Photo by Bob Hall, also a public affairs specialist for the Columbia VA Health Care System.
Two ladies are alive today thanks to the quick action of five police officers from the Columbia VA Health Care System.
On Oct. 5, Columbia VA Police officers Major Calvin Rascoe and officers Colt Clark, Ronald Turner, Robert Evans and Shawn Bethea were returning to the Columbia VA from training. Rascoe observed fire and smoke coming from a vehicle traveling north on Interstate-77. The driver and passenger were unaware of the fire coming from the undercarriage of their car.
Rascoe activated his vehicle’s blue lights and siren to get the driver’s attention to pull over. The police officers quickly jumped into action to save the two ladies in the car.
Clark and Turner led the ladies to a safe area away from the car. Turner called 911 to request fire and emergency rescue and Bethea took care of traffic control.
Took three extinguishers to put out the fire
With the ladies safely rescued from the car, Rascoe and Evans attempted to put out the fire. Rascoe emptied a five-pound fire extinguisher on the engine and undercarriage and Evans emptied a second 2.5-pound extinguisher to battle the fire on the engine.
With flames still blazing from the undercarriage, Rascoe grabbed a third fire extinguisher and finally extinguished the fire just as the Lexington Fire Department and local Emergency Management Service arrived on the scene.
Pictured above are VA Police officers (l-r) Major Calvin Rascoe and officers Colt Clark, Shawn Bethea, Ronald Turner and Robert Evans.
Followed their training
“Our focus was to save the two ladies in that burning car,” Rascoe said. “I appreciate these guys 100 percent. They did an impeccable job. They reacted and did what they are trained to do to make sure people are safe. I believe if God had not placed us there at that particular moment, the outcome would have been tragic.”
David Omura, Columbia VA Health Care System director, said “The heroic work our great police service does inspires me. I hope that if I am ever driving down the road and I have an emergency, like my car being unexpectedly on fire, the VA Police are there to save the day.”
A month later, Malaysia — another major economic ally, and home to many ethnic Chinese — ignored Beijing’s requests to deport a group of Uighurs imprisoned in the country.
Most prominently, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a consortium of 57 countries which calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world” — noted in December 2018 “disturbing reports” of China’s Muslim crackdown.
It said it hoped China “would address the legitimate concerns of Muslims around the world.”
Pakistan’s federal minister for religion, Noorul Haq Qadri, in 2017.
(FLBN / YouTube)
In countries where world leaders haven’t stood up to China, there are prominent protests.
Prominent politicians and religious figures in Indonesia — the country with the highest proportion of Muslims in the world — are urging the government to speak up. It has so far refused to do so,saying it that it didn’t “want to intervene in the domestic affairs of another country.”
People have been particularly vocal in Kazakhstan, as many ethnic Kazakhs are said to be imprisoned in the China’s camps. The government in June 2018 said “an urgent request was expressed” over the welfare of Kazakhs detained in China, but there have not been any significant updates.
Western powers like the US, UK, and UN have criticised Beijing over its actions in Xinjiang in the past.
But the criticism of Muslim nations shows a turning tide in the world’s attitude to China, said Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director.
China has long batted away Western criticism, with state-run Global Times tabloid describing Western critics as “a condescending judge” in 2018. China’s foreign ministry said a reported investigation by western diplomats into the Uighur issue was “very rude.”
Richardson said: “When governments like Indonesia or Malaysia … or organizations like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation speak up, China can no longer dismiss concerns about Xinjiang being some kind of Western conspiracy.”
“That’s very encouraging.”
The world is paying attention
The rising tide of outrage against China comes as more and more of the country’s human rights record was brought to light in 2018.
In summer 2018 journalists, academics, and activists were taken aback by the disappearance of the Chinese “X-Men” actress Fan Bingbing, who Chinese authorities detained and kept from the public eye for three months over accusations that she evaded taxes.
The New York Times also featured a story about the Xinjiang detention camps on its front page for the first time in September 2018:
Richardson said: “Increasingly, governments are seeing the way in which China uses thuggish tactics at home and overseas on governments and citizens, and are starting to realize it’s time to push back against it.”
“Three months ago, if you were to tell me there would be critical language coming out of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, I would have suggested it was unlikely,” she said.
Next comes action
Muslim countries’ speaking up against China over the Uighurs is a significant first step, but is not likely to do much by itself.
Countries now need to take concrete action to punish or persuade China to end their crackdown on the Uighurs, Richardson said.
“The question now is what everybody is willing to do,” she said. “Talking and putting in consequential actions are two different things. That’s where the game shifts next.”
Countries will also have to be “mindful that China will fight it tooth and nail,” she added.
Members of the Muslim world could demand independent access into Xinjiang to investigate reports of the detention camps, for example.
Another form of punishment could come in the form of sanctions, or cancelling contracts.
Richardson, the Human Rights Watch director, noted that the latest spate of accusations against China came at a time when multiple Muslim countries started reassessing their economic ties with Beijing.
Demonstration in Berlin for Uighur human rights.
Malaysia axed billion of Beijing-backed infrastructure projects August 2018. Egypt’s talks with a Chinese building company for a billion development also broke down this week, Bloomberg reported. Neither of those cancellations were over the Uighur issue.
A group of US bipartisan lawmakers in November 2018 introduced the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (“Uyghur” is an alternative spelling). The act urges the White House to consider imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the Uighur crackdown, as well as banning exports of US technology that could be used to oppress Uighurs.
Chinese cash could be hard to quit
Whether Muslim countries follow suit remains to be seen, however. China is the largest trading partner of 20 of the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, according to Bloomberg.
Pakistan, whose religious minister criticized China’s Uighur crackdown in 2018 is also one of the largest recipients of Chinese aid and infrastructure contracts.
In December 2018 its foreign ministry rowed back the religious minister’s comments, accusing the media of “trying to sensationalize” the Xinjiang issue, Agence France-Presse reported.
Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, also appeared to echo Beijing’s line on the detention camps, saying that some Pakistani citizens who were detained in Xinjiang were “undergoing voluntary training” instead.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Every day, I am so thankful to live this Coast Guard life and to interact with our incredible members and families. I’m fortunate to know the unique and valuable service that the Coast Guard provides to our country — and, I hope that after reading this, you will too!
The Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and the only military organization within the Department of Homeland Security.
The U.S. Coast Guard is simultaneously and at all times a military force and federal law enforcement agency dedicated to maritime safety, security, and stewardship missions.
The Coast Guard is one of the oldest organizations of the federal government, and until the Navy Department was established in 1798, we served as the nation’s only armed force afloat.
The origins of the Coast Guard date back 1790 – this August 4th marked the Coast Guard’s 228th birthday. From our earliest days as the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service — to today, as the Coast Guard, our service has always been Semper Paratus (Always Ready) to serve our Nation.
USCGC Northland in Greenland, 1944.
(US Coast Guard)
The Coast Guard has served in every war and major conflict since our founding.
The Coast Guard has a long and distinguished history of service. During the Quasi-War with France, the first “war” fought by the United States, revenue cutters first upheld the new nation’s dignity on the high seas. On April 12th, 1861, the Revenue Cutter Service cutter Harriet Lane fired the first naval shot of the Civil War. During World War II, the Coast Guard made the first capture of enemy forces by any U.S. service when the cutter Northland seized the Norwegian vessel Buskoe off the coast of Greenland. During Operation Desert Storm, a USCG tactical port security boat was the first boat to enter the newly reopened harbor in Kuwait City, Kuwait. And, just recently, the CGC Nathan Bruckenthal was commissioned in honor of fallen Coast Guard hero, Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal.
The Coast Guard deploys.
As you read this, Coast Guard service members are “standing the watch” — often far from home. Depending on the assignment, members may be gone for several months to a year or more. Many of our members will depart on patrols multiple times per year.
The Coast Guard serves all over the world.
The Coast Guard protects and defends more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways, and safeguards an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) encompassing 4.5 million square miles stretching from North of the Arctic Circle to south of the equator, from Puerto Rico to Guam, encompassing nine time zones — the largest EEZ in the world. The Coast Guard has personnel assigned to eight DoD Combatant Commands and often has presence on all seven continents and the world’s oceans.
U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Miller, foreground, displays a forward weapons posture during a tactical weapons handling exercise with the visit, board, search and seizure team aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81).
The Coast Guard is a unique, multi-mission, maritime military force.
The Coast Guard manages six major operational mission programs: Maritime Law Enforcement, Maritime Response, Maritime Prevention, Marine Transportation System Management, Maritime Security Operations, and Defense Operations. And these six mission programs oversee 11 Missions codified in the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
The Coast Guard does a lot in one day.
On an average day, the Coast Guard: conducts 45 search and rescue cases; saves 10 lives; saves over id=”listicle-2593975624″.2 million in property; seizes 874 pounds of cocaine and 214 pounds of marijuana; conducts 57 waterborne patrols of critical maritime infrastructure; interdicts 17 illegal migrants; escorts 5 high-capacity passenger vessels; conducts 24 security boardings in and around U.S. ports; screens 360 merchant vessels for potential security threats prior to arrival in U.S. ports; conducts 14 fisheries conservation boardings; services 82 buoys and fixed aids to navigation; investigates 35 pollution incidents; completes 26 safety examinations on foreign vessels; conducts 105 marine inspections; investigates 14 marine casualties involving commercial vessels; facilitates movement of .7 billion worth of goods and commodities through the Nation’s Maritime Transportation System.
The Coast Guard is small, but mighty!
With approximately 40,992 active duty members and 7,000 reserve members, the Coast Guard is the smallest branch of the armed forces, but everyday I am in awe of the incredible things that our members accomplish. I couldn’t be more proud.
Crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter Smilax render honors during the Queen of the Fleet ceremony.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelly)
The oldest cutter in active service, Coast Guard Cutter Smilax, was commissioned on November 1, 1944.
As the oldest commissioned cutter, Smilax proudly carries the title the “Queen of the Fleet” and a gold hull number. What an amazing testament to the talented individuals who maintain our assets!
America’s Coast Guard is Ready, Relevant, and Responsive.
Learn more about our Commandant’s Guiding Principles here.
BONUS: The Coast Guard has a Disney connection.
Walt Disney drew the logo for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Corsair Fleet during World War II (featuring Donald Duck). Walt Disney also created a special design for the Coast Guard Cutter 83359.
A third Chinese aircraft carrier is in development at a domestic shipyard, Chinese state media revealed Nov. 25, 2018, confirming for the first time long-held suspicions.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency explained that while the country’s first domestically-produced carrier — the Type 001A — is going through sea trials, an unnamed “new-generation carrier” is being built and is on schedule, the government-controlled China Daily reported Nov. 26, 2018.
China’s first aircraft carrier — the Type 001 Liaoning — is a Soviet “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser” that China acquired in the late 1990s, upgraded and refitted over roughly a decade, and commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in 2012.
The flagship of the Chinese navy was declared combat ready in 2016. It has since sailed around Taiwan, through the disputed East and South China Seas, and into the Western Pacific.
The Liaoning, primarily a training vessel as China attempts to better understand complex carrier operations, also served as a template for China’s second carrier.
Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning.
While the Type 001A is improved in certain places, it is decidedly similar to its Soviet predecessor. The vessel does, however, feature a new radar, a slightly larger flight deck, and a smaller island. The ship also includes a number of technological upgrades.
The carrier has undergone at least two sea trials, possibly a third. Observers expect the carrier to be commissioned into the PLAN in October 2019 for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
There is speculation among expert observers that China’s newest aircraft carrier, which some refer to as the Type 002, will be a marked improvement over the Type 001 and Type 001A.
While the first two use ski jump-assisted short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) launch systems, which are less effective, the new carrier may be a ship with a flat flight deck and a catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch system, as this is certainly something China aims to eventually achieve.
The development of a carrier with a CATOBAR launch system would be a significant step forward for the Chinese navy, as it would improve the operational effectiveness of the ship. Leaked images from the company tasked with building China’s carriers suggested that this may be where China is heading.
An advanced fleet of aircraft carriers supported by new Type 055 Renhai destroyers and other upgraded escort ships would greatly improve China’s ability to project power in its neighborhood.
Chinese state media has confirmed that a third carrier is in the works, but it has yet to provide any specific details on the new ship.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Legal jockeying is continuing between a top Russian opposition leader and the chief of the country’s national guard, disappointing everyone who was hoping they would settle their differences in martial combat after the head of the National Guard really, actually, apparently sincerely challenged the opposition politician to an old-fashioned duel.
Alexei Navalny, the head of the Russia of the Future Party and the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, received a duel challenge from the head of the country’s national guard. The general in command said he was going to beat this beautiful face into mincemeat.
(MItya Aleshkovskiy, CC BY-SA 3.0)
In Post-Soviet Russia, military defends itself (and, allegedly, its tens of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains).
If you haven’t heard about the quarrel, it all started when Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russia of the Future Party, noticed that the head of the Russian National Guard seemed to be living well beyond his apparent means while the government was paying exorbitant prices for supplies for the armed services.
Navalny tends to get arrested anytime he accuses someone too senior of corruption — arrests which the European Human Rights Court view as politically motivated in every case they’ve reviewed about Navalny — and he was subsequently arrested soon after making the accusations against Zolotov.
Putin’s ex bodyguard says he can make mincemeat out of Alexei Navalny
(It’s important to note that, even assuming that the August 2018 arrest was political, it could’ve been for other political reasons than the accusations against Zolotov. Navalny is always angering Putin by pointing out corrupt practices, and there are usually four or five political reasons for the Kremlin to jail him at any time.)
In September, while Navalny was in prison, Zolotov challenged his accuser to a duel at any place. While our sources say that trial by combat isn’t a thing anymore, even in Russia, admit that you would pay to watch a possibly-corrupt general fight his political opponent. Zolotov reportedly said that he would beat Navalny into mincemeat within minutes.
Fortunately for pedants and unfortunately for blood-seekers, Navalny accepted but specified that the weapons would be words.
Yeah, he answered a challenge of a duel by accepting it as a debate. Dangit, Navalny, you may be a social-media savvy anti-corruption activist, but you have no idea how to entertain the crowd at a coliseum. We want blood.
President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering businessman Philip Bilden to serve as Secretary of the Navy. Bilden is somewhat of a surprise choice as former Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) and current Representative Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) were seen as front-runners for the position.
According to a report by USNI News, Bilden spent nearly two decades living in Hong Kong as an investment banker. Prior to that, he was with HarbourVest in Boston and served ten years as an intelligence officer in the Army Reserve, reaching the rank of captain.
The Washington Examiner notes that Bilden has served on the Asia Advisory Council for the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association, and has been on the Asia Pacific Advisor board for Harvard Business School. The EMPEA web site notes that Bilden received a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Naval Academy Foundation.
The potential nomination received heavy criticism from the web site BreakingDefense.com. Editor Colin Clark wrote that “contributions to the Naval Academy Foundation, Naval War College Foundation and to the GOP, including Mitt Romney’s failed campaign” were used by Bilden to become a player.
Retired Admiral James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, praised the potential pick, telling USNI News that Bilden “is a man of extraordinary expertise on maritime and nautical affairs. He is an expert on Asia and understands, in particular, China very deeply.”
Trump’s national security team also included retired Marine general James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, retired Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn as national security advisor, and Vincent Viola, a former Army officer who owns the NHL Florida Panthers as Secretary of the Army.
For the first time in over a decade, the US Air Force is publicly acknowledging it runs an air war out of Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.
The US embassy in country recently worked with Emirati counterparts to make the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing — an Air Combat Command-run unit at the base — known, officials told Military.com.
Military.com first spoke with members of the 380th on a trip to the Middle East earlier this summer on condition the name and location of the base not be disclosed, and that full names of personnel not be used due to safety concerns amid ongoing air operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
While the 380th was established at the base on Jan. 25, 2002, the US military has had a presence on the base for approximately 25 years. The base is home to a variety of combat operations.
In addition to housing one of the largest fuel farms in the world, the wing houses such aircraft as the KC-10 tanker; the RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude drone; the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS, aircraft; the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane; and the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet.
Together, these aircraft carry out missions such as air refueling, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, ground attack, air support, and others.
The 380th also runs its own intel analysis and air battle-management command and control center known as “The Kingpin.”
Like moving chess pieces, “Kingpin has the [air tasking order] — they’re talking to people on the ground, they’re making sure these airplanes are provisionally controlled, getting them back and forth to tankers … they’re talking to the [Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar], they minimize the fog and friction for the entire [area of responsibility]” in US Central Command, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th AEW and an F-22 pilot.
Meanwhile, the general was candid about what the US mission could be after ISIS is defeated in Iraq and Syria.
Corcoran said, “We’re fighting an enemy — ISIS — in another country — Syria — where there’s also an insurgency going on, but we’re not really invited to be” a part of that, he said. “But we can’t leave it to the Syrians to get rid of ISIS, because that wasn’t working, right? So it’s really an odd place to be.”
He added, “We know … we’re going to defeat ISIS. Their days are numbered. What next?”
Got a sore throat or a sprained ankle and don’t want to go to a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital? Got sick at 8:00 on a Friday night and don’t want to wait until Monday to see a VA doctor? A new VA program may be for you.
As of June 6, 2019, the VA offers medical care to eligible veterans at selected civilian urgent care facilities nationwide.
Dr. Jake Williams, Veterans Affairs dentist, poses for a photo January 9, 2017, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)
This is an expansion of the VA’s Mission Act, which itself was an expansion of the Veterans Choice Act. The Choice Act was passed in 2014 as the result of highly publicized problems with veterans not being able to get appointments at VA hospitals in a timely manner.
Under this new expanded program, veterans are eligible to get limited urgent care from civilian doctors regardless of how close they are to a VA facility.
The Wichita Veterans Administration Hospital, also called the Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Wichita, Kansas, located at 5500 East Kellogg Avenue in Wichita, Kansas.
If you are enrolled in the VA health care system and have received VA medical care within the last 24 months, you should be eligible for this program. However, you should contact your local VA medical facility before visiting a civilian urgent care provider. Only certain services and providers are covered under this new benefit. If you visit a provider that isn’t part of the program, or you get medical treatment that isn’t covered under this program, you may end up paying out-of-pocket.
You don’t have to go to a civilian doctor if you don’t want to. The VA says that most of its locations, including hospitals and community-based outpatient clinics, offer same-day services for most situations.
You should contact your local medical office to check your eligibility. Or you can call (866) 606-8198. You can also find civilian community-care locations near you at https://www.va.gov/find-locations/.
Audie L. Murphy Veterans Administration Hospital in San Antonio, TX
One way this program differs from regular VA medical care is that you may have to make a co-payment to see the civilian doctor. The amount depends on your VA Priority Group and how many times you visit civilian doctors each year. Typically, you get three free visits each year.
Co-Payments for Office Visits
Priority Groups 1-5. There is no co-payment for the first three visits during a calendar year. For all subsequent visits, the co-payment is .
Priority Group 6. If the visit is for medical treatment related to combat and chemical exposures such as Agent Orange; contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, NC; Gulf War Syndrome, etc., as well as some mental illnesses, there is no co-pay for the first three visits during a calendar year. For all subsequent visits, the co-payment is . If the visit is not related to these conditions, the co-payment is per visit, for all visits.
Priority Groups 7-8. The co-payment is per visit.
There is no co-payment for any Priority Group for flu shots.
Co-Payments for Prescriptions
If you get a prescription from an urgent care center, you should fill it at a VA network pharmacy. If you go to an out-of-network pharmacy, you will have to pay the full price at the drug store and then file a claim with the VA to get your money back.
If you are given a prescription for what the VA considers routine or maintenance drugs (such as blood pressure or cholesterol drugs), you will have to get those filled by the VA.
“It would be illogical to continue to concentrate our forces on a few large ships. The adversary will quickly recognize that striking while concentrated (aboard ship) is the preferred option. We need to change this calculus with a new fleet design of smaller, more lethal, and more risk-worthy platforms.”
Basically, the old ways of landing Marines are really old and need to be updated – because even the most poorly armed insurgents can take down one of those old amphibs.
Gen. Berger sees
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger’s first big move in his new post is to offer a stinging critique of the way Marines operate in amphibious landings. He issued a 26-page document to his lower commanders that calls the current method of moving Marines to shore aboard slow-moving amphibious vehicles and helicopters “impractical and unreasonable” and “not organized, trained, or equipped to support the naval force” in combat.
The Navy’s requirement for Marines to make their way to the shore uses 38 lumbering amphibious ships that are waiting offshore once the fighting begins. The new Commandant thinks that modern defenses such as China’s anti-air and anti-ship net in the South China Sea make this strategy impractical and risky.
“We must divest of legacy capabilities that do not meet our future requirements, regardless of their past operational efficacy,” Berger wrote.
Gen. Robert Neller passes the Marine Corps flag to the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David H. Berger
General Berger earlier called for Marines to have long-range fires that can operate from a ship or shore-based batteries that can fight other sea or shore-based batteries while giving amphibious ships time and room to maneuver. The Commandant is concerned that the way the Corps operates now will be detected and contested by any potential enemy waiting to kill a few thousand Marines before they can land on its beaches.
The entire ethos is outlined in the 38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance (CPG) document and focuses on his five priority areas: force design, warfighting, education and training, core values, and command and leadership. In the CPG, Gen. Berger sums up his vision in bold letters:
“The Marine Corps will be trained and equipped as a naval expeditionary force-in-readiness and prepared to operate inside actively contested maritime spaces in support of fleet operations.”
Five years after a proof-of-concept mission, the MQ-9 Reaper drone has developed into a key asset in California’s fight against wildfires, including the Carr and Mendocino Complex Fires, which are currently burning in Northern California.
“It’s a technology I never thought I’d see,” said Jeremy Salizzoni, a fire technical specialist with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection who was embedded with the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing at March Air Reserve Base, California, during 2013’s devastating Rim Fire.
More than 250,000 acres burned in August 2013 as the Rim Fire raged in Tuolumne County, California. At the time, it was the state’s third largest wildfire on record. More than 100 structures were lost in the blaze, which took nine weeks to fully contain.
An aircrew from the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing flies an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft during a mission to support state agencies fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California, Aug. 4, 2018. The aircrew conducted fire perimeter scans and spot checks on the blaze, which encompasses the Ranch and River fires.
(California Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman)
Eleven days after the Rim Fire started, the wing launched a first-of-its kind mission to overfly the fire with an MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted reconnaissance aircraft and beam back real-time video footage of the fire to Salizzoni and wing intelligence analysts working in an operations facility at March.
Through the Predator’s footage, Salizzoni, who was used to driving for hours through rugged terrain to access overlook points and put eyes on the leading edge of a fire, could see any area of the fire he wanted, in real time and without ever leaving the operations facility.
The remotely piloted aircraft’s thermal imaging camera provided a view of the fire unlike anything he’d ever seen. Traditional aerial assets are important, but encounter limitations due to smoke, fuel, altitude and field of view, he said.
“It was such a dramatic change from anything I’d seen in my career,” Salizzoni said. “It was like being blind and then having vision in the blink of an eye.”
He and his colleagues knew they had a new tool in their firefighting toolbox.
“We saw things over the course of that fire that you couldn’t have made up,” Salizzoni said. “I don’t think there’s a better intel resource at our disposal right now.”
During its eight-day emergency activation for the Rim Fire, the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing — the unit’s name at the time — logged more than 150 hours of fire support and was credited with helping firefighters expedite containment.
MQ-9 Reaper RPA
In the five years since, the 163rd Attack Wing has changed its name and the kind of airplane it flies, but one thing hasn’t changed: the wing’s dedication to domestic disaster response missions right here at home.
RPAs are no longer just trying to prove their worth, said Air Force Maj. Mike Baird, the senior intelligence officer at the 163rd Attack Wing. The wing’s MQ-9 Reaper RPAs — a big-brother to the recently-retired Predators — are an in-demand incident awareness and assessment asset preferred by California’s civil authorities when disaster strikes.
The wing has supported more than 20 wildfires since 2013, but it takes more than just airplanes, Baird said. Keeping California safe takes a wing-wide effort.
“What we’ve been doing behind the scenes from maintenance and communications to refining our deployment and personnel processes has led up to our ability to provide an unprecedented level of MQ-9 support,” Baird said.
The wing provided real-time full motion video support over a number of fires in 2017, including California’s most destructive fire on record and also its largest fire to date. More than 5,600 structures were damaged and 22 lives were lost during the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County in October. Two months later, in December, the Thomas Fire ravaged Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to become the state’s largest fire on record with more than 280,000 acres burned.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class James Thompson)
Innovation on the Fly
The wing works to refine its techniques and procedures, and works to expand the detailed real-time incident awareness and assessment data it provides to incident commanders. Innovation on the fly is the name of the game.
An investment by James G. Clark, director of Air Force innovation, and Air Force Col. Chris McDonald from the disruptive innovation division in Clark’s office, helped the wing’s Hap Arnold Innovation Center develop a specialized network to push and pull data from RPAs and other data-generating assets from civilian and military organizations.
The network’s customizable data sets — coupled with the RPAs’ real-time thermal imagery — provide incident commanders and first responders a common operating picture they can access from anywhere, anytime.
RPAs proved “an opportunity for people to make tactical and objective based decisions on real time information,” Salizzoni said.
As the Rim Fire nears its fifth anniversary, RPAs are once again in the sky, flying through smoke to deliver data and protect Californians as wildfires ravage the state.
By July 31, the 163rd was on its fifth fire of the summer.
Throughout July, the wing flew nearly 350 hours to support civil authorities working the County, Klamathon, Ferguson, Carr, Mendocino Complex and Eel fires, and is credited with helping to protect thousands of structures in the process. The MQ-9 provided near real-time full motion video and frequent fire-line updates to decision makers determining where to build up future containment lines.
It’s a marathon pace, but the wing’s airmen up for it, said Air Force 1st Lt. Frank Cruz, officer in charge of the 163rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, whose unit provides direct support for the MQ-9’s around-the-clock fire operations to aid civil authorities.
“Everyone is 100 percent on board,” Cruz said. “They’re all-in.”
Days later, another Flanker mimicked the move over the same waters, zooming in front of a P-8 and exposing the sub hunter aircraft to its jet exhaust.
Top U.S. officials in Europe and the Defense Department said the incidents involved Russian pilots behaving in an unsafe, unprofessional manner. Experts argue that, while the intercepts expose a pattern of behavior from the Russian military, they also show that Russia is willing to capitalize on the publicity the aerial maneuvers bring, even during a global pandemic.
The Russian military “feels as if it’s necessary to let everybody know that they’re still on the world stage, that they’re still on the scene, and that they have pretty good military power,” said retired Gen. Frank Gorenc, the former commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Gorenc, an F-15 Eagle pilot, headed the command during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, when the U.S. sent sophisticated aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor to the theater in show-of-force missions to deter Russian aggression.
“It’s not only the pandemic, which obviously is keeping the western countries occupied, but also the oil [crash] too,” he said in an interview this week.
In recent weeks, Russia, one of the world’s leading oil exporters, was also hit by the unprecedented collapse in the market for crude oil.
“Declining powers have to do [something],” Gorenc said.
Opportunity to Go Viral
Unlike the Cold War, when pilots would return to their squadron and file a debrief of an aerial intercept, then simply move along to their next mission, being buzzed or barrel-rolled is gaining more visibility with the help of social media, said Doug Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.
“You know, it goes kind of viral,” Barrie said. “So you wonder if there’s an element of that, of how it plays on social media and in wider Western media, whether or not if it’s valuable.”
Notably, the recent incidents involved Russia’s multi-role Su-35 fighter jet, which has received improvements over the last few years — a significant upgrade from other aircraft used in past intercepts, such as the Su-27 Flanker or the Su-24 Fencer, Barrie said.
“It’s perhaps unsurprising that these aircraft have been bumped into [the rotation] more often than we’ve previously seen them; the imagery of the Flanker is great,” he said.
“The Su-35 is a highly capable airplane that they produce,” Gorenc added. “They’re obviously … trying to sell it. And this is a good way to show it off.”
Gorenc stressed that, while these incidents tend to flare up once in a while, pilots need to stick to the rules of engagement and try to be as predictable as possible.
The 1972 bilateral Russia-U.S. agreement “Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas,” followed by Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA), are accords that establish basic “rules of the road” for both countries to safely navigate near one another.
Holding Russia accountable for its behavior in international airspace can be tricky, Barrie explained. “To some extent, these things are difficult to kind of legislate around because it really comes down to the units, the pilots [and their behavior],” he said.
More often than not, intercepts are conducted in a safe manner, but errors happen because of a loss of communication or a human or technical mistake, officials have said.
For example, then-Gen. Petr Pavel, the former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, told reporters in 2018 that most aerial scrambles are seen as “routine.”
“From time to time, we can see some measures as provocative, especially in the areas that we exercise … both to the ships and in the air,” he said. “But it’s up to the captain [or pilot] to judge if it’s dangerous or not.”
Last week, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO supreme commander and head of U.S. European Command, described the first incident on April 15 as the result of “unprofessional” conduct by a Russian fighter pilot acting on his own, rather than a deliberate attempt by Moscow to provoke an incident.
“My conclusion at this point is that it was probably something more along the lines of unprofessional as opposed to deliberate,” Wolters said April 16.
“Given the unpredictability, you have to make sure that you maintain a safe distance and don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they even see you, because they may not see you,” Gorenc said.
Not Backing Down
Like the U.S., it’s unlikely that Russia will back down from what it sees as military priorities despite the pandemic, Barrie said.
“We’re not completely dissimilar. … You can see the messaging coming out of these NATO nations, including the U.S., which says, ‘OK, we recognize a pandemic is an enormous problem … but [we’re still] taking care of the day-to-day national security needs,'” he said.
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. military should be mindful that rivals like Russia will look to test any weaknesses among the U.S. and its allies during the coronavirus crisis.
“We are postured and maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice,” he said.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper renewed the message. “Our adversaries are not standing down,” he said. “We will continue to make sure that the [Defense Department] is ready to protect the USA.”
Barrie added: “The Russian Su-35 incident, in part, is simply a reflection of that [response]. It is simply a reflection of Russia doing what it does.”
A retired Navy SEAL wounded in the search for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who walked away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009, testified about the harrowing firefight that ended his career.
Speaking at Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing Oct. 25, Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch choked up when describing how enemy combatants shot a trained dog that was with the team before shooting him just above his right knee.
“I really thought that I was going to die,” Hatch said.
Hatch walks with a limp after undergoing 18 surgeries to repair his leg.
The former Navy SEAL, forced to retire from the military after nearly 26 years of service because of injuries sustained while searching for Bergdahl, said he had known days before that the search was going to be hazardous.
“Somebody’s going to get killed or hurt trying to get that kid,” he recalled saying to his teammates.
Trump motion still pending
The hearing started with a surprise, as the judge, Colonel Jeffery R. Nance, said he was not yet ready to rule on the defense’s argument that recent comments by President Donald Trump had made a fair hearing impossible.
“I’m still considering it,” Nance said.
The defense has argued that the president seemed to endorse previous assertions, made when he was a presidential candidate, that Bergdahl was a traitor and deserved execution. As commander in chief, he is the superior officer of all the military officials responsible for disciplining Bergdahl.
Questioned by reporters last week about Bergdahl, Trump said he couldn’t say more on the case, “but I think people have heard my comments in the past.”
Last week, Bergdahl pleaded guilty at a court-martial hearing to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The latter carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing is expected to extend into next week.
The U.S. Air Force recently awarded a $96-million contract to Raytheon to produce more Miniature Air-Launched Decoys, missiles that can be launched from jets or dropped out of the back of C-130s to simulate the signatures of most U.S. and allied aircraft, spoofing enemy air defenses.
Two Miniature Air-Launched Decoy missiles sit in a munitions storage area on Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, March 21, 2012. The missiles can dress themselves up like nearly any U.S. or allied aircraft and can fly pre-programmed routes.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony)
The missiles, which Raytheon calls “MALD® decoy,” can fly 500 nautical miles along pre-programmed routes, simulating missions that strike aircraft would fly. Modern variants of the missile can even receive new flight programming mid-flight, allowing pilots to target and jam “pop-up” air defenses.
To air defense operators on the ground, it looks like a flight of strike aircraft are coming in. So, they fire off their missiles and, ultimately, they kill nothing because their missiles are targeting the Air Force-equivalent of wooden ducks floating in a pond.
Meanwhile, real strike aircraft flying behind the decoys are able to see exactly where the surface-to-air missiles and radar emissions are coming from, and they can use anti-ship and anti-radiation missiles to destroy those defenses.
The Raytheon missiles are the MALD-J variant, which jams enemy radars and early-warning systems without degrading the illusions that make the decoy system so potent. This leaves air defenders unable see anything except for brief glimpses of enemy aircraft signatures — which might be real planes, but could also easily be MALDs.
The missile is a result of a DARPA program dating back to 1995 that resulted in the ADM-160A. The Air Force took over the program and tested the ADM-160B and, later, the MALD.
The Air Force began fielding the missile in 2009 and they might have been launched during attacks against Syria while emitting the signatures of Tomahawk cruise missiles, but that’s largely conjecture. In fact, it’s not actually clear that the MALD can simulate the Tomahawk missile at all.
Two Miniature Air-Launched Decoy missiles wait to be loaded onto a B-52H Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Ma 14, 2012. The B-52H crew can communicate with the missiles in flight and change the flight patterns to engage newly discovered enemy air defenses.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)
Meanwhile, the Navy commissioned the MALD-N, a networked version of the missile, for their use.
Whether or not the missiles were employed in Syria, they represent a great tool for defeating advanced enemy air defenses, like the S300 and S400 from Russia or the HQ-9 and HQ-19 systems from China. While the missile systems and their radars are capable, possibly of even detecting stealthy aircraft like the B-1s and B-2s, they can’t afford to fire their missiles and expose their radars for every MALD that flies by.
At the same time, they also can’t afford to ignore radar signatures emitted by MALDs. They have little chance of figuring out which ones are decoys and which ones are real planes before the bombs drop.