Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

As the United States approaches the 20-year mark of the war on terror, the country continues to lose her service members. But we aren’t losing the vast majority of them to combat with the enemy. Instead, accidents and suicide are inflicting most of the devastation.


In 2019, a Congressional report compiled the data from 2006 through 2019. The results determined that 12,116 of the 16,652 killed in service during that period didn’t die from combat related causes. That’s 73% who weren’t lost due to fighting an enemy during war but instead – most died accidentally or by suicide.

Since 2015, the non-combat related deaths have been outpacing those lost while fighting. According to the Defense Reauthorization Act of 2019, in 2017, almost four times the amount of combat related deaths were attributed to training accidents. The number has continued to grow, causing alarm within the military and government.

These accidental deaths are often attributed to training and safety insufficiencies.

The increasing numbers led many members of the Armed Services Committee to state that America is “at a crisis point.” The committee’s 2019 proposal for funding addressed rebuilding the military so that its members can safely meet the needs of present and future threats to the country. That same proposal called for more training, equipment repair and increased readiness on land, at sea and in the air.
Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

But some of the battles they will face are within their own minds.

Since 2004, the suicide rates for the military have increased substantially. Tragically, 23.2% of all service member deaths from 2006 to 2019 were labeled by the Department of Defense as “self-inflicted.” In 2019, the Air Force’s numbers were trending so high that their Chief of Staff called for a resiliency and suicide prevention stand down, which was unprecedented.

A 2019 historical study within the Army painted a picture for the increased numbers. The data within the study demonstrated that there was a decrease in suicides for the Army during the active combat of the U.S. Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. But beginning with the Vietnam War, the numbers changed and continued to climb. By 2012, the rates of suicide within the military surpassed the rates of suicide within the civilian world.

Accidental deaths and increasing suicide rates highlight the increased danger that America’s troops encounter a long way from the battlefield. Ensuring that those who raise their right hand to defend this country have effective and safe training environments with working equipment is vital. Their mental health support should also be continual and ongoing, with the stigma of seeking help eradicated from the top down. We owe them all of this – and so much more.

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Watch this NASA video zoom in on a nebula 4,000 light years away

These NASA Hubble Space Telescope images compare two diverse views of the roiling heart of a vast stellar nursery, known as the Lagoon Nebula. The images, one taken in visible and the other in infrared light, celebrate Hubble’s 28th anniversary in space.

The colorful visible-light image at left reveals a fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust. This dust-and-gas landscape is being sculpted by powerful ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-like stellar winds unleashed by a monster young star. Located at the center of the photo, the star, known as Herschel 36, is about 200,000 times brighter than our Sun. This hefty star is 32 times more massive than our Sun and 40,000 degrees Kelvin. Herschel 36 is still very active because it is young by a star’s standards, only 1 million years old.


Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
These NASA Hubble Space Telescope images compare two diverse views of the roiling heart of a vast stellar nursery, known as the Lagoon Nebula. The images, one taken in visible and the other in infrared light, celebrate Hubble’s 28th anniversary in space.

The blistering radiation and powerful stellar winds (streams of subatomic particles) are pushing dust away in curtain-like sheets. As the monster star throws off its natal cocoon of material, it is suppressing star formation around it.

However, at the dark edges of this dynamic bubble-shaped ecosystem, stars are forming within dense clouds of gas and dust. Dark, elephant-like “trunks” of material represent dense pieces of the cocoon that are resistant to erosion by the searing ultraviolet light and serve as incubators for fledgling stars.

The star-filled image at right, taken by Hubble in near-infrared light, reveals a very different view of the Lagoon Nebula compared to its visible-light portrait. Making infrared observations of the cosmos allows astronomers to penetrate vast clouds of gas and dust to uncover hidden gems. Hubble’s view offers a sneak peek at the dramatic vistas NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will provide.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Interesting photo shows F-35 in ‘beast mode’ aboard aircraft carrier

The Royal Navy released on Twitter on Oct. 23, 2019 an image of the F-35 in “beast mode,” loaded during the tests of the Highly Automated Weapon Handling System with six (two of which internally) Paveway IV dual mode GPS/INS and laser guided bombs, two AIM-132 ASRAAMs (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) on the wingtips and two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) in the weapons bays.


The Paveway IV, latest iteration of the widely spread GBU-12 Paveway II developed for the UK with added GPS guidance, and the ASRAAM, British replacement for the AIM-9 Sidewinder, were specially integrated on the F-35 for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, since they don’t operate the GBU-12/EGBU-12 and the AIM-9X fielded by the USMC on their F-35Bs. The Meteor BVRAAM is also expected to be integrated on the aircraft, as the Royal Air Force recently declared it operational and will eventually replace the AMRAAM in the next years.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

The first takeoff of a UK Lightning from the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

(Crown Copyright)

UK’s F-35B Lightning are currently deployed aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier for Operational Testing, while the ship is undergoing the Westlant19 Carrier Strike Group cruise off the East Coast of the United States.

As the Author wrote in a previous article, this deployment is meant to test personnel and aircraft to ensure they are compatible with the carrier. One of the key features of the ship that are being tested is the Highly Automated Weapon Handling System, a system derived from commercial automated warehousing processes that moves palletized munitions from the deep magazine and weapon preparations areas to the hangars and flight deck by using automated tracks and lifts.

One of the big advantages of the HAWHS is the reduction of manpower needed to handle munitions, thus reducing the risks for the crew during one of the most hazardous activities aboard the ship; the crew is now required to handle the weapons only during initial storage and the preparation for use on the aircraft.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

The F-35s stored in the hangars of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

(Crown Copyright)

During the following days, the F-35s will fly from the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth with various weapon’s loading configurations, including the “Beast mode”, to continue the operational testing. Here’s what our editor David Cenciotti wrote about this configuration in a previous article:

“Beast Mode” is not an official or technical term. At least not within the U.S. Air Force. However is a pretty common way an F-35 configuration involving both internal and external loads is dubbed. Actually, others call any configuration involving external loads “Bomb Truck” or “Third Day of War” configuration.
In fact, as opposed to a “First Day of War” loadout, in which the F-35 would carry weapons internally to maintain low radar cross-section and observability, the “Third Day of War” configuration is expected to be used from the third day of an air campaign when, theoretically, enemy air defense assets (including sensors, air defense missile and gun systems and enemy aircraft) have been degraded by airstrikes (conducted also by F-35s in “Stealth Mode”) and the battlespace has become more permissive: in such a scenario the F-35 no longer relies on Low-Observability for survivability so it can shift to carrying large external loads. These conditions are not always met. For instance, LO was not needed when the F-35A was called to carry out the first air strike in the Middle East, nor when the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B carried out the first air strike in Afghanistan.

On the same day, the ship saw also the arrival of the other two UK F-35s scheduled to deploy for Westlant19. The aircraft currently aboard are now ZM148 (BK-14) modex 014, ZM149 (BK-15) modex 015, ZM151 (BK-17) modex 017 from the mixed 207 Squadron/617 Squadron fleet based at RAF Marham and ZM135 (BK-01) modex 001, ZM136 (BK-02) modex 002 and ZM138 (BK-04) modex 004 from the 17 Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) based at Edwards Air Force Base.

USMC F-35Bs are expected to deploy on HMS Queen Elizabeth in the following days to conduct trials before a joint operational deployment with the RAF/RN F-35s in 2021.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia’s new battle tank is getting…a toilet?

War is hell — but for Russian tank crews, it’s about to get a bit more comfortable.

The designer of a new battle tank that is under development says the latest plans for the armored vehicle include a built-in toilet for its three-person crew.

Ilya Baranov, an official at the Ural Design Bureau of Transport Machine-Building in Yekaterinburg, announced the unusual feature of the T-14 Armata tank on March 7, 2019, during an interview with Russia’s TASS news agency.


Baranov said the toilet system is meant to help Russian tank crews during long missions with few stops or none at all.

A prototype of the T-14 Armata tank was unveiled publicly at a military parade in Moscow in 2015, but development has continued since then.

During rehearsals for that parade, there were three malfunctions of the prototype — including one that occurred on Moscow’s Red Square:

Танк «Армата» заглох во время репетиции парада Победы в Москве

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Russian officials said at the time of the presentation that 2,300 of the vehicles would be in use in Russia’s armed forces in 2020.

They said the first battle-ready units should be sent to the 1st Guards Tank Regiment, which is part of the 2nd Guards of the Motorized Taman Division based in the Moscow region.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How China plays it both ways in disputes over sea territory

China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea and its broad interpretations of international law often lead it to protest what many other countries consider to be normal naval maneuvers in the area. But farther afield, Beijing’s activity indicates that it doesn’t abide by the standard it applies to others.

China frequently protests military operations by US and other countries in its Exclusive Economic Zone, which can extend up to 230 miles from a country’s coast. Beijing has referred to those operations as “close-in surveillance.”


The US and other countries have countered that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, permits military activity inside EEZs. (The US is not a signatory to the UNCLOS.) An international tribunal has also ruled that China’s claims in the South China Sea have no legal basis.

In addition to its protests about military operations inside its EEZ, China has also protested ships passing within the territorial waters — which extend nearly 14 miles from a coast — of disputed islands in the South China Sea where China has constructed military facilities. The international tribunal also rejected those claims.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

According to the US Defense Department, however, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy has carried out a number of military operations inside the exclusive economic zones of other countries, seemingly contradicting the stance it takes in waters closer to home.

“Although China has long challenged foreign military activities in its maritime zones in a manner that is inconsistent with the rules of customary international law as reflected in the [law of the sea convention], the PLA has recently started conducting the very same types of military activities inside and outside the first island chain in the maritime zones of other countries,” the department said in its annual China military-power report, released this week.

“This contradiction highlights China’s continued lack of commitment to the rules of customary international law,” the report adds.

Since 2014, the Chinese navy has conducted what the Defense Department refers to as “uninvited” operations throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

In 2017, a Chinese spy ship entered Australia’s EEZ to observe US and Australian ships during military exercises; entered the US’s EEZ around the Aleutian Islands, in what was likely an attempt to monitor testing of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system; and carried out air and naval operations inside Japan’s EEZ.

Chinese naval vessels also carried out a delivery to Beijing’s base in Djibouti, which is China’s first overseas base and is near a major US outpost.

In 2018, China dispatched a spy ship to monitor the US-led Rim of the Pacific exercise around Hawaii, as it has done in years past, after the US rescinded Beijing’s invitation to the exercise over the latter’s actions in the South China Sea.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

US Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain conducts a patrol in the South China Sea.

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class James Vazquez)

The US and other countries involved in those incidents have not protested the presence of Chinese ships in their EEZs, seeing it as allowed under international law. Some have cited China’s presence in foreign EEZs as justification for similar movements in China’s EEZ and as a tacit acknowledgement by Beijing of those rules.

In the South China Sea, the US has continued to carry out freedom-of-navigation operations around disputed islands, in part to show it does not recognize China’s claims there as valid under international law.

Days after one of the most recent FONOPS, as they are known, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised more and underscored their significance.

“They’re freedom of navigation operations. And you’ll notice there’s only one country that seems to take active steps to rebuff them or state their resentment of them,” Mattis said in late May 2018, adding that the US would continue “confront what we believe is out of step with international law, out of step with international tribunals that have spoken on the issue.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Former homeless spouse now aids others in same situation

An Army spouse has found her purpose after overcoming homelessness and creating her own organization that gives back.

When Marla Bautista was 18 years old, she was thrown out of her home by her abusive step-father with only a trash bag of clothes and a teddy bear that belonged to her deceased mother. For almost two years she lived a transient lifestyle staying in shelters, with friends and on the streets. It was the generosity of a local Catholic church that changed the trajectory of Bautista’s life.


“There were volunteers who handed out sandwich bags with hygiene items and they didn’t want anything from us. It was just ‘this is for you because you need it.’ And that was something that truly touched my heart. I promised myself that if I ever overcame that situation of homelessness that I would do the same,” she said.

Bautista and her husband, Staff Sgt. Ulisses Bautista, started serving their community as a family in 2011 and would later become The Bautista Project Inc. They began by using their own funds to distribute meals and hygiene bags for the homeless. Their nonprofit now provides basic living essentials, educational resources, support groups, veterans services and community resources for reintegration.

The impact they’ve created near their assigned duty stations has fostered an environment where the homeless can feel like they belong. With this, PCS’ing affects the Bautistas differently.

“Every time we move, we feel like we are leaving a community behind,” she said. But due to the vast amount of homeless in the U.S., there is always a new part of the community to impact.

In the state of Florida alone there are over 28,000 homeless Americans, of which 1500 are local to Hillsborough County in Tampa where the Bautistas currently reside. Although homelessness in America has decreased by 12% since 2007, according to the National Society to End Homelessness, there are still over 567,000 homeless people in the US.

The Bautistas have served the homeless population in Germany, Colorado Springs, New York and now Tampa.

Within a week of PCS’ing to south Florida, they were volunteering in a shelter.

“We have to reintegrate ourselves in that new community,” she adds.

Consistency matters. Her entire family goes out twice a month with meals and care packages, and instead of giving and going, they sit and interact with the locals in need. They get to know them and eventually build friendships.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

In 2018 Bautista, with a desire to do more, began reaching out to her fellow military spouses and Facebook friends. With their help, her nonprofit has been able to provide winter jackets, gift a color printer to a shelter, create a small library of free books, raise funds to host a Christmas party at a homeless shelter getting what she calls “real gifts” for the attendees and shelter volunteers and distribute disposable masks. They also continue to collect uniforms to make belonging blankets for homeless youth in group homes or shelter setting.

The Army has been a vehicle allowing them to help in different parts of the world and Bautista’s husband shares her passion for giving to those in need, including homeless veterans. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that as of January 2019 there were 37,085 homeless veterans in the U.S.

Bautista doesn’t judge any of them. “We’ve all fallen on hard times before. It just looks different for everyone,” she said.

One simple thing that she says anyone can do to start giving back is to purchase four gift cards at an essentials store or fast-food restaurants.

“That’s just and you can hand those out,” she says, adding that something this small can provide a meal for a person and the act can change their life.

To donate to The Bautista Project Inc. visit www.thebautistaprojectinc.org. You can purchase items from their Amazon Wishlist or donate directly to their nonprofit.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


Articles

This is what happens when an Army Ranger goes through Navy SEAL training

When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released in March of 2016, the thought of two colossal superheroes clashing on the big screen brought out huge box office numbers for its opening weekend. But despite the initial hype, the pedestrian offering saw a huge drop-off in enthusiasm the following week, as poor word-of-mouth reviews plagued it: the final product, as usual, not living up to expectations


Batman versus Superman, on its face, seems such an intriguing construct though. We are unabashedly drawn to comparisons like Willie v The Mick, the US Government v John Gotti, et al, and iPhone v Android.

But what if we were to compare two REAL superhero castings? Let’s say, the US Army’s Rangers and the US Navy’s SEALS. And just for sh*ts and giggles, what if we compared their individual crucibles — their selection processes — and attempted to discern which was the harbinger for guaranteed future toughness or success? Let’s attempt to glean which selection program applied the most pain to its candidates. Is graduating from Ranger School a more daunting task than making it through the Navy’s difficult Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training? And is earning a Ranger tab easier or more difficult than being awarded a SEAL Trident?

And, which course actually results in more drop on requests–a fancy term for quitting? And how can we compare completion rates?

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Ranger training. Photo courtesy of US Army.

The comparative analysis is difficult. To my knowledge, I haven’t heard of any former Rangers or SEALS transferring service branches and then embarking on the pursuit of their new branch’s most elite distinction. Maybe there does exist the unique American stud — or committed glutton for punishment — who chose this path of dual misery, and accomplishment. But I haven’t come across any stories chronicling some. With this in mind, I am going to share my reflections on some unique experiences I was privileged to have been afforded during my thirty-three years of government service.

That professional service began when I graduated from West Point in 1987 and was branched as an officer into the Infantry. During the course of my four-year military career, I attended Army Ranger school and graduated with class 4-88. I turned 23 while incarcerated in the mountain phase, endlessly trekking up and down the formidable peaks of the Tennessee Valley Divide. While I wasn’t the class Honor Graduate, I did fairly well throughout the demanding course of instruction and was lucky enough to graduate with my tab, on time, and without being recycled to repeat a phase.

I served during the Cold War Era and the American military buildup precipitated by President Reagan’s stare-down of the Soviets. The 10th Mountain Division had just been reconstituted in 1985, following its long dormancy beginning when WWII ended. Officers and non-coms were selected for the unit’s rebirth only if they possessed the coveted tab. Division brass was intent on modeling the 10th after the Ranger battalions. My assignment to the 10th was contingent on my graduation from Ranger School. Failure to graduate meant a reassignment to the 197th Infantry Brigade (Mechanized), and the embarrassing stigmatization that would assuredly follow that failure.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Photo courtesy of US Army

From those fledgling days of (re)existence, the 10th Mountain Division has now distinguished itself as a solid and repeatedly deployed war-fighting machine in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it’s mid-1980’s formation with Ranger leadership was critical to its early success and reestablished prestige as a unit. So, in mid-March of 1988, I arrived at 2-14 Infantry battalion headquarters in my starched BDU’s with freshly attached Ranger tab.

The tab carries with it a certain distinction. And that respect for its woven black and gold threads stems from the hardship endured to earn it — the US military being one of the last bastions of meritocracy in this new 21st century era of everyone-gets-a-trophy.

Historically, the failure rate at the US Army Ranger School fluctuates between 50% – 65%. A portion of those failures, DORs, are self-inflicted. There doesn’t appear to be available statistical data that highlights just how many of those failures are related to DORs.

So, after ETSing from the Army on February 1, 1991, I packed up my quarters at Ft. Drum, NY, loaded my then-wife, newborn son, and two rescue dogs into my ’88 Chevy Blazer, and headed south to the FBI Academy at Quantico, VA, where I began the 20-week course to become an FBI Special Agent. In June of same year, I posted to the FBI’s New York City Office’s Brooklyn-Queens Metropolitan Resident Agency, and began a proud 25-year career as a Fed.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
U.S. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright

Along the way, I was selected for the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team, where I served as a counter-terrorist operator on Echo Assault Team from 1997 – 2001.

And in the Fall of 1998, while serving as one of Echo Team’s divers, and recently returned from deployments to Africa (US Embassy bombings) and North Carolina’s Nantahala Forest (search for ’96 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph), I was suddenly tapped to deploy to Coronado, California, with three of my fellow HRT diver teammates, for a once in a lifetime experience.

I was an “old man,” all of 33 years. And though I was in peak physical condition, having spent almost a year and a half lifting, and running, and training at a HIGH level … I was in for a rude awakening.

It was September of 1998, and Dave, Jeff, Matty, and I checked into the Naval Special Warfare Center at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and were officially informed we’d be joining BUD/S class 220. We had just offloaded our rental cars and strode across the sand dunes separating the BUD/S compound from the Pacific Ocean. Worst thing we could have done was to time our arrival with the conduct of Hell Week for BUD/S class 221. Long before casual observers had been treated to Discovery Channel documentaries on the course of instruction to become a SEAL, the four of us took in the spectacle.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shauntae Hinkle-Lymas

Exhausted youngsters — many between 18 – 20 years old — slogging along at the water’s edge, ferrying inflatable RHIBs, lifting massive logs over their heads, performing a staggering amount of “corrective actions” — flutter kicks, crunches, push-ups, and bear crawls. All accompanied by the monotonous, annoying, and ever-present Instructor “motivationals” echoed through a hand-held loud-hailer.

After we’d ingested all the observed pain and misery we could and signed in at NWSC, my HRT colleagues and I made our way over to the Second Phase HQ, a low-profile, nondescript group of single-story military buildings, and introduced ourselves to the cadre.

“All good,” the congenial class proctor stated. Get over to the BOQ on Mainside. Drop your gear off, change into UDT shorts and your yellow HRT PT shirts, and we’ll meet you at the pool for your qualifying PT test — 500 meter swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and mile and a half run in Bates brand combat boots. We even rolled our wool socks down over our boots exactly the way the SEALs did.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Russell

When in Rome…

And so it began. After easily completing the fit test required of all BUD/S aspirants, we joined class 220 as they began the initial stages of Phase Two. The classroom portions on Dive Physics weren’t too daunting — the four of us had the benefit of college degrees — but the daily regimen of early morning PT was an eye-opener. Yes, the four of us were quite fit. But we were also in our thirties, and didn’t take part in the same skill-specific training one receives in the BUD/S preparatory course the Navy offered its young sailors interested in becoming frogmen. And we didn’t have the benefit of true youth. If we were professional athletes, we’d be desperately trying to find an organization to sign us, so we could come off the bench, with a head coach “managing our minutes.”

We also didn’t have the benefit of having taken part in the first phase of BUD/S; that unforgiving crucible that weeds out the weak and strengthens the committed. The relationship between the USN and HRT was a long and durable one. Many of the early generation FBI-HRT operators had been SEALs (as well as former Rangers, Green Berets, and Marines). Compared to the military’s special operations units, HRT was an infant, having come on line in 1983, as a civilian counter-terrorist option for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The ’72 debacle in Munich was a not-so-distant memory. And US law precluded the military from acting as law enforcement inside the United States.

So, here’s the thing: While I was certainly younger and my body more resilient as a 23-year-old when I completed Ranger School, ten years later, when I attended the Dive Phase of BUD/S — open circuit (SCUBA) and closed circuit (LAR-V rebreather) — with my HRT colleagues, I was certainly more experienced, savvy, and skillful at my craft. But that didn’t aid in the recovery time my body desperately needed between evolutions at BUD/S. Every night, the four of us limped back to our BOQ and attempted to “heal” before the fun began again the next morning, bright and early.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Russell

On the ground (or in the sand), we were the BUD/S students equals. We four were strong runners and could complete the grinders of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, flutter kicks, and crunches as well as any of the kids in 220. On the beach, during timed four mile runs, we were more than their equals, often having to hold back so as not to bring the SEAL Instructors’ wrath down upon our classmates, as in:

“Hey, you pathetic pieces of human filth and fecal matter, why are you letting these old-ass FBI-HRT guys beat you on a timed run? You’ll all be ‘paying the man’ if you allow this to happen again!”

Yes, the typical SEAL Instructor was wicked smart and imbued with a great sense of wit and timing.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shauntae Hinkle-Lymas

We reined in our run times, not wanting to cause any more pain to the young men who so graciously accepted us into their fraternity — despite the fact we hadn’t shared the excruciating pain of First Phase and Hell Week with them.

One of the most special gifts I’ve ever received in the course of my life was to be afforded a Hell Week t-shirt from BUD/S class 220. This class-specific attire made us feel a part — if only for a moment — of their exclusive club. It was truly an honor and I cherish the now tattered shirt emblazoned with the class motto that borrowed from William Ernest Henley’s short and powerful Victorian poem Invictus:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

During the course of our “internment” at BUD/S, we also participated in the required weekly SEAL Obstacle Course completion. It was an ass-kicker. And again, as I reminisced about my days at Ranger School and tangling with the infamous Darby Queen Obstacle Course, I have to give this round to the SEALs, as well. In the summer of 1998, we HRT guys were fit, relatively young, nimble, agile, and strong. We had all the necessary tools required to excel at the SEAL Obstacle Course. But it was still a daunting task to make the required times. We did so, narrowly, and aided by the Instructor allowance for us to use a rope traversing technique that wasn’t available to the BUD/S students in Second Phase. [Full disclosure: we were also permitted to discreetly utilize calculators for the long division and multiplication required in the classroom on the dive physics exams]

Well, as proficient as we HRT guys found ourselves in PT, on the sand dunes and while partaking in the dreaded “soft sand runs,” we quickly ascertained that the water, however, was a different story altogether. Here’s where those same young kids flat-out kicked our assess. On the weekly open-water two-mile swims, Dave, Jeff, Matty, and I were “competent.” We were all notably strong swimmers who had been hand selected by HRT Dive Team cadre to “represent” at BUD/S.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd class Megan Anuci

While we consistently barely made the required times, we were often the last, or next to last teams to come in.

But we were in no condition to compete with the damn dolphins that BUD/S students typically morphed into by Second Phase. The water became our Waterloo of sorts.

But it was pool competition, or pool comp in SEAL shorthand, that really cemented for me what the BUD/S experience was about, and just why SEALs are a cut above all others in the Special Operations community.

And, yes, we four HRT guys participated in pool comp.

And, again, it was another eye-opener.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Antonio Turretto Ramos

SEAL Instructors had their own comically dreadful names for the knots they would tie in your hoses underwater. As a BUD/S student, your job was to diligently cycle through a sequence of trouble-shooting procedures to untangle the mess of knotted hoses and restore your air supply…while on a breath-hold. And you had to do so without exhibiting any signs of panic. We were treated to the Matlock and the Babilock — two impossibly difficult and deviously conceived knots named after two particular SEALs on the cadre. Failure to extricate your gear from the wicked devices of the seasoned knot-tying instructors OR failure to work through the prescribed sequence for trouble-shooting your crippled gear led to a failure. Two failures in the same event and you earned a rollback — just like the nefarious recycle at Ranger School — to the next class, if you were lucky not to be dropped from the course.

There’s a reason that, as Rob O’Neill, former SEAL Team Six counter-terror operator — the man who killed Bin Laden — stated to Howard Stern recently, on his eponymous Sirius radio program, that some 85% of BUD/S attendees don’t graduate.

BUD/S is tough — even the teensy-weensy taste of it that I experienced. It’s REALLY tough. And it sucks.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jumar T. Balacy

Ranger School was “uncomfortable” and difficult for all the reasons that include sleep deprivation, starvation, and relentless physical overexertion. It was a grind. And reports from recent graduates confirm it’s STILL a grind.

At BUD/S, however, they fed you lots of chow, and in Second Phase, getting eight solid hours of sleep was never an issue. But just as in Ranger School, you had to perform, to make sound decisions, to accomplish critical military tasks and objectives when your body was futilely attempting to heal, and always with the overzealous instructors omnipresent in your ear…

…but you did it at depth.

Whether at the bottom of the 15-foot pool, on the Coronado Bay side, or in the unforgiving waters of the Pacific Ocean, performing at depth takes special operations training to another level entirely. We were forced to conduct doff and don procedures, and buddy-breathing exercises — you know, like sharing the same oxygen supply at depth and while performing tasks like an equipment exchange. There were insanely long breath-holds, while enduring the Instructor-assaults associated with the dreaded pool comp. Then there was the archaic (by design) and cumbersome Jacques Cousteau era twin 80’s tanks and leaky two-hose regulators which made for a purposeful panic-induced set of pass/fail evolutions. Yes, I believe the experiences to be the closest thing to waterboarding — sanctioned “almost-drowning” — that there is. And it’s legal!

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique M. Canales

Learning to dive with the Dräger (or Draeger) closed circuit rebreather gear — the LAR-V — was the purpose behind sending HRT divers to BUD/S. So, no, in a civilian law enforcement capacity, there’s no need to learn the craft of placing limpet mines on enemy ship hulls. However, learning the advanced system of transit-diving that allows an operator to approach a target underwater, bereft of telltale bubbles is a key skillset for HRT to have at its disposal. That was the purpose behind the relationship we had with the Navy and is how we ended up enrolled in the Second Phase of BUD/S.

The advanced dive skills we learned were necessary. The voluntary participation in PT and mild hazing — being dropped for push-ups or forced to become “wet and sandy” — the “sugar cookie” punishment — was part of earning our stripes and being accepted as outsiders within the close-knit SEAL and BUD/S community.

Make no mistake about it — we weren’t to become SEALs and weren’t subjected to a fraction of what the Navy candidates endured, but we certainly gained a modicum of appreciation for the process.

And again, as difficult as Ranger School was to complete, the 8 weeks I spent at BUD/S proved that there’s a clear distinction between difficult and difficult-at-depth.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam Henderson

Apologies, fellow Rangers, but this round goes to the Navy’s SEALs. I’ve been up close and personal with both Selection processes. 81 torturous days at Ranger School did not compare to the tiny portion of the year of misery available to BUD/S candidates that I experienced.

Rangers, can I get a Hooah!

And SEALs, while we’re at it, how about a Hooyah!

And let’s forever remember that we’re ALL part of the same team!

God bless the United States of America and God bless and protect our brave Special Operators who continue to confidently stride into places full of wrath and tears, and do so bravely, selflessly and willingly.

Thank you.

Originally published July 2017.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s how this Army general wishes he could handle internet trolls

Anybody that spends even the slightest bit of time on social media today is woefully aware of internet trolls. If, by some miracle of a chance, you haven’t had a run in with one of these anger facilitators on platforms like Facebook or Twitter, you’ve still almost certainly seen their kind surfacing in the comments sections under news articles and YouTube videos as though these digital outlets are little more than the sharpie-laden door of a bathroom stall.

They strike without warning, offering nonsense arguments without context or citation, caps-lock tirades, or insulting one-liners that someone, somewhere apparently thinks is funny while the rest of us are stuck scratching our heads or shaking our fists. In the societal hierarchy of the digital domain, internet trolls rank somewhere just below trantrum-throwing toddlers in terms of discourse, but their presence has become such an expected bit of online life that most of us log into our social media platforms of choice with our eyes already rolling in anticipation.


But what if it didn’t have to be that way? That was clearly on Lt. Gen. Ted Martin’s mind this week. The deputy commanding general of Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) released a hilarious video on Twitter Wednesday showing exactly how he’d like to handle the masses of keyboard warriors.


Twitter

twitter.com

“I got another snarky comment,” Martin tells a member of his staff after calling him into his office. “Can you get ahold of [Army Cyber]? I need to find out about @jackwagon. I don’t know who that is.”
Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

Not the hero we deserve, but the hero we need. (US Army photo)

Obviously, war fighting is serious business, as is training for the same–but it’s nice to see someone at the 3-Star level exercising his sense of humor in what has otherwise been one brutal year.

Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to get the 10-digit grid coordinates of every snarky jackwagon with a black belt in keyboard-fu, but at least we know we’re not the only ones that wish we could send a tank platoon and some Rangers after them.

Bravo Zulu, sir.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

China to combine railguns and rockets for high-altitude warfare

Chinese officials have touted their progress with a new type of rocket propulsion that they say could give them an advantage in a potential conflict around the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan mountains.

The project reportedly intends to add electromagnetic force to the launch of traditional rocket artillery, which is typically cheaper than missiles and can be fired in larger quantities.


Han Junli, lead researcher on the project, told the state-run Science and Technology Daily that an electromagnetic launch “can give the rocket a very high initial speed on its launching state.”

Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military expert, told the South China Morning Post that an electromagnetic catapult “may also be able to help stabilize the rocket during launch and improve its accuracy.”

Han, who researches the use of China’s ground forces, called the project the first of its kind and said work on it had been progressing steadily “with great breakthroughs.”

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

Chinese Type PHZ-89 122 mm 40-tube self-propelled multiple rocket launchers assigned to an army artillery regiment during a live-fire exercise in Jiangxi Province, Aug. 21, 2016.

(Wang Liang/Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China)

Han’s work has reportedly involved gathering data from the Tibetan Plateau, which has an altitude of about 13,000 to 15,000 feet and is surrounded by mountains that reach higher.

Han told Science and Technology Daily that the greater range of electromagnetically launched rockets would mean they don’t need to deploy to the front lines — a challenging task in the region’s rough terrain.

Thinner air at higher elections, which may hinder traditional rockets, would also not be as big an obstacle for electromagnetically launched rockets. Reduced friction from thinner air may also allow such rockets to hit higher speeds, though thinner air may mean less precision.

“Conventional artillery that uses powder may suffer from lack of oxygen on plateaus,” Song Zhongping, a military expert, told the state-run Global Times in early August 2018.

Electromagnetically launched rockets — which Song said could reach distances of 200 kilometers, or roughly 125 miles — would not face that issue, which “makes [them] very valuable in warfare on plateaus.”

“The plateau covers 26 per cent of China’s entire land territory,” Han was quoted as saying. “Rockets deployed in the field can cause severe damage to any invader in hundreds of square kilometres.”

“It is like in boxing,” he reportedly said. “The person who has longer arms and harder fists enjoys the advantage.”

Details about electromagnetic rocket artillery, like its range and how far along work on it is, remain unclear, but it is not the only potential venue for such technology.

Electromagnetic force is used in rail guns to fire projectiles with more precision and greater range that typical propulsion systems, and China’s military may include electromagnetic catapults on its next aircraft carrier.

China’s progress may be overstated, however.

While the rail gun appeared to be undergoing testing on a Chinese navy ship, sources told the Post that the vessel was a landing ship repurposed to hold the bulky electrical equipment needed to power the expensive-to-use weapon and that the new destroyers on which the rail gun is supposed to be deployed are not well suited for it.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

A possible rail gun mounted on the Chinese Navy Type 072III-class landing ship Haiyang Shan.

(@xinfengcao/Twitter)

Electromagnetic catapults for aircraft, which China is said to be considering for its next aircraft carrier, may not yet be viable either.

The US Navy — which has struggled with its own rail-gun research — has an electromagnetic catapult aboard its newest carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, but a Pentagon report released in early 2018 called into question that system’s ability “to conduct the type of high-intensity flight operations expected during wartime.”

A ‘win’ over a ‘bullying neighbor’

Han told Science and Technology Daily in early August 2018 that the necessity of rocket artillery was illustrated by a “military incident” that took place in a border region on a plateau in southwest China.

He did not specify what he was referring to, though he may have meant the 73-day border standoff between China and India in summer 2017 in the Doklam region where China, India, and Bhutan’s borders meet. After that incident, Han reportedly started making plans to target an unnamed opponent’s military installations in the area.

Chinese and Indian forces both backed away in late August that year, though troops from both sides have remained in the area and are believed to be reinforcing their positions, including upgrades to Chinese airbases in Lhasa and Shigatse and increased deployments to Indian airbases at Siliguri Bagdogra and Hasimara.

India has also moved forward with its purchase of Russia’s S-400 air-defense system, which is designed to intercept targets at greater distances and altitudes.

In the year since, Beijing and New Dehli have worked to mend relations, including the Chinese defense minister’s first visit since the standoff, during which he hailed their friendship as one dating to ancient times.

The two sides also agreed to “expand the engagement between their armed forces relating to training, joint exercises and other professional interactions” and to implement “confidence-building measures” along their border, including a hotline between armed forces there.

But China is reportedly still smarting from the incident. In the months since, Indian commentary has described the incident as a “win” for Dehli over a “bullying neighbor.” Comments this spring by India’s ambassador to China that attributed the standoff to Chinese actions drew a rebuke from Beijing.

“I imagine the Chinese are not pleased with how events unfolded last year, and there are some who felt like they were somewhat embarrassed by India,” Jeff Smith, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, said in an August 2018 interview. “So I’m sure they’re redoubling their efforts down there to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen again.”

Featured image: Two M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems assigned to the 41st Fires Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas, fire rockets during a live fire at the Udairi Range Complex, Camp Buehring, Kuwait, March 13, 2014.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Columbia-class submarines might be the stealthiest ever

The Navy has now issued at least one-fourth of the design work and begun further advancing work on systems such as a stealthy “electric drive” propulsion system for the emerging nuclear-armed Columbia-Class ballistic missile submarines by 2021.

“Of the required design disclosures (drawings), 26-percent have been issued, and the program is on a path to have 83-percent issued by construction start,” Bill Couch, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Warrior Maven.


The Columbia class is to be equipped with an electric-drive propulsion train, as opposed to the mechanical-drive propulsion train used on other Navy submarines.

In today’s Ohio-class submarines, a reactor plant generates heat which creates steam, Navy officials explained. The steam then turns turbines which produce electricity and also propel the ship forward through “reduction gears” which are able to translate the high-speed energy from a turbine into the shaft RPMs needed to move a boat propeller.

“The electric-drive system is expected to be quieter (i.e., stealthier) than a mechanical-drive system,” a Congressional Research Service report on Columbia-Class submarines from early 2018 states.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

Designed to be 560-feet–long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, Columbia-Class submarines will use a quieting X-shaped stern configuration.

The “X”-shaped stern will restore maneuverability to submarines; as submarine designs progressed from using a propeller to using a propulsor to improve quieting, submarines lost some surface maneuverability, Navy officials explained.

Navy developers explain that electric-drive propulsion technology still relies on a nuclear reactor to generate heat and create steam to power turbines. However, the electricity produced is transferred to an electric motor rather than so-called reduction gears to spin the boat’s propellers.

The use of an electric motor brings other advantages as well, according to an MIT essay written years ago when electric drive was being evaluated for submarine propulsion.

Using an electric motor optimizes use of installed reactor power in a more efficient way compared with mechanical drive submarines, making more on-board power available for other uses, according to an essay called “Evaluation and Comparison of Electric Propulsion Motors for Submarines.” Author Joel Harbour says that on mechanical drive submarine, 80-percent of the total reactor power is used exclusively for propulsion.

“With an electric drive submarine, the installed reactor power of the submarine is first converted into electrical power and then delivered to an electric propulsion motor. The now available electrical potential not being used for propulsion could easily be tapped into for other uses,” he writes.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

Research, science, and technology work and initial missile tube construction on Columbia-Class submarines has been underway for several years. One key exercise, called tube-and-hull forging, involves building four-packs of missile tubes to assess welding and construction methods. These structures are intended to load into the boat’s modules as construction advances.

“Early procurement of missile tubes and prototyping of the first assembly of four missile tubes are supporting the proving out of production planning,” Couch said.

While the Columbia-Class is intended to replace the existing fleet of Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarines, the new boats include a number of not-yet-seen technologies as well as different configurations when compared with the Ohio-Class. The Columbia-Class will have 16 launch tubes rather than the 24 tubes current on Ohio boats, yet the Columbias will also be about 2-tons larger, according to Navy information.


The Columbia-Class, to be operational by the 2028, is a new generation of technically advanced submarines intended to quietly patrol the undersea realm around the world to ensure second-strike ability should the US be hit with a catastrophic nuclear attack.

Formal production is scheduled for 2021 as a key step toward fielding of a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines to serve all the way into and beyond the 2080s.

General Dynamics Electric Boat has begun acquiring long-lead items in anticipation of beginning construction; the process involves acquiring metals, electronics, sonar arrays and other key components necessary to build the submarines.

Both the Pentagon and the Navy are approaching this program with a sense of urgency, given the escalation of the current global threat environment. Many senior DoD officials have called the Columbia-Class program as a number one priority across all the services.

“The Columbia-Class submarine program is leveraging enhanced acquisition authorities provided by Congress such as advanced procurement, advanced construction and multi-year continuous production of missile tubes,” Couch added.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China warns foreign ships: ‘steer clear or you will pay’

The US Navy and regional allies have reportedly noticed an increase in Chinese radio queries to foreign ships and planes operating in the South China Sea — some said to be less than friendly, and others actually threatening.

“Leave immediately,” Chinese forces in the disputed Spratly Islands warned in early 2018 when a Philippine military aircraft flew close to a Chinese outpost, The Associated Press reported July 31, 2018, citing a new Philippine government report.


“Philippine military aircraft, I am warning you again, leave immediately or you will pay the possible consequences,” the report said the Chinese forces threatened soon after, according to the AP.

In the latter half of 2017, Philippine military aircraft patrolling near contested territories received at least 46 Chinese radio warnings, the government report says, according to the AP. While these warnings have traditionally been delivered by Chinese coast guard units, they’re now thought to be broadcast by personnel stationed at military outposts in the South China Sea, the news agency reported.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

US Navy destroyers.

(US Navy photo)

“Our ships and aircraft have observed an increase in radio queries that appear to originate from new land-based facilities in the South China Sea,” Cmdr. Clay Doss, a representative for the US 7th Fleet, told the AP.

“These communications do not affect our operations,” he added, noting that when communications with foreign militaries are unprofessional, “those issues are addressed by appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”

The Philippine military tends to carry on with its activities. “They do that because of their claim to that area, and we have a standard response and proceed with what we’re doing,” Philippine air force chief Lt. Gen. Galileo Gerard Rio Kintanar Jr. told the AP.

Though an international arbitration tribunal sought to discredit China’s claims to the South China Sea two years ago, China has continued to strengthen its position in the flashpoint region.

In recent months, China has deployed various defense systems — such as jamming technology, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, and even heavy bombers — to the South China Sea, leading US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in June 2018 to accuse China of “intimidation and coercion” in the waterway.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

An EA-18G Growler takes off from a flight deck .

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Ethan J. Soto)

Beijing, however, argues that it has a right to defend its sovereign territory, especially considering the increased frequency of US Navy freedom-of-navigation operations in the area; it has conducted more than half a dozen since the start of the Trump administration.

Despite Chinese warnings and objections, the US military has repeatedly made clear that it will maintain an active military presence in the South China Sea.

“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told the AP in February 2018.

The US military has also expressed confidence in its ability to deal with China’s military outposts in the region should the situation escalate.

“The United States military has had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific taking down small islands,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, told reporters in Ma 2018, adding: “It’s just a fact.”

In early 2018 the US disinvited China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy from participating in 2018’s iteration of the multilateral Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises, citing what it characterized as alarming Chinese activities in the South China Sea. The Philippines has at least twice raised the issue of radio warnings with Beijing, the AP reported July 31, 2018.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Podcast

5 insane stories from the life of Britain’s most successful double agent

The real James Bond is finally revealed: A few years ago Larry Loftis decided to stop publishing legal articles and work full-time on researching and writing the story of Dusko Popov, the daring World War II double agent who worked tirelessly to keep the Nazis off guard about the upcoming D-Day invasions.

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher | Spotify


Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

1. Popov was captured by the Nazis before he became a spy.

Dusko Popov was a student in Germany as the Nazis took power and began to persecute the German Jews. No fan of the Nazis, Popov thumbed his nose at the thugs who came to intimidate patrons of Jewish businesses. He was quickly visited by the Gestapo, who imprisoned him and tortured him for information.

He was able to escape Germany because of his family’s connections. Hermann Göering ordered his release to Yugoslavia.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

Johann-Nielsen “Johnny” Jebsen

(MI5 Archives)

2. He was recruited by his best friend.

Johann-Nielsen Jebsen – known as “Johnny” – went to school with Popov. But Jebsen is from a very wealthy European family with German roots. They met each other at the university of Freiburg but where Popov was expelled from Germany, Jebsen, as a German citizen, was forced to join the Nazi war effort. He joins the Abwehr (German military intelligence) as a spy recruiter.

His first recruit is Dusko Popov and the two both became double agents for the British.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

3. He warned the U.S. about the attack on Pearl Harbor

Popov warned the FBI on Aug. 18, 1941, that the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbor. Popov and his MI6 supervisor met FBI officials at the Commodore Hotel and for three hours laid out the entire plan. Popov was in the country to set up a spy ring in New York and recon the defenses at Pearl Harbor.

The attack was supposed to be a repeat of the British attack on the Italian fleet at the defended port of Taranto in 1940. The Japanese wanted to know how they could be as successful as they enter the war against the Americans. The reason President Roosevelt never saw the information will enrage you.

Check out the book (or finish this podcast) to find out!

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

4. He was critical to the success of D-Day.

The British determined that the best way to keep the Germans off guard on D-Day was to convince them that the invasion would come at Pas-de-Calais, not Normandy. At the risk of his life, with interrogators who were convinced that Popov was compromised by the British, Popov returned to Germany.

He gave the Nazis the false information the British wanted them to believe during multiple, marathon interrogation sessions that lasted for hours at a time over a series of days. Popov was the only spy who was interrogated by the Nazis about D-Day.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

Simone Simon in 1942’s “Cat People.”

5. His real-world girlfriend was a movie star.

Just like his silver screen counterpart, James Bond, Popov had a slew of women he used for various reasons as a undercover agent for two opposing countries. But his heart belonged to just one – and she was as glamorous as the rest of his World War II life: Hollywood movie star Simone Simon.

Mandatory Fun is hosted by:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Eric Milzarski: Army veteran and Senior Contributor

Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Catch the show on Twitter at: @MandoFun and on our Facebook group.

Larry’s next book will be The Courier: The True Story of World War II’s Most Highly Decorated Woman, about the World War II spy heroine Odette Sansom and Captain Peter Churchill. Learn more about Larry, The Courier, and Into the Lion’s Mouth at Larry Loftis’ website. You can also follow Larry Loftis on Twitter and Facebook.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

11 countries are now using people’s phones to track the coronavirus pandemic, and it heralds a massive increase in surveillance

Governments across the world are galvanizing every surveillance tool at their disposal to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Countries have been quick to use the one tool almost all of us carry with us — our smartphones.


A new live index of ramped up security measures by Top10VPN details the countries which have already brought in measures to track the phones of coronavirus patients, ranging from anonymized aggregated data to monitor the movement of people more generally, to the tracking of individual suspected patients and their contacts, known as “contact tracing.”

Other countries are likely to follow suit. The US Senate’s trillion economic stimulus bill includes 0 million for the CDC to launch a new “surveillance and data collection system” to monitor the spread of the virus, though it’s not yet clear exactly how this system will work.

Samuel Woodhams, Top10VPN’s Digital Rights Lead who compiled the index, warned that the world could slide into permanently increased surveillance.

“Without adequate tracking, there is a danger that these new, often highly invasive, measures will become the norm around the world,” he told Business Insider. “Although some may appear entirely legitimate, many pose a risk to citizens’ right to privacy and freedom of expression.

“Given how quickly things are changing, documenting the new measures is the first step to challenging potential overreach, providing scrutiny and holding corporations and governments to account.”

While some countries will cap their new emergency measures, otherwise may retain the powers for future use. “There is a risk that many of these new capabilities will continue to be used following the outbreak,” said Woodhams. “This is particularly significant as many of the new measures have avoided public and political scrutiny and do not include sunset clauses.”

Here’s a breakdown of which countries have started tracking phone data, with varying degrees of invasiveness:

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

South Korea gives out detailed information about patients’ whereabouts

South Korea has gone a step further than other countries, tracking individuals’ phones and creating a publicly available map to allow other citizens to check whether they may have crossed paths with any coronavirus patients.

The tracking data that goes into the map isn’t limited to mobile phone data, credit card records and even face-to-face interviews with patients are being used to build a retroactive map of where they’ve been.

Not only is the map there for citizens to check, but the South Korean government is using it to proactively send regional text messages warning people they may have come into contact with someone carrying the virus.

The location given can be extremely specific, the Washington Post reported a text went out that said an infected person had been at the “Magic Coin Karaoke in Jayang-dong at midnight on Feb. 20.”

Some texts give out more personal information however. A text reported by The Guardian read: “A woman in her 60s has just tested positive. Click on the link for the places she visited before she was hospitalised.”

The director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jeong Eun-kyeong, acknowledged that the site infringes on civil liberties, saying: “It is true that public interests tend to be emphasized more than human rights of individuals when dealing with diseases that can infect others.”

The map is already interfering with civil liberties, as a South Korean woman told the Washington Post that she had stopped attending a bar popular with lesbians for fear of being outed. “If I unknowingly contract the virus… that record will be released to the whole country,” she said.

The system is also throwing up other unexpected challenges. The Guardian reported that one man claiming to be infected threatened various restaurants saying he would visit and hurt their custom unless they gave him money to stay away.

Iran asked citizens to download an invasive app

Vice reported that Iran’s government endorsed a coronavirus diagnosis app that collected users’ real-time location data.

On March 3, a message went out to millions of Iranian citizens telling them to install the app, called AC19, before going to a hospital or health center.

The app claimed to be able to diagnose the user with coronavirus by asking a series of yes or no questions. The app has since been removed from the Google Play store.

Israel passed new laws to spy on its citizens

As part of a broad set of new surveillance measures approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 17, Israel’s Security Agency will no longer have to obtain a court order to track individuals’ phones. The new law also stipulates all data collected must be deleted after 30 days.

Netanyahu described the new security measures as “invasive” in an address to the nation.

“We’ll deploy measures we’ve only previously deployed against terrorists. Some of these will be invasive and infringe on the privacy of those affected. We must adopt a new routine,” said Netanyahu.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

Singapore has an app which can trace people within 2 meters of infected patients

Singapore’s Government Technology Agency and the Ministry of Health developed an app for contact tracing called TraceTogether which launched on March 20.

Per the Straits Times, the app is used: “to identify people who have been in close proximity — within 2m for at least 30 minutes — to coronavirus patients using wireless Bluetooth technology.”

“No geolocation data or other personal data is collected,” TraceTogether said in an explanatory video.

Taiwan can tell when quarantined people have left the house

Taiwan has activated what it calls an “electronic fence,” which tracks mobile phone data and alerts authorities when someone who is supposed to be quarantined at home is leaving the house.

“The goal is to stop people from running around and spreading the infection,” said Jyan Hong-wei, head of Taiwan’s Department of Cyber Security. Jyan added that local authorities and police should be able to respond to anyone who triggers an alert within 15 minutes.

Even having your phone turned off seems to be enough to warrant a police visit. An American student living in Taiwan wrote in a BBC article that he was visited by two police officers at 8:15 a.m. because his phone had run out of battery at 7:30 a.m. and the government had briefly lost track of him. The student was in quarantine at the time because he had arrived in Taiwan from Europe.

Austria is using anonymized data to map people’s movements

On March 17 Austria’s biggest telecoms network operator Telekom Austria AG announced it was sharing anonymized location data with the government.

The technology being used was developed by a spin-off startup out of the University of Graz, and Telekom Austria said it is usually used to measure footfall in popular tourist sites.

Woodhams told Business Insider that while collecting aggregated data sets is less invasive than other measures, how that data could be used in future should still be cause for concern.

“Much of the data may remain at risk from re-identification, and it still provides governments with the ability to track the movement of large groups of its citizens,” said Woodhams.

Poland is making people send selfies to prove they’re quarantining correctly

On March 20 the Polish government announced the release of a new app called “Home Quarantine.” The point of the app is to make sure people who are supposed to be quarantining themselves for 14 days stay in place.

To use the app first you have to register a selfie, it then sends periodic requests for geo-located selfies. If the user fails to comply within 20 minutes, the police will be alerted.

“People in quarantine have a choice: either receive unexpected visits from the police, or download this app,” a spokesman for Poland’s Digital Ministry said.

The Polish government is automatically generating accounts for suspected quarantine patients, including people returning from abroad.

Belgium is using anonymized data from telcos

The Belgian government gave the go-ahead on March 11 to start using anonymized data from local telecom companies.

Combat isn’t killing the majority of our troops

Germany is modeling how people are moving around

Deutsche Telekom announced on March 18 it would be sharing data with the Robert Koch Institute (Germany’s version of the CDC).

“With this we can model how people are moving around nationwide, on a state level, and even on a community level,” a spokesperson for Deutsche Telekom told Die Welt.

Italy has created movement maps

Italy, which has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, has also signed a deal with telecoms operators to collect anonymized location data.

As of March 18 Italy had charged 40,000 of its citizens with violating its lockdown laws, per The Guardian.

The UK isn’t tracking yet but is considering it

While nothing official has been announced yet, the UK is in talks with major telecoms providers including O2 and EE to provide large sets of anonymized data.

Google has also indicated it is taking part in discussions.

Like other European democracies, the UK doesn’t seem to be exploring the more invasive method of contact tracing. However, it is considering using aggregated data to track the wider pattern of people’s movements.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information