Posts tagged ‘military aviation’
U.S. Arctic Strategy
“The United States is an Arctic nation,” begins the new National Strategy for the Arctic Region, released last week by the White House.
With the apparently inevitable melting of polar sea ice, areas of the Arctic previously locked in by thick ice will be open – at least in summer months – for maritime shipping, oil and gas exploration, commercial fishing scientific research and tourism. The mineral riches beneath the Arctic Sea – which is bordered by six nations, Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States — have prompted concerns about a “Cold Rush” of industries, corporations, speculators and governments hoping to take advantage of resources once thought inaccessible. But there are many more nations in Europe and Asia that want a say in how the top of the world is managed. [More on that in Arctic Council item below].
The brief (12-page) document released by the White House last Friday outlines where U.S. policy should be going in the High North. It calls for three strategic priority efforts:
- Advancing U.S. security interests in the Arctic, including operating vessels and aircraft through, over and under the airspace and waters of the Arctic. Providing for future U.S. energy security is also seen as a national security issue.
- Pursuing Responsible Stewardship of the Arctic, and that includes protecting the environment, conserving its resources and considering the needs of native peoples in the region.
- Strengthening International Cooperation to advance common interest and keep the region stable and free from conflict. The eight-member Arctic Council, which includes Sweden and Finland as well as the six previously mentioned Arctic nations, approved an Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement in 2011.The opening of sea lanes through Arctic nations’ territory and the extent of the mineral riches beneath the ice has raised concerns about who owns what and who controls territorial waters. A few years ago, a Russian underwater robot placed a Russian flag beneath the North Pole to assert Russia’s stake in the region. And Canada has been gearing up its defense forces and mapping its Arctic coastline to secure sovereignty over its portion of the region. The U.S. Continental shelf claim in the Arctic region “could extend more than 600 nautical miles from the north coast of Alaska,” according to the Arctic Strategy statement.
Scientists estimate that as much as 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas deposits – as well vast quantities of mineral resources, including rare earth elements, iron ore and nickel – lie beneath the waters of the Arctic Circle. Easier access has all sorts of implications. It could break the monopolies some nations like China have on resources such as rare earths (needed in advanced weapons systems and mobile devices). It could also take business away from transit points like the Panama and Suez canals and create all sorts of headaches for countries like Canada if all the world’s shipping starts taking unrestricted shortcuts through their backyard.
The United States will seek to enhance “sea, air and space capabilities as Arctic conditions change,” the new strategy says, adding that “We will enable prosperity and safe transit by developing and maintaining sea, under-sea and air assets and necessary infrastructure.”
The new Arctic Strategy also calls for eventual U.S. acceptance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United States is the only Arctic state that is not a party to the convention. The complex series of agreements defines the rights and responsibilities of national governments in their use of the world’s oceans. Despite the support by Presidents Bush and Obama, the Pentagon, State Department and several major business and industry groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opponents in the Senate have blocked ratification of the treaty largely on sovereignty and national defense grounds.
Patricia F.S. Cogswell, the senior director for Transborder Security on the National Security Staff, an a special assistant to the president for Homeland Security, says administration officials will be hosting roundtable discussions in Alaska sometime next month to discuss the best ways for implementing the concepts laid out by the strategy.
Arctic Council Grows
The eight member Arctic Council held their biennial ministers meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this week and decided to admit six nations – five of them Asian – as permanent observers. Only nations with territory in the Arctic (Canada, Denmark [Greenland], Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States [Alaska] can be members. Permanent observers can’t vote or speak at the meetings but they can automatically attend, unlike non-permanent observers.
Added to the list of 26 existing observer nations were: China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. No non-state entities, like Greenpeace, were approved. And the application of the European Union – which has a dispute with Canada’s Inuit people over trading in the skins, meat and other parts of seals – was put on hold.
Canada’s Health and Northern Development Minister Leona Aglukkaq took over the two-year council chairmanship from Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. The United States is slated to take over the chairmanship role in 2015.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the council meeting that he looked forward to filling out the details of the new U.S. Arctic strategy “with all of you over the course of the next few years.”
It is a puzzlement
Sailors organize cargo poles on the flight deck during a weapons transfer aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Pacific Ocean, on April 18, 2013. The Stennis is returning from an 8-month deployment to the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility — the Middle East and the Pacific. Click on the photo to see an enlarged image.
Isn’t that a Flying Car?
This airdrop took place over Malamute Drop Zone followed by paratroopers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The soldiers are assigned to the 25th Infantry Division’s 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team.
For more photos of this operation, click here.
Organized Crime Spreads
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) accepts the fact that he’ll be dealing with continued budget cuts into the forseeable future, but U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly says if he only had “13 or 14″ Coast Guard or Navy vessels to station off the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Central America, he could dramatically reduce the cocaine traffic coming into the United States.
Kelly, who took over as head of SOUTHCOM last Fall, says the key to hurting the multi-billion dollar drug trade in the Western Hemisphere is interdiction at sea — before the drugs make it ashore. At a conference on countering transnational organized crime, Kelly discussed the network running up from South America through Mexico that brings cocaine, heroin, illegal immigrants and enslaved sex workers into the United States.
He also talked about a surprising Central American ally in the war on drugs. To read more of this story go to Seapower magazine’s website.
U.S. Navy Seaman Isia Washington, an aviation ordnanceman, directs an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8 — known as the Eightballers — to land on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) underway in the Pacific Ocean, April 10, 2013.
The Stennis Carrier Strike Group has been deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.
Navy League’s Expo
Your intrepid 4GWAR editor is at the Navy League’s 2013 Sea-Air-Space Expo at the Gaylord National Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland (it’s across the Potomac from Alexandria, Virginia).
The annual gathering brings together Navy and Coast Guard officials from all over — including many foreign countries — as well as defense contractors — large and small — and scribes like your editor to find out what’s the Navy’s up to and where it thinks it’s going in the future.
We’re helping the folks at Seapower, the Navy League’s magazine, cover the scores of briefings by Navy and Coast Guard commanders, government officials, big defense contractors and organizations dedicated to the sea services.
On Monday we wrote about the Navy’s plans for unmanned aircraft on nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the successes of the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and what Naval Air Systems Command is doing to integrate new systems into the fleet while making them interoperable with existing systems and platforms.
You can see all three stories among lots of others written by the staff of Seapower by clicking here.
NORTHCOM looks North
Increased activity in the Arctic — brought on by the decrease in icebound waters during the summer months — could lead to more requests for U.S. and Canadian military assistance to other government agencies, the head of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) says.
U.S. Army Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee today (March 19) that “other traditional military actors” are already setting priorities for the region. For example: Russia is actively recapitalizing its Arctic-focused fleet. And China — which doesn’t even have any territory in the Arctic, but is looking for maritime short cuts in the High North to cut the travel time of its merchant ships — is acquiring a second icebreaker. The U.S. has two ice breakers — the Healy and the massive Polar Star, both based in Seattle — far from the Arctic.
In his testimony before the committee, Jacoby — who also commands the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) — said NORTHCOM and NORAD have signed an agreement with the Canadian Joint Operations Command to support other government departments and agencies “in response to threats and hazards in the region when requested or directed.”
Sea lanes across the Arctic have been opening up with the summer melt of sea ice in recent years. For the first time, this accessability is expected to draw more oil drilling, commercial fishing, shipping activity and sightseeing in the harsh environment (See March 6 posting on 4GWAR)
Jacoby also said U.S. military leaders were reaching out to engage with the Russian military, which has been expanding its modernization and training efforts “that extend the range of patrol activities by their air forces.”
The fourth annual Vigilant Eagle counter hijacking exercise between the U.S. and Russia is slated for August 2013. It will be a live-fly exercise involving a variety of NORAD and Russian military aircraft.
Fix it, or Lose it
The U.S. government is banning Shell Oil from drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic waters until it overhauls how it manages it’s drilling operations.
In one of his last acts before leaving office, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a press conference call March 14 that the oil company “screwed up” its preliminary drilling operations in 2012 and would not be allowed back until the oil giant developed an integrated management plan.
Salazar’s decision came after a new report found that Shell’s contractors were repeatedly ill-prepared to meet the demands of operating in the harsh Arctic environment, the Los Angeles Times reported.
During its first efforts in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, Shell suffered a number of mishaps including the grounding of its Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska. Another Shell drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Shell has already said it will not be coming back to drill in Alaskan waters until 2014.
The grounding of Shell’s Kulluk drilling rig during high winds and heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska was the most heavily publicized incident in a season plagued with misadventures. Shell’s second drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, drifted and came within 100 yards of grounding in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the report said, because of contractor Noble Corp.’s use of “only the minimum amount of anchor chain” and failure to have a contingency plan for bad weather.
The report’s harshest criticism was directed at Shell’s management of its contractors, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper site said. “The review said the company failed to make sure its contractors were up to operating in Arctic conditions, the Guardian reported.
Million Dollar View
Bathed in the eerie green glow inside a C-130 Hercules aircraft, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nickolas Alarcon observes a cargo drop zone from the rear of the plane above Yakota Air Base, Japan. Alarcon, a loadmaster, is assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron. The C-130 aircrews demonstrated their airlift capabilities during a readiness week exercise.
Don’t forget to click on the photo to enlarge the image. To see more photos like this, click here.
White House Informs Congress
U.S. troops have been deployed to the North African nation of Niger to aid French military operations against Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.
In a letter to congressional leaders today (Feb. 22) President Barack Obama said approximately 40 military personnel entered Niger two days earlier — with Niger government approval — bringing the U.S. contingent in the desert nation to 100.
Obama said the U.S. troops were in Niger to “provide support for intelligence collection” and “facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali.
The announcement confirms previous news reports that the U.S. was setting up an airfield in Niger to accommodate unarmed surveillance drones to monitor the situation in Mali and elsewhere in the region.
The Pentagon’s news service reported that most of the U.S. contingent were Air Force specialists. U.S. Africa Command recommended placing unarmed drones in Niger “to support a range of regional security missions and engagements with partner nations,” the American Forces Press Service reported.
Last month, the United States and Niger signed an agreement on the status of American forces in Niger.
French forces began an airstrike campaign last month — at the request of Mali’s president — against insurgents who were threatening the West African nation’s capital, Bamako. The U.S. Air Force began airlifting French troops into Mali shortly after the French began their counter insurgency campaign.
Mali has been in turmoil since a March 22 military coup emboldened Tuareg separatists to sweep down from the north and take control of more than half of Mali. The largely secular Tuaregs nationalists were shouldered aside by hardcore Islamist militants shortly after their battlefield successes against Mali’s army. The extreme Islamists, like Ansar Dine which has linked to al Qaeda and other terror groups, introduced strict Muslim religious law in the captured territory, and meted out harsh punishments like limb amputations and floggings.
Obama notified House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore of the Senate, that he was sending in the troops “in furtherance of U.S. national security interests.”
Medal Mishigas *
You’ve probably heard by now that the Defense Department has created a new commendation medal for members of the military who do extraordinary things off the battlefield. The pilots of unmanned aircraft and cybersecurity/cyberwarfare operators come to mind.
At his last official press briefing at the Pentagon on Feb. 13, retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the creation of the new Defense Warfare Medal, saying it “recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare that we are engaged in, in the 21st century.”
“I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems, have changed the way wars are fought. And they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar,” Panetta said.
Now the DWM will provide “distinct department-wide recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails,” he added.
According to the Defense Department, the Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps “whose extraordinary achievements, regardless of their distance to the traditional combat theater, deserve distinct department-wide recognition.”
In the hierarchy of military awards, the DWM is slated to rank just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and above the Bronze Star medal. Both of those medals may be awarded for acts of heroism or acts of merit. When awarded for heroism, the medal is awarded with a “V” for valor device.
But that hierarchical placement has veterans groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — up in arms. Many of their members feel the new medal’s standing diminishes older medals like the Purple Heart, the decoration given to those wounded in battle.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the criteria for the award “will be highly selective and reflect high standards.”
But critics say a medal for singular service far behind the lines should not take precedence over a valor medal like the Bronze Star.
But at a blogger’s roundtable this week (Feb. 20), a Pentagon official tried to set the record straight.
Juliet Beyler, acting director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management, noted that only about 2 percent of the Bronze Stars awarded since 9/11 came with the “V” device. “So by far the vast majority of Bronze Stars are not issued with the “V” device,” said Beyler, a retired Marine Corps combat engineer officer who served two tours in Iraq. She added that there are have been several medals “far lower in precedence that are also eligible to have a ‘V’ device.”
There are only three medals awarded solely for valor: the Medal of Honor; the services crosses (Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross); and the Silver Star medal. There are other medals like the Legion of Merit which are higher in precedence than the Bronze Star but they are for meritorious service over a period of time like 24 months, she said.
A blogger from the American Legion wondered why the new medal was created instead of awarding non-combat zone troops an existing decoration like the Meritorius Service Medal.
SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.