Posts filed under ‘Skills and Training’

ARCTIC NATION: Nordic Defense Worries; Special Ops Up North; Alaska Oil Fight; Canadian Patrol Boats

Russia’s Nordic Neighbors Worried.

A Swedish JAS-39 Gripen during a flight exercise in 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Christopher Mesnard)

A Swedish JAS-39 Gripen during a flight exercise in 2013.
(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Christopher Mesnard)

Sweden’s military is trying to get the country’s new government to boost long-term defense spending by adding as much as $620 million.

Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and suspicions that unidentified underwater craft violating Sweden’s territorial waters in late 2014 were Russian have onvinced military planners that more defense spending is needed to acquire needed upgrades to fighter aircraft and submarines., as well as financing military exercises, according to Defense News.  Unlike all its Baltic and North Sea neighbors (except Finland), Sweden is not a member of NATO.

The Armed Forces Command (AFC) is pushing the newly elected socialist-green government to add between $380 million and $620 million to the spending plan, which is set at about $5.5 billion in 2015. The AFC’s position is that $380 million is the absolute bare minimum amount required to cover the Swedish Armed Force’s basic needs in operations and procurement in 2015-2020.  Defense chief General Sverker Göransson has warned the government that if the annual budget remains at $5.5 billion, the armed forces could not finance key or even small scale programs, such as the next-generation Gripen fighter or submarine modernization projects. Meanwhile, funds would be stretched to pay for equipment for soldiers, multi-branch military exercises or vehicles.

Sweden’s Parliamentary Defense Committee roundly supports increasing the defense budget, Defense News said.

Meanwhile, the other non-NATO in the High North may be drawing closer to the Western alliance.

According to Alaska News Dispatch, a recent poll in Finland shows  63 percent of Finns surveyed say that an advisory referendum would be the best way to decide whether or not Finland should join NATO.

In the poll, commissioned by Yle and carried out by Taloustutkimus Research, 63 percent respondents supported a referendum — even if the president, government and a majority of parliamentarians hold the same view regarding NATO membership. Only 27 percent of respondents felt that Parliament should make the NATO membership decision.

Ten percent of respondents said they did not know how the matter should be decided.  Just over one thousand people were polled between December 29 and January 8.

The strongest referendum supporters were Finns Party and Left Alliance voters. The conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) and Swedish Peoples Party were least enthusiastic about the idea. Public opinion polls have consistently shown that a solid majority of Finns are against joining NATO, so a referendum would be unlikely to rubber-stamp membership, the Dispatch noted.

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USSOCOM-Norway

Two members of the Norwegian Naval Special Operations Command.  (Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces)

Two members of the Norwegian Naval Special Operations Command.
(Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces)

WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. Special Operations Command and top theater commanders will be going to Norway soon to discuss how to deal with aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic region.

Norway, a NATO member that shares a  195.7-kilometer (121.6 mile) land border with Russia, announced in December it was suspending bilateral military activities with Russia — because of Russia’s aggressive activities in Ukraine — until the end of 2015. “Military bilateral cooperation has been suspended since March 2014, since the illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilization in eastern Ukraine,” said a press release from Norway’s Ministry of Defense

Army General Joseph Votel said the main concern is “Russia and its coercive activities” in the Arctic. “It’s important to engage and understand what’s happening out there and understand the spaces in which they can exert their influence,” he told a SOF-industry conference last week (January 27).

To that end, Votel said he and U.S. SOF commanders (probably from Northern Command, European Command and Pacific Command – which all border the Arctic) will meet in a few weeks with their Norwegian counterparts who are “paying significant attention to this.” Norway, a member of NATO, is one of five nations that border the Arctic. The others are Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), the United States and Russia.

Russia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to assert control in the Arctic where the rapid melting of sea ice is expected to open access to the polar region — which is projected to contain 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil, as well as other valuable minerals. To see more, click here.

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 Obama-Arctic

President Barack Obama is asking Congress to increase environmental protections for millions of acres of pristine animal habitat in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, in a move that has already led to fierce opposition from the state’s Republican lawmakers.

The White House announced last week (January 25) that Obama would ask Congress to designate 12 million of the refuge’s 19 million acres as wilderness. The wilderness designation is the strongest level of federal protection afforded to public lands, and would forbid a range of activity that includes drilling for oil and gas and construction of roads. If the proposal is enacted, the area would be the largest wilderness designation since Congress passed the Wilderness Act over 50 years ago. But the proposal seems unlikely to find support in Congress, according to the New York Times.

The policy won’t have much effect on the nation’s oil production—Alaska accounts for only 7 percent of it, and most of the protected areas have been off-limits to industry for decades. And it didn’t really change the status quo or offer anywhere near the environmental protection the president could have conveyed. But he sure ticked off some Alaskans, according to National Geographic.

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Slush Breakers?

The design of the Canadian patrol boats will be modeled on this Norwegian Coast Guard vessel class: NoCGV Svalbard. (Photo by Marcusroos via wikipedia)

The design of the Canadian patrol boats will be modeled on this Norwegian Coast Guard vessel class: NoCGV Svalbard.
(Photo by Marcusroos via wikipedia)

Already five years behind schedule, Canada is finally getting underway with the construction of a small fleet of Arctic patrol boats to project a Canadian military presence in the High North where melting sea ice is opening up new maritime shipping routes – and access to underground riches.

The $3.2 billion ($3.5 billion Canadian) project will produce five ships – down from a planned eight vessels. But critics complain that none of the vessels will be ice breakers, as originally planned, and none will have landing craft equipped with an over-the-snow ground vehicle, according to Defense News. The ships weaponry is also said to be scaled back. Some critics in the military have called the planned ships “slush-breakers” since they won’t be able to break through heavy Arctic ice.

The ship-building plan was originally announced in 2007 by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The patrol vessels were supposed to be in the water by 2013. Under the new deal, construction will begin in September, with the first ship ready by 2018. The last ship is expected to be delivered by 2022, according to the builder, Canada’s Irving Shipbuilding. Lockheed Martin is set to supply the onboard combat systems.

“The Arctic offshore patrol ships will enable us to become a truly Arctic, rather than just northern, Navy with the capability to operate in the Canadian Arctic archipelago on a sustained and persistent basis,” Vice Admiral Mark Norman, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy told a naval conference in October, Defense News said.

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ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Arctic. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region.” Those interests include national security needs, protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening “international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”

Polar bears explore a surfaced U.S. submarine in the Arctic. U.S. Navy photo. (Click on the image to enlarge)

Polar bears explore a surfaced U.S. submarine in the Arctic. U.S. Navy photo.
(Click on the image to enlarge)

 

February 5, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Elite U.S.-Canadian World War II Unit Honored by Congress

The Devil’s Brigade.

First Special Service Force patch

First Special Service Force patch

The U.S. Congress has bestowed a gold medal — the highest civilian award it can bestow — to a combined U.S.-Canadian military unit that fought under some of the toughest conditions in World War II — and paved the way of today’s Green Berets and other special operations forces.

The First Special Service Force — consisting of 900 American soldiers and 900 Canadians — was actives in July 1942 and after deployments to the Aleutians against the Japanese and Italy and Southern France — was disbanded at the end of 1944.

But in that short space of time, this elite unit captured 30,000 prisoners and earned five U.S. campaign stars and eight Canadian battle honors, according to the Associated Press.

The all volunteer 1,800-man brigade — called the “Black Devils” or “Devil’s Brigade” because they attacked the Germans stealthily at night with faces blackened by boot polish as camouflage — was made up of forrest rangers, lumberjacks, ranchers, farmers and  other types of outdoorsmen.

The First Special Service Force troops, nicknamed "Black Devils"  by the Nazis, being briefed before a night patrol at Anzio, Italy, in 1944

The First Special Service Force troops, nicknamed “Black Devils” by the Nazis, being briefed before a night patrol at Anzio, Italy, in 1944

At Fort Harrison, Montana they trained in stealth tactics, hand-to-hand combat, skiing, rock climbing, demolition, amphibious and mountain warfare. Their exploits inspired a book by historian Robert H. Adleman and Colonel George Walton, a member of the brigade, as well as a 1968 movie

starring William Holden and Cliff Robertson.

There were only 42 surviving members of the FSSF present fat Tuesday’s (February 3) Capitol Hill ceremony presided over by John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The current average age of members of the unit is 92, so many of the former soldiers have died, noted CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In fact, one of their number, Al Wilson, 90, of Flamborough, Ontario, died the day before ceremony after a bout with pneumonia.

John Boehner. In addition to Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, the ceremony was attended by Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, Erin O’Toole and Army General Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command — which oversees Army Special Forces, Green Berets, Navy SEALS and other U.S. commando groups.

“They were indeed, the elite forces of their time and thus the pioneers of our two nations’ special operations forces,” said Votel.

Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate present a Congressional Gold Medal to members of the First Special Service Force. From left to right: Speaker John Boehner; Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, Erin O’Toole;  Eugene Gutierrez, Jr.;  Charles W. Mann; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; and General Joseph Votel. -- (Official Photo by Caleb Smith)

Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate present a Congressional Gold Medal to members of the First Special Service Force.
From left to right: Speaker John Boehner; Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, Erin O’Toole; American FSSF vet Eugene Gutierrez, Jr.; Canadian FSSF vet Charles W. Mann; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; and General Joseph Votel.

(Official Photo by Caleb Smith)

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.

February 4, 2015 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SOCOM Still Gung-ho on “Iron Man”-like Protective Suit

TALOS Project.

Testing preliminary TALOS prototype technologies. (Courtesy of Revision Military).

Testing preliminary TALOS prototype technologies. Note the lower body support.
(Courtesy of Revision Military).

WASHINGTON — Despite uncertain defense funding and a Pentagon strategy shift to get partner nation militaries to take a more direct role in commando operations, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), is still bullish on developing a lightweight ballistic protective suit for American forces.

Army General Joseph Votel has dispelled any speculation that support for the Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit (TALOS), may have waned since he took over as commander of SOCOM from Navy Admiral William McRaven, the super suit’s biggest booster. The futuristic commando body armor has been likened to the suit worn by the superhero, “Iron Man,” a characterization SOCOM has not discouraged – although TALOS won’t be able to fly.

Votel, an Army Ranger, told a defense industry-special operations conference Tuesday (January 27) that SOCOM’s goal remains to have a deployable suit ready for field testing a little over three years from now.

“Although many significant challenges remain, our goal of a Mark V prototype suit by August 2018 is on track right now,” Votel told the first day of the Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition. The two-day gathering, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), discusses the strategic and tactical needs of special operations forces (SOF) to fight small wars and prevent them from becoming big ones.

The TALOS suit, as envisioned by McRaven, will provide ballistic protection with advanced, lightweight armor and sensors to monitor the wearer’s heart rate, temperature and other vital signs. Using an integrated system of systems combiningg sensors, communications equipment and an electrically-powered exoskeleton, TALOS advocates say it will not only protect SOF troops but will make them run faster, hear and see better and carry heavy loads without excessive fatigue. “If we do TALOS right,” McRaven told the SO/LIC conference last year, “it will provide a huge comparative advantage over our enemies and give our warriors the protection they need.” McRaven, a Navy SEAL, retired from the military in August.

“TALOS was charted to explore and catalyze a revolutionary integration of advanced technologies to provide comprehensive ballistic protection, peerless tactical capabilities and ultimately enhance the strategic effectiveness of the SOF operator of the future,” Votel said in his keynote address at the annual NDIA gathering.

Two early prototype suits, MK I with an early exoskeleton design, and MK II an assault suit, were delivered to SOCOM headquarters at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida in June. SOCOM is working on TALOS with input from the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency, the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command and the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center – as well as numerous corporations, universities and national laboratories.

January 28, 2015 at 1:06 am Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SOCOM Leaders to Speak at Industry Conference and Expo

SO/LIC.

Air Force special tactics forces navigate their Zodiac

Air Force special tactics forces navigate in a Zodiac boat.  (U.S. Air Force photo.)

The head of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the civilian executive in charge of the command’s equipment acquisition will be among the speakers at this year’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition this week in Washington.

Sponsored by the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA), the gathering brings together Special Operations leaders from all the U.S. armed services and several foreign countries, as well as industry, foreign embassies and academics to discuss the role of Special Operations Forces in a rapidly changing world.

U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s new commander is slated to be the keynote speaker Tuesday (January 27), the gathering’s first full day. Later Tuesday, Michael Dumont, a civilian and principal deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) will be the luncheon speaker.

On Wednesday, attendees will hear from James “Hondo” Geurts, SOCOM’s acquisition executive, who is expected to outline what products are required to meet the needs of troops involved in SO/LIC activities.

Members of the U.S.  Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines work side-by-side with Philippine troops in a non-combat, training and advisory role to battle terrorists.  (Defense Dept. photo)

Members of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines work side-by-side with Philippine troops in a non-combat, training and advisory role to battle terrorists.
(Defense Dept. photo)

As in past gatherings, money constraints are expected to be a hot topic as SOCOM deals with terrorism in Africa and the Middle East, countering ISIS and training local defense forces in places like Latin America. Special Operations Forces number about 67,000 — one of the fastest growing segments of the military. American SOF are working as trainers and observers at any given time in 90 countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Djibouti, Colombia and the Philippines. Their portfolio also includes rescuing hostages or capturing leaders of violent extremist organizations .

Special Operations Forces include Army Green Berets, Rangers and Special Ops aviators, Navy SEALS and Special Warfare Combatant-craft crews, Air Force Pararescue jumpers and combat air controllers, Marine Corps Corps critical skills operators and special operations combat services specialists.

January 26, 2015 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (January 23, 2015)

No Easy Task.

Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jamean Berry

Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jamean Berry

A U.S. Marine Corps raiding force clambers from a rigid-hulled, inflatable boat up into a gas and oil platform during maritime interoperability training (MIT) off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Another group of raiders descended by rope (fast-roping) from a hovering MH-60R Seahawk helicopter.

MIT prepares the Marines for their upcoming deployment by enhancing combat skills, and teaching them techniques for boarding vessels. These Leathernecks are with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Raid Force.

To see a slide show of this exercise, click here.

And here’s another photo from a different angle to show how far up the oil rig deck was. Please click on both photos to enlarge the image.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Allison Burgos

U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Allison Burgos

January 23, 2015 at 1:51 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (January 16, 2015)

HALO Jumpers.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Callaway

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Callaway

There’s a cautionary saying from the early days of aviation that “only angels have wings.” But here we have a photo of U.S. Air Force special tactics airmen demonstrating their skill with a HALO — high altitude, low opening parachute jump. The object of such a jump is to free fall from a high altitude then open the chute at a low altitude and descend without being detected from the ground.

These airmen are from the 24th Special Operations Wing, part of U.S. Special Operations Command and one of three Air Force wings dedicated to demanding and dangerous jobs like combat controllers, pararescuemen and special operations weather officers.

Combat controllers are special air traffic controllers operating from the ground in combat zones.They provide expert air support coordination and communications capabilities and often accompany Army Special Forces, Army Rangers and Navy SEALS when they deploy into hostile areas.They call in air strikes and control air traffic on and above landing strips and jump zones in hostile or austere environments. They were among the first U.S. troops on the ground during emergency relief efforts after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Pararescuemen, known as PJs, parachute over land or water to render medical assistance and rescue downed pilots and other personnel in combat or natural disaster situations. They are also lowered to ground or water level on a cable to rescue people. Among their many tasks, special operations weather officers and airmen deploy into combat and non-permissive environments (the ‘bad guys’ or ‘bad conditions’ on the ground don’t want you there) to collect and interpret meteorological data and provide ground force commanders with accurate intelligence during a special operations mission.

The HALO jump, from MC-130H Talon II special operations aircraft over Hurlburt Field, Florida, is designed to help participants maintain their qualification for special tactics airmen, trained to jump into hostile or austere environments not accessible to aircraft.

To see a photo slideshow of the pre-jump preparations and the jump itself, click here. As ever, to enlarge the image just click on the photo.

January 16, 2015 at 1:32 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (January 2, 2015)

Reflecting Global Reach.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Maeson L. Elleman

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Maeson L. Elleman

A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle jet fighter is reflected in the visor of  Senior Airman Charlton Hampton during routine, but still risky mid-air refueling near Okinawa, Japan. As security threats and humanitarian crises continue to pop up around the world, mid-air refueling extends the range of Air Force aircraft and the  global reach needed to respond to far-flung crises. 

Hampton is a boom operator on a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 909th Air Refueling Squadron.

January 2, 2015 at 8:54 am Leave a comment

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