A retired Navy SEAL wounded in the search for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who walked away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009, testified about the harrowing firefight that ended his career.
Speaking at Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing Oct. 25, Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch choked up when describing how enemy combatants shot a trained dog that was with the team before shooting him just above his right knee.
“I really thought that I was going to die,” Hatch said.
Hatch walks with a limp after undergoing 18 surgeries to repair his leg.
The former Navy SEAL, forced to retire from the military after nearly 26 years of service because of injuries sustained while searching for Bergdahl, said he had known days before that the search was going to be hazardous.
“Somebody’s going to get killed or hurt trying to get that kid,” he recalled saying to his teammates.
Trump motion still pending
The hearing started with a surprise, as the judge, Colonel Jeffery R. Nance, said he was not yet ready to rule on the defense’s argument that recent comments by President Donald Trump had made a fair hearing impossible.
“I’m still considering it,” Nance said.
The defense has argued that the president seemed to endorse previous assertions, made when he was a presidential candidate, that Bergdahl was a traitor and deserved execution. As commander in chief, he is the superior officer of all the military officials responsible for disciplining Bergdahl.
Questioned by reporters last week about Bergdahl, Trump said he couldn’t say more on the case, “but I think people have heard my comments in the past.”
Last week, Bergdahl pleaded guilty at a court-martial hearing to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The latter carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing is expected to extend into next week.
Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan is the Air National Guard Special Assistant to Maj. Gen. Scott F. Smith, the Director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Arlington, Va. The directorate, encompassing seven divisions and the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, is responsible for policy, guidance and oversight of Air Force operations.
General Vaughan also serves as the lead for the Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team (AF-PEAT) and co-leads the ad hoc Joint-PEAT, along with Navy Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman.
General Vaughan completed Reserve Officer Training Corps at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received his commission as honor graduate from ANG’s Academy of Military Science. He previously served in leadership roles at the squadron, group, wing and higher headquarters levels in both the mobility and combat air forces. General Vaughan commanded the 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico, and Detachment 1 of the 13th Air Expeditionary Group (formerly the 13th Expeditionary Support Squadron), Antarctica.
During an interview with Airman Magazine, Gen. Vaughan discussed his new post leading the joint investigation of Unexplained Physiological Episodes (UPEs) and his experiences as a mobility and combat airman and safety officer.
Airman Magazine: Please tell us about your new job investigating Unexplained Physiological Episodes.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: As part of my role working in A3T, I’ve been tasked by the A3 Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly to lead the Physiological Episodes Action Team, also known as the PEAT.
PE stands for physiological episode or event. Essentially it’s any anomaly in the interaction among the aircrew, equipment, and environment that causes adverse physical or cognitive symptoms, which may impede the ability to fly..
What we’ve done across the Air Force and all aircraft, but most recently with the T-6 fleet, is to investigate what causes PEs. In some cases an Unknown PE will immediately reveal to us what happened. Maybe there was some sort of contamination in the cockpit due to an oil leak or some other fumes, so we’re able to identify it as a known physiological event.
In other cases, pilots will experience symptoms, come down and land, report them and we don’t know exactly what the cause is until we investigate further.
Members of the Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team and Air Force PEAT listen to a discussion between Rear Adm. Fredrick R. “Lucky” Luchtman (left) and Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward L. “Hertz” Vaughan (right) as they lay the ground work for the Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team, or J-PEAT.
(Photo by Scot Cregan)
Airman Magazine: Tell me about the PEAT. What is the structure and objective of the team?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: The AF-PEAT is Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team. Now, previously this has been known as the UPE IT or Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team. We’re working very closely with our Navy partners and they came up with a pretty good name – Physiological Episodes Action Team. In the interest of both jointness and keeping it simple for all the flying community, we’ve aligned names with the Navy.
Of course, that’s not the only thing we’ve learned from the Navy. The Navy’s had some great success in exploring what happens in physiological episodes, what happens to aviators, and we’ve been able to learn a lot from them and they’ve learned from us as well.
Airman Magazine: How does the PEAT operate?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We have two meetings per week. Every Friday the Air Force PEAT meets. Who is on this action team? The answer is those people who are required for that particular meeting.
We’ll have the topics of the week, sometimes we’re looking at specific incidents with airplanes, specific episodes, and other times we may be investigating new equipment that’s coming out, new procedures, new training or maybe there’s the results of an investigation that we’ll need to review. We have standing members of the team, about half a dozen, that are there at every meeting.
Then we have another kind of a second layer of folks, which gets us up closer to 20 people, who come in as needed. That second layer includes folks from the acquisition community or the 711th Human Performance Wing. We don’t necessarily need to have them come to every meeting, but there’s times we really need somebody from human performance wing present. That’s one meeting.
Then immediately following that meeting, we have, what I call the Joint-PEAT. It’s really an ad hoc Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team with the Navy. It is very much a joint effort in that we work closely together and meet weekly to keep a steady battle rhythm so as things come up during the week, if they’re not an emergency or if it’s not something that we’ve got to address right at that minute, we’ll be able to put it together on Friday. We know that once a week we’re going to have a meeting where we can sit down face-to-face and hash these things out.
My Navy counterpart is Rear Adm. Frederick Luckman, he goes by “Lucky”. My call sign is “Hertz”. We immediately got to a Hertz-Lucky professional friendly demeanor. We go through an awful lot of coffee. He and I meet as often as we can to share data. Like I said, we cannot share the information fast enough.
The Navy is doing a lot of good work. They had a series of issues with physiology not only in the F-18, but T-45s, and they’ve had very good success in their T-6 fleet. They have a T-6 fleet that’s about half the size of the Air Force’s. They have slightly different models, some of theirs are newer models, but the oxygen systems are very similar.
The Navy adopted early on, in response to some of the lessons they learned from other airframes, significant maintenance practices in their T-6 oxygen system that we found very useful. We watched the Navy adopt those, saw the results of it and in those cases we’ve been able to adopt it exactly the same way that they have.
Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan, head of the Air Force Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team, and Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman, Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team lead, discuss ongoing efforts to minimize the risk of Physiological Episodes.
(U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Scot Cregan)
Airman Magazine: How does the timely resolution of PEs, affect training and readiness?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Looking at the National Defense Strategy, lethality is the primary objective and, for the Air Force, that equates to readiness. Are we ready to fight? You know, the question is readiness for what? Ready to do what? It’s ready to prosecute the war, ready to fight. In some cases, being ready to go out and influence and be that presence where we need to be.
If we’re having equipment struggles, delays in our programs, or we’re having to stand-down aircraft or cancel missions because of physiological episodes that will get in the way of us being ready. It will get in the way of us executing any plans we may have out there. So it’s important for us to get the information back, put the fixes in, get those funded, fielded and executed as quickly as possible. Once we do that, we’re going to enhance readiness and capability as we grow toward the Air Force We Need.
It also eliminates a distraction. Anytime you have aircraft mishaps of any kind, anytime you have a cluster of these PEs, it’s going to create a distraction, not just for the frontline airman, but for their families, and anybody else associated with it. Anybody involved with the operation and maintenance will have a distraction. That distraction takes our eye off the readiness ball. That’s one of the reasons that you’ll see the PEAT, Physiological Episodes Acting Team, embedded right in A3T. A3T’s tasking is training and readiness.
Airman Magazine: What types of symptoms are commonly associated with PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Symptoms span the spectrum of what can happen to people on airplanes. I’ll caveat this with Air Force aviators receive extensive training in physiology and what may happen to them in tactical aviation. All pilots and other aircrew going through their initial training, experience the hypobaric chamber, we call it the altitude chamber. They get used to what it’s like to operate at high altitudes and what happens during decompression. They also have routine refresher training in all aspects of aviation physiology.
One of the main reasons for doing that training is so that each aviator can learn what their individual symptoms will be. No two people will react the same to an aircraft or environmental stimulus and, in fact, the same person may have different reactions on different days based on fatigue, fitness, nutrition, or other personal factors.
It’s important for each aviator to have a sense of what symptoms they might have, especially the early onset symptoms, so they can take early appropriate action to safely recover the aircraft or get out of the environment that’s causing the problem.
Some of these symptoms can range from things like tingling in the extremities, fingers and toes, headaches or nausea. There are actually cases of folks having euphoria, while other folks may become belligerent. They know if you’re flying along and all of a sudden you just feel a little irritated for no particular reason it may be time to check your oxygen system, look at the environment you’re in or determine if that’s caused by something else. Then take appropriate action to mitigate the risk.
Airman Magazine: You have said that when investigating and mitigating PEs, “We can’t share information fast enough.” Describe what you mean and how that process can be improved?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Sharing the right information and then making sense of the information is very important in dealing with this phenomenon. What we do right now in the Air Force is we listen to the pilots. Pilots will land and give us a debrief – What happened? When did it happen? What types of conditions were going on in the airplane?
You’ll find that in the Air Force fleet, and the Navy fleet as well, most of the aircraft have pretty sophisticated sensors when it comes to their engines and other aircraft systems. When they land that information is downloaded, aggregated, and acted upon. Much of the critical data is available real time and available to the pilot for immediate action. Each aircraft is slightly different as technology improves, but the amount of data that we’re able to download from a given flight is enormous. But hard data on the human weapon system is slim to none.
This gets into right into some of the themes of Secretary of the Air Force has talked about going into artificial intelligence, big data analytics. How do we deal with all this data, make some sense of it and not run down the wrong path to get a wrong conclusion?
I will tell you one area though, where we’re still struggling, not only the Air Force, but also the Navy and our colleagues at NASA, is collecting data from the actual human weapon system.
We want to know things like pulse rate, oxygen content in the blood, cognitive functions, any anomalies with eyesight, but these are very hard things to sense independently without interfering with the aviators while they conduct their mission.
That’s a fascinating area of research that’s happening out at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in conjunction with the Navy Medical Research Unit Dayton. What they’ve started to do, both those labs working together and along with some NASA support, is fielding some prototypes, such as sensors that might go, for example, in the (oxygen) mask or on the pilot’s helmet.
We actually know real-time information about the oxygen system in an airplane. We have sensors on the actual system to know the content of oxygen and other gases that might be presented to the aviator. What we don’t know is what happens in system losses; what happens between the actual oxygen production or the oxygen source and the pilot’s breathing. Furthermore, we don’t know the pilot’s ability to uptake that oxygen. There’s a lot of medical and physiological processes that we need to monitor better.
A technique called Hybrid 3D Printing, developed by AFRL researchers in collaboration with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, uses additive manufacturing to integrate soft, conductive inks with material substrates to create stretchable electronic devices.
(Wyss Institute photo)
Airman Magazine: What does the end state of this research look like? Are you talking about monitoring physiological responses of pilots during missions in real time?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: That’s absolutely correct. We’d like to get to an end state where the human weapon system is instrumented in such a way that’s noninvasive and nonintrusive. The aviators won’t feel the sensors and it doesn’t interfere with their duties at all, but that that data is available just like you would read all the instruments on an engine. We’re trying to figure out, is that five years from now, two years from now or 20 years from now?
If you think of the human on the loop or in the loop going forward, especially in cyber systems and integrating across all-domain operations, it’s going to be more important than ever to make sure that the human weapon system is keeping up and that we’re able to monitor that.
So we’re looking at sensors that might be wearable. A lot of folks out in the community are familiar with wearable fitness monitors and the chips that go in your shoes if you’re going to run a race to keep track of where you are. One of the challenges we have in aviation is the sensors that might be worn in commercial practice that people might buy at a local store are not suitable for the aviation environment, particularly tactical aviation.
Not only do you have the pressure and temperature anomalies that occur as airplanes travel up and down, but in tactical aviation, fighters, bombers and training aircraft, there’s an awful lot of G-loading. There can be anomalies that go from high altitude to low altitude in very short order and that has a lot of wear and tear on the sensors. Some sensors are embedded in clothing and depend on contact with the skin. For example, in order to prepare themselves for a mission, aviators will strap down tighter than you might in an automobile to keep them safe, but that may also cause bulges in the clothing that interferes with sensory contact. There’s a lot of research yet to be done and a lot of development ahead of us.
I’m looking forward to the Air Force potentially investing more in that research. I’m especially impressed with our ability to work with our joint partners with the Navy and the Army, which is coming on board later this month, in this PEAT effort. They’ve got a lot of exciting things happening in their aerospace medicine field and then NASA has been a partner throughout. You really can’t beat, from an intellectual capacity standpoint, having partners like the 711th Human Performance Wing and NASA. We’ve got the best partners in the world.
Airman Magazine: Are there other interagency or commercial partners in the research and investigation of PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Absolutely. Some of the companies that produce our aircraft have divisions dedicated to human physiology and enhancing the ability of the human to perform in or on the loop. They provide enhancements such as providing sensors and digital displays. In some cases, even an augmented reality display, which we have in many aircraft, where there’s a lens that comes over one eye and not only can you see your environment, but that lens will produce a heads-up display of images that will help you interpret what you’re seeing on the ground.
Not only do we have industry partners that helping us with this, we also have universities and some international partners. Primarily we’re working through the Navy to access the folks that are doing that work on the outside, but we’re going to start working a little more with our international affairs group here in the Air Force to foster those partnerships.
Airman Magazine: Do you see a time when human sensor capability will be baked in rather than bolted on?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I think we’re going to get to that point. Right now, we’ve got to be sensitive to the fact, that if we start utilizing every sensor that’s available commercially, we run the risk of interfering with the mission and maybe causing a distraction. The last thing we want to do is have sensors be the cause of problems. We want the sensors to help us solve those problems.
We’re looking at ways to prototype these things. Edwards Air Force Base, for example, where we do a lot of research and development flight testing, has been very instrumental in working with the 711th Human Performance Wing and the system program offices for the airplanes, to include the T-6, F-15, F-16 and others, in doing some remarkable testing that gives us great foundational data. That foundational data is important to determine where we do the development going forward. Also, we recently shook hands on an agreement with the Civil Air Patrol to help us collect, assess, and sort through the many commercially available wearable sensors.
Airman Magazine: What’s the benefit to the force of being able to process and utilize PE data faster?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So for example, right now if we have a physiological event in the aircraft, we typically execute emergency procedures, get to a safe backup source of oxygen if it’s available, descend to an altitude where it’s safe to breathe ambient air and then land as soon as possible at the nearest suitable airfield.
Perhaps what will happen in the future, with sensors on board, you may be able to head off that emergency. Sensors may alert the pilots to the fact that they are entering a phase of flight or a set of activities or an environment, where they’re at higher risk of these kinds of anomalies. By alerting the pilot to that, they may be able to mitigate it or avoid a physiological event.
Furthermore, if there is a situation in flight, the sensors on board that gives them real time readings may enable them to do a better job of assessing what’s going on.
But this is where it gets insidious. With physiological events, one serious possible symptom is an inability to assess the situation.
Now that’s a pretty extreme symptom, but you may have those situations come up. In which case, presenting the data to the pilot as numbers or another traditional data format might not be as useful as, maybe, an alert light. There are some programs out there that cause the oxygen mask to vibrate a little bit. We do this with the control stick in airplanes as well. With such an equipped aircraft if you were to get into a stall, the control stick vibrates, They call it a stick shaker. Applying these proven technologies to other areas are all in prototype and being tested.
Zach Demers, an aerospace engineer, demonstrates the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) in an F-16 flight simulator at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
(Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
Airman Magazine: Weren’t you involved in the adoption of another pilot safety system?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Formerly, I served as the Air National Guard’s national director of safety. Part of our safety portfolio is flight safety and in that we have some advanced fourth and fifth- generation aircraft, but we also have legacy systems out there. Systems that don’t have baked-in ground collision avoidance systems.
We worked very hard with the system program office and the Pilot Physician program in the United States Air Force to bring on board these Auto G-CAS systems (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System). We have confirmed saves in situations where the pilot may have lost awareness. It doesn’t have to be a physiological event. It can be task saturation or other things that cause the pilot to lose awareness of proximity to the ground. Traditional GCAS systems will alert the pilot, such as an X symbol in the heads-up display, letting them know they’re near the ground and need to pull back on the stick.
In the Auto G-CAS, the aircraft sensors can actually determine the point where the pilot can no longer recover, due to the limits of human reaction time, and the system takes over the jet and recovers it for the pilot. As soon as the aircraft is in a safe regime, it returns the control back to the pilot. And that’s also had a couple of great saves for us.
Airman Magazine: You mentioned the Pilot Physician program, what is that and are they involved in the J-PEAT and investigating of UPEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan:Pilot Physician is a very unique program in the Air Force and its highly specialized. These are individuals are rated aviators of all sorts, but primarily pilots. Then they go to medical school and change their job category. So they’re no longer primarily pilots for the Air Force, they’re now physicians for the Air Force.
They’ve enabled to help us understand what’s going on both operationally and medically and where those two things meet. In other situations, you have pilots who were trying to describe what’s happening to them in the airplane and then you have medical doctors trying to understand that description. There can be things lost in translation between the communities.
The Pilot Physicians speak both aviation and medicine fluently, are able to identify with the pilots and, in many cases, have flown that exact aircraft being investigated.
Lt. Col. Jay Flottmann, pilot physician and 325th Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, explains how a valve in the upper pressure garment and the shape and the size of oxygen delivery hoses and connection points contributed to previously unexplained physiological issues during F-22 flights.
(Photo by Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)
Airman Magazine: Are there specific examples of investigations that benefitted from Pilot Physician experience and expertise?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Lt. Col. James “Bones” Flottman was the Pilot Physician directly involved in the F-22 investigation that we did a few years ago. The F-22 had a series of physiological episodes. He was the one that was able, as an F-22 pilot and a physician, to credibly determine that it was a work of breathing issue.
It was a combination of factors, we don’t need to go into all the specifics right here, but he was able to bridge the gap between pilot practices, things they’ve been taught to do and things they did through experience, and what was happening medically. That resulted in improvements in the whole system – improvements in some of the hardware and improvements in the pilot practices. Not only was he able to help the investigation team solve that, he was able to then go back and credibly relate this to the pilots, restoring faith both in the system, in the Air Force process.
There’s another one that is a friend of mine, retired Col. Peter Mapes. Dr. Pete Mapes is a classic Pilot Physician. He was a B-52 pilot and a fantastic doctor, as are all of them. He and I worked closely together on Auto G-CAS, as well as several key people in engineering and operations. He was really the driving force, along with Lt. Col. Kevin Price, at the Air Force and the OSD level to push that development and production through, especially for the legacy aircraft.
He also had a role in many other aviation safety improvements to include helicopters, specifically wire detection. A lot of helicopters have mishaps because they strike power lines. He was instrumental in getting some of those systems put into helicopters and out into the fleet.
He was also instrumental in improving some of the seat designs and some of the pilot-aircraft interface designs as well. Really too many to mention.
Another great a success story for the Air Force, when it comes to the Pilot Physician program is Col. Kathy Hughes, call sign “Fog”. She’s flown the T-38 and A-10, a great flying background, and has been a wonderful physician for the Air Force. She really explored the use, the application and the design of our G-suits and was able to help the Air Force evolve into a full coverage G-suit. So now the G-suits that our fighter aviators fly are more standardized and more effective than the previous generations of flight suits. Thanks, in large part, to her work. I recently met her at aviation safety conference where she is helping commercial interests design better ejection seats.
That’s just three examples. There’s a whole laundry list.
We also have advising both the Navy and Air Force PEAT, Col. William P. Mueller; call sign “Ferris”. Col. Mueller was an F-4 fighter pilot and now one of the top physicians in aerospace medicine. He’s been absolutely invaluable in helping us understand what’s going on with the physiological episodes. He not only sits on the Air Force PEAT, but he also has a permanent membership sitting on the Navy’s PEAT. So he’s part of that joint interaction and offers a fearless perspective on improving training.
Col. Kathryn Hughes, a pilot-physician and director, Human Systems Integration, 711th Human Performance Wing, sits on the stairs of a centrifuge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, April 22, 2016.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I like using the email analogy. So most of us have email. Those that work in an office may have one for work and one for personal use, or maybe even more than that. If you’re like me at all, if you skip checking your emails for even one day, you find yourself in a huge email deficit. Now imagine all the sensors, whether it’s a cyber system, aircraft systems, space system, and each piece of all the data being collected as an email coming to you. Within minutes you would be completely overwhelmed with data. So we’re going to rely on systems to help us sort through the data and present those things that are most important now for decision making.
Those other pieces of information that we might want later for analysis, it will store those and present them at the appropriate time. So that gets after artificial intelligence. We need these systems to work with the human in the loop. We don’t necessarily want it to be standalone. We want it to be integrated with humans and that’s where the real challenge comes in, because as an aviator flying an airplane, the data I want right at that moment to prosecute the fight, may be different than the data a cyber operator working with me in that operation may need at that same moment. Artificial Intelligence or underlying data systems will have to be smart enough to give the data to the operator that’s needed to make the right decision.
I recently spent some time with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. I asked him about this wicked technology problem of applying artificial intelligence on the tactical edge. His advice about leveraging cloud technology to perform advanced operations on big data, where and when needed, has been invaluable.
Airman Magazine: How does recorded data on individual pilots allow you establish baseline physiology and find relationships between PEs that may occur in aircrew from different units and bases?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We’re already finding benefit from that data, so the 711th Human Performance Wing is working very closely, in this case with the T-6 system program office, and some big data analytic gurus. These folks will take large volumes of data and slice and dice it to find where there might be some differences from what would be considered a baseline or normal.
Then they can dig into those differences and see if there is something to learn. They’re finding a lot of great results that help us improve the systems. Because physiological events involve humans and each human has such a different reaction and an individual person will have a different reaction on a different day, it can be difficult to look at a small sample size and draw any big lessons. We need large sample sizes and that’s where you can start to kind of tease out the pieces of the data that are going to move us forward.
As we worked with the Navy on the Physiological Episode Action Team we have found that pilots in the Air Force and the Navy are more informed than ever. They know people in the tech business and the pilots talk amongst themselves and share information and they’re finding these wearable sensors.
Most of the wearable sensors are not suitable for aviation use. They just can’t provide good data under those conditions, but it’s worth exploring. Talking to Admiral Luckman, we wanted to find a way to get these sensors, and most of them are small things like fitness monitors, that just aren’t allowed in our environment right now, into the cockpit just to see how they survive a flight. The Civil Air Patrol, which flies general aviation aircraft, fly with their smart phones and other types of equipment.
They have a tremendous safety record, but they also have a completely different set of rules than we do. They typically just follow the AIM and the FAA civilian flight rules. Most of those flight rules don’t have any prohibitions on bringing equipment in your pocket or your flight bag.
So recently we sat down with some of the leaders of the Civil Air Patrol to work out a memorandum of understanding whereabouts we’ll get these ideas and sensors to our pilots in the fleet. Some of them will appropriately go through Air Force and Navy channels and may end up being something of a program of record in the long term.
Others that we can’t cross that gap and into the system, we’ll offer those to Civil Air Patrol and, at their option, they can start flying those. It’s not official flight test, but they can at least tell us, does this thing survive a flight up to 10,000 feet and back. And that piece of information might be just enough. That then allows our system program office with the labs to start taking a closer look.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So that’s a great question and that’s why I think the development of sensors and better understanding of baseline human physiology is so important.
The RPA environment is just the tip of the iceberg. As we look at humans in the loop or on the loop, human physiology, whether it’s in cyber, RPAs, intel, space, any of the other missions that we’re doing, is a very important consideration.
What we don’t have yet is a tremendous amount of baseline data. What’s physiology supposed to look like in those situations? So when it’s different, how would we know it? That’s some of the work that’s going on right now at the labs is base-lining that data.
I will tell you that while the environment of RPAs is uniquely different than the environment in airplanes, but it’s not always easier. You have a lot of folks that are out there engaged in very serious operations, life and death situations, that they are dealing with for hours on end and then go home every night to their families and to would be a normal environment. Most people have coping mechanisms to deal with that. But that’s one of the areas of research that folks are looking at in the labs – how do we better prepare people to go back and forth between these kinds of environments?
Maj. Bishane, an MQ-9 Reaper pilot, controls an aircraft from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. RPA personnel deal with the stressors of a deployed military service member while trying to maintain the normalcy of a day-to-day life.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
Airman Magazine: Let’s shift gears and talk about your career history. How does leading PEAT differ from your past experiences as a safety officer at a wing or a squadron?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Prior to this, I worked for Secretary Mattis in OSD reserve integration. We basically informed OSD policy relative to the seven different reserve components out there to include the Air National Guard.
Before that, I served as commander of the 156th Airlift Wing. As a wing commander, it is a minute-by-minute duty to make risk decisions and it’s very important to realize the consequences of those decisions and understand that whole risk matrix.
In my current position, I’m not a commander of anything. I’m not really in charge of folks specifically. We have a team, but we come together as required. So this job is more informative. One of our primary roles is to inform commanders. As they give us data, we give them back context so they can make better risk decisions.
It also allows the labs to put a focus on their studies enabling the system program offices to acquire and improve systems to support the mission. So this job is very different in that respect.
I think having been a commander previously helps me understand what these commanders they need to hear and how they want to receive that data so it doesn’t overwhelm them.
Airman Magazine: What is it you would like the pilots and aircrew to know about you, the PEAT and their part in preventing and mitigating PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I traveled to Randolph Air Force Base and I had the opportunity to meet with some of the higher headquarters staff. I met with the commander of 19th Air Force and I was very encouraged and reassured with everyone’s openness to really solving this problem as aggressively and quickly as possible, talking about physiological episodes, but also, in a broader sense, the sustainment of the T-6 and sustainment of other airframes for which people might be interested.
I feel good about where that’s going. I also had a real eye-opener when I had an opportunity to meet with some of the T-6 pilots. We met off base. We decided to meet in a restaurant in a casual environment. We wanted that format because I wanted to hear really unfiltered what some of these T-6 pilots, who are some of the most experienced pilots in the Air Force flying that mission, that airframe. I was able to learn a lot. They have great faith in their chain of command and leadership. They have valid and serious concerns about physiological episodes, as does the commander all the way up to the chief of staff and the Secretary.
I think being able to hear their perspective, share with them my firsthand knowledge of meeting with senior level commanders in the Air Force bridged some gaps. I also was able to hear some very specific engineering questions and connect some of those pilots directly with some of the engineers at the system program office and some folks within their own chain of command that they just haven’t connected with yet. Just trying to get those dialogues going, because the solutions that the air Force is putting into place, whether it’s T-6 or any other airframe, are usually phased. Some of them require major investment, money and time-wise, and those take a little longer to accomplish.
So how do you bridge the gap between today and when we get to that promised land if some of those bigger fixes and it comes down to some solid risk management? In the case of the T-6, there’s a whole list of maintenance protocols that we handle and emergency procedures for the pilots that don’t necessarily reduce the number of these events, but they can reduce the severity and certainly mitigate the consequences. That’s what we’re trying to do. We don’t want a situation where any physiological episode goes far enough to lead to a permanent injury or harm of an aviator destruction of property. We want to catch those things as early as possible through these mitigation techniques.
Another thing I got to do when I was at Randolph was shadow the maintainers as they did maintenance on a T-6 that had a physiological episode. In the past, when these things would happen, there wasn’t a specific protocol. They would do their very best to look at the oxygen system, but there wasn’t a protocol on how to do that.
T-6 Texans fly in formation over Laughlin AFB, TX.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
Over the last year, with the help of a lot of the pilots, doctors, chain of command folks, human performance wing – a big team effort, when the airplane lands after one of those instances it’s an automatic protocol for that oxygen system.
In most cases it’s removed and a new one is put in and the suspect system then gets this thorough going over at the depot level and not only do we fix that, that particular system and return it to service. We’re able to learn a lot and collect data points. In some cases, we don’t find the specific cause in that system and then we look elsewhere – maybe more pilot interviews, talking to the doctors and trying to piece it together.
The protocols that are out there now not only helped mitigate the consequences of these events until we field new equipment, but they also help us in collecting data that will inform better decisions going forward.
The last time the United States launched humans into space from American soil was in 2011, when the last space shuttle made its final voyage into orbit.
Since then, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. That has become increasingly expensive and limited US access to the station.
That could all change at 4:33 p.m. ET on Wednesday. If weather, hardware, and other factors cooperate, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, built with NASA funds, will launch the astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley toward the ISS in a mission called Demo-2.
A successful flight would resurrect the US’s ability to launch people into space. It would also mark SpaceX’s first mission with passengers in the company’s 18-year history.
“This is the culmination of a dream,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told “CBS This Morning” hours ahead of the scheduled launch. “This is a dream come true. In fact, it feels surreal. If you’d asked me when starting SpaceX if this would happen, I’d be like, 1% chance, 0.1% chance.”
A Demo-2 success would also mark the first crewed commercial spaceflight ever, opening a new era of space exploration.
That’s why NASA began funding SpaceX and its competitor, Boeing, to develop human-ready spacecraft in 2010. The effort, called the Commercial Crew Program, is three years past its original deadline.
Having a spacecraft and launch system in the US would give NASA better access to the space station. While Soyuz can carry only three people at a time, the Crew Dragon can seat seven.
An artist’s concept of astronauts and human habitats on Mars. (JPL / NASA)
Once NASA can send more astronauts at a lower cost, it will also be able to use the space station’s microgravity environment to conduct more science experiments — in pharmaceuticals, materials science, astronomy, medicine, and more.
“The International Space Station is a critical capability for the United States of America. Having access to it is also critical,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, said during a televised briefing on May 1. “We are moving forward very rapidly with this program that is so important to our nation and, in fact, to the entire world.”
He added, “We are going to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”
Demo-2 brings SpaceX one step closer to the moon and Mars
NASA shares some of Musk’s ambitions (sending humans back to the moon and, eventually, to Mars) but there are a lot of steps along the way. Sending astronauts to the space station aboard the Crew Dragon is the first big milestone.
But the mission won’t be considered a success until it returns Hurley and Behnken to Earth.
“We’re going to stay hungry until Bob and Doug come home,” Kathy Lueders, who manages the Commercial Crew Program for NASA, said in a briefing on Friday. “Our teams are scouring and thinking of every single risk that’s out there, and we’ve worked our butt off to buy down the ones we know of, and we’ll continue to look — and continue to buy them down — until we bring them home.”
The U.S. military is getting out of the nation-building business and is now focusing on killing terrorists. That is among the policy changes announced by President Donald Trump in a speech delivered at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, Aug. 21.
“From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America,” he said, while also explicitly refusing to set a timetable or to reveal how many more troops will be deployed.
Trump has already shown an inclination to not micro-manage and to give local commanders authority to make operational and tactical decisions. In April, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb made its combat debut in Afghanistan when it was used to hit a tunnel complex used by the Afghanistan affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
President Trump, while not mentioning Obama by name, also criticized the abrupt withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011, saying that the removal of troops created a vacuum and allowed ISIS to rise and take control of a number of cities in Iraq.
President Trump also had harsh words for Pakistan over the existence of safe havens for groups like the Taliban. Perhaps the most notable terrorist provided safe haven in that country was Osama bin Laden, who was killed at a hideout in Abbottabad — a city a little over 30 miles from the capital in Islamabad.
Commandos from the 7th Special Operation Kandak prepare for the unitís first independent helicopter assault mission, March 10, 2014, in Washir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan The mission was conducted to disrupt insurgent activity. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Richard B. Lower/Released)
“[Directing has] been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember,” shared Tyler Grey, who self-declares on Instagram as “a geeky kid trapped in the body of a nerdy adult.” For those who know his story, however, he’s got a pretty respectable warrior side, too.
A former Delta Force operator and sniper-qualified Army Ranger, Grey’s military career came to an end when he was “blown up in Sadr City” (his words, not mine), resulting in a medical retirement. His right arm still bears the scars from that attack — but he hasn’t let it keep him from actively supporting the military community.
For the past few years, that has meant portraying Trent Sawyer in front of the camera on SEAL Team while helping to produce and act as a military consultant behind the scenes. With Unbecoming an Officer (Season 3 Episode 10), he finally puts on a very coveted hat: director.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B5vyuZ1n41t/ expand=1]Tyler Grey on Instagram: “So the episode I directed airs next Wednesday 12/11! Here is a promo for it and excuse me right now for the fact that I will post about it…”
Most veterans agree that watching shows and films about military service can feel frustrating. It’s hard to get the nuances of military culture right — especially when storytellers are focused on either placing heroes on a pedestal or exposing their trauma.
SEAL Team has been a show actively committed to getting it right by hiring veterans as architects for the story. Grey is not the only service member CBS has brought on board. In a particularly poignant Season 2 episode, the show explored veteran suicide, a tragic issue that hits the military community at too-high a rate. The episode was written by former frogman Mark Semos.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B56ANDwngdU/ expand=1]Tyler Grey on Instagram: “He is another clip from tomorrow nights episode. Sadly it won’t let me post more than a minute but you get the idea. The guy at the…”
Grey’s leadership qualities are clear even from a distance. He’s quick to give his team credit for successes (and quick to accept blame for any shortcomings — even in jest).
He’s also great at balancing the line between Hollywood and reality.
“95% of the time if there is something technically wrong on the show there is a TV or dramatic reason for it,” he clarified in advance of the, I’m sure, flood of comments about unused NODS in an episode.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B3skAiRn-hP/ expand=1]Tyler Grey on Instagram: “Episode 3 airing tonight at 9/8c. So one thing I’ll mention here that I get asked a lot about in reference to the show is why things aren’t…”
To be clear, directing for television is a highly competitive gig. Throw in stunts, battle scenes, smoke, and special effects and you’ve got a major learning curve for a first-timer.
This is where military training really does bring excellence to the surface. A good leader knows who to turn to for guidance (the NCO or SNCO, always…), how to identify and utilize the strengths of the team, when to be definitive, and when to ask for help.
“On a serious note I hope those who watch it enjoy — a lot of people worked really hard to help this come together,” he shared.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B50yidLHIrc/ expand=1]Tyler Grey on Instagram: “No idea what I was talking about looking at this picture but I probably didn’t know then either.. Thanks again to the crew, the cast and…”
It’s great to see a huge network recognizing the capabilities of veterans in the filmmaking industry — especially in military terrain. Service members give up years of their creative careers while their civilian colleagues build resumes. During that time, however, vets rack up some marketable skills and experiences that benefit a set.
SEAL Team is one show that is really paving the way for veterans to show what they’re made of. It’s an opportunity, not a right, and the professionals know it. When they do step up, however, it makes the series stronger.
Grey isn’t the only veteran who has directed for the show. U.S. Marine Michael Watkins, who has an impressive television resume that includes The Blacklist, Quantum Leap, and Prison Break, has also taken the helm.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B5Y6jdAnTGg/ expand=1]Tyler Grey on Instagram: “Tonight’s episode directed by Marine Veteran Michael Watkins. So this one was rough as we lost our location that all the action was based…”
From its consultants to its writers and directors to its cast and, yes, even down to its three-line co-stars, SEAL Team gives members of the military community the opportunity to excel after service.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B4vYabMHtdo/ expand=1]Tyler Grey on Instagram: “Define irony: Working on a military show, as a veteran, on Veterans Day. Just kidding I appreciate the opportunity and truly love this…”
Instead of the 40s-style battleship shown sinking in the original poster, the 2018 version shows the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, which is identifiable from the trademark “twin islands” design of its flight deck.
The message the poster is designed to convey is the same as in the ’40s, though the media are different.
In WWII, commanders were worried that people with access to military information could carelessly share it in conversation, which could eventually be picked up by hostile intelligence services and used against the U.S. military.
In the era of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, training was frequent and necessary in order to maintain the level of combat readiness required to sustain and prevail in battle. While times have changed, our Operational Tempo (Optempo) has not.
The number of troops needed in combat zones has decreased significantly. The amount of funds needed to maintain those combat zones has decreased as well. Funds have been redirected to modernize equipment, further training and have helped our forces remain relevant and vigilant. But what is this current wartime Optempo and Personnel Tempo (Perstempo) doing to our troops and our families?
How much is it really costing us?
Since 2001, more than 6,000 U.S. service members and DOD civilians have lost their lives. Of that, over 5,000 were KIA. Even more staggering is the number of wounded in action (WIA) since then. At least 50,000 service members have been wounded in action (DOD 2019). Since the wars began in 2001, the United States has spent 0.4 billion dollars on medical care and disability benefits.
This is only the beginning of medical care for wounded troops.
According to Costs of War, the financial costs of medical care usually peaks 30 to 40 years after the initial conflict (Bilmes, et al. 2015). In a study, it shows that although veteran suicide rates have recently decreased in numbers, the rate of suicide of military members versus civilians is still substantially higher, and ever-increasing. Furthermore, the number of veterans who use VHA versus those who don’t also, have a higher rate of suicide (DVA 2018). The toll this is taking on military families is creating unsalvageable relationships, emotional distress for children, and, ultimately, lives that are forever lost.
At the start of the war in 2001, Perstempo policies have been disregarded by many. According to the GAO:
DOD has maintained the waiver of statutory Perstempo thresholds since 2001, and officials have cited the effect of the high pace of operations and training on service members; however, DOD has not taken action to focus attention on the management of Perstempo thresholds within the services and department-wide (GAO 2018).
Is there a lack of genuine concern for family stability and well-being? Understanding the expectation of family interaction would decrease during wartime, once the service member has completed their deployment, reintegration, and revitalization of the home and family must take place. Families have been neglected and left without the proper resources to cultivate a healthy family environment. The concern for service member readiness has been an on-going issue in recent years. Studies have been conducted, and programs implemented, but is that enough?
Marital issues have often been associated with Perstempo, such as length of partner separation, infidelity during separation, and other challenges encompassed in a military marriage. The stress on the family of a service member is immeasurable; oftentimes, even discounted in comparison to the stress the service member endures. Support or resources for military spouses seeking separation or divorce are nearly nonexistent. They have been conditioned to believe that the well being of their soldiers comes before their own.
Military spouses sacrifice their academic achievements and employment opportunities in support of their service member’s careers. As the budget cuts roll out for the fiscal year, more much-needed family programs are becoming extinct. Programs that provide support for spousal employment, childcare, and leisure activities are being defunded, which can destabilize already struggling families.
Child and domestic abuse are an ever-growing concern within a community that is known for its patriotism and heroism. The families suffer in silence. Surviving recurrent deployments, solo parenting, housing issues, and the lack of program funding, the plight of the military family continues to decrease soldier readiness and morale.
Their mental well-being
The rate of PTSD and mental health diagnoses is on the rise for both service members and their families. However, services providing support and medical care for these issues have declined. The effect of time away from children has taken a toll on military children.
Neglect, abuse, and mental health issues are being ignored due to a lack of care. Some military installations cannot provide adequate mental health care because of their remote locations, and the costs to contract providers are often more than the proposed budgets allow. Because of this, the family’s needs go unmet.
With orders coming down the wire, Command Teams are obligated to carry out relentless training exercises, and soldiers are feeling the burn. Everyone is exhausted, each soldier doing the job of three, and families are becoming isolated. They lack sleep and proper nutrition, putting them at greater risk of making mistakes during training that may cost them their lives, but the soldiers march on.
The way forward
Repairing family units are necessary for the success of soldier readiness. Programs and support for families should not be cut. Revisions of budget direction may be necessary in order to tailor programs in a way that both benefits the government and the well-being of the service member and their families.
Allow soldiers to receive mental health care without fear of retaliation or loss of career. Provide structured support programs for spouses that go beyond counseling. Long term care is necessary for service members and families upon redeployment. Taking a true interest in supporting our military members and families should be the priority for our Department of Defense. We are fighting wars but not fighting for our families. Cultivate strength by improving the quality of life for everyone.
Chinese media recently released a video of a really intense military training exercise in which a 40-ton armored vehicle drives over troops laying on the ground, with the vehicle tracks passing dangerously close to the heads of the Chinese soldiers.
At the start of the video, an officer asks the soldiers: “Do you have confidence in the soldier beside you?” After shouting back “yes,” one soldier departs to climb aboard the armored vehicle as the others drop to the ground, awaiting their fellow soldier to run over them.
The tracked armored vehicle in the video looks like the HQ-17 surface-to-air missile transporter erector launcher. The HQ-17, which was publicly revealed in 2015, is a reverse-engineered Chinese variant of the Russian Tor-M1 system.
In two other related videos, soldiers involved in the demonstration talk about their experience. One soldier on the ground says he was “really nervous.”
Another Chinese soldier described the training exercise as a test of the armored vehicle driver’s skills and character, as well as an opportunity to boost trust and confidence between soldiers.
The exercise is unusual in that it has troops lying sideways, putting them at greater risk, but it is certainly not the first time China has had armored vehicles drive over troops in training.
The secretary called Putin’s remarks “disappointing, but unsurprising.”
Mattis spoke with reporters aboard a plane bound for Oman as part of an overseas trip designed to strengthen relationships.
“I looked at President Putin’s speech, and like many of us, I focused on the last third of it,” Mattis said. “The first two-thirds [was] clearly about domestic issues, but also opportunities in that first two-thirds, as I was reading it. And I tried to forget that I … knew what the last third was about — that you would actually see opportunities there to reduce the tensions between the NATO countries, the Western countries, the nations that want to live by international law, maintain sovereignty and territorial integrity of everyone, and the Russian Federation.”
The secretary said his role is to make strategic assessments, and that he saw no change to the Russian military capability in Putin’s remarks. The systems the Russian president talked about “are still years away,” the secretary said, adding that he doesn’t see them changing the military balance.
“They do not impact any need on our side for a change in our deterrent posture, which would be certainly an indication I registered this assessment with something that was changing,” Mattis said.
Moscow’s cancellation of scheduled strategic security talks shows a Russia that’s not even acting in its own best interests, he added.
Russia signed up with the United Nations Security Council for a ceasefire in Homs, Aleppo, and East Ghouta in Syria, Mattis noted. “Their partner proceeds to bomb, at best, indiscriminately, at worst, targeting hospitals,” he said. “I don’t know which it is — either they’re incompetent or they’re committing illegal acts, or both.”
Though he doesn’t have evidence to show them, the secretary told reporters, he is aware of reports of chlorine gas use and of the bombings taking place in Syria. “It’s almost like a sickening replay of what we’ve seen before, in Aleppo for example, and before that in Homs,” he said.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley worked with the U.N. Security Council to reach a cease-fire in Syria, and “Russia’s partner immediately commenced violating it,” Mattis said. “We’re working through diplomatic means; continuing to work,” he emphasized. “We don’t give up.”
China’s navy needs Maverick and Goose — and many, many more fighter jocks for its growing carrier force.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy is desperately searching for pilots to fill its carrier air wings as the country pushes to build a formidable carrier fleet.
The PLAN launched its 2019 pilot recruitment program Sept.15, 2018, with “the highlight of this year’s recruitment [being] the selection of future carrier-borne aircraft pilot cadets,” according to the Chinese military, which noted that as China’s armed forces shift from “shore-based” to “carrier-based” abilities, the PLAN intends to develop a pilot recruitment system “with Chinese naval characteristics that can adapt to carrier-borne requirements.”
The language appears to indicate a strategic shift from home defense to power projection on the high seas, thinking consistent with Chinese efforts to build an advanced blue water navy.
The lack of pilots trained for carrier-borne operations and combat has been a problem for China in recent years. “They don’t have a whole lot of pilots. Not a lot of capacity in that area,” Matthew Funaiole, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explained to Business Insider in August 2018.
By the end of 2016, there were only 25 pilots qualified to fly China’s carrier-based fighters, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported Sept. 18, 2018.
A J-15 fighter jet sits on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Liaoning.
(Photo by Zhang Lei)
Recruiters will travel across the country to 23 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions to find suitable navy aviators. “Some of the pilot cadets recruited in 2018 will receive the top and most systematic training as carrier-borne aircraft pilots,” a PLAN Pilot Recruitment Office official revealed.
Pilots selected and trained to fly carrier-based aircraft will fly the fourth-generation Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark, the heaviest carrier-based fighter jet in operation today and the type of fighter that composes the carrier air wing for China’s only operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.
The ongoing recruitment program, according to SCMP, marks the first time the Chinese navy has directly recruited pilots for the J-15, a problematic derivative of a Soviet prototype which has been blamed for several fatal training accidents. In the past, aviators from the navy and air force who were trained to fly other types of aircraft were pulled to fly the J-15.
A J-15 ship-borne helicopter prepares to land on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Liaoning.
(Photo by Zhang Lei)
“Becoming a naval pilot is the best choice for those who want to become heroes of the sky and the sea,” the Chinese military stressed on Sept. 18, 2018, emphasizing the Chinese military’s interest in developing advanced power projection capabilities.
China is rapidly building an aircraft carrier fleet with one carrier already in service, another undergoing sea trials, and a third in development, but China is still very new to complex carrier operations. Chinese Navy pilots successfully completed their first nighttime takeoffs and landings in May 2018.
“An elite team among the pilots also has carried out night landings, widely considered the riskiest carrier-based action, and have become capable of performing round-the-clock, all-weather operations,” the China Daily reported Sept. 19, 2018.
In addition to a pilot shortage, China still struggles with power and propulsion, aircraft numbers and reliability, carrier launch systems, and a limited experience with carrier operations.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The JETS handheld targeting system “is a paradigm shift” in how field artillery can be used on the battlefield, Lt. Col. Michael Frank, product manager for Soldier Precision Targeting Devices, said in October. The system could turn a howitzer or the Paladin self-propelled artillery weapon “into a giant sniper rifle,” he added.
Twenty soldiers from the 8th Field Artillery Regiment and 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment recently put the system through its paces in a wide range of scenarios at Fort Greely, the Army said in a release.
The troops used the system’s infrared imager and color-day imager to detect and identify vehicles and personnel at various distances, determining whether each was a friend or adversary. They also tested the system in a simulated urban environment, clearing buildings, rooftops, and rooms in order to observe enemy forces in the area.
“Since the system is smaller, you don’t have to worry about bumping it around when clearing a building,” Sgt. Nicholas Apperson, of the 377the Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, said. “If you have to switch buildings, disassembling and reassembling the system is much quicker than other targeting devices.”
Soldiers were also placed at random rally points anywhere from 500 meters to 2 kilometers from their designated observation posts. After moving to their observation posts, they set up their systems and found targets all around them. They then set up fire missions and sent them to a simulated fire-support team using the new Precision Fires-Dismounted system, an app on the Nett Warrior device, which is an Android-enabled smartphone.
The soldiers were also deployed with maneuver units to walk ridgelines. Upon receiving simulated intelligence reports about enemy targets along their routes, the soldiers had to set up their systems and quickly acquire targets.
They averaged 40 fire missions on each 10-hour day.
Frank praised the system’s accuracy and compact design, and the soldiers testing it at Fort Greely lauded it for similar reasons.
“Its light weight makes it easy to take it out on a mission and utilize it to its fullest capability,” said Pfc. Anthony Greenwood of the 8th Artillery Regiment.
“The JETS system is definitely much lighter and a lot easier to pick up and learn all the functions quickly,” Staff Sgt. Christopher McKoy, also of the 8th Field Artillery, said in the Army release. “It is so simple that you can pick it up and learn it in five minutes.”
The Army currently has the Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder for targeting purposes, but it is larger and heavier than the JETS, weighing about 35 pounds. It’s also considered a crew-served system, though it is operated by a single soldier.
The JETS target-locator module weighs less than 5.5 pounds and the entire system, including a tripod and batteries, weighs about 20 pounds.
JETS underwent testing during 2017, including airdrop tests at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in August as well as operational testing at Fort Greely in October 2017.
The Army has started building an emerging technology connecting soldier night-vision goggles to thermal weapons sights, allowing soldiers in combat to more quickly identify and destroy enemy targets, service officials said.
Army officials told Scout Warrior that Low-Rate Initial Production of the technology, called Rapid Target Acquisition, began in recent months. The system is slated to be operational in combat by 2018.
Rapid Target Acquisition merges two separate Army developmental efforts to engineer, deliver and combine new, upgraded night vision goggles, called Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III, or ENVG III, with next-generation thermal weapons sights –called Family of Weapons Sights – Individual, or FWS-I, Army officials said.
Army Soldiers tracking and attacking enemies in fast-moving combat situations will soon be able to shoot targets without bringing their rifle and weapons sights up to their eyes, service officials told Scout Warrior.
A wireless link will show the reticle from thermal weapons sights directly into the night vision goggle display, allowing soldiers to quickly track and destroy targets with great accuracy without needing to actually move the weapon to their shoulder and head to see the crosshairs through the thermal sights.
Enhanced targeting technology is of particular relevance in fast-developing battle circumstances such as Close Quarter Battle, or CQB, where targets can emerge and disappear in fractions of a second. Being able to strike quickly, therefore, can bring added lethality and make the difference between life and death for soldiers.
“This provides rapid target acquisition capability. The soldier no longer has to shoulder their weapon. If you can imagine looking through a goggle and some target or threat presents itself, a soldier no longer has to come all the way up. He or she can put the bubble on the image and engage the target in that manner,” Lt. Col. Timothy Fuller, former Product Manager, Soldier Maneuver Systems, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year, before initial production began.
FWS-I is a thermal sight mounted on top of an M4 rifle. It can also be configured for crew-served weapons such as a .50-cal machine gun or sniper rifle, Army officials said.
“The thermal image you are seeing is wirelessly transmitted to the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III and is displayed in its display. What you ultimately have is the crosshairs and a portion of the thermal weapon sights image spatially aligned to the image that the soldier sees in the night vision goggles,” said former Maj. Nicholas Breen, Assistant Product Manager, Family of Weapon Sights-Individual.
The Army’s ENVG III, which will begin formal production next Summer, will provide soldiers with image-intensification, improved resolution and a wider thermal camera field-of-view compared to prior models.
“The night vision goggle takes two channels. This incorporates an image-intensification where you look through your goggle and are seeing a standard night vision goggle view and a thermal image all in one image. The two channels are on top of one another and they are fused together so that you get all of the benefit of both channels,” Maj. Brandon Motte, former Assistant Product Manager, Enhanced Night Vision, said.
The improved, or higher-tech, ENGV IIIs will also help with maneuverability and command and control by enabling soldiers to see a wider field of view with better resolution and even see infrared lasers, Motte added. The technology is now going through production qualification testing and will be operational in 2017.
“This greatly improves the lethality and visibility in all weather conditions for the soldier – one very small, very lightweight night vision goggle,” Motte said.
Of greatest importance, however, is that the ENVG III will enable the wireless link with the weapon sights mounted on the gun.
“The reticle will show up in the night vision goggle when the weapon is pointed at a target,” Fuller explained. “As soon as you see a target, you can engage. You no longer have to bring it up to your face. The display is right in front of your eyes.”
The Army plans to acquire as many as 40,000 ENVG IIIs. ENVG III is being engineered to easily integrate FWS-I as soon as it is slated to be operational in 2018.
BAE Systems and DRS are the defense industry vendors involved in the developmental effort, Army officials said.
This week, Vladimir Shamanov, a former military officer who leads the Defense Committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said that by the end of this year ISIS “won’t exist anymore as an organized military structure.”
While ISIS is losing large swaths of its home turf, it still operates in a number of countries. Here are nine places where the fight against ISIS is not slowing down.
The Egyptian government has been fighting Islamist insurgents since the military took power in 2013. Most of the fighting has happened in the Sinai Peninsula, where ISIS proclaimed a province in 2014.
Egypt has been under an official state of emergency since April, after a attack killed dozens of members of Egypt’s minority Christian population.
Hundreds of Egyptian police and military servicemen have been killed in battles with jihadists. In an ISIS attack on an army outpost in Sinai in July 2016, 23 soldiers were killed and at least 26 were wounded.
In late October, at least 54 policemen and conscripts, including several officers, were killed in what appeared to be a well-planned ambush. Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, authorities have not ruled out ISIS.
The latest attack took place in the Giza governorate, which means the insurgency is spreading beyond the Sinai Peninsula — a worrisome sign that may have led President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to reorganize his security leadership.
Libya became a safe haven for terrorist groups after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011. It currently has three different governments claiming authority over the country, and the lack of a strong central authority and a unified security force has allowed militias to fill the void.
ISIS seized the coastal city of Sirte — Gadhafi’s hometown — in 2015. At its peak, ISIS was thought to have over 5,000 militants in Libya. In addition to causing chaos there, they were aiding jihadist groups in Egypt and other parts of North and West Africa.
Though ISIS lost control of Sirte in December 2016, they still have what officials have described as a “desert army” operating in the regions south of the city. That army has shown signs of trying to gain ground in the country.
The US launched its first airstrike in Libya under President Donald Trump in September, 150 miles south of Sirte, reportedly killing 17 militants.
A major concern among European officials is that as ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, its fighters could relocate to Libya. Among those fighters may be Westerners who could use Libya’s role as a transit point for migrants to return home.
Yemen has long been a battleground in the fight against Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. While the Saudi-led military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in country has received much of the attention, ISIS’ presence there has gotten the notice of the US.
ISIS created its Yemen branch in 2014, during the chaos that followed the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012. Since then, its attacks have killed hundreds.
US forces launched more than 100 airstrikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen this year, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. October saw the first US airstrikes against ISIS in Yemen. According to US Central Command, the three strikes on ISIS training camps reportedly killed 60 militants.
ISIS’s Afghan affiliate, known as Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISIS-K, was declared in 2014. The group mostly made up of Taliban defectors and new recruits.
Though the group only controls small patches of territory, it has been a main focus for the US military. On April 13, the US dropped its largest nonnuclear bomb on an ISIS-K compound. Estimates of the number killed range between 36 and 96 militants.
Militants affiliated with ISIS and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan have also clashed with each other, resulting in deaths on both sides.
A drone strike in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province on October 12 reportedly killed 14 ISIS militants — though an Afghan MP, Shahzada Shaheed, claimed all the casualties were civilians.
The US estimates that there are roughly 600 to 800 ISIS-affiliated militants still in the country, mostly in Nangarhar province in northeast Afghanistan.
5 – 3. Mali, Niger, and Nigeria
West Africa is becoming an increasingly important front in the fight against ISIS. Islamist violence is not new in the region. There was an insurgency that took over northern Mali in 2013, and the jihadist group Boko Haram declared allegiance to ISIS in 2015.But the violence has showed no signs of slowing down.
New groups like the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara — which reportedly carried out the early-October ambush that killed four US soldiers while they were on a mission with local partners in Niger — are being formed, and the number of militants joining these groups seems to be increasing.
On October 23, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said that ISIS “has aspirations to establish a larger presence” in Africa.
“We’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less,” Dunford said, adding that the US military will be making recommendations to Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and that US forces will remain in the area despite the casualties in Niger.
As in West Africa, Islamist violence is not new to Somalia. For the last decade, the most feared jihadist group in the country has been Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda ally. ISIS unsuccessfully tried to recruit Al Shabab in 2015, and now the two groups fight each other in addition to government forces.
Though smaller than Al Shabab, ISIS’ affiliate in Somalia has made its mark as a deadly terrorist organization. It has routinely conducted bombings and attacks that have killed hundreds. It is also outgaining Al Shabab in terms of foreign volunteers, as most aspiring jihadists want to be part of the ISIS brand.
In October, the largest bombing in the history of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, left at least 300 civilians dead and caused more than 275 injuries.
No group has claimed responsibility, but it is a troubling sign as it could lead to more violent competition between Al Shabab and ISIS, as they try to become the dominant Islamist group in the country.
The Trump administration sent US troops to Somalia in May — the first such deployment in more than 20 years — to aid antiterrorism efforts. On Friday, the US military carried out its first two drone strikes on ISIS targets in Somalia, killing “several terrorists,” according to US Africa Command.
ISIS made its mark in the Philippines in a manner similar to that in Iraq and Syria — suddenly emerging with a large and organized force, seizing large amounts of territory.
Led by Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute Brothers — who formally lead Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group, respectively — forces that pledged loyalty to ISIS took over the city of Marawi in Lanao del Sur province on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.
The siege that followed resulted in the deaths of 962 ISIS militants, including Hapilon and at least one of the Maute Brothers; 165 Philippine soldiers were killed, and nearly 1.1 million people were displaced.
Though Philippine soldiers liberated the city, ISIS remains a threat in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia as a whole.