For Veterans Day, the Call of Duty Endowment held the Race to Prestige. Five gamer personalities – GoldGloveTV, TmarTn, Jeriicho, Hutch, and VernNotice – played Call of Duty: Black Ops III for 96 hours straight in a live stream marathon. The goal? To help veterans get high quality jobs.
The Call of Duty Endowment helps veterans find high quality careers by supporting groups that prepare them for the job market and by raising awareness of the value vets ring to the workplace.
Activision matched the donations raised by gamers from all over the Internet. The event collected $450,000 for the endowment. Navy veteran and Executive Director of the Call of Duty Endowment Dan Goldenberg lauded the goal-breaking fundraising, “Our goal initially was to raise $25,000 and they blew that away in the first two hours… basically, every $600 puts a vet in a job.”
By that math, the event raised enough money to help 750 veterans find great, long-term employment.
Despite persistent power shortages, North Korea is reportedly selling electricity to China for cash.
The deal, which reportedly began on Feb. 9, 2018, will see China pay between $60,000 and $100,000 a month for power generated by a hydroelectric dam close to the border between the two countries, according to Seoul-based news outlet Daily NK.
“The Supong Hydroelectric Generator in Sakju County is providing the energy to a Chinese factory that produces fire proofing materials. The [North Korean] authorities are accepting payments in the form of cash,” a source in the local North Korean province told Daily NK.
The source also said the export project has been named “The January 8 Fund,” after the birthday of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. His father, Daily NK reported, also had a similar project that earned foreign currency named after his birthday on Feb. 16.
According to Daily NK, North Korea’s usual priority is to first power “idolization sites” for the country’s two previous leaders, government organizations, and munitions factories, before civilian homes or buildings.
Fewer than one-in-three North Koreans have access to electricity, the World Bank estimates, and nighttime satellite images show what that looks like for most of the country.
Unsurprisingly, the Sakju generator doesn’t provide electricity for ordinary citizens, rather it reportedly usually powers a munitions factory, meaning military production could be affected by the power sale to China.
The desire to reroute electricity away from a munitions factory indicates how desperate sanctions have made Pyongyang to earn foreign currency.
Vietnam claims that a Chinese ship rammed and sank a fishing boat near the disputed Parcel Islands in the South China Sea, while Beijing tells an entirely different story.
The Vietnamese ship was struck by a Chinese vessel marked 44101 near Discovery Reef on March 6, 2019, Vietnam’s official Tuoi Tre newspaper reported March 7, 2019, citing Vietnamese authorities. The Vietnamese National Committee for Incident, Natural Disaster Response and Search and Rescue told VN Express, another Vietnamese outlet the same thing.
The five crew members reportedly clung to the bow of the sinking fishing boat until they were rescued roughly two hours later by another Vietnamese fishing boat.
An Vietnamese official speaking on background confirmed the report to the Associated Press.
Vietnamese fishing boats.
(Flickr photo by Joe Gatling)
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman argued that China detected a distress signal from a Vietnamese fishing vessel and dispatched a ship to assist, explaining that upon arrival, the Chinese ship discovered a vessel that was already sinking, the Chinese-language version of the Global Times reported.
Rather than provide assistance, the Chinese vessel reportedly contacted the Chinese Maritime Search and Rescue Center. Chinese media reports that the five fishermen were rescued, without providing any details on who rescued them.
None of the crew were injured in the incident.
The Paracels are a sore spot in bilateral ties between China and Vietnam. China seized these territories by force in the 1970s and has since constructed military outposts on a number of the features in this area.
In recent years, there have been several confrontations.
For example, Vietnam claimed in 2014 Chinese vessels encircled a Vietnamese fishing boat before ramming and sinking it. China argued that the Vietnamese ship was harassing the Chinese vessels. A similar incident occurred two years later.
China has clashed with other countries as well, including the US. In September 2018, a Chinese destroyer challenged a US Navy vessel during a routine freedom-of-navigation operation in the Spratlys, forcing the US warship off course and risking a collision.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
New satellite photography from the South China Sea confirms a nightmare for the U.S. and champions of free navigation everywhere — Beijing has reinforced surface-to-air missiles sites in the Spratly Islands.
For years now, China has been building artificial islands in the South China Sea and militarizing them with radar outposts and missiles.
Related: China says it will fine U.S. ships that don’t comply with its new rules in South China Sea
China has not yet deployed the actual launchers, but Satellite imagery shows the new surface-to-air missile sites are buildings with retractable roofs, meaning Beijing can hide launchers, and that they’ll be protected from small arms fire.
“This will provide them with more capability to defend the island itself and the installations on them,” said Glaser.
Nations in the region have taken notice. Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay told reporters that foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) unanimously expressed concern over China’s land grab in a resource-rich shipping lane that sees $5 trillion in commerce annually.
The move is “very unsettlingly, that China has installed weapons systems in these facilities that they have established, and they have expressed strong concern about this,” Yasay said, according to the South China Morning Post.
But Chinese media and officials disputed the consensus at ASEAN that their militarization had raised alarm, and according to Glaser, without a clear policy position from the Trump administration, nobody will stand up to China.
“Most countries do not want to be confrontational towards China … they don’t want an adversarial relationship,” said Glaser, citing the economic benefits countries like Laos and Cambodia get from cooperating with Beijing, the world’s third largest economy and a growing regional power.
Instead, U.S. allies in the Pacific are taking a “wait and see” approach to dealing with the South China Sea as Beijing continues to cement its dominance in the region and establish “facts in the water” that even the U.S.’s most advanced ships and planes would struggle to overcome.
According to Glaser, China has everything it needs to declare an air defense and identification zone — essentially dictate who gets to fly and sail in the South China Sea — except for the Scarborough Shoal.
“I think from a military perspective, now because they have radars in the Paracels and the Spartlys,” China has radar coverage “so they can see what’s going on in the South China Sea with the exception of the northeastern quarter,” said Glaser. “The reason many have posited that the Chinese would dredge” the Scarborough Shoal “is because they need radar coverage there.”
The Scarborough Shoal remains untouched by Chinese dredging vessels, but developing it would put them a mere 160 miles from a major U.S. Navy base at the Subic Bay in the Phillippines.
Installing similar air defenses there, or even radar sites, could effectively lock out the U.S. or anyone else pursuing free navigation in open seas and skies.
While U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of being tougher on China, a lack of clear policy has allowed Beijing to continue on its path of militarizing the region where six nations claim territory.
“For the most part, we are improving our relationships. All but one,” Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, said at a military conference on Tuesday.
China’s fight against the deployment of a battery of Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense missiles has now expanded to the deployment of hip-hop.
No, you didn’t read that wrong – China’s now using a rap video as a form of public diplomacy against the ballistic missile defense system, according to a report by the New York Times. The video seems to be bombing, with less than 50,000 views on YouTube.
The video, in English and Chinese, urges South Korea to reconsider the system’s deployment.
Dubbed “CD Rev,” the rap group is based out of Sichuan, China, and has done other videos in support of Beijing’s government — including one on that country’s claims in the South China Sea, a maritime flashpoint involving five other countries, as well as a video celebrating the legacy of Mao Tse-Tung.
A London Daily Mail report from 2011 noted that Mao was responsible for at least 45 million deaths during “The Great Leap Forward,” a brutal attempt to shift the country from an agricultural-based economy to an industrial one.
The deployment of THAAD has drawn sharp criticism from China – and the reactions have included hacking that targeted the South Korean company that allowed the battery of missiles to be placed on a golf course it owned. The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs was also hacked. China has also been blocking videos of South Korean artists, particularly from the K-pop genre.
South Korea recently elected Moon Jae-in, who has favored diplomacy with North Korea, as President after the impeachment and removal from office of Park Geun-Hye.
The THAAD battery, consisting of six launchers that each hold eight missiles along with assorted support vehicles, was deployed to South Korea to counter the threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missiles. According to ArmyRecognition.com, the system has a range of over 600 miles.
The United States has other options to shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile, including the sea-based RIM-161 Standard SM-3. The system is considered far more capable than the MIM-104 Patriot systems that the United States, Japan, and South Korea have deployed.
When you think of men and women in uniform during the holiday season, it’s often a soldier in red from America’s Salvation Army ringing a bell in a call for aid to those in need.
But another service working to bring joy into the lives of those less fortunate has been at it for nearly 70 years, working day and night to solicit and distribute donated toys for young kids who may not have the benefit of a joyful holiday.
The Marine Corps Toys for Tots program was established in 1947 by then-California Marine Reserve Maj. Bill Hendricks and was formally adopted by the Marine Corps a year later.
Officially run by Marine reservists and with help from their Navy brethren, in the years since its founding, Leathernecks have been collecting donations and distributing toys to deserving children throughout the country.
In 2015, Marines distributed 18 million toys to 7 million kids in 782 communities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. And Toys for Tots has become as much a Marine Corps tradition as its legendary warfighting capability.
To get a sense of the importance of the program to the Corps, take a look at the video below.
So, you’ve been navigating the vast ocean of civilian life, all while growing an impressive beard and wearing that veteran’s hat to places. Suddenly, one day, you get a letter — orders for Individual, Ready Reserve Muster. But at this point, you’ve been out for so long, and you’re wondering why they’re calling you back. Well, the Marine Corps wants to check in and make sure you’re still ready to be called back into active service should they need you back in the rain, dealing pain.
It may seem like an inconvenience and, sure, it might be, but it’s really not that bad. It’s only a few hours on the weekend, and you can choose to go in the morning or the afternoon. On top of that, you’ll get paid somewhere around $250, for three hours of time. You might show up and hear a bunch of fellow Marines complain, but it’s not a field op. It’s not raining. You just sit in a few rooms, fill out some paperwork, and then you’re on your way.
Overall, here’s what you can expect:
It almost brings a tear to your eye. Almost.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lucas Vega)
You get treated like a human being
There’s going to be a ton of staff NCOs and officers hanging around muster. None of them are going to yell at you for your lack of shave, haircut, or proper greeting of the day. Not a single one will hit you with a, “hey there, Devil Dog,” just to chew your ass for not saying good morning.
Furthermore, when you talk to the admin clerks and other Marines running the muster, they won’t even require you to address them by rank. Here’s the thing: they know you’re a Marine, but they actually just treat you like another person, which is an improvement.
Waiting in lines
Did you expect anything different? Most of your time at muster will be spent in lines… go figure. Waiting to leave rooms, waiting to have someone look at a medical form, etc. You know the drill. Honestly, it’s not as bad as any other line you’ve been through in the Marines. Not even close.
The only thing that makes those lines bad is the fact that you’re trying to get out of there to go do civilian things, like eat real food, not shave, and not worry about formation.
It’s seriously not bad.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Daniel Hughes)
No, not your underpants — you know what we mean. You’re going to get two briefs for a max of, like, 20 minutes, tops. One is from the VA and the other is to tell you about your options in the Reserve. It’s definitely not anywhere near as bad as annual training briefs, which span the course of several days, and last for about eight hours each.
Right after you go through the briefs, you’ll fill out a medical form to list any ailments you may have. If you do have some medical issues, you’ll wait to go into a room for a screening where they’ll decide whether or not you’re still in good enough condition to deploy if necessary. Otherwise, you go straight to the administrative room.
It doesn’t take long, honestly.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Daniel Hughes)
This part probably takes the longest, and it’s mostly just waiting (again, go figure). You’re just there to verify that your contact information is correct as well as your Record of Emergency Data and other things. It’s just a quick scan, sign, date, and then you verify your bank information, turn in the paperwork, and you’re out of there.
A lot of other people might complain but, realistically, IRR Muster is not the worst thing you could do on a Saturday — especially when you compare it to your Saturdays spent as a Marine.
Nearly 900 sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp were “cleansed of their slime” Nov. 25 after participating in the age-old ceremony of crossing the equator.
The “crossing-the-line” ceremony is an exclusive maritime experience from the days of hardened sailors aboard wooden ships courageously venturing out into the unforgiving environment of the open ocean.
The tradition holds that when King Neptune, a mythical god of the sea, detects an infestation of “pollywogs” — those who have not crossed the equator before — he deems it necessary to take control of the ship to rid it of this plagued condition. A “shellback” is a sailor who has previously crossed the line, and the most senior shellback aboard the ship plays the role of King Neptune in the ceremony.
Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas Kreindheder, who earned the title of shellback in 1993, was King Neptune for the Nov. 25 ceremony.
Ceremony Has Evolved
“The ceremony has changed a lot since I went through,” he said. “Our ceremony lasted 48 hours, and it was more of an initiation than a camaraderie event. Our goal with this ceremony was to make sure the sailors were challenged both mentally and physically, but were also smiling and laughing the whole way through. The photos of the event prove that we accomplished that goal.”
Wasp pollywogs were guided through a series of physically and mentally challenging obstacles, led by the 137 shellbacks aboard. Upon completion, pollywogs were summoned by King Neptune and his royal court and relieved of their slime, successfully completing their journey to shellback.
‘A Cool Experience’
“It was a cool experience,” said Navy Airman Apprentice Skyler Senteno. “I was skeptical at first. But there were a lot more events than I thought, and I really enjoyed it. It was an honor to be part of the tradition and become a shellback.”
The crossing-the-line ceremony traces its origin to a time when such a feat was a grave undertaking. Today’s technology allows sailors to be more at ease with their sea travels. Even then, the time away from family, especially around the holidays, can take its toll.
“Ceremonies like crossing the line are invaluable for the crew. They instill pride and a sense of accomplishment that links Sailor to those that have gone before us,” said USS Wasp Command Master Chief Petty Officer Greg Carlson. “The ceremony has evolved to over the years to one of teamwork and unity, which allows sailors to craft memories that they will cherish forever.”
Wasp is transiting to Sasebo, Japan, to conduct a turnover with the USS Bonhomme Richard as the forward-deployed flagship of the amphibious forces in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
Richard Overton, a 112-year-old World War II veteran who lived to be the oldest American man, was laid to rest Jan. 12, 2019, at a historic cemetery in his hometown of Austin following days of tributes.
The grandson of slaves, Overton volunteered to join the Army in his 30s and served in the 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion, an all-African American unit. He deployed to the Pacific Theater from 1942-45 with stops in Guam, Palau, and Iwo Jima.
Overton left the Army in 1945 at the rank of corporal. He went on to work in furniture sales and later in the state treasurer’s office when future Texas Gov. Ann Richards headed the agency, according to a Stars and Stripes article.
He will be buried at the Texas State Cemetery, the final resting place for many notable Texans, including Richards.
Richard Overton, a World War II veteran who lived to be the oldest American man, presents the game ball before the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 9, 2016.
(Photo by Sgt. Bethany L. Huff)
Before his death on Dec. 27, 2018, Overton was believed to be the second oldest living man in the world at 112 years and 280 days old, according to data by the Gerontology Research Group.
On Jan. 9, 2019, both U.S. senators from Texas introduced a Senate resolution to honor Overton.
In it, the resolution called Overton “an American hero that exemplified strength, sacrifice, and service to the United States of America.”
In recent years, the supercentenarian was honored at several ceremonies and sporting events.
He visited the White House multiple times and, in 2013, then-President Barack Obama spoke of him during a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
“When [WWII] ended, Richard headed home to Texas, to a nation bitterly divided by race,” Obama said in his speech. “And his service on the battlefield was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home. But this veteran held his head high.”
Richard Overton, a World War II veteran who lived to be the oldest American man, meets with President Barack Obama before a Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11, 2013.
(White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Earlier that year, Obama said the veteran visited Washington, D.C., for the first time as part of an honor flight. During the trip, he paid his respects at the WWII Memorial. He also saw the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
“As Richard sat in a wheelchair beneath that great marble statue, he wept,” Obama said. “The crowd that gathered around him wept, too — to see one of the oldest living veterans of World War II bear witness to a day, to the progress of a nation he thought might never come.”
On Jan. 3, 2015, Overton represented the Greatest Generation at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, where he presented the game ball before the annual high school football all-star game.
Then on March 23, 2017, the San Antonio Spurs brought a 110-year-old Overton down to the basketball court during one of its NBA games and gave him a personalized jersey with “110” on it.
In 2017, the City of Austin also officially renamed the street where Overton lived to “Richard Overton Avenue.”
While in his 100s, Overton was still known to drive his own car and mow his lawn. In a 2013 interview with CNN, he credited God for living such a long life that included a few vices.
“I drink whiskey in my coffee. Sometimes I drink it straight,” he said at the age of 107. “I smoke my cigars; blow the smoke out. I don’t swallow it.”
The cartoon mocks those promoting fake treatments to ward off the coronavirus, including drinking camel urine and inserting violet oil in the anus, under the guise of Islamic medicine.
It appeared to suggest that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is supportive of such measures, depicting him as a nurse who is calling for silence.
Hard Hit By Coronavirus
Iran has been one of the hardest hit countries in the Middle East by the coronavirus pandemic. It has officially recorded more than 91,000 confirmed cases and just over 5,800 deaths, though critics believe those numbers may be far higher given the lack of transparency and media freedom in the country.
A man who had posted online a video of himself drinking a glass of camel urine was detained last week after the video went viral and many Iranians mocked him on social media.
The New York-based Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Iranian authorities should immediately drop their investigations into Heydari and Haghjoo and let them work freely.
“At a time when prisons are petri dishes for the COVID-19 virus, Iranian authorities should cease locking up journalists for trivial offenses like allegedly sharing a cartoon,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said in an April 27 statement.
“Hamid Haghjoo should be released immediately, and authorities should drop any investigation into him, Masud Heydari, and all other journalists at the Iranian Labor News Agency [ILNA],” he added.
Criticism of Khamenei is a red line in the Islamic republic where the Iranian leader has the last say in all state matters.
Iranian leaders have called on citizens to follow health protocols and social-distancing measures aimed at containing the deadly outbreak that has killed over 5,800 and infected more than 91,000 Iranians, according to official figures. Real numbers are believed to be significantly higher.
The Senate voted Jan. 18 to extend a controversial surveillance program for six years, ending months of debate over a law that has been the linchpin of post-9/11 U.S. national security.
The bill essentially reauthorizes Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the U.S. government to collect the communications of foreigners overseas without a warrant, even if Americans’ communications are picked up and searched by officials along the way.
The measure passed 65-34, with support from Republicans and Democrats.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the extension into law by Jan. 19, despite reservations he expressed in a tweet last week.
Before the vote Jan. 18, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina called the 702 provision “the single most important intelligence tool that exists for us to keep Americans safe.”
Opponents say the program allows the government to sweep up Americans’ communications under the guise of targeting foreigners abroad. Privacy rights advocates argue that this so-called “incidental” collection doesn’t happen by chance.
“Individual decision making about whom to target is warrantless,” Sarah St. Vincent, a surveillance researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Business Insider. “There’s no oversight on a case-by-case basis. The FBI can warrantless search data, and they can do that at any stage, even if a formal investigation is not open.”
On Jan. 16, the Senate voted 60-38 to invoke cloture on the bill, effectively ending debate and moving forward with a vote. A bipartisan group of senators, including Rand Paul, Ron Wyden, Steve Daines, Patrick Leahy, and Elizabeth Warren, held a press conference shortly after the decision to urge their colleagues to support a warrant requirement to search Americans’ data.
“Most of us agree the program has value and is useful, but we should not use information that is collected on Americans,” Paul said. “The database is enormous. Maybe millions of Americans are caught up in this database.”
Paul has consistently railed against the law arguing that it violates Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights.
Trump tweets, confusion ensues
Just hours before the House was set to vote on the bill last week, Trump interjected in the debate with a tweet that appeared to contradict the official White House position, setting off confusion on Capitol Hill as to where the president stands on the issue.
“‘House votes on controversial FISA ACT today,'” Trump tweeted. “This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?”
An hour later, after House Speaker Paul Ryan privately explained the importance of the bill to Trump, the president attempted to clarify his position.
“With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land,” he tweeted. “We need it! Get smart!”
Section 702 became law in 2008 when Congress amended FISA rules. The public was left mostly in the dark about warrantless surveillance until 2013, when former National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden leaked an estimated 1.7 million classified intelligence files, covering a wide range of secret government surveillance tactics and programs.
The files revealed that Section 702 was being used to justify the PRISM program, which allowed the government to collect communications from tech companies.
The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified Hercules tasked with various types of signals surveillance, interdiction, and disruption. According to the U.S. Air Force official fact sheets, “the Compass Call system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (or EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.”
The USAF EC-130H overall force is quite small, consisting of only 14 aircraft, based at Davis-Monthan AFB (DMAFB), in Tucson, Arizona and belonging to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) and its two squadrons: the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons (ECS). Also based at DMAFB and serving as the type training unit is the 42nd ECS that operates a lone TC-130H trainer along with some available EC-130Hs made available by the other front-line squadrons.
The role of the Compass Call is to disrupt the enemy’s ability to command and control their forces by finding, prioritizing and targeting the enemy communications. This means that the aircraft is able to detect the signals emitted by the enemy’s communication and control gear and jam them so that the communication is denied. The original mission of the EC-130H was SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses): the Compass Call were to jam the enemy’s IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) and to prevent interceptors from talking with the radar controllers on the ground (or aboard an Airborne Early Warning aircraft). Throughout the years, the role has evolved, making the aircraft a platform capable of targeting also the signals between UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and their control stations.
According to the official data:
The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft. The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict. COMPASS CALL’s adaptability is directly attributed to its spiral upgrade acquisition strategy guided by the Big Safari Program office and Air Force Material Command’s 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron based in Waco, Texas. Combined efforts between these agencies ensure the EC-130H can counter new, emergent communication technology.
The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology. It is highly reconfigurable and permits incorporation of clip-ins with less crew impact. It promotes enhanced crew proficiency, maintenance and sustainment with a common fleet configuration, new operator interface, increased reliability and better fault detection.
Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Clip-in capabilities are now integrated into the operating system and, utilizing automated resource management, are able to be employed seamlessly with legacy capabilities. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.
Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a “fifth generation electronic attack capability.” A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capacity. Additionally, the system was re-designed to expand the “plug-and-play” quick reaction capability aspect, which has historically allowed the program to counter unique “one-off” high profile threats. Aircraft communication capabilities are improved with expansion of satellite communications connectivity compatible with emerging DoD architectures, increased multi-asset coordination nets and upgraded data-link terminals. Furthermore, modifications to the airframe in Baseline-2 provide improved aircraft performance and survivability.
Although it’s not clear whether this ability has already been translated into an operational capability, in 2015, a USAF EC-130H Compass Call aircraft has also been involved in demos where it attacked networks from the air: a kind of in-flight hacking capability that could be particularly useful to conduct cyberwarfare missions where the Electronic Attack aircraft injects malware by air-gapping closed networks.
With about one-third of the fleet operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (indeed, four EC-130Hs, teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets, are operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate), the fact that a single EC-130H (73-1590 “Axis 43”) was recently deployed from Davis Monthan AFB to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where it arrived via Yokota, on Jan. 4, 2018, it’s pretty intriguing.
Spirit 03 is a revered name in the AFSOC community, often spoken of in hushed and pained tones. It was the call sign of the last AC-130 gunship shot down in combat.
The story of Spirit 03, whilst sad, was also one of heroism — the kind you’d find in the US Air Force Special Operations Command community. It was a story of American airmen putting the lives of their brothers in arms engaged in grueling ground combat above their own.
The city of Khafji before the battle
(Photograph by Charles G Crow)
On January 29, 1991, over 2000 Iraqi troops under the direction of Saddam Hussein streamed into the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji in an attempt to draw American, British, and Saudi forces into a costly urban battle which would tie up Coalition troops until the Iraqi military had time to reorganize and get themselves back in the fight.
Just days before Khafji fell, American surveillance jets had detected large columns of mechanized Iraqi units pouring through Kuwait’s border in a mad dash towards the city. Though the warning was passed on, Coalition commanders were far more focused on the aerial campaign, which had seen the virtual annihilation of the Iraqi Air Force.
Thus, Khafji fell… but it wouldn’t be long until Saudi forces scrambled to action, barreling towards their seized city to drive the occupiers out. American and British aerial units were soon called into the fight, and in record time, engines were turning and burning at airbases within reach of Khafji while ground crew rushed around arming jets for the impending fight.
Among the aerial order of battle was a group of US Air Force AC-130H Spectre gunships — converted C-130 tactical transport aircraft that were armed to the teeth with a pair of 20 mm M61Vulcan rotary cannons, an L60 Bofors 40 mm cannon, and a 105 mm M102 howitzer. These Spectres, based out of Florida, were eager to be turned loose, planning on adding any Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles they caught around Khafji to their kill tallies.
On the 29th, Iraqi mechanized units moved towards the city under the cover of night, repeatedly engaging Saudi elements set up to screen inbound enemy ground forces coming in from Kuwait. The Spectres were already in the air, racing towards the fight and running through checklists in preparation for the destruction they were about to dish out on Saddam’s armored column.
Within minutes of appearing on station, the AC-130s leapt into action, tearing into the Iraqi column with impunity. What the enemy forces had failed to realize was that Spectres — living up to their name — operated exclusively at night so that they were harder to visually identify and track, and the gunners aboard these aircraft were incredibly comfortable with that. Spectres began flying race track patterns in the sky, banking their left wing tip towards the ground as their cannons opened up.
An AC-130H Spectre in-flight with its guns visible towards the right side of the picture
(US Air Force photograph by TSgt. Lee Schading)
Despite the AC-130s inflicting casualty after casualty, the resilient Iraqi invasion force continued to advance to Khafji and managed to briefly take over and lay claim to the city. American and Saudi ground combat units, including Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine artillery and infantry elements responded in kind, and launched a blistering offensive against the Iraqis as night turned to day and the AC-130s returned to base to rearm, refuel and wait for nightfall to resume hunting.
On January 30th, Spirit 03, one of the AC-130s, was loaded for bear and launched with the intent of providing Marine forces with heavy-duty close air support. Spirit 03 arrived on station and started hacking away at targets. In the hours around dawn on the 31st, the AC-130s were recalled to base when radios lit up with numerous calls for fire support from the beleaguered Marines on the ground.
An Iraqi rocket battery needed to be dealt with quickly.
The crew of Spirit 03 took charge of the situation immediately, judging that they had enough fuel and ammunition left for a few more passes. Not quite out of the combat zone, the aircraft turned around and pointed its nose towards its new target. It was then that all hell broke loose. A lone shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile arced towards the AC-130, detonated and brought down the aircraft.
There were no survivors.
In the months and years that followed, the loss of Spirit 03 was investigated and then quickly hushed up. Some indicated that the official report blamed the crew for knowingly putting themselves in danger by continuing to fly in daylight, allowing themselves to be targeted.
Others knew that the story was vastly different—that the 14 men aboard the AC-130 knew that they were the only ones in the area able to provide the kind of fire support the Marines needed, and so paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to aid their brothers in arms.