The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) probably wouldn’t be blamed for not wanting to sail off the coast of Yemen. But in the wake of an attack on a Saudi frigate, the Cole is patrolling the waters near the war-torn country where she was attacked by a suicide boat in 2000.
That attack killed 17 sailors, wounded 39 and tore a hole in the hull that measured 40 feet by 60 feet. A 2010 Navy release noted that the Cole took 14 months to repair. That release also noted that the Cole’s return to Norfolk came through the Bab el Mandab, near the location where the Saudi frigate was attacked.
160710-N-CS953-375 The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mahan (DDG 72) and USS Cole (DDG 67) maneuver into position behind three Japanese destroyers during a photo exercise. USS Cole is in the center of the photograph. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Cole’s mission is to maintain “freedom of navigation” in the region. In the past, things have gotten rough during the innocuous-sounding “freedom of navigation” missions.
The region has already seen some shots taken at the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) on threeoccasions, prompting a retaliatory Tomahawk strike from the destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94). The attacks on the Mason, the Saudi frigate, and the former US Navy vessel HSV-2 Swift were blamed on Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels. The attacks on USS Mason used Iranian-made Noor anti-ship missiles, a copy of the Chinese C-802.
More than 100 midshipmen man the rails for a photo on the foícísle of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) during the 2016 Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) Surface week. USS Cole has deployed off the coast of Yemen, where the ship was attacked in 2000. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)
Iran has been quite aggressive in recent months, making threats to American aircraft in the Persian Gulf. There have been a number of close encounters between American ships and Iranian speedboats as well. In one case this past August, the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Squall (PC 7) fired warning shots at Iranian vessels. Last month, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) also was forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats.
The scene of the Italian Air Force display team performing their trademark final maneuver has gone viral, so much so President of the United States used it for a message of encouragement to Italy.
Italy is, after China, world’s most affected country by the Novel Coronavirus pandemic. The latest figures tell of about 2,500 tested positive to Covid-19 and more than 1,800 people deaths. For about a week now, the whole country is on lockdown to slow down the new infections and death toll and the Italians have relied on emotional flashmobs and social media initiatives to break monotony and lift spirits.
Among all the things that have been used to boost morale in this tough period, one has really emerged as a symbol of unity: the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian Air Force display team. A clip showing the Frecce’s ten MB.339A/PAN aircraft performing their final maneuver went viral quickly reaching well beyond the (virtual) borders of the Italian social media channels.
As aviation enthusiasts (especially those who attend airshows) know, the Frecce Tricolori display is constituted by an uninterrupted sequence of some thirty figures, the performance of which requires on average some 25 minutes. Following the performance of the first part of the programme with all ten aircraft, the solo display pilot detaches, alternating his own manoeuvres with the ones flown by the remaining nine aircraft. The display, which has a more or less fixed structure, but can occasionally be modified, always concludes with the Alona (Big Wing), the long curved flypast with a tricolour smoke trail by nine aircraft with undercarriage down, performed in harmony with the broadcasting of the voice of Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma”, the famous aria from the opera “Tourandot”.
The first time the team broadcasted the “Nessun Dorma” performed by Luciano Pavorotti during their final maneuver was in 1992 during the Frecce Tricolori’s second North American tour for the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Boosted by the experience accrued during their preceding overseas transfer, the Frecce Tricolori achieved a remarkable success with the public, flying, between Jun. 11 and Jul. 31, 1992, 14 displays and flybys in the USA and Canada. It was at that point, during “Columbus 92”, that the practice of broadcasting the famous aria became the norm: the “Nessun Dorma” was preferred to other musical pieces test-broadcasted during the displays carried out during the North American tour.
As an Italian who has watched the Frecce Tricolori perform their display hundreds times, that final maneuver that draws in the sky the longest Italian flag, always gives me shivers.
As said, the clip posted these days (that, based on the setting, was probably filmed at Jesolo, on the Adriatic coast near Venice, during one of the airshows held there in the last years), has gone viral. Some users on social media said the scene symbolized the end of the Coronavirus: the larger formation trailing a tricolor smoke encompasses the smoke trail of the soloist “virus plane”, turning it invisible. Whatever the meaning you give it, it’s the moving end of the Frecce’s display.
Even President Trump used the clip for a tweet of encouragement to Italy.
For those who don’t know them, the Italian Frecce Tricolori are one of the world’s most famous display teams. They also hold several records.
First of all the team’s size: the Italians are the only ones to fly with 10 aircraft.
Another peculiary which makes the Frecce (also known as PAN – Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale – Italian for National Aerobatic Team) unique is the fact that the whole display is executed in sight of the public. Separations, transformations and rejoins are always performed in front of the spectators, a circumstance which requires absolute preciseness in all phases of the display.
By the way: another record accomplished by the Frecce Tricolori is the fact that they separate into two formations (one flight of 5 and another of 4 aircraft) which then fly an opposition pass and subsequently rejoin in less than two minutes. Rejoin time is a factor that can influence deeply a flying display.
One more peculiarity of the PAN is the Downward Bomb Burst, a maneuver which has been part of the Pattuglia’s tradition since its creation, having been part of the Italian Air Force heritage for 90 years now. It is a maneuver in which the aircraft, starting from a high altitude and in formation, dive towards the ground and then separate into 9 individual elements which depart in different directions, finally returning for an opposition pass, at three different levels, over the same point. This is a very spectacular and complex manoeuvre, which no one else is capable of reproducing, especially due to the difficulty in opposition passing and rejoining in the very short time frames required for a display.
The other record of the Frecce Tricolori is tied to the Solo’s Lomçovak. This is a display which is typically executed by propeller aircraft, and foresees a “standing roll” followed by a vertical spin, reverse and subsequent aircraft pitch down. Such a manoeuvre is usually “outside the flight envelope” for most jet aircraft, but the PAN’s Solo pilot can execute it in complete safety, thanks to the outstanding handling capabilities of the MB.339.
The aircraft the team flies is the PAN variant of the single engine tandem seat training and tactical support aircraft. Apart from the livery, it differs from the standard model serving with the Aeronautica Militare’s 61° Stormo (Wing) at Galatina (Lecce) airbase by the presence onboard of the coloured smokes generation system; this device is controlled by two buttons: one on the stick, for white smoke, and one on the throttle for coloured smoke. The system is fed from an under wing fuel tank filled with a colouring agent which is discharged through nozzles placed in the jet exhaust. The agent, vaporised in the jet exhaust, produces a coloured trail. Another PAN aircraft peculiarity is that in order to enhance manoeuvrability along the aircraft longitudinal (roll) axis, and to reduce wing loading, it flies with no tip tanks. These are cylindrical 510 litre tanks which are only mounted on the aircraft for long-range ferry flights. They are replaced by an ad hoc wingtip fairing which covers the wingtip tank attachment points. Since 2002, the PAN also received Mid Life Updated MB.339s. This MLU programme has integrated the previous series models with updated structural features and avionics, such as GPS, formation flying position lights, a new V/UHF radio equipped with a new tail antenna, in addition to reinforced nose and tail. The MB.339 has equipped the PAN since 1982, when it replaced the FIAT G.91, a light fighter bomber aircraft which entered service with the Frecce Tricolori in 1963. The MB.339A/PAN will be replaced by the M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer).
Just a few years ago, Americans were stunned at the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico by the British Petroleum-leased oil rig Deepwater Horizon. On April 20, 2010, a blowout during the drilling of an exploratory well caused an explosion visible from 40 miles away that killed 11 of its crew.
Over nearly three months, the spill from the Deepwater Horizondumped 210 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Now a film about the disaster, “Deepwater Horizon,” is set to hit theaters Sept. 30.
Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, an electrician and Deepwater Horizon survivor, in a film that takes an in-depth look at the people who were working on the rig that night. Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, and Kate Hudson round out the ensemble cast.
We Are The Mighty met up with the cast – and the real Mike Williams – at the film’s premiere in New Orleans and talked with them about the film and the motivations behind it.
The conclusion featured an underwater game of cat and mouse between the Red October (a modified Typhoon-class submarine manned by a skeleton crew), the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Dallas (SSN 700), and the Sturgeon-class submarine USS Pogy (SSN 647) on one side against the Alfa-class submarine V.K. Konavolov.
As any fan of Tom Clancy novels knows, the Red October made it, and the Konavolov ended up on the bottom. But what would happen today?
Let’s start by updating the ships in question. Let’s replace the Typhoon with Russia’s new Borei-class SSBN. In one sense, we still get a very quiet, hard-to-detect vessel. While much smaller than the Red October (24,000 tons to 48,000), the Borei features pumpjet propulsion. This system has been used on British and American submarines for decades.
But the American submarines also will improve. Instead of a Flight I 688 like USS Dallas (now destined for the “Nuclear Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – a fancy way of saying scrapyard), we’ll use a Virginia-class SSN (let’s go with USS Illinois (SSN 786) for the sake of discussion. We’ll replace the Pogy (already “recycled”) with USS Connecticut (SSN 22), a Seawolf-class submarine.
Now, what do we replace the Alfa with? Back in 1984, the Alfa was a mystery. It was known to have high speed and a titanium hull. Today, we know two things about this alleged super-submarine.
First, the Alfa was louder than a teenager’s stereo system playing Metallica. Second, its sonars, like those on most Russian combat vessels, were crap. The successor to the Alfa was the Sierra-class submarine. While not as fast, it did feature a better armament suite (four 650mm torpedo tubes and four 533mm torpedo tubes compared to six 533mm tubes for the Alfa). It also was somewhat quieter (given the Alfa’s noise level, that’s easy to do).
How might that final confrontation go? Given what we know about the (lack of) performance Russian sonars were capable of, it is highly likely that the 2016 version of the Hunt for Red October would be far less, shall we say, novel-worthy. It’s highly probable that the Sierra would not even pick up the Borei-class Red October and her escorts. Perhaps, at most, USS Connecticut would fire a decoy or two – sending the Sierra on a wild goose chase.
Thus, the Soviets would never even know America had the Red October.
Officials revealed that the U.S. Navy is confident its carriers and other key strategic units can hold their own inside China’s growing anti-access zones in the Asia-Pacific region.
Anti-access, area-denial “is certainly a goal for some of our competitors, but achieving that goal is very different and much more complicated,” argues Adm. John Richardson in an interview with the National Interest, indicating that rival states with anti-access ambitions are struggling to develop weapons capable of permanently boxing out the U.S. military.
When questioned about whether or not U.S. carriers can survive rival anti-access A2/AD systems, Richardson reportedly responded with an adamant “Yes.”
The logic is that A2/AD weapons technology, while it has a fancy new name, is not a new concept. A2/AD weaponry is essentially long-range weaponry. Missiles are just the latest evolution of long-range weaponry, explains the National Interest.
China’s “keep out” diplomacy and projectile-based A2/AD defense systems are generally regarded as threats to the resurgence of American military power in the Asia-Pacific. China’s so-called “carrier killer” missiles are considered serious challenges to American naval and air operations in the Asia Pacific by military insiders.
China is building a missile wall to deter U.S. incursions into the South China Sea and the East China Sea — regions where China hopes to carve out a sphere of influence for itself.
China cannot compete with U.S. Naval and air power, so it uses missiles as a primary deterrent. Projectile weapons are much easier and cheaper to produce than advanced naval and air units. Anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), surface-to-air missiles (SAM), fast attack submarines, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems are the core components of China’s A2/AD strategy.
Richardson and Rear Adm. DeWolfe Miller assert that Chinese A2/AD zones are not “impenetrable domes.
Defense strategies using long-range weapons to deny access to superior forces has been a component of war for centuries, the military is factoring this into its calculations and strategies. That other countries are developing A2/AD technology is not a surprise.
Miller suggested that the A2/AD threat to the U.S. Navy was actually greater during the Cold War when the Soviets deployed countless Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfires and sent out numerous Omar-class cruise missile submarines to eliminate U.S. carriers. By comparison, China’s present A2/AD advancements are less threatening.
To counter potential A2/AD threats to U.S. Naval and air units at sea, U.S. carrier air wings, groups consisting of aircraft carriers and several aircraft detachments, are being outfitted with the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) battle network. This system allows any unit in the carrier air wing to act as a sensor or shooter for another unit.
Richardson and Miller expect the F-35C, a joint strike fighter, and the MQ-25 Stingray, an aerial refueling unit, to dramatically boost the strategic strike capabilities of U.S. carrier wings.
“When the F-35 enters the air wing, I think it’s going to be quite potent,” Rear Adm. Miller told the National Interest. “The F-35 is a quantum leap in air superiority,” he added.
The F-35C will likely be combined with the MQ-25 Stingray, the airborne early warning (AEW) E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, the Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, and the multipurpose F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter, as well as the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) to create an elite carrier wing capable of dealing with projectile weaponry and penetrating enemy anti-access zones.
Adm. Richardson and Rear Adm. Miller believe that U.S. aircraft carriers will remain viable well into the future, especially with the deployment of the improved Ford-class aircraft carriers.
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Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told a group of veteran advocates that he was cutting funding to a program that addresses veteran homelessness, according to a Dec. 6 report from Politico.
The conversation reportedly happened over the phone, with “advocates for veterans, state officials, and even officials from HUD” reacting to the news from Shulkin in outright anger.
The program, co-sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), allocates $460 million a year to housing homeless veterans. It seems to have been working, too, as veteran homelessness is down 46 percent from 2010.
Nevertheless, Shulkin determined that nearly $1 billion should be moved from “specific purpose” funds to “general purpose” funds. This means moving all of the funding used specifically to ameliorate veterans homelessness.
According to a Sept. 2 memo, the VA believes that money designated to specific programs, like addressing veteran homelessness, transplant programs, amputation care, and women’s health, would be better used in a general fund, leaving veterans hospitals to decide for themselves how to use the money. The memo states that the move is designed to support “the Secretary’s five priorities” and could be used for administrative things, like hiring more VA employees.
The memo does not state how each individual hospital must use its newfound funds. Rather, it simply notes that network directors will have control over how much (if any) to give to specific programs.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations responded to Shulkin’s plans to move the funds with a bipartisan, strongly worded letter signed by every member. In it, the committee reminded the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that his department had previously been extended the privilege of flexibility to move money without review because of its willingness to be transparent. That transparency, the letter argued, would all but disappear should Shulkin divert the specific purpose funds.
The letter closed with what seemed like a warning in the form of a suggestion: Stop, think, and before you do anything, submit to us a detailed “funding allocation plan” in the future.
It didn’t take long for Shulkin to shift gears and reverse his earlier statements. “There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs,” Shulkin wrote in a statement released Dec. 6.
However, Shulkin added, “we will not be shifting any homeless program money to the Choice program.” It is not immediately clear whether the Choice program is where Shulkin suggested the funds would go in his Dec. 1 phone call.
Upon further review of the VA’s budget brief, the department does, in fact, plan to cut funding from “certain Veterans’ benefit programs” to offset the cost of money borrowed from the nearly bankrupt Veterans Choice Program, a program designed to offer veterans medical care closer to where they reside.
The brief does not specify which programs will be cut.
Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee called on the Senate on Dec. 20, 2018, to vote on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans bill before the legislative body heads home for the holidays.
During a press conference, committee chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the ranking member and committee’s next chairman, pressed for a floor vote after an effort failed Dec. 19, 2018, in the Senate.
“There’s a joke that sometimes the enemy is not the other party, it is the Senate. They are not really the enemy, but they are being very difficult,” Takano said.
On Dec. 19, 2018, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, blocked a move to pass the bill, the Blue Water Navy, Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018, by unanimous consent. Lee wants to wait for a Department of Veterans Affairs report, due out in 2017, on whether health issues diagnosed in Blue Water veterans actually are related to Agent Orange exposure.
U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over agricultural land during the Vietnam War.
“The brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country should undoubtedly get the medical care they need in connection with their service. But … it’s also our duty to ensure that this is done in a prudent and proper way with all the relevant information available to us,” Lee said, speaking on the Senate floor on Dec. 19, 2018.
Lee’s objection, as well as concerns by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, over the bill’s estimated .2 billion cost over 10 years, was enough to block the bill in the Senate, where lawmakers hoped to pass it by unanimous consent, which would not require a floor vote of all senators.
But House members, who passed the bill 382-0 in June 2018, proposed that the Senate hold a floor vote.
Roe admitted that the existing studies that link health conditions in Navy veterans to Agent Orange aren’t definitive, but he added that it’s time to “move past that.”
“We’re this close to solving a decades-old problem for 90,000 of our colleagues. If we wait long enough, it won’t matter because they’ll all be gone,” Roe said.
The bill would provide compensation for veterans who served on Navy ships off Vietnam and have diseases that have been linked to Agent Orange in ground-based Vietnam veterans. These “Blue Water” veterans have pushed for years to get health care and compensation for their service-connected illnesses and disabilities.
In 2002, the VA ruled that veterans must have served on the ground in Vietnam to receive Agent Orange-related benefits; personnel who served on certain vessels that patrolled inland waterways also are eligible.
U.S. Army armored personnel carrier spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese rice fields during the Vietnam War.
Veterans and their advocates say the exclusion of personnel who served on ships offshore is unfair, as studies indicate that troops may have been exposed when they showered or drank water on their vessels that was distilled from contaminated sea water.
Under the House proposal, the cost of the bill would be offset by raising interest rates for VA home loans for active-duty service members. “I feel very comfortable that this bill is fully funded,” Roe said.
VA officials, however, have objected to the measure, saying it puts a burden on young active-duty troops as well as disabled veterans.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, pledged Dec. 19, 2018, that the Senate would take up the measure next year. “[These veterans] have been denied year after year. … Asking them to wait denies them justice. … These veterans very simply are passing away; they will be denied of these benefits owed them.”
The bill also would broaden coverage for veterans who served in the Korean demilitarized zone, where defoliants were tested, and also expand benefits to children with spina bifida caused a parent’s exposure in Thailand.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
To celebrate Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Vietnam War,” PBS and USAToday created a Vietnam War Draft Lottery calculator. Simply enter your birth month and day to find out if you would have been drafted for wartime service in Vietnam.
The calculator, of course, does not use your birth year because many of us were born well after the Vietnam War. For those born in 1950, however, being drafted in 1970 was a very real prospect. In today’s all-volunteer military, the idea of someone being forced into that lifestyle change can seem very bizarre. Most of the men who rotated through the country were volunteers, but a significant number were not.
Unlike World War II, there were no lines to sign up for service. And unlike the Civil War, there was no paying a substitute to take your place. But still, the perception existed that with money and connections, someone could avoid serving. So in an effort to make the draft more fair (or appear fair), a lottery was put in place.
Draft age men were assigned a number between 1 and 366, depending on their birthday. The lowest numbers were called first. This was all entirely at random.
Of course, that didn’t stop some of those who were called to service from further avoiding Selective Service. Some went to college or graduate school or faked medical conditions, while others fled to Canada. In all, half a million Americans dodged their Vietnam War service.
They were fugitives until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter ordered a general amnesty. Deserters, however, were not given amnesty.
Ken Burns’ film recalls the accounts of more than 100 witnesses to the war in what he calls a “360-degree narrative.” The 10-part, 18-hour documentary “The Vietnam War” is available for streaming on PBS.
How many ships does the U.S. Navy need to accomplish its goals? Tough to say. Sometimes it feels as though all I do is count ships and airplanes for a living. You’d think there would be no simpler chore than toting up rival navies’ strength and calculating who wins and who loses in sea combat. After all, it’s elementary-school arithmetic. But you would be wrong. Estimating relative naval strength is harder than tallying up numbers of hulls, airframes, and munitions.
And it’s harder by an order of magnitude.
That’s because high-seas competition is not a game of Battleship, an enterprise governed by rules and artificial constraints. Unlike the board game, sea combat doesn’t pit fleets of identical size and firepower against each other on a featureless oceanic battleground with fixed boundaries. Seldom are commanders intimately familiar with an adversary’s order of battle. No one exchanges fire in orderly fashion. Each side tries to pile up comparative advantages in numbers, capability, land-based fire support, and tactical excellence—biasing the outcome in its favor.
Few victors fight fair.
The multifaceted, ambiguous, impassioned nature of maritime war explains why experts still bicker about controversies such as how strong the Soviet Navy was. If the science isn’t settled about how an erstwhile foe matched up—if we can’t predict how some past conflict would have turned out, even after the facts are in—how likely are we to gauge future opponents’ strength accurately? How likely are we to calibrate our naval strength precisely, buying just enough forces and manpower to overcome foes without wasting taxpayer dollars?
Not very. And the consequences of discovering a shortfall could be dire. Better to field surplus capability rather than run a deficit that’s exposed only amid the din of battle—too late, in other words.
That rule—err on the side of excess naval power—applies in peacetime and wartime alike. Let’s look at peacetime nautical diplomacy first. Deterrence is the peacetime U.S. Navy’s chief purpose. After the navy faces down aggression, it does the wonderful things navies can do with freedom of the sea. Showing the flag in foreign seaports, alleviating human misery following natural disasters or other emergencies, scouring the sea of unlawful trafficking—such worthwhile endeavors depend on free use of the global commons.
Deterrence demands physical might, to be sure, but it’s about more than tabulating numbers of ships and warplanes. It’s about issuing threats and flourishing the wherewithal to follow through on them. Henry Kissinger defines deterrence as amassing heavyweight capabilities, displaying the resolve to use them, and convincing an opponent we have the resolve to use those capabilities should he defy our will. That’s a product, not a sum: if any factor is zero, so is deterrence.
It behooves naval officials and officers intent on deterrence to drive up those three variables—capability, will, belief—as high as possible. To impress rivals with one’s material prowess, heed a proverb from strategist Carl von Clausewitz: “The best strategy is always to be very strong; first in general, and then at the decisive point.” Sounds a bit like buy low, sell high, right? It’s common sense. Want to win a test of strength? Hie thee hence to Gold’s Gym and make yourself musclebound!
But like all good proverbs, this one’s at once simple and profound. Creating strong forces—making the nation’s military “very strong,” to repeat Clausewitz’s words—is the province of society and government. Lawmakers and government officials decide what kind of navy toprovide and maintain, and how abundantly to furnish it with manpower, equipment, and armaments. Once a fleet is fitted out, mustering sufficient might at the decisive place and time to stare down or vanquish adversaries becomes the province of sea-service commanders.
Deterrence, then, demands both forces in being and the artistry to harness them for operational and strategic effect. In a sense this is what Clausewitz calls a “war by algebra,” a passionless struggle whereby the correlation of forces determines the result. It’s war by the numbers. Whoever boasts the most and most potent implements of war tends to prevail—chiefly by persuading the opponent and bystanders the outcome would be a foregone conclusion were battle joined.
Or as strategist Edward Luttwak puts it, the victor in peacetime encounters is whoever observers think would have won in wartime. How can Washington convince onlookers it would win? Well, it could field a U.S. Navy of unchallengeable size and capability. A big, capable navy can deter even if the bulk of the fleet is dispersed, remote from hotspots, or both. The United States, that is, can discourage mischief if would-be aggressors know U.S. commanders can bring overbearing combat power to bear.
Virtual deterrence comes with a world-beating navy—if you can afford one. Let’s say a local antagonist outmatched an American naval detachment—say, the Japan-based Seventh Fleet. Deterrence might hold anyway if the antagonist were certain that the remainder of the U.S. Pacific Fleet would soon fight its way into the theater to reverse the result. If it were clear that any victory would be fleeting, he might refrain from provocative actions in the first place. Why bother?
Short of constructing an unbeatable navy, naval officials could concentrate an outsized fraction of a lesser fleet on the expanses that matter most. That would mean setting priorities among theaters, exercising the self-discipline to stick with them, and telegraphing them to foreign audiences that need deterring. It would also mean admitting that some theaters matter less, and letting allies and partners in secondary theaters know they’ll have to make do without Big Brother. Trying to be all things to all friends around the world is a hard habit to break for a superpower.
So much for the factors that muddle the process of fleet design. How big should the inventory be for peacetime purposes? Well, the number of hulls counts most in a war-by-algebra, whether they’re on scene or over the horizon. It conveys power and resolve. The more numerous fleet holds the advantage in a contest for political impressions. But size and even capability aren’t everything. Luttwak observes that a ship’s outward appearance can augment or detract from its political impact—especially its impact on lay audiences.
A fighting ship festooned with guns and missile launchers may make a political sensation, then. Its more lethal peer may underwhelm if its combat punch resides in flat, unobtrusive vertical launchers embedded in its decks. Ho, hum.
How much is enough, then? There’s no fixed rule or ratio. The quantity of assets, their fighting power measured in objective terms, and how darned awesome they look all shape the outcomes of peacetime showdowns. The narrower the U.S. Navy’s margin of superiority along any of these axes, the smaller its chances of deterring mischief. The more, better, and more impressive its platforms, the easier it is to make an antagonist a believer.
Next time we’ll return to this topic, considering how many ships the navy needs in times of strife.
Marine scout snipers are some lethal dudes. Capable of sending lead downrange with great accuracy, they’re also great for getting eyes on the battlefield for persistent reconnaissance. Here’s what makes them so deadly:
1. Yes, the Marines are masters of stealth, trained to stalk and hunt enemy troops or, more commonly, set up firing points to strike targets of opportunity and protect friendly forces.
2. To achieve this, they become masters of reading the terrain, ballistics, and tactics. These skills have to be combined to ensure that they can predict a target’s actions and engage it accurately.
3. Of course, they don’t have to rely on only their own weapons systems. The snipers can report enemy activity and request other fires such as artillery or aircraft to engage targets, keeping the sniper’s position secret.
4. Spotters usually handle the duties of conducting calls for artillery or close air support, and they also help the sniper find and engage targets by scanning the battlefield and relaying environmental information like wind speed and range.
5. Like any good Marine, the scout snipers can arrive on the battlefield in a number of ways, from riding in on the waves in AAVs to fast roping out of Ospreys.
6. Rucking in can give them a much stealthier insertion. The spotter will assist carrying the ammo for the sniper.
7. The Marines can engage the enemy with a variety of long-range rifles.
8. The M40 is one of their most commonly-deployed weapons.
9. And of course, the Barrett M82 .50-cal. sniper rifle is so powerful you could kill a building.
10. To properly employ all this lethality, scout snipers stay super fit.
11. Look at these guys. Carrying rucksacks. Drinking from Camel Baks.
12. Scout snipers are always there for you. Or maybe right behind you. Or possibly 1,000 meters front of you. They’re so stealthy, you can’t actually be sure. But they can kill you from practically anywhere.
An Austrian firm has just debuted a new big-bore, bolt action rifle that could become a player in a new program to outfit U.S. special operations troops with an updated long-range sniper rifle.
A new company in the market, Ritter Stark is making precision modular rifles from the ground up, using an innovative rifling technology and a barrel attachment system that virtually guarantees zero with optics matched to the caliber. Its SX-1 MTR chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum answers Special Operations Command’s original call to provide commandos with a new “Advanced Sniper Rifle” that could be quickly reconfigured to several calibers and be deadly accurate each time.
The Ritter Stark SX-1 MTR is built from the ground up for precision. It’s modular barrel system includes chamberings in .338 Lapua Magnum, .300 WinMag and .308. (Photo from Ritter Stark)
What sets Ritter Stark apart from the competition is the novel way in which its SX-1 changes caliber. Most manufacturers have an interchangeable barrel that slides into the receiver and is attached to the action with a barrel nut or similar method. Ritter Stark built theirs with the barrel attached to the Picatinny-railed upper receiver and it’s secured to the lower through simple hex bolts on the handguard.
“The caliber change takes a maximum of three minutes and you don’t have to take it to a gunsmith to do it, you can just use a hex wrench,” said Ritter Stark Deputy Managing Director Ekaterina Trakham during the 2016 Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington, D.C.
The SX-1 can be switched to a .300 WinMag chambering, a .308 chambering and the .338 Lapua Magnum option. Reports indicate, however, that SOCOM has modified its ASR requirement for a .300 Norma Magnum chambering.
Like other high-end military sniper rifles, the SX-1’s bolt locks inside the barrel for increased accuracy. And the company uses a proprietary “electrochemical” process to rifle its barrels, with company officials saying a .338 barrel is good for 5,000 rounds and a .308 can take 10,000 rounds before needing a replacement.
The SX-1 also has a three-position safety that’s optimized for military and police applications, with two standard “fire” and “safe” positions, and a third one that not only blocks the firing pin but locks the bold handle down.
“We have a lot of experience working with security detail snipers who patrol the perimeter, and they’re usually asked to engage the safety when they’re on target,” said Ritter Stark sales director Alexandr Chikin.
The SX-1 trigger also has a flip safety located under the trigger guard to limit movement that could give away a sniper’s position and also blocks it when the rifle needs to be safed.
Company officials say the rifle should be commercially available within the next few months and cost around $6,000 for the .338 variant and $5,000 for the .308 one.
The largest buyer of America’s most expensive weapons program just declared it ready for war.
“I am proud to announce this powerful new weapons system has achieved initial combat capability,” US Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, said on a call with reporters.
“The F-35A will be the most dominant aircraft in our inventory because it can go where our legacy aircraft cannot and provide the capabilities our commanders need on the modern battlefield,” Carlisle said.
Of the sister-service branches, the Air Force has been the most bullish on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II’s combat capabilities.
The 15 Air Force F-35A jets, and 21 combat-mission-ready pilots from Hill Air Force Base’s 34th Fighter Squadron, represent a significant breakthrough for the weapons program, which began development 15 years ago and has been offset by design flaws, cost overruns, and technical challenges.
Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program’s executive officer, said that the Air Force’s decision to declare the F-35A’s initial operational capability (IOC) “sends a simple and powerful message to America’s friends and foes alike, the F-35 can do its mission.”
“The roads leading to IOC for both services were not easy and these accomplishments are tangible testaments to the positive change happening in the F-35 program,” Bogdan said.
As the Air Force is buying nearly 70% of the fifth-generation jets being made domestically — 1,763 of 2,443 aircraft — the Air Force sets the economies of scale for the tri-service fighter, with each plane costing a cool $100 million.
Lockheed Martin, considered a bellwether for the US defense sector, is expected to generate nearly a fifth of its $50 billion in 2016 sales solely from the F-35 program.
In the company’s latest quarter, the defense giant posted net sales in its aeronautics business up 6%, or $244 million — compared to the same period in 2015.
The Pentagon’s top weapons supplier is also building the “jack of all trades” aircraft for the UK, Turkey, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Israel, Japan, and South Korea.
Even though the Air Force is operating the oldest fleet in its history, it’s not the first of the sister-service branches to declare its variant combat-ready.
“There were a lot of people out here in the press that said, ‘Hey, the Marines are just going to declare IOC because it would be politically untenable not to do that,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, said during a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on the readiness and future trajectory of Marine aviation.
“IOC in the Marine Corps means we will deploy that airplane in combat. That’s not a decision I was gonna take lightly, nor Gen. Dunford,” Davis said, referring to Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
The US Navy variant, the F-35C, is scheduled to reach IOC by February 2019.
The 18,000 Marines and sailors who landed on the island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll in the Pacific Ocean early on Nov. 20, 1943, waded into what one combat correspondent called “the toughest battle in Marine Corps history.”
After 76 hours of fighting, the battle for Betio was over on November 23. More than 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and nearly 2,300 wounded. Four Marines received the Medal of Honor for their actions — three posthumously.
Of roughly 4,800 Japanese troops defending the island, about 97% were killed. All but 17 of the 146 prisoners captured were Korean laborers.
“Betio would be more habitable if the Marines could leave for a few days and send a million buzzards in,” Robert Sherrod, a correspondent for Time, wrote after the fighting.
The victory at Tarawa “knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific,” Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific fleet, said afterward.
Four Marines carry a wounded Marine along the cluttered beach to a dressing station for treatment after fighting on Tarawa eased.
(US Marine Corps Photo)
Hundreds were left unidentified and unaccounted for
Because of environmental conditions, remains were quickly buried in trenches or individual graves on Betio, which is about a half-square-mile in size and, at the time of the battle, only about 10 feet above sea level at its highest point.
Navy construction sailors also removed some grave markers as they hurriedly built runways and other infrastructure to help push farther across the Pacific toward Japan.
The US Army Graves Registration Service came after the war to exhume remains and return them to the US, but its teams could not find more than 500 servicemen, and in 1949, the Army Quartermaster General’s Office declared those remains “unrecoverable,” telling families that those troops were buried at sea or in Hawaii as “unknowns.”
Over the past 16 years, however, Betio, now part of Kiribati, has yielded some of the largest recoveries of remains of US service members.
That work has been led by History Flight, a Virginia-based nonprofit and Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency partner that’s dedicated to finding and recovering missing US service members.
“History Flight was started in 2003, and we’ve been researching the case history of Tarawa since 2003, but we started working out there 2008,” Katherine Rasdorf, a researcher at History Flight, told Business Insider on Thursday. “We had to do all the research and analysis first before we went out there.”
The first individual was found in 2012. That was followed by a lost cemetery in 2015 and two more large burial sites in 2017 and 2019, Rasdorf said.
In 2015, History Flight found 35 sets of remains at one site, including those of US Marine 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.
In July 2017, the organization turned over 24 sets of remains to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for identification.
Osteologists with History Flight excavate a grave site from the battle of Tarawa at Republic of Kiribati, July 15, 2019.
Those are the largest recoveries of missing US service personnel since the Korean War.
Using remote sensing, cartography, aerial photography, and archaeology, History Flight has recovered the remains of 309 service members from Tarawa, where the organization maintains an office and a year-round presence, Mark Noah, president of History Flight, told a House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a hearing on November 19.
Seventy-nine of those discoveries were made during the 2019 fiscal year, Noah said, adding that History Flight’s recoveries are 20% of the DoD’s annual identifications.
Archaeologists with History Flight excavate a grave site from the battle of Tarawa, in the Republic of Kiribati, July 15, 2019.
(US Marine Corps photo Sgt. Melanye Martinez)
“Many of them were underneath buildings, underneath roads, and houses,” Noah told lawmakers of remains on Betio, noting that they are often discarded, covered up, and accidentally disinterred — the first two Marines his organization recovered on Tarawa in April 2010 were displayed on a battlefield tour guide’s front porch.
Today, 429 servicemen killed at Betio remain unaccounted for, Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz, deputy director of the DPAA, said when at least 22 servicemen returned to the US in July.
Hero’s welcome for those returned home
Those discoveries have allowed the sailors and Marines who died at Tarawa to finally return home.
Joseph Livermore, a 21-year-old Marine private when he was killed by a Japanese bayonet on November 22, 1943, was given a hero’s welcome in his hometown of Bakersfield, California, where his remains were buried on November 15.
A thousand people lined the streets for Livermore’s return, Noah said.
Service members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency fold flags on transfer cases on a C-17 Globemaster, in Tarawa, Kiribati, Sept. 27, 2019.
Pvt. Channing Whitaker, an 18-year-old from Iowa killed in a Japanese banzai attack on the second day of the battle, was buried with full military honors in Des Moines on November 22. His remains returned to the US in July.
In History Flight’s experience, more than 50% of those recovered had living brothers, sisters, and children at their funerals, Noah told lawmakers this week.
“The recovery of America’s missing servicemen is a vital endeavor for their families and for our country. What we are accomplishing in recovering the missing is putting a little bit of America back into America,” Noah said.
An island nation ‘facing annihilation’
While hundreds of servicemen likely remain on Betio, environmental conditions there may soon make finding them even harder.
Kiribati, one of the most isolated countries in the world, is also one of many Pacific Island nations likely to be unlivable in a few decades due to the effects of climate change.
More than half of Kiribati’s nearly 120,000 residents live on South Tarawa, just east of Betio. Rising sea levels are a particular threat to densely populated country. Exceptionally high tides and sea-water incursions threaten the fresh water under the atolls.
Many of the graves located by History Flight are below the water table, meaning workers had to pump water from the sites each day to excavate.
“When it’s rainy season, it’s very difficult to do archeology, because the locations fill with water and we have to come up with drainage solutions that are not impacting the highly populated areas and … reroute [the water] to places where it’s not infringing on their clean drinking water,” Rasdorf said.
On the whole, History Flight’s day-to-day work has not been greatly affected by changing environmental conditions, Rasdorf said, but others in Kiribati have called for drastic action in response to the threat of climate change.
Anote Tong, Kiribati’s president from 2003 to 2016, bought nearly 8 square miles of land to potentially relocate to in Fiji, about 1,200 miles away from Kiribati, for nearly million in 2014.
His purchase was decried by some as a boondoggle and alarmist, and his successor took office in 2016 planning to shift priorities and making no plans for people to leave. But Tong continues to sound the alarm.