Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

When asked about the current level of savings for commissary shoppers in an era of sweeping reforms, the interim director of Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert Bianchi, referred to results of a price comparison survey conducted in 2016 and released in late January 2017.


It showed average savings at commissaries “globally” were 23.7 percent compared to prices at commercial grocery stores. More specifically, patron savings averaged 20.2 percent at stateside commissaries and 44.2 percent overseas.

The same survey also showed average patron savings varied widely across U.S. regions, from a high of 32.6 percent in Alaska and Hawaii to a low near 18 percent for commissary shoppers across the South Central and Mountain states.

Bianchi and staff said it is the regional cost-saving targets that DeCA monitors monthly and, in finer detail, quarterly, to ensure that steps to transform commissaries into more business-like stores are not diluting patron savings.

Also read: Commissary savings overhaul might cost shoppers extra

Price savings by region are being tracked on “a monthly basis via our syndicated data and [on] a quarterly basis via manual shops [of local stores] and using syndicated data,” a DeCA spokesman explained.

The larger price comparison survey released a year ago established a new method for calculating savings that included a proportion of prices for private label or store brands. This irked patron advocacy groups because, at the time, commissaries didn’t sell their own private label goods. The concern was that the timing served to dampen the baseline savings targets set, which DeCA, by law, must sustain forever more.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money
A front view of the Bridgeport Commissary’s produce section. (DeCA photo by Nancy O’Nell)

This occurred long before Bianchi become interim DeCA director in November 2017 to lead commissary transformation while also serving as chief executive of the Navy Exchange Service. Bianchi said he believes the baseline for savings, which use regional price comparisons and private labels, more accurately reflects the real value of the benefit. The previous method, which led to claims that patrons saved more than 30 percent, compared commissary prices against average commercial prices for brand goods only nationwide, ignoring popular private labels.

Steps transforming commissaries include: replacing the traditional cost-plus-a-surcharge pricing with variable pricing based on regional markets; offering DeCA-brand or private label goods as low-priced alternatives to name brands; cutting the assortment of national brands on shelves and negotiating more competitive pricing for surviving brands with brokers and manufacturers.

Related: Veterans can now register for an early shot at online military exchange shopping

Patron savings are real and substantial, Bianchi said. “But messaging that, connecting that for the customer, becomes important,” and variable pricing is key.

Commissary savings can get distorted, Bianchi said, when, for example, a shopper walks into a commercial supermarket and the first item seen are bananas selling for 39 cents a pound versus 52 cents seen at the commissary.

“Even though we may be saving them lots of dollars on chicken or other commodities, they get that initial impression and say ‘Hum, am I really saving money or not?’ We know they are. So, part of what I have our team looking at are image items. As we introduce variable pricing, it will give us the capability to compete with those other retailers and manage pricing in the market.”

Patrons need to be made more aware of average savings, Bianchi said.

“So, the part I have to do is message that so they aren’t dissuaded when they see a loss leader item” in a commercial market and think their commissary benefit has lost value. “The value proposition has got to be real and clear to them.”

Readers of last week’s column, which described a sharp decline in commissary sales, reacted with emails. Many blamed falling sales on a perceived narrowing of savings. Other criticized empty shelves and popular items out of stock.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money
Energy efficient ice cream freezers inside of a Commissary. (DeCA photo by Nancy O’Nell)

Manufacturers and brokers shared recent scanned sales data from commissaries that, they contend, show variable pricing and private labeling accelerating the sales drop as patrons discover favored brand names are gone.

One industry analysis noted how Duracell batteries were removed from commissaries last year. While sales data show Energizer battery sales climbing, as would be expected, battery sales overall in the commissaries have fallen.

Bianchi said it’s premature to be sounding alarms over variable pricing or the introduction of DeCA brands Home Base, Top Care, and Freedom’s Choice.

Every commissary now has some variably priced items and “initial data suggest customers are responding positively,” Bianchi said. “In fact, we are beginning to get more competitive on the items that are most relevant to our patrons, which we expect will only help our sales performance.

“However, we still have a relatively small portion of the total assortment variably priced.” In mid-January 2018 that total was only 7000 of 38,000 stocked items.

Also read: House-Senate to negotiate key military benefit changes

“It is, therefore, too early to draw conclusions about how this will impact commissary-wide sales trends. Initial item-level sales data and customer input make us confident this is the right approach.”

Initial private label results on bottled water, cheese, health care products, paper towels and more also are encouraging, said Bianchi. The goal is to sell 3000 to 4000 items with commissary labels.

“We continue to see sales growth and penetration levels increase, and our customers regularly tell us they are happy to have these low-cost, high-quality alternatives on the shelf. None of the items introduced to date give us any concern for the acceptance of our brands, and we will continue to roll out these products aggressively given the very positive response from patrons.”

In fact, he added, many product categories with private labels “have seen an uptick in sales relative” not seen in product categories without private labels.

Bianchi said he came to DeCA with a lot of retail experience and a fresh set of eyes. He found shortfalls in customer service, expense control and sales planning, all critical for shifting to a profit and loss environment.

More: Slump at ‘The Stumps:’ Commissary closes because of rat infestation

“You just have a different perspective” when store expenses are covered by appropriated dollars, he said.

He found commissary shoppers uncomfortable with having baggers handle groceries for tips, Bianchi said, which might explain the popularity of self-checkout.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money
Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, commander, Navy Exchange Service Command, greets a local Djiboutian Navy Exchange employee at the Navy Exchange at Camp Lemonier during a visit to the camp to assess the progress of the facilities under his area of responsibility. Camp Lemonier, located in the Horn of Africa, is the only U.S. military infrastructure located in Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan P. Idle)

“How many people carry cash nowadays,” he said. “And if you go to an ATM machine you’re only getting 20s. So, we’re kind of looking at” the bagger issue.

Bianchi said he spent his first months at DeCA focused on patrons, employees and having store partner with commands and local communities. He will turn soon to repairing relationships with brokers and manufacturers who might have felt bulldozed by all the recent changes at commissaries tied to profit and loss.

“Quite honestly, as these initiatives were rolled out, there was probably a lack of transparency, which created some concern and doubt on industry’s part [and] some bad feelings,” said Bianchi. “Some folks are still remaining critical, which I think is a carryover from that.”

Industry reps who also dealt with base exchanges, which have long generated profits, likely were less startled by mindset shift at DeCA, he said.

“The reality is the business model does have to change as we move to a profit and loss environment. We want to create a win-win situation. But I will tell you, from walking floors at commissaries, we [need] an assortment rationalization,” meaning more cuts to the number of brand goods. “So, there may be winners and losers but that’s not any different than the private sector goes through every day.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

New Invictus competitors enjoy the international competition

The 2018 Invictus Games started Oct. 20, 2018, and competitors, staff members, family and friends are excited for the fourth iteration of this international competition. With a record 18 allied nations participating, the Invictus Games has grown immensely in popularity and stature since its inaugural event in London in 2014. It has become the pinnacle event for many wounded, ill and injured service members around the world who compete in adaptive sports.

“Being here in Sydney and at the Invictus Games is such a different level,” said retired Maj. Christina Truesdale, who is among those competing at the Invictus Games for the first time this year. “The human connection is unreal. Everyone is so friendly and it’s all hugs, love and respect for each other.”


Truesdale discovered adaptive sports in the fall of 2017 while recovering from a tethered spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Benning, Georgia. She has since made huge strides in her adaptive sports journey. After competing at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado and in multiple cycling races, this will be Truesdale’s first taste of international competition.

“I’ve trained with expectations and I hope I win a medal, but I have to remember, I’m here in Sydney at the Invictus Games with so many other awesome athletes. It’s a great experience and it’s important to live in and enjoy the moment,” she added.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

U.S. Army Maj. Christina Truesdale pushes through the second of three grueling laps on the cycling course before gutting out a bronze medal in her upright classification during the cycling event June 6, 2018, at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games. She is competing in the Invictus Games, happening Oct. 20-27, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Robert Whetstone)

Another first time Invictus Games participant is U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Altermese Kendrick, who recovered at the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas after suffering a hip labrum tear and back injuries. She competed at both the 2017 and 2018 DOD Warrior Games and is also excited to have reached the next level, achieving her goal of representing Team USA and checking a visit to Australia off her bucket list.

“It’s an honor and privilege to represent my country and compete alongside the different services [instead of against them at Warrior Games],” Kendrick said. “Competing at the Invictus Games is a way for me to show what I’ve learned and showcase what the coaches have taught me and what I’ve worked so hard to achieve.”

One of the most exciting elements of the Invictus Games, according to both women and many other competitors, is getting to know wounded, ill and injured service members from other countries. “I’ve been making it a point to meet people from the other teams and learn about them, hear about their countries, experiences, and build bonds with others across the world,” Kendrick said.

Truesdale added, “It’s interesting to interact with others you know are on a similar journey as you. They may not speak the same language, but we all identify with each other because we’ve all served and been through something.”

For the 500-plus athletes competing in the games, each of them is ready for their opportunity to show the world their unconquered spirit — but for Kendrick, just having that chance is what it is all about.

“I’m going to love every microsecond of the Invictus Games experience. I’ve worked hard to get here and whether I win a medal or not, it’s already mission accomplished.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Jobs

What to do when your military job doesn’t translate to a civilian one

You’ve transitioned to civilian life, but every job you find expects you to start at the bottom. Did you spend your last few years in service for this? Why don’t employers recognize the experience you bring to the table (even if it isn’t direct experience in your new job) and cut you a break? This article explains why starting from the bottom of your organization is OK.


Military appreciation wanes fast. Respect for your military service and your perceived character may get you an interview. Employers constantly seek candidates with the kind of virtues and values associated with the military: integrity, team dedication, discipline, and “can-do” spirit. Respect for your military service may earn you instant credibility with your new co-workers, too, many of whom have never done anything as big and as meaningful with their lives as swear an oath to protect this nation unto death, if need be. But when the introductions have finished and day-to-day concerns take over, your new boss and your new peers want you to be good at your job.

Also read: 12 best military jobs according to Glassdoor

If you talk about your military adventures all the time, or “act military” by wearing your combat boots or T-shirts with military designs, or speaking in military phrases, it will isolate you from civilians. They may feel they have nothing to talk about with you, or they may feel insecure that you served and they didn’t, or they may just want to interact with you on a professional footing within your new job. If you’re a team leader and you try to impose military expectations on a civilian group, your subordinates will resent you for it. And if you “rest on your laurels” — keeping the attention off negative performance by constant reminders about your military past — you will quickly find that a military record won’t save you from the chopping block.

Military service is a great “in” to a civilian job, certainly, but to keep that job you have to actually, you know, do the job. And it helps if you become part of the team… which means learning to talk your new peers’ jargon, meeting their expectations and letting your military service be visible in your behavior instead of your language.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

You have everything to learn about your new job. By the time you make your transition into civilian life, you will probably be pretty familiar with the military. You know what’s important, what people mean when they tell you to do things, and how to succeed. But even if you are going into a field similar to the military (like becoming a state trooper), you’ll find that the structure, expectations, and conventions are all new.

There will probably be a lot of technical things to learn — how to use new equipment, computer programs, and new procedures. But you probably would expect that upon entering a new profession. The hard part is learning the culture. This includes figuring out who’s experienced, who has authority within the organization and for what, how to use the payroll and administration system, and unwritten expectations of behavior — examples of which include having to figure out which meetings to attend, or a specific way to arrange your workspace, or dressing a certain way for certain days or events.

Related: This amazing Microsoft training is the key to the ultimate post-military tech career

Military veterans sometimes barge into their civilian job with the expectation that it will be like their military job. Don’t be that guy (or girl). The best way to integrate well is to listen. Listen when you get your orientation, and take notes so you can ask questions at the end (or of your work partner). Listen to what people say around you while you’re working. You will pick up all sorts of cues about how you’re supposed to act, or what to expect next. Ask questions – but don’t be a pest. As a general rule, spread your questions around: ask a few of each person around you, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself if the answer to your question was obvious. And if you find yourself unprepared for a situation, be unobtrusive, humble and ready to take criticism if it’s coming your way.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money
(Army photo by Sgt. Steve Peterson)

Your co-workers and boss will respect that you “pay your dues.” You may feel like you’ve paid enough dues for a lifetime in boot camp, as a young service member and especially in combat (if you’ve been there). But there are always dues to be paid whenever you enter a new team. The bare minimum is showing proficiency in your new job, but those around you want to see you invest in your profession. They want to see you care. That means being eager to learn (see listening, above), eager to volunteer when needed and ready for work when it’s assigned.

Big mistakes off the bat include showing up late (or close enough to start time that you aren’t ready for work when everyone else begins), always asking for help with work, asking too many questions about “perks” (example: “So what time do you think I could get out of here?”), or wasting time at work. It can be hard to really care about a civilian job that you don’t yet know – especially if you just came from a tight, accomplished unit in which you were bonded by danger and privation — but figuring out where you’re supposed to be, and being there whenever it’s expected, is going to put you on the fast track to “paying your dues.”

More: These military principles can help you succeed in your civilian career

Prior military service will push you forward throughout your career. The good news is that your co-workers and supervisors won’t forget that you served. It’s likely one of the first things they learned about you, and first impressions go a long way. As long as you don’t “act military” in the negative sense — by acting superior, or entitled, or by isolating yourself — others will see all your civilian achievements through the lens of the respect they hold for the military.

And by the way, keeping a few reminders of your service visible in the workplace isn’t a bad thing: a photograph of you with your old unit, a short haircut, or a camouflage duffel are all unpretentious ways to maintain a military identity without proclaiming it obnoxiously (if that’s your style).

The important thing is to “act military” in the positive sense: be disciplined, respectful, and ready to jump in whenever needed. If you do that, you will advance quickly from “boot” status to rising star.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US privately warns Iran that this one thing would trigger an attack

As the US military builds up its forces in the Middle East, America’s top diplomat has been privately warning the Iranians that the death of even a single US service member at the hands of Iran or one of its proxies would trigger a military response, The Washington Post reported on June 18, 2019, citing US officials.

In May 2019, the US detected signs of possible Iranian aggression targeting US forces and interests in the Middle East. The US responded by deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command area of responsibility.

White House national security adviser John Bolton issued a statement on May 5, 2019, saying that the military assets deployed to the region were meant “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”


Two days later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled trip to Baghdad, where he delivered the warning that one American fatality would be enough to trigger a counterattack, The Post reported. Pompeo, a former US Army officer, has been a major player, together with Bolton, in shaping the US “maximum pressure” strategy directed at Iran.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

More US military assets have since been moved into the region, and more are on the way in the wake of suspected limpet mine attacks on tankers that the US blames on Iran. US military leaders revealed on June 18, 2019, that the US does not plan to carry out a unilateral military response to the tanker attacks.

Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said any military action taken in response to the tanker attacks would “require an international consensus,” something the US military has been trying to secure through the release of evidence it says points to Iran’s culpability.

“If the Iranians come after US citizens, US assets or [the] US military, we reserve the right to respond with a military action, and they need to know that,” the country’s second-highest-ranking general told reporters. “The Iranians believe that we won’t respond, and that’s why we’ve been very clear in our message.”

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Zachary S. Welch)

Iran is “lashing out against the international community,” but the Iranians “haven’t touched an American asset in any overt attack that we can link directly to them,” he added.

“What happens if Americans are killed? That changes the whole thing,” a senior Trump administration official told The Washington Post. “It changes everything.”

Pompeo, who appears to be taking the lead on the standoff with Iran amid a reshuffling of senior leadership at the Pentagon, visited US Central Command on June 18, 2019, the same day acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrew his name from the nomination for defense secretary and said he would be stepping down.

“We are there to deter aggression. President Trump does not want war,” Pompeo said. “We will continue to communicate that message while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The family of this Battle of the Bulge veteran is trying to get the recognition he’s owed

For the second time in two decades, John “Russ” Orders was hopeful he would receive a Purple Heart for his sacrifice during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge.


A ceremony planned for last month, during which Orders would have been awarded the Purple Heart, has been postponed. Orders’ award status remains in limbo because of a missing document that details how and when Orders received his injuries.

“Obviously, the government takes a little longer than normal, but they sent us back a reply when we requested the Purple Heart and they said that they needed more information,” said Dave Bowen, a chaplain for Access Home Care and Hospice who has served as liaison between the US Army and Orders. “But all the information they requested was on the paperwork that I submitted, so I’m not sure what they are looking for.”

Currently, Orders is a resident at the Cottonwood Cove retirement home in Pocatello.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money
Purple heart medals. USMC photo by Cpl. Sara A. Carter

It was a freezing January night in 1945 and Orders — a member of the US Army’s 102nd “Ozark” Infantry Division — was driving a supply truck to the front lines when a German artillery round struck his truck, exploded on impact, and knocked him unconscious. When he awoke, he was in a hospital bed in France with severe injuries to his left hand.

Six months later, the US Army honorably discharged Orders, and in addition to the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Ribbon, he received two Bronze Stars, a Good Conduct Medal, and the American Theater Ribbon.

Despite his injures, Orders did not receive the Purple Heart.

For decades, he didn’t pursue the award because he thought that it was reserved for those who had been shot. Before her passing in 2012, Orders’ late wife, Jeanne Orders, interviewed and documented his service record during the war.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money
Oscar L. Davis Jr., receives a purple heart for his past service in World War II. Army photo by Capt. John. J. Moore.

But the US Army cannot rely on Jeanne’s notes and must confirm the information through an action report that details how and when his injuries would have occurred.

The only problem is that the action report may not exist, according to Orders’ son-in-law, Kevin Haskell.

Haskell said any specific records for Orders’ were stored in St. Louis, Missouri, and were likely destroyed in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.

“I haven’t got a clue what (the US Army) is looking for,” Haskell said. “Fifteen years ago, my wife (Jolynn Haskell) and my mother-in-law ( Jeanne Orders) went through this whole process. Before Dave brought it back up, we had totally forgotten about it.”

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money
The NPRC records fire of 1973. Image from VA.

Haskell continued, “What’s disappointing is the US Army doesn’t want to act on the evidence we have provided — they want to go off the paperwork.”

The same technicality prevented Orders from receiving the Purple Heart several years before Jeanne died, so to reach the same point again has left Kevin and Jolynn wondering if Orders will ever get the recognition they think he deserves.

“Jolynn was quite disappointed because we thought that the process was all worked out,” Kevin Haskell said. “We were told that it was approved and thought that they had progressed it through, but now it’s postponed because there are more forms that (the US Army) needs.”

Haskell said that it’s not the fact that Orders hasn’t received the Purple Heart, but that the process reached a point where the retirement home scheduled a pinning ceremony that Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo planned to attend, only to find out just days before that more information was necessary.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money
Idaho Senator Mike Crapo. USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Stephany Miller.

“It was definitely a surprise,” Haskell said. “We thought he was finally going to get it. We are getting asked by residents in the center why he’s not getting the award and we don’t know what to tell them. To go that far and then all of a sudden put a stop to it is pretty disappointing.”

Though there’s a chance that Orders will receive the Purple Heart, Bowen said he is uncertain how probable that outcome will be considering this isn’t the first scenario in which further documentation was missing.

But that hasn’t stopped him from trying.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this happens,” Bowen said. “We will push this until we get an absolute no from the Army.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Honor Guard makes paratrooper’s final request come true

A former Army paratrooper’s final request to be buried with military honors alongside other veterans was carried out by a New York Army National Guard honor guard on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, at Calverton National Cemetery.

Needham Mayes, the New York City resident who was buried, was one of the first African-American soldiers to join the 82nd Airborne Division in 1953. But he left the Army with a dishonorable discharge in 1956 after a fight in a Non-Commissioned Officers Club.

In 2016 — after a lifetime of accomplishment and community service — he began the process of having that dishonorable discharge changed. His lawyers argued that in a Southern Army post, just a few years after the Army had integrated, black soldiers were often treated unfairly.


With an assist from New York Senator Kristin Gillibrand, Mayes appeal came through in September 2019. When he died on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2019, he was finally a veteran and eligible to be buried with other soldiers.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

Sgt. Kemval Samll, and other members of the New York Military Forces Honor Guard stand at attention during the funeral service of former Army paratrooper Pvt. Needham Mayes at Calverton National Cemetery, N.Y., Dec. 2, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni)

That duty fell to the Long Island team of the New York Military Forces Honor Guard. The Army National Guard soldiers provide funeral services for around 2,400 New York City and Long Island veterans annually at the Calverton National Cemetery.

Any soldier who served honorably is entitled to basic military funeral services at their death. Statewide, New York Army National Guard funeral honors teams conduct an average of 9,000 services.

On Dec. 2, the Long Island National Guard soldiers dispatched 11 members to honor Mayes’s last request.

The Honor Guard members treat every military funeral as a significant event, because that service is important to that family, said 1st. Lt. Lasheri Mayes, the Officer in Charge of the New York Military Forces Honor Guard.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

Members of the New York Military Forces Honor Guard provide military honors for the funeral service of former Army paratrooper Pvt. Needham Mayes at Calverton National Cemetery, N.Y., Dec. 2, 2019.

But the story of Mr. Mayes “was unique,” and because his family had fought hard to get him the honors he deserved that made the ceremony particularly important, Lt. Mayes said.

Mayes’s funeral was held as a storm moved into the northeast, and while there was no snow on Long Island, the weather was cold and windy.

The Honor Guard soldiers conducted a picture-perfect ceremony despite the bad weather, Lt. Mayes said.

Sgt. Richard Blount, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the mission, assembled a great team, she added.

It was “a tremendous honor” for his soldiers to conduct the mission for the Mayes family, Blount said.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

New York Army National Guard Sgt. Richard Blount, the non-commissioned officer in charge of a New York Military Forces Honor Guard team, salutes while overseeing military honors for the funeral service of former Army paratrooper Pvt. Needham Mayes.

(Photo by Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni)

“I was proud to see the team that I put together all join in celebrating his life, and being a member of this memorable event for the family,” he said.

According to the New York Times, Mayes Army career went awry in 1955 when he was invited to a meal at the Fort Bragg Non-Commissioned Officers Club.

Pvt. 1st Class Mayes got in a scuffle at the Non-Commissioned Officers Club at Fort Bragg. At some point, a gun — carried by another soldier according to a story in the New York Times — fell on the floor, went off, and a man was shot.

Mayes reportedly confessed to grabbing for the gun. He was sentenced to a year at hard labor and received a dishonorable discharge.

After leaving the Army, Mayes moved to New York City and became an exemplary citizen.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

Members of the New York Military Forces Honor Guard provide military honors for the funeral service of former Army paratrooper Pvt. Needham Mayes at Calverton National Cemetery, N.Y., Dec. 2, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni)

He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and became a social worker and a therapist. He raised three daughters and worked for groups fighting drug abuse and promoting mental health awareness and advocated for young black men.

But for Mayes, his dishonorable discharge always bothered him; his family members told the New York Times.

In 2016, as his health started to decline, according to the New York Times, he hired a lawyer to get his discharge upgraded so he could be buried as a veteran.

Initially, the request was denied, but this year New York Senator Kristin Gillibrand began advocating for Mayes.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

New York Army National Guard 1st LT Mayes, Lasheri Mayes, Honor Guard officer in charge, presents the colors from the casket of former Army paratrooper Pvt. Needham Mayes to Maye’s grandson Earl Chadwick Jr at Calverton National Cemetery, N.Y., Dec. 2, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni)

Also, another former soldier who was involved in the fight for so many years urged that Mayes’s dishonorable discharge be changed.

“Being a person of color, I could never imagine what my predecessors went through, “Blount said. “What happened to Mr. Mayes was not right.”

“But it made me that much more proud of the accomplishments and the goals the military has made to move more in a positive direction — a place where we can be unified on all fronts,” Blount added.

“I am thankful every day for those that paved the way for myself and others to be the best soldiers and leaders that we can be,” he said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The ‘Raptors’ are elite Chinese police arresting protesters in Hong Kong

On the front lines of the unrest in Hong Kong are the Raptors, an elite subdivision of the Hong Kong Police Force. Their official name is the Special Tactical Squad, but that moniker doesn’t really cover everything the Raptors do, from crowd control and riot control to clearing roadblocks and infiltrating disruptive groups. The STS was created in the midst of chaos and will be there whenever Hong Kong descends back into it.


Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

The Special Tactical Squad was formed in 2014 in the middle of the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, a civil unrest that was a response to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress’ efforts to undermine the democratic system in Hong Kong. The police response to the 100,000 protestors that flooded the city’s streets was underwhelming. They had no apparatus in place to handle such protests. The Raptors were created to contain the widespread protests and were deployed in 2016 during the “Fishball Revolution” and are again deployed on the streets.

Every time the Chinese government tries to impose its will on the city of Hong Kong, its people crowd the streets in massive protests, and the Raptors are called in. The latest protests see upwards of a million people protesting in the streets in 2019.

Yes, shopping at the Commissary really does save you money

Around the Police Tactical Unit, which the Special Tactical Squad is a part of, they’re called the “Removal Team,” as they’re usually tasked with removing debris and clearing roadblocks, as well as removing unruly protesters. For the last, the local media call them “The Professional Removal Team.” When the Hong Kong police are overwhelmed, the Raptors special training and gear are able to work over crowds in sizes that regular police forces just couldn’t manage. Now they’re doing much more than responding to civil unrest – they’re actively preventing it.

People close to the organized protests say Raptors officers went undercover in protest groups to undermine the most radical protesters. On Aug. 12, Raptors arrested 15 organizers in a carefully coordinated decoy operation to remove the most violent of rioters. The Raptors are now being comprised of counterterrorism officers, which probably explains the shift in tactics on the ground. Protestors with a violent past can now be arrested in secret.

The Raptors would usually have just done battle with those protesters. Times sure have changed.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China is searching desperately for new fighter pilots

China’s navy needs Maverick and Goose — and many, many more fighter jocks for its growing carrier force.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy is desperately searching for pilots to fill its carrier air wings as the country pushes to build a formidable carrier fleet.

The PLAN launched its 2019 pilot recruitment program Sept.15, 2018, with “the highlight of this year’s recruitment [being] the selection of future carrier-borne aircraft pilot cadets,” according to the Chinese military, which noted that as China’s armed forces shift from “shore-based” to “carrier-based” abilities, the PLAN intends to develop a pilot recruitment system “with Chinese naval characteristics that can adapt to carrier-borne requirements.”


The language appears to indicate a strategic shift from home defense to power projection on the high seas, thinking consistent with Chinese efforts to build an advanced blue water navy.

The lack of pilots trained for carrier-borne operations and combat has been a problem for China in recent years. “They don’t have a whole lot of pilots. Not a lot of capacity in that area,” Matthew Funaiole, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explained to Business Insider in August 2018.

By the end of 2016, there were only 25 pilots qualified to fly China’s carrier-based fighters, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported Sept. 18, 2018.

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A J-15 fighter jet sits on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Liaoning.

(Photo by Zhang Lei)

Recruiters will travel across the country to 23 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions to find suitable navy aviators. “Some of the pilot cadets recruited in 2018 will receive the top and most systematic training as carrier-borne aircraft pilots,” a PLAN Pilot Recruitment Office official revealed.

Pilots selected and trained to fly carrier-based aircraft will fly the fourth-generation Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark, the heaviest carrier-based fighter jet in operation today and the type of fighter that composes the carrier air wing for China’s only operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

The ongoing recruitment program, according to SCMP, marks the first time the Chinese navy has directly recruited pilots for the J-15, a problematic derivative of a Soviet prototype which has been blamed for several fatal training accidents. In the past, aviators from the navy and air force who were trained to fly other types of aircraft were pulled to fly the J-15.

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A J-15 ship-borne helicopter prepares to land on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Liaoning.

(Photo by Zhang Lei)

“Becoming a naval pilot is the best choice for those who want to become heroes of the sky and the sea,” the Chinese military stressed on Sept. 18, 2018, emphasizing the Chinese military’s interest in developing advanced power projection capabilities.

China is rapidly building an aircraft carrier fleet with one carrier already in service, another undergoing sea trials, and a third in development, but China is still very new to complex carrier operations. Chinese Navy pilots successfully completed their first nighttime takeoffs and landings in May 2018.

“An elite team among the pilots also has carried out night landings, widely considered the riskiest carrier-based action, and have become capable of performing round-the-clock, all-weather operations,” the China Daily reported Sept. 19, 2018.

In addition to a pilot shortage, China still struggles with power and propulsion, aircraft numbers and reliability, carrier launch systems, and a limited experience with carrier operations.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump will meet with Kim Jong Un to end the Korean nuclear crisis

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has invited US President Donald Trump to meet and said his country would refrain from further nuclear and missile tests.


South Korean National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service Chief Suh Hoon arrived to Washington, DC early March 2018 to brief their counterpart, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, on new diplomatic overtures from North Korea.

“Kim Jong-un said he is committed to denuclearization,” Chung said on March 8, 2018. “Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests.”

Also read: Kim Jong Un received a South Korean delegation for the first time

“And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” Chung continued.

Chung said Trump “appreciated” the briefing, and agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un “to achieve permanent denuclearization.” The White House said a time and date for that meeting has not yet been determined.

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Kim Jong Un

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Trump had accepted the invitation. She also emphasized that the US’s strict sanctions against North Korea, which were leveled in part because of the regime’s missile-test activity, will remain in effect.

“We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea,” Sanders said. “In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised the outcome through his spokesperson: “The May meeting will be recorded as a historic milestone that realized peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon reportedly said.

Related: This is why you can’t trust North Korea’s new charm offensive

“In particular, the leadership of President Trump, who gladly accepted Chairman Kim’s invitation, will receive praise not only from people in the South and the North, but also from people around the world,” Moon continued.

Earlier on March 8, 2018, Trump teased that a “major announcement” would be made: “Hopefully, you will give me credit,” Trump quipped, according to ABC News journalist Meredith McGraw.

Trump has periodically indicated an openness to talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances.”

Beginning in January 2018, North Korea made several diplomatic moves to indicate a willingness to negotiate with the US and South Korea.

Following its participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the North conducted several meetings with officials from the South, including President Moon.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, in Seoul, South Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) February 10, 2018.

In the meeting between South Korea’s envoy and Kim Jong-un, North Korea proposed a summit with Moon in April 2018 — the third such summit between the two Koreas since the Korean War.

Trump said of those developments on March 6, 2018: “I think that they are sincere, but I think they are sincere also because the sanctions.”

More: South Korea’s special ops wants to kill Kim Jong Un with suicide drones

“I hope they are sincere. We’re going to see and find out,” Trump said.

Kim Jong-un’s apparent verbal commitment to denuclearization, if he follows through with it, would be a significant victory for the US. Denuclearization is the key precondition for diplomatic engagement, as outlined by the Trump administration.

“Our condition is denuclearization,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said to reporters in late February 2018. “Our policy has not changed. We have talked about this policy since day one of this administration; and that’s maximum pressure, but it’s also the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

US officials remained cautious on March 8, 2018. Hours before Chung’s announcement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US was “a long ways from negotiations.”

“I think it’s – we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” Tillerson said during a press conference from Ethiopia.

Japan, a country that has often witnessed North Korea’s missiles flying overhead, announced that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be visiting Trump in April 2018 to discuss the recent developments with North Korea, Japan’s Kyodo News reported.

Articles

Skiing makes a comeback with revamped Army Arctic training

Learning to snowshoe, ski and stay warm in the cold might sound like a fun hobby.


But for Soldiers at the Cold Weather Leaders Course at the Northern Warfare Training Center here, learning these things can mean the difference between a failed or successful mission and it could also be the difference between life and death.

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Students pull the ahkio during a night movement during the bivouac portion of the Cold Weather Leaders Course, Feb. 9-14, 2017. The CWLC is taught at the Northern Warfare Training Center at Black Rapids, Alaska. The entire course ran Feb. 2-16, 2017. (Photo Credit: David Vergun)

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Tanner, an instructor at the NWTC, was deployed twice to Afghanistan, once from 2007 to 2009 and another time from 2014 to 2015.

During one of those tours, he said, he recalls being over 9,000 feet in the mountainous terrain of the eastern part of the country during a heavy snowfall, with snow drifts up to 12 feet tall.

“The snow stopped us dead in our tracks,” he said. “We were trying to remove snow from equipment with our e-tools.”

During a Black Hawk resupply mission, the helicopter had no place to land so it hovered above the snow while the crew chief jumped out, post-holing himself in the snow shoulder high. Post-holing is a term for sinking into the snow waist or chest high when not wearing skis or snowshoes. The crew chief had to grab the struts of the helicopter to be pulled out, Tanner recalled.

No one had skis or snowshoes and “we couldn’t do our jobs.”

Tanner and the other instructors at NWTC say they are professionally and personally invested in ensuring those kinds of situations never happen to Soldiers again.

Sgt. Sarah Valentine, a medic and an instructor, said most Soldiers that come to the school don’t know how to snowshoe, ski or survive in the cold. Instruction begins with baby steps.

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Students cross-country ski during the bivouac portion of the Cold Weather Leaders Course, Feb. 9-14, 2017. The CWLC is taught at the Northern Warfare Training Center at Black Rapids, Alaska. The entire course ran Feb. 2-16, 2017. (Photo Credit: David Vergun)

First, they learn how to wear their cold weather clothing, she said. Then they learn to walk with snowshoes. A little later they learn to walk on snowshoes carrying a rucksack, and finally, they learn to tow an ahkio, or sled, carrying 200 pounds of tents, heaters, fuel, food and other items.

Next, they advance to skis, learning how to walk uphill, how to turn and stop going downhill, and then how to carry a rifle and rucksack going cross-country.

Staff Sgt. Jason Huffman, a student, said that besides enduring the cold, pulling the ahkio was the most challenging aspect of the school.

For that portion of the training, four of about 10 Soldiers are harnessed to the sled like sled dogs. Huffman said going on level terrain is easy, but most of the terrain near the school isn’t level and it is challenging to pull the ahkio uphill, especially from a dead stop.

Going downhill, the challenge is holding the ahkio back so it doesn’t get away, he said. When the students get tired, they are replaced by other students in the squad, who in turn rotate back out once they’re tired.

Spc. Tamyva Graffree, a student from Newton, Mississippi, said pulling the ahkio uphill was the most challenging part of the course. Of going downhill, she said it would have been nice to pile on and ride it down.

Staff Sgt. Manuel Beza, an instructor and medic here, said the students are not allowed to ride the ahkio downhill. “It will definitely go fast. But if they did that, it would be a bad day. The ahkio has no brakes and no way to steer.”

Beza said he sympathizes with the students’ pain. While the ahkio can be handled almost effortlessly over level terrain, going even 500 feet uphill can tire Soldiers out.

But when roads are nonexistent and vehicles break down from the cold, ahkios give the Soldiers the option to move out with their gear, he said.

Once students demonstrate competence on snowshoes, they are given a set of “White Rocket” skis, which can be used in both downhill as well as cross-country skiing.

The difference between a dedicated downhill or Nordic ski and the White Rocket ski is that the heel in the White Rocket isn’t locked into the ski binding so the foot can move similar to walking, said Sgt. Derrick Bruner, an instructor.

A Soldier can learn to use snowshoes in two hours, but about 40 hours is allotted for ski training at the school.

Because training time is limited, Soldiers learn just the basics, Bruner said. For instance, they learn to stop and turn going downhill using a wedge movement instead of a more advanced technique like turning or stopping with skis parallel.

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Students cross-country ski during the bivouac portion of the Cold Weather Leaders Course, Feb. 9-14, 2017. The CWLC is taught at the Northern Warfare Training Center at Black Rapids, Alaska. The entire course ran Feb. 2-16, 2017. (Photo Credit: David Vergun)

A wedge consists of bringing the toes of the skis together and the heels of the skis out and carving into the snow on the inner edges of the skis by rotating the ankles inboard.

Skipping the fancy art of parallel skiing cuts down on injuries as well, he said, because there’s less chance of them crossing.

Going uphill involves side-stepping or walking up in herringbone fashion, which is the opposite of the wedge, with toes of the skis outboard, heels in.

To assist with uphill climbing, Soldiers apply special wax to the bottom of their skis.

Sgt. Dustin Danielson, a student, explained that the wax goes on just the middle third of the ski where the person’s weight is. He made hatch marks with the wax on his skis and then took a piece of cork to spread it evenly all around.

After skiing just a few kilometers, the wax tends to come off and more has to be applied, he said.

Sgt. Jessica Bartolotta, a student, said they were not given wax on the first day. On the second day of training, students were allowed to wax their skis. The point, she said, was to illustrate just how important the wax is in providing friction to grip the snow going uphill. She said the wax had no noticeable effect on slowing the skis going downhill.

Another thing the instructor did early on during the first day of ski training was to observe how well the Soldiers were skiing and to break them up into three groups of skill levels so the slow learners wouldn’t hold back the more natural skiers, she said.

Bartolotta said skiing was her favorite part of the course and she plans to take it up as a hobby.

Sgt. Chris Miller, a student from Little Rock, Arkansas, said this was his first time skiing and he fell a lot. “I’m a big guy and it’s hard to keep my balance.”

Miller measured his progress by the number of falls. The first day he said he fell 12 times and just once after three days. He said he’s still trying to perfect the art of stopping using the wedge.

Sgt. Shamere Randolph, another student, said he fell a bunch of times as well, but prefers skis to snowshoes because it’s much faster to get from point A to point B.

Sgt. Bruno Freitas, a student, said that his skis were difficult to use on the last day of training when the temperature rose and the snow turned to slush. In below freezing conditions, the skis work much better than they do in slush, he said.

About four years ago, the Army decided to do away with ski training at the NWTC, said Steven Decker, a training specialist. He said he’s not sure why the decision was made, but said he’s glad that skiing was reintroduced this year.

Canadians and Japanese go everywhere on skis, he said. They find it very relevant to mobility. In fact, “when the Japanese attend the course here, they can ski circles around us.”

The downside to skiing, he said, is that it takes a while to learn. For an entire platoon or company to move out on skis, it might take an entire winter and a lot of training time dedicated to making that happen.

But he and the other instructors all agreed that learning to ski is worth the time and effort.

Sgt. Derrick Bruner, an instructor, said snowshoes are “loud, slow and clunky” to use compared to skis and that skis provide better floatation over the snow. “Skis are a million times better once you get the technique down.”

Staff Sgt. Jack Stacy, an instructor, said when he first arrived at NWTC, he went out into the terrain in a vehicle that broke down. He didn’t have skis or snowshoes with him and ended up having to walk back to headquarters, “post-holing” it back all the way.

“It was the most miserable time I’ve ever had here,” Stacy said. “I’ve always made sure my skis or snowshoes are handy ever since.”

Articles

Meet the Marine Corps’ new precision-guided mortar round

The Marine Corps and Raytheon are developing a new precision-guided 120mm explosive mortar round so that forward deployed forces can more effectively target and destroy enemies from farther distances than existing mortars.


The weapon is designed to shoot up into the air in a vertical trajectory before identifying, tracking and exploding and enemy target upon decent to the ground. The vertical landing allows the weapon to achieve great precision, Raytheon officials said.

Also read: This ‘Marine’s Marine’ was best known for his deadly skill with a mortar tube

Called the Precision Extended Range Munition, or PERM, the program is test firing a GPS-guided mortar round able to extend the range of today’s mortar weapons from about seven kilometers to about 16 kilometers, Paul Daniels, Raytheon Program Manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

“This doubles their range and gives them precision,” Daniels added.

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Raytheon

The extended range could provide a key tactical advantage because 16 kilometers stand-off distance from the enemy could enable Marines to destroy enemy positions without themselves being vulnerable to incoming fire.

Raytheon was recently awarded a qualification and production contract by the Marine Corps, which plans to use the new weapon as part of its emerging Expeditionary Fire Support System, or EFSS.

This system is put together to allow forward-deployed Marines to quickly maneuver into enemy territory with precision firepower and mobility. EFSS can deploy on board an MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, a CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter or travel from ship-to-shore as part of an amphibious operation, among other things. The new weapon will serve as part of the Corps’ fires triad which includes 155mm artillery rounds, 120mm mortars and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or MLRS.

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Lance Cpl. Kyle J. Palmer (left), holds a mortar tube steady as Lance Cpl. Samuel E. Robertson (right), mortarmen with the 81mm Mortars Platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, grabs another mortar round during a joint live fire exercise, July 14. | Photo by U.S. Marine Corps

PERM can fill what’s called a needed “capability gap,” because there may be some targets that are not suitable for larger 155mm artillery rounds and are better attacked by 120mm mortars.

Precision mortar fire could bring tactical advantages for Marines in combat, particularly in condensed urban areas or mountainous terrain where elevation might separate attacking forces from the enemy.

“Mortars are particularly useful. They have a very high angle and rate of fire. They can fire almost straight up,” Daniels said.

For instance, the precision targeting technology integrated into PERM could allow forces to attack enemy positions in urban areas without risking damage to nearby civilians; this kind of attack would not be possible with today’s unguided 120mm mortar rounds.

“It will be ready within a couple of years,” Daniels said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US just challenged China on something Beijing promised to go to war over

President Donald Trump has engaged China in a trade war that has global markets holding their breath, but his administration recently challenged Beijing on an issue Chinese officials have promised to go to war over.

The US military’s recent Indo-Pacific Strategy paper, published June 1, 2019, goes further than perhaps any US document ever issued in how it might provoke China’s rage over what it sees as the most sensitive issue.

Buried in the paper, which charts China’s efforts to build up a military fortress in the South China Sea and use its growing naval might to coerce its neighbors, is a reference to Taiwan as a “country.”


“As democracies in the Indo-Pacific, Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Mongolia are reliable, capable, and natural partners of the United States,” the strategy said. “All four countries contribute to US missions around the world and are actively taking steps to uphold a free and open international order.”

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President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping.

China views Taiwan as a breakaway island province that has its own democratic government. Beijing sees this as an existential threat and the factor most likely to upset the Communist Party’s absolute hold on power in the mainland.

In July 2018, China threatened to blacklist airlines that referred to Taiwan as a country. US airlines fell in line, but the White House protested the strong-arm tactic as “Orwellian nonsense.”

But now the US itself has clearly said it: Taiwan is a country, and the US will treat it as such.

‘The Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs’

In another unprecedented step, a high-ranking Taiwanese minister was allowed to meet with Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, in May 2019. This move predictably enraged China.

At the Shangri La Dialogue, the top defense summit in Asia, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe made clear the stakes of China’s Taiwan problem.

“Any interference in the Taiwan question is doomed to failure,” Wei said, according to Channel Asia News. “If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs.”

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Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe.

Taiwan is “the hot-button issue” in US-China relations, John Hemmings, the director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, told Business Insider.

China has always maintained that it would prefer to reunify with Taiwan peacefully but would do so by force if needed. Additionally, China’s navy has increasingly patrolled the waters around the island and flown nuclear-capable bombers nearby.

But the US has also sailed warships through the narrow strait separating China and Taiwan and has gotten allies to pitch in.

The arms are already moving

The US’s rhetorical escalation follows the Trump administration normalizing arms sales to Taiwan and the news that it will sell billion in tanks, anti-tank weapons, and air defenses to the island.

According to Hemmings, these weapons have a clear purpose: to fight back against a Chinese invasion of the island.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider that the US had now entered “uncharted territory” by acknowledging Taiwan.

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A US Marine Corps M1A1 Abrams tank during Arrow 2019 at the Pohjankangas Training Area near Niinisalo, Finland, on May 12, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

The US under Trump has been the most pro-Taiwan administration in decades, Hemmings said. Trump demonstrated this during his presidential transition period when he had a call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen.

For years, China has slowly stepped up pressure on the US in areas like forcing companies to transfer technology, building up military sites on artificial islands in the South China Sea, and naval challenges.

Hemmings mentioned a popular anecdote in China, in which a frog is cooked by putting it in a pot of cold water and then slowly turning up the heat. The frog doesn’t realize it’s getting cooked until it’s too late. China’s gradual pressure campaign against the US has been compared to this practice.

With the US now quietly acknowledging Taiwan in a strategy document, it may have found its own small way to turn up the heat on Beijing.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how Russia’s ‘unstoppable’ nuclear weapon works

During Vladimir Putin’s annual speech on March 1, 2018, the Russian president played videos that unveiled brand-new nuclear weapons with startling capabilities.


Putin announced an “unstoppable” nuclear-powered “global cruise missile” that has “practically unlimited” range, then showed an animation of the device bobbing and weaving around the globe. He also played a computer animation of a high-speed, nuke-armed submarine drone blowing up ships and coastal targets.

“Russia remained and remains the largest nuclear power. Do not forget, no one really wanted to talk to us. Nobody listened to us,” Putin told a crowd in Moscow, according to a translation by Sputnik, a Russian-government-controlled news agency. “Listen now.”

Related: Putin personally just launched 4 ballistic missiles

David Wright, a physicist and missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Business Insider that the idea of an “unstoppable” cruise missile going around the world without being detected is “fiction,” since it’d heat up to an extreme degree. (CNN also reported that all tests of the cruise missile ended in crashes.)

But he said that at least one device Putin showed off likely does exist.

“We know they’re developing some new systems with a longer range and a larger payload,” Wright said.

The known weapon is called the RS-28 Sarmat, though NATO refers to it as the SS-X-30 Satan 2. Russia has been developing it since at least 2009.

Putin showed a video of the Satan 2 during his speech. In it, footage shows an intercontinental ballistic missile launching out of a silo, followed by an animation of it rocketing toward space. The video-game-like graphic follows the ICBM as it sails over a faux Earth in a high arc and opens its nosecone to reveal five nuclear warheads.

 

 

Putin claimed this 119-foot-tall missile is “invincible” to missile defense systems.

What makes ICBMs so threatening

Intercontinental ballistic missiles are similar to rockets that shoot satellites and people into orbit, but ICBMs carry warheads and hit targets on Earth.

The missiles travel in a wide arc over Earth, enabling them to strike halfway around the world within an hour. (North Korea recently launched its new ICBM in a high, compact arc to avoid rocketing it over US allies.)

Satan 2, which Putin claimed is already deployed in some missile silos, is a replacement for a 1970s-era Satan ICBM. The new version is slated to reach full service in 50 silos around 2020, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Also read: In grand finale, Russia tests massive ICBM during European wargames

According to the Center’s Missile Defense Project, the Satan 2 “is reported by Russian media as being able to carry 10 large warheads, 16 smaller ones, a combination of warheads and countermeasures, or up to 24 YU-74 hypersonic boost-glide vehicles.”

That means one Satan 2 ICBM could pack as much as eight megatons of TNT-equivalent explosive power. That’s more than 400 times as strong as either bomb the US dropped on Japan in 1945 — both of which, combined, led to roughly 150,000 casualties.

The technology used to deliver multiple warheads to different targets is called a “multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle,” or MIRV. Such devices deploy their warheads after reaching speeds that can exceed 15,000 miles per hour.

Depending on where the warhead is deployed in space and how it maneuvers, each one can strike targets hundreds of miles apart.

Why Putin says the Satan 2 is ‘invincible’

A recently demonstrated technology made to neutralize a nuclear warhead is a “kinetic kill vehicle:” essentially a large, high-tech bullet launched via missile. The bullets can target a warhead, slam into it mid-flight, and obliterate the weapon.

“But there are a number of different ways to penetrate defenses” like a kill vehicle, Wright said, which may explain Putin’s “invincible” claim.

More: Russia reportedly wants to build this doomsday bomb and hide it on a train

Satan 2 has advanced guidance systems and probably some countermeasures designed to trick anti-missile systems. This might include “a couple dozen very lightweight decoys made to look like the warhead,” Wright said, which could result in a kill vehicle targeting the wrong object.

Wright has also studied other methods to sneak past US defenses, including warhead cooling systems that might confuse heat-seeking anti-missile systems, and “disguising a real warhead to make it look different.”

But simply deploying large numbers of warheads can be enough: Kill vehicles may not work 50% of the time, based on prior testing, and they’re a technology that’s been in development for decades.

Yet Satan 2 is not exactly unique.

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A long exposure of a Peacekeeper missile’s mock nuclear warheads blazing back to Earth during a test. (Department of Defense)

What the US has that compares

The US, in 2005, retired the “Peacekeeper” missile, which was its biggest “MIRV-capable” weapon (meaning it could deploy multiple warheads to different locations).

One Peacekeeper missile could shed up to 10 thermonuclear warheads, each of which had a 50% chance of striking within a roughly football-field-size area.

But the US has other MIRV-capable nuclear weapons in its arsenal today.

More reading: 4 powerful weapons you didn’t know were built by Ford

One is the Trident II ballistic missile, which gets launched from a submarine and can carry up to a dozen nuclear warheads. Another option is the Minuteman III ICBM, which is silo-launched and can carry three warheads.

Arms-control treaties have since reduced the numbers of warheads in these weapons — Trident IIs carry up to five, Minuteman IIIs just one — and retired the Peacekeeper.

Today, there are still about 15,000 nuclear weapons deployed, in storage, or awaiting dismantlement, with more than 90% held by the US and Russia.

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A Trident II ICBM launching.

Cold War 2.0?

Wright said Putin’s recent statements and the similarly heated comments and policy made by President Donald Trump echo rhetoric that fueled nuclear arms build-up during the Cold War era.

“What’s discouraging is that, at the end of the Cold War, everyone was trying to de-MIRV” — or reduce the numbers of warheads per missile — he said.

Removing warheads helped calm US-Russia tensions and reduce the risk of preemptive nuclear strikes, either intentional or accidental, Wright said. Russia’s move to deploy new weapons with multiple warheads, then, is risky and escalatory.

“One of the reasons you might want to MIRV is if you’re facing ballistic missile defenses, and Putin talked about that,” Wright said, noting that the US has helped build up European anti-missile defenses in recent years. “The clear response is to upgrade your offensive capabilities.”

He added that Russia’s move also shouldn’t be surprising in the context of history: After George W. Bush withdrew the US from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty in 2001, a Russian general told the New York Times the move “will alter the nature of the international strategic balance in freeing the hands of a series of countries to restart an arms buildup.”

The charged statements of President Trump, who has called for a new arms race, have done little to reverse that course.

In fact, the Trump Administration plans to expand an Obama-era nuclear weapons modernization program. Over 30 years, the effort could cost US taxpayers more than $1.7 trillion and introduce smaller “tactical” nuclear weapons that experts fear might make the use of nukes common.

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