Archive for July, 2011
Sky Soldier’s View
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Surber, a paratrooper with the 173rd Brigade Combat Team parachutes out of a C-130 Hercules heavy lift cargo plane in Ukraine. The airdrop was the first time for the 173rd Airborne BCT — nicknamed Sky Soldiers — Ukraine. They participated in a series of multinational exercises as part of Rapid Trident 2011.
This year, Rapid Trident involves approximately 1,600 personnel. Besides the U.S. Army and Ukraine, participants are from Latvia, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Canada, Poland, Serbia, Britain, Lithuania, Estonia, California. The Utah National Guard and U.S. Air Force Europe also took part.
The 173rd BCT participated in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unit has also served two tours in Afghanistan. Surber, who took this eye-catching photo, is a member of Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. He and other Sky Soldiers of the 173rd jumped into Ukraine with British, Polish, Canadian, Moldovan and Ukrainian troops. To see a video of his jump — from his point of view – click here.
Hitting the Beach
Amphibious Assault Vehicles of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit land at Freshwater Beach during a mock amphibious assault as part of Talisman Sabre 2011 a joint U.S.-Australian military exercise along the northern and eastern coasts of Australia. As Australian Brigadier Gen. Bob Brown notes in this Australian Defence Forces video, “the Marines are the masters of this.”
Amphibious warfare has been a specialty of the U.S. Marine Corps since its creation in 1775 (You can view a creaky 1950s-style Marine Corps film on amphibious operations here) . But 10 years of war in the deserts and cities of Iraq and the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan have some critics wondering what role amphibious operations will play in the future.
That and other topics related to forcible entry from the sea will be discussed at a two-day Amphibious Operations Summit in Washington next week. Attendees at the conference, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA), will hear from amphibious experts from the Navy, Marine Corps, Australia and France. Gen. John Amos, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, will be a keynote speaker.
One topic to be discussed is where do the Marines go for amphibious combat transportation after the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program — designed to replace the 1970s era AAVs — was cancelled earlier this year.
To see a Military Channel video of an amphibious assault exercise with AAVs and other landing craft, click here on YouTube.
U.S. Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s battalion landing team fire M252 81 mm mortar rounds during a live fire training operation at the Talisman Sabre 2011 joint exercise with Australian forces on Townshend Island, Australia.
Talisman Sabre, which runs through July 29 on and around the northern and eastern coasts of Australia, is a 12-day bilateral exercise to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined operations. More than 14,000 U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps personnel are participating along with the Australian Defence Force in the exercise to enhance readiness and interoperability in military operations ranging from conventional conflict to peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance efforts.
Click on the photo to enlarge the image for a closeup look at the the procedures and equipment of these Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
To see a photo slideshow of this live fire exercise, click here. The Stars and Stripes newspaper has a nice slideshow with photos of amphibious, airborne, naval and training operations during the fourth iteration of this biennial exercise.
The Great Green Fleet
In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt sent a squadron of white-painted U.S. Navy ships – later nicknamed the Great White Fleet – around the world in a show of American sea power and international goodwill.
Just a little over 100 years later, the Navy is preparing to send another large naval group, this time dubbed the Great Green Fleet, on another goodwill mission to show American commitment to energy conservation powered entirely by alternative fuels.
The Pentagon’s recently released (May 2011) Operational Energy Strategy holds that energy – whether gasoline, oil, jet fuel or electricity – is a resource that the military relies upon to do its job. The strategy calls for using energy resources wisely to ensure energy security, lower risks to the troops in the field, shift resources “to other warfighting priorities” and save the taxpayers’ money.
The main concern is the price volatility, limited supply and uncertain access to foreign oil. Every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil costs the Defense Department $1.3 billion a year. “The more we replace foreign sources of oil with more diverse, domestically produced alternative fuels, the better we are as a military and … as a nation,” Thomas Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy told a congressional hearing last month.
For some time now, the Navy and Marine Corps have been working on ways to replace fossil fuels and make alternative fuels more efficient and cost effective. Programs have ranged from an F/A-18, dubbed “The Green Hornet,” testing biofuels to Marines in Afghanistan shucking some of their expensive, heavy and energy-sucking batteries for solar power.
The Great Green Fleet, an aircraft carrier strike group powered by a 50/50 blend of hydro-processed renewable diesel fuel is set to sail next year, says Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment. She told a July 7 defense energy briefing sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust that the eventual goal is to reduce the Navy’s conventional energy use by half by 2020..
While Navy and Marine Corps personnel played only a small role among the speakers at this week’s U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Energy Forum in Arlington, Virginia, the sea services have been active in alternative fuels and energy production on their own.
In addition to the Great Green Fleet, energy targets identified by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in 2009 include: reducing non-tactical petroleum use to 50 percent by 2015; increasing the use of alternative energy ashore and making the evaluation of energy factors a mandatory part of contract awards for navy systems and buildings.
The HR-D fuel to be used by the Great Green Fleet is 50 percent algae-based and 50 percent NATO F-76 fuel. Unlike biofuels, it does not include water which is not compatible with shipboard fuel systems. That fuel is currently being tested by the small, high-speed boats of Riverine Group 1 at Naval Station Norfolk, Va.
Pfannenstiel said the green carrier strike group would be ready for local deployment by 2012 with an as-yet-unplanned international itinerary by 2016. After the session at the Pew Charitable Trust, Pfannenstiel was asked if the Great Green Fleet would indeed be painted green. “I think when they talk about resistance, that might cause some resistance,” she said.
Where Do Unmanned Vehicles Fit In?
Government officials, military officers and energy industry executives have just concluded a U.S. Army-U.S. Air Force energy forum in Washington to discuss developing alternative fuels that are more efficient than petroleum-based fuels — and that are cheaper and easier to obtain.
During the two-day conference, Air Force officials said they have been testing alternative fuels and want to use biofuel substitutes for petroleum-based jet fuel, known as JP-8 – but at about $35 a gallon, the price is too high to be practical. Meanwhile, Army officials said they are well on their way to achieving 100 percent of non-tactical vehicles being powered by alternative fuels. Currently about 70 percent are off petroleum fuels.
One official noted that the Air Force can’t do this alone and needs help from industry. Although the Defense Department “is one of the single largest consumers of fuel in the world” it uses only about 1 percent of the energy all Americans consume, according to the Pentagon’s Operational Energy Strategy. And while the Air Force is by far the largest fuel consumer in the department, it accounts for only 10 percent of all the nation’s jet fuel consumption. The rest is used by the commercial aviation sector.
In a keynote speech at the forum, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn noted that the Pentagon spent $15 billion on energy last year (five billion gallons of fuel in military operations) and more than 3,000 troops and military contractors have been killed or injured transporting fuel into Afghanistan by land convoy.
Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, noted that energy demand has increased significantly over the past decade and continues to grow as the Army modernizes equipment and develops more information communications technology ICT systems.
“The challenge we face is how to ensure access to energy that is operational, necessary, and mission critical while remaining fiscally responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars,” Chiarelli told the energy gathering.
Two other speakers at the Energy Forum – the deputy assistant secretaries for energy of both the Army and Air Force – spoke with defense bloggers July 20 about each service’s energy goals and efforts at fuel security and cost reduction. They also answered a 4GWar editor’s question about the effect of unmanned vehicles on energy use and the effect of energy constraints on unmanned vehicles.
Dr. Kevin Geiss of the Air Force said it’s too soon to tell because today’s unmanned vehicles are “very limited in their capabilities” but the roles they will play in the future are still evolving.
“One area [where] we have actually struggled with the more recent unmanned vehicles is that some of them require specialized unmanned fuel. That has caused some challenges in ensuring that we have the appropriate fuels available in the field, which causes challenges for the Defense Logistics Agency, said Geiss.
“We don’t know what shapes and forms the unmanned vehicle are all going to come in,” added the Army’s Richard Kidd. “But that said, I think the general expectation on the Army’s side is that unmanned vehicles will give us more capability for less fuel.”
Both Kidd and Geiss said during the forum that the services are looking to industry to help develop alternative fuels and to help bring prices down by using them in large quantities.
4GWAR will have more on the Army-Air Force Energy Forum tomorrow (June 21), including what the Navy and the Marine Corps are up to on this topic.
Copyright Ministère de la Défense
This is one of the more arresting images from the Bastille Day 2011 parade in Paris this week. July 14 marks the storming of the Bastille, a notorious prison in Paris, sparking the French Revolution in 1789. Every year on that date, there is an enormous military parade in Paris with Foreign Legionnaires in their white kepis and red and green epaulettes, sabre-brandishing cavalry of the Republican Guard in plumed helmets, sailors in white caps topped by red pompoms, pilots in flightsuits and all manner of military cadets, national police and speciality troops like those pictured above.
There is usually one or more contingents of foreign troops, invited to participate by the French government to the Bastille Day parade. In 2002, cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point joined the parade, along with New York City firefighters, survivors of the 9/11 attacks on the Word Trade Center.
We assume the troopers above — in camouflage paint and carrying assault rifles — are Special Forces or commandos of some type but unfortunately the photo slideshow on the French Ministry of Defense website doesn’t come with captions (Quel dommage!). If anyone can identify this unit, please let us know in the comment box below or send us an email at:
Update: Apparently this is a unit of French Air Force Parachute Commandos, known as Commandos Parachutistes de l’Air. See the comment below. You can learn more about them at this website:
To see more official photos of the the pageantry click here.
For some absolutely spectacular Reuters photos of the event — with captions — click here.
The Highest Honor
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, who lost his right hand to an exploding grenade while protecting two fellow soldiers, has been awarded the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military award for bravery. Petry, a native of New Mexico is only the second living service member to receive the Medal of Honor for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The veteran Army Ranger was decorated by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony July 12 and later inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
Petry, a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, was a staff sergeant with Company D, 2nd Battalion of the 75th Rangers May 26, 2008 during a daylight raid on an insurgent compound in search of an al Qaeda leader. Already shot through both legs, Petry grabbed the grenade that landed within feet of himself and two other Rangers and began to throw it away just as it exploded. Despite the shock and pain, Petry put a tourniquet around his mangled arm himself and radioed for help.
It wasn’t the first time Petry was cited for bravery and faithful service, in addition to the Medal of Honor, he has been awarded: two Bronze Star Medals, a Purple Heart, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, three Army Good Conduct Medals, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Combat Star and the Iraq Campaign Medal with Combat Star. The father of four has served two tours of duty in Iraq and six in Afghanistan.
Equipped with a robotic hand — with which he shook hands with the president — Petry intends to stay in the Rangers.
Petry is only the second living service member to receive the Medal of Honor for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s puzzling — and troubling — considering that the military has been at war for 10 years now, notes Rebekah Sanderlin, an Army wife and freelance writer, in a blog at the New York Times site.
As it did for Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta — the first living Medal of Honor recipient in the Afghan and Iraq wars — the Army has created a Website about 1st Sgt. Petry and the medal.
To read the Medal of Honor citation for 1st Sgt. Petry, click here.
To see a slideshow of the White House ceremony, click here.
An Update on Missing MANPADS Threat
Remember this picture? We have an update on the March 4 post it illustrated: the disappearance of small anti-aircraft missiles from the armories of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, and the continued risk of them making their way into terrorists’ hands.
The missiles, known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems or MANPADS, are shoulder-fired, heat-seeking weapons that government officials around the world fear could be used against commercial airliners, the New York Times reports. Since the 1970s, MANPADS attacks have been launched against more than 40 civilian aircraft in more than 18 countries (but not Libya). Twenty-five planes have been shot down, killing more than 800 people, according to the U.S. State Department.
Back in February, as anti-Qaddafi rebels seized the regime’s weapons depots in the western part of the country, concerns were raised that the surface-to-air missiles might make their way onto the black market and wind up with terrorists. There have been no reports of Libyan rebels selling seized weapons on the black market.
Qaddafi’s forces are believed to have amassed as many as 20,000 of the mostly Soviet-made SA-7 missiles. It is not known how many were seized by rebels, most of whom have little or no military training.
Now the Times’ C.J. Chivers reports coming across boxes and boxes of empty SA-7 containers near an arms depot recently seized by anti-Qaddafi rebels in western Libya.
Since the uprising began, officials in neighboring Chad and Algeria have said MAPADS taken from Libya have been taken across their borders, winding up in the hands of a North African offshoot of al Qaeda: al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The U.S. has contracted with two international organizations, Britain’s Mines Advisory Group and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action to help secure the MANPADS stockpiles and prevent them from leaving the country, Chivers reports.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government today (July 15) recognized the rebels‘ National Transitional Council as the legitimate government in Libya — until a fully representational interim government can be established.
On Thin Ice
Arctic sea ice is melting at such a rapid rate that officials warn Arctic waters may be ice free during the summer months by 2030.
Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, says sea ice is melting at a record pace – as much as 150,00 square kilometers per day. Not only is the area of ice-covered waters decreasing, but the ice is thinner making it more susceptible to melting. “We are on track to see an ice free summer by 2030,” Britain’s The Guardian newspaper quotes Serreze.
That’s good news for some seafaring countries like China that would like to take a shorter route across the Arctic Sea to deliver manufactured export goods to Europe. But it is a concern for other countries like Canada, worried about retaining sovereignty over its Arctic coast and the mineral wealth projected to lie beneath the frigid waters.
Large deposits of oil, natural gas and minerals – including rare earths needed to manufacture high tech equipment – are believed to lie beneath Arctic waters. Canada and the U.S. are concerned that untapped wealth could spark a “Cold Rush” by other Arctic countries trying to claim large underwater tracts based on the extent of continental shelves beneath the sea.
U.S. and Canadian authorities are also worried about oil spills and possible shipping disasters in the remote region. The U.S. Coast Guard says it has no rescue ships or helicopters in the High North to handle such emergencies, Reuters reports. There is no permanent Coast Guard station that far north. It would be extremely difficult to mount an emergency response to an Arctic oil spill on the scale of BP’s oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp told an Arctic ice symposium in Washington recently.
Eight Arctic nations – including the United States, Canada, Russia and Norway – signed an agreement in May to cooperate in search and rescue operations above the Arctic Circle. (See May 12 4GWAR Blog post)
Watch Me Carefully
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Ashley Pryor signals for sailors to set up the aircraft barricade during a drill aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) in the Pacific Ocean. The George Washington is underway in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility.
If you click on the photo to enlarge the image you can see (from right to left) a Northrop Grumman C-2 Greyhound cargo plane; a Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft, with its distinctive rotating radar dome over the fuselage; and what appears to be three Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk helicopters.
As we’ve explained in an earlier post, the flight deck personnel have color-coded jerseys and helmets to identify their speciality:
Purple jerseys indicate those who handle aviation fuel; crewmen in red handle ammunition and deal with fires and crashes;; blues are aircraft handlers, tractor drivers or aircraft elevator operators; those in yellow are aircraft handling officers and plane directors, green jerseys have a number of tasks including maintenance, cargo and helicopter landing signals,.