Posts filed under ‘Afghanistan’

AIRCRAFT: The Close Air Support Debate

Supersonic Swiss Army Knife Vs. Flying Tank.

Here is a photo of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, America’s newest fighter/bomber and the most expensive military acquisition program in U.S. history.

f-35a-lightning-ii_008-ts600

A Fifth Generation Fighter with a host of targeting and surveillance sensors, the Lockheed Martin F-35 was develop[ed with the ability – depending on the variant – to fly off an aircraft carrier or take off and land vertically on an amphibious ship or tiny airstrip. Some have called this multi-role aircraft a flying Swiss Army knife because of its advanced integrated avionics and next generation radar-evading stealth technology. It is also a flying intelligence platform with enormous processing power and sophisticated sensors.

The F-35, officially known as the Lightning II, has a range of capabilities including: air-to-air combat; close air support; ground attack and intelligence gathering for joint and coalition irregular warfare operations, as well as major combat ops.

The next photo is the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Sporting the latest 1970s technology, it was built to blow up Soviet tanks in Cold War battles that never happened.  Better known as the “Warthog,” for its homely appearance, punishment-absorbing air frame and ferocious attack capabilities, the hog has won the respect of pilots and the love of ground troops in deployments from Bosnia to Iraq and Afghanistan and currently against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

A-10 Warthog

The single seat, twin engine jet’s sturdy airframe and fearsome armament, including a 30-milimeter, seven-barrel GAU-8/A Gatling gun, have led some to call it a flying tank. But those features made it ideal for delivering close air support to troops on the ground.

Because of congressionally-mandated budget constraints, the U.S. Air Force has been trying, since 2014, to retire the approximately 300 remaining A-10s. The cost of maintaining and upgrading the 40-year-old Warthogs threatened funding for the F-35 and two other top priority Air Force programs: the long range strike bomber and a new aerial refueling tanker. The Pentagon said the Air Force could save $3.5 billion over five years by retiring the A-10 fleet rather than upgrading it. Instead, said then- Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh — himself a former A-10 pilot — the  F-35 could handle the A-10’s single mission of close air support.

But the A-10’s very vocal supporters in Congress, like Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), disputed that claim. They maintained the F-35, flying at Mach 1.6 (approximately 1,200 mph), moved too fast to loiter over a battlefield, while its lighter 25-milimeter canon only carried 182 rounds in the Air Force variant ( 220 rounds in the Navy and Marine Corps versions), compared to the Warthog’s 1,100-round capacity.

General Electric GAU-8/A

A size comparison of the GE GAU-8 Gatling gun, used on A-10 Thunderbolt II, and a Volkswagen Beetle. (U.S. Air Force photo via wikipedia)

Other advocates argued the A-10 could also fly combat search and rescue and surveillance missions. McCain noted in a white paper that funding constraints led the Air Force to slow procurement to a maximum 48 aircraft a year between Fiscal years 2018 and 2022. He has called for buying 300 “low-cost, light-attack fighters” to bridge the gap. The Air Force plans to test light attack aircraft at the OA-X demonstration this summer at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The Air Force also says it will not begin retiring the A-10 fleet before 2021, but Congress put language in the latest defense authorization bill barring the Air Force from parking the A-10s until it proves the F-35 can take over the close air support role.

To learn more, visit the Close Air Support Summit 2017 page on the IDGA website.

April 27, 2017 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

VETERANS: VA Exploring New Ways to Ease Veterans’ Pain, Trauma

Mannequins to Marijuana.

Starting off 2017 with new leadership and a promise of additional funding from the Trump administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is exploring new techniques and new technologies to enhance patient treatment and caregiver training — amid increasing demands from a mushrooming veteran population.

TSIS image-Sim Mannequin

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) National Simulation Center in Florida provides a high-fidelity training environment by replicating actual patient treatment areas with video recording for classroom debriefing and review. (VHA photo).

In addition to meeting the needs of aging 20th century vets, the VA health care system is trying to cope with a surge of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The number of veteran enrollees in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) grew from 7.9 million in 2006 to nearly 9 million a decade later, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is the most prevalent mental health challenge facing veterans, according to the VA’s National Center for PTSD. VA research indicates between 11 percent and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD in any given year. For Vietnam vets, it estimates 30 percent have had PTSD in their lifetime. More than 330,000 service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury between 2000 and 2015, according to the Defense Department’s Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

Dr. David Shulkin, the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs has pledged to improve veterans healthcare services, including providing timely access, especially cutting the first appointment wait time for vets in crisis, and to do more to address the veteran suicide rate of 20 deaths a day. Veterans Affairs was one of only three federal departments to get a funding increase in President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal. The White House is seeking  to increase VA’s funding by 6 percent to $78.9 billion.

Meanwhile, veterans’ groups are calling on Congress to increase funding for complementary and alternative therapies for the “invisible wounds of war,” PSTD and traumatic brain injury (TBI). VA is studying non-mainstream medical practices ranging from natural products like vitamins, minerals and herbs to mind and body practices like yoga, acupuncture, meditation, massage therapy and chiropractic and osteopathic spinal manipulation.

The American Legion has suggested studying medical marijuana as a therapy for chronic pain. Chronic pain is the most common problem afflicting veterans. Almost two-thirds of veterans say they are in pain, and 9.1 percent say their pain is severe.

VHA has turned to advanced medical simulation and other high tech systems to standardize training procedures and education policies across its 1,233 healthcare facilities, including 168 medical centers.

VHA opened its new national simulation training center near Orlando, Florida last fall. Using computerized mannequins and other high tech equipment, students can replicate actual patient treatment situations that can be repeated as often as necessary. The training can be shared with other VA facilities through on-line video and other digital methods.

These and related topics will be discussed by government, medical and industry experts at the VA Healthcare 2017 conference May 15-18 in Arlington, Virginia. To read more, click here.

March 30, 2017 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SO/LIC Conference, Yemen Raid,SOF Risks

Special Ops Conference.

Riverine command boats GUNEX

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michelle L. Turner)

The annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium opens Monday in Bethesda, Maryland, tackling issues ranging from the acquisition and training needs of special operations forces (SOF) to budget challenges and the demand for cooperation and  information sharing with partner nations.

The four-day conference — sponsored by the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) — will also address the widening challenge of creating a networked, connected and unified force of SOF, as well as U.S. and international law enforcement and intelligence organizations.

Speakers will include Army General Raymond Thomas, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and James Geurts, the civilian head of acquisition at SOCOM. [More on the conference at the bottom of this post.]

Yemen Raid.

A Navy SEAL was killed in a raid on an al Qaeda base in Yemen late last month. The Defense Department identified the slain sailor as Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Illinois. He died January 29 from wounds sustained in the raid. He was assigned to an East Coast based Special Warfare unit, which most news organizations have identified as SEAL Team 6. map-yemen

The raid sparked controversy in both the United States and the Middle East.

A “chain of mishaps and misjudgments,” according to the New York Times, plunged the elite commandos into a ferocious 50-minute firefight that also left three other servicemen  wounded and forced the raiders to destroy a U.S. V-22 Osprey, when the $75 million tilt-rotor aircraft was unable to take off after making a hard landing during the fire fight. There are allegations — which the Pentagon acknowledged on February 1 as most likely correct — that the mission also killed several civilians, including some children, the Times reported.

Yemeni officials were unhappy about the raid and civilian casualties but they told the Reuters news agency that permission had not been withdrawn for the United States to carry out special ops ground missions. But they made clear their “reservations” about the latest operation, according to the Voice of America website. A statement by the Yemeni embassy in Washington, VoA added, said the government “stresses that it has not suspended any programs with regards to counterterrorism operations in Yemen with the United States Government.”

The White House called the raid, the first authorized by the Trump administration, a success. But Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee challenged that conclusion, telling NBC:  “When you lose a $75 million airplane and, more importantly, an American life is lost, I don’t believe you can call it a success.”

But White House spokesman Sean Spicer defended the operation, calling it “absolutely a success,” VoA reported. “I think anybody who undermines the success of that raid, owes an apology and disservice to the life of Chief Owens,” Spicer said, referring to the Navy SEAL who died.

Earlier, Spicer said it was “hard to ever call something a complete success when you have the loss of life, or people injured.  But I think when you look at the totality of what was gained to prevent the future loss of life here in America and against our people and our institutions, and probably throughout the world in terms of what some of these individuals could have done, I think it is a successful operation by all standards.”

SOF Deaths.

The  casualty rate for highly skilled and experienced special operators, like Chief Owens, has been on the rise as the United States relies more and more on elite forces.

In the past year — for the first time — according to a New York Times report (via the Seattle Times), special-operations troops have died in greater numbers than conventional troops. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan SOF made up only a fraction of the dead. That they now fill nearly the whole casualty list, the report continues, shows how the Pentagon, hesitant to put conventional troops on the ground, has come to depend almost entirely on small groups of elite warriors.

Meanwhile, Navy SEALS and other elite units are quietly battling a frightening rise in parachute deaths, according to a Military Times investigation.

Between 2011 and 2016, 11 special operators have died in high altitude, free fall training jumps. That is a 60 percent increase over the previous five-year period, according to 13 years’ worth or records analyzed by Military Times.

Southern Strike 17

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride.)

More SO/LIC

The four-day conference is being held at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. All the commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations commands will take part in a panel discussion on the strategic and operational implications caused by the necessity to conduct coalition and inter-agency operations.

Another panel discussion on law enforcement special mission units will include representatives from several Department of Homeland Security units, including Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard.

February 12, 2017 at 10:43 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (July 8, 2016)

Danger Zone.Engine is go

U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sergeant Zachary Wolf.

The spinning propeller of this U.S. Air Force Super Tucano forms a perfect pair of circles but the sign painted on the tarmac in front of its shelter indicates the risk of getting to close.

The A-29 Super Tucano , manufactured by Brazil’s Embraer, is a single engine turboprop aircraft designed for light attack, counter insurgency, close air support and aerial reconnaissance missions.The aircraft is also used for training pilots.

This A-29 is with the 81st Fighter Squadron based at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. The squadron conducts combat training for Afghan air force pilots and maintainers in the aircraft.

Under a U.S.-funded $427 million contract, a total of 20 A-29s are going to the Afghan Air Force with the last to be delivered to Afghanistan by 2018, according to the Military.com website.

The Pentagon said A-29s manned by Afghan pilots trained in the U.S. conducted the first close air support missions by  the fledgling Afghan Air Force on April 14 , according to Military.com.

To see a video of the Super Tucano in action, click here.

July 8, 2016 at 1:32 am Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: New Commanders at SOCOM, CENTCOM

Ranger In, Ranger Out.

Votel relinquishes command of USSOCOM

Army General Joseph Votel, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during the change-of-command ceremony March 30 at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Newly promoted Army General Raymond “Tony” Thomas assumes command of SOCOM and Votel becomes commander of U.S. Central Command. (Photo by Technical Sergeant Angelita M. Lawrence)

Four star Army General Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), has taken over as commander of U.S. Central Command (CENCOM), which oversees U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

At the same time Votel moved over to CENTCOM, Army General Raymond “Tony” Thomas replaced him at Special Operations Command.

Both men are Army Rangers and both are former commanders of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — a SOCOM component which oversees the hunt for terrorists among other tasks. Thomas has also served in the 1st Special Operations Forcers Operational Deteachment — Delta, the highly secretive Army commando unit known as Delta Force.

160330-F-YT673-465

Army General Raymond “Tony” Thomas at the change of command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base at Tampa, Florida.

Both Thomas and Votel are also 1980 graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point New York.

At a brief press conference before the change of command ceremonies in Tampa, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said “accelerating the defeat” of the terrorist group that calls itself Islamic State is President Obama’s top priority. Carter added that the United States and its allies would be successful in Iraq and Syria in defeating Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL), but the group has spread around the world and the United States may be fighting the terror group on U.S. soil. “It’s going to require effort around the world, and yes, it’s going to require protection against the homeland,” Carter added.

mapMidEast

U.S. Central Command’s area of operations (in color). (CENCOM  map)

 

 

 

March 31, 2016 at 10:48 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: First Afghan Drone; U.S. Navy Foreign Sales Plan; China Drones in Africa

Afghan Scan Eagle.

ScanEagle

The Afghan military could be flying its first unarmed surveillance drone as early as March, according to a U.S. commander in Kabul, Reuters reports.

The NATO-led military alliance will provide the remotely piloted Insitu ScanEagle aircraft, and will train Afghan soldiers to operate the system, said Major General Gordon Davis, commander of the unit that procures new equipment for the Afghans, Reuters said.

*** *** ***

Navy Plans Foreign Sales.

Insitu’s RQ-21 Blackjack drone, now being flown by the Marine Corps, is among the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) the U.S. Navy says it will offer for foreign sales.

Reporting from the Singapore Air Show, Defense News, says the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout, a small unmanned helicopter, and Northrop Grumman’s high flying MQ-4C Triton, a large-scale maritime surveillance aircraft, will be among the UAS available to foreign military customers.

*** *** ***

Nigerian Drones from China?

For African governments facing tight defense budgets and chronic security threats, Chinese military equipment has great appeal, particularly as it often comes as part of a broader package of trade and investment, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

Ten African nations have started buying equipment from China within the last 10 years, including Ghana, Sierra Leone, Angola and Nigeria.

And armed drones may be among the military equipment Nigeria is buying. In January 2015, photos of an armed drone that had crashed in a field in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno found their way onto the Internet. A second crash was reported in June. The drone was identified as a CH-3, an armed version of earlier drones built by China Aerospace Science and Technology, a vast state-owned enterprise employing more than 170,000 people.

February 18, 2016 at 11:51 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (February 5, 2016)

Black Widow Falcon.

421st EFS 'Black Widows' provide combat airpower

Air Force photo by Tech. Sergeant Robert Cloys

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brad Hunt taxis to the runway in an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft on Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, February 1, 2016.

From this angle one can see how far out ahead of the wings the pilot sits. One can also see the mountains of the Hindu Kush in the background.

Hunt is a pilot assigned to the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. Known as the “Black Widows,” the 421st EFS began a six-month deployment in Afghanistan October 28, 2015.

 

February 5, 2016 at 12:10 am Leave a comment

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