World's most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion - We Are The Mighty
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World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

The massive USS Gerald R. Ford will head out to sea for builders’ trials next month in a critical test before the US Navy intends to commission the ship later this year, USNI News reports.


The Ford will improve on the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers with a rearranged flight deck, improved launching and landing systems, and a nuclear power plant with outsized capabilities that can integrate future technologies such as railguns and lasers.

Also read: The F-35 may be ready for prime time

The Ford’s commissioning will bring the count of full-sized carriers to a whopping 11 for the United States — more than the rest of the world combined.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
Tugboats maneuver the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) into the James River. | US Navy

The ship will sail out for a test of its most basic functions like navigation and communications, as well as a test of its nuclear-powered propulsion plant.

Its most advanced features, like its electromagnetic catapults for launching bomb- and fuel-laden jets from the deck, will not undergo testing.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
Newport News Shipbuilding floods Dry Dock 12 to float the first in class aircraft carrier, Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua J. Wahl

The Ford, like almost any large first-in-class defense project, has encountered substantial setbacks and challenges as the Navy and contractors attempt to bring next-generation capabilities to the US’s aircraft carriers. Notably, the Navy has expressed doubts about the advanced arresting gear, which helps speeding planes land quickly and gently, saying it may scrap the program in favor of the older system used on Nimitz-class carriers.

But the Navy is determined to commission the Ford sometime this year, as calls for increasing the Navy’s size and strength come from the Trump administration and outside assessments.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Russia might have turned its back on Iran in Syria

Russia on May 11, 2018, reportedly declined to export its advanced S-300 missile defense system to Syria despite a high tempo of international and Israeli airstrikes peppering the country over the last few months, in the latest sign that Moscow has turned its back on Iran in the country.

Russia is Syria’s ally. The US, UK, and France launched airstrikes on Syria in April 2018. Israel launched airstrikes on Syria in May 2018, and likely many others in April, March, and February 2018.


Israel maintains it will strike Iranian targets in Syria as long as they ally with Hezbollah and Hamas, both anti-Israel US-designated terror organizations that operate near Israel’s borders.

Despite the near constant stream of powerful countries bombing targets in Syria, and Syria’s weak attempts to defend against the attacks, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aide in charge of foreign military assistance said Syria had “everything it needs.”

On May 9, 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Putin in Moscow. That same night, Israeli airstrikes reportedly wiped out the majority of Syrian air defenses in the southern part of the country. Russian-owned and operated air defenses in Syria, which include the S-300, did nothing to stop the attack.

Israel has long wanted Russia to withhold its more powerful defenses from Syria.

Israel is in charge now

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
Video of an Israeli missile taking out a Russian-made air defense system.

Israel stomped on Russian-made Syrian air defenses on May 9, 2018, in the largest Israeli Air Force attack in Syria since the two countries went to war in 1973. The massive battle saw Syria’s older Russian-made air defenses outmatched — and obliterated.

Israel has carried out strikes with the express purpose of beating down Iranian forces in southern Syria. By all accounts, the attacks succeeded in taking out command posts, infrastructure, and munitions. Israel won’t tolerate a buildup of Iranian forces along its borders in Syria as Iran explicitly seeks to destroy Israel.

Though Israel has engaged in more than 100 airstrikes in Syria since 2012, mostly against Iranian-linked forces, it has treaded softly and attempted to avoid a larger war.

Without new reinforcements like Russia’s S-300, and with the former defenses laying in ruin, Iranian forces in Syria will be greatly exposed to Israeli air power.

Russia may continue to trade with Tehran after the US imposed sanctions following its withdraw from the Iran deal, and continue to be Iran’s ally on paper. But Russia, by denying Syria air defenses, looks to have turned its back on supporting the regional ambitions of Ayatollah Khamenei.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the real-life, Civil War-era ‘Mulan’

Maria Lewis was probably the most unlikely person to have ever fought in the American Civil War. She was an escaped slave, a woman, and was underage; all three of these factors barred individuals from serving. But Lewis was much smarter than the average person, let alone the average enslaved American. She fought in the war as a free white man, distinguished herself during her service, and was even part of an honor guard that presented captured rebel flags to the Secretary of War.


World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

Kinda like this but with way more violence.

Born into slavery in 1847, Lewis and her family spent her younger years in Virginia around Albemarle County, near Charlottesville. At the age of 17, she assumed a new identity and a new life as an emancipated slave. The only real hitch was that she presented herself as something totally different when it came time to join the Union cavalry.

She enlisted as Private George Harris, a nod to the character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antebellum classic who escapes slavery as a Spanish man, in New York’s 8th Cavalry, which took part in many major battles throughout the war, including Antietam, Gettysburg, and the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House. She first participated with the 8th at the Battle of Waynesboro, near where she was born and enslaved.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

The battle at Waynesboro ended the fighting in the Shenandoah for good.

Her service saw her join Union General Philip Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley, where the Union Army soundly defeated Confederate General Jubal Early and devastated the Confederate economy in the area and beyond. After the war, however, George Harris/Maria Lewis had no home to go back to and very little is known about her postwar life. She traveled to Rochester, New York, where the 8th Cavalry was originally formed, to live with the family of one of her officers. Historians believe this officer hid her secret during the war and, as a result, would naturally have been a close confidant.

Lewis Griffin was an abolitionist lieutenant in the 8th Cavalry. His sister, Julia Wilbur, wrote about the “colored woman [who] has been here who has been with the 8th N.Y. Cav. for the last 18 months.” She wrote a few more details:

“She knows Mr. Griffin. She wore a uniform, rode a horse and carried a sword and carbine just like a man. The officers protected her and she was with them mostly. The regiment didn’t know that she was a woman. She was called Geo. Harris, but her real name is Maria Lewis. She is from Albermarle Co. Va. and escaped to the Union army.”
World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

Rochester, NY in the days following the Civil War’s end.

Many knew Lewis when she wore a dress on the streets of Rochester. She was more than happy to don a petticoat and perform the tasks of a woman of the time. But she was also known to celebrate her veteran status with those who fought alongside her.

When celebrating her service, she wore her full military uniform.

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Navy LCS deck-launched HELLFIRE missile to be Operational by 2017

The Navy plans to have an operational ship-launched HELLFIRE missile on its Littoral Combat Ship by next year, giving the vessel an opportunity to better destroy approaching enemy attacks –such as swarms of attacking small boats — at farther ranges than its existing deck-mounted guns are able to fire.


“Both the 30mm guns and the Longbow HELLFIRE are designed to go after that fast attack aircraft and high speed boats coming into attack LCS typically in a swarm raid type of configuration,” Capt. Casey Moton, LCS Mission Modules Program Manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview. said.

The 30mm guns will be fired against close-in threats and attacks – and the HELLFIRE is being engineered to strike targets farther away out toward the horizon. The concept is to increase ship Commander’s target engagement targets against fast-maneuvering surface targets such as remotely controlled boats and fast-attack craft carrying pedestal mounted guns, Moton explained.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
Raytheon

“We are taking the Army’s Longbow HELLFIRE Missile and we are adapting it for maritime use. We are using a vertical launcher off of an LCS,” Moton added.

Moton said the Navy has been conducting live-fire test attacks with a HELLFIRE missile launching from a deck-mounted launcher aboard a service research vessel. The ship-launched HELLFIRE is engineered a little differently than current HELLFIREs fired from drones and helicopters.

“With a helicopter, HELLFIRE often locks onto a target before launch (RF guidance). With LCS, the missile turns on its seeker after launch. We did 12 missile shots in the last year and had successful engagements with 10 of them,” Moton explained.

The LCS-fired HELLFIRE uses “millimeter wave” guidance or seeker technology, a targeting system described as “all-weather” capable because it can penetrate rain, clouds and other obscurants.

An upcoming focus for the weapon will be designing integration within the LCS’ computers and combat system.

“We did tests to push the boundary of the seeker so we could get data for seeker modifications. We tweak the seeker based on this data,” Moton explained

Part of the conceptual design for an LCS deck-mounted HELLFIRE is to enable coordination and targeting connectivity with Mk 60 Navy helicopters operating beyond-the-horizon.

“A helicopter can track an inbound raid as it comes in off of the horizon – allowing us to shoot the Longbow HELLFIRE missiles,” Moton said.

In these scenarios, the HELLFIRE would be used in tandem with 30mm and 57mm guns. Also, the Longbow Hellfire weapon is intended to be used in conjunction with helicopter-like, vertical take-off-and-landing drone launched from the LCS called the Fire Scout. This Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, ISR, platform can help identify targets and relay real time video images back to a ship-based targeting and command and control center.

Previously, the Navy had considered a now-cancelled Army-Navy program called the Non-Line-of-Sight missile and a laser-guided Griffin missile for the LCS attack mission. With Griffin missiles, a laser-guided weapon, there is a limited number of missiles which can fire at one time in the air due to a need for laser designation. A Longbow HELLFIRE, however, is what is described as a “fire-and-forget” missile which can attack targets without needing laser designation.

The integration of a HELLFIRE missile aboard an LCS, which has been in development for several years, is considered to be a key element of the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy implemented to better arm the surface fleet with improved offensive and defensive weapons.

Alongside the HELLFIRE, the Navy is also looking to integrate an over-the-horizon longer range weapon for the LCS and its more survivable variant, a Frigate; among the missile being considered are the Naval Strike Missile, Harpoon and an emerging high-tech weapon called the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM.

HELLFIRE Missile Technologies and Platforms

In service since the 1970s, HELLFIRE missiles originated as 100-pound tank-killing, armor piercing weapons engineered to fire from helicopters to destroy enemy armored vehicles, bunkers and other fortifications.

In more recent years, the emergence of news sensors, platforms and guidance technologies have enabled the missile to launch strikes with greater precision against a wider envelope of potential enemy targets.

These days, the weapon is primarily fired from attack drones such as the Air Force Predator and Reaper and the Army’s Gray Eagle; naturally, the HELLFIRE is also used by the Army’s AH-64 Apache Attack helicopter, OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and AH-1 Marine Corps Super Cobras, among others. Although not much is known about when, where or who — HELLFIREs are also regularly used in U.S. drone strikes using Air Force Predators and Reapers against terrorist targets around the globe.

The HELLFIRE missile can use radio frequency, RF, guidance – referred to as “fire and forget” – or semi-active laser technology. A ground target can be designated or “painted” by a laser spot from the aircraft firing the weapon, another aircraft or ground spotter illuminating the target for the weapon to destroy.

There are multiple kinds of HELLFIRE warheads to include a High-Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, weapon and a Blast-Fragmentation explosive along with several others. The HEAT round uses what’s called a “tandem warhead” with both a smaller and larger shaped charge; the idea is to achieve the initial requisite effect before detonating a larger explosion to maximize damage to the target.

The “Blast-Frag” warhead is a laser-guided penetrator weapon with a hardened steel casing, incendiary pellets designed for enemy ships, bunkers, patrol boats and things like communications infrastructure, Army documents explain.

The “Metal Augmented Charge” warhead improves upon the “Blast-Frag” weapon by adding metal fuel to the missile designed to increase the blast overpressure inside bunkers, ships and multi-room targets, Army information says. The “Metal Augmented Charge” is penetrating, laser-guided and also used for attacks on bridges, air defenses and oil rigs. The missile uses blast effects, fragmentation and overpressure to destroy targets.

The AGM-114L HELLFIRE is designed for the Longbow Apache attack helicopter platform; the weapon uses millimeter-wave technology, radar, digital signal processing and inertial measurement units to “lock-on” to a target before or after launch.

The AGM-114R warhead is described as a “Multi-Purpose” explosive used for anti-armor, anti-personnel and urban targets; the weapon uses a Micro-Electro Mechanical System Inertial Measurement Unit for additional flight guidance along with a delayed fuse in order to penetrate a target before exploding in order to maximize damage inside an area.

The AGM-114R or “Romeo” variant, which is the most modern in the arsenal, integrates a few additional technologies such as all-weather millimeter wave guidance technology and a fragmentation-increasing metal sleeve configured around the outside of the missile.

The “Multi-Purpose” warhead is a dual mode weapon able to use both a shaped charge along with a fragmentation sleeve. The additional casing is designed to further disperse “blast-effects” with greater fragmentation in order to be more effective against small groups of enemy fighters.

“The “Romeo” variant is an example of how these efforts result in a more capable missile that will maintain fire superiority for the foreseeable future,” Dan O’Boyle, spokesman for the Army’s Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, told Scout Warrior.

Additional HELLFIRE Uses

Although the HELLFIRE began as an air-to-ground weapon, the missile has been fired in a variety of different respects in recent years. Also, the Army has fired the weapon at drone targets in the air from a truck-mounted Multi-Mission Launcher on the ground and international U.S. allies have fired the HELLFIRE mounted on a ground-stationed tripod.

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Here’s how you can help this veteran nonprofit go above and beyond in conservation

Land Rover has always been known for their gorgeous cars dominating rugged terrain. Now, they’re looking to make an impact beyond the highways: in marine and coastal conservation. The company is currently sponsoring a “Defender Above & Beyond Service Awards” for nonprofits to compete for a fully-customized Defender to help their organization go “Above & Beyond.” Five nonprofits remain in the “Marine and Coastal Conservation” category, and only one is veteran-owned and operated: FORCE BLUE.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

“Over the past year, there have been incredible displays of bravery and resilience,” Land Rover stated on their website. “As defenders and helpers in your own right, you have been pushed to your limits—only to discover how truly capable you are. We are inspired by your commitment to serving others. And we want to support you.

“For seven decades, Land Rover has been creating hard-working vehicles that are known worldwide for taking service workers on missions to help others. Now we are awarding seven customized Defender models to seven U.S. nonprofits that go Above & Beyond for their communities every day.

“We know that great things happen when a highly capable vehicle is driven by highly capable people.” FORCE BLUE is certainly run by capable people — Jim Ritterhoff and Rudy Reyes.

According to their website, the idea for FORCE BLUE grew out of a dive trip co-founders Ritterhoff and Reyes took to the Cayman Islands in Summer 2015 to meet up with their friend, Keith Sahm, General Manager of Sunset House, the oldest continuously operated dive resort in the Caribbean.

For Ritterhoff and Sahm, experienced recreational divers who’d been reef diving for decades, this was just another week in paradise. But for Reyes, a former Recon Marine who had struggled with PTS and depression since returning home from multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the experience was nothing short of life changing.

“Here’s this trained combat diver,” Ritterhoff remembers. “One of the best, most highly skilled individuals you’ll ever encounter underwater. Yet he’s never seen a fish.”

For Reyes, like most SOF veterans, diving had never been about exploration or enjoyment. To him diving meant hauling 200 lbs. of gear underwater to destroy some potentially dangerous target in the dead of night. What Cayman offered was transformative.

Reyes immediately proposed scheduling another trip so that he could bring down more of his Recon brothers to experience what he just had. But after a few hours of discussion, the three men hatched a different plan. One that would include combat divers from all branches of service, along with marine scientists, conservationists and journalists.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

“We saw it as the ultimate win-win,” says Sahm. “An opportunity to do some good, not only for our veterans, but for the planet as well.”

“By starting a program that isn’t just about helping veterans or just about helping the marine environment, but about helping both, we’re really uniting two worlds.” Says Ritterhoff. Hopefully, FORCE BLUE will encourage each to look at the other with a bit more empathy and understanding.”

Help FORCE BLUE continue to go Above & Beyond by voting once a day, every day until May 3, here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How 3 amateur code breakers solved the Zodiac Killer’s ‘340 Cipher’ 51 years later

An unidentified serial killer murdered five victims in Northern California between 1968 and 1969. The killer then taunted the police and terrorized the public through threatening handwritten letters he sent to the press from 1969 to 1974. In addition to these letters taking responsibility for the murders, the killer known to investigators only as “Zodiac” also delivered four cryptograms, or coded messages, to be deciphered. For 51 years, the “340 Cipher” and the identity of the Zodiac Killer have puzzled FBI agents, police detectives, investigative journalists, and cryptographers alike. On Friday, the FBI announced the 340 Cipher — aptly named for the number of symbols in the decrypted message — has been solved. 

“Over the past 51 years, CRRU [Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit] has reviewed numerous proposed solutions from the public — none of which had merit,” the FBI said in a statement. “The cipher was recently solved by a team of three private citizens.”

In the midst of a golden age of amateur sleuthing and crime solving of cold cases, a new wave of inquisitive private citizens have dedicated their time to the point of obsession to uncover leads to the most infamous unsolved mysteries. A popular route that has emerged in recent years is hosting true-crime podcasts in an effort to reveal the hidden truths previously overlooked or missed. The Murder Squad podcast, for example, solved a 1980 cold case thanks to a listener’s submission of their DNA to a genealogy website.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
The “340 Cipher” was considered the holy grail of unbroken codes, and the Zodiac Killer said his name was concealed in the grid of symbols in one of his four cryptograms. Screenshot courtesy of YouTube.

For the 340 Cipher, however, the tireless work began 14 years ago when Virginia-based web designer David Oranchak tried to break the code. He added two team members to his passion project as recently as this year: Australian applied mathematician Sam Blake and a Belgian code-breaking software engineer named Jarl Van Eycke. Using Van Eycke’s code-breaking software called AZdecrypt, the team tested 650,000 possible solutions through trial and error. On Thursday, Dec. 3, they caught their first break, recognizing the phrases “Hope you are trying to catch me” and “or the gas chamber.” 

“In Sam’s manipulation of the cipher he reads through all the symbols in a diagonal direction following this rule: first, start in the upper left corner, write out that symbol, move down one, then move over two, write out that symbol, continue until you get to an edge,” Oranchak says in his YouTube explanation video titled Let’s Crack Zodiac — Episode 5 — The 340 Is Solved! He continues, “Then jump around to the opposite edge and keep going.”

The team was stunned after making further modifications to their software that revealed the phrase “that wasn’t me on the TV show,” in reference to the Zodiac Killer’s letter sent two weeks after someone called into a Bay Area talk show in 1969. “I need help,” the caller said on the air. “I’m sick […] I don’t want to go to the gas chamber.” The timeline of events fit the solution that Oranchak and his team were pursuing.

On Dec. 5, when the team was satisfied with their results, they sent the deciphered 340 code to the FBI to confirm their findings. It read in capital letters, without punctuation, and it misspelled the word paradise: “I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me that wasn’t me on the TV show which brings up a point about me I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradice all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me where everyone else has nothing when they reach paradice so they are afraid of death I am not afraid because I know that my new life is life will be an easy one in paradice death.”

Although this is a small victory, the message didn’t divulge the true identity of Zodiac, which the killer declared was in one of the cryptograms. The Zodiac Killer remains on the loose, and the victim’s families are without closure. In order to bring awareness to cold cases and mysteries that may be decades old, bringing their stories into the spotlight once more may result in new leads in the future.

In 2007, actor Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of San Francisco cartoonist and amateur detective Robert Graysmith in the 2007 movie Zodiac did just that. Graysmith, who was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 when the Zodiac Killer first contacted the newspaper, wrote a New York Times bestseller on the topic. Perhaps this latest news may inspire other cryptographers to decode the remaining two cryptograms in a quest to uncover the true identity of Zodiac.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army wants to outfit dogs with tiny cameras and other cool gear

Man’s best friend has been fighting on battlefields for centuries, but the modern four-legged battle buddy is much more sophisticated than his predecessor with more advanced gear.

The modern US military has multi-purpose tactical dogs, search and rescue dogs, explosive detection dogs, and tracking dogs, among other types of canines, and the dogs have their own special equipment.


World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Brian Zamiska, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), pulls security with a U.S. Air Force working dog, Jan. 6, 2013, during a patrol with the Afghan Border Police in Tera Zeyi district, Afghanistan.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alex Kirk Amen)

The US Army, which is currently undergoing its largest modernization in decades, has been working hard to modernize the force, equipping soldiers with state-of-the-art gear, such as lightweight helmets that can withstand sniper fire and night-vision goggles that let them shoot around corners.

And military working dogs aren’t being left out of the modernization push.

Insider recently asked a senior scientist at the Army Research Office what’s next for military dogs, and he explained that there are a lot of interesting things on the horizon, despite the challenges of developing gear for canines.

“We are going to be able to help augment the animal with better cameras, better hearing protection, and better vision protection, and put those things all together so that we can get a smarter system out there,” Stephen Lee told Insider.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

A military working dog wearing the CAPS with goggles.

(US Army photo by Zeteo Tech)

All military dogs use a collar and a leash, but just as there are different types of dogs for different missions, such as pointy-eared dogs like German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois for tactical operations and floppy-eared dogs like Labrador Retrievers for screening activities, the various types of military dogs tend to have varied gear kits.

“Like the multipurpose dogs might have a harness, a vest that contains stab proofing or some sort of insert armor,” Lee explained, adding that they might also have goggles, hearing protection equipment, and special booties for snow, sandy or rocky environments.

There are also cooling vests and specialized kennels that cool to help the canines better operate in hot areas.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

A US soldier carrying a military working dog.

(US Army)

And canine gear is continuously evolving.

“We are learning a lot from the robotics community because they need lightweight electronics. So we’re able to put small cameras on the dogs now and guide them at distances,” Lee said. “I’m excited about putting those new microelectronics on the canine.”

The US military has already made some strides in this area, equipping dogs with cameras, GPS trackers, and radios for better off-leash communication, but there is always the potential for more innovation.

The challenge, Lee told Insider, is that there is technically no military working dog research funding line in the military.

Lee has a PhD in physical organic chemistry and played an important role in the development of an artificial dog nose that is used for screening activities, but while it is an incredible tool, it lacks the ability to provide the full range of capabilities a working dog can.

“We spend billions of dollars making robots that can emulate dogs but don’t even come close,” he explained, adding that the military doesn’t really have any core research and development programs for dogs.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

A military working dog surrounded by a soldier’s gear.

(US Army)

Much of the canine-related research is carried out by industry and academia with input from the military and law enforcement and funding pulled from various pools.

For instance, Zeteo Tech, Inc., a Maryland-based outfit, has developed an innovative solution to help prevent hearing loss in dogs with the help of the Small Business Innovation Research grant provided by the Army Research Office.

But, while military working dogs may not receive the same level of attention that human soldiers do, those who work closely with them understand well their value in the fight.

Conan, a military working dog that was recently honored at the White House, helped special forces take down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the murderous leader of ISIS in October. Time and time again, canines have made important contributions to US military missions.

Lee told Insider that “we take for granted all that our dogs can do” on the battlefield.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

4 problems the VA secretary wants associated with Agent Orange

VA Secretary David Shulkin suggests he favors expansion of Agent Orange-related health care and disability compensation to new categories of ailing veterans but that factors, like cost, medical science, and politics, still stand in the way.


Shulkin told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on March 21, 2018, that he made recommendations to White House budget officials in 2017 on whether to add up to four more conditions — bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson-like tremors, and hypertension (high blood pressure) — to the VA list of 14 illnesses presumed caused by exposure to herbicides used during the Vietnam War.

Also read: VA begins awarding compensation for C-123 agent orange claims

“I have transmitted my recommendations to the [White House’s] Office of Management and Budget. I did that by Nov. 1, 2017, Shulkin said. “And we are in the process right now of going through this data. In fact, we met with [OMB officials] on March 26, 2018. They asked for some additional data to be able to work through the process and be able to get financial estimates for this. So, we are committed to working with OMB to get this resolved in the very near future.”

Shulkin didn’t say which of the four conditions, if any, he wants added to the presumptive list, if and when cleared by the White House.

At the same hearing, the VA chief was asked his position on Blue Water Navy veterans of the Vietnam War who also suffer from illnesses on the VA presumptive list but aren’t eligible to use it to facilitate claims for care and compensation.

They “have waited too long for this,” Shulkin agreed, but then suggested the solution for these veterans is blocked by medical evidence or swings on the will of the Congress.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
Barrels of Agent Orange being stored at Johnston Atoll.

“I would like to try to find a way where we can resolve that issue for them, rather than make them continue to wait,” Shulkin said. “I do not believe there will be scientific data [to] give us a clear answer like we do have on the Agent Orange presumptive” list for veterans who had served in-country. “For the Blue Water Navy… epidemiologic studies just aren’t available from everything I can see. So, we’re going to have to sit down and do what we think is right for these veterans.”

Vietnam veterans who served even a day in-country who have illnesses on the presumptive list can qualify for VA medical care and disability compensation without having to show other evidence that their ailments are service-connected.

Shulkin said VA “recently” received the last report of the National Academy of Medicine, which found a stronger scientific association than earlier studies between certain ailments and herbicide exposure. In fact, however, the VA has had the report, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014, for two years.

More: 5 life lessons today’s troops could learn from Vietnam vets

It was written by a committee of medical experts that reviewed medical and scientific literature on select ailments and herbicide exposure published from Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2014. Released in March 2016, the report found evidence to support raising the strength of association between herbicide exposure and bladder cancer and hypothyroidism. The report upgrades the link from “inadequate or insufficient” evidence to “limited or suggestive” evidence of an association.

In years past, VA decided that for some ailments, such as Parkinson’s and ischemic heart disease, “limited or suggestive evidence” was enough to add these illnesses to the Agent Orange presumptive list. For others, including hypertension, a more common disease of aging, VA deemed it wasn’t enough.

This last NAM report, however, looked again at cardiovascular conditions and herbicide exposure. It didn’t upgrade the link to heart ailments but it did affirm limited or suggestive evidence that hypertension is linked to herbicide exposure.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over agricultural land during the Vietnam War.

It also studied whether Parkinson’s-like symptoms should fall into the same limited or suggestive category as Parkinson’s disease itself. The 2016 report found “no rational basis” to continue to exclude Parkinson-like symptoms from the same risk category. Parkinson’s disease itself was added to presumptive list in 2010.

VA secretaries under both the Obama and Trump administration reacted more slowly on the last NAM perhaps, by law, they could. Congress in 2015 let a portion of the Agent Orange law expire, language that required the VA Secretary to decide on new presumptive conditions within 180 days of accepting a NAM report.

The impact was immediate. Though a senior VA official tasked with reviewing this last NAM report said then-VA Secretary Bob McDonald would make his decisions within three months, it didn’t happen. McDonald left it to his successor. Shulkin waited more months and, in July 2017, vowed to decide by Nov. 1, 2017 OMB blocked an announcement, however, presumably over projected costs.

Related: A Vietnam veteran is returning to thank the doctors who saved his life

Cost has been a factor, too, in Congress not passing legislation to extend VA benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans diagnosed with illnesses on the presumptive list. Budget analysts a few years ago estimated a cost of $1.1 billion over 10 years.

Also, NAM did conduct a review of medical and scientific evidence regarding Blue Water Veterans’ possible exposure to herbicides and concluded in a May 2011 report that “there was not enough information… to determine whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange.”

Blue Water Veterans remain ineligible to use the Agent Orange presumptive list. A lone exception is granted for veterans with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Vietnam veterans with this ailment may be granted service-connection without showing inland waterway service or that they set foot in-country.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

In every session of Congress, going back years, Blue Water Navy bills have been introduced. They would, if passed, “include as part of the Republic of Vietnam its territorial seas for purposes of the presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure [to] herbicide agents while in Vietnam.”

The current House version of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 299), introduced in January 2017 by Rep. David Valado (R-Ga.), has 327 co-sponsors. Yet prospects of passage remain dim. Valado reminded Shulkin at a mid-March 2018 hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee that, six months ago, Shulkin said he was seeking more recommendations from “subject matter experts” on the issue and would be ready to update Congress in the coming months.

“Have you come to a decision on Blue Water Navy veterans?”

Also read: This is what the average ‘doc’ carried on patrol in Vietnam

“I am aligned with you that these veterans have waited too long,” Shulkin said, “and this is a responsibility that this country has. And, as our veterans get older, it’s unfair.…I believe it is imperative upon us to resolve this issue.

“I also believe,” Shulkin continued, “that there will not be strong scientific data to help resolve this,” in other words to justify benefit expansion. “This is going to be an obligation that we feel as a country, that these veterans shouldn’t be waiting any longer. And I am on the side of trying to find a way to resolve this for the Blue Water Navy veterans.”

Shulkin said his staff is “working hard to look at offsets” which means cuts to other parts of the VA budget to pay for Blue Water Navy benefits, or to find “other ways to be able to do that. And it is a high priority for us.”

Reminded by Valado that “with these types of cancers, time is of the essence,” Shulkin replied, “Absolutely.”

The Senate version of Blue Water legislation, S 422, was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), has 49 co-sponsors and, so far, equally dim prospects of passage.

MIGHTY HUMOR

Watch: This episode of ‘Cheers’ hilariously nails the pandemic cleaning panic

One of the benefits of quarantine is catching up on every single television show ever made. There’s nothing better than revisiting some of the classics and clearly, Cheers has to make that list. What’s extra entertaining is when these 40-year-old shows accurately predict the future (like these M*A*S*H episodes).

In episode five of season one, Cheers absolutely nails it.


In this episode, titled “Coach’s Daughter,” customer Chuck (played by Tim Cunningham) sits at the bar and tells bartender Sam (Ted Danson) and the Cheers’ regulars that he has a new job at a biology lab. He shares his anxiety about working with mutant viruses and the reaction from the Cheers’ crew couldn’t be any more fitting to what we are experiencing with COVID-19.

Cheers Coronavirus

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Cheers Coronavirus

Cheers ran from 1982 through 1993 with 275 half-hour episodes. Although it was almost cancelled early on, it made it an impressive 11 seasons. Set in a bar in Boston, visiting the friendly location on the airwaves became a weekly household staple, with everyone wanting to visit the place, “Where everybody knows your name.” Cheers earned 26 Emmy Awards, six Golden Globe Awards and many other accolades. It remains one of the best shows in history.

Cheers had several episodes with military-connected plots, although none better than “One for the Book,” which aired December 9, 1982. In this iconic episode, two customers enter the friendly neighborhood establishment, and of course their paths should meet. One is Buzz Crowder played by Ian Wolfe.

Buzz and his buddies from WWI agree to meet every 10 years for a reunion, but just as we see with our WWII veterans present day, Buzz’s peers are dwindling. In this episode, Buzz is the last one left. Luckily for him, you may walk into Cheers alone, but you’ll never leave without making friends. In “One for the Book,” that friend happens to be a young man getting ready to head to the monastery and looking for a night of fun before he becomes a monk.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

Photo: Cheers, NBC Universal

While Cheers ran on NBC, all 275 episodes are now available for streaming on CBS All Access. Start today and we’re confident you can finish the series before the end of quarantine. Or, let’s be honest, by the end of the week.

Cheers!

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The UN condemns chemical attack in Syria and works to ID those responsible

The death toll from a suspected chemical attack on a northern Syrian town rose to 75 on April 5 as activists and rescue workers found more terrified survivors hiding in shelters near the site of the assault, one of the deadliest in Syria’s civil war.


A Syrian opposition group said renewed airstrikes hit the town of Khan Sheikhoun a day after the attack, which the Trump administration and others have blamed on the government of President Bashar Assad, as well as his main patrons, Russia and Iran.

Damascus and Moscow have denied they were behind the attack. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel arsenal, an account Britain dismissed at an emergency U.N. session called in response to the attack.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
This is not the first chemical attack in Syria. In 2013, a sarin attack occurred in Ghouta, resulted in hundreds (or more) dead and is considered to be the worst chemical attack since the Iraq-Iran War. (Dept. of Defense photo)

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the U.K. had seen nothing that would suggest rebels “have the sort of chemical weapons that are consistent with the symptoms that we saw yesterday.”

Russia said it would submit information from its Defense Ministry to the Security Council debate.

A resolution drafted by Britain, France, and the U.S. stresses the Syrian government’s obligation to provide information about its air operations, including the names of those in command of any helicopter squadrons on the day of the attack.

Diplomats were also meeting in Brussels for a major donors’ conference on the future of Syria and the region. Representatives from 70 countries were present.

The attack on Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people on April 4, leaving residents gasping for breath and convulsing in the streets. Videos from the scene showed volunteer medics using fire hoses to wash the chemicals from victims’ bodies.

Haunting images of lifeless children piled in heaps reflected the magnitude of the attack, which was reminiscent of a 2013 chemical assault that left hundreds dead and was the worst in the country’s six-year conflict.

Also read: US Ambassador to the UN calls Syrian president a ‘war criminal’

The Turkish Health Ministry said three victims of the attack died while being treated in Turkey, and that 29 people wounded in the attack were still being cared for in hospitals in the country. Syrian opposition groups had previously reported 72 dead.

Turkey set up a decontamination center at a border crossing in the province of Hatay following the attack, where the victims are initially treated before being moved to hospitals.

Syrian doctors said a combination of toxic gases is suspected to have been released during the airstrikes, causing the high death toll and severe symptoms.

The World Health Organization and the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders said victims of the attack appear to show symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent.

In a statement, the agency said “the likelihood of exposure to a chemical attack is amplified by an apparent lack of external injuries reported in cases showing a rapid onset of similar symptoms, including acute respiratory distress as the main cause of death.”

Pope Francis said during his general audience that he was “watching with horror at the latest events in Syria,” and that he “strongly deplored the unacceptable massacre.”

Earlier, President Donald Trump denounced the attack as a “heinous” act that “cannot be ignored by the civilized world.” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called on Russia to endorse a planned Security Councilresolution condemning the attack.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said “all the evidence” he had seen so far in the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria “suggests this was the Assad regime … (that) did it in the full knowledge that they were using illegal weapons in a barbaric attack on their own people.”

Syria’s government denied it carried out any chemical attack. But early on April 4, Russia, a major ally of the Syrian government, alleged a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel arsenal, releasing the toxic agents.

The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said in a statement that Russian military assets registered the strike on a weapons depot and ammunition factory on the town’s eastern outskirts. Konashenkov said the factory produced chemical weapons that were used in Iraq.

Renewed airstrikes on April 5 hit near the location of the suspected chemical attack, said Ahmed al-Sheikho, of the Idlib Civil Defense team. He said the strikes did not cause any casualties because the area had been evacuated following the April 4 attack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 children and 17 women were among those killed. Abu Hamdu, a senior member of the Syrian Civil Defense in Khan Sheikoun, said his group has recorded 70 deaths.

Related: Warplanes attacked a rebel-held town in Syria with suspected toxic gas

He said his team of rescuers was still finding survivors, including two women and a boy hiding in an underground shelter beneath their home.

Israeli defense officials said on April 4 that military intelligence officers believed government forces were behind the attack.

The officials said Israel believes Assad has tons of chemical weapons currently in his arsenal. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on April 5 as they are not allowed to brief media. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also blamed the Syrian government for the attack.

A top Syrian rebel representative said he held U.N. mediator Staffan De Mistura “personally responsible” for the attack.

Mohammad Alloush, the rebels’ chief negotiator at U.N.-mediated talks with the Syrian government, said the envoy must begin labeling the Syrian government as responsible for killing civilians. He said the U.N.’s silence “legitimizes” the strategy.

“The true solution for Syria is to put Bashar Assad, the chemical weapons user, in court, and not at the negotiations table,” said Alloush, who is an official in the Islam Army rebel faction.

Syria’s rebels, and the Islam Army in particular, are also accused of killing civilians in Syria, but rights watchdogs attribute the overwhelming portion of civilian causalities over the course of the six-year-war to the actions of government forces and their allies.

Associated Press writers Philip Issa in Beirut, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. officially withdraws from Open Skies Treaty; Moscow says ‘All options are open to us’

The United States formally withdrew on November 22 from the Open Skies Treaty, an 18-year-old arms control and verification agreement that Washington repeatedly accused Moscow of violating.

The withdrawal is the latest blow to the system of international arms control that U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly scorned, complaining that Washington was being either deceived or unfairly restrained in its military capabilities.

The U.S. State Department confirmed the move, noting six months had expired since notice of the pending exit had been issued and saying “the U.S. withdrawal took effect on November 22, 2020, and the United States is no longer a State Party to the Treaty on Open Skies.”

The National Security Council confirmed the withdrawal and added that “Russia flagrantly violated [the treaty] for years.”

It quoted national-security adviser Robert O’Brien as saying the move was part of an effort to “put America first by withdrawing us from outdated treaties and agreements that have benefited our adversaries at the expense of our national security.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 21 announced the U.S. intention to withdraw and gave the six-month notification to Open Skies’ 34 other members, as required under the treaty’s rules.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. decision.

“Washington has made its move. Neither European security nor the security of the United States and its allies themselves have benefited from it. Now many in the West are wondering what Russia’s reaction will be. The answer is simple. We have repeatedly emphasized that all options are open to us,” the ministry said in a statement on November 22.

Signed in 1992, the treaty, which entered into force in 2002, allows its 34 members to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation and surveillance flights over one another’s territories, to collect data on military forces and activities. More than 1,500 flights have taken place under the agreement.

The treaty’s proponents say the flights help build confidence by showing that, for example, adversaries are not secretly deploying forces or preparing to launch attacks.

But its critics, particularly among U.S. Republicans, have asserted the treaty has been violated repeatedly, first and foremost by Moscow.

In his May statement, Pompeo charged that Russian violations included restrictions on flights near breakaway regions over Georgia, along Russia’s southern borders, and limits on the lengths of flights over the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

“Russia has consistently acted as if it were free to turn its obligations off and on at will,” he said.

Arms control experts have said while some of the U.S. complaints have merit, others are misleading. And U.S. military and intelligence agencies will lose an important source of data by not being party to the treaty, they said, and NATO allies support the agreement.

“While Russia has violated the treaty, the United States has reciprocated. NATO allies support the treaty — which focuses first and foremost on enhancing European security — and wish the United States to remain a party,” Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador and arms control expert, said in commentary published last week.

The Trump administration has targeted several international treaties over the past four years, most notably the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key Cold War agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union.

After years of complaining that Russia had secretly designed, then deployed, a treaty-violating missile, Washington withdrew in 2019 and the treaty collapsed.

Another more consequential treaty, the New START agreement, is also set to expire in February 2021, and U.S. and Russian officials have been struggling to find a way to keep it intact.

But Trump administration officials want to expand the treaty to include China. And they have also sent mixed signals about new conditions for extending New START, something Moscow has rejected.

Adding to the uncertainty is Trump’s expected departure from the White House on January 21, 2021, when Democrat Joe Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated and take office.

Biden has signaled support for extending New START and preserving other treaties.

“Instead of tearing up treaties that make us and our allies more secure, President Trump…should remain in the Open Skies Treaty and work with allies to confront and resolve problems regarding Russia’s compliance,” Biden said in a statement in May.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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Veterans find new career paths with Easterseals Bob Hope Veteran Support Program

When Matthew Garcia, a sergeant with nine years of honorable service, left the Marine Corps in December he felt pretty invincible. His transition back to civilian life and new career would be easy, he thought.


Garcia had three combat tours under his belt and had just ended a successful tour as a Marine drill instructor, a demanding, intense but revered job at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot. For two weeks, attending the service’s Transition Readiness Seminar, he listened to speakers and counselors and took notes about resuming life as a civilian after his time in the military.

It was, he said, “like a water hose” of information and advice.

His broad plan was to find work in the San Diego area in a safety-related job. Before he left uniform, he had earned a key OSHA certificate. He felt confident but also felt nervous when he began his transition earlier this year.

“I didn’t know if I would succeed or not. The military life becomes the blanket that you understand,” said Garcia, 29, who served as a field wireman — the Marine Corps’ equivalent of a civilian lineman or network data specialist. “Would I fit in? Would I be successful? How will they receive me?”

As the months ticked off, the job offers eluded him. He hadn’t realized that his appearance, demeanor and daily routine had changed little from his time as a drill instructor, the epitome of the ramrod, Smokey-hat wearing, poster image of a Marine.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Garcia

“I got out but looked like I was still in” the military, he said.

That realization came in the help Garcia received from Cynthia, an Easterseals Southern California Bob Hope Veterans Support Program employment specialist he met through a referral from a friend pursuing similar work. She coached him through writing his resume and practicing for job interviews. She reminded him to prepare for those interviews just as he did for promotion boards during his military career. And before he interviewed for his first job prospect, he sent her a photo of the clothing he planned to wear — just to be sure.

“I felt a lot more competent,” he said.

Garcia said that the one-on-one support he received from Cynthia and Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program was pivotal to bolster his confidence and ability to transition from the military and ultimately find meaningful civilian employment.

“She gave me some basic things that people don’t think about when leaving the military,” he said, like being mindful of differences in terminology he used and understanding how his military job experience translates to a civilian workplace.

He credits the personalized services with helping him settle into civilian work and life perhaps sooner and smoother than if he had tried it on his own. “Just the fact that she sat down with me and went over my individual resume made the difference,” he said. “She took the time to understand the field that I was going in.”

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Garcia

It paid off: In June, just six months after hanging up his military uniform, Garcia started work as a safety, health and environmental manager with Balfour Beatty Construction, a San Diego-based firm.

“I try to make sure I set a good example,” he said. “I get a lot of praise from a lot of my coworkers.” His boss, he said, is an Air Force veteran.

Garcia’s success story is one of scores of military service members transitioning from active or reserve duty with help from Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, which aims to help veterans and their families return to a productive and healthy civilian life. The program provides tailored, one-on-one employment services and assists veterans who want to start their own small business.

Easterseals Southern California launched the employment services program in early 2014 for transitioning veterans, many who choose to remain in Southern California, and reservists leaving active-duty tours, with a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the Bob and Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation.

The Bob Hope Veterans Support Program is free and open to veterans, whether they are separating from the service after completing their contracts or are resuming their civilian life as a drilling reservist or member of the National Guard. They must be a post-Sept. 11, 2001, veteran leaving active or reserve duty who intends to work in the San Diego or Orange county areas and who has an honorable, general or other-than-honorable discharge.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, as of 2014, there were 2.6 million post-9/11 veterans, and that community is projected to grow to nearly 3.5 million by 2019 as more service members exit the service and reservists complete active duty.

Santiago Leon is one of those reservists who sought out help as he resumed life as a civilian after an extended period serving full time in the Army Reserve.

The Army sergeant first class — he holds a leadership position and rank as a noncommissioned officer — has spent 16 years in the Army Reserve and said he’s “still going strong.” He is a senior instructor with the Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy, a reserve job he fulfills during his two-week annual training period and monthly drilling weekends.

Leon has tallied about four and a half years of active duty time so far, much of that coming from three combat tours with activated Army Reserve transportation companies. He deployed to Iraq in 2003 and in 2005 and to Afghanistan during a 2009-2010 assignment, and as a platoon sergeant was in charge of 34 soldiers and millions of dollars worth of equipment and vehicles.

When he returned home, he focused on completing a Bachelor’s degree with his Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits and finding a job to support his wife and three children. Like many reservists, he attended two days of classes on transitioning home and returning to reserve status, but “when you’re coming back from a 13, 14-month deployment, the last thing you’re thinking about is paying attention,” he said.

Still, he thought it would be an easy transition.

But “it was another rude awakening,” recalled Leon, 34. “I was cocky. I thought, with me being a  senior enlisted soldier, I had a leg up… and would make $70,000 to $80,000 a year and job offers would be coming my way.”

But after interviewing for a part-time job that paid $9.90 an hour, “I didn’t even get called in for an interview,” he said. “My confidence, my ego, was gone. I was thoroughly depressed.”

It was a humbling experience. Leon, who wanted to find a job where he could help other veterans, one day walked into the Chula Vista Vet Center in south San Diego County and met a manager who referred him to the South County Career Center.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
Photo: Courtesy of Santiago Leon

“That’s when my life changed,” he said. After about two years without work, within three weeks “I found my first job” as a workshop facilitator for transitioning veterans. Through  VetWORKS, a training, certification, and employment program for unemployed veterans in San Diego County, he came across Easterseals Southern California and met John Funk, director of veterans programs and a retired Navy veteran.

Leon got advice about his resume and assistance sorting through job leads through Easterseals Southern California’s employment services. John Funk “gave me a huge reality check,” which helped temper his passion but focus on his goals, he said. “To say you want a job does no one any good. What we want is a career. So if you start building your skill sets, little by little, you can be competitive.”

Today, he is a business services manager with Able-Disabled Advocacy in San Diego, thanks to a VetWORKS grant.

“The ES program, working one-on-one with John, it was instrumental,” Leon said. “It can become very disheartening applying for a job and not getting anything.”

Leon keeps that in mind as he speaks with potential employers, teaches classes on resume writing and mentors some vets through the process, reminding them that jobs don’t come automatically to them. he said. Easterseals’ employment specialists and counselors “challenge the veteran,” he said. “We work for the betterment of the veteran.”

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This is how the AV-8 Harrier won dogfights by stopping in midair

Remember that scene in Top Gun when Maverick tells Goose that he’ll “hit the brakes” and the instructor pursuing him in an A-4 Skyhawk will just fly right by? Braking sharply, while in-flight, is indeed a tactic that can be utilized by fighter pilots in air-to-air combat, but no aircraft could ever do it quite as well as the venerable Harrier jumpjet. The technique was known as “VIFF”.


The Harrier, originally developed by Hawker Siddeley, and later, British Aerospace Systems (BAe), could achieve vertical flight by vectoring four large nozzles straight down towards the ground. The nozzles would vent exhaust at full thrust from the Harrier’s powerful main Pegasus engine, allowing the aircraft to hover, lift off the ground and land like a helicopter.

Related: The Marine Corps’ love-hate relationship with the AV-8 Harrier

This carved out a brand new niche for the Harrier that wasn’t really challenged at all until the recent F-35B Lightning II: it could literally fly and land anywhere and everywhere. The Harrier could be launched from highways and unimproved fields and grass strips, or could be deployed to sea aboard small aircraft carriers, or even re-purposed cargo vessels.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
An AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft performs a vertical landing on the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark El-Rayes

The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, which operated the navalized version of the jumpjet – the Sea Harrier – was enthusiastic about using the aircraft on deployments aboard light aircraft carriers, especially the HMS Invincible (R05). The problem with the Harrier/Sea Harrier was the fact that the aircraft was almost entirely geared towards the strike mission (i.e. flying air-to-ground attacks) while the air-to-air role was more of an afterthought that wasn’t really accounted for. The Royal Air Force’s land-based Harrier, the GR.3, would typically require a flight of more capable air superiority fighters to fly top cover, or to clear the airspace ahead of them, lest they be engaged and taken out of the fight. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, took a different approach.

The Sea Harrier, more commonly known as the “Shar”, was revamped to allow for it to assume both the ground attack, reconnaissance and fighter roles, giving the air wings assigned to the Invincible (and later, the HMS Hermes) a more diverse spread of available capabilities while in-theater (i.e. in the area of operation). The Shar could fly with AIM-9 Sidewiders short-range air-to-air missiles on under-wing pylons, and was equipped with ADEN 30mm cannons to be used for strafing land-based targets or attacking enemy fighters in the air. The Fleet Air Arm’s pilots needed to first develop the tactics required to help the Shar’s future pilots fight and win against enemy fighters that were likely more suited towards aerial combat than the high-wing strike jumpjet.

On the other side of the pond, the United States Marine Corps was busy beefing up its air-to-ground capabilities with the AV-8A Harrier. This new strike jet would give them a versatile fast attack option that could potentially be deployed really anywhere around the world, especially aboard aircraft carriers which would serve as forward-operating staging platforms. In 1976, Marines began taking the Harrier to sea, first aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Midway-class aircraft carrier. On the FDR, the Marine contingent would test out the Harrier’s ability to operate in adverse weather conditions, as well as pit it in air-to-air mock dogfights against the ship’s complement of F-4 Phantom IIs. Marine pilots quickly came to the conclusion that in a close-in fight, they could actually use the aircraft’s thrust vectoring to their advantage.

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
Capt. Jonathan Lewenthal and Capt. Eric Scheibe, AV-8B Harrier pilots with Marine Attack Squadron 231, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), fly over southern Helmand province, Afghanistan. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gregory Moore

The Marine Corps put in a request with Rolls Royce, the designer and builder of the Harrier’s Pegasus engine, as to whether or not this technique would put unnecessary and unwanted stresses on the engine, or if it would outright spoil the engine’s functionality. They still carried on with testing before Rolls Royce got back to them with the “all-clear”! Thrust vectoring while in flight could prove to be the key maneuver they needed for closer air-to-air combat. Ultimately, what resulted was known as Vectoring in Forward Flight (VIFF for short).

Also read: F-35 versus China and Russia

VIFF basically involved pilots rotating the nozzles forward from the usual in-flight horizontal position. In doing so, pilots could quickly deplete their airspeed and bleed energy, causing their surprised pursuer(s) to overshoot, suddenly finding their windscreen devoid of any prey they might have previously been chasing. After dropping altitude as a result of VIFFing, the Harrier would now be free to turn the tables on the predator, making the hunter the hunted. In a turning fight, this was an immense advantage for the Harrier’s pilot. But as soon as the pilot VIFFed his opponent, he had to have had a plan for dealing with the bandit, or else he would be in for a world of hurt; that wasn’t a trick any combat pilot would fall for twice.

Among VIFF’s disadvantages was the fact that it could only really be used effectively in turning fights. If the pursuing aircraft was flying with a wingman, or as part of a larger attack flight, the odds would be stacked fairly high against the Harrier. Additionally, after VIFFing, any other enemy fighters that weren’t engaged in the melee between the Harrier and the first jet were placed in a prime position to take a shot at the jumpjet, which took time to rebuild energy from the very-taxing VIFF maneuver (i.e. regain airspeed).

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion
An AV-8B Harrier with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, flies in position while conducting aerial refueling training operations. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl

During the Falklands War, in the early 1980s, British Harrier pilots might have attempted putting VIFFing to use against Argentinian Mirage fighters, which were decidedly more suited towards the air-to-air role than the Harrier. In fact, no conclusive evidence exists to prove that VIFFing was indeed the deciding factor in any engagement involving the Harrier. However, even with the Mirage being built for air combat, it still proved to be ineffective against the superior training of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots and technology (i.e. the AIM-9L Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile), who did not lose a single Harrier or Sea Harrier in air-to-air combat during the entire conflict, while inflicting losses on the Argentinian air force. RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots were able to employ the tactics they developed like never before, proving that a Harrier, in the right hands, is truly a deadly and highly capable machine.

A huge thanks to Art Nalls of Nalls Aviation, home of the world’s ONLY civilian-owned and operated Sea Harrier for his help and advice in writing this article! Keep an eye out for Art and his legendary Shar on the airshow circuit in North America this year! Special thanks also to Alan Kenny for his fantastic Harrier and Sea Harrier pictures

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