During the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet pulled into port on a mission to negotiate the release several POWs from British forces. Before a deal could be reached, the British started bombing the city of Baltimore, restricting Key’s access to the fort. Key witnessed the devastation of the battle and documented the events in a poem — which we know today as our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The song grew in popularity, often playing at public events and various celebrations throughout the nation.
Fast forward to 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered Key’s song to play during the each raising of the flag at the beginning of the day.
Soon after America entered WWI, Major League Baseball started to feature a variety patriotic rituals like pregame military drills.
During game one of the 1918 World Series, the players took their traditional seventh-inning stretch, and a band started to play the anthem. The song caused the Cubs and Red Sox to stand at attention and face the centerfield flag pole.
The crowd stood on their feet and sang along to the anthem — applauding afterward. Since the song had gotten such positive feedback, the band continued to play the tune during the next few games.
Once the series moved to Boston, the anthem was played at the beginning of the game under the Red Sox owner’s request. In March 1931, the patriotic song passed through congress, confirming it as America’s official national anthem.
President Herbert Hoover signed the document, and the tradition spread throughout the major sporting events. Now, it’s hard to imagine a baseball game without the national anthem!
Air Force officials have been warning about the force’s dire pilot shortage, and a recent Government Accountability Office report illustrates just how bad the shortfall has gotten.
The report assesses the gaps between the actual number of fighter pilots that the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy have and the number of positions they are authorized to have.
Each service branch reported fighter-pilot shortages that have grown worse in recent years. “Service officials attributed these gaps to aircraft readiness challenges, reduced training opportunities, and increased attrition of fighter pilots due to career dissatisfaction,” the report says.
The Air Force had at least 92% of its fighter-pilot positions filled between 2006 and 2010, an 8% gap, and 104% of what it needed in 2011, a 4% surplus. But the gap has grown since 2012 and is currently the biggest of the three military branches, at 27%.
The Air Force, which has undertaken a number of training and retention initiatives, projected its shortfall to last through fiscal year 2023.
Growing shortfalls and falling retention
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Each branch has different levels at which the difference between authorized positions and actual staff levels becomes a shortage. Air Force officials told the GAO that “their established practice is that pilot communities with less than 100 percent of authorizations are considered to be insufficiently staffed.”
Changing authorization levels led to an excess in some Air Force career fields in 2011, but an increase in authorized positions in the past few years has led to a growing shortfall among fighter pilots — from 192, or 5% of authorized positions, that year to 1,005, or 27% of authorized positions, in 2017. (The Air Force said at the end of 2017 that its total shortage was “around 2,000” pilots.)
“According to briefing documents prepared by the Air Force, this gap is concentrated among fighter pilots with fewer than 8 years of experience,” the report notes.
Air Force officials told the GAO that between 2006 and 2017, “fighter pilot gaps were generally limited to non-operational positions, such as staff assignments at Air Force headquarters or combatant commands.”
But the GAO also found that the Air Force had been unable to fill all its operational positions since fiscal year 2014, with the gap between the operational positions it needed to fill and the actual staffing levels it had growing from 39 pilots, or 1% of authorizations, in 2014 to 399 pilots, or 13%, in 2017.
Several factors have contributed to these shortfalls, in particular reductions to overall active-duty military end strength.
Service officials said that personnel reductions after the 2008 drawdown in Iraq and cuts to funding stemming from the 2011 Budget Control Act both helped reduce the number of fighter pilots in the military.
The Air Force shed 206 fighter pilots in order to meet initial demand for pilots of unmanned aerial systems in 2011 and 2012 and then lost 54 more to early-retirement incentives in 2014 and 2015. That was compounded by changes to force structure — the decline in active and reserve Air Force fighter squadrons from 134 in 1989 to 55 in 2017 has reduced the opportunities newly trained pilots have to gain flying experience.
These factors have helped create a bottleneck in the Air Force’s training pipeline. The service has more pilots entering than it has resources to train. According to the GAO report, between 2006 and 2017 the Air Force trained 12% fewer new fighter pilots than its target amount.
“Fighter pilots told us that the need to prioritize the staffing of experienced pilots to deploying squadrons has limited the number of experienced personnel available to train newer pilots at home stations,” the report says.
A fighter pilot needs about five years of training to be qualified to lead flights, which costs between about $3 million to $11 million depending on the type of aircraft they’re being trained to fly, according to Air Force officials.
Those training issues are exacerbated by the reduction in aircraft, as longer maintenance times for legacy aircraft, like the F-16 or F-15, leave fewer aircraft available for training. (A shortage of maintainer crew members has also hamstrung the Air Force, though it has made progress adding more of those personnel.)
The services have also struggled to retain pilots.
The GAO found that the number of Air Force pilots signing retention contracts fell from 63% in 2013 to 35% in 2017 — despite the service increasing its maximum aviation bonus contract to $225,000 at the start of 2013, which was the highest amount offered by any of the military service branches.
Officials from the service branches told the GAO they had used various tactics to address their pilot shortfalls, including longer and more frequent deployments, putting senior pilots in junior positions, and “prioritizing staffing fighter pilots to flying positions that require fighter pilot-specific technical skills.”
The service branches has also tried to compensate for fighter-pilot shortages by drawing on pilots from other career fields.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
The Air Force, for example, has drawn on mobility pilots — those that fly cargo and refueling aircraft — to fill instructor roles for basic training to free up fighter pilots for duties elsewhere.
But fliers and squadron leaders told the GAO that these measures have had deleterious effects. Pilots and squadron leaders also said that some of these efforts to mitigate pilot shortages had helped drive down retention
A high operational tempo has limited the opportunities senior pilots have to train with junior pilots, which in turn limits the opportunities the service branches have to grow the number of pilots with specific qualifications. This also cuts into the services’ ability to rebuild readiness. Air Force officials said “high deployment rates … have resulted in less time for squadrons to complete their full training requirements because high deployment rates mean that there are fewer aircraft available for training at home stations.”
Moreover, increasing individual deployments undercut family stability, pilots said, affecting satisfaction with their careers.
The Air Force has taken steps to mitigate the effects the pilot shortage has had on pilots’ quality of life.
It has stood up teams dedicated to finding and implementing dozens of initiatives to reduce the fighter-pilot shortage.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
“For example, as the result of one initiative, 126 contractors have been placed in fighter squadrons to assist with administrative tasks and reduce workload for fighter pilots,” the GAO notes.
Air Force training squadrons have also taken steps to better apportion resources, including consolidating instructors among training units and altering the training process and syllabus, according to a February 2018 report by Aviation Week, but those shifts still put a strain on pilots and aircraft and represented “a leap into the unknown” for the units.
The GAO report also noted that the service branches had not reevaluated fighter-squadron requirements to reflect change conditions, the increased workload, and the effects of the increasing use of unmanned aircraft.
“Air Force officials told us that metrics that inform squadron requirements … have not been increased because the Air Force is instead prioritizing the effort to recapitalize its fleet of fighter aircraft,” the report said, adding that officials said they were also reassessing fighter-pilots’ nonoperational requirements, focusing on finding which ones could be reassigned to other pilots.
The report made recommendations for each branch, advising the Air Force to reevaluate those squadron requirements, “to include updating current assumptions of fighter pilot workload, and assessing the impact of future incorporation of [unmanned aerial systems] platforms into combat aviation.”
Eugene Taylor remembers how eager enlisted airmen like him were to fly.
Taylor, who enlisted in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam, first worked as an avionics technician. Nearly a decade later, Taylor, a tech sergeant, became a T-37 and T-38 flight simulator instructor with the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. He became so adept that he was occasionally given the chance to fly the T-38, with permission from the pilot, during stateside flights.
It has been decades since enlisted airmen had the chance to sit in the cockpit. But as the Air Force faces the greatest pilot shortages since its inception, service leaders are contemplating a return to a model that includes enlisted pilots. A Rand Corp. study, set to be completed this month, is exploring the feasibility of bringing back a warrant officer corps for that purpose. And another, separate Air Force study is examining, in part, whether enlisted pilots could benefit from new high-tech training that leverages artificial intelligence and simulation.
With these moves, the Air Force is inching just a few steps closer to someday getting enlisted airmen back in the cockpit, on a formal basis, for the first time since World War II.
“We have enlisted airmen in our Guard and reserve component who have private pilot’s licenses and fly for the airlines. So it’s not a matter of can they do it, or hav[ing] the smarts or the capability, it’s just a matter of us, as an Air Force, deciding that that’s a route that we want to take,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright, the 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.
Military.com sat down with the service’s top enlisted leader in February 2018, to talk about enlisted aviators and reinstituting the warrant officer program.
“It’s something we walked away from years ago, and I won’t say that we haven’t been willing to relook at [it],” Wright said, of having enlisted pilots. “It’s nothing that we can’t overcome.”
Creating a Cadre
Wright noted there may be a few bumps in the road before an enlisted cadre could be instituted.
The main challenge would be to structure an appropriate career development path for the airmen, answering questions regarding when and how they would promote and when they would rotate to a new squadron. Wright said thus far officers “naturally float” to a flight commander or squadron commander from base to base, according to a system that has been in place for decades, but questioned whether the same system would work for enlisted pilots.
Additionally, the service would have to study whether enlisted airmen should be granted the right to employ weapons from an aircraft.
“Whether it’s manned or unmanned, if there’s an enlisted airman that’s going to be flying and employing weapons, it requires certain authorities we would have to get by,” Wright said.
For example, enlisted airmen are currently only authorized to be remotely piloted aircraft pilots on the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, a surveillance-only platform.
Photo courtesy of Eugene Taylor
“That’s just part of our age-old doctrine, that the employment of weapons, that the authority and responsibility lies with officers,” he said.
Reinstituting the warrant officer program could also help leaders decide on acceptable policies that would “determine if it makes us a more lethal and ready fighting force,” Wright said.
“What this is about is not just aviation or flying — it’s about maintaining the technical expertise,” Wright said. “In some cases, having warrant officers will allow us retain that talent and keep those folks doing what they love.”
The Air Force in the past has commissioned studies to look into bringing back warrant officers, with another study from RAND, a nonprofit institution that provides research and analysis studies on public policy, on the way.
“The Air Force is partnering with RAND for a study on the feasibility of warrant officers and we are projecting a completion by the end of March 2018,” Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Kathleen Atanasoff told Military.com.
February 2018, the Air Force began a separate study on whether it could benefit from someday allowing enlisted pilots.
Air Education and Training Command said the study, called the pilot training next initiative, explores how pilots can learn and train faster “by using existing and emerging technologies that can decrease the time and cost of training,” but with the same depth of understanding to produce quality pilots.
That includes using virtual reality simulation and A.I. to get airmen in an aircraft faster, with the potential of expanding the streamlined training.
The study is expected to conclude in August, in hopes of advancing all 20 students in the program: 15 officers and five enlisted airmen.
Foundation of Skills
Taylor, the Vietnam-era airman, served in the 341X1 career field for T-37 and T-38 trainers, which would quickly disappear once the Air Force reasoned enlisted personnel were needed elsewhere.
Once airmen were taught scenarios in a classroom, they would go to him to practice the maneuvers in the simulator.
“I was one of those people as an enlisted instructor, and it was the best job I ever had,” Taylor said in a recent interview with Military.com.
Through months of simulation tech school paired with his past experience working on planes, Taylor had gained the skills he needed to know the aircraft. Taylor’s instructor career field, however, dissolved only a year later, and he moved back into avionics at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. But he remembers his “flight time” and experience with the T-37 and T-38 fondly.
“As a master avionics superintendent, I did get to fly in the back seat of the [T-38] aircraft six times to perform aircraft maintenance at off-station sites,” he said. “I told the pilot that I was a flight simulator instructor pilot at Vance. And when I flew, the pilot would say, ‘You know how to fly this, you do it.’ So, I would,” Taylor said.
Taylor recalled flying the aircraft from Columbus to MacDill Air Force Base,Florida.
“I [then] repaired another T-38 from our base and flew the aircraft back to Columbus. The pilot made the takeoff and landing on both legs of the flight, but I did all radio calls, and navigation,” he said.
Taylor would fly similar routes twice more with the same pilot.
“So yes, enlisted people can definitely perform the job,” he said.
According to a1992 paper for the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute, the 341X1 and 341X2 career fields, born out of very early service ideals that enlisted members should work side-by-side with officer pilots, were Analog and Digital Trainer Specialists. The fields were part of the larger Aircrew Training Devices 34XXX specialty.
“The contributions of the enlisted men and women in the training devices career field were great,” noted the paper, written by Air Force student Senior Master Sgt. G. A. Werhs of the Senior Noncomissioned Officer Academy. “From its very beginning in 1939 until its end in the late 80s, [the 34XXX] was [an] entirely enlisted career field. All maintenance and operations were performed by highly skilled personnel. Every aircraft in the Air Force inventory had a simulator associated with it and enlisted members were there to operate and maintain it.
“[H]ow many people realize that for nearly 50 years those pilots received much of the initial training on the ground from enlisted soldiers and airmen[?]” Werhs asked.
Taylor suggested the career field closed because the service didn’t want enlisted troops to get to that next level: flying among officers. The service, he said, also had an abundance of pilots at the time.
“The Vietnam War had wound down, so they had more pilots than the Air Force needed,” Taylor said. “By taking away the enlisted instructors, it let them use the pilots that were qualified to fly the T-38 instead of kicking them out of the service.”
But there are many who believe that enlisted airmen, in some capacity, deserve the chance to once again get up in the air.
Rooted in History
Before the Air Force became a breakout service independent of the Army, enlisted pilots were known as “flying sergeants,” receiving a promotion to staff sergeant once they completed pilot training.
Enlisted pilots, in one form or another, date back to 1912. But it wasn’t until 1941, when Congress passed the the Air Corps Act of 1926 and Public Law 99, that enlisted troops were able to receive qualified training.
“We never thought about whether we wanted to be an enlisted pilot or an officer pilot,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward Wenglar, a former enlisted pilot. “We just wanted to be pilots, and we would gladly have stayed privates forever just to have the chance to fly,” Wenglar said in a 2003 service release.
Wenglar, who served overseas during World War II, holds the distinction of “achieving the highest rank of any former enlisted pilot,” according to the Air Force. He died in 2011.
Photo courtesy of Eugene Taylor
During World War II, whoever was in the cockpit got grandfathered in and could remain flying. But in 1942, the passage of the Flight Officer Act meant new enlisted recruits no longer got the chance to fly.
The act, Public Law 658, replaced the program’s sergeant pilot rank with the warrant officer rank.
When the Air Force was created in 1947 out of the Army Air Forces, it would bring more than 1,000 legacy warrant officers in. The service stopped the program in 1959, the same year it created the senior and chief master sergeant ranks. The last warrant officer would retire from active duty in 1980.
With more than 3,000 enlisted sergeant pilots throughout the service’s history, 11 of them would become generals and 17 would become flying aces, according to information from the Air Force. More than 150 enlisted pilots would be killed in action.
“Our careers as enlisted pilots made us better men and gave us opportunities later in the civilian world that we never would have been offered,” Wenglar said in 2003.
New Focus on Warrant Officers
“If the Air Force is so very concerned about the pilot shortage, they should consider warrant officers in … the transport pilot, flight engineer, boom operator and drone pilot fields,” said Will Stafford, a former staff sergeant with similar maintenance, tech and simulator experiences as Taylor.
While in the Air Force in the 1970s and 80s, Stafford, outside of his military duties, would fly smaller aircraft such as Cessna 310s, Beechcraft Model 18s and some Douglas DC-3s. On his own, he would eventually become qualified “on 25 different makes and models of fixed-wing aircraft,” he told Military.com.
“If the [Air Force] wants their veteran airmen and airwomen to return, then they had better look at how it has squandered the talent, training and dedication that many of us had, and make some serious changes, beginning with the restart of the warrant officer corps,” Stafford said, referencing the Air Force’s initiative to bring back retirees into staff-rated positions to balance out the ongoing pilot shortage.
“This is cost-effective, and many professional fully-rated civilian pilots who have military experience would have no problem,” he said.
Stafford has tried, unsuccessfully, to start a White House petition on Whitehouse.org to get the administration’s attention about reinstituting the warrant officer corps. He has even tried to petition the Air Force directly by writing to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who Stafford got the chance to meet and work with when Schwartz was just a captain.
Schwartz told Stafford it just wasn’t in the Air Force’s plans.
Key Decisions Ahead
Wright says the new RAND study may give him and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein fresh perspectives.
“We have to be smart about this, right?” Wright said. “This can’t just be, ‘Oh, this is nice to have.’ We have to know exactly what we’re buying [into] and we have a plan to implement it.”
Wright said cost-benefit analysis would play into the decision.
“I’m looking to learn, and the boss [Goldfein] is looking to learn, again, that simple question: Will this make us a more lethal force? Will it make us more efficient?” Wright said.
“There is a chance through the RAND study and through some of our internal studies that the evidence reveals and the analysis reveals that warrant officers won’t move the needle that much,” he said.
While Wright said it’s hard to say when enlisted pilots or a warrant officer program may come back into the Air Force’s ranks, he believes the feat can be achieved in roughly five to 10 years.
“I think it would help would shortages in career fields, I think it would help with retention, I think it would help with career development.
“Now there’s nothing that says that, within our current system we can’t do that same thing. But if you’re asking me what the obvious benefits are,” he said, ” … I think it’s a good thing.”
The flat hats were made from dark blue wool and commonly featured an embroidered headband of the ship name the sailor belonged to on the front of the brim. Reportedly, that feature ended in January 1941 to make it harder for adversaries to learn the what U.S. ships were in port. The ship’s names were replaced with a U.S. Navy embroidery instead.
In 1866, a white sennet straw hat was authorized to be worn during the summer months to help shield the hardworking sailors from the bright sunlight.
But it wasn’t until 1886 where a high-domed, low rolled brim made of wedge-shaped pieces of canvas was written into uniform regulation.
Eventually, the canvas material was replaced by a cheaper, more comfortable cotton. This option became popular with the sailors who wore them as they could bend the cover to reflect their individual personality — and still be within regs.
It’s unclear exactly when the term “dixie cup” was coined, but since the popular paper product made its public debut in the early 1900s, it’s likely that’s when the term was coined.
Like any other profession, espionage is going to have its legends and its cautionary tales. Some spies are better than others. If you’re truly a great spy, then chances are good no one will ever know what you did or why. This list isn’t about effectiveness, this list is about methodology.
The six spies on this list experienced varying degrees of success or failure, depending on which side of the border the reader is seeing. How they went about their work is what’s most suspect. There’s a reason spy agencies check their employees’ bank accounts, psychological profiles, and alcohol use. Then there’s some spies who just can’t wait to get spying, and they have to flag down the car of the local foreign intelligence agency chief.
1. Adolf Tolkachev
Tolkachev was a great American asset for ten years of the Cold War, after he made contact with the CIA, that is. He managed to do this by leaving hand-written notes on cars with diplomatic license plates that happened to be parked near the American Embassy in Moscow. He even banged on the car of the CIA’s Moscow Station Chief.
It’s truly amazing that it took the KGB so long to catch Tolkachev in the act. In one day he was tried, convicted, and executed. In the end, it wasn’t his open hatred of the Soviet government or the notes he left on cars a decade before, it was CIA agents (either Edward Howard or Aldrich Ames) who outed him to the KGB. Speaking of which…
2. Aldrich Ames
This guy is probably the reason federal investigators look for certain trouble warnings in their investigations for security clearances. Ames was more of a “bumbling boob” than a master spy. He kept being promoted despite a series of drunken incidents, poor performance reviews, and insubordination. Unsure of how the CIA could allow this to happen? Think about your own job. Is everyone there 100 percent effective? Right.
In his nine years as a mole, Ames was able to ID at least twenty CIA operatives in the Soviet Union to the KGB. Many of those agents were executed as Ames lived a plush life on Soviet money, to the tune of some $4.6 million. This is why the Agency watches bank accounts, as Ames expenditures exceeded his monthly salary, he paid for a home and a Jaguar in cash, and started wearing very fine tailored suits. He is serving a life sentence with no parole.
3. Michael Bettaney
Bettaney was a British MI5 agent whose work was so awful and methods so crass, he was actually given up to the UK government by the Russians because they thought he was meant to be a crude sort of double agent.
An alcoholic who would regularly try to avoid the drunk tank by telling everyone he was a spy, Bettaney photographed MI5 documents and stored those photos in his home. He was scheduled to leave for Austria to sell the stuff when the Russians betrayed him.
Basically, this guy was the English version of Archer if Archer never succeeded in a mission.
That’s not the worst of it. Chapman and the 11 others in the spy ring failed in a lot of espionage basics. They conducted monetary and other transactions in broad daylight, kept their communications guidebook instead of memorizing it and burning it, and met directly with sources instead of using an intermediary.
5. Unnamed CIA Lady
This is the person who is responsible for spreading the idea that “enhanced interrogation techniques” (aka torture) are an effective method for getting information from suspects with links to terror cells. Still at the CIA, her name remains a mystery to most, but an NBC investigator found documented evidence this woman not only defended the practice, but enjoyed taking part in its implementation, even on innocent people.
She inaccurately reflected intelligence to CIA leadership who continued a program she knew to be ineffective. Does this not sound so bad? This woman’s name was also included in the 9/11 Commission’s report for not sharing testimony about two of the hijackers with the FBI — which the reports say was one of the critical failures of pre-9/11 intelligence.
6. Stewart David Nozette
Nozette was a space scientist with a very high security clearance. He was arrested in 2009 for being an agent of Israel, spying on the U.S. for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. Unfortunately, the Israelis never talked to Nozette. He was actually talking to the FBI the whole time. And they got it on tape.
Nozette worked for a number of aerospace companies in Israel which shared defense contracts with the U.S. He practically announced his intention to become a spy and attempted espionage for $11,000 (a paltry sum, considering what other spies, like Jonathan Pollard, received for their services).
Tension and confusion gripped a train platform in Russia’s far-eastern city of Vladivostok on April 23, 2019, when North Korean Kim Jong Un’s bullet-proof armored train pulled in for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Both Putin and Kim are known for making grand entrances and power moves like showing up late to meetings with world leaders. But Kim on April 23, 2019, appeared delayed due to a gaffe.
Kim arrived via train, as is his family’s custom and perhaps a clever way to avoid admitting his country has few working aircraft — but something was amiss.
When Kim’s train pulled into the station, it slightly overshot a red carpet laid out in advance for his big stepping-out moment.
While Kim maintains a horrific human rights record at home, he has been increasingly courted by world leaders looking to curb his country’s growing nuclear capabilities.
Apparently, Kim’s security detail found it unacceptable that he should walk on anything besides the red carpet, and had to stand there awkwardly holding a ramp while the train repositioned.
The meeting between Putin and Kim represents just the fourth official summit with a world leader for Kim. Putin, however, has met with most national leaders across Asia.
Russia and North Korea have historical ties of friendship, though the relations became strained during North Korea’s long nuclear breakout.
Upon arrival, Kim appeared to shake off any embarrassment from the train gaffe and quickly spoke to Russian media, a rare step from a leader who previously only spoke through North Korean state outlets.
Kim’s visit to Russia comes at a time when US-North Korean talks have stalled over a basic misunderstanding over the pacing of denuclearization steps and sanctions easing.
North Korea recently publicized the testing of a “tactical” weapon, potentially as a warning to the US that if talks collapse, missile launches and “fire and fury” could again become the norm.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Imagine, as a fighter pilot, being able to see your enemy without them knowing you’re even in the area. Sounds like some newfangled stealth capability you’d expect to come stock on a fifth generation fighter, like the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II, right?
But what if I were to tell you that the US Air Force possessed such a capability as far back as the early 1970s, far before the F-22 and concepts of its ilk were even on the minds of engineers who’d eventually design them? Heck, more than half of those engineers and designers were probably still finishing off college or hadn’t yet completed grade school.
Called the APX-80, but more popularly known by its codename, “Combat Tree”, this top secret technology was first equipped on McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom IIs, the US Air Force’s primary fighter-bomber aircraft. Today, we call the system involved “Non-Cooperative Target Recognition”, after having developed it for years. Back then, Combat Tree was a next-generation game-changer which would only be equipped on a select number of F-4Ds, which would fly in hunter/killer packs with other F-4Es (Phantoms built with internal rotary cannons). The precise details of how Combat Tree worked are still classified to this very day, but we do know, to an extent, how Phantom aircrews used it.
Instead of activating the powerful radar scanner in the nose of the Phantom, weapon systems officers (WSOs) in the rear cockpit of the fighter would use Combat Tree to look around the sky for specialized transponders built into enemy aircraft flown by the Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF; North Vietnam’s military aerial element). These transponders were actually designed to prevent friendly-fire incidents, where North Vietnamese ground-controlled interception (GCI) stations and surface-to-air missile (SAM) emplacements would accidentally target and hit friendly fighters in a bid to shoot down enemy American aircraft. Referred to as “IFF” transponders or (Identification Friend or Foe), these beacons would relay a code to scanners built into SAM and GCI search radar computers, allowing their crews to distinguish between their own fighters and marauding jets of the USAF, US Navy and Marine Corps.
Combat Tree would “challenge” or “interrogate” each transponder it came across, asking in return whether or not the aircraft mated to the transponder was allied or otherwise. As soon as Combat Tree ascertained the allegiance of the aircraft after receiving the automatic response from the VPAF MiG-21’s transponder (completely unbeknownst to the MiG’s pilot, mind you), it would accurately plot its quarry’s location on a display in the rear cockpit of the F-4, and open up the hunt for the pilot flying in the front seat of the Phantom. Conversely, using the Phantom’s radar would have likely tipped off enemy fighters that they were being “painted” or tracked by other aircraft in the sky, thus losing any edge of surprise that the American fighters would have previously owned. Not only did this make MiG interceptions by Phantoms “stealthier”, it also allowed F-4 pilots to engage VPAF MiG-21s at greater distances, beyond visual range (BVR).
Prior to the existence and fielding of Combat Tree, all US military fighter pilots operating in Vietnamese skies were forced to get closer to VPAF MiG fighters to gain a positive identification on enemy aircraft before attacking them. Since radar only determines whether or not there are other aircraft in the sky ahead of your own, a visual identification is required to figure out whose aircraft those are. While American F-4 Phantom IIs were much more technologically advanced, they were still less maneuverable within the parameters of a close-in dogfight than a MiG-21 or the older MiG-19, also flown by the VPAF. This led to frustratingly high loss rates for American fighters. Combat Tree exponentially enhanced the margin of safety for American pilots by allowing them to gain positive identifications without pushing them into envelopes which greatly favored North Vietnamese MiG drivers.
The North Vietnamese eventually wised up to the presence of such a technology, though, they didn’t quite know what it was or how it functioned. The VPAF’s ranking officers began noticing a sharp increase in attrition rates with their fighter forces, especially those that found themselves tangling with US Air Force fighter jets. Cells of MiG-21s were reportedly being engaged at distances never before seen during the war, and with deadly accuracy. Radio transmissions between pilots, intercepted by picket stations, were able to pinpoint the reason for the suddenly high MiG-loss rate the North Vietnamese were sustaining – their aircraft’s IFF transponders. The VPAF’s pilots were instructed, there on out, to only turn them on when absolutely necessary, but to otherwise fly without any IFF protection, making them vulnerable to their own surface-to-air missiles in addition to the threat posed by American fighters in the area of operations.
Combat Tree’s effectiveness as a device that allowed American pilots to own the first look/first shot/first kill advantage wasn’t completely diminished by this discovery, however. By the end of American involvement in Vietnam in 1975, Combat Tree had earned assists in a number of US Air Force kills against North Vietnamese aircraft. In fact, Combat Tree was was responsible for helping Air Force legends Richard “Steve” Ritchie and Charles “Chuck” DeBellevue reach ace status (achieving five confirmed kills) between May to September, 1972. Since the early 1970s, the APX-80, or at least the lessons learned from Combat tree, has likely been redeveloped and extensively modernized for use with America’s current fighter fleet. Combat Tree, in a way, can be considered the forerunner of the modern sensors you’d find today on an F-35 or the F-22, which allow the aircraft to “see” the enemy before they even enter the playing field.
Originally published on The Tactical Air Network in January 2017.
There are plenty of lofty quarantine goals going on right now. We stand firm that using this time to start marathon training, grab a new certification or simply up your nap game are all worthy endeavors. However, there is one thing which all service members should be checking in on right now: their benefits.
Beyond the paycheck, there’s plenty of benefits offered to military personnel that way too often go unutilized. The second we can all get back to “normal” life again is the second things like “use or lose days” and tuition assistance packets should be tossed into play. We’ve conveniently outlined everything you should square away while we all know you have the time.
Use or lose days
Americans have a weird unspoken tradition of taking pride in hoarding (and never using) vacation days. “Use or lose” refers to the unused vacation days service members accrue that are carried over into the next fiscal year. Anything above 60 days of leave “in the bank” will be slapped with an expiration date, which is when you either use them by a certain date or lose them. At 2.5 days per month earned, things can add up at high tempo locations.
We’re fiercely advocating to end that weirdness right now and mandating that you book a trip to go on before the end of the year once all the travel bans are lifted, get out, and enjoy the freedom you protect. A long weekend getaway, a surf trip, or a drive down the 101 highway are all exactly what you need to recharge and show back up to work even better than before.
Tuition assistance is one of the best benefits available to service members across multiple branches. It’s not the GI Bill and it’s not a loan. Plainly put, tuition assistance is a certain dollar amount you are eligible for per semester to use toward earning college credit.
Participating universities often offer flexible online courses that can accommodate for field training, deployments and occasionally give credit for military training courses you have already completed depending on your degree.
If you’re sitting on your couch, three years into active duty and haven’t used a penny, we suggest starting. Earning a degree slowly while on active duty, all without touching your GI Bill benefits is smart.
Pay changes after a PCS
Ok so this isn’t a benefit per se, but it’s a big mistake we see made way too often that can send your finances into a death spiral that is hard to recover from. Special pay options like hazard, jump, flight or any other hardship or incentive pay you’re receiving thanks to specific circumstances don’t always transfer with you from one PCS to another.
Knowing exactly what special pay benefits will or will not transfer with you in addition to the incoming new BAH and BAS rate you fall under is essential. Why? Because nothing is worse than earning an extra few hundred dollars each month, having the military find the mistake (they will) and then having it all taken from your next paycheck leaving you with next to nothing to cover your bills.
There is no such thing as tricking the military in terms of pay. Making a mistake with your pay will never be a “my bad” situation that you benefit from. Always know exactly what you should be paid, put in the correct paperwork to stop special pay, and meticulously check your LES statements to ensure the figures are correct.
Special programs for dependents
There’s enough out there in terms of programs, scholarships, grants, loans and more that it would take an entire other article (or three) to outline, so we’ll keep it brief. Just like service members, military dependents should investigate opportunities first before tackling any educational costs out of pocket.
The Army Emergency Relief rolled out an exciting new program offering up to ,500 that spouses can apply for toward professional relicensing expenses when they PCS. Also new from AER is a Child Care Assistance Program created to help offset areas with high living expenses at up to 0 per month per family in the few months after a PCS.
Military spouses are offered preference when applying for certain DoD and other governmental jobs, including working for USDA, US Fish and Wildlife jobs and more.
The bottom line here is that when the quarantine is over, we should all emerge smarter, stronger and ready to take charge of our lives. So check your benefits and make sure you’re getting all you can out of your paychecks.
Navy SEAL Lt. Thomas “Tommy” Norris and South Vietnamese naval commando Nguyễn Văn Kiệt pushed off from the shore in an abandoned sampan while dressed as Vietnamese fishermen. The pair were on an impossible mission to find Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, a US Air Force navigator who was shot down over Quang Tri Province and had been on the run from more than 30,000 North Vietnamese soldiers.
All previous rescue attempts had been failures — eight aircraft were shot down, 14 Americans killed, two of the rescue team captured, and two more missing in action. The largest search and rescue effort of the entire Vietnam War had dwindled down to the efforts of a handful of Navy commandos.
Two nights prior to their risky undercover paddle, Norris led a five-man patrol to rescue Lt. Mark Clark, a forward air controller who was shot down while searching for Hambleton.
Lt. Thomas Norris stands in the background at center as Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton (on stretcher) is taken to a waiting M113 armored personnel carrier to be evacuated. Photo courtesy of the US Department of Defense.
Clark had received a cryptic message that instructed him to float down the Cam Lo River: “When the moon goes over the mountains, make like Esther Williams and get in the Snake and float to Boston.” He needed to go to the river and head east.
As Norris moved toward the riverbank, he heard Clark’s heavy breathing before he spotted the downed pilot floating in the river. However, a North Vietnamese Army patrol was crossing the same area, forcing Norris to maintain cover and helplessly watch Clark float by. For the next two hours Norris searched the water for any signs of the missing aviator. At dawn — and 2,000 meters behind enemy lines — Norris and his team rendezvoused with the American pilot and brought him safely back to a forward operating base. That protection lasted only hours as they were hit with mortars and rockets that decimated their South Vietnamese partners, cutting down the force by nearly half.
Hambelton had called airstrikes on NVA supply lines from his emergency radio while simultaneously evading capture. Hambelton’s health was fading fast after more than a week’s time on the run with little food and contaminated water in his stomach. After a forward air controller informed Norris that Hambelton was not hitting his calls on a time schedule and when he did he barely could talk, Norris asked for volunteers. The only other commando that would join him on the one-way rescue mission was Kiệt. They were determined to not let Hambleton fall into the enemy’s hands.
Lt. Thomas R. Norris in Vietnam with Nguyen Van Kiet, the Vietnamese Sea Commando who accompanied him on the rescues of Clark and Hambleton. Kiet was awarded the Navy Cross for his role in this operation, the highest award the Navy can give to a foreign national. Photo courtesy of achievement.org.
Hambleton, a navigator by trade, was an avid golfer and could envision the layouts of golf courses in his mind. Knowing the NVA were monitoring their radios, the rescue planners ingeniously relayed cryptic messages as they had with Clark, but used navigation points of Hambleton’s favorite golf courses this time.
“You’re going to play 18 holes and you’re going to get in the Suwannee and make like Esther Williams and Charlie the Tuna,” Hambelton said in an interview. “The round starts on No. 1 at Tucson National.”
The No. 1 at Tucson National is 408 yards southeast, information only he would know, and he traveled that distance through enemy minefields to the river. Seeing the precise locations of the the water hazards or the fairways of his favorite golf courses in his mind acted as a mental compass through the jungles of Vietnam — and led him to a banana tree grove that provided some sustenance to his malnourished body.
Hambleton hugged the bank of the river for three long days and nights. Clinging to life, Hambleton saw two men paddling quietly up the river, both carrying AK-47s and dressed as fishermen. As the most-wanted man in the region, his first thought was to be afraid. And then his delirious focus noticed Norris’ eyes — an American. After 11 days on the run, Hambleton was helped into the bottom of the sampan and was covered in bamboo with instructions to lay motionless. Norris and Kiệt feared waiting until nightfall would worsen his condition, so they returned back the way they came.
Officials dedicated a 10-foot statue depicting Lt. Thornton carrying Lt. Norris on his shoulders during the facility’s 28th annual Muster reunion at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. The sculptor is Paul Moore of Norman, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of achievement.org.
They passed numerous NVA positions, tilting their heads away from the enemy’s menacing glares. When a suspected enemy machine gun position opened up on their boat, Kiệt pulled the sampan to the shore to conceal it behind some vegetation. Norris called in close air support, hoping to pin down the enemy and allow to get the rest of the way back to the FOB. The plan worked.
Norris had successfully rescued both Clark and Hambleton and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions between April 10 and April 13, 1972. Kiệt was one of two South Vietnamese soldiers to be awarded the Navy Cross during the war. The rescue even garnered Hollywood’s attention, and Gene Hackman took the role starring as Hambleton in the movie Bat*21.
Norris continued his military service in Vietnam and participated in a historic reconnaissance operation where he was shot in the head and eventually lost an eye while providing suppressive fire while his SEAL element retreated to the water for exfiltration. When Norris became too wounded to escape the ambush, another Navy SEAL named Mike Thornton, who later became a founding member of SEAL Team 6, charged through the onslaught of enemy fire back to Norris’s position and rescued him. This was only the third time in US military history that a Medal of Honor recipient rescued another Medal of Honor recipient.
The US Navy caught a Russian destroyer on video nearly colliding with a US warship in a dangerous close encounter at sea.
The Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov closed with the US Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville on June 7, 2019, putting the sailors on board at risk, the US 7th Fleet said in a statement.
The US Navy says the Russian vessel engaged in “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct at sea. Specifically, it “maneuvered from behind and to the right of Chancellorsville, accelerated, and closed to an unsafe distance of approximately 50-100 feet.”
The Russians are telling a different story, accusing the US Navy of suddenly changing course and cutting across the path of its destroyer. The US Navy has videos of the incident to back its narrative.
(1/2) USS Chancellorsville Avoids Collision with Russian Destroyer Udaloy I DD 572
Naval affairs expert Bryan Clark offered some clarity on just how risky this situation is, explaining that 50 feet to 100 feet for a destroyer is comparable to being inches from another car while barreling down the freeway.
“It’s really dangerous,” he told Business Insider. “Unlike a car, a ship doesn’t have brakes. So the only way you can slow down is by throwing it into reverse. It’s going to take time to slow down because the friction of the water is, of course, a lot less than the friction of the road. Your stopping distance is measured in many ship lengths.”
“When someone pulls a maneuver like that,” Clark added, “It’s really hard to slow down or stop or maneuver quickly to avoid the collision.”
(2/2) USS Chancellorsville Avoids Collision with Russian Destroyer Udaloy I DD 572
The Russian version of the story is that the US ship is to blame.
“The US guided-missile cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed course and cut across the path of the destroyer Admiral Vinogradov coming within 50 meters of the ship,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. “A protest over the international radio frequency was made to the commanders of the American ship who were warned about the unacceptable nature of such actions.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Did you go through U.S. Air Force BMT after the creation of the modern Air Force? Whether you passed through Lackland in 1947 or 1997, the Air Force is making your memories available online for all to see.
Not all of the flights are on the Air Force’s BMT Flight Photos Site just yet. The airmen charged to collect and post the photos have a huge backlog to get through and also don’t have access to all the historical flight photos. They’re relying on donations from former airmen to donate theirs to the cause.
They need high quality scanned images of your Air Force BMT Flight Photo. Ideally, the pictures can be sent via email to email@example.com. Photo images of pictures can be sent via U.S. mail to:
2320 Carswell Ave (Bldg 7065 Room 2)
Lackland AFB TX 78236-5155
For now, those curious about the history of Air Force basic training, uniforms, and/or culture can peruse through years and years of basic training photos from the 1940’s to today’s graduating airmen. It’s a fascinating look at the evolution of the Air Force, the Armed Forces of the United States, and — for that matter — the changing culture of America in general.
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.
It’s safe to say that the vast majority of troops and veterans today have seen the 1997 film, Starship Troopers. It’s an expertly crafted film and its tasteful use of special effects (for late 90s, anyway) was beyond astounding.
The film is terrific in its own right, but Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, upon which the movie is (loosely) based, elevated the science fiction genre and has a place on nearly every single required reading list created by the United States military. If you’re a young private in the Marines or a battalion commander in the Army, you will be asked to read this classic — and this is why.
In case you were wondering, these were the Skinnies. 10,000 of them were killed with only one human death.
Technically speaking, the film was originally based off an unrelated script for a film called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine until the production team realized that it only had a passing resemblance to the novel. This lead to many of the significant differences between the two and a drastic change of tone.
The adaptation of the original script to film lead to more of a statement on how propaganda affects the troops fighting in a war in a satirical manner. The novel, however, uses the Bugs as a stand-in character for some nameless enemy to focus in on the novel’s theme of the mindset of a soldier fighting a seemingly unstoppable force.
This is immediately made clear in the first paragraph of the novel.
“I always get the shakes before a drop. I’ve had the injections, of course, and hypnotic preparation, and
it stands to reason that I can’t really be afraid. The ship’s psychiatrist has checked my brain waves and
asked me silly questions while I was asleep and he tells me that it isn’t fear, it isn’t anything important —
it’s just like the trembling of an eager race horse in the starting gate.
I couldn’t say about that; I’ve never been a race horse. But the fact is: I’m scared silly, every time.”
Contrary to what you’d expect if you’ve only watched the film, they’re actually fighting a different alien than the Arachnids (at first.) The first enemies were called “skinnies” and were essentially just tall, lanky, human-like aliens that didn’t really cause a threat to the humans. Their entire Army is easily wiped out by just a single platoon but the prospect of war still frightened Johnny Rico, the stories protagonist.
Hate to break it to anyone expecting giant bug battles in the novel…but it’s fairly light on the fight scenes.
After the battle, the story flashes back to Rico’s time as a civilian before the Mobile Infantry. The idea of “service equals citizenship” had a different meaning in the novel. Despite the world being under the unified “Terran Federation,” the military and its veterans were treated as a higher caste than non-military people. You literally had to join the military to become a citizen.
This hyperbole was just as relevant in 1950’s society (as it is today in the military community). Despite the fact that signing up is a fantastic way to get benefits in our world, and definitely in the novel’s world, military service is often discouraged and looked down on — as demonstrated through Rico’s father.
The novel spends a lot of time in boot camp for the Mobile Infantry. It shows the deeper motivations about what it takes to be in the military — mainly the forced brotherhood, the “one team, one fight” mentality, and the loss of personal identity that comes with service. Which eventually leads to the “Bug War” when the Arachnids destroy Rico’s home city of Buenos Aires.
The novel also misattributes the quote “Come on, you ape, do you want to live forever” to an unknown platoon sergeant in 1918 — as if it wasn’t the greatest thing ever spoken by the greatest enlisted Marine of all time, Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly.
The troops are overzealous and believe they can handle it. Despite Rico being the only one personally affected by the attack, he’s also one of the only ones not to refer to the Arachnids as “bugs,” which was highly implied to have racial undertones. He instead keeps a level facade while remaining terrified. The first chapter happens around here. This is the exact mindset of many troops right before they’re sent to deploy.
When the Mobile Infantry arrives on Klendathu, it’s a complete disaster — the exact opposite of the battle with the skinnies. The Arachnids were massive and though the humans had the firepower, it was no match for the unstoppable numbers of their enemy.
Rico finally gets his chance to fight the Arachnids with the Rasczak’s Roughnecks. He and his men capture a Brain Bug and begin learning more about the “bug” society. It mirrored their own except the Warriors were the lowest caste fighting for an apathetic queen. Rico learns that aimlessly tossing troops at the problem would only result in more and more deaths.
The novel ends with a coda of the first chapter as Rico is about to make his drop onto Klendathu with confidence. He does this because he learned the value of military strategy — the one thing the Arachnids lacked.
Starship Troopers makes heavy parallels between the Mobile Infantry and Arachnids. It’s often incorrectly believed by casual readers, or those without knowledge of the military, that the novel promotes fascism and militarism — it doesn’t.
If anything, the novel explores the psyche of the troops as they head off into combat — it just utilizes an extreme science fiction setting to do it.