U.S. Army Sgt. Dustin McGraw is stationed with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the culmination of a life-long dream of being a paratrooper like the heroes of World War II movies that he watched as a child. But as he made his way up, he discovered a love of World War I that has led to him re-enacting battles in France.
His re-enactment group spends a lot of time at a park in Tennessee a few hours from Fort Campbell, allowing McGraw to indulge his passion while maintaining his active duty career. (That park is named for famed Doughboy and Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Alvin C. York, making it a pretty appropriate place to host re-enactments.)
And there is more crossover between the passion and the job than one might initially assume. While re-enactors, obviously, do not face the dangers and many of the hardships endured by soldiers in combat, they do work hard to portray their chosen period accurately. That means that they have to get uniforms, tactics, weapons, and other details right.
And it’s hard to steep yourself that deeply in military history without learning an appreciation for the discipline and perseverance that it takes to succeed in combat. As McGraw points out in the video, maintaining your cool in wool uniforms and metal helmets in the broiling sun isn’t always easy. And, practicing World War I tactics can still help reinforce an understanding of modern warfare. After all, machine guns and rifles haven’t changed all that much.
But that leads to another benefit for McGraw and other soldiers who choose to re-enact past periods of military history: They learn a deep appreciation of modern systems, from weapons to logistics to medicine to gear.
Where modern troops have GPS, Kevlar, lightweight automatic weapons, aid bags, and helicopters, World War I Doughboys had to make do with maps, cotton, rifles of wood and steel, field bandages, and horses. So, while it’s easy to complain when your helicopters are late to the LZ, most people would be more appreciative of the challenges if they spent their weekends trying to simulate logistics with horses.
The word “Dependa” has often been a derogatory label put on military spouses. The word itself insinuates that they sit on the couch all day collecting the benefits while their service member works hard and risks their lives for this country’s freedoms. There’s an even uglier way of saying that word but that term doesn’t deserve a discussion.
Guess what? The married military member themselves are just as much a “Dependa” as their spouse is. You read that right – turns out in a marriage, it’s supposed to be that way.
The role of a soldier, guardsman, Marine, sailor, airman, or coastie is simple: mission first. The needs of the military will always come before their spouse, children, and really – anything important in their life. This is something that the military family is well aware of and accepts as a part of the military life.
Often the spouse will hear things like, “well, you knew what you signed up for.” Yes, the military spouse is well aware of the sacrifice that comes along with marrying their uniformed service member. But are you?
While the military member is off following orders and doing Uncle Sam’s bidding – the spouse is left with the full weight of managing the home, finances, and carrying the roles of being both parents to the children left behind, waiting. Both depend on each other to make it work – and that’s how it should be. Here are 5 reasons why servicemembers depend on their spouses:
When a married service member deploys, they typically leave behind not only a spouse but children as well. While the service member is off focusing on their mission, for many months on end, life at home doesn’t stop just because they are gone. It’s just taken care of by the spouse. Without the home front being handled by the spouse, the service member cannot remain mission-ready or deploy.
Even when they are home, they aren’t really home
Just because a service member isn’t currently deployed doesn’t mean they are completely present for the family. Between training exercises, TDY’s, and the needs of the service, they are never really guaranteed to be home and of help to the military spouse. Military spouses face a 24% unemployment rate due to a number of factors like frequent moves but also lack of childcare. Did you know 72% of military spouses cannot find reliable childcare for their children?
The PCS struggle is real
The military family will move every 2-3 years, that’s a given. While the military member is busy doing check-outs and ins – the spouse is typically handling all of the things that come along with moving.
Organizing for the PCS
Researching the new duty station area for best places to live, work (if they can even find employment), and good schools for the children
Gathering copies of all the medical records
Finding new providers for the family
Unpacking and starting a whole new life, again
Blanchella Casey, supervisory librarian, reads the book, “Big Smelly Bear” to preschool children at the library as part of Robins Air Force Base’ summer programming.
U.S. Air Force
Many of the support programs for the military are run off the backs of volunteers – the military spouses, to be exact. The Family Readiness Group (Army and Navy), Key Spouse (Air Force) program, or the Ombudsman (Coast Guard) programs are all dependent on the unpaid time of the military spouse. These programs all serve the same purpose – to serve the unit and support families.
More than 2.5 million United States service members have been deployed overseas since 9/11. Service to this country comes with a lot of personal sacrifice for the military member. Half of them are married, many with children. They leave a lot behind all in the name of freedom. It comes at a heavy price. That service to the country affects every aspect of their lives – including their mental health. Their spouse becomes their secret keeper, counselor, and advocate. 33% of military members and veterans depend on their spouse to be their caregiver.
The military spouse serves their family, community, and are the backbone of support for their military member to have the ability to focus on being mission ready. They are both a “Dependa” to each other and cannot be truly successful without the other’s support – and that’s okay.
The hotline was the subject of the 2014 Academy Award-winning documentary “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” which profiles several Veterans’ Crisis Line counselors who work the 24-hour service to provide support and guidance to active and retired servicemen dealing with emotional, physical and financial troubles.
“We substantiated allegations that some calls routed to backup crisis centers were answered by voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance,” said a VA report filed in February 2016.
The VA estimates every sixth call is going to the backup center, where callers listen to Muzak while they wait for an operator. The VA has no information on how long the callers wait or how many give up because the backup centers are not monitored by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Since the suicide hotline was created in 2007, it has received more than two million calls and intervened on 53,000 separate occasions. The new report recommends obtaining and analyzing data on hold times, implementing call monitoring for the crisis line staff, more rigorous training with a rigorous quality assurance process.
First, it was the Ice Bucket challenge then it was the Mannequin Challenge. Now, the Koala Challenge is going viral — and for good reason.
FITAID, a fitness beverage company, has challenged people to participate in the Koala Challenge to help raise money for the people, firefighters, and wildlife affected by the wildfires in Australia. For every video that is posted on social media of someone doing the challenge, the company will donate $5.
In the Koala Challenge, you must start by lying flat on your on top of a work out bench then shift your entire body to the underside of the bench without ever touching the floor. If done correctly, you will be hanging from the underside of the bench, looking just like a relaxed koala.
The challenge isn’t for everyone, as it does take a great deal of strength, but some have succeeded.
Others gave it their best shot.
Meanwhile, some partipants took a more creative approach.
The following video is pretty impressive. It shows an F/A-18C being hit by a lightning bolt. Along with the flash of light, you can clearly hear a loud bang inside the cockpit, taking the pilot by surprise. Shock aside, the aircraft was probably not really damaged by the bolt.
We have published several articles explaining that close encounters between jets and lightning occur every now and then around the globe, usually causing little to no damage at all to the planes. Usually. Because sometimes, lightning strikes cause significant damaged. As happened on Dec. 19, 2017, when B-52 Stratorfortress (60-0051), with the 93rd Bomb Squadron/307th BW AFRC. The heavy bomber was about to land at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, when the crew heard something that sounded like a thud coming from the outside of the aircraft. The B-52 landed safely, but once on the ground the crew discovered that the sound they heard was actually a lightning strike that tore a person-sized gash completely through the tail of the aircraft!
Here’s what this Author wrote in one of those stories:
In the 1980s, some F-16 Fighting Falcon jets were lost after being hit by a lightning strike. In one case, the lightning ignited the vapors in the empty centerline tank, which exploded causing extended damage to the aircraft’s hydraulic system.
Since lightning strikes are quite rare (1 event each year on average) these are seldom a real risk to military or civil aviation.
Furthermore, planes are shielded by a so-called Faraday Cage externally made by a conducting material, that blocks out external static electrical fields: charges redistribute on the conduting material and don’t affect the cage’s interior.
Wide bodies are huge flying Faraday Cages: if hit by a lightning they let the current pass through the fuselage until ground, preserving the systems’ integrity.
All commercial and mil planes have to meet several safety lightning-related requirements to get the airwothiness certifications required in the U.S. or Europe.
For instance, they must be able to withstand a lightning strike without suffering significant airframe damage, without any possibility of accidental fuel ignition in the tanks and preserving the avionics and systems failures induced by the electromagnetic field created by the electrical charges of the lightning.
On the Internet, you can find some videos showing civilian planes hit by lightning strikes and continue flying as nothing has happened.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
China is threatening the US with the possibility that it may withhold rare earth elements critical to the production of a number of different US products, including missiles and stealth fighters.
The US has been turning up the heat on China in the ongoing trade war. Now, Chinese media is warning that China can up the stakes.
“United States, don’t underestimate China’s ability to strike back,” the People’s Daily, the paper of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, wrote May 29, 2019, according to Reuters.
“Will rare earths become a counter weapon for China to hit back against the pressure the United States has put on for no reason at all? The answer is no mystery,” the newspaper explained in a commentary, ominously adding, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you!”
Other Chinese media outlets released similar articles.
Rare earth elements, of which China produces the overwhelming majority, play an important role in the production of defense systems. For example, a US Navy Virginia-class nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine requires 9,200 pounds of rare earth metals, while an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer needs 5,200 pounds.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke.
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class RJ Stratchko)
US defense contractors like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin use rare earth metals to make high-end guidance systems and sensors for missiles and other military platforms, Reuters reported.
An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, a fifth-generation stealth jet built to give the US an edge over rivals like China, requires 920 pounds of rare earth materials, according to Asia Times, which reported that the US has an almost nonexistent ability to produce rare earth materials.
“The US side wants to use the products made by China’s exported rare earths to counter and suppress China’s development,” the People’s Daily argued May 29, 2019. “The Chinese people will never accept this!”
The paper’s rhetoric suggests that China would intentionally take aim at the US defense sector, which Beijing believes is working to contain China’s rise.
An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
The US relies on China for as much as 80% of its rare earth materials, according to Bloomberg. “Rare earths are a niche specialty and critical to the Defense Department,” Simon Moores, managing director at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, told the outlet.
“Rare earths are essential to the production, sustainment, and operation of US military equipment,” a 2016 Government Accountability Office report explained, adding that “Reliable access to the necessary material, regardless of the overall level of defense demand, is a bedrock requirement for DOD.”
Were China to pull the plug, it could certainly lead to complications, although there is the possibility that the department could turn to alternative sources given that its requirement is only 1% of the total US demand for rare earth elements.
Beijing has not yet said that it will take this step, but is certainly troubling that Chinese media is threatening this move as a potential response to US actions in the trade war.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Ask any American to list the rights enshrined by the United States Constitution and they’ll be awfully quick to tell you the first two. Hell, take a drive on any freeway in America and you’ll see a couple of bumper stickers supporting the right to free speech and right to bear arms.
Then, there’s the third amendment, which states, “no soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
It remains the least controversial amendment in the Constitution and is rarely litigated. To date, there has never been a Supreme Court ruling that has used the third for the basis of a decision. Today, the idea of troops seizing and occupying a U.S. citizen’s home sounds absurd. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case back when the Constitution was written.
Emphasis on the “maybe.”
(Hessian troops in British pay in the US war of independence, C. Ziegler After Conrad Gessner, 1799)
In 1765, the British Parliament needed to shelter their troops as they fought in the French and Indian War. So, the Crown did what they liked to do and made a decision that benefited British troops. They enacted the Quartering Acts of 1765, which stated that inns, stables, taverns, and wineries were required to house troops at the discretion of a British officer. Troops were allowed to take as they pleased, which would run taverns and wineries dry.
The cost of quartering troops would often fall on the shoulders of local business owners. Eventually, their expenses were reimbursed by colonial authorities — not the British government. Soon, British troops started taking refuge in private homes. Without fear of penalty, they could barge into your house, kick you out of your bed, take your food, and tell you that you’d (maybe) be paid back in a few months.
Taking colonists’ homes was so despicable that Washington and his men would rather freeze than stoop to the Brits’ level.
(Washington’s Army as it marches toward Valley Forge, William Trego, 1777)
To the colonists, this was a headache, but at least there was a reason for it — for a time. After the French and Indian War ended, the British troops continued to use private residences. Many returned to their own fortifications, but many others continued to exploit the Quartering Acts for their own gain.
This, coupled with the fact that the colonists were still paying for a foreign standing Army for no discernible reason, fostered resentment towards the British by many Americans. Then, the Boston Tea Party happened. The Brits saw a rebellion brewing and enacted the Quartering Acts of 1774. This time around, it clearly gave all British troops the right to occupy any building they saw fit without any obligation to reimburse the owner.
While everyone argues about everything else in politics, at least we can all agree that this was an amazing right.
(Jon Stewart Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear)
Most colonists weren’t personally affected by the tea tax and were simply inconvenienced by the stamp tax. Having Brits come into your home without warning or cause and being forced to give them whatever they pleased, however, was the straw that broke many colonists’ back.
When the dust settled and the American colonists became American citizens, one of the concerns they voiced most was that something like the Quartering Acts never happen again. And it became so when it was enshrined in the Bill of Rights and became the Third Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
CAMP PENDLETON, California — US Marine Corps 60 mm mortar teams can drop explosive rounds on their enemies from over 1,000 meters away, and Insider recently had the opportunity to watch them do it.
During a visit to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Insider observed a mortar crew firing off multiple rounds using an M224 60 mm light mortar, which is a high-angle-of-fire weapon that can be drop- or trigger-fired.
The training was carried out as part of the latest iteration of Iron Fist, an exercise that involves various training evolutions leading up to a large amphibious assault.
Cpl. Kevin Rodriguez, an experienced mortarman who said he chose the mortar because he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, walked Insider through the ins and outs of firing a mortar and what it takes.
60 mm mortars are typically handled by a crew of Marines.
Mortar crews have a gunner, an assisting gunner (squad leader), and an ammunition man. The crew is often supported by a forward observer and a fire direction center.
When they’re on the move, the three main crew members divide the weapon components, like the gun, the bipod, the sight, and the baseplate, among themselves with no one person carrying the entire weapon.
A crew can set up or tear down a mortar in two minutes.
In combat, the team works together to put fire down range. Standard operating procedure is that the fire direction center first passes range data to the gunner, who puts that into the sight and manipulates the weapon accordingly.
The ammo bearer then hands a prepared round to the assisting gunner, who drops the live round on command. Teams practice every day for months to develop a flawless rhythm.
The 60 mm mortar can be fired on the ground or in a handheld configuration.
A lot of different considerations go into firing this weapon.
There is the gun. “You can breathe on it the wrong way, and it will be completely off,” Rodriguez told Insider.
There is the round. Mortar crews can set it to burst in the air, explode on impact, or detonate a few seconds after impact, giving it the ability to penetrate a bunker.
Then there is figuring out exactly how to get the round to the target, and that involves different range calculations, as well as considerations like temperature, wind speed, and drift, among other things.
Weather is also an important factor. Rain, even light rain, for example, can result in wet charges, making a misfire or the firing of a short round more likely and risking a friendly-fire situation. There are covers to help protect the weapon and the rounds from the elements.
There are two different methods Marine mortar teams use to effectively target an enemy.
Range calculations are estimations at best. An experienced mortarman can eyeball the distance to his target, but it tends to take a few shots to get rounds falling in the right spot.
The quickest and most effective targeting approach is called bracketing. Mortar crews fire behind or in front of a target and then split the distance in half until rounds are coming down on the target.
Or, as Insider watched a crew do at Camp Pendleton, Marine mortar crews can use creeping fire to target an enemy, inching closer to the target with each round. This is not as fast as bracketing and requires more rounds, about five or six.
But creeping fire can be a pretty good option when you’re dealing with a lot of dead space, terrain features that make range estimates harder.
A mortar section usually has three guns delivering damage to a large area.
Mortars set the conditions for other units by keeping bigger threats at bay.
The mortar crews are tasked with “taking out the bigger targets, or at least keeping their heads down long enough for the machine guns to start suppressing enemies,” Rodriguez said. “The [other infantry units] are more the cleanup. They can move from one place to another.”
During the training at Camp Pendleton, the mortars practiced pinning down light armor while crews with M240 machine guns put fire on targets from a nearby ridge.
The mortars and the machine guns cleared the way for several infantry squads to maneuver into position. Each mortar round has a casualty radius of about 25 meters.
A dramatic rescue of a little girl trapped by ISIS gunfire was captured Friday on video.
David Eubank, a former Special Forces soldier-turned-aid worker, was filmed as he ran out in the open amid ISIS sniper fire to rescue the girl as two other men covered him with rifle fire.
“I thought, ‘If I die doing this, my wife and kids would understand,” Eubank told the Los Angeles Times.
According to the Times, Eubank’s dramatic rescue played out on a street in the Iraqi city of Mosul, where ISIS snipers were firing at civilians that were attempting to flee. Wearing only a t-shirt, bulletproof vest, and helmet, Eubank is seen running out into the street approximately 150 yards where he picks up the girl and brings her back safely behind a tank.
Eubank, 56, served for a decade with the US Army Special Forces. After leaving the military, he founded an aid group called the Free Burma Rangers, which seeks to bring “hope and love to people in the conflict zones of Burma, Iraq, and Sudan,” according to its website.
An enlisted leader is proving the Coast Guard’s reach extends far beyond America’s coastlines.
Bahrain is the epicenter of the Combined Maritime Forces — a partnership comprised of 33 different nations dedicated to combating terrorism and piracy, while promoting maritime safety. Command Master Chief Lucas Pullen, the first Coast Guard member to hold a senior enlisted leadership role for a coalition force, serves as its liaison. The decision to put him in that position instead of a sailor was done purposefully, he says.
Since the CMF operates as a part of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, a coastie brings objectivity, Pullen explained. In the midst of extensive Navy operations, him being in the Coast Guard more clearly defines his position and role.
“With this there are no blurred lines on who does what, I am able to specifically make sure things are working for the coalition side of things,” Pullen said.
The Oklahoma-native enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1998 to become a Boatswain’s Mate, a rating that is the operational core of almost every mission. After completing basic training, he was assigned to Small Boat Station South Padre Island, Texas, according to his official biography. As an operator, he gained experience “in maritime law enforcement to include fisheries, counter-narcotics, and counter-migrant operations, as well as search and rescue, and maritime security operations.”
Pullen’s extensive 22-year Coast Guard career prepared him for his new role as the senior enlisted leader of the CMF. He now works directly with senior military leaders from the multi-national partnership to promote security and stability across 3.2 million square miles of international waters.
“As a command master chief, one of my main jobs is the people and their families,” he said.
Working directly with members of the coalition has been an incredible experience, Pullen added. He described a typical day as starting with sharing Arabic coffee with a Kuwaiti leader and ending with tea and scones with the British. He loves the diversity and continuous ability to learn from the other nations’ military leaders, he said, also expressing his position in Bahrain will serve him well for further Coast Guard positions, although none will probably be as unique and involved.
Prior to Bahrain, the Pullen family was stationed in Guam — a duty station the kids did not want to leave. Marcy Pullen, who has moved 10 times with her husband, didn’t initially think she and the couple’s children would be eligible to PCS to Bahrain. It is typically an unaccompanied tour but a waiver changed that.
Photo courtesy of Candice Baker.
“I didn’t hesitate, I said let’s go,” she said.
Her husband praised his family’s resiliency and strength. Their oldest son, Tucker, is 17 and about to start college. If he attends the same college all four years, it’ll be the longest he’s ever lived anywhere.
Adjusting to life in Bahrain has included a unique set of experiences for the family, due to the political influence, culture, and customs. Seated to their left could be a fellow military kid while on their right, a Saudi Arabian royal.
Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne shared her struggle with not being able to just go explore or do things independently off base because it isn’t safe, especially for girls. Bahrain is a very conservative country where most women are either hidden or extensively covered when in public. But Levi, 13, also says there’s some good to being a military kid in Bahrain.
“I loved getting to do new things like learning how to play cricket with the Australian military kids. You get all of these amazing experiences that are out of the way and interesting,” he said.
All of the kids did agree on one thing: the food is amazing. One of their favorite things to eat is Baklava, a sweet dessert dish made with nuts and honey.
Pullen also credits the Coast Guard with preparing his family for such a unique assignment in the Middle East.
“Our quality of life thought process is very different from the other branches. I think we are very resilient as a service because we go into these remote locations without big military bases. We pick up all the military challenges without the resources there to support us,” he explained.
Marcy Pullen echoes his sentiment, reflecting on how hard it was as a new Coast Guard spouse and mom. She takes those lessons and experiences with her, using what she’s learned to help all military families who may be struggling to adjust to life in Bahrain.
Lucas and Mary Pullen Photo courtesy of Candice Baker.
With one year left in Bahrain, travel remains high at the top of their bucket list — though COVID-19 and tensions overseas have heavily restricted movement. As the Pullen family reflected on their journey, they agreed each move has brought new lessons and memories. They eagerly anticipate their next Coast Guard adventure that can take them anywhere.
It may look like R2-D2 from Star Wars slapped on top of a dune buggy, but Raytheon says its new laser weapon holds the promise of providing maneuver formations with portable air defenses against drones.
“This can identify a quadcopter out to five clicks,” or 5,000 meters, and then fry it with a laser, said Evan Hunt, business development lead for high-energy lasers at Raytheon.
Hunt spoke as he stood in the Pentagon’s courtyard March 19, 2018 in front of a Mad Max-style Polaris off-road vehicle mounted with a Raytheon Multi-Spectral Targeting System, a combination of electro-optical and infrared sensors with a high-energy laser.
The system can operate remotely or as part of an integrated air defense network, he said.
“You can park it at the end of a runway or at a [forward operating base],” Hunt said.
But one of its main advantages, he said, is that the laser can be carried by an off-road vehicle with maneuver formations to provide defense against unmanned aerial systems, or drones.
“Basically, we’re putting a laser on a dune buggy to knock drones out of the sky,” Dr. Ben Allison, director of Raytheon’s high-energy laser product line, said in a company release.
The company says the concept grew out of a meeting between Allison and Raytheon Chairman and CEO Tom Kennedy on adversaries’ increased use of small drones for surveillance and as weapons when fitted with small explosives.
In the siege of Mosul in 2017, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria used small drones extensively to target the Iraqi Security Forces.
Kennedy told Allison he had heard that a Patriot missile had been used to shoot down a cheap drone fitted with a grenade-type munition, and they both began thinking there had to be a better cost-to-kill ratio, Raytheon said.
The quadcopters used by ISIS are worth a few hundred dollars, while Patriot missiles cost about $2 million apiece.
“So, the question became, ‘What can we do for a counter-UAS system using a high-energy laser, and do it quickly.’ We wanted to take the assets and capabilities Raytheon has today and use them to really affect this asymmetrical threat. We settled on a small system that’s hugely capable,” Allison said.
Art Morrish, vice president of Advanced Concepts and Technology at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, said of the system, “Right now, it’s a shoot-on-the-halt capability. You drive the vehicle wherever you’re going to drive it. You stop, and then you fire up the laser.
“That makes it great for protecting forward operating bases and places where convoys have to stop. The next step is to set it up so you can actually shoot on the move,” he said.
Raytheon is expected to demonstrate the system at the Army’s Maneuver Fires Experiment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, December 2018.
The Polaris mounted with the laser was part of a number of corporate displays in the Pentagon’s courtyard in a sign of the military’s growing interest and investment in directed energy weapons to defend against an array of threats.
February 2018, at an Association of the U.S. Army forum on missile defense, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said the nation needs directed energy weapons — lasers, particle beams, microwaves — to take out enemy ballistic missiles in the launch stage.
“The day you can actually shoot a missile down over somebody’s head and have that thing drop back on their heads — that’ll be a good day, because as soon as you drop it back on their heads, that’s the last one they’re going to launch, especially if there’s something nasty on top of it,” he said.
“I think directed energy brings that to bear,” Hyten said, although such weapons do not yet exist in the U.S. arsenal.
“Directed energy is an interesting challenge,” he said, but “I think directed energy has a huge potential on the missile defense side.”
At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the budget March 20, 2018, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said her service has $280 million allocated for directed energy research in 2018.
One of the military’s priorities is to develop countermeasures, including lasers, to cope with the proliferation of small drone attacks against U.S. forces, according to a report last month by a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee commissioned by the Army.
“Hobby drones are easy to buy, their performance is improving dramatically, and their cost has dropped significantly,” said Albert Sciarretta, president of CNS Technologies and committee chairman.
“Now, with millions of them around the world, they pose a growing threat to the U.S. warfighting forces if used for nefarious intents,” he said.
The Defense Department has invested in technologies that can jam drones’ radio frequencies and make them inoperable.
However, the academy’s report states that a new generation of small drones can increasingly operate without radio frequency command-and-control links by using automated target recognition and tracking, obstacle avoidance, and other capabilities enabled by software.
Days later, another Flanker mimicked the move over the same waters, zooming in front of a P-8 and exposing the sub hunter aircraft to its jet exhaust.
Top U.S. officials in Europe and the Defense Department said the incidents involved Russian pilots behaving in an unsafe, unprofessional manner. Experts argue that, while the intercepts expose a pattern of behavior from the Russian military, they also show that Russia is willing to capitalize on the publicity the aerial maneuvers bring, even during a global pandemic.
The Russian military “feels as if it’s necessary to let everybody know that they’re still on the world stage, that they’re still on the scene, and that they have pretty good military power,” said retired Gen. Frank Gorenc, the former commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Gorenc, an F-15 Eagle pilot, headed the command during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, when the U.S. sent sophisticated aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor to the theater in show-of-force missions to deter Russian aggression.
“It’s not only the pandemic, which obviously is keeping the western countries occupied, but also the oil [crash] too,” he said in an interview this week.
In recent weeks, Russia, one of the world’s leading oil exporters, was also hit by the unprecedented collapse in the market for crude oil.
“Declining powers have to do [something],” Gorenc said.
Opportunity to Go Viral
Unlike the Cold War, when pilots would return to their squadron and file a debrief of an aerial intercept, then simply move along to their next mission, being buzzed or barrel-rolled is gaining more visibility with the help of social media, said Doug Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.
“You know, it goes kind of viral,” Barrie said. “So you wonder if there’s an element of that, of how it plays on social media and in wider Western media, whether or not if it’s valuable.”
Notably, the recent incidents involved Russia’s multi-role Su-35 fighter jet, which has received improvements over the last few years — a significant upgrade from other aircraft used in past intercepts, such as the Su-27 Flanker or the Su-24 Fencer, Barrie said.
“It’s perhaps unsurprising that these aircraft have been bumped into [the rotation] more often than we’ve previously seen them; the imagery of the Flanker is great,” he said.
“The Su-35 is a highly capable airplane that they produce,” Gorenc added. “They’re obviously … trying to sell it. And this is a good way to show it off.”
Gorenc stressed that, while these incidents tend to flare up once in a while, pilots need to stick to the rules of engagement and try to be as predictable as possible.
The 1972 bilateral Russia-U.S. agreement “Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas,” followed by Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA), are accords that establish basic “rules of the road” for both countries to safely navigate near one another.
Holding Russia accountable for its behavior in international airspace can be tricky, Barrie explained. “To some extent, these things are difficult to kind of legislate around because it really comes down to the units, the pilots [and their behavior],” he said.
More often than not, intercepts are conducted in a safe manner, but errors happen because of a loss of communication or a human or technical mistake, officials have said.
For example, then-Gen. Petr Pavel, the former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, told reporters in 2018 that most aerial scrambles are seen as “routine.”
“From time to time, we can see some measures as provocative, especially in the areas that we exercise … both to the ships and in the air,” he said. “But it’s up to the captain [or pilot] to judge if it’s dangerous or not.”
Last week, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO supreme commander and head of U.S. European Command, described the first incident on April 15 as the result of “unprofessional” conduct by a Russian fighter pilot acting on his own, rather than a deliberate attempt by Moscow to provoke an incident.
“My conclusion at this point is that it was probably something more along the lines of unprofessional as opposed to deliberate,” Wolters said April 16.
“Given the unpredictability, you have to make sure that you maintain a safe distance and don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they even see you, because they may not see you,” Gorenc said.
Not Backing Down
Like the U.S., it’s unlikely that Russia will back down from what it sees as military priorities despite the pandemic, Barrie said.
“We’re not completely dissimilar. … You can see the messaging coming out of these NATO nations, including the U.S., which says, ‘OK, we recognize a pandemic is an enormous problem … but [we’re still] taking care of the day-to-day national security needs,'” he said.
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. military should be mindful that rivals like Russia will look to test any weaknesses among the U.S. and its allies during the coronavirus crisis.
“We are postured and maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice,” he said.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper renewed the message. “Our adversaries are not standing down,” he said. “We will continue to make sure that the [Defense Department] is ready to protect the USA.”
Barrie added: “The Russian Su-35 incident, in part, is simply a reflection of that [response]. It is simply a reflection of Russia doing what it does.”