A recent decision by the Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, has been met with universal praise: No more stupid, mandatory training programs!
In fairness to the now-defunct online classes, yes, Soldiers should be aware of the risks inherent in traveling, the dangers of misusing social media, and that human trafficking is still a concern in 2018. But did the process of taking a four-day pass really need to include a mandatory class about why seat belts are important? Probably not.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)
In his April 13th, 2018, memo, Secretary Mark Esper wrote,
“Mandatory training will not have a prescribed duration for conducting the training. All mandatory training must have alternative methods of delivery which do not require the use of an automated system or project system.”
To be clear, his decision is not cancelling all military training — that’d be ridiculous. It’s just stopping the online classes that are, essentially, glorified PowerPoint presentations. These are the classes that need to get done just so a box is checked, regardless of whether a troop actually learned the lesson or not.
(Photo by Sgt. Ashland Ferguson)
So, let’s break this down to a boots-on-ground level for a regular private first class trying to see his or her family over leave. According to older standards, the Soldier would have to log on the website, click “Next” repeatedly until they reach the end, and hope they can get at least a 60% on the final quiz.
Now, the responsibility is back in the hands of the NCOs. If a sergeant feels the need to break down, Barney-style, why a wearing a seat belt reduces crash-related injuries and deaths by about half, then it’s on them. If they don’t feel the need to re-explain obvious traffic laws, they can instead spend the two hours that would otherwise been used on clicking “Next” for, you know, actual military training.
For years now, Russia has been laser-focused on insulating itself from an external economic shock.
It may have just sparked one.
In an unexpected move on March 6, Russia rejected a call by OPEC countries to further cut oil production in order to help prop up prices amid sagging global demand for energy due to the coronavirus.
The decision broke three years of cooperation under an arrangement called OPEC+ and stunned participants at a meeting in Vienna, not to mention some of Russia’s own oil executives — one suggested the move was “irrational” — and governments from the Middle East to the West.
OPEC leader Saudi Arabia swiftly responded to the snub by announcing it is no longer obliged to hold back production, causing the largest single-day drop in the price of oil in nearly three decades and sending global stock markets and the ruble tumbling. Why?
One potential answer: President Vladimir Putin wanted to punish the United States by putting severe pressure on the U.S. shale-oil industry, which has sold millions of barrels of oil while Russian companies kept production down under the existing OPEC+ agreement.
“The Kremlin had decided that propping up prices as the coronavirus ravaged energy demand would be a gift to the U.S. shale industry,” Bloomberg News reported. The acerbic spokesman for Russian state oil giant Rosneft, Mikhail Leontyev, suggested that was at least one of the motives, telling the agency: “Let’s see how American shale exploration feels under these conditions.”
Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, an old and close Putin ally, has long been said to be chafing under the existing OPEC+ production limits, and was widely seen as playing a role in the decision to reject further cuts.
Some analysts played down the idea that the Kremlin was out to get U.S. shale, however, saying that Russia’s coordination with OPEC+ was fragile to begin with and that Moscow and Riyadh had different views of the current volatility on the global oil market.
Whatever the reasons, it’s a risky move for Moscow at an uncertain time.
The oil price collapse stoked by Moscow’s move and concerns about the effects of the coronavirus on a slew of industrieswill hurt Russia’s economy in the short-term, and there is no guarantee that it can knock out U.S. shale in the long run, analysts said.
The United States has been a beneficiary of the high prices maintained by the OPEC+ output cuts over the past few years, overtaking Saudi Arabia and Russia — now Number 3 — as the world’s largest oil producer.
As the coronavirus ravaged the Chinese economy and hit others around the world, slashing oil demand, Saudi Arabia lobbied for OPEC+ to cut another 1.5 million barrels at the March 6 meeting in Vienna. Russia recommended maintaining the existing cuts. OPEC+ — a 24-member group consisting of OPEC nations plus non-cartel members like Russia — first agreed to oil production cuts in 2017.
Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would hike production sent the price of U.S. crude oil tumbling by 25 percent on March 9 to a low of a barrel. Prices gained back some of the losses on March 10 but were well under for U.S. and the global benchmark, Brent Crude.
Some U.S. shale producers have a break-even price of a barrel or above, putting them in a vulnerable position, said Chris Weafer, an energy specialist and founder of Moscow-based consultancy firm Macro-Advisory.
Oil producers in Saudi Arabia and Russia have lower production costs, enabling them to weather the price.
“There are three parties facing off against each other — Russia, Saudi, and U.S. shale — and it really is a case of who blinks first,” Weafer told RFE/RL.
Several analysts said that in the short-term, Russia is in the strongest position among those three players.
“The impact of this price crash on U.S. shale companies is going to be pretty devastating” in the short term and could result in a U.S. production decline in 2020, said Gregory Brew, a historian at Southern Methodist University in Texas focusing on energy politics and the Middle East.
Russian oil companies have some insulation. They are profitable at a oil price, helped by a free-floating currency, and the budget is protected for years to come.
The Kremlin’s conservative fiscal policy over the past few years boosted foreign currency reserves to about 0 billion and driven down the price of a barrel of oil necessary to balance the budget from above 0 to below .
At the current ruble rate of nearly 75 to the dollar, the budget can balance at per barrel, said Elina Ribakova, deputy chief economist at the Institute of International Finance in Washington.
Saudi Arabia’s budget break-even oil price is closer to and its foreign currency reserves have been declining amid a massive state spending program.
Riyadh not only faces budget pressure, but potentially investor pressure to cut production to keep the market stable, Sarah Ladislaw, a senior vice president at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a March 9 note.
Riyadh recently sold shares in state oil company Saudi Aramco, raising .6 billion in the world’s largest initial public offering. The shares are now below the price the investors paid for them.
But the U.S. shale industry has shown resilience in the past and is likely to do so again, analysts said. Low oil prices lead to consolidation, which should make companies more competitive in the longer term, Brew said — the opposite of what Moscow may be angling for.
Saudi Arabia failed to achieve the goal of shuttering the U.S. shale industry several years ago: The producers improved their efficiency in response to price pressure, driving down their own production costs.
Unlike large onshore or offshore oil fields that can take years to develop, shale fields can start producing in weeks, said Rauf Mammadov, an energy analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington. And the biggest U.S. oil companies, which are less vulnerable than smaller outfits, are investing more into shale.
“It will not impact the shale industry in the long run,” Mammadov told RFE/RL.
Meanwhile, the impact of the oil price drop is being felt globally, including in Moscow.
‘Very Unexpected, Irrational’
Russia’s already slow-growing economy could potentially contract this year if oil prices stay low for the rest of the year, said Ribakova. She previously forecast growth of more than 2 percent in 2020.
Russia is losing 0 million to 0 million a day at an oil price of rather than , said Leonid Fedun, the billionaire vice president for strategic development at Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil producer, which is not state-owned.
Fedun called the collapse of the Russia and OPEC+ agreement “very unexpected, irrational.”
That’s not the view at Rosneft, though. Sechin was the driver behind the Kremlin’s decision not to agree to additional cuts, Weafer said.
In June, Sechin accused the United States of using sanctions against energy-producing nations to make room for U.S. domestic production.
The United States has angered the Kremlin by imposing sanctions on Russian Baltic Sea export gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, delaying its completion indefinitely, and by slapping penalties last month sanctioned a trading arm of Rosneft for doing business in Venezuela.
In 2019, the United States supplied oil to Russia’s western neighbor Ukraine for the first time — as Kyiv seeks to reduce reliance on Moscow amid a continuing war with Russia-backed separatists in its east — while Belarus has inquired about purchasing U.S. oil as it seeks alternatives to Russian crude.
Rosneft will increase production by 300,000 barrels a day following the exit from the agreement with OPEC+, Bloomberg reported, citing unidentified company officials.
Mammadov questioned the notion that Russia is targeting the U.S. shale industry.
The abundance of global supply, while largely driven by the United States, is also due to greater output from Canada, Brazil, and other non-OPEC countries, some of which have high-cost production and will be impacted, he said.
“This is more the outcome of the failure of the negotiation rather than a premeditated strategy or tactic” to crush U.S. production, Mammadov said. “There are too many global unknowns at the moment and that is the reason why Saudi Arabia and Russia could not agree on cuts.”
If the spread of the coronavirus retreats globally, leading to a pickup in economic activity and oil demand, the tensions between Russia and Saudi Arabia will ease as the question of greater cuts subsides, Mammadov said.
Another factor potentially limiting the depth of the price war is the Kremlin’s determination to maintain the political influence it has achieved in the Middle East in recent years, Weafer said.
That greater influence was on display in October 2017 when Saudi Arabia’s King Salman traveled to Moscow, the first-ever visit by the nation’s leader to Russia.
“The Kremlin will want to try to get back to the negotiating table because the political relations” with Saudi Arabia are “very important,” Weafer said.
General Walter Krueger needed the most up-to-date intelligence against a strong and lethal opponent. For the U.S. Army fighting the Japanese in WWII, good intel could avert a catastrophe and save thousands of lives. Given the nature of the war, it would be a dangerous job.
To be an Alamo Scout required problem-solving skills and quick-thinking. It demanded physical strength – not necessarily athleticism, but the ability to withstand the rigors of long marches and missions. And of course, it required observation skills, land navigation, and cover and concealment. Anyone who expressed a burning desire to “kill Japs” was turned away.
The Scouts’ rigorous training center at Kalo Kalo on Fergusson Island, New Guinea also served as a base of operations. After six weeks of intense training, 700 men dwindled down to 138, who formed 6- to 7-man fire teams. There were no prescribed uniforms and they didn’t pay much attention to rank.
Their first mission came in February 1944: to get intel on the Japanese on Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands. No one knew if there was a Japanese presence there; it was presumed to be evacuated. An Alamo Scout team was landed by a PBY Catalina. Once there, they had 48 hours before the 1st Cavalry Division landed.
Alamo Scouts came to within 15 feet of Japanese lines on Los Negros. Not only were the Japanese there, they were well-fed and well-armed–an estimated 5,000 troops remained in garrison. After a few close calls with unknowing Japanese fighters, the Scout teams were able to report enemy numbers to the invading forces, who successfully overtook the island.
The invasions of Madang, Wewak, Sarmi, Biak, Noemfoor, Sansapor and Japen Island were all subsequently preceded by recon operations conducted by Scout teams. They also liberated 66 Dutch POWs from their prison camp on New Guinea.
To get the most accurate information, Alamo Scouts approached to within a hundred yards of the camp’s fence dressed as Filipino rice farmers. The recon operation was never discovered.
Alamo Scouts were also to be used preceding the Allied invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, but the unconditional surrender of all Japanese forces in 1945 ended their reconnaissance mission. They were added to the occupation Army and then disbanded later that year.
Over their careers, the Alamo Scouts performed 106 missions deep in enemy territory over 1,482 days of sustained combat. Not one was ever killed or captured, though two were wounded in the Cabanatuan Raid. In 1988, the Alamo Scouts were added to the U.S. Army’s Special Forces lineage and its veterans were acknowledged with the Special Forces tab.
On our first trip to Saigon we unsuccessfully searched for a villa, called House 10, that had been used during the war. It was initially a Central Intelligence Agency property that was used to support clandestine activities in Vietnam and other locations in Southeast Asia. Over a period of time, it morphed into something else and began to be used as an operations and logistics center for MACV-SOG activities.
During my tours, MACV-SOG had established their headquarters on Pasteur Street and House 10 became a safe house for personnel who were assigned to one of the activities of MACV-SOG outside Saigon. We stayed at House 10 when we came to town for mission debriefings and mission prep.
Its location on a broad, tree lined boulevard was very tranquil and quiet. At that time it was run much like a hotel – with individual rooms, laundry service, a grill (where you could get hamburgers etc.), a small bar and an activities room with a pool table. They had listings for local restaurants for various types of food – from French Cuisine to Thai and Japanese as well as local – and they knew which bars catered to US Special Forces personnel.
Before leaving Saigon I did some additional research on the location and address for House 10 – without much hope of finding it – figuring we’d give it one more try. Low and behold, we did find it! The accompanying video says volumes.
If you find yourself in Saigon, here’s the location.
The flags that fly in front are not what they were the last time I was here, the building is apparently not in use at the moment, and they offer a different kind of ‘Tough Service’, but that’s OK. Vietnam, House 10, and all of us — we have to keep reinventing ourselves.
It was very emotional to return to a location that I remembered so well. My thinking turned to those I knew during those times – fine men all – some who returned and some who paid the ultimate price for freedom.
This article originally appeared on GORUCK. Follow @GORUCK on Twitter.
Beloved children’s show icon Fred Rogers, who passed away in 2003, has long been the subject of an unusual urban myth – that before his days of red cardigans and puppeteering, he was a decorated battlefield veteran. The fact of the matter is that despite receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, Rogers never served in the armed forces. How, then, to explain this popular but mystifying narrative?
Born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Fred Rogers was raised by a mother who volunteered at a hospital and a father who presided over the McFeely Brick Company in Latrobe. In his childhood, Rogers was a shy introvert, overweight, and prone to asthma attacks. Luckily, life improved for him in high school. As he told NPR’s Terry Gross, “I made a couple friends who found out that the core of me was okay. And one of them was…the head of the football team.” He went on to serve as student council president and editor-in-chief of the school yearbook, as well as National Honor Society member.
Rogers’ early adulthood was occupied with college at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1962. Rather than becoming a pastor, his mission as an ordained minister would be to minister families through television. As he later told CNN, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.”
After a brief TV stint at NBC in New York City, Rogers returned to Pittsburgh to work at public television station WQED, where he developed the children’s show The Children’s Corner, which was the seed from which Mister Rogers Neighborhood would grow ten years later (airing in 1968), running for nearly 900 episodes.
To better understand why the public would assign such a well-scrubbed paragon of decency as Mr. Rogers with a blood-soaked war record, History.com spoke with Assistant Professor Trevor J. Blank, who teaches communication at SUNY Potsdam. According to Blank, “Urban legends sometimes distort the positive to create a sense of intrigue,” and, ““Mr. Rogers, by all accounts, seems like a very mild-mannered, Puritan-esque character…Him having a very macho back story or being a ruthless killer is kind of titillating; it runs counter to what you’re presented as true in your day-to-day experience.”
One lesser-known chapter in Fred Rogers’ story is his visit to Moscow in 1987 during the height of the Cold War. The goal was to teach Russian children compassion and kindness, but in a broader sense it was an effort to build a bridge between warring nations. An East-West crossover was filmed, with Rogers appearing on Goodnight Kiddies and Russian star Tatyana Vedeneyeva guesting on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Blake Stillwell, a contributor here at We Are the Mighty and Military.com, writes, “Through a translator, Rogers is introduced to the Soviet show’s host, Tatyana Vedeneyeva, as well as her friends Khryusha the piglet and Styopa the rabbit. The exchange is nothing short of heartwarming.”
Fred Rogers’ work in children’s television can be defined as something of a humanitarian effort. Some of these qualities owe to Rogers’ mother Nancy Rogers, who always engaged with him as an adult, never talking down to him. In Maxwell King’s book The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, he writes “She loved to talk. And she loved to talk with Fred,” writes King. But “never to Fred; always with Fred.” His religion extended to the programming he diligently crafted for so many years, but he never put too fine a point on it in the episodes. He once said “You don’t need to speak overtly about religion in order to get a message across.”
Navy Times writes: “Rogers attuned children and their developmental journeys to the most significant attributes of what it means to be a human: love, compassion and kindness for others. In many ways, this is also what he meant by being a good neighbor.”
The man and his message are in many ways antithetical to the battlefield experience, making the urban myth of his time as a warrior all the more confounding. But while he was no legend on the battlefield, he was definitely still a hero.
Samuel J. Seymour was away from his home for the first time at just five years old. He was with his father on a business trip to Washington, D.C., a city filled to the brim with soldiers and other men with guns. He was nervous and scared at the sight of so many firearms. To put him at ease, his nurse decided to take him to a play, and President Lincoln himself would be there.
It was an event he would never forget, as he recounted it to a TV audience and celebrity contestants Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball some 90-plus years later.
“It wasn’t a pleasant thing,” Seymour told Meadows when describing his night at Ford’s Theater on a 1956 episode of I’ve Got A Secret. “I was scared to death.”
When Lincoln arrived, he smiled and greeted the crowd from a flag-draped booth in the balcony. The President’s smile and the mood of the theater relaxed the young boy. Until a shot rang out. Strangely, the five-year-old Seymour was very concerned about the man who appeared to have fallen from the balcony of the theater in the middle of the performance. He had no idea someone had been shot, let alone that it was President Lincoln.
“Pandemonium” then swept through the theater, Seymour recalled, as his nurse hurried the boy out of the theater. He heard calls of “Lincoln’s shot! The President is dead!”
Seymour died two months after his TV appearance.
The man, of course, was Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth waited until the play’s funniest line when the shot would be masked by the sound of laughter. Booth calmly walked into the President’s booth, barred the door, and fired a single shot into the President, who was laughing at the line. Union Army Maj. Henry Rathbone, who accompanied Lincoln that night with their wives, fought Booth for his single-shot derringer and was stabbed for his effort. His constant wrangling with Booth caused the assassin’s boot spur to get tangled in the flag as he jumped from the President’s box. This is why Booth landed awkwardly on his leg.
Many in the crowd were confused. Not everyone heard the shot, and many thought it was still part of the play. Little Samuel Seymour didn’t understand it either.
“I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat,” the old man said. “That night I was shot 50 times, at least, in my dreams – and I sometimes relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”
When you think of companies that deliver combat aircraft to the United States military, you probably think ‘Lockheed’ and ‘Boeing’ right away. Historic companies like Grumman, Curtiss, and McDonnell-Douglas might also spring to mind — but not Cessna. However, that company delivered a nifty little counter-insurgency plane.
Over the years, Cessna delivered some slightly-modified, single-engine planes, like the O-1 Bird Dog, which was used for spotting artillery fire and by forward air controllers. The company also delivered the T-37 Tweet, which served a valuable jet trainer for over five decades — but the Tweet proved it could be more than a trainer.
As the Vietnam War heated up, the United States was looking for a plane to support troops on the ground. To fill this need, Cessna converted 39 T-37 Tweets into new A-37As, dubbed “Dragonfly.” The converted planes performed so well, the Air Force ordered another 577. The National Museum of the United States Air Force notes that 234 of these were sent to South Vietnam.
The fall of South Vietnam meant that a number of these planes fell into the hands of the Communist regime that ruled Vietnam. However, the A-37 was soon acquired by other American allies, and also saw service with Air Force Special Operations Command as well as the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.
The A-37 had a top speed of 506 miles per hour and a maximum range of 932 miles. It could carry a pilot (for close-air support missions) or a pilot and observer (for use as a forward air controller). It was armed with a 7.62mm Minigun, which meant the Dragonfly could deliver kind of a mini-BRRRRRT to the enemy, and it had eight hardpoints for bombs, rockets, or guns.
Feature image screen captured from included YouTube video
In recent years, the United States has begun to shift its military focus away from counter-terror operations and back toward the possibility of a large-scale conflict with near-peer opponents like China. Unfortunately, nearly two straight decades of the Global War on Terror has left the American defense apparatus on the wrong footing for such a war. In some important respects, America now finds itself playing catch up; working to close capability gaps that have presented themselves in Europe and the Pacific.
While America retains the largest military on the planet, it also has further reaching obligations than any other force on the planet as well. In every corner of the globe, America’s military serves in a variety of capacities, from providing a stabilizing presence, to training foreign militaries to defend themselves, to enforcing international norms on the high seas. As we’ve discussed in some depth before, America’s Navy may be huge for this era of relative global stability, but it would find itself significantly outnumbered in a Sino-American war in the Pacific. That issue becomes even more clear when you consider that the U.S. Navy couldn’t deploy the entirety of its fleet to any one waterway without leaving a number of other important interests un-guarded.
When you combine China’s rapidly growing Navy with its well-armed Coast Guard and its maritime militia, you get a positively massive 770-ship Chinese presence in the Pacific. For context, the massive U.S. Navy currently boasts only around 293 ships–and while President Trump has pushed for growth to reach a 355-ship Navy, no real plans to get there have yet to materialize. That means the U.S. Navy would be left to face China’s massive sea fairing presence while outnumbered at least two to one.
When the most powerful military in the world isn’t enough
Having a massive fleet alone isn’t enough to win a 21st century conflict on the high seas–It’s equally important that you have the right kinds of ships to leverage for specific roles.
Over the years, advancing technology has enabled the United States to move away from the massive fleets of ships and aircraft it maintained during the Second World War, and toward a lower number of assets that are capable of filling multiple roles. Ships like the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, just like multi-role aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, are properly outfitted to serve in a number of capacities. This mindset has allowed the United States to expand its capabilities while reducing its personnel requirements and the overhead costs of maintaining far more assets with far more specialized roles.
But there are downsides to America’s love affair with “multi-role” platforms: They dramatically increase the cost of research and acquisition, and that increased cost forces purchases in fewer numbers. It also forces military assets into positions that don’t fully leverage their broad capabilities.
Three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS McCampbell (DDG 85), USS Lassen (DDG 82) and USS Shoup (DDG 86) steam in formation during a photo exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Todd P. Cichonowicz)
For some useful context into how more advanced technology has enabled the U.S. to increase capability while decreasing volume, consider that America’s military apparatus wielded a whopping 6,768 ships and an astonishing 300,000 combat airplanes at its peak during World War II. As America poured money into better military technology throughout the Cold War, it transitioned to an era of valuing technology and capability over volume, and today the U.S. Navy boasts just 293 ships, and America maintains a comparatively paltry 13,000 military aircraft.
With so many fewer platforms to utilize, these multi-role ships and airplanes are left doing a wide variety of work that has to be prioritized. Despite being capable of filling multiple roles, these platforms can often only fill one role at a time — making them more effective for strategic posturing, but less effective in a combat situation. Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers are incredibly powerful ships, equipped with a variety of guns, missiles, and torpedoes, but are often relegated to simplistic missile defense operations because of their role within the Aegis missile defense apparatus. These destroyers serve as a shining example of how a ship with a number of uses may get stuck in a single defensive role during large scale conflict.
As former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson put it, BMD (ballistic missile defense) ships are restricted to very confined operating areas that he refers to as “little boxes.”
A cargo ship packed with missiles? Really?
If the United States were to find itself on a collision course with China, one of the nation’s first priorities would be finding ways to rapidly expand both America’s military presence and strategic capabilities in the Pacific. China owns a positively massive ballistic missile stockpile (including hypersonic anti-ship missiles), which would mean missile defense would be considered a significant priority for America’s Aegis destroyers. Unfortunately, that would limit the ability for America’s destroyers to operate in a more offensive capacity, as they steamed in circles around their area of responsibility, waiting to intercept any missiles lobbed their way.
Left to right, the guided missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69), and the guided missile destroyers USS Roosevelt (DDG 80), USS Carney (DDG 64) and USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) launch a coordinated volley of missiles during a Vandel Exercise (VANDALEX). (US Navy photo)
This would be a significant waste of destroyers, which would in turn limit the capability of other battle groups that couldn’t rely on the offensive power of these warships. In a real way, America would simply need more vertical launch missile tubes (commonly referred to as VLS cells, or Vertical Launch System cells) in the Pacific to bolster both offensive and defensive operations — and it would be essential to get them as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
That’s where the idea for missile barges, or missile ships, comes into play. In a 2019 article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, five experts, including a retired Navy captain and a retired Marine Corps colonel, offered their suggestion for rapidly procuring and equipping commercial cargo ships for combat operations.
“The Navy should acquire and arm merchant ships, outfitting them with modular weapons and systems to take advantage of improving technology and shipping market conditions while providing capability more rapidly and less expensively than traditional acquisition efforts.” -Captain R. Robinson Harris, U.S. Navy (Ret.); Andrew Kerr; Kenneth Adams; Christopher Abt; Michael Venn; and Colonel T. X. Hammes, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
The premise behind missile barges has been around for some time; after all, at its most simplistic levels, this idea boils down to “just stick a bunch of missiles on a ship you have laying around,” but what differentiates this modern missile barge concept from past iterations is the technology of our day. America has long possessed “containerized” missile platforms that would sit comfortably on the deck of large cargo ships. Further, with data-fusing supercomputers like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, America has also already demonstrated the capability of engaging targets with surface-based weapons via targeting data relayed by nearby aircraft.
Put simply, we already have modular weapon systems that would work when operated off the decks of cargo ships, and we’ve already proven that weapons of that sort can be leveraged to engage targets identified by aircraft… That means this concept would require very little in the way of infrastructure building or development–which equates to both cost and time savings.
Procuring the hulls
The first step to building a fleet of missile barges would be procuring the hulls of commercial cargo ships, which would likely be a fairly easy endeavor if a war in the Pacific were to occur. It’s estimated that as much as 1/3 of all global commerce sails across the South China Sea on an annual basis, and a conflict between the United States and China would curtail a majority of these trips–due to both the drop in trade between these two economic power houses and the perceived danger of sending commercial ships through what would effectively be the site of the greatest naval conflict in all of recorded history. As a result, purchasing these vessels would likely come at a significantly reduced cost.
Purchasing a new commercial double hulled cargo ship would normally run the United States between and million dollars, but cargo ships that are already in use can be procured on websites like NautiSNP for pennies on the dollar, with some vessels currently on the market for just over id=”listicle-2647023060″ million.
Again, a significant drop in trade through the Pacific would likely result in even greater cost savings as firms liquidate their assets in the region to recoup some of their losses.
Modifying commercial ships into missile barges
Once the U.S. Navy had procured the ships themselves, it could begin the relatively significant task of refitting them for service as missile barges. This can be accomplished in one of two ways.
The Navy could utilize containerized missile and drone assets stacked on the ship, which would make it more difficult to discern from traditional cargo vessels while dramatically reducing the actual work required to convert each ship. While the vessels would have to be marked as U.S. Navy ships and flagged as such, the similar profile to commercial ships would force the Chinese Navy to positively identify each vessel before engaging, as many weapons systems rely on inverse synthetic-aperture radar that assesses targets through little more than low-resolution profiling.
That front-end investment could be further curbed by relying on external assets like nearby Aegis destroyers for command and control, relying on the warship’s radar, targeting, and command apparatus for what is effectively little more than an arsenal ship or “floating magazine.” In this regard, missile barges would effectively serve as a supplement to a destroyer’s existing weapons loadout.
Conversely, these vessels could be modified to carry traditional VLS tubes just like those employed by America’s guided missile destroyers today. A container ship could be modified to carry a slew of vertical launch tubes carrying Tomahawk missiles in as little as three to six months. The costs would be higher, but the trade off benefit would be utilizing the same basic systems found on other Navy ships, reducing the required training and logistical concerns associated with standing up a different weapon system.
Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Charles Coleman inspects missile cell hatches on one of two Vertical Launching Systems (VLS) aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG 66). The VLS is capable of launching numerous missiles including the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile and SM-2 Standard Missile. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Charles E. Hill)
As the proposal in Proceedings suggests, it would be important for the Navy to carefully consider how many missile barges they intended to build, and how many missiles they intend to keep on each.
While it’s possible to place more than a hundred VLS tubes and associated missiles on one of these vessels, that would represent both a massive expense and a massive target for the Chinese military. Instead, the proposal suggests converting 10 to 15 cargo ships into missile barges, each carrying between 30 and 50 Tomahawk missiles. That would limit the potential losses if such a vessel were lost, while giving it enough firepower to benefit the Navy’s overarching strategy.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Jimmy C. Pan)
The hybrid-crew model
Of course, another shortfall we have yet to discuss in a Pacific conflict could very well be trained Sailors. As the U.S. Navy rapidly procured and modified ships into missile barges, it would also have to rapidly staff these vessels — which likely wouldn’t be feasible leveraging a traditional Navy recruiting pipeline. Instead, the hybrid crew model proposed by Navy Captain Chris Rawley seems most logical.
Each missile barge would have a crew comprised of both U.S. Navy officers and civilian sailors that have experience operating these commercial vessels. By recruiting from the private sector, the U.S. Navy could rapidly field these ships with crews that are already trained and proficient at the tasks they’d be assigned, while placing Naval officers in command of the vessel and in other essential combat roles.
By using a military command element, operating missile barges in war with a crew made up in part of civilians would still be legal under international law. Indeed, this model is already in use aboard some specific Naval vessels, like the recently decommissioned USS Ponce amphibious transport dock.
These missile barges could be crewed with as few as 30 people, split between U.S. Navy and civilian personnel. Because the missile payloads would not come close to these ship’s total capacity, they could also utilize buoyant cargo sealed in the hull to help make these ships more survivable in the event of an attack.
It’s possible that these ships could be crewed by even fewer people in the near future, as the Navy has already earmarked 0 million in the 2020 budget for the development of two large unmanned surface ships. The Navy’s Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel dubbed “Sea Hunter” has already successfully traversed the open ocean between San Diego and Hawaii all on its own, demonstrating the capability for unmanned Navy ships to come.
Are missile barges actually realistic?
Although the U.S. Navy is in the early stages of what may come to be a transformative era, it seems unlikely that the United States would shift away from its current love affair with high-cost, multi-role platforms any time soon. The new USS Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers serve as a good example of how the U.S. military prefers new, shiny, and expensive hardware over old, rusty, and more cost efficient options. While some within the Defense Department are questioning the future of America’s supercarriers, the alternative posited is usually something akin to smaller, but still rather large and expensive Lightning Carriers built for short-take off, vertical landing F-35Bs.
However, it’s important to note that the Navy of today is a product of the past fifty years of foreign policy posturing, but that may not be the right Navy to see us through a return to large scale conflict. Today, war with China remains a distant threat, but as that threat looms closer, we may see a transition in the Navy’s mindset similar to that of the Air Force’s recent push for “attritable” aircraft to bolster our small volume of high-capability assets.
Attritable, a word seemingly designed to give copy editors stress wrinkles, is the term used by the U.S. Air Force to describe platforms that are cheap enough to be used aggressively, with some degree of losses considered acceptable. This has led the Air Force to investing in drones like the Kratos Valkyrie, which is a low-observable drone capable of carrying two small-diameter bombs for ground strikes while costing only a few million dollars a piece.
Kratos Valkyrie (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins)
While it would cost more than a few million dollars to field each missile barge, the price may still be discounted enough to be considered attritable when compared to billion behemoths like the Ford. As unmanned ships become more common, and as a result, more affordable, it may become even more cost effective to leverage existing commercial hulls as a means of offsetting China’s huge numbers advantage in the Pacific.
Does it seem likely that the U.S. Navy would start strapping missiles to old container ships any time soon? The answer is a resounding no, but if America and China continue on this collision course, America’s defense apparatus may find itself being forced to make some hard decisions about just how much capability it can squeeze out of America’s already massive defense budget. If that day comes, missile barges may represent one of the most cost effective force multipliers America could leverage.
Russian lawmakers have approved a bill banning the armed forces from carrying smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets capable of recording and keeping information while on duty.
According to the bill, approved in its third and final reading in the lower house on Feb. 19, 2019, only regular phones with no cameras and without an Internet connection are now allowed in the Russian armed forces.
The bill also bans military personnel from sharing information online about their military units, missions, services, colleagues, former colleagues, and their relatives.
The bill says that “information placed on the Internet or mass media by military personnel is … in some cases used to shape a biased assessment of the Russian Federation’s state policies.”
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
The bill was approved by 408 lawmakers with no vote against.
The legislation was necessary because military personnel were of “particular interest for the intelligence services of foreign governments, for terrorists, and extremist organizations,” the Duma said.
In recent years, photos and video footage inadvertently posted online via smartphones by members of the Russian military have revealed information about the location and movements of its troops and equipment.
Human rights activists were also sometimes able to obtain from the Internet video and photographic proof of the hazing of young recruits in the Russian military.
The US Navy’s new supercarrier is going through shock trials, and that means setting off live explosives near the warship to simulate aspects of actual combat conditions.
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the first of a new class of aircraft carriers, completed the first explosive event of the ongoing full-ship shock trials on Friday off the US East Coast, where the Navy detonated explosives near the carrier.
The Navy said in a statement the aircraft carrier was “designed using advanced computer modeling methods, testing, and analysis to ensure the ship is hardened to withstand battle conditions, and these shock trials provide data used in validating the shock hardness of the ship.”
The official Twitter account for USS Gerald R. Ford tweeted Saturday that “the leadership and the crew demonstrated Navy readiness fighting through the shock, proving our warship can ‘take a hit’ and continue our mission on the cutting edge of naval aviation.”
Though the Navy has conducted shock trials with other vessels, the latest trials with the Ford, the service’s newest and most advanced carrier, mark the first time since 1987 the Navy has conducted shock trials with an aircraft carrier.
The last aircraft carrier shock trials involved the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, according to the Navy.
Shock trials are designed to test how Navy warships hold up against severe vibrations and identify potential shock-related vulnerabilities in a combat vessel.
Nearby explosions, even when vessels were not taking direct hits, would send destructive, high-pressure waves toward them.
During the major global conflict, “it was discovered that although such ‘near miss’ explosions do not cause serious hull or superstructure damage, the shock and vibrations associated with the blast nonetheless incapacitate the ship, by knocking out critical components and systems,” the study said.
“This discovery led the Navy to implement a rigorous shock hardening test procedure,” the report said, referring to shock trials.
The Navy said that the trials are being conducted in a way that “complies with environmental mitigation requirements, respecting known migration patterns of marine life in the test area.”
The service further stated that it “also has employed extensive protocols throughout [full-ship shock trials] to ensure the safety of military and civilian personnel participating in the testing evolution.”
After completing full-ship shock trials, the aircraft carrier will return to the pier at Newport News Shipbuilding for its first planned incremental availability, a six-month period during which the ship will undergo “modernization, maintenance, and repairs prior to its operational employment,” the Navy said.
Here in the modern world, many of us are more aware than ever of how the media can shape our perceptions of reality. While most debate about “perception management” these days is relegated to the arena of political mudslinging, the truth is, there has always been a concerted media effort to shape how we see the world in the form of advertising. And as many national governments learned early on, the same media infrastructure built to sell us products can also be used to sell us on ideas.
If you’re looking for a good example of how government initiatives can shape our idea of reality, you need to look no further than the air campaigns of World War II — because if you’re one of the millions of people that think eating carrots can help improve your vision, you’ve been duped by half-century-old wartime propaganda.
Not the wartime propaganda posters you were expecting?
(World Carrot Museum)
British (and eventually American) pilots defending the U.K. from Nazi bombers were among the first aviators in history ever to be tasked with night-time combat operations. Less than four decades after the Wright Brothers first took to the sky, Allied pilots were fighting for their lives in pitch darkness over the European theater.
At the time, aviators had to rely on their senses, rather than on the suite of technological gadgets we use for intercepts in modern combat aircraft, but it wasn’t long before the advent of onboard Airborne Interception radar (AI) gave the Brits the edge they needed over inbound Nazi bombers. The British also knew that announcing their new technological advantage would put the Nazi’s to work on finding ways to counter it, so instead, they chose a very different track.
As Allied fighters started closing with and destroying Nazi bombers in increasing numbers despite the difficult to manage night sky, the English Ministry of Information launched a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the world that their pilots had impeccable Nazi-hunting night vision thanks to a steady diet of — you guessed it — carrots.
Technically speaking, they’re not wrong. A serious Vitamin A deficiency could make you go blind.
(US National Archive)
Like any good misinformation campaign, they needed to find a basis in fact to use as the bedrock for their campaign, and carrots are known to be a good source of Vitamin A. Technically speaking, eating more vitamin A won’t do anything for an otherwise healthy person’s vision, but not getting enough of it can cause vision problems. Because of this, it was easy for the Brits to twist the story away from eating carrots to avoid a Vitamin A deficiency, and instead toward the idea that eating enough carrots could actually make you see better at night.
The decision to use carrots was also informed by the nation’s sugar rations limiting snack options for the U.K. populace. Carrots were a great snack for school kids to munch on and the nation had plenty of them to spare — so selling the public on the idea that eating more carrots could turn your kid into a hawk-eyed fighter pilot benefited the war effort in ways beyond German perceptions.
It wasn’t long before the idea of carrots improving one’s night vision simply became carrots improving vision altogether. Soon, no one remembered where they first heard about carrots being so important to eye health and just started accepting it as the truth.
Amazing what a few posters can do.
(Bryan Ledgard on WikiMedia Commons)
Even today, mothers and fathers all over the world continue to tell their kids to eat their carrots because they’re good for their eyes. This isn’t because there’s a great deal of Vitamin A deficiencies in the modern world, but rather, because we’re still operating off of the familiar wisdom we gleaned from propaganda posters printed while Hitler was touring Paris.
Propaganda, it pays to remember, is little more than advertising paid for by governments, rather than corporations. We all know and accept the idea that advertising works (to the tune of 3 billion in the United States last year alone). Whether we like it or not, it seems that propaganda does too.
The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of two Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), the future USS Sioux City (LCS 11) and USS Wichita (LCS 13), during a ceremony at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard on Aug. 22, 2018.
Sioux City and Wichita, respectively, are the 14th and 15th Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) to be delivered to the Navy and the sixth and seventh of the Freedom variant to join the fleet. These deliveries mark the official transfer of the ships from the shipbuilder, part of a Lockheed Martin-led team, to the U.S. Navy. It is the final milestone prior to commissioning. Both ships will be commissioned in late 2018, Sioux City in Annapolis, Maryland, and Wichita in Jacksonville, Florida.
Regarding the LCS deliveries, Captain Mike Taylor, LCS program manager, said, “The future USS Sioux City is a remarkable ship which will bring tremendous capability to the Fleet. I am excited to join with her crew and celebrate her upcoming commissioning at the home of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.”
“Today also marks a significant milestone in the life of the future USS Wichita, an exceptional ship which will conduct operations around the globe,” he said. “I look forward to seeing Wichita join her sister ships this winter.”
Capt. Shawn Johnston, commander, LCS Squadron Two, welcomed the ships to the fleet, saying, “The future USS Sioux City is a welcome addition to the East Coast Surface Warfare Division. Both her Blue and Gold crews are ready to put this ship though her paces and prepare the ship to deploy.
An artist rendering of the littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS11).
(U.S. Navy photo illustration by Stan Bailey)
“The future USS Wichita is the first East Coast Mine Warfare Division ship,” he said. “She will have a chance to test some of the latest and greatest mine warfare systems after she completes her remaining combat systems trials.”
Several additional Freedom variant ships are under construction at Fincantieri Marinette Marine. The future USS Billings (LCS 15) is preparing for trials in spring 2019. The future USS Indianapolis (LCS 17) was christened/launched in April 2018. The future USS St. Louis (LCS 19) is scheduled for christening and launch in the fall. The future USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS 21) is preparing for launch and christening in spring of 2019, while the future USS Cooperstown (LCS 23)’s keel was laid in early August 2018 and is undergoing construction in the shipyard’s erection bays. The future USS Marinette (LCS 25) started fabrication in February 2018, while the future USS Nantucket (LCS 27) is scheduled to begin fabrication in the fall.
LCS is a modular, reconfigurable ship designed to meet validated fleet requirements for surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures missions in the littoral region. An interchangeable mission package is embarked on each LCS and provides the primary mission systems in one of these warfare areas. Using an open architecture design, modular weapons, sensor systems and a variety of manned and unmanned vehicles to gain, sustain and exploit littoral maritime supremacy, LCS provides U.S. joint force access to critical theaters.
The LCS class consists of the Freedom variant and Independence variant, designed and built by two industry teams. The Freedom variant team is led by Lockheed Martin (for the odd-numbered hulls, e.g., LCS 1). The Independence variant team is led by Austal USA (for LCS 6 and follow-on even-numbered hulls). Twenty-nine LCSs have been awarded to date, with 15 delivered to the Navy, 11 in various stages of construction and three in pre-production states.
Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants is responsible for delivering and sustaining littoral mission capabilities to the fleet. Delivering high-quality warfighting assets while balancing affordability and capability is key to supporting the nation’s maritime strategy.
Challenge coins have a special place in the hearts of many. Enlisted troops keep them as souvenirs to commemorate a specific moment while officers display them at every opportunity to build clout. It’s like a hardened war-fighter’s version of collecting trading cards.
But not all challenge coins are created equally. This is especially important when it comes to the military’s drinking game. If two troops or vets are in a bar and someone calls, “coin check,” whoever doesn’t have one must buy the drinks. If you want to take it to the next level (or if everyone pulls a coin), have the person with the worst coin buy while the troop with the best coin chooses what the group is drinking.
There isn’t a clearly defined ranking system, but here’s the generally accepted hierarchy if you want to call someone out.
Think of these are having a pair of twos in a game of poker.
8. Any store-bought coin
At the very bottom are the “at-least-I-have-it” coins. There’s no challenge involved in getting these coins. There’s nothing unique about them and they cost a couple of bucks at the Exchange.
They often have just an installation marking, regimental crest, or a generic rank on them. But, hey, they’re better than nothing.
It only counts if it was given on a military installation, at any military event, or from a military-related company.
7. Promotional coins
An obvious but effective marketing gimmick popular among companies who’ve done their homework is to make a branded military challenge coin. Companies will often give these to troops and vets on a whim and it’s more about spreading brand recognition than displaying individual achievement.
Nonetheless, they’re usually pretty nice and we rank them slightly higher than a store-bought coin because you have to be at the right place at the right time to get one.
Some commanders put plenty of thought into their coins. See the exceptions below.
(Photo by Lieutenant Junior Grade Samuel Boyle)
6. Unit coins
This is the category under which most coins fall. Each unit commander can commission their own coin to be made with the unit insignia alongside the names of the senior enlisted and hand them to deserving troops.
Determining where each coin falls within this level is easy. Battalion coins beat company coins. Brigade coins beat battalion. Divisional coins beat brigade. Branch coins may beat divisional coins if and only if they weren’t just bought at a store and were actually given at the Pentagon level.
Some are generic, some are spectacular — hence why they’re in the middle of the list.
(Photo by Cpl. Jesus Sepulvada Torres)
5. General officer coins
Each general officer has a coin made specifically for them. Fun side note: Officers who have coins made almost always pay out-of-pocket to have something to give to troops. Since generals have a nicer paycheck than captains, their coins are nicer and more prestigious.
To get a general officer coin, you have to do something outstanding enough to warrant a nice coin. This could be in addition to an official military decoration or officers may just feel like handing them out like candy. It depends on the general officer.
And a coin from that school’s commandant is higher than just attending that school.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Eugene Christ)
4. School coins
Many military schools also hand a nice challenge coin to each graduate along with their diploma. The troop worked hard to get through it and the diploma will oftentimes end up forgotten in an “I-love-me” book.
School coins rank as high as they do because it takes far more effort to get one than just giving a proper salute to a general.
Impressing the most impressive men in military history at least gets you a beer.
3. Medal of Honor recipient coins
Not all, but many Medal of Honor recipients also have challenge coins that they can give to troops and vets.
Just shaking hands with one of America’s greatest is impressive enough. Getting a coin from one of them means that you will always choose the drink during a coin check.
There are also two exceptions to this ranking system that should also be taken into account should there ever be a tie or an appeal. A really cool unit coin can still beat a school coin if everyone in the group can agree that it meets these two criteria:
• Best design
If the coin is well-crafted and you can tell that the designer put plenty of heart into making such an outstanding coin, that person gets the boost.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Mike Meares)
• Best backstory
Every coin should have a story to tell. If your story is something lame like, “I met this person and they gave me a coin,” you don’t lose points but it certainly doesn’t earn you any.
If the coin has some major significance, then you’re clearly the winner.