If there’s one group in the military that’s trained to survive in the most horrible conditions known to man, it’s the U.S. Navy SEALs. From the icy Arctic to humid jungles, SEALs are prepared for any kind of fight against the enemy at a moment’s notice. Sometimes, missions don’t go as planned, so troops need to ready for anything and expect the unexpected while outside of the wire. To that end, troops should carry a survival kit filled with everything they need to endure the night in a harsh, potentially hostile environment.
Although the kit doesn’t contain much food (SEALs can fend for themselves), it’s packed to the brim with the items necessary to keep you alive in an emergency.
This unique system contains over 25 different life-saving tools that can fit snuggly inside of your cargo pocket. Housed in a SUMA Container, the kit comes with an emergency blanket, leatherman, steel wire, button compass, and a signal mirror.
The container’s anodized finish makes cooking small meals over a campfire possible. The larger kit covers eight different survival essentials, like water purification, temporary shelter construction, and fire starting.
The kit was specially designed to be taken into rough areas and functions as a durable piece of gear for any warfighter or backpacker looking to explore the unknown.
Check out Black Scout Survival’s video below to watch a complete breakdown of the SEAL Team Six survival kit for yourself.
History has taught that dogfighting is a perishable skill. The United States found that out the hard way during the Vietnam War, when the decision to not preserve that skill in favor of a reliance on missiles like the AIM-7 Sparrow.
It didn’t work out well, and a number of Air Force and Navy pilots paid a dear price for that lack of training.
In the late stages of the Vietnam War, the Navy founded what became known as “Top Gun” to teach its pilots the art of the dogfight.
The Air Force set up its own aggressors as well. Planes like the McDonnell-Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, the Northrop F-5E/F Tiger, and the Northrop T-38 Talon were among the first used as adversaries, later joined by the Israeli F-21 Kfir, the Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon, and Boeing F/A-18 Hornets.
But the constant flying can be hard on those airframes. As a result, the Air Force has been turning to contractors to help them train the next generation of aces.
One of the contractors that could get the call is Draken International. The name should sound familiar – the company is named for the Saab J 35 Draken, the first plane the company bought, according to a representative manning the company’s booth at the AirSpaceCyber expo in National Harbor, Maryland.
Today, the company has a large fleet of planes. Some are familiar ones that have done aggressor duty, like the A-4 Skyhawk, of which Draken has 13 on hand. The company also has 27 MiG-21 Fishbed fighters – meaning an old adversary is now used as an aggressor.
According to handout obtained by WATM, the company also has at least 20 Dassault Mirage F1s, 21 L-159 Honey Badger advanced trainers, nine Aermacchi MB-339CB trainers, and five L-39 Albatros trainers.
The company currently provides support the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Lockheed’s F-35 test program, the French Navy, and the Air National Guard, among other entities. It not only provides dogfighting training, they also help training the crews of surface ships, including simulating missiles.
In short, these flying dragons are helping military personnel be ready for a dogfight. While not many of those have happened lately, one can never tell when those skills will be needed.
Back in May, the Army Times ran a piece announcing that the Army was officially looking to replace the M16 family of weapons and the 5.56mm cartridge with a weapon system that is both more reliable, and has greater range.
As the article states, they’re taking a hard look at “intermediate rounds,” or rounds with diameters between 6.5 and 7mm, that have greater range and ballistics than either the 5.56 x 45 or the 7.62 x 51, both of which are old and outdated compared to the crop of rounds that have sprung up in the last decade or so. The thinking is, with these newer rounds, you can easily match the superior stopping power of the 7.62 without sacrificing the magazine capacity afforded by the tiny 5.56 cartridge, while still giving troops better range and accuracy.
Coupled with a more reliable platform, preferably one that doesn’t jam up if you so much as think about sand getting in it, this could potentially be a game changer for the US Army.
Now, me personally, I think this is great. I’ve had a chance to play around with a couple of these intermediate calibers, and I quickly fell in love. I’m not one of those guys who despises the 5.56, because, for what it is, it’s not a bad little round. It’s got decent ballistics out to a decent range, and you can carry a lot of them. But, when you compare it to something like the 6.5 Creedmore, one of the rounds reportedly being considered as a replacement, it’s like comparing a Mazda Miata to a Lamborghini Aventador.
And hey, a new rifle would be pretty great, too. The M16 platform has been around for ages, and while its modular nature means that it’s endlessly adaptable, the direct gas impingement operating system is a right pain in the ass. Advances in firearm technology over the past half century have given us plenty of options, and it’s high time we took a look at them.
But giving soldiers a more reliable weapon with greater range is kinda pointless if we don’t address one of the Army’s most persistent and glaring faults: its marksmanship program sucks. There’s no one part of the thing we can point to as being problematic. It’s not just the BRM taught at Basic, or the qualification tables. The whole thing, from start to finish, really, really, sucks.
What’s the point of giving soldiers a shiny, new rifle if they can’t hit the broadside of a barn with the one they’ve got?
Now, before you break out the pitchforks and your Expert qualification badges, sit down and think about what I’m saying. Unless your MOS directly involves shooting things in the face, when was the last time you went to the range during the workday for something other than qualification? When was the last time you broke out the rifles for anything other than to qualify, or to clean them for inspection?
For most of you, that answer will be either the last time you deployed, or never. And that’s a huge problem.
Over the last ten-and-a-half years in the North Carolina Army National Guard, I’ve spent more time being told not to kill myself or rape people than how to shoot. I don’t have a problem with qualification myself; I can reliably shoot high sharpshooter to low expert. But I also make a point to shoot recreationally whenever I can. Not everyone has that option, and plenty of folks who do don’t take advantage of it.
For most folks, the entirety of their marksmanship training will consist of three weeks in Basic, the few days out of the year when they go qualify, and maybe a few days or even a week or two of extra training when they mobilize. And that simply isn’t enough.
Nevermind that the Army’s qualification system is stupid and outdated. Shooting static popup targets at ranges between 50-300 meters is a good start, but to rely on that as the sole measure of a soldier’s ability to engage the enemy is insane. According to the Army Times article linked up at the top, one of the driving forces behind looking for a new round is the fact that something like half of all firefights occurred at ranges greater than 300 meters. Meanwhile, your average soldier doesn’t even bother shooting at the 300 meter targets, because they know they can’t hit the damn things.
If the Army’s quest for a new sidearm is any indication, the search for a new rifle will take at least a decade, untold millions of dollars, a half-dozen Congressional inquiries and investigations, and probably a few lawsuits before they settle on the final product. Which means there’s plenty of time to teach soldiers how to shoot before the new gear ever starts filtering its way through the system.
As a starting point, come up with a comprehensive training plan that utilizes Basic Rifle Marksmanship, then build on that foundation throughout the soldier’s career. Get soldiers to the range more often. Update the qualification tables to more accurately represent the threat they’re expected to face. Enforce qualification standards like PT standards, and offer regular remedial training for folks who fail to meet those standards.
Or just carry on before and put a shiny new rifle in the hands of a kid who barely knows which end goes bang. I watched a guy from out battalion’s Forward Support Company shoot a 6 this year. That’s good enough, right?
Evidently, the US Army has a marksmanship problem. The problem being, roughly, soldiers can’t hit the broadside of a barn with their rifles. My good friend Kevin Wilson recently wrote an article and pointed out that just giving soldiers a better rifle isn’t going to get them to shoot better. So, what’s to be done?
There’s really no question the Marine Corps puts an emphasis on marksmanship. And, yeah, a Marine making jokes about shitty Army marksmanship is pretty low-hanging fruit. So, instead of jokes, here are some thoughts my Army friends might want to take to heart when considering how to improve marksmanship.
What sets Marine Corps marksmanship apart is simple, marksmanship is a fundamental part of Marine Corps culture. The other differences between Marine Corps and Army rifle training, and there are some real differences, are a product of that culture. Things like shooting at greater distances than the Army, shooting from more positions than the Army, and ensuring all Marines (including POGs) go through basic infantry instruction, are all a result of a mindset that every Marine must be ready to face combat, regardless of their MOS. Due to this mentality, good marksmanship is both socially mandated and required by regulation.
Marksmanship is an essential part of our identity, beginning with Marines’ role acting as marksmen on sailing ships, sniping the enemy from high up in the riggings. Marines like to say every Marine is a rifleman. Obviously, this isn’t entirely true, there are plenty of crappy shots in the Corps. But, unlike in the Army, being a crappy shot is something to be truly embarrassed by. As much as being a fat-body. Or, a sailor not knowing how to swim. Or, an Air Force officer not knowing how to play golf. Being intimately familiar with your rifle starts in bootcamp; in fact, the rifle a Marine recruit is issued at the beginning of bootcamp is the same rifle that recruit uses to qualify on later. And it goes further. We all know that scene in Full Metal Jacket where the recruits march around in their underwear in the squad bay singing, “This is my rifle, this is my gun,” right? Yeah, that (or something similar) actually happens sometimes in bootcamp. My Drill Instructor even encouraged us to name the rifles we were issued at the beginning of bootcamp, life imitating art, perhaps, but an excellent example of the emphasis the Marine Corps places on making handling the rifle second nature.
Every Marine recruit is drilled with the basics of marksmanship. Right from the very beginning of a Marine’s enlistment recruits are taught things like sight alignment/sight picture, proper cheek/stock weld, natural point of aim, breath/trigger control. Now, I’m not saying the Army doesn’t teach the fundamentals, I’m just saying it’s a matter of real study for Marines. A Marine is expected to know how to read the wind strength and be able to adjust the dope on his/her rifle accordingly, no Kentucky windage allowed. Recruits literally spend dozens of hours simply practicing dry firing and practicing their aim on barrels before they even get to the range.
But it isn’t just an issue of not wanting to be embarrassed by having to wear a badge below Expert. Unlike in the other branches, marksmanship matters in terms of professional advancement. A Marine literally can’t get promoted if they don’t have a rifle score in the system every year, and they can’t get a rifle score unless they achieve a minimum qualification on the range. Qualifying Expert isn’t just a matter of bragging rights or having a cooler badge to put on your uniform, not qualifying at all means a Marine could get kicked out of the Marine Corps, same as if they can’t make weight, pass the swim qual, or pass the Physical Fitness Test.
Making being a basic rifleman a part of the Marine Corps culture isn’t limited to just the Known Distance range, though. POG Marines spend an extra month after bootcamp learning basic infantry skills. Patrolling, fire team rushes, squad-level attacks, platoon-level assaults on an objective. MOUT. Learning how to set up fields of fire for a defensive position, proper channeling techniques. All Marines become familiar with basic infantry weapons like the AT-4, the MK-19 grenade launcher, the M2 50 cal, the M-240 Golf medium machine gun, and the SAW.
Now, do Marine POGs become experts on any of these systems? Of course not. The training isn’t intended to make admin clerks into infantry, it’s intended to make sure that if the shit really goes down in combat, any and all Marines have real training to fall back on. It’s intended to give every Marine a rifleman’s mentality, regardless of what MOS they’re in. These are the basic standards that ALL Marines are expected to meet.
If the Army wants to improve the marksmanship capability of its soldiers, and thus increase their survivability in combat, it doesn’t need a new rifle. The Army needs to raise the bar. Make the fundamentals of marksmanship a part of Army culture, and watch how the quality of soldier improves across the board.
On Feb. 8, Defense Secretary James Mattis, probably everyone’s favorite human Marine, sent a memo (below) to top Department of Defense officials regarding the establishment of a Close Combat Lethality Task Force, which will improve “the combat preparedness, lethality, survivability, and resiliency of our Nation’s ground close-combat formations.”
Mattis makes the compelling point that these close-combat formations — AKA grunts — make up 90% of our casualties, and therefore deserve to be modernized, better equipped, and expertly prepared.
His task force is the solution — or at least a solution, and potentially an awesome one.
Breaking Defense points out that the task force will concentrate on training, personnel, and policy. Infantry will mirror special operations in its elite training tactics and its selection process.
It’s still early in the stages of making effective change (per Mattis’ memo, the first step the task force will have taken is to identify existing problems to address and lay out the roles and responsibilities of those involved in solving said problems. But there are plenty of suggestions from the military community (no surprise there).
Training with drones, improved close-quarter and subterranean tactics, and arming troops with advanced technology (think robots and self-breathing apparatuses) are a few topics of speculation. Dialogue about personnel policy changes include everything from over-manning squads (grimly, to anticipate casualties) and better collaboration between branches.
Ultimately, the fact that SECDEF is focusing his attention on the selection, training, and deployment of our infantrymen is a strong indication of his determination to improve the way the United States fights its wars and his commitment to improving America’s global reach — but equally important is the emphasis on human life in the equation of warfighting.
It’s dark. The air is heavy, filled with Afghanistan smoke and dust. On the flight line at Bagram Airfield, an Army CH-47F Chinook helicopter waits, beating thunder with its blades.
An 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel team, which consists of pararescuemen and combat rescue officers, runs out and boards the helicopter. As the Guardian Angels settle into their seats, the helicopter takes off against the night sky over the mountainous terrain.
During the ensuing flight, two Operation Freedom’s Sentinel teams will conduct a personnel recovery exercise, testing their capability to work together as they extricate simulated casualties from a downed aircraft. The Army and the Air Force are working together to execute personnel recovery.
‘Personnel recovery is a no-fail strategic mission’
“Personnel recovery is a no-fail strategic mission,” said Air Force Maj. Robert Wilson, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander. “The interoperability between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, by way of the CH-47F, has enabled our Guardian Angel teams to effectively conduct a wide variety of personnel rescue operations in ways not previously attainable.”
Executing missions with CH-47Fs gives the seven-man Guardian Angel team unique advantages; such as an increased capacity to recover a larger number of isolated personnel and the ability to fly further and higher than previous platforms allowed.
“This partnership strengthens the resolve of those fighting on the ground and in the air to fight harder and longer, knowing that someone will always have their back,” Wilson said.
The Chinook is a twin-turbine, tandem-rotor, heavy-lift transport helicopter with a useful load of up to 25,000 pounds. With its high altitude and payload capability, the CH-47F is vital to overseas operations, such as in Afghanistan. Its capabilities include medical evacuation, aircraft recovery, parachute drops, disaster relief and combat search and rescue.
“I’ve been flying CH-47 models for 22 years,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shawn Miller, a CH-47F pilot with the South Carolina National Guard. “This is an unprecedented tasking. Never in its history has an Army unit been tasked to provide dedicated aviation assets and crew to conduct joint personnel recovery operations.”
Miller’s team is also joined by the Illinois Army National Guard.
The CH-47F model, with its enhanced capabilities, combined with the combat search and rescue mission set, allows the team to transport more personnel and essential equipment higher, further distances, and offer longer on the scene station times than ever before, Miller added.
Joint operations between services capitalize on the unique skillsets each branch brings to the fight.
For missions in Afghanistan, because of its high altitudes and current enemy threats, the benefits seem to outweigh the risks of using a different system. Especially in terms of the varied mission sets required of the personnel recovery enterprise.
The pararescue team also specializes in cold weather/avalanche or snow and ice rescue, collapsed structure/confined space extrication, or many different forms of jump operations in static-line or free-fall configuration.
Using the teams to their full capacity is all about strengthening the resolve of those fighting on the ground and in the air.
“Critical to the warfighter is knowing that a highly trained and capable PR force is standing ready at a moment’s notice, willingly placing themselves in harm’s way … so that others may live,” Wilson said.
Recently, Marines and Sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit based on the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) began a major exercise in Djibouti known as Alligator Dagger. Unfortunately, it was quickly cancelled after a pair of crashes.
If you’re like a lot of people, you may be wondering, “why bother having the exercise in Djibouti, of all places?” Well, believe it or not, there are some very good reasons.
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is currently deployed to the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations. These Marines are, in essence, a floating reserve for the current commander of CENTCOM, General Joseph L. Votel. But, as is the case with all Marines, it’s important to keep readiness high. To do so, you need practice.
In a release, the Marines stated they planned to conduct “amphibious training; live-fire; visit, board, search, and seizure; tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel as well as air assault evolutions.” Tanks, artillery, and mortar crews would also get a chance to practice during the two weeks of training at the Arta Range Complex in Djibouti.
All of this training needs to happen somewhere, and Djibouti was a very good place for it. Given that it’s in the Horn of Africa, it’s not exactly high on the list of places people want to visit. This means it provides a place for the Marines to practice their signature operations in an austere, potentially realistic setting.
In the real world, when Marines deploy, it’s not always going to be staged from a place like Kuwait, where a lot of modern conveniences are readily available. Similarly, training in the United States doesn’t prepare you for when you need a CH-53 to deliver fuel for your Humvees.
That is why the Marines wanted to train in Djibouti for two weeks. Losing this opportunity will sting pretty badly, but after those two crashes, the Marines had no choice but to stand down.
Every day, troops of all ages head off into the field and sustain all types of injuries, from simple bruises and scratches to fractures and open abrasions. You can train to fight the enemy, but the terrain will always change, bringing unique advantages and challenges with it.
That said, some of the most common types of injuries we sustain can be temporarily fixed using a little ingenuity and knowledge of your surroundings. The solution to your painful aliment could be right under your feet.
Troops fall over and take hits while they’re out in the field. In some cases, bones get bruised or even fractured. Once this happens, it’s important to seek medical attention quickly as surgery may be needed. But, first things first, you’re going to have to splint the injured limb.
Creating a rudimentary splint in the field requires finding some sturdy pieces of wood (or any hard, flat object), placing them alongside the fractured extremity, and tying it down to prevent bends and movement — both above and below the joint. It doesn’t have to be red-carpet quality; we just want to prevent further injury.
It’s also great on lattes.
Nature’s tastiest medicine
Since cinnamon is a common, delicious condiment here in the States that tastes terrific on a roll with a sugary glaze, we don’t realize the many health benefits it provides.
Cinnamon bark comes from a tree called the Cinnamomum verum. The spice is known to alleviate an upset stomach, diarrhea, and gas from eating too many MREs. It’s also been used to treat infections caused by various bacteria, hay fever (allergic rhinitis), and even stimulate your appetite.
A sting reliever
When you’re in the field, there are plenty of wasps, bees, and scorpions hiding about who would love to sting the sh*t out of you if provoked. Although it sucks to get stung, there’s a plant that can quickly soothe the pain — the plantain.
This small plant can be identified by its rubbery texture and the parallel veins that run along the leaves. In order to use the plant as a venom neutralizer, crush the leaves into a paste and apply it to the affected area for quick relief.
This tip can be applied to bleeds, from the most minor cuts to the freakin’ major gashes. Having an open-skin abrasion isn’t the best thing while you’re out in the field. Mother Nature is filled with nasty, infectious bacteria and animals that can sniff out blood in the air.
In the event that you cut yourself open, apply pressure to the wound. Then, instead of worrying about getting stitches, consider applying a layer of super glue to close the wound.
Marines train the way they fight, even if that means potentially suffering injuries in the process. Since many Marine units are known for their amphibious capabilities, they must conduct training that prepares them for any watery hazards that might come their way.
One such deadly situation that Marines must ready for is a helicopter crash landing into the ocean. Although it’s unlikely, Marines must be ready to escape a watery grave by successfully evacuating a flooding aircraft within a matter of moments.
As you might expect, Marines practice their escape by facing the real hazard in a controlled environment. After jumping into a pool while wearing most of their combat load, Marines swim their way onto a mock helicopter that’s already halfway submerged in water.
Once they’ve strapped into their seats, they are blindfolded with fogged-out goggles for added stress. The helo dunker is then hoisted up into the air.
Once the instructors give the order, the helo dunker is lowered into the water and spun about to disorient the blindfolded Marines within. Each Marine is instructed to take one last breath as they feel the aircraft hit the water’s surface and plunge beneath.
The windows in various transport and cargo helicopters are designed to be removed in a hurry. Once a Marine successfully negotiates the closed-window obstacle, they are free to evacuate the dunker and swim to the surface for some much-needed oxygen.
The helo dunker isn’t the only tool used in training for an underwater escape. Marines also train in single-man cages. Instructors roll Marines about and observe as disoriented troops attempt to free themselves from the helicopter’s seat belt system.
The Army in Europe relies on five Force Protection Condition (FPCON) levels — Normal, A, B, C and D — or as the Army says, Normal, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. The levels increase from lowest condition at Normal to the highest and most protective at Delta.
The U.S. Army Europe commander delegates responsibility to general officers for force protection, known as the GOFPs. The commander of 7th Army Training Command headquartered out of Grafenwoehr is the GOFP for USAG Bavaria and USAG Ansbach.
The GOFP is the lowest level of command within U.S. Army Europe authorized to change local FPCONs. Garrison commanders immediately begin implementing FPCON changes upon receipt of notification to change.
What is an FPCON?
The Force Protection Condition, or FPCON, does two things to counter terrorists or other hostile adversaries:
1. It sets the FPCON level at Normal, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie or Delta.
– Normal: Occurs when a general global threat of possible terrorist activity is possible. The minimum FPCON for U.S. Army commands is normal.
– Alpha: Occurs when there is an increased general threat of possible terrorist activity against personnel or facilities, the nature and extent of the threat are unpredictable.
– Bravo: Applies when an increased or more predictable threat of terrorist activity exists.
– Charlie: Applies when an incident occurs or intelligence is received indicating some form of terrorist action or targeting against personnel or facilities is likely. 100% ID card check required.
– Delta: Applies in the immediate area where a terrorist attack has occurred or when intelligence has been received that terrorist action against a specific location or person is imminent. 100% ID card check required.
2. When an FPCON level is set, certain force protection measures are implemented. For example, if an Army garrison elevates to FPCON Charlie, you might see increased security measures at the gates, or even gate closures and the presence of additional security forces.
When are FPCON levels raised?
The FPCON levels are raised as a threat increases or if an attack has occurred.
How do I know the FPCON?
The Force Protection Condition level is posted at each gate entrance and all entrances to garrison facilities. It is also located on the homepage at www.bavaria.army.mil.
How will I know what measures are implemented as the FPCON increases or decreases?
While specific FPCON measures are not releasable in the interest of security, there are some key tips to keep in mind:
– The FPCON level has been set at Bravo or higher since 2001.
– FPCON Charlie — which indicates that a threat is likely — sets into motion curtailment plans for nonessential personnel. If you are unsure if you are essential or nonessential personnel, contact your supervisor.
– FPCON Delta, the highest and most protective level, limits installation access to mission-essential personnel and other personnel as determined by the commander.
– What if you need to get on-post during FPCON Charlie or Delta? If you’re off-post and you live on-post, have children at school or need to get to the clinic, for example, and the Force Protection Condition has elevated to Charlie or Delta, stand by for further directions. Contact your supervisor or unit leadership for guidance. Connect to the USAG Bavaria Facebook page at www.facebook.com/USAGBavaria and ensure you’re registered in AtHoc — the Army’s mass-warning notification system.
– No matter what the FPCON is, always carry two forms of photo ID when entering U.S. military installations, according to the Army in Europe regulation on installation access control.
– Increased force protection measures do not necessarily indicate an increase in an FPCON. Army garrisons in Europe also implement random antiterrorism measures known as RAM.
In October of 1983, the world’s first operational stealth aircraft took to the skies under cover of both physical and metaphorical darkness. This new jet, dubbed the F-117 Nighthawk, would revolutionize America’s approach to air warfare, pivoting away from the higher and faster mantra that had dominated much of the Cold War, and toward the doctrine of stealth. As of its introduction in 1983, being sneaky became more important than being powerful in military aviation. While this technical frontier was first explored by the U.S. Air Force, by the time the Nighthawk was on duty prowling the sky, the U.S. Navy wanted a stealth platform all their own.
Eventually, Lockheed would pitch the idea of a significantly more capable F-117N Seahawk, based on their first-of-its-kind Nighthawk. But the Seahawk wasn’t the Navy’s first pass at a carrier-capable stealth attack aircraft. Ten years before the Seahawk proposal would reach Navy desks, the Navy was already getting started on their Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) program. The ATA initially sought to replace the Grumman A-6 Intruder by the mid-1990s. The Intruder had been in service for the U.S. Navy as a ground attack platform since 1963, and the Navy saw a replacement program as the perfect opportunity to get into the stealth game.
On 13 January 1988, a joint team from McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics was awarded a development contract for what was to become the A-12 Avenger II, not to be confused with Lockheed’s proposed A-12 of the 1960s, which sought to arm an SR-71 sibling jet with air-to-air weapon systems. Once completed, the Navy’s A-12 would have been a flying wing-design reminiscent of Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit or forthcoming B-21 Raider, though much smaller.
A new aircraft for a new approach to air warfare
Intended to serve aboard carriers, the A-12 Avenger II was to be slightly more than 37 feet long, with a wingspan of a few inches more than 70 feet. These dimensions would have made the A-12 significantly shorter than the nearly 55-foot-long Intruder, while boasting a far wider wingspan that extended just far enough to allow two A-12s to sit side-by-side on adjacent catapults on a carrier flight deck. In fact, the A-12’s wingspan would have even dwarfed the F-14 Tomcat’s extended sweep-wings by a good six feet.
Although the A-12 Avenger II utilized a flying wing design, its overall shape differed from the triangular B-2 Spirit under development for the Air Force. The sharp triangular shape of the A-12 eventually earned it the nickname, “the flying Dorito.“
Despite the width of the A-12 Avenger II, however, the aircraft itself was only meant to carry a comparatively small 5,150 pounds of internal ordnance, which would outperform the Nighthawk’s paltry payload of just two 2,000 pound GBU-27 laser-guided bombs, but was nowhere near the 18,000 pounds offered by the Intruder.
However, like modern stealth aircraft in operation today, the A-12 Avenger was never intended to scream into the fight with its teeth bared. In the minds of many defense officials, its ability to strike targets without warning in highly contested airspace was more useful than a massive payload. In yet another example of how military aviation was rapidly changing throughout the Cold War, blanketing an area with munitions was no longer considered the most effective means of engaging the enemy. Instead, stealth combined with highly accurate precision munitions would allow the A-12 Avenger II to surgically strike enemy targets where it hurt most.
More of a stealth fighter than the “stealth fighter”
Despite clearly serving in an attack capacity, Lockheed’s F-117 Nighthawk had been given the “F” designator (and the informal moniker of “stealth fighter”) intentionally. The F-117 possessed no air-to-air capability whatsoever–a defining characteristic for a “fighter” aircraft–but Air Force officials hoped the concept of a “stealth fighter” would attract the sort of highly-skilled fighter jocks this new attack aircraft would really need.
The Navy entertained no such chicanery in their own stealth jet, planning to saddle their new platform with an “A” prefix to demonstrate its use against ground targets despite actually having the ability to engage air targets with its two internally-stored AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. In other words, the A-12 Avenger II would have actually been America’s first stealth fighter.
However, the A-12 wouldn’t have been well suited for fighting the powerful and acrobatic fourth-generation fighters being fielded by national opponents like the Soviet Union and post-collapse Russia at the time. With a top speed of just 580 miles per hour and a service ceiling of 40,000 feet, this subsonic aircraft may have been armed with the missiles it would need to take down on enemy jet, but logic would dictate that it rely on stealth, rather than firepower, if enemy fighters were in the area.
The A-12 Avenger II would have led the way into battle
Aside from its two air-to-air missiles, the A-12 Avenger II was also intended to carry 2 AGM-88 HARM air-to-ground missiles that had entered service in 1985. The AGM-88 was an anti-radiation missile, meaning it could home in on the electromagnetic waves emanating from early warning radar arrays and surface-to-air missile platforms. In other words, the A-12 Avenger II would have been able to serve in a similar capacity to today’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in contested airspace. The A-12 would hunt down air defense systems and eliminate them to clear the way for less-stealthy and more weapon-laden platforms that could follow.
When not on the hunt for enemy radar, the AGM-88 HARM missiles could be swapped out in favor of unguided or precision bombs for continued action against ground targets.
At one point, the Navy had plans to purchase 620 A-12 Avenger IIs, with the Marine Corps ordering another 238, and even the Air Force mulling over an order of 400 modified A-12 variants to replace their outgoing F-111 Aardvarks. It’s important to note that only 59 operational F-117A Nighthawks were ever built — so the A-12 Avenger II promised to become America’s premier stealth aircraft for years to come, with a total of 1,258 aircraft in American stables. If all of these orders had been filled, the A-12 Avenger II would have become one of America’s most plentiful aircraft, second only to the U.S. Army’s massive fleet of UH-60 Black Hawks.
For some time, it seemed as though the A-12 Avenger II program was going off without a hitch, but then, seemingly without warning, it was canceled by Defense Secretary (and future Vice President of the United States) Dick Cheney in January of 1991.
An unceremonious end
For some time, the A-12 Avenger II program seemed to be progressing smoothly, and Cheney had repeatedly reported as such when pressed about the program by Congress. The truth is, as far as Cheney knew (according to some accounts), the program did seem to be going smoothly, as officials within the Navy, the Pentagon, and both McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics all seemed intent on sugar-coating the program’s woes.
Unbeknownst to many, the aircraft, which had yet to fly by the beginning of 1991, was already significantly overweight, 18-months behind schedule, and massively over budget.
In an article published by Air Force Magazine in April of 1991, three months after the A-12 Avenger II program was canceled, Pentagon investigators had come to place the blame on four separate and significant factors (as outlined at the time by David Montgomery):
“Overly protective Navy officials, who didn’t want to endanger the plane by pointing out problems. A Pentagon analyst first detected a possible cost overrun two years ago, but the Navy program manager continued to describe the A-12 as being on track until after a major Pentagon review last year.
A “don’t-rock-the-boat” segment of the Pentagon bureaucracy, which was aware of the problems but apparently reluctant to buck its superiors to press its case. In one incident, a report noting A-12 problems was tucked away and forgotten.
Overly optimistic A-12 contractors, who miscalculated the extent of the technical difficulties in producing such a plane and shielded the problems from the government. An inquiry by Navy Deputy General Counsel Chester Paul Beach found that General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas discovered “increasing cost and schedule variances” but did not alert the Navy in a timely fashion.
Excessive secrecy, which blanketed the project and prevented examinations that might have brought problems to light. Officials assigned to Secretaries Cheney and Garrett were kept away, standard reporting procedures were abandoned, and information was transmitted verbally rather than in writing.”
In the years that followed, the United States government and the A-12 Avenger II’s contractors, McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics, would go through repeated litigation over breach of contract, eventually reaching as high as the Supreme Court. In January of 2014, Boeing, which had absorbed McDonnell Douglas, and General Dynamics agreed to repay the government $200 million each for failing to meet the requirements of the initial contract.
More specifically, be able to fin. First class swim qualifications are required, but having the endurance to fin as long and as far as possible is invaluable during the course.
2. Lean with it or get rocked by it.
Coxswain, the guys who drive zodiacs (low-profile rubber boats), are generally a thrill-seeking breed and they are encouraged to push the limits of speed during swimmer insertions. They will absolutely try to sling you off their boat during the course, so hang on and learn to anticipate the turns or swim much further to the beach landing site, or BLS.
3. Get used to being wet and sandy.
One of the first things you’ll do when you hit the BLS is the “sugar cookie.” The “sugar cookie” is when you roll around and toss sand all over your wet body, it sticks to you, and it becomes your camouflage. It’s strikingly similar to what happens to cat sh*t in a litter box.
4. Buy some black Converse.
Swimmers will use fins to swim to shore but, once there, you will need to remove your fins and secure the beach. Black Converse are a more practical footwear for running compared to fin booties. The Marines with green converse have endured the ocean for a long time.
5. Dummy chords are not for dummies.
Don’t bring anything into the ocean that you want to keep. If you cannot avoid bringing something important, dummy chord it. Dummy chording is a method of securing items to one’s body using 550-chord. This doesn’t guarantee the item won’t be lost at sea, but it certainly helps.
6 Be a team player.
Securing a beach is a team effort and it is a pass-or-fail scenario. So, do your best to enhance your interpersonal skills… or, basically, don’t be a dick.
When sailors hit the Navy SEAL training grinder, they’ll undergo what’s considered the hardest military training on earth in attempts to earn the Trident. Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training uses the sandy beaches of Coronado, California, to push candidates beyond their mental and physical limits to see if they can endure and be welcomed into the Special Warfare community.
Roughly 75 percent of all BUD/S candidates drop out of training, leaving many to wonder what, exactly, it takes to survive the program and graduate. Well, former Navy SEAL Jeff Nichols is here to break it down and give you a few tips for finding success at BUD/S.
SEAL candidates cover themselves in sand during surf passage on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California.
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Russell)
Diversify your training
According to Nichols, the ability to sustain yourself through various types of physical training will only help your odds of succeeding at BUD/S. Incorporate various exercise types, variable rest periods, and a wide array of resistances into your training regimen.
When candidates aren’t in training, it’s crucial that they heal themselves up. Massages improve the body’s circulation and can cut down recovery time. That being said, avoid deep-tissue massages. That type of intense treatment can actually extend your healing time.
Vice President Joe Biden places a hand on the shoulder of one of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) candidates while speaking to them on the beach at Naval Special Warfare Center during his visit to San Diego, Calif.
(Photo by MC2 Dominique M. Lasco)
Find sleep wherever possible
If you can avoid staying up late, you should. Nichols encourages candidates to take naps whenever possible. Even if its only a quick, 20-minute snooze, get that rest in as often as possible.
Stay away from smoking and drinking alcohol
Both substances can prevent a candidate from performing at their best during their time at BUD/S. Smoking limits personal endurance. Alcohol dehydrates — which is especially harmful in an environment where every drop of clean water counts.
Know that nobody gives a sh*t
Ultimately, the BUD/S instructors don’t care if you make it through the training. Don’t think anyone will hold your hand as the intensity ramps up.
Sailors enrolled in the BUD/S course approach the shore during an over-the-beach exercise at San Clemente Island, California.
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle D. Gahlau)
Surround yourself with good people
It’s easy to quit BUD/S and it’s challenging to push yourself onward. Surrounding yourself with good people who are in training for the right reasons will help you through the darkest moments.
Take advantage of your days off
Although you only have roughly 2 days of rest time, take advantage of them to the fullest and heal up as much as you can. Eat healthily and clear your mind by getting off-base as much as possible.
A Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL instructor is about to show a member of BUD/S Class 244 just how hard it can be to rescue a drowning victim when the “victim” comes at you with a vengeance during lifesaving training at the Naval Special Warfare Center.
(Photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class John DeCoursey)
Trust the BUD/S process
According to Nichols, the BUD/S process doesn’t fail. Listen to the instructors as they tell you how to properly negotiate individual training obstacles as a team. They all have proven experience, you just need to listen.
Don’t take anything personal
The instructors will slowly chip away at your self-confidence with the aim of getting you to quit. Brush off those remarks. Remember, this is part of the test.
BUD/S is considered a fair environment
Nichols believes that the program is a fair method of getting only the strongest candidates through the training and onto SEAL teams. It’s up to the SEAL instructors to put out the best possible product.