A Virginia teenager has received an appointment to all four major US military academies, a rare feat he’s been working on since he was a child.
Tim Park of Fairfax, Va. recently received appointment letters for the US Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., according to USA Today.
Getting into just one military academy is an achievement in itself, since it takes a bit more than having good grades and submitting an application. Applicants need to first receive an official nomination from their congressman (with the exception of the Coast Guard Academy), ace an interview with an officer at the school, and have exceptional grades and civic achievements to boot.
Park told USA Today he was inspired by his own family’s service in and around the military, which began with his grandfather — who was a child during the Korean War. Park’s grandfather, who went on to become a doctor, offered free medical care to Korean War veterans in Pennsylvania.
“What he said is he had a debt of honor he wanted to repay,” Park told USA Today.
Park’s father currently serves in the military in the US Army Reserve. That may explain why he’s leaning toward West Point, the academy in upstate New York that has been commissioning Army officers since 1802.
“I would say when I was about 8 years old, there was a documentary on the History Channel talking about these four service academies and I thought to myself that day, I want to do that,” Park told Fox5 DC.
The Army’s “live-fire” combat exercises involve large-scale battalion-on-battalion war scenarios wherein mechanized forces often clash with make-shift, “near-peer” enemies using new technologies, drones, tanks, artillery, missiles and armored vehicles.
The Army is expanding its training and “live-fire” weapons focus to include a renewed ability to fight a massive, enemy force in an effort to transition from its decade-and-a-half of tested combat experience with dismounted infantry and counterinsurgency.
Recent ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created an experienced and combat-tested force able to track, attack and kill small groups of enemies — often blended into civilian populations, speeding in pick-up trucks or hiding within different types of terrain to stage ambushes.
“The Army has a tremendous amount of experience right now. It has depth but needs more breadth. We’re good at counterinsurgency and operations employing wide area security. Now, we may have to focus on ‘Mounted Maneuver’ operations over larger distances,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While senior Army leaders are quick to emphasize that counterinsurgency is of course still important and the service plans to be ready for the widest possible range of conflict scenarios, there is nonetheless a marked and visible shift toward being ready to fight and win against a large-scale modernized enemy such as Russia or China.
The Army, naturally, does not single out these countries as enemies, train specifically to fight them or necessarily expect to go to war with them. However, recognizing the current and fast-changing threat environment, which includes existing tensions and rivalries with the aforementioned great powers, Army training is increasingly focused on ensuring they are ready for a mechanized force-on-force type engagement.
At the same time, while large-scale mechanized warfare is quite different than counterinsurgency, there are some areas of potential overlap between recent warfare and potential future great power conflict in a few key respects. The ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over a period of more than a decade, involved the combat debut of various precision-guided land attack weapons such as GPS guided artillery and rocket weapons.
Weapons such as Excalibur, a GPS-guided 155m artillery round able to precisely destroy enemy targets at ranges greater than 30-kilometers, gave ground commanders an ability to pinpoint insurgent targets such as small gatherings of fighters, buildings and bomb-making locations. Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System, or GLMRS, is another example; this precision guided long-range rocket, which can hit ranges up to 70-kilometers, was successful in killing Taliban targets in Afghanistan from great distances, among other things.
These kinds of precision munitions, first used in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the kind of weapon which would greatly assist land attack efforts in a massive force-on-force land war as well. They could target key locations behind enemy lines such as supplies, forces and mechanized vehicles.
Drones are another area of potential overlap. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan featured a veritable explosion in drone technology and drone use. For example, the Army had merely a handful of drones at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, the service operates thousands and has repeatedly relied upon them to find enemy locations, spot upcoming ambushes and save lives in combat. These are the kinds of platforms which would also be of great utility in a major land war. However, they would likely be used differently incorporating new tactics, techniques and procedures in a great power engagement.
“This is not back to the future…this is moving towards the future where Army forces will face adaptive enemies with greater lethality. This generation of Army leaders will orchestrate simultaneous Combined ArmsManeuver and Wide Area Security” Smith said.
Nevertheless, many Army leaders now experienced with counterinsurgency tactics will need to reexamine tactics needed for major conventional warfare.
“You have a generation of leaders who have to expand learning to conduct simultaneous ‘Combined Arms’ and ‘Wide Area Security” Smith said.
“The Army has to be prepared across the entire range of military operations. One of these would be ‘near-peer’ operations, which is what we have not been fighting in recent years,” Smith explained.
Massive Land War “Decisive Action”
The new approach to this emerging integrated training is called “Decisive Action,” Maj. Gen. Wayne Grigsby, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said.
Grigsby explained that live-fire combat at Fort Riley, Kan., affords an opportunity to put these new strategies into effect.
“Every morning I could put a battalion on the north side and a battalion on the south side – and just joust working “Combined Arms Maneuver.” I can do battalion-on-battalion and it does involve “Combined Arms” live fire,” said Grigsby. “Because of the airspace that we have here – and use the UAS – I can synchronize from 0-to-18,000 feet and do maneuver indirect fire.”
This includes the use of drones, Air Force air assets, Army attack aviation along with armored vehicles, artillery, tanks and infantry units equipped for small arms fire, he explained.
Some of the main tactics and techniques explored during “Decisive Action” live fire exercises include things like “kill what you shoot at,” “move to contact,” “synchronize indirect fire,” and “call-in 9-line,” (providing aircraft with attack coordinates from the ground), Grigsby said.
Grigsby explained that “live-fire” combat exercises now work to incorporate a wide range of emerging technologies so as to better anticipate the tactics, weapons and systems a future enemy is likely to employ; this includes the greater use of drones or unmanned systems, swarms of mini-drones in the future, emerging computing technology, tank-on-tank warfare tactics, electronic warfare, enemy aircraft and longer-range precision weaponry including anti-tank missiles, guided artillery and missiles.
In order to execute this kind of combat approach, the Army is adapting to more “Combined Arms Maneuver.” This warfare compentency seeks to synchronize a wide range of weapons, technologies and war assets in order to overwhelm, confuse and destroy an enemy force.
Smith likened “Combined Arms” to being almost like a symphony orchestra where each instrument is geared toward blending and contributing to an integrated overall musical effect.
In warfare, this would mean using tank-on-tank attacks, indirect fire or artillery, air defenses, air assets, networking technologies, drones, rockets, missiles and mortar all together to create a singular effect able to dominate the battlespace, Smith explained.
For example, air assets and artillery could be used to attack enemy tank or armored vehicle positions in order to allow tank units and infantry fighting vehicles to reposition for attack. The idea to create an integrated offensive attack – using things like Apache attack helicopters and drones from the air, long-range precision artillery on the ground joined by Abrams tanks and infantry fighting vehicles in a coordinated fashion.
Smith also explained how preparing for anticipated future threats also means fully understanding logistics and sustainment — so that supplies, ammunition and other essentials can continue to fortify the war effort.
Current “Decisive Action” live fire training includes an emerging emphasis on “expeditionary” capability wherein the Army is ready to fight by tonight by rapidly deploying over large distances with an integrated force consisting of weapons, infantry, armored vehicles and other combat-relevant assets.
At the same time, this strategy relies, to some extent, on an ability to leverage a technological edge with a “Combined Arms” approach as well, networking systems and precision weapons able to destroy enemies from farther distances.
In order to incorporate these dynamics into live-fire training, Grigsby said the battalion -on-battalion combat exercises practice a “move to contact” over very large 620 kilometer distances.
“This builds that expeditionary mindset,” he explained.
Actor and karate king Chuck Norris is adding himself to the list of skeptics questioning whether a U.S. Special Forces exercise is a government ruse to impose martial law over several states including Texas.
“The U.S. government says, ‘It’s just a training exercise.’ But I’m not sure the term ‘just’ has any reference to reality when the government uses it,” said Norris, who said Texas Gov. Greg Abbot was right to order his state National Guard monitor the exercise in Texas to ensure civil rights are protected.
This is the second time Norris has weighed in on controversial national security debates. Norris threw his support behind the A-10 Thunderbolt and criticized the Air Force for pushing to retire the aircraft.
Norris gained his celebrity status after leveraging his championship karate skills into an acting career when Hollywood jumped into the Kung Fu craze of the 1970s and ’80s. Norris had previously served in the Air Force. He took up martial arts as an airman stationed in South Korea.
He made numerous movies in which he played a soldier, including the “Missing in Action” trilogy, about an Army colonel who returns to Vietnam to rescue American prisoners of war who had been left behind.
In 2007, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway made Norris an honorary Marine. A few years later, after several seasons playing the lead role on the TV series, “Walker: Texas Ranger,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry made Norris an Honorary Texas Ranger.
U.S. Army Special Operations Command said there is nothing unusual about Jade Helm, though the scope of the event sets it apart for skeptics.
“To stay ahead of the environmental challenges faced overseas, Jade Helm will take place across seven states,” officials wrote on the exercise’s website. “However, Army Special Operations Forces will only train in five states: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. The diverse terrain in these states replicates areas Special Operations soldiers regularly find themselves operating in overseas.”
Abbot’s ordering the Guard to monitor the exercise has fanned the flames of citizens who believe the operation is part of a plan to impose martial law on the country.
Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, poked fun at the spreading rumor with quick TV clips of newscasters throwing about the term “Texas Takeover.”
“You know who calls it a ‘Texas Takeover?’ Lone Star lunatics,” he quipped.
Stewart also noted that when the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force held Operation Roaming Sands in Texas in 2005 — at the time the largest exercise in the state’s history — there were no concerns about the event being a move to impose martial law.
“I don’t’ know what’s changed since then,” he said, as a picture of President Obama appeared on screen. “Oh, right…”
Norris, in his column for World Net Daily, said “Concerned Texans and Americans are in no way calling into question our brave and courageous men and women in uniform. They are merely following orders. What’s under question are those who are pulling the strings at the top of Jade Helm 15 back in Washington.,” he wrote.
On the eve of the November 2012 elections Norris and his wife, Gena, went on television to tell voters that “Our great country and freedom are under attack … [and] could be lost forever if we don’t change the course our country is headed.”
Obama’s re-election, Gena Norris added, will be “the first step into 1,000 years of darkness.”
— Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Army Master Sergeant John Hartley Robertson, a Green Beret, was in a helicopter shot down over Laos in 1968. His body was never found and was presumed dead. His name is on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Army officially lists him as Killed In Action.
In 2013, a fellow vet named Tom Faunce claimed to have traced the men killed in the crash to those taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese Army around the same time. The men were taken prisoner and tortured, but Faunce claims the men all survived. The claims sparked renewed interest in finding and repatriating possible POWs remaining in Vietnam for so long after the war.
In a documentary film called Unclaimed, Faunce teamed up with Emmy-winning director Michael Jorgenson to find a man they thought to be Robertson, then 76-years old, 44 years after the crash. The missing Green Beret was supposedly living in a village of south-central Vietnam. The man had no memory of being Robertson, had no memory of his children, his own birthday, or even the English language.
Master Sgt. Robertson’s family believed he could have survived the event and even claimed to have supporting documentation that he had been held in an NVA prison. Jorgenson maintained the U.S. government has had proof of Robertson’s survival since 1982, but did not do anything with the information.
Still, the filmmaker was skeptical and went to Vietnam with Faunce believing they would uncover a hoax. The man who would be Robertson, now calling himself Dan Tan Ngoc, said he was held, beaten, and tortured but eventually released into t he care of a local nurse, whom he married and with whom he later had children.
The Army fingerprinted Dan Tan Ngoc at a U.S. Embassy, but said it was not enough to prove Dan Tan Ngoc was indeed John Hartley Robertson. The film shows a reunion of the man who would be Robertson meeting a fellow vet he trained and Robertson’s own sister, Jean, who said “There’s no question. I was certain it was him in the video, but when I held his head in my hands and looked in his eyes, there was no question that was my brother.”
Except, he may not be.
In 2014, DNA testing proved Dan Tan Ngoc could not be John Hartley Robertson. Robertson’s niece, Cyndi Hanna, called the result “very disappointing.” Yet, the Robertson family still believes Ngoc is their missing loved one. Gail Metcalf, daughter of Robertson’s sister, Jean bases this on a oxygen isotope analysis performed on the man’s tooth. The family set up a Go Fund Me page to help raise money for DNA testing and Master Sgt. Robertson’s repatriation. Salt Lake City’s IsoForensics Inc., performed the test for the filmmakers and came to the conclusion it is “very likely” Ngoc grew up in U.S., a result the family takes to heart.
“We only want to do right by my Uncle John,” Metcalf told Stars and Stripes. “If that means exploring the possibility that the U.S. government has made a mistake or that the man claiming to be my uncle is actually another lost American and doesn’t know who he is, we intend to seek the truth on our own terms.”
A dramatic video released by the Saif Al Sham Brigades fighting in southern Syria shows an Islamic State guided missile ricocheting off a T-55 tank with a hard metallic smack.
It was close … seriously close. For whatever reason — a dud or a bad shot — the ISIS missile failed to explode. Had it, the blast could have blown up the tank, killed the crew and the rebel filming the incident. The camera operator, stunned by the blast, captures the tank backing off. The T-55 later returns and fires its cannon in a “shoot and scoot” maneuver.
The tank — almost certainly captured from the Syrian army — had no discernible “active protection” systems which can scramble a missile’s guidance systems. The ISIS missile was almost certainly captured … but the origin is unknown.
The Saif Al Sham Brigades is a Free Syrian Army group active in southern Syria and has appeared on lists of CIA-vetted rebel factions. Saif Al Sham counts itself as part of the Southern Front coalition of rebel groups, but this is a loosely-knit organization at the best of times.
The Front has also received support from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It’s unclear if Saif Al Sham specifically has received any funding or weapons from any of these nations.
What the video does demonstrate is the intense pressure anti-tank guided missiles can put on armed combatants in the Syrian civil war. Despite failing to knock out the tank, which was quickly back in action, the close call was enough for the rebels to back up — fast.
Tank-killing missiles have proliferated so much, they’ve effectively halted armored breakthroughs and contributed to a five-year-old stalemate.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron approaches the boom pod of a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 909th Aerial Refueling Squadron to receive fuel during Cope North 2017, Feb. 22, 2017. The exercise includes 22 total flying units and more than 2,700 personnel from three countries and continues the growth of strong, interoperable relationships within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region through integration of airborne and land-based command and control assets.
Staff Sgt. Todd Hughes checks the anti-ice detector during an intake inspection on a Thunderbirds F-16C at Daytona Beach, Fla., February 24, 2017. The Thunderbirds will be performing the flyover during the opening ceremonies of the Daytona 500 race on Sunday. Hughes is a dedicated crew chief assigned to the team.
1st Sgt. Erik Carlson, Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division awaits transportation at an extraction point after a successful airborne operation in Deadhorse, Alaska, February 22. The battalion’s Arctic capabilities were tested as temperatures with wind chill reached as low as 63 below zero.
Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s special response team prepare to board a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crewed by Soldiers with the 185th Aviation battalion, Mississippi Army National Guard before conducting airborne insertion training Feb. 14, 2017 in Jackson, Mississippi. The Soldiers are assisting the DEA train for interdiction and disaster response operations.
SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 21, 2017) Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 1st Class Derik Richardson, right, and Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Kevin Brodwater, both attached to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23 embarked aboard the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4), conduct a live-fire exercise aboard an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter.
SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 23, 2017) Sailors assigned to the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) swim in the South China Sea. Coronado is a fast and agile warship tailor-made to patrol the region’s littorals and work hull-to-hull with partner navies, providing the U.S. 7th Fleet with the flexible capabilities it needs now and in the future.
U.S. Marines and Sailors with Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, and 12th Marines attached to Alpha Battery, 3D Battalion, make final preparations before heading to the field in the Hijudai Maneuver Area, Japan, Feb. 24, 2017. Marines and sailors participate in the artillery relocation training program to provide timely and accurate fires to sustain military occupational specialty skills, train Marines/sailors in common skills, and promote professional military education for the overall goal of enhancing combat operational readiness and international relationships.
Sri Lankan Marines assault a beach as part of an amphibious capabilities demonstration during the Sri Lanka Marine Corps Boot Camp graduation at Sri Lankan Naval Station Barana in Mullikulum, Sri Lanka, Feb. 27, 2017. The SLMC will be an expeditionary force with specific missions of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peacekeeping support.
Pictured here is Boomer, the mascot of Coast Guard Station Crisfield, Maryland, sitting on the deck of a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium Feb. 28, 2017. Boomer was rescued from a shelter and reported to Station Crisfield as the mascot in December 2013.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Dakota Crow and Fireman Cody Rogers of the Coast Guard Cutter Liberty fire a .50 caliber machine gun during a practice fire exercise at the Juneau Police Department firing range in Juneau, Alaska, Feb. 24, 2017. Strict safety guidelines are practiced by all Coast Guard members when it comes to operating any firearms.
Everyone knows about the famous 4077th MASH, or Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. But if you ever wanted to see the kind of docs that Michael Bay or Jerry Buckheimer would do a movie about, look at the Air Force’s Special Operations Surgical Teams, or SOSTs.
A MASH unit usually had about 113 people. In 2017, Combat Support Hospitals began transitioning to Field Hospitals. According to the Army, the conversion reconfigures the 248-bed CSH into a smaller, more modular 32-bed FH with three additional augmentation detachments including a 24-bed surgical detachment, a 32-bed medical detachment, and a 60-bed Intermediate Care Ward detachment. The FH and the augmentation detachments will all operate under the authority of a headquarters hospital center.
According to the Air Force web site, the SOST is much smaller. It has six people: an ER doctor, a general surgeon, a nurse anesthetist, a critical care nurse, a respiratory therapist, and a surgical technician.
The MASH and CSH have trucks and vehicles to deliver their stuff. SOSTs only have what they can carry in on their backs. Oh, did I mention they are also tactically trained? Yep, a member of a SOST can put lead into a bad guy, then provide medical care for the good guys who got hit.
In one Air Force Special Operations Command release, what one such team did while engaged in the fight against ISIS is nothing short of amazing. They treated victims who were suffering from the effects of ISIS chemical weapon attacks, handled 19 mass casualty attacks and carried out 16 life-saving surgical operations. A total of 750 patients were treated by these docs over an eight-week deployment.
Again, this was with just what they carried on their backs.
At one point, the team was treating casualties when mortar rounds impacted about 250 meters away. The six members of the team donned their body armor, got their weapons ready and went back to work. Maj. Nelson Pacheco, Capt. Cade Reedy, Lt. Col. Ben Mitchell, Lt. Col. Matthew Uber, Tech. Sgt. Richard Holguin, and Maj. Justin Manley received Bronze Stars in February 2018 for their actions.
It takes a lot to get into a SOST. Fall selection is quickly approaching:
Fall 2021 Selection
Applications Due: 3 Sep 2021
Phase 1 (record review): 9 Sep 2021
Phase 2 (in-person selection): 17–21 Oct 2021
** Report date 12 October for COVID testing. **
**These dates are subject to change based on mission requirements.**
Learn more and apply here: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/Special-Tactics/Battlefield-Surgery/
One thing for sure, these are the most badass folks with medical degrees!
As the US military builds up its forces in the Middle East, America’s top diplomat has been privately warning the Iranians that the death of even a single US service member at the hands of Iran or one of its proxies would trigger a military response, The Washington Post reported on June 18, 2019, citing US officials.
In May 2019, the US detected signs of possible Iranian aggression targeting US forces and interests in the Middle East. The US responded by deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command area of responsibility.
White House national security adviser John Bolton issued a statement on May 5, 2019, saying that the military assets deployed to the region were meant “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
Two days later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled trip to Baghdad, where he delivered the warning that one American fatality would be enough to trigger a counterattack, The Post reported. Pompeo, a former US Army officer, has been a major player, together with Bolton, in shaping the US “maximum pressure” strategy directed at Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
More US military assets have since been moved into the region, and more are on the way in the wake of suspected limpet mine attacks on tankers that the US blames on Iran. US military leaders revealed on June 18, 2019, that the US does not plan to carry out a unilateral military response to the tanker attacks.
Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said any military action taken in response to the tanker attacks would “require an international consensus,” something the US military has been trying to secure through the release of evidence it says points to Iran’s culpability.
“If the Iranians come after US citizens, US assets or [the] US military, we reserve the right to respond with a military action, and they need to know that,” the country’s second-highest-ranking general told reporters. “The Iranians believe that we won’t respond, and that’s why we’ve been very clear in our message.”
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Zachary S. Welch)
Iran is “lashing out against the international community,” but the Iranians “haven’t touched an American asset in any overt attack that we can link directly to them,” he added.
“What happens if Americans are killed? That changes the whole thing,” a senior Trump administration official told The Washington Post. “It changes everything.”
Pompeo, who appears to be taking the lead on the standoff with Iran amid a reshuffling of senior leadership at the Pentagon, visited US Central Command on June 18, 2019, the same day acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrew his name from the nomination for defense secretary and said he would be stepping down.
“We are there to deter aggression. President Trump does not want war,” Pompeo said. “We will continue to communicate that message while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The US Navy has given ships operating in the Pacific new port-call guidance amid concerns over the coronavirus.
All US Navy vessels operating in the 7th Fleet, which oversees operations in the Asia-Pacific region, have been instructed to remain at sea for at least 14 days after stopping in any country in the Pacific before pulling into port elsewhere, US Pacific Fleet told Insider Thursday.
The move is being taken out of “an abundance of caution,” a Pacific Fleet spokesman said.
The novel coronavirus, a severe respiratory illness that originated in Wuhan, China, late last year, has an incubation period of up to 14 days, during which time the infected may be asymptomatic.
Ships should monitor sailors between port calls, Pacific Fleet said.
A US Navy spokesperson told CNN’s Ryan Browne, who first reported the news on Twitter, that while “there are no indications that any US Navy personnel have contracted Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” at this time, Pacific Fleet “is implementing additional mitigations to prevent Sailors from contracting COVID-19.”
The US military has already taken several drastic measures in response to the coronavirus, which has infected over 80,000 people in at least 40 countries and killed nearly 2,800 people, with the vast majority of cases and deaths in China. The majority of these measures have been taken in South Korea, home to more than 28,000 US troops and the first US service member to test positive for the virus.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet, which is headquartered in Japan, where about 50,000 US troops are stationed, has started screening everyone accessing the fleet’s warships and aircraft, Stars and Stripes reported on Monday.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — People are buying drones in droves — from cheapo low-rez toys from Amazon to high-end unmanned planes for commercial surveillance and mapping.
And the Pentagon is following suit, with several companies offering new models of unmanned systems for everything from relaying radio signals to targeting bad guys.
But in a constant cat-and-mouse game, the military is also looking into technologies that will help it find, track, and potentially destroy unmanned planes that are just as easily obtained by America’s enemies as they are by its friends.
The Silent Archer counter-drone system uses radar, and EO/IR scope and jammer technology to target, track and fix small UAVs and their operators. (Photo from SRC Inc.)
One system the Army is testing for its air defense units uses a portable mortar tracking radar and some repurposed improvised explosive device jammers to find and target small drones for gunners to shoot down. In fact, the system works so well, it’s manufacturer says, that it can find the location of the drone’s operator and send that targeting information to Army artillery for the kill.
Dubbed the “Silent Archer,” parts of the counter-drone system have already been used for high-level meetings like the G-8 Summit and for the 2012 Olympics in the United Kingdom, company officials said during the 2016 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference here.
“We can provide targeting information to laser systems, miniguns to artillery — whatever your weapon of choice is,” said Thomas Wilson, VP for radar and sensors business development with Silent Archer maker SRC Inc. “We can also disrupt the control signals, the telemetry signals, the video signals — we can intercept those, we can analyze them, we can jam them in a variety of ways,”
“With those lines of bearing, you can use indirect fires and rain steel on the operator. Which is one of my preferred choices,” he added.
Most of the threats come from unauthorized surveillance of key meetings and military sites. But there’s also a military threat, Wilson said.
“The Army is watching very carefully what’s going on in the Ukraine. Because the Russians are using small UAS for targeting,” Wilson said. “The Ukrainians know that when they see a UAS flying over that very shortly they’re going to get bombarded.”
“So from an Army point of view, in a near-peer kind of a fight, they’re looking at ways to counter those,” he added.
The system works using a radar that’s normally used to detect incoming mortars. Once a suspected UAV is targeted, Silent Archer operators spot the drone through a sophisticated targeting scope. This helps distinguish if the target is actually a drone or a bird, Wilson said. Once it’s determined that the Silent Archer has a drone in its sights, an IED-detecting electronic warfare system tracks the drone’s controlling signal and can jam it or send targeting information back to artillery for a strike.
While the Silent Archer’s range is limited, the system is portable, with the Army testing most of the components on a Stryker armored combat vehicle, Wilson said. So the counter-drone system can move with the troops.
“There’s a lot of security threats from small UASs — we’re talking commercial stuff — flying over a facility and it’s making everybody nervous,” Wilson said. “Are they surveilling it for an attack? … That’s one that’s got everybody fired up right now.”
Snipers face countless threats on the battlefield. Ambush. Exposure. Separation from friendly forces. But, one of the most dangerous is being hunted by another deadly sharpshooter.
“It becomes a game of cat and mouse,” US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, the sniper instructor team sergeant at the sniper school at Fort Benning, said in a recent interview with Business Insider. “You have to be very cautious.”
Sniper duels like those seen in “Enemy at the Gates” and that well-known scene from “Saving Private Ryan” are rare, but they do happen. During the Vietnam War, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock battled several enemy snipers, reportedly putting a shot clean through the rifle scope and eye of a North Vietnamese Army sniper.
We asked a handful of top US Army snipers, marksman with years of experience and multiple combat deployments, how they hunt enemy sharpshooters. Here’s what they had to say.
Spc. Dane Pope-Keegan, a Scottsdale, Arizona native and sniper assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, performs reconnaissance and collects information during air assault training on July 10, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew McNeil / 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
US snipers have been fighting insurgents in the Middle East for nearly two decades. These enemies, while dangerous, are often considered lower level threats because they lack the training that US forces have.
“Some of our lower threat level [enemies], just because they are carrying a long gun, they may not have the actual experience of a sniper,” Rance told BI. The far greater threats are from professionally trained shooters from advanced militaries like those of China, Russia, and possibly even Iran.
“As you get into the near-peer threats, adversaries that have the proper tools and training, it’s a greater challenge for us to go get them because often they are professional school-trained snipers,” he said. They know the tricks of the trade, and that makes them much more deadly.
When there is a suspected sniper holed up nearby, there are a few different options.
“The best answer might be to go around,” Army Capt. Greg Elgort, the company commander at Fort Benning, told BI. “But, if your mission requires you to go through, you have a lot of different offensive options that are available.” They don’t necessarily have to hunt the enemy down one-on-one.
Snipers regularly support larger military force elements, scouting out enemy positions and relaying critical information to other components of that larger force, which can strike with mortars, artillery or infantry assault to “root out and destroy” the enemy. The snipers can then assess damage caused by the strikes from a safe distance.
But, sometimes eliminating the threat falls squarely on the shoulders of the sniper.
A U.S. Army sniper and infantryman with the U.S. Army Sniper School poses during a video shoot at Fort Benning, Georgia, Dec. 13, 2018.
(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Capt. David Gasperson)
The hunt is a tedious and dangerous game, as Rance said. US troops must pinpoint the emplaced sniper and range them without exposing themselves to fire.
“It’s going to take patience,” First Sgt. Kevin Sipes, a veteran sniper with more than a decade of experience, explained to BI recently. “You are waiting to see who is going to make a mistake first. Basically, it is going to take a mistake for you to win that fight, or vice versa, you making a mistake and losing that fight.”
Snipers are masters at concealing themselves from the watchful eyes of the enemy, but disappearing is no easy task. There’s a million different things that go into hiding from the enemy, and a simple mistake could be fatal.
According to the story of Hathcock, the renowned Vietnam War sniper, it was reportedly the glare of the enemy’s scope that gave away his position. “As a sniper, you are looking for anomalies, anything that sticks out, going against the pattern,” Rance explained.
U.S. Army Spc. Artemio Veneracion, a native of North Hills, Calif., a sniper with Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, stationed out of Vilseck, Germany, looks through the scope of an M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS), during a combined squad training exercise with the Finnish Soldiers of the Armoured Reconnaissance Platoon at the Tapa Training Area, Estonia, June 15, 2016.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steven M. Colvin)
These fights could easily be long and drawn out.
“In a real scenario, you could be in a situation for two, three weeks, a month maybe, determining a pattern, waiting for a mistake to be made,” Sipes said. Eliminating a threat could involve taking the shot yourself or using your eyes to guide other assets as they force the enemy “into a position to effectively neutralize them.” Either way, it takes time.
And, the waiting is tough.
“Staying in a position for an extended period of time, obviously it’s difficult,” Sipes told BI. “Patience is key. It’s terrible when you’re in that situation because it’s incredibly boring and you’re not moving. I’ve come out of situations with sores on my stomach and elbows and knees from laying there for so long.”
“It’s a cool story later,” he added.
No matter how tough it gets, a sniper must maintain focus, keeping his concentration. A sniper really only gets one shot, maybe two best case scenario.
“If they were to miss,” Rance explained, “they only have a few seconds to do that second shot correction before that target, seeks cover and disappears.”
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Through the use of insults, strict discipline, sleep deprivation, and controlled explosions, Army drill sergeants turn recent high school grads and civilians looking for a new job into trained soldiers ready to serve in America’s wars. This transition is, of course, painful — by design.
Here are 11 things trainees will complain about before learning to suck it up as an Army soldier:
“I’m tired. I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
New U.S. Army soldiers are expected to operate on little sleep. While in the barracks, recruits’ sleep is regularly interrupted by drill sergeants conducting inspections, punishing infractions, getting head counts, or waking soldiers for the heck of it. The party continues in the field where soldiers sleep in bags instead of beds.
“This food is terrible.”
Military food is rarely praised, and basic training food is even worse. Eating periods are very short and are supervised by drill sergeants who pounce onto soldiers who reach for fattening or sugary foods.
“You mean I have to pay for this terrible haircut?”
Soldiers get their heads buzzed, run in tennis shoes, and shave every day — but what most people don’t know is the trainees foot these bills. The shoes, haircuts, toothpaste, and other gear and services are all paid for by the trainees through Eagle Cash cards, a sort of military prepaid debit card. Most of these costs are defrayed by a uniform allowance that soldiers receive once a year, but the surprise bills still create complaints.
“There’s ugly, then there’s Army Ugly. We are all Army Ugly.”
No matter how handsome you are, it’s hard to rock the haircuts, glasses, and tan lines the Army gives you. Males have to have their heads buzzed. All soldiers requiring corrective lenses are issued basic training glasses, generally referred to as “birth control glasses.” And, after months in the sun in physical training uniforms, combat uniforms, and berets, graduating soldiers have deep tan lines around their wrists and across their foreheads.
“They yell at us all day, and one keeps calling us crack pipes.”
It doesn’t matter who the recruit is, even if they’re famous or the child of a general, they’re getting yelled at in basic training. (Stephen Colbert didn’t even enlist and he caught the sharp edge of the drill sergeants.) Many recruits find themselves shocked at the sheer amount of verbal abuse as well as the language used. The language might be toned down, but the volume never will be.
“Why do we have to take the mask off? Isn’t the point to learn how to use the mask?”
Though they will brag about these experiences later, all recruits have a training event they’re dreading during basic. Maybe it’s the CS gas chamber where they’re forced to remove their gas masks and breath deeply. Some complain about the night infiltration course where they must crawl across the ground while machine guns are fired over their heads and artillery simulators are thrown nearby. Most complain about the “smokings,” physical training sessions spread throughout the day to help new soldiers quickly build strength and endurance.
“Even on overnight guard, I can’t be alone.”
They march as a group, eat as a group, sleep as a group, shower as a group. They go to the bathroom in, at a minimum, two-man teams. Recruits have no privacy for the nine weeks or more of training. Soldiers who go through one station unit training, a combined basic training and job school mostly used for combat soldiers, will endure this for even longer. This can be a source of a lot of complaints, especially if a soldier is paired with another recruit they don’t like.
“Oh, that guy’s a blue falcon. We couldn’t stand him.”
The other recruits, especially the “blue falcons,” soldiers who screw over their peers by tattling or just being a moron, can be a major source of stress for new soldiers. When one basic trainee screws up, that means the whole platoon or whole company is screwed up, and everyone suffers equally. Bad hospital corners on one bed? Grab some real estate, soldier; you’re doing pushups until sweat fogs the windows. Adding to the atmosphere is that, after the punishments, all the trainees are still stuck in the same bay together, still sleeping four feet away from each other, still crapping in battle buddy pairs. And they remember which ones ratted them out.
“We can’t walk on that grass. That grass is only for the drill sergeant.”
Recruits are issued a handbook with pages and pages of arbitrary rules during reception week, before they even make it to basic training — rules like, “All towels must be folded in thirds, not halves, and the open sides must face towards the south side of the building.”
“We had to run everywhere, even when we were early.”
Soldiers are ordered to sprint between training stations, even if they can see the long line from a hundred feet away. Trainees run to the back of the line, then wait until the line moves. The experience and frustration defines “Hurry up and wait” — a military maxim.
“I wore pants with buttons for so long, zipping my jeans felt weird.”
For nine or more weeks, they’ve worn only what they were told to wear, only sat in chairs if given express permission, ate what they were given when they were given it. After graduation, they find take out menus and weigh the merits of thai versus pizza for dinner. They debate whether to watch a DVD or play a football game after the training day ends. They get their cell phones back and wonder whether they should call their mother or their girlfriend first. (They generally call their significant other first. Sorry, mom.)
A top US Air Force general said Dec. 17, 2019, that the US is preparing responses just in case North Korea fires a long-range missile amid the stalled peace talks, possibly reigniting the tensions that characterized 2017.
North Korea warned earlier this month that “it is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift” it gets, suggesting that failure to meet Pyongyang’s expectations could yield undesirable results.
“It’s not implausible that they could give the world a Christmas or New Year gift of an ICBM test,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, previously told Insider.
“What I would expect is some type of long-range ballistic missile would be the gift. It’s just a matter of, does it come on Christmas Eve? Does it come on Christmas Day? Does it come in after the new year?” Gen. Charles Q. Brown, the Pacific Air Forces commander, said Tuesday, according to multiple reports.
While there have been a number of short-range tests in recent months, North Korea has not launched a long-range missile since its successful test of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in late November 2017.
North Korea releases video showing the launch of the Hwasong-15 missile
“We’re watching,” Brown added, acknowledging that there are other possibilities. “I think there are a range of things that could occur.”
North Korea has given Washington until the end of the year to change the way it negotiates with Pyongyang. It has said that it will pursue a “new path” if the US does not lift its heavy sanctions in return for North Korea’s moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear testing. While the threat remains unclear, North Korea is using language similar to past ICBM tests.
Brown said Tuesday that the US military is dusting off responses should efforts to secure a diplomatic peace between the US and North Korea fail.
“Our job is to backstop the diplomatic efforts. And, if the diplomatic efforts kind of fall apart, we got to be ready,” he explained. “Go back to 2017, there’s a lot of stuff we did in 2017 that we can dust off pretty quickly and be ready to use.”
“We are looking at all of the things we have done in the past,” Brown added.
During the “fire and fury” tensions between the US and North Korea that defined 2017, the US routinely flew bombers over the Korean Peninsula as a symbol of support for US allies and as a warning to the North Korean regime.
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