A Mexican drug cartel, the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, or CJNG, has been caught with a kamikaze-style drone, marking an escalation of the threat posed by the non-state actors. The drone was discovered when Mexican police arrested four men in a stolen pickup truck.
The United States has been pursuing a number of counter-UAV technologies. One, the Battelle DroneDefender, can end drones running back to their home base. This could prove a nasty surprise for some bad guy using a drone with an IED. Nammo has developed programmable ammo to shoot down enemy drones. Another promising approach had been to use lasers. Last month, Lockheed and the Army tested the ATHENA laser system against five MQM-170C drones.
In any case, some of those counter-drone systems could very well find themselves being deployed on the southern border of the United States to counter the threat of cartel drones. The scary thing is, the cartels may not be the only folks using drones.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who took over after President Donald Trump accepted the resignation of Jim Mattis, reportedly hates the most expensive weapons system of all time, the F-35.
Shanahan worked for 31 years at Boeing, the F-35 maker Lockheed Martin’s main industry rival, and has reportedly said his old firm would have done a better job on the new stealth fighter.
A former senior Defense Department official told Politico that Shanahan described the F-35 stealth fighter as “f—ed up” and said its maker, Lockheed Martin, “doesn’t know how to run a program.”
While some may suspect Shanahan may be committing an ethical breach by speaking in favor of his former employer, others have also raised concerns with the F-35 program, which will cost taxpayers id=”listicle-2625730090″ trillion over the life of the program.
But instead of simply handing over the construction of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, meant as a single stealth fighter/bomber with 3 variants for ground launch, carrier launch, and short or vertical takeoff, others have proposed a radically different approach.
US Naval aircraft and aircraft from the Chilean Air Force participate in a fly-by adjacent to aircraft carrier USS George Washington.
“The F-35 is very capable in a very specific way,” Harmer said. “The only thing it does that legacy can’t do is stealth.”
The US’s F/A-18, F-15, and F-16 families of fighter aircraft, all Boeing products, bear the name of “legacy” aircraft, as they were designed during the Cold War before in a simpler time for aerial combat.
But Harmer suggested that instead of building the F-35, the US simply should have updated existing aircraft, like the F-15, the F-16, and the F/A-18.
“For a fraction of the cost for F-35 development, we could have updated legacy aircraft and gotten a significant portion of the F-35 capabilities,” Harmer said. The F/A-18 carrier-based fighter, for example, has already undergone extensive reworkings, and the F/A-18 Super Hornet, which is 25% larger than the original F/A-18, has a smaller radar cross-section than its predecessor and is one of the US’s cheaper planes to buy and operate.
F-35 pilots and military experts have told Business Insider that the F-35’s advantages include its advanced array of sensors and ability to network with other platforms. Combined with its stealth design, an F-35 can theoretically achieve a synergy as a sensor/fighter/bomber that operates deep within enemy territory in ways that legacy aircraft never could.
Fully armed Aircraft from the 18th Wing during the no-notice exercise.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)
But Harmer, and other F-35 detractors including legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, still think the F-35 was a waste of money. According to Harmer, proven legacy fighters could be retrofit with the advanced avionics and helmet for targeting that fighters out of Russia have long used.
An F-15, the Air Force’s air-superiority fighter, with fifth-generation avionics and targeting capability, still lacks the integrated stealth design of an F-35. Stealth must be worked into the geometry of the plane and simply won’t do as an afterthought. In today’s contested battle spaces, a legacy fighter, no matter how you update it, still lights up brightly and clearly on enemy radar and is therefore less survivable to the pilots — something US military planners have refused to accept.
“The only advantage of the F-35 is to go into highly contested airspace,” Harmer said, adding that the US had “literally never done that.”
Plus, the US already has another fifth-generation aircraft with even better stealth in its inventory: the F-22. In fact, when the US does discuss operations in the world’s most contested airspaces, it’s the F-22 it talks about sending.
(US Air Force photo)
The Pentagon believes in stealth and wants you to too
“There are other, less expensive ways to address highly contested airspace — cruise missiles, standoff weapons, radar jamming,” Harmer said. The F-35 does radar jamming, or electronic warfare, but the same electronic attacks could theoretically be delivered by a cruise missile.
Even Trump publicly weighed abandoning the F-35C, the carrier variant of the jet, for the F/A-18, the US’s current naval fighter/bomber. Ultimately, Trump seems to have landed in favor of the stealth jet, which he now routinely claims is invisible.
Harmer’s view of an alternate path to the F-35 represents a different military philosophy than what the Pentagon has accepted since 2001, when it launched the F-35 program.
But today the F-35’s problems are mostly behind it, and operators of the next-generation aircraft have told Business Insider they’re supremely confident in the plane’s ability to fight and win wars in the toughest airspaces on earth.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Flying close to ground troops in combat in hostile and high-threat conditions requires a host of unique attributes for an aircraft — such as flying slow and low to the ground, absorbing some degree of small arms fire and having an ability to quickly maneuver in response to fast-changing ground combat conditions.
These and many more are among factors now being analyzed as proponents of both the A-10 Warthog and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter assess their respective abilities to perform the crucial and highly valued Close Air Support mission. The Pentagon and the Air Force are now conducting a thorough examination of each plane’s capability for this role – including extensive analysis, simulated tests, flights of both aircraft under combat-like conditions and a range of tests, Air Force and Pentagon officials have explained. While many of the details of the ongoing evaluation are not now being discussed publically, the results are expected to bear prominently upon the visible ongoing debate regarding the future mission scope of both the A-10 and the F-35.
While the cherished A-10 is unambiguously combat-tested in the role of Close Air Support, some F-35 advocates have mused that the JSF sensors, maneuverability, high-tech computers, 25mm canon and arsenal of weapons just might better position the 5th generation aircraft for the mission; at the same time, the A-10s titanium frame, built-in redundancy, famous nose-aligned 30mm cannon and wide-ranging precision-weapons envelope make clearly make it the best choice for close air support.
Sure enough, the A-10s performance against ISIS, Congressional lobby and broad adoration among ground troops are among the many factors believed to have influenced the Air Force’s current plan to both extend the life of the current A-10 and also explore requirements options for a future Close Air Support platform. Air Force officials have told Scout Warrior the ongoing requirements and analysis procedure is looking at three options – upgrading the existing A-10 airframe, using the best available commercial-off-the shelf aircraft, or simply engineering an building a newly designed A-10-like Close Air Support airplane.
Many A-10 proponents are convinced that there is no other plane capable of succeeding with the highly-dangerous, revered and essential Close Air Support Mission. Nevertheless, the Air Force does plan to use the emerging F-35 for Close Air Support moving into the next decade. In addition, F-35 advocates argue that the stealth aircraft’s speed, maneuverability and high-tech weapons and sensors give the F-35 a decisive Close Air Support advantage.
In the meantime, the F-35 weapons integration including live fire drops, weapons separation assessments and modifications for future munitions adaptions is progressing as well alongside the existing F-35/A-10 analysis.
The aircraft has already demonstrated an ability to fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDADM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), and AIM 9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
So-called “Block 3F” software for the F-35 increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb and 500-pound JDAM.
By the early 2020s, the F-35 is slated to be configured with a next-generation Small Diameter Bomb II
As a multi-role fighter, the F-35 is also engineered to function as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform designed to apprehend and process video, data and information from long distances. Some F-35 developers have gone so far as to say the F-35 has ISR technologies comparable to many drones in service today that are able to beam a “soda straw” video view of tactically relevant combat locations in real time.
Built-in ISR is an asset which could have the effect of greatly helping close-air-support efforts.
Also, F-35 advocates reiterate that the airplane’s high-tech Electro-Optical Targeting System and 360-degree sensors Distributed Aperture System will give the newer aircraft an uncontested combat and close-air-support ability. The F-35s so-called computer-enabled “sensor fusion” might enable it to more quickly ascertain and destroy moving targets by gathering, integrating and presenting fast-changing combat dynamics and circumstances.
Finally, the F-35’s stealth configuration and speed is expected to better enable it to evade air defenses and move closer to emerging ground-targets in many instances — and its air-to-air ability will enable the aircraft to respond to potential air-threats which could appear in the course of a ground-support mission.
AIM-9X Sidewinder Missile
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fired an AIM-9X Sidewinder infrared-guided air-to-air missile for the first time earlier this year over a Pacific Sea Test Range, Pentagon officials said.
The F-35 took off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and launched the missile at 6,000 feet, an Air Force statement said.
Designed as part of the developmental trajectory for the emerging F-35, the test-firing facilities further development of an ability to fire the weapon “off-boresight,” described as an ability to target and destroy air to air targets that are not in front of the aircraft with a direct or immediate line of sight, Pentagon officials explained.
“If you think if a boresight in terms of a firearm… that’s the adjustments made to an optical sight, to align the barrel of a firearm with the sights. If you think of it in aircraft terms… traditionally air-to-air missiles are fired at targets in front of the them,” Joint Strike Fighter Program Office spokesman Joe DellaVedova, told Scout Warrior.
The AIM-9X, he described, incorporates an agile thrust vector controlled airframe and the missile’s high off-boresight capability can be used with an advanced helmet (or a helmet-mounted sight) for a wider attack envelope.
“For example, instead of having to position the aircraft directly in front or behind the enemy fighter… a high off-boresight weapon enables the pilot to just look to the left, right or up and down to engage a target, fire it and the missile locks on for the kill,” he explained.
The AIM-9X missile, which can also be fired at surface-to-air and air-to-surface, is currently in use on a number of existing fighter aircraft such as the Air Force’s F-15E and F-16 and the Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet.
Engineered by Raytheon, the newest AIM-9X Block II weapons are built with a redesigned fuse for increased safety and a lock-on-launch capability. The missile is also configured with a data link to support what’s called “beyond visual range” engagements, meaning targets at much farther ranges picked up by sensors or early warning radar. This could provide a fighter jet with an ability to destroy enemy targets in the air while remaining at a safer stand-off distance less exposed to hostile fire.
“The AIM-9X Sidewinder is an infrared-guided, air-to-air missile employing a focal plane array sensor for unparalleled target acquisition and tracking, augmented by jet vane control technology for extreme maneuverability against a variety of high performance threats,” Mark Justus, Raytheon AIM-9X program director, told Scout Warrior in a written statement. “The missile also has proven capability in air-to-surface and demonstrated capability in surface-to-air missions.”
The AIM-9X Block II is the current version of the AIM-9 Sidewinder short range missile family in use by more than 40 nations throughout the world, Justus added.
“The AIM-9X missile has been acquired by twenty international partners. It is configured for easy installation on a wide variety of modern fighter aircraft and we are excited to complete this milestone of the first AIM-9X live fire from the F-35 as we progress through the aircraft/missile integration activities,” he said.
Weapons integration for the F-35 is designed to evolve in tandem with software advances for the aircraft, described as “increments.” Each increment, involving massive amounts of lines of computer code, improves the platform’s ability to integrate, carry and fire a wider range of weapons.
Block 2B, for example, is already operational and builds upon the enhanced simulated weapons, data link capabilities and early fused sensor integration of the earlier Block 2A software drop.
Block 2B enables the JSF to provide basic close air support and fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), JSF program officials have said.
The next increment, Blocks 3i will increase the combat capability even further and Block 3F will bring a vastly increased ability to suppress enemy air defenses.
The Air Force plans to reach operational status with software Block 3i in 2016. Full operational capability will come with Block 3F, service officials said.
Block 3F will increase the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, Air Force officials said.
F-35 25mm Gatling Gun
Last Fall, the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter completed the first aerial test of its 25mm Gatling gun embedded into the left wing of the aircraft, officials said.
The test took place Oct. 30, 2015 in California, Pentagon officials described.
“This milestone was the first in a series of test flights to functionally evaluate the in-flight operation of the F-35A’s internal 25mm gun throughout its employment envelope,” a Pentagon statement said.
The Gatling gun will bring a substantial technology to the multi-role fighter platform, as it will better enable the aircraft to perform air-to-air attacks and close-air support missions to troops on the ground – a task of growing consequence given the Air Force plan to retire the A-10.
Called the Gun Airborne Unit, or GAU-22/A, the weapon is engineered into the aircraft in such a manner as to maintain the platform’s stealth configuration.
The four-barrel 25mm gun is designed for rapid fire in order to quickly blanket an enemy with gunfire and destroy targets quickly. The weapon is able to fire 3,300 rounds per minute, according to a statement from General Dynamics.
“Three bursts of one 30 rounds and two 60 rounds each were fired from the aircraft’s four-barrel, 25-millimeter Gatling gun. In integrating the weapon into the stealthy F-35A airframe, the gun must be kept hidden behind closed doors to reduce its radar cross section until the trigger is pulled,” a statement from the Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter said.
The first phase of test execution consisted of 13 ground gunfire events over the course of three months to verify the integration of the gun into the F-35A, the JSF office said.
“Once verified, the team was cleared to begin this second phase of testing, with the goal of evaluating the gun’s performance and integration with the airframe during airborne gunfire in various flight conditions and aircraft configurations,” the statement added.
The new gun will also be integrated with the F-35’s software so as to enable the pilot to see and destroy targets using a helmet-mounted display.
The gun is slated to be operational by 2017.
Small Diameter Bomb II
The Air Force is engineering and testing a new air-dropped weapon able to destroy moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions at ranges greater than 40-miles, Air Force and Raytheon officials said.
The Small Diameter Bomb II, or SDB II, is designed to integrate onto the F-35 by 2022 or 2023; it is engineered todestroy moving targets in all kinds of weather, such as small groups of ISIS or terrorist fighters on-the-move in pick-up trucks.
A weapon of this kind would be of extreme relevance against ISIS fighters as the group is known to deliberately hide among civilian populations and make movements under cloud cover or adverse weather in order to avoid detection from overhead surveillance technologies.
While the Air Force currently uses a laser-guided bomb called the GBU-54 able to destroy moving targets, the new SDB II will be able to do this at longer ranges and in all kinds of weather conditions. In addition, the SDB II is built with a two-way, dual-band data link which enables it to change targets or adjust to different target locations while in flight.
A key part of the SDB II is a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker — a guidance system which can direct the weapon using millimeter wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared guidance and semi-active laser technology.
A tri-mode seeker provides a range of guidance and targeting options typically not used together in one system. Millimeter wave radar gives the weapon an ability to navigate through adverse weather, conditions in which other guidance systems might encounter problems reaching or pinpointing targets.
Imagining infrared guidance allows the weapon to track and hone in on heat signatures such as the temperature of an enemy vehicle. With semi-active laser technology, the weapon can be guided to an exact point using a laser designator or laser illuminator coming from the air or the ground.
Also, the SBD II brings a new ability to track targets in flight through use of a two-way Link 16 and UHF data link, Raytheon officials said.
The millimeter wave radar turns on first. Then the data link gives it a cue and tells the seeker where to open up and look. Then, the weapon can turn on its IR (infrared) which uses heat seeking technology, Raytheon officials said.
The SBD II is engineered to weigh only 208 pounds, a lighter weight than most other air dropped bombs, so that eight of them can fit on the inside of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Raytheon officials explained.
Zukunft reiterated that point time and again during an Aug. 24 speech to members of the Alaska policy nonprofit Commonwealth North in Anchorage.
He recalled a conversation he had with then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice when Rice asked him what President Barack Obama should highlight shortly before the president’s extended trip to Alaska in late August 2015.
“I said (to Rice) we are an Arctic nation. We have not made the right investments and we do not have the strategic assets to be an Arctic nation and that translates to icebreakers and that’s almost exactly what President Obama said when he came up here,” Zukunft said.
“Fast forward — it’s Jan. 20, 2017, and I’m sitting next to President Trump and as they’re parading by he says, ‘So, you got everything you need?’ I said, ‘I don’t. The last administration, they made a statement but they didn’t show me the money. I need icebreakers.’ (Trump said) ‘How many?’ ‘Six.’ ‘You got it.’
“You never miss an opportunity,” Zukunft quipped.
It’s well documented in Alaska that the US has “one-and-a-half” operable icebreakers. That is, the heavy icebreaker Polar Star and the medium icebreaker Healy, which are in the Coast Guard’s fleet. A sister ship to the Polar Star, the Polar Sea remains inactive after an engine failure in 2010.
Zukunft noted Russia’s current fleet of 41 icebreakers to emphasize how far behind he feels the US is in preparing for increased military and commercial activity in the Arctic as sea ice continues to retreat — a message Alaska’s congressional delegation stresses as well.
“We are the only military service that’s truly focused on what’s happening in the Arctic and what happens in the Arctic does not happen in isolation,” Zukunft said.
He added that Russia is on track to deliver two more cruise missile-equipped icebreakers in 2020.
“I’m not real comfortable with them right on our back step coming through the Bering Strait and operating in this domain when we have nothing to counter it with,” he said.
The Coast Guard’s 2017 budget included a $150 million request to fund a new medium icebreaker, which Zukunft characterized as a “down payment” on the vessel expected to cost about $780 million, according to an Aug. 15 Congressional Research Service report on the progress of adding to the country’s icebreaking fleet.
For years it was estimated that new heavy icebreakers would cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion each, but those estimates have been revised down as the benefits of lessons learned through construction of the initial vessel and ordering multiple icebreakers from the same shipyard are further examined.
The CRS report now estimates the first heavy icebreaker will cost about $980 million to build, but by the fourth that price tag would go down to about $690 million for an average per-vessel cost of about $790 million. That is on par with the cost for a single new medium icebreaker.
Zukunft said the Coast Guard is working with five shipyards on an accelerated timeline to get the first icebreaker by 2023, but how it will be fully funded is still unclear.
“We have great bipartisan support but who is going to write the check?” he said, adding that aside from Russia and China, the United States’ economy is larger than that of the other 18 nations with icebreakers combined.
The Obama administration first proposed a high-level funding plan for new icebreakers in 2013 that has not been advanced outside of small appropriations.
“Our GDP (gross domestic product) is at least five times that of Russia and we’re telling ourselves we can’t afford it,” Zukunft continued. “Now this is just an issue of political will and not having the strategic forbearance to say this is an investment that we must have.”
He also advocated for the US finally signing onto the United Nations Law of the Sea treaty, which lays out the broad ground rules for what nations control off their coasts and how they interact in international waters.
Not signing onto the Law of the Sea, which was opened in 1982, leaves the US little say as other nations further study and potentially exploit the Arctic waters that are opening, he said.
“We are in the same club as Yemen; we are in the Star Wars bar of misfits of countries that have not ratified the Law of the Sea convention,” Zukunft said.
Johnie Webb’s corner office is full of memories from a grim but fulfilling mission.
As the Army veteran leans over his desk — strewn with gifts given to him over the course of a 40-year career — he grabs a wooden box and pulls out a modest bracelet. Engraved on stainless steel reads the name of a staff sergeant killed in the Vietnam War.
When he begins to share the story of how he received it, his light blue eyes well up with tears.
“I keep it on my desk, because this is what we’re all about,” said Webb, deputy of outreach and communications for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Since 1975, Webb has traveled dozens of times to former combat zones as a Soldier and later as a civilian for the joint agency or one of its predecessors. The agency is responsible for locating the remains of the more than 82,000 Americans who are still missing from past conflicts.
While much of his time had been in search of those fallen service members, Webb, 72, is now an advocate for their families who continue to wait for updates.
“I’m not going to say closure, because I’m not sure if there ever is closure when you lose a loved one. But at least [we can] provide them answers and give that loved one back,” he said. “That’s extremely important and I’m honored to play a small part.”
Early in his Army career, Webb, a retired lieutenant colonel, led convoys as a logistics officer all over Vietnam to ensure bases had fuel for operations during the war.
Under the constant threat of roadside bombs and ambushes, he briefed his Soldiers to move their vehicle out of the road if it were ever hit so other vehicles could escape.
“If you block the road, then we’re all done,” he recalled saying.
During one of those missions, a Soldier did just that after a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cab of his 5-ton vehicle and left him with severe burns.
His sacrifice was something Webb never forgot.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t survive,” he said. “But he probably saved the rest of us by doing what we were trained to do and that was to get his truck off the road.”
A few years after his tour, the Army assigned Webb to the Central Identification Laboratory-Thailand, which was later moved to Hawaii and consolidated into DPAA.
The role of the new unit was to find the remains of Americans from the Vietnam War.
At first, he was confused, he said, since he knew nothing about the organization or its mission. In the Army’s eyes, though, he was qualified for the job because as a young lieutenant he once took a course on graves registration.
It would eventually come full circle for Webb in 1985, when he was chosen to lead the first recovery team into Vietnam only a decade after the end of the war.
“It became very personal for me,” he said, regarding the sacrifices made by fallen comrades. “We couldn’t let them be forgotten.”
Being back in Vietnam was initially “unnerving,” he said. After all, he had once fought an enemy there and it was uncertain how his team would be treated.
The mission was to search for human remains from a B-52 bomber crash site near Hanoi. But the team’s visit to Vietnam was also an opportunity to rebuild the diplomatic relationship between the former warring nations.
The Vietnamese still distrusted Americans then, he said, and even photographed his team with cameras that were crudely hidden in briefcases.
Now, more than 30 years after that first mission, Vietnamese officials work closely with the DPAA teams that rotate in and out of the country each year. The agency is even permitted to permanently base one of its detachments in Hanoi to support teams as they search for roughly 1,600 Americans missing from that war.
“We were there before we had diplomatic relations. We were there before an embassy was ever established,” Webb said. “A lot of groundbreaking effort went into getting us to where we are today.”
While the agency’s mission started with the work to account for those lost in Vietnam, it grew to include sites from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and other conflicts.
Webb was again behind another pioneering effort, but this time in North Korea. He and others took several trips to the country and helped negotiate with the North Koreans so teams could conduct missions at former battle sites from 1996 to 2005.
They even traveled from the capital, Pyongyang, to the Chosin Reservoir, where a decisive battle had taken place in the winter of 1950. As they were driven through the country, Webb recalled seeing how desperate the North Koreans had lived.
“It was very interesting times,” he said, “but it made sure you were really appreciative of being an American.”
As U.S. and North Korean governments currently aim to thaw relations between each other, Webb hopes it will lead the reclusive country to reopen its borders to the agency’s teams.
About 7,700 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.
“If we want to get answers to the families, and we definitely want to get them answers, we’re going to have to get access back into North Korea,” he said.
With the days of digging at excavation sites now behind him, Webb maintains a pivotal role in keeping families, distinguished visitors and veterans service organizations apprised of agency efforts.
“I couldn’t say enough good things about Johnie Webb and the fact that he is literally one of the staunchest contributors to this mission,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.
McKeague, a former Air Force major general, credits Webb’s “Texas roots” for his compassion and calm demeanor. There is no better person, McKeague said, to speak with families struggling with loss.
“Johnie has a sense about him to be able to communicate with them, to be empathetic to them, and to literally not just be their friend but be their confidant,” he said. “They have so much confidence in him.”
Whether in a foreign country or back at the headquarters in Hawaii, Webb said the younger troops at the agency have always impressed him.
“Most of them weren’t even born when the guy who they are trying to recover was lost,” he said. “Still, they feel that kinship to that military buddy who wore the uniform for them.”
The “grunt work” these troops — many of whom are Soldiers — do at an excavation site can take months to years to find remains, if there are any. Once recovered, it can take even longer to identify them by lab staff.
While the long process sometimes leaves families irritated, the agency wants to ensure human remains are properly excavated and identified.
“Not only is it frustrating to the families, it gets frustrating for us as well because we want to provide those answers,” Webb said. “We want to return that loved one, but we want to do it right.”
When the answers do come, some family members do not want to believe them.
Inside a wooden box on his desk, the engraved bracelet reminds Webb of one such family member.
The father of the staff sergeant whose name is on the bracelet often spoke to Webb about his missing son before he was found. He had hoped his son was still alive and pleaded to Webb to bring him back.
A team then discovered remains from a site of a crashed helicopter, which the staff sergeant was on. Shortly after, Webb advised the father to prepare to receive his son’s remains so he could honor his life.
“It was clear that he was not wanting to hear that,” Webb remembered.
Webb asked other families who knew the grief-stricken father and had also lost loved ones to talk to him so he could come to terms with the news. He finally did.
When his son’s remains were returned to the family, there was a huge outpouring of public support. The funeral had full military honors and even dignitaries showed up to it.
“It was a day of celebration for this young man to come back home,” Webb said. “I was happy that he had honored his son the way he should have been honored.”
A few weeks later, a brown envelope addressed to Johnie Webb came in the mail. In it, there was a “thank you” note along with the bracelet, which the father always wore.
“I’m giving to you the POW bracelet that I have worn since my son was lost,” Webb said, recalling what the father wrote. “I finally took it off when he came back home. I want you to have it as a token of my appreciation.”
For World War I pilots, the most terrifying song that relates to their experience may not be Seven Nation Army but 99 Luftballoons, because going against barrage and observation balloons in the Great War was terrifying.
Barrage balloons over London in World War II.
Pilots with the balls and skill to attack these balloons were known as balloon busters, and ones that had shot down more than five of the balloons were known as balloon aces. And yes, shooting down a balloon counted as a “kill,” same as shooting down a piloted enemy plane.
But what made them so hard to shoot down? After all, they were just a bunch of floating bags of air. Pop ’em with a needle and get on with your day, right?
First, military balloons weren’t made of cheap Mylar or latex. Many in World War I were made of tightly woven fabric, though vulcanized rubber and Thiokol rubber were prominent in World War II. All of these materials could take plenty of hits without splitting, meaning bullets that passed through them caused them to leak instead of to pop.
A row of spherical barrage balloons used for suspending aerial nets
(Australian War Memorial)
So they couldn’t simply be popped, and it often took a lot of rounds to bring one down. But if a fighter did manage to slay the beast, he wasn’t out of danger yet. While American balloons in World War II were sometimes filled with helium, none of the early Great War combatants had access to that gas, and hydrogen was the preferred gas for barrage balloons anyway.
Why? Well, for the same reason it was bad for the Hindenburg. Observation balloons had people in them, people who would’ve loved helium instead of hydrogen over their heads. But barrage balloons were empty, and filling them with hydrogen meant that, when destroyed, the balloons had a tendency to go out in massive fireballs. This was a huge threat to the fighters attacking it.
It also meant that fighters had one advantage though: Incendiary rounds were very effective against the balloons. But in World War I, pretty much only the British had incendiary rounds in planes. Everyone else was slinging cold metal. And incendiary rounds didn’t stay hot forever, generally traveling only 300 to 400 yards while still burning. You did not want to be 300 yards from an exploding balloon and still flying towards it as you would have to be to effectively shoot at it.
Barrage balloons and their crews in World War II.
(Royal Air Force)
Fine, fine, fine. The balloons were hard to shoot down and, when shot down, might explode in a big fireball and kill the attacking fighter. Fine. Just fly around them, right? Let the Germans have their balloons over their lines, maybe bring in some air defense artillery to shoot at it. But let the fighters avoid them.
Nope. For two reasons. First, those observation balloons were an enduring threat from the moment they went up until the moment they went down. Artillery observers sat in them and reported troops positions and movements to their friendly artillery for hours, allowing German crews to hit English, French, and U.S. positions all day. They had to be killed.
American pilot Frank Luke poses with his 13th confirmed kill.
So observation balloons and barrage balloons were lethal, terrifying, and absolutely had to be destroyed, and some of America, England, and France’s top aces proved their mettle by flying at the things, especially in World War I. In fact, some of the top decorated fighter pilots of World War I had few wins against human-piloted planes, but a dozen or more against balloons.
Will Coppens, a Belgian pilot, personally awarded a medal by King Albert I had only shot down two enemy planes in his career, but he had taken down an astounding 35 enemy balloons. The next highest scoring pilot after him was Frenchman Leon Bourjade with 27. So, yeah, Coppens earned that medal from his king.
America’s top balloon buster was Frank Luke, a mouthy pilot who was looked down upon by his peers when he arrived in France. He claimed his first fighter kill in August 1918, but no one else had witnessed the feat, and he was written off as a blowhard. So, after hearing how hard balloons were to take down, he attacked one on September 12 and, after three passes, destroyed it right before it reached the safety of the ground where the observers could clamber out.
German observation balloons allowed for intelligence gathering and highly accurate artillery fire, and barrage balloons created persistent threats to enemy fighters.
(State Library of New South Wales)
Luke bagged another two balloons two days later. His wingman that day, 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, formed a team with him that specialized in balloon busting and turned the whole thing into a traveling show, sending invitations to VIPs to witness German balloons blowing up at set times and places. But it was too bold to last, and Wehner was shot down on September 18 while taking down his fifth balloon, giving him balloon ace status in death.
Distraught, Luke went off the deep end, taking more and more risks in flight to the point that his superiors grounded the already famous pilot who, by that point, had 11 victories against balloons and four against fighters, making him America’s ace of aces. On September 29, he stole a plane and dropped a note to the ground that told observers to watch German balloons over the Meuse.
Luke flew into the teeth of the enemy, dodging ground fire and eight enemy fighters as he took down one balloon after the others, destroying all three in the area before he was shot down. He survived the wreck and pulled his pistol, fending off a German patrol and killing multiple members of it until a German round drilled him in the chest.
He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and the Medal of Honor for his heroics in September 1918, going to his grave as America’s best-ever balloon buster with 14 kills against balloons and four against fighters.
The Israeli media dubbed it the “Double Miracle In Gaza” — a Hamas fighter took shots at an IDF soldier, hitting him in his cache of grenades. If life were a movie, we know what would happen next.
Luckily life is most definitely not like the movies. The soldier in question (his name was not released by the media) was operating in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.
After the murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, the IDF launched Operation Brother’s Keeper. The goal was for the IDF to move in and arrest Hamas leadership and the militants responsible for the killings. In response, the terror group fired a number of rockets into Israel from Gaza.
That’s when the IDF moved in on the missile sites.
The soldier’s unit was in Shuja’iyya, in the north of Gaza, where many of Hamas rockets are fired into Israel. Shuja’iyya is a major urban center and is also densely populated. Hamas fired an estimated 140 rockets from the city during the conflict.
His unit was looking for the secret tunnels Hamas uses to sneak into Israel across a blockade. As they moved, an AK-47 round hit a grenade attached to his protective vest. The grenade stopped the bullet and –miraculously – didn’t explode.
The Israelis determined that the bullet was at the end of its effectiveness range, that it was fired from very far away, and didn’t have the energy required to penetrate the vest.
As for the grenade, it’s designed that way. A series of combat incidents involving grenades hitting grenades and exploding in the IDF caused the Israeli military to revamp their grenade design.
After the incident, the IDF cleared Shuja’iyya of Hamas fighters, then bulldozed a number of buildings to collapse the illegal tunnels — tunnels used to smuggle small arms, missiles, and other weapons into Gaza. The IDF then moved on to secure other areas near Gaza’s northern border with Israel.
The best entrepreneurs are like a good cup of coffee: fresh, strong, and bold.
Army Green Beret turned coffee brew master, Evan Hafer, is exactly that. As the CEO of Black Rifle Coffee, Hafer says they’re selling freedom, one cup at a time.
It’s a great tagline. You know what else? It’s an incredible business. The company roasts over a million pounds of coffee per year and grosses over $30 million annually. This isn’t a veteran with a hobby; this is a savvy businessman with a passion.
Here’s my 60 second interview with Evan, filmed recently at the White House.
As the CEO of StreetShares, my team and I fund America’s best veteran-owned businesses with veteran business loans, and contract or invoice financing. The questions we get asked over and over again are how to break away from the crowd; how to stand out as an entrepreneur. Here’s how:
Lesson 1: Find your passion.
“I fell in love with coffee 20 years ago,” Hafer told me. “I was the only guy who invaded Iraq with a bunch of boutique, small-roasted coffees.” Eventually, he began roasting for his fellow soldiers; they even converted a gun truck into a spot where they could grind coffee every morning.
To be a successful entrepreneur, the first thing you need to do is hone in on your passion. What’s going to make you want to get out of bed every day and hit the pavement until you can’t work anymore? If you’re not passionate about your business, why would anyone else be? Find out what drives you, then figure out how to make money doing it.
Hafer told me, “When I got back from the Middle East, all I wanted to do was roast.” That’s exactly what he did.
Lesson 2: Be clear in your vision.
Hafer knew his passion had potential. He teamed up with some friends at Article15 Clothing and did a test-drive of his Freedom Roast coffee on their site. They sold about 500 pounds of coffee, and it inspired him to launch Black Rifle Coffee in December 2014. “Conceptually, guns and coffee go together very well,” he said. “Every range that I’ve been to, coffee has been part of shooting.” He knew what he wanted to create: A lifestyle brand centered on supporting the 2nd Amendment in conjunction with great coffee. “You’re not going to find that anywhere else,” Hafer added.
Hafer’s time in the Army served him well in transitioning to life as an entrepreneur. “In the military, you have to push yourself past mental and physical limits, every day to the point where you’re almost desensitized to the work,” he explained. “Now I feel like I have an endless capacity to just always work. The military gave me the context to reach into basically a bottomless well of endurance.
Lesson 3: Be fearless.
One of the most important assets veteran entrepreneurs bring to the table that their civilian counterparts don’t always have is perspective. “While serving, you’ve been in the worst places,” Hafer offered. “The worst business you are put in will never compare to the worst experience that war puts you in.
“That realization is ultimately what encourages Hafer to be fearless. He explained, “I’m not going to lose my life or kill anyone. That allows me to fail and fail fast, so I can learn from my mistakes. At the end of the day, I don’t care. It doesn’t harm my ego – I just embrace the failure and move on.”
Any entrepreneur will tell you that failure is a part of the game. How you handle risk, and incorporate it into your business model will dictate whether or not you’ll be successful.
Lesson 4: Be you.
Hafer always wanted to roast coffee. Now, he wants to make other people a lot of money doing it. “I’d rather make 100 people millionaires than make $100 million dollars myself,” Hafer shared. “This company is a good opportunity to make money.”
One of Hafer’s first hires was a soldier who served alongside him in Afghanistan. With 86 employees, 60 percent are veterans . That was a big part of Hafer’s vision. “It’s not PR – it’s who we are,” Hafer said. “This company is about freedom. It’s not about social issues. The premise of the company is, ‘You do you.'”
Next time you go to order a latte, think about the lessons you can learn from Evan Hafer. Then order your coffee like a good entrepreneur: fresh, strong, and bold.
Jonathan Pollard, the most damaging spy in U.S. history, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for passing documents to Israel. After thirty years in jail, he was released on parole to great fanfare from his wife, the government in Israel, and the American pro-Israel lobby. According to Pollard’s lawyers, he will be required to wear an electronic bracelet so his movements can be monitored at all times and his computers and those of any employer who hires him will be subjected to “unfettered monitoring and inspection.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the release “a dream come true” and that “the people of Israel welcome his release.” The PM’s office restricted celebrations of his release in hopes the American government will allow him to travel to Israel sooner.
While Israel is an American ally and has access to a lot of American intelligence, the information provided by Pollard to Israel is said to have caused grave damage to the national security of the United States. The information was so damaging, when President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, presented an assessment of Pollard’s spying to the presiding judge in his trial, the judge threw out Pollard’s plea deal and threw the book at him and his wife.
Weinberger said he sought to “dispel any presumption that disclosures to an ally are insignificant; to the contrary, substantial and irrevocable damage has been done to this nation.”
The most damaging release included the 10-volume Radio and Signal Intelligence [RASIN] manual, aka “the Bible,” detailing the entire U.S. global listening profile, “frequency by frequency, source by source, geographic slice by geographic slice. RASIN was in effect, a complete roadmap to American signal intelligence.” The manual revealed which communications channels of which powers, in which regions, the NSA was intercepting and in what order of priority, providing insight on where and what actions the U.S. military might take next.
The memo said many documents the spy gave the Israelis included details on sourcing and the identifications of U.S. agents abroad. Among other information Pollard admits giving to Israel:
Detailed information about a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) HQ in Tunisia
Iraqi and Syrian chemical warfare factory locations and production capabilities
Regular PLO operations plans
Soviet arms shipments to Arab states unfriendly to Israel
Soviet fighter jet information
Information about Pakistani nuclear weapons programs
“Unauthorized disclosures to friendly powers may cause as great a harm to the national security as to hostile powers because, once the information is removed from secure control systems, there is no enforceable requirement nor any incentive to provide effective controls for its safekeeping,” the memo read.
The CIA believes the information Pollard gave them might have been traded to the Soviet Union in exchange for looser travel restrictions of Russian Jews trying to emigrate to Israel.
Pollard claimed he was acting in a sense of altruism and loyalty toward Israel. Yet, In an exhaustive 1987 report, NCIS investigator Ron Olive alleged Pollard passed material on to South Africa and tried to pass it on to Pakistan as well. He took intelligence documents about China which his wife used to advance her business interests. He passed No Foreign Access (NOFORN) information on to an Australian Navy officer.The government’s case against Pollard included unsuccessful attempts to broker arms deals with South Africa, Argentina, Taiwan, Pakistan, and Iran. And for all of Pollard’s altruism, he accepted more than $30,000 in cash and luxury items from Israel in exchange for information.
Many former Department of Defense officials are against his release. Some prominent Jewish-American figures are against it. Even once-ardent supporters of Pollard disagree with the timing. Ron Olive, the NCIS investigator who caught Pollard after he handed more than a million documents to Israeli agents over 18 months, believes the spy should stay in jail. So does Vice-President Joe Biden. Then-CIA director George Tenet threatened his resignation if President Clinton released Pollard in the late 1990s.
Deciding to be a Marine means you have to accept the challenges that you’ll have to face along the way. Earning that Eagle, Globe, and Anchor is no easy task. To become a Marine, you have to be willing to stare every challenge straight in the eye and say, “I got this.” That’s what it means to be a Marine. That is the very quality at the core of every person who becomes one. This is no exception for Michael Campofiori, one of the Corps’ newest Marines — and a survivor of leukemia.
According to the American Cancer Society, patients with childhood leukemia very rarely survive after five years. This disease is a monster of a challenge for anyone to overcome, and it’s a tragedy for any child to have to experience. That didn’t stop Michael Campofiori from wanting to become a Marine, despite being diagnosed at age 11.
This would be his first challenge on a path of many:
Michael Campofiori poses for a photo with Sgt. William Todd, a recruiter with Recruiting Substation Myrtle Beach, and Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Falk, the Staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge of Recruiting Substation Myrtle Beach, after swearing in to the Marine Corps on Aug. 16, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lcpl Jack Rigsby)
Joining the military is difficult when leukemia is a part of your medical history. There’s a special waiver for it, but Campofiori had trouble finding recruiters willing to take on the paperwork and help him realize his dream of becoming a Marine. The journey took him, a native of New Jersey, all the way to South Carolina.
Poolees with RSS Myrtle Beach posing with the recruiters.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lcpl Jack Rigsby)
The recruiters at Recruiting Substation Myrtle Beach were willing to do the work necessary to get Campofiori in. They felt he had what it took — and they were absolutely right. Not only did his waiver go through, but Campofiori dominated as a Poolee, earning nearly a perfect score on the Initial Strength Test, the prerequisite fitness test for eligibility to join.
Of the maximum 20 pull-ups, 100 crunches, and 9:00 minute run-time, this badass got 29 pull-ups, 121 crunches, and a 9:18 run-time for the mile and a half. He wasn’t even a Marine before he was going above and beyond.
Michael Campofiori, a recruit with Platoon 2020, Company E, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, participates in the Day Movement Course as part of Basic Warrior Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, Feb. 6, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jack A. E. Rigsby)
Campofiori was sent to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina on Dec. 10, 2018. Of course, the challenge isn’t over there — boot camp is its own obstacle to overcome. It’s difficult in its own right. But, Campofiori was already slaying dragons.
Welcome to the Corps.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jack A. E. Rigsby)
On February 23, 2019, Michael Campofiori completed the Crucible and received his Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, completing the transformation into a United States Marine. From battling leukemia to earning the title, Campofiori overcame every challenge that he ever had to face. Campofiori embodies the very spirit of being a Marine.
You can watch the video of him receiving his EGA here.
A former member of SEAL Team 6 and founder of Frogman Charities is headed to Mount Everest to try and become the first Navy SEAL to summit the world’s highest peak.
Don Mann is an accomplished athlete and climber with the goal of standing on top of the tallest summit on each continent. He’s starting with a climb up Everest, and at the same time he hopes to draw attention to the challenges that the military community faces every day.
“The challenge seems almost insurmountable with the conditioning required, the funding required, and the non-stop worries of altitude mountain sickness, avalanches, crevices, hypothermia, frostbite, etc.,” Mann said in a press release. “But the prize, to have an opportunity to stand on top of the world while raising awareness for the needs of our military personnel and their families, is beyond description.”
Mann has proved that he has the athletic chops for such a climb. Besides being selected as a member of SEAL Team 6, he was once rated as the 38th best triathlete in the world and has been climbing mountains for years.
During his attempt, Frogman Charities, a nonprofit organization that hosts virtual run and walk events to raise money for Navy SEAL charities, will be updating their Facebook page and website every day with stories from veterans and with organizations that support veterans and service members.
After the Everest climb, Mann wants to climb the rest of the continent’s highest peaks and to bring other veterans with him on the climbs. As with his Everest attempt, he hopes to raise public awareness of veterans’ causes.
The team that Mann will be climbing with aims to summit between May 13 and 25 but the buildup to the final summit attempt starts in early April. The climbers will trek to base camp from Apr. 3 to Apr. 12 and then begin the process of acclimating and climbing.
Mann’s climb is being financially supported through business sponsorships and a GoFundMe page.
It’s the summer of 1968 in Vietnam, a sergeant with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines was forced into a position he never could have imagined. He had to lead his entire company through a deadly enemy ambush after the company commander, platoon commander and senior enlisted leadership were wounded in the fight.
These were the circumstances of Retired Marine 1st Sgt. John J. Lord, over half a century ago, during the Vietnam War.
Lord was awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for combat bravery, during a ceremony at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball celebration in Vancouver, Washington on November 17. The Navy Cross award was an upgrade from a Bronze Star that Lord received in 1975, seven years after he put himself in the crosshairs of the North Vietnamese Army when rescuing his fellow Marines who were wounded.
Lord took over command of the entire company and located one of the only working radios and then started directing air support against the enemy.
Vietnam veteran receives Navy Cross at Marine Corps Ball
The day immediately following the battle, now Retired Lt. Col. Michael Sweeney began pushing for Lord to be awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism and valor during the fight. Even after the Bronze Star was awarded, Sweeney continued to push for the Navy Cross. Finally, forty-three years later, Sweeney’s efforts bore fruit.
According to his citation, Lord’s actions helped turned the tide of the battle. However, he always stayed true to his men and their efforts during the fight.
“Everything on that citation is true except one thing they left off,” Lord said. “They left off the Marines who served with me that day.”
Four of his fellow unit members were in attendance the night of the ceremony, and stood at Lord’s behest to receive a standing ovation from all who were in attendance just like they did for Lord just moments prior. Lord proclaimed how honored he was to serve with these Marines and how important they are to the mission.
“I can only stand here and say how proud I am to have served with you Marines — and corpsman, I won’t forget you too,” Lord said. “I am honored to call you brothers in arms.”