The second annual enlisted remotely piloted aircraft pilot selection board met last week to decide on the next enlisted airmen who will attend training and soon fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk.
The Air Force Personnel Center will decide on 40 new airmen — an increase from last year’s pool — out of 134 applicants by February, officials said.
“The board was held to select 40 Airmen total, including 30 primaries (same as last year) and 10 alternates (an increase of 5 from last year),” personnel center spokesman Mike Dickerson told Military.com.
An RQ-4 Global Hawk landed at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. May 24. The arrival of the unmanned aerial vehicle marks the first time an aircraft of this type has flown to an Air Force Air Logistics Complex. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Leach)
“We increased the number of alternates to provide greater flexibility for covering any future contingencies,” Dickerson said in a statement.
Whether or not this leads to a gradual, annual expansion of airmen selected for RPA training isn’t definite right now, Dickerson said.
Last year, the board picked two senior master sergeants, five master sergeants, nine technical sergeants, 14 staff sergeants and five alternates from about 200 active-duty applicants from various job assignments.
“The Air Force plans for the number of enlisted RPA pilots to grow to 100 within four years,” according to a service release at the time.
There first 30 airmen and five alternates selected are currently scattered throughout the training pipeline, Capt. Beau Downey, spokesman for Air Education and Training Command, told Military.com.
“AETC currently has 15 RPA pilots in training. Eight are in RPA Instrument Qualification and seven are in RPA Fundamentals Course, both a part of the 558th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas,” Downey said in an email.
Meanwhile, there are 15 enlisted pilots who have attended or are in the process of completing the RQ-4 Formal Training Unit, or FTU, at Beale Air Force Base, California.
Downey said the program at Beale, under Air Combat Command, is broken into two phases: The first is Basic Qualification Training (BQT) and the second is Mission Qualification Training (MQT). Both phases culminate in a Form 8, or how one performs in his or her check ride.
“Students remaining at Beale for their operational assignment will complete both BQT and MQT at the Beale FTU,” he said.
There is also a segment at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota.
“Those students who will be assigned to Grand Forks [will] complete BQT at Beale and then move to the Grand Forks…for MQT,” Downey said.
ACC has graduated four enlisted pilots from the full program at the Beale unit. Another four completed Basic Qualification Training at the Beale FTU and have moved to the Grand Forks unit.
There are three currently in MQT at the Beale training unit and four in BQT. Of those four, two will remain at Beale and two will move to Grand Forks.
Another four enlisted airmen are scheduled to arrive at Beale at the beginning of February, Downey said.
The Air Force has expanded its RPA reach since it began training enlisted airmen on the RQ-4 Global Hawk. The service announced in 2015 it would begin training enlisted airmen to operate the unarmed high-altitude reconnaissance drone.
This is how Marine Corps recruit training, or boot camp, begins. Some guy you’ve never met, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, screams at you to get off the bus. You file out and stand on the yellow footprints, a right of passage for all future Marines, and a reminder that every one of the Corps’ heroes and legends stood where you’re standing.
The first 72 hours are called “receiving,” and they’re a mild introduction to what’s ahead. Those first three days consist of a flurry of knife-hands, screaming, rough buzzcuts, gear issue, and general in-processing and paperwork.
If you’re tired or having second thoughts by then, you’re in trouble. The real work hasn’t even started.
Task & Purpose spoke to Staff Sgt. Thomas Phillips, a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, to talk about what recruits go through during the first four weeks of Marine Corps boot camp.
The 27-year-old Marine enlisted when he was 18, and six years later returned to Parris Island in July 2013 as a drill instructor assigned to the same company where he was a recruit.
“Six years ago, I was in their shoes on that same black line they’re now standing on,” says Phillips, who has now trained eight platoons of Marines. A platoon of recruits can range in size from 50 to 100, and is overseen by three to five drill instructors, depending on the platoon’s size.
Enlisted Marines are trained at only two locations: Parris Island and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California. Parris Island is home to 4th Recruit Training Battalion, where female Marines are trained.
Drill instructors serve a variety of roles. There’s the enforcer, often called a “kill hat;” an experienced drill instructor, called a “J-hat” or a “heavy,” who has the most interaction with recruits; and a senior drill instructor, who serves as a stern paternal figure. Phillips served in each of these roles throughout his seven-and-a-half cycles training recruits.
Recruit training lasts 12 weeks and is broken into three phases.
In first phase, civilians learn how to be Marine recruits, and later, Marines.
First phase begins during receiving, and afterward, recruits are assigned to their platoons and introduced to their drill instructors.
“First phase is that indoctrination,” says Phillips. “They’re not recruits yet, you’re teaching them how to be recruits. It’s a whole new lifestyle.”
Recruits relearn everything they thought they knew: how to dress, walk, talk, eat, and even how to shower and properly clean themselves. Throughout boot camp, recruits must refer to themselves in the third person. The words “I, you, and we,” are replaced by “this recruit,” “that recruit,” and “these recruits.”
“We have to teach them a new way to talk, a new way to eat, brush their teeth, shave their face, everybody comes from different backgrounds growing up” says Phillips, who explains that first phase “evens the playground for everyone, it strips them down and puts everyone on that even playing field.”
First phase also involves a lot of lectures, conducted by a drill instructor who lays out the Corps’ history from its founding in 1775 to now.
“The knowledge is such a key part,” says Phillips. “I’ve had kids tell me they didn’t expect there’d be so much classroom time. It’s not ‘Call of Duty,’ kids are like, ‘Man this is completely different from what I’ve expected. I haven’t shot a weapon, I’ve just carried it around.'”
Recruits also drill almost non-stop — which means walking in military formation with their weapons — for 100 or more hours, explains Phillips, who adds that drill teaches recruits proper weapons’ handling, instills discipline, and builds unit cohesion.
“Drill is used in first phase to get that discipline,” says Phillips. “Just standing at attention and not moving for 20 or 30 minutes, that’s hard for a lot of those 18 or 19-year-old kids that are used to just doing whatever they want to do. Drill is that unit cohesion, that teamwork, that sense that if I mess up, those guys on my left or right are going to suffer.”
If you come in with the wrong mindset, it will cost you.
“The thing that’s going to get you spotlighted during first phase is attitude,” says Phillips. “[Recruits] should know coming here that it’s never personal. The Marine Corps is a business. It’s a fighting force.”
If recruits do mess up, and they will, then they “suffer,” usually in the form of incentivized training or “IT,” which involves lots of push-ups, running in place, burpees in the sun, and planks.
“They watch the videos and hear the yelling and screaming and think ‘I won’t break,’ then they get here and it’s time to be a man.”
This phase of training culminates in two events: initial drill and swim qualification.
Initial drill involves a detailed inspection where recruits’ uniforms and weapons are checked, and they’re quizzed on what they’ve learned in those first few weeks.
The final hurdle in phase one is swim qualification, and if a recruit can’t pass that, then he or she has no chance of moving forward.
“Some kids have never been in the pool and I would tell them to be mentally prepared for that,” says Phillips.
In addition to being mentally prepared, prospective Marines who can’t swim might want to think about taking lessons before they sign on the dotted line.
“If you can’t swim, there is nothing they can do, you are not going to move on to that next phase,” says Phillips.
According to Phillips, no matter how tough the drill instructors are, everything they do is for a reason.
Consider the knife-hands that recruits are told to point and gesture with. There’s a reason for that. A knife-hand is when your fingers are outstretched and together, like a blade, your wrist is straight, with your thumb pressed down. That’s also the position your hand should be in when you salute.
It’s not a coincidence, says Phillips.
“They don’t even know the reason, but they’re going to reap the benefits of that reason.”
After phase one, recruits move on to the second phase of training where they are taught how to shoot, as they build off what they’ve learned in the first four weeks.
Deep within the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, in a small farming village hidden away from the fast-paced city life, the family of a fallen Japanese soldier eagerly waited for the return of a precious heirloom. For the first time in 73 years, the Yasue family can finally receive closure for the brother that never came home from war.
World War II veteran Marvin Strombo traveled 10,000 miles from his quiet home in Montana to the land of the rising sun to personally return a Japanese flag he had taken from Sadao Yasue during the Battle of Saipan in June 1944.
The USMC veteran carried the flag with him decades after his time serving as a scout sniper with 6th Marine Regiment, Second Marine Division. He cared for the flag meticulously and never once forgot the promise he made to Yasue as he took the flag from him in the midst of war.
As a young corporal, Strombo looked up from his position on the battlefield, he noticed he became separated from his squad behind enemy lines. As he started heading in the direction of the squad’s rally point, he came across a Japanese soldier that lay motionless on the ground.
“I remember walking up to him,” said Strombo. “He was laying on his back, slightly more turned to one side. There were no visible wounds and it made it look almost as if he was just asleep. I could see the corner of the flag folded up against his heart. As I reached for it, my body didn’t let me grab it at first. I knew it meant a lot to him but I knew if I left it there someone else might come by and take it. The flag could be lost forever. I made myself promise him, that one day, I would give back the flag after the war was over.”
As years went on, Strombo kept true to his promise to one day deliver the heirloom. It was not until the fateful day he acquainted himself with the Obon Society of Astoria, Oregon, that he found a way to Yasue’s family.
Through the coordination of the Obon Society, both families received the opportunity to meet face-to-face to bring what remained of the Yasue home.
Sadao’s younger brother, Tatsuya Yasue, said his brother was a young man with a future to live. When Sadao was called upon to go to war, his family gave him this flag as a symbol of good fortune to bring him back to them. Getting this flag back means more to them than just receiving an heirloom. It’s like bringing Sadao’s spirit back home.
Tatsuya was accompanied by his elder sister Sayoko Furuta and younger sister Miyako Yasue to formally accept the flag. As Tatsuya spoke about what his brother meant to not only his family, but the other members of the community, he reminisced over the last moments he had with him before his departure.
Tatsuya said his family received permission to see Sadao one last time, so they went to him. He came down from his living quarters and sat with them in the grass, just talking. When they were told they had five more minutes, Sadao turned to his family and told them that it seemed like they were sending him to somewhere in the Pacific. He told them he probably wasn’t coming back and to make sure they took good care of their parents. That was the last time Tatsuya ever spoke to his brother.
As Strombo and Yasue exchanged this simple piece of cloth from one pair of hands to the next, Strombo said he felt a sense of relief knowing that after all these years, he was able to keep the promise he made on the battlegrounds of Saipan.
The reunion also held more emotional pull as it took place during the Obon holiday, a time where Japanese families travel back to their place of origin to spend time with loved ones.
Although Strombo never fought alongside Yasue, he regarded him almost as a brother. They were both young men fighting a war far from home. He felt an obligation to see his brother make it home, back to his family, as he had made it back to his own. Strombo stayed true to his word and honored the genuine Marine spirit to never leave a man behind.
Shrinking ice coverage in the Arctic has drawn the attention of NATO, Russia, and other countries to the high north, where the promise of more accessible waterways means potential military and commercial competition.
Since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and incursion in Ukraine, however, NATO members have been concerned about Moscow’s actions closer to home, and developments in recent weeks indicate the alliance is focusing on securing waterways around Europe, in the Baltic and Mediterranean seas and the eastern Atlantic — all areas that could be contested in a conflict with Russia.
Below, you can see what NATO is being warned about, and what the alliance is and isn’t doing to address it.
A Russian Ilyushin Il-22 Bizon and a Su-27 Flanker, flying along the Baltic coast, May 14, 2019.
(UK Ministry of Defense)
The Baltic Sea, bordered by six NATO member countries and with Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, at its eastern end, has always been a busy area.
Encounters between NATO forces and Russian forces at sea in the Baltic and in the skies over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where NATO members carry out air patrols, have been on the rise since 2014. (The air policing mission has actually been going on since 2004.)
That encounters include an incident this summer in which a Russian Su-27 fighter escorting Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s plane turned into a NATO jet, forcing it away.
These tensions have come with military buildup as well.
Starting in 2016, NATO deployed some 4,500 troops in battle groups to the Baltics and Poland. Since the end of 2017, Sweden, which like Finland is not part of NATO, has sent new military forces to Gotland Island, which it had withdrawn from in 2005.
In Kaliningrad, an exclave that is home to Russia’s Baltic Fleet, Moscow has deployed new weaponry, including nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and upgraded facilities, including what appear to be active nuclear-weapon storage bunkers.
Summer 2019, Russia also set up a helicopter base on Gogland, a small island between Finland and Estonia. Estonian officials played down the military significance, but the base is still seen as a Russian move to assert its power in the region and keep its neighbors guessing.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge participates in a photo exercise during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) in the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2018.
(US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold)
NATO countries along the Baltic have sought a more robust presence, and Germany has taken the lead.
Among NATO members, Germany, which has been criticized for the paucity of its defense spending and the quality of its armed forces, has taken the lead and tried to bring NATO and the EU closer together on Baltic security.
Vice Adm. Rainer Brinkmann, deputy chief of the German navy, said in September 2019 that Russia was the “one main challenge” in the Baltic and that Western partners “must take appropriate measures to cope” and “to prevent the Baltic Sea from being a ‘mare clausum,'” or “closed sea.”
Like its neighbors, Russia has legitimate reasons to be in the Baltic, but the number of actors there, each with their own national and commercial interests, make it a delicate situation, according to Christopher Skaluba, director or the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council.
“I think [the Russians] know that aggressive actions in the Baltic are likely to get the attention, in a way they probably didn’t want, of the NATO nations and Sweden and Finland.”
“The Baltic is pretty small place. There’s a lot of players. That piece of it gets really ugly really quick,” Skaluba told Business Insider in October 2019. “I think for lots of reasons, there are more incentives to avoid [conflict] than there are to … catalyze it.”
An F-35B fighter jet aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, Oct. 13, 2019.
(LPhot Kyle Heller/UK Ministry of Defence)
A new battle of the Atlantic.
Russia’s navy is increasingly active in the North Atlantic, and though the level of that activity and the size of Russia’s navy don’t appear to reach that of the Cold War, it has set NATO on edge.
Growing tension between NATO members and Russia in the Atlantic has been called “the fourth battle of the Atlantic,” following World War I and II and the Cold War.
The UK in particular has struggled to keep up, calling on NATO allies to help track Russian subs thought to be lurking in and around British waters.
“In 2010, a Royal Navy ship was called on just once to respond to Russian navy ships approaching UK territorial waters. Last year we had to respond 33 times,” the UK’s then-defense minister, Gavin Williamson, said in May 2018.
The Royal Navy has built new aircraft carriers, equipping them with Britain’s first F-35s, and acquired US-made maritime patrol aircraft after scrapping its Nimrod patrol aircraft in 2010.
Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans is currently the Nations on call warship for escorting foreign warships.
The UK and its allies in Europe want to keep “a critical choke point” between them open.
While any conflict in the Atlantic today is likely to look much different than previous battles, it’s likely to involve the English Channel and waters around it, especially the North Sea — at least that’s the concern of the five European countries who effectively revived the Cold War-era “Channel Committee” November 2019.
The pact signed on Nov. 7, 2019, by senior navy leaders from Germany, France, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands pledges to “harmonize” naval purchasing plans, potentially to include common procurement, according to Defense News.
But the countries also want to increase personnel exchanges and joint training and eventually recognize the professional qualifications of service members across the group.
“The Channel area is the front door to Central Europe and an important gate to the Baltic Sea,” the text of the pact says. “It is the critical choke point for the maritime traffic between the United Kingdom and continental Europe.”
The committee is also another military tether between mainland Europe and the UK, whose future relations with the rest of the continent remain in doubt amid the turmoil of Brexit.
The Mediterranean has also become a venue for what the US and others see as an emerging great-power competition.
NATO members in southern Europe have been focused on immigration from the Middle East and North Africa and the threat of terrorism emanating from those regions.
But Russian naval forces are a constant presence in the Mediterranean, traveling to and from Moscow’s bases in the Black Sea and and its base in Tartus, Syria, which is Russia’s only such facility outside the territory of the former Soviet Union.
With the ongoing civil war in Syria, the eastern Mediterranean has also become a venue for military operations, with Russian subs demonstrating their new ability to strike targets on land with missiles.
The Russian presence around the Mediterranean and Black seas, Iran’s presence in Syria, and antagonistic intra-alliance relations with Turkey all present security challenges for NATO, according to a recent Atlantic Council report.
“As the south becomes more congested and contested, and great-power competition intensifies, NATO defense, deterrence, and containment mission in the south is increasingly urgent and more complex,” the report states.
US Navy destroyer USS Carney fires it MK 45 5-inch lightweight gun at night while on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea, Sept. 11, 2016.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Weston Jones)
The lack of a strategy in the Mediterranean could have more serious consequences for the alliance as a whole, according to one deputy secretary general.
NATO has made a lot progress improving its defense and deterrence against Russia since 2014, “but it was more talk than action when it came to addressing problems in the south,” Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and coauthor of the report, said during its presentation October 2019.
“This theme figured prominently in my farewell address to the North Atlantic Council three years ago, and unfortunately the situation hasn’t changed all that much since then,” added Vershbow, who was deputy secretary general of NATO and US ambassador to Russia.
According to the report, “many of the conventional defense and deterrence challenges associated with NATO’s east are now reemerging in the south,” including enhanced Russian anti-access/area-denial capabilities, provocative actions in the Black Sea, and hybrid activity on the ground.
Though NATO has taken steps to remedy its shortcomings in the Mediterranean — such as setting up a “hub of the south” at Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy — establishing a maritime-focused enhanced southern presence there could be a way to counter Russia and sharing the burden of doing so among members, Vershbow said.
“Russia is back with a vengeance in the eastern Mediterranean and in the Black Sea,” which adds a geopolitical dimension to NATO’s need to project stability and bolster defense and deterrence, Vershbow added.
“The lack of an effective southern strategy could put alliance solidarity at risk if the publics in the southern NATO countries see the alliance as failing to address what they consider to be their priority concerns,” Vershbow said. “It could undermine their willingness to share the burdens of collective defense against Russia, and everybody loses in that scenario.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A former Southern California Marine has been handed a 21-month federal sentence for faking a Purple Heart and lifting from another Marine’s combat story to get disability benefits and a free house.
In a rare prosecution under the 2013 Stolen Valor Act, a 35-year-old Iraq war veteran will also have to pay back more than $300,000 to the U.S. government and a Texas charity.
Brandon Blackstone served with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert in 2004. He deployed to Iraq in August, during a period of fierce fighting on the Syrian border.
So did Casey Owens, another 1/7 Marine.
But that’s where the similarities in the two Marines’ stories end — and where Blackstone’s fabrications began.
Prosecutors and fellow Marines say Blackstone fashioned a tale of blast injuries and combat stress based on a horrific explosion that nearly killed Owens and cost him both of his legs.
Owens was in a Humvee that triggered a double anti-mine bomb while responding to a downed U.S. serviceman in September 2004.
Blackstone was in the area and likely witnessed the event. But he wasn’t injured in that attack — or in any other combat incident — according to people who were there, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Texas, and Blackstone’s own lawyer.
In fact, he was evacuated from Iraq after a month with appendicitis.
But starting at least in 2006, Blackstone began spinning a story of suffering traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after his Humvee hit a mine in Iraq.
He even fabricated two witness statements to support his claim for U.S. Veterans Affairs Department disability benefits that he received from 2006 to 2015, prosecutors said.
Worse, in the eyes of his fellow Marines, he began showing the photograph of Owens’ mangled Humvee as part of his story about how he was wounded.
“This scumbag lied to try to get s–t. You don’t do that. It’s not honorable. It’s not how we are. It’s personal for me, especially, as a friend of Casey’s,” said Andrew Rothman, a 1/7 Navy corpsman who was a key player in exposing Blackstone’s fraud.
“This kid essentially stole from all of us. And the honor part is bigger to us than the money and the house.”
Blackstone was awarded a 100 percent disability rating and, by claiming to have a Purple Heart, his application for a mortgage-free house was granted by Texas-based Military Warriors Support Foundation.
Meanwhile, Owens tried to make the best of his life with a double leg amputation and brain injuries, among other medical complications. He moved to Aspen and competed as a Paralympics skier.
But Owens was still in pain. He did national TV interviews describing how he struggled to get the care he needed for his mental and physical wounds. His right leg required additional surgeries that took more of it away.
In October 2014, Owens used a gun to kill himself.
But things for Blackstone were going well. He became a mentor at a Missouri-based veterans charity, Focus Marines Foundation. He even started his own nonprofit group, called The Fight Continues, with two other post-Sept. 11 veterans.
But those brushes with others in the veterans community led to his downfall. His story, including video testimonials he was giving about his combat injuries, didn’t sit right with other 1/7 Marines who dedicated a Facebook thread to discussing it.
Eventually, Rothman tipped off the Warriors Support charity that was poised to grant Blackstone the deed to the donated house.
Blackstone pleaded guilty in September to one count of wire fraud and one count of fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain.
At his sentencing last month, a federal judge in Texas called Blackstone “shameful,” but gave him credit for accepting blame for his actions. Sentencing guidelines limited his incarceration to 27 months or less, according to news reports. His was given credit for time served since February, so he will serve 18 more months.
Blackstone’s defense lawyer, Justin Sparks, said his client was diagnosed with PTSD and suffered a head injury in Iraq — but not in combat.
The head wound happened when a superior roughed him up in the barracks and he hit his head on a dresser. There were other injuries while in uniform that weren’t related to combat but required surgery, Sparks said. While in the hospital, a higher-ranking Marine informally gave Blackstone a Purple Heart medal to acknowledge his pain — but it wasn’t an official award.
There’s no explaining why Blackstone lied about the Purple Heart or applied for the free home, knowing he wasn’t qualified, the former Marine’s lawyer told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“There’s not really a good answer for that. He was in a very, very tough time in his life and reached a pitfall there,” Sparks said this week.
Sparks said his client seemed to lose his grasp on reality as the story spun on.
“There’s a symptom of PTSD where you are living your life in the third person. You’re always convincing yourself about what is reality,” he said. “It’s almost a coping mechanism.”
Sparks said his client is still rated at 70 percent disabled by the VA.
The lawyer disagreed that Blackstone was appropriating Casey Owens’ story.
“Brandon never claimed his lost his legs,” Sparks said. “The only common elements in the two stories are PTSD, the Purple Heart, and head injuries. There must be at least 1,000-plus soldiers who have those three things.”
Blackstone’s fellow troops don’t buy the PTSD explanation for his behavior. Several of them also were disappointed by his sentence.
“He was in the grip of his own lies,” said Eric Calley, a former Marine who used his own money to start The Fight Continues with Blackstone.
“That judge should be ashamed. I think (Blackstone) deserves a life sentence for what he did to our veterans.”
Lezleigh Owens Kleibrink, Owens’ sister, said her family was hoping for closure from a tougher sentence but didn’t get it.
Kleibrink said she has no doubts that Blackstone was trying to at least bask in the association with her brother’s reputation.
“He was a thief and Casey’s story was a means to get what he wanted,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune this week.
“What Brandon doesn’t understand is that it’s ripped open our wounds once again,” Kleibrink said. “Anyone who makes my mother cry like this … He may have joined the Corps, but he was no Marine.”
The Military Warriors Support Foundation said it was the charity’s first brush with stolen valor in awarding more than 750 homes to combat-wounded veterans.
“This was an unusual case, in that even official VA documentation was inaccurate,” said spokesman Casey Kinser. “That said, we are constantly reviewing our processes to vet our applicants more accurately and efficiently.”
The Fort Worth-area house that Blackstone nearly owned has been awarded to another Marine family.
There was speculation that the case would end without significant prison time after two senior officers assigned to the investigation recommended against it.
The officer in charge of the investigation into Bergdahl, Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, testified that jail-time would be inappropriate for Bergdahl. His investigation found no evidence that troops died while specifically searching for the sergeant or that Bergdahl was attempting to reach India, China, or the Taliban, said the New York Times.
Two F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters recently flew a mission in the Middle East in “beast mode,” meaning they were loaded up with as much firepower as they could carry.
The F-35s with the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron took off from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates to execute a mission in support of US forces in Afghanistan, Air Forces Central Command said. The fifth-generation fighters sacrificed their high-end stealth to fly with full loadouts of weaponry on their wings.
“Beast mode,” the carrying of weapons internally and externally to boost the overall firepower of the aircraft, is also known as the “Third Day of War” configuration. At the start of a fight, the F-35 would store all of its weapons internally to maintain low observability, as the external weapons would likely increase the surfaces that enemy radar could detect.
An F-35A Lightning II in “beast mode” during an operation in support of US forces in Afghanistan in May 2019.
(US Air Force)
The fighters carried six GBU-49 Paveway laser-guided precision bombs and two AIM-9X Sidewinder infrared-tracking short-range air-to-air missiles externally. Air Forces Central Command released a video on Friday of 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group teams loading the weapons onto the jets.
US Air Forces deployed the F-35A to the Middle East, the US Central Command area of responsibility, for the first time in April 2019. The aircraft flew their first sortie on April 26, 2019.
A F-35A Lightning II.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury)
Four days later, the F-35s, which were pulled from the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing, conducted a strike in Wadi Ashai, Iraq. The mission, carried out in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve marked the F-35A’s first combat mission, according to the US Air Force.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The U.S. Army’s new UH-60V Black Hawk helicopter featuring a digital cockpit has made its first flight, a company announced.
The chopper, basically a UH-60L upgraded with the new Integrated Avionics Suite, flew for the first time on Jan. 19 in Huntsville, Alabama, according to a release Monday from Northrop Grumman Corp. The base is home to the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command.
The utility rotorcraft is made by Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Sikorsky unit, but Northrop won a contract in 2014 to upgrade between 700 and 900 L models of the aircraft with the new cockpit design, which replaces older analogue gauges with digital electronic instrument displays. The technology is already included in UH-60M production models.
“This UH-60V first flight accomplishment reaffirms our open, safe and secure cockpit solutions that will enable the most advanced capabilities for warfighters,” Ike Song, vice president of mission solutions at Northrop, said in a statement.
The Falls Church, Virginia-based company won the Army deal over such competitors as Lockheed Martin, Elbit Systems and Rockwell Collins, according to an Aviation Week report at the time.
The new system is nearly identical to the UH-60M interface, according to Northrop. The technology is designed to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency’s Global Air Traffic Management requirements for military and civilian airspace around the world, the company said.
The Army a decade ago began receiving UH-60M variants featuring the new digital cockpits. The M model is the most advanced variant of the helicopter and remains in production.
Once America entered World War I some of the first forces it sent to France were those of the newly-formed Air Service. Among those troops was a relatively famous racecar driver and mechanic who would become America’s ‘Ace of Aces’ during the war: Eddie Rickenbacker.
When Rickenbacker enlisted in the Army, he had dreams of flying but was shipped to France as a driver for the General Staff due to his experience as a racecar driver. His advanced age (27 at the time) and lack of a college degree also disqualified him for flight training – but he was undeterred.
Assigned as the driver for Col. William ‘Billy’ Mitchell, Rickenbacker took the opportunity to bother him until the Colonel finally allowed him to attend pilot training. Rickenbacker still had to claim he was only 25 though.
Eddie completed pilot training in just 17 days and received his commission. However, Rickenbacker’s superior mechanical abilities from his days as a racecar driver sidetracked his flying career and got him assigned as the engineering officer at the Air Service Pursuit Training facility.
After finding a replacement, Rickenbacker was finally assigned to a combat flying unit – the 94th Aero Squadron – in March 1918. The squadron began flying combat missions in early April, and Rickenbacker wasted no time getting in on the action. On April 29th, Rickenbacker scored his first aerial victory and also his first Distinguished Service Cross for a vigorous fight and pursuit of a plane into enemy territory to shoot it down.
During May 1918 Lt. Rickenbacker downed five more German airplanes while earning an additional four Distinguished Service Crosses, each time attacking and dispersing larger formations of enemy planes.
Rickenbacker, through a lucky streak that seemed to last his entire life, also gained a reputation for surviving close calls and crash landings. In July 1918 in a particularly harrowing incident, “he barely made it back from one battle with a fuselage full of bullet holes, half a propeller, and a scorched streak on his helmet where an enemy bullet had nearly found its mark.”
A few days later he was grounded by an abscess in his ear but was back flying by the end of July. However, with his last kill at the end of May he would go many months without another victory.
Then on September 14, Rickenbacker started a remarkable streak, claiming his seventh kill and sixth Distinguished Service Cross. He downed another plane the next day. On September 25, he was promoted to Captain and made commander of the 94th Aero Squadron.
He promptly volunteered for a solo patrol, during which he encountered a flight of seven German planes below him. Rather than be thankful that no one saw him, he dived on the formation and attacked the shooting Germans, downed two enemy aircraft, and forced the rest to retreat. For this action, he was awarded his seventh Distinguished Service Cross.
Twelve years later, in 1930, this award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
At the beginning of October, Capt. Rickenbacker had 12 aerial victories. He was the leading living American pilot and was dubbed the ‘Ace of Aces’ by the press. He disliked this title because all three previous holders died in combat.
Despite his discontent with the new title, Rickenbacker led the 94th through severe fighting until the end of the war. During that time, Rickenbacker shot down ten enemy aircraft and three balloons, making him an official “balloon buster.” He also earned his eighth Distinguished Service Cross of the war – a record that hasn’t been broken.
Capt. Rickenbacker ended World War I with a total of 26 aerial victories to his credit, the American ‘Ace of Aces’ for World War I and the rank of Major. The Army promoted Rickenbacker as he left active duty but he never claimed the promotion. He felt his “rank of Captain was earned and deserved.” The public referred to him to as “Captain Eddie” for the rest of his life.
After the war, Rickenbacker went into many ventures in the automobile and aviation industries and survived many more brushes with death. He survived a near-fatal crash in early 1941 that had him out of action for almost a year. During World War II, while on a personal mission to deliver a message to Gen. MacArthur from President Roosevelt and to inspect American aviation facilities in the Pacific, the plane he was flying in lost its way and was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean.
Rickenbacker and the surviving crew members endured over three weeks of life rafts before rescue. Consistent with his dogged determination Rickenbacker completed his assignment before returning to the states, despite losing 60 pounds and suffering from severe sunburn.
Rickenbacker, without formal education past age twelve, would eventually rise to control his own airline, Eastern Air Lines, and make it the only self-sufficient, free-enterprise – he accepted no government subsidies – airline in America for many years. He was also the majority owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for many years during which time he significantly improved the track.
Captain Eddie retired in 1963. In 1972 he suffered a stroke, his last near-death experience. He recovered from the stroke but while visiting Switzerland he contracted pneumonia, and his luck finally ran out. He passed away July 23, 1973, at the age of 82 – a renowned fighter pilot and successful businessman.
In what is the first visit to Vietnam by an American warship since 1975, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) has arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam for a port visit. The last time American carriers visited Vietnam was during Operation Frequent Wind, an evacuation from Saigon before communist North Vietnamese forces conquered the south.
According to a United States Navy release, the carrier was joined by the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108). While the public story is about how this visit, announced in January by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, reflects the United States and the Hanoi governments putting aside the bitterness of the Vietnam War, the obvious, underlying story here is about sending a message to Communist China.
During Operation Frequent Wind, American naval vessels served as a landing point for many South Vietnamese who were seeking to escape the communists. Numerous planes and helicopters were landed on American carriers and, in many cases, pushed over the side to make room for more escapees.
Meanwhile, the South China Sea has been a major maritime flashpoint, with Communist China having buzzed American planes multiple times in 2017. Before the fall of South Vietnam, the Chinese Communists took the Paracel Islands in a 1974 naval battle. The visit by USS Carl Vinson is a way of sending China a message — but Russia might emerge as the real loser in this exchange.
Vietnam has acquired a number of modern Russian ships, including Gepard-class frigates and Tarantul V-class missile corvettes. Vietnam has also acquired two shore-launched batteries of SS-N-26 Sapless anti-ship missiles. The Vietnamese People’s Air Force also has 46 Su-27/30 Flankers either in hand or on order. All of these Russian systems will be looked at closely as the United States and Vietnam grow closer, giving the U.S. valuable insight into the rival peer’s technology.
The Armata family of vehicles, with the flagship T-14 main battle tank, were supposed to be the future of armored warfare, tipping the balance of conventional forces in Europe back towards Russia and ensuring the country’s security and foreign might. But now, Russia has announced that it will be buying only 100 of them, far from the 2,300 once threatened and a sure sign that crippling economic problems are continuing to strangle Putin’s military.
Russia’s T-14 Armata main battle tank was supposed to put Russian armor back on top, but the design and tech are still questionable and Russia is only buying 100 of them, meaning very few of them will be available for operations at any one time.
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
All of this will likely be welcome news for U.S. armored forces who would have faced the T-14s in combat if Russia used them against American allies and NATO forces.
The signs of trouble for the Armata tank were hidden in the project’s debut. It’s always suspicious when a tank or other weapon project seems too good to be true. Snake oil salesmen can profit in the defense industry, too. And there were few projects promising more revolutionary breakthroughs for less money than the T-14.
It is supposed to weigh just 70 percent of the Abrams (48 tons compared to the Abrams’ 68) but still be able to shake off rounds from enemy tanks thanks to advanced armor designs. Its developers bragged of an extremely capable autoloader, a remote turret, and an active protection system that could defeat any incoming missile.
When something sounds too good to be true, maybe check the fine print.
Still, it wouldn’t have been impossible to come up with a breakthrough design to shake up the armored world. After all, while the Abrams was expensive to develop, it featured some revolutionary technology. Its armor was lighter and more capable thanks to ceramic technology developed in Britain, and its engines, while fuel-hungry, delivered massive amounts of power. These factors combined to create a fast, agile beast capable of surviving nearly any round that enemy tanks could shoot at it.
Russia’s Su-57 has design flaws and under-strength engines, causing many to wonder if it would really rival American fifth-generation fighters if it even went into serial production.
(Photo by Anna Zvereva)
None of this money problem is a surprise. Russia is subject to a slew of international sanctions resulting from actions like the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine and meddling in European and U.S. elections. While sanctions generally act as a minor drag on healthy economies, they have a compounding effect on weak economies.
And make no mistake: Russia’s economy is weak. It is heavily tied to oil prices which, just a few years ago, would’ve been great news. From 2010 to 2014, oil often peaked above 0 per barrel for days or weeks at a time and was usually safely above a barrel. Now, it typically trades between and a barrel and has slumped as low as .
Keep in mind that, typically, military strength trends with economic strength; more money, more might. But Russia has struggled to maintain its world-power status after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its annual GDP is actually smaller than that of Texas, California, or New York. That’s right. If Russia was a state, it would have the fourth largest economy in the country.
Still, Russia can’t be written off. It’s either the second or third most powerful military in the world, depending on who you ask. And the other slot is held by China, another rival of American power. With thousands of tanks and fighters in each country’s arsenal, as well as millions of service members, both countries will remain major threats for decades or longer.
After watching an F-22 Raptor twist and turn during an impressive demonstration at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, we asked the 1st Fighter Wing’s commander if he’s worried about Russia’s new Su-57 stealth fighter.
“It’s always good to be chased,” Col. Jason Hinds, commander of the 1st Fighter Wing, told Business Insider. “When people are trying to beat you, you know you got an impressive airplane.”
Russia has touted its new Su-57 as superior to the U.S.’ F-22 Raptor, but the Su-57 is still undergoing testing and has yet to be mass-produced.
While many have called into question its stealth capabilities, Moscow claims the Su-57 is a fifth-generation fighter and that it hopes to turn it into a sixth-generation fighter.
“I don’t know what they’re trying to call it,” Hinds said. “I can tell you that anytime you’re going into combat, you got to be concerned about whatever the adversary brings, whether it’s a fourth-gen airplane or a fifth-gen plane — you got to be ready for both.”
Hinds said what’s most important for the “entire operational kill chain” is their own training and the maintenance of the plane and its weapons.
“You really can’t be focused on the adversary — you got to be focused on yourself,” Hinds said.
“You’ll train on the adversaries, you’ll train against everything you need to be ready for — and we got to be ready for all of it.”
While analysts have criticized some of the Su-57’s capabilities, many have also maintained that the Su-57 is highly maneuverable — perhaps even more so than the F-22.
“I’m not concerned — I’ll tell you that,” Hinds said.