Here’s a question that could change your life: What matters most to you in your life? The answer can start you on the path to Whole Health.
Whole Health puts the focus of health care on the veteran rather than just the veteran’s illnesses and symptoms. It’s a patient-centered approach that considers the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and environmental factors that can influence your health. Veterans examine these areas of their lives and set goals based on what matters most to them. In turn, those goals drive the health planning decisions they make with their VA care team.
All VA medical centers and clinics now offer training in Whole Health and personal health planning, as well as a range of well-being programs.
Not too long ago at Thule Air Base, Greenland located in the Arctic, a change of command ceremony was taking place.
Outgoing 821st Air Base Group US Air Force Commander — Col. Mafwa Kuvibidila — passed the flag to her successor Col. Timothy J. Bos.
In her outgoing speech, Kuvibidila thanked everyone in the audience for supporting her during her command. This included members of the US Army Corps of Engineers, New York District.
These ceremonies happen every few years, but what’s been consistent at the base is the Army Corps’ presence. For over half a century, the Army Corps has performed construction for the base. Presently, it’s consolidating the base by 40% to save energy, tax-payer money and to sustain its readiness.
Kuvibidila, who managed the base for the past year, understands the importance of consolidation.
She said, “For Thule it’s a matter of looking at the best way to use the infrastructure currently on base, and what is needed to support it to maximize resources.”
Thule Air Base in Greenland.
(US Army Corps of Engineers)
Thule, Air Base Mission
Thule pronounced “Two Lee” is Latin for northernmost part of the inhabitable world. Thule Air Base is located in the northwestern corner of Greenland, in a coastal valley 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 950 miles south of the North Pole.
The base is the United States’ northern most military installation that has the responsibility of monitoring the skies for missiles in defense of the United States and its allies.
For over half a century, the base has been home to active-duty Air Force members who live and work in this remote Arctic environment to perform National security.
Throughout this time, the Army Corps under extreme weather conditions and less daylight hours, has helped the base fulfill its mission by constructing many structures including several dormitories, an aircraft runway and surrounding apron and taxiways, and a medical facility.
Now the Army Corps is helping once again, by consolidating and modernizing the base’s infrastructure.
In the early 1950s, the base’s main mission was to be an aircraft refueling stop. It was home to 10,000 personnel, US military troops, as well as a support staff comprised of Danish and Greenlandic national people.
During the Cold War Era, the base’s mission changed and it is now home to less personnel that are mainly performing early missile warnings and space surveillance for the United States.
The base has many buildings spread out over the entire base. Many of these buildings are still in use, but have become severely weatherworn and energy and fuel is being wasted to heat them. They are also a distance from the base’s central power plant that requires maintaining long pipes to transport heat to them.
Many of these old buildings are being demolished and new buildings are being constructed closer together to make them easier to reach and to save energy.
A contingency dorm that will provide living quarters for the over-flow of visitors at Thule Air Base, June 2019.
(US Army Corps of Engineers/JoAnne Castagna)
The US Military has been on a mission to save energy and costs. Because of this, the U.S. Air Force tapped into the expertise of the Army Corps to consolidate the base. “This includes demolishing old facilities and constructing new ones that will be situated or consolidated more centrally near the hub of the base where the airfield, hangars, dining facility, hospital and runway are located,” said Stella Marco, project manager, New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps is performing this work in partnership with two Army Corps agencies that have expertise in performing construction in an Arctic environment — the Cold Regions Research Engineering Lab and the US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research Development Center.
Kuvibidila recalls the consolidation work that she witnessed during her command. “There were multiple projects being worked on during my time at Thule from a new dorm, to finalizing new consolidated facilities for vehicle maintenance and supplies, along with various power projects,” she said.
The main structures that are being constructed are dormitories for non-commissioned officers who are on temporary duty and contingency lodging for the overflow of visitors, scientists, re-fueling operation crews, contractors, maintenance operations specialists and temporary duty personnel.
Recently, the Army Corps completed the construction of three, multi-story high rise dormitories for non-commissioned officers. Currently, construction is ongoing on the upgrade and renovation of two additional dormitories and 636 existing dorm rooms.
Marco said that the older dorms were the “gang-latrine” types, where a person staying at Thule would be assigned an individual room that contained the amenities of a bed, television, desk and a closet, however, all showers and toilet areas were located down a hall, in one area, that would require the guest to walk down through a public hallway to use.
She said the new dorms were constructed more into suites or modular units and are more conducive to privacy and to providing proper rest, relaxation and personal well-being.
A module consists of two or four individual bedrooms that lead into a centralized living area along with a partially shared bathroom. Modules provide some degree of privacy for the officers. Additionally, each floor has a common kitchen and dining area for residents to gather in.
Also contingency lodging is also being renovated to provide living quarters for the over-flow of visitors.
This involves renovating some of the existing old fashioned, trailer-like living quarters named “flat-tops” currently occupied by Danish and Greenlandic support staff and contractors that work on the installation.
In addition to new living quarters being constructed and renovated, the aircraft runway was just reconstructed and repaved in asphalt as were the surrounding aprons and taxiways.
“The runway is the lifeline to Thule Air Base since the waterways are only passable by sealift from July to mid-September,” said Marco.
“By using lessons learned of Arctic construction, the latest knowledge of constructing in permanently frozen ground called permafrost, along with the latest construction and paving practices, has allowed the Army Corps to build the best new runway possible,” said Marco.
Thule Air Base from the top of a nearby mountain, June 2019.
(US Army Corps of Engineers/JoAnne Castagna)
Working on the runway was challenging due to the extreme weather conditions.
Paving the 10,000 foot long runway was performed in three phases — one each year — because the construction season was limited from June through mid-September. Half the runway was paved one year and the other half was paved a second year.
“Since only half the runway was available each year for pilots to use, they had to be able to land and stop their aircraft on 4,000 feet of paved area. During this time, mainly C-130 Aircraft were used because of its ability to stop in such a short span,” said Marco.
Another challenge was to lay the asphalt during the warmest temperatures possible. Asphalt cannot be paved in cold temperature because it will not adhere properly and will fail. To read more about constructing in the Arctic, please see the sidebar “Construction Challenges in the Arctic.”
Other facilities constructed to consolidate the base include a consolidated base supply and civil engineering facility to house the maintenance shops, including sheet metal, painting and carpentry, and a new vehicle maintenance equipment storage facility.
These new and renovated buildings are going to be heated with an upgraded heating system.
Thule’s central power plant provides the base’s electricity and heating. Over the last few years, the Army Corps has provided the plant new energy-efficient exhaust gas heat recovery boilers and engines.
With this new equipment, the Army Corps is creating a new steam distribution system that will provide heat to most of the base.
These new engines create substantial surplus heat. This excess heat is going to be turned into steam that will be piped — by new pipes — to other buildings on the base. When the steam reaches the other buildings, it will be converted into hot water to be used for heat.
All of this consolidation work is needed to maintain readiness on the base. Kuvibidila said it is more important than ever before to improve base readiness. She said, “The current primary focus of the base is to support space, science, and allied operations and being able to continue that support will be critical.”
A window view from one of the dormitories at Thule Air Force Base, June 2019. Mount Dundas is in the distance.
(US Army Corps of Engineers/JoAnne Castagna)
Side Bar: Construction challenges in the Arctic
Arctic construction can be challenging due to severe weather and limited daylight, which requires the use of unique building materials, techniques and fast-paced construction.
Most of northern Greenland is covered with permafrost, which is permanently frozen ground — ranging from 6 feet to 1,600 feet in depth.
This requires structures to be constructed with a special elevated Arctic foundation. If buildings are not constructed off of the ground, the heat from inside the building can melt the permafrost, making the ground unstable and causing buildings to sink.
Buildings are elevated 3 feet from the ground with the use of spread footings that go down about 10 feet deep and concrete columns that come up and support the floor system above the ground.
Construction takes place during the summer and autumn months when the temperature is a “balmy” 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, temperatures can be as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is also during the summer and autumn months that there is sufficient daylight.
Because of Thule’s proximity to the North Pole, the region has 24 hours of sunlight from May through August and 24 hours of darkness from November through February.
The less cold temperatures make it possible to break up the iced shipping lanes. This allows cargo ships into port supplied with fuel and construction materials.
Building materials include concrete foundations, insulated steel and metal walls, roof panels and prefabricated parts so that the workers can perform construction rapidly.
When the winter season begins, workers begin interior construction. This work includes constructing mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems that are designed to withstand extreme frigid sub-zero temperatures.
The leading candidate to take the helm of the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan was killed in a US air-strike on August 10, US forces Afghanistan announced August 13.
Abdul Rahman and three other senior ISIS militants were killed in the strike marking the latest in a series of decapitation strikes by the US on the terrorist group in Afghanistan. The location of the strike reveals that ISIS “appears to be relocating some of its senior leadership from the eastern province of Nangarhar to the rugged, mountainous northeastern province of Kunar,” Long War Journal fellow Bill Roggio noted August 14.
ISIS’s previous leader in Afghanistan, Abu Sayed, was killed in Kunar in a July 11 drone strike. Sayed was only at the helm of the terrorist group for 6 weeks before being killed and was the third head of the group in Afghanistan killed by the US.
ISIS in Afghanistan has morphed from a nascent band of militants in 2015 to a full-fledged threat in the eastern province of Nangarhar. The group controls a relatively small amount of territory but has used it to launch multiple complex attacks on the capital city of Kabul, killing hundreds with its brutal tactics.
“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of ISIS. We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem,” Pentagon Chief Spokesman Dana White declared in a recent interview with Voice of America.
Roggio concurred with White’s assessment saying ISIS “has far fewer resources and personnel, and a smaller base a of support than the Taliban and its allies – has weathered a concerted US and Afghan military offensive in Nangarhar and the persistent targeting of its leaders for nearly two years.”
Your life as a military spouse is what you make it. There, I said it — it’s your responsibility to make yourself happy in this military life. Before you stop reading this article or leave me a nasty comment, give me a chance to explain.
I am a military spouse of twelve years and have been with my husband for fifteen years. I’ve moved eight times – from coast to coast and even to Alaska for a time. My first move with my husband was in 2006. I was only 21 years old. I left my family and all I knew, and two days after we arrived at our new duty station, my husband got underway on a boat for weeks.
I was alone, I didn’t have a job, friends, or even cable or internet!
It. Was. Horrible.
I remember feeling waves of depression and not wanting to get off the couch as I watched Grey’s Anatomy on DVD for the millionth time. I was isolating myself and never felt more alone in my life. Did you know that loneliness can literally hurt your brain?
One study found that loneliness was a risk factor of dementia later in life.
After a few days of living in this funk, I took a good hard look at myself. I saw my stained sweat pants, unwashed dishes, and wondered what I was doing. We had just PCS’d to one of the most beautiful beach towns in Florida, and here I was wasting away, getting paler by the minute. I got off that couch and set out to build a life.
I knew that I could stay in that space forever, but I was losing the opportunity of a lifetime in the process. This military life is beautiful – but it’s up to you to embrace it.
Fast forward to 2020 and I couldn’t imagine having any other life. MilSpouse life is my jam! I look forward to every PCS and see it as an adventure just waiting for me to dive into. Each new state is a new home filled with new foods to taste, cities to explore, and above all — friendships that await. Once you get off that couch and commit to building a life as a military spouse, the absolute best part of military life is waiting for you. Your future MilSpouse bestie is out there!
As military spouses, we are so lucky. We get to surround ourselves with people that we immediately have a connection with. A community that gets every annoying, frustrating and beautiful part of military life. You don’t have to say a word and these military spouse brothers and sisters see you and completely get it. There’s no fumbling about the weather or times of awkward silences – you are instantly in a circle that’s welcoming you with open arms.
So, what are you waiting for?
Here are my top seven reasons why you need to get up off your couch, change out of those sweat pants, and find your MilSpouse bestie:
1. They know the best hair stylist or barber
This information has been handed down like the holy grail to them and they are just waiting to share that beautiful treasure with you.
2. Got a nightmare PCS story to share? Pull up a chair.
Your future BFF wants to hear all about it and compare notes with theirs.
3. They’ve already scoped out all of the medical doctors, dentists, and specialists
Making decisions on your healthcare is exhausting and nerve-racking. They’ll be there to help you with the feedback you need to make your choices more securely.
4. Deployment sucks
They’ll let you cry on their couch, vent out your anger or hibernate alone for a few days. At the exact time you need them to, they’ll drag you on some adventure that’ll make those deployment days fly by. Your MilSpouse bestie will save you – I know, mine saved me.
5. Your holidays will be merry and bright
The military spouse community will fill your holidays with so much joy and laughter that you’ll be okay FaceTiming your family when you can’t go home. Friendsgiving all day every day.
6. They’ll carry you through the hard times
Whether it’s deployment, missing your family, or an unspeakable tragedy, they’ll carry you through loss that feels unbearable. I’ve held my friends through the broken space of experiencing a miscarriage, and when I went through my own years later, their strength kept me from drowning in grief. They’ve got you.
7. Mission first? No problem
The needs of the service will always come first. The needs of the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force will always come above your birthday, anniversary, or planned dates. Know it, embrace it, and have a plan B.
Your spouse is working late and missing the delicious dinner you made? No problem, call your bestie to come over and eat with you. Date canceled because of a last-minute training exercise? Totally okay because now you can go see that RomCom with your friends instead. I absolutely treasure my time with MilSpouse besties – because at this point, they are spread all over the country.
I have friends that I can call anytime, anywhere, and know that they’ll be there. It’s a beautiful life and one I choose to make wherever we are. Even with all of the hard pages of my MilSpouse story, thanks to my besties, I would go back and do it all over again.
The Marine Corps’ new CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter is on track to surpass the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter in unit cost, a lawmaker said this month.
The still-in-development King Stallion is designed to replace the Marines’ CH-53E Super Stallion choppers, which are reaching the end of their service lives. But while Super Stallions cost about $24 million apiece, or $41 million in current dollars, the Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin King Stallion began with a per-unit price tag of about $95 million — and there are indications it could rise further.
Citing a 2016 Selected Acquisition Report from the Government Accountability Office, Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said the CH-53K estimated unit cost had increased about 14 percent from the baseline estimate. Information provided directly from the Marine Corps to House lawmakers this year, she said, indicated that the choppers were now expected to cost 22 percent more than the baseline estimate, or $122 million per copy.
“The Marine Corps intends to buy 200 of these aircraft, so that cost growth multiplied times 200 is a heck of a lot of money,” Tsongas said during a March 10 hearing before a House Armed Services subcommittee. “And even if there is no additional cost growth, it seems worth pointing out that $122 million per aircraft in 2006 dollars exceeds the current cost of an F-35A aircraft for the Air Force by a significant margin.”
The most recent lot of Lockheed Martin F-35As cost $94.6 million apiece, down from over $100 million in previous buys. The Marine Corps’ F-35B and the Navy’s F-35C, modified for ship take-off and landing, remain slightly over $120 million apiece.
Previously the Marines’ Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey held the distinction of being the priciest rotorcraft in the air, at some $72 million apiece. The Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel, a planned replacement for the Marine One presidential transport fleet, did at one point reach a $400 million unit cost amid massive overruns, but the aircraft never entered full-rate production, and the program was officially canceled in 2009.
But the Marines’ head of Programs and Resources said the service is prepared to shoulder the cost of their cutting-edge chopper.
Speaking before the committee March 10, Lt. Gen. Gary Thomas noted that the Marine Corps expected the unit cost to drop to below $89 million when the aircraft enters full-rate production, sometime between 2019 and 2022. As the F-35A unit cost is expected to drop as low as $85 million in the same time-frame, the two programs will remain close in that regard.
“That’s still very expensive; we’re working very hard with the program office and the vendor to keep the cost down and to drive value for the taxpayer,” Thomas said. “In terms of, can we afford it, we do have a plan without our topline that would account for purchases of the new aircraft we desire.”
A spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin, Erin Cox, said in a statement provided to Military.com that the King Stallion program was now on track and meeting goals.
“The CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter, as previously known and reported, overcame developmental issues as are common with new, highly complex programs and is now completely on track and scheduled for Milestone C review leading to initial low rate production,” she said. “The program is performing extremely well.”
Tsongas pointed out that the Marine Corps is now spending three times as much on aviation modernization as it is on modernization of ground vehicles, despite being at its core a ground force. Thomas called the spending plan balanced, noting that the service had active plans to modernize its vehicles, but the realities of aviation costs and the urgency to replace aging platforms required more outlay on aircraft.
The first CH-53K aircraft are expected to reach initial operational capability in 2019. They are designed to carry an external load of 27,000 pounds, more than three times the capacity of the CH-53E Super Stallion, and feature a wider cabin to carry troops and gear.
As the sun rises over the jungle canopy, the workers are already on the move. They take in the crisp scent of the morning air as they head up the rocky mountain path, slipping between the trees of a wet, dew-covered forest in Vietnam.
At the top of the green mountain ridge, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam is waiting to greet them with a smile and a handshake before getting started on the day’s work.
On a normal day, Lam is a master-at-arms with the military police at Naval Station Everett, Washington, but today he’s part of a unique assignment. He is acting as the lead linguist for a recovery team deployed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency on its fourth mission to Vietnam.
Lam works at an excavation site found on a remote mountain peak in one of the Vietnamese jungle’s most austere locations. The site is only accessible by helicopter, and the nearest village is about 5 and a half miles away, down a long steep rocky trail on the brink of being overgrown by the jungle. Being at a site so removed, a linguist is a necessity for a successful recovery mission.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam, left, a linguist deployed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, talks with local people in Quang Binh, Vietnam, Sept. 6, 2018.
(Photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
“Nothing in this mission could be accomplished without the skill sets and abilities of an experienced linguist on the team,” said Marine Corps Capt. Mark Strickert, DPAA senior recovery team leader. “Linguists translate intent, interpret body language, serve as cultural advisors, facilitate negotiations and build camaraderie with the local community and government officials we work with so closely every day. Linguists are the underlining glue in the tireless steps we take to fulfill our nation’s promise to bring our fallen home.”
The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing service members to their families and the nation from past conflicts.
The total number of service members unaccounted for from the Vietnam War was 2,646, but through the work of DPAA, 1,052 of those missing have been found, identified and repatriated. The work of DPAA continues to find the remaining 1,594 missing U.S. service members from the Vietnam War.
The work to recover missing service members starts with intense analyzing of historical records from all sides of a conflict surrounding the missing individuals. This is followed by interviewing eye witnesses, gathering local accounts and pinpointing and evaluating possible dig sites. Once all the data has been compiled and strongly suggests a specific area, recovery teams are brought in to dig and sift the soil, looking for remains of the missing individuals.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam.
(Photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
When Lam first learned about DPAA and its missions to Vietnam to recover missing troops, he felt an instant connection and he knew he had to find a way to contribute.
“I wanted to be a part of this important work,” Lam said, “to have an opportunity to help my fellow service members and their families find closure, and possibly help to find some of the lost or fallen friends of my father.”
Lam moved to America at age 8 with his mother and siblings. His father, Ouang Lam, had left five years prior to escape prosecution and possible execution at the end of the Vietnam War.
From the start of the conflict, Ouang fought with South Vietnam’s army. As U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War increased, the U.S. Army began seeking out local people who could speak English, Chinese and Vietnamese to help U.S. troops better navigate the region.
Becoming a translator
After applying to train with the U.S., Ouang was sent to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to get a better grip on the English language and military terminology. Once proficient in English, he was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he was taught how to fly medical helicopters before going back to his country and the war.
For the rest of the war, Ouang delivered supplies and wounded U.S. and South Vietnamese troops by helicopter. He regularly came under fire and, throughout the conflict, lost fellow aircrew, friends and family. Ouang made it to the rank of chief warrant officer 3 at the war’s end.
North and South Vietnam were reunited. Those who had worked with the Americans were soon hunted by the authorities. Ouang had to leave his country to save his and his family’s lives.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam, right, lead linguist, translates for Marine Corps Capt. Mark Strickert, left, senior recovery team leader while deployed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Quang Binh, Vietnam, Sept. 6, 2018.
(Photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
Ouang began building a new life for his family in Chicago, thanks to a religious group that sponsored individuals who had fought alongside U.S. troops during the war. They brought foreign veterans and their families to the U.S. to ensure they were not harmed by the new Vietnamese government.
After all he experienced during the war, Ouang was against war for the rest of his life. Ouang urged his children to go to school and not join any military service, but Lam wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Luckily before his father passed away, Lam was able to explain why he chose to serve in the military after realizing school was not for him.
“My father was incredibly upset and did not talk to me for some time,” Lam said. “After a few years I sat down with him and talked about why I joined the Navy. While he still did not like the idea of me being in the armed forces, over time came to be very proud of my service to the country that has given his family so much.”
If it wasn’t for Ouang’s close work with the U.S. during the war, he may never have gotten out of Vietnam after the country’s reunification and would have never had the chance to provide his family with the American dream.
“Lam’s father is always watching from above and he would be proud of Lam working to find his lost friends from so long ago,” said Lam’s mother. “We have been proud of everything that he has done so far in life, to give back to the U.S. for all the U.S. has done for our family. We are extremely proud.”
After weeks of facilitating negotiations, advising on cultural differences and interpreting body language, Lam’s mission in Vietnam came to a close.
From his position atop the mountain, Lam surveyed the green valley below, as the setting sun cast the sky in hazy blues and purples.
The South China Sea is already a powderkeg, given the major tensions in the region over a six-way maritime Mexican Standoff involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei. This past summer, China saw an international tribunal rule against its claims in that body and condemn Beijing’s construction of artificial islands.
The forward deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85), left, leads the Russian Federation navy Slava-class guided-missile cruiser Varyag and the Irkut tanker during Pacific Eagle, a bilateral exercise with the Russian Federation navy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Corey Hensley)
That’s not to say China’s abiding by the ruling. Far from it, to be honest. The Chinese took a page from the playbook of Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister by not even showing up for any of the process leading up to the ruling. China doesn’t seem to care that the ruling went against them, as it is now inviting Russia for joint exercises in the maritime flashpoint for the fifth straight year.
According to a report from the Times of India, Chinese military spokesman Liang Yang said, “Chinese and Russian participants will undertake defense, rescue, and anti-submarine operations, in addition to joint-island seizing missions and other activities.”
The Times of India noted China has sent 10 naval vessels to take part in the exercise, along with 11 aircraft, eight helicopters, and other military assets. Russia is reportedly sending three surface combatants, two supply vessels, and other assets as well.
Two of the vessels Russia sent were an Udaloy-class “large anti-submarine ship” (often referred to as a destroyer in Western media) and a Ropucha-class landing ship.
The South China Sea has seen a number of incidents in the past few years involving Chinese forces. Shortly before the international tribunal issued its ruling on China’s claims, Chinese forces sank a Vietnamese fishing boat and then interfered with rescue operations. Chinese aircraft have also made a number of close passes to U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance aircraft, including some within ten feet.
One such close pass in 2001 went wrong, and a Chinese J-8 “Finback” collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II. The Chinese plane crashed, killing the pilot, Wang Wei, while the EP-3E made an emergency landing on Hainan Island, where the 24-person crew was held for ten days. Lieutenant Shane Osborn received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions after the incident.
The Air Force is vigorously pursuing new avionics, radar, targeting sensors, weapons, glass cockpit displays and Artificial Intelligence for its F-22 stealth fighter to try to sustain air supremacy amid Russian and Chinese 5th-generation stealth fighter technical modernization, service officials said.
The service has an ambitious, wide-ranging set of objectives woven into this initiative; the Air Force aims enable the F-22 to ID targets at longer ranges, respond more efficiently to sensor input, sustain an air-to-air combat superiority over near-peer rivals and lay down a technical foundation such that the aircraft can quickly embrace new weapons, technologies, sensors and software as they emerge – all so that the F-22 can serve all the way out to 2060.
The multi-pronged effort is inherently connected to early iterations of increased computer automation and AI, as a mechanism to integrate otherwise disparate elements of F-22 avionics, sensors and mission systems. Common IP protocol standards, including both software and hardware, are engineered to provide a technical backbone enabling upgrades and integration of a variety of interconnected systems—to include radar warning receivers, AESA radar, LINK 16 connectivity, improved weapons, emerging sensor and targeting configurations and new transponders, able to identify friend or foe.
“The Air Force has made progress with efforts to upgrade sensors on the F-22. The Air Force continuously looks for ways to upgrade and enhance capabilities based on threats around the world, to include the F-22 sensors,” Capt. Emily Grabowski, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
In concept and application, AI can lower a hardware footprint and increasingly use advanced algorithms to perform processes without requiring as much human intervention. For instance, a more integrated computer processor is better-equipped to potentially perform real-time analytics during a mission to make adjustments as maintenance and combat circumstances may require. Faster analytics, relying on newer forms of computer automation, can more quickly identify problems, recognize threats and streamline various cockpit functions.
In particular, this can mean the emergence of multi-function sensors where single systems can simultaneously perform different missions and organize incoming data. Such AI-oriented technologies can have targeting benefits for combat, threat-recognition improvements, longer-range enemy identification or weapons delivery applications.
Ken Merchant, Lockheed Vice President of F-22 Programs explained this to Warrior Maven in an interview, “we are starting AI, which includes what includes what we call enterprise sustainment organization. Our cockpit is still a series of six displays. Should we go to glass and synthesize new sensor inputs in front of the pilot? Can I squeeze all that information into a small display and sustain those for next 20-years, or should I go to glass?”
Many of these considerations, in terms of specifics, are expected to inform an upcoming mid-life upgrade and sustainment enterprise for the F-22 fleet. Merchant said the mid-life upgrade will not only extend the functional service life of the aircraft for several more decades, but also reduce technical risk. The mid-life work on the aircraft, slated for 2024, is primarily geared toward maintaining F-22 technological superiority while both China and Russia fast-track 5th-generation stealth aircraft.
Exploration of AI for the F-22 aligns, in many respects, with the current “sensor fusion” technologies built into the F-35; this includes organizing and displaying information from Electro-Optical/Targeting Systems (EOTS), Distributed Aperture Systems (DAS) and other sensors onto a single screen. Relying on advanced algorithms, this system is often referred to as man-machine interface, able to lower the “cognitive burden” placed on pilots, who can be freed up to focus on other priorities and decisions.
Specifically, Merchant said, F-22 engineers were already exploring a lightweight DAS-like sensor system for the F-22, able to bring advanced tech to the F-22 without compromising stealth advantages or maneuverability.
Computer-enabled AI, naturally, can greatly expedite completion of the Air Force’s long-discussed OODA-loop phenomenon, wherein pilots seek to quickly complete a decision-making cycle – Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action – faster than an enemy fighter. The concept, dating back decades to former Air Force pilot and theorist John Boyd, has long informed fighter-pilot training and combat preparation.
If pilots can complete the OODA loop more quickly than an enemy during an air-to-air combat engagement, described as “getting inside an enemy’s decision-making process,” they can destroy an enemy and prevail. Faster processing of information, empowering better pilot decisions, it naturally stands to reason, makes a big difference when it comes to the OODA loop.
This entire effort synchronizes with a current 3.2b software upgrade (covered extensively in Part 2 of the F-22 series), which uses agile software development to, among other things, upgrade F-22 weapons systems.
This progressive series of F-22 modernization enhancements feeds into a commensurate effort to update 1980s and 1990s computer technology, in some cases drawing on commercially available technical innovations, such as RedHat open-source software, Merchant explained. The mid-life upgrade will address much of this in an effort to ensure the pumps, valves and integrated core processors are brought up-to-date.
Newer F-22s are already getting advanced AESA radar, not unlike what is already on the F-35, engineered to accommodate software upgrades as they emerge. This architecture enables the aircraft radar warning receiver to broaden its threat library to identify new enemy aircraft. These upgrades involve the installation of new transponders able to quickly identify “friend or foe” aircraft more efficiently, developers explained.
“You can see air-to-air targets coming your way and a ground target will appear as a blip on a screen – with an information tag on it based on intel telling you what it is,” Merchant said.
Interoperability with the F-35 and 4th-gen aircraft will also be greatly improved by the addition of more LINK 16 data-link technology; the F-22 will be able to wirelessly transmit targeting, mapping and other sensor information to other aircraft without needing to rely upon potentially “hackable” voice transmissions, Merchant explained. Merchant said Lockheed and the Air Force are planning some initial flight tests of this transmit improvement by the end of this year.
“This will help everybody that is airborne see a common picture at the same time,” Merchant added.
A hardware portion of the upgrades, called a “tactical mandate,” involves engineering new antennas specifically designed to preserve the stealth configuration of the F-22, John Cottam, Lockheed F-22 Program Manager, told Warrior Maven.
“New antennas have to be first constructed. They will be retrofitted onto the airplane. Because of the stealth configuration putting, antennas on is difficult and time consuming,” he said.
Air Force is already using wirelessly-enabled automation to facilitate real-time analytics for conditioned based maintenance on board F-16s.
Automated CBM can help identify potential points of failure while an aircraft is in-mission and therefore increase safety and reliability while also lower costs and streamlining maintenance. AI is one of the emerging ways this can increasingly be accomplished. At the same time, AI is also fundamental to rapid targeting, navigation and other aircraft functions – it allows the aircraft to keep pace with rapid technology change and add new algorithms or computer processing tech as it becomes available.
Upgrading computer tech is something the Air Force is pursuing across the fleet, recognizing its significance to future combat; for instance, the service is progressing with an ongoing effort to equip the F-15 with the fastest jet-computer processor in the world, called the Advanced Display Core Processor, or ADCPII. Boeing developers tell Warrior Maven the system is capable of processing 87 billion instructions per second of computing throughput.
The F-22 will also continue to upgrade its collision avoidance technology which is somewhat different than the F-16s ground collision avoidance system which can automatically re-route an aircraft headed for collision. The F-22 system simply keeps the aircraft above a certain altitude in the event that a pilot is incapacitated. Also, auto-navigation software could be used to help an F-22 maneuver, re-position during an air-to-air engagement or land in challenged circumstances. A technology of this kind, called Delta Flight Path, is already operational on the F-35; the software helps guide the aircraft independently in circumstances where that might be necessary.
Autonomous, or semi-autonomous, flight is a fast-evolving technology across the US military services which increasingly see AI as a key wave to future warfare; the Air Force has already experimented with unmanned F-16s and there is a lot of work going more broadly in this area. Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus once said the service’s F-35C will likely be the last “manned” fighter. This question, continues to inform an ongoing debate. AI enabled autonomous flight, while bringing some advantages without question, also has limitations, military scientists and engineers explain.
Thus far, AI-enabled computer programs are able to complete procedures much more quickly than efficiently, in many instances, than a human can. At the same time, there is still not as of yet a suitable substitute for the kind of problem-solving and dynamic decision-making ability provided by human cognition, scientists explain. For this reason, future explorations place a premium on machine-learning and autonomy as well as man-machine interface wherein algorithms are advanced to support a human functioning in the role of command and control.
For instance, Air Force former Chief Scientist Dr. Gregory Zacharias often talked about these questions over the course of several interviews with Warrior Maven in recent years. As an expert specialist in the area of autonomy, he talked about a fast-approaching day wherein pilots will be able to control nearby drone “wing-men” from the cockpit of an F-35 or F-22. Such a technology, naturally, could enable forward operating drones to conduct reconnaissance missions, test enemy air defenses and even fire weapons – all while a pilot remains at a safer standoff distance acting in the role of command and control.
An audio recording of the high-pitched sound that American intelligence officials believe caused U.S. diplomats in Cuba brain damage was released Thursday afternoon.
The Associated Press released the first publicly disseminated recording October 12th. The first of many audio recordings taken in Cuba has led U.S. intelligence operatives to believe the Cuban government is using an unknown sonic device to attack Americans and other foreigners on the island.
The U.S. Navy is currently investigating the strange recording, hoping to glean some information about what is harming American diplomats in Cuba.
Victims often described a sound similar to chirping crickets before experiencing any symptoms, but not all of the attacks have produced an audible sound. Some were described as inaudible, which is causing some concern among investigators who believe the attackers are developing, or even already employing, more sophisticated methods.
The U.S. has confirmed 21 cases, and American intelligence operatives incurred arguably the worst damage reported thus far. U.S. spies have suffered brain damage, unrelenting hearing loss and other severe outcomes.
Reports of ongoing, mysterious attacks befalling U.S.-government personnel and other foreign citizens in Cuba are complete “nonsense” and “without evidence,” Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel said Sunday.
“Some unnamed officials are propagating unusual nonsense without any evidence, with the perverse aim of discrediting the impeccable reputation of our country as a safe destination for foreign visitors, including from the United States,” Diaz-Canel, the likely successor to Cuban President Raúl Castro, said Sunday.
Castro has also rejected any notion that the Cuban government is behind the attacks.
The U.S. Department of State has responded to the reported attacks, ordering all nonessential personnel in Cuba to evacuate the island. The State Department also issued a travel warning for all Americans not to visit the island nation until the attacks are resolved.
The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement on Sept. 4 saying that its new Koalitsiya-SV howitzer, which Moscow claims shoots farther than any western gun, will be ready for service by 2020.
While Russia is well known for making outlandish claims about its military hardware, the new 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV, by all accounts, may live up to the hype.
First unveiled in 2015, the Koalitsiya-SV, also known as “Coalition-SV,” is a 152mm self-propelled gun that can reportedly fire up to 15-20 rounds a minute, according to The National Interest.
This range of automation is far superior to western guns, like the US M109 Paladin, which fires 6 rounds a minute.
The Coalition-SVs high level of automation also allows it to be operated by a two or three-man crew, while the Paladin requires six.
The Koalitsiya-SV can reportedly fire rounds up to 43 miles, much farther than the Paladin at 18 miles and Great Britain’s AS90 Braveheart at 24 miles.
It’s also capable of firing a variety of rounds, like standard and rocket-assisted, high-explosive, fragmentation projectiles, cluster projectiles, and jammer projectiles, according to military-today.com. These projectiles, however, unlike Russia’s new long-range precision-guided shell, have firing ranges of less than 43 miles.
Given Moscow’s budgetary problems, we’ll have to wait and see if the Coalition-SV is mass produced.
In any event, the “introduction of … the Koalitsiya-SV [is] a significant boost to the Russian Ground Forces’ artillery forces,” Dave Majumdar wrote in The National Interest in June.
UPDATE: The Pentagon has identified the Special Forces soldier killed in a shootout April 8 in Afghanistan as Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood, Maryland. De Alencar was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
A U.S. soldier was killed Saturday in Afghanistan while carrying out operations against the Islamic State group, a U.S. official said.
U.S. Navy Captain Bill Salvin, a spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, said the soldier was killed late April 8 during an operation against ISIS-Khorasan in Nangarhar province. ISIS-Khorasan is a branch of Islamic State active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other parts of South Asia.
Reuters reported that the soldier was a member of the Special Forces.
The Air Force is allowing its pilots, navigators and airmen who wear flight suits to roll up their sleeves whenever they’re not on in-flight duty, according to a new memo.
The latest policy, first published on the popular Air Force blog John Q. Public, mimics what airmen who wear the Airman Battle Uniform are already allowed to do when they’re not performing official duties, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Bryan Lewis.
“The flight suit sleeve policy was updated to align with the Airman Battle Uniform coat [shirt] wear policy,” Lewis said in an email Monday.
The change amends Air Force Instruction 36-2903, “Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel,” which already states in the case of the ABU that “commanders may authorize sleeves to be rolled up on the ABU coat; however, the cuffs will remain visible and the sleeve will rest at, or within 1 inch of, the forearm when the arm is bent at a 90-degree angle.”
“Regardless as to whether the sleeves are rolled up or unrolled, the cuffs will remain visible at all times,” the AFI says.
Similarly, airmen who wear a Flight Duty Uniform or Desert Flight Duty Uniform can roll or tuck their suit sleeves under, Lewis said, and “are now approved to pull the sleeves up to within 1 inch of the elbow using the Velcro, already incorporated in the suit, to hold them in place.”
Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, deputy chief of staff for operations, enacted the change — effective immediately — on Jan. 23, according to the memo.
Airmen “will still be required to have sleeves rolled down to the wrist when performing aircrew duties in-flight,” Lewis said — for example, while flying or on the flight line.
The previous policy for flight suits stated airmen could have their sleeves rolled under “if not performing in-flight duties.” However, the rolled-under sleeve “will not end above the natural bend of the wrist when the wearer’s arms are hanging naturally at their side.”
Lewis could not say if similar provisions for flight suits were made in the past.
Russia state-owned media outlet RT tweeted an odd video on Dec. 8, 2018, of Russia’s elite Spetsnaz operators drop-kicking the windshields of cars.
The video starts with Spetsnaz military police operators riding on and jumping off the top of an armored personnel carrier with text on screen reading “ROUTINE TRAINING OF RUSSIA’S SPETSNAZ” before it cuts to one operator doing a martial arts kip up and then kicking another operator in the chest.
It then shows Spetsnaz operators storming a car as another operator jumps over the hood, drop-kicking the windshield.
More acrobatic maneuvers are displayed in the video before another Spetsnaz operator again jumps over the hood of a car and drop-kicks the windshield before firing his side arm into the car.
It’s rather unclear what sort of tactical advantage is achieved by drop kicking a car windshield.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.