Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Russian 101st Motorized Rifles were caught in a firefight with the Mujahideen near the city of Herat. A young soldier, 20-year-old Bakhretdin Khakimov, was wounded in the fighting, lost on the battlefield, and presumed dead.
Khakimov was a draftee from Samarkand who had only been in the Red Army a short time when he was injured in Herat Province, near Shindand. Some 30 years later, a group of Soviet war veterans founded the Committee for International Soldiers, a group whose mission is to find and identify missing Soviet soldiers or their remains. Most, like Khakimov, are presumed to be dead.
The young soldier now goes by the name of Sheikh Abdullah. He was rescued from the battlefield by locals, nursed back to health and opted to stay with those that helped him survive. He later married an Afghan woman and settled down to a semi-nomadic life. His wife has since died and he does the same work as the man who rescued him.
“I was wounded in the head and collapsed. I don’t remember much about that time,” he told TOLO news.
There are an estimated 264 Soviet soldiers currently missing from the 1979-1989 Afghan War. The Committee for International Soldiers actually found 29 living servicemen, 22 of which were repatriated to the former Soviet Union. The rest stayed in Afghanistan. The CIS has also identified 15 graves of Soviet war dead, exhuming and identifying five of those.
It is estimated that the decade-long war cost the Soviet Union 15,000 lives — not to mention those of an estimated one million Afghan civilians.
Bakhretdin Khakimov was an ethnic Uzbek, with family roots not far from Afghanistan’s northern borders. Staying in the country was dangerous for Khakimov and those like him. The USSR would trade submachine guns to locals in exchange for “turncoats” trying to defect from the Red Army.
Russians captured by the Mujahideen did not fare so well — they could expect to be tortured to death. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the Soviet soldiers were often brutally mistreated by their own officers. They would then take out their rage on the civilian population, sometimes even wiping out entire villages.
The last two battalions of Russian spetsnaz crossed the “Friendship” Bridge into neighboring Uzbekistan on Feb. 15, 1989. At that moment, Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov, commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan, told reporters, “There is not a single Soviet soldier or officer left behind me.” He was wrong.
RICHMOND, Va. — Every time he straps on the leather band of his watch in the morning, Phillip Brashear remembers his father.
“My dad’s famous saying is, ‘It’s not a sin to get knocked down. It’s a sin to stay down,'” Brashear said.
Those words are engraved on the back of a Swiss limited-edition wristwatch, surrounding the iconic image of a Mark V diver suit helmet. The watch was manufactured in honor of Carl Brashear, the first African-American master diver in U.S. Navy’s history who lost his leg during a tragic accident on a mission off the coast of Spain in 1966.
Two airplanes had collided, dropping a payload that included three nuclear warheads. One of them fell into the Atlantic Ocean. Carl Brashear was called to dive and recover the bomb, but during the mission a towline was pulled so tight that it ripped off a pole, dragging it across the deck with so much tension that it cut the bottom part of his leg, nearly ripping it off. Back in the United States, doctors decided to amputate the leg below the knee.
“My father is an American legend,” said Brashear. “He was the first amputee to return to active-duty service in one of the most challenging jobs in the Navy.”
His life story was depicted in the Hollywood movie “Men of Honor” which starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro.
“My father overcame five barriers in his lifetime. He overcame racism. My father overcame poverty, being a poor sharecropper’s son. He overcame illiteracy. He lost the bottom part of his leg and was physically disabled. … He overcame his alcoholism, and in 1979 retired with honors,” Brashear said.
Today, Phillip Brashear is the command chief warrant officer for the 80th Training Command, which is responsible for military courses that train thousands of Army Reserve Soldiers around the country.
Brashear thanks service members like his father and the Tuskegee Airmen for the opportunities that men and women of every skin color and background have today.
“He opened the door for many others to come behind him,” he said.
Brashear has more than 38 years of military service, starting in the U.S. Navy Reserve, then the U.S. Army National Guard and now with the U.S. Army Reserve. He spent most of that time flying helicopters.
“I used to tease my dad all the time. … I scored higher than you on the ASVAB test,” he said, referring to the aptitude test used to assign military jobs. “I get to be a helicopter pilot. I go up, not down. My daddy said, ‘Aw, get the heck out of my face. … Remember son, there’s always divers looking for pilots. There’s never pilots looking for divers.”
That banter between father and son came close to becoming a dark premonition for Phillip in 2006 while deployed to Iraq. A flash flood washed away part of a convoy, and Brashear was involved in recovering the bodies.
“That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life was to get out of that helicopter in a combat operation to retrieve dead Americans, bring them back to safety so their families could have closure,” he said.
Though the bodies were not Navy divers in the middle of the ocean, Brashear recovered Marines whose lives were taken by water.
The rest of his Iraq tour offered no relief. He was with the Virginia Army National Guard at the time, responsible for flying personnel and material across Iraqi deserts under constant gunfire and the threat of improvised explosive attacks. Even at night, he could see the barrage of tracer rounds piercing the sky like lasers.
“I remember the heat. Constant heat. Like a blow dryer in your face. I remember the constant thirst. The constant fear from getting in that helicopter in a combat zone,” Brashear said.
Then one day, he came home from deployment on a Red Cross message. His father was ill. However, Brasher didn’t think it was severe, and during his visit home, Phillip believed his father would recover. He thought his dad was invincible. This was the man who had endured a year of recovery wearing a 300-pound suit after losing a leg to become a master diver. As a master chief petty officer later in his career, Sailors scurried out of the way whenever this legend walked onto a ship.
“He’s gonna be fine,” the son thought, so he walked into his father’s hospital room complaining about Iraq.
“I’m like, Dad, man. I’m getting shot at. The food’s bad. It sucks over there. It’s hot,” he recalled.
“Son, what are you complaining about?” his father asked.
The calm in the old man’s voice took him by surprise. Something in his father’s presence caused the younger Brashear to pause.
“He was on his deathbed. He would have traded places with me in a heartbeat … to go fly helicopters in harm’s way, but I wouldn’t have traded places with him,” Brashear said.
“A few days after, he died in my arms. … His body just gave up. He’d been through so much. He just couldn’t suffer any more. So he – he left us,” he said.
After his deployment, Brashear decided to retire from the Army, but while going through his father’s belongings, he remembered his father’s fighting words.
“It’s not a sin to get knocked down. …”
He returned to service in the U.S. Army Reserve, which he said offered him opportunities even the National Guard couldn’t have given him, including the command-level position he holds now. He continued to fly helicopters for about a decade. Over the course of his career, he’s flown the UH-1 “Huey” – recognized as the Vietnam-era helicopter – the UH-60 Black Hawk and two different models of the CH-47 Chinook.
Then, in 2014, Brashear faced adversity of his own. During his annual flight physical, he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart arrhythmia that took him off flight status.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world to be denied your job because of something medical. That’s like someone taking away your livelihood. So, just like my dad, I said, ‘I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m going to get back up and get my job back,'” Brashear said.
He received a procedure known as cardioversion, a medical treatment that restores normal heart rhythm through electric shocks. As it turns out, his heart doctor, Michael Spooner, also treated Brashear’s father in the last 10 years of his life. The A-Fib kept Brashear off flight status for a year, but he continued his recovery until he passed his physical and returned to flying.
Now, Brashear is among the few dozen command chiefs in the U.S. Army Reserve. He serves as the top technical expert for his command and invests his time mentoring warrant officers and Soldiers wherever he goes.
With all four of his children grown, Brashear lives with his wife, Sandra, outside Richmond, Virginia. They have three daughters – Tia, Megan, Melanie – and a son, Tyler, who is an ROTC cadet studying biology at North Carolina AT University.
“It’s just a great legacy to have my father, who in the Navy was a great legend. Then myself a combat veteran in the Army. And now my son, who is going to be following our footsteps with leadership and service to our country,” he said.
This article originally appeared on DVIDS. Follow @DVIDShub on Twitter.
The Air Force’s all-new advanced trainer aircraft, the T-X, has officially been named the T-7A Red Hawk.
Acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan made the announcement during his speech at the 2019 Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Sept. 16, 2019.
Donovan was joined on stage by one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, Col. Charles McGee, who flew more than 400 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Also seated in the audience were members of the East Coast Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.
After a short video highlighting the aircraft’s lineage, Donovan said, “ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the newest Red Tail!” A drape was then lifted to reveal a quarter-scale model of a T-7A Red Hawk painted in a distinct, red-tailed color scheme.
“The name Red Hawk honors the legacy of Tuskegee Airmen and pays homage to their signature red-tailed aircraft from World War II,” Donovan said. “The name is also a tribute to the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, an American fighter aircraft that first flew in 1938 and was flown by the 99th Fighter Squadron, the U.S. Army Air Forces’ first African American fighter squadron.”
The T-7A Red Hawk, manufactured by Boeing, introduces capabilities that prepare pilots for fifth generation fighters, including high-G environment, information and sensor management, high angle of attack flight characteristics, night operations and transferable air-to-air and air-to-ground skills.
“The T-7A will be the staple of a new generation of aircraft,” Donovan said. “The Red Hawk offers advanced capabilities for training tomorrow’s pilots on data links, simulated radar, smart weapons, defensive management systems, as well as synthetic training capabilities.”
Along with updated technology and performance capabilities, the T-7A will be accompanied by enhanced simulators and the ability to update system software faster and more seamlessly. The plane was also designed with maintainers in mind by utilizing easy-to-reach and open access panels.
Two Boeing T-X trainers.
The T-7A features twin tails, slats and big leading-edge root extensions that provide deft handling at low speeds, allowing it to fly in a way that better approximates real world demands and is specifically designed to prepare pilots for fifth-generation aircraft. The aircraft’s single engine generates nearly three times more thrust than the dual engines of the T-38C Talon which it is replacing.
“The distance between the T-38 and an F-35 is night and day,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein. “But with the T-7A the distance is much, much smaller, and that’s important because it means the pilots trained on it will be that much better, that much faster at a time when we must be able to train to the speed of the threat.”
A .2 billion contract awarded to Boeing in September 2018 calls for 351 T-7A aircraft, 46 simulators and associated ground equipment to be delivered and installed, replacing Air Education and Training Command’s 57-year-old fleet of T-38C Talons.
The first T-7A aircraft and simulators are scheduled to arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, in 2023. All undergraduate pilot training bases will eventually transition from the T-38C to the T-7A. Those bases include Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi; Laughlin AFB and Sheppard AFB, Texas; and Vance AFB, Oklahoma.
A proposal submitted to the Russian parliament would scrap the constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms, enabling Vladimir Putin to remain in power past 2024.
The proposal published on the State Duma website on May 18, 2018, would restrict presidents to three straight terms instead of two. It comes less than two weeks after Putin started a new six-year term as president — his second in a row and fourth overall.
It was submitted by the legislature in Chechnya — a region whose head, Ramzan Kadyrov, has repeatedly pledged his loyalty to Putin and said he should rule for life.
Putin, 65, has been president or prime minister since 1999. Facing the limit of two straight terms in 2008, he steered ally Dmitry Medvedev into the presidency and served for four years as prime minister before returning to the Kremlin in 2012.
Elected again on March 18, 2018, in a vote that opponents said was marred by fraud and international observers said deprived voters of a genuine choice, Putin would be barred from running again in 2024 under the existing constitution.
That barrier has led to widespread speculation about Putin’s future moves, with many analysts predicting he will seek a way to keep a hold on power after his current term. The most straightforward path would be to change the constitution.
When lawmakers in Chechnya announced plans for the proposal earlier in April 2018, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the issue was not on Putin’s agenda and that Putin had made his position on changing the constitution clear in the past.
The U.S. Air Force says it will have an initial squadron of F-35 fighters ready for combat by the end of 2016. The commanders of the USAF’s Air Combat Command and Air Force Materiel Command reviewed the milestones in the $379 billion weapons program last week and reported their findings to the Pentagon.
There are lingering doubts that the development of the plane’s computer logistics system, called Autonomic Logistics Information System, was on schedule. The complex system, according to military planners, required extra “focus” for the program.
“The actual plane is on schedule and doing well,” Colonel Tad Sholtis, spokesman for Air Combat Command, told reporters on April 13. “The Air Force expects to meet its target window of August through December for declaring an initial operational capability.”
The Air Force says the F-35’s performance exceeds expectations of pilots, but that they are continuing to compare the fighter to other, older aircraft. Sholtis added that the fighter was strong in some areas and less strong in other, but only by fielding the plane to familiarize airmen with the plane and its workings could they fully exploit the F-35’s capabilities.
“We anticipate that side-by-side, air-to-air and air-to-ground tests will be illustrative of the fifth generation fighter’s advanced interdiction capabilities,” Sholtis said. “This aircraft is built to go where legacy platforms cannot.”
The Allied invasion of Normandy was a challenge on a grand scale. Every single aspect of the plan drew new challenges for commanders. Luckily, the greatest military minds of the day were leading the Allied forces. They came up with some ingenious solutions. For example, in the absence of securing a usable harbor, they created the Mulberry, a harbor that could be shipped and built on site to keep the flow of supplies going.
To confuse the Germans as to where the D-Day attacks would come, Operation Fortitude created an entire fake army aimed at the Pas-de-Calais. The soldiers on the invasion beaches still faced the many natural and man-made obstacles that would hinder their ability to effectively storm the beaches. One man was tasked to create overcome these obstacles and protect the assault forces.
Major General Percy Hobart, an unconventional yet very successful armored and engineering officer, created specialized vehicles designed to help amphibious forces overcome the natural and man-made obstacles common during a landing. These vehicles helped the British and Canadians during their assaults on Gold, Juneau, and Sword beaches. Collectively these vehicles were known as “Hobart’s Funnies.”
Sherman DD Tank
The most well-known of Hobart’s Funnies was the Duplex Drive Sherman Tank — or Sherman DD. This tank had a large canvas floatation screen that was erected to make the tank seaworthy and included a secondary drive mechanism that powered a propeller to drive the tank through the water. The idea was to launch these tanks a few miles from shore and have them come ashore with the infantry without the need to bring a large landing craft too close to shore. Their use on D-Day saw mixed results.
The Crocodile was a British Churchill tank that replaced the hull mounted machine gun with a flamethrower. An armored trailer behind the Croc carried fuel for the weapon. This weapon was adept at clearing German fortifications and later inspired American versions used in the Pacific.
The Crab was a Sherman tank fitted with a cylindrical flail with weighted chains. When activated, the flail cleared a tank-width path by detonating any mines in its way with the weighted chains. This tank was an improvement over previous versions as the Sherman’s engine drove the flail, rather than needing to fit a separate engine on the tank. It was also equipped with numerous ways to mark the cleared path for the following infantry or tanks.
AVRE (Armored Vehicle Royal Engineers)
The AVRE were a family of engineering vehicles designed for specific tasks. All AVRE were Churchill tanks with the main gun removed and replaced with a Petard mortar that could fire 40-pound shells against German fortifications. The British then attached various equipment for specific tasks. One tool was a Bobbin, a canvas sheet that was rolled down in front of and then under the tank to provide a path to keep it, and following tanks, from sinking into the soft ground of a beach. There were also attachments for dealing with gaps such as a fascine, a bundle of wooden poles that could be dropped into a ditch for the tank to drive over, or a small box girder bridge that could clear 30-foot gaps. For breaching, there was an attachment the British called the Double Onion, two explosives on a metal frame that could be pressed against a bunker or fortification to breach it.
ARK (Armored Ramp Carrier)
The ARK was a Churchill tank with the turret removed and folding ramps installed in both front and back. The tank could drive up to an obstacle, extend a ramp, and have other vehicles drive up it and over the obstacle. It could also drive into a gap and act as a bridge if necessary.
All of the vehicles Hobart created were assigned to the 79th Armoured Division under his command. All these designs were offered to the Americans as well, but since they did not have a specialized unit to operate the vehicles, they turned them down with the exception of the Sherman DD tanks. The 79th did not fight as a unit on D-Day but was instead assigned to support different elements making the assault. After the success of Hobart’s Funnies on D-Day, the 79th remained in action and used its special vehicles many times throughout the remainder of the war.
If you’ve seen the blockbuster movies The Longest Day (currently on Netflix) or Saving Private Ryan, a big part of the story is how infantry fought through the obstacles on Omaha Beach (the wisdom of sending two divisions into that meat-grinder can be debated at another time).
But the lack of tank support wasn’t part of the plan. In fact, it was one hell of an instance where that notorious and unwelcome Murphy’s Law put in an appearance, costing the infantry some much-needed support. It would have been their secret weapon: the Dual-Drive, or DD, tank.
The DD tank was a modified M4 Sherman that had a large canvas screen and propellers to enable it to swim in to shore from a distance. Tanks-Encyclopedia.com notes that the M4 had some good firepower for busting up fortifications — a 75mm gun with 90 rounds. At close range, that gun would more than do against the Nazi fortifications.
This is how the DD tank was supposed to work. Note the calm seas. On D-Day, they seas were rough. (YouTube screenshot)
There’s just one problem: the DD tanks weren’t tested in rough seas. Almost all of them ended up sinking when eight-foot-tall waves swamped them. And a tank on the bottom of the channel can’t provide support for the grunts. In short, the grunts had to do the hard by themselves.
So, take a look at this History Channel video, and a piece of D-Day history some folks would like to forget.
The Battle of the Coral Sea is notable for being the first naval battle in which ships fought without ever sighting the enemy fleet. This means that all the fighting was done with aircraft — the ships themselves never exchanged fire.
Let’s assume for the sake of this thought experiment that the United States is operating a pair of carriers, like USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), with a pair of Ticonderoga-class cruisers and eight Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Let’s not forget the support from Australia and New Zealand — today, that’d be one Hobart-class destroyer and three Anzac-class frigates (two Australian, one from New Zealand) joining the escort.
The likely opponent? Let’s say the People’s Liberation Army Navy has sent both of their Kuznetsov-class carriers, escorted by four Type 52C destroyers and four Sovremennyy-class destroyers.
The Chinese carriers would be operating at somewhat of a disadvantage from the get-go. The American-Australian force would have the benefit of land-based maritime patrol planes, like the P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon, as well as radar planes, like the E-3 Sentry and E-2 Hawkeye. These planes would likely find the Chinese carriers and get a position report off. The pilots would be heroes. Unfortunately, a J-15 Flanker would likely shoot them down quickly thereafter.
By this point, though, the Carl Vinson and Gerald R. Ford are going to be launching their alpha strikes on the Chinese carriers. Each of these carriers will be operating 36 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and a dozen F-35C Lightnings. This strike will likely be done in conjunction with some B-1B Lancers operating from Australia or some other land base.
The Chinese J-15s will fight valiantly, but the American carrier-based fighters will probably wipe them out – though they’ll suffer some losses in the process. The Chinese force will, however, be hit by a number of AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles. The carriers will be sunk or seriously damaged, left stranded a long way from home. One or both may even be sunk by submarines later (an American submarine tried to attack the damaged Shokaku after the Battle of the Coral Sea, but failed to get in position).
Ultimately, as was the case in the first Battle of the Coral Sea, the United States would win. This time, though, it would be a much more unequivocal victory.
The National Football League has been plagued by questions of patriotism in the last few years. But whether or not the NFL kneels or stands this year, it’s important to remember that some of the players and coaches have served, too.
1. George Halas
Halas was instrumental in the creation of the NFL and responsible for founding the team that went on to be the Chicago Bears in 1920. Nicknamed “Papa Bear,” Halas coached the Bears for 40 seasons, leading them to six NFL titles. Halas served in the Navy during World War I and returned to Navy service from 1942-1945.
2. Ralph Wilson, Jr.
Enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2009, Wilson founded the Buffalo Bills following his service in the Navy during World War II. He was also instrumental in the merger between the AFL and the NFL in 1970.
3. Kevin Greene
Greene retired from the NFL in 1999 and ranks third among all-time sack leaders. He led the NFL twice in that category with an impressive career playing for the Steelers, Rams, Panthers, and 49ers, with five appearances in the Pro Bowl. Greene was a member of ROTC at Auburn and served 16 years in the Army Reserves.
4. Alejandro Villanueva Martínez
Villanueva is an offensive tackle for the Steelers. A veteran Army Ranger, Villanueva was a captain in the Army, served in Afghanistan, and was decorated with a Bronze Star.
5. Tom Landry
Hall of Famer Tom Landry was a coaching phenom for the Dallas Cowboys. He led his team to two Super Bowl titles and had 20 straight winning seasons. Equally impressive was Landry’s service in the Army Air Corps during World War II. The B-17 co-pilot flew 30 missions and survived a crash in Belgium. He passed away in 2000 at age 75 as a legend and a hero.
6. Dick “Night Train” Lane
The Hall of Famer had an incredible 68 career interceptions during his time with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, and Detroit Lions. For nine straight years (1954-1963), Lane earned first or second-team All-NFL honors. He played in seven Pro Bowls and during his rookie season, had an unprecedented 14 interceptions – a record that still stands today. Lane served in the Army during both World War II and the Korean War.
7. Roger Staubach
Staubach, nicknamed “Captain America,” won the 1963 Heisman Trophy during his time as quarterback at the U.S. Naval Academy. After graduation, Staubach served his commitment in the Navy, which included a tour in Vietnam. Following his service, Staubach joined the Cowboys and played in Dallas for all 11 seasons of his professional football career. During his tenure, the Cowboys won two of their five Super Bowl appearances.
The list of NFL greats who served their country continues with inspiring men like Pat Tillman, George McAfee, Mike Anderson, and so many more. But for every big name in the NFL, there are countless men that gave up their football dreams to serve their country.
You may not have heard of Jack Ankerson, but he only played three NFL exhibition games in 1964 before Uncle Sam called him up to serve his time. By the time his commitment was done, so was his chance to play in the NFL. But Jack, like so many others who chose service above self, is everything that’s right with America and the sports we love to watch.
Whether they’re a hometown hero or a household name, we salute all of our football playing and football-loving veterans.
When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited America in Sep. 1959, the trip was meticulously planned. One day of the trip was devoted Hollywood and filled with visits to movie studios, a lunch with Hollywood icons, and a tour to Disneyland.
Walt Disney was going to show Khrushchev around the park himself. He even planned to show off his navy for the Soviet premier.
Unfortunately, the Disneyland visit was canceled due to security concerns among city leaders and State Department planners. The Americans seemed to hope that tours of 20th Century Fox Studios and a lunch event filled with movie stars would keep the premier from complaining about Disneyland.
But the 20th Century Fox President Spyros P. Skouras put the Soviet leader in a bad mood. Skouras made jokes about an old quote of Khrushchev’s that said that communism would bury capitalism.
Khrushchev was enraged by the Fox president’s comments and said, “If you want to go on with the arms race, very well. We accept that challenge. As for the output of rockets –well, they are on the assembly line. This is a most serious question. It is one of life or death, ladies and gentlemen. One of war and peace.”
And then the enraged Khrushchev was told he wouldn’t be able to visit the happiest place on earth. Instead of enjoying his time with Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe and Shirley MacLaine, he gave an angry speech asking why he couldn’t go to Disneyland.
“What is it?” Khrushchev asked. “Do you have rocket launching pads there? I don’t know. What is it? Is there an epidemic of Cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me? And I say, ‘I would very much like to go and see Disneyland.’ For me, such a situation is inconceivable.”
Despite the rocky events in Los Angeles, Khrushchev’s visit was a success. By the end of the trip, Americans’ perception of the leader had improved and journalists were reporting positively on his interactions with U.S. citizens.
Khrushchev and President Dwight Eisenhower had a summit at Camp David where they agreed on the need for peace and planned for Eisenhower to tour the Soviet Union.
This goodwill between the leaders was reversed in May 1960 after an U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, and the Cold War dragged on for decades.
Imagine you’re in a country that tends to pinch pennies when it comes to the defense budget. Now imagine that you’re looking to upgrade your armored fighting vehicles (tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers), but you’ve just been told you can’t buy new ones — even second-hand vehicles aren’t an option. Sounds like you’re stuck with obsolete vehicles, right?
Not necessarily. Believe it or not, those old tanks can be given new life, and the process is actually very simple and relatively cheap. More often than not, your real problem isn’t the armored fighting vehicle itself, it’s what goes on top: the turret.
This is where the firepower of your typical armored fighting vehicle resides. Thankfully, the great thing about turrets is that they can be replaced quite easily if you have the proper facilities and trained maintenance personnel. If you have a perfectly good hull, swapping out the turret is a great way to buy time and extend the service life of an otherwise-outdated and outmatched system.
The baseline BTR-80 has a KPV 14.5mm machine gun, but a new turret can make this a BTR-80A with a 30mm auto-cannon.
Russia is doing just this with their BTR-80 and BTR-82 armored personnel carriers. The baseline versions had a manned turret with a KPV 14.5mm heavy machine gun. However, the Russians replaced the initial turret with one that houses a 2A72 30mm auto-cannon — similar to the 2A42 auto-cannon used on the BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle and the Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopter — thus creating the BTR-80A and the BTR-82A. According to some reports, Russia may make another turret switch for the latter vehicle, giving the BTR-82A a 57mm gun.
During Reforger 82, when this photo was taken, the M60A1 tank was still in widespread service, even as the M1 Abrams was starting to replace it.
Tanks also benefit from this upgrade treatment. For example, Turkey was able to extend the life of 170 M60 Patton tanks by going with the Israeli Sabra upgrade, which essentially puts a Merkava III turret on the Patton’s hull (a few other upgrades were made while they were at it). Egypt is also looking to do this with its fleet of M60 main battle tanks.
The centerpiece of the M60T in Turkish Army service is a new turret like that on Israeli Merkava tanks.
(Photo by Natan Flayer)
The fact is, if you have an older armored vehicle, just junking it or passing it on may not be the best option. You might find that the better bargain is in getting a new turret instead.
Air Force officials say they’re rolling out a number of initiatives to address the problem, but the training squadrons in charge of preparing pilots are still using some stop-gap measures to train the pilots they have.
Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, outgoing head of the Air Force’s Air Crew Crisis Task Force, told Air Force Magazine in July 2018 that his team, set up in 2017, now has a five-year plan and has made progress in revamping the pilot-training process.
The plan provides structure for implementation of the 69 initiatives proposed to address the shortage. The plan also intends to grow manning levels to 95% by fiscal year 2023.
“When I first started there was no timeline, just initiatives,” Koscheski said.
Capts. Wes Sloat, left, and Jared Barkemeger, 7th Airlift Squadron pilots, take off in a C-17 Globemaster III at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, July 27, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)
Koscheski, who is leaving his position to be director of plans, programs, and analysis for US Air Forces Europe and Africa, said the plan focuses on pilot retention, production, and requirements.
The retention element was “critically important” and the one in which the service has seen the most advancement, he said. It includes increased pay and bonuses, more flexibility in assignments, and the reduction of the administrative duties that many find onerous or distracting.
“Sometimes instead of trying to create more aircrew, if we create more support personnel or keep the aircrew we have healthy, we can get more production out of” fewer people, Koscheski told Air Force Magazine.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told Air Force Times in June that the service was getting ready to announce a plan to reinvigorate squadrons, ensuring they have strong leaders and high morale.
“That, to me, is the secret sauce. That’s what’s going to keep people in. It’s what’s kept me in,” Goldfein said, without describing the plan.
Goldfein has also said he wants to push production to 1,400 to 1,500 pilots a year. (Others say 1,600 a year are needed to fix the shortfall.) But the force already faces challenges growing production from 1,200 pilots a year to 1,400.
President Donald Trump and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, second right, with two US Air Force pilots at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Sept. 15, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Scott M. Ash)
Finding airmen who want to be pilots generally hasn’t been the issue, however. What the Air Force has struggled with is getting student pilots through the training pipeline — a process complicated by a bottleneck created by a lack of pilots available to serve as instructors.
In 2018, the training process was further delayed by a month-long safety stand down for the Air Force’s T-6 Texan training aircraft, due to unexplained physiological events that endangered pilots.
Koscheski said the stand down led the force to train about 200 fewer pilots than expected, though he and other Air Force officers have said that pause gave the service time to reevaluate the training.
A syllabus redesign was done “first and foremost … to create better pilots,” Koscheski said. “The side benefit is it now takes five to nine weeks less to get pilots through pilot training, so … we’re able to get more [students] through [the pipeline], but now it just increases production.”
Researchers from the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies have also called on the Air Force to increase its use of contractors, arguing in a report in early 2018 that “innovative uses of contractors in the training pipeline” were needed to ramp up pilot production without depriving front-line squadrons of fliers.
A 64th Aggressor pilot on the flight line after a Red Flag 17-4 exercise sortie on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Aug. 25, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kevin Tanenbaum)
The Air Force has already brought in contractors to fill the role of “red air,” in which US pilots pose as rival aircraft.
Koscheski told Air Force Magazine that the service was considering bringing in contractors to be instructors.
‘A leap into the unknown’
The lack of instructors has led some training squadrons to implement stop-gap measures and compensate in other ways in order to use their limited resources in the most efficient way.
The 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona found out in 2017 it would only get 13 of the 26 F-16 instructor pilots it requested. Rather than spread the pain, the wing commander sent 12 of the new instructors to the 54th Fighter Group at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, which will take over F-16 training as the 56th shifts to F-35 training operations.
Back at Luke, Air Force officers decided to shift their remaining resources to the squadron training on newer-model F-16s. That shift was a better use of resources and better for pilots, they told Aviation Week in early 2018, but it still was “a leap into the unknown.”
Other bases are making changes to the training itself to handle more pilots with the same number of instructors.
Pilots prepare a T-6 Texan II for a training flight at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, June 13, 2018. The T-6 Texan II is the first aircraft Air Force Pilots learn to fly before moving on to more advanced aircraft.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Pettis)
At Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Air Force officials are preparing for an increase of more than 100 student pilots in the next few years. By 2021, the base expects to have about 450 student pilots.
“We have an increased student load coming, and from 2017 to 2021 the forecast is a 34 percent increase in students,” Col. Darrell Judy, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing, told The Oklahoman in July 2018.
But officials at Vance don’t expect to get more instructors for several years. Judy said the base would instead increase its use of simulators and change other parts of training in order to adjust to the increase.
“We believe we have found a way to trim off about six weeks from the current 54 weeks of training that students go through,” Judy said. “That will allow us a greater throughput [of students] with the amount of instructors we currently have now.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Hercules, in classical mythology, is a hero and god famous for his strength, travels, and adventures.
At the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, a black lab, appropriately named Hercules, is a hero to veterans, visitors, and VA staff. He’s their resident rock star and therapy dog, and he’s about to celebrate his third birthday.
Robert Lynch is a Marine, the Tampa VA Veterans Experience Officer, and proud dad to Hercules. As a service-connected veteran, Lynch is upfront and open discussing his physical and mental health needs, including mobility, depression and anxiety.
In 2017, Lynch applied for a therapy dog to help with his own overall health, but after further thought wanted to expand the role of his potential new best friend. He talked with Tampa VA Director Joe Battle about having a therapy dog as a VA staff member.
Battle loved the idea of a full-time canine on staff, as did other leadership and they created a hospital policy defining what would be the role of their new employee.
Southeastern Guide Dogs, a non-profit group that trains guide and service and therapy dogs, brought a few furry friends to meet Robert. Once Lynch met Hercules, he knew they had a special bond. The trainer from Southeastern saw it too, saying they were “surprised at how fast the two connected.”
To this day, Hercules doesn’t want Lynch out of his sight. While working at the Tampa VA, Hercules and Lynch do spend some time apart as Hercules goes with other trained handlers to visit different areas of the hospital. Hercules puts in about 50 hours a week, rotating visits to various clinics and care units.
A work day for Hercules can range from playing fetch with veterans in physical therapy, painting with veterans in a creative arts class, or playing a role in a Final Salute–a ceremony held inside the VA to honor a veteran who has passed. Hercules carries the flag and seeks out those who may need some emotional support.
Lynch received a call one day with a special request. A veteran in the hospice unit wanted to visit with Hercules again. Hercules was not scheduled to visit that part of the hospital that day, so Lynch made arrangements and took the intuitive black lab to see the patient as quickly as possible.
Hercules got in bed and snuggled the gentleman as he reminisced about his boyhood pup named Shadow and how Hercules reminded him of his beloved dog.
Lynch and Hercules spent about 45 minutes with the patient and then went back to their regular schedule. A short time later, Lynch received a call. “It was for a Final Salute. The same man that wanted to see Hercules in hospice had passed and they wanted us to be a part of the Final Salute.”
Director Joe Battle consoled Lynch by telling him, “You gave that man, that veteran, his last wish, there’s no better way to honor him.”
Hercules shakes with Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams at the VA Patient Experience Symposium.
As VA staff come in to start their day, several make sure to stop by Lynch’s office and get a hug from Hercules. Lynch knows the importance of this seemingly small gesture. “It’s just as important to enhance the staff experience as it is the veteran experience when they come to VA,” he said. “Something positive sets the tone for the work day and happier employees means happier customers.”
What does Hercules do to unwind and have fun? He takes breaks during the day and will lay at Lynch’s feet to rest and recharge. On the weekends, Lynch and his family take Hercules fishing and to his favorite spot–the dog beach.
“Sometimes I think he’s kinda bummed out that he’s not at the hospital every day. He likes to play with other dogs, but he really loves to be around people,” Lynch said. “He’s so devoted. I still have my own issues. I love to see him make others happy.”
Tampa VA will be celebrating Hercules’ 3rd birthday with a Barkday party, June 26, 2019, at 1pm. For details, visit the James A. Haley VA Medical Center’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/VATampa/.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.