Snipers serve in all branches of the military — including the Coast Guard. That may surprise some, and even more astonishing is that the Coast Guard snipers shoot to kill — engines, that is.
These personnel, known as “airborne precision marksmen,” serve with the Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, or HITRON. According to GlobalSecurity.org, HITRON has ten MH-65C Dolphin helicopters, which replaced eight MH-68A Stingray helos.
The target these “airborne precision marksmen” must hit with fire from M107 .50-caliber rifles measures about sixteen inches by sixteen inches. That infamous thermal exhaust port was larger, but the MH-65Cs are not moving as fast as an Incom T-65 X-wing.
They also take their shots much closer.
According to the video below, HITRON has stopped over 161 tons of cocaine from entering the country, worth over $9 billion. So, take a look and see how these marksmen stop the narcos.
Five years into the Syrian Civil War and two years after the rise of ISIS, Turkish troops finally entered the fight on August 24th, with OperationEuphrates Shield.
Turkish military officials say their artillery and rocket launchers fired 224 rounds at 63 targets in two hours. Turkish Air Force planes also struck targets in the ISIS-held town of Jarablus, which Turkish troops captured later that day.
It was ISIS’ last stronghold along the Turkish border.
The operation aims to clear the Turkish-Syrian border of “terrorist groups” to increase border security. Unfortunately, the Turkish government considers the Kurdish YPG, the most effective force fighting ISIS in Syria, a relative to a terrorist group – the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK. Turkey has been fighting the PKK for 30 years.
The 62-mile border area targeted by the Turks puts the NATO ally and its Syrian rebel forces on a collision course with U.S.- backed Kurdish and Arab fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces. Skirmishes between the two groups have already started south of the town of Manbij, just 21 miles from Jarablus.
Turkey gave the Kurdish fighters who captured Manbij from the Islamic State a week to leave the town and retreat East of the Euphrates River. The United States is backing its Turkish ally on the issue, and the Kurds are complying.
The Twitter account for the official spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State said the move was to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa, the de facto ISIS capital.
The Syrian Democratic Forces have moved east across the Euphrates to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa, Syria #defeatdaesh
Travel with Navy veteran Stephanie Sanchez and visit a one-of-a-kind dream home built in Indiana. This Army veteran was inspired by community architecture from his time in West Germany to come back to the States and build a horse farm based on the concept of “all under one roof.”
With the help of family and friends, they were able to build an amazing home able to host an entire community.
As a US-led coalition hammers ISIS’s oil infrastructure and other financial institutions in the Middle East, the terrorist group has cut salaries and infighting has broken out within the rank and file and senior leadership.
Reports of infighting within ISIS — aka the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh — aren’t new, but increased financial and territorial losses might be worsening the stress fractures that are splintering the group.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that ISIS is now facing an “unprecedented cash crunch” as the coalition ramps up strikes on its sources of wealth. Strikes have been hitting oil refineries and tankers as well as banks and buildings that hold hard cash.
ISIS salaries are taking a hit as a result of the financial losses. Some units reportedly aren’t being paid at all, and some fighters’ salaries have been cut in half, according to The Post.
The salary cuts specifically appear “to have significantly hit the organization’s morale,” according to Charles Lister, a resident fellow at the Middle East Institute.
“There are more and more frequent reports … of infighting, armed clashes breaking out in the middle of the night in places like Raqqa between rival factions,” Lister said on Friday during a panel discussion in Washington, DC, referring to ISIS’s de-facto capital in Syria.
“These are all indications of a significant drop in morale and a decrease in internal cohesion. And the cohesion argument was always something that analysts like myself always said was one of ISIS’ strongest strengths,” he said.
Part of what has made ISIS’s message so potent is the money that has come along with it — which is said to be a major factor in ISIS’s recruiting success. For locals in war-torn Syria especially, ISIS has been able to offer more money than people could hope to make elsewhere.
But the salary cuts have strained the loyalties of fighters to the group.
Abu Sara, a 33-year-old engineer from Iraq, told The Post that ISIS members are becoming disillusioned.
“Their members are getting quite angry. Either they are not getting salaries or getting much less than they used to earn,” Sara said. “All of the people I am in contact with want to escape, but they don’t know how.”
Some fighters “throw down their weapons and mingle with the civilians” in battle, according to Sara.
ISIS’s financial problems are compounded by the group’s territorial losses. Syrian forces recently retook the ancient city of Palmyra, while Iraqi forces are starting to move in toward Mosul, ISIS’s stronghold in Iraq.
Territorial losses could hurt ISIS’s recruiting efforts because they run counter to the group’s central message of “remaining and expanding.”
The losses also hit at ISIS’s coffers because taxation and extortion make up a large share of ISIS’s revenues. Unlike other terrorist groups that rely on outside donations from wealthy individuals, ISIS squeezes money from the local populations it controls.
But ISIS isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi military strategist, told The Post that ISIS still controls significant oil resources across the territory it holds in Iraq and Syria.
“They’re not going through a financial crisis that will lead to their collapse,” Hashimi told the newspaper. “They still have 60 percent of Syrian oil wells and 5 percent of Iraq’s.”
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died in 2015, age disputed but well into at least his 80s. His death sparked a number of stories about his life, travels, and interactions with foreign heads of state. One such “interaction” was with Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.
While still a Crown Prince, Abdullah visited the Queen’s castle in Scotland, Balmoral, in 2003 and she offered him a tour of the place. When the cars were brought around and Abdullah got in the front passenger seat, the Queen herself hopped into the driver’s seat.
Turns out the Queen knows a thing or two about bombing around in a motor vehicle. The now 91-year-old monarch served with the Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II.
Not only did the Queen get into the driver’s seat — she didn’t even hesitate before turning the car on and rolling out. And as an Army driver during a war, she knew how to roll along Scotland’s winding roads.
Another Memorial Day has come and gone and, along with it, comes another report from the family of a service member who was killed in action about encountering a man in civilian clothes at Arlington National Cemetery. Calling himself Dave, the man talked to a Gold Star spouse for a bit, then moved on.
The wife of the fallen service member had no idea she was talking to Gen. David Goldfein, the 21st Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
She only found out because her friend noticed the coin that “Dave” left on the headstone of her husband — the coin of his office. She posted the story on social media some time later, which was confirmed by the popular Air Force Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco.
That’s the kind of person General Goldfein is. This isn’t an isolated incident. On Memorial Day 2017, an airman at Arlington spotted a man in his dress blues walking among the graves at Section 60 — the resting place for those who fell in Iraq or Afghanistan — putting his hand on each for a moment of reflection.
Cody Stollings, the airman who recognized Gen. Goldfein, introduced himself and talked to the general for a bit. It turns out General Goldfein keeps the names of every airman who is killed under his command in a book. Each year, he visits them at Arlington to pay his respects.
For many Americans, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Niger, and Somalia have become a fact of life. When news about OIF, OEF, OAE, or OIR hits, no one really listens anymore. The acronyms change, but everything else stays the same. This is the cost of endless war. Andrew Bacevich, a historian and retired colonel whose son died in Iraq, said it best,
“A collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.”
Those in charge of prosecuting the wars, however, should find it relatively easy to support the troops — by reaching their objective and bringing those troops home. But the Chiefs of Staff don’t hold that kind of command authority. They’re in an advisory position for the National Security Council.
In a time where the War in Afghanistan seems like it will never end and new hot spots seem to pop up all the time, it’s good to know the Air Force has someone at the top who’s seen and fought in war and knows that the people who die fighting them are more than numbers on a PowerPoint slide.
It’s nice to know that someone at the top really gives a shit.
Naval mine countermeasures have not gotten a lot of attention in the press, which is strange considering that the job is crucial. Of the last four US Navy ships damaged by hostile action, three were by mines — the other was an Oct. 2000 terrorist attack on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67).
In 1988, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) suffered severe damage from an Iranian mine, which put the vessel out of action for over a year. During Operation Desert Storm, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and the Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LPH 10) were both damaged by mines.
So, what keeps today’s Navy safe from deadly mines?
USS Scout (MCM 8), an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, in Los Angeles for Fleet Week.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek Harkins)
11 Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships
The Navy built 14 of these vessels, starting with USS Avenger (MCM 1), which was commissioned in 1987. Prior to that, the bulk of the Navy’s minesweeper force consisted primarily of World War II-era vessels. The other 13 Avenger-class vessels entered service within the following seven years. Eleven of these ships are still in service. USS Avenger and USS Defender (MCM 2) have been decommissioned, and one vessel, USS Guardian (MCM 5), ran aground and was a total loss.
These vessels have a top speed of 14 knots and a crew of 84 officers and enlisted. Their primary systems for mine warfare are remote operated vehicles that can descend hundreds of feet below the ocean to neutralize mines.
A MH-53 Sea Dragon lowers its mine-hunting sonar.
(US Navy photo by MCSN William Carlisle)
30 MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters
The Navy operates 30 of these heavy-lift helicopters that were acquired in the 1980s. While they bear a superficial resemblance to the CH-53E Super Stallion, there are some big differences. Most notable is the fact that they have larger sponsons to hold more fuel. They can also carry additional fuel tanks in the cargo compartment.
The MH-53E has a maximum range of 885 miles and a top speed of 172 miles per hour. These helicopters tow a mine-sweeping sled and can operate from any aircraft carrier or amphibious assault ship. These helicopters are slated to retire in 2025.
A MH-60S Seahawk helicopter hovers while a technician drops down to handle a mine.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Devin Wray)
256 MH-60S Seahawk multirole helicopters
This helicopter will assume the airborne mine-countermeasures role among the many other missions it carries out when the Sea Dragons retire. This versatile helicopter is responsible for vertical replenishment, combat search-and-rescue missions, anti-surface warfare, medical evacuation, and supporting special operations forces. They can operate from any carrier, amphibious vessel, or surface combatant.
This helicopter has a top speed of 180 knots and a maximum range of 245 nautical miles. While the 256 MH-60S helicopters purchased by the Navy offer a lot of versatility, the range and endurance are a significant step down from the Sea Dragon.
USS Coronado (LCS 4), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, is intended to help replace the Avenger mine countermeasures ships.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Kaleb R. Staples)
12 Littoral Combat Ships
So far, the Navy has commissioned 12 littoral combat ships. These ships were primarily intended to replace the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, but also being given double duty in also replacing the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessels. Their mine-clearing capability is based on a mission package that is centered around the use of MH-60S helicopters and remote-operated vehicles.
The littoral combat ship has been controversial due to numerous breakdowns and a smattering of other issues, and the production run is being cut short in favor of new guided-missile frigates.
The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon has been on the front lines for the United States for over 30 years. It’s easy to see why when you look at the specs: It fires the 5.56x45mm NATO round and can use a box with 200 rounds in a belt, or it can use the same 30-round magazines from M16 rifles and M4 carbines. But now the M27 reigns supreme.
Why? Well, the specs have an answer for that, too. All weapons have compromises built in, and the firepower that the M249 brings to the front has a price: the SAW weighs in at 17 pounds. Compare that to the M16 rifle’s weight of just under eight pounds, four ounces and the difference is clear.
Despite the heft, Marines still want to have an automatic rifle in their fire teams. M16s and M4s have settings for single-shot and three-round bursts. They don’t allow for full-auto fire to avoid excessive wear and tear and wasted ammo.
Heckler and Koch have offered a solution in the form of a variant of the HK416. The HK416 is a 5.56x45mm NATO assault rifle that has a 30-round magazine. Importantly, it weighs under eight pounds. Just like the M249, it can use the same magazines as the M16 and M4 and offers full-auto fire. It’s harder to distinguish at a distance from other rifles than the M249, meaning enemy snipers will have a harder time singling out machine gunners.
The Marines have designated their modified HK416 as the M27 Individual Automatic Rifle, and they’ve fallen hard for it. In fact, Yahoo News reported that the Marines are thinking about buying more, so that every grunt has an Infantry Automatic Rifle. That’s a lot of firepower. Learn more about this light-weight, automatic rifle in the video below:
China has “removed” a number of senior officials over their handling of a novel respiratory virus, state media reported, as the death toll reached more than 1,000.
The National Health Commission reported 108 new fatalities from the coronavirus on February 11, bringing the total death toll in China to 1,016.
There are now a total of 42,638 confirmed coronavirus cases in mainland China as well as 319 cases in 24 other countries, including one death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese health officials.
In Hubei Province, the epicenter of the epidemic, 103 people died and 2,097 new cases were reported, the health commission said early on February 11.
According to state broadcaster CCTV, the Communist Party secretary for the Health Commission of Hubei Province and the head of the health commission were among those who were “removed” following a decision by the province’s party committee — the most senior officials to be sanctioned.
The two will be replaced by the deputy director of China’s National Health Commission, Wang Hesheng.
However, removal from a certain position does not necessarily mean the person will be fired, as it can also mean demotion.
China’s most senior medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, said numbers of new cases were falling and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.
“I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April,” added Zhong, 83, an epidemiologist who won fame for his role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which killed hundreds worldwide in 2002-2003.
However, the WHO has said the spread of the pathogen among people who have not been to China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire” and the global community must not let the epidemic get out of control.
Ukraine’s embassy in China said on February 10 that it was sending a chartered plane to Wuhan — the provincial capital of Hubei — to airlift 50 citizens to Kyiv.
Once in Ukraine, the evacuated Ukrainians will be quarantined for 14 days.
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases on a cruise ship with 3,700 passengers and crew on board quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama has doubled to 135.
Two Ukrainians, a 25-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman who worked in the kitchen of the Diamond Princess ship, have tested positive for the virus aboard the ship. A total of 25 Ukrainians work on the ship.
While visiting a hospital treating infected patients in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping on February 10 called the situation in Hubei “still very grave” and that “more decisive measures” were needed to contain the spread of the virus, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
A WHO-led international team of experts landed in Beijing the same day to investigate the epidemic. It is headed by Bruce Aylward who oversaw the organization’s 2014-16 response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
There are 168 labs worldwide that have the technology to diagnose the virus, according to the WHO.
Over a period of several years and 21 meetings with CIA case officers in Moscow, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer overseeing a radar development lab at a Soviet state-run defense institute, passed the US information and schematics the revealed the next generation of Soviet radar systems.
Tolkachev struggled to convince the CIA he was trustwory: He spent two years attempting to contact US intelligence officers and diplomats, semi-randomly approaching cars with diplomatic license plates with a US embassy prefix.
When the CIA finally decided to trust him, Tolkachev transformed the US’s understanding of Soviet radar capabilities, something that informed the next decade of US military and strategic development.
Prior to his cooperation with the CIA, US intelligence didn’t know that Soviet fighters had “look-down, shoot-down” radars that could detect targets flying beneath the aircraft. Thanks to Tolkachev, the US could engineer its fighter aircraft — and its nuclear-capable cruise missiles — to take advantage of the latest improvements in Soviet detection and to exploit gaps in the enemy’s radar systems.
The Soviets had no idea that the US was so aware of the state of their technology. Tolkachev helped tip the US-Soviet military balance in Washington’s favor. He’s also part of the reason why, since the end of the Cold War, a Soviet-built plane has never shot down a US fighter aircraft in combat.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman’s newly published book “The Billion Dollar Spy” is the definitive account of the Tolkachev operation. It’s an extraordinary glimpse into how espionage works in reality, evoking the complex relationship between case officers and their sources, as well as the extraordinary methods that CIA agents use to exchange information right under the enemy’s nose.
It’s also about how espionage can go wrong: In 1985, a disgruntled ex-CIA trainee named Edward Lee Howard defected to the Soviet Union after the agency fired him over a series of failed polygraph tests. Howard was supposed to serve as Tolkachev’s case officer. Instead, he handed him to the KGB.
Business Insider recently spoke with Hoffman, who won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for The Dead Hand, an acclaimed history of the final decade of the Cold War arms race.
Hoffman talked about some of the lessons of the Tolkachev case. Successful espionage, he said, is like a “moonshot,” an enormous effort that only works when cascades of unpredictable variables are meticulously kept in check.
And as Hoffman notes, his book is a unique glimpse into how such an incredibly complex undertaking unfolds on a day to day basis.
“You can read a lot of literature about espionage but rarely do you get to coast along on the granular details of a real operation,” Hoffman says, in reference to the over 900 CIA cables relating to the Tolkachev case that he was able to access. “That’s what I had.”
The archive, along with the scores of interviews Hoffman conducted in researching the book, yielded unexpected insights into the realities of spycraft: “I was really surprised by both the sort of quest for perfectionism” among the agents who handled the Tolkachev case, says Hoffman, “but also by the enormous number of things that can and did go wrong.”
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
BI: Your book the story of a CIA triumph: They run this source in the heart of Moscow for 5 or 6 years and get this bonanza of intelligence. But it’s also a story of organizational failure — about how this asset was eventually betrayed from within the CIA’s own ranks.
Is there a message in these two interrelated stories about the nature of intelligence collection and the challenges that US intelligence agencies face?
David E. Hoffman: On the first point, I think the big message, which is still very valid today, is the absolutely irreplaceable value of human source intelligence.
We live in an era when people are romanced by technology, the CIA included. Between what you scoop up from people’s emails and what satellites can see and signals intelligence, there always seems to be a new technological way to get various kinds of intelligence.
But this book reminded me that there is one category of espionage that is irreplaceable, and that is looking a guy in the eye and finding out what the hell is going on that isn’t in the technology — that can’t be captured by satellites. Satellites cannot see into the minds of people. They can’t even see into a file cabinet.
Even in the cyber age, it seems to me that you still have to get that particular human source, that spy that will do what nobody else will do: to let you sort of bridge the air gap, plug in the USB thumb drive if that’s necessary, to tell you something that nobody has written down …
Tolkachev was that kind of human source, an absolutely sterling example of someone who could bring stuff that you couldn’t get any other way.
The second point is, you called it institutional dysfunction but I think there’s a larger factor here which is counterintelligence …
[Intelligence] cannot simply be a matter of collection. You also have to have defenses against being penetrated by the other guys.
We live in a world where the forces of offense and defense are in perpetual motion. Counterintelligence is part of that. And counterintelligence is what really failed here.
I think it was also institutional dysfunction in the way they treated Howard. That wasn’t a counterintelligence problem so much it was a sort of incompetence: They fired a guy, they said get lost, and he was vengeful.
But I also think that — maybe not particularly in this case but just generally — the CIA did not value counterintelligence highly enough for a long time. Really the events that followed Tolkachev — [Aldrich] Ames [see here], [Robert] Hanssen [see here], that whole period of the 1985-86 losses [see here] — were a failure of counterintelligence …
There were really some big vulnerabilities there. In the end Tolkachev was exposed and betrayed by a disgruntled, vengeful fired trainee. But there were other losses soon to follow that were caused by essentially not having strong enough counterintelligence in place.
BI: It’s interesting how much the success of the operation had to do with these agents understanding Tolkachev’s state of mind based on these very short meetings that would be spaced months and months apart.
And from that they would have to build out some kind of sense of who this guy was. From the looks of it they did so fairly successfully for awhile.
DEH: That’s my toughest question. Espionage at its real core is psychology. You’re a case officer, you’re running an agent — what is in the soul of that man? What’s in his heart, what motivates him?
These are all questions that you have to try to answer for headquarters but also for yourself, in trying to play on his desires and understand them. Sometimes it can be a real test of will as you saw in this particular narrative. This psychological business can be very difficult …
A couple of times early in the operation Tolkachev revealed his deep antipathy towards the Soviet system. He said I’m a dissident at heart, he describes how fed up he is with the way things were in the Soviet Union.
He gives only a very very skimpy factual account of his wife’s parents travails, but I was able to research them in Moscow and discovered that his wife grew up without her parents. Her mother was executed and her father was imprisoned for many years during Stalin’s purges. And Tolkachev was bitter about that.
He also came of age in the time when [Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn] and [Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist and activist Andrei Sakharov] were also sort of coming of age as dissidents.
All of that rumbled around behind these impassive eyes. It’s not as if he handed over a book saying, I’m a dissident and here’s my complaint. Instead he handed over secret plans and said, I’m a dissident and I want to destroy the Soviet Union.
This psychological war and test of nerves of constantly trying to read a guy is really the most unpredictable and most difficult part of espionage. In this case, I’m not sure it was always successful.
The case officers did grasp that Tolkachev was determined. He expressed this sort of incredible determination, banging on the car doors and windows for 2 years to get noticed.
And when he’s working for the CIA he gives them his own espionage plan that takes years and multiple stages that he had mapped out. He’s a very, very determined guy. But what’s driving that isn’t always clear to the case officers.
BI: How does Tolkachev’s story fit in to the larger story of the end of the Cold War arms race?
I don’t think you could make the extravagant claim that he ended the Cold War or that he ended the arms race. But that’s not to minimize what Tolkachev did do. One of the things I discovered was how uncertain we were about Soviet air defenses in that period at the end of the Cold War …
There was always a funny thing going on with the Soviet Union. They had a lot of resources and were a very large country and the state and the military industrial complex was a big part of it. They always built a lot of hardware.
In fact they had a huge number of air-defense fighters and bases positioned all around their borders. [Air defense] wasn’t such a big deal for us but for them, the enemy was at their doorstop, right in Europe. They also had the world’s longest land borders. They had a lot to defend.
Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s.
The US saw all the deployments but there was also evidence that Soviet training was poor, that the personnel who manned all these things were not up to it, [and] that there was a goofy system where pilots were told exactly what to do by ground controllers and had very little autonomy.
The intelligence about whether the Soviets had look-down shoot-down radar was very uncertain. Some people said no, they don’t have it, some said yeah. And here’s were Tolkachev stepped into the breach.
Within a few years of his work, we knew exactly what they had and what they were working on. Tolkachev was also bringing us not only what ws happening now but what would be happening 10 years from now. A
nd if you think about it in real time, if you were in the Air Force and thinking about how you were going to deal with Soviet air defenses, getting a glimpse of their research and development 10 years ahead was invaluable …
There was also a fine line between [air defenses] and the nuclear issue. There were two aspects to strategic nuclear weapons that depended on air defenses and the kind of stuff Tolkachev brought us.
One was obviously bombers. In the early days of the Cold War [the US had] a high altitude strategy. B-52s would fly at a very high altitude and bomb from 50,000 or so feet.
Then we made a switch and we decided that the Soviets’ real vulnerability was at low altitudes. And it’s true. They did not have good radars at low altitude …
The strategic cruise missile scared the living daylights out of the Kremlin, because they knew they could fly right under their radars.
BI: Much of this book consists of reconstructions of scenes that were top-secret for many years but that you put together through researching the cable traffic and conducting interviews.
What do you see as the biggest challenge of writing about these dark spaces in American national security?
There are all kinds of missing jigsaw pieces in these narratives that we think we know, say, about terrorism, or about WMD. One of the things you find out if you’re one of those people who go with a pick and shovel at history and try to unearth rocks and tell stories is that pieces are missing — tiny little pieces, and also important things.
In this story there were a bunch of gaps that I had to report. I had enough to tell the story, but you never feel at the end that you know the whole story …
I still think there are big parts of what Tolkachev meant that are still in use and that are legitimately still classified. Even though this case is three decades old, it’s quite likely that some of that stuff is still considered pretty valuable intelligence.
Air Force pilots of the 1980s-era stealthy B-2 Spirit bomber plan to upgrade and fly the aircraft on attack missions against enemy air defenses well into the 2050s, service officials said.
“It is a dream to fly. It is so smooth,” Maj. Kent Mickelson, director of operations for 394th combat training squadron, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
In a special interview designed to offer a rare look into the technologies and elements of the B-2, Mickelson explained that the platform has held up and remained very effective – given that it was designed and built during the 80s.
Alongside his current role, Mickelson is also a B-2 pilot with experience flying missions and planning stealth bomber attacks, such as the bombing missions over Libya in 2011.
“It is a testament to the engineering team that here we are in 2016 and the B-2 is still able to do its job just as well today as it did in the 80s. While we look forward to modernization, nobody should come away with the thought that the B-2 isn’t ready to deal with the threats that are out there today,” he said. “It is really an awesome bombing platform and it is just a marvel of technology.”
The B-2 is engineered with avionics, radar and communications technologies designed to identify and destroy enemy targets from high altitudes above hostile territory.
“It is a digital airplane. We are presented with what is commonly referred to as glass cockpit,” Mickelson said.
The glass cockpit includes various digital displays, including one showing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) information which paints a rendering or picture of the ground below.
“SAR provides the pilots with a realistic display of the ground that they are able to use for targeting,” Mickelson said.
The B-2 has a two-man crew with only two ejection seats. Also, the crew is trained to deal with the rigors of a 40-hour mission.
“The B-2 represents a huge leap in technology from our legacy platforms such as the B-52 and the B-1 bomber. This involved taking the best of what is available and giving it to the aircrew,” Mickelson said.
The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In fact, given its ability to fly as many as 6,000 nautical miles without need to refuel, the B-2 flew from Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego Garcia – before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.
“Taking off from Whiteman and landing at Diego Garcia was one of the longest combat sorties the B-2 has ever taken. The bomber was very successful in Afghanistan and very successful in the early parts of the wars in Iraq and Libya,” Michelson added.
The B-2 crew uses what’s called a “long-duration kit,” which includes items such as a cot for sleeping and other essentials deemed necessary for a long flight, Mickelson explained.
As a stealth bomber engineered during the height of the Cold War, the B-2 was designed to elude Soviet air defenses and strike enemy targets – without an enemy ever knowing the aircraft was even there. This stealthy technological ability is referred to by industry experts as being able to evade air defenses using both high-frequency “engagement” radar, which can target planes, and lower frequency “surveillance” radar which can let enemies know an aircraft is in the vicinity.
The B-2 bomber is described as a platform which can operate undetected over enemy territory and, in effect, “knock down the door” by destroying enemy radar and air defenses so that other aircraft can fly through a radar “corridor” and attack.
However, enemy air defenses are increasingly becoming technologically advanced and more sophisticated; some emerging systems are even able to detect some stealth aircraft using systems which are better networked, using faster computer processors and able to better detect aircraft at longer distances on a greater number of frequencies. The Russian-built S-300 and S-400 air defenses, for example, are among the most advanced in the world today.
The Air Force plans to operate the B-2 alongside its new, now-in-development bomber called the Long Range Strike – Bomber, or LRS-B. well into the 2050s.
B-2 modernization upgrades – taking the stealth bomber into the 2050s
As a result, the B-2 fleet is undergoing a series of modernization upgrades in order to ensure the aircraft can remain at its ultimate effective capability for the next several decades, Mickelson said.
One of the key upgrades is called the Defensive Management System, a technology which helps inform the B-2 crew about the location of enemy air defenses. Therefore, if there are emerging air defenses equipped with the technology sufficient to detect the B-2, the aircraft will have occasion to maneuver in such a way as to stay outside of their range.
The Defensive Management System is slated to be operational by the mid-2020s, Mickelson added.
“The whole key is to give us better situational awareness so we are able to make sound decisions in the cockpit about where we need to put the aircraft,” he added.
The B-2 is also moving to an extremely high frequency satellite in order to better facilitate communications with command and control. For instance, the communications upgrade could make it possible for the aircraft crew to receive bombing instructions from the President in the unlikely event of a nuclear detonation.
“This program will help with nuclear and conventional communications. It will provide a very big increase in the bandwidth available for the B-2, which means an increased speed of data flow. We are excited about this upgrade,” Mickelson explained.
The stealth aircraft uses a commonly deployed data link called LINK-16 and both UHF and VHF data links, as well. Michelson explained that the B-2 is capable of communicating with ground control stations, command and control headquarters and is also able to receive information from other manned and unmanned assets such as drones.
Information from nearby drones, however, would at the moment most likely need to first transmit through a ground control station. That being said, emerging technology may soon allow platforms like the B-2 to receive real-time video feeds from nearby drones in the air.
The B-2 is also being engineered with a new flight management control processor designed to expand and modernize the on-board computers and enable the addition of new software.
This involves the re-hosting of the flight management control processors, the brains of the airplane, onto much more capable integrated processing units. This results in the laying-in of some new fiber optic cable as opposed to the mix bus cable being used right now – because the B-2’s computers from the 80s are getting maxed out and overloaded with data, Air Force officials told Scout Warrior.
The new processor increases the performance of the avionics and on-board computer systems by about 1,000-times, he added. The overall flight management control processor effort, slated to field by 2015 and 2016, is expected to cost $542 million.
B-2 weapons upgrades
The comprehensive B-2 upgrades also include efforts to outfit the attack aircraft with next generation digital nuclear weapons such as the B-61 Mod 12 with a tail kit and Long Range Stand-Off weapon or, LRSO, an air-launched, guided nuclear cruise missile, service officials said.
The B-61 Mod 12 is an ongoing modernization program which seeks to integrate the B-61 Mods 3, 4, 7 and 10 into a single variant with a guided tail kit. The B-61 Mod 12 is being engineered to rely on an inertial measurement unit for navigation.
In addition to the LRSO, B83 and B-61 Mod 12, the B-2 will also carry the B-61 Mod 11, a nuclear weapon designed with penetration capabilities, Air Force officials said.
The LRSO will replace the Air Launched Cruise Missile, or ALCM, which right now is only carried by the B-52 bomber, officials said.
Alongside its nuclear arsenal, the B-2 will carry a wide range of conventional weapons to include precision-guided 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, 5,000-pound JDAMs, Joint Standoff Weapons, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and GBU 28 5,000-pound bunker buster weapons, among others.
The platform is also preparing to integrate a long-range conventional air-to-ground standoff weapon called the JASSM-ER, for Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Extended Range.
The B-2 can also carry a 30,000-pound conventional bomb known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, Mickelson added.
“This is a GBU-28 (bunker-buster weapon) on steroids. It will go in and take out deeply buried targets,” he said.
The grassy hill surrounding the arena is packed full of spectators and family members. The emcee calls out a dancer’s name; there’s movement in the crowd. The competitor makes it into the arena, throws out his hoops for his sequence.
Upon the dancer’s cue, the drum starts singing. Bells on his ankles sing in time with each beat of the drum and each step he makes.
He has five minutes to convey a story, using small hoops as his medium to paint each scene, as part of the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held in Phoenix in 2018.
“The competition opens everyone’s eyes to the Native American culture,” said Timothy Clouser, the museum’s facilities director and a Navy veteran. “I find it very fascinating how each dancer puts their own artistic expression in their dance and story they are trying to convey. Not one dance is the same.”
Brian Hammill, an Army veteran of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and a previous World Hoop Dance champion, competed in Phoenix. He uses his dancing to help bridge the cultural gap between Native Americans and non-natives, sharing his culture everywhere he goes.
“As native people, we don’t give gifts of objects because an object goes away, but we give the gift of a song, or a dance,” Hammill said. “When you do that, if you give somebody a song, and you tell them, ‘Every time you sing this song, you tell the story,’ or ‘Every time you do this dance, you tell the story and you give it away,’ that dance will last forever. That’s how this hoop dance carries on; it’s given from one person to the next.”
Army veteran Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation applies face paint before grand entry at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 10, 2018.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
The hoop dance is different than other Native American dances, such as powwow dancing. Powwows are inter-tribal celebrations of Native American culture. Tribal affiliation doesn’t matter, nor does what region someone is from. It doesn’t even matter if someone is native or non-native.
Powwow dancing consists of at least six categories. Men’s categories include the fancy dance, grass dance and traditional dance. Women’s categories are the fancy dance, jingle dress and traditional dance.
The hoop dance regalia is minimal compared to that of the powwow dances. Typically, a hoop dancer will wear a shirt, breechcloth, side drops, sheep skin, bells (or deer hooves) and moccasins. The colors and designs are specific to each person. The hoops are small and vary in size, typically depending on the height of the dancer. Sometimes they have designs on them, again, specific to each dancer.
“Traditionally, the hoops were made out of willow, depending on where the tribe was located,” Hammill said. “I make mine out of a very exotic wood called plastic.”
The hoop dance has different origin stories with a common thread that it originated in the Southwest. To some native nations, the hoop dance is a healing dance, Hammill said. A hoop would traditionally be passed over an afflicted person, then the dancer would break that hoop and never use it again.
“Basically, it was a way of taking away all that pain or sickness away,” Hammill said. “That’s not done in public. There is also a story of the children, the Taos Pueblo children. It is said that the children saw this ceremony taking place and began to emulate what they saw. Instead of telling the kids, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ the adults encouraged them. They began to sing songs for them. They took what was a prayer and made it something the kids could do. So, basically, the dance changed, it evolved.
“In the north, it tells of a warrior’s journey,” he continued. “As you see these hoops come together, they start to make formations. You’ll see the eagle, the butterfly, the warrior on the battlefield defending his family, the clouds in the sky.”
Each person, he explained, will see that dance in a different way, interpret the story differently. There are hundreds of hoop dance stories, but each one revolves around the sacred circle of life.
“The significance of the hoops is that it represents the circle of life. There’s no beginning and no ending,” Hammill said. “We are taught that each and every one of us — doesn’t matter who we are, where we come from, the color of our skin — we are all created equal in that sacred hoop.”
Another part of Hammill’s culture that he lives every day is the tradition of service.
“The way I was always taught is, as a native person, we are always here to serve the people,” he said.
U.S. Army veteran, Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation, competes at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona on Feb. 10, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
“We serve them by cooking and providing food for them. We teach them, or protect them. One of the greatest things I was always taught that we do, is we put ourselves in harm’s way to protect our families and our identity. It was something I’ve always wanted to do, I felt I needed to do.”
Hammill enlisted in the Army while still in high school. He went to basic training during the summer between his junior and senior years, and went on active duty after graduation.
“It’s just something that we do,” he said. “You’ll find that throughout the United States, there are a higher percentage of native veterans per capita than any other race.”
While he was stationed in South Korea, one of his first sergeants learned that he had danced while growing up, and asked Hammill to share his culture with everyone. He performed the men’s fancy dance for his fellow soldiers.
“A lot of these soldiers weren’t exposed to different cultures, so he had me do one of my first presentations there,” he said. “I called my dad in Wisconsin, and he shipped all of my dance regalia to me. I started doing presentations for the people I was stationed with, and in different areas throughout the Korean theater. That’s where I really got the passion to share the story, and I found out how important it is.”
Hammill was introduced to the hoop dance prior to his transition out of the military in 1994. Back then, he would travel about 120 miles from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to Livingston, Texas, where he performed and danced with the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.
“A good friend of mine, Gillman Abbey, basically gave me this hoop dance,” he said. “He told me the story. He told me every time I dance, to always make sure I share the story, and give the dance.”
He said the hoop dance helped him heal from his time in service. Still brand new to hoop dancing, Hammill actually competed in the World Hoop Dance Championship for the first time about six months after he got out of the military.
“I was 24, in the adult division,” he said. “I remember I was scared because this is a huge competition. Some of the dancers I’m still dancing with today pulled me aside, said to me, ‘Hey, you’re doing good. Let me show you some different moves. Let me help you.’ I’ll never forget that because that’s what really kept me coming back. Being here, feeling that hoop and how it affects people, it keeps me coming back. It took me a long time, about 15 years, until I won my first world title. I moved to the senior division and won four more. But it’s a family. It really is something we all have in common.”
The Thai boys saved from a flooded cave endured dives in zero visibility lasting up to half an hour. In places, they were put into harnesses and high-lined across rocky caverns, said a leader of the U.S. contingent involved in the operation, calling it a “once in a lifetime rescue.”
Derek Anderson, a 32-year-old rescue specialist with the U.S. Air Force based in Okinawa, Japan, said the dozen boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16, and their coach, who were trapped for more than two weeks before being rescued, were “incredibly resilient.”
“What was really important was the coach and the boys all came together and discussed staying strong, having the will to live, having the will to survive,” Anderson told The Associated Press in an interview on July 11, 2018.
The scale of the challenge confronting rescuers from Thailand, Britain, Australia and other countries only truly dawned on the U.S. team after it arrived at the cave in the early hours of June 28, 2018, as rain poured down on the region in northern Thailand. The Thai government had requested U.S. assistance.
“The cave was dry when we arrived, and within an hour and half it had already filled up by 2 to 3 feet and we were being pushed out,” said Anderson, the son of missionaries, who was born in Syracuse, New York, and grew up in Ecuador.
“That was just in the very beginning of the cave and at that point we realized this problem is going to be much more complex than we thought,” he said.
Thailand’s decision to dive the boys out despite their weak condition and lack of diving experience was made when a window of opportunity was provided by relatively mild weather. A massive operation to pump water out also meant air pockets were created at crucial points of the cave, making a rescue possible.
Falling oxygen levels, risk of sickness and the imminent prospect of more rain flooding the cave complex for months meant “the long-term survivability of the boys in the cave was becoming a less and less feasible option,” Anderson said.
Divers practiced their rescue techniques in a swimming pool with local children about the same height and weight as the members of the Wild Boars soccer team trapped in the cave.
The aim, Anderson said, was to make each of the boys “tightly packaged” so divers could keep control of them and adjust their air supply as needed. The process lasted hours for each boy, and involved them getting through long passageways barely bigger than an adult body.
Buoyancy compensators that establish neutral buoyancy underwater, hooded wetsuits, bungee cords and special face masks were carried by divers to the cramped patch of dry elevated ground where the boys were huddled.
The positive pressure masks were “really crucial,” Anderson said. Their use meant that even if a boy panicked — perhaps because of getting snagged in a narrow passage — and got water inside his mask, the pressure would expel it.
The complicated operation to bring the boys out of the cave began on July 8, 2018, when four were extracted. Four more were brought out on July 9, 2018, and the operation ended July 10, 2018, with the rescue of the last four boys and their 25-year-old coach.
The 18-day ordeal riveted much of the world — from the awful news that the 13 were missing, to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found by a pair of British divers nearly 10 days later.
The group had entered the sprawling Tham Luang cave to go exploring after soccer practice on June 23, 2018, but monsoon rains filled the tight passageways, blocking their escape, and pushing them deeper inside in search of a refuge.
Initial attempts to locate the boys were twice unsuccessful because the force of cold hypothermia-inducing floodwaters rushing into narrow passages made them unpassable. Even as conditions improved, and divers began laying life-saving rope guidelines through the cave, it was perilous.
“In this type of cave diving, you have to lay line, rope, that’s your lifeline. You have to ensure when you go in you have a way out,” Anderson said. “They were making progress, but it was very little progress and they were exhausting themselves spending maybe five or six hours and covering 40 or 50 meters (yards).”
There were about a hundred people inside the cave for each rescue operation, Anderson said, and each boy was handled by dozens of people as their perilous movement through a total of nine chambers unfolded.
In some phases they were guided by two divers. In some narrow passages they were connected to only one diver. In caverns with air pockets they were “floated” through with the support of four rescuers. Some sections were completely dry but treacherously rocky or deep.
“We had to set up rope systems and high-lines to be able to safely put them in a harness and bring them across large open areas so they wouldn’t have to go all the way down,” Anderson said.
Cylinders placed at locations throughout the cave for replenishing the boys’ air supply were “jammed” with 80 percent oxygen instead of regular air because “that would plus up their oxygen saturation levels and that would be really good for them, their mental state,” he said.
“The world just needs to know that what was accomplished was a once in a lifetime rescue that I think has never been done before,” Anderson said. “We were extremely fortunate that the outcome was the way it was. It’s important to realize how complex and how many pieces of this puzzle had to come together.”
“If you lose your cool in an environment like that, there is a lot of bad repercussions,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.