US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company - We Are The Mighty
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US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company

The US Air Force said on Aug. 1 that it is negotiating the purchase of two Boeing 747s that were abandoned by a bankrupt Russian airline with the goal of converting them into the next Air Force One.


The sale could save the Air Force millions of dollars and comes after President Donald Trump had described the estimated cost of building new, specially designed Air Force One planes as “ridiculous.”

Air Force One is actually two planes — one for the president and a spare.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Tryphena Mayhugh

The planes had initially been ordered in 2013 by Russian airline Transaero, but the firm fell into bankruptcy in 2015 and never took delivery.

The jets are now sitting idle at an airport in California’s Mojave Desert.

Converting such jumbo jets to luxury command centers for the president by 2022 has been estimated to cost at least $3.2 billion.

Boeing sells unrefurbished 747s for about $390 million apiece.

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The Air Force’s new bomber will retire these others

With the A-10 Thunderbolt II having narrowly escaped the chopping block and the F-15C Eagle currently awaiting a potentially early end to its service, the Air Force’s bomber fleet is next to face a series of retirements. While the older B-52 Stratofortress is currently safe, the Air Force is currently considering putting the B-1B Lancer and the B-2 Spirit out to pasture earlier than expected with the eventual advent of its next-generation B-21 Raider bomber.


The Air Force’s Global Strike Command, the major command under which its bombers serve, plans on procuring between 80 to 100 of the new bomber, if not more. Earlier plans called for Global Strike Command to phase in the B-21, which would serve alongside the B-1B, the B-2, and the B-52 for years before gradually replacing them altogether.

Now, instead of simply adding the planned complement of B-21s to the existing fleet of B-1Bs, B-2s, and B-52s, the service would instead begin retiring its Lancers and Spirits by the 2030s and supersede them en masse with scores of Raiders.

The B-1B Lancer serves as America’s sole supersonic strategic bomber. A marvel of engineering, the Lancer can comfortably dash at supersonic speeds at low altitudes, making it almost untouchable by enemy air defense systems. While originally designed to fulfill a nuclear strike role during the Cold War, the Lancer has since evolved into a conventional munitions “bomb truck,” serving in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past twenty years in close air support roles.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
A B-1B from Ellsworth AFB operating over Afghanistan in 2008 (Photo U.S. Air Force)

For all its incredible power and strategic value, however, the Lancer does come with a set of limitations. Its high operating and maintenance costs make retaining it as a long-term active bomber a very expensive and undesirable option. Additionally, it is prohibited, by treaty, from carrying cruise missiles.

Existing in a class of its own, the B-2 Spirit is an aircraft unlike any other. Born of a need to revamp America’s aging Cold War bomber fleet of B-52s with a long-range deep strike aircraft that couldn’t be shot down if sighted. The solution to that last requirement was to build an aircraft that couldn’t be spotted at all — an all-stealth bomber that evades and defeats radar detection.

While the B-2 was highly revolutionary with its flying-wing, all-stealth design, and still remains unmatched today, the Air Force has an undeniably strong rationale behind pushing it towards retirement as well.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
A B-2 Spirit taxiing at Andersen AFB, Guam. (Photo U.S. Air Force)

The B-2’s operating costs are sky-high, coming in at a whopping $130,159 USD per flight hour. With just a 20-strong fleet of Spirits, this plus the fleet’s unique support structure and incredible maintenance costs combine for a strong case against holding onto the B-2 for more than the next two decades.

The B-52, on the other hand, will soldier on for decades to come due to the fact that it can carry a considerably diverse combat payload, including guided “smart” munitions, and the Long Range Standoff cruise missile. Additionally, the B-52, more popularly known as the “BUFF,” will soon be upgraded with newer fuel-efficient turbofan engines, which will make it even easier to maintain, cheaper to fly in the long term, and improve performance metrics.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
A B-52 operating out of Minot AFB, North Dakota (Photo US Air Force)

While the B-21 and the B-2 will share a passing resemblance with their flying wing architecture, the new bomber is projected to be far more cost-effective, easier to maintain, and highly multi-role, with the ability to perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions as needed. It will also be able to carry the LRSO upon its completion and entry into service.

It should be noted, however, that nothing is set in stone. The Air Force will have to account for this proposed plan to Congress before putting it into effect, and as with the earlier A-10 retirement issues, it’s all too possible that Congress could stand in the way of America’s B-1B and B-2 fleets being sent to the boneyard early.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran tried and failed for the fourth time in a row to put a satellite into orbit

Iran’s latest attempt to put a satellite in space in spite of US opposition ended in failure, an Iranian defense ministry official told state media, Reuters reported Sunday.


“It was launched with success and … we have reached most our aims … but the ‘Zafar’ satellite did not reach orbit as planned,” the official told state television Sunday.

The latest failure marks the fourth time in a row Iran has been unable to successfully put a satellite in space.

In January 2019, the Iranian rocket carrying the satellite into space failed to reach the “necessary speed” during the third stage of flight, a senior telecommunications official told state media, the Associated Press reported at the time.

The US has criticized Iran’s efforts, arguing that its satellite program is a cover for the development of long-range ballistic missile technology.

President Donald Trump has said that Iran’s space program could help it “pursue intercontinental ballistic missile capability.” Iran argues that the Simorgh rocket is nothing more than a satellite launch vehicle.

In February of last year, Iran made another attempt. Iran’s foreign minister revealed in an interview with NBC News that it failed as well. He added that his country was looking into the possibility of sabotage after a New York Times report suggested the US could be behind the failures.

Iran tried again in August, but the rocket apparently exploded on the launchpad.

In denying US culpability, Trump inexplicably tweeted out an image of the scorched Iranian launchpad from a classified briefing, a photo that appeared to have come from one of the US’ most secretive spy satellites.

After the second failed test, Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told NPR that this is a “trial and error” situation, explaining that “eventually they’re going to get it right.”

Iran managed to put a satellite into orbit in 2009, 2011, and 2012, but lately their efforts have been unsuccessful.

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

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Young Chesty Puller dreamed of being a soldier

That’s right, Marine Corps legend and one of America’s greatest fighters from any branch Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, a true American Iron Man, spent his childhood dreaming of being a soldier.


US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
Yeah, this guy was almost a soldier. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Army guys, before you go too nuts with this information, keep in mind that Puller ended up joining the Marine Corps because he was inspired by the Marines’ legendary performance at the Battle of Belleau Wood and because the Corps gave him a chance at leading troops in World War I before it was over.

Yeah, Chesty changed his service branch preferences for the most Puller reason ever: he thought the Marines would let him draw more blood, sooner.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
There was a lot of blood to be had in Belleau Wood. (U.S. Marine Corps museum)

Puller grew up as a tough kid and the descendant of soldiers who fought in the Civil War. His grandfather and many other relatives fought for the Confederacy while a great uncle commanded a Union division.

His grandfather was a major who had died riding with Jeb Stuart at Kelly’s Ford. Confederate Maj. John W. Puller had been riding with Maj. Gen. Tomas Rosser when a cannon ball took much of his abdomen out. He continued riding a short distance despite his wounds but died on the battlefield.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
A Harper’s Weekly illustration of the Battle of Kelly’s Ford where Maj. John Puller was killed by cannon fire. (Illustration: Public Domain)

The young Lewis Puller grew up on the stories of his grandfather and other prominent Confederate soldiers in the town, and it fueled a deep interest in the military for him. At the time, the Marine Corps was a smaller branch that had fulfilled mostly minor roles on both sides of the Civil War, meaning that there were few war stories from them for Puller to hear.

He even tried to join the Richmond Blues, a light infantry militia, during the U.S. expedition to capture Pancho Villa, but was turned away due to his age.

Those stories and Puller’s love of the outdoors naturally led him to the Virginia Military Institute, a college which, at the time, sent most of its candidates to Army service (now, cadets can choose from any of the four Department of Defense branches).

At the institute, Puller was disappointed by the nature of training. He wanted more time in the woods and working with weapons, but the school’s rifles had been taken by the Army for use in World War I. After only a year of training, Puller told his cousin Col. George Derbyshire, the commandant of cadets of the school, that he would not be returning to VMI the following year.

As Burke Davis relates in his book Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller, Derbyshire tried to get Puller to stay but Puller was thirsty for combat:

“I hope you’re coming back next year, Lewis.”

“No, sir. I’m going to enlist in the Marines.”

“Why?”

“Well, I’m not old enough to get a commission in the Army, and I can get one in the Marines right away. I don’t want the war to end without me. I’m going with the rifles. If they need them, they need me, too.”

His decision came as the Battle of Belleau Wood was wrapping up, a fight which greatly enhanced the Marine Corps’ reputation in the military world. Puller went to Richmond, Virginia, and enlisted in the Marine Corps on June 27, 1918, the day after his 20th birthday and the end of the Battle of Belleau Wood.

Unfortunately for him, he wouldn’t make it to Europe in time for World War I. Instead, he was assigned to train other Marines and achieved his commission as a second lieutenant just before the Marine Corps drew down to a peacetime force, putting many commissioned officers on the inactive list, including Puller.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
Puller being award a Navy Cross by Gen. Oliver PP. Smith in Nicaragua, ca. 1931. (Photo: Public Domain)

But Puller resigned his commission to return to active service and went to Haiti and Nicaragua where he performed well enough to regain his butterbar and claw his way up the ranks, allowing him to make his outsized impact on World War II and the Korean War.

Many of the details from this story come from Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis. It’s available in print or as an ebook.

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Falcon versus Hornet: which fighter reigns supreme?

They have served alongside each other for decades, but they’ve been rivals for just as long. The F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Hornet went toe-to-toe ever since the Lightweight Fighter Competition. But which is really the better plane?


Both planes were replacing the Pentagon’s first joint strike fighter, the F-4 Phantom. The F-16 won the original competition, but the Navy based their VFAX on the YF-17, essentially circumventing Congress in the process.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
U.S. Air National Guard photo/Tech. Sgt. Drew A. Egnoske

The F-16 is a single-engine fighter (using either a Pratt and Whitney F100 or a GE F110) that can carry a wide variety of air-to-ground ordnance, and up to six air-to-air missiles, either the AIM-120 AMRAAM or AIM-9 Sidewinder. It also has a M61A1 20mm Gatling gun with 500 rounds – or about five seconds of firing time. According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Falcon has a range of over 2,100 nautical miles and a top speed of Mach 2.

The Hornet uses two F404 engines, and like the F-16, can carry a wide variety of air-to-ground ordnance. However, it can carry up to six air-to-air missiles as well (either the AIM-120, the AIM-9, or the older AIM-7), and it has a M61 with 570 rounds (about six seconds of firing time). GlobalSecurity.org credits the Hornet with a range of over 1,800 nautical miles and a top speed of Mach 1.8.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company

Both planes have long and distinguished combat careers. The F-16 got its first combat action in 1981, with the famous raid on the Osirak reactor. The F/A-18 made its debut in 1986 with the Freedom of Navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra that year. Since then, they have fought side by side. Both have been exported, with the F-16 having an edge on that front, while the F/A-18 operates from carriers as well as land bases.

So, which is better? If you needed one plane for all the military services, which would be the right choice? While the F-16 might win in a dogfight, the F/A-18 offers more versatility, and its ability to operate from carriers is a huge plus. While Congress was irritated with the Navy, and later ordered it to purchase some F-16s, which aviation historian Joe Baugher notes were used as aggressors, the fact remains that the DOD may have been better off buying the F/A-18 for all services.

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The US Navy Has A Real-Life Capt. Kirk — And William Shatner Is A Fan

It had to have been a simultaneously proud and awkward moment in his career: The day U.S. Navy Commander James Kirk got promoted to captain.


Of course any Trekkie would know the reason, as the real-life captain shares the name of the fictionalized character played by William Shatner on “Star Trek.” But the real Kirk is a serious officer, taking the helm of the futuristic USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), a ship christened earlier this year.

While he’s obviously of no relation to the Capt. Kirk played by William Shatner in “Star Trek,” many have had fun with that coincidence. That included Shatner himself, as a photo tweeted by Barbara Zumwalt showed the framed photo and letter he sent to the sailors who will soon be onboard, which is currently on display at Bath Iron Works in Maine.

“Unfortunately I can’t be with you when your vessel is commissioned and obviously your captain, Captain Kirk, is dear to my heart,” Shatner wrote. “So forgive me for not attending, my schedule won’t allow me, but know that you are in our thoughts — Mr. Mrs. Shatner — and that we bless you and hope that you have a safe journey wherever your ship takes you.”

Here it is:

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
Photo courtesy of Barbara Zumwalt

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6 times American troops fought in foreign militaries

Modern Americans can join the military and go to war without too much fuss, since the U.S. still needs people for ongoing fights in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hotspots around the world.


But our forefathers didn’t always have a place to go if they got the martial itch. Sometimes, they really wanted to join a war that the American people didn’t want to get involved in.

That’s when truly bold Americans would just join another country’s military and get to work.

1. Polish 7th Air Escadrille

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
American pilots Merian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy pose with a plane of the Polish 7th Air Escadrille. (Photo: Public Domain)

As a victor of World War I, Poland grew in size, gained a border with Russia, and quickly found itself at war with the communist Bolsheviks. American volunteers were allowed to form the Polish 7th Air Escadrille and the aviation unit engaged in fierce ground attacks against Russian cavalry from 1919 to 1920.

The unit started with eight pilots but conducted more than 400 combat sorties. American Capt. Merian C. Cooper was awarded Poland’s highest military honors, the Virtui Militari, for his service there after he was shot down and escaped from a Soviet prisoner of war camp.

2. The gendarmeries and national guards of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

In the early 1900s, Marines were sent to Caribbean nations to protect American business interests and to help shore up governments friendly to the U.S. The Marines who were dispatched to the islands often ended up holding ranks in both the U.S. military and the local forces at once. For instance, then Maj. Smedley Butler was the commandant of the Haitian Gendarmerie and then Cpl. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller was a second lieutenant in the Gendarmerie.

3. Eagle Squadrons

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
American pilots in the Royal Air Force pose in front of a Hawker Hurricane in 1941. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

Americans who wanted to take the fight to Nazi Germany before Pearl Harbor had few legal options, but some lied about their citizenship and risked exile from America to join the Royal Air Force in 1939 and 1940. Eight Americans took part in the 1940 Battle of Britain that saw the RAF narrowly defeat attempts by Luftwaffe to open the British Isles to invasion.

Dozens more Americans arrived after the Battle of Britain and helped the U.K. hold the line until America’s entry into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

4. The Lincoln and Washington Battalions

When a fascist military coup failed to topple the Spanish government in 1936, a bloody civil war erupted that saw approximately 40,000 international volunteers, including 2,800 Americans, fight on behalf of the Spanish Republic. The American volunteers formed the “Lincoln” and “Washington” battalions, that were part of a larger, international brigade known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Unfortunately, the fighting went badly for the American volunteers. Nearly one-third of them died in Spain and the Republic was overthrown by Fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.

5. The Flying Tigers

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
Members of the Flying Tigers volunteer squadron maintain a P-40 in China during World War II. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The Flying Tigers of World War II were a group of American pilots and ground crew who President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly authorized to go to China and help that country fight the Japanese invasion. Despite the presidential authorization, the Americans had to resign their military positions and travel under assumed identities.

Once in country, they crewed Curtiss P-40 Warhawks and devastated the Japanese aviators. The Flying Tigers started with 99 planes and destroyed 297 enemy birds. The unit boasted 20 ace pilots and helped China keep Japan occupied until the U.S. could start operations in the Pacific.

6. The Lafayette flying corps

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
The Lafayette Escadrille at Verdun. (Photo: Public Domain)

Soon after the onset of World War I in 1914, American volunteers began flying over the skies of France and serving on the ground against the Central Powers. One of the most famous American units in the war was the Lafayette Escadrille — a flying squadron named for the French hero of the American Revolution, Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette.

The pilots’ exploits were covered in U.S. newspapers and they became heroes at home and in France. Thirty-eight U.S. pilots would eventually serve in the unit and it earned 57 aerial kills before it was turned over to American control in February 1918.

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This was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor

Of the 3,498 service members who have received the Medal of Honor throughout U.S. history, only 88 have been black.


In recognition of African American History Month, the Pentagon is sharing the stories of the brave men who so gallantly risked and gave their lives for others, even in times when others weren’t willing to do the same in return.

The first black recipient of the award was Army Sgt. William H. Carney, who earned the honor for protecting one of the United States’ greatest symbols during the Civil War — the American flag.

Carney was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1840. His family was eventually granted freedom and moved to Massachusetts, where Carney was eager to learn and secretly got involved in academics, despite laws and restrictions that banned blacks from learning to read and write.

Carney had wanted to pursue a career in the church, but when the Civil War broke out, he decided the best way he could serve God was by serving in the military to help free the oppressed.

In March 1863, Carney joined the Union Army and was attached to Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment, the first official black unit recruited for the Union in the north. Forty other black men served with him, including two of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ sons.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
A lithograph of the storming of Fort Wagner. (Wikimedia Commons)

Within a few months, Carney’s training would be put to the ultimate test during the unit’s first major combat mission in Charleston, South Carolina.

On July 18, 1863, the soldiers of Carney’s regiment led the charge on Fort Wagner. During the battle, the unit’s color guard was shot. Carney, who was just a few feet away, saw the dying man stumble, and he scrambled to catch the falling flag.

Despite suffering several serious gunshot wounds himself, Carney kept the symbol of the Union held high as he crawled up the hill to the walls of Fort Wagner, urging his fellow troops to follow him. He planted the flag in the sand at the base of the fort and held it upright until his near-lifeless body was rescued.

Even then, though, he didn’t give it up. Many witnesses said Carney refused to give the flag to his rescuers, holding onto it tighter until, with assistance, he made it to the Union’s temporary barracks.

Carney lost a lot of blood and nearly lost his life, but not once did he allow the flag to touch the ground. His heroics inspired other soldiers that day and were crucial to the North securing victory at Fort Wagner. Carney was promoted to the rank of sergeant for his actions.

For his bravery, Carney was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900.

Carney’s legacy serves as a shining example of the patriotism that Americans felt at that time, despite the color of their skin.

As for the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment in which Carney served? It was disestablished long ago, but reactivated in 2008. It now serves as a National Guard ceremonial unit that renders honorary funerals and state functions. It was even invited to march in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.

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A terrorist blew himself up in Afghanistan over this piece of paper

A Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up outside of a US military base in Afghanistan on Sept. 6 in retaliation for the US dropping leaflets that were offensive to Islam the day before, according to the Los Angeles Times.


Three US soldiers were wounded and an Afghan interpreter was killed, the Washington Examiner reported Sept. 7, in the blast that occurred at an enemy-control point outside of Bagram Air Force base, the LA Times and Reuters reported.

Three Afghan troops were also wounded, the Examiner reported.

Taliban spokesman Zabihulla Mujahid tweeted Sept. 6 that the bombing was to “avenge” the insulting leaflets.

 

The leaflets the US dropped from a plane on Sept. 5 in Parwan province pictured a lion, symbolizing the US-led coalition, chasing a dog, which symbolized the Taliban.

Dogs are considered an unclean and dangerous animal by many Afghans, according to The Washington Post, and the one depicted on the leaflet had part of the Taliban flag superimposed on it along with a common Islamic creed.

“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet,” the creed, known as the Shahada, reads.

“Get your freedom from these terrorist dogs” was also written on the leaflet above the two animals, the LA Times said. “Help the coalition forces find these terrorists and eliminate them.”

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
The offensive leaflet dropped by the US on Sept. 5. Photo from Twitter user Dan Murphy.

The Taliban also released a statement on Sept. 6 that the leaflets showed the US’s “utter animosity with Islam,” The Post reported.

Maj. Gen. James Linder released a statement on Sept. 6 saying that the “design of the leaflets mistakenly contained an image highly offensive to both Muslims and the religion of Islam. I sincerely apologize.”

“We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners worldwide. There is no excuse for this mistake,” he said. “I am reviewing our procedures to determine the cause of this incident and to hold the responsible party accountable. Furthermore, I will make appropriate changes so this never happens again.”

Many Afghan civilians were also irate with the leaflets.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
US Army Maj. Gen. James B. Linder. Photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar.

“It is a very serious violation. The people are very angry. It is a major abuse against Islam,” the Parwan province police chief, Mohammad Zaman Mamozai, told The Post.

“Why they do not understand or know our culture, our religion, and history?”

“The foreign forces don’t have any idea of what are the values of the Afghan people,” Ahmad Shaheer, an analyst living in Kabul, told the LA Times. “They’ve hired some interpreters and advisors who only know how to speak English, make money, and gain trust, but really are strangers to the real values of the local people.”

The US has been at war in Afghanistan for almost 16 years, and President Donald Trump recently announced he would be deploying more American forces — about 4,000 by most estimates — to the war-torn country.

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Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

When asked about the current level of savings for commissary shoppers in an era of sweeping reforms, the interim director of Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert Bianchi, referred to results of a price comparison survey conducted in 2016 and released in late January 2017.


It showed average savings at commissaries “globally” were 23.7 percent compared to prices at commercial grocery stores. More specifically, patron savings averaged 20.2 percent at stateside commissaries and 44.2 percent overseas.

The same survey also showed average patron savings varied widely across U.S. regions, from a high of 32.6 percent in Alaska and Hawaii to a low near 18 percent for commissary shoppers across the South Central and Mountain states.

Bianchi and staff said it is the regional cost-saving targets that DeCA monitors monthly and, in finer detail, quarterly, to ensure that steps to transform commissaries into more business-like stores are not diluting patron savings.

Also read: Commissary savings overhaul might cost shoppers extra

Price savings by region are being tracked on “a monthly basis via our syndicated data and [on] a quarterly basis via manual shops [of local stores] and using syndicated data,” a DeCA spokesman explained.

The larger price comparison survey released a year ago established a new method for calculating savings that included a proportion of prices for private label or store brands. This irked patron advocacy groups because, at the time, commissaries didn’t sell their own private label goods. The concern was that the timing served to dampen the baseline savings targets set, which DeCA, by law, must sustain forever more.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
A front view of the Bridgeport Commissary’s produce section. (DeCA photo by Nancy O’Nell)

This occurred long before Bianchi become interim DeCA director in November 2017 to lead commissary transformation while also serving as chief executive of the Navy Exchange Service. Bianchi said he believes the baseline for savings, which use regional price comparisons and private labels, more accurately reflects the real value of the benefit. The previous method, which led to claims that patrons saved more than 30 percent, compared commissary prices against average commercial prices for brand goods only nationwide, ignoring popular private labels.

Steps transforming commissaries include: replacing the traditional cost-plus-a-surcharge pricing with variable pricing based on regional markets; offering DeCA-brand or private label goods as low-priced alternatives to name brands; cutting the assortment of national brands on shelves and negotiating more competitive pricing for surviving brands with brokers and manufacturers.

Related: Veterans can now register for an early shot at online military exchange shopping

Patron savings are real and substantial, Bianchi said. “But messaging that, connecting that for the customer, becomes important,” and variable pricing is key.

Commissary savings can get distorted, Bianchi said, when, for example, a shopper walks into a commercial supermarket and the first item seen are bananas selling for 39 cents a pound versus 52 cents seen at the commissary.

“Even though we may be saving them lots of dollars on chicken or other commodities, they get that initial impression and say ‘Hum, am I really saving money or not?’ We know they are. So, part of what I have our team looking at are image items. As we introduce variable pricing, it will give us the capability to compete with those other retailers and manage pricing in the market.”

Patrons need to be made more aware of average savings, Bianchi said.

“So, the part I have to do is message that so they aren’t dissuaded when they see a loss leader item” in a commercial market and think their commissary benefit has lost value. “The value proposition has got to be real and clear to them.”

Readers of last week’s column, which described a sharp decline in commissary sales, reacted with emails. Many blamed falling sales on a perceived narrowing of savings. Other criticized empty shelves and popular items out of stock.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
Energy efficient ice cream freezers inside of a Commissary. (DeCA photo by Nancy O’Nell)

Manufacturers and brokers shared recent scanned sales data from commissaries that, they contend, show variable pricing and private labeling accelerating the sales drop as patrons discover favored brand names are gone.

One industry analysis noted how Duracell batteries were removed from commissaries last year. While sales data show Energizer battery sales climbing, as would be expected, battery sales overall in the commissaries have fallen.

Bianchi said it’s premature to be sounding alarms over variable pricing or the introduction of DeCA brands Home Base, Top Care, and Freedom’s Choice.

Every commissary now has some variably priced items and “initial data suggest customers are responding positively,” Bianchi said. “In fact, we are beginning to get more competitive on the items that are most relevant to our patrons, which we expect will only help our sales performance.

“However, we still have a relatively small portion of the total assortment variably priced.” In mid-January 2018 that total was only 7000 of 38,000 stocked items.

Also read: House-Senate to negotiate key military benefit changes

“It is, therefore, too early to draw conclusions about how this will impact commissary-wide sales trends. Initial item-level sales data and customer input make us confident this is the right approach.”

Initial private label results on bottled water, cheese, health care products, paper towels and more also are encouraging, said Bianchi. The goal is to sell 3000 to 4000 items with commissary labels.

“We continue to see sales growth and penetration levels increase, and our customers regularly tell us they are happy to have these low-cost, high-quality alternatives on the shelf. None of the items introduced to date give us any concern for the acceptance of our brands, and we will continue to roll out these products aggressively given the very positive response from patrons.”

In fact, he added, many product categories with private labels “have seen an uptick in sales relative” not seen in product categories without private labels.

Bianchi said he came to DeCA with a lot of retail experience and a fresh set of eyes. He found shortfalls in customer service, expense control and sales planning, all critical for shifting to a profit and loss environment.

More: Slump at ‘The Stumps:’ Commissary closes because of rat infestation

“You just have a different perspective” when store expenses are covered by appropriated dollars, he said.

He found commissary shoppers uncomfortable with having baggers handle groceries for tips, Bianchi said, which might explain the popularity of self-checkout.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, commander, Navy Exchange Service Command, greets a local Djiboutian Navy Exchange employee at the Navy Exchange at Camp Lemonier during a visit to the camp to assess the progress of the facilities under his area of responsibility. Camp Lemonier, located in the Horn of Africa, is the only U.S. military infrastructure located in Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan P. Idle)

“How many people carry cash nowadays,” he said. “And if you go to an ATM machine you’re only getting 20s. So, we’re kind of looking at” the bagger issue.

Bianchi said he spent his first months at DeCA focused on patrons, employees and having store partner with commands and local communities. He will turn soon to repairing relationships with brokers and manufacturers who might have felt bulldozed by all the recent changes at commissaries tied to profit and loss.

“Quite honestly, as these initiatives were rolled out, there was probably a lack of transparency, which created some concern and doubt on industry’s part [and] some bad feelings,” said Bianchi. “Some folks are still remaining critical, which I think is a carryover from that.”

Industry reps who also dealt with base exchanges, which have long generated profits, likely were less startled by mindset shift at DeCA, he said.

“The reality is the business model does have to change as we move to a profit and loss environment. We want to create a win-win situation. But I will tell you, from walking floors at commissaries, we [need] an assortment rationalization,” meaning more cuts to the number of brand goods. “So, there may be winners and losers but that’s not any different than the private sector goes through every day.”

Articles

This is how the Army teaches you to ‘see green’ — not brown, black or white

Recently, the Huffington Post article “Becoming A Racist: The Unfortunate Side Effect Of Serving Your Country?” has been making its rounds across the veteran community.


Basically it’s a story about how a small group of veterans who were radicalized in Iraq and Afghanistan provide security for fringe Neo-Nazi groups. It continues with an anecdote about the author’s NYPD lieutenant uncle and his prejudice.

The piece argues that not enough is being done to aid returning veterans with Post Traumatic Stress from becoming racists. To the article’s defense, it does say the percentage of veterans pulling security for the Right Wing groups is a small one. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t heard a racial slur used by a piece of sh*t during my time in the U.S. Army.

However, it glosses over the U.S. military’s extremely hard stance against those ****heads and the astronomical percentage of troops who learned to see their fellow service member as not white, brown, or black, but “green.”

All the Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces have unequivocally denounced racism and hatred within their branch. Every value within each branch goes directly against what we all stand for. There is no way in Hell any soldier can truly live by the Army values if they are not loyal to and respect everyone on their left and right.

The Army’s diversity mission statement is: “To develop and implement a strategy that contributes to mission readiness while transforming and sustaining the Army as a national leader in diversity.” In every sense, we are.

The term “seeing green” refers to removing your view on another troop’s personal identity and welcoming them as a brother or sister in arms who also swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Of course, we still understand that they are of a different ethnicity. We’re not blind. We only place importance on their rank and position.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company

We just assume that no matter what race you are, wherever you comes from, whatever religion, gender, or orientation: if you’re a young private – you’re probably an idiot no matter what. And if you’re a second lieutenant, you’re probably an idiot who’s also in the chain of command.

Troops come from all walks of life. I’ve served with former surfers from California, ranchers from Texas, and computer analysts from Illinois. Troops who grew up in the projects of Harlem to the high rises of Manhattan to trailer parks outside Atlanta to the suburbs of Cleveland.

I will forever be honored knowing they all embraced me as a brother. The life story of my friend, Spec. Allam Elshorafa, is proof that serving in the military will make you “see green” far more than the minute group of f*ckfaces that do radicalize.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
Still one of his coolest photos was when he was a Private First Class. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Arriving at my first duty station in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, I wasn’t the most popular guy in the unit. I quickly realized that awkwardly talking about World of Warcraft wasn’t doing me any favors with avid fishermen and party guys, yet they still always looked out for me as one of their own.

In Afghanistan, I got to know Elshorafa. He was a Muslim born in Jerusalem. His family moved to Dallas when he was younger and as an adult, he enlisted to defend his new American home.

We quickly became friends. We’d talk about cartoons we saw as kids, video games we played as teens, and movies we hated as adults.

Things shifted when the topic of “why we enlisted” came up. He told me it was his life’s goal to help teach others that “not all Muslims are terrorists.” They are a fringe group that preys on other Muslims and are a blight on his religion.

One of radical Islam’s recruitment methods is to point at racism of westerners to rally disenfranchised Muslims. Yet, for all of the vile hatred those sh#tbags spew against the West, the largest target of Islamic terror is still other Muslims.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
A little compassion goes a long way. (Photo via Military.com)

Islamic terror to Elshorafa was the same as how every group deals with the radical sh*theads. Not all Christians are Branch Davidians, and not all Republicans are in the Alt-Right. To him, America was his home and we were his family. I, and everyone else in the platoon, embraced him as such.

My brother-in-arms ended his own life in June 2017. He joined the staggering number of veterans that still remain one of the most tragic concerns within our community. The loss still pains me, and I wear the memorial band every day.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company
I’ll never take it off, brother. I even argue with the TSA over taking it off.

It didn’t matter what race or religion either of us was, Elshorafa had my six and it will always hurt that I didn’t have his in his time of need.

He taught me about his faith and never attempted to convert me. He invited me to join him at an Eid al-Fitr celebration and the food was amazing. Just as you learn the players of every other football team other than your own by hanging out with their passionate fans, you learn in the military about others’ ways of life by bullsh*tting with them.

Everyone embraces the same suck on a daily basis. We all bleed the same red. And we all wear the same ‘green.’

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the world’s two biggest countries may soon be in conflict

At the end of August, 2017, India and China backed away from a 73-day standoff on the Doklam Plateau, high in the eastern Himalayas.

In the year since, both sides have sought to mend ties, especially after a summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in the eastern Chinese city of Wuhan in April, 2018.

The two countries are engaged in a kind of “recalibration” of their relationship, even though deeper-rooted issues that divide them persist, according to Faisel Pervaiz, a South Asia analyst at geopolitical-intelligence firm Stratfor.


The appointment of Vijay Gokhale, who was ambassador to China during the Doklam crisis and helped resolve the dispute, to foreign secretary was “an indication that India wants to take … a less confrontational posture,” Pervaiz said.

China, too, has come to believe it needs “a bit more calm” with its neighbors, including India, in part because of contentious relations with the US, Pervaiz added, though he stressed that Beijing’s change in thinking was likely temporary. China has also made overtures to India about a potential partnership in trade disputes with the US.

In October 2018, New Delhi and Beijing launched a joint program to train Afghan diplomats, and China’s ambassador to the country predicted more cooperation there in the future. In late October 2018, they are to sign a long-discussed internal-security agreement expected to cover cooperation on intelligence sharing, disaster mitigation, and other issues.

Despite the apparent rapprochement, the two countries are keeping a close eye on each other.

While India has largely pulled back from positions it took during the Doklam standoff, imagery reviewed by Stratfor in January 2018 showed that in late 2017 and early 2018, Delhi increased its deployments of combat aircraft to bases near the disputed area.

Those images showed even more activity around Chinese bases in Tibet, north of the disputed area, including airfield upgrades and a large aircraft presence. (China puts more assets at those bases because it does not have bases closer to the border area.)

In October 2018, officials told Hindustan Times that Delhi was concerned about construction at the Chinese air base in Lhasa, which included bomb-proof bunkers for aircraft and expanded surface-to-air missile batteries.

“You need blast- or bomb-proof hangars for fighters only if there is a possibility of hostilities,” one official said.

Any activity with military hardware or other assets that could have military applications around the eastern end of India and China’s shared border was likely to attract scrutiny, Pervaiz said.”

If you are India or China and you are seeing any sort of moves that either military is making, you view that almost through the lens of paranoia — that if you’re making that move, how can that be used against us in a potential conflict?” he told Business Insider.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company

The Doklam Plateau

(Google Maps)

The Doklam Plateau sits at the southern edge of the Himalayan mountain range, where the elevation is on average close to 15,000 feet. High altitudes and rough terrain put considerable limitations on military operations.

While the higher elevation gives China an advantage in surveillance and physiological acclimatization, lower air density hinders jet aircraft engines and limits the weaponry and fuel that aircraft can carry. China’s air force is larger than India’s, but it only has five air bases in Tibet — though upgrades at the Lhasa base described by Hindustan Times include special helicopter bases that allow them to take off and land with full payloads.

India’s air power in the region would offer it some advantages. Indian air bases, including those that received more aircraft in 2018, are closer to the area in question than China’s bases. India counts 20 air bases within range of the Line of Actual Control, which separates Indian- and Chinese-claimed territory.

India has also also practiced with transport planes at forward landing areas in the region.

But China’s air defenses are more effective and reliable than India’s. And China has more artillery that can fire farther and is more mobile.

Thin air at higher elevations hinders traditional rocket propulsion, but Chinese officials claimed in August 2018 they were progressing on a type of electromagnetic propulsion that would give rocket artillery longer range and more accuracy.

Both countries can be expected to use land-attack cruise missiles — the Indian Su-30MKI jets deployed to the area are capable of firing India’s Brahmos missile. But China has a larger inventory of them, and the paucity of Chinese targets in the area north of the border would likely mean Beijing would have the edge.

Much of the fighting in a conflict around Doklam would likely be done on the ground, even though the terrain would limit quick strikes and mass movement of troops.

Both countries are among the most largest militaries in the world. China’s 2.1 million active-duty troops are far more than India’s 1.3 million, though Indian troops may bring more experience to bear.

Indian fought its last war, with Pakistan, in 1999 and has been involved in sporatic clashes with Pakistan, as well as counterterror and counter-insurgency operations for years. (Delhi was developing a special Mountain Strike Corps for the northern border, but it was shelved in summer 2018.)

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company

An Indian Air Force Su-30 MKI

(Aeroprints.com)

China fought its last war in 1979 — a three-week incursion into Vietnam that ended with China’s withdrawal, though both sides claimed victory. Xi has ordered China’s military to increase readiness and launched reforms to the force.

Along the Line of Actual Control, however, China may gain an edge through superior command, control, and communications and through its unified command structure in the region, whereas India divides the region among three combatant commands.

India is aware that it would likely lose a military confrontation with China, Pervaiz said, as it did in 1962. (Mao later said China invaded essentially to teach India a lesson.)

A conflict now is not in the interest of either country, he added, but “they both are going to continue to sharpen their capabilities in the event that there ever is a conflict [in order] to be able to fight and execute on that conflict, no doubt about it.”

Since the end of the Doklam standoff, China has kept the assets it deployed there — tents, bunkers, and vehicles, Pervaiz said — in place, even as Indian forces withdrew.

Questioned about that change in parliament in 2018, the Indian Defense Ministry tacitly admitted “China has actually altered those facts on the ground” and India had to accept the change, Pervaiz said.

India too has pursued a longer-term shift in its strategy toward the disputed border.

Delhi tried to minimize the number of roads in the border area after the 1962 war in order to deprive future enemies of transportation routes.

US may buy its next Air Force One from a bankrupt Russian company

Indian Army Soldiers of the Madras Regiment (left) and Chinese People’s Liberation Army during the Moscow Victory Day Parade (right)

Since the 1990s, however, India has switched to what Pervaiz called “an offensive-defense posture, meaning that we’re not just going to deny the Chinese access to roads in our region. We’re actually going to start building more roads and infrastructure so that our military can be better positioned.”

Amid the recalibration, the broader strategic issues driving tensions between India and China — the border dispute or China’s partnership with India’s rival, Pakistan — have not dissipated, suggesting the current period is one in which both sides are trying to manage their disputes, which Pervaiz analogized to treating a chronic illness.

“It may be that the physician says that you’re not going to get rid of this,” he said. “This is something you’re going to have to live with for the rest of your life, but we can manage it … and then the symptoms can stay under control.”

Even though neither side sees conflict as in their interest, deep-seated disputes that persist raise the chances one may occur.

“In the long run, because the strategic drivers are still there, and they’re building up their assets, the roads, the bunkers,” Pervaiz said, “that that does mean in the future, there’s actually a heightened probability there’s going to be some sort of confrontation, even if it’s a small one.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Warrior Games create an amazing community for recovery

We Are The Mighty had the great privilege of attending the 2016 DoD Warrior Games to support wounded warriors as they competed with their fellow servicemembers.


The DoD Warrior Games is an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. Each year, a different branch of the U.S. Armed Forces hosts the Warrior Games — and this year the Army invited the athletes to compete at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The Warrior Games has athletes representing the Army; Navy; Air Force; Marine Corps; SOCOM and the United Kingdom, competing across several events: sitting volleyball; track and field; archery; wheelchair basketball; shooting and swimming.

Comedian and veteran advocate Jon Stewart emcee’d the Opening Ceremony.

“You are not alone, none of us here are alone,” said Rocky Marciano of Team SOCOM. “This has been a ten-day therapy session for me and I love it.”

Adaptive sports programs have proven to be an excellent form of rehabilitation for service members, providing these wounded warriors with an incredibly supportive community that focuses on performing at a high level despite injuries and illnesses.

The United Kingdom’s participation has been particularly impactful since they’ve been invited to the Warrior Games for the past four years. Brian Seggie of Team UK remarked, “If we’re on the same side, we should not only fight on the same side, we should recover together as well.”

This remarkable community is made possible by the efforts of each branch’s Wounded Warrior program, dedicated sponsors like Deloitte who bring in dozens of volunteers, enthusiastic family and friends and the incredible attitudes of each and every servicemember with the determination to keep moving forward.

The 2017 DoD Warrior Games will be hosted by the Navy in Chicago.