Tag Archives: Afghanistan

One Direction, NASA, Patricia Lynn, and modern all weather attack.

You should probably mute this, but play “name that plane” and spot the non-T-38 plane in the video.

That’s the WB-57F  Canberra, used by NASA for high altitude atmospheric research. It was originally used by the USAF to collect atmospheric samples during nuclear testing. Collecting samples of radioactive particles after a nuclear blast, physicists can tell a great deal about how effective a device was. We collected samples both of our own devices, and those of the Soviet Union, and indeed everyone else’s.

The WB-57 was derived from the RB-57, which was something of a poor man’s alternative to the U-2. A basic B-57 bomber was converted with vastly larger wings and upgraded powerplants to give it a much higher operational ceiling. Unfortunately, as the U-2 discovered in May of 1960, the SA-2 Guideline had an even higher ceiling.

The basic B-57 itself was built by Martin, being derived from the British English Electric Canberra bomber.

The first major variant operational with the USAF, the B-57B, served in Vietnam as a day/night interdiction/strike aircraft, and even flew some strikes against North Vietnam in the early years of the war. Increasing air defenses there meant it was soon withdrawn from use up north, but it soldiered on for a few more years providing air support in South Vietnam, eventually being replaced by newer tactical aircraft.

To find targets for those tactical aircraft meant aerial reconnaissance, and a lot of it, particularly against the NVA’s logistical trail, the Ho Chi Mihn Trail.  A lot of RF-101 Voodoo and RF-4 Phantom sorties were flown, but results, particularly at night, were less than great. And so Project Patricia Lynn was started.  A handful of RB-57Es were deployed to use infra-red cameras locate targets. It was very effective, with some estimates that 80% of the usable aerial reconnaissance came from Patricia Lynn.

Martin B-57E-MA 55-4237 Da Nang AB South Vietnam 3/4 front view at Da Nang AB, South Vietnam, in January 1964. Aircraft was originally B-57E (S/N 55-4264). This aircraft was lost on Oct. 25, 1968. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The adaptability and flexibility of the B-57 also lead to a couple of experiments with using sensors such as Low Light Level Television and infrared line scanners to allow the crew to see targets at night in real time, rather than having to wait for IR film to be developed.

That impressive real time capability lead to the ugly, but impressive B-57G. With LLTV, IR and a laser rangefinder/designator built in, the B-57G was the first truly effective precision night attack jet. It was the first jet to have a built in capability to self designate targets for laser guided bombs at night. The cutting edge technology meant they were maintenance nightmares, and had poor availability rates, but when they worked, they showed just how effective night attack sensors and precision guided weapons could be.


Switching back to the big wing WB-57 for a bit, let’s talk about networked warfare for a bit. More and more, we rely on datalink networks to provide a picture of the battlefield. But that raises to problems. Not all datalinks are compatible, and most are line of sight only. That lead to the development of BACN, the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node. BACN is both a relay and a translator, allowing various networks to work together. And since line of sight increases with altitude, it was first deployed aboard the WB-57, and operationally used in Afghanistan in 2012.

The WB-57s have returned to NASA, and a third has recently been added to the fleet. Not bad for a design the British first flew in 1949.

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Filed under Air Force, NASA, planes

A Scathing Indictment of the Wounded Warrior Project

Over on the porch.  Well worth the read.

I haven’t liked that organization for quite some time, mostly because of the way they portray wounded Veterans as being objects of pity.  Salamander puts it better than I have been able to.

an organization that uses the same visuals, tone and background music for those who fight our wars, that are are also used for starving African children … and at the same time squash local organizations using a huge legal budget.


Here is some perspective, without minimizing the sacrifice.  The total US combat wounded in 13 years in Iraq and Afghanistan numbers around 52,000, with the vast majority being minor wounds with RTD (return to duty), such as mine were.  (Of the approximately 1,400 wounded suffered by 1st Marine Division in Anbar from February-September 2004, about 1,200 were RTD.  If those percentages hold for the larger number of 52,000, the total number with wounds serious enough to prevent a return to duty numbers around 7,500.)  We know that the number of traumatic amputations is fewer than 1,600.  This means, with just the last three years of donations, WWP has received enough money for almost $100,000 for each of the 7,500 seriously wounded Vets, or $457,000 for each traumatic amputee.  This is on top of the medical care and equipment provided by the VA for these Veterans.

With a CEO salary of almost half a million a year, the selling of donor lists, and this sort of reprehensible behavior:

According to a number of smaller groups, the Wounded Warrior Project…  has been spending a good deal of time and money suing other veteran-serving nonprofits on the basis that their names or logos constitute infringement on their brand.

I agree with Salamander, not a dime to WWP from me.  I will give to a smaller charity in a heartbeat.  One that does not make helping our wounded Veterans a “common business practice”, and one that does not intentionally harm others trying to give back to those who gave so much.

UPDATE:  XBradTC here. C0ncur all and endorse original message. There are many fine organizations to donate to, and it’s your money. But I would like to mention one that does have a sterling reputation, Fisher House.



An Update on CPT Golsteyn

A few months ago we wrote about the curious case of US Army Special Forces Captain Matthew Golsteyn, who had received an interim award of the Silver Star, with a recommendation for upgrade to the Distinguished Service Cross, our second highest award for val0r.  Secretary of the Army McHugh not only declined to upgrade the award, he rescinded the award of the Silver Star.

Now, some months later, the other shoe drops:

“In an interview conducted with the CIA, then-Capt. Golsteyn claimed to have captured and shot and buried a suspected IED bomb maker,” the ArmyTimes said Thursday, citing a newly surfaced Army document. “He further went (on) to comment that he went back out with two others to cremate the body and dispose of the remains.”

The publication reported that the secret document was first published Wednesday by The Intercept website.

The internal Sept. 29, 2014, information paper says an investigation by Army criminal investigators determined Golsteyn “committed the offenses of murder and conspiracy based on the interview provided by the CIA,” the Washington Post said.

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division conducted an investigation, but was unable to discern any corroborating evidence, such as witnesses or a burial site. Absent that, no criminal proceedings were viable.

If what the internal Army memo says is true (and at this point, we really only have the CIA’s word for it that then CPT Golsteyn made such statements), that would certainly be cause for both the revocation of the award, and the separation board Golsteyn faces next week.


Filed under Afghanistan, army

Happy Birthday, Flashy!

From a few years back:


This morning, let’s wish Happy Birthday to perhaps England’s greatest and most decorated military hero. No, not the Duke of Wellington. Nor Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. Not Lord Nelson, nor Viscount Slim, Haig, Mountbatten, nor Montgomery. None of them.

Happiest of Birthdays to Colonel Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC KCB KCIE CdLH MoH, born this day, 1822. The erstwhile bully of Rugby School went on to unlikely fame (if not fortune) in Afghanistan in 1842, the Sikh War, the 1848 revolution, the Crimea (where he participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade), the Indian Mutiny, John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid, both sides of the American Civil War, Maximillian’s Mexico, Little Big Horn, Natal (at Isandlwana), the Peking Legation, and a few other places. The tall, dark, handsome soldier left a trail of accidental heroism, scandal, and empassioned paramours across just about every continent.

Each and every account of his adventures is worth the read.

Happy Birthday, Flashy.



General Mattis Speaks to Veterans


From remarks at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco, April 16th, 2015:

Our country gives hope to millions around the world, and you – who knew that at one time your job was to fight well – kept that hope alive. By your service you made clear your choice about what kind of world we want for our children: The world of violent jihadist terrorists, or one defined by Abraham Lincoln when he advised us to listen to our better angels?

I searched for words to pay my respects to all of you here tonight and had to turn to others more articulate than I to convey what our service meant. Someone once said that America is like a bank: If you want to take something out, then you must be willing to put something in.

For the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – poorly explained and inconclusive wars, the first major wars since our Revolution fought without a draft forcing some men into the ranks – the question of what our service meant may loom large in your minds. You without doubt have put something into the nation’s moral bank.

Rest assured that by your service, you sent a necessary message to the world and especially to those maniacs who thought by hurting us that they could scare us.

No granite monuments, regardless of how grandly built, can take the place of your raw example of courage, when in your youth you answered your country’s call. When you looked past the hot political rhetoric. When you voluntarily left behind life’s well-lit avenues. When you signed that blank check to the American people payable with your lives. And, most important, when you made a full personal commitment even while, for over a dozen years, the country’s political leadership had difficulty defining our national level of commitment.

You built your own monument with a soldier’s faith, embracing an unlimited liability clause and showing America’s younger generation at its best when times were at their worst.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., arguably the most articulate justice in the Supreme Court’s history and himself a combat-experienced infantry officer in our awful Civil War, said: “As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

You, my fine veterans, are privileged that you will never face a judgment of having failed to live fully. For you young patriots were more concerned in living life fully than in your own longevity, freely facing daunting odds and the random nature of death and wounds on the battlefield.

So long as you maintain that same commitment to others and that same enthusiasm for life’s challenges that you felt in yourself, your shipmates, your comrades and buddies, you will never question at age 45 on a shrink’s couch whether you have lived.

Veterans know the difference between being in a dangerous combat zone and being in close combat, seeking out and killing the enemy. Close combat is tough. Much of the rest of war is boring if hard work. Yet nothing is mentally crippling about hard work in dangerous circumstances, as shown by generations of American veterans who came thankfully home as better men and women.

Close combat, however, is an “incommunicable experience” – again quoting Holmes. Then there was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Union general, who spoke of war’s effects, distinguishing the impact of close combat from military service in general. He said that such combat is “a test of character, it makes bad men worse and good men better.”

We are masters of our character, choosing what we will stand for in this life. Veterans today have had a unique privilege, that of having seen the tenacious spirit of our lads, like those young grunts preparing for a patrol by loosely wrapping tourniquets on their limbs so they could swiftly stop their own bleeding if their legs were blown off. Yet day after day they stoically patrolled. Adversity, we are told, reveals a man to himself, and young patriots coming home from such patrols are worth more than gold, for nothing they face can ever again be that tough.

Now, most of us lost friends, the best of friends, and we learned that war’s glory lay only in them – there is no other glory in warfare. They were friends who proved their manhood at age 18, before they could legally drink a beer. They were young men and women taking responsibility for their own actions, never playing the victim card. Rather, they took responsibility for their own reaction to adversity.

This was something that we once took for granted in ourselves and in our buddies, units where teenagers naturally stood tall, and we counted on each other. Yet it is a characteristic that can seem oddly vacant in our post-military society, where victimhood often seems to be celebrated. We found in the ranks that we were all coequal, general or private, admiral or seaman. We were equally committed to the mission and to one another, a thought captured by Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying his spirit bled each time one of his men fell.

Looking back over my own service, I realize now how fortunate I was to experience all this and the many riotous excursions I had when I was privileged to march or fight beside you. And a question comes to mind: What can I do to repay our country for the privilege of learning things that only you in this room could have taught me? For today I feel sorry for those who were not there with us when trouble loomed. I sometimes wonder how to embrace those who were not with us, those who were not so fortunate to discover what we were privileged to learn when we were receiving our Masters and Ph.D.s in how to live life, and gaining the understanding and appreciation of small things that we would otherwise have never known.

How do we embrace our fellow citizens who weren’t there? America is too large at heart for divisions between us. If we became keenly aware of anything at war, it was what is printed on our coins: “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one.

We veterans did our patriotic duty, nothing more, certainly nothing less, and we need to “come home” like veterans of all America’s wars. Come home stronger and more compassionate, not characterized as damaged, or with disorders, or with syndromes or other disease labels. Not labeled dependent on the government even as we take the lead in care of our grievously wounded comrades and hold our Gold Star families close. We deserve nothing more than a level playing field in America, for we endured nothing more, and often less, than vets of past wars.

For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned – take our post-traumatic growth – and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.

We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism.

We also learned the pleasure of exceeding expectations. We saw the power we brought when working together as a team. We learned alongside one another, in teams where admired leadership built teamwork, where free men and women could change the world.

Now having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world and having worked with others of many cultures, having worked in one of the most diverse teams on earth – that of the U.S. military – and having faced down grim circumstances without losing our sense of humor or moral balance under conditions where war’s realities scrape away civilization’s veneer, we have learned that nothing can stop our spirit unless we ignore Lincoln’s call to our better angels.

American colleges and businesses know your pedigree for commitment, reliability and loyalty. This is why so many corporations and startups aggressively recruit veterans. As San Francisco-based Uber sums it up: Veterans deliver higher value. Bellwether companies like Microsoft, Uber, Starbucks and more act on that premise.

I will close with words again borrowed from others.

From Alexander Dumas: You should be satisfied with the way you have conducted yourselves, “with no remorse for the past, confident regarding the present and full of hope for the future.” When you retire to bed you should sleep “the sleep of the brave.”

If Jackie Robinson, a sparkling ballplayer and veteran of World War II, could write his own epitaph on leadership by saying “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” then you who are fortunate to have learned so much living in the greatest country on earth while making an impact so young – you should recognize that our country needs your vigor and wisdom. It was gained at great cost to our comrades and to our Gold Star families, who need to see their sons’ spirits live on in your enthusiasm for life.

I am reminded of Gen. William Sherman’s words when bidding farewell to his army in 1865: “As in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens.”


Filed under Defense, guns, history, leadership, SIR!, veterans, war

MCLIC Madness

Some of this video you might have seen posted here earlier. The MCLIC is the Mine Clearing Line Charge. Basically it is a tube stuffed with plastic explosives. A rocket drags the tube out of its bin, and across a minefield. The charge is then exploded. The blast overpressure will cause mines in the vicinity to sympathetically detonate. The Marines use a modified M1 tank hull, the Assault Breacher Vehicle, as a launch platform for the MCLIC, though it can be adapted to several other mounts, including a trailer mount towed by a Humvee. The first part of the video is interesting as it shows how the MCLIC is set up on the vehicle, and gives you a decent look at the rocket itself.

The second half of the video shows five or six of a man portable, much smaller version of the MCLIC, known as the APOBS or Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System being used to clear mines/IEDs from an open lot in the village.

Best of all, there’s some great splodey.


Filed under marines

The B-1 vs. The A-10, and a very misleading headline.

On June 9, 2014, confusion and poor tactics led to a B-1B bomber dropping two 500 pound bombs on US and friendly Afghan troops. Five Americans and one Afghan soldier were killed in the incident.

Yesterday’s Washington Times published a lengthy piece by Rowan Scarborough about the incident:

The “friendly fire” airstrike that killed five American soldiers in Afghanistan on June 9 is the first known case of a battlefield catastrophe that can be linked to automatic defense spending cuts that greatly curtailed prewar training.

A review of the worst American fratricide in the long Afghanistan war also shows that the military’s official investigation faults a Green Beret commander, an Air Force air controller and the four-man crew on the B-1B bomber that conducted the errant strike.

But the investigation, headed by an Air Force general, does not question the use of a strategic bomber for close air support, even though experts say the tragedy illustrates why the big plane is misplaced in that role.

The Washington Times has reviewed the investigation and interviewed knowledgeable sources to compile a picture of the doomed operation in southern Afghanistan’s Zabul province, as well as the political and military missteps that precipitated it. Key among them, according to defense experts, was the use of the strategic bomber.

Scarborough’s angle is that the B-1B is an obviously poor choice for the Close Air Support mission, and apparently, the Air Force is stubbornly refusing to admit that in spite of the opinions of “experts.”

And of course, there’s a political battle about the future of the A-10.  From further down in the article, John McCain has to make an appearance. From Senate hearings in April, questioning the Secretary of the Air Force, Debra Lee James:

Mr. McCain, not afraid to bluntly question generals and their civilian heads, stopped her right there, asking her to detail the “so forth.”

She said it included the B-1B: “It is my belief that the B-1 bomber has done some close air support in Afghanistan.”

Sen. McCain expressed amazement.

“That’s a remarkable statement,” he told her. “That doesn’t comport with any experience I’ve ever had, nor anyone I know has ever had. See, this is an example. You’re throwing in the B-1 bomber as a close air support weapon to replace the A-10. This is the reason why there is such incredible skepticism here in Congress.”

Gen. Welsh jumped in to say the B-1B had been doing close air support for some time.

Incensed, Mr. McCain said those had been “a very limited number of missions of close air support. General, please don’t insult my intelligence.”

Senator McCain, for all his military aviation experience, seems to have not noticed that B-1Bs have been flying Close Air Support missions in Afghanistan for thirteen years now, and this is the first friendly fire incident in which one has been involved.

In fact, while there are potential issues with using the B-1B for CAS, it also brings some very good attributes to the fight. First, persistence. It has the endurance to stay on station for hours on end, far longer than any tactical fighter bomber, even the A-10. Second, compared to any other platform, it can carry a much greater payload of ordnance. That gives it the ability to reattack targets as needed. Additionally, it can carry a wide variety of weapons on each mission, allowing it to tailor the the weapon to the target. The B-1B, originally intended as a nuclear bomber, is restricted by treaty these days to a purely conventional mission. And the community has invested a lot of time and money to optimize the platform for the CAS role.

Of course, “experts” have to weight in.

“The A-10s would not have been orbiting five miles away,” said William Smith, a retired Air Force officer who logged more than 3,000 miles on the A-10. “They would have been right over top of the fight.”

He further explained how the A-10 and pilot do the job: “Being right over the fight, with the A-10’s tighter turn radius, gives us the ability to stay right on top of the target, allowing the pilot to have constant eyes on the fight. A-10 pilots know you can’t see the infrared strobe in the sniper pod. You need to look out the window, through the NVGs. A-10 pilots wear the goggles continuously.”

Mr. Smith is now part of a coalition trying to save the A-10. He grimaces when discussing the B-1B as a stand-in.

Here’s the thing, yes, the expert cited is indeed an expert. But n0te that he has a strong bias to advocate for the A-10. Let’s also note that the A-10 has been involved in several fraticide incidents, including an attack on the British Army in Iraq in 2003.

Fraticide is not a platform problem, it’s usually a tactics and communications problem, often exacerbated by “buck fever” where someone is overly eager to contribute to the fight.

And sometimes, the real reason is staring you in the face. From this very same Washington Times article, there’s this stunning bit:

In addition, The Times review found that the Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), a critical player who made a major miscalculation that night, had a checkered career.

Upon arriving June 1 in Afghanistan, he had been told before the operation that he had been selected for “involuntary separation,” meaning his Air Force career was over.

This JTAC also had been demoted in rank for misconduct. On another occasion, he was kicked out of a special unit because he twice called in close air support directly over friendly positions during training. Yet he was allowed to participate in the operation on relatively short notice.

The Times has learned the JTAC showed a lack of basic knowledge about close air support when interviewed afterward by investigators.

Emphasis mine.

A JTAC who was so incompetent that he should never been allowed to touch a radio, combined with the fog of war lead to this tragedy. All the other factors cited in the Air Force investigation are simply contributing factors, not causal ones.

Many people, McCain, Smith and others, are using the deaths of these soldiers for political ends. Mr. Scarborough should be ashamed of himself for playing along.


Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force