Mike Pompeo, the head of President Donald Trump’s CIA, and his nominee for secretary of state, just confirmed that the US killed hundreds of Russians in an intense battle in Syria in February 2018.
Asked about what steps Pompeo would take as secretary of state to hold Russia accountable for its interference in the 2016 US election, he said that more work was to be done on sanctions to send Russian President Vladimir Putin a message. But, he said, Putin may have gotten another, clearer message already.
“In Syria now, a handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match,” said Pompeo. “A couple hundred Russians were killed.”
The US had previously only confirmed killing 100 or so pro-Syrian regime forces, but multiple outlets reported the number was as high as 300 and that the soldiers were Russian military contractors.
Russia has used military contractors, or unofficial forces, in military operations before as a possible means of concealing the true cost of fighting abroad in places like Ukraine and Syria.
The February 2018 battle was reportedly incredibly one-sided, as a massive column of mostly-Russian pro-Syrian regime forces approached an established US position in Syria and fired on the location.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Craig Jensen)
The US responded with a massive wave of airstrikes that crippled the force before it could retreat, and then cleaned up the remaining combatants with strafing runs from Apache helicopters.
Phone calls intercepted by a US-funded news organization allegedly captured Russian military contractors detailing the humiliating defeat. “We got our f— asses beat rough, my men called me … They’re there drinking now … many have gone missing … it’s a total f— up,” one Russian paramilitary chief said, according to Polygraph.info, the US-funded fact-checking website.
France 24 published an interview in February 2018, with a man it described as a Russian paramilitary chief who said more Russians were volunteering to fight in Syria for revenge after the embarrassing loss.
National Wreaths Across America Day has become such a big tradition that it’s hard to believe it began from just one personal tribute.
How it Happened
The Worcester family of Harrington, Maine, owns their own tree farm. In 1992, they had a surplus of wreaths during the holiday season, so the family patriarch, Morrill — who had long felt indebted to our fallen veterans — got help from a Maine politician to have those spare wreaths placed beside graves in Arlington National Cemetery in areas that received fewer visitors each year.
Several volunteers stepped up to help, including veterans from American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and a truck company owner who transported the wreaths to Arlington, Virginia, where a small ceremony was held at the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This remained a small yearly tradition for nearly 15 years until a photo taken at the 2005 ceremony went viral. Almost immediately, thousands of people wanted to know how to help or how they could begin a similar tradition in their states.
Christmas wreaths adorn headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., in December 2005.
(Photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)
By the next year — with the help of some civic organizations and volunteers, including in the trucking industry — there were 150 simultaneous ceremonies held across the country. By 2008, the movement to remember, honor and teach had grown so much that Congress had declared the third Saturday in September National Wreaths Across America Day.
By 2014, the now-nonprofit Wreaths Across America had reached its goal of placing a wreath at all 226,525 graves in the cemetery.
Navy personnel from the Navy International Programs Office, Washington, distribute wreaths to volunteers during the Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 15, 2012.
(Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)
Wreaths Across America today
The event continues to grow. In 2018, the organization shipped a staggering 1.75 MILLION wreaths to 1,640 locations that held ceremonies across the U.S. A few dozen locations overseas also participated. According to the organization, this was the first year it was granted permission to place wreaths at Normandy to honor those who died during World War II’s D-Day invasion.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Charles C. Orf salutes a headstone at Fort Richardson National Cemetery during the annual Wreaths Across America Day at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 16, 2017.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)
Veterans and Gold Star families are many of the roughly 2 million volunteers who prepared the wreaths, shipped them across the country, and put them on graves.
A small nuclear weapon on the ground can create a stadium-size fireball, unleash a city-crippling blastwave, and sprinkle radioactive fallout hundreds of miles away.
The good news is that the Cold War is over and a limited nuclear strike or a terrorist attack can be survivable (a direct hit notwithstanding). The bad news: A new arms race is likely underway — and one that may add small, portable nuclear weapons to the global stockpile. Lawmakers and experts fear such “tactical” or battlefield-ready devices (and their parts) may be easier for terrorists to obtain via theft or sale.
“Terrorist use of an actual nuclear bomb is a low-probability event — but the immensity of the consequences means that even a small chance is enough to justify an intensive effort to reduce the risk,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said in a September 2017 article, which outlines what might happen after terrorists detonate a crude device that yields a 10-kiloton, near-Hiroshima-size explosion in a city.
As part of the planning effort, the Environmental Protection Agency maintains a series of manuals about how state and local governments should respond. A companion document anticipates 99 likely questions during a radiation emergency — and scripted messages that officials can copy or adapt.
“Ideally, these messages never will be needed,” the EPA says in its messaging document. “[N]evertheless, we have a responsibility to be prepared to empower the public by effectively communicating how people can protect themselves and their families in the event of a radiological or nuclear emergency.”
Here are a handful of the questions the EPA anticipates in the event of a nuclear emergency, parts of statements you might hear or see in response, and why officials would say them.
“What will happen to people in the affected neighborhoods?”
(Photo by Alexandr Trubetskoy)
What they’ll say:“As appropriate: Lives have been lost, people have been injured, and homes and businesses have been destroyed. All levels of government are coordinating their efforts to do everything possible to help the people affected by this emergency. As lifesaving activities continue, follow the instructions from emergency responders… The instructions are based on the best information we have right now; the instructions will be updated as more information becomes available.”
Why: The worst thing to do in an emergency is panic, make rash decisions, and endanger your life and the lives of others. However, it’s also incumbent on officials to be truthful. The first messages will aim to keep people calm yet informed and as safe as possible.
“What is radioactive material?”
What they’ll say:“Radioactive material is a substance that gives off radiation in the form of energy waves or energized particles.“
Why: Nuclear bombs split countless atoms in an instant to unleash a terrifying amount of energy. About 15% of the energy is nuclear radiation, and too much exposure can damage the body’s cells and healing ability, leading to a life-threatening condition called acute radiation sickness.
Without advanced warning, people can do little about the energy waves, also called gamma radiation, which are invisible and travel at light-speed. But the energized particles — including radioactive fission products or fallout — travel more slowly, giving people time to seek shelter. The particles can also be washed off.
“Where is the radioactive material located?”
(Brooke Buddemeier / Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
What they’ll say:“Radiation and environmental health experts are checking air, water and ground conditions in and around the release site to locate the areas with radioactive contamination. Stay tuned to radio or television, or visit [INSERT AGENCY WEBSITE HERE] for the latest information.”
Why: If a nuclear bomb goes off near the ground (which is likely in a terrorist attack), the explosion will suck up debris, irradiate it, and spread it around as fallout. Some of this material rapidly decays, emitting gamma and other forms of radiation in the process.
Fallout is most concentrated near a blast site. However, hot air from a nuclear fireball pushes finer-grade material high into the atmosphere, where strong winds can blow it more than 100 miles away. It may take days for radiation workers to track where all of it went, to what extent, and which food and water supplies it possibly contaminated.
“If I am in a car or truck, what steps should I take to protect myself and my loved ones?”
(Flickr photo by joiseyshowaa)
What they’ll say:“Cars and trucks provide little protection from radiation… Shut the windows and vents… Cover your nose and mouth… Go inside and stay inside… Tune in.”
Vehicles don’t have nearly enough metal to meaningfully absorb radiation. You also won’t be able to outrun the danger, as fallout can travel at speeds of 100 mph in the upper atmosphere. Roads will also be choked with panicked drivers, accidents, blocked streets, and debris.
If you’re already in a car, find a safe place to pull it off the road, get out, and make a dash for the nearest building. Tuning in with a radio will help you listen for instructions on how, when, and where to evacuate a dangerous area to a shelter.
“If I am outside, what steps should I take to protect myself and my loved ones?”
(Brooke Buddemeier / Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
What they’ll say:“Cover your nose and mouth… Don’t touch objects or debris related to the release… Go inside and stay inside.”
Why: Being outside is a bad place to be, since fallout sprinkles everywhere and can stick to your skin and clothes. Less fallout gets indoors, and materials like concrete, metal, and soil (e.g. in a basement) can block a lot of radiation from the stuff that sprinkles outside.
“If I am inside a building, what steps should I take to protect myself and my loved ones?”
(Photo by Brad Greenlee)
What they’ll say:“Stay inside. If the walls and windows of the building are not broken, stay in the building and don’t leave… If the walls and windows of the building are broken, go to an inside room and don’t leave. If the building has been heavily damaged, quickly go into another building… Close doors and windows.”
Why: The blastwave from a nuclear explosion can shatter windows for miles — and fallout can blow around, hence the need to contain yourself away from exposed areas. Be prepared to hunker down for up to 48 hours, as that’s roughly how long it takes the most dangerous fallout radiation to dissipate.
“Is the air safe to breathe?”
(Photo by CLAUDIA DEA)
What they’ll say:“Federal, state and local partners are monitoring [AREA] to determine the location and levels of radioactive material on the ground and in the air.”
Why: There could be radioactive smoke and fallout in the air, but not breathing isn’t really an option. To reduce your exposure risk, stay inside, shut the doors, and close the windows. Turn off fans and air conditioners, or set them on recirculate. If you’re outdoors, cover your nose and mouth and get inside a building as soon as possible.
“If people are told by health and emergency management officials to self-decontaminate, what does this mean?”
(Photo by Silke Remmery)
What they’ll say:“[T]ake several easy steps to remove any radioactive material that might have fallen onto clothes, skin or hair…. Remove your outer clothes… Wash off… If you cannot shower, use a wet wipe or clean wet cloth to wipe any skin that was not covered by clothing… Gently blow your nose and gently wipe your eyelids, eyelashes and ears with a clean wet cloth… Put on clean clothes… Tune in.”
Why: Fallout continues to expose you to harmful radiation if it’s stuck to you or inside your body. Anything that might be contaminated should be slipped into plastic bags, sealed off, and chucked outside (or as far away as possible from people). Showering with a lot of soap can remove most fallout, but avoid conditioner — it can cause fallout to stick to your hair.
“What should I do about my children and family? Should I leave to find my children?”
(Photo by Ann Wuyts)
What they’ll say:“If your children or family are with you, stay together. If your children or family are in another home or building, they should stay there until you are told it is safe to travel. You also should stay where you are… Schools have emergency plans and shelters.”
Why: Every parent’s instinct will scream to reconnect with his or her family, but patience is the best move. If you go outside, you’ll risk exposure to radioactive fallout and other dangers, as the route may be perilous or even impassable. Most importantly, it’s hard to help your family after the dust settles if you are injured — or worse.
“Is it safe for me to let someone who might have been affected by the radiological incident into my home?”
(Photo by Matteo Catanese)
What they’ll say:“If someone has radioactive dust on their clothes or body, a few simple steps can clean up or decontaminate the person.”
Why: You can offer safe shelter to people caught outside — just have them decontaminate themselves as quickly as possible. This will protect everyone by keeping radioactive fallout at bay. Have them remove and bag up their outer clothes, then take a shower with lots of soap and shampoo (or perform a thorough wipe-down).
“How do I decontaminate my pet?”
(Photo by latteda)
What they’ll say:“If you are instructed to stay inside, your pets should be inside too. If your pet was outside at the time of the incident, the pet can be brought inside and decontaminated.”
Why: Pets, like people, can be contaminated by fallout and bring it indoors. This can endanger them and you. To decontaminate your pet, cover your nose and mouth, put on gloves, and then wash your pet in a shower or bath with a lot of shampoo or soap and water. Rinse your pet thoroughly and take a shower yourself afterward.
“When should I take potassium iodide?”
(Photo by Falk Lademann)
What they’ll say:“Never take potassium iodide (KI) or give it to others unless you have been specifically advised to do so by public health officials, emergency management officials, or your doctor.”
Why:KI pills are among the last things people need immediately after a nuclear blast and aren’t worth a mad dash to a pharmacy during the disaster, according to Brooke Buddemeier, a health physicist and radiation expert at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“Most people seem to think of the potassium iodide, or KI, pills as some type of anti-radiation drug. They are not,” Buddemeier previously told Business Insider. “They are for preventing the uptake of radioiodine, which is one radionuclide out of thousands of radionuclides that are out there.”
Radioiodine makes up about 0.2% of overall exposure. The pills are useful for longer-terms concerns about contaminated water and food supplies, and blocking radioiodinefrom concentrating in people’s metabolism-regulating thyroid glands.
“Is taking large amounts of iodized salt a good substitute for potassium iodide?”
(Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov)
What they’ll say:“No. Iodized salt will not protect your thyroid.”
Why: Table salt, or sodium chloride, has some iodine added in to prevent deficiencies that lead to conditions like goiter. But the amount of iodine in table salt is trivial, and eating even a tablespoon or so is a great way to throw up any useful iodine.
“Is the water safe to use?”
(Photo by Daniel Orth)
What they’ll say:“[U]ntil we have drinking water test results, only bottled water is certain to be free of contamination. Tap or well water can be used for cleaning yourself and your food… Boiling tap water does not get rid of radioactive material.”
Why: Radioactive fallout can dissolve into or remain suspended in water, just like salt or dust. That’s not good, since radioactive particles can do more harm inside of your body than outside of it. Bottled water gets around this problem — though you do need to wipe containers down in case they’ve been dusted with fallout.
“Is the food safe to eat?”
What they’ll say:“Food in sealed containers (cans, bottles, boxes, etc.) and any unspoiled food in your refrigerator or freezer is safe to eat… Don’t eat food that was outdoors from [TIME, DATE] in [AREA].”
Why: Food that isn’t contained might have radioactive fallout in it. You’ll need to wipe down cans, cookware, utensils, and anything else that might touch what goes into your mouth.
“Can people eat food from their gardens or locally-caught fish and game?”
(photo by Jennifer C.)
What they’ll say:“People in [AREA] are instructed not to eat [FOOD FROM THEIR GARDENS, LOCAL FISH, LOCAL WILDLIFE].”
Why: Anything that’s outside — fruit, vegetables, and animals included — may have radioactive fallout particles on or in them after a nearby nuclear blast. Until the scope of contamination is known, food from outdoor sources should be considered potentially hazardous. Avoid food that could be been exposed to fallout. If that’s not possible, wash it to try to rinse off as much contamination as possible.
“I am pregnant. Is my baby in danger?”
(Photo by Anna Maria Liljestrand)
What they’ll say:“[M]ost radiation releases will not expose the fetus to levels high enough to cause harmful health effects or birth defects… Once dose levels to the expectant mother and fetus have been determined, your physician can consult with other medical and radiation professionals to identify potential risks (if any) and provide appropriate counseling.”
Why: There are few things more terrifying for an expectant parent than thinking something could be wrong with the baby, but a fetus is somewhat protected from radiation by the uterus and placenta, according to the CDC.
A mother could still inhale or ingest radioactive fallout, though, so doctors will need to check the mother’s abdomen to figure out a fetus’s exposure. Once a dose is determined, it’s possible to see if it’s enough to cause any health effects, including birth defects.
“Is it safe to breastfeed?”
(Photo by Maessive)
What they’ll say:“The nutritional and hydration benefits from breastfeeding far outweigh any risk from radiation.”
Why: Fallout is again the main concern here: What goes into a mother can end up in her breast milk. Officials may encourage families to temporarily switch to formula and pump-and-dump milk (to keep production going during the emergency). It’s also a good idea to wipe down formula bottles and pumping equipment to minimize fallout contamination. But if no formula is available, depriving a baby of sustenance is the worst option.
“I am seeing a lot of information and instructions on Internet blogs about what to do. Should I follow that advice?”
What they’ll say:“Check official sources first. You can find the latest information at [INSERT WEBSITE HERE].Blogs, social media and the Internet in general can provide useful information, but only if the source is known and trustworthy.”
Why: Misinformation spreads rapidly in the aftermath of disasters, and some people may intentionally distribute rumors or false information. It’s best to stick to official websites, hotlines, TV, and radio broadcasts, and use multiple sources to verify information you’re unsure about.
“How can the public help?’
What they’ll say:“Don’t abandon your car… Don’t go near the release site… Use text messaging… Don’t go to the hospital, police stations or fire stations unless you have a medical emergency… Stay tuned…”
Why: In the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, the most helpful thing most people can do is to stay out of the way. This helps first responders get to people that need help.
Cars in the middle of the road slow down emergency vehicles, and going to the release or blast site is extremely perilous, at best. Relying on text messages helps keep phone lines from overloading (and open to 911 calls), and limiting hospital visits to serious injuries or medical conditions helps free up resources for those who need the most aid.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In December of 1903, the Wright Brothers made history in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as they took to the skies in their powered and controlled aircraft, making an 852-foot flight. Less than a dozen years later, mankind revolutionized military aviation with a hugely important invention: the synchronization gear.
This ingenious device managed the milliseconds that stood between crashing to the ground and defeating your enemy.
In the early days of World War I, aviation was still very much in its infancy. People were skeptical about the effectiveness of aircraft in battle, so many turned to mounted cavalry for reconnaissance. When that couldn’t cut it, they finally gave aircraft a shot — which turned out to be an effective way to cross no-man’s land without serious risk.
The low-power engines of the time, however, couldn’t build enough lift to carry any weapons what weren’t also found on the battlefield below. Machine guns only become a viable option once the engineers increased wing space. Thus, the iconic biplane was born.
The attached machine gun, which usually faced the rear of the aircraft, could rain Hell from above, but they were extremely ineffective against other aircraft. To address that need, they affixed a forward-facing machine gun that could fire in the direction of the aircraft. The problem was, however, that there was a propeller to contend with.
As an interim solution, the British developed the F.E.2. This machine-gun faced the front of planes but, to avoid hitting the propellers, it was located in the middle of the aircraft. It wasn’t pretty but it was an effective compromise.
Then, the Germans introduced their newest advancement: the synchronization gear. Pilot Kurt Wintgens scored the first aerial victory utilizing one on July 1, 1915 — and it changed everything.
The theory behind it is fairly simple to explain. The machine gun was placed directly behind the propellers and would fire only when the propellers were safely out of the way. The execution, however, was much trickier. A poorly timed synchronization gear meant that the pilot would drop out of the sky like Wile E. Coyote.
Let’s talk mechanics: A timing cam rotated at the same speed as the propellers. This would physically stop the trigger from pulling at the moment a propeller was in the line of fire. The timing cam allowed the propeller to move at a various RPMs without adjusting the machine gun itself.
Americans improved on this design by employing hydraulics near the end of the war. This meant a faster rate of fire, more acute synchronization, and increased gun accuracy. The system could be adapted for nearly any engine and aircraft. The synchronization gear became a relic after the jet engine eliminated the need for propellers, but it still stands as one of the most ingenious inventions in aviation.
For more information on the physics of WWI aviation, check out the video below:
Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said the review, commissioned by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Jan. 26, would study the two aircraft “apples to apples” to determine whether the 4th-generation Super Hornet can fill the shoes of the brand-new F-35C.
Davis noted that the Marine Corps owns a significant portion of the program’s institutional wisdom as well.
“I probably have the most experienced F-35 pilots in the department of the Navy on my staff right now,” he said.
Mattis’ directive, aimed at finding ways to shave cost off the infamously expensive Joint Strike Fighter program, dictates that the review assess the extent that improvements can be made to the Super Hornet “in order to provide a competitive, cost-effective fighter aircraft alternative.”
Davis said that F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin and Super Hornet maker Boeing would have opportunities to make their case for the aircraft.
However, he said, he expects the study to validate the need to have the technologically advanced F-35C deployed aboard carriers in the future.
“I think it will be a good study, and my sense is we’ll probably have validated the imperative to have a 5th-generation aircraft out there on our nation’s bow,” he said.
If F-35Cs are taken out of the picture as a result of the review, attrition rates of the 4th-generation Super Hornet may become an issue, Davis said, suggesting such a move would limit the aircraft’s ability to deploy in some situations.
“We’re not going backward in time, we’re going forward in time,” he said. “The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, we’re deployed, naval and expeditionary, and we want to make sure our Marines and our sailors have the very best gear in case something bad happens. And that’s 5th-generation airplanes.”
In the world of art, frescos are paintings done on walls or ceilings as the plaster sets. In the world of aeronautics, a “Fresco” is a Soviet-made, high-subsonic fighter that could beautifully carve and sculpt the skies.
However, most of these planes ended up looking a lot more like a Jackson Pollock than an ancient Roman masterpiece.
We’re talking about the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17, which had the NATO code name “Fresco.” The MiG-17 first took flight in January 1950 and entered service in 1953, a tad too late to take part in the Korean War. Once development was finished and the MiG-17 was ready for its introduction, the Soviet Union quickly put a halt to all MiG-15 production — likely because the MiG-15 got its ass kicked at MiG Alley.
A lot of MiG-17s have appeared in gun-camera footage from American and Israeli fighters.
The MiG-17 had a top speed of 711 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,230 miles. The MiG-17 found some success in the Vietnam War despite being considered obsolete by time it saw combat and using guns as primary armaments (either two 23mm and one 37mm gun or three 23mm guns) in the era of rockets — likely because, after Korea, the United States became overly reliant on missiles.
However, according to a compilation by the Air Force Association, during the Vietnam War, the Air Force shot down 61 MiG-17s while the Navy and Marine Corps shot down 39 more. The North Vietnamese, using Soviet aircraft, shot down a grand total of 83 planes in air-to-air combat.
The last moments of a MiG-17 Fresco as a F-105 tears it apart with 20mm cannon fire.
In the skies over the Middle East, the story was very different. The Israeli Air Force destroyed a lot of MiG-17s during the Six-Day War. In a 1970 incident, two MiG-17s accidentally landed at an Israeli airstrip. These planes eventually found their way to the Nevada desert, where the Air Force put them through their paces. As a result, several MiG-17s ended up getting involve, in a way, in modern art: They were splattered apart to degree of which Pollock would be proud by American and Israeli planes.
The MiG-17 hung on after Vietnam and the Yom Kippur War. Currently, the North Korean Air Force operates about 100 of the Chinese copy of this plane, the Shenyang J-5/F-5.
President Trump has officially signed the order to begin the process of developing the Space Force. The logical side of all of our brains is telling us that it’s just going to be an upgraded version of what the Navy and Air Force’s respective Space Commands currently do… but deep down, we all want to sign up.
I mean, who wouldn’t immediately sign an indefinite contract to be a space shuttle door gunner? It represents that tiny glimmer of hope in all of us that says we, one day, can live out every epic space fantasy we’ve ever dreamed up.
The sad truth is that the first couple decades (if not centuries) of the Space Force will involve dealing with boring human problems, not fighting intergalactic aliens bent on destroying our solar system. Oh well.
Hey, while you wait for the army of Space Bugs to start invading, kill some time with these memes.
Air Force officials have been warning about the force’s dire pilot shortage, and a recent Government Accountability Office report illustrates just how bad the shortfall has gotten.
The report assesses the gaps between the actual number of fighter pilots that the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy have and the number of positions they are authorized to have.
Each service branch reported fighter-pilot shortages that have grown worse in recent years. “Service officials attributed these gaps to aircraft readiness challenges, reduced training opportunities, and increased attrition of fighter pilots due to career dissatisfaction,” the report says.
The Air Force had at least 92% of its fighter-pilot positions filled between 2006 and 2010, an 8% gap, and 104% of what it needed in 2011, a 4% surplus. But the gap has grown since 2012 and is currently the biggest of the three military branches, at 27%.
The Air Force, which has undertaken a number of training and retention initiatives, projected its shortfall to last through fiscal year 2023.
Growing shortfalls and falling retention
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Each branch has different levels at which the difference between authorized positions and actual staff levels becomes a shortage. Air Force officials told the GAO that “their established practice is that pilot communities with less than 100 percent of authorizations are considered to be insufficiently staffed.”
Changing authorization levels led to an excess in some Air Force career fields in 2011, but an increase in authorized positions in the past few years has led to a growing shortfall among fighter pilots — from 192, or 5% of authorized positions, that year to 1,005, or 27% of authorized positions, in 2017. (The Air Force said at the end of 2017 that its total shortage was “around 2,000” pilots.)
“According to briefing documents prepared by the Air Force, this gap is concentrated among fighter pilots with fewer than 8 years of experience,” the report notes.
Air Force officials told the GAO that between 2006 and 2017, “fighter pilot gaps were generally limited to non-operational positions, such as staff assignments at Air Force headquarters or combatant commands.”
But the GAO also found that the Air Force had been unable to fill all its operational positions since fiscal year 2014, with the gap between the operational positions it needed to fill and the actual staffing levels it had growing from 39 pilots, or 1% of authorizations, in 2014 to 399 pilots, or 13%, in 2017.
Several factors have contributed to these shortfalls, in particular reductions to overall active-duty military end strength.
Service officials said that personnel reductions after the 2008 drawdown in Iraq and cuts to funding stemming from the 2011 Budget Control Act both helped reduce the number of fighter pilots in the military.
The Air Force shed 206 fighter pilots in order to meet initial demand for pilots of unmanned aerial systems in 2011 and 2012 and then lost 54 more to early-retirement incentives in 2014 and 2015. That was compounded by changes to force structure — the decline in active and reserve Air Force fighter squadrons from 134 in 1989 to 55 in 2017 has reduced the opportunities newly trained pilots have to gain flying experience.
These factors have helped create a bottleneck in the Air Force’s training pipeline. The service has more pilots entering than it has resources to train. According to the GAO report, between 2006 and 2017 the Air Force trained 12% fewer new fighter pilots than its target amount.
“Fighter pilots told us that the need to prioritize the staffing of experienced pilots to deploying squadrons has limited the number of experienced personnel available to train newer pilots at home stations,” the report says.
A fighter pilot needs about five years of training to be qualified to lead flights, which costs between about $3 million to $11 million depending on the type of aircraft they’re being trained to fly, according to Air Force officials.
Those training issues are exacerbated by the reduction in aircraft, as longer maintenance times for legacy aircraft, like the F-16 or F-15, leave fewer aircraft available for training. (A shortage of maintainer crew members has also hamstrung the Air Force, though it has made progress adding more of those personnel.)
The services have also struggled to retain pilots.
The GAO found that the number of Air Force pilots signing retention contracts fell from 63% in 2013 to 35% in 2017 — despite the service increasing its maximum aviation bonus contract to $225,000 at the start of 2013, which was the highest amount offered by any of the military service branches.
Officials from the service branches told the GAO they had used various tactics to address their pilot shortfalls, including longer and more frequent deployments, putting senior pilots in junior positions, and “prioritizing staffing fighter pilots to flying positions that require fighter pilot-specific technical skills.”
The service branches has also tried to compensate for fighter-pilot shortages by drawing on pilots from other career fields.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
The Air Force, for example, has drawn on mobility pilots — those that fly cargo and refueling aircraft — to fill instructor roles for basic training to free up fighter pilots for duties elsewhere.
But fliers and squadron leaders told the GAO that these measures have had deleterious effects. Pilots and squadron leaders also said that some of these efforts to mitigate pilot shortages had helped drive down retention
A high operational tempo has limited the opportunities senior pilots have to train with junior pilots, which in turn limits the opportunities the service branches have to grow the number of pilots with specific qualifications. This also cuts into the services’ ability to rebuild readiness. Air Force officials said “high deployment rates … have resulted in less time for squadrons to complete their full training requirements because high deployment rates mean that there are fewer aircraft available for training at home stations.”
Moreover, increasing individual deployments undercut family stability, pilots said, affecting satisfaction with their careers.
The Air Force has taken steps to mitigate the effects the pilot shortage has had on pilots’ quality of life.
It has stood up teams dedicated to finding and implementing dozens of initiatives to reduce the fighter-pilot shortage.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
“For example, as the result of one initiative, 126 contractors have been placed in fighter squadrons to assist with administrative tasks and reduce workload for fighter pilots,” the GAO notes.
Air Force training squadrons have also taken steps to better apportion resources, including consolidating instructors among training units and altering the training process and syllabus, according to a February 2018 report by Aviation Week, but those shifts still put a strain on pilots and aircraft and represented “a leap into the unknown” for the units.
The GAO report also noted that the service branches had not reevaluated fighter-squadron requirements to reflect change conditions, the increased workload, and the effects of the increasing use of unmanned aircraft.
“Air Force officials told us that metrics that inform squadron requirements … have not been increased because the Air Force is instead prioritizing the effort to recapitalize its fleet of fighter aircraft,” the report said, adding that officials said they were also reassessing fighter-pilots’ nonoperational requirements, focusing on finding which ones could be reassigned to other pilots.
The report made recommendations for each branch, advising the Air Force to reevaluate those squadron requirements, “to include updating current assumptions of fighter pilot workload, and assessing the impact of future incorporation of [unmanned aerial systems] platforms into combat aviation.”
The global economy has taken yet another unprecedented hit after coronavirus lockdowns around the world triggered a historic plunge in U.S. crude oil prices on April 20.
Stock markets across the world were reeling in volatility after some traders who had bought U.S. oil futures contracts were actually paying others to take the deliveries off their hands.
That left the U.S.-produced oil with a listed price of for the first time in history.
The price of both Brent Crude and Russian-produced Urals oil also declined markedly after the negative oil prices seen in the United States.
Here are answers to some of the main questions caused by the historic crash of U.S. oil prices.
What is the cause of the historic fall of global oil prices?
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global demand for oil, creating a supply glut and filling oil-storage facilities around the world to near capacity.
Due to the basic market forces of supply and demand, traders now have difficulty finding buyers willing to purchase futures contracts for crude oil deliveries in May or June.
That has sent the price of oil futures contracts spiraling downwards.
The benchmark price for North Sea Brent Crude on April 21 fell by nearly per barrel overnight for June deliveries, selling at an 18-year low of just per barrel.
That is a fall of more than 60 percent from January’s peak this year.
Brent Crude is easier and cheaper to transport than its U.S. counterpart because Brent Crude is extracted directly from the North Sea.
The West Texas Intermediary (WTI) price, the U.S. benchmark for light crude, fell well into negative territory for the first time in history on April 20 — with May futures selling as low as minus per barrel.
The WTI price recovered slightly on April 21 but was negative mainly before trading at about id=”listicle-2645815893″ per barrel in late afternoon trading.
In a nutshell, there is an enormous global surplus in oil supplies with little demand for it, and oil companies are running out of places to store it.
Thus, some traders on April 20 essentially began paying buyers to take extra oil off their hands.
What is an oil futures contract?
An oil futures contract is a legal agreement by traders to buy or sell oil for a set price at a specified date in the future.
Those who enter a futures contract are obliged to carry out the deal at the specified price and date.
That means traders are essentially making a bet on what the price of oil will be in the future.
They hope to profit from the difference between the price specified in their futures contract and the actual price of oil on the date that the futures contract comes due.
“This has never happened before, not even close,” says Tim Bray, a portfolio manager at GuideStone Capital Management in Dallas, Texas. “We’ve never seen a negative price on a futures contract for oil.”
The WTI’s negative price suggests it is traders who’d bought May oil futures who are offering to pay somebody else to deal with the oil due to be delivered next month.
But many analysts describe the negative oil price as technical, saying it is related to the way futures contracts are written.
They note that most buyers are purchasing oil for delivery in June, not May.
Energy strategist Ryan Fitzmaurice of the Dutch-based Rabobank says negative oil prices are “more technical in nature and related to the futures contract expiration.”
“We could see isolated incidents where oil companies pay people to take their oil away as storage and pipeline capacity become scarce but that is unlikely on a sustained basis,” Fitzmaurice says.
Why hasn’t Moscow’s deal with Saudi Arabia to cut oil production protected the Russian economy from falling oil prices?
The impact of coronavirus restrictions on global oil prices has been devastating for Russia’s petrostate economy — which depends upon revenues from oil and natural-gas exports.
The price of Russia’s Urals variant of oil is determined by the global price index for Brent Crude.
Generally, Urals oil costs a few dollars less per barrel than Brent Crude.
Tumbling WTI and Brent Crude benchmarks mean dramatic declines for the price of Russian oil as well.
Meanwhile, many traders fear that an April 12 OPEC+ oil-production agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia does not go far enough to compensate for the historic fall in global demand.
That deal calls for 23 oil-producing countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, to reduce their total output by 9.7 million barrels per day for May and June, cutting about 10 percent of the global supply.
What knock-on effects do falling oil prices have on Russia’s economy?
The oil markets have shown a cautious response of traders to the OPEC+ deal.
Now Russia’s stock market indices and the value of the Russian ruble also are falling.
Of course, oil shares have been the biggest losers on Russia’s stock market indices.
In early trading on April 21, the RTS Index lost 4.3 percent of its value while the MOEX Index was down by 1.8 percent.
On foreign-currency exchanges, Russia’s ruble early on April 21 had fallen about 2 percent from its value just 24 hours earlier. It fell even further later in the day.
“Taking into account the mood in the oil market, the risks for the Russian currency temporarily point towards further weakening,” Nordea analyst Grigory Zhirnov says.
Just as the Super Bowl was about to kick off this Sunday, viewers were treated to an amazing commercial celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NFL. Last season, the NFL broke out its first 100 year celebration commercial which featured an astounding amount of NFL legends playing a black-tie version of “kill the man with the ball.”
This year, the NFL took it outside and showed a kid fielding a kick and running across several NFL stadiums and cities, juking and avoiding tacklers and getting encouragement from various NFL legends telling him to, “Take it to the House Kid!”
We see Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Christian McCaffrey, Drew Brees, Payton Manning, Jerry Rice, and Barry Sanders, among others, as the kid takes the ball and (in an amazing, cool, interactive moment) runs onto the live Super Bowl field to deliver the game ball to the referees.
But there is one part of the vignette which really tugs at the heartstrings. One of the many stadiums the kid runs by is in Phoenix. As he nears, he stops at the statue honoring the late Pat Tillman.
Tillman was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals who famously turned down a .6 million dollar contract shortly after 9/11, so he could serve in the military. He and his brother enlisted in the Army, and Tillman became an Army Ranger. After serving one tour in Iraq, Tillman deployed to Afghanistan, where he was killed on April 24, 2004, in a friendly fire incident.
The homage to Tillman is an emotional moment and an integral part of American history.
The United States and Egypt on Feb. 12, 2018 reaffirmed their commitment to battle Islamic militants in the Middle East as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo at the start of his week-long trip to the region.
Tillerson and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, cited productive discussions on regional security and the struggle against the Islamic State group, whose Egyptian affiliate, based in the Sinai Peninsula, has struck military and civilian targets across the Arab world’s most populous country.
At a joint news conference with Shoukry, Tillerson said Egypt was an important part of the anti-IS coalition and that Washington was “committed to strengthening this partnership in the years to come.”
“We agreed that we would continue our close cooperation on counterterrorism measures, including our joint commitment to the defeat of IS,” Tillerson said.
“We highly value this relationship and we thank the United States for what it presents to Egypt in terms of support, which benefits both countries,” Shoukry said, adding that Cairo hoped to further boost cooperation.
The visit comes as Egypt is undertaking a major military operation in volatile Sinai, where Islamic extremists have been leading an insurgency for years, and in remote areas of the mainland where militants have attacked security forces and civilians.
Attacks picked up after President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi overthrew his elected but divisive Islamist predecessor, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013. And militants have become more brazen of late. In November 2017 they massacred 311 people at a north Sinai mosque, and in December 2017 they tried to kill the defense and interior ministers with a missile attack during an unannounced visit to the area.
North Sinai has long been under emergency law, with a nighttime curfew in place in some hot spots, but alert levels have been heightened in recent days due to the new offensive, called Sinai 2018. Hospitals in North Sinai and in other neighboring provinces have cancelled leave for doctors in anticipation of casualties, while many local gas stations and shops were ordered shut.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Photo from US Embassy Consulate in Korea.)
The operation, announced in a televised statement by army spokesman Col. Tamer el-Rifai, began early Friday and covers north and central Sinai as well as the Nile Delta and Western Desert and targets “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations.” It is unclear how long it will last.
In its latest update, Egypt’s military said it had killed a dozen militants in firefights and arrested 92 people, bringing the total militant body count to 28, based on earlier statements. It says it has destroyed dozens of targets, including vehicles, weapons caches, hideouts, communications centers and illegal opium fields in the sweep.
North Sinai is closed off for non-residents and journalists, and the army’s casualty figures could not be independently confirmed. Telephone connections to the area, both mobile and landlines, are often shut down as well. The army has not mentioned any killed or wounded on its own side.
The campaign also comes ahead of elections in which el-Sissi faces no serious competitors, after authorities sidelined his opponents using a variety of charges and disqualifications, leaving only a little-known supporter to run against him. El-Sissi, who held talks with Tillerson later in the day, says he is the only one who can bring stability to the country. Militant attacks, however, have surged under his leadership.
A video purportedly by Egypt’s IS branch has called on fighters to stage attacks during the presidential election, defiantly mentioning the offensive and warning Egyptians to stay away from polling centers. Voting will take place over three days — March 26, 27, and 28, 2018 — in what critics say is an attempt to increase participation by a disinterested public.
Washington, which gives Egypt some $1.3 billion in annual military assistance and hundreds of millions more in civilian aid, withheld some $100 million of the funding in summer 2017, ostensibly over new Egyptian legislation that blocks much foreign funding of non-governmental organizations, especially those involved in human rights research.
Asked about his country’s view of the upcoming vote, Tillerson said the U.S. always advocates for free and fair elections and would continue to do so. He did not specifically mention el-Sissi’s virtually uncontested election, or the aid being withheld. El-Sissi also faces criticism for quashing all dissent in the country, in what is the harshest crackdown in Egypt’s modern history.
“We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections, not just for Egypt but any country,” Tillerson said.
In the evening, el-Sissi’s office said he “underscored the robust strategic relations between Egypt and the U.S.” when he met with Tillerson, urging further American engagement in the country.
“The President noted that Egypt looks forward to forging closer economic cooperation with the U.S. and to increasing American investments in Egypt,” it said in a statement.
Tillerson then left Cairo, traveling on to Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, where he will meet local officials as well as Saudi, Emirati, Iraqi and Syrian delegations.
But the real dig at China that hints at the future of space conflict came in a more subtle fashion.
“While other nations increasingly possess the capability to operate in space, not all of them share our commitment to freedom, to private property, and the rule of law,” Pence said. “So as we continue to carry American leadership in space, so also will we carry America’s commitment to freedom into this new frontier.”
Pence also mentioned Russia, but one of the “other” nations at the top of Pence’s mind is China, where space exploration has boomed and Beijing has already started talking about celestial bodies as if they’re a birthright.
“The universe is an ocean, the moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don’t go there now even though we’re capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants. If others go there, then they will take over, and you won’t be able to go even if you want to. This is reason enough.”
Ye’s mention of the Diaoyu Islands, which the Japanese also claim and contest, and of Huangyan Island, which the Philippines also claim and contest, recall Beijing’s behavior in the South China Sea.
“Make no mistake about it that we are — we are totally at war with China right now,” said Jim Phillips, the CEO and chairman of the nanotechnology firm NanoMech, as Brietbart notes. “It’s not a war of bombs. It’s a war of cyberwarfare, and it’s also a war of GDP and jobs. And the one that has the most GDP and the jobs is going to be the clear winner.”
Phillips said nanotechnology, which could aid in manufacturing the advanced materials seen as vital for future space travel, will determine the next space race’s winner. He accused China of aggressively stealing nanotech secrets.
“At that point, China will have the new world,” he said. “America will no longer have a disproportionate financial advantage that gives it the moral, economic and the leadership authority it has now. When this happens, America loses; the world changes. Everything changes.” China, he said, “won’t have to use its military.”
But the US, for now, appears unwilling to let China have its way in either the South China Sea or space.
“Our destiny, beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security,” Trump said in June. “When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On November 30, 2020, the Navy announced the decision to decommission the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6). The Wasp-class amphibious ship suffered extensive damage during a fire while in port in July. The decision follows an extensive assessment of the ship after the fire.
As a landing helicopter deck amphibious assault ship, the Bonhomme Richard was an integral part of the Navy-Marine Corps team. She was capable of supporting a wide range of aircraft including the SH-60F/HH-60H Seahawk, UH-1Y Venom, CH-53E Super Stallion, AH-1Z Viper, AV-8B Harrier, MV-22B Osprey, and the new F-35B Lightning II. Her well deck also allowed her to support landing craft like LCACs, LCUs and LCMs.
The Bonhomme Richard was commissioned on August 15, 1998. From January 24 to July 24, 2000, she made the first WESTPAC deployment of any U.S. Navy vessel in the new millennium. The next year, she began her participation in the War on Terror with a deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bonhomme Richard provided critical support to Marine Corps operations. She offloaded Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines in Kuwait and went on to launch 547 combat sorties. Marine Attack Squadrons VMA-211 and VMA-311 delivered more than 175,000 pounds of ordnance launching from Bonhomme Richard‘s deck.
Additionally, the ship assisted in humanitarian operations. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the Bonhomme Richard was detached from Operation Iraqi Freedom and sailed for Sri Lanka. The ship helped to airlift relief supplies to Sumatra, Indonesia. Following a port visit to Guam, the ship returned to the Indian Ocean. Helicopters from the Bonhomme Richard flew medical supplies and personnel into Indonesia and evacuated the wounded.
Tragically, a fire broke out on board the ship while in her homeport at San Diego during maintenance. At around 8:50 am, an explosion occurred on the ship. “It is a Class Alpha fire,” said Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, Expeditionary Strike Group 3 commander, “meaning it was fueled by paper, cloth, rags or other materials in a standard fire.” Despite not being accelerated by fuel or munitions, the fire was extensive. Firefighting effort were delayed because fire-suppression systems had been disabled due to the maintenance.
Finally, on July 16, the Navy announced that all fires on board had been extinguished. A total of 40 sailors and 23 civilians received minor injuries as a result of the fire. The fire was a “very, very serious incident,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday. 11 of the 14 decks sustained fire and water damage. Many sections of deck were warped or bulging and the ship’s island had been gutted by the flames. On July 31, nine sailors assigned to the Bonhomme Richard were meritoriously promoted for their actions in fighting the fire.
Although NCIS and the ATF questioned sailors following the fire, no charges were made and the cause of the fire remains under investigation. The Navy is also conducting investigations into safety standards to prevent future fires.
On November 30, the Navy announced that the Bonhomme Richard would be decommissioned. “We did not come to this decision lightly,” said Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite. “Following an extensive material assessment in which various courses of action were considered and evaluated, we came to the conclusion that it is not fiscally responsible to restore her.” In fact, the assessment concluded that it would cost the Navy over $3 billion and take five to seven years to restore the ship. The Navy also considered repurposing the ship. However, the associated costs were estimated to exceed $1 billion, as much or more than the cost of a new purpose-built ship.
At this time, the timeline for towing and dismantling is still being finalized. “Although it saddens me that it is not cost effective to bring her back, I know this ship’s legacy will continue to live on through the brave men and women who fought so hard to save her, as well as the Sailors and Marines who served aboard her during her 22-year history,” Braithwaite said.