The Air Force has confirmed that an American pilot from the California Air National Guard was killed during a familiarization flight with a Ukrainian pilot in a Su-27UB fighter aircraft on October 16 during the Clear Skies 2018 exercise, an event orchestrated to allow Ukraine to better incorporate its forces with eight NATO militaries.
The U.S. service member involved in the crash was a member of the 144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, Fresno, California. The Airman was taking part in a single-aircraft familiarization flight with a Ukrainian counterpart. No other aircraft were involved in the incident. The identity of the service member is being withheld for 24 hours pending next of kin notification.
The Ukrainian pilot was also killed in the crash.
“This is a sad day for the United States and Ukraine,” Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, California ANG commander and Clear Skies exercise director, said in a statement. “Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends, and fellow Airmen of both the U.S. Airman and Ukrainian aviator who were killed in the incident.”
A Su-27B aircraft flies during Open Skies 2018 in Ukraine.
(U.S. Air National Guard)
The aircraft crash took place at 5 p.m. local time in Ukraine, and appears to have involved a Su-27UB, a two-seater combat trainer/fighter jet. A statement from the Ukrainian General Staff gave the first indication of what had occurred.
“We regret to inform that, according to the rescue team, the bodies of two pilots have been discovered: one is a serviceman of the Ukrainian Air Force, the other is a member of the US National Guard,” it said.
The exercise focused on air sovereignty, air interdiction, air-to-ground integration, air mobility operations, aeromedical evacuation, cyberdefense, and personnel recovery. It takes place as Ukraine is increasing its military capabilities and continuing hostilities from a Russian-backed separatist movement has claimed lives in its eastern regions.
Rights groups are calling for the release of an Afghan man with a special visa given to those who assist the United States military overseas who has been held by immigration authorities for nearly three weeks.
Abdul, whose full name is not being revealed for security reasons, arrived at the Newark, New Jersey airport on March 13 as part of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. Afghans who are in life-threatening danger are eligible for this status.
“Border agents coerced him into signing away his fundamental rights, even though the federal government understood his life was in danger in Afghanistan because of his service to the United States,” Jeanne LoCicero, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
The man and his family had previously been attacked by the Taliban armed group. U.S. immigration authorities are trying to deport him.
Abdul, who holds a sponsorship letter from a retired U.S. Army sergeant, worked as a cashier for five years at a cafeteria next to the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul until February, shortly before he departed for the United States.
Instead of a warm welcome, Abdul was detained on arrival.
“If they had stamped his passport, he would be a lawful U.S. resident,” Jason Scott Camilo, an immigration lawyer representing Abdul, told Al Jazeera.
Camilo said the Afghan was initially interrogated for 28 hours by agents from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs (ICE) agencies.
The lawyer said Abdul was without legal counsel for more than a day. He was held in “a big waiting room. There’s a couple of jail-like cells without beds…he couldn’t sleep,” Camilo said.
Shortly before his scheduled deportation, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) filed a case on Abdul’s behalf, which was denied. It then filed an emergency appeal and a court placed a temporary stay on his deportation pending a review of his case.
Abdul has since passed an initial interview for refugee status and is awaiting a court review in mid-April. However, he remains locked up in the Elizabeth Detention Center, a private facility contracted by ICE.
Betsy Fisher, IRAP’s policy director, said Abdul’s detention is part of a larger clampdown on the Special Immigrant Visa program.
In December 2016, then-president Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which only allocated 1,500 more SIV visas. With so few visas available, Fisher explained, interviews for applicants at the U.S. embassy in Kabul ended on March 1.
“There are roughly 10,000 people still waiting for SIVs,” Fisher told Al Jazeera. “The fact that applicants are now in indefinite limbo because Congress has failed to provide the number of visas we knew were needed is a disgrace and abandonment of our allies.”
Abdul is the second Afghan SIV recipient to be detained in March. On March 4, a family of five that had been granted approval to move to the U.S. because of their father’s work was detained in Los Angeles.
Al Jazeera contacted ICE and CBP for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.
The vehicle taken during the attack in Tongo Tongo, Niger was found on the Malian side of the border in the desert, said Fahad Ag Al Mahmoud, secretary-general of the rebel group known by its French acronym, GATIA.
“Our men are in the middle of digging out the vehicle to get it back in working order,” he said.
He said it was not immediately possible to send a photo to confirm they had retrieved the vehicle, because of the lack of internet in the remote border area.
A coalition of armed Tuareg rebels has been operating against jihadist groups active in the area between Mali and Niger for several weeks.
Four U.S. forces and four Nigerien troops were killed Oct. 4, 2017, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) north of Niamey, Niger’s capital, when they were attacked by as many as 100 Islamic State-linked extremists traveling by vehicle and carrying small arms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Two other American soldiers and eight Nigerien forces were wounded.
A U.S. military investigation into the Niger attack concluded that the team didn’t get required senior command approval for a risky mission to capture a high-level Islamic State militant, though it did not point to that failure as a cause of the deadly ambush, several U.S. officials familiar with the report said.
The investigation found no single point of failure leading to the attack. It also drew no conclusion about whether villagers in Tongo Tongo, where the team stopped for water and supplies, alerted extremists to American forces in the area.
A US Air Force F-16 assigned to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada crashed outside of Las Vegas on the morning of April 4, 2018, in the third aircraft crash in two days.
The pilot was killed in the crash, the Air Force confirmed in a statement. He was a member of the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron.
The F-16 crashed around 10:30 a.m. during a “routine aerial demonstration training flight,” and the cause of the crash is under investigation, according to the Air Force statement.
On the afternoon of April 3, 2018, a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed around El Centro, California, during a routine training mission. Four crew members aboard the helicopter were killed.
Additionally, a Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jet crashed during a training exercise in Djibouti, east Africa on April 3, 2018. The pilot ejected and was being treated at a hospital.
Congress and the military have come under scrutiny amid the spate of aircraft crashes. Military leaders have long argued for an increased budget to combat a “readiness crisis” as foreign adversaries have gained momentum in other areas of the world.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, the Corps’ deputy commandant for aviation, said in November 2017, that although pilot and aircraft readiness was steadily improving, the Corps was still dealing with the effects of “the minimum requirement for tactical proficiency.”
“Newly winged aviators … [are] the foundation of the future of aviation,” a prepared statement from Rudder said, according to Military.com. “When I compare these 2017 ‘graduates’ of their first fleet tour to the 2007 ‘class,’ those pilots today have averaged 20% less flight hours over their three-year tour than the same group in 2007.”
US airmen tasked with jobs like surveillance and cyber operations have a growing role on the battlefield, even though they are often physically distant from it.
To ensure that kind of work is recognized, the Air Force has introduced new hardware for its service men and women.
“As the impact of remote operations on combat continues to increase, the necessity of ensuring those actions are distinctly recognized grows,” Defense Department officials said in a memo published on January 7, 2016.
Now the Air Force has released criteria for new devices that signify different roles in military awards: “V” for valor, “C” for combat, and “R” for remote.
The “R” device “was established to distinguish that an award was earned for direct hands-on employment of a weapon system that had a direct and immediate impact on a combat or military operation,” the Air Force said in a release.
The US Air Force’s ‘V,’ ‘C,’ and ‘R’ devices. Photo courtesy of USAF.
This refers to work done anywhere, as long as it doesn’t expose the service member to personal danger or put them at significant risk of personal danger. The new device would recognize the actions of drone pilots, cyber operators, and other airmen carrying out combat operations far from the battlefield.
“These members create direct combat effects that lead to strategic outcomes and deliver lethal force, while physically located outside the combat area,” said Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services.
The “V” device denotes “unambiguous and distinctive recognition of distinguished acts of combat heroism,” while the “C” device was created to award airmen and women who perform “meritoriously under the most difficult combat conditions.”
While the devices were unveiled this week, they can be rewarded retroactively to January 2016, when the defense secretary established them.
The US military’s increasingly reliance on drones has created more demand for drone operators.
Drone operators remotely fly an MQ-1 Predator aircraft, October 22, 2013. Photo courtesy of USAF.
The service, which is straining under a personnel shortage, has introduced a new tiered bonus system to retain personnel, and drone pilots were among those in highest demand.
They, along with fighter pilots, are slated to get the highest maximum bonus of $35,000 a year.
Despite their distance from the battlefield, drone pilots’ duties in US campaigns throughout the Middle East and elsewhere has put them under some of the same strain faced by personnel who are forward deployed.
A 2013 study by researchers with the Defense Department found that drone pilots faced mental-health issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress at the same rate as those who flew manned aircraft over places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have sounded the alarm about growing Russian activity in the Arctic for some time, warning that Moscow’s expanding capabilities in the high latitudes threaten to leave the U.S. behind.
The Arctic region, and its natural resources, have become more accessible as the surrounding ice recedes.
In an interview at Coast Guard headquarters at the end of December 2017, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told Business Insider that while the U.S. should regard Russian activity in Arctic warily, the relationship between the two countries going forward may depend on “who you relate with.”
“Our natural relationship is with the FSB within Russia, and that’s their border security — equivalent to a coast guard when you look at maritime” activity, Zukunft said.
Operational exchanges between the U.S. Coast Guard and its Russian counterpart have gone well, the commandant said, citing fisheries enforcement as an area where cooperation has yielded positive outcomes.
“We have a boundary line between Russia and the United States. In years past we would have Russian vessels sneak over the line because the fishing was much better on the U.S. side of the Bering Sea because of our fishing-management protocols. That doesn’t happen anymore,” Zukunft said. “We have real-time communications with our Russian counterparts. If we detect a Russian vessel coming over the line, they will prosecute it on the other side.”
“At the same time, we’ve had allegations of fish being illegally harvested in Russian waters and then being sold or basically being distributed out of a port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska,” he added. “We interact with Russia in real time when we have those cases, and so [it’s] very transparent.”
“Across all these areas — law enforcement, search and rescue, environmental response, and waterways management — we see the relationship with Russia as positive,” McAllister said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. McAllister also called China “a good partner” in the Arctic.
Zukunft drew a distinction between Russian internal-security and law-enforcement activity and Russian naval activity, saying the latter presented more of a concern going forward.
“Now when you start looking at the Russia navy, or if you start looking at why is Russia launching icebreaking corvettes — these are really warships that can also break ice at the same time, that can operate in the high latitudes, at a point in time where Russia is claiming a good portion of the Arctic Ocean … to say that, ‘this is ours,'” Zukunft told Business Insider.
“This looks eerily familiar to what China is doing the East and South China Sea, what we could call access denial to all others … that you pay homage to Russia,” Zukunft said.
Russia has “not been transparent in what their intent is, and so we’re playing a strategic game of chess up in the Arctic,” he added. “And Russia’s got … all the pieces on the chessboard. I’ve only got a couple of pawns. I don’t even have a queen, let alone a king. Might have a rook.”
According to a Congressional Research Service report, as of May 2017, Russia — which has the world’s longest Arctic coastline and gets 20% of its GDP from activity in the region — had 46 icebreakers of all types. Four of those were operational heavy polar icebreakers, with another 23 medium or light icebreakers for polar or Baltic use.
The U.S. government had three icebreakers at that time, but just one, the Polar Star, was an operational polar icebreaker. The U.S. also has the Healy, a medium polar icebreaker, and the National Science Foundation operates another, primarily for scientific work.
The Polar Star entered service in 1976 and was refurbished in 2012, but it is beyond its 40-year service life and “literally on life support,” Zukunft said in early 2017. (Some parts for the Polar Star are no longer made and have to be ordered secondhand from eBay or scavenged from other ships.)
The U.S. was behind Finland, Canada, and Sweden — all of which had several operational polar icebreakers, though none were heavy. China also had three operational light icebreakers or ice-capable polar ships, according to the report.
Experts have downplayed the likelihood that the Arctic will become as contested as the South China Sea, but Zukunft and others have warned that the U.S. is well behind Russia in the icebreaker capability necessary to operate in the region — and may soon fall behind China as well.
Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area chief, said in December that even with progress on U.S. plans for new icebreakers, Moscow was still outspending Washington. “If you look at what Russia is doing, there’s almost a mini arms build up going on in the Arctic,” he told CBS News.
“Even the Chinese are building icebreaking tankers,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in November, emphasizing U.S. economic and national-security interests in emerging Arctic waterways. While China isn’t an Arctic country, Tillerson said, “they see the value of these passages. So we’re late to the game.”
Zukunft has said he hopes to begin construction on the first icebreaker early in fiscal year 2019, which starts in October. It could be in the water by 2023.
The commandant has said he eventually wants to add three heavy and three medium icebreakers, though he is open to trading mediums for heavies.
Some have argued that the challenge to U.S. security posed at sea comes less from icebreakers than Russia’s growing navy, which can project power far from the Arctic, but the Coast Guard is holding out the option of equipping its future icebreakers with offensive weaponry.
Zukunft said in early January that the newest icebreaker would have space, weight, and electrical capacity set aside for such armaments. Though he wouldn’t specify what types of weapons systems they would be — he has suggested cruise missiles in the past — Zukunft said they would need to be modular, allowing them to be switched out to meet different operational requirements.
“We do need to make an investment in terms of our surface capability to exert sovereignty in the Arctic,” Zukunft told Business Insider at the end of December.
“I think if you look across our entire military strategy, homage is paid to strength, and not so much if you are a nation of paper lions but you don’t have the teeth to back it up,” he added. “And that’s an area where we’re lacking the teeth.”
U.S. Strategic Command recently passed the leadership role in counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction mission to SOCOM, a move that has SOF leaders scrambling to figure out where it fits into this complex mission.
Michal Lumpkin, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, said he worries that SOCOM will try to take on too much of the mission.
Special Operations personnel are known for being “solution people,” he said. “They solve problems. They fill gaps, seams, and voids.”
“But every gap, seam, and void is not theirs to fill, so the interagency has to do their part,” Lumpkin told an audience Feb. 28, 2018, at National Defense Industrial Association’s 29th Annual Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium. “So, one of the things that I always fear is we would maybe get out in front of the headlights farther and faster than we should and accept too much of the mission.”
Lumpkin took part in a counter-proliferation panel discussion, where all the panelists agreed that chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are quickly becoming one of the top threats to the United States and its allies.
U.S. Army Col. Lonnie Carlson, director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy in the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, said keeping WMD out of the hands of ISIS extremists is one of his top priorities.
“Those real-world things are there, and the bottom line is, they are definitely terrorism-related, they are coming out of the Middle East, and they are not things we were worried about two months ago,” Carlson said.
Components of these mass-casualty weapons are also coming out of North Korea and turning up in places like Syria, said Michael Waltz, a former Special Forces officer and policy advisor to the Bush administration.
There have been “40 to 50 previously unknown, unreported shipments of essentially chemical weapons components or dual-use components from North Korea to Syria,” he said.
Syria’s legitimate chemical industry “isn’t exactly thriving, so I think it is safe to assume what those parts are for,” he added.
Waltz said he agreed with President Trump’s policy of “stopping the North Korean program in its tracks,” but said he thought the administration’s failure to fill key positions in the State Department would make it difficult to counter the proliferation of these types of weapons.
“I think we are really suffering in many respects … with the lack of appointments and with what is going on in the State Department,” Waltz said. “How do we work the non-proliferation piece, which State should and will lead, when they don’t have the manpower? The answer I think is, it’s going to fall on DoD, and it’s going to fall on SOCOM.”
Carlson pointed out that that SOCOM has been given the “synchronization” role in the effort, “but that doesn’t mean they own all the operations.”
“It’s still the global and geographic chain of command with their theater units and SOF operating commands that actually do the executions,” he said.
SOCOM has been given a “significant plus-up” in the proposed fiscal 2019 budget, mainly in the overseas contingency operations account, but that will not be enough to fund this new mission, Lumpkin said.
“There are still shortages for SOCOM and across the inter-agency [in] resourcing this issue,” he said. “The reality is, you can’t put a new mission on anybody without either taking something off the table, something else that they are doing, or you are going to have to give them more resources.”
SOCOM has no shortage of missions these days, Mark Mitchell, principal deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, said during his speech on Feb. 28, 2018.
In addition to leading the new WMD mission, “they also maintain their coordinating authority for countering violent extremists,” Mitchell said. “These are no-fail missions for the nation. … We are going to look at where we can shut some missions.”
Mitchell welcomed the conventional Army’s recent decision to stand up its new Security Force Assistance Brigades, units of highly trained officers and soldiers designed to take over the “advise-and-assist” mission of training foreign troops in conventional infantry operations.
The Army plans to have all six SFABs in place by 2022. Perhaps these new units can take some of the burden off of Special Forces units, who have traditionally assumed these foreign training missions, Mitchell said.
Waltz suggested turning to the National Guard and Reserves since many of its personnel have civilian expertise in some the areas needed in the counterproliferation mission.
“SOCOM isn’t going to solve this by themselves,” Lumpkin said. “The only way we are going to get our arms around the counter-WMD, counter-proliferation challenges is to do it in a unified, whole-of-nation approach.”
“One of the soldiers of the Islamic State attacked a number of crusaders on a street in New York City,” said an article in the group’s al-Naba weekly newspaper, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
Sayfullo Saipov, 29, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, has been charged with terrorism in connection with the Oct. 31 attack in which he allegedly used a rented pickup truck to mow down bicyclists and pedestrians on a mile-long stretch of bike path near where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.
Police said Saipov appeared to have followed very closely instructions IS has disseminated online on how to stage such truck attacks.
IS’s embrace of Saipov came after US President Donald Trump repeatedly called for a death sentence for Saipov on Nov. 2, At the same time, Trump appeared to rule out a sending him to the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in a series of tweets on Twitter.
NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!
Prosecutors in presenting their case against Saipov highlighted evidence that he sympathized with IS. Prosecutors have not said he acted alone, but New York’s governor and other authorities have said they believe it was a “lone wolf” attack inspired by IS.
Court documents said the Uzbek immigrant had kept thousands of IS propaganda photos and videos on his cell phone, some showing gruesome executions of IS prisoners.
Questioned in his hospital bed, Saipov said he had been inspired by IS videos that he watched on his cellphone, and began plotting an attack about a year ago, FBI agent Amber Tyree said in court papers.
In the past few years, IS online posts have exhorted followers to use vehicles, knives, or other readily available means of killing people in their home countries.
England, France, Sweden, Spain, and Germany are among the countries which have all seen similar deadly vehicle attacks since mid-2016, often by suspects that police said were followers of IS.
Acquaintances of Saipov have told RFE/RL that he appeared to be radicalized only after leaving Uzbekistan and moving to the United States in 2010.
While embracing Saipov as an adherent of its extreme brand of Islam, IS provided no evidence that the group was directly responsible for the New York attack. Its claims of responsibility for previous mass killings have not always been borne out by evidence.
Intelligence officials have said that as IS has rapidly lost territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria this year, it has put more effort into trying to inspire and sponsor attacks overseas.
“The grace of Allah, the operation instilled fear in crusader America, prompting them to increase security measures and intensify actions against immigrants to America,” IS said in the al-Naba article, according to SITE.
US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts are back in the Baltics, practicing for rough landings on improvised runways as a part of Saber Strike 18, the annual exercise where NATO and partner forces work to improve their ability to operate across Europe and with NATO’s forward-deployed battle groups.
In early June 2018, A-10s from the Michigan Air National Guard’s 107th Fighter Squadron, based at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, practiced landing and taking off from a rural highway in Latvia and an abandoned runway in Estonia.
During the Cold War, highways were considered an option for fixed-wing aircraft, as standard airstrips were likely to be targeted first in the event of conflict. But the A-10s only recently resumed the exercise.
“The requirement that we’ve been tasked with to be able to force project into battle spaces where the assumption is that the enemy is going to immediately try to destroy or limit capabilities on known airfields,” said Air Force Maj. David Dennis, the detachment director of operations for the 107th Fighter Squadron.
“So the A-10 has been tasked with being able to forward deploy into areas a little bit more austere,” he added, “whether they’re old airfields, riverbeds, old highways, whatever the case may be, so we continue to provide close air support to the guys on the ground.”
The 107th Fighter Squadron is currently deployed to Latvia. Working with members of the 321st Special Tactics Squadron’s combat controllers, the 107th’s A-10s carried out landings and takeoffs from an abandoned runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, on June 7, 2018.
The exercise is part of Saber Strike 18, the latest version of a US Army Europe-led training exercise involving NATO countries and partner forces. This year’s iteration focuses on improving land- and air-operational capabilities, with the additional goal of training with NATO’s enhanced forward presence battle groups.
(US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. David Kujawa)
NATO’s enhanced forward presence battle groups have been deployed to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland over the past two years and are made up of units from various NATO member countries. They are still on station in those four countries and now number over 4,500 personnel in total.
“We’re landing on Estonian soil, so we have Estonian defense forces here, providing security. We have local fire departments on standby, in case there is some sort of incident,” Dennis said. “So it involves a host of people.”
Austere-landing exercises contribute to the goal of providing close air support. “So day five, day six, day ten of the war, the assumption is that the airfields that the Air Force has been operating out of are probably compromised in some manner,” Dennis said.
A US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, assigned to the 107th Fighter Squadron from Selfridge, Michigan, practice landing on a non-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, during Saber Strike 18, June 7, 2018.
“So in order to continue to force project, and to continue to drop bombs and protect the troops on the ground, we’re going to have to find other suitable means with which we can continue our combat operations,” Dennis added. “So they would literally truck in the bombs, the bullets, all the things they need to, to austere environments, like an old airfield, a highway, whatever have you, so that we can continue to operate and ultimately save lives on the ground.”
US Air Force Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, checks an A-10 after landing in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
The A-10, introduced in the 1970s, was a key component of the NATO’s frontline defense during the Cold War. It served as the main antitank platform and was equipped with heavy armaments, like the AGM-65 Maverick missile and a 30 mm Gatling gun, and was heavily armored itself in order withstand ground fire.
US Air Force Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, marshals an A-10 after landing in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
A-10 pilots were given a coloring book to help train them to recognize Soviet tanks. The book, filled with deadpan humor and titled “What you always wanted to know about the T-62 but were afraid to ask,” color-coded sections on Soviet vehicles to instruct pilots on which parts to target and which to avoid.
“The point of the article is to highlight for newly assigned pilots the improved vulnerabilities of the tank from a side or rear attack,” Andy Bush, a retired A-10 pilot, told War is Boring in 2014. Bush said he had “no idea who wrote it or where.”
Cold War planners were not optimistic about the A-10’s chances in a war. In the 1980s, the Air Force planned to put 68 A-10s at each of six forward operating bases in West Germany. Their estimates assumed a 7% loss rate for each 100 flights, meaning each forward operating base would lose at least 10 A-10s every 24 hours. At that rate, the roughly 700-plane A-10 fleet would be shot down in less than two weeks.
US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Alex Goulette, crew chief assigned to 127th Wing maintenance squadron in Selfridge, Michigan, and Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, communicate with A-10 pilots about landing in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
Current tensions with Russia are far from the level seen between the Soviet Union and the West during the Cold War. But the austere-landing exercise and other drills are meant to keep pilots and aircrews sharp and reassure allies.
A US Air Force A-10 practices landing on a non-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
“Why did we choose Haapsalu over other areas? Inside the country of Estonia, essentially inside the Baltic region … it’s part of reassuring our NATO alliances,” Dennis said. “We continue to force-project airplanes, not just the A-10 but other NATO assets, all throughout the Baltic region. So what we have done is we’ve analyzed different areas, not just inside of Estonia, but also in Latvia and Lithuania as well, that are suitable landing sites.”
US Air Force Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, marshals an A-10 after landing in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
There are three important training objectives, Dennis said.
“The first is, trust the pilots right? So the larger Air Force in a whole needs to trust that the A-10 pilot group is capable of executing this in a very important mission set.”
“The next thing is the pilot trusting the airplane. As you operate this these sort of austere environments, the pilot has to have confidence that he or she can actually land in these environments, and execute the operation safely.”
“And the third, and I think equally as important, is we exercise the Special Tactics Squadrons, and other people that are involved in controlling us, and keep them proficient and current.”
Even in a training situation, landing on rough surfaces poses risks. “The airplanes can blow tires. The concrete isn’t as well grooved. In this case, the concrete is not even nearly the same as it would in a normal airfield,” Dennis said. “So there’s a lot of challenges that, physically, the airplane will face when … the rubber actually meets the concrete.”
US Air Force Master Sgt. Wolfram Stumpf, public affairs assigned to the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, records an A-10 Thunderbolt practice landing on a un-operational, austere runway in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
“There’s a lot of detailed planning that goes into ensuring that all of these areas have been properly looked at,” Dennis added. “The Special Tactics Squadrons have a very methodical way with which they come and analyze and basically evaluate these landing surfaces.”
US Air Force Staff. Sgt. Clinton Kennedy, combat controller assigned to 321st Special Tactics Squadron in Mildenhall, England, checks the runway for foreign-object debris after A-10 landed in Haapsalu, Estonia, June 7, 2018.
The A-10, however, is the best plane for this kind of job. “The reason the A-10 does this is because it was designed to do this,” Dennis said. “In the design phase of the actual airplane, [there] was the consideration for this type of environment. So landing gear all the way up to the high-bypass engines, that sit above the airplane, all of that is specifically designed so the airplane is not just survivable, but can operate in these austere environments.”
US Air National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It’s unlikely that the U.S.-China trade dispute is going to escalate to a full-scale war any time soon — but it’s not impossible. Neither side is inclined to go to war with the other, but a war of that scale is what both plan to fight. All it would take is one bungled crisis, one itchy trigger finger, one malfunctioning automated defense system and the entire region could become a war zone.
China’s military upgrades, especially in the areas of anti-access and area-denial weapons, would make any war between the two countries “intense, destructive, and protracted,” according to the RAND corporation, America’s premiere policy and decision-making thinktank. The non-profit, non-partisan organization has been doing this kind of research since 1948.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)
David C. Gompert is the lead author of a recent study on the chances and effects of such a war. He’s an adjunct senior fellow at RAND. Gompert doesn’t predict a coming war, but acknowledges the possibilities.
“Tensions exist between the United States and China on a number of issues,” Gompert said. “And a crisis could occur and involve incidents or miscalculations that lead to hostilities. For example, China could try to intimidate its neighbors below the threshold of U.S. intervention and misjudge where that threshold is, or underestimate U.S. willingness to back Japan militarily in a crisis over disputed territory in the East China Sea.”
If the situation did escalate, both sides would suffer incredible losses in manpower and materiel. Chinese losses would be much more severe compared to the Americans, but as Chinese military capabilities improve, U.S. loss projections get much, much higher. As the war goes on, Chinese A2AD will make American dominance much more difficult to achieve. But the Chinese will suffer from a lack of resources and a protracted conflict will make affect China’s ability to suppress internal divisions.
Economically, China would suffer tremendously, while damaging the U.S. economy and anyone else dependent on China for trade. The study recommends ensuring China is aware of the level of destruction it faces in a fight with American forces — whether or not it loses a military conflict. Also, it is critical for the United States to improve interoperability with regional allies to both present a strong counterforce in the face of Chinese aggression — but it is highly unlikely that a partner like Japan would join the fighting. The international community would be divided in its support, but this would have little to no effect on the fighting.
RAND also recommends increasing military communications with China in order to avert a misunderstanding should any kind of military accident occur. The U.S. also needs to be more understanding should such an accident occur against its forces. If hostilities did break out, the U.S.’ most survivable platforms (like submarines) and anti-missile systems should be at the fore of the fight.
Finally, disrupting Chinese supply lines and technology from the sea and replacing products the American economy needs from China are critical to minimizing the damage suffered from a war.
“History suggests that wars that are very destructive to both combatants have a way of persisting as long as neither side faces complete defeat,” Gompert said. “A Sino-U.S. war would be so harmful that both sides should place a very high priority on avoiding one.”
Civilians and members of other military branches might have been surprised to see Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drinking from a fountain during World War I commemoration ceremonies in France. Well, it wasn’t just a case of Marines being Marines at any rank — that fountain is a part one of the Corps’ most time-honored traditions.
Veterans Day 2018 was the centennial anniversary of the end of World War I. The day before it was the Marine Corps’ 243rd birthday, that’s when Dunford and retired-Marine-turned-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly walked the grounds of the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, where nearly 3,000 U.S. troops are buried – many of those interred there are Marines killed at the WWI Battle of Belleau Wood.
You might have heard of it — the Germans sure did.
Marine Corps lore says the brutal fighting against the Germans at Belleau Wood is where the Marines earned the nickname “Devil Dogs” from the German enemy, who sent wave after wave of infantry attacks into the dense wood in an attempt to take it from the U.S. Marines, to no avail, of course.
German high command, flush with a full 50 fresh divisions from the east after the capitulation of the Soviet Union, planned to overwhelm the Entente powers on the Western Front. They wanted to end the war before the United States could bring the full power of its men and materiel to bear. By May, 1918, it was too late. The Germans were facing American units in combat already. By June, 1918, five German infantry divisions faced off against the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Brigade and the Marines’ 4th Marine Brigade.
The Marines stopped the German advance and forced them back into the Woods. To follow them meant facing thousands of entrenched and hidden veteran German troops. The battle lasted a full month and was defined by bloody slaughter, using everything from poison gas to hand-to-hand combat and featured some of the Corps most legendary names, like Capt. Lloyd Williams, Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daley, and future Commandant of the Marine Corps, John Lejeune.
Lance Cpl. Seth H. Capps, a member of the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, drinks out of Devil Dog Fountain following the 93rd anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood May 30, 2010.
(Photo By Cpl. Bobby J. Yarbrough)
As one might imagine, winning a battle that couldn’t be won against all odds is going to be remembered as one of the most heroic feats in Marine Corps history. France later renamed the forest Bois de la Brigade de Marine and, according to lore, the name the Germans gave the Marines – Teufel Hunden or “Devil Dogs” – is how bulldogs became the Corps mascot.
For Marines, a visit to the battlefield and the cemetery is a pilgrimage, a rite of passage. This trip includes a visit to the nearby village of Belleau and its bulldog fountain, continuously spitting water from its mouth. Marines like Dunford and Gen. Robert Neller all the way down to the lowest Lance Corporal will drink from the fountain to remember the Battle of Belleau Wood and the Marines who never left.
Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller, gets water from the Devil Dog fountain after the American Memorial Day ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American Memorial Cemetery, Belleau Wood, France, May 29, 2016. Each Memorial Day weekend, U.S. Marines, French service members, family members, and locals gather to honor the memory of the Marines killed during the battle of Belleau Wood.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Gabriela Garcia)
With all the advances in military clothing technology these days, there’s still one glaring holdover from the days of military uniforms gone by: boot laces. We have velcro work uniforms, and velcro body armor, zippers on work pants, and plastic buckles have replaced the old metal clasps on web gear.
Yet, every day, U.S. troops are lacing up their boots just like Arnold Schwarzenegger did in Commando 30-plus years ago. What gives?
The truth is that there’s actually a good reason for all the combat/work uniform gear that American troops wear every day. From the way it’s worn, to what it’s made of, to how it’s worn, it all actually has an operational value to it. The most enduring reason velcro isn’t used as a means to secure one’s boots is that shoelaces are built to last, like most other military-grade gear. Velcro wears out after repeated use and becomes less and less sticky with time.
Another reason for laces securing their boots is that if one of the laces does happen to wear out and snap, a spare boot lace can be secured pretty easily. All a Marine at a combat outpost in the hills of Afghanistan has to do to re-secure his boot is to get a lace and lace it up. If it were secured with velcro, both sides being held together would require a seam ripped out and new velcro patches sewn in its place.
Speaking of austere locations, has anyone ever tried to use velcro when it was soaking wet or caked in mud? For anyone who’s ever seen a recruiting video for any branch of the military (including the Coast Guard), it becomes pretty apparent that mud, water, and lord-knows-what-else are occupational hazards for the feet of the average U.S. troop. Bootlaces don’t need to be dry, clean, or chemical agent-free to work their magic, they just work.
The whole idea behind clothing a capable, combat-ready force is to eliminate the worry about the clothing as long as each individual troop follows the clothing guidelines. Everything about military work gear and combat uniforms is that they can be worn relatively easily and their parts can be replaced just as easily – by even the least capable person in a military unit.
Finally, the most significant reason troops need laced-up boots instead of goofy velcro attachments is the most unique aspect to their chosen profession: the idea that they may be in combat at some point. Military combat medics will tell you that the easiest way to access a wounded foot area is to simply cut the laces away and toss the boot. That’s probably the biggest combat-related factor.
Besides, where would Marines string their second dog tag if they secured their boots with velcro?