They were one of the most powerful organizations in the world at their time, controlling wealth and military arms across the world. The Knights Templar were the first Christian religious military order, eventually growing to be one of the first international banking organizations, a massive military arm in the Holy Land, and the fodder for conspiracy theorists for literally hundreds of years.
The Knights Templar were established during the Crusades, largely because of the state of the Holy Land after the First Crusade. Military campaigns launched from 1095 to 1099 had secured small Christian kingdoms in and around Jerusalem, but these Christian enclaves didn’t have the strength of arms to properly hold their territory, let alone to protect pilgrims coming to the holy sites.
And so a small group of French knights banded together to protect pilgrims on the road. King Baldwin II of Jerusalem learned of this and offered them rooms in the royal palace, formerly the Temple of Solomon. This small group grew into the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.
Their duties protecting the pilgrims would become much easier, they knew if pilgrims weren’t carrying their life savings on their backs, and so the knights looked for a new method of finance.
What if, instead of having pilgrims bring all the cash and valuables they would need, pilgrims were able to deposit most of their money in Europe as they set out and then pick up a commensurate amount of money in the Holy Land after arrival. They established a program to do exactly that, turning the Knights Templar into the first international bank.
Their wealth and status grew, and they eventually received official sanction from Pope Innocent II in 1139 who not only said it was fine that a religious order had taken up military arms, but that the knights would be subject to the authority of the pope and the pope alone.
But the papal bull protecting the knights also set standards of conduct for them, requiring that they remain poor, live in dormitories, not raise children or embrace women, gamble, swear, or take part in many other activities, similar to monks. But, where monks were expected to spend much time reading and no time fighting, Templars were expected to train and fight while not being required to read.
As the Templars grew, they took on larger roles as a true military force, eventually growing into a sort of police/military force with a strong command structure and outposts across the Christian kingdoms.
But, unfortunately for them, the 13th Century went badly for Christians as new Crusades failed and Christian kingdoms were retaken by the sultans. The city of Acre was the last Crusader stronghold, and it fell to Muslim armies in 1291.
They were accused of heresy, sodomy, and other crimes in the late 1200s and early 1300s, and European rulers jealous of the order’s wealth and power eventually decided to seize Templars and divvy up their assets. Much of the Templars’ massive financial assets were handed over to the Knights Hospitallers, but some was kept by rulers like French King Philip IV who used it to refresh his own coffers.
The Knights Hospitallers, a religious order focused on providing medical services, was slightly older than the Knights Templar, but the Knights Hospitallers had acquired a military mission similar to that of the Knights Templar in the 12th Century, and so it was an obvious heir to the Templar wealth.
The era of the 1980s through the mid-1990s was a great time to be a member of the U.S Army’s 7th Special Forces Group, 7th SFG(A). The unit had barely escaped the ax during the post-Vietnam drawdown. It had also survived the malaise of the Carter years, when Special Operations, and specifically Special Forces, was a four-letter word. (Being an SF officer in those days was the kiss of death for an officer’s career.)
Yet, during that time, a danger was looming: Latin America was close to being lost to communism.
Latin America was a hot spot. Marxists had taken over in Nicaragua. They were looking, like the Cubans, to export their vision of communism to the rest of the hemisphere. El Salvador and Guatemala were embroiled in bloody civil wars, Honduras was going through a “latent and incipient” insurgency, which no one but the Group believed existed. Active civil wars were ongoing with insurgents in Colombia (FARC), Peru (Shining Path/Sendero Luminoso), and to a lesser extent in Bolivia. Compounding the problem, all three countries had issues with narco-terrorists that further destabilized the governments. Other countries, such as Argentina and Paraguay, seemed to have military coups far too frequently.
But all of that began to change in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was elected President. Reagan was not going to stand for that. Hence, there were plenty of places for the Green Berets of 7th SFG to practice their training, or as my first team sergeant said, “Do Green Beret shit.”
El Salvador was the first area where the President drew a line in the sand. The Salvadorian government was weak and ineffective. The military was backward, characterized by little professionalism, and was committing numerous human rights abuses. In 1980, the country was on the brink of falling. The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), an umbrella organization formed in 1980 out of five separate Marxist-Leninist groups, had the government on the precipice.
In 1981, the Salvadorian Army numbered around 11,000. It was a poorly led, poorly equipped, and badly trained army. It was basically a static, defensive force. The FMLN was close to winning the war: Its forces operated freely in much of the country and owned the night.
Slow Beginnings and Limits on Troop Support
The U.S.’s first priority was to give the Salvadorian army updated vehicles and equipment; then improve the forces’ quality through training and better tactics. By 1990, the size of the Salvadorian military had quadrupled to more than 45,000. By the mid-1980s, the training of the troops had progressed to where the army was capable of conducting offensive operations. It, therefore, moved into previously FMLN-held areas and maintained a firm hold on the population centers. While doing so, it whittled the FMLN down to size, from a high of about 13,000 in 1980 to about 7,000 in 1990.
The FMLN resorted to kidnappings and assassinations. Town mayors were a frequent target: in 1989 alone 214 of 262 were threatened with assassinations. Twelve were assassinated and 90 resigned.
The FMLN launched a desperate country-wide offensive in November 1989 in a final attempt to take over by encouraging the citizens to rise up. It failed and lost over 2,000 guerrillas.
Beginning in 1983, following the recommendations of Green Beret trainers, the Salvadorian armed forces adopted better COIN tactics to deny the FMLN from gaining popular support. For example, the Salvadorians started attacking the insurgents’ sanctuaries, movement routes, and supplies. They started to deploy smaller, air-mobile units. And they used small units to patrol more frequently at night when most guerrilla activities occurred. But we have jumped ahead…
When it came to the trainers, the U.S. was in a vastly different place politically than it is today. We had just pulled out of Vietnam. Thus, the U.S. was not going to tolerate another long-drawn-out conflict with massive amounts of troops involved. Beginning in 1981, the first U.S. trainers in El Salvador were an A-Team of 12 Green Berets. They were “permitted” to only carry sidearms for protection.
Congress decided to cap the number of trainers at just 55. Two Americans would be assigned to each Salvadorian brigade. There were very strict rules for the training advisors. A-Teams and other conventional troops would be brought in for just the ridiculously short time span of two weeks. During that time, they had to conduct whatever training could be accomplished before they would be forced to leave.
But the SF community found ways around the Congressional limitations. It started bringing Salvadorian battalions to the United States to be trained by members of the 7th SFG. The first one to be brought to the U.S. was the Atlacatl Battalion. It was brought to Ft. Bragg, NC. The Atlacatl Battalion was a quick reaction, counter-insurgency unit. More battalions were later brought to the U.S.
But a better alternative awaited just over the border with El Salvador’s traditional enemy, Honduras.
The U.S. set up a Regional Training Center in Trujillo, Honduras. Salvadorian units could rotate through there for training. Later the training Honduran troops were trained as well.
The cost was high for a “peacetime” effort. During the war in El Salvador, 22 U.S. troops died defending the country. One SF advisor, Greg Fronius, is the subject of an earlier article.
In another engagement, a “not in combat” SF A-Team, ODA-7 from 3/7th SFG, defended a Salvadorian barracks. The battle was the subject of an excellent piece by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe.
Congress and the Pentagon, in an effort to snow the American public from what exactly the advisors in El Salvador were dealing with, refused to admit that the troops were in a combat situation, even though, combat pay had been authorized in 1981. Thus, Fronius was denied a combat decoration. He was instead given a Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) which is a peacetime award.
Human Rights Record
The Salvadorian Army had a terrible human rights record dating back to 1980. One of the things that the trainers accomplished was to incorporate human rights training in all levels of the military.
This also meant that at times, at peril to the advisors themselves, they’d report abuses by the military to the MILGP in San Salvador. Greg Walker, who was one of the 55 advisors on the ground there detailed one such incident.
“I was the Special Forces advisor who reported being shown a guerrilla’s skull (at the unit’s base in El Salvador) that had been turned into a desk lamp. My report was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador at the time through the proper chain of command.
The vast majority of SF advisors serving in El Salvador did likewise as this was part of the mission statement. For example, there was a senior Special Forces advisor at El Mozote the day/night of the massacre (and only one). He attempted multiple times to dissuade Colonel Domingo Monterosa to spare the victims. When Monterosa ignored him, the advisor departed by foot and made his way, alone, back to San Salvador. There he made a full report to embassy officials of what the unit and Monterosa were doing in El Mozote.”
The subject was a very touchy one. Yet the Green Berets made their reputation known even amongst the FMLN. In Walker’s book, titled “At the Hurricane’s Eye” he recounts when the FMLN asked for the U.S. SF to remain during the initial peace process to ensure that everyone was protected.
“At the conclusion of the war as brokered under a UN peace agreement, it was the guerrillas of the FMLN that requested US “Green Berets” remain with Salvadorian military units during the early stages of the accord. This because the guerrillas had learned of our commitment to human rights, and the sometimes dangerous reporting we made to the US embassy regarding thugs like Monterosa.”
Walker was one of several SF soldiers who led the fight for the men who did their time in El Salvador to finally be recognized for what were essentially combat tours. Everyone who rotated through there is now eligible for an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal while many are authorized CIBs and combat awards. The men of ODA-7 were finally recognized 14 years later. They were awarded CIBs, four Bronze Stars with “V” device, and an ARCOM with “V” device.
The 7th SFG’s record in El Salvador was one of great success. El Salvador was on the brink of falling. And through the combined military and political efforts of many Americans, it was saved. This one was an example of how a small group of dedicated SF soldiers can turn the tide in a brutal civil war.
The US Army is developing precision-guided 155mm rounds that are longer range than existing shells and able to conduct combat missions in a GPS-denied war environment.
The Precision Guidance Kit Modernization (PGK-M) is now being developed to replace the standard PGK rounds, which consist of an unguided 155 round with a GPS-fuse built into it; the concept with the original PGK, which first emerged roughly 10 years ago, was to bring a greater amount of precision to historically unguided artillery fire.
Now, Army developers with the Army’s Program Executive Office Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal are taking the technology to a new level by improving upon the range, accuracy, and functionality of the weapon. Perhaps of greatest importance, the emerging PGK-M shell is engineered such that it can still fire with range and accuracy in a war environment where GPS guidance and navigation technology is compromised or destroyed.
The emerging ammunition will be able to fire from standard 155mm capable weapons such as an Army M777 lightweight towed howitzer and M109 howitzer.
“PGK-M will provide enhanced performance against a broad spectrum of threats. In addition, PGK-M will be interoperable with the Army’s new long-range artillery projectiles, which are currently in parallel development,” Audra Calloway, spokeswoman for the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal, told Warrior Maven.
BAE Systems is among several vendors currently developing PGK-M with the Army’s Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium. BAE developers say the kits enable munitions to make in-flight course corrections even in GPS-jammed environments.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica A. DuVernay)
“Our experience with munitions handling, gun launch shock, interior ballistics, and guidance and fire control uniquely positions us to integrate precision technology into the Army’s artillery platforms,” David Richards, Program Manager, Strategic Growth Initiatives for our Precision Guidance and Sensing Solutions group, BAE Systems, told Warrior Maven in a statement.
This technological step forward is quite significant for the Army, as it refines its attack technologies in a newly-emerging threat environment. The advent of vastly improved land-fired precision weaponry began about 10 years ago during the height of counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. GPS-guided 155m Excalibur rounds and the Army’s GPS and inertial measurement unit weapon, the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, burst onto the war scene as a way to give commanders more attack options.
Traditional suppressive fire, or “area weapons” as they have been historically thought of, were not particularly useful in combat against insurgents. Instead, since enemies were, by design, blended among civilians, Army attack options had little alternative but to place the highest possible premium upon precision guidance.
GMLRS, for example, was used to destroy Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, and Excalibur had its combat debut in the 2007, 2008 timeframe. With a CEP of roughly 1-meter Excalibur proved to be an invaluable attack mechanism against insurgents. Small groups of enemy fighters, when spotted by human intel or overhead ISR, could effectively be attack without hurting innocents or causing what military officials like to call “collateral damage.” PGK was initially envision as a less expensive, and also less precise, alternative to Excalibur.
The rise of near peer threats, and newer technologies commensurate with larger budgets and fortified military modernization ambitions, have created an entirely new war environment confronting the Army of today and tomorrow. Principle among these circumstances is, for example, China’s rapid development of Anti-Satellite, or ASAT weapons.This ongoing development, which has both the watchful eye and concern of US military strategists and war planners, underscores a larger and much discussed phenomenon – that of the United States military being entirely too reliant upon GPS for combat ops. GPS, used in a ubiquitous way across the Army and other military services, spans small force-tracking devices to JDAMs dropped from the air, and much more, of course including the aforementioned land weapons.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Veronica Mammina)
Advanced jamming techniques, electronic warfare and sophisticated cyberattacks have radically altered the combat equation – making GPS signals vulnerable to enemy disruption. Accordingly, there is a broad consensus among military developers, and industry innovators that far too many necessary combat technologies are reliant upon GPS systems. Weapons targeting, ship navigation, and even small handheld solider force-tracking systems all rely upon GPS signals to operate.
Accordingly, the Army and other services are now accelerating a number of technical measures and emerging technologies designed to create what’s called Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT), or GPS-like guidance, navigation and targeting, without actually needing satellites. This includes ad hoc software programmable radio networks, various kinds of wave-relay connectivity technologies and navigational technology able to help soldiers operate without GPS-enabled force tracking systems.
At the same time, the Army is working with the Air Force on an integrated strategy to protect satellite comms, harden networks, and also better facilitate joint-interoperability in a GPS-denied environment.
The Air Force Space strategy, for instance, is currently pursuing a multi-fold satellite strategy to include “dispersion,” “disaggregation” and “redundancy.” At the same time, the service has also identified the need to successfully network the force in an environment without GPS. Naturally, this is massively interwoven with air-ground coordination. Fighters, bombers and even drones want to use a wide range of secure sensors to both go after targets and operate with ground forces.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is working with industry to test and refine an emerging radiofrequency force-tracking technology able to identify ground forces’ location without needing to rely upon GPS.
Given all this, it is by no means insignificant that the Army seeks guided rounds able to function without GPS. Should they engage in near-peer, force-on-force mechanized ground combat against a major, technologically advanced adversary, they may indeed need to launch precision attacks across wide swaths of terrain – without GPS.
Finally, by all expectations, modern warfare is expected to increasingly become more and more dispersed across wider swaths of terrain, while also more readily crossing domains, given rapid emergence of longer range weapons and sensors.
This circumstance inevitably creates the need for both precision and long-range strike. As one senior Army weapons developer with PEO Missiles and Space told Warrior Maven in an interview — Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch — …”it is about out-ranging the enemy.”
An F-35 fighter pilot says he would be confident flying the Joint Strike Fighter against any enemy in the world, including Russian and Chinese 5th Generation stealth fighters.
An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be able to use its sensors, weapons, and computer technology to destroy Russian and Chinese 5th-Generation Stealth fighters in a high-end combat fight, service officials said.
“There is nothing that I have seen from maneuvering an F-35 in a tactical environment that leads me to assume that there is any other airplane I would rather be in. I feel completely comfortable and confident in taking that airplane into any combat environment,” Lt. Col. Matt Hayden, 56th Fighter Wing, Chief of Safety, Luke AFB, Arizona, told Warrior in a special pilot interview in 2015.
Furthermore, several F-35 pilots have been clear in their resolve that the multi-role fighter is able to outperform any other platform in existence.
Hayden was clear to point out he has not, as of yet, flown simulated combat missions against the emerging Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA 5th-Generation stealth fighter now in development or the Chinese Shenyang J-31 5th Generation Stealth aircraft. While he said he did not personally know all of the technologies and capabilities of these Russian and Chinese aircraft, he was unambiguous in his assertion regarding confidence in the F-35.
U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
Available information says the Russians have built at least 6 prototype T-50 PAK FAs for their Air Force and Navy; the Chinese conducted a maiden test flight of its J-31 in 2012. In addition, China is in pre-production with its J-20 5th-Generation stealth fighter. This fighter, called the Chengdu J-20, made its first flight in 2011.
While Hayden did not elaborate on aspects of the J-20, he did say he would be confident flying the F-35 against any aircraft in the world.
“All those other countries (Russia and China) are trying to develop airplanes that are technologically capable as well — from an F-35 perspective. We are no less capable than any airplane and any fighters out there,” Hayden described.
In addition to leveraging the best available technologies on a fighter jet, winning a dog-fight or combat engagement would depend just as much on the air-tactics and decisions made by a pilot, Hayden explained.
“I have not flown against some of those aircraft. When you fight against an airplane, it depends upon the airspeed. If I maximize the effectiveness of an F-35, I can exploit the weaknesses of any other aircraft,” he said.
Many analysts have made the assessment that the J-20 does appear to be closely modelled after the F-35.
In fact, a Defense Science Board report, cited in a 2014 Congressional assessment of the Chinese military, (US-China Economic Security and Review Commission) makes reference to specific developmental information and specs of numerous U.S. weapons systems believed to be stolen by Chinese computer hackers; design specs and technologies for the F-35 were among those compromised by Chinese cyber-theft, according to the report.
An AIN Online report from the Singapore Air Show catalogues a number of J-20 features and technologies — including those believed to be quite similar to the F-35.
“The J-20 is a large multi-role fighter with stealthy features similar to those found in the American F-22 and F-35. Although very little is known about its intended purpose, the aircraft appears to offer capability in a number of roles, including long-range interception and precision attack.
In terms of weapon carriage the J-20 has a similar arrangement to that of the Lockheed Martin F-22, comprising two lateral bays for small air-to-air missiles such as the agile, imaging-infrared PL-10, and a large under-fuselage bay for accommodating larger missiles and precision-guided surface attack weapons. The 607 Institute’s new PL-15 active-radar missile is thought to be the primary long-range air-to-air weapon, reportedly having been test-fired from a Shenyang J-16 platform last year. The PL-21, a ramjet-powered weapon in the same class as the MBDA Meteor, is another possibility for the J-20.
The sensor suite includes an electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) and a large-array AESA radar, which was developed by the 14th Institute at Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET, 14th Institute), and is possibly designated Type 1475/KLJ-5. Diamond-shaped windows around the fuselage suggest that a distributed aperture infrared vision system is installed.
In the cockpit, the J-20 sports three large color displays, plus other small screens, and a holographic wide-angle head-up display. An advanced datalink has been developed, and a retractable refueling probe is located on the starboard side of the forward fuselage. Much of the avionics suite has been tested by the CFTE (China flight test establishment) aboard a modified Tupolev Tu-204C, in much the same way as the systems of the F-22 were tested in a Boeing 757.”
Regarding the Russian T-50 PAK FA Stealth fighter, numerous reports suggest the aircraft has numerous technological problems and is a 5th generation plane “in name only.”
“Reporting from the Singapore Airshow 2016, IHS Jane’s reports that “Russian industry has consistently referred to the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA as a fifth-generation aircraft, but a careful look at the program reveals that this is an ‘in name only’ designation.”
This is largely because of a lack of evolutionary technology aboard the plane compared with previous jets that Russia and the US have designed. Indeed, the PAK FA’s engines are the same as those aboard Russia’s 4++ generation (a bridging generation between fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft) Su-35. Additionally, the PAK FA and the Su-35 share many of the same onboard systems.
And even when the PAK FA’s systems are different from the Su-35’s, the plane’s specifications are still not up to true fifth-generation standards.
RealClearDefense, citing Indian media reports that are familiar with a PAK FA variant being constructed in India, notes that the plane has multiple technological problems. Among these problems are the plane’s “engine performance, the reliability of its AESA radar, and poor stealth engineering.”
F-35 sensor fusion
Despite various reports about technologies being engineered into the Russian and Chinese 5th-Generation Stealth Fighters, it is in no way clear that either aircraft is in any way comparable to the F-35. Most publicly available information seems to indicate that the F-35 is superior — however, to some extent, the issue remains an open question. More information is likely to emerge once the Russian and Chinese aircraft are operational and deployed.
For example, the Chinese J-20 is cited as having an Electro-Optical targeting system, stealth configuration, datalink, AESA radar, and precision weaponry quite similar to the F-35, according to the AIN report.
The computer algorithms woven into the F-35 architecture are designed to leverage early iterations of what could be described as early phases of “artificial intelligence.” Broadly speaking, artificial intelligence refers to fast-evolving computer technology and processors able to gather, assess and integrate information more autonomously in order to help humans make decisions more quickly and efficiently from a position of command-and-control.
“If there is some kind of threat that I need to respond to with the airplane, I don’t have to go look at multiple sensors and multiple displays from multiple locations which could take my time and attention away from something else,” Hayden added.
The F-35 software, which shows images on display screens in the cockpit as well as on a pilot’s helmet-mounted-display, is able to merge results from various radar capabilities onto a single screen for the pilot.
An F-35 Lightning II.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Brandon Shapiro)
“The F-35 takes from multiple sensors around the airplane and combines them together in a way that is much more manageable and accessible — while not detracting from the other tasks that the pilot is trying to accomplish,” Hayden said.
For instance, the F-35’s Electro-Optical Target System, or EOTS, is an infrared sensor able to assist pilots with air and ground targeting at increased standoff ranges while also performing laser designation, laser range-finding and other tasks.
In addition, the plane’s Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, is a series of six electro-optical sensors also able to give information to the pilot. The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.
The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar, which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on the move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.
Hayden added that the F-35 has been training against other F-35s in simulated combat situations, testing basic fighter maneuvers. Having himself flown other fighter aircraft, he explained that many other F-35 pilots also fly the airplane after having experience flying an F-16, A-10 or other combat aircraft.
“The F-35’s low-observable technology can prevent detection. That is a strength that other airplanes do not have,” he said.
F-35 and F-22
At the same time, senior Air Force leaders have made the point that F-35 technological superiority is intended to be paired with the pure air-to-air dogfighting ability of the service’s F-22 – a stealth aircraft, with its speed, maneuverability, and thrust-to-weight ratio, is believed by many to be the most capable air-to-air platform in the world.
“Every airplane has flaws. When you design an airplane, you design an airplane with tradeoffs — give something else up. If I was flying against an adversary in actual combat, my job would be to exploit the enemy weakness and play to my strength. I can compensate for certain things,” Hayden explained. “There is a certain way to fly and fight in an airplane, using airspeed to maximize the turning performance of the airplane.”
An F-22 Raptor.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)
During a public speech in 2015, the Air Forces Air Combat Commander, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, said the F-22 is engineered such that it can complement the F-35.
“You will use the F-35 for air superiority, but you will need the raptors to do some things in a high-end fight to penetrate denied airspace,” he said. “The airplane is designed for multi-role capability, electronic warfare and sensors. The F-35 will win against any fourth-generation airplane — in a close-in fight, it will do exceedingly well. There will be a combination of F-22s and F-35s in the future.”
Hayden further elaborated upon these claims, arguing that the F-35 has another set of strategic advantages to include an ability to use internally built sensors. This prevents the need to use external pods on a fighter jet which can add drag, slowing down and restricting maneuverability for an aircraft.
“As an F-35 pilot, I can carry bombs to a target area where I can now take out air-to-ground threats. You have to look at the overall picture of the airplane. The airplane was designed to overwhelm the battlespace in a non-permissive threatening environment where 4th-gen fighters are not going to persist,” he added.
The F-35 is engineered with a 25-mm gun and has the ability to carry and fire a wide range of weapons. The aircraft has already demonstrated an ability to fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDADM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), and AIM 9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
So-called “Block 3F” software for the F-35 increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb and 500-pound JDAM.
As a multi-role fighter, the F-35 is also engineered to function as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform designed to apprehend and process video, data and information from long distances. Some F-35 developers have gone so far as to say the F-35 has ISR technologies comparable to many drones in service today that are able to beam a “soda straw” video view of tactically relevant combat locations in real time.
Finally, regarding dogfighting, it is pertinent to point out a “War is Boring” report from 2015 which cited an F-35 fighter pilot explaining how an F-16 was able to win a “mock dogfight” against an F-35; the F-35 Joint Program Office disputed this claim, saying the F-35 used in the scenario was in no way representative of today’s operational F-35s. The software, weapons and sensor technologies used in the mock dogfight were not comparable to the most evolved F-35.
Furthermore, F-35 proponents maintained that the aircraft’s advanced computer technology and sensors would enable it to see and destroy enemy fighters from much longer ranges — essentially destroying enemy fighters before they are seen.
The idea is to enable F-35 pilots to see and destroy enemies in the air, well in advance of a potential dogfight scenario. This can be explained in terms of a well-known Air Force strategic concept pioneered years ago by air theorist and pilot Col. John Boyd, referred to as the “OODA Loop,” — for observe, orient, decide and act. The concept is to complete this process quickly and make fast decisions while in an air-to-air dogfight — in order to get inside the enemy’s decision cycle, properly anticipate, and destroy an enemy before they can destroy you.
The F-35 is designed with long-range sensors and data fusion technologies such that, as a fifth-generation aircraft, it can complete the OODA Loop much more quickly than potential adversaries, F-35 advocates claim.
Mission data files
Described as the brains of the airplane, the mission data files are extensive on-board data systems compiling information on geography, air space and potential threats in known areas of the world where the F-35 might be expected to perform combat operations, Air Force officials explained.
Consisting of hardware and software, the mission data files are essentially a database of known threats and friendly aircraft in specific parts of the world. The files are being worked on at a reprogramming laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Air Force officials told Military.com. The mission data files are designed to work with the aircraft’s Radar Warning Receiver engineered to find and identify approaching enemy threats and hostile fire.
The mission data packages are loaded with a wide range of information to include commercial airliner information and specifics on Russian and Chinese fighter jets. For example, the mission data system would enable a pilot to quickly identify a Russian MiG-29 if it were detected by the F-35’s sensors.
The mission data files are being engineered to adjust to new threat and intelligence information as it emerges. For instance, the system is engineered to one day have all the details on a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter or Russian T-50 PAK FA stealth aircraft.
As a high-visibility, expensive acquisition program, the F-35 has many vocal detractors and advocates; the aircraft has, to be sure, had its share of developmental problems over the years. some of these problems include complications with its main computer system, called ALIS, and a now-corrected engine fire aboard the aircraft. Overall, most critics have pointed to the program’s growing costs, something program officials claim has vastly improved through various money-saving initiatives and bulk-buys.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series about how branches of the military hate on each other. We’ll feature all branches of the U.S. military, written by veterans of that branch being brutally honest with themselves and their services.
The branches of the U.S. military are like a very large family. They deal with one another because they have to, not because they always get along.
The differences don’t stop at uniforms. Each branch has its own goals, mission, and its own internal culture. At the upper levels of the services, they compete for funds and favor from civilians in DoD. In the lower ranks, they compete for fun and favor from civilians in bars and strip clubs (especially in North Carolina). The branches are like siblings, competing for the intangible title of who’s “the best” from no one in particular.
“The Soviets are our adversary. Our enemy is the Navy.” —Gen. Curtis LeMay, U.S. Air Force
Of course, when it comes to joint operations downrange, a lot of that goes out the window. But when the op-tempo isn’t as hectic and frustration has time to build, the awesome Army platoon who saved your ass last month become a bunch of damn stupid grunts who steal everything you don’t lock down and leave their Gatorade piss bottles everywhere. Parsing out the best and worst of our services isn’t hard if we’re honest with ourselves.
Here’s how the other branches hate on the Navy, how they should actually be hating on the Navy, how the Navy hates on the Navy, and why to really love the Navy.
The easiest ways to make fun of the Navy
Sailor harassment has its roots in the age-old reality that since man first decided to put military power to sea in ships, those aboard those ships were forced to spend weeks and months underway before being afforded a few days of downtime in a foreign port. As a result of this ratio, sailors may have had a tendency for exuberance while on liberty over the years. And that exuberance may have caused a scuffle or two that caught the attention of bar owners and other locals who may have developed impressions that were less than positive.
Over time these locals spread rumors that these sailors couldn’t hold their liquor and tended to burn through what little cash they had in a short time. Word of these phenomena returned stateside, which gave birth to the saying, “spending money like a sailor on liberty.”
Because sailors spend time on the water, service members from other military branches wanted to give them a nickname that was both sufficiently pejorative and germane. Naturally marine life came to mind. “Sharks” was too cool and tough and “guppies” was too cute, so they settled on “squids.” So if you want to make fun of a sailor call him or her a “squid.” They really hate that because squids are spineless and ugly and otherwise devoid of personality. (They can swim fast, but nobody really cares about that.)
Because SEALs. In the wake of the Bin Laden raid, SEALs have managed to morph from silent professionals to the warfare specialty that is quick to tell all to land book and movie deals.
Because Top Gun. No other military movie in history has done more to give the public the wrong idea about what it means to serve. And it’s got a lot of homoerotic imagery, which leads to . . .
. . . The quickest way to strike a squid’s nerve is to make “gay” jokes. Yes, you know the kind, “100 sailors go out, 50 couples come back,” or “it ain’t gay if it’s under way,” and many, many more. It also doesn’t help that sailors are a popular gay fantasy.
Henri Belolo created the Village People around macho male stereotypes that gays fantasize about. The cowboy, cop, construction worker, leather-clad biker, Indian, and the sailor. The band became popular, moved into the mainstream and took the sailor in the cute Crackerjack uniform along with it. Yes, we said “cute.” Admit it, the sailor dress uniform has more in common with the Japanese school girl uniform than with the other service branches.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay, of course. This is, after all, the post-DADT world.
Because nuclear power. While the introduction of this science gave Navy ships the ability to sail a long, long time without refueling, the existence of it also created a zero-tolerance culture that has raised the bar of fun suppression to heights that can never be lowered. And this ability to sweat the load has crossed over into other warfare specialties and other branches of the military. Thanks, Nukes . . .
Why to actually hate the Navy
Every service tries to imitate the Marine Corps when it comes to celebrating its birthday, and the Navy’s history makes this in many ways the biggest joke (which is a polite way to say “the biggest lie”). While the Navy uses October 13, 1775 as the birth date, they leave out the fact that the first version of the U.S. Navy was dismantled completely after the Revolutionary War because the ragtag bunch of vessels they managed to assemble on the fly did little to protect ports or disrupt the British in any way.
And this anti-Navy sentiment in and around DC lasted a while after that. Thomas Jefferson hated the idea of a standing Navy and few in Congress thought any differently about it. It wasn’t until early Navy badass Stephen Decatur decided to take a couple of ships to Tripoli to raise some Yankee hell against the Barbary Pirates. His successes made lawmakers take notice and actually warm to the idea of a standing Navy, and one with an over-the-horizon outlook.
So the real birth date of the Navy would be somewhere around 1810 when Decatur took the USS United States up and down the east coast to show the American public what they had in terms of seagoing capability.
Hate SAPR training and the CYA leadership atmosphere you’re currently serving under? Blame the Navy.
All the mechanisms that surround using the military as a social experiment and other morale-sapping things that get labeled as “politically correct” started with the Tailhook Scandal in the early ’90s. Of course, sexual battery, never mind harassment, is a bad thing that should never be tolerated, but Navy leadership over the years has done little to stop agenda-based over-corrections that have marginalized the culture in undesirable ways (in the eyes of those who intimate they know about warfighting and such).
So, regardless of your branch, if you feel like you’re serving in a nanny state, blame the Navy.
Because Jimmy Carter. He’s a Naval Academy grad and a submariner, but he never really acted like it when he was Commander-in-chief. His “man is inherently good” naivete made for some very bad foreign policy, most notably in how he de-fanged the CIA and emboldened the Iranian government to take Americans hostage for 444 days. And the Desert One rescue attempt was a disaster. Basically his time in the White House made the country very happy to see Ronald Reagan.
And because the Navy is the absolute worst when it comes to changing uniforms. Remember aviation greens? How about service dress khaki? No? Well, here’s one for you: aquaflage. What are you hiding in, the water? And if a sailor is in the water don’t you want to be able to see him or her? We rest our case.
Because they wrecked most of what was cool about the band Godsmack and made them corporate sellouts.
Because sailors don’t have to eat MREs when they deploy. Ships are built with mess decks and Navy cooks (and supply officers) generally take pride in serving the crew good food.
Why to love the Navy
Because Navy SEALs. They popped OBL and the Somali pirates and many more high value bad actors since 9-11. Their warfighting skills are second to none.
Because Hollywood remains enamoured by Navy life, it keeps teeing up Navy-themed shows like “The Last Ship,” and as a result, the general public has a favorable opinion of the military.
Because strike warfare. As has been the case throughout history U.S. Navy carriers and surface combatants were the first on the scene after 9-11, and because of that we were able to take it to the enemy a mere three weeks after the homeland was attacked.
Because the U.S. Navy really is, as the commercials state, “a global force for good.” From Hurricane Katrina to the Haitian earthquake to the tsunami in Thailand, when a country needs humanitarian assistance, the Navy has always been first on the scene.
Because the Navy continues to fight “the war between the wars.” The Navy goes to potentially hostile places like the littorals of Yemen and Chinese-claimed islands to prove to those nations that we’re willing to protect the sea lanes to keep goods moving safely to and from our shores.
The Army released a report in late 2016 that centered on the Russian threat in Ukraine and detailed how the capabilities of Russian snipers have grown, thanks in small part to a deadly new Russian sniper rifle, the ORSIS T-5000.
And it just so happens that the National Rifle Association once helped promote the T-5000, according to Mother Jones.
In 2015, the NRA sent a delegation to Moscow, where they toured the facilities at ORSIS (the Russian company that makes the sniper rifle), test-fired the T-5000 and were even included in an ORSIS promotional video, Mother Jones reported.
The delegation included NRA board member Peter Brownell, NRA donor Joe Gregory, former NRA President David Keene, and former Milwaukee County Sheriff and Trump supporter David Clarke, Mother Jones and The Daily Beast reported.
The delegation also met with Dmitry Rogozin, who had been sanctioned by the Obama administration over the invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, during the trip, which was also partially paid for by a Russian gun-rights organization called the Right to Bear Arms, Mother Jones reported.
Rozogin was Russia’s deputy prime minister who oversaw the defense sector at the time, but was not retained by Russian Prime Minister-designate Dmitry Medvedev in Putin’s new administration, Reuters reported on May 7, 2018.
The US Army report from 2016 described the T-5000 as “one of the most capable bolt action sniper rifles in the world.”
A former Soviet Spetsnaz special forces operator, Marco Vorobiev, said the gun “can compete with any custom-built bolt action precision rifle out there,” according to Popular Mechanics.
“It is well designed and built in small batches,” he said. “More of a custom rifle than mass produced.”
The T-5000 fires a .338 Lapua Magnum round, which is an 8.6 or 8.58x70mm round, that can hit targets up to 2,000 yards away, Popular Mechanics reported.
A .338 Lapua Magnum round is more than two times more powerful than a 7.62x54R round, The National Interest reported in December, adding that there’s no known body armor in the field that can stop the round.
The T-5000 has reportedly been used by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, Iraqi special forces operators, and has been spotted being used by Chinese troops and Vietnamese law enforcement officers, Popular Mechanics and thefirearmblog.com reported.
The Russian military is also beginning to field the T-5000, and it has even been tested with Russia’s “Ratnik” program, which is a futuristic combat system that includes modernized body armor, a helmet with night vision and thermal imaging, and more, The National Interest and Popular Mechanics reported.
The rifle, however, has had problems opening the bolt, The National Interest reported.
Still, the T-5000’s range has helped Russian forces in Ukraine “fix Ukrainian tactical formations by employing sniper teams en masse,” the 2016 Army report said.
The sniper teams “layer their assets in roughly three ranks with spacing determined by range of weapons systems and the terrain” with the “final rank [consisting] of highly trained snipers” with the best equipment, the report said.
They then “channelize movement of tactical formations and then direct artillery fire on prioritized targets.”
“Several sniper teams will work together to corral an enemy formation into a target area making delivery of indirect fire easy and devastating,” the report said. “Russian snipers also channelize units into ambushes and obstacles such minefields or armored checkpoints.”
The “capabilities of a sniper in a Russian contingent is far more advanced than the precision shooters U.S. formations have encountered over the last 15 years,” the report said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Israel is locked into an insane repetitive cycle with the Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-led government allows missiles to be fired from somewhere in Gaza in an attempt to hit something in Israel. It doesn’t matter if the missiles hit anything, Israel doesn’t play around. They hit back – hard.
Hamas has done it again. Just in time for the latest Israeli election, one that will see if embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can survive the latest corruption allegation levied against him. A long-range rocket fired from Gaza hit a neighborhood north of Tel Aviv. The attack wounded seven Israelis and forced Netanyahu to cut his visit to the United States short.
A factory burns in Sderot, Israel in 2014 during the last Hamas-Israeli War.
The timing is not random. Netanyahu was in the United States visiting President Donald Trump, a celebration of his recognition of the disputed Golan Heights as Israeli territory. In the hours following the rocket attack, Israeli warplanes already struck targets in Gaza, hitting military posts run by Hamas in the middle of the night. Israeli civilians are preparing for the worst in retaliation as bomb shelters open across the country.
Hamas-fired rockets can cause severe damage to whatever they hit, and the random targeting of civilians can be terrifying to the populace. As of Mar. 26, Hamas had fired some 30 or more rockets into Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome defense network intercepted a few of them, but most fell harmlessly in open fields.
A factory in Sderot, Israel burns after taking a direct hit from a Hamas-fired rocket from Gaza in 2014.
Egyptian authorities have tried to broker an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the various factions inside Gaza, but the Israel Defense Forces have already struck back. Aside from a few military posts, IDF planes and artillery have hit the offices of Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ public security offices, and Hamas training and military outposts in the largest and most expansive military response since the Israeli army entered Gaza in 2014.
The Marine veteran is a gold mine of experience and practicality. Marines are realists who call it like it is — and that can be a major advantage if you have a thick skin and a sense of humor.
Just ask us about the Legend of Wagner and the thing he loves.
Note: The Marine Infantryman is a particularly elusive breed. Companionship with outsiders is rare but does occur more often in post-service life. Their namesake is “03,” which is derived from the first two numbers of their MOS. They are fiercely loyal and take care of their own.
1. You won’t find a better drinking buddy
All Marines can trace their lineage back to a common birthplace of Tun Tavern. Our cultural traditions involve copious amounts of alcohol and an occasionally shaky moral compass. When you’re the tip of the spear, party like it.
2. They’re prepared for anything
Marines have a plan for zombies, the apocalypse, and natural disasters. Personally, I have a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher in my car. It’s better to have than have-not in an emergency, even if it’s basic.
3. They pay attention to detail, all the time
Marines are very good at cleaning. It’s almost like it was drilled into them or something…
4. They are unparalleled travel companions
Marines like to show off how savvy they can be while off the grid. They have the innate ability to find the best food, lodging, and parties. Actual survival techniques may vary.
5. They want you to succeed
Veterans are a cut from a different cloth of society. Marines are honest — albeit indelicate — when stating the facts, but it comes from a good place. When people want to see you fail, they’ll do it in silence. If you need a kick in the ass to get your sh*t together, Marine buddies will provide it.
6. Marines love comedy
When life gets rough, all you can do is laugh. So, Marines laugh a lot. Rest assured that if you tell a Marine a dark joke, no judgment will be passed. However, prepare yourself for one of our own, because it’s going to change your life.
[Slays in Marine humor]
7. They’re great with animals
Our pets have better healthcare than we do. We’ll do anything to keep our little buddies healthy and happy. When shown compassion or leadership, animals have been known to join a wild pack of patrolling Marines.
8. Marines are romantic
Marines excel at two things: fighting wars and making babies. Anyone who has deployed can testify to a newfound appreciation for the opposite sex. They’re going to make the most out of every opportunity to get lost in the throes of passion.
Plane turrets got their combat debut in World War II but were nearly obsolete by the time the war ended as jet planes could fly too fast for most gunners to hit them.
Most turrets were scrapped after the war, but one enthusiast in Georgia is collecting those that survived and restoring them to working conditions.
In his workshop in Georgia, Fred Bieser has thousands of turret parts and, as of 2013 when this video was shot, had restored seven turrets. Most of them are kept in his workshop, but some have gone on display at military museums.
In this video from Tested, Bieser takes a video crew through his workshop and shows the guts of turrets and how they worked.
The video includes a lot of cool history on turrets, like how pilots worked with gunners to ensure accuracy and how Britain and America used different technologies for power and control.
A Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) operative, Yanjun Xu, aka Qu Hui, aka Zhang Hui, has been arrested and charged with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and steal trade secrets from multiple U.S. aviation and aerospace companies. Xu was extradited to the United States yesterday.
The charges were announced today by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Benjamin C. Glassman, Assistant Director Bill Priestap of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, and Special Agent in Charge Angela L. Byers of the FBI’s Cincinnati Division.
Eyebrows were raised when the designs for the Chinese J-31 surfaced and it looked a lot like the American F-35 Lightning II (pictured above)
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. N.W. Huertas)
“This indictment alleges that a Chinese intelligence officer sought to steal trade secrets and other sensitive information from an American company that leads the way in aerospace,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “This case is not an isolated incident. It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense. We cannot tolerate a nation’s stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower. We will not tolerate a nation that reaps what it does not sow.”
“Innovation in aviation has been a hallmark of life and industry in the United States since the Wright brothers first designed gliders in Dayton more than a century ago,” said U.S. Attorney Glassman. “U.S. aerospace companies invest decades of time and billions of dollars in research. This is the American way. In contrast, according to the indictment, a Chinese intelligence officer tried to acquire that same, hard-earned innovation through theft. This case shows that federal law enforcement authorities can not only detect and disrupt such espionage, but can also catch its perpetrators. The defendant will now face trial in federal court in Cincinnati.”
“This unprecedented extradition of a Chinese intelligence officer exposes the Chinese government’s direct oversight of economic espionage against the United States,” said Assistant Director Priestap.
Yanjun Xu is a Deputy Division Director with the MSS’s Jiangsu State Security Department, Sixth Bureau. The MSS is the intelligence and security agency for China and is responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence, and political security. MSS has broad powers in China to conduct espionage both domestically and abroad.
Xu was arrested in Belgium on April 1, pursuant to a federal complaint, and then indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Ohio. The government unsealed the charges today, following his extradition to the United States. The four-count indictment charges Xu with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets.
According to the indictment:
Beginning in at least December 2013 and continuing until his arrest, Xu targeted certain companies inside and outside the United States that are recognized as leaders in the aviation field. This included GE Aviation. He identified experts who worked for these companies and recruited them to travel to China, often initially under the guise of asking them to deliver a university presentation. Xu and others paid the experts’ travel costs and provided stipends.
A gavel sits on display in a military courtroom Jan. 29, 2014, at Dover Air Force Base.
(USAF photo by Airman 1st Class William Johnson)
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. Every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.
The maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy and attempt to commit economic espionage is 15 years of incarceration. The maximum for conspiracy and attempt to commit theft of trade secrets is 10 years. The charges also carry potential financial penalties. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, a defendant’s sentence will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
This investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Cincinnati Division, and substantial support was provided by the FBI Legal Attaché’s Office in Brussels. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in obtaining and coordinating the extradition of Xu, and Belgian authorities provided significant assistance in securing the arrest and facilitating the surrender of Xu from Belgium.
Assistant Attorney General Demers and U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the investigation of this case by the FBI and the assistance of the Belgian authorities in the arrest and extradition of Xu. Mr. Demers and Mr. Glassman also commended the cooperation of GE Aviation throughout this investigation. The cooperation and GE Aviation’s internal controls protected GE Aviation’s proprietary information.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy S. Mangan and Emily N. Glatfelter of the Southern District of Ohio, and Trial Attorneys Thea D. R. Kendler and Amy E. Larson of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has told domestic entrepreneurs that the collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal would have “very dangerous consequences” for the country.
“We can talk the deal up, or talk it down. But we should know that a failure of the deal will have very dangerous consequences for us,” Zarif told a meeting of entrepreneurs at the Iranian Chamber of Commerce in Tehran on June 24, 2018.
“This is certainly not the [Iranian political] system’s choice,” said Zarif, who helped write the landmark deal with six global powers.
Zarif did not specify what the damages would be, but he said a failure of the deal could leave Iran politically isolated.
U.S. President Donald Trump in May 2018 pulled his country out of the landmark nuclear deal that provided Iran with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Trump said he was unhappy with the terms of the deal and with Iran’s continued testing of ballistic missiles and its support for militants in the Middle East.
Iran has denied it backs insurgents in the region and said its nuclear program was only for civilian purposes.
Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia also signed the deal and have pledged to remain in the accord.
However, many companies have pulled out of Iran for fear of being hit by U.S. sanctions if they do business with Tehran.
Iran has been negotiating with European Union leaders and other officials in hopes of keeping the deal alive and of receiving economic assurances.
President Hassan Rohani is expected to visit Switzerland and Austria in July as part of Tehran’s efforts to ensure continued European support for the deal.
A recent ambush of British special operations forces in Mosul reportedly required hand-to-hand combat for survival.
Military sources told The Daily Star on July 2 that an intelligence gathering operation by Special Air Service personnel in Iraq turned into a firefight with roughly 50 ISIS terrorists. Over 30 were killed near a riverbed before the British troops ran out of ammunition.
“They knew that if they were captured, they would be tortured and decapitated,” a source told the Star. “Rather than die on their knees, they went for a soldier’s death and charged the ISIS fighters who were moving along the river bed. They were screaming and swearing as they set about the terrorists.”
The Daily Star reported that the SAS operators had roughly 10 rounds between them, so they charged the ISIS bad guys with knives, bayonets and improvised weapons.
One terrorist was reportedly drowned in a puddle by an operator.
“[The warfighter] then picked up a stone and smashed it into the face of another gunman wrestling with one of his colleagues,” the source said. “Another killed three of the fighters by using his assault rifle as a club. Others were stabbing at the gunmen who wanted to capture the British troops alive.”
The team, all suffering injuries, eventually met up with Kurdish allies after the remaining ISIS fighters fled.
On July 7, 1919, a group of U.S. military members dedicated Zero Milestone — the point from which all road distances in the country would be measured — just south of the White House lawn in Washington, D.C. The next morning, they helped to define the future of the nation.
Instead of an exploratory rocket or deep-sea submarine, these explorers set out in 42 trucks, five passenger cars and an assortment of motorcycles, ambulances, tank trucks, mobile field kitchens, mobile repair shops and Signal Corps searchlight trucks. During the first three days of driving, they managed just over five miles per hour. This was most troubling because their goal was to explore the condition of American roads by driving across the U.S.
Participating in this exploratory party was U.S. Army Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although he played a critical role in many portions of 20th-century U.S. history, his passion for roads may have carried the most significant impact on the domestic front. This trek, literally and figuratively, caught the nation and the young soldier at a crossroads.
Returning from World War I, Ike was entertaining the idea of leaving the military and accepting a civilian job. His decision to remain proved pivotal for the nation. By the end of the first half of the century, the roadscape — transformed with an interstate highway system while he was president — helped remake the nation and the lives of its occupants.
For Ike, though, roadways represented not only domestic development but also national security. By the early 1900s it become clear to many administrators that petroleum was a strategic resource to the nation’s present and future.
At the start of World War I, the world had an oil glut since there were few practical uses for it beyond kerosene for lighting. When the war was over, the developed world had little doubt that a nation’s future standing in the world was predicated on access to oil. “The Great War” introduced a 19th-century world to modern ideas and technologies, many of which required inexpensive crude.
Prime movers and national security
During and after World War I, there was a dramatic change in energy production, shifting heavily away from wood and hydropower and toward fossil fuels – coal and, ultimately, petroleum. And in comparison to coal, when utilized in vehicles and ships, petroleum brought flexibility as it could be transported with ease and used in different types of vehicles. That in itself represented a new type of weapon and a basic strategic advantage. Within a few decades of this energy transition, petroleum’s acquisition took on the spirit of an international arms race.
Even more significant, the international corporations that harvested oil throughout the world acquired a level of significance unknown to other industries, earning the encompassing name “Big Oil.” By the 1920s, Big Oil’s product – useless just decades prior – had become the lifeblood of national security to the U.S. and Great Britain. And from the start of this transition, the massive reserves held in the U.S. marked a strategic advantage with the potential to last generations.
As impressive as the U.S.’ domestic oil production was from 1900-1920, however, the real revolution occurred on the international scene, as British, Dutch and French European powers used corporations such as Shell, British Petroleum and others to begin developing oil wherever it occurred.
During this era of colonialism, each nation applied its age-old method of economic development by securing petroleum in less developed portions of the world, including Mexico, the Black Sea area and, ultimately, the Middle East. Redrawing global geography based on resource supply (such as gold, rubber and even human labor or slavery) of course, was not new; doing so specifically for sources of energy was a striking change.
When the war broke out, military strategy was organized around horses and other animals. With one horse on the field for every three men, such primitive modes dominated the fighting in this “transitional conflict.”
Throughout the war, the energy transition took place from horsepower to gas-powered trucks and tanks and, of course, to oil-burning ships and airplanes. Innovations put these new technologies into immediate action on the horrific battlefield of World War I.
It was the British, for instance, who set out to overcome the stalemate of trench warfare by devising an armored vehicle that was powered by the internal combustion engine. Under its code name “tank,” the vehicle was first used in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. In addition, the British Expeditionary Force that went to France in 1914 was supported by a fleet of 827 motor cars and 15 motorcycles; by war’s end, the British army included 56,000 trucks, 23,000 motorcars and 34,000 motorcycles. These gas-powered vehicles offered superior flexibility on the battlefield.
Government airplane manufactured by Dayton-Wright Airplane Company in 1918.
In the air and sea, the strategic change was more obvious. By 1915, Britain had built 250 planes. In this era of the Red Baron and others, primitive airplanes often required that the pilot pack his own sidearm and use it for firing at his opponent. More often, though, the flying devices could be used for delivering explosives in episodes of tactical bombing. German pilots applied this new strategy to severe bombing of England with zeppelins and later with aircraft. Over the course of the war, the use of aircraft expanded remarkably: Britain, 55,000 planes; France, 68,0000 planes; Italy, 20,000; U.S., 15,000; and Germany, 48,000.
With these new uses, wartime petroleum supplies became a critical strategic military issue. Royal Dutch/Shell provided the war effort with much of its supply of crude. In addition, Britain expanded even more deeply in the Middle East. In particular, Britain had quickly come to depend on the Abadan refinery site in Persia, and when Turkey came into the war in 1915 as a partner with Germany, British soldiers defended it from Turkish invasion.
When the Allies expanded to include the U.S. in 1917, petroleum was a weapon on everyone’s mind. The Inter-Allied Petroleum Conference was created to pool, coordinate and control all oil supplies and tanker travel. The U.S. entry into the war made this organization necessary because it had been supplying such a large portion of the Allied effort thus far. Indeed, as the producer of nearly 70 percent of the world’s oil supply, the U.S.’ greatest weapon in the fighting of World War I may have been crude. President Woodrow Wilson appointed the nation’s first energy czar, whose responsibility was to work in close quarters with leaders of the American companies.
Infrastructure as a path to national power
When the young Eisenhower set out on his trek after the war, he deemed the party’s progress over the first two days “not too good” and as slow “as even the slowest troop train.” The roads they traveled across the U.S., Ike described as “average to nonexistent.” He continued:
“In some places, the heavy trucks broke through the surface of the road and we had to tow them out one by one, with the caterpillar tractor. Some days when we had counted on sixty or seventy or a hundred miles, we could do three or four.”
Eisenhower’s party completed its frontier trek and arrived in San Francisco, California on Sept. 6, 1919. Of course, the clearest implication that grew from Eisenhower’s trek was the need for roads. Unstated, however, was the symbolic suggestion that matters of transportation and of petroleum now demanded the involvement of the U.S. military, as it did in many industrialized nations.
The emphasis on roads and, later, particularly on Ike’s interstate system was transformative for the U.S.; however, Eisenhower was overlooking the fundamental shift in which he participated. The imperative was clear: Whether through road-building initiatives or through international diplomacy, the use of petroleum by his nation and others was now a reliance that carried with it implications for national stability and security.
Seen through this lens of history, petroleum’s road to essentialness in human life begins neither in its ability to propel the Model T nor to give form to the burping plastic Tupperware bowl. The imperative to maintain petroleum supplies begins with its necessity for each nation’s defense. Although petroleum use eventually made consumers’ lives simpler in numerous ways, its use by the military fell into a different category entirely. If the supply was insufficient, the nation’s most basic protections would be compromised.
After World War I in 1919, Eisenhower and his team thought they were determining only the need for roadways — “The old convoy,” he explained, “had started me thinking about good, two lane highways.”
At the same time, though, they were declaring a political commitment by the U.S. And thanks to its immense domestic reserves, the U.S. was late coming to this realization. Yet after the “war to end all wars,” it was a commitment already being acted upon by other nations, notably Germany and Britain, each of whom lacked essential supplies of crude.