During a discussion at the Aspen Security Forum on July 21, Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, cited estimates saying that the US-led fight against ISIS had killed 60,000 to 70,000 ISIS militants.
It is not the first time US military officials have given estimates for ISIS body counts — Thomas himself cited a similar number in February — but those estimates have been made despite doubts among military leaders and government policymakers about their accuracy and usefulness.
When asked about the whereabouts of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Thomas downplayed the ISIS leader’s influence and said that while Baghdadi’s fate is currently unknown, “we will get him eventually.”
To underline his point, Thomas elaborated on the damage done to ISIS’ personnel network.
“I mean, everyone who worked for him initially is dead or gone. Everybody who stepped to the plate the next time, dead or gone,” Thomas said. “Down through a network where we have killed in conservative estimates 60,000 to 70,000 of his followers, his army. They declared an army, they put it on the battlefield, and we went to war with it.”
Those comments come several months after Thomas claimed that more than 60,000 ISIS fighters had been killed since the campaign against the group started in summer 2014.
“I’m not into morbid body counts, but that matters,” he said in February, speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference. “So when folks ask, do you need more aggressive [measures], do you need better [rules of engagement], I would tell you that we’re being pretty darn prolific.”
Body counts — which earned scorn during the Vietnam War — are considered a dubious metric by which to measure the success of a military campaign, particularly ones against groups like ISIS. It is typically hard to estimate how many fighters such groups have, and it is not always clear how many have been killed during military engagements.
In 2014, an observer group estimated the terror group had 100,000 fighters. The Pentagon said in summer 2016 that it had just 15,000 to 20,000 fighters left in Iraq and Syria.
The February number given by Thomas was not much higher than the 50,000 ISIS-dead estimate made by US officials in December. But the December number given by US officials was twice as high as the figure cited by UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon that same month.
And the figure cited by Thomas on July 21 was only slightly higher than what he said in February, despite the increased intensity of anti-ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria in the intervening months.
Air operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria increased significantly after Trump took office in January, with military leaders emphasizing an “annihilation campaign” aimed at eliminating ISIS fighters.
But those air operations appear to have caused a considerable increase in civilian deaths.
The US government reversed its policy on body counts several times during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and numbers given by the government have been undercut or criticized by civilian and military personnel alike.
“My policy has always been, don’t release that kind of thing,” Chuck Hagel, who served as secretary of defense from 2013 to 2015, told CNN in December 2016. “Body counts, I mean, come on, did we learn anything from Vietnam?”
The US Navy’s latest aircraft carrier deployment began in an unusual way, and it appears to be part of efforts to make the service less predictable.
In a break from the norm, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group deployed immediately after completing a final certification exercise instead of first returning to the carrier’s home port.
Carrier Strike Group 10, a formidable naval force consisting of the Eisenhower, two cruisers, three destroyers and more than 6,000 sailors, set sail on deployment right after completing the Composite Unit Training Exercise, the Navy announced Thursday.
“Upon the successful completion of C2X, strike groups are certified and postured to deploy at any time,” US 2nd Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Marycate Walsh told Insider.
“IKE’s timeline for departure was demonstrative of the inherent agility of our naval forces,” she continued. “There is no one size fits all policy; operations at sea routinely flex for a variety of reasons.”
But the Eisenhower’s latest deployment, as The Virginian-Pilot notes, appears to be a part of the Navy’s efforts to implement dynamic force employment, which the Navy argues makes the fleet much less predictable and strengthens deterrence against potential adversaries.
The Truman executed the first DFE deployment in 2018, when it sailed into the North Atlantic and Arctic shortly after returning from the Mediterranean.
After that deployment, Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Italy, said: “The National Defense Strategy makes clear that we must be operationally unpredictable to our long-term strategic adversaries, while upholding our commitments to our allies and partners.”
It is unclear where the Eisenhower is currently headed.
“The sailors of IKE Strike Group are trained and ready to execute the full spectrum of maritime operations in any theater,” Rear Adm. Paul Schlise, commander of Carrier Strike Group 10, said in a statement.
“Carrier Strike Groups,” he said, “are visible and powerful symbols of US commitment and resolve to our allies and partners, and possess the flexibility and sustainability to fight major wars and ensure freedom of the seas.”
The Polish government has introduced a new app that will require coronavirus patients to take selfies to prove they’re quarantining properly.
Per France 24, the “Home Quarantine” app is intended for people quarantining for 14 days after returning from abroad.
People who’ve downloaded the app register a selfie with the app, then periodically receive requests for geo-located selfies. If they fail to comply, the police will be alerted.
“People in quarantine have a choice: either receive unexpected visits from the police, or download this app,” a spokesman for Poland’s Digital Ministry told the AFP. If a user fails to respond to a request within 20 minutes police will be notified.
France 24 reported that police in Poland fined someone for breaking quarantine 500 zloty (6) on Friday.
British journalist Jakub Krupa tweeted that accounts are being automatically created for suspected quarantine patients.
Krupa tweeted that the purpose of the app isn’t solely to punish people breaking quarantine, saying it also “helps to connect with the social services or request help with urgent supplies.”
Obviously, video games are nothing like the real world. No one is going to give you 100 gold coins to go clear a bunch of rats out of a dungeon and no one is impressed by your ability to roll on the ground to get places faster.
Where this division between real life and gaming hits the hardest is in the military. Think about it — not once has a recruiter tried to tell you about the “quest reward” that is the GI Bill. On the bright side, there are a lot less people screaming that they’ve done unspeakable acts to others’ mothers — so there’s that.
These are six video game tropes that are completely detached from reality.
Usually, waiting for your vision to stop going red indicates a concussion…
Most games have one of two types of healing: Either you just hide behind a rock for a few seconds and you’re perfect or you run over a first-aid kit and it immediately feel better You might be surprised to learn that this isn’t how it works on an actual battlefield.
There are entire occupations in the military dedicated to delivering aid to wounded troops. The cold reality is that just throwing a first aid kit at someone isn’t going to get them back to 100%.
It’s probably for the best. A laser could get set off by anyone: friend, foe, or civilian bystander.
For some reason, claymore mines in video games are always set to go off when someone walks in front of the little lasers attached to the front.
In real life, mines like those do exist, but they aren’t used on the battlefield. Laser tripwire mines are highly discouraged by the Geneva convention. Typically, real claymore mines are detonated with a wire and switch.
Even in the apocalypse, any weapon you find works perfectly.
Perfectly working weapons
No matter what wide assortment of weapons and firearms the game presents to the player, every weapon will always work perfectly. You never have to clean them, maintain them, or deal with many of the issues that plague actual weapons.
Cleaning weapons is a daily routine for combat arms troops. But even if the weapon is at peak cleanliness, they may still suffer a failure to feed, load, or eject, which takes a troop out of the fight temporarily. It’d be nice for immersion if the gamer had to perform SPORTS on a disabled rifle, but it definitely wouldn’t be any fun.
Older games tended to be a lot more straightforward with their orders.
In a sense, there are briefings in video games. While the mission loads up, players are told what to do and then sent off to play. If they don’t like a mission, they can usually just skip it — or disregard orders and play it however they see fit.
Declining a mission from someone who outranks you or putting your own “creative twist” on an objective to it is a surefire way to incur administrative action — especially if your idiotic move has terrible consequences for someone else.
It’s also much harder to do a 360 No-Scope in real life, so don’t try it at home, kids.
“Running and gunning”
In multiplayer games, when a match starts, players set out with a singular objective of outscoring the other guys. This means that everyone plays the fun role of the badass who runs around the map shooting fools in the face.
Actual missions are set up differently and broken down into many different tasks. Your security element is often away from the fight and watching what the enemy is up to, the support element makes sure things go according to plan, and even the assault teams you’d expect to be doing the badass stuff often are given a single task like, “just watch this one particular window.”
Thankfully, helicopter pilots don’t give a damn if you’ve gone on a 7-kill streak or not.
Video games try to give everyone an equal and competitive chance at winning. Developers spend months fine tuning a game before launching it to make sure every player is given the same chance as the next. In a perfect, competitive environment, the only variable is skill.
There’s no way in Hell that U.S. troops would willingly fight on the same level as their enemy. Sure, there’s always going to be that one tool who complains about the Geneva Convention “holding us back,” but in the grander scheme of things, it really doesn’t. U.S. troops kick an unbelievable amount of ass — and they do so with bigger guns, better technology, and more rigorous training.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has confirmed that Iran has filed a lawsuit against the United States over the reimposition of sanctions against Tehran by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, claiming the move violates the nuclear treaty Tehran signed with the United States and five other world powers.
A U.S. State Department official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said on July 17, 2018, that Iran’s application was “baseless” and that Washington intended “to vigorously defend the United States before the ICJ.”
Confirmation by the court on July 17, 2018, came a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the case was filed at the ICJ to hold the United States “accountable for its unlawful reimposition of unilateral sanctions.”
“Iran is committed to the rule of law in the face of U.S. contempt for diplomacy and legal obligations,” Zarif tweeted. “It’s imperative to counter its habit of violating international law.”
U.S. President Donald Trump
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Under the deal signed in 2015, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union agreed to lift international sanctions against Iran.
In return, Iran scaled back its uranium-enrichment program and promised not work on developing nuclear weapons.
The lifting of sanctions has allowed Iran to sell its oil and natural gas on world markets — although secondary U.S. sanctions remained in place.
But in May 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump said during a NATO summit in July 2018 that with the U.S. increasing sanctions on Iran, “at a certain point they’re going to call me and say, ‘Let’s make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal.”
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said on July 17, 2018, that if Trump wants to negotiate after pulling out of the international agreement, he would have to “initiate the call himself” because Iran’s top leadership was now rejecting any talks with the United States.
Ballistic missile defense has become a growing concern. Russia has been modernizing not only its strategic forces, but has also deployed the Iskander tactical ballistic system. China has the DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile. The need clearly exists for new assets to stop these missiles — or at least lessen the virtual attrition they would inflict.
Huntington Ingalls Industries has a solution — but this solution comes from a surprising basis. The company, which builds everything from Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to amphibious assault ships, has proposed using the hull of the San Antonio-class landing platform dock amphibious ship to mount.
The design is still a concept — there’s a lot of options in terms of what radars to use, and how the exact weapons fit would work. The model shows at the SeaAirSpace Expo 2017 featured 96 cells in the Mk 41 Vertical Launch System, or the equivalent of a Burke-class destroyer. That’s a low-end version, though. A handout provided says the system can hold as many as 288 cells. This is 225 percent of the capacity of a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, and 300 percent of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer’s capacity.
Of course, the Mk41 can hold a number of missiles, including the RIM-66 SM-2, the RIM-174 SM-6, the RIM-161 SM-3 — all of which can knock down ballistic missiles. For local defense, a quad-pack RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile is an option. The Mk 41 also can launch the RUM-139 Vertical-Launch ASROC and the BGM-109 Tomahawk. In other words, this ballistic missile defense ship can do more than just play defense — it can provide a hell of an offensive punch as well.
The handout also notes other armament options, including a rail gun, two Mk 46 chain guns, advanced radars, launchers for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, and .50-caliber machine guns. Yes, even in a super-modern missile-defense vessel, Ma Deuce still has a place in the armament suite. No matter how you look at it, that is a lot of firepower.
The propulsion options include the diesel powerplants used on the San Antonio, providing a top speed of 22 knots. Using an integrated power system similar to that on the destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) would get a top speed of about 29 knots, according to a Huntinton Ingals representative at the expo.
The ship is still just a concept, but with President Trump proposing a 350-ship Navy, that concept could be a very awesome reality.
The Navy budget gives the service its long-sought-after F/A-18 Super Hornet increase by adding 14 fighters and more than $1 billion in procurement funds — all as part of a sweeping effort to increase the F-18 fleet size, meet mission requirements, accommodate new technologies, and ultimately fly alongside the F-35C through the 2040s.
Given the recent war-driven op-tempo involving global deployments and air strikes on ISIS, most of the F/A-18 E/F fleet, on average, has already consumed more half of its 6,000-flight hour expected service life. As a result, there has been a long-standing, multi-year Navy effort to acquire new F/A-18s in larger numbers to address urgent needs from combatant commanders.
When the F/A-18A and F/A-18C reach 8,000 flight hours, they are sent to the depot for service life extension upgrades with the hope of getting the airframes to 10,000 hours. However, many of the older aircraft are in need of substantial repairs and, in recent years, a large percentage of the Navy’s fleet of older Hornets have not been in service.
“Extension of legacy Hornet life requires additional inspections and deep maintenance that were not originally envisioned for the aircraft. Average repair time has significantly increased because of required engineering of unanticipated repairs, material lead times, and increased corrosion of airframes,” the Navy budget document writes.
As part of a specific effort to address this scenario, the Navy’s new budget request increases fund for civilian maintenance personnel hiring, depot-level maintenance work, and sustainment initiatives. The goal of this, according to Navy budget documents, is to “decrease the time to complete depot level maintenance caused by the number of high flight hours.”
Navy officials have told Warrior Maven that modifications include replacing the center barrel (section) and ensuring the airframe structures achieve 100% service life. Additional modifications increase the total landing limit and modifications to catapult attachment components can be incorporated to extend total catapults, service developers have described.
A carrier air wing consists of about 44 strike aircraft made up of two 10-aircraft squadrons and two 12-plane squadrons complemented by several electrical jamming aircraft.
The current composition of most carrier-based air wings includes 24 Super Hornets and 20 Hornets, however the Navy plans to replace some of its existing Hornets with F-35Cs. Although the budget does increase F-35C acquisition as well, the emergence of the carrier-launched stealth fighter will not remove combatant commanders need for the F-18.
The Navy had been planning for the Super Hornets to serve well into the 2030s, but now service leaders say that timeline will need to extend into the 2040s.
The Navy plans to acquire as many as 60 new F-35C aircraft over the next five years, according to the service budget request.
USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) achieved a major milestone this week as it successfully launched from dry dock and moored pierside at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Nov. 27.
This milestone is an important step in the ongoing effort to repair and restore one of the U.S. Navy’s most capable platforms, and reflects nearly a year’s worth of wide-reaching and successful coordination across multiple organizations. The ship entered dry dock at the Navy’s Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) Yokosuka in February.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) prepares to depart from a dry dock at Fleet Activities Yokosuka. McCain is departing the dock after an extensive maintenance period in order to sustain the ship’s ability to serve as a forward-deployed asset in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tyra Watson)
“After the initial repair assessments were conducted, we had to quickly mobilize and determine the most critical steps to develop an executable repair and modernization plan,” explained Deputy Commander for Surface Warfare and Commander, Navy Regional Maintenance Center (CNRMC), Rear Adm. Jim Downey. “As we began the restoration process, we assembled cohesive teams capable of delivering both materially ready and more modernized ships to the fleet.”
To begin the repair and restoration effort, the Navy immediately reached out to personnel at Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Bath, Maine. BIW is the company that originally constructed the ship and currently serves as the planning yard for work on in-service Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The BIW employees worked alongside representatives from Naval Sea Systems Command’s (NAVSEA) Supervisor of Shipbuilding, also in Bath, Maine, to conduct a material assessment of the ship. That information was then used by SRF-JRMC and the local Japanese repair contractor, Sumitomo Heavy Industries, to plan and swiftly execute the work ahead.
The McCain crew has been involved in every aspect of the availability.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) is pulled towards a pier after departing from a dry dock at Fleet Activities Yokosuka. McCain is departing the dock after an extensive maintenance period in order to sustain the ship’s ability to serve as a forward-deployed asset in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy Graham)
“I’m proud of and thankful for every person who has worked together to move USS John S. McCain another step closer to both normalcy and sailing again with U.S. 7th Fleet,” said Cmdr. Micah Murphy, commanding officer, USS John S. McCain. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but I remain impressed by the incredible teamwork, determination and flexibility shown daily by this crew as well as the SRF Project Team to return a better, more lethal warship to the fleet.”
Today, McCain has a fully restored hull, a new port thrust shaft, and newly constructed berthing spaces.
The ongoing availability also includes completing maintenance work that had previously been deferred, which reflects the Navy’s commitment to ensuring that required maintenance on ships is no longer deferred. Additionally, the U.S. Pacific Fleet implemented a new force generation model to protect maintenance, training, and certification requirements prior to operational tasking for ships forward-deployed to Japan, like John S. McCain.
The ship’s crew worked alongside personnel from NAVSEA’s Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Philadelphia and Port Hueneme divisions who were challenged to develop a test plan concurrent with repair efforts.
“All key players and industry partners continue to execute the McCain effort with maximum intensity in an environment built on trust and shared goals,” said Capt. Garrett Farman, SRF-JRMC commanding officer. “Our mission is to keep the 7th Fleet operationally ready, and everyone on the team recognizes the immense value that this mission brings to U.S. and Japan mutual interests in keeping our waters safe.”
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) prepares to undock as a dry dock is flooded in order to test the ship’s integrity. McCain is departing the dock after an extensive maintenance period in order to sustain the ship’s ability to serve as a forward-deployed asset in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy Graham)
The complex repair and restoration required support and collaboration from all aspects of the U.S. Navy maintenance enterprise, including NSWC Philadelphia and NSWC Port Hueneme; Engineering Directorate (SEA 05); Deputy Commander for Surface Warfare (SEA 21); Commander, Navy Regional Maintenance Center (CNRMC); Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC); Southeast Regional Maintenance Center (SERMC); Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC); Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS); and Forward Deployed Regional Maintenance Center (FDRMC) Naples and Rota detachment.
Over the next few months, efforts will focus on testing the repaired ship’s systems in preparation for a return to operational tasking.
The Navy’s enterprise leadership continues to make improvements with routine, close oversight provided by the fleet commanders and the Navy staff to generate ready ships and aircraft on-time and on-plan. Improved ship-class maintenance plans are capturing a more robust understanding of fleet maintenance requirements, and the elimination of work deferrals are improving the material condition of the fleet.
This summer, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer inducted Sen. John S. McCain III into the ship’s official namesake alongside his father and grandfather in a ceremony on board, July 12. The crew’s messdecks, known as the Maverick Café, re-opened for business on Nov. 19, the late Senator’s birthday.
John S. McCain is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan as part of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. The ship is expected to complete repairs in late 2019.
The Littoral Combat Ship is often criticized for being under-armed. In fact, its main weapon for anti-surface warfare is reportedly a version of the AGM-114 Hellfire (after several false starts with other missiles). Now, don’t get us wrong. The Hellfire is a good missile, and it has made plenty of enemy tanks and terrorists go boom.
At this year’s SeaAirSpace Expo, Kongsberg and Raytheon have proposed a solution – using the Naval Strike Missile on the LCS. According to a U.S. Navy release from 2014, the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) test-fired the NSM during RIMPAC 2014.
NSM offers longer range than the Hellfire (at least 100 nautical miles compare to the Hellfire’s 4.85), and a much bigger warhead (265 pounds to the Hellfire’s 20). In other words, this missile has a lot more “stopping power” against any threat the LCS could face.
But the missile is also relatively light, coming in at 770 pounds overall. The Mk 54 MAKO Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo comes in at 608 pounds. This means that the embarked MH-60R Seahawk helicopters on a littoral combat ship could also carry these – and Kongsberg demonstrated that with a model at the display.
“Helicopter sold separately,” the representative said, jokingly. But the joke could very well be on an adversary – as the helicopter extends the stand-off reach the LCS would have. The helicopter capability would also add the ability to launch from an offset – complicating the targeting for an enemy.
NSM is already in service with Norway, equipping the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates, the Skjold-class corvettes, and is in use on Norway’s F-16 Fighting Falcons. It replaced the Penguin in Norwegian service.
Kongsberg also displayed a mock-up of the Joint Strike Missile, a slightly larger version of the NSM, featuring a range of at least 150 nautical miles. Even with the increased size, a handout provided by Kongsberg reps at SeaAirSpace 2017 indicated that the missile can still be carried internally by the F-35 Lightning II.
In one sense, this would be going “back to the future.” In the 1990s, the United States Navy equipped the SH-60B Seahawks with the AGM-119 Penguin anti-ship missile – also from Kongsberg. The Penguin also was a mainstay of Norway’s military during the 1980s and 1990s.
President Donald Trump’s administration is warning Syria that further chemical attacks will be met with a strike like the salvo of 59 cruise missiles that lit up a Syrian air base in April 2017.
Syria would be “ill-advised to go back to violating the chemical convention,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, the Washington Examiner notes.
Two senior administration officials warned that the US could take military action against Syria following a new rash of reports of chemical weapons used against civilians supposedly carried out by the country’s government, The Cipher Brief reported.But even bigger than another strike on Syria — which, while eye-catching, changed little geopolitically — the officials said the US was on to Syria’s backer and enabler: Russia.
“They’re not trying to fool us. They know what we know,” one of the officials said, meaning that Russia isn’t even trying to hide its role in the chemical attacks. “They’re trying to fool you.”
The official was referring to Russia’s media offensive to deny its connection to chemical weapons use in Syria.
An agreement between the US in Russia in 2013 bound Moscow to remove all chemical weapons from Syria, but as repeated instances of chemical weapons attacks show, that was simply not the case.
The officials’ statements to The Cipher Brief follow Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statements that Russia “bears responsibility” for the chemical warfare still unfolding in Syria.
But while the Trump administration has resolved to punish Syria’s use of chemical weapons with military force, a change in tactics from Damascus may complicate things. Instead of the sarin gas used in April, which requires sophisticated assembly and deployment by an air force, the recent attacks have used chlorine gas, which can simply be dumped out of a truck.
Former US ambassador to Turkey and Washington Institute fellow James Jeffrey told BI that there have been persistent reports of chlorine attacks in Syria since 2013, and it’s not as clearly banned by international agreements as sarin.
Additionally, Jeffrey pointed out that the attacks have not been independently verified by an international agency, meaning it would be harder to build an international consensus around a strike.
“We are even more concerned about the possibility of sarin use,” said Mattis. “We are looking for the evidence.”
But with Russian and Iranian influence growing in Syria and posing a direct threat to US foreign policy interests, it’s possible that the Trump administration may look to make a statement that it’s not buying Russia’s excuses anymore.
The vehicle is built with a more capable, larger chassis, designed as an initial step toward outgunning Russian weapons
The Army is starting formal production of a new Self-Propelled Howitzer variant engineered for faster movement, better structural protection, improved drive-train ability, new suspension and advanced networking tech, service and industry developers said.
The new vehicle is built with a more capable, larger chassis, designed as an initial step toward building a next-generation cannon able to outgun existing Russian weapons.
As part of a longer-term plan to leverage the new larger chassis built into the Army’s new M109A7 variant, the Army’s Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center is beginning work on a new cannon able to hit enemies out to 70 kilometers, senior Army developers said.
“Right now we have the 39 caliber cannon we have had since the 80s. We are range limited and the Russians can outgun us and shoot farther,” Maj. Gen. David Bassett, former Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, said last Fall at the service’s AUSA annual symposium. “If you had not replaced the chassis first, you would never be able to put that larger cannon on there.”
A 70-kilometer target range is, by any estimation, a substantial leap forward for artillery; when GPS guided precision 155mm artillery rounds, such as Excalibur, burst into land combat about ten years ago – its strike range was reported at roughly 30 kilometers. A self-propelled Howitzer able to hit 70-kilometers puts the weapon on par with some of the Army’s advanced land-based rockets – such as its precision-enabled Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System which also reaches 70-kilometers.
In a modern threat environment, wherein near-peer and smaller-level rivals increasingly possess precision-guided land weapons, longer-range C4ISR technology, and drone weapons, increasing range is a ubiquitous emphasis across the Army and other services. Russia’s violations of the INF treaty, new S-500 air defenses, new Armata tanks and fast-growing attack drone fleet – all point to a growing need for the US to outrange and outgun potential adversaries.
Furthermore, given the Pentagon’s emphasis upon cross-domain warfare, land weapons are increasingly being developed to attack things like enemy ships, aircraft, and ground-based air defenses; naturally, the idea is to pinpoint and destroy enemy targets while remaining at a safer, more protected distance. Deputy Program Executive Officer for Missiles Space, Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch told Warrior the service is making a decided push to upgrade and develop longer-range weapons as a way to address current threats – and re-adjust following more than 15 years of counterinsurgency.
For example, senior Pentagon leaders have told Warrior Maven that there is some ongoing deliberation about placing mobile land-based artillery – such as a Paladin – in areas of the South China Sea as a credible deterrent against Chinese ships and aircraft.
Following years of development and advanced engineering, the Army and BAE Systems are now formally entering full-rate production of the new M109A7 and accompanying M992A3 ammunition carrier vehicles. BAE officials said the new Howitzer, designed to replace the existing M109A6 Paladin, will have 600-volts of onboard power generation, high-voltage electric gun drives, and projectile ramming systems.
Bassett described the A7 as a turret ring down revamp, including a new hull along with a new suspension and power-train. The new Howitzer will, among other things, greatly improve speed and mobility compared to the A6.
“In the past, the A6 Paladin was the slowest vehicle in the Army. It needs to leapfrog. We are restoring that mobility so it will be one of the faster vehicles. Howitzers can now outrun 113s,” Bassett said.
Also, as part of maintenance, life-cycle, and service extension – all aimed to improve logistics – the new Howitzer is built with an engine and other parts common to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and emerging Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle.
Improved onboard power is, similar to other emerging higher-tech platforms, designed to enable the vehicle to quickly accommodate upgrades and new weapons technologies as they may evolve – such as lasers or advanced ammunition.
The advanced digital backbone and power generation capability provides significant growth potential for future payloads, a BAE Systems statement said.
One senior Army official told Warrior Maven that improved combat connectivity can enable multiple Howitzers to quickly share firing data, as part of a broader effort to expand battlefield networking and operate in more dispersed formations depending upon mission requirements.
The Army is also now working with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office to explore additional innovations for the Howitzer platform.
Army Howitzers are now firing a super high-speed, high-tech, electromagnetic Hyper Velocity Projectile, initially developed as a Navy weapon, an effort to fast-track increasing lethal and effective weapons to war zones and key strategic locations, Pentagon officials said.
While initially conceived of and developed for the Navy’s emerging Rail Gun Weapon, the Pentagon and Army are now firing the Hyper Velocity Projectile from an Army Howitzer in order to potential harness near-term weapons ability, increase the scope, lethality, and rangeability to accelerate combat deployment of the lethal, high-speed round.
The railgun uses an electromagnetic current to fire a kinetic energy warhead up to 100 miles at speeds greater than 5,000 miles an hour, a speed at least three times as fast as existing weapons.
Firing from an Army Howitzer, the hypervelocity projectile can fire at high speeds toward enemy targets to include buildings, force concentrations, weapons systems, drones, aircraft, vehicle bunkers and even incoming enemy missiles and artillery rounds.
“We can defend against an incoming salvo with a bullet. That is very much a focus getting ready for the future,” Dr. William Roper, Director of the Pentagon’s once-secret Strategic Capabilities Office, told Scout Warrior among a small group of reporters last year.
The moment Otto Catalan had waited almost two decades for had finally arrived. Sitting in a small office, surrounded by his doctors and other medical staff, the blind U.S. Navy Veteran could only hope for one thing: to see the face of his teenage son for the first time.
“I see a lot of flashes, and they’re getting brighter,” he said. “Wow. It’s amazing.”
He turned his head to the right and saw bright flashes of light reflecting off the white coat of Miami VA Chief of Ophthalmology Dr. Ninel Gregori. When he turned to the left to talk with his son, he paused and began to cry. Gregori hugged him.
“Thank you very much, guys,” he said. “I’ll work hard, so I can see. It’s been 19 years, and I have been able to see my son. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Catalan is keeping true to his word and continuing to work hard to learn how to use his new Argus® II prosthesis or “bionic eye.” Even though he struggled for years to come to terms with the loss of his sight, Catalan now feels optimistic about moving forward and beginning a new life.
“I’m learning something new everyday,” he said. “This prosthetic will help me be more successful in life. It’s already helping me be more mobile at home, and it’s going to make a big difference for me at work.”
Catalan’s struggles with vision loss began in 1989, when he was serving as a ship serviceman in the U.S. Navy. While he was on guard duty aboard a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, everything suddenly went dark.
“It felt like I was walking in the dark,” he said. “I told my superior officer, and he sent me to a doctor, but they couldn’t find out what it was. We went back to Virginia. They did extensive tests, and that’s when they found out I had retinitis pigmentosa.”
Catalan was scared when he heard the diagnosis. He never heard of retinitis pigmentosa and didn’t know what it would mean for his future. He was immediately removed from the ship and sent to rehab, and would eventually be medically separated from the military.
What is retinitis pigmentosa?
“Retinitis pigmentosa is one of the most common inherited diseases we see in ophthalmology,” Gregori said. “For people with this condition and certainly in Mr. Catalan’s case, the retina becomes very thin, and the photoreceptors, which convert light into electrical signals, gradually die off over time. Initially, peripheral vision, or the side vision, goes away, and then finally the central vision disappears.”
Catalan’s eyesight continued to deteriorate. Still needing to make money, he took a job as a cook. As his conditioned worsened, he struggled to tell if food was cooked and even burned himself multiple times. It was at this point that Catalan knew he needed help, so he went to the Northport VA Medical Center in New York.
“My doctors told me I needed to start preparing because I was going to be permanently blind soon,” he said. “After I heard that, I remember crying all the time. I couldn’t even hear someone say the word ‘see’ because I would burst into tears.”
The Northport VAMC referred Catalan to the VA Connecticut Healthcare System to participate in its Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Service’s three-month training program. While sitting through the training sessions and listening to the instructors and other Veterans, Catalan unexpectedly learned a valuable life lesson.
“Once I met other blind Vietnam Veterans at VA Connecticut and saw how well they were dealing with their situation, I never cried about my own condition again,” he said.
Throughout the program, he also learned to perform everyday tasks, such as shave his face, eat with utensils, identify clothing and walk with a cane. He stayed an additional two months to learn to use a computer and screen-reader technology.
Moving to Florida
In 2005, Catalan heard about ophthalmology research being conducted at the Miami VA Healthcare System and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, which serves as the ophthalmology department of the University of Miami Health System. He moved his family to Cutler Bay, Florida and transferred his care to the then Miami VA Medical Center—where he worked with Roberta Goldstein, now retired Miami VA visual impairment services team coordinator.
“Roberta was great,” he said. “She referred me to the prosthetics department at the West Palm Beach VAMC, so I could get equipment to help me go back to work. She’s the best.”
Shortly after receiving his prosthetics equipment, Catalan landed a job as a resource specialist with Marriott Hotels—where he still works today. He says Marriott has been accommodating to his condition, and he hopes to be considered for promotion one day.
In March 2015, he received a phone call that would help his chances of getting that long-awaited promotion and also change his life.
One of my hopes was to see my son’s face for the first time
When he heard about the “bionic eye,” Catalan requested an evaluation for the device at the Miami VA Eye Clinic. With the help of the low vision Miami VA team, Gregori selected him for the Argus II® screening evaluation and personally called his home to ask if he was still interested.
“He was a perfect candidate,” Gregori said. “His personality was extremely important. With artificial vision, the patient must have the patience to learn to interpret the lights and images he or she is seeing. Learning to use the Argus II is like learning a new language, so individuals with both an optimistic personality and a strong willingness to work hard are the best candidates for the technology.”
Dr. Gregori is the Miami VA chief of ophthalmology and an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. In 2004, she was part of the surgical team that implanted the first Argus II® retinal prosthesis in a Florida patient, a non-Veteran from Tampa. She was eager to bring the new technology to the Miami VA, where she proudly serves South Florida Veterans and has lead the ophthalmology department for the past 10 years.
“Miami VA Medical Center Director Paul Russo and Chief of Surgery Dr. Seth Spector both enthusiastically welcomed the idea of making the bionic eye available to our Veterans. It would not have been possible without their support,” Gregori said.
It felt like I had just given somebody the best Christmas present
Catalan underwent surgery to implant the Argus® II, a new prosthesis approved in 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration to treat people with end-stages of retinitis pigmentosa, at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute on Nov. 24, 2015. Catalan’s bionic eye was activated Dec. 11 by the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s biomedical engineers, under the supervision of Miami VA’s Dr. Ninel Gregori. Even though Gregori and her team had already been through the experience of turning on the prosthesis with a previous patient, Catalan’s moment was emotional nonetheless.
“When it was turned on, Mr. Catalan started crying, and it brought tears to my eyes,” Gregori said. “It felt like I just gave somebody the best Christmas present I had ever given to anybody in my life. That’s why I went into ophthalmology.”
“After 19 years, the first thing I saw was my son’s face,” Catalan said. “I could also see Dr. Gregori, and when we walked around the hall, I was able to tell where the door and window frames were for the first time. That might not mean a lot to other people, but it meant so much to me.”
Catalan continues to work with the Miami VA Blind Rehabilitation Team, lead by optometrist Dr. Kasey Zann, to learn how to use the Argus II® in his everyday life. Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Linh Pham visits his home and trains him to use the device in his home environment and in public. He also works regularly with Gregori and her team at the Miami VA Eye Clinic.
“The Miami VA Healthcare System has amazing low vision and blind rehabilitation resources for Veterans. It is an ideal setting for rehabilitation after Argus II implantation,” Gregori said.
At home, Catalan now sees objects and walls, and can even see lights and motion on his television for the first time. His next goal is to learn to use his new computer at work. After his training, he will be able to see shapes, the different windows and letters on his computer screen.
During an outing with his family in early 2015, Catalan was surprised to see a sight he had not seen in years.
“On New Year’s Eve, I was able to see the fireworks outside for the first time in 19 years. My mouth stayed open for a while,” he said. “Now, when I’m walking on the grass, I can see the lines where the grass is versus where the sidewalk is. The fact that I’m walking outside and can see the lights makes it all worth it.”
About the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System
The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System—made by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc.—is an artificial retina, or bionic eye, that converts images into light and uses a miniature video camera that is mounted on a pair of glasses, said Gregori. Once the images are converted, they are wirelessly transmitted to a surgically implanted prosthesis located in the patient’s eye. The implant then stimulates the retina to produce an image that is sent to the brain for interpretation.