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.
Chad Hennings played for the Dallas Cowboys and was part of three Super Bowl winning teams. Before his NFL career, he flew an A-10 Thunderbolt II in 45 combat sorties over northern Iraq during two deployments in 1991 and early 1992. (Courtesy photo/Dallas Cowboys)
Chad Hennings won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys during the 1990s, and his first appearance was within a year’s time of flying his A-10 Thunderbolt II in a combat sortie in northern Iraq.
Hennings, a 1988 Academy graduate, led the nation with 24 sacks and was awarded the Outland Trophy during the 1987 season — an award that recognizes the nation’s best interior lineman.
Committed to serve
Following graduation, Hennings — now a member of the College Football Hall of Fame — was drafted by the Cowboys in the 11th round of the 1988 draft. Before he could even suit up in the NFL, Hennings had to first fulfill his military commitment, a move that was initially hard to accept.
“I wouldn’t say there were regrets, (but) it was an emotional struggle because I wanted to be able to compete,” Hennings said.
From a character perspective, he knew without a doubt what he needed to do because he made a commitment and he was going to stick to it. The drive to compete, however, made his transition from school to pilot training and then into his active-duty squadron a difficult one. That void would eventually be filled with friendly competition as an A-10 pilot.
“We did compete on the range; we competed for performance,” he said. “There (was) always competition and it was a healthy competition.”
After pilot school, Hennings was stationed in the U.K. and deployed twice to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in 1991 and 1992. While deployed, he flew 45 combat sorties in northern Iraq in support of Operation Provide Comfort, an international relief effort after the Gulf War.
After getting settled into the Air Force, Hennings said he contemplated making a career out of it.
“Football was a distant memory and something in the past that I never really thought about until the Air Force went through the reduction in force and they started the waivers in the spring of ’92,” he said.
Hennings separated from active-duty Air Force in April 1992 and transitioned to the Air Force Reserve. He continued to serve in the Reserve individual mobilization augmentee program for almost 10 years.
The next month, Hennings found himself in Dallas working out for the Cowboys.
“It was extremely stressful, initially transitioning in ’92, because I’m leaving one career for another,” he said. “I’m moving from one continent to another, taking on a whole new different position. There were a lot of just stress factors there, and it wasn’t assured that I would make the team.”
Hennings said it was tough coming into the league and competing at a level of competition that was much higher than he experienced before.
But all the downtime spent in the weight room and working out when he wasn’t flying during his deployments and TDYs paid off. He would go on to secure a spot on the team, and kick off what would eventually be a nine-year career with the Cowboys, playing in 119 games and recording 27.5 sacks.
In his first season, Hennings and the Cowboys would go on to beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl 27.
“It was pretty surreal,” he said. “I essentially flew a combat mission and then played in the Super Bowl all within a year’s time.”
He compared that Super Bowl experience to his first combat mission. He said he knew he had a job to do, and being around a set of guys who were experienced made it easier to navigate and process all of his emotions.
During his next three seasons, Hennings would go onto win two more Super Bowls with the Cowboys.
“You got to a point in our culture of being a Dallas Cowboy, that that’s what was expected. We knew we were the best team out there,”
Hennings said. “I kind of compare that analogy to being a fighter pilot. It’s kind of that confident arrogance, where you know you’re good, you know your abilities; you walk out there, you don’t flaunt it, but you walk with an extreme amount of confidence.”
It wasn’t until the latter part of Hennings’ career that he fully appreciated winning three Super Bowls, he said.
Two decades after he appeared in his last Super Bowl, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 30, Hennings has a sincere admiration for those moments in time and truly appreciates how special those teams really were.
“As a kid growing up, all your heroes, the role models that you looked up to on the gridiron — you know those guys — they were able to hold that trophy up,” Hennings said. “I was a Minnesota Vikings fan, so they went there four years and they never won one, and that’s where I realized too how difficult it is, not only to just get to the Super Bowl, but to win one — how truly special that is.”
Hennings said one of the best memories is from Super Bowl 30, where he recorded two sacks — a Super Bowl record that he shared with several other players before it was broken the next year.
Being a solid performer on the gridiron and in his jet, Hennings has always tried to strive for excellence.
Growing up in Elberon, Iowa, Hennings would sometimes put in 12-plus-hour days helping his father and grandfather on their farm, where they predominately raised corn and a feedlot operation for cattle. He’d help wherever needed, whether feeding the cattle, bailing hay, driving tractors, or performing maintenance.
“The work ethic came from watching my father, my grandfather, but a lot of it I can attribute it to my older brother, who really pushed me to workout with him,” he said.
Hennings’ older brother, Todd, was a couple years older and was the quarterback for their high school football team. Hennings said he was a tight end, and he recalled his brother dragging him off to run routes and lift weights.
“When I started to see the success of all the hard work that I put in, then it became more of a self-driving motivation than having somebody externally motivate me,” he said.
That motivation to be a better player and better person carried over when it was time to attend college. Hennings had several scholarships, but said he wanted a “holistic experience.” He yearned to be challenged academically and wanted to have the experiences a typical college graduate wouldn’t have.
Looking back, the leadership skills gained, the experience of flying jets, and the camaraderie within his fighter squadron are things that gave him skills he used on the gridiron and in his everyday life.
“You know, it all worked out great,” Hennings said. “I had an experience flying that I would never trade. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same.”
Where he is now
Today, Hennings lives outside of Dallas, where he’s a partner in a commercial real estate company and does a lot of public speaking, which he said is his way of giving back.
“That’s my passion now in this last half of my life, is to be an evangelist, in essence, for that aspect of a need of character in our community and for us as individuals,” Hennings said.
An author of three books, he’s also married with two children, who are both in college.
More than 120 sailors from Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 3 participated in community service projects at the Tanglin Salvation Army and the Chai Chee Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen in Singapore, Nov. 26-27, 2018.
Sailors who volunteered at the Tanglin Salvation Army sorted donated clothing, electronics, toys, and a variety of assorted household goods.
Lt. Ryan Albano, divisional officer in the Command Religious Ministries Department aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), and one of the event coordinators, said community service is a part of the mission and legacy of the Navy.
“This is perhaps one of the most important things I get to do in the Navy,” said Albano. “We set a high standard everywhere we go that the United States Navy does not simply come to consume. We also show up to give back.”
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Angelina Grimsley)
The sailors volunteered on Nov. 26 and 27, 2018, which are the days the Tanglin Salvation Army receives the bulk of its weekly donations.
“We are really happy to have extra help on our busiest days. It was a big help to us,” said Benjamin Sim, the location’s human resources manager.
Sailors also volunteered at Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen by breaking down over 300 pounds of fish for stocks and stews and helping to organize the dry storage of more than 500 pounds of rice.
“It’s important to show our host nation that we’re allies and represent ourselves and our nation in a positive light,” said Aviation Administration man 2nd Class Javon Wilkerson, a volunteer at the soup kitchen.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Angelina Grimsley)
Willing Hearts cooks, serves lunch, packages, and delivers an average of 6,000 meals a day from sunrise until after sunset to those in need. The meals are distributed to over 60 locations to feed Singaporeans who are unable to leave their homes.
The community service projects were conducted during a scheduled port visit to the island nation by John C. Stennis, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile cruiser USS Spruance (DDG 111).
The ships moored at Changi Naval Base following a high-end dual carrier strike force exercise in the Philippine Sea with the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, providing Sailors the opportunity to explore the island and the city.
“This comes as a surprise,” said no one, ever, of a new analysis that finds military members drink alcohol more than workers in any other job.
A review of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s survey data from 2013 through 2017 by a behavioral health company has found that troops spend more days a year consuming alcohol than people in any other industry.
They also binge-drink more, imbibing at least four or five alcoholic beverages a day in one sitting at least 41 days a year, the most of any occupation. That’s the CDC’s definition of binge-drinking, depending on gender. The military personnel surveyed said they binge-drank about a third of the days they consumed alcohol.
At the low end of the spectrum, health care and social assistance workers had a drink roughly 68 days per year.
For those who track the Pentagon’s yearly behavioral health surveys and media reports of arrests of service members for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to cases of sexual assault and even murder, the findings support what has been known for decades: the services have a drinking problem, and according to the Delphi report, it appears to be worsening.
The report noted that military personnel in 2014 reported drinking fewer than 100 drinks per year. Now, that number tops 130.
“People in the armed forces typically have ranked the highest every year since 2014,” said Ryan Serpico, Delphi’s lead researcher. “It’s shocking, but not shocking … [These results] enforce what we already know, but again, they shine a light on this, saying it’s a problem and we need to do something about it.”
The study was based on the CDC’s National Health Interview Surveys from 2013 through 2017, the latest year data was available. As with any study based on survey results, however, it comes with some caveats, including potential bias from respondents who chose to participate and their ability to accurately describe their drinking behaviors the previous years.
Also, of the nearly 27,000 survey participants, only 81 said they were in the military. So the findings could simply reflect the habits of 81 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who like to drink. A lot.
“I don’t know how the CDC executed the surveys,” Serpico said, “but when it comes to sample size number, we typically look for 26 respondents in order to make any judgements on the data.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Adam Dublinske)
Still, the findings echo the results of a survey frequently conducted by Rand Corp., a Washington-based think tank, for the Defense Department called the Health-Related Behavior Survey, or HRBS. While results from the 2018 survey have not been published, the 2015 survey found that 30 percent of troops reported being binge drinkers, and one in three service members met criteria that indicated they engaged in “hazardous drinking or possible alcohol use disorder.”
According to the 2015 HRBS, the percentage of these behaviors was highest in the Marine Corps, where hazardous drinking — described as drinking that results in negative consequences like risky behavior, missed work days or serious personal problems — was reported by nearly half the service.
The Air Force had the lowest percentages of these drinking issues, according to the survey.
Excessive drinking has been estimated to cost the Defense Department id=”listicle-2634691247″.1 billion per year in lost productivity and medical treatment. It also is thought to result in the loss of roughly 320,000 work days a year and lead to roughly 34,400 arrests per year.
Despite the impact of alcohol use, however, 68% of active duty troops said they perceived the military culture of being supportive of drinking, and 42% said their supervisor doesn’t discourage alcohol use, according to the HRBS.
Bri Godwin, a media relations associate with Delphi, said there appears to be acceptance of excessive drinking in the military but added that service members can take control of their habits — and those of others — by being mindful.
“There needs to be a conversation on drinking and how much it affects you or someone else. Are you mindful of the consequences — how is it affecting you mentally, physically and financially. You have to do a personal inventory, see how it’s affecting you and determine what you need to do to fix it,” she said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
In an October 2013, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, then the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative to the United Kingdom, outlined sectors of the economy then being developed in Iraqi Kurdistan.
She discussed relevant prospects in the autonomous region’s oil and gas sector, as well as its tourism industry.
One particular area she outlined was referred to as “sites of conscience,” or “dark tourism.”
“I’m sure you know people visit Auschwitz as a way of discovering the history of the Nazis and what happened the Jewish community,” Rahman said. “This is apparently a sector of tourism worldwide that does very well.
“We want the world to know our story and what happened in Kurdistan, both positive and negative,” she added. “We want the world to know about the genocide, the chemical weapon bombardments, the torture, the executions.”
Rahman was referring to the Anfal, the genocidal campaign waged by the Saddam Hussein regime against Kurdistan in the late 1980s which killed 182,000 Kurds. One notably infamous incident of that period was the gassing and killing of 5,000 Kurdish civilians in a single day in the town of Halabja on the Iranian border.
The sites of these atrocities still exist. Amna Suraka, for example, was a headquarters of Iraqi intelligence during Saddam’s rule, where his regime applied the most brutal forms of torture against his Kurdish victims and “disappeared” many. It is now a museum.
Rather than destroy the site, which was known as Saddam’s ” House of Horrors,” the Kurdish authorities decided that preserving it as museum would commemorate those who were killed there, and as a stark reminder of the regime’s brutality against the Kurds.
A hall of mirrors in the complex consists of a staggering 182,000 shards of glass, one for each victim of the Anfal. Also in Halabja there is a memorial and museum to the gas attack.
Seven months after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, he has installed a new civilian leader for the Navy and Marine Corps.
Banker and Marine veteran Richard V. Spencer was sworn in as the 76th secretary of the Navy August 3 in a quiet, early-morning ceremony at the Pentagon, officials said, less than 48 hours after he was confirmed by the Senate in a late-night session August 1.
Spencer most recently served for a decade as the managing director of Fall Creek Management, a management consulting company in Wilson, Wyoming. Prior to that, according to a biography provided by officials, he worked on Wall Street for 16 years in roles centered on investment banking.
He has held numerous board of directors posts at private organizations, including the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, where he serves as vice chairman. He has also served the Pentagon as a member of the Defense Business Board and as a member of the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel.
After graduating from Rollins College in 1976 with an economics degree, Spencer spent five years in the Marine Corps, working as a CH-46 Sea Knight pilot.
According to service records obtained by Military.com, he was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Ana, California. While his awards include a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with one star, his records are incomplete and do not indicate where he deployed.
Spencer left the Marines in 1981 to work on Wall Street, but remained in the Reserves, where he was eventually promoted to captain.
He received few challenges at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, where he was introduced and warmly endorsed by former Navy secretary and US senator John Warner.
Spencer was the second nominee for the post put forward by the Trump administration. The first choice, financier and Army veteran Philip Bilden, withdrew from consideration early this year, citing difficulties divesting his financial interests in order to take the position.
After previous Navy secretary Ray Mabus left the position in January when Trump took office, Sean Stackley, the Navy’s assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition, had served in the role.
A spokesman for the office, Capt. Pat McNally, said Stackley resumed his previous title after Spencer was sworn in but has not announced any future plans.
UPDATE: THE VOTING IS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON MONDAY, SEPT. 25, 2017 AT WE ARE THE MIGHTY!
Welcome to the finals for Mission: Music, where veterans from all five branches compete for a chance to perform onstage at Base*FEST powered by USAA. CLICK THE BUTTON BELOW TO VOTE every day to determine the winner!
Bobby Blackhat is a Coastal Virginia Bluesman and an award-winning recording artist, harmonica player, vocalist, songwriter, producer, comedian, and actor. He’s been playing harp for over 40 years.
After 27 years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard, which included serving as Military Aide to the President and being awarded the Coast Guard Medal for Heroism, Bobby started to pursue music professionally. He is a proud graduate of two Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) programs: Piano and Comedy Bootcamp.
“I love doing what I do because music allows me to get fingers poppin’, toes tappin’, hip shakin’, and faces smilin’. Through music I can bring joy and happiness to the lives of others. I am a prime example that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams and check an item off that pesky bucket list.”
For every vote, USAA will donate $1 (up to $10k) to Guitars for Vets, a non-profit organization that enhances lives of ailing and injured military veterans by providing them with guitars and a forum to learn how to play. Your votes help those who served rediscover their joy through the power of music!
In his final year in Congress, 87-year-old Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, a legendary Air Force fighter pilot in Korea and Vietnam and a former prisoner of war, is backing a bill to give enlisted Medal of Honor recipients and POWs the same honors as officers in burials at Arlington National Cemetery.
“My fellow POWs who served honorably demonstrated the utmost patriotism, but not all of them were eligible for full military honors at their burial, simply due to their rank. I believe this is wrong,” Johnson said in a statement.
Current rules restrict full honors at in-ground burials at Arlington, including a military escort and a horse-drawn caisson, to officers, warrant officers, senior non-commissioned officers, and service members killed in action.
Eligibility rules for in-ground burial at Arlington, which is running out of space, are the strictest of all the national cemeteries. They may in future be limited to those killed in action and recipients of the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart, according to a current proposal under consideration.
Prisoners of war who were discharged honorably and died after Nov. 30, 1993, are also eligible, according to the Code of Federal Regulations. There were no immediate figures available on how many enlisted MoH recipients or POWs may have been denied full honors at Arlington due to current rules.
Most honorably discharged veterans can request Arlington as their final resting place, but the eligibility rules are lengthy. (The list of rules can be found here.)
Arlington National Cemetary.
Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Michigan, is the main sponsor of the Full Military Honors Act, which was introduced in the House in early September 2018. He said he came to the issue at the behest of the family of a deceased constituent, Army Pfc. Robert Fletcher, a Korean War POW who was buried without full honors at Arlington in June 2018.
“America’s POWs and Medal of Honor recipients have sacrificed immeasurably in service to the United States, regardless of their rank,” Bishop said in a statement. “So I was shocked to find out that earlier this year a former POW from Michigan was denied a full honors burial at Arlington National Cemetery based solely on his enlisted rank. This has been an issue for too long, and my legislation will ensure those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty are provided the full military honors they have earned for their end-of-life ceremonies.”
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, the highest-ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress, co-sponsored the bill. “I’m proud to join in introducing the Full Military Honors Act,” said Walz, who retired from the Army National Guard as a command sergeant major after 24 years. “To help ensure we honor the sacrifices these heroes and their families have made for our country, we must pass it without delay.”
The bill has been endorsed by the American Legion, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, the National League of POW/MIA Families, the Special Operations Association, the Special Forces Association, and the American Fallen Warriors Memorial Foundation.
At a hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel in March 2018, officials warned that space for in-ground burials at Arlington would eventually run out because surrounding communities restrict its expansion.
“We are filling up every single day” at the 154-year-old historic site across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., where an average of 150 burials take place each week, said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries.
Estimates on when Arlington will run out of space vary, but some put the date for closing the cemetery to new burials in the 2030s or 2040s.
Members of the Navy Ceremonial Guard transfer Medal of Honor Recipient Navy Capt. Thomas Hudner to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetary, April 4, 2018.
(DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
As of August 2017, there were 5,071 living former POWs in the U.S., according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are currently 72 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, 45 of whom were in the enlisted ranks when they received the award, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
The full honors issue has resonated over the years with Johnson, a retired Air Force colonel and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts.
During the Korean War, he flew 62 combat missions in a F-86 Sabre and was credited with shooting down one MiG-15. In Vietnam, he flew the F-4 Phantom II. On his 25th combat mission in Vietnam on April 16, 1966, Johnson’s aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam. He was a POW for nearly seven years, including 42 months in solitary confinement.
A battered tin cup he used to tap on the walls to communicate in code with other prisoners is now in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. In the prison camps, Johnson was part of a group dubbed the “Alcatraz 11” for their resistance to the guards.
“Any veteran who served honorably as a prisoner of war or whose actions earned them the Medal of Honor has already demonstrated extraordinary dedication to defending freedom,” Johnson said in his statement. “In return, they deserve to have the country they fought for bestow full military honors if they are eligible to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.”
Since the death of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in August 2018, Johnson is the only former POW serving in Congress. Early 2018, he announced that he would retire at the end of the term after serving in the House since 1991.
In his statement upon McCain’s death, Johnson, who was often at odds with the late senator on issues, paid tribute to the former Navy pilot who was with him in the prison camps.
“We have lost a genuine American hero today. John and I were fellow POWs at the ‘Hanoi Hilton,’ and I can testify to the fact that he did everything he could to defend freedom and honor our great nation — not just in that hell on Earth, but beyond those bleak years,” Johnson said. “John’s strength of spirit, commitment to democracy, and love of God and country all shape the inspiring legacy of service he leaves behind. God bless you, partner, and I salute you.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
For the first time since its meteoric rise in 2012 amid the chaos of war, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria is in retreat, battling rival militant groups in the north and fighting for survival in a key foothold near the capital, Damascus.
Over the past three weeks, the extremist group has been driven from nearly all of the northern province of Aleppo, losing dozens of fighters in battles there and in nearby Idlib province.
The fighting poses a major challenge to the militant group, already beset by infighting and a string of assassinations that have taken out some of its top leaders. Unlike previous battles in which al-Qaeda-linked fighters were able to quickly crush their opponents, the fighting has been particularly fierce, with the militants losing dozens of villages.
The al-Qaeda-linked coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee is still one of Syria’s most powerful armed groups, with fighters numbering in the thousands.
While the U.S.-led coalition and Russian-backed Syrian troops have focused on driving the Islamic State group from the country’s east, the al-Qaeda-linked group has consolidated its control over Idlib, where it remains the strongest force despite its recent losses there.
After the defeat of IS, al-Qaeda is seen as the main jihadi group that rejects any peace talks to try to end Syria’s seven-year conflict. Its presence in northern Syria and in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta has provided a pretext for President Bashar Assad and his Russian backers to wage war against opposition-held territory, since various de-escalation and cease-fire agreements have excluded al-Qaeda.
Several hundred al-Qaeda fighters holed up in eastern Ghouta have become a burden to the armed opposition battling government forces there, which has pressed the extremists to leave the area for their stronghold in Idlib in order to avoid the current crushing offensive.
The group’s presence has also raised concern in nations from Turkey to the United States that fear the global network founded by Osama bin Laden could use its presence in northern Syria to launch terrorist attacks around the world.
The recent fighting appears to have been triggered by the February 2018 assassination of a senior al-Qaeda official, Abu Ayman al-Masri, who was riding in a car with his wife when members of a rival militant group, Nour el-Din el-Zinki, fired on their vehicle, killing al-Masri and wounding his wife.
The killing led to battles in Aleppo and Idlib that have raged for the past three weeks.
The shooting was preceded by the merger of Nour el-Din el-Zinki and the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham, both former al-Qaeda allies now turned enemies.
Amid the recent battles, the new coalition, the Syria Liberation Front, has forced the al-Qaeda fighters to retreat west to Idlib.
The insurgents say that the war against al-Qaeda will not stop until the jihadi group is crushed in Syria — an ambitious goal. It is also a striking statement, considering the rival groups once turned to al-Qaeda’s experienced and battle-hardened fighters for support in the battle against Assad’s forces.
Yazan Mohammed, a media activist based in Idlib province, said that although al-Qaeda has lost some territory in the recent fighting, the group is far from being defeated.
The al-Qaeda fighters are “not scouts. They are an organized and powerful group,” Mohammed said.
In recent years, tens of thousands of rebels and civilians from around the country have fled to Idlib or been forced there by government troops, raising concerns that the presence of al-Qaeda will give the government a pretext to storm the province under the cover of Russian airstrikes as it has elsewhere, including in Aleppo in late 2016 and in the current offensive in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy for the coalition battling IS, said in 2017 that Idlib is the largest al-Qaeda haven since bin Laden’s days in Afghanistan.
“This war will not stop,” said Bassam Haji Mustafa, a senior official with the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group. “This is a real war against al-Qaeda, its extremist ideas and terrorism.”
After the recent battlefield losses, a senior al-Qaeda commander, Abu Yaqzan al-Masri, released an audio asserting the militant group will soon crush the offensive and the focus will again be “to fight infidels,” an apparent reference to the West.
The commander’s comments coincided with a counteroffensive in which the al-Qaeda affiliate regained some villages it had lost earlier, although its presence in Aleppo province has almost ceased to exist.
Local activists said the al-Qaeda counteroffensive was backed by members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a powerful group consisting mostly of jihadis from China’s Turkic-speaking Uighur minority.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria’s seven-year conflict, says the fighting that broke out on Feb. 20, 2018, has killed 223 fighters on both sides, including 132 from al-Qaeda’s affiliate.
Despite losing dozens of villages in the recent battles, it is unlikely that al-Qaeda will be defeated easily in Idlib, where the militants have crushed many of their opponents in recent years.
“They will not be able to defeat the Committee,” said Abu Dardaa al-Shami, who sometimes fights with the al-Qaeda affiliate but refused to take part in the current battles, saying he only fights against government forces.
The Navy is engineering a new, more powerful, high-tech electronic warfare jamming technology designed to allow strike aircraft to destroy enemy targets without being detected by modern surface-to-air missile defenses.
“The whole idea is to get the enemy air defense systems from seeing the strike package. It does not matter what type of aircraft we are protecting. Our mission is to suppress enemy air defenses and allow the mission to continue. This is not just designed to allow the aircraft to survive but also allow it to continue the mission – deliver ordnance and return home,” Cmdr. Earnest Winston, Electronic Attack Requirements Officer, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The Next-Generation Jammer consists of two 15-foot long PODs beneath the EA-18G Growler aircraft designed to emit radar-jamming electronic signals; one jammer goes on each side of the aircraft.
“It is able to jam multiple frequencies at the same time — more quickly and more efficiently,” he said.
The emerging system uses a high-powered radar technology called Active Electronic Scanned Array, or AESA.
“It will be the only AESA-based carrier offensive electronic attack jamming pod it DoD. What it is really going to bring to the fleet is increased power, increased flexibility and more capacity to jam more radars at one time,” Winston added.
The NGJ, slated to be operational by 2021, is intended to replace the existing ALQ 99 electronic warfare jammer currently on Navy Growler aircraft.
One of the drawbacks to ALQ 99 is that it was initially designed 40-years ago and is challenged to keep up with modern threats and digital threats with phased array radars, increased power, increased processing and more advanced wave forms, Winston explained.
The Next-Generation Jammer is being engineered with what’s called “open architecture,” meaning it is built with open computing software and hardware standards such that it can quickly integrate new technologies as threats emerge.
For example, threat libraries or data-bases incorporated into a radar warning receiver can inform pilots of specific threats such as enemy fighter aircraft or air defenses. If new adversary aircraft become operational, the system can be upgraded to incorporate that information.
“We use threat libraries in our receivers as well as our jammers to be able to jam the new threat radars. As new threats emerge, we will be able to devise new jamming techniques. Those are programmable through the mission planning system through the mission planning system of the EA-18G Growler,” Winston explained.
While radar warning receivers are purely defensive technologies, the NGJ is configured with offensive jamming capabilities in support of strike aircraft such as an F/A-18 Super Hornet or F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The jammer is intended to preemptively jam enemy radars and protect aircraft by preventing air defenses from engaging.
“With surface-to-air missile systems, we want to deny that track an engagement opportunity. We try to work with the aircraft to jam enemy radar signals,” Winston added.
The NGJ could be particularly helpful when it comes to protecting fighter aircraft and stealth platforms like the B-2 bomber, now-in-development Long Range Strike-Bomber and the F-35 multi-role stealth fighter. The technology is designed to block, jam, thwart or “blind” enemy radar systems such as ground-based integrated air defenses – so as to allow attack aircraft to enter a target area, conduct strikes and then safely exit.
This is useful in today’s modern environment because radar-evading stealth configurations, by themselves, are no longer as dominant or effective against current and emerging air-defense technologies.
Today’s modern air defenses, such as the Russian-made S-300 and multi-function S-400 surface-to-air missiles, will increasingly be able to detect stealth aircraft at longer distances and on a wider range of frequencies. Today’s most cutting edge systems, and those being engineered for the future, use much faster computer processors, use more digital technology and network more to one another.
“Multi-function radars become much more difficult because you have a single radar source that is doing almost everything with phased array capability. However, with the increased power of the next-generation jammer we can go after those,” Winston said.
“It is a constant cat and mouse game between the shooter and the strike aircraft. We develop stealth and they develop counter-stealth technologies. We then counter it with increased jamming capabilities.”
The NGJ is engineered to jam and defeat both surveillance radar technology which can alert defenses that an enemy aircraft is in the area as well as higher-frequency “engagement” radar which allow air defenses to target, track and destroy attacking aircraft.
“The target engagement radar or control radar has a very narrow scope, so enemy defenses are trying to search the sky. We are making enemies search the sky looking through a soda straw. When the only aperture of the world is through a soda straw, we can force them into a very narrow scope so they will never see aircraft going in to deliver ordnance,” Winston said.
Winston would not elaborate on whether the NGJ’s offensive strike capabilities would allow it to offensively attack enemy radio communications, antennas or other kinds of electronic signals.
“It can jam anything that emits or receives and RF frequency in the frequency range of NGJ — it could jam anything that is RF capable,” he explained.
The U.S. Navy recently awarded Raytheon Company a $1 billion sole source contract for Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) for Increment 1 of the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ), the advanced electronic attack technology that combines high-powered, agile, beam-jamming techniques with cutting-edge, solid-state electronics,” a Raytheon statement said.
Raytheon will deliver 15 Engineering Development Model pods for mission systems testing and qualification, and 14 aeromechanical pods for airworthiness certification.
The NGJ contract also covers designing and delivering simulators and prime hardware to government labs and support for flight testing and government system integration, Raytheon officials said.
Overall, the Navy plans to buy as many as 135 sets of NGJs for the Growler. At the same time, Winston did say it is possible that the NGJ will be integrated onto other aircraft in the future.
“This is a significant milestone for electronic warfare,” said Rick Yuse, president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. “NGJ is a smart pod that provides today’s most advanced electronic attack technology, one that can easily be adapted to changing threat environments. That level of sophistication provides our warfighters with the technological advantage required to successfully prosecute their mission and return home safely.”
The paramilitary wing of influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr on Dec. 11 agreed to disband its forces and hand over its cache of weapons to the Iraqi government, making it the first Shia militia to lay down its arms in the aftermath of Islamic State’s defeat in the country.
During a televised speech Dec. 11, Mr. al-Sadr called upon the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to allow members of his militia, known as Saraya Al-Salam, to join Iraqi security forces or take positions within the federal government. He also demanded Baghdad “look after the families of the martyrs” who were killed during the three-year war against ISIS via compensation and support.
Other Shia paramilitaries, such as the Iranian-backed Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba’, a militia force of roughly 10,000 fighters, vowed last month to turn over any heavy weapons it had to Iraqi security forces once Islamic State had been driven from the country. Despite such promises, Mr. Sadr’s forces remain the only Shia militia under the Popular Mobilization Forces or PMF banner to hand over its arms to government forces.
At its height during the fight against ISIS, Saraya Al-Salam held sway over 2,000 square kilometers of Shia-dominated territory in northern Iraq, mostly in Nineveh province. Militia spokesman Safaa al-Timeemi told the Washington Times last September that the group would acquiesce to Baghdad’s control — but only if Mr. Sadr made the order.
“We commit to the direction and orders of [Muqtada al-Sadr],” Mr. al-Tameemi said during an interview in Baghdad at the time.
“If he says we should be part of this new organization, then we will. If not, then we will not,” he said, adding the militia “are not a replacement for the [Iraqi] army but we are in support of the army,” he said.
The Sadr group’s decision to disarm comes as other Iranian-backed paramilitaries with the PMF, with the direct backing of military commanders in Tehran, gained more popular support in Shia enclaves newly liberated from ISIS control.
That expanding support has allowed Iran to lock in so-called “Shia Crescent” of influence across the heart of the Middle East, assembling a network of Tehran-backed proxy forces now spanning from nation’s border with Iraq all the way to Lebanon. And in Iraq “the PMF is the guarantor” of the land bridge tying Tehran to the Mediterranean, Sarhang Hamasaeed, the head of Middle East Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told The Times earlier this month.
Prior to the rise of ISIS in Iraq, Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army and other Sadrists battled U.S. and coalition forces in Najaf and Sadr City during some of the worst fighting of the American occupation of the country in mid-2000. A known Shia hardliner, Mr. Sadr’s position had begun to soften as other Iranian-backed paramilitaries with the PMF gained more popular support in Shia enclaves newly liberated from ISIS control.
A September meeting between Mr. Sadr and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was seen as an effort by Riyadh to hedge its bets against increased Iranian influence in Iraq. Mr. Sadr was reportedly invited at the time by the crown prince and Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Iraq Thamer al-Sabhan, to the country for “discussions of common interest” between the kingdom and Iraq.
It was the first visit back to Saudi Arabia for the controversial Iraqi Shia cleric since 2006, al Jazeera reported at the time. Saudi Arabia officially reopened its embassy in Iraq in 2015, after a 25-year diplomatic absence in the country, according to the report.
Marines are a tribe of warriors, plain and simple. When it comes to warfare, there are very few enemies (if any) that Marines couldn’t match up against. No matter the situation, no matter the circumstance, we give the enemy an absolute run for their money and make them remember why we have the reputation we do. Extra-terrestrial invaders are not exempt from this rule.
Marines don’t care where their enemies come from — whether it’s another continent or another galaxy, these hands are rated “E” for everyone. In fact, some might say we’re pioneers of equality when it comes to kicking asses.
Here’s why Marines would destroy an extra-terrestrial invasion:
Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Mark W. Stroud)
1. We make do with less
The Marine Corps budget must be the smallest of all the armed forces. At least, that’s how it seems when you consider how broken everything we use is. Still, we care not. If you pick a fight with us, we’ll use sticks and stones if we must — and don’t even ask what happens when we mount bayonets…
If you think things like plasma weapons and shields will stop Marines from reaping alien souls — you don’t know Marines.
Aliens would go home sharing war stories about the bushes speaking different languages.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brendan Custer)
2. We’re experts at unconventional warfare
Do you think Marines like setting ambushes and using explosives to cripple an enemy just before we dump an entire ammunition store into them? If you answered with an enthusiastic “yes,” you’re correct (We would have also accepted “f*ck yeah!”). We love ambushing and we’re great at it.
We’ll make those alien scumbags regret ever coming into orbit.
There’s a reason we’re called “Devil Dogs.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey)
3. We exhibit savagery on the battlefield
Marines have made a history of striking fear into the hearts of enemies on the battlefield. It doesn’t matter if we’re outnumbered or surrounded — we’ll just shoot our way out of it. Cloud of mustard gas? Pfft, slap that gas mask on and mount your bayonet ’cause we’re storming the trenches.
Even if the aliens defeat humanity overall — they’ll be talking about how scary it was to face off against a battalion of Marines for millennia to come.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Q. Hamilton)
4. We’re expert marksmen
Every Marine is trained to be an expert marksman. Even our worst shooters are still substantially better than the average soldier Joe with a gun. Our skill with rifles would sure pay off in a war against alien invaders as their tech might force us to avoid close-quarters engagement.
But our skill with weaponry doesn’t end at the stock of a rifle. If they force us into CQC, we’ll give them a run for their money there, too.
We won’t stop fighting.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Zachary Orr)
5. We are resilient
No matter what, Marines will not stop fighting. If we’re given a task or a mission, we’ll see it through to the very end. Even if we’re beaten at first, we won’t give up on the mission — or each other. Conquest-driven aliens may have forced other species to their knees, but they won’t find any quit in Marines.
President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering businessman Philip Bilden to serve as Secretary of the Navy. Bilden is somewhat of a surprise choice as former Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) and current Representative Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) were seen as front-runners for the position.
According to a report by USNI News, Bilden spent nearly two decades living in Hong Kong as an investment banker. Prior to that, he was with HarbourVest in Boston and served ten years as an intelligence officer in the Army Reserve, reaching the rank of captain.
The Washington Examiner notes that Bilden has served on the Asia Advisory Council for the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association, and has been on the Asia Pacific Advisor board for Harvard Business School. The EMPEA web site notes that Bilden received a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Naval Academy Foundation.
The potential nomination received heavy criticism from the web site BreakingDefense.com. Editor Colin Clark wrote that “contributions to the Naval Academy Foundation, Naval War College Foundation and to the GOP, including Mitt Romney’s failed campaign” were used by Bilden to become a player.
Retired Admiral James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, praised the potential pick, telling USNI News that Bilden “is a man of extraordinary expertise on maritime and nautical affairs. He is an expert on Asia and understands, in particular, China very deeply.”
Trump’s national security team also included retired Marine general James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, retired Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn as national security advisor, and Vincent Viola, a former Army officer who owns the NHL Florida Panthers as Secretary of the Army.