North Korea may be planning one of the most powerful nuclear explosions in history, if the nation’s foreign minister is to be believed.
Ri Yong Ho, the foreign minister of the isolated nation, reportedly told journalists that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is considering such a test blast.
“It could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific,” Yong Ho told reporters at the United Nations in New York on Thursday, according to a story by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. “We have no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong Un.”
The suggestion came in response to bellicose rhetoric exchanged between US President Donald Trump and Jong Un.
In a speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump called Jong Un a suicidal “rocket man” and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the US is “forced to defend itself or its allies.” Jong Un allegedly responded with a written statement, in which he called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” and said that “a frightened dog barks louder.”
Many experts have denounced Trump’s speech, suggesting his words could provoke Jong Un to take dramatic action.
“Trump is basically creating audience costs for Kim to back down,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Vox. “If you dare Kim, it creates pressure for him to respond with his own provocation.”
North Korea has set off several powerful nuclear test blasts in recent years, but they all occurred deep inside a mountain. A nuclear explosion in the air, on the ground, underwater, or in space has not happened in decades.
If the nation sets off an above-ground nuclear explosion — and the most powerful ever detonated in the Pacific — the Cold War’s rich history of test blasts suggests what might happen.
Why atmospheric nuclear tests are dangerous
The US, Russia, China, and other countries have set off more than 2,000 nuclear test blasts since 1945.
More than 500 of these explosions occurred on soil, in space, on barges, or underwater. But most of these happened early in the Cold War — before the risks to innocent people and the environment were well-understood. (Nearly all countries now ban nuclear testing.)
Only a fraction of a nuclear weapon’s core is turned into energy during an explosion; the rest is irradiated, melted, and turned into fine particles. This creates a small amount of fallout that can be lofted into the atmosphere and spread around.
But the risk of fallout vastly increases when a blast occurs close to the ground or water. There, a nuclear explosion can suck up dirt, debris, water, and other materials, creating many tons of radioactive fallout — and this material rises high into the atmosphere, where it drifts for hundreds of miles.
Yong Ho did not specify where or how high North Korea’s hypothetical Pacific “H-bomb” test might occur. However, the foreign minister did reportedly suggest it could be the most powerful ever detonated in the Pacific.
If this is not a matter of imprecise wording, such a blast would exceed the US’ strongest-ever nuclear test explosion.
On March 1, 1954, the US military set off the “Shrimp” thermonuclear device on a platform in the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands (about 2,300 miles southeast of Japan and 2,700 miles southwest of Hawaii).
This was part of the US military’s Castle Bravo test series, and the blast was equivalent to exploding 15 million tons of TNT, or roughly 1,000 times as powerful the US attack on Hiroshima that inflicted some 150,000 casualties.
While the military considered Shrimp and Bravo a success, its repercussions were disastrous. Researchers underestimated the device’s explosive power by nearly three-fold — and many were nearly killed when an artificial earthquake shook their concrete observation bunker 20 miles away.
“About ten seconds after Shrimp exploded, the underground bunker seemed to be moving. But that didn’t make any sense. The concrete bunker was anchored to the island, and the walls were three feet thick.
“‘Is this building moving or am I getting dizzy?’ another scientist asked. ‘My God, it is,’ O’Keefe said. ‘It’s moving!’
“O’Keefe began to feel nauseated, as though he were seasick, and held on to a workbench as objects slid around the room. The bunker was rolling and shaking, he later recalled, ‘like it was resting on a bowl of jelly.’ The shock wave from the explosion, traveling through the ground, had reached them faster than the blast wave passing through the air.”
The scientists ultimately escaped alive, but Marshall Islanders located 100 miles from the blast were not so lucky.
Shrimp’s four-mile-wide fireball destroyed about 200 billion tons of Bikini Atoll coral reef, turning much of it into radioactive fallout that spread all over the world. The worst of it sprinkled over atolls to the east, killing many people by causing radiation sickness.
Today, the 250-foot-deep, 1-mile-wide crater left by the blast is visible from space.
If North Korea decides to blow up a hydrogen or thermonuclear device — and the most powerful in the Pacific — we could only hope it is not close to the ground.
Missile or no missile?
All of these scenarios assume North Korea sets off a thermonuclear device in a controlled way — via airplane, barge, balloon, or some kind of stationary platform.
But the risk to people also largely depends on whether or not North Korea launches a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile or a shorter-range rocket, such as one launched from a submarine.
If successful, such a missile test would show North Korea has miniaturized its weapons. And if the blast appears to be caused by a hydrogen bomb, it would show North Korea could pull off a devastating thermonuclear strike on US soil.
But missiles are prone to failure in multiple ways, especially those in early development. A North Korean ICBM tipped with a nuclear warhead might miss its target by a significant distance, or explode en route. This could lead to detonation in an unintended place and altitude.
This is especially true if the missile has no self-destruct capability — ICBMs maintained by the US don’t. In that case, only hacking the missile’s software in mid-air, or destroying it with another weapon, could stop the launch.
“The stakes and heat in this conflict have not been this high since the Korean War,” Tristan Webb, a senior analyst for NK News, said in a story published by the outlet on Friday. “Kim Jong Un said in July that the … showdown was entering its final phase. He appears psychologically prepared for conflict.”
If there’s any single artistic medium that draws in a remarkable amount of veterans, it’s comic books. Oftentimes, it takes the mind of someone who has served in the military to create a truly believable, relatable superhero.
It’s widely known that many of the godfathers of the comic book industry served in the U.S. military. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Syd Shores, for example, all fought in the Western Front in WWII. But many of the other writers and artists served, too — like these 6 creative minds.
Jim Starlin — Navy
Many of Marvel’s space-themed comics come from the mind of Vietnam War photographer and Navy veteran Jim Starlin. After returning home to Detroit, he initially made a living working on cars. Eventually, he broke into the comic book industry with many originals and revisions to existing cosmic characters.
Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, and even Thanos were all co-created by him. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ultimate MacGuffins, the Infinity Stones, and the much of the basis for the latest blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War, come from Starlin’s storylines.
Humbly enough, she never wrote herself into a comic… even though she kinda earned it.
Alice Marble — OSS
Before becoming one of the first women to play a prominent role in comic books, Alice Marble lived an insane life. Not only was she a world-class tennis player but, during World War II, she served as a spy for the American government. She recovered from being shot in the back by a German agent and started to share her life through the adventures of Wonder Woman.
She served as the associate editor for Wonder Woman and was the creator of the Wonder Women of History strips. These shorts were page-long bookends attached to the end of each Wonder Woman issue that showcased the badassery of one woman per issue.
He’s also responsible for making superheroes jacked as hell under their spandex.
(Photo by Alan Light)
Curt Swan — Army
DC’s most respected artist of the Silver Age served in the Minnesota National Guard during WWII. Curt Swan was activated and deployed to Europe when his peers discovered his amazing gift for drawing. He was immediately reassigned by his superiors to make comics for Stars and Stripes.
After falling in love with a Red Cross worker (who he would eventually marry), Swan got a job at DC Comics, drawing Superman from 1948 until 1986. His ability to convey frenetic superpowers in print, like the iconic wooshings that show speed or the powerful impact bubbles that denote heavy punches, was heavily imitated.
He worked on ‘The ‘Nam’ with the next entry on this list…
Doug Murray — Army
Doug Murray served in Vietnam and later crafted what is considered one of the truest depictions of the war through his series, The ‘Nam. Remarkably, Murray was clever enough to stay true to the horrors and ugly sides of war while also keeping the Comics Code Authority happy.
The ‘Nam wasn’t pretty and touched on many horrific truths of war, but it cleverly hid its punches to get approved for publication. Outside of The ‘Nam, Murray also wrote the Weapon X series, which gave Wolverine his definitive backstory.
The ‘G.I. Joe’ character Tunnel Rat is entirely based on him and his life.
Larry Hama — Army
After fighting in Vietnam as a combat engineer and “tunnel rat,” Larry Hama began a career in acting before coming back to his childhood passion, comic books.
Not only did he work on The Warlord, Wonder Woman, and Batman for DC, but he earned his place as one of the Marvel greats when he took over the G.I. Joe comics and turned it into the deep franchise fans love today instead of just a line of generic military toys. He also co-created The ‘Nam, Wolverine, Punisher: War Zone, and Venom.
Sgt. Rock’s service number was Kanigher’s in real life.
Bob Kanigher — Army
There was a drastic dip in comic book popularity in the 1950s that nearly destroyed the industry. Only kids and troops read comics — and kids started losing interest. The day was saved when an Army veteran by the name of Robert Kanigher burst onto the scene.
He took over Wonder Woman after William Moulton Marston’s death and ushered in the Silver Age of Comics. His works include nearly everything in DC that wasn’t created during the Golden Age. His artistic baby, however, is one of the military and veteran community’s favorite comics, Sgt. Rock.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Chinese Chengdu J-10 “Firebird” fighters came within 200 yards of the P-3, with at least one of the planes making slow turns in front of the American maritime patrol aircraft. The action was considered “unsafe” by the crew.
“You don’t know what the other person is doing,” a defense official told FoxNews.com under the condition of anonymity while explaining the characterization of the incident.
Last week, Chinese J-11s pulled a “Top Gun”-style intercept on an Air Force WC-135W Constant Phoenix radiation surveillance plane — an encounter deemed “unprofessional” by American officials. Encounters like this have been frequent in recent months, and in 2001, a Navy EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance plane collided with a Chinese J-8 “Finback” interceptor. The Chinese pilot was killed.
Military-Today.com reports that the J-10 is a single-engine fighter that was developed during the late 1980s and early 1990s to counter Russian fighters like the Su-27 Flanker and the MiG-29 Fulcrum. According to some reports, the design was based on the Israeli Aircraft Industries prototype multi-role fighter known as the Lavi, an effort by the Israelis to develop an aircraft comparable to the F-16.
The J-10 has a top speed of Mach 2.2, and can carry PL-12 and PL-8 air-to-air missiles, while also having the ability to drop bombs and fire unguided rockets. GlobalSecurity.org reports that the Chinese have at least 240 on inventory with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. Pakistan also signed a deal to buy 36 of the J-10B multi-role fighter in 2009, according to FlightGlobal.com.
The entry-level course is for Marines who’ve finished boot camp and aren’t assigned to infantry jobs. It lasts about a month and involves basic combat training, including patrol and convoy operations, marksmanship, and the use of grenade launchers and machine guns.
Pena said the female Marines will be fully integrated with the men, and that their inclusion triggered no changes to the course instruction. He said that, eventually, as many as 1,700 women would go through the combat training there each year.
Currently, Marine boot camp on the West Coast is only for male recruits. Women attend boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina, where they are separated from the men for portions of the training. Congress members have been critical of that policy, and the Corps has been reviewing it.
Until now, half of the Marine Corps’ male recruits would go through their initial training on the West Coast where they had no female colleagues. A key reason for the limits is the shortage of female recruits. Women make up just 8.7 percent of the Corps.
But Marine leaders have been eyeing changes with the belief that giving the men greater exposure to women recruits during training could foster better relations and greater respect over time.
The police official’s testimony seems to confirm a May 2017 report from The Asahi Shimbun, which described Kim Jong Nam meeting a Korean-American who Malaysian officials suspected was a U.S intelligence agent.
According to the report, the two met on Feb. 9 and Kim’s computer showed a record of a thumb drive being inserted, which some have speculated was used to offload vital information to the suspected U.S. agent. The report includes a photo that purports to show the two meeting, though the suspected agent’s face is cropped out. On Jan. 29, the police official seemed to confirm the encounter took place.
While reports about Kim’s life say he was a gambler with no ambitions to rule North Korea, he would make sense as someone whom the U.S. — and even China — would want to groom and leverage to possibly remove Kim Jong Un from power.
At 34 years old, Kim Jong Un could lead North Korea for another three to five decades. While his leadership makes obvious its hostility to the U.S., he is also no fan of China.
Citing three sources, Nikkei Asian Review reported in August 2017 that top government officials in China and North Korea seriously considered a plot to remove Kim Jong Un in 2012, however the plot reportedly fell through and resulted in the dictator having his own uncle killed.
Unlike his predecessors, Kim Jong Un has never visited Beijing nor had Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pyongyang. Kim Jong Un has never met with another head of state, and has increasingly been viewed as out of Beijing’s control, while threatening the U.S. with nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong Un has effectively put a giant nuclear target on China’s borders, and risks having his country overthrown and occupied by U.. troops. Kim also has had top officials with ties to China brutally assassinated with packs of dogs or anti-aircraft guns, according to reports.
As a result, both the U.S. and China have plenty of reason to wish for something to end Kim Jong Un’s rule over North Korea. Because North Korea is ruled by the Kim family dynasty, Kim Jong Un could theoretically be replaced with another Kim in a relatively bloodless coup.
Such an opportunity may have proven too enticing for both the U.S. and China to pass up, and too risky for North Korea to ignore.
Kim family infighting becomes geopolitical
An anonymous source told South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo in November 2017 that Chinese authorities blocked a plot from seven North Korean assassins to enter the country and kill Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam.
Though North Korea denies any involvement in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the same country that has worked to build up a nuclear arsenal while under the heaviest sanctions on earth might not think twice about offing a member of the Kim family to protect from coups orchestrated by outsiders.
Kim Han Sol, another legitimate Kim, now fears for his life as he represents the heir to a bloodline that could unseat one of the world’s most brutal rulers.
The U.S. Army loves robots and wants its soldiers to love them, too. The U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command recently conducted its annual Joint Warfighting Assessment in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the testing at the Yakima Training Center. From late April to May 11, 2019, troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 2-2 Stryker Brigade and 2nd Ranger battalion, along with U.S. Marines from Camp Lejune and Camp Pendleton, tested new weapon concepts for a Pacific war scenario set in 2028.
One of the concepts they were testing was the “optionally manned vehicle,” which would allow leaders in the field to decide to switch their systems to remote operating systems instead of putting their troops on the line.
“The idea is that the robotics could be available, so when they pick that platform you can put the robotics on it, and now you can do the manned (or) unmanned team and push the robotics out on the battlefield,” explained Lieutenant Colonel John Fursmo, the officer commanding the opposing force for the exercise.
The Assault Breacher Vehicle.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Some of the vehicles that have been brought out for testing are actually quite old, brought back to life and stuffed with robotic capabilities by engineers tinkering with them like Frankenstein’s monster. Troops and engineers explain that it’s all about testing, experimentation and soldier feedback. “These are concepts, these are not necessarily the pieces of equipment we would actually use,” said Fursmo. “The Army still has to decide what it wants for this new combat vehicle that will replace some tanks and other armored vehicles.”
Fursmo pointed to an old M58 mobile recon vehicle that’s been retrofitted with remote control capabilities. “It’s a tracked vehicle, it’s been in the Army a very long time, [and] essentially the Army stopped using it several years ago because the mission itself was so dangerous that it was just decided it wasn’t worth it,” he explained. “But make it a robot and now it’s at least conceptually worth looking at it again.”
Robotics and digital tech are already changing the way wars both big and small are being fought around the world every day. What were once science fiction dreams (or nightmares) aren’t as far away as some might think. Some are already here.
An experimental quadcopter mounted on a Stryker during JWA 19.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Eyes in the Sky
Cavalry scouts often call themselves the ninjas of the U.S. Army. Though considered combat troops, their job is more often to scope out the enemy without drawing fire and to report their findings. “A big problem we have is seeing without being seen,” explained Major Dave Scherke, a cav scout squadron leader with the 2-2 Stryker Brigade.
A scout team might move with three troops aboard a Stryker and three dismounted on the ground. They use maps, rulers, and measuring tape to take down mission critical information while conducting route reconnaissance. “It’s very time consuming and, from a security standpoint, can leave you exposed,” Scherken said.
However, at Yakima Training Center, Scherke’s men have been testing the Sensor Enabled Scout Platoon concept. They’ve tested the “Instant Eye” quad copter, an aerial drone surveillance system. “We have that all the way down to the squad level. So instead of just having one of these for each one of my cav troops, now I have six of them, and that massively increases our ability to see over the ridge and see the enemy first,” Scherke explained.
The quad copter itself isn’t particularly unique — you can buy similar models at Best Buy. Drones have already become part of the new normal for warfare. In Iraq and Syria, ISIS militants have used store-bought drones to help them target mortars and have even modified them to drop grenades and other improvised explosives. During the battle of Mosul, frustrated Iraqi troops started purchasing commercial drones of their own to fight ISIS. Robots are everywhere.
However, the small drones the scouts are testing are equipped with the Instrument Set Reconnaissance and Survey (ENFIRE) system that uses software and algorithms that can help measure terrain features, roads, and even calculate how much weight a bridge is capable of supporting. “There’s a bridge classification app that tells you the whole bridge classification,” said Colonel Chuck Roede, the deputy commander of JMC. “It really allows the scouts to do the job we expect them to do.”
ENFIRE connects directly to systems in the Stryker itself, which connects to a larger network. “It takes all that information, aggregates it into a computer, and creates a route overlay,” Scherke explained. “[Plugging] into our mission command systems to send very rapidly [means] our logistics planners and our other maneuver planners can get that information right away. So it speeds up what our scouts can do, and now instead of having six scouts on the ground just doing this while other guys are securing them, you can put fewer scouts on the ground to do that mission.”
Deep purple, the drone utilized by chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist, prepares to lift off on an NBC reconnaissance mission at the Joint Warfighting Assessment 19 training exercise at Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Washington, April 29, 2019.
(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)
The Instant Eye has night vision, infrared, and powerful zoom and camera clarity features for checking out targets, as well as signal tracking. “We can get some eyes on there without exposing our scouts and then bring indirect fires down to win that fight first because we want to be fighting an unfair fight,” said Scherke.
Cav scout Sergeant Joseph Gaska, who was in the field operating the prototype, told Coffee or Die that he was impressed with it. “As long as you’re high enough, you won’t hear it, so it’s not going to be that buzzing sound above your head,” he said of small, nimble drones’ ability to move nearly undetected. It has other ambitious features, too, Gaska noted. For instance, he said that if they were to somehow lose their connection to the drone, it’s programmed to remember where its handlers are and will return to them.
The Joint Warfighting Assessment JWA19 WA, UNITED STATES 04.28.2019
One of the most difficult things ground troops are asked to do is breaching operations against enemy strongholds. The defending side nearly always has the advantage. Good defenders lay out layers of defense that can include walls, barbed wire, ditches, minefields, and countless other hazards and traps. “It’s a very challenging task because you have to imagine your opponent on the far side of that position ready to destroy you with every weapon system that they have,” Fursmo said. “If you can take humans out of that, you’re going to have fewer casualties — it’s really the most dangerous thing a ground force does.”
Troops in the field trained with various aerial drones for detecting chemical threats and minefields, but more of the efforts focused on ground-based systems. One of the key systems they were testing was the Assault Breacher Vehicle. Their ABV working prototype was built around the hull of an M1A1 Abrams tank armed with mine charges and a .50-caliber machine gun and equipped with plows and dozer blades.
“Basically, the concept of this vehicle is that this one vehicle with two operators can do what an entire platoon of engineers would be required to do in a breach,” U.S. Marine 1st Lt. David Aghakhan explained. “It’s not taking anything away from my capabilities — I can still manually operate it — but it gives me the option of saying ‘I don’t want to expose my Marines in this obstacle belt because it’s too dangerous,’ and I can pull them out and we can robotically operate it.”
A soldier remotely operates a humvee from inside another humvee.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Working from remote controls in command vehicles, soldiers and Marines could also remotely control other vehicles to move in and provide suppressing fire for the ABV as it worked to clear mines, smash berms, and deal with other obstacles. Captain Nicole Rotte, an Afghanistan veteran and commander of the 2-2’s engineer company, said that she was impressed with it.
“The challenge that I have is my planning factor for moving through a breach is 50 percent loss,” said Rotte. “So all these concepts, to be able to take an unmanned vehicle and bring them down the battlefield, to be able save soldiers from being lost in the breach, that’s awesome for me.”
Rotte said they only had minor technical issues that were easily solved by turning the systems off and on again. She added that if anything, she’s excited for the prospect of having more robots available to her and seeing what they can do.
Unmanning the Battlefield?
Some futurists have envisioned a world in which war was waged entirely by robots. The U.S. military and CIA have already used drones with operators in Nevada pulling the trigger to kill enemies as far away as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. However, while the vehicles are referred to as “unmanned,” they require regular maintenance — and usually have a human operator somewhere.
At times, U.S. military commanders have underestimated the strain on personnel in regard to upkeep and the long hours of operation. “The explosion in demand had created a snowball effect that never allowed the […] staff to take a pause and say, ‘Let’s normalize all the processes that we should be doing,'” the Air Force reported in one of its official annual histories from 2012. “Instead, normalization was put off to some future date after the pace of combat operations slowed down.”
But the wars continued, as did the extreme hours. Airmen working six days a week were constantly asked to work extra hours while leave got cancelled. They were never “deployed” but remained almost constantly on duty, remotely fighting wars in several countries that were continents away. “It’s at the breaking point and has been for a long time,” a senior Air Force official told The Daily Beast in 2015. “What’s different now is that the Band-Aid fixes are no longer working.”
A remotely operated humvee with a robotic firing turret.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Even without the logistical hurdles, many commanders (even those that fully embrace a robotic future for war) don’t believe grunts will ever become obsolete. “It’s technologically feasible to fly a drone from Nevada and have it circling over Iraq or Afghanistan. But the demands of the terrain, as Army soldiers we are so tied to the terrain — you need to have leaders on the ground to see and understand the terrain,” Roede said.
Col. Christopher Barnwell, head of the field experimentation division at JMC, said that while he could see a future where commanders could run a war without ever going to the field — adding that at this point communications are advanced enough that senior officers already don’t have to — he doesn’t think a good leader would choose to stay home while war is raging elsewhere.
“No commander I know would do that,” he said. “I feel like I need to be on the ground and see things with my own eyes and get a feel for what’s going. Technically possible? Yes. Likely? I don’t personally think so.”
An Alabama Army National Guard Soldier with the 690th Chemical Company inspects a “deep purple” drone at YTC at Joint Warfighting Assessment 19, May 4, 2019.
(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/ 302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)
While they don’t see human judgement being removed from the equation, some military planners are excited by the prospect of artificial intelligence to allow vehicles to move on their own on the battlefield.
“As the concept matures, as we bring in elements of AI, as we bring in some measures of autonomy, the ratio of operators to vehicles will drop so that eventually you’ll have one operator who can control maybe a squad or platoon’s worth of vehicles,” said Roede. He suggested that AI could allow vehicles to autonomously navigate terrain and even rally into formations as they haul supplies and weapons.
Barnwell suggested it potentially going even further — he can foresee a day in the future when leaders can delegate to robotic weapons systems in combat and allow them to autonomously pick and engage targets.
“You tell these robotic vehicles, ‘You’ve got this part of the engagement area, and you are free to shoot at enemy vehicles; anything north of the niner-niner grid line is enemy and you are free to shoot it,'” Barnwell said. “And because these vehicles have AI, they know what to shoot […] on their own.”
However, the prospect of robots that can autonomously kill enemies based on algorithms or pre-programmed targets sets has potentially serious ramifications. The recent battles for Mosul and Raqqa proved incredibly bloody. House-to-house fighting and heavy bombing and artillery strikes led to untold deaths of civilians trapped in the cities, and the work of rebuilding the infrastructure since the battles ended has been slow.
Military strategists believe that urban fighting could be the norm for the 21st century. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and that’s expected to grow. In particular, there are concerns about the challenges posed by potentially fighting in massive megacities like Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, or Lagos. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley has pointed out that the entirety of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — isn’t equal to a neighborhood in Seoul.
Conceptual prototypes at Yakima Training Center.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Heavily armed robots combing the streets of a densely populated megacity picking targets based on algorithms have the potential to cause a lot of unintended collateral death and destruction. Machines feel neither remorse nor pity.
Barnwell said that they’re already considering these potential problems. “Through programming, we would be able to figure out what are appropriate targets, what are not. What is the ROE (rules of engagement), what are we going to allow these things to shoot at by themselves, and what are we not going to allow them to shoot at by themselves,” he explained. “In a megacity, for example, we may not even employ this sort of thing — or we may, depending on what the intelligence tells us the enemy is out there.”
But Roede stressed again that fighting wars is going to remain a fundamentally human endeavor, adding, “I don’t think we’ll ever be at a place where we’ll let the machine make the final decision on anything.”
Wars should be like taking off Band-Aids: If a country can’t get it over with fast, maybe it shouldn’t think about shedding blood. When a country is this bad at war, it probably runs the risk of just slowly bleeding to death. There are many, many examples of this in both history and in today’s newspapers — and we’ve collected our favorite examples. This episode of “Fixer Upper: Armed Forces Edition” has seen a lot of changes since 2015.
There are also a few new faces on this updated list. When considering this year’s candidates, I actually created some criteria. It was important to consider what the armed forces of a country needs versus what it has and what a country’s priorities really are. I also considered how much sh*t the country (or its leadership) talk versus what it actually accomplishes.
But keep in mind this
is not about criticizing the people who fight wars on the front lines. For the most part, it’s about criticizing the governments and policymakers who fund, train, and equip these armies and then expect them not to get annihilated once they go into battle.
There are many countries with extremely substandard defense forces, but most of those aren’t going around rattling sabers, either. For example, Gambia has about 2,000 troops with old weapons and uniforms that don’t match, but they spend most of their time fighting HIV
and wizards, not threatening to invade Senegal.
And though there are many armed forces engaged in fighting around the world, many of those aren’t actually from a recognized country.
This year’s list gave Mongolia a break for going the extra mile
and having a Navy despite being totally landlocked. We also said goodbye to the Philippines. After the Manila Standard called our 2015 assessment of the Philippines’ armed forces “spot on,” incoming President Rodrigo Duterte decided to spend $6.6 billion upgrading the AFP. To be clear, no one here is taking credit for this.
Also leaving this year’s list is ”
Africa’s North Korea,” Eritrea. At the time of this writing, the country is looking to end its war with Ethiopia and maybe even stop “drafting” all of its men to work in forced labor. Also missing from the list is Somalia, whose armed forces is pretty much subsumed by U.S. special operations along with Kenyan and Ethiopian troops.
These are the forces that make the
KISS Army seem even more formidable than they already do.
Good to know those old Soviet ushankas found a home.
The latest hand-me-downs from Russia to the Armed Forces of the Republic of Tajikistan include two classes of helicopter from the 1960s, tanks from the 1970s, and personnel carriers from the 1980s. This is still a big step up from the absolutely nothing they got from the fall of the Soviet Union. That’s just the equipment. It doesn’t get much better for the troops on the ground in an army where even the doctors will haze them to death. If the hazing doesn’t get them, the disease, hunger, or terrible conditions might. This is why no one wants to join the Tajikistan army… except when they’re kidnapped and forced to go.
But congrats to the Tajik armed forces, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018. This is only weird because independent Tajikistan is 27 years old.
Why does the brick have to be on fire, comrades? I’m not sure that adds anything to the experience.
Many might be surprised to see Russia on a “worst armies” list, but the country’s biggest wins of the last few years include:
Not starting World War III in Syria.
Air strikes on poorly-armed Syrian rebels.
Fighting Ukraine to a draw.
Building a Navy it can’t crew.
Annexing a peninsula with no electricity, fresh water, or money.
Hypersonic missiles that fly only 22 miles.
Finally building a robot tank after 30 years and failing at it.
Russia seems strong because it doesn’t let anyone tell it what to do. But all it wants to do is beat up on its weaker neighbors and generally be an asshole to Washington — and this is the source of its true power. It can fight a war. It can conquer countries.
Yay, you did it. After everyone else did it first.
President Erdoğan is a lot more aggressive with Turkey’s armed forces than he used to be, both in use of force and imprisoning generals he thinks started a coup against him in 2016. That’s what dictators do. But as ISIS fighters approached the Turkish border with Syria, Turkey did very little about it. Erdoğan only cared about consolidating power, (something he finally did with the most recent election) while Turkey’s longtime enemy, the Kurds, cleared ISIS from the area.
Fast-forward to when Turkey did act in Syria, months after the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters defeated ISIS in northern Syria. Turkey invaded and immediately started attacking – you guessed it – the Kurds. Turkey has always had a reason to hate Kurds, but it’s poor timing to exercise those demons on a de facto ally in the middle of a war they were winning to help protect Turkey.
The only goal of the Turkish invasion is to keep the Kurds from getting their own country, the ultimate geopolitical dick move.
If you thought it was bad that Nigerian military members were fired for making a strategic retreat or that Nigerian troops could only run away from Boko Haram because neither their weapons nor vehicles worked, remember: it can always be worse. Especially for Nigerian women.
As for the troops’ welfare, senators are more likely to have armored cars than front-line troops. And when the country did decide to invest billion into its military, it was immediately funneled into personal bank accounts of government ministers – to the tune of .2 billion, more than the original investment.
“Congratulations on graduating from Not Going AWOL 101, soldiers.”
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kevin P. Bell)
First of all, let’s understand that the U.S. is never, ever going to leave Afghanistan — ever. If we really planned to leave Afghanistan, we’d give them something more effective than old prop planes and uniforms we don’t want. When U.S. troops do give the ANA reasonably modern equipment, the ANA turns right around and deserts them in the next Taliban attack. So the U.S. then has to go destroy their own Humvees. And while some call the Afghan Air Force a win for U.S. training, they should remember that when the Taliban get its hands on those planes and laser-guided munitions and the U.S. has to blow those up, too.
Most of the funding for the ANA goes toward salaries, essentially begging ANA troops not to kill their fellow troops or NATO allies. This is a game the ANA can’t win when the Taliban is offering three times as much to do the opposite. So, even though the ANA called the 60mm mortar a “game changer” for ground troops, the Taliban will still pay a king’s ransom for them to fire it into a friendly base. The United States has sunk billion into an Army that can’t win — or even fight. Hell, they pass basic training just by not going AWOL.
To top it all off, the older generals are being forced to retire from the Afghan Army. Remember what happened the last time the U.S. pushed to fire a whole big chunk of another nation’s army? The Iraq War and, eventually, ISIS.
“And now it’s ready to fire, abuela.”
The number one PT score for Venezuela’s army is probably in running, because that’s all they’ve been doing lately. When a Venezuelan soldier’s choices are limited to either working for free and potentially starving to death or to desert entirely, the choice becomes clear.
So, what does an embattled President do when his army starts crumbling? Tell civilians the U.S. is going to attack and then show them how to defend the country.
Mexico militarized its law enforcement then sent its military into Mexico to fight of violent drug cartels… and still lost. The country was divided into five security zones and then invaded by the armed forces. Then they become just as corrupt and criminal as the local law enforcement they replaced.
To make matters worse, when the army takes out any kind of cartel leadership, it creates a power vacuum and then a war among the cartels. The strategy of removing high-level kingpins has resulted in a 60-percent increase in violence that the Mexican military can’t control, despite fully occupying its own country. They’ve been at this since 2006 and it’s taken a heavy toll on the Mexican military and Mexican people. In the last few years, Mexico quietly became the second deadliest conflict, surpassed only by Syria.
That means you’re actually safer in Kabul than in Cabo.
No one ever did that to Saddam either.
3. North Korea
Of course North Korea makes the list again. Despite the recent Singapore Summit, there is no one better at rattling a saber than a North Korean named Kim. In fact, Kim Jong Un is really just following the North Korean game plan to get concessions from the United States:
Create a scene
Threaten all-out war with the South
Get talked down at the last minute
Get rewarded for not starting the war you had no intention of starting in the first place.
But to make step two seem plausible, North Korea needs to have a credible threat. So while it does have hundreds of artillery pieces pointed at Seoul, a city with 9.8 million people, it also has the world’s oldest air force and trains its pilots using the power of imagination, mostly because it can’t afford jet fuel. Its navy is just considered a “nuisance” and we would all be amazed if its army had enough food for the time it takes to actually kill those 9.8 million people.
Do they get issued photos of Bashar al-Assad?
Syria’s armed forces are so awful, they can’t win a civil war with the help of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the U.S. and Kurds fighting ISIS for them. In fact, anyone can feel free to violate Syria’s sovereignty. Turkey, the GCC, Europe, and Israel are doing it without repercussions on an almost daily basis. So, naturally, what do Syria’s armed forces do? Threaten to attack the U.S. and Israel. As if they didn’t have enough problems.
And when they do win, it’s not exactly clean. Chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and starvation are the primary tactics used for the now-seven year long civil war there. It’s not exactly the way to convince the civilian population that Assad is the right leader for them. Seven years down, five to go.
What billion a year buys you.
1. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia talks a lot of smack about a war with Iran but even when it brings its full military might to bear, it can’t keep a coalition together, let alone finish off an Iranian proxy. They’ve been fighting the Houthi-led insurgents in Yemen since 2015 and with the help of half of Yemen, all of Sudan, Morocco, the U.S., the UAE, Senegal, France, Egypt, Jordan, and Bahrain, they still fail to win the war.
This coalition has every numerical and technological advantage on sea, land, and air and they’re just being manhandled, the result of overconfidence and a dash of hubris. The Saudis thought 150,000 battle-hardened Houthis would just roll over after a few airstrikes. “Winning” was the extent of their plan and, if it didn’t work for Charlie Sheen, it sure as hell isn’t going to work for Saudi Arabia.
Not only have they failed to win after three years and heavily outnumbering and outgunning the Houthis, they’ve lost coalition partners and turned the entire country into a humanitarian disaster. That’s what you get for relying on another country’s military to bail you out of everything for 20 years.
A top authority on North Korea has jokingly suggested the U.S. launch an unorthodox attack on the country’s leader.
Jeffrey Lewis, the founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk and the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterrey, California, has outlined a plan for the U.S. to strike Kim Jong Un’s personal toilet.
Writing at The Daily Beast over the weekend, Lewis was responding to increased chatter of a U.S. strike on North Korea. Though Lewis was approaching the issue in a tongue-in-cheek way, his writing nonetheless illustrates the dangers of and motivations behind using military force to send a message.
Basically, reports have come forth that the U.S. is tired of North Korea’s constant defiance and wants to carry out a limited strike in response. In theory, the use of force against a weaker opponent can serve as a reminder of who is in charge.
But while North Korea couldn’t really defend against a small U.S. strike, it doesn’t intend to defend. North Korea’s military posture is entirely offensive. While the country could do little to stop an incoming cruise missile or airstrike, it has long had artillery aimed at Seoul, South Korea’s capital of 25 million.
Lewis seems to think that the idea has some merit but that the difficulty lies in finding a target that’s important enough to matter but not big enough to provoke war. From The Daily Beast:
The central challenge, as we contemplate a ‘bloody nose’ option for a limited military strike, is finding a suitable target that represents Kim Jong Un’s nose — a target that will allow our strike to be intimidating and humiliating to Kim, but not the sort of broad assault that might prompt him to retaliate with his growing stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Lewis settles on a target of little strategic importance but great personal relevance to Kim: his port-a-potty.
Kim almost always observes North Korean missile launches from a private trailer. The launches normally happen in the middle of nowhere, so comforts like a port-a-potty suited for a supreme party leader need to be shipped in.
“Destroying the port-a-potty will deny Kim Jong Un a highly valued creature comfort, while also demonstrating the incredible accuracy of U.S. precision munitions to hold Kim and his minions at risk,” Lewis wrote. “It will send an unmistakable message: We can kill you while you are dropping a deuce.”
Lewis refers to his idea as hilarious, “a comedy and an action movie — both at the same time.” The U.S. military, however, may not be laughing.
Lewis’ playful idea represents a rather circumspect approach to selecting the right target to use military force to send a message. While the verbal, diplomatic, and economic messages the world has tried time and time again have failed to get through to North Korea, President Donald Trump’s administration has floated the idea of military action more than any before it.
Protection against many common pathogens and environmental stressors is written into our DNA. Our skin responds to sun exposure. Our immune system mounts defenses when we get the flu. Our bodies inherently work to mitigate the potential for harm caused by these health threats. However, these intrinsic responses are not always quick, robust, or appropriate enough to adequately defend us from harm, which is why many people experience sunburn after intense sun exposure or suffer severe symptoms, even death, following exposure to the flu.
Military service members, first responders, and civilian populations face threats far more severe than sunburn and respiratory infections. Pathogens with pandemic potential, toxic chemicals, and radioactive materials can all quickly and powerfully overwhelm the body’s innate defenses. And though significant public and private investment has been focused on the development of traditional medical countermeasures such as drugs, vaccines, and biologics to guard against the worst effects of these health threats, current countermeasures are often limited in their effectiveness and availability during emergencies.
DARPA is looking to make gains beyond the status quo. Inspired by recent advances in understanding of when and how genes express their traits, DARPA’s new PReemptive Expression of Protective Alleles and Response Elements (PREPARE) program will explore ways to better protect against biological, chemical, or radiological threats by temporarily and reversibly tuning gene expression to bolster the body’s defenses against – or directly neutralize – a given threat.
“The human body is amazingly resilient. Every one of our cells already contains genes that encode for some level of resistance to specific health threats, but those built-in defenses can’t always express quickly or robustly enough to be effective,” said Renee Wegrzyn, the PREPARE program manager. “PREPARE will study how to support this innate resistance by giving it a temporary boost, either before or after exposure, without any permanent edits to the genome.”
The program will focus on four key health challenges as proofs of concept for what DARPA ultimately envisions as a generalizable platform that can be rapidly adapted to emerging public health and national security threats: influenza viral infection, opioid overdose, organophosphate poisoning, and exposure to gamma radiation.
“Each of these four threats are major health concerns that would benefit from disruptive approaches,” Wegrzyn said. “Seasonal flu vaccines, for example, are limited in that they try to hit a perpetually moving target, so circulating flu strains are often mismatched to vaccine strains. Programmable modulation of common viral genome sequences could potentially neutralize many more circulating viral strains simultaneously to keep up with moving targets. Combining this strategy with a temporary boost to host protection genes could change how we think about anti-virals.”
PREPARE requires that any treatments developed under the program have only temporary and reversible effects. In so doing, PREPARE diverges sharply from recent gene-editing research, which has centered on permanently modifying the genome by cutting DNA and inserting new genes or changing the underlying sequence to change the genetic code. Such approaches may cause long-lasting, off-target effects, and though the tools are improving, the balance of risk versus benefit means that these therapies are reserved for individuals with inherited genetic disorders with few to no other treatment options. In addition, some indications, including treatment of pain, may only require temporary solutions, rather than life-long responses.
The envisioned PREPARE technologies would provide an alternative that preserves the genetic code exactly as it is and only temporarily modulates gene activity via the epigenome and transcriptome, which are the cellular messages that carry out DNA’s genetic instructions inside cells. This would establish the capability to deliver programmable, but transient, gene modulators to confer protection within brief windows of time for meaningful intervention.
“Focusing only on programmable modulation of gene expression enables us to provide specific, robust protection against many threats at once, with an effect that carries less risk, is limited but tunable in duration, and is entirely reversible,” Wegrzyn said.
Success will hinge on developing new tools for targeted modulation of gene expression inside the body. Researchers must identify the specific gene targets that can confer protection, develop in vivo technologies for programmable modulation of those gene targets, and formulate cell- or tissue-specific delivery mechanisms to direct programmable gene modulators to the appropriate places in the body. Although the immediate program goal is to develop defenses against one of the four focus areas determined by DARPA, the ultimate objective of PREPARE is to develop a modular, threat-agnostic platform solution with common components and manufacturing architecture that can be readily adapted to diverse and emerging threats.
Research will be conducted primarily using computer, cell culture, organoid, and animal models to establish proof of concept. However, DARPA’s vision is to generate new medical countermeasures for future use in humans. As such, DARPA is working with independent bioethicists to identify and address potential ethical, legal, and societal issues.
By the end of the four-year program, DARPA aims for each funded team to submit at least one final product to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for regulatory review as an Investigational New Drug or for Emergency Use Authorization. Throughout the program, teams will be required to work closely with the FDA to ensure that the data generated and experimental protocols meet regulatory standards.
Visitors to The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., can see a collection of veteran portraits on display through Nov. 15, 2019.
The collection is Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors, painted by another veteran, President George W. Bush.
The collection highlights 98 men and women out of the approximately five million post-9/11 veterans. The exhibit showcases 66 full-color oil portraits and a four-panel mural painted by the former president, himself an Air Force veteran.
Upon entering the display, visitors see a two-minute video by the 43rd president. Bush talks about the positive assets of veterans, why he continues to serve veterans, the courage involved in talking about post-traumatic stress and his painting history.
President Bush painting.
(Photo courtesy of the Bush Center)
Alongside the video is a quote from the president on why he painted these veterans.
“I painted these men and women as a way to honor their service to the country and to show my respect for their sacrifice and courage.”
Nearly all the warriors featured participated in one of the two wounded warrior sporting events hosted by the George W. Bush Presidential Center. The W100K is a 100-kilometer mountain bike ride on the president’s ranch near Crawford, Texas. The Warrior Open is a competitive golf tournament in Dallas.
The portraits are on loan from the Ambassador and Mrs. George L. Argyros Collection of Presidential Art at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, a non-profit organization whose Military Service Initiative is focused on helping post-9/11 veterans and their families.
Portraits of Courage at The Kennedy Center.
For more information
The paintings are on display until Nov. 15, 2019, at The Kennedy Center. More information is at https://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/ZURRA. The exhibit then moves to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, Dec. 21 through Jan. 20, 2020.
Coming from the relatively flat state of New Jersey, Capt. Matthew Munoz recently learned for the first time how to land a UH-60 Black Hawk above 12,000 feet.
As a National Guard pilot, Munoz normally does flight training with sling loads and hoists, or he transports soldiers in air assault courses.
For the most part, those missions allow a large power margin for his helicopter, meaning there is less stress on the aircraft.
But here surrounded by the Rocky Mountains in western Colorado along Interstate 70, it’s a whole new ballgame. The mountainous terrain tests helicopter pilots with risky landing zones on limited, uneven space often strewn with large rocks and trees.
Students practice landing on mountainous terrain during the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 27, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“There definitely is that pucker factor,” Munoz said. “You have that caution and fear in that confined space. And there’s that potential for the rotors of the aircraft to strike an obstacle.”
A student at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, Munoz recently took the site’s weeklong course to hone his power management techniques that may one day help him out of a bad situation.
The only aviation school of its kind in the Defense Department, HAATS teaches about 350 students per year across the U.S. military as well as from foreign militaries, which account for about 20 percent of its enrollment.
The school is one of four Army National Guard aviation training sites in the country. Given its access to over 1 million acres of rugged forest with landing zones from 6,500 to 12,200 feet, HAATS mainly focuses on power management that teaches pilots how to maximize the utility of their helicopters.
The training sharpens pilots heading into combat or to perform missions back home, where they may find themselves flying in high altitudes, hot weather or carrying heavy loads, all of which can sap power from an aircraft.
“It’s important for us to give them the tools they need to make sure that they can complete their mission successfully and not bend or break aircraft in the process,” said Lt. Col. Britt Reed, the HAATS commander.
Operated by a small 30-member cadre of full-time Colorado Guardsmen, federal employees and an instructor pilot from the Coast Guard, the school relies on pilots to bring their own helicopters that can range from Black Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks and UH-72 Lakotas.
Students practice landing on mountainous terrain during the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 27, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
What they lack in numbers, the staff makes up with experience. Many of the instructors have thousands of hours of flight experience and multiple combat tours from when they served in line units, Reed said.
Instructors also have a dual role of conducting search and rescue missions when emergencies pop up across the state.
Once they arrive, students head to the classroom to learn about approaches and takeoff sequences, weather and environmental considerations, and then power management.Afterward, pilots typically fly twice a day out in the rugged terrain, practicing the skills they just learned.
Reed considers the training to be “graduate level,” intended for more experienced pilots.
“It would be difficult to take a student fresh out of flight school and put them through this training,” he said, “while they’re trying to learn their aircraft and how to maneuver it.”
With only two years of experience as a Lakota pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matthew Ferguson said he was lucky to be chosen for the recent course.
The Virginia Guardsman plans to use the skills when he is next called upon for drug interdiction operations in the state. High above the ground, Ferguson helps conduct surveillance for law enforcement as they search for suspects or illegal marijuana fields hidden in the forest.
An instructor pilot from the Coast Guard teaches a classroom portion of the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 26, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Many times the job requires him to hover at high altitudes so as not to spook suspects and for safety reasons.
“If you get too low, the helicopter hovering over the house becomes pretty obvious, pretty quick,” he said. “So, you got to know how to maintain standoff, how to read the wind, [and] position the helicopter where you need it to be positioned.”
The techniques and finesse he picked up at the HAATS course, he said, gave him a better control touch of the aircraft when it’s using a lot of power.
Since they manage the aircraft, crew chiefs frequently join the pilots in the training to hone their skills, too.
By being together, aircrews can improve their teamwork, especially in dangerous landing zones where a crew chief is needed to spot dangers on the ground.
“Having good aircrew coordination between everybody in the aircraft is pinnacle because if you’re not talking to each other, then something is going to get missed,” said Sgt. Robert Black, a Black Hawk crew chief.
One time while deployed to Iraq, Black said he was on a helicopter that landed roughly on the side of a mountain as his crew went to check out a new landing zone during a training event.
“When we came in, we kind of browned out and then touched down a little bit harder than usual,” said Black, who is assigned to the Virginia National Guard.
While no one was injured, Black still saw it as a wake-up call. “If we would have had the training we had here, that probably wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Students practice landing on mountainous terrain during the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 27, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
During the course, instructors will show videos that simulate previous helicopter crashes and discuss how to avoid the issues faced by those crews.
While somber, since some of the crashes have led to deaths, the videos are valuable learning aids.
“They’re all lessons learned,” Black said. “Being able to recognize somebody else’s mistakes and being able to learn from them is a key part of any kind of training.”
Seasoned crew chiefs also share their personal stories with their students.
Instructor Staff Sgt. Greg Yost often draws upon lessons from his time in Afghanistan where he served as a crew chief on a medical evacuation helicopter, which had to fly quickly in hot weather that sometimes took a toll on its power supply.
“If I can’t teach you something here in this course, then I have failed you,” Yost said of what he tells his students. “It is my goal, my duty to impart some kind of knowledge to every student that comes into my classroom.”
Training for combat
Earlier this year, Reed said the school was requested by the 10th and 82nd Combat Aviation Brigades to train up its younger crews ahead of deployments. The units flew several helicopters out to the site and for weeks the school cycled soldiers through.
HAATS even has mobile training teams that travel around the country to prepare aircrews.
At times, instructors hear back from crew members downrange they’ve helped train, who thank them and tell them they were able to apply the skills to real-world missions.
Staff Sgt. Greg Yost, a crew chief instructor, teaches a classroom portion of the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 26, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Occasionally, crews will even share newly-found techniques with instructors that may help future students.
“More than anything, it validates what we’ve been doing,” Reed said.
While counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East may be waning, Yost believes skills in the course can still be used to mitigate risks in future operations.
For instance, helicopters may require heavier equipment, such as armor or technology, to offset anti-air threats posed by near-peer adversaries.
“As that stuff develops, it will be bolted onto the aircraft,” the senior crew chief said. “It will be adding weight, maybe increasing drag. All these contributing factors will reduce the aircraft’s performance.”
Whatever the mission, it’s no secret what they teach at the site, Reed said, who hopes every aircrew takes advantage of the course.
“We’re trying to spread the word and share it,” the commander said. “Often times we hear about a helicopter crash that’s power related. We want to do everything we can to make sure that all the aviators out there have these tools and make the right decisions.”
After over a decade as an enlisted infantry Marine, my husband jumped ship and crossed over to the dark side as an officer.
When he made the switch, two things happened: he found himself stressed studying more than ever before, and he found himself absolutely bored out of his ever-loving mind in between training classes to become a Marine pilot.
In a moment of serious desperation, he took to Facebook to plead with his veteran buddies to share their favorite hobbies for dealing with stress and boredom, and they did not disappoint.
In no particular order, here are 13 hobbies these veterans recommend for dealing with stress:
Here’s what Newt Anderson wrote: “I recommend woodworking. Start simple, carving. Otherwise you could go down the road of coloring books! You would be surprised how relaxing both can be. A good set of woodworking tools is a must though. Don’t skimp on those or the blisters you get will make you regret it.”
2. Beer Making
David Sap recommended beer making. Mr. Beer carries a pretty wide variety of starter kits for brewing your own beer, and they claim to be simple, clean, and time efficient. Which is great, because time efficient means more time to brew more beer. Where are my peanuts?
3. Quad Racing
“Quad racing. You should check out Tiny Whoop.” Lucy Goosy
Brad Etzweiler and Titus Vanguard both recommended running.
Nothing says “I’m stressed about flight school and the fact that I’m old and fat and can’t run as fast as these boots in my class anymore and I study too much and I also need a stress reliever,” like running a triathlon. Right? RIGHT??
Gilberto Burbante recommended kayaking. One summer I tried kayaking in white water. As it turns out, I cannot breathe under water and also I suck at kayaking.
6. Pole Dancing
Hales Fuller fully supports pole dancing as an extracurricular. I am immensely interested in seeing my husband do this. *runs away to install a pole*
7. RC Racing
“RC car racing. I enjoy it and still cheaper then the real thing. It gets addicting though and then you spend the money.” Jack Burton is right, though — it looks expensive.
My father-in-law, James Foley, (a retired Master Guns and Viet Nam vet) recommended my husband learn to play guitar. I have no objections.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carrie Gatz, an instrumentalist with the 566th Air Force Band, Illinois Air National Guard, plays guitar for a hospice patient at her civilian job Sept. 11, 2013.
“Buy you a smoker — time off, smoke ribs and stuff,” wrote Ryan Clay. Bob Waldren agreed, “I second this. Go hunting and get yourself a few Florida bucks.”
10. All the water sports in Florida
Phil John wrote, “Jet ski. [You pay the] initial cost for the ski but then you’re just paying gas. We love ours! Also, spear fishing is a blast. Paddle boarding/ kayaking is great.”
11. Do you even lift, Bro?
My brother-n-law Chuck, also a Marine, recommended lifting. Get thine arse to a gym, brah.
12. Learn a new language
In addition to lifting, Chuck recommended learning a new language. Homeboy already speaks some Spanish, Farsi, and something else — Arabic maybe?
Extra credit for swear words.
13. Get your sophistication on
Aside from running, Titus Vanguard also recommended, “Books. Read books and run… you are an officer now.” Adulting is hard.
Firing machine guns at Taliban fighters, reinforcing attacking ground troops, and scouting through mountainous terrain to find enemy locations are all things US-trained Afghan Air Force pilots are now doing with US Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
The ongoing US effort to provide anti-Taliban Afghan fighters with Black Hawks has recently been accelerated to add more aircraft on a faster timeframe, as part of a broad strategic aim to better enable Afghan forces to attack.
The first refurbished A-model Black Hawks, among the oldest in the US inventory, arrived in Kandahar in September of last year, as an initial step toward the ultimate goal of providing 159 of the helicopters to the Afghans, industry officials say.
While less equipped than the US Army’s most modern M-model Black Hawks, the older, analog A-models are currently being recapitalized and prepared for hand over to the Afghans.
Many of the Afghan pilots, now being trained by a globally-focused, US-based aerospace firm called MAG, have been flying Russian-built Mi-17s. Now, MAG is helping some Afghan pilots transition to Black Hawks as well as training new pilots for the Afghan Air Force.
“We are working on a lot of mission types. We’re helping pilots learn to fly individually, conduct air assaults and fly in conjunction with several other aircraft,” Brian Tachias, Senior Vice President for MAG, Huntsville Business Unit, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
An Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter transports soldiers from Bagram Airfield over Ghazni, Afghanistan, on July 26, 2004.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Vernell Hall)
The current MAG deal falls under the US Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization. Tachias said, “a team of roughly 20 MAG trainers has already flown over 500 hours with Afghan trainees.” MAG trainers, on-the-ground in Kandahar, graduated a class of Afghan trainees this month. According to current plans, Black Hawks will have replaced all Mi-17s by 2022.
Tachias added that teaching Afghan pilots to fly with night vision goggles has been a key area of emphasis in the training to prepare them for combat scenarios where visibility is more challenging. By next year, MAG intends to use UH-60 simulators to support the training.
While not armed with heavy weapons or equipped with advanced sensors, the refurbished A-model Black Hawks are outfitted with new engines and crew-served weapons. The idea is to give Afghan forces combat maneuverability, air superiority and a crucial ability to reinforce offensive operations in mountainous terrain, at high altitudes.
An Afghan Air Force pilot receives a certificate during a UH-60 Black Hawk Aircraft Qualification Training graduation ceremony at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 20, 2017. The pilot is one of six to be the first AAF Black Hawk pilots. The first AAF Black Hawk pilots are experienced aviators coming from a Mi-17 background.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)
The MAG training effort is consistent with a broader Army strategy to arm, train, and equip Afghan forces such that they can continue to take over combat missions. In recent years, the US Army has placed a premium on operating in a supportive role wherein they train, assist and support Afghan fighters who themselves engage in combat, conduct patrols and do the majority of the fighting.
Standing up an Afghan Air Force has been a longstanding, stated Army goal for a variety of key reasons, one of which simply being that the existence of a capable Afghan air threat can not only advance war aims and enable the US to pull back some of its assets from engaging in direct combat.
While acknowledging the complexities and challenges on continued war in Afghanistan, US Centcom Commander Gen. Joseph Votel voiced this sensibility earlier this summer, stating that Afghan forces are increasingly launching offensive attacks against the Taliban.
“They are fighting and they are taking casualties, but they are also very offensive-minded, inflicting losses on the Taliban and [ISIS-Khorasan] daily, while expanding their capabilities and proficiency every day,” Votel said, according to an Army report from earlier this summer.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.