In the gym at VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System, Joe Curran encourages R.J. Garcia with the intensity of a football coach. “C’mon, you’ve got this!” Curran barks as Garcia struggles to finish his last rep on the leg press machine. Garcia pushes through gritted teeth as he lowers the weight, balancing it between his good leg and his prosthetic. “There you go!” says Curran.
The two Army veterans are members of the Ass Kickers, an amputee exercise and support group that meets every Friday.
“They took on the name because they are known for making a lot of noise,” says Jessica Blackwell, a VA kinesiotherapist who founded the group in 2017 as a way for amputee veterans to stay active and meet others in the same situation. “They’re a great group of guys, but we mean business. They’ve come to work hard, and that’s how they got the name.”
Kinesiotherapy is therapeutic exercise to help rehabilitate people with functional limitations, including amputations.
“Joe is our ringleader,” Blackwell says. “He’s our loudest one, but he takes care of the other guys, making sure that they have the resources they need. He’s actually helping himself in the process.”
Veteran R.J. Garcia and kinesiotherapist Jessica Blackwell at the gym.
Pushing veterans “out of respect”
Curran relishes his role. “What I do is put a little fire under their butts. These guys in wheelchairs, they won’t get out unless I start pushing them. And I only do it to motivate them, out of respect.”
The motivation works, says Blackwell. “I’ve really seen a great turnaround with my guys since we started this group. Their health, their psyche, their mood—I’ve seen a lot of improvements.”
One reason Curran is so successful is that he literally walks the walk. After he lost both legs to complications he attributes to Agent Orange exposure, VA specialists helped him get going again. “First they taught me how to walk on one foot with a walker, how to hobble along. Now I can just walk with a cane. I try to stay out of the chair as much as possible.”
Curran’s grit is contagious. The group has expanded from two veterans at the start to more than 25. Besides their Friday gym session, they often meet for bowling, golf and other events.
Joe Curran lights a fire under his fellow Veterans.
A sense of community
“Before this was created, our guys didn’t really have a reason to put their leg on and go outside,” says Blackwell. “They told me that they would stay at home and sit in their wheelchairs. This has really given them motivation and a sense of community.”
“I’ve got a theory,” Curran adds. “The average American veteran in a wheelchair is 200 pounds overweight. They’re homebound and often depressed. They’ll live longer if I can get them out of that chair. So that’s my plan: get the veteran off his butt and move!”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The United States Coast Guard Culinary Team beat 19 competitors to be named 2020 Joint Culinary Training Exercise Installation of the Year.
The competition included teams from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and international teams from France, Germany and Great Britain, with the Coast Guard earning 20 medals — five gold, six silver and nine bronze, according to a Facebook post. Chief Petty Officer Edward Fuchs, team manager, says training time helped the chefs prepare.
“One of the things that gave us a leg up this year that we’ve never had before is that we had 10 days of training time leading up to it,” Fuchs said. He added that time to run through everything with a team that had never worked together before, made all the difference. He credits Master Chief Matthew Simolon and his crew for opening up the USCG Yorktown, Virginia, galley for their team as one of the reasons they won.
Chief Petty Officer Scott Jeffries, the Coast Guard Team Advisor, shared that many of the other military branch teams competing there had been working on their craft together for six months or longer to prepare for the competition.
“The reaction from them when they would learn about us (USCG team) only being together for nine days prior to the start of the competition was pretty awesome. They understand how hard this thing is and how much work goes into it,” Jeffries said. “The Yorktown galley made it all possible by getting us rations or running us to the store. Without them, this wouldn’t have been successful at all.”
The road to competing in this culinary competition isn’t easy. The hours are long, often stretching into 12-plus hour days. Fuchs shared there was one stretch where he was away from his hotel room for 30 hours. But that continuous hard work and unfailing dedication paid off.
Fuchs said the Coast Guard has always had to work a little harder because all of the rules and important communications come through the Department of Defense, which led to his team being behind on this year because the group was left out of those important emails. He also shared that throughout the 14 years since the Coast Guard first competed, there were years they weren’t funded to compete.
“For a while it was just us and our personal funds keeping it alive,” he said.
One year, as an example, they were sponsored by The Coast Guard Foundation. In years past, the chefs competing were mostly those located in Washington, D.C. and the Virginia areas that were close by to the Fort Lee competition because they just couldn’t afford to bring in chefs from units throughout the country. He continued saying that “we kept it on life support, waiting for that funding stream to come through.”
Jeffries echoed Fuchs statement, saying for years it really was a few of them spending thousands of dollars each to maintain a Coast Guard team.
“The coverage was still there because that was our way of being able to showcase to the right avenues, ‘hey we are out here doing awesome stuff and representing the Coast Guard in a great light’ … let’s fund this thing so we can get other people out here,” he said.
They got their wish. The Coast Guard team has been funded for the last two years and this year they were able to bring in chefs from all over the fleet; something they have never been able to do before. And this year’s team was a vibrant representation of the force’s culinary rate and it made all the difference.
“We’ve done this for 14 years and every year you think you have a chance (for culinary team of the year) and then it’s not you. … It’s indescribable, that feeling that you feel when you train a team and they win it. I can’t even put into words the pride and the joy watching them go up on stage to receive the award for culinary team of the year,” Fuchs said.
“We were celebrating the night before because of how great of a job that everyone did in their own personal competitions. The Coast Guard medaled every competition and we already knew that our Coast Guard Chef of the Year had a shot at Armed Forces Chef of the Year, something that the Coast Guard had never won. There was just already so much to celebrate,” Jeffries said.
Both Fuchs and Jeffries describe an “intense” energy in the room after Team Coast Guard was announced as the winner. And so was the respect.
Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence, on Jan. 30, defined what he called North Korea’s “kryptonite,” saying it could collapse Kim Jong Un’s government without firing a shot.
While President Donald Trump’s inner circle reportedly weighs the use of military force against North Korea, Blair, a former U.S. Navy Admiral, has suggested another method of attack that wields information, not weapons.
“The kryptonite that can weaken North Korea is information from beyond its borders,” Blair said in a written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
North Koreans have no idea how bad things are in their country, Blair said, because they’re subject to an “unrelenting barrage of government propaganda.”
North Korean citizens caught with South Korean media can be sentenced to death or sent to horrific prison camps, as control of the media and intolerance for different narratives are pillars of North Korea’s government.
But Blair said the U.S. could leverage a recent trend in North Korea: cellphones.
About one in five North Koreans own a cellphone, many of which can connect to Chinese cell towers across the Yalu River along the countries’ border, he said.
“Texts to these cellphones can provide subversive truth,” Blair said. “Cell towers can be extended; CDs and thumb drives can be smuggled in; radio and TV stations can be beamed there.”
Blair added: “The objective is to separate the Kim family from its primary support — the secret police, the army, and the propaganda ministry.”
Though outside media does get into North Korea and reaches the country’s elites, the U.S. could expand efforts to flood it with outside news. The U.S. used a similar tactic during the Cold War in setting up Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to combat the Soviet Union and its state-controlled media.
“Kim Jong Un understands that as soon as society is open and North Korean people realize what they’re missing, Kim’s regime is unsustainable, and it’s going to be overthrown,” Sun said.
Sun said that in the past when South Korea flew balloons that dropped pamphlets and DVDs over North Korea, Kim’s government responded militarily, sensing its frailty relative to those of prosperous liberal democracies.
Blair pointed to other totalitarian states where popular uprisings have become informed and sought to take down a media-controlling dictator, concluding his testimony by saying that “once that process starts, it is hard to stop.”
There has never been a United States Secretary of Defense that has been so universally beloved. Retired Gen. Jim Mattis was confirmed last year by a landslide vote of 98 in favor and 1 opposed, despite being on a waiver to circumvent the seven-years-since-retirement requirement to be appointed Secretary of Defense.
Long before he rose to the highest position in the Armed Forces, second only to the President, he earned several monikers, each from a different aspect of his ability to lead.
4. “Mad Dog” Mattis
For the record: He is not a fan of the name, “Mad Dog” Mattis. So, you probably don’t want to go saying it to a man that has admitted that the max effective range on his knife hand is hundreds of miles. It dates back to a 2004 Los Angeles Times article saying that U.S. troops in Fallujah called him “Mad Dog” behind his back and that it was “high praise” in Marine culture.
The “Mad Dog” label stuck following a series of intimidating quotes, such as, “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet” and “a good soldier follows orders, but a true warrior wears his enemy’s skin like a poncho.” At Gen. Mattis’s confirmation hearing, former Maine Senator and the Secretary of Defense from 1997 to 2001, William Cohen, joked that it’s a misnomer and the nickname “Braveheart” would have been much more accurate.
3. “Warrior Monk”
The most accurate of his nicknames has to be “The Warrior Monk.” Another beautiful Mattisism is, “the most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Gen. Mattis is well known for his intelligence, extensive book collection, and giving his troops required reading lists that range from cultural studies to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. For his complete reading list, broken down by rank and region of deployment, click here.
His preferred nickname is the call sign he used as a Colonel, “Chaos.” He joked at a conference that he’d like to tell people that it was for some dignified reason, but it’s not.
When he was a regimental commander at Twentynine Palms, he was leaving the S-3 office and noticed the words “CHAOS” written on the whiteboard. He asked someone what it meant and got, “Oh, you don’t need to know about that…” which, of course, only piqued his interest more. Finally, they broke it to him that it meant, “Colonel Has An Outstanding Solution.” It was a joke at his expense that he took in stride, so he wore it as a badge of honor.
1. “Patron Saint of Chaos”
Secretary of Defense Mattis’ legendary status among the troops has earned him the title, “Saint Mattis of Quantico. Patron Saint of Chaos.”
Hail Mattis, full of hate. Our troops stand with thee. Blessed art though among enlisted. And blessed is the fruit of thy knife hand. Holy Mattis, father of War. Pray for us heathen, Now and at the hour of combat. Amen.
The Israeli Defense Force has been known as one of the world’s best militaries. This is particularly true of its commando units.
In a new move the government hopes will professionalize the force, those elite special operations units will likely become even more effective.
According to a report by IsraelNationalNews.com, usually Israeli conscripts serve three years – pilots have a nine-year service term – and most commandos are extended one year. That will now change, with troops going into commando units now being obligated to serve eight years.
The units affected by this move are the Sayeret Matkal, Shayetet 13 naval commandos, Shaldag heli-borne commandos, and 669 search-and-rescue unit. The extended term of service, though, will also come with a pay increase of 17.6 percent and an Israeli version of the GI Bill.
The commando units were hard hit by the old policy, since it took anywhere from 18 months to two years to fully train members of these elite units, which are often referred to as “Tier One” units.
This means that the Israeli commando units will operate closer to the model used by elite American and British units like the Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs, and Special Air Service. In those units, operators are usually career personnel. Both the United States and United Kingdom also have all-volunteer military forces.
Sayeret Matkal is best known for being the unit that carried out the 1976 rescue operation at Entebbe. That operation, commanded by Yonatan Netanyahu (whose younger brother, Benjamin, became prime minister of Israel), rescued 102 out of 106 hostages for the loss of one commando (Yonatan).
Shayetet 13, a unit similar to Navy SEALs, was credited with sinking five Egyptian ships during the Yom Kippur War. Shaldog was credited with taking part in a 2007 air raid on a Syrian nuclear reactor. Unit 669 is similar to the Air Force pararescue units, and in 2003 were noted for rescuing ten Turkish sailors during a storm in the Mediterranean Sea.
These units, already among the best in the world, will now be much better. Israel’s friends will likely rest easier, while Israel’s enemies will probably lose sleep.
“How do you get posted at a location such as Area 51 or the Pentagon while in the military?”
I feel bad because no one actually answered this question. You see, in the military, there are a finite number of jobs at each location. Depending on the branch or the assignment, the average PCS (Permanent Change of Station) rate is about 4 years (shorter for a remote tour or a deployment). So someone will be assigned to work at the Pentagon and then after 4 years they’ll be due for a transfer, leaving their position open.
Let’s say you’re graduating from boot camp in August (congratulations, you did it, you little hero!) and Airman Snuffy is gonna PCS in August, leaving his Pentagon position open. You now have the option to go work at the Pentagon!
Your command will rate you based on your performance and recommend you for your list of assignment preferences. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your number one choice (the Pentagon I guess?) and if you’re not, well, bring mittens to Minot.
But you weren’t *really* asking about the Pentagon, were you? You were asking about aliens.
How to get posted at Area 51 | Dumb Military Questions 104
How to get posted at Area 51 | Dumb Military Questions 104
Area 51 is the most exciting conspiracy theory in the U.S. military. Aliens could be real! Just imagine!
But trust me, my little tinfoil-hat tribe, if there were actually aliens in a bunker in Nevada, you just know some boot would have instagrammed them by now. If the inability of humans to keep secrets doesn’t satisfy you, then you can fill out a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Security Agency. They’re required by law to pretty much share any information they have on anything really — they’ll just redact anything classified. You win some, you lose some.
“My husband is a Marine who makes fun of anyone in a different branch of service. Is this normal?”
Navy vet August Dannehl had a great stream of responses to this: “We’re all family but we’re all talking sh** on each other, you know? Marines, Army…they’re all stupid. Navy, we’re all gay. Air Force, bougy-as-f***.”
And I mean, I can’t protest this, especially since the next cut showed Air Force captain Mark Harper sporting business casual in pastel and a rainbow unicorn Pomeranian. 100% Air Force.
His name is Ding Dong and he’s a perfect gentleman.
“What level of self-reliance training do Green Berets have? What can they actually do?”
Actually, I don’t even want to spoil the answers to this one. Go to 1:17 of the video and watch Harper dominate this question. We’re done here.
“What would a real-life U.S. military party do in a scenario like the first Predator movie?”
It’s possible that U.S. Air Force vet Tara Batesole is the only one to have seen a Predator film in this group, but U.S. Marine Graham Pulliam had some thoughts as well: “Not run around shirtless with a machine gun?”
Why not, Pulliam? What do shirts have to do with killing monsters?
US troops deployed to the US-Mexico border will remain there until at least the end of September 2019, the Pentagon revealed in an emailed statement Jan. 14, 2019.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who took over for former Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the beginning of 2019 has approved Department of Defense assistance to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Sept. 30, 2019.
The decision was made in response to a DHS request submitted in late December 2018.
The initial deployment, which began in October 2018 as “Operation Faithful Patriot” (since renamed “border support”), was expected to end on Dec. 15, 2018. The mission had previously been extended until the end of January 2019.
U.S. Marines with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California, Nov.30, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Valetski)
Thousands of active-duty troops, nearly six thousand at the operation’s peak, were sent to positions in California, Texas, and Arizona to harden points of entry, laying miles and miles of concertina wire. The number of troops at the southern border, where thousands of Central American migrants wait in hopes of entering the US, has dropped significantly since the operation began.
The Department of Defense is transitioning the support provided from securing ports of entry to mobile surveillance and detection activities, according to the Pentagon’s emailed statement. Troops will offer aviation support, among other services.
Shanahan has also given his approval for deployed troops to put up another 115 miles of razor wire between ports of entry to limit illegal crossings, according to ABC News.
U.S. Marines with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, secure concertina and barbed wire near the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Port of Entry in California, Nov. 29, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Asia J. Sorenson)
The extension of the border mission was expected after a recent Cabinet meeting. “We’re doing additional planning to strengthen the support that we’re providing to Kirstjen and her team,” Shanahan said, making a reference to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Military.com reported early January 2019.
“We’ve been very, very closely coupled with Kirstjen,” he added. “The collaboration has been seamless.”
The cost of the Trump administration’s border mission, condemned by critics as a political stunt, is expected to rise to 2 million by the end of this month, CNN reported recently.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
China has “removed” a number of senior officials over their handling of a novel respiratory virus, state media reported, as the death toll reached more than 1,000.
The National Health Commission reported 108 new fatalities from the coronavirus on February 11, bringing the total death toll in China to 1,016.
There are now a total of 42,638 confirmed coronavirus cases in mainland China as well as 319 cases in 24 other countries, including one death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese health officials.
In Hubei Province, the epicenter of the epidemic, 103 people died and 2,097 new cases were reported, the health commission said early on February 11.
According to state broadcaster CCTV, the Communist Party secretary for the Health Commission of Hubei Province and the head of the health commission were among those who were “removed” following a decision by the province’s party committee — the most senior officials to be sanctioned.
The two will be replaced by the deputy director of China’s National Health Commission, Wang Hesheng.
However, removal from a certain position does not necessarily mean the person will be fired, as it can also mean demotion.
China’s most senior medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, said numbers of new cases were falling and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.
“I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April,” added Zhong, 83, an epidemiologist who won fame for his role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which killed hundreds worldwide in 2002-2003.
However, the WHO has said the spread of the pathogen among people who have not been to China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire” and the global community must not let the epidemic get out of control.
Ukraine’s embassy in China said on February 10 that it was sending a chartered plane to Wuhan — the provincial capital of Hubei — to airlift 50 citizens to Kyiv.
Once in Ukraine, the evacuated Ukrainians will be quarantined for 14 days.
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases on a cruise ship with 3,700 passengers and crew on board quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama has doubled to 135.
Two Ukrainians, a 25-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman who worked in the kitchen of the Diamond Princess ship, have tested positive for the virus aboard the ship. A total of 25 Ukrainians work on the ship.
While visiting a hospital treating infected patients in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping on February 10 called the situation in Hubei “still very grave” and that “more decisive measures” were needed to contain the spread of the virus, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
A WHO-led international team of experts landed in Beijing the same day to investigate the epidemic. It is headed by Bruce Aylward who oversaw the organization’s 2014-16 response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
There are 168 labs worldwide that have the technology to diagnose the virus, according to the WHO.
Defense Department personnel continue to assist in the rescue operations in Thailand to evacuate the remaining four boys and their coach from a flooded cave system, the director of defense press operations said July 10, 2018.
The DOD effort consists of 42 deployed military personnel and one member from the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group Thailand, Army Col. Rob Manning told reporters at the Pentagon.
“Coordination and interaction with Thai military, Thai government, and other multinational civilians and government entities remains extremely positive and effective,” he said.
U.S. personnel have staged equipment and prepared the first three chambers of the cave system for safe passage, he said. They are assisting in transporting the evacuees through the final chambers of the cave system, and are providing medical personnel and other technical assistance to the rescue efforts, he added.
Saman Kunan died while laying oxygen tanks for a potential rescue of the trapped boys.
Multinational rescue effort
“We continue to fully support the multinational rescue effort and pray for the safe return of the remaining members of the team,” Manning said.
The soccer team and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand on June 23, 2018, and were trapped by floodwaters. Eight boys have been rescued so far.
Manning paid tribute to former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan, who died after delivering oxygen tanks in the cave.
“The death of the former Thai Navy SEAL illustrates the difficulty of this rescue,” Manning said. “His sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
When asked about the recent resignation of President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, Defense Secretary James Mattis sounded unmoved about Flynn’s departure.
“Here’s the bottom line, ladies and gentlemen. I’m brought in to be the secretary of defense. I give the president advice on the use of military force,” he said, according to Yahoo News Washington correspondent Olivier Knox.
“I maintain good relations, strong relations … and so military-to-military relations with other ministries of defense around the world,” he added.
“And frankly, this has no impact. Obviously, I haven’t changed what I’m heading there for. It doesn’t change my message at all. And who’s on the president’s staff is who I will work with.”
Mattis spoke after arriving in Brussels for a NATO meeting. Speaking with the press upon his arrival, he was reluctant to take many questions about Flynn resignation, according to Washington Post correspondent Dan Lamothe.
Flynn and Mattis have a history.
From August 2010 to March 2013, Mattis, then a Marine general, led an investigation into unauthorized disclosures of classified information allegedly made by Flynn, who was then a lieutenant general in the US Army.
The investigation found Flynn shared “classified information with various foreign military officers and/or officials in Afghanistan without proper authorization,” according to a Washington Post report late last year. Sources told The Post the secrets were about CIA operations in Afghanistan.
Flynn was not disciplined for the incident, however, since the disclosures were not “done knowingly” and not damaging to national security.
After the investigation, Flynn was assigned to lead the Defense Intelligence Agency in September 2011. However, he was forced out of that role in early 2014, reportedly due to mismanagement.
In November, NBC News reported that Flynn personally crossed Mattis’ name off a list of candidates for national-security positions in the Trump administration.
VA’s goal is to give eligible Veterans who need same-day urgent care for minor illnesses or injuries as many avenues as possible at the right time, right place and right provider.
VA is transitioning its urgent care network managers on Sept. 1, 2020, from TriWest Healthcare Alliance (TriWest) to Optum Public Sector Solutions, Inc. (Optum), which is part of UnitedHealth Group, Inc.
The changes will take place in Community Care Network (CCN) Regions 2 and 3.
VA’s goal is for the transition to be seamless for Veterans. However, the change will result in new urgent care providers being added to its contracted networks while others may be removed.
Minor illnesses at in-network non-VA urgent care providers
Veterans have the option for urgentcare treatment of minor injuries and illnesses such as colds, sore throats and minor skin infections at in-network, non-VA, urgent care providers. In addition, Veterans can receive same-day, urgent care treatment at VA medical centers.
Veterans who need urgent care may have the option to use telehealth (phone- or video-based visits) instead of in-person visits at VA or in-network community clinics. Telehealth allows Veterans to conveniently access health care at home while reducing their exposure to COVID-19.
“VA is committed to providing the safest and highest quality health care to Veterans, whether they are receiving their care within VA or in the community,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care, Dr. Kameron Matthews.
Veterans required to pay for out-of-network providers
VA can only pay for urgent care if the provider is part of VA’s contracted network. Veterans who go to an out-of-network urgent care provider must pay the full cost of care.
The change in network management will also affect pharmacies. Veterans who require urgent careprescriptions of 14 days or less can find an authorized in-network provider or contact their local VA medical facility to identify a VA network pharmacy to avoid paying out-of-pocket costs.
States where changes will impact Veterans
The change will impact Veterans in the following locations: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Veterans in these states or U.S. territories who need urgent care should use VA’s facility locator or contact their local VA medical facility for help identifying in-network urgent care providers.
Through this unified system, VA continues to deliver care for Veterans at VA and in the community.
Reports and rampant speculation regarding Russia’s announcement of a new, high-threat nuclear cruise missile have many asking questions about the ultimate aims of the Pentagon’s recently released Nuclear Posture Review.
The Pentagon’s accelerated development of a “nuclear-armed” F-35 Joint Strike Fighter attack envelope, and other new nuclear weapons, is of critical importance to a new sweeping strategic nuclear weapons modernization and development strategy aimed at countering Russia, China, and North Korea — and addressing a much more serious global nuclear weapons threat environment.
Adding a nuclear-capable F-35 to the air portion of the nuclear triad — to supplement the existing B-2, B-52, and emerging B-21 — will bring a new dimension to US nuclear attack options and place a new level of pressure upon potential adversaries.
Discussion of the F-35’s role in nuclear deterrence emerged recently during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s recently published Nuclear Posture Review.
In written testimony, Defense Secretary James Mattis cited the F-35 as an indispensable element of US and NATO nuclear deterrence.
“Modernizing our dual-capable fighter-bombers with next-generation F-35 fighter aircraft will maintain the strength of NATO’s deterrence posture and maintain our ability to forward deploy nuclear weapons, should the security situation demand it,” his testimony states.
Mattis also cited the emergence of the F-35 as a “nuclear delivery system” in the context of expressing grave concern that US nuclear weapons modernization has not, in recent years, kept pace with a fast-changing global threat environment.
“Nuclear delivery system development over the last eight years shows numerous advances by Russia, China, and North Korea versus the near absence of such activity by the United States, with competitors and adversaries’ developing 34 new systems as compared to only one for the U.S. — the F-35 aircraft,” Mattis said in written statements.
Officials with the Office of the Secretary of Defense confirmed to Warrior Maven that Mattis here is indeed referring to an emerging “nuclear variant” of the F-35. Multiple news reports, such as Business Insider, cite senior officials saying a nuclear-armed F-35 is slated to emerge in the early 2020s, if not sooner. The F-35 is equipped to carry the B-61 nuclear bomb, according to a report in Air Force Magazine.
It makes sense that the F-35 would increasingly be called upon to function as a key element of US nuclear deterrence strategy; in recent months, F-35s deployed to the Pacific theater to participate in military exercises over the Korean Peninsula. The weapons, ISR technology, and multi-role functions of the F-35 potentially provide a wide range of attack options should that be necessary in the region.
Utilizing speed, maneuverability, and lower-altitude flight when compared to how a bomber, such as a B-2, would operate, a nuclear-capable F-35 presents new threats to a potential adversary. In a tactical sense, it seems that a high-speed F-35, fortified by long-range sensors and targeting technologies, might be well positioned to identify and destroy mobile weapons launchers or other vital, yet slightly smaller, on-the-move targets. As part of this equation, an F-35 might also be able to respond much more quickly, with low-yield nuclear weapons in the event that new intelligence information locating a new target emerges.
The F-35 recently completed a series of weapons separation tests and is currently able to be armed with the AIM-9X, AIM-120, AIM-132, GBU-12, JDAM, JSOW, SDB-1 and the Paveway IV, Lockheed Martin data states. While it is not yet clear exactly how a nuclear weapon might integrate onto the platform, the F-35 is configured to carry more than 3500 pounds of ordnance in stealth mode and over 18-thousand pounds uncontested.
While senior Pentagon leaders are understandably hesitant to discuss particular contingencies or attack scenarios, the NPR is quite clear that a more pro-active nuclear weapons posture is aimed at strengthening “deterrence.”
After analyzing the global threat calculus, the NPR calls for rapid inclusion of two additional nuclear weapons options — to include a sea-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile.
“A nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile and the modification of a small number of existing submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads to provide a low-yield option – will enhance deterrence by ensuring no adversary under any circumstances can perceive an advantage through limited nuclear escalation or other strategic attack,” Gen. Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.
Senior Pentagon leaders stress that neither of these new nuclear weapons recommendations in the NPR require developing new nuclear warheads or will result in increasing the size of the nuclear stockpile. NPR DoD advocates further stress that the addition of these weapons does align with US non-proliferation commitments.
Mattis and other senior leaders seem aware that elements of the NPRs strategic approach may reflect a particular irony or paradox; in response to questions from lawmakers about whether adding new low-yield nuclear weapons could “lower the threshold” to nuclear war and therefore introduce new elements of danger, Mattis told Congress that increasing offensive nuclear-weapons attack capability will have the opposite effect, meaning the added weapons would improve deterrence and therefore enhance prospects for peace.
Specifically, Mattis explained that a new, low-yield, submarine-launched ballistic missile could likely provide pressure on Russia to a point where they might be more inclined to negotiate about adhering to the INF treaty they have violated.
“We have an ongoing Russian violation of the INF. We want our negotiators to have something to negotiate with because we want Russia back in compliance,” Mattis told lawmakers.
Alongside this strategic emphasis, Mattis also stressed that the NPR stipulates that nuclear weapons will only be used in the most extreme cases, adding that the “use of any nuclear weapon is a strategic game changer. Nuclear deterrence must be considered carefully.”
Citing the rapid technological progress of adversary air-defense systems, Mattis further elaborated that a sea-launched cruise missile option might be necessary to hold potential enemies at risk in the event that air-dropped low-yield weapons were challenged to operate above necessary targets.
“To drop a gravity bomb that is low-yield means a bomber would have to penetrate air defenses. Air defenses are very different than they were 20 years ago,” Mattis told Congress.
For instance, Russian-built S-400s and an emerging S-500 are potentially able to detect aircraft at much further ranges on a larger number of frequencies. Furthermore, faster computer processing and digital networking enable dispersed air defenses to hand off targets quickly across wide swaths of terrain.
This phenomenon also provides indispensable elements to the argument in favor of the Pentagon’s current development of a new nuclear-armed, air launched cruise missile – the Long Range Stand-Off weapon (LRSO). In similar fashion, a nuclear cruise missile could hold enemy targets at risk in a high-tech threat environment where bombers were less able to operate.
Some critics of the LRSO maintain that the introduction of the LRSO brings a “destabilizing” effect to the possible use of nuclear weapons. In a manner quite consistent with the current NPR, senior Air Force weapons developers told Warrior Maven over the course of several interviews that, by strengthening deterrence, the addition of a new LRSO is expected to have the reverse – or “stabilizing” – effect by making it more difficult for a potential adversary to contemplate a first strike.
NPR proponents say a strengthened and more wide-reaching nuclear weapons approach is necessary, given the current threat environment which does, without question, seem to be raising the possibility of nuclear confrontation to a level not seen in years.
“We’re concerned about: some of the adjustments in potential adversaries’ thinking about nuclear weapons. With a greater reliance on nuclear weapons, a featuring of them, in some cases — for example, in the Russian nuclear doctrine, called “Escalating to De-escalate.” John Rood, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy told reporters when discussing the NPR.
From the Nuclear Posture Review
Russia’s belief that limited nuclear first use, potentially including low-yield weapons, can provide such an advantage is based, in part, on Moscow’s perception that its greater number and variety of non-strategic nuclear systems provide a coercive advantage in crises and at lower levels of conflict. Recent Russian statements on this evolving nuclear weapons doctrine appear to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first-use of nuclear weapons.
The text of the report specifically cites the importance of dual-capable aircraft (DCA) in Europe and states that the F-35 is fundamental to deterring Russia.
“We are committed to upgrading DCA with the nuclear-capable F-35 aircraft. We will work with NATO to best ensure — and improve where needed — the readiness, survivability, and operational effectiveness of DCA based in Europe,” the Nuclear Posture Review states.
The NPR also seeks to accelerate ongoing efforts to modernize the air, sea and ground portions of the nuclear triad. DoD is immersed in current efforts to fast-track development and prototypes of a new ground-based strategic deterrent ICBM, Air Force developers have told Warrior Maven.
Early prototyping, including expected prototype “shoot off” testing is slated for 2020, service developers have told Warrior Maven in recent interviews. Northrop Grumman and Boeing are both now under contract to build the new weapon. The Air Force plans to build at least 400 GBSDs, Air Force senior leaders have said.
Critical elements of the new ICBM, developed to replace the decades-old Minuteman IIIs, will feature a new engineering method along with advanced command control, circuitry, and guidance systems, engineers have said.
Regarding the air component, the Air Force recently completed a critical design review of its new B-21 Raider nuclear-capable stealth bomber. As is often the case with nuclear weapons, many of the details regarding the development of this platform are not available, but there is widespread discussion among US Air Force leaders that the bomber is expected to usher in a new era of stealth technology; much of the discussion focuses upon the bomber’s ability to operate above advanced enemy air defenses and “hold any target at risk anywhere in the world,” the Air Force Military Deputy for Acquisition Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch has told Warrior Maven in past interviews.
Early available renderings of the bomber show what appears to be an advanced B-2 like design, yet possibly one with a lower heat signature and improved stealth properties. However, service leaders are quick to point out that, given advancements in Russian air defenses, stealth will surge forward as “one arrow in a quiver” of nuclear attack possibilities.
Concurrently, the Air Force is surging forward with a massive B-2 modernization overhaul, involving new digital nuclear weapons capability and the integration of a developing system called the Defensive Management System. This enables the B-2, which Air Force developers acknowledge may indeed be more vulnerable to advanced air defenses than in earlier years when it was first built, to more quickly recognize locations of enemy air defenses at safer ranges as a means to avoid detection.
New nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine
Finally, shifting to a program widely regarded as among the most significant across the DoD enterprise, the Navy is already underway with early development of the new nuclear-armed Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. Several key current efforts with this, including early “tube and hull” forging of missile tubes, work on a US-UK common missile compartment, and little-discussed upgrades to the Trident II D5 nuclear missiles.
Undersea strategic deterrence, as described by Navy and Pentagon leaders, offers a critical means to ensure a second strike ability in the event of a catastrophic first-strike nuclear attack impacting or disabling other elements of the triad.
While it may seem obvious, nuclear deterrence hinges upon a recognizable, yet vital contradiction; weapons of seemingly limitless destructive power are ultimately employed to “keep the peace” and save lives. Along these lines, Senior Navy and Air Force nuclear weapons developers routinely make the point that, since the advent of nuclear weapons, the world has managed to avoid massive, large-scale major power force on force warfare.
While Pentagon leaders rarely, if ever, offer a window into current nuclear-strike capabilities, it is widely discussed that the current North Korean nuclear threat is leading US military planners to envision the full spectrum of nuclear weapons contingencies. Even further, the US did recently send B-2 bombers to the Asian theater — stationing them in Guam.
Russia has accused the United States of supporting Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, enabling them to mount counteroffensive attacks there.
The Defense Ministry made the accusation on October 4 as Russian-backed Syrian government forces and fighters backed by the United States are racing to capture territory from the IS extremist group.
As the separate campaigns are being waged within close proximity of one another, the Russian and U.S. militaries have traded charges that their troops or allies were endangered or struck by the other side’s forces.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that a series of attacks launched by IS militants on Syrian government forces came from an area around Al-Tanf near the border with Jordan where a U.S. mission is located.
Konashenkov said the attacks took place last week near Al-Qaryatayn in the Homs Province and a highway linking the central city of Palmyra and Deir al-Zor to the east.
The spokesman said that the attackers had the precise coordinates of the Syrian government forces, which could only have been obtained through aerial reconnaissance.
“If the U.S. side views such operations as unforeseen ‘accidents,’ Russian aviation in Syria is ready to begin the complete eradication of all such ‘accidents’ in the zone under their control,” Konashenkov warned.
“The main thing preventing the final defeat of [the IS group] in Syria is not the terrorists’ military capability but the support and pandering to them by our American colleagues,” he added.
It is the latest of a series of accusations traded as Russian-backed troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the U.S.-allied, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces battle IS fighters in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor near the Iraqi border.
Moscow and Washington held a first-ever meeting between their generals last month to try to prevent accidental clashes between the two sides, but reports of deaths in continuing clashes suggested the problem was not resolved.