US Armed Forces | Page 53 | World Defense

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LRASM expansion

Lockheed's stealthy and wickedly smart anti-ship missile is now officially heading for land launch and the P-8 Poseidon. Both announcements are big news. LRASM is the most capable known anti-ship missile in America's arsenal. Being able to push them forward on the P-8, which we knew was onthe Navy's wish list, brings another level of relevancy to the multi-mission jets, especially during a high-end conflict. Being able to deploy it in a coast defense role would make approaching within hundreds of miles of allied shores where it could be deployed a very risky proposition for the enemy. For instance, operating forward from islands in the Pacific, this system could be a critical defensive capability.

Both announcements also open the door to new LRASM orders to America's closest allies, especially P-8 operators in higher-risk areas of the globe.
 

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Strategic command: U.S. 'ready for just about anything' from North Korea
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Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said the United States is fully ready to deter any threat that North Korea poses. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE

The United States is prepared to handle any military threat from North Korea, the leader of the U.S. Strategic Command said, adding the country remains dedicated to fulfilling its security promises to South Korea.

"We're very familiar with North Korea's capabilities, and I'm very confident in our ability to deter that," Adm. Charles Richard, commander of Stratcom, said during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.

"We are ready for just about anything North Korea can do," he said. "So I am fully confident that we're prepared for whatever they might decide to do."

Stratcom, headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb., is responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear triad, which consists of strategic bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Richard said a diplomatic solution to the growing threat posed by North Korea remains the preferred option.

"That situation is ripe for a diplomatic resolution," he said. "The best path to resolve issues with North Korea is using diplomacy first."

Washington's nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang have been stalled since a February 2019 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-U.S. President Donald Trump failed to produce an agreement.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is conducting its North Korea policy review, which is expected to be completed soon.

In the meantime, North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear and missile programs. A report by a United Nations panel of experts earlier this month concluded that the isolated country has "increased its nuclear strike capability, as well as its ability to counter foreign missile defense systems while safeguarding itself with its own new air defense system."

North Korea has not conducted any nuclear or long-range missile tests since 2017, but it launched a pair of short-range ballistic missiles last month in violation of United Nations sanctions. Pyongyang also showed off a new ICBM at a military parade in October.

Recent satellite image analysis by Washington think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggested that North Korea may be preparing to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

"North Korea remains a security challenge to the United States and our allies," Richard wrote in a statement to the Senate armed services committee earlier this week.

"It continues conducting activities that threaten regional stability and defy international norms. North Korea has tested ICBMs designed to strike the entire continental United States and has a large inventory of theater ballistic missiles," he wrote.

On Thursday, Richard stressed that the United States remains committed to its security alliance with South Korea.

"I will say that the United States -- and certainly my command -- are fully ready to honor our security commitments and alliance promises that we have made to South Korea," he said.
 

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USS Iwo Jima arrives in Spain for repairs

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The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima arrived at Naval Station Rota, Spain, on Friday for mid-deployment voyage repair.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy


(UPI) -- The USS Iwo Jima arrived at Naval Station Rota, Spain, on Friday for mid-deployment repairs, a U.S. Navy statement said.

The amphibious assault ship and flagship of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group recently transited the Atlantic Ocean to conduct interoperability exercises with the Navy's 2nd and 6th fleets, as well as the armed forces of Britain.

While traveling to Rota, the ship conducted a replenishment at sea, taking on about 320,000 gallons of fuel, 210,000 gallons of aircraft fuel and 244 pallets of food, repair parts and mail from the supply ship USNS Supply, the Navy said earlier this week.

"Interoperability and support with partner nations is vital to sustained operations at sea," said Capt. David Loo, the USS Iwo Jima's commanding officer.

"There are maintenance items and repairs that only become apparent once the ship goes underway. The MDVR [mid-deployment voyage repair] gives us an early opportunity to make those fixes and continue our mission at full strength, plus it allows the crew a timeout from watch stations in order to rest and refresh," Loo said.

The readiness group includes the USS Iwo Jima, the dock landing ship USS Carter Hall and the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio.

They carry helicopters, surgical units and construction units of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's embarked detachments, a total of about 4,300 personnel at sea.
 

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Navy uses amphibious assault ship USS America as a test center

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Senior Chief Navy Counselor Scott Lane, L, and Chief Navy Counselor Anita Felix, R, helped administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America. Photo courtesy of U. S. Navy

(UPI) -- For the first time, a forward-deployed U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship was used to administer a standard military aptitude test, the Navy said on Friday.

The USS America, stationed in Sasebo, Japan, with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the 7th Fleet, was the site of the Armed Forces Classification Test on April 15.

The multi-part test is an element of the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery, a series of general- and specific-knowledge examinations by which enlisted personnel demonstrate occupational preferences and specialties.

While the test is routinely administered at colleges, at over 14,000 Military Entrance Testing Stations, at a local Military Entrance Processing Stations aligned with recruiting offices and aboard deployed ships at sea, the USS America was approved as a test site.

"When we heard the Navy College Office was closing its doors in Sasebo and the opportunity for sailors to retake their ASVAB test would no longer be an option, we had to take action," CMDCM Randy Bell, Command Master Chief of the ship, said in a press release.

"The sailors we are entrusted to lead and care for deserve the best opportunities possible and our future depends on them and their ability to grow and progress in their careers," Bell said.

The AFCT administered in April was for personnel who have already taken the ASVAB and seek to improve their scores, which are factors in officer candidacy evaluation and promotions.

"I really appreciate having the opportunity to test myself and see if I can qualify for a job in either engineering or administration," commented Aviation Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Latasha Velez, who is assigned to the USS America.

"It's scary to think that this opportunity almost went away," Velez said.
 

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All B-1B Lancer bombers grounded for potential fuel filter leak

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The U.S. Air Force grounded its entire fleet of B-1B Lancer bombers this week to investigate a potential fuel filter problem. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force


All 57 active U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers were indefinitely grounded this week after a fuel filter problem was discovered.

Gen. Tim Ray, Air Force Global Strike Command chief, ordered the stand down after one B-1 experienced an emergency relating to its augmenter fuel pump filter housing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., earlier in April.

A large hole was discovered in the plane's filter housing after it landed, which could cause a pressurized fuel leak and a pilot's inability to utilize the plane's afterburners, known as augmented thrust, Air Force Times reported.

The issue and stand down was first reported Thursday by The War Zone.

Afterburners, which can double the plane's available thrust, are used in takeoffs, emergencies and certain aerial maneuvers.

"As a precautionary measure, the commander directed one-time inspections on all B-1B aircraft to resolve this issue," a command statement on Friday said in part.

Each plane will be examined for potential problems, and will be returned to service individually. No schedule or time line for the inspections was offered by the Air Force.

A failure of the augmenter pump filter housing occurred on a different B1-B in 2018, one of a series of emergencies causing interruptions and maintenance overhauls.

In 2018, the Air Force ordered its B-1 fleet to stand down over concerns of ejection seat safety.

The Air Force plans to phase out the B-1s, in use since the 1980s, in favor of the the new B-21 stealth bomber, currently under development by Northrop Grumman.
 

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AC-130J Ghostrider flies close-air support at Exercise Balikatan, a first

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An AC-130J Ghostrider lands at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa March 29, marking the first time the updated J model of the AC-130 has landed in or operated in Japan. (Capt. Renee Douglas/Air Force)

A U.S. Air Force AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, in the Philippines for the first time, supported close-air support training for a bilateral team of U.S. and Filipino battlefield airmen this week during Exercise Balikatan.

The Ghostrider, assigned to the 73rd Special Operations Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Florida, deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan, to the Philippines and fired its 30mm and 105mm cannons on targets called in by combat controllers with Kadena’s 320th Special Tactics Squadron and joint terminal attack controllers with the Philippine air force’s 710th Special Operations Wing, according to a news release.

The deployment also marked the first time the updated J model of the AC-130 has landed in or operated in Japan.

When it hits the battlefield in a few short years, the AC-130J Ghostrider will be the most heavily armed gunship in history – a badass plane providing close-air support to U.S. troops on the ground, and delivering withering firepower that will send enemies running for the hills.
Stephen Losey

“This training shows a projection of power and displays the reach of the AC-130J,” said Capt. Aaron Boudreau, a Ghostrider pilot with the 73rd and AC-130J liaison for Exercise Balikatan, in the release. “This is the first time this asset has been in the Philippines, so it will give Philippine controllers the ability to train with American pilots and vice versa and shows that we can accomplish the mission together, as friends and allies.”
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Airmen work aboard an AC-130J Ghostrider during close-air support training at Exercise Balikatan. (Lance Cpl. Dalton Payne/Marine Corps)

The close-air support live-fire training in a complex and realistic environment advanced the combined capabilities of the two nations and demonstrated the reach of U.S. SOF assets, according to the release.

“The airmen from the 320th STS and 710th SPOW have a great partnership and a strong friendship,” said an unnamed 320th STS airman in the release. “During Balikatan, we always start the exercise with some academic classes before progressing to controlling live air-to-ground engagements. “Both U.S. and Philippine JTACs work with U.S. and Philippine aircraft to enhance our interoperability. Together, we get better every Balikatan.”

During the exercise, the Ghostrider also flew alongside Philippine fighter jets.

“This CAS integration between the FA-50PH [fighter] and the AC-130J is a pioneering training for our PAF fighter pilots,” said Philippine air force Maj. Michael G. Rabina, commander of the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the release. “It is a welcome opportunity for us to participate in such operations that offers a valuable training environment to enhance our capabilities. This exercise demonstrates the interoperability of the Fighting Eagle with the gunship and with our allies in a combined operations setting.”

Balikatan is an annual exercise between the U.S. and the Philippines and comes from a Tagalog phrase meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder.”
 

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Navy carrier, Air Force B-52s, Army Rangers to help protect Afghanistan pullout, officials say

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An F/A-18F Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower in 2016. The Pentagon announced that the Ike will remain in the Middle East to support the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. (PO3 Nathan T. Beard/Navy)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has decided to keep an aircraft carrier in the Middle East to help provide protection for American and coalition troops during their planned withdrawal from Afghanistan in coming weeks, his spokesman said Friday.

The spokesman, John Kirby, said Austin approved an extension of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower’s deployment in the Middle East for “a period of time.” He also said two U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers have arrived in the region as part of the pre-pullout bolstering of security, which he called a prudent precaution.

“It would be foolhardy and imprudent not to assume that there could be resistance and opposition to the drawdown by the Taliban, given their staunch rhetoric,” Kirby said. He said the withdrawal plan was discussed at a meeting Friday of senior defense officials.

The moves back up Pentagon officials’ public assurances that U.S. forces will be prepared to meet whatever resistance the Taliban might present during the withdrawal of more than 10,000 U.S. and coalition troops starting after May 1. About 2,500 to 3,500 of those troops are American.
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A B-52 Stratofortress prepares for refueling over Afghanistan during a close-air-support mission in 2009. (Master Sgt. Lance Cheung/Air Force)

“I would advise the Taliban that we will be well-prepared to defend ourselves throughout the withdrawal process,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday at the Pentagon.

Prior to President Joe Biden’s announcement last week that he would end the American war in Afghanistan by completing the troop withdrawal by Sept. 11, the Taliban had insisted that Washington stick to a February 2020 agreement the militants had reached with the Trump administration to complete the U.S. withdrawal by May 1.

U.S. officials said after Biden’s announcement that extra military personnel would likely be positioned in Afghanistan to facilitate the pullout of troops and equipment, and the Pentagon typically beefs up its military presence as a precaution when executing a sizeable withdrawal. When the U.S. pulled troops out of Somalia in December it kept an aircraft carrier in the region as a precaution.

Kirby said some additional troops likely also would be sent to Afghanistan to assist with the withdrawal, but he declined to provide details. Earlier, two other defense officials said hundreds of Army Rangers were to be sent to provide security during the pullout. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss moves that had not yet been announced.
 

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US airstrikes, surveillance in Afghanistan may continue from afar after drawdown

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A B-52H Stratofortress taxis on the flight line April 23 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The B-52 aircraft are deployed to Al Udeid to protect U.S. and coalition forces as they conduct drawdown operations in Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Greg Erwin/Air Force)

The U.S. military is mulling how to position its aircraft throughout the Middle East and Asia to continue airstrikes and intelligence-gathering missions in Afghanistan, as American forces prepare to leave key installations like Bagram Air Base behind, the head of U.S. Central Command said this week.

Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie told lawmakers he is drawing up options for keeping counterterrorism forces on call in the region. Those alternatives are due to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin by the end of April.

Manned or unmanned aircraft could play a large role in any remaining presence that could peer into and respond to threats inside Afghanistan, McKenzie said.

He made similar remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday: “I didn’t say we wouldn’t go back in to strike. But we’re not planning to go back in to reoccupy.”

To find and track insurgents, the U.S. needs to maintain “heavy intelligence support” in the area, he said. The farther an aircraft like a Reaper drone must travel, the harder that becomes.

“You will have to base your overhead [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets] from no longer within Afghanistan, where an MQ-9 can take off and be over its target in a matter of minutes,” McKenzie said.

The U.S. is dispatching its diplomats to feel out whether a neighboring country would be open to hosting American surveillance assets, he added: “We will look at all the countries in the region.”

Nearby countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan no longer have agreements with the United States that would allow military forces to be based in-country to conduct strikes or surveillance.

“Some of them may be very far away,” McKenzie said of potential hosts. “There would be a significant bill for those types of resources, because you’d have to cycle a lot of [ISR aircraft] in and out.”

Maintaining a strong surveillance network will be key to ensuring “individuals in caves” cannot organize to threaten the U.S. homeland, said Amanda Dory, acting undersecretary of defense for policy.

Once a target is identified, the military would need a way to strike from afar — more difficult than a bomb dropped or missile fired from inside the country, but still possible.

U.S. forces could use long-range precision weapons, manned raids or manned aircraft to take out a target, McKenzie said. Whichever the military chooses must minimize civilian deaths and other collateral damage.

“There are problems with all three of those options, but there’s also opportunities with all three of those options,” he said.

An aircraft carrier will remain in the region so that fighter jets can respond to threats during the drawdown, which President Joe Biden has pledged to complete by Sept. 11.

B-52 bombers were also dispatched to protect departing forces.

Republican Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida questioned whether it makes strategic sense to abandon Bagram Air Base in the northeast as the Pentagon increasingly focuses on nearby China, Russia and Iran. Air Force organizations like the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing use Bagram as a home base for A-10s, C-130s, HH-60s and other combat platforms.

“Bagram is key terrain tactically in Afghanistan, operationally, and strategically, it’s the definition of key terrain,” McKenzie answered.

“I don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses and say it’s going to be easy to do,” he added of striking the right counterterrorism balance in the region. “We’re examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it in … the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can.”
 
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