U.S. President Donald Trump, who in early 2018 demanded that North Korea swiftly give up its nuclear weapons, has said that it could take years to achieve those results in negotiations.
“I think we’re really going to do something that’s going to be very important, but we’re not playing the time game,” Trump told a news conference in New York. “If it takes two years, three years, or five months — doesn’t matter.”
Trump’s comments came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was making plans to visit Pyongyang again in October 2018 to prepare for a second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump held an unprecedented first summit with Kim in Singapore on June 12, 2018, that yielded a broad pledge by Kim to “work toward” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Trump said afterward he expected results within months.
Since then, however, Kim’s actions have fallen far short of Washington’s demands, which range from providing a complete inventory of North Korea’s nuclear weapons to taking irreversible steps to give up its nuclear arsenal.
Despite the lack of progress, Trump has boasted repeatedly of having “a wonderful relationship” with Kim and said he expects the two to eventually clinch a deal.
The Army is manufacturing a new, lightweight version of its iconic .50-cal machine gun designed to better enable Soldiers to destroy enemies, protect convoys, mount weapons on vehicles, attack targets on the move and transport between missions.
The new weapon, engineered to be 20-to-30 percent lighter than the existing M2, will be made of durable, but lighter weight titanium, Army officials said.
The emerging lightweight .50-cal, described as still in its infancy stage, still needs to be built, riveted and tested.
The parts for the titanium prototypes will be built at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. and then go to Anniston Army Depot, Ala., for riveting and further construction.
“We always want to lighten the soldier load. A major requirement is to engineer a 60-pound weapon compared to an 86-pound weapon,” Laura Battista, Product Management Engineer, told Scout Warrior in an interview Battista, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
“We will procure 30 and then go into full blown testing – air drop, full reliability, durability, maintainability and government standard testing. We’ll see how it did compared to the M2 and we will try to go to turn it into a program of record,” Battista added.
An Intimidating and Combat-Tested Weapon
The M2 crew-served machine gun, referred to as the “Ma Duece,” was first introduced in the 1930s’; it has both a lethal and psychological effect upon enemies.
“When enemies hear the sound of the gun, they tend to run in the other direction,” Battista explained.
The machine gun is currently used on Humvees, tactical trucks, M1 Abrams tanks, Strykers, some Navy ships and several aircraft such as CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopters and UH-60 Black Hawks. The gun can also be mounted on a tripod on the ground by infantry in a firefight or combat circumstance; the M2 has a solid range and can fire at point targets up to 1,500 meters and destroy enemy targets at distances up to 1,800 meters.
The .50-cal is effective in a wide variety of circumstances, such as convoy protection, air attacks and attacks upon small groups of enemies on foot or moving in small vehicles. Several variants of the machine gun can fire more than 500-rounds per minute.
“It can be used for anti-personnel (enemy fighters) and also against lightly armored vehicles and light unarmored vehicles. Any time you get into an up-armored (more armor) situation or reactive armor — it is not going to be very effective. It works against anything that does not have thick armor,” Lt. Col. Paul Alessio, Product Manager Crew Served Weapons Alessio, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The Army owns what’s called the Technical Data Package, or TDP, for the new lightweight .50-cal; vendors will have to “build to print” and execute the government’s existing specs, Battista explained.
The Army currently operates 24,000 standard M2 machine guns and roughly 25,000 upgraded M2A1 .50-cal weapons designed with a number of improved features. The improved M2A1 is, among other things, engineered with what is called “fixed head space and timing” designed to better prevent the machine gun from jamming, misfiring or causing Soldier injury, officials explained. The M2A1 is also built to be more reliable that the standard M2; the M2 can last up to roughly 25,000 rounds, whereas the M2A1 can fire as many as 80,000 rounds, Alessio explained.
The Army plans to have initial prototypes of the new lightweight .50-cal built by this coming summer as a preparatory step to release a formal Request For Proposal, or RFP, to industry in the first quarter of 2017, Alessio said. An acquisition contract is expected several months after the RFP is released.
“We are looking to test this summer,” he said.
The lighter weight weapon will bring additional an additional range of mission sets for Soldiers who will be better able to transport, mount and fire the weapon against enemies.
“If you are a top gunner and you are having to move this weapon around – it is on a pedestal tripod. If it is lighter, you are going to be able to traverse the weapon a little bit easier than a 20-pound heavier weapon. That is one of the added benefits as far as getting it on and off the vehicle. If a soldier can do that by himself that is an added benefit,” Alessio said.
The M2 uses several different kinds of ammunition, including some rounds engineered to be “harder penetrating.” The weapon also uses an ammo can with 200 rounds; a top cover can be lifted off and the links between rounds are space to provide accurate timing as they are dropped into the weapon, he said.
Future .50-cal Innovations
The Army’s .50-cal program is also looking at a longer-term project to engineer a lighter weight caseless ammunition which will reduce the amount of brass needed, he added.
Further into the future, the service will also create requirements for a new externally-mounted weapon to replace both the M2 .50-cal machine gun and the Mk19 grenade launcher.
“This will be one weapon with a totally different new type of ammo that is not yet even in the developmental phase,” Alessio explained.
Aside from improving the weapon itself, the Army will also embark upon a simultaneous excursion to develop a lighter profile barrel.
“We will have many barrels that will lessen the logistic burden of having a spare barrel all the time. We are also hoping to save a lot of weight. We are hoping to save 16-pounds off of a 26-pound barrel,” Alessio said.
In addition, the Army plans to engineer a laser rangefinder, new optics and fire control technology for the .50-cal. Alessio said a new, bigger machine-gun mounted optic will likely be put on the gun within the next five years.
A laser rangefinder uses an algorithm created to identify the exact distance of a target — by combining the speed of light, which is known, with the length of time it takes the laser to reach the target.
The new addition to the weapon is called a Mounted Gun Optic, or MMO.
“It is basically an optic or direct view optic which will have some type of laser crosshair. This will improve lethality and an ability to put first round on target,” he added.
Finally, within five to ten years, the Army plans to have some kind of fire control technology added to the .50-cal; this will improve the accuracy of the weapon an increase its effective range by incorporating ballistic calculations such as the round’s trajectory through the air to target, Alessio explained.
Since April 2014, U.S. Army Europe has rotated units from the U.S. to the European continent in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The ongoing operation aims to enhance NATO’s eastern flank against Russian aggression and deter future conflicts like the War in Donbass. The rotations and joint and multinational training build readiness and strengthen bonds with NATO allies. For one helicopter crew, the training turned into a real-life emergency response.
On December 15, 2020, the five-soldier crew of a CH-47F Chinook was returning from a training mission. The crew, assigned to B Company, 6th General Support Aviation Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), is posted in Illesheim, Germany in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. However, on their way home, the crew witnessed an emergency on the ground.
“We were flying over a ridgeline in a rural area,” said pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dave Acton. “Once we cleared it, my crew chief in the back came on the comms system and said he saw a puff of white smoke on the road below.” A civilian car got into a serious accident on the road below the Chinook.
“After I called that in, I looked further down the road and saw a car roll over two or three times, “said crew chief Spc. Bruce Cook. Now aware of the emergency situation on the ground, the crew requested permission to assist.
“It was like we all simultaneously thought the same thing…that the right thing to do was to assist however we could,” said co-pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Riedel. “I like to think its natural human instinct to want to stop and help in any way that you can.” The air mission commander gave them the green light and the Chinook descended to the site of the car crash.
Once the helicopter was on the ground, brigade flight surgeon Maj. Benjamin Stork assessed the situation, jumped out, and ran to the crash. “I checked my medical pack attached to my vest to make sure I had everything I might need to stabilize possible injuries,” said Stork. “Once I got to the man in the crash, I checked his vitals and made sure he was cognizant; thankfully, he spoke English pretty well because my German is pretty broken.”
Stork stabilized the man’s neck and back before an ambulance arrived on the scene. After briefing the paramedics on the situation, Stork helped them transfer the man to the ambulance and ran back to the helicopter. “All in all, from noticing the car flip to getting the wheels up off the ground, about 30 minutes passed,” said Stork. “Every piece of the operation felt organic, smooth and controlled because of how well these guys talk to each other.”
The quick, efficient, and professional response by the Chinook crew demonstrates the effectiveness of the countless hours of training that they go through. “We are in Europe in support of Atlantic Resolve, and for the most part that means that we train together with our ally and partner military forces,” said Col. Travis Habhab, commander of the 101st CAB. “I think that an important part of building that partnership and trust also lies in connecting with and supporting the local community where we can. The level we train at is what allows us to let these types of responses happen organically, and I’m incredibly proud of our Wings of Destiny Soldiers for making the call to help someone in a situation that could have been much worse.”
The US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor stealth fighter is playing a crucial yet evolving role in air operations over Syria and Iraq.
With advanced stealth technology and powerful sensors, the aircraft is the first coalition plane back in Syrian airspace after a major incident. Such was the case after the US downings of Syrian aircraft this month, as well as the US Navy’s Tomahawk missile strike on al Shayrat air base in April.
Notably missing from the high-profile shoot-downs, the fifth-generation aircraft made by Lockheed Martin Corp. isn’t necessarily showcasing its role as an air-to-air fighter in the conflict. Instead, the twin-engine jet is doing more deconflicting of airspace than dog-fighting, officials said.
“This is a counter-ISIS fight,” said Lt. Col. “Shell,” an F-22 pilot and commander of the 27th Squadron on rotation at a base in an undisclosed location, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. He spoke to Military.com on the condition that he be identified by his callsign.
“ISIS doesn’t have advanced surface-to-air missiles, they don’t have an air force … but we are deconflicting the air space,” Shell said. “Not everyone is on the same frequencies,” he said, referring to the US, Russian, Syrian, and coalition aircraft operating over Syria. “Deconfliction with the Russian air force — that is one of the big things that we do.”
The pilot said the F-22’s ability to identify other aircraft — down to the airframe — and detect surface-to-air missiles and relay their existence to other friendly forces while remaining a low-observable radar profile makes it critical for the fight.
The Raptor is typically flying above other aircraft, though not as high as drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, Shell said.
The F-22, along with the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, “has really high fidelity sensors that we can detect when non-coalition aircraft are getting close,” he said, “and we can move the coalition aircraft around at altitude laterally, so that, for example, if a Russian formation or Syrian formation going into the same battlespace to counter ISIS, [they are] not at conflict with our fighters.”
Weapon of Choice: Small Diameter Bomb
Even so, to defend itself in the air and strike targets on the ground, “we carry a mixed load out,” Shell said.
The F-22 wields the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, the laser-guided GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, and the GPS-guided GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition.
The Small Diameter Bomb is more likely to be used, especially in the counter-ISIS fight in urban areas where the Raptor is conducting precision strikes, Shell said.
“We carry the low collateral damage weapon, the Small Diameter Bomb GBU-39, to precisely strike enemy combatants while protecting the civilian population,” he said. “We also can carry the 1,000-pound JDAM GBU-32 used for targets where there is less-to-little collateral damage concern,” meaning a larger blast for attack.
Location Isn’t ‘Scramble-able’
The Combined Air Operations Center, or CAOC, based in another location, develop the F-22’s mission tasking typically three days out, Shell said. For logistical purposes, all aircraft in theater don’t fly unless the mission is deemed critical, he said.
“Typical maintenance practices will not have every airplane airborne at once,” he said.
In addition, “We’re not in a scramble-able location,” he said. “We’re not [a dozen or so] miles away from the OIR fight — we have to drive.”
Between flying in Iraq and Syria, “there are different rules based on where we’re flying,” Shell said, stopping short of detailing each country’s rules of engagement and flight restrictions. “They’re minor in the technical details.”
‘The Only Thing That Can Survive’
During the Navy’s TLAM strike, “serendipitously,” there were more F-22s in the area of responsibility because some were getting ready to fly home while others were coming in, according to Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Expeditionary Wing, which houses the F-22 mission in an undisclosed location for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Pentagon’s name for the anti-ISIS campaign.
After incidents like that, “We kind of go to F-22s only — fifth gen only” because “it’s the only thing that can survive in there,” he said, referring to the plane’s ability to fly in contested airspace despite the presence of anti-access aerial denial weapons.
Should Russia paint coalition aircraft with surface-to-air missile systems, “the only thing we’ll put in there is F-22s,” Corcoran said. Leaders will then decide which types of fourth-generation fighter — like an F-16 Fighting Falcon with capable radars — and/or drone can return to the fight, he said. Only later would they allow “defenseless aircraft” such as tankers to circle back through taskings, he said.
“If an F-15 or an F-18 — which is really more of a ground-attack airplane — is busy doing this, they’re not available to do the close air support stuff, so if we [have] got to keep this up, we’re probably going to need some more forces over here that can do their dedicated jobs,” Corcoran said. That includes more “defensive counter air” assets like F-22s so the tactical fighters can drop more bombs “and get after ISIS,” he said.
‘We Can Bring More’
Given the nature of how the US air operation against ISIS has evolved in recent months, Shell acknowledged the possibility that commanders may decide to deploy more F-22s to the area of responsibility.
“The airplanes that we have here, it’s not the maximum we can bring, we can bring more if directed,” he said. With more Raptors in theater, “they would obviously task us more,” he said.
Shell said, “People often call us the quarterback [in the air]. I don’t like that because we’re not always in charge — there is a mission hierarchy … and most of the time it is not the F-22. We enhance the mission commander’s situational awareness by feeding him information based on off our sensors for him or her to make a decision.”
When asked if that meant the stealth fighter works as a “silent partner” gathering intel, he said, “We’re not really silent. We’re pretty vocal.”
For Spencer, the way to fix this major gap is to create a school of urban warfare.
As pointed out recently by Army chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley, “Army forces operating in complex, densely populated urban terrain in dense urban areas is the toughest and bloodiest form of combat and it will become the norm, not the exception in the future.”
And yet, Spencer said the Army is woefully unprepared at this point to effectively fight in dense urban areas, which feature endless enemy positions, civilians mixed in with combatants, narrow alleys and close-quarter firefights.
“The Army is fighting in cities today,” Spencer wrote. “It will find itself fighting in cities in the future. It is time to commit to preparing soldiers for this environment. To do so, the Army needs a school that provides soldiers the opportunity to build necessary skills, feel the stress, and mentally prepare for the hell of urban warfare — before combat.”
As it stands now, soldiers receive training on breaching small buildings and only sometimes get the chance to participate in live-fire exercises in houses. While it’s true that many soldiers have fought in locations like Baghdad, Fallujah and Ramadi, new units and new soldiers coming into the service lack this experience and have to start from scratch.
Currently, the Army has no such site that can approximate either structural or population density of a city. The only location even remotely close, according to Spencer, is the Shughart-Gordon Training Complex at Fort Polk, Louisiana, which only has 20-30 buildings and is situated around trees or desert areas, as opposed to more dense urban structures. Moreover, civilian actors used in simulations rarely reach beyond a few hundred.
Special Forces has a slightly better selection with the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana, which has 68 buildings. Still, this setting is nowhere near city-size.
A real school of urban warfare could fix this, Spencer said, and would teach soldiers “the individual and collective skills of shooting, moving, and communicating in urban environments, along with specific skills like breaching.”
“They would learn to live, survive, and conduct offensive and defensive operations as units in dense urban terrain. The school could be further phased to replicate the full experience of operating in progressively more dense — and complex — environments,” Spencer continued. “It could culminate with terrain walks and site visits to a nearby city, requiring students to think through the application of the skills, field craft, and knowledge they’ve gained.”
1st Marine Raider Support Battalion held an event giving U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command personnel the opportunity to learn about the involvement of World War II Raiders in the war and their legacy that lives on at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Sept. 29, 2017. World War II Marine Raiders played a large role in the success of World War II, on and off the battlefields.
Many in attendance know of the World War II Raiders’ victories on the battlefield, but their aid off the battlefield is less known. With the establishment of the Office of Strategic Services came the creation of the OSS Special Maritime Unit Operational Swimmers, also known as the country’s “first frogmen.” The Raiders’ facilities and training methods became the foundation of the operatives’ training and preparation for the war.
The assistant operations officer for 1st MRSB introduced Erick Simmel, the battalion’s guest speaker who would lecture on the history of the OSS Maritime Unit. Accompanying Simmel at the lecture was the last living OSS Special Maritime Unit operative, Henry “Hank” Weldon.
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reorganized the Office of the Coordinator of Information into the Office of Strategic Services, after U.S. entry into World War II. OSS founder Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan, a World War I hero and Wall Street lawyer, restructured the organization to similarly match the British Special Operations Executive and Secret Intelligence Service operations.
“The intent was to create an elite agency with units created for conducting guerrilla warfare as well as collecting and sabotaging intelligence behind enemy lines,” said Simmel, an OSS Maritime Unit descendant and historical expert of World War II special operations forces.
One of the many units created were the frogmen. These men received an extraordinary waterman-operative skillset to use during World War II operations. The men who made it into the unit were the first swimmers sent to attend the Marine Raider Training Course at Camp Pendleton in the fall and winter of 1943-1944. These men were trained in both Marine Raider skills and underwater demolition techniques.
The purpose for both training courses was to prepare the operatives for reconnaissance, underwater demolition, infiltration and exfiltration by sea and intelligence gathering. Though equipment, tactics and techniques have changed over the last 70 years, today’s Raiders and the OSS frogmen emphasize the same skillsets in training.
After the lecture, the Raiders were introduced to weapons and equipment used during that time period at a series of static displays. Amongst those displays were images of the frogmen and Raiders collaborating with allied British forces.
British special operators also participated in the frogman training pipeline, developing their skills under the tutelage of Raider instructors. Along with attaining new training, British and U.S. forces exchanged information on warfare tactics, technology and logistical concepts to use against German forces. The training consisted mainly of techniques needed for infiltration by sea.
Instructors for this course consisted of World War II Raider officers and enlisted personnel, who trained the frogmen in mock attacks designed to test harbor defenses. In one exercise scenario, combat swimmers were tasked with successfully breaching America’s maritime harbor defenses.
“They gave us a bunch of dummy TNT at high tide, dropped us off about a half-mile offshore and told us to plant it all along the coast while our commanding officers kept watch,” said Weldon. “One of the commanding officers said he thought he saw something, but they didn’t see us. When daylight came, the tide went out and all you could see was the dummy TNT all along the shore.”
This ability to get in and out without detection, allowed the World War II Raiders and Navy frogmen to be two of the most effective fighting forces of World War II. The skills learned from the World War II Raiders and used by the OSS Special Maritime Unit A swimmers proved the value of their direct action operations behind enemy lines during World War II.
As World War II came to a close, President Harry S. Truman dissolved the OSS and its Special Maritime Units. The lineage and legacy of the first frogmen carries on today in elements of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command’s SEAL community and the modern Raiders of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command.
Each branch of the United States Armed Forces has their own elite troop, proficient in using a sniper rifle — and the Coast Guard is no different. Surprised? You’re not alone. One of the only times troops sing their praises is when they “come out of nowhere” and beat most branches’ snipers in competition, year after year.
Sure, it’s always hilarious to poke fun at our tiniest brother branch for being puddle pirates, but when it comes down to it, mission after mission, the Coast Guard has continuously proven themselves as cut from the same cloth. Okay, maybe just the MSRT guys — but still.
Everyone wants to mock the coasties until they realize what the coasties actually do…
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Daniel Lavinder)
The Coast Guard equivalent to special operations is the Maritime Security Response Team, or MSRT. They’re the front line troops shouldering the burden of the War on Drugs. And they’re not just busting college frat boys who’re smoking a bit of weed on their daddy’s yacht either. These guys are constantly going toe-to-toe with some of the deadliest cartels in the world. These are the guys that are bringing billion-dollar criminal enterprises to their knees.
When the Coast Guard goes out to stomp narcoterrorists, they send the MSRT to interdict them. Among them are the often-forgotten snipers.
Snipers across the Department of Defense focus their training on several factors, depending on the role they play. A Marine recon sniper, for example, must train in camouflaging themselves and moving without being seen — often through miles of difficult terrain for weeks at a time. Coast Guard snipers don’t worry about because that’s not in their area of operations — there’s no hiding on the open ocean.
There’s very little technological assistance — that’s all skill from the sniper.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
Instead, they focus their entire training on balancing the perfect shot — often from a helicopter or vessel, compensating for the ebb and flow of the waves, into another speeding vessel. It is an art form that they’ve definitely mastered.
Another key difference between Department of Defense snipers and the coasties is that they’re rarely aiming for individual enemies. They are armed with a Robar RC-50 anti-material rifle and their goal is to disable the engines of speeding boats. They need to capture and imprison the drug traffickers, after all.
When the engine is disabled, the interdiction team boards, and the enemy fights back, well, the rifle is meant to disintegrate reinforced steel. Even criminals aren’t dumb enough to keep fighting when they see what it can do to a comparatively squishy human being.
Last year, the snipers of the Coast Guard’s HITRON (Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron), successfully made their 500th interdiction (or drug bust) since their founding in 1998. Check out the video below that celebrates hitting this milestone.
Civilian pilot Adam Alpert of the Vermont Air National Guard wrote an interesting and enjoyable article on his training experience with the vaunted F-35 in a mock mission to take out nuclear facilities in North Korea.
Chief among the interesting points in the article is a quote from Alpert’s instructor pilot, Lt. Col. John Rahill, about the F-35’s dogfighting ability.
Speaking about the nuanced technical and tactical differences between the F-35, the future plane of the VANG, and the F-16, the VANG’s current plane, Rahill said this:
“If you get into a dogfight with the F-35, somebody made a mistake. It’s like having a knife fight in a telephone booth — very unpredictable.”
The F-35 has been criticized for its dogfighting abilities. But as more information comes to light about the F-35’s mission and purpose, it becomes clearer that measuring the F-35 by its ability to dogfight doesn’t make much more sense than measuring a rifle by its capability as a melee weapon.
“The pilot uses onboard long-range sensors and weapons to destroy the enemy aircraft before ever being seen. The combination of stealth and superior electronic warfare systems makes the F-35 both more lethal and safer,” said Rahill, according to Alpert.
In Alpert’s mock mission to North Korea, planners sent only four planes, two F-35s and two F-22s, instead of the older formation of F-18s for electronic attacks, F-15s for air dominance, and F-16s for bombing and airborne early warning. Altogether, the older formation totals about 75 lives at risk versus four pilots at risk with the F-35 version.
Alpert’s piece highlights many of the ways in which the F-35 outclasses the F-16 with an easier, more intuitive interface that allows pilots to focus more on the mission and less on the machine. In fact, Alpert compares the F-35’s controls to an “elaborate video game” with a variety of apps he can call up seamlessly to access any relevant information — including an indicator that tells him how stealthy he is.
The Marine Corps’ new CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter is on track to surpass the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter in unit cost, a lawmaker said this month.
The still-in-development King Stallion is designed to replace the Marines’ CH-53E Super Stallion choppers, which are reaching the end of their service lives. But while Super Stallions cost about $24 million apiece, or $41 million in current dollars, the Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin King Stallion began with a per-unit price tag of about $95 million — and there are indications it could rise further.
Citing a 2016 Selected Acquisition Report from the Government Accountability Office, Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said the CH-53K estimated unit cost had increased about 14 percent from the baseline estimate. Information provided directly from the Marine Corps to House lawmakers this year, she said, indicated that the choppers were now expected to cost 22 percent more than the baseline estimate, or $122 million per copy.
“The Marine Corps intends to buy 200 of these aircraft, so that cost growth multiplied times 200 is a heck of a lot of money,” Tsongas said during a March 10 hearing before a House Armed Services subcommittee. “And even if there is no additional cost growth, it seems worth pointing out that $122 million per aircraft in 2006 dollars exceeds the current cost of an F-35A aircraft for the Air Force by a significant margin.”
The most recent lot of Lockheed Martin F-35As cost $94.6 million apiece, down from over $100 million in previous buys. The Marine Corps’ F-35B and the Navy’s F-35C, modified for ship take-off and landing, remain slightly over $120 million apiece.
Previously the Marines’ Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey held the distinction of being the priciest rotorcraft in the air, at some $72 million apiece. The Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel, a planned replacement for the Marine One presidential transport fleet, did at one point reach a $400 million unit cost amid massive overruns, but the aircraft never entered full-rate production, and the program was officially canceled in 2009.
But the Marines’ head of Programs and Resources said the service is prepared to shoulder the cost of their cutting-edge chopper.
Speaking before the committee March 10, Lt. Gen. Gary Thomas noted that the Marine Corps expected the unit cost to drop to below $89 million when the aircraft enters full-rate production, sometime between 2019 and 2022. As the F-35A unit cost is expected to drop as low as $85 million in the same time-frame, the two programs will remain close in that regard.
“That’s still very expensive; we’re working very hard with the program office and the vendor to keep the cost down and to drive value for the taxpayer,” Thomas said. “In terms of, can we afford it, we do have a plan without our topline that would account for purchases of the new aircraft we desire.”
A spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin, Erin Cox, said in a statement provided to Military.com that the King Stallion program was now on track and meeting goals.
“The CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter, as previously known and reported, overcame developmental issues as are common with new, highly complex programs and is now completely on track and scheduled for Milestone C review leading to initial low rate production,” she said. “The program is performing extremely well.”
Tsongas pointed out that the Marine Corps is now spending three times as much on aviation modernization as it is on modernization of ground vehicles, despite being at its core a ground force. Thomas called the spending plan balanced, noting that the service had active plans to modernize its vehicles, but the realities of aviation costs and the urgency to replace aging platforms required more outlay on aircraft.
The first CH-53K aircraft are expected to reach initial operational capability in 2019. They are designed to carry an external load of 27,000 pounds, more than three times the capacity of the CH-53E Super Stallion, and feature a wider cabin to carry troops and gear.
During its return from an annual supply run to the McMurdo research station in Antarctica, the US Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, had a fire break out inside its incinerator room as it sailed about 650 miles north of McMurdo Sound.
The incident occurred on Feb. 10, 2019, after the icebreaker had left Antarctica, where it had cut a channel though nearly 17 miles of ice that was 6 to 10 feet thick to allow a container ship to offload 10 million pounds of supplies that will sustain US research stations and field camps in Antarctica.
According to a Coast Guard release, four fire extinguishers failed during the initial response, and it ultimately took two hours for the ship’s fire crews to put out the blaze. While damage from the flames was contained inside the incinerator housing, water used to cool nearby exhaust pipes damaged electrical systems and insulation in the room.
Smoke from a fire aboard the Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.
(US Coast Guard photo)
A fire in the incinerator room of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.
(US Coast Guard photo)
“It’s always a serious matter whenever a shipboard fire breaks out at sea, and it’s even more concerning when that ship is in one of the most remote places on Earth,” Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the US Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, said in a release. “The crew of the Polar Star did an outstanding job — their expert response and determination ensured the safety of everyone aboard.”
Point Nemo, the most remote spot on earth, is also in the South Pacific — 1,670 miles from the nearest land, which is Ducie Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands, to the north; Motu Nui, one of the Easter Islands, to the northeast; and Maher Island, part of Antarctica, to the south.
Coast Guard crew members fight a fire aboard the icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.
(US Coast Guard photo)
A disabled fishing vessel is towed through sea ice near Antarctica by the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 14, 2015.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)
The Polar Star is the Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, capable of smashing through the thick ice that builds up in the Arctic and around Antarctica. As such, it makes the run to McMurdo every year in the winter months and then goes into dry dock for maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next trip.
Having just one working heavy icebreaker has hindered the Coast Guard’s ability to meet request from other government agencies. The service could only do 78% of heavy icebreaking missions between 2010 and 2016, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office Report.
Contractors work on the Polar Star’s hull as the icebreaker undergoes depot-level maintenance at a dry dock in Vallejo, California, in preparation for its future polar-region patrol, April 16, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)
US Coast Guard scuba divers work to repair a leak in the shaft seal of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, January 2019.
(US Coast Guard photo)
The Polar Star left its home port in Seattle on Nov. 27, 2018, to make the 11,200-mile trip to Antarctica for the sixth time in as many years. It suffered a number of mechanical problems on the way there, including smoke damage to an electrical switchboard, ship-wide power outages, and a leak in the propeller shaft.
Repairing the propeller-shaft leak required the ship to halt icebreaking operations and deploy divers to fix the shaft seal. The Polar Star also had a number of mechanical issues during its 2018 run to McMurdo.
The Polar Star sailed into Wellington, New Zealand, on Feb. 18, 2019, for a port call, the first time those aboard had set foot on land in 42 days, according to New Zealand news outlet Stuff. The ship is currently on its way back to Seattle, the Coast Guard said in its release.
The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea passing the Polar Star in the ice channel near McMurdo, Antarctica, Jan. 10, 2002.
(US Coast Guard photo by Rob Rothway)
A seal on the ice in front of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star while the ship was hove-to in the Ross Sea near Antarctica, Jan. 30, 2015.
(US Coast Guard photo by Carlos Rodriguez)
The Coast Guard has been pushing to build a new heavy icebreaker for some time, setting up a joint program office with the Navy to oversee the effort. Funding for the new ship had been held up in Congress, but lawmakers recently approved 5 million to start building a new one and another million for materials for a second.
In summer 2018, the Senate approved 5 million for the new icebreaker, but the House of Representatives instead authorized billion to build the US-Mexico border wall sought by President Donald Trump, cutting a number of programs, including that of the icebreaker in the process.
But Congressional staffers told USNI News in February 2019 that the Homeland Security Department’s fiscal year 2019 appropriation would include 5 million for new icebreakers.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
While Eddie Rickenbacker has a claim to fame as the top American ace of World War I, there were plenty of other Americans who fought valiantly with Allies from the air.
One of them, Eugene Bullard, has the distinction of being the first African-American military pilot.
According to Air and Space Power Journal, Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, on Oct 9, 1894. At 8 years old, he left Georgia after his father narrowly escaped a lynching, and made his way to Norfolk where he worked a series of odd jobs before he stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland.
He worked more odd jobs across Scotland and England, including as a longshoreman and on a fish wagon, until he discovered talents for boxing and performing. That talent eventually landed him in Paris just as World War I started.
Bullard spent two years with an infantry unit and was wounded during the Battle of Verdun. He then transferred to the French Flying Corps. During his time in the infantry, he was nicknamed “The Black Swallow of Death.” Bullard would score two kills in just over two months of combat flying. After the U.S. ignored his application to be a pilot for the American military despite his combat experience, he was transferred to non-combat duties by the French until his discharge in 1919.
Bullard would settle down in France, but come to his adopted country’s defense again in World War II, first serving as a spy, then seeing ground combat near Orleans. After he was wounded, he was medically evacuated, along with his daughters to the United States. He eventually went to work as an elevator operator in New York City.
In 1954, France invited Bullard and two other men to re-light the Eternal Flame at the Arc de Triomphe. In 1959, he was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor, and was interviewed on the Today Show. The next year, Charles de Gaulle publicly declared Bullard a hero of France.
Bullard died on Oct. 12, 1961, after an illness caused by the wounds he had received. He was 67 years old. In 1994, 100 years after he was born, the U.S. Air Force granted him a commission as a Lieutenant.
U.S. authorities have moved to seize a French painting that was taken by Nazi forces from a Ukrainian museum near the end of World War II.
Manhattan federal prosecutors said in a statement on March 21, 2019, that the painting — called An Amorous Couple, by Pierre Louis Goudreaux — was stolen from the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of the Arts in Kyiv around 1943.
U.S. officials said the painting had been missing for years, held by a London private collector and then in Massachusetts. It resurfaced in 2013 when it was listed on a website for an unnamed New York auction house.
The FBI determined it was bought from a Missouri auction house in 1993 by a New York dealer who had consigned it to the auction house.
The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of the Arts in Kyiv.
The prosecutors said they were seeking a court order to seize the painting and return it to the Kyiv museum.
In recent years, U.S. officials have stepped up efforts to locate art seized from Ukraine by Nazi forces and return it to Ukraine.
In December 2018, U.S. authorities moved to claim a 107-year-old painting of Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible that was stolen from a Ukrainian art museum during World War II.
That painting by Mikhail Panin, called The Secret Departure Of Ivan The Terrible Before The Oprichnina, was part of the permanent collection of a museum in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro before the war.
With all the focus on the “unsinkable” carriers China is building in the South China Sea, people forget that the United States has its own options for unsinkable carriers.
1. Luzon, the Philippines
Both Clark Air Base and NAS Cubi Point were major bases for the United States when America had forces deployed to the Philippines until 1991.
At Clark Air Base, the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing operated F-4 Phantoms from 1974 to 1991. Prior to that, other units, including the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing and the 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing operated at the base.
The eruption of Mount Pinatubo knocked Clark Air Base out of action for a while, but it now serves as Clark International Airport, and features two runways that could be expanded to over four kilometers long, according to the airport’s web site.
Naval Air Station Cubi Point is another likely base. During the Cold War, it was used as a major maintenance base. Now known as Subic Bay International Airport, this facility is largely unused – and could be the place to base P-8 Poseidon squadrons or even F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to contest Chinese efforts to take the South China Sea.
In a January 2016 report, ManilaLiveWire.com listed Cubi Point as a natural location for the United States to operate from under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
One lesser known airbase, handed over to the Philippines in 1971 is the former Naval Station Sangley Point, now called Danilo Atienza Air Base. This air base, also in the region, is in active use by the Philippine Air Force. According to Scramble.nl, this base operated OV-10 Broncos for the Philippines, but in the past, it operated P-3 Orions when it was used by the United States Navy.
2. Palawan, the Philippines
Scramble.nl notes that the Antonio Bautista Air Base operates N-22 Nomad cargo planes and Polish W-3 helicopters. But the base’s location is also that of Puerto Princesa, and the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation notes that the runway is just over 8,500 feet. This could enable it to operate modern strike fighters.
While pretty far from the actual South China Sea, Singapore is one unsinkable aircraft carrier that China would get very nervous about, since it pretty much throttles the Straits of Malacca.
This is because there are three bases that can operate modern fighters and even bombers, according to the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation. The most notable is Singapore International Airport, with two runways over 13,000 feet in length. That could make it easy for heavy bombers to operate there.
Paya Lebar also has a runway over 12,000 feet long, making it another possible base bombers can operate from. F-15SG fighters operate from that base, according to Scramble.nl. Tengah’s runway is just over 9,000 feet, and can operate F-16s.
4. Republic of China, aka Taiwan
If things get hairy enough, the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan, is another option. Taiwan’s Air Force is quite modern. Scramble.nl notes that Taiwan has F-16s and P-3s among its inventory, giving it commonality with the U.S. military.
Taiwan’s use, though, would probably only take place during a time of war with China. Under the “One China” policy, the United States needs to keep at arm’s length with this country, but China knows that Taiwan is potentially an American base.