The US Air Force confirmed in early August that it would buy two Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental airliners and convert them to serve as future Air Force One planes for US presidents.
The decision to buy planes that were already built rather than custom-made aircraft stemmed from President Donald Trump’s push to cut costs.
Trump publicly criticized the Boeing-led program’s cost in December.
Earlier this year, Trump said he would be able to cut a billion dollars from the $4.2 billion Presidential Airlift Recapitalization program, though the White House later said those savings would only amount to “millions.”
Now the exclusion of a key feature to keep expenses down may attract objections from Congress.
“Strangely to me, the Air Force has just announced that the next version of Air Force One will not have in-flight refueling capability. What do you make of that?” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton asked Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford on Tuesday, during a hearing to confirm Dunford’s reappointment to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I think that was a decision that was not made by the Air Force, but made by the White House,” Dunford said, “and I think it had to do with the fiscal constraints on the program.”
Cotton, calling the decision strange, suggested lawmakers and military leaders might reverse it. “I think we might need to revisit that decision here on Capitol Hill,” he said, according to Air Force Times.
The Air Force said in August that it wouldn’t mandate the new planes have in-flight refueling systems, and officials have said adding that capability would add unneeded costs.
But while the 747-8 models can fly almost 1,800 nautical miles more than the jets they will replace without refueling, according to Defense One — and even though presidents have never used in-flight refueling on the current planes — Dunford said the need to make ground stops for refueling, even in the case of emergency, “will certainly be a limiting factor, and we’ll have to plan accordingly.”
The Air Force plans to start modifying the 747s in 2019 and have them enter service in 2024. By that time, the two Boeing 747-200-based VC-25A aircraft that serve as Air Force One when the president is aboard will be 34 years old.
The Boeing 747-8 platform was selected as the next presidential aircraft in January 2015. The two aircraft acquired for the program were built by Boeing for a Russian airline that went bankrupt before it could take delivery. The company then held on to the planes until a new buyer could be found. The Air Force has not disclosed how much it paid for them.
Air Force One acts as a mobile national command center, and expected modifications include a specialized communications system, electrical upgrades, a medical facility, and a self-defense system. What requirements will be put on the planes and how much they will cost have been the subject of wrangling between the Pentagon and contractors for months.
The Air Force is looking to cut costs by striking better deals on the materials going into the planes. A number of the plane’s interior furnishings will be commercially available products.
“From this point forward, any additional cost savings will arise from capitalizing on acquisition process opportunities,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Defense One this month.
Boeing has already gotten $170 million in development funding to study the future Air Force One’s technical requirements. Earlier this month, the Air Force awarded the company another contract worth a little less than $600 million to begin the preliminary design of the future Air Force Ones.
“Those [cost-saving] opportunities identified will be reviewed to ensure mission capabilities are not degraded,” the Air Force said at the time, according to Defense News. “The entire preliminary design effort will keep a focus on affordability.”
Despite US efforts to convince other countries not to make deals with Russian defense firms, India’s defense minister told US lawmakers in July 2018 that New Delhi will go ahead with its purchase of the Russian-made S-400, one of the most advanced air-defense systems on the market.
“With Russia, we have had a continuous relationship of defence procurement of seven decades. We told the US Congress delegation, which met me in Delhi, that this it is US legislation and not a UN law,” Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the press on July 13, 2018, referring to the US’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which seeks to prevent foreign deals with Russian defense or intelligence firms.
“We have had this relationship, an enduring relationship with the Russians, and are going ahead with buying the S-400,” Sitharaman said, adding that the US secretaries of defense and state “have taken a position understanding of India’s position.”
Sitharaman said the S-400 deal was at an “almost conclusive stage,” and the system is expected to arrive within two and a half to four years of signing. Officials are expected to announce the deal in October 2018, before an annual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
India currently fields a host of Russian-made weapons systems, including the S-300 air-defense system, an overhauled Kiev-class carrier-cruiser, and squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighter aircraft.
India’s defense ties with Russia are longstanding, but the US has sought to expand its relations with the South Asian country for years. Since 2008, Washington has sold Delhi billion worth of arms, and the Pentagon recently renamed US Pacific Command as US Indo-Pacific Command to reflect India’s growing role in the region.
For India, the decision to buy the S-400 system was likely made out of practical concerns rather than for geopolitical motives, said Jeff Smith, a research fellow focused on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation.
“Simply put, the S-400 is considered a more affordable, albeit highly capable, missile-defense system when compared to competing US systems,” Smith said in an email, noting that the S-400 had attracted interest from other US partners, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia. (Turkey’s S-400 purchase has caused tension with NATO.)
“Additionally, the Indian military has great familiarity with their Russian counterparts,” Smith added. “The majority of India’s legacy platforms are Soviet origin, and Russia continues to be India’s top supplier of defense equipment, although by a shrinking margin.”
The deal has nevertheless run afoul of US attempts to isolate Russian companies with the CAATSA, which Congress passed in August 2017 and went into effect in January 2018.
US officials have cautioned India about making deals with Russian firms. Rep. Mac Thornberry, head of the House Armed Services Committee, said in early 2018 that the US was disappointed with Delhi’s purchases of Russian-made weapons.
The S-400 deal in particular “threatens our ability to work interoperably in the future,” Thornberry said at the end of May 2018, around the same time India and Russia concluded negotiations over the sale.
The CAATSA would force President Donald Trump to put sanctions on actors that make a “significant transaction” with the Russian defense or intelligence sectors, which the legislation does not define, Smith said.
But it would likely cover India’s S-400 contract — thought to be worth .5 billion for five S-400 regiments, totaling as many as 240 of the system’s four-tube launchers, plus fire-control radars and command systems.
“For reasons beyond my comprehension Congress did not envision this would become a point of contention with Delhi, or foresee that it would be impractical to demand India immediately halt all defense trade with its top defense supplier for the past half-century,” Smith said.
Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have asked Congress to make exceptions for US partners using Russian-made weapons.
Mattis told lawmakers in Apri 2018 that there are countries “who are trying to turn away from formerly Russian-sourced weapons and systems” but need to keep supply lines open to maintain those weapons.
“We only need to look at India, Vietnam, and some others to recognize that eventually we’re going to penalize ourselves” with strict adherence to CAATSA, Mattis said at the time.
Congress has denied a Pentagon request for an expansive waiver for CAATSA-related sanctions, Smith said, but others on Capitol Hill are looking for ways to insulate Delhi and others who may get caught up.
“Among other things, the House of Representatives version of the National Defense Authorization Act included an amendment that would expand the president’s authority to delay or terminate CAATSA sanctions,” he said. The versions of the NDAA passed by the Senate and House of Representatives are now being reconciled.
“India watchers are eager to see whether the provision survives the conference committee,” Smith added. “If it doesn’t, I expect the Hill to contemplate additional legislative remedies in the months ahead.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Earlier this week, Mexican federal police in Sonora came across a panel van with modifications and additions that allowed it carry a “cannon” possibly used to launch drugs over the border into the US.
According to a release from the federal police, officers came across the van while it was parked in northwest Sonora state’s Agua Prieta municipality, which borders Arizona and Texas. The van was found without license plates and its doors were open.
Inside the vehicle, authoritiesfound “an air compressor, a gasoline motor, a tank for storing air and a metallic tube of approximately 3 meters in length (homemade bazooka).”
The “unit,” as the release referred to it, also had a cut in the end that could have allowed the metal tube to be hooked up to launch projectiles, possibly across the border.
The vehicle in question was linked to a car theft in Hermosillo, Sonora, according to an investigation dated July 1 this year.
Days before, authorities in the same area reportedly found a vehicle with similar additions.
US authorities have said since 2012 that drug traffickers have made use of such cannons. Cans and packets of marijuana, cocaine, and crystal meth have been discovered on the US side of the border, and, according to Mexican newspaper Reforma, those projectiles can be launched from 200 meters inside Mexican territory.
“Tell [the Colombians] to send all the drugs they can,” Guzmán ordered after the tunnel’s completion.
More recently, in 2011, would-be smugglers a few miles west of Agua Prieta made a more humble effort to get drugs over the border: They were observed setting up a catapult just south of the border fence. Mexican authorities moved in and seized the catapult and about 45 pounds of marijuana.
Enlisting in the Army with a childhood friend or relative is a generations-old practice meant to bring familiarity and comfort to an experience fraught with stress and uncertainty.
So, does signing up with more than one recruit further ease the difficulties associated with initial military training?
The answer is an emphatic “yes” as it relates to members of a Samoan family with a decidedly large footprint at Fort Lee. There are 41 of them enrolled in various Sustainment Center of Excellence courses here, twisting the old adage “strength in numbers.”
“This is good for us,” said 30-year-old Spc. Joseph Tauiliili, assigned to Papa Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion, and the oldest among relatives in various stages of advanced individual training. “We come from American Samoa, and we’re basically thousands of miles away from home. Seeing them by my side keeps me motivated every day.”
American Samoa is a U.S. territory and part of the Samoan Islands, an archipelago that also includes the independent nation of Samoa. It is located in the Pacific Ocean roughly 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii and a little over 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand.
The Samoans in training here — first, second, third, and fourth cousins — hail from Poloa, an area near the capital city of Pago Pago. All are related to the same malietoa or chieftain. Their decision to join in close proximity was partly based on strong familial and cultural ties, said Pvt. Siiva Tuiolemotu, assigned to Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.
“We wanted to stick together in training,” the 20-year-old said, noting her country’s communal culture.
Most of the Samoans are training in the Unit Supply Specialist Course taught at the Quartermaster School. A few are enrolled in courses for other quartermaster military occupational specialties, and at least one attends the Ordnance School.
American Samoa, which has struggled economically, boasts strong traditions of military service, said Tuiolemotu. In 2014, a local Army recruiting station was the most productive in the world, according to the Samoa News website. Still, kinship is what drives most to take the oath of service.
“The thing we care about is supporting our families,” she said. “If that means (sacrificing) our lives, yes, we have to fight for them.”
It also is legacy. Many of the Soldiers are the latest to uphold family traditions.
“Most of my siblings are in the military, and I’m the youngest, so I wanted to follow in their footsteps,” said 25-year-old Pfc. Vasait Saua, Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.
Pvt. Talalelei Ames said his parents also spent time in uniform, and his father is a retiree. Enduring long periods of separation while they served, he said his military ties were not strong, but that has changed since he took the oath.
“Wearing the uniform makes me feel I am more connected to them,” said the 19-year-old. “I think it’s pretty awesome. I never had this much fun in my life and never had this much responsibility. Now, I know what my parents went through to protect the country.”
The question of whether the Samoans are a close-knit clan or a loose group of relatives was answered during a recent photo session. The Quartermaster School’s Sgt. Maj. Micheal Lambert, who organized the gathering, said there were smiles, hugs, and kisses reminiscent of a family reunion. To top it all off, they postured as if performing a traditional dance complete with contorted facial expressions
“They are definitely a family,” he said.
At some point during their training, the Samoans must face an inherent component of Army life — family separation. The sheer number of Samoans wearing uniforms, however, along with the richness of Samoan culture is comforting in light of the prospect, said Tuiolemotu.
“I’m the first one who will leave the group,” she said, noting a pending Fort Riley, Kansas, assignment. “I’m not worried because there are a lot of us out there. I’m bound to meet another relative somewhere. That’s for sure.”
Despite the lifting of a federal hiring freeze, the Department of Veterans Affairs is leaving thousands of positions unfilled, citing the need for a leaner VA as it develops a longer-term plan to allow more veterans to seek medical care in the private sector.
The order by VA Secretary David Shulkin is described in an internal April 14 memorandum obtained by The Associated Press. The VA indicated it would proceed with filling open positions previously exempted under the hiring freeze. Noting that the White House had ordered all departments to be leaner and “more accountable,” the VA indicated that more than 4,000 jobs would still be left vacant unless they were specially approved “position by position” by top VA leadership as addressing an “absolute critical need.”
These positions include roughly 4,000 in the VA’s health arm and 200 in benefits, plus more than 400 information technology positions and over 100 human resource positions, according to VA data provided to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier in April. Government auditors have previously faulted the department for recent shortages in IT and HR, which it said it had hurt its ability to recruit and hire key staff department-wide.
Major veterans organizations also worry this could be a sign of future tightening at the VA, coming after the department had previously warned it would need “hiring surges” to address a rapidly growing disability backlog. The groups have cautioned against any “privatization” efforts at the VA that could expand private care for veterans while reducing investment in the VA itself.
“It seems to be a reversal of what they have been saying, and it’s disappointing,” said Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans’ Washington headquarters.
Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said his group was concerned the VA would overlook positions that didn’t directly affect health care, such as staffing of its suicide prevention hotline.
In a statement April 26, the VA said the hiring restrictions were needed to “streamline VA’s corporate structure and administrative positions.”
While President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for a 6 percent increase in VA funding, the memo indicated that the government’s second largest agency with nearly 370,000 employees was no different from other departments that needed to improve “efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability” and left open the possibility of “near-term” and “long-term workforce reductions.” Shulkin is also putting together a broader proposal by fall to expand the VA’s Choice program of private-sector care.
“This memo lifts the federal hiring freeze. However, this does not mean business as usual for hiring,” stated VA chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson. She said VA leadership aimed to proceed in the coming months with “deliberative hiring strategies” as it seeks to build “a future VA of Choice.”
The memo comes as the Trump administration seeks to highlight accomplishment and accountability at the VA. During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized the VA as “the most corrupt” and pledged to expand private care.
Trump planned to sign an executive order April 27 to create a VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.
Shulkin has acknowledged that the VA was hurt initially by the hiring freeze because it could not hire claims processors. Shulkin later exempted those positions, including 242 the VA earmarked for this year to specifically address an appeals backlog, a 36 percent increase. But the VA has said it would need an additional hiring “surge” of at least 1,458 full-time staff to stem a growing appeals backlog. The backlog was expected to exceed 1 million within a decade, with average wait times of 8.5 years. The current wait time is as many as five years.
Shulkin also has signaled, without naming specific locations, that underutilized VA facilities will have to close. “There are some parts of the country where facilities are sitting empty, and there is no sense in keeping them empty,” he has said.
The executive order being signed by Trump would create a VA office to “discipline or terminate VA managers or employees who fail to carry out their duties in helping our veterans.”
Recent audits by the VA inspector general and a report by The Associated Press in February found a pattern of poor VA compliance involving equipment and drug inventory checks, putting patients at risk at the Washington, D.C. medical center and leading to a sharp rise in opioid thefts across the VA system since 2009.
In March, the Republican-led House approved legislation to make it easier for the VA to fire, suspend, or demote employees for poor performance or bad conduct. But the measure has been slow to move in the Senate after Democrats and unions cast it as an attack on workers’ rights.
AP writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
The ferocity of the Tet Offensive, which began 51 years ago, surprised most Americans, including service members manning the television station in Hue, Vietnam.
Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) was located in a villa about a mile outside the main U.S. compound in Hue, in a neighborhood considered relatively safe from attack.
After the AFVN crew had signed off the air that night and settled into their billets, they heard an explosion down the street. Some of them were already asleep, but a few were still up watching fireworks through their window, since it was the first night of Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year.
“Then the real fireworks started,” said Harry Ettmueller, a specialist five and broadcast engineer at the time.
Mortars and rockets began to blast the city landscape and tracer rounds could be seen in the distance.
“It was quite a light show,” said former Spc. 4 John Bagwell, a broadcaster who jumped out of bed once he heard the noise.
Spc. 4 John Bagwell broadcasts for the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam before he was transferred to AFVN Det. 5 in Hue during January 1968.
(U.S. Army photo)
One mortar round hit the maintenance shed next to their TV station, which was located behind the house where the AFVN team of eight slept.
The team then pulled out their weapons: World War II carbines along with a shotgun, three M14 rifles, and an M60 machine gun that jammed after two shots.
They took up positions in doorways and windows to stop possible entry. They even handed a carbine to a visiting NBC engineer, Courtney Niles, who happened to be an Army veteran.
Battle for Hue
Station commander, Marine 1st Lt. James DiBernardo, called the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, or MAC-V office in Hue, and was told to keep his crew in place. A division-sized force of the North Vietnamese army, along with Viet Cong guerrillas, was attacking locations all across the city.
They had even captured part of the citadel that once housed Vietnam’s imperial family and later became the headquarters of a South Vietnamese division.
The NVA attack on Hue was one of the strongest and most successful of the Tet Offensive. Even though more than 100 towns and cities across the country were attacked during Tet, the five-week battle for Hue was the only one where communist forces held a significant portion of the city for more than a few days.
On the second day of Tet, the power-generating station in Hue was taken out and the telephone lines to the AFVN compound were cut. The crew became isolated.
AFVN had begun augmenting its radio broadcasting with television in Saigon in early 1967. Then TV went to Da Nang and up to Hue.
The U.S. State Department decided to help the Vietnamese set up a station for local nationals in what had been the consulate’s quarters in Hue. AFVN set up their equipment in a van just outside the same villa and began broadcasting to troops in May.
Following the Tet Offensive, not much remained of the house where members of AFVN Det. 5 held off the North Vietnamese in a 16-hour firefight.
Hundreds of TVs were brought up from Saigon and distributed to troops. Ettmueller said he was often flown by Air America to units near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to distribute them.
In January 1968, with the 1st Cavalry Division and elements of the 101st Airborne Div. moving up to the northern I Corps area of operations, AFVN decided to add radio broadcasting to the TV station in Hue.
Broadcasters Bagwell and Spc. 5 Steven Stroub were sent from 1st Cavalry to help set up the radio operation. They arrived a day and a half before Tet erupted.
For the next five days, sporadic fire was directed at the AFVN billets, Ettmueller said. The staff members remained in defensive positions at doors and windows.
Bagwell said they were hopeful MACV would send a rescue mission for them, but by the fifth day, they were running out of food and water.
As night fell Feb. 4, the North Vietnamese launched a company-sized assault against the AFVN compound. Dozens of Vietnamese rushed the house and the Americans kept up a steady fire through the windows.
Each time the WWII carbines were fired, though, the magazines fell out and had to be reinserted, Ettmueller said. But he had an M14 and put it on full automatic.
During the assault, a young boy appeared in the window where Bagwell was on guard. The boy was trembling as he pointed his weapon at Bagwell, who hesitated.
“He shot and one bullet came close to my ear and I could hear it whiz by,” Bagwell said. “The next bullet he shot came close to the other ear. I realized if I didn’t kill him, he’d kill me.”
He pulled the trigger on his M14 and the boy fell backward.
North Vietnamese rushed the house repeatedly during the night. Sgt. 1st Class John Anderson, the station’s NCOIC, was awarded a Silver Star for manning the living room door with a shotgun to turn back assault after assault.
“He personally was responsible for inflicting deadly fire on the attacking enemy force,” reads the citation, adding that Anderson held his post despite being severely wounded by enemy grenades.
At one point, a Vietnamese soldier came running toward the door with a satchel of explosives strapped around him. Ettmueller said when one of their bullets hit the soldier’s satchel, it exploded, taking him out and a couple of others near him.
During the course of the night, at least three rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the house and a B40 rocket went right through the front window and hit the back wall. The wall collapsed on Ettmueller and Marine Sgt. Tom Young, forcing both men to crawl out from underneath the debris.
“They pretty much… leveled the house,” Bagwell said.
Breakout and capture
By morning, the house was on fire and the AFVN crew was beginning to run low on ammunition.
They decided their best chance was to try and make a run for the MACV compound. NBC engineer Niles said he knew the layout of the city the best, so he volunteered to be the first one out the door. Bagwell was close behind him.
The plan called for both men to cross the road into a ditch so they could lay down covering fire for the rest of the team. However, Niles was fatally shot. Bagwell applied a quick tourniquet, but said it did not help much.
Anderson and others in the house saw the direction of the gunfire. After a brief pause, the seven of them ran out the door and turned in the opposite direction. They made it through a hole in the fence line and sneaked around a North Vietnamese team manning a machine gun on the second floor of a building under construction.
They made it through another hole in a fence into a small rice paddy, when they came up to the U.S. Information Services library next to a concrete wall topped with barbed wire.
There, the North Vietnamese caught up to them.
Young stepped out to lay down covering fire and was killed by automatic gunfire from the machine-gun position.
Ettmueller described the chaotic situation: “There we were, trapped. More rounds coming in; more grenades being thrown. Chickens running all over the place, jumping up in the air and flying. More rounds coming in.”
Stroub was shot in the left arm and had an open fracture. He passed out, Ettmueller said. Anderson was shot with a bullet that penetrated his flak jacket and grazed his diaphragm. He began to hiccup.
As the AFVN team began to run out of ammo, the North Vietnamese closed in and captured them.
The prisoners were bound with wire and had their boots removed, and then ordered to march forward. Ettmueller helped Stroub up, but it was not long before he stumbled and fell. An NVA soldier opened fire from above with the machine gun and executed him.
Meanwhile, Bagwell was left alone outside the station after Niles was fatally shot. The North Vietnamese had taken off in pursuit of the rest of the AFVN team.
Bagwell, who had been in Hue only a few days, had no idea which way to go and he was out of ammunition.
He wandered the streets, not sure what to do. “I was quite amazed with all the fighting going around that I hadn’t been shot.”
Then he looked down at his boot and spotted a hole. With his adrenaline pumping, he had not felt anything, but “the next thing I knew I was in pain.”
Bagwell looked up and saw a Catholic church. He knocked on the door and pleaded with a priest to help him. About 100 Vietnamese civilians were already hiding in the church.
The priest insisted Bagwell change his clothes. They buried his uniform and M14 in the courtyard. Then the priest wrapped Bagwell’s face in bandages.
“His idea was to make me look as much like a Vietnamese as possible,” Bagwell said.
Not long afterward, North Vietnamese soldiers burst into the church looking for Americans.
“They came by and started pointing their rifles right at my face,” he said. “I just closed my eyes and thought, ‘there’s no way they’re not going to know I’m not Vietnamese.'”
Broadcast Engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin sits behind the television van for Detachment 5 of the American Forces Vietnam Network in Hue.
(U.S. Army photo)
But the North Vietnamese walked on past him. Bagwell was then taken by the priest up into the bell tower of the church to hide.
Other American forces, however, had been told that NVA fighters were hiding in the church, Bagwell said. So, they began to shell the church and hit the bell tower.
Part of the tower collapsed. “I just crawled out of all the mess and crawled back downstairs,” Bagwell said.
The priest then rushed up to him and said, “You know, you’re kind of bad luck. We need to get you out of here.” He pointed across rice paddies to a light in the distance and said he thought that was an American unit.
As he crawled through the rice paddies, Bagwell said a U.S. helicopter began circling him and shining its search light down, thinking he was Vietnamese, since he had no uniform.
“Actually, during that time, I counted about 12 times that I should have been shot and killed,” Bagwell said. “Six by the North Vietnamese and six by the Americans.”
When the sun came up, Bagwell was near a U.S. signal unit. He took off his white shirt and put it on a stick, yelling “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I’m an American!”
They held a gun to him and asked if he was really an American.
“You can’t tell with this Okie accent?” Bagwell replied.
“Well, what were you doing out there?” a soldier asked.
“I was with the TV and radio station,” Bagwell said.
“No, I don’t think so; they’re all dead or prisoner,” the soldier insisted. “The only body we haven’t found is Bagwell.”
The North Vietnamese executed an estimated 3,000 South Vietnamese civilians in Hue during Tet for sympathizing with American forces. Bagwell said he learned that a Catholic priest was executed for hiding a U.S. soldier in a church, and he knew that soldier had to be him.
The prisoners of war from AFVN Det. 5 — Ettmueller, DiBernardo and Anderson, along with Marine Cpl. John Deering and Army broadcast engineer Staff Sgt. Donat Gouin — were forced to walk 400 miles barefoot through the jungle over the next 55 days.
For five years, they were tortured, interrogated and moved from one POW camp to another, until released from the infamous Hanoi Hilton in the 1973 prisoner exchange.
Bagwell and Ettmueller were inducted into the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame in 2008. The Army Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award is named in Anderson’s honor.
Editor’s note: Bagwell and Ettmueller were interviewed this month by phone. Retired Master Sgt. Anderson was interviewed in 1983 when he was a civilian public affairs officer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
A 360-degree video from the US Army shows how the military rapidly inserts and extracts soldiers in areas where a helicopter can’t safely land, and it’s insanely cool.
The video, taken by members of the Army’s 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, shows a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the 2nd Batallion, 25th Aviation Regiment snatching a team of soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division out of the water during Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction (SPIE) training.
(Click and drag your pointer across the screen to rotate the video and get the full 360-degree experience)
A variation of the Vietnam War-era troop transfer approach known as the Stabilized Body (STABO) method, SPIE can be carried out on land and in the water, The War Zone, which first took note of the Army’s new video, reported Nov. 18, 2018.
Standard SPIE ropes run from 120 to 150 feet in length and can be used to carry anywhere from one to ten people at a time. For insertion, the SPIE system is considered impractical compared to fast rope rappelling, but this method has its advantages for “wet” extractions.
Reconnaissance Training Company Marines received an aerial view of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California during Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction training at San Mateo Landing Zone.
(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Shaltiel Dominguez)
The way it works is relatively simple. Troops hook their harnesses to a rope attached to a helicopter, which lifts them up to a safe height (above any potentially dangerous obstacles) and then flies away with them dangling below.
At the landing zone, the troops are lowered down one at a time to unhook and clear the way for the next person.
Marines hang from a UH-1Y helicopter during special patrol insertion and extraction training at Stone Bay on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Sept. 23, 2015.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin A. Lewis)
This somewhat unusual insertion/extraction approach, initially developed for jungle warfare, gives the military more options in contested areas, rough terrain, and on water. The new SPIE video from the Army was filmed off the coast of Hawaii.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
As the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program barrels toward its final major testing process before full-rate production, program leaders say a much-discussed comparison test between the beloved A-10 Thunderbolt II and the new 5th-generation fighter is very much still in planning and could kick off as soon as April 2018.
In a roundtable discussion with reporters at the F-35 Joint Program Office headquarters near Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28, the director of the program said the final test and evaluation plan is still being constructed. That will determine, he said, when the A-10 vs. F-35 test begins, and whether it happens in the main test effort or in an earlier, more focused evaluation.
“The Congress has directed the [Defense Department] to do comparison testing, we call it,” Vice Adm. Mat Winter said. “I wouldn’t call it a flyoff; it’s a comparison testing of the A-10 and the F-35. And given that the department was given that task … that is in [the] operational test and evaluation plan.”
Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, or IOTE, is set to begin for the F-35 in September 2018. But two new increments of preliminary testing were recently added to the calendar to evaluate specific capabilities, Winter said.
The first increment, which was completed in January and February 2018, took place at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska and evaluated the ability of the aircraft to perform in extreme cold weather conditions, with a focus on the effectiveness of alert launches. The results of those tests have yet to be made public.
The second increment, set to begin in April 2018, will focus on close-air support capabilities, reconnaissances, and limited examination of weapons delivery, Winter said. The testing is expected to take place at Edwards Air Force Base in California and other ranges in the western United States.
Questions surrounding the F-35’s ability to perform in a close-air support role are what prompted initial interest in a comparison between the aging A-10 “Warthog” and the cutting-edge fighter in the first place.
The requirement that the two aircraft go up against each other was included as a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 amid congressional concerns over plans to retire the A-10 and replace it with the F-35.
In an interview with Military.com in 2017, Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, then-director of the F-35 program’s integration office, said he expected the A-10 to emerge as a better CAS platform in a no-threat environment.
But the dynamics would change, he said, as the threat level increased.
“As you now start to build the threat up, the A-10s won’t even enter the airspace before they get shot down — not even within 20 miles of the target.”
China’s leaders are increasingly on edge as US Navy warships have begun transiting the tense Taiwan Strait on a regular basis.
The US Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer and a fleet oiler through the strait Jan. 24, 2019, the third time in four months the US has sent warships through the closely-watched waterway.
“We urge the US to tread lightly,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded Jan. 25, 2019. She compared the Taiwan Strait to a family home with a yard divided by a road, stressing that while it is reasonable for pedestrians to pass through, it is a different scenario if someone is there to make trouble by engaging in “provocative behavior” and “threatening the safety” of the family.
She noted that China has already raised the issue with the US, adding that China has asked the US to approach Taiwan cautiously so as to avoid damaging US-China relations.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald.
China displeasure stems from not only from concerns that US military activity around the island will empower Taiwan’s pro-independence forces but also frustration with the US Navy’s refusal to ask permission before transiting the international strait between China and Taiwan, a democratic island it views as a rogue province.
The US has long insisted it doesn’t need permission. “We don’t need China’s permission to go through the Taiwan Strait, it is international waters. We will exercise our free right of passage whenever and wherever we choose, as we have done repeatedly in the past, and will do in the future,” retired Adm. Timothy Keating, former head of US Pacific Command (now Indo-Pacific Command), explained in 2007, when the US Navy sailed the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk through the strait.
Beijing, however, considers these transits to be purposeful provocations.
“The purpose of US warships is to flex their geopolitical muscle,” the nationalist Global Times, a hawkish Chinese state-affiliated tabloid, wrote in an editorial Jan. 25, 2019, asserting, “China will find the US action irritating, but such actions can never deter China.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.
“The US Navy “should refrain from staging military provocation in China’s coastal areas,” the paper argued, suggesting that failure to do so could result in a clash.
US Pacific Fleet said that Jan. 24, 2019’s passage demonstrated “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” as well as US determination to “fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.” The US uses similar rhetoric to characterize its freedom-of-navigation operations and bomber overflights.
The US insists that it is simply re-reinforcing the rules of the road, so to speak, as they pertain to activities in international waters, and Navy leadership has made it clear that the US will continue to transit the Taiwan Strait.
“We see the Taiwan Straits as international waters, and that’s why we do the transits through the straits,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of US naval operations, said recently, adding that the Navy is “just exercising the right to pass through those waters in accordance with international law.”
The admiral suggested that the US could send a carrier through those waters if it wanted to, something the Navy hasn’t done in more than a decade.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
While deployed, there’s always a bit of joy that buzzes around the squad when a care package arrives. Troops gather around their squad leader as they disperse the sweets, trinkets, and amenities given by the charitable folks back home. It’s not uncommon for battle-hardened warfighters to genuinely crack an enormous smile when they receive something that reminds them of home.
Recently, certain regulations consolidated the shipping rates for packages being sent to an Army Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO) or Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) mailing address — which only put added financial strain on those kind-willed folks sending packages. The costs can also really add up for charities who send mass quantities of care packages. Ultiltaemy, this means fewer care packages being sent to the troops still fighting overseas today.
There is a glimmer of hope. U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross of New Jersey’s First District recently introduced the “Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2019,” or H.R. 400, that aims to greatly reduce the costs and spread more cheer among the troops.
The secret to make a bunch of grown badasses smile like children? Girl Scout cookies…
(Photo by Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs)
All shipping rates for packages that crossed different shipping zones drastically increased January, 2018. While a package going to Michigan from California saw an increase of .60, any package sent from Smalltown, USA, to troops stationed in the Middle East had to pay nearly double.
Logistically speaking, the care package left the hands of postal employees long before they were dispersed at mail call. Any package sent would arrive at a postal gateway before being given to military personnel to complete its journey to a remote destination. The added costs are mostly meaningless seeing as the package is delivered by US military personnel once it leaves the US.
Congressman Tom MacArthur of New Jersey’s Third District tried last year to reverse these increases with a similar bit of legislation — Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018, or H.R.6231. He aimed to curtail the costs and make it much cheaper to send troops a care package. This legislation would have listed any package to (or from) an APO/FPO/DPO address as Zone 1/2, making the weight of the package a non-factor in shipping costs so long as the contents fit inside a flat-rate box. This bill, unfortunately, did not succeed and MacArthur was unsuccessful in his reelection campaign.
The cost to send care packages remains unreasonably high, and organizations like the Operation Yellow Ribbon of South Jersey have had to reduce the number of packages sent purely because of the financial red tape.
Because our troops are still out there, and they need your support.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Meredith Brown)
Now the torch to raise the morale of troops has been passed to fellow New Jersey Congressman Donald Norcross, a chair on the 115th Congressional Committee of Armed Services.
He’s proposed “Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2019,” which aims to cut the red tape and make the price of sending a care package comparable to the cost of sending a letter.
This bill will positively affect the lives of the countless troops still in harm’s way. Please contact your representative and let them know that you support “Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2019”, or H.R. 400.
The United States Navy commissioned the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) this past weekend. The ship is noted for many advanced technologies on board, but what is also notable is what the ship doesn’t have.
According to a Navy Times report, though the Ford has a compliment of America’s most advanced fighters, it’s missing urinals in the men’s head.
The Navy claimed that the elimination of the urinals increase flexibility when it comes to shifting berthing arrangements for the crew on board the $13 billion vessel. However, there are some drawbacks to this new arrangement, according to experts.
Chuck Kaufman, president of the Public Restroom Company, is among those critical of the design change. The Public Restroom Company specializes in designing public restrooms that have been used in parks, rest areas, playgrounds – just about anywhere.
“[A toilet is] by far a less clean environment than a urinal. By far,” Kaufman told the Navy Times, citing the fact that men tend to miss normal toilets more often than they miss urinals.
“What is a problem is [with a water closet] you have a very big target and we can’t aim very quickly,” he added, noting that the only way to ensure men didn’t miss was to make them sit down. Furthermore, Kaufman explained, toilets take over twice the space of urinals. The Navy Times noted that about 18 percent of the Navy’s personnel are women.
The Gerald R. Ford replaced the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), which was taken out of service in 2012.
The most expensive weapons system in history, the US’s F-35 Lightning II, is still sometimes losing to the 1970s F-15 in dogfights during training scenarios in Japan.
US Air Force F-15 pilot Capt. Brock McGehee, when asked by Defense News if the F-35s at Kadena Air Force base in Japan still sometimes lost to the Cold War-era fighters, said “I mean, sometimes.”
The F-35 has long been plagued by reports of that it can’t dogfight as well as older, much cheaper jets, despite being in development for nearly two decades and claiming to revolutionize air combat.
In 2015, War is Boring published a report from a test pilot that said the F-35 couldn’t turn or climb fast enough to keep up with older jets, and F-16s lugging heavy fuel tanks under wing still routinely trounced it.
But a lot has changed since 2015. The F-35 has had its software upgraded and the tactics refined.
Why the Cold War jets can still pull a win out — for now
Retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke previously told Business Insider that the older jets benefited from decades of development and training, whereby new pilots today have established best practices. As the F-35 is still in its early days, Berke said the best is yet to come.
“The biggest limitation for the F-35 is that pilots are not familiar with how to fly it. They try to fly the F-35 like their old airplane,” Berke said.
But the pilots at Kadena dogfighting against F-15s may be a cut above, according to Berke, who said that because they have never flown a legacy jet before, they won’t bring the bad habits with them, and will instead learn how to fly the F-35 like the unique plane it is. “They’re going to be your best, most effective tacticians,” Berke said.
F-35s at a major disadvantage to any legacy jet in a dogfight
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“The F-35 cannot out dogfight a Typhoon (or a Su-35), never in a million years,” Justin Bronk, a combat aircraft expert at the Royal United Services Institute, previously told Business Insider.
The reason why, according to Bronk and other experts on the F-35, is that the F-35 just isn’t a dogfighter. The F-35’s stealth design put heavy demands on the shape of the aircraft, which restricted it in some dimensions. As a result, it’s not the most dynamic jet the US could have possibly built, but it doesn’t have to be.
Berke, an alumnus of the US Navy’s famous Top Gun school, echoed Alpert’s assessment, but warned that the common perception of dogfighting was “way off,” and something US jets haven’t done in 40 years. Berke disagreed with Bronk’s “never in a million years” assertion, but maintained that the dogfighting issue was basically irrelevant.
The bottom line is that in training, all jets lose “sometimes.” That the F-35 can hold its own and beat a jet refined over four decades to excel exclusively at air-to-air combat — when the F-35 has been designed to fight, bomb, spy, and sneak — shows its tremendous range and potential.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.