Curiosity rover and InSight lander – and in the clean rooms of JPL, where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape.”
The final transmission, sent via the 70-meter Mars Station antenna at NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Complex in California, ended a multifaceted, eight-month recovery strategy in an attempt to compel the rover to communicate.
“We have made every reasonable engineering effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts,” said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at JPL.
The dramatic image of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s shadow was taken on sol 180 (July 26, 2004) by the rover’s front hazard-avoidance camera as the rover moved farther into Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars.
Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its twin rover, Spirit, landed 20 days earlier in the 103-mile-wide (166-kilometer-wide) Gusev Crater on the other side of Mars. Spirit logged almost 5 miles (8 kilometers) before its mission wrapped up in May 2011.
From the day Opportunity landed, a team of mission engineers, rover drivers and scientists on Earth collaborated to overcome challenges and get the rover from one geologic site on Mars to the next. They plotted workable avenues over rugged terrain so that the 384-pound (174-kilogram) Martian explorer could maneuver around and, at times, over rocks and boulders, climb gravel-strewn slopes as steep as 32-degrees (an off-Earth record), probe crater floors, summit hills and traverse possible dry riverbeds. Its final venture brought it to the western limb of Perseverance Valley.
“I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley,” said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. “The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her.”
More Opportunity achievements
Set a one-day Mars driving record March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.
Discovered strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.
All of the off-roading and on-location scientific analyses were in service of the Mars Exploration Rovers’ primary objective: To seek out historical evidence of the Red Planet’s climate and water at sites where conditions may once have been favorable for life. Because liquid water is required for life, as we know it, Opportunity’s discoveries implied that conditions at Meridiani Planum may have been habitable for some period of time in Martian history.
“From the get-go, Opportunity delivered on our search for evidence regarding water,” said Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the rovers’ science payload at Cornell University. “And when you combine the discoveries of Opportunity and Spirit, they showed us that ancient Mars was a very different place from Mars today, which is a cold, dry, desolate world. But if you look to its ancient past, you find compelling evidence for liquid water below the surface and liquid water at the surface.”
All those accomplishments were not without the occasional extraterrestrial impediment. In 2005 alone, Opportunity lost steering to one of its front wheels, a stuck heater threatened to severely limit the rover’s available power, and a Martian sand ripple almost trapped it for good. Two years later, a two-month dust storm imperiled the rover before relenting. In 2015, Opportunity lost use of its 256-megabyte flash memory and, in 2017, it lost steering to its other front wheel.
Each time the rover faced an obstacle, Opportunity’s team on Earth found and implemented a solution that enabled the rover to bounce back. However, the massive dust storm that took shape in the summer of 2018 proved too much for history’s most senior Mars explorer.
“When I think of Opportunity, I will recall that place on Mars where our intrepid rover far exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Callas said. “But what I suppose I’ll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth. It’s the accomplished exploration and phenomenal discoveries. It’s the generation of young scientists and engineers who became space explorers with this mission. It’s the public that followed along with our every step. And it’s the technical legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which is carried aboard Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. Farewell, Opportunity, and well done.”
Mars exploration continues unabated. NASA’s InSight lander, which touched down on Nov. 26, is just beginning its scientific investigations. The Curiosity rover has been exploring Gale Crater for more than six years. And, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover both will launch in July 2020, becoming the first rover missions designed to seek signs of past microbial life on the Red Planet.
JPL managed the Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and Spirit for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the agency’s Mars Exploration program, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/mars.