How Russia’s plans to use its Su-33s as carrier-based fighters fell apart

Russia Su-33 fighter takeoff Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
A Sukhoi Su-33 takes off of Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea off of Syria, January 10, 2017.

  • The Sukhoi Su-33 distinguished itself in the early 2000s as Russia’s most capable carrier-based fighter.
  • But it fell into naval aviation limbo after being eclipsed by a smaller and more versatile competitor.
  • The Su-33 may get a reboot, but its fate also depends on the future of Russia’s sole aircraft carrier.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Sukhoi Su-33 distinguished itself in the early 2000s as Russia’s most capable carrier-based air superiority fighter but fell into naval aviation limbo after being eclipsed by a smaller and more versatile competitor.

In the latter stages of the Cold War, Soviet strategists conceived a new power projection platform to secure the USSR’s vast Eurasian frontiers and compete with NATO’s carrier strike groups: “heavy aviation cruisers,” or a hybrid cross between an aircraft carrier and heavily armed battleship.

In their earliest implementation, these heavy cruisers carried Yak-38 VTOL fighters; however, the Yak-38 was promptly retired for its anemic performance and crippling technical problems.

The Soviet Navy sought a more robust carrier-based solution, boasting a longer range and greater payload capacity for high-intensity missions.

Here comes the Su-33:

Russia Su-33 fighter landing on Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
An Su-33 aircraft lands on Admiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean Sea off of Syria, November 21, 2016.

Toward the late 1970s, the decision was made to develop a carrier-based variant of the prolific Su-27 Flanker. Initially labeled the “Su-27K,” the fighter was rebranded as the Su-33 after its introduction in the summer of 1998.

Despite their outward similarity, the Su-33 features a series of practical changes over its Su-27 counterpart: a reinforced undercarriage, rugged landing gear, canards, folding wings, noticeably larger wing area, and slightly more powerful AL-31F3 engines.

These design features are specifically meant to accommodate the tighter layouts and smaller runways of aircraft carriers. The Su-33 also features two additional payload hardpoints for a total of 12, and – despite widely overlapping with the Su-27 in weapon choices – is compatible with Kh-41/Kh-31 anti-ship missiles.

But the Su-33 proved slightly too big for comfortable mass-operation on Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov carrier. More importantly, it lacked the full range of payload delivery features necessary to fulfill its purpose within Soviet naval aviation. Despite haphazard attempts to outfit it with anti-ship missiles, the Su-33 unmistakably remains an air superiority fighter.

Russia aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
An Su-33, left, and a MiG 29K, right, on Admiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean Sea off of Syria, January 8, 2017.

As with its Su-27 cousin, the fact that it cannot effectively fulfill ground-attack roles makes the Su-33 inherently unviable as a dedicated tool of littoral power projection and markedly reduces its operational value as Admiral Kuznetsov’s primary carrier-based fighter.

It doesn’t help that the Su-33 comes with an archaic avionics package that cannot be meaningfully upgraded without a comprehensive refit plan.

In 2009, the Russian navy decided to replace the 30-35 Su-33s that are currently in service with the competing, cheaper MiG-29K. In some ways, the transition from the Su-33 to the MiG-29K marks a technical downgrade: notably, the Su-33 boasts a significantly higher operating range and maneuverability.

However, the MiG-29K is much more capable as a ground-strike and multirole fighter – it boasts an expanded selection of standoff missiles and guided bombs.

No less crucially, the MiG-29K is outfitted with electronic countermeasures (ECM) features, low observability technology, and a comparatively sophisticated Zhuk-M multifunction radar for significantly more robust ground-strike capabilities.

A reboot?:

Russia Su-33 fighters on Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
Admiral Kuznetsov with Su-33 fighters at a ship-repair yard, October 14, 2016.

Some Su-33 fighters are reportedly in the process of being updated with a better engine, “improved detection system,” and other, unspecified changes to make it more viable as a multi-role fighter.

The extent and timeline of that upgrade package remain unclear. The service future of the Su-33 – and Russia’s naval aviation more broadly – is inextricably linked with Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, which is undergoing repairs and a deep refit on the heels of two catastrophic accidents over the past several years.

Kuznetsov’s refit reportedly involves an improved and more reliable flight deck, capable of fielding the latest Su-33 and MiG-29K variants.

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The F-16 pilot who was ready sacrifice her life to bring down Flight 93 on September 11

F-16 fly-by
An F-16 performs a fly-by over Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, March 31, 2020.

  • On September 11, 2001, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney and her wingman were airborne over Washington DC in unarmed F-16s.
  • The plan was to sacrifice themselves to bring down Flight 93, the hijacked Boeing 757 headed for the nation’s Capitol.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, as Americans everywhere were shocked by the terror attack that would change the world, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney and her wingman were airborne in their unarmed F-16 Fighting Falcons over Washington DC.

The plan was to sacrifice themselves to bring down Flight 93, the hijacked Boeing 757 headed for the nation’s Capitol.

Born to be a fighter pilot

Heather Penney
Heather Penney.

Heather Penney was born on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near the tail end of the Vietnam War. Her father, Col. John Penney, was a pilot with multiple combat missions at the stick of America’s A-7 Corsair II under his belt.

The A-7 was a subsonic attack aircraft originally developed as a replacement for the U.S. Navy’s A-4 Skyhawk, but eventually found its way into Air Force hangers as their own A-1 Skyraider attack aircraft aged out of relevance. The A-7 wasn’t a fast and nimble fighter jet, so much as a reliable long-range bruiser that could deliver ordnance to ground targets with incredible precision compared to other platforms of its day.

Because of their role providing close air support in the unforgiving jungles of Southeast Asia, A-7 pilots had to be comfortable in the fray, literally flying their aircraft straight at enemy positions and opening fire with its M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon, or using its first-of-its-kind Heads Up Display (HUD) to drop unguided bombs with near-pinpoint accuracy.

Young Heather Penney grew up seeing her father in uniform and listening in as he and his friends told stories about their combat tours over Vietnam. In that environment, it may come as little surprise that she was drawn to aviation from an early age – particularly the powerful new generation of fighter jets that were just beginning to emerge at the time.

By the time Penney was 18 years old, she already had her private pilot’s license, but at the time, the United States didn’t allow women in combat roles. She knew that, regardless of her skill in an aircraft, following in her father’s footsteps simply wasn’t an option, so she enrolled at Purdue University. She chose to major in Literature, aiming for a career in education, rather than one 30,000 feet above a combat zone.

But shortly before Penney enrolled in graduate school, Congress reconsidered America’s position on women in combat. With bureaucracy no longer barring her from getting behind the stick of one of America’s top-tier jets, Penney headed straight for the local Air National Guard recruiting office when she heard.

“I signed up immediately,” Penney recalled. “I wanted to be a fighter pilot like my dad.”

The first female F-16 pilot in the 121st Fighter Squadron

Heather Penney
Heather Penney, director of US Air Force Systems at Lockheed Martin, at a panel at the Air Space, Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, September 19, 2017.

Penney took to the F-16 just like she always knew she would, and before long, she was checking in at the 121st Fighter Squadron of the DC Air National Guard as the first female Viper pilot in the wing’s history.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, now-1st Lt. Penney arrived at work, grabbing a seat around the briefing table. She was just returning from two weeks of air combat training in Nevada, but in a very real way, Penney was still a rookie without much experience in the supersonic fighter.

And as luck would have it, that morning, “Lucky” wasn’t scheduled to fly at all.

“I could tell it’d be a gorgeous flying day, but I wasn’t going to be flying that morning,” Penney later recalled.

“I had called the tape the night before – we had an answering machine that had the next day’s flying schedule on it – and I wasn’t.”

America was a different place leading up to the attacks of September 11th. The Soviet Union had fallen a decade prior, and shortly thereafter the United States and its coalition allies had dominated the Iraqi military in the Gulf War. With the threat from a rising China still years away, America found itself an unmatched power in a historically stable world.

That stability was to be short-lived. At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11, a nearly 160-foot long Boeing 767 with 87 people on board, collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

While today, there are always armed aircraft standing by for exactly such an attack, in a pre-9/11 world, that wasn’t the case at Andrews Air Force Base. There were no armed fighters, and no jets standing by to take off on short notice.

From peace to war in just 17 minutes

September 11 9/11 attacks

Everyone was immediately aware of the World Trade Center crash, but like most Americans at the time, they assumed it was nothing more than a tragic accident.

In fact many dismissed the story, assuming it had been a personal plane, like a small Cessna, that likely hit the building. But 17 minutes after the first aircraft hit the North Tower, another Boeing 767, this time United Airlines Flight 175, hit the South Tower. Most of the nation didn’t know it yet, but the pilots at Andrews Air Force Base did; America was at war.

“There was no perceived threat at the time, especially one coming from the homeland like that,” explained Col. George Degnon, former vice commander of the 113th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base.

“It was a little bit of a helpless feeling, but we did everything humanly possible to get the aircraft armed and in the air. It was amazing to see people react.”

‘Lucky, you’re coming with me’

Pentagon 9/11
Damage to the Southwest E-ring of the Pentagon building after the September 11 attacks.

At 9:37 a.m., a third hijacked aircraft, this time American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon, just a 30-minute drive from the briefing room where Penney sat.

Almost simultaneously, another message came through the pipeline: there was another hijacked aircraft in the air and it was heading for Washington DC.

Air Force personnel sprang into action, but despite their professionalism, confusion swelled within the ranks. No one had anticipated such an attack, and there were no standing procedures to follow. Penney knew the hijacked aircraft would have to be intercepted and shot down before it could reach a target like the Capitol building, but there were no armed F-16s standing by for the job.

Every Fighting Falcon on the tarmac was equipped with dummy rounds and fake munitions meant to mimic real ordnance for training. It would take at least an hour to get the ammunition changed out and have missiles mounted on the aircraft’s hardpoints.

“We know we have to get airborne. We know we have to protect. I was so eager, so impatient, and yet so frustrated and angry, because we couldn’t,” Penney said.

“As I said, we’re with the DC Guard. We’re not part of our nation’s alert squadron.”

But waiting an hour wasn’t an option. The United States was under attack and the men and women of Andrews Air Force Base may have been the only thing standing between the American Capitol and what was now a 250,000-pound missile full of innocent people heading straight for it.

Penney was too junior in rank to do anything about it, but just then, she caught the eye of Col. Marc “Sass” Sasseville.

He was scrambling to put on his flight suit, having just received the go-ahead from Vice President Dick Cheney to put fighters in the air and start searching for the hijacked airliner.

“Lucky, you’re coming with me,” the colonel shouted.

No time for checklists, let alone missiles

Air Force F-16 fighter jets
F-16 Fighting Falcons, May 3, 1999.

Jumping at the opportunity to get into the fight, Penney took off behind Sass, running to their respective F-16s. But the junior pilot had never had to scramble a fighter in combat conditions before.

Like any pilot, she deferred to her training, hurriedly beginning the checklist required to safely start an F-16 and get it ready to fly.

“Lucky, what are you doing? Get your butt up there and let’s go!” Sasseville shouted.

So Penney jumped into the cockpit, fired up her engines, and screamed to her ground crew to yank out the wheel chalks keeping the aircraft from rolling.

As she began to taxi down the runway, her crew chief still had his headphones plugged into the fuselage, allowing the two of them to communicate directly. He was still pulling safety pins out of the fighter as it rolled down the tarmac.

By the time her crew chief unplugged, Sass was already in the air. Penney whispered to herself, “God, don’t let me [expletive] up” and followed right behind. They had made it into the sky, and only then did the gravity of the situation begin to set in.

A one-way trip

9/11 Pentagon Emergency Response

Now airborne and on the hunt, Sasseville and Penney began to form a plan.

As they flew low over the smoldering Pentagon at over 400 mph, the senior pilot considered their options. He already knew that with no munitions on board, they were on a suicide mission. That wasn’t the part troubling him. It was the aerodynamic design of their target that gave him pause.

“We don’t train to bring down airliners,” said Sasseville in an interview in 2011.

“If you just hit the engine, it could still glide and you could guide it to a target. My thought was the cockpit or the wing.”

Penney did her best not to let the situation at the Pentagon affect her thinking.

“There was no way to avoid seeing the smoke that was billowing out of the building,” she said.

“I didn’t dwell on that because we had more important things to do. It was a completely surreal experience.”

While Sass will tell you that his plan was to eject just as his F-16 made contact with the Boeing 757, potentially giving him a small chance at surviving, Penney had done the same arithmetic in her head.

But with the stakes so high and her limited experience, she calmly decided that saving her own life simply wasn’t as important as stopping the airliner from hitting its target. She told herself that she wouldn’t bother trying to eject.

“I genuinely believed that was going to be the last time I took off,” she told the Washington Post. “If we did it right, this would be it.”

Both pilots scanned the skies for Flight 93, solemn in their determination to stop it from destroying America’s Capitol even at the cost of their own lives … But despite their heroic efforts, it was a different group of heroes that would stop the 757 from making it to Washington; the passengers on board.

‘The passengers on Flight 93 are the true heroes’

Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville Pennsylvania
An American flag flies from a makeshift altar overlooking the investigation of the United Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, September 16, 2001.

Penney and Sasseville may have been willing to give their lives to save others, but it was the passengers of Flight 93 who would make ultimately make that sacrifice.

As the two pilots scoured the skies over Washington DC, the people on board the Boeing 757 were getting word of other terrorist hijackings that had been crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In order to prevent their own flight from becoming another such attack, a group of passengers decided to attempt to retake the plane.

A struggle ensued, and as the brave men and women of Flight 93 fought to retake the plane, the hijackers deliberately crashed it into the ground, killing everyone on board.

As Penney and Sasseville searched for their target, they wouldn’t know about the heroic last stand of the passengers of Flight 93 for hours to come.

“The passengers on Flight 93 are the true heroes. In the years since that bright, blue morning, I’ve come to realize that heroism isn’t something unique or possessed by only a chosen few,” Penney said.

Despite the tragedy of that day, Penney points out that Flight 93 stands as a shining example of what Americans will do to help one another, to save one another, when thrust into incredible circumstances.

“I still get really frustrated with the failures of the command and control and all of that, but what I now see that gives me tremendous hope is that they were willing to do what was unimaginable, and what they had not had time to think of,” she said.

“When you take that oath of office, when you choose and enter the military, you use that time to sort of meditate on what that might require. And they had to make that decision.”

You can read biographies of each person who died on Flight 93 here.

Penney would go on to serve two combat tours in Iraq during the Global War on Terror that would follow, eventually finding her way to Lockheed Martin as the director of T-50A and Aviation Training Systems, where she worked until 2018.

Today, she’s a senior resident fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. She remained in uniform for the Air National Guard until 2020.

You can watch Heather “Lucky” Penney discuss her experiences in the video below:

Read the original article on Business Insider

El Salvador president’s unprecedented bitcoin experiment overshadows a more conventional power-grab

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele in February.
El Salvador President Nayib Bukele in February.

  • El Salvador has introduced Bitcoin as an official currency as part of a plan by President Nayib Bukele.
  • Despite Bukele’s strong approval, more than two-thirds of Salvadorans don’t like the Bitcoin plan.
  • The plan also comes amid a power-grab by Bukele that legal scholars have called unconstitutional and other countries, including the US, have criticized.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s millennial president, is used to making decisions that ring alarm bells among democracy advocates while triggering little concern at home, where he remains wildly popular.

But El Salvador’s dramatic moves of the past few days have had the unprecedented effect of producing sharp rebukes across multiple sectors in and out of the country, while generating great excitement in the world of Bitcoin devotees. They were thrilled to see the iconoclastic leader make El Salvador the world’s first country to make the cryptocurrency legal tender.

Starting Tuesday, Bitcoin became an official currency in El Salvador, along with the US dollar, whose adoption two decades ago crushed inflation and brought a measure of stability to a country that had suffered wild economic swings.

More on the digital currency in a moment. But first, it’s important to note the context, in terms of what else is happening in El Salvador.

Just days before Bitcoin’s introduction, the country’s top court issued a ruling that essentially overrode the constitution, allowing a president to seek consecutive reelection and thus opening a path for Bukele to extend his presidency.

Earlier, the Bukele-controlled legislature had fired five key members of the Supreme Court and the attorney general, in a power-grab legal scholars called unconstitutional and several democratic countries, including the United States, sharply criticized. The replacement judges, loyal to Bukele, were the ones who opened the door to a consecutive second term in office for him.

Bitcoin El Salvador protest
Many in El Salvador oppose the introduction of bitcoin as legal tender.

Separately, just days ago, Bukele’s party passed a series of legal reform bills that, among other things, would remove hundreds of judges and prosecutors, cementing his hold on the judiciary. Enfeebled opposition parties cried foul, while the U.S. Embassy again decried the mounting evidence of “democracy in decline in El Salvador,” comparing Bukele to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Against this backdrop, Bukele, the former public relations executive, was no doubt happy to see world headlines and local attention turn instead to the introduction of Bitcoin and his role as the cutting-edge visionary bringing digital currency to prime time.

Bukele had announced his plan to make Bitcoin legal tender in June, in an English-language video address to a gathering of Bitcoin proselytizers in Miami, where it was greeted with rapturous applause. Within three days of the announcement, the National Assembly approved the controversial plan without any meaningful debate.

Despite the president’s approval rating, which according to most polls remains firmly above 80%, some 68% of Salvadorans don’t like the Bitcoin plan.

The idea has never been tried before, and it’s possible it will bring great benefits to El Salvador’s impoverished people. But the negative reaction from financial analysts and development specialists shows that, at the very least, it deserved more scrutiny.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund opposed it. The credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded El Salvador’s rating because of it, and others issued warnings.

Making the case for Bitcoin, Bukele says it will save Salvadorans hundreds of millions of dollars in transaction fees. Remittances from Salvadorans working abroad make up more than 20% of the country’s GDP. Most people don’t have bank accounts and work in the informal, cash economy, so they have to pay steep fees to cash the checks from relatives abroad.

Bukele says the Bitcoin economy will also attract foreign investment and bring a wave of growth and development.

A demonstrator holds up a sign against the government's Bitcoin law during a LGBT community Pride parade on June 26, 2021 in San Salvador, El Salvador
A demonstrator protests the government’s bitcoin law during a LGBT community Pride parade in San Salvador, June 26, 2021.

Critics point to some of the obvious risks of his plan. On Tuesday morning, the day of the cryptocurrency’s introduction, Bitcoin’s price plummeted 17% before recovering some of its losses.

The notoriously volatile currency can swing in hours more than most currencies move in a year. In a country where the per capita GDP amounts to less than $300 per month, that could be devastating for individuals who put their savings into Bitcoin. It could also be catastrophic for the economy and for the treasury, which could see the value of its tax collections sharply eroded, making reliable planning all but impossible.

Just as disturbing is the one characteristic of cryptocurrencies that has made them a favorite for criminals: their lack of transparency. By making El Salvador the first country on Earth where everyone – including the president, judges and police officers – will have a Bitcoin account, Bukele is throwing gasoline on the destructive flames of corruption.

He may well turn his country into a global epicenter for money laundering. The influx of dirty money could propel a deceptive wave of prosperity, one that is accompanied by a surge of criminality whose harm will ultimately outweigh any benefits.

One thing is certain: Bukele’s introduction of untraceable Bitcoin is good news for drug cartels and other criminal enterprises.

The law requires that “every economic agent must accept Bitcoin as payment,” a mandate that has alarmed some economists and students of totalitarianism. Bukele later softened the mandate, saying the use of Bitcoin is optional. But it remains unclear whether penalties will be imposed against businesses that refuse to accept it.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele addresses the nation during a live broadcast to speak about his bitcoin legal tender plan, at the Presidential House in San Salvador, El Salvador June 24, 2021
Bukele during an address about his bitcoin legal tender plan, at the Presidential House in San Salvador, June 24, 2021

The World Bank rejected Bukele’s request for assistance in introducing the currency, arguing that it would be harmful to macroeconomic stability and noting the high environmental cost of Bitcoin “mining,” which requires enormous amounts of electricity to power the server farms that “create” new coins.

The introduction of Bitcoin has also complicated the country’s path forward with the IMF. Officials were negotiating a $1.3 billion aid package, but El Salvador’s financial footing now looks uncertain.

Although the 2001 dollarization program – which phased out the old currency, the colon – limited the government’s ability to control monetary policy, it brought a measure of fiscal discipline and predictability whose absence had previously crippled the economy.

Despite this week’s rocky rollout, Bitcoin will in all likelihood eventually make its way through the economy. Bukele has launched a grand experiment, turning his country, and its people, into the digital currency lab that many Bitcoin faithful had long hoped to see.

If El Salvador’s Bitcoin experiment is unprecedented, the same can’t be said for the other measures Bukele is taking, like dismantling judicial independence, taking full control of all the branches of government and installing a personality-driven government in which institutions gradually become beholden to one man.

We have no historical experience to turn to for guidance on how the cryptocurrency experiment will end. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the other experiment many times before, especially in Latin America. It does not end well, and it can take a very long time before it does.

Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is a regular contributor to CNN and The Washington Post. Her WPR column appears every Thursday. Follow her on Twitter at @fridaghitis.

Read the original article on Business Insider

F-22 vs. F-35: How the US Air Force’s 5th-generation fighter jets stack up

An F-22 and an F-35
An F-22 and an F-35.

  • The F-22 and F-35 are both highly capable, highly advanced stealth fighter jets.
  • They were designed and built at different times to meet different needs and future projections.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Conceived in the ’80s, born in the ’90s, is the F-22 that millennial kid who can’t get a job because of the recession?

On the other hand, the F-35 is that Gen Z kid who has never used a hand-crank to roll up a window but tells you how things ought to be done.

So will the millennial or the Gen Z kid come out on top in this F-22 vs F-35 showdown?

The F-22 Raptor

F-22 Raptor
An F-22 Raptor.

When the idea for an advanced tactical fighter was conceived, Jimmy Carter was still in the White House, East and West Germany were a thing, and al-Qaeda had not been created. Back in 1981, the Air Force was already looking to replace the F-16 and F-15, both children of the ’70s.

In 1985, a request for proposal was issued for an advanced tactical fighter to counter emerging Soviet threats. Stealth and supercruise speed were the emphasized characteristics, and Lockheed and Northrop were the two companies chosen to compete. In 1990, the first YF-22 flew, and Lockheed’s design was chosen in 1991.

The first F-22s and their problems

It wasn’t until 1997 that the first actual F-22 was delivered to the Air Force. Flight testing began at Edwards AFB, CA, and the Combined Test Force received, in total, eight more F-22s to wring out.

After the wring-out phase, Nellis AFB, NV received the first of what were supposed to be 750 Advanced Tactical Fighters (ATFs). In the end, however, only 187 ATFs were delivered.

The biggest problem faced by the F-22 program was not deficiencies in the design or emerging threats: It was the money. The original price for 750 new F-22s was projected to be around $44 billion in 1985 dollars. When production ended in 2011, the estimated cost for 187 of the jets was around $67 billion.

I am not smart enough to figure out that math, but $44 billion for 750 sounds a lot better than a 50% increase in cost for a quarter of the jets.

Oxygen deprivation

F-22 internal weapons bay missile
An Air Force maintainer checks an F-22 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, August 10, 2020.

The F-22 has been plagued with problems related to its life support systems. Over the life of the program, in at least 25 incidents, pilots have reported hypoxia-like symptoms.

After a fatal 2010 crash was associated with the oxygen system, the aircraft was grounded to determine the cause, and starting in 2012 began being retrofitted with emergency backup oxygen systems.

There were myriad problems that caused the issue, but they culminated in a “hard-to-operate” oxygen backup.

The good things

The F-22 is fast. And maneuverable. Without externally-mounted munitions, its supercruise speed is around Mach 1.8, and more than Mach 2 when using afterburners.

Supercruise is the ability of an aircraft to reach or exceed Mach 1 without the use of afterburners. By reaching a cruise altitude that allows for faster-than-sound travel without afterburners, the F-22 can reach targets faster and with less need for fuel.

With internal weapons bays, the F-22 can maintain aerodynamics and stealth without sacrificing payload. With vectoring engine nozzles (think all-wheel steering in a Formula 1 car), the F-22 is super maneuverable, making it an ideal air-to-air platform, which is why it was originally built. But without solid aerial threats from our adversaries, it fulfills an air-to-ground role.

F-22 Raptor in combat

In 2014, in its first combat role, five years after the Senate voted to kill off the program, F-22s dropped some of the first bombs on the burgeoning ISIS threat in Syria.

The reason an air-superiority fighter was dropping bombs is that there was nothing in the air to counter it. We’re not at war with Russia or China, so the F-22 has no dogfighting adversaries.

Even without dogfighting to do, the F-22 has been involved in the air-to-air interception of Russian bombers and fighters off the Alaskan coast.

The F-35 Lightning II

Air Force F-35 Lakenheath
An F-35 takes off from RAF Lakenheath, April 25, 2017.

The F-35 came out of a desire to create a Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) in the ’80s and ’90s and consolidate combat aircraft requirements into one neat package.

The Marines wanted a jet to replace the Harrier jump jet, and the Air Force and Navy wanted a multi-role attack/fighter replacement for the F-16, F-14, and A-6. When all the requirements were rolled into one, in 1997 Lockheed and Boeing were chosen to produce concepts.

As a joint strike fighter, the F-35 was developed in cooperation with allied nations. Americans, British, Italians, Australians, and others all had a hand in the F-35. After a review of Lockheed and Boeing’s prototypes, Lockheed was chosen to develop the JSF.

The first F-35s

Because the F-35 was to fill a JSF role, it had to meet requirements from a multitude of users rather than a single one.

The F-35A was to be the Air Force variant, optimized for conventional takeoff and landing. The F-35B was the Marines’ short takeoff and vertical landing variant, and the F-35C was meant for the Navy’s carrier operations.

The first F-35A rolled off the line in February of 2006 and was flown in December that same year. The F-35B followed in 2008, and the C followed suit in 2010. Nine F-35s were delivered to the Integrated Test Force at Edwards AFB, where the services worked together to wring out the Lightning II and its variants.

Numerous issues were identified in the testing that led to structure and software redesigns, and some of those problems continue to plague the jet.

Operational F-35

F 35
An F-35.

Both the A and B variants were released for operational training in 2012. The USAF and USMC began training pilots and maintainers soon after, and the F-35 went into service.

Early software deficiencies placed flight restrictions on the jets, but subsequent upgrades have alleviated concerns. In particular, the interconnected mission systems on the aircraft are some of the most complex avionics available.

The Lightning II has a “glass cockpit,” meaning sensors and gauges are displayed on computer screens rather than individual analog instruments. The pilot’s helmet integrates with the aircraft’s avionics suite to provide heads-up display data directly to the helmet.

Using built-in sensors, the helmet can be used to “see through” the aircraft, giving pilots helmet views that would normally only be available on cockpit screens.

The Lightning II in combat

In 2018, Marine aviators carried out the first US combat strikes in the F-35B, successfully destroying ground targets in Afghanistan.

The USAF followed suit in 2019, using two F-35As to destroy an ISIS tunnel network and a weapons cache.

When the F-35C will be used in combat is unknown, but the Navy declared them carrier-ready in early 2021.

The F-22 Raptor vs. the F-35 Lightning II

F-35 and F-22
Two F-35s and two F-22s.

While both aircraft have futuristic shapes and stealth technology, they were built for two distinct roles.

The Raptor is the air-superiority fighter made to out-maneuver and out-perform in a dogfight. The Lightning II is a strike-fighter, meant to strike ground targets hard and fast, and clear the way for advancing forces.

The roles they fulfill are complementary, and the F-22 could even act as an escort for the F-35, ensuring enemy fighters stay off its back.

With close to 2,500 F-35A/B/C planned for the US, the need for F-22 escorts would go unfulfilled. There are only 187 operational F-22s out there, meaning the F-22 vs. F-35 scenario is moot. The Air Force plans to buy 1,763 F-35A, the Marines plan for 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs, and the Navy has plans for 273 of the F-35C.

In the end, it does not matter which is better, the F-22 or F-35, because they fill different roles. They were designed and built at different times in history, for different needs and future projections. The F-22 program is over; and the F-35 is just beginning.

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Chinese troops tested out new weapons in a drill near disputed border with India

China Chinese troops soldiers Tibet training
Chinese soldiers from the Tibet Military Region train on a snowy plateau in Tibet, June 11, 2018.

  • Video posted by China’s military shows a joint operation and new weaponry in action at an altitude of 4,700 metres.
  • “India is a big trading partner of China, and China needs the Indian market. So the drill is just a warning to the Indian side,” one military analyst said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Chinese fighter jets dropped missiles, troops brought down drones and ground force howitzers made precision strikes during a high-altitude drill by the Tibet Military District intended as a warning to India, according to military observers.

In footage of the drill posted on the PLA Daily website on Monday, several units from the People’s Liberation Army’s Tibet Military District were shown occupying an enemy’s key command centre at an altitude of 4,700 metres (15,400 feet).

The drill involved infantry, artillery, army aviation, special operation forces, electronic warfare, engineers and chemical defence units, the video stated, without saying when it was conducted.

It was designed to test the ability of the various units to work together, as well as use new weapons systems deployed to the region in recent months.

In the footage, PLA air defence artillery troops bring down drones similar to Indian reconnaissance devices, air force fighter jets drop missiles to paralyse an enemy command centre, and ground force artillery target a field with precision strikes.

The enemy in the exercise was not specified but Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor, said it was obvious.

China Chinese troops soldiers Tibet training
Chinese soldiers from the Tibet Military Region train on a snowy plateau in Tibet, June 11, 2018.

“It’s very clear that the PLA’s simulated enemy in these multi-unit joint drills is their Indian counterpart in the Himalayas, with the goal of the training aimed at testing the high-altitude air defence and offence of the Tibet Military District,” Song said.

“In the video clip, the Tibetan artillery troops showed that they are able to use long-range rocket launchers to stage precision strikes, while air defence missile systems could knock down incoming cruise missiles from the hostile side.”

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing, said the Indian military used spy drones for reconnaissance over Chinese territory so exercises to simulate such incursions were incorporated into regular training in Tibet.

“The PLA has a military advantage when facing the challenges from their Indian counterpart, but the PLA doesn’t want to fight with India,” Zhou said. “India is a big trading partner of China, and China needs the Indian market. So the drill is just a warning to the Indian side.”

The footage showed new weapons, including the Type PHL-03 multiple launch rocket system, and PCL-181 vehicle-mounted howitzers. It also showed PLA airborne troops rapidly occupying the enemy’s main command centre under the protection and support from artillery, intelligence, air force and other combat units.

Zhao Xianfu, a Tibet Military District brigade commander, said in the video: “We want to test our new equipment, and the rapid response, mobility and integration in joint cooperation among different fighting units in real combat.

“Our next step is to explore new approaches for fighting under extreme conditions in the high-altitude areas, to further boost the military region’s transformation and development.”

The Tibet Military District, the combat unit in the Himalayas, was once seen as lagging in the PLA’s decades-long modernisation drive. But border conflicts with India in recent years – including a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in June last year – have prompted hardware upgrades in the remote region.

More than 30 new weapon systems have been deployed by the PLA to the area in recent years, according to a PLA Daily report in January. It said the military area had designed at least 10 air defence and offence combat scenarios to help troops to integrate with the sophisticated equipment and the extreme climate during regular training.

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The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a test for Russia’s plans in Central Asia

Afghanistan
  • Russia has gloated about the failure of the US’s two-decade campaign to reshape Afghanistan.
  • But the collapse of Afghanistan’s US-backed government has put Russia in a challenging position.
  • The potential for violence on its borders has given Russia greater responsibility for regional security at a time when Moscow faces mounting domestic difficulties.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

While the failure of the United States’ two-decade campaign to reshape Afghanistan was a source of no little schadenfreude in Moscow, the collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s US-backed government has thrust Russia into a challenging position.

Even as President Vladimir Putin confirmed that Russia has no intention of deploying troops to Afghanistan itself, the potential for radicalization and violence around Russia’s borders is foisting greater responsibility for regional security on Moscow at a time of mounting domestic difficulties.

The Ghani government’s collapse and the departure of US forces from central Eurasia, seemingly for good, also offers Russia a window of opportunity to bolster its role as a powerbroker both within and around Afghanistan, advance a vision of regional connectivity that boosts its own interests, and consolidate its political-military influence in neighboring Central Asia.

All of these steps, however, would require more resources than Russia’s leadership has thus far been willing to invest, and greater risk than it has been willing to take on.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at video conference
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a virtual meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization council at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, December 2, 2020.

Russia’s interest in Afghanistan centers above all on its concerns about the impact on neighboring Central Asia. Since the Soviet collapse, Moscow has looked to Central Asia as a strategic buffer against instability further south, and Russia remains the region’s dominant security provider – notwithstanding the enormous growth of Chinese trade and investment in recent years.

The Central Asian states today are on the whole more stable and effective than they were in the 1990s, which is one reason Moscow has been more sanguine about the Taliban returning to power. But Central Asia’s mostly Soviet-trained elites still see Russia as the region’s principal security guarantor and are turning to Moscow for help as Afghanistan’s future descends further into uncertainty.

Russia has long demanded recognition of its “privileged interests” throughout the post-Soviet region. Now that Washington has ceded the field in Afghanistan and central Eurasia more broadly, it remains to be seen whether Moscow can actually play the role of regional pivot to which it has long aspired, securing itself and its neighbors without provoking a backlash, while simultaneously managing the impacts on its wider competition with the United States.

Moscow’s immediate aims center on ensuring that any instability and chaos from Afghanistan does not spread north.

According to National Security Council Chair Nikolay Patrushev, Russia is focused on “securing control over migration flows,” particularly when it comes to “defending the region from terrorists’ crossing borders under the guise of refugees.” Moscow also seeks to prevent “the spread of radical ideology, contraband weapons, and drug trafficking.”

Because Russia maintains a visa-free regime with most of its Central Asian neighbors, it worries that terrorists or traffickers who cross from Afghanistan could easily make their way to Russia. Perhaps more concerning is the potential for refugee flows to destabilize the Central Asian states themselves, touching off a cascade of Central Asians fleeing to Russia and forcing Moscow to intervene more directly in the region.

For that reason, Russian and Central Asian authorities worry about the breakdown of order, especially in northern Afghanistan, where most of the ethnic Tajik and Uzbek population lives.

Tajikistan soldiers
Tajik troops before the start of joint military drills with Russia and Uzbekistan at Tajikistan’s Harb-Maidon firing range about about 12 miles north of the border with Afghanistan, August 10, 2021.

Tajik and Uzbek militias formed the nucleus of the Northern Alliance that fought against the Pashtun-dominated Taliban in the 1990s. After the Taliban takeover of Kabul in mid-August, the Tajik commander Ahmad Massoud and Ghani’s former vice president, the Tajik Amrullah Saleh, organized anti-Taliban forces in the northern Panjshir Valley; although the Taliban now claim to have defeated them and taken control of the valley, there is still the potential for continued unrest and fighting there.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, another former Afghan vice president and ethnic Uzbek, heads an Uzbek militia that is currently in negotiations with the Taliban, and could also play an important role in Afghanistan’s political future.

Both Moscow and the Central Asian governments have long maintained ties to northern Afghanistan’s Tajiks and Uzbeks and to figures like Dostum.

In the absence of a unified opposition platform like the Northern Alliance, however, Russian officials fear that today, anti-Taliban fighters in the north could also turn to more extreme groups like al-Qaida; the Islamic State, whose regional affiliate, the Islamic State Khorasan or IS-K, claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 bombing outside the Kabul airport; or Jamaat Ansarullah, whose founder has called for establishing an Islamic emirate in Tajikistan.

The jihadists’ ranks could also be supplemented by some of the several thousand Russians and Russian-speaking Central Asians who went to Syria to fight for the Islamic State, who could be galvanized to return to Afghanistan by the US departure and worsening conditions in Syria.

As the Russian scholar Andrey Kazantsev notes, even if the Taliban has pledged to deny sanctuary to such transnational groups, it has tended to leave them alone in the northern regions, because it sees non-Islamist rivals, including the militias that formerly comprised the Northern Alliance, as a greater threat.

Governments in Moscow and the Central Asian capitals fear that jihadists based in northern Afghanistan could carry out cross-border attacks, as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, did in the late 1990s. But they also worry that the instability these groups could cause in Afghanistan could touch off an influx of refugees and encourage the spread of jihadist ideology among Central Asians disillusioned with corruption, repression and lack of opportunity at home.

Russia, like Central Asia, is thus reluctant to take in Afghan refugees, fearing their ranks could include members of al-Qaida, IS-K or other extremist groups.

Uzbekistan troops at exercise in Tajikistan
Uzbek troops at joint military drills with Russia and Tajikistan at Harb-Maidon firing range about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) north of the Tajik border with Afghanistan, August 10, 2021.

If the Central Asian states’ fears of disorder are pulling Russia into the region, Moscow’s own geopolitical ambitions are pushing it in the same direction.

The US departure gives Moscow an opportunity to boost its security presence and strengthen regional organizations, above all the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, which would strengthen its claims to a sphere of “privileged interests.”

Doing so, however, would require Moscow to take on additional responsibilities that Russia’s leadership – never mind the Central Asian governments – may not be prepared to countenance.

Russia already maintains a significant troop presence in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, whose 1992-1997 civil war intersected with the conflict next door in Afghanistan.

Moscow is the driving force behind the CSTO, a regional security bloc aiming to secure “peace, international and regional security and stability, protection of [members’] independence on a collective basis, territorial integrity and sovereignty.” And Russia has also helped strengthen the region’s borders through training, equipment sales and deployments, some under CSTO auspices.

As Taliban forces began approaching Kabul, Russian troops conducted joint exercises with the military and security forces of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Moscow agreed to a request from Tajikistan’s government for an extraordinary meeting of the CSTO security council and authorized additional arms sales.

Afghanistan’s collapse will be a major test for the CSTO. In past crises, including last fall’s conflict between Azerbaijan and CSTO member Armenia, the organization has sought to minimize its involvement. Moscow favors a stronger CSTO as an element of regional integration but has been content to paper over the real differences between member states – and their concerns about ceding sovereignty to a Russian-dominated bloc.

The CSTO maintains a 5,000-person rapid response force focused on Central Asia, but deploying CSTO personnel operationally would be a major departure and could impose some difficult choices, given disagreements among member states – including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, who fought a brief border war this spring – and concern about Russian power projection.

Destroyed armored vehicle on Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border
A Kyrgyz policeman next to a burnt armored personnel carrier near the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border in southwestern Kyrgyzstan, May 5, 2021.

Particularly notable is Russia’s increasing security cooperation with regional heavyweight Uzbekistan, which withdrew from the CSTO in 2012 and has subsequently maintained balanced relations with Moscow, Washington and Beijing.

In April, Moscow and Tashkent signed a new strategic partnership agreement. Some Russian observers point to the current crisis as an opportunity to bring Uzbekistan back into the CSTO fold. Though Tashkent has firmly rejected this suggestion, the US withdrawal is forcing Uzbekistan, like its neighbors, to look more to Russia for support in an uncertain environment, strengthening Russia’s role as a security provider for the region.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has also confirmed that Russia is prepared to relaunch talks under the so-called Moscow Format, bringing together Afghanistan’s neighbors to seek a regional framework for ending the conflict there.

In the process, Moscow aims to position itself as a regional powerbroker, while advancing its interest in economic integration, including building new links among Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. As neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also support this approach, its success could benefit Russia not just in Afghanistan, but in the wider region.

As Moscow pursues greater regional responsibility, US President Joe Biden has justified the withdrawal of US forces by pointing to the need to focus Washington’s energy and resources on competition with “an increasingly assertive China and [a] destabilizing Russia.”

The US withdrawal, of course, will result in a larger Russian presence in and around Afghanistan. Whether this larger presence helps or hinders the US strategy of competition remains an open question.

The framing of US-Russian relations around the notion of great power competition suggests that Russia’s advance into central Eurasia will emphasize not only containing potential spillover from Afghanistan, but also further minimizing US and Western influence in the region – and rebuilding elements of Russian domination across post-Soviet Central Asia.

Of course, the more resources and attention Moscow devotes to a region Washington has determined to be a strategic backwater, the less it will be able to devote to more critical regions like Central and Eastern Europe. And in the unlikely event the Kremlin decides to wade back into Afghanistan militarily, it will almost certainly find itself just as frustrated and flustered as both the US and the Soviet Union, which occupied Afghanistan for a decade after 1979, were before it.

Jeffrey Mankoff is a distinguished research fellow at the US National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies and the author of the forthcoming book, “Empires of Eurasia: How Imperial Legacies Shape International Security.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not an official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

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Mexico’s most dangerous job is only getting more deadly, and I’ve seen up close how bad it’s getting

Border wall sign protesting violence against journalists in Mexico
A painting reading “140 journalists murdered in MX” on a section of US-Mexico border fence in Tijuana in Baja California, Mexico, May 14, 2018.

  • Mexico has for some time been the deadliest country for journalists outside of active war zones.
  • Attacks on Mexican journalists are often linked to their work on the nexus of politics and crime.
  • The trend is only getting worse, and its one that journalist Luis Chaparro has seen first-hand.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Mexico City – In 2017 I published a story detailing how former Chihuahua’s state governor Cesar Duarte bought several properties in Texas while he was in office.

Duarte was accused of diverting about $320 million in government funds in 2016. By the time the story was published, he was on the run and wanted by Interpol.

I have never received a more direct threat for my work than the one I received after publishing that story.

There is no country more deadly for journalists than Mexico, and year after year it is only getting worse. This is in part because of rising violence in Mexico related to organized crime, but corrupt politicians are often to blame.

Jan-Albert Hootsen, the Mexico representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said violence against journalists in Mexico is made worse by deepening ties between criminal organizations and politicians.

Mexico Miroslava Breach Javier Valdez journalist killing protest
Candles burn in front of pictures of slain journalists Miroslava Breach, left, and Javier Valdez during a demonstration against the killing of journalists, outside the Interior Ministry in Mexico City, May 16, 2017.

“The most dangerous situation for journalists is when they touch in any way the interests at the crossing of organized crime and politics,” Hootsen told Insider.

The week after the story about Duarte made it to the front page of renown Mexican investigative magazine Proceso, a car was parked in front of my house in Ciudad Juarez for a full week. Inside, a man sat, night and day, with a revolver on his lap.

I didn’t think he was actually there to harm me – otherwise he would have – but it was a demonstration of how easy it was for them to get to anyone in their way.

I notified the Committee to Protect Journalists at the time, and what happened “is a perfect example of the dangers for journalists when covering politics and crime,” Hootsen said.

That same year, Miroslava Breach, an editor for a local newspaper in Ciudad Juarez and correspondent for the national daily La Jornada, was shot dead outside her house in Chihuahua City while taking her child to school.

Later investigations found that she was murdered for revealing how the Juarez cartel was appointing mayors in several municipalities in Chihuahua.

A former mayor was arrested and sentenced to eight years behind bars for ordering Breach’s murder. Despite justice being done in that case, violence against journalists has only continued.

Protest against violence against journalists in Mexico
Friends of Mexican journalist Jacinto Romero Flores at a protest in demand of justice for his murder, in Orizaba in Veracruz, Mexico, August 19, 2021.

This year alone, six journalists have been murdered throughout Mexico.

The latest was Jacinto Romero Flores, a reporter from the southeastern state of Veracruz, who covered politics for a radio station in the municipality of Zongolica. Flores was shot several times and killed while driving his car.

According to local press reports, Romero Flores received several threats on his phone after airing a story about police abuse against residents of the Texahuacan municipality.

Few weeks before the assassination of Romero Flores, ruthless crime group Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación publicly threatened a well-known television news anchor, Azucena Uresti, for her coverage of that organization.

In a video posted on social media by alleged members of the cartel, a man who identified himself as Ruben Oseguera, the head of the cartel, made a direct against Uresti.

“Wherever you are, I will find you and I will make you eat your words even if I’m accused of femicide,” the man identified as Oseguera is heard saying as at least six men armed with assault riffles stand around him.

Mexico has been the deadliest country for journalists, outside of those at war, for some time.

Protest against violence against journalists in Mexico
A woman at a protest against of the killing of journalists in Mexico, in Mexico City, March 25, 2017.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared the war on drugs in 2006, the number of journalists murdered and disappeared in Mexico have risen steadily, according to figures collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

2019 is the deadliest year on record, with 11 journalists slain. At least nine journalists were killed with firearms in 2020.

To date, almost 50% of those murders have no known motive or, if the perpetrators are known or suspected, there has been no sentence. (Duarte was arrested in Miami in 2020 on corruption charges.)

“We have to recognize that it is hard to know exactly where is the line of politics and narcos when it comes to the motives of these murders,” said Hootsen. “Mexico has lost much of its rule of law, and the present administration is not doing a good job, if any, to support mechanisms to protect journalists.”

Mexico has procedures that are meant to protect journalists. Most of them involve the state sending a state or municipal police officer to monitor a journalist’s safety for 24 hours.

The Mexican government said in July that it had increased the number of journalists in its protection program by 80% since December 2018. In many cases, however, government protection has not stopped hitmen from killing their target.

“In many cases threats have been reported previously and those journalists have been incorporated to a state protection system and even then they have ended up murdered,” Hootsen said.

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3 movies that the US Army’s elite Green Berets say actually show what their jobs are like

Close quarters combat rehearsal
Green Berets storm a room while practicing close-quarters combat.

  • Hollywood has a reputation for distorting and misrepresenting how the military actually operations.
  • But some movies get right, depicting how US troops conduct themselves and perform their missions.
  • Several Green Berets told Insider which ones they thought reflected the Special Forces experience.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hollywood is usually quite off the mark when it comes to war and the military, but there are a few films that actually reflect the Army Special Forces experience, according to Green Berets themselves.

“Military movies have always been a challenge for me to watch. Having been in the military for quite a few years, my eyes are drawn to the slightest details, such as dialogue, uniform accuracy, and character representation. Special Operations movies, the few that have been made, are even more difficult for me to enjoy,” a retired Green Beret told Insider.

Hollywood often tries to convey a message about war or politics through war films, and that usually leads to an unrealistic film rife with big and small inaccuracies.

“Little effort is placed on accuracy and quality acting when dealing with military subjects. There are, of course, exceptions, but most of the films are set during World War II, a war that even Hollywood celebrates as justified and necessary,” the retired Green Beret added.

The three films below, which depict three different conflicts, are among the best war films out there, several current and former Green Berets told Insider.

’12 Strong’ (2018)

12 strong
“12 Strong.”

In the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, small teams of CIA paramilitary officers and Green Berets inserted into Afghanistan and linked up with local anti-Taliban groups.

Supported by US airpower, the intelligence officers and commandos were able to defeat Taliban and Al Qaeda in a few weeks. The commandos’ flexibility and ability to deal with partner forces and with ambiguous situations were key to the success.

“12 Strong” is “a more recent film about a Special Forces detachment that infiltrates Afghanistan early in late 2001. I think this movie has good acting, represents Green Berets well, and most importantly it’s based on a true story,” the retired Green Beret said.

This film is particularly relevant today, with the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan after a very short campaign – the same way they were ousted from power nearly 20 years ago.

A retired Delta Force operator told Insider that “12 Strong” was “a good movie as far as Hollywood goes.”

The movie depicts an Operational Detachment-A – the smallest Green Beret element – and its mission “in a realistic way,” the retired operator said.

“Not many people know that a 12-man ODA can be broken down into two or even smaller teams in order to enable and lead more guerrillas. That inherent flexibility in SF [Army Special Forces] is what makes them so good,” the retired Delta operator added. “But the movie has a poignant aspect with everything that is going on in Afghanistan at the moment.”

‘Black Hawk Down’ (2001)

black hawk down nikolaj coster waldau
Nikolaj Coster Waldau as Delta Force sniper Master Sgt. Gary Gordon in “Black Hawk Down.”

“Black Hawk Down” puts the viewer on the ground in Mogadishu, Somalia, alongside Task Force Ranger as they tried to stop a brutal civil war by capturing the Somali warlords.

On October 3, 1993, the Task Force’s Delta Force operators and Rangers got into a hellish battle within Mogadishu after the Somali militiamen shot down two MH-60 Black Hawks with rocket-propelled grenades.

What followed was hours of street-to-street combat as the American commandos tried to hold off thousands of Somali militiamen and fighters.

“Black Hawk Down is a classic one. Although the movie doesn’t accurately depict what went down on the ground, it is fairly close for Hollywood,” a retired Delta Force operator who also served in the Army Special Forces told Insider.

“What makes it a good movie and distinguishes it from other war movies is the violence of action. The producers and directors did a really good job at capturing that. I think they had help and advising from SOF [special-operations forces] veterans,” the operator added.

The commandos involved received dozens of awards for valor during the battle, including two Medals of Honor. The Pentagon recently reviewed the awards and upgraded dozens of them.

‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979)

Martin Sheen in the jungle with Dennis Hopper
Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now.”

Set during the Vietnam War, “Apocalypse Now” is a classic and celebrated war film.

Col. Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, is a Green Beret officer who was tasked with taking the fight to the Viet Cong but went too far and created an army of indigenous people who thought he is a god.

Attempts by the US military to rein Kurtz in fail, so they send a young intelligence officer, played by Martin Sheen, to find him, bring him back, or kill him.

“You can’t go wrong with Apocalypse Now. The movie is an epic. The plot, acting, theme are on point. Everything is on point, except perhaps that it runs a little long. It shows unconventional warfare, the bread and butter of SF [Special Forces], and what an SF guy can do,” a National Guard Green Beret told Insider.

“Hero or villain, Col. Kurtz shows the [Army Special Forces] Regiment’s capabilities and the force-multiplier aspect of SF,” the Green Beret added.

Reception was mixed up its release, but it is now considered a classic by many cinephiles. In 2000, the Library of Congress included the film in the US National Film Registry, which identifies movies worth preservation.

John Milius, who wrote the script for “Apocalypse Now,” “is one of the few people in Hollywood that has an interest in the military and representing it well on the big screen,” the retired Green Beret added. “Hollywood doesn’t care for war flicks for the most part. Just reflect back to 1989 when ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ took best picture over ‘Born on the Fourth of July.'”

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

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Chinese official’s criticism hints at concern about all the US weapons the Taliban just captured

A helicopter displaying a Taliban flag fly above of supporters gathered to celebrate the US withdrawal of all its troops out of Afghanistan, in Kandahar on September 1, 2021.
A helicopter displays a Taliban flag to celebrate the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, in Kandahar, September 1, 2021.

  • China’s envoy for disarmament affairs called out a country that “abuses the arms trade as a political tool” in what may be a reference to US arms sales to Taiwan.
  • China’s caution about illicit arms transfers comes as the Taliban takes control of US weapons in Afghanistan, deepening worries about spillover violence in China’s Xinjiang.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China has called for increased vigilance against illicit arms transfers and – in an apparent reference to the US – urged all parties to a global arms trade treaty to stop selling weapons to “non-state actors.”

“We support the international community to take all necessary measures to regulate the international arms trade and to combat the illicit transfer of conventional arms,” Li Song, China’s ambassador for disarmament affairs, told the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) conference in Geneva, marking China’s first participation as a formal party to the pact.

Li did not name any specific incident, but the timing of the meeting could provide clues. Afghanistan is currently experiencing a turbulent power reshuffle, with the Taliban seizing control of the country following the complete withdrawal of US and Nato troops.

The insurgent group has reportedly taken possession of a considerable amount of American weapons and equipment from Afghan government forces, sparking worries that these may end up falling into the hands of terrorist groups with close ties to the Taliban, such as al-Qaeda.

Beijing has long feared that post-US turmoil would turn Afghanistan into a hub of terrorism. It has voiced worries that the upheaval would spill over and affect Beijing’s heavy investments in Central Asia as well as its counterterrorism efforts in Xinjiang, the far-western Chinese region bordering war-torn Afghanistan.

Members of ISIS-K in Afghanistan.
Members of ISIS-K and their weapons as they surrender to the government in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, November 17, 2019.

Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former head of the kingdom’s intelligence services, blamed the US for its mismanagement.

“I don’t know which word to use, whether incompetence, carelessness, bad management – it was all a combination of those things,” he was quoted by CNBC as saying on Saturday.

The Biden administration has lately scrubbed online detailed reports of military equipment and training provided by the US to Afghan government forces, ostensibly to protect Afghan allies from Taliban retribution.

However, some policy commentators have pointed out that those reports did not identify recipient information and some other official reports that do include such information are still publicly available.

“Geopolitical tensions are escalating, regional conflicts and turbulence fall and rise, terrorism, extremism and organised transnational crimes are yet to be eradicated, and the risks of illicit trade and diversion of conventional arms are on the increase,” Chinese ambassador Li told the Geneva meeting on Monday.

He also registered China’s protest against countries selling weaponry to non-state actors – without explicitly naming the US or Taiwan.

“Some country, in particular, abuses the arms trade as a political tool and flagrantly interferes in the internal affairs of other countries through means including arms sales to non-state actors, which undermines international and regional peace and stability,” Li said.

Taliban take control of Hamid Karzai International Airport after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021.
Taliban take control of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, August 31, 2021.

Last month, the Biden administration announced its first arms sale of about US$750 million to Taiwan. Beijing regards the self-ruled island as a renegade province and its “reunification” with the mainland as China’s core national interest.

Under former President Donald Trump, who withdrew the US from the ATT in 2019, Washington sold significantly more weapons than before to Taiwan – further intensifying US-China tensions.

“Some country, out of its own interest, constantly breaks its commitments through relaxing its arms export control policies and even revoking its signature to the ATT, which undermines multilateral efforts in regulating conventional arms trade by the international community,” Li said.

The ATT, which took effect in 2014, aims to regulate international trade in conventional weapons for the sake of promoting international and regional peace. China joined the multilateral group last year.

The US was the world’s largest exporter of major arms between 2016 and 2020, followed by China in fifth place, accounting for 37% and 5.2%, respectively, of such transfers.

China was also the fifth largest importer of major arms during the period, with Russia its main supplier, according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report released in March.

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How the British navy used improvised aircraft carriers to recapture remote South Atlantic territory

British aircraft carrier HMS Invincible during the Falklands War
Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Invincible leaving Portsmouth for the Falkland Islands, April 5, 1982.

  • After Argentina captured the Falkland Islands in 1982, the British navy sailed south to retake them.
  • But the British navy lacked enough aircraft carriers for all the missions it needed to do to recover the islands.
  • So the British turned to impromptu carriers laden with helicopters and jump jets that didn’t need a long deck.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Royal Navy in 1982 faced a galling problem as it prepared to take back the Falkland Islands from Argentinian forces that had seized it that March: not enough aircraft carriers.

These were needed to launch air strikes on Argentinian forces on the islands, to deploy helicopters to patrol for Argentinian submarines and land troops and supplies, and launch jets to intercept attack by the Argentinian land-based fighters certain to swarm the British task force.

The Royal Navy could muster only eight Sea Harrier jump jets and 12 Sea King helicopters on the carrier Invincible – which had been on the verge of being sold to Australia! – and another 12 Sea Harriers and 20 Sea Kings on the larger Hermes.

As hostilities broke out late in April, the Harriers rapidly proved immensely valuable, shooting down 20 Argentine attack jets, but also sustained losses from ground fire and accidents.

However, on April 14 the Royal Navy had commandeered a 15,000-ton G2-class roll-on-roll-off container ship named Atlantic Conveyor that measured longer than two football field as a Ships-Taken-Up-From-Trade (STUFT).

Just as early US and British escort carriers during World War II were converted from civilian ships, the Conveyor was to be converted into impromptu aircraft carriers laden with helicopters and Harrier jump jets that didn’t require a long carrier deck.

Sea Harrier approaches the container ship and aircraft carrier Atlantic Conveyor
A Sea Harrier approaches the container ship Atlantic Conveyor to test its recently installed flight deck, at Devonport, June 1982.

The Conveyor received only limited modifications, as she was intended more for delivery rather than sustained flight operation. Just as World War II carriers were often employed to transport land-based fighters across oceans, the Conveyor’s main job was to ferry Royal Air Force ground-based Harriers for delivery to the Hermes and Invincible.

In any case, after undergoing nine days of conversion at Devonport, Atlantic Conveyor put out to sea on April 25 under her snowy-bearded Capt. Ian North. From Ascension Island she took on eight Royal Navy Sea Harriers from 809 Squadron and six usually ground-based Royal Air Force Harrier GR.3s hastily modified to carry Sidewinder air-to-air missiles to serve in air-defense roles.

She also carried six Wessex helicopters and four RAF HC-1 Chinook helicopters recently imported from the United States. Her hold was also stuffed full of missiles, cluster bombs, mortar shells and aviation fuel, as well as vital generators and aviation fueling systems.

Most of her aircraft were sealed in plastic “banana wraps” for protection from the elements, but at least one Harrier was kept on alert for takeoff to respond to intercept any approaching Argentine aircraft.

Meanwhile, on May 5 sistership Atlantic Causeway was also commandeered and more extensively modified with an aviation refueling system and hangar structure built on her deck.

Both impromptu carriers lacked a critical feature: an aircraft carrier’s extensive air-search radars and long- and short-range air defense systems. Fitting these onto either vessel was apparently considered inappropriate due to their theoretically civilian status, and might have imposed significant delays.

British marines train on aircraft carrier Hermes
British Marines of 40 Royal Marine Commando on the flight deck of HMS Hermes while sailing to the Falklands, April 10, 1982

The Atlantic Conveyor arrived near the Falklands on May 19 and delivered her 14 Harriers to reinforce the Hermes and Invincible, while taking on a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter.

The Conveyor’s helicopters were being readied to join ground forces on May 26. Her Chinooks, in particular, were considered a key element for a planned airborne landing by British commandoes. Their detached rotor blades had been assembled at sea in preparation for the mission.

However, on May 25 two Argentinian Super Etendard jets came skimming at low altitude towards the British task force from the northwest after having been refueled by a KC-130 tanker.

Closing within 23 miles, the pilots popped up to a higher altitude and turned on their Agave targeting radars only to pick up the British fleet. They hastily launched their Exocet anti-ship missiles and then belted for home.

The Ambuscade picked up the missile launch and hastily launched a cloud chaff to decoy the missile away from its position. These mis-directed missiles were programmed to home in on the largest nearby target available upon losing contact, and they did – the humongous Conveyor.

Though Capt. North tried maneuvering to present the ship’s less vulnerable stern as target, there was little more he could do lacking radar-warning systems or close-defense weapons. At least one – but most likely two – missiles slammed into her port side C deck.

The explosion caused ammunition and fuel stores to detonate, causing an uncontrollable fire to break out, killing at least three crew members. Prince Andrew, flying a Sea King helicopter at the time from Hermes, recalled seeing “splashes in the water about a quarter of a mile away” caused by flying debris.

Sea Harrier jump jets on British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes
Sea Harrier jump jets aboard HMS Hermes in the South Atlantic, May 1, 1982.

Not being a warship, the Conveyor lacked the elaborate architecture and damage-control resources to survive that kind of damage. A half-hour later Capt. North signaled the abandon ship.

A massive three-hour-long rescue effort involving multiple helicopters and the destroyer HMS Alacrity managed to evacuate 137 civilian and military personnel. One of the Sea King helicopters to respond was flown by Prince Andrew. Tragically, North and eight others perished at sea before they could be rescued.

The utterly scorched Conveyer remained afloat, and an effort was undertaken to tow the zombified vessel. However, on May 28, she finally succumbed to her structural damage and sank beneath the waves.

Of the Conveyor’s embarked helicopters, only a single Wessex and Chinook named Bravo November remained, having been aloft during the air attack. A planned airborne landing at Mount Kent was canceled, and British troops were forced to advance on foot instead.

Bravo November, meanwhile, remained heavily employed transporting over 2,100 troops and prisoners during the campaign, and transporting up to three 105-mm howitzers at time for the troops on the island. The Chinook sole-survivor would retain its legendary status for future combat actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and remains in service to this day.

The Conveyor’s fate did not deter her sistership Atlantic Causeway from entering the theater on May 27.

While she transferred her helicopters ashore the following day, she remained in theater and was soon landing choppers bearing wounded personnel from Round Table-class landing ships Tristram and Galahad after they were struck by Argentinian bombs. Though supposedly a delivery vessel, the Causeway ended up receiving more than four thousand helicopters landings.

Causeway finally retired from the theater June 17 and was returned to civilian service, before being scrapped four years later.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

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