TIME Military

Drumbeats of Possible War With Iran Grow Louder

Senate Armed Services Hearing on Iran/JCPOA
Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images From left, Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and General Martin Dempsey defend the Iran deal at Wednesday’s Senate hearing.

Senate hearing highlights growing skepticism over wisdom of nuclear deal

You could almost see the U.S. and Iran drawing slowly closer to war Wednesday, as dubious lawmakers, including a pair of Republican senators seeking their party’s presidential nomination, grilled top Obama Administration officials over the pending nuclear deal with Tehran.

The reason is pretty simple: there appears to be a growing push among lawmakers, and their constituents, against the recent agreement hammered out by the U.S. and four other nations to restrain Iran’s push toward nuclear weapons (a CNN poll out Tuesday says 52% of Americans oppose the pact).

If the deal falls apart, Administration witnesses warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran would have a fast track toward a nuclear arsenal. If the mullahs try to take advantage of that opening—something expected by U.S. intelligence—all signs suggest the U.S. will go to war to thwart their atomic ambitions.

Language from both the Administration and senators made clear there’s a hair-trigger mentality when it comes to Iran. But how much of that was bluster, designed to win over the other side regarding the deal’s merit, was difficult to plumb. What was clear is how complicated the polarized U.S. debate over the deal has made winning Washington’s approval.

Testifying for the Administration were Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Carter said the Pentagon is “continuing to advance our military capabilities that provide all options…should Iran walk away from its commitments under this deal.” He added, with a bit of martial swagger, that any Iranian aggression would trigger “an overwhelming array of forces into the region, leveraging our most advanced capabilities, married with sophisticated munitions that put no target out of reach.”

Translation: “advance capabilities” means the U.S. Air Force’s B-2 bomber, the only airplane that can carry “sophisticated munitions that put no target out of reach”—the 15-ton Massive Ordnance Penetrator, specifically designed to burrow into Iranian mountains and destroy nuclear-production facilities.

Two of the most startling questions put to the witnesses by deal doubters came from senators seeking the GOP presidential nomination. Opposition to the deal makes them look pro-military and pro-Israel (which opposes the deal), as well as anti-Obama—a political hat trick for those seeking to appeal to Republican primary voters.

Lindsey Graham’s question came like a bolt out of the blue. “Could we win a war with Iran?” the South Carolinian asked Carter. “Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?”

“No,” Carter responded. “The United States wins the war.” Neither he nor Graham explained how the U.S. might win in Iran, after it has failed to win in Afghanistan and Iraq since invading those two nations more than a decade ago.

Top Administration Officials Testify To Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing On Military Balance In Mid East
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images“Could we win a war with Iran?” asks Senator Lindsey Graham, alongside Senator Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz of Texas lobbed an electromagnetic-pulse weapon into the middle of the four-hour hearing. “Do you agree that an EMP detonated by Iran in the atmosphere could kill tens of millions of Americans?” he asked Moniz. EMP weapons have become a bugaboo in certain conservative circles over concern that a high-altitude nuclear explosion over the U.S. could fry much of the nation’s electronics. Moniz conceded an EMP could be “a very potent weapon.”

Much of the session was less about nuclear physics than political theater. Republicans spent much of the session detailing Tehran’s “malign” activities, ranging from sponsoring terrorism to threatening to destroy Israel. The Administration’s witnesses acknowledged Iran’s perfidy. But they argued that the deal, which the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia struck with Iran after years of negotiations, is the surest way to delay, if not derail, Iran’s nuclear quest.

TIME Military

U.S. Prepares to Fly Deeper into Syrian Civil War

Operation Northern Watch Enforces No-Fly Zone
Air Force / Getty Images A U.S. Air Force F-16 leaves a Turkish base in 2002 for a mission over Iraq. Soon they are likely to be flying similar assignments over Syria.

ISIS is the target, but U.S. pilots could also be at risk

The U.S. flew “no-fly zones” over northern and southern Iraq for more than a decade before the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. U.S. warplanes kept Iraqi aircraft out of the sky, and targeted Iraqi air-defense systems that threatened to shoot. Now, along with neighboring Turkey, the U.S. is planning to launch something similar over a stretch of northern Syria.

Eliminating Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria along a strip of the Syrian-Turkish border is the key goal, opening up a safe haven for tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by the country’s four-year-old civil war that has killed more than 200,000. Whether the move hastens the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad—or leads to the shootdown and possible capture or death of an American pilot—remains unknowable.

Institute for the Study of WarThe striped section of the map is the proposed “no-ISIS zone.”

U.S. officials stressed Monday that Washington and Ankara are planning to step up bombing of ISIS targets on the ground, and not create a formal no-fly zone, which would bar Syrian warplanes from bombing runs. “It’s not a no-fly zone—it’s a bombing campaign,” says retired Marine general Anthony Zinni, who oversaw the Iraqi no-fly zones as chief of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000. He doesn’t think such a bombing campaign will have much effect. “We see how well a year of bombing has worked in Iraq,” where ISIS remains in control of much of the western part of the nation.

The chance of clashes between Syria and U.S. and Turkish aircraft will be more likely once details of the new zone are hammered out and stepped-up U.S.-Turkish attacks on ISIS targets begin. “I think they’ll tell the Syrians to just stay out of the air space,” Zinni says of U.S. and Turkish commanders. “They’ll issue a demarche: ‘If you shoot any air defense weapons at us, we’ll nail you.’ That’s what we did to the Iraqis.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the Syrians aren’t challenging U.S. warplanes. “There is no opposition in the air when coalition aircraft are flying in that part of Syria,” he said. “The Assad regime is not challenging us; [ISIS] doesn’t have airplanes … they’re not being shot at.”

But that’s hardly a guarantee. U.S. commanders will ensure their flight crew fly high and well clear of any known Syrian air-defense threats to minimize the chance of a U.S. pilot being shot down and—in the worst case—falling into ISIS’s hands and murdered. But accidents and snafus can occasionally happen. “We never even had a plane scratched,” Zinni says of the more than 200,000 U.S. flights in the Iraqi no-fly zones from 1992 to 2003. “It was absolutely remarkable.” (Unfortunately, this record was marred by the 1994 shootdown of two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters, killing all 26 aboard, by a pair of U.S. Air Force F-15s.)

Conflicting loyalties and priorities complicate the more aggressive campaign. Last week, after a suicide bombing blamed on ISIS killed 30 in a Turkish border town, Turkey began flying air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, and gave the U.S. long-sought permission to launch air strikes from Turkish bases. Turkey, a NATO ally, is growing increasingly concerned with ISIS on its doorstep, the growing refugee problem, and military successes by its Kurdish minority, some elements of which are seeking their own state.

Kurdish forces control most of the Syrian-Turkish frontier, and the Turkish government views them as a threat much like ISIS. Ankara is also more interested in toppling Assad than battling ISIS. “If there is one person who is responsible for all these terrorist crimes and humanitarian tragedies in Syria, it is Assad’s approach, using chemical weapons, barrel bombs against civilians,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told CNN. His government has called for a NATO meeting Tuesday to discuss the ISIS fight.

U.S. and Turkish air power are expected to be used to reinforce Syrian rebels on the ground who are battling ISIS, creating a 68-mile “no-ISIS zone” along the Syrian-Turkish border. “Moderate forces like the Free Syrian Army will be strengthened…so they can take control of areas freed from [ISIS], air cover will be provided,” Davutoglu told Turkey’s A Haber television news channel.. “It would be impossible for them to take control of the area without it.”

U.S. officials have been complaining since the Pentagon began bombing ISIS targets a year ago of a dearth of reliable partners on the ground, in both Iraq and Syria. ISIS drove the U.S.-trained Iraqi army out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, a year ago, and the U.S. has trained only about 60 Syrian rebels to fight ISIS’s 30,000-strong force.

TIME Military

Russian Bombers Buzzing U.S. Unlikely to Carry Nukes

RUSSIA-HISTORY-VICTORY-DAY-WWII
VASILY MAXIMOV / AFP / Getty Images A trio of Tu-95 bombers flies over the Kremlin in May.

But Moscow’s growing assertiveness concerns U.S. military

The bad news for Americans old enough to remember Cold War shivers is that Soviet-era Tu-95 Bear bombers recently showed up off the U.S. coast. The good news, for Americans, is that the 1950s-era Russian air force turboprop airplanes keep crashing.

And that combination, a former Air Force general says, makes it unlikely that the Russian bombers are carrying any nuclear weapons close to U.S. shores (the bomber would carry such weapons inside its fuselage, making it impossible for outsiders to tell if there any are aboard, Air Force officials say).

“Risking the loss of a long-range bomber like a Tu-95 with a nuclear weapon on board is a pretty big risk,” says David Deptula, a retired three-star officer who spent 3,000 hours in fighter planes, including 400 in combat. “It would be very imprudent to be carrying a nuclear weapons on board a flight like that.” A pair of Russian pilots died July 14 when their Tu-95 crashed in Russia’s Far East; a second Tu-95 ran off a Russian runway June 8 following an engine fire, injuring several crew members.

Russia has been averaging about five such flights annually over the past five years, the North American Aerospace Defense Command reports (although it spiked to 10 last year). “This is nothing new,” NORAD’s Michael Kucharek says. Each time the Russian bombers approach, the joint U.S.-Canadian force dispatches interceptors to eyeball them. “We go up and visually identify the aircraft, and let them know that we are there,’ Kucharek says. “They see us and we see them.”

“I don’t know what to make of it,” Merrill “Tony” McPeak, retired general and Air Force chief of staff, says of the Russian fly-bys. “The training value—polishing skills in navigation, aerial refueling, et cetera—can be achieved flying over Russian territory.”

Deptula says the flights are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s way of asserting Russian might. “He’s showing they still have a way to project power when and where they want to,” Deptula says. “It reinforces the fact that they do have a capability to project power that not many nations do.”

Russia’s actions in the skies, along with those in Ukraine and Crimea, have the U.S. military brass increasingly concerned. On Thursday, Lieut. General Robert Neller, tapped to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps, said he views Russia as the nation that poses the biggest threat to the U.S. “Their actions, and the fact that they have strategic forces, make them the greatest potential threat,” Neller said.

He was echoing the views of General Mark Milley, soon to be the Army chief of staff, and Marine General Joseph Dunford, soon to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia,” Dunford said at his confirmation hearing July 9. “If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

The latest Russian flight took place July 4 off the central Californian coast, and a pair of U.S. F-15s were dispatched to check out the intruders. “Good morning American pilots, we are here to greet you on your Fourth of July Independence Day,” a Russian crew member aboard one of the Tu-95s radioed the Americans. The Russians conducted similar flights in 2012 and 2014.

NORAD is pretty mellow about the flights, none of which has come inside the 12-mile territorial limits claimed by both the U.S. and Canada. The latest flight came within about 40 miles of the California coast. “We’ve seen these flight profiles before,”Kucharek says. “If a country has a military, they have to exercise their capabilities.”

That attitude is a far cry from the Pentagon’s view of the Tu-95 during the 1980s, when the lumbering bomber was featured regularly in its annual Soviet Military Power guide, a glossy publication designed to bolster support for President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup.

Engels-2 Aircraft Military Base
Wojtek Laski / Getty ImagesThe Tu-95 is the backbone of Russia’s bomber fleet

“The Tu-95/Bear is the primary intercontinental air threat to the United States,” the 1983 version said. “Capable of delivering free-fall bombs or air-to-surface missiles, under optimum conditions this aircraft can cover virtually all U.S. targets on a two-way mission.”

But Marine Lieut. General Neller apparently isn’t losing any sleep over the Tu-95 flights. “I don’t think they want to fight us,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. “Right now I don’t think they want to kill Americans.”

TIME Military

Unmanned Aerial Vengeance: Drone Takes Out Terrorist Linked to Marine’s Killing

Marines Mourn Fallen Comrade
David McNew / Getty Images Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the home base of Tony Sledd, honor him three days after he was killed in Kuwait in 2002.

Thirteen years after Kuwaiti ambush, Lance Corporal Sledd’s death is avenged

“If you target Americans,” President Obama warned terrorists during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Tuesday, “you will find no safe haven.” Like an explosive exclamation point, the Pentagon confirmed his pledge hours later, announcing that the U.S. military had killed Muhsin al-Fadhli. Thirteen years earlier, the military said, al-Fadhli played a role in the killing of Marine Lance Corporal Antonio “Tony” Sledd.

It was a lengthy wait, and one that may not bring much comfort to Sledd’s family, who complained he never should have died. But the nature of both killings—and the 4,656 days between them—highlights the unusual complications of a religion-fueled war, where traditional norms of warfare often don’t apply.

Sledd was 20 when he died on Oct. 8, 2002, on Faylaka Island, 20 miles east of Kuwait City in the Persian Gulf. He was killed by a pair of Kuwaitis who had infiltrated a U.S. military training exercise in a white truck and opened fire with their AK-47s.

USMCLance Corporal Antonio Sledd

Sledd’s killing has been described by some as the first American casualty of the second Iraq war. While the invasion was five months away, the Marines were practicing urban warfare on the island, readying for the conflict. The killers gunned down Sledd during a break in the training as he readied a makeshift baseball diamond, echoing the sport he played as a youngster in Hillsborough, Fla.

As bizarre as Sheed’s death was, so was the way the U.S. military killed al-Fadhli, 34: with a drone strike July 8 as he traveled by vehicle near Sarmada in northwestern Syria. It took the Pentagon two weeks to confirm his death. “Al-Fadhli was the leader of a network of veteran al-Qaeda operatives, sometimes called the Khorasan Group, who are plotting external attacks against the United States and our allies,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. He added that al-Fadhli also was “involved” in the 2002 attack “against U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait.”

While the Pentagon said al-Fadhli was “among the few” al Qaeda leaders who “received advance notification” of the 9/11 attacks before they happened, the attack on the Marines on Faylaka Island was the only U.S. death the Pentagon cited in the statement detailing al-Fadhli’s killing in which he was alleged to have played an active role.

U.S. GovernmentMuhsin al-Fadhli

Sledd was one of about 150 Marines on the island, from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard a flotilla led by the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood.

The day before the attack, some leathernecks had spotted the two Kuwaitis who they believed killed Sledd and wounded a second Marine. “We weren’t expecting trouble,” one Marine recalled. “I thought they were probably just curious about Marines.”

The next day, the Marines began their training using blanks, with armed sentries standing guard. But when there was a break in the action, Sledd’s platoon turned in their live ammo, according to Marines who were there. After shooting Sledd and wounding Lance Corporal George Simpson, 21, of Dayton, Ohio, Anas al-Kandari, 21, and his cousin, Jassem al-Hajiri, 26, suspected Islamic militants, were killed by a second group of Marines after firing on them.

An Army medevac helicopter picked up Sledd, who had been shot in the chin and stomach, within 10 minutes. “Marines can be as tough as woodpecker lips, and I thought he was going to live,” his first sergeant said after seeing him just before the rescue chopper lifted off, bound for a military hospital in Kuwait City. “He squeezed my hand as hard as any healthy Marine could do.” But he died during surgery.

“Till this day I don’t think I did enough and I want to apologize to Sledd’s family and friends,” a Marine comrade posted on a memorial website in 2009, more than six years after his death. “It was my job to bring him back and I didn’t, I’m so sorry!”

Sledd’s parents were upset that their son died amid armed Marines in an allied nation. “There’s no way civilians should have been in that area where Tony was,” Tom Sledd told the Orlando Sentinel shortly after his son’s death. “They should have been challenged and shot before they got close enough to shoot Tony…he was a good boy. He didn’t have to die so young.” His mother, Norma, agreed. “Security perimeters were not set up, and that is why he lost his life,” she said. “They murdered my son.”

Ten months later, a corps probe agreed that proper security would most likely have prevented the young Marine’s death. Sledd’s parents couldn’t be reached for comment on the Pentagon announcement of al-Fadhli’s death.

Sledd, whose fraternal twin, Mike, was serving in the corps when his brother died, sent his mother an email shortly before the attack. “Tell everyone I love them and we are doing the best we can to protect y’all’s country,” it read. “Love, Big T.”

Earlier this month, his government did its best to return the favor.

U.S. Government
TIME Military

As Lockheed Gobbles Up Sikorsky, Are Defense-Contractor Giants Getting Too Big?

Oversized load
Air Force photo / Willard E. Grande II A Lockheed C-5 cargo plane swallows a Sikorsky UH-60 helicopter in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2011.

Fewer defense contractors will mean less competition

Lockheed, the nation’s biggest defense contractor, announced Monday that it plans to buy Sikorsky, the world biggest military-helicopter builder, for $9 billion. If all goes according to plan—and, as antitrust experts predict, neither the Pentagon nor Justice Department objects to the purchase—Lockheed will add Sikorsky to its stable by early next year.

Lockheed stands atop a group of the Defense Department’s big five suppliers. Last year, its $25.3 billion in Pentagon contracts accounted for nearly 9 cents of every U.S. defense-contracting dollar spent, which also includes spending on non-military items like fuel and food. The other four are Boeing, (6.4%) General Dynamics (4.8%), Raytheon (4.2%) and Northrop Grumman (3.3%). United Technologies, which owns Sikorsky, ranked #6, but it builds more than just helicopters for the Pentagon. Over the past 25 years, the 10 biggest global defense contractors have seen their share of the market climb from 40% to 60%.

Lockheed builds the F-35—the most costly weapons system in history, with a projected price tag of nearly $400 billion—as well as the C-130 cargo plane and various missile-defense systems. Sikorsky manufactures the UH-60 Black Hawk and several other military choppers, including a new fleet of Marine Ones for presidential hops.

The Pentagon and other federal agencies account for about 80 cents of every dollar Lockheed makes, and its Sikorsky purchase is the defense industry’s biggest deal in 20 years. Once Lockheed digests Sikorsky, Lockheed will be a key source for much of the Pentagon arsenal.

Are these defense giants getting too big?

“I don’t think we will know until we’ve reached a breaking point, and then only in hindsight we will say it was too big,” says Todd Harrison, defense-industry expert at the non-profit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C. “An over-consolidated industrial base could crowd out new entrants, stifle innovation, and prevent opportunities for competition.”

It may depend on how you look at it. “After [Lockheed acquires Sikorsky], they’ll be the biggest fighter[-jet] prime [contractor] in the world, the biggest helicopter prime in the world, and the U.S.’s biggest military transport [-plane] maker,” says Richard Aboulafia, a defense-industry analyst at the Teal Group Corp., a consulting firm based just outside Washington, D.C. “But there is still competition in each of these segments.”

The last big defense-industry consolidation took place in the mid-1990s. It followed then-deputy defense secretary William Perry’s infamous 1993 “last supper” with defense-industry titans at the Pentagon. He warned that shrinking military budgets wouldn’t let them all survive, triggering a wave of mergers.

But concern over the shrinkage in the total number of defense contractors since the end of the Cold War misses the evolving nature of the defense business, Aboulafia says. “In 1978 you had companies like LTV making relatively simple jets like the A-7,” he notes. “They built most of the plane, aside from the engine and some relatively low-cost instrumentation.” But today’s warplanes are less aircraft than flying computers. “Today, [the airplane-building contractors] do much less, and the internal value is huge,” he says. Nearly all of that work is done by other companies, where competition can be intense.

But then there’s the flip side of the coin. As defense contractors have gotten bigger by gobbling up fellow defense contractors, that leaves fewer to compete for future contracts. “I believe the government must be alert for consolidations that eliminate competition,” Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year before it confirmed his nomination as defense secretary.

You don’t have to look far to see how that can happen. The Army’s next-generation fleet of helicopters—dubbed Future Vertical Lift, in the service’s typical poetic style—pits two helicopter giants against each other for the $100 billion jackpot. Lockheed is building the cockpit and electrics as the key supplier for one of the contending teams, headed by Bell Helicopter. The other candidate is Sikorsky itself. Assuming Lockheed succeeds in gobbling up Sikorsky, it’s tough to see how Lockheed loses, either way.

TIME Military

U.S. Air Force Primed and Ready to Attack Iran’s Nuclear Sites

B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber
Bennie J. Davis—US Air Force/Getty Images A B-2 readies for flight at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. It's the only plane capable of dropping the Massive Ordnance Penetrator.

But if negotiations collapse, will Obama order it to drop the Big One?

U.S. and Iranian negotiators have been scrambling in Vienna to concoct an accord that will stay Tehran’s nuclear ambitions for at least a decade. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has spent the same amount of time plotting how to derail such an effort if it can’t be done at the negotiating table.

The U.S. has made it clear that it will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel or its other neighbors in and around the Persian Gulf. If the atomic talks break down—and U.S. intelligence decides Iran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear-armed state—look for the Air Force’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator to get the assignment to try to destroy that capability.

Of course, the Obama Administration and its five negotiating allies—Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia—are engaged as much in psychological gamesmanship as potential pyrotechnics. The U.S. has leaked just enough information about the MOP to let the Iranians know that the Americans believe its use could set back Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear weapon for years.

But the nation’s military leaders have made clear that a single strike with one or (more likely) more Massive Ordnance Penetrators may not halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “Obviously anything like that can be reconstituted,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said July 1. “And so a military strike of that kind is a setback, but it doesn’t prevent the reconstitution over time.” It’s a hammer that might have to be used repeatedly if Iran refuses to back down and continues to work on its nuclear program. “The military option isn’t use once and set aside,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added. “It remains in place.”

While no one will say so, Iran’s nuclear facility at Fordow–buried up to 80 meters beneath a mountain near the Shiite holy city of Qom, at a former missile base controlled by Iran’s unpredictable Revolutionary Guards–is at the top of that target list. Iran has been conducting much of its suspected nuclear-weapons work for years in underground labs and research facilities thought to be able to survive attacks by earlier generations of U.S. military bunker-busters.

“In October 2014, the Air Force successfully completed one weapon drop from the B-2 aircraft on a representative target,” the Pentagon’s top weapons-tester reported earlier this year. “The test, conducted at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, demonstrated weapon behavior after planned enhancements were incorporated.” Several additional tests have been carried out in recent months, Pentagon officials say.

Nearly a decade ago, the Pentagon concluded that dropping its one-ton bombs on buried targets was like using a peashooter against an elephant. “Our past test experience has shown that 2,000-pound penetrators carrying 500 pounds of high explosive are relatively ineffective against tunnels, even when skipped directly into the tunnel entrance,” a 2004 report said. “Instead, several thousand pounds of high explosives coupled to the tunnel are needed to blow down blast doors and propagate a lethal air blast throughout a typical tunnel complex.”

In late 2009, the Air Force quietly circulated a solicitation seeking a “Quick Reaction Capability” to “defeat a specific set of Hard and/or Deeply Buried Targets.” The weapon, the service said, would “maximize effects against Hard and/or Deeply Buried Targets (HDBTs), while minimizing time over target.” The Air Force said it needed the weapon to meet “Urgent Operational Needs requirements”—generally a plea from a battlefield commander who doesn’t think he has the weapons he needs to accomplish a mission assigned to him.

DoDThe Massive Ordnance Penetrator hits its target during a test at White Sands.

“The system will hold at risk those highest priority assets essential to the enemy’s war-fighting ability, which are heavily defended and protected,” the Air Force elaborated in February 2011 budget documents, “providing a critical global strike capability not currently met by inventory conventional weapons.”

The $15 million MOP has six times the heft of existing GBU-28 bunker busters. Glided into its destination by GPS-guided lattice-type fins, its alloy steel hull – some 80% of its weight – is designed to remain intact as it drills through rock or reinforced concrete before setting off its 5,300-pound warhead. Air Force officials say it represents a “bridge” capability between existing bunker busters and nuclear weapons themselves.

The Pentagon doesn’t have an unlimited supply of MOPs: it initially bought 20, for $314 million. The Boeing-built weapon can only be carried by the Air Force’s B-2 stealth bomber. It’s also extremely shy: there are few photographs of the real thing. But the Air Force has released a pair of photographs of a MOP mockup. It’s a safe bet the mockup has been tweaked from the actual weapon to avoid betraying its precise design and dimensions.

After several upgrades, the Air Force has let it been known that there’s an operational stockpile of the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bombs at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. They’re not far from the B-2 bombers, ready to carry them 7,000 miles to Iran. That much is certain. Whether Obama thinks dropping them is worth the risk isn’t.

TIME Military

The Islamic State Celebrates Its First Birthday

ISIS flag Raqqa
Reuters A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa on June 29, 2014.

The durability of the terror proto-state proves daunting

Military commanders like to say that “quantity has a quality all its own.” It’s a shorthand way of saying that greater numbers of inferior weapons or troops often can beat smaller, superior forces. Given that Monday marks the first birthday of the declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, it’s also worth noting that the passage of time, too, has a quality all its own.

The quantity of time counts, as days turn into weeks, and months have become a year. Time isn’t an inert presence, either on the physical battlefield or in the war of ideas. It’s a measure of will, a magnet to attract followers, and a manifestation of reality. Bottom line: persistence produces power.

This isn’t good. The Pentagon has adopted a go-slow approach, with its modest air campaign and turgid training schedule, in part to prod Iraq to do the fighting. That’s fine, so long as you believe ISIS is a slow-growing tumor, confined to Iraq and Syria. But as last Friday’s attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia that killed at least 60 make clear, it’s a malignancy that’s spreading.

“They’ve been able to hold ground for a year,” says retired Marine general James Mattis, who served as chief of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. “The longer they hold territory it become this radioactive thing, just spewing out this stuff as fighters go there and then come home again.”

“Listen to your caliph and obey him,” ISIS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani said of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a recording released June 29, 2014. “Support your state, which grows every day.”

Chillingly, al-Adnani issued a call last Tuesday calling on Muslims to mark the holy month of Ramadan by making it “a month of disasters for the kuffar”—non-Muslims. He pledged those carrying out such attacks “tenfold” rewards in heaven in exchange for their martyrdom. Last week’s attacks followed. ISIS took responsibility for the beachfront attack in Tunisia that killed at least 38; an ISIS affiliate claimed credit for the blast at a Kuwait City mosque that took 27 lives; the suspect in the French attack reportedly told police of his ties to the Islamic State after decapitating his employer.

IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency CentreThis map shows where Islamic state and its affiliates are located. The black borders delineate where Islamic State has formally announced a wilaya (province) and the red shows attacks carried out in the name of Islamic State between the declaration of a caliphate on June 29, 2014, and June 22, 2015.

After a year in existence, ISIS continues to keep its grip on the huge swatch of land straddling what used to be the border between eastern Syria and western Iraq. “After awhile, possession is nine-tenths of legitimacy,” Anthony Cordesman, a military scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says of ISIS’s first anniversary. “Just being there, visible, over time gives you more and more influence and ability to create more extremists.”

This represents a new kind of threat. “The Islamic State is not an insurgency like the United States fought from 2003 until its departure from Iraq,” Rand Corp. analyst David Johnson notes in the latest issue of Parameters, the Army’s professional journal. “Rather, it is an aspiring proto-state bent on taking and holding territory.”

The U.S. actually has been fighting ISIS and its forebears for years. “Washington continues to fail to recognize the persistence of this organization going back to the declaration of what was then called the Islamic State of Iraq,” Brian Fishman of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center told the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday. “We don’t often recognize our long history of fighting ISIS, but we have effectively been fighting this organization for a decade already.”

As ISIS grew and began controlling greater swaths of Iraq and Syria, there was a sense its days were numbered. Following its seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, just over a year ago, Pentagon officials repeatedly said that Iraqi forces, perhaps aided by small numbers of U.S. troops accompanying them to call in air strikes, would take back the city sometime in the first half of 2015. That hasn’t happened. And for every Tikrit that Iraqi forces, aided by Iranian-backed Shi’a militias, have taken from ISIS by military force, ISIS has attacked and occupied a city like Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s Anbar province.

Despite President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and destroy” ISIS last summer, little has changed. “Very little consequential territory has been reclaimed,” says retired general Jack Keane, who served as the Army’s second-ranking officer from 1999 to 2003. “ISIS still enjoys freedom of maneuver to attack at will, whenever and wherever it pleases.”

While the U.S.-led air campaign has led pretty much to a stalemate on the ground, ISIS’s survival has attracted supporters to its ranks, and led others around the world to claim membership. “What we see very frequently in Afghanistan, with respect to [ISIS], is a rebranding of people who are already in the battlefield,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday in Belgium. They’re donning the ISIS label because “they regard as a better replacement for names they’ve had in the past.”

ISIS’s continuing existence is also generating American recruits, according to an alert last month from the Department of Homeland Security to U.S. law enforcement agencies shortly after police killed a pair planning to shoot up a “draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas. “We judge … that [ISIS’s] messaging is resonating with US-based violent extremists due to its championing of a multifaceted vision of a caliphate,” the agency warned. A key reason for its success in attracting followers, DHS added, is “the perceived legitimacy of its self-proclaimed re-establishment of the caliphate.”

Every day that the undefeated caliphate persists boosts the chances that its followers will strike targets in the U.S. “The most important way to discredit the appeal of their ideology is by military defeat,” Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told that armed services panel hearing last week. “If they’re not holding terrain, if there is no caliphate,” he said. “There is no Islamic utopia.”

TIME Military

U.S. Flag Waves Over 10 Army Bases Proudly Named for Confederate Officers

Puts S.C.’s Confederate-flag flap in perspective

It’s tough to top the historical amnesia that has let the Confederate flag fly over the South Carolina capitol for more than half a century. But the U.S. Army certainly can give Columbia’s banner a run for its money: it operates posts named for nine Confederate generals and a colonel, including the head of its army, the reputed Georgia chief of the Ku Klux Klan and the commander whose troops fired the first shots of the Civil War.

It shouldn’t be surprising. Both the Army and the South are tradition-bound entities that revere their past. Each of the posts was named for a Confederate officer long after the Civil War, including many in the first half of the 20th Century when the U.S. military was rushing to open training posts for both world wars. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday there is “no discussion” underway about renaming the posts.

The Army itself stood firm. “Every Army installation is named for a soldier who holds a place in our military history,” Brigadier General Malcolm Frost, the service’s top spokesman, said Wednesday. “Accordingly, these historic names represent individuals, not causes or ideologies. It should be noted that the naming occurred in the spirit of reconciliation, not division.”

What makes all this especially bizarre is that the Army has always been the service with the most African-American troops. More than one of every five soldiers is black, double the Marines’ enlisted share. Every day, thousands of them salute smartly, preparing to defend the nation on soil honoring their race’s oppressors.

DoD

Don’t blame us, the Army seems to say. While the service traditionally solicited possible names from within its ranks, “unsolicited suggestions for names were also submitted from sources outside the military establishment, and political pressure and public opinion often influenced the naming decision,” the Army says in its history of naming Army installations. “As a result, it was common for camps and forts to be named after local features or veterans with a regional connection. In the southern states they were frequently named after celebrated Confederate soldiers.”

No kidding. All 10 of the bases are located in the Confederacy, stretching from Virginia to Texas. And some of the honored officers, frankly, don’t appear to deserve celebration:

Camp Beauregard, La., honors Louisiana native and Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (1818-1893, West Point class of 1838). It is a major training site for the Louisiana National Guard. Beauregard was the first brigadier general in the Confederate army. Dispatched to defend Charleston, S.C., his troops began shelling Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, launching the Civil War.

Fort Benning, Ga., honors Brigadier General Henry Benning (1814-1875), a Georgia lawyer, politician, judge and supporter of slavery. The Army established Camp Benning, known as the Home of the Infantry, in 1918; it became a fort four years later 1950 (forts generally are bigger, more permanent installations than camps). “In the wake of Lincoln’s election, Benning became one of Georgia’s most vocal proponents of secession,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. “On November 19, 1860, he delivered a speech before the state legislature urging immediate secession, ending the speech by saying,`[L]et us do our duty; and what is our duty? I say, men of Georgia, let us lift up our voices and shout, “Ho! for independence!” Let us follow the example of our ancestors, and prove ourselves worthy sons of worthy sires!’”

Fort Bragg, N.C., honors General Braxton Bragg (1817-1876, West Point class of 1837). He waged war ploddingly with frontal assaults, and a lack of post-battle follow-through that turned battlefield successes into post-battle disappointments. “Even Bragg’s staunchest supporters admonished him for his quick temper, general irritability, and tendency to wound innocent men with barbs thrown during his frequent fits of anger,” historian Peter Cozzens has written. “His reluctance to praise or flatter was exceeded, we are told, only by the tenacity with which, once formed, he clung to an adverse impression of a subordinate. For such officers—and they were many in the Army of the Mississippi—Bragg’s removal or their transfer were the only alternatives to an unbearable existence.”

Fort Gordon, Ga., honors Lieut. General John Brown Gordon (1832-1904), one of Lee’s most-trusted officers. The post began as Camp Gordon in 1917; it became Fort Gordon in 1956. It is home to the Army Signal Corps and the service’s Cyber Center of Excellence. “Generally acknowledged as the head of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1872,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia (Gordon denied the charge). “By the time of his death in 1904, Gordon had capitalized on his war record to such an extent that he had become for many Georgians, and southerners in general, the living embodiment of the Confederacy.”

Fort A.P. Hill, Va., honors Virginia native Lieut. General A.P. Hill (1825-1865, West Point class of 1847). The Army created the post six months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Today it is a training and maneuver center focused on providing realistic joint and combined-arms training. Hill had a frail physique and was frequently ill, attributes some historians believe are linked to the gonorrhea he contracted while on furlough from West Point (an infection that forced him to repeat his third year). A Union soldier from Pennsylvania shot and killed Hill in Petersburg, Va., a week before the end of the Civil War.

U.S. Army, from Fort A.P. Hill’s website

Fort Hood, Texas, honors native Kentuckian General John Bell Hood (1831-1879, West Point class of 1853). The post began as Camp Hood in 1942, becoming a fort in 1950. It is the largest active duty armored post in the U.S. military. Hood was wounded at Gettysburg, losing the use of his left arm. Despite that, he led his troops in a massive assault during the Battle of Chickamauga, suffering wounds that led to the loss of his right leg.

Fort Lee, Va., honors Virginian General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870, West Point class of 1829), the South’s commanding officer by the Civil War’s end. The War Department created Camp Lee within weeks of declaring war on Germany in 1917. The Pentagon promoted it to Fort Lee in 1950. Just south of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, the post is home to the Army Quartermaster School. Lee was the Confederacy’s most renowned general, and his forces inflicted tens of thousands of casualties on Union soldiers’ at Antietam, Gettysburg and Manassas.

Fort Pickett, Va., honors Major General George Pickett (1825-1875, West Point class of 1846), a Virginia native. Pickett’s 1863 charge at Gettysburg has been called “the high-water mark of the Confederacy” before ending up a Union victory. The charge resulted in a rebel bloodbath. Pickett fled to Canada for a year after the war ended, fearing execution as a traitor. Camp Pickett was dedicated on July 3, 1942, at 3 p.m., 79 years to the day and hour of Pickett’s charge in Gettysburg. It became a fort in 1974 and now is a Virginia Army National Guard installation.

Fort Polk, La., honors Lieut. General Leonidas Polk (1806-1864, West Point class of 1827), an Episcopal bishop born in North Carolina. Established in 1941, the post is now home to the Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center, which trains thousands of soldiers annually for overseas deployments. Polk fought bitterly during the Civil War with his immediate superior, General Braxton Bragg, of Fort Bragg fame. Before being killed in action in 1864 during the Atlanta campaign, Polk committed one of the biggest blunders of the war. He sent troops to occupy Columbus, Ky., which led the Kentucky legislature to appeal to Washington for help, ending the state’s brief try at neutrality.

Fort Rucker, Alabama, honors Tennessee native Colonel Edmund Rucker (1835-1924) who was often called “general” but never attained the rank (he was known as “general” after becoming a leading Birmingham, Ala., industrialist after the Civil War). Known today as the Home of Army Aviation, Fort Rucker was originally the Ozark Triangular Division Camp before being renamed Camp Rucker in 1942. It became Fort Rucker in 1955.

TIME Military

Measuring War’s Impact on Women

US Marine Cpl. Michelle Berglin (C) assi
ADEK BERRY / AFP / Getty Images A female U.S. Marine on patrol in Afghanistan.

First-ever book on the topic assesses how female troops fare

American women have been marching off to war in increasing numbers over the last generation. Soon, the Pentagon expects to lift its ban on their service in ground combat, its most demanding, dirtiest and bloodiest form. Is this a good thing?

In Women at War, Army veterans Elspeth Cameron Ritchie and Anne L. Naclerio have produced the first book detailing what war does to the physical and mental health of the growing number of women waging it. Featuring contributions from many military and academic experts, the volume doesn’t advocate putting women in the trenches. “Women are already in combat,” says Ritchie, a psychiatrist who earned three combat patches before retiring from the Army as a colonel in 2010. The book also doesn’t wade into the controversy over whether women have the physical strength to accomplish the mission. Instead, it collects widely-scattered data about what combat does to women and puts it in one place to serve as guidance as the number of female soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines slowly rises.

Bottom line: women can do it, but it may not be easy.

Some 2.5 million women have served in uniform since the Revolutionary War, Lieut. General Patricia Horoho, the Army surgeon general, notes in the book’s forward. “Given recent policy changes, by January 2016 it is expected that all military occupations, positions, and units will be open to women,” she adds, “thus ensuring that they will play even larger roles in future military operations.”

The number of women engaged in major U.S. combat operations is steadily growing. They climbed from 770 in 1989’s Panama invasion, to 41,000 in 1991’s Gulf War, to 300,000 in the post-9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. About 15% of U.S. troops today are female. They represented 10% of those deployed to Iraq between 2003 and 2011, and 8% of those sent to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2013 (they were under-represented because they are generally barred from serving in combat units. That also accounts for the fact that they represented only 2.3% of U.S. troops killed in action).

More facts from the book:

  • In the post-9/11 wars, women deployed nearly as frequently as men (1.5 times per male soldier; 1.3 times for females), and for nearly as long (10.9 months per male soldier; 10.5 months per female soldier).
  • Women suffered slightly more psychological problems (15.1%) in the Afghanistan and Iraq war zones than men (14.9%).
  • More men dispatched to the war zones were diagnosed with PTSD (3.9%) than women (3.0%).
  • 15% of the soldiers who had to be medically evacuated out of the war zones for serious mental-health issues were female.

The 40 contributors (including 10 men) write about women’s health on the front lines and the challenges of being a soldier and a mother. “Mothers who deploy may be viewed as uncaring or negligent, rather than serving selflessly and patriotically,” Army psychiatrist Elizabeth C. Henderson writes. “It is more culturally acceptable for men to go to war.”

“I tried to avoid thinking of [my child] most of the time,” a mother deployed to a war zone said. “I had something to do right after every phone call so that I would not retreat to my tent and start crying.”

Women in uniform also are subject to shunning by their male colleagues. “Women who are working in primarily male career fields—or, as in the military, are breaking into previously closed combat positions currently held by males—may suddenly find themselves part of a social group that has difficulty fully accepting or integrating females,” writes Pentagon psychologist Kate McGraw. “The negative impact of this type of behavior may intensify during periods of high stress, such as in combat or deployed locations.”

But experience can ease such trepidation. “I felt tremendous pressure to live beyond reproach, and over time, I have learned that this is an incredibly intense, stressful, and ultimately unsustainable and inhumane way to live,” then-Lieut. Paulette Cazares wrote of her first tour as a doctor aboard a U.S. Navy submarine. “Come the second year and second deployment, I was able to dance in bars at ports of call and enjoy a cigar with the CO and know I was on stable footing.”

She also writes that her time aboard gave her the confidence she needed to save a young female sailor from dying of appendicitis on what was supposed to have been a quiet Thanksgiving. “At the beginning of that deployment, I would never known or had the courage to … demand that a helo move faster,” she recalls. “But a few months at sea made this girl a little saltier than she was when she left San Diego.”

NIKAYLA SHODEEN / U.S. ArmyU.S. Army soldiers, including women, train to become Rangers at Georgia’s Fort Benning.

Being different can pose challenges when nature calls. “In 2011, with all our sophisticated battle systems and unarmed aircraft, women in combat were still wearing diapers because we hadn’t figured out how they could take care of basic bodily functions in the back of an armored personnel carrier or transport vehicle,” Naclerio says. There remains, after a decade of war, ignorance among both military women and their medical advisers about minimizing such issues, she adds. (Only 4.5% of women in Iraq in 2005-2006, for example, were using commercially available female urination devices, which allow women to relieve themselves like men.) Both Naclerio and Ritchie express surprise at how little research has been done to smooth the integration of women into the military.

Sexual assault is a “major issue” in the U.S. military, the book notes, and has received extensive professional and press coverage. But there has been scant attention paid to consensual sex in the ranks downrange. “A taboo area seems to be the sexual desires of women who deploy,” the authors write. “But young women—and most women who deploy are young—do have sexual desires, perhaps heightened by the daily exposure to death and close bonding in the combat zone.” This taboo has led to a dearth of information. “We have very little knowledge of the actual amount of consensual sexual activity that is occurring during deployments between military members because very little research is done on that topic,” writes Navy psychiatrist Ann Canuso. (Think of it as a new version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”) “Studies indicate that as many as 12% of deployed women had an unplanned pregnancy during deployment in 2008.

The dearth of women on the front lines makes them a rarity. But that’s slowly expected to change. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said last month that he wants 25% of Marine recruits eventually to be women, more than triple their current 7% of the corps.

But until that happens (and Marines, both male and female, believe it’s a tall order), women on the front lines will continue to feel like they live in a fishbowl. “My presence there seemed to make everyone stop and stare,” one forward-deployed woman told Canuso of her visits to the gym. Some of their male counterparts acknowledged their role. One told Canuso about the time he was instructing other young men when a female colleague walked by in her workout gear. “We all just stopped and stared at her for almost a full 30 seconds,” he said. “Then I just went back to teaching the men. I never would have done that stateside.”

TIME Military

The Other Body Count in the Battle Against ISIS

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter And Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey Testify On US Policy In Mideast
Mark Wilson / Getty Images Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and General Martin Dempsey testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

The number of Iraqis being trained by the U.S. is more important than the number of militants being killed

Body counts are notoriously inaccurate—and a poor yardstick for measuring progress on the battlefield. Nonetheless, a top U.S. official recently trumpeted the fact that the U.S.-led alliance has killed “more than 10,000” fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria over the past year. That’s despite the fact that the alliance has regained little territory from the wide swaths of Iraq and Syria ISIS has gobbled up since 2013.

But there is another body count when it comes to assessing the war on ISIS that is far more accurate—and far more telling: the Pentagon had expected to train about 24,000 Iraqis to fight ISIS by this fall, but will only manage to train 7,000, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. (He fattened up the bottom line by adding that the U.S. also had trained “2,000 counter-terrorism service personnel”.)

U.S. Military Trains Iraqi Army
John Moore / Getty ImagesU.S. Army soldiers train Iraqi troops in April.

Even under Carter’s plumped-up number, the U.S. military will have achieved only 38% of its training target by this fall. Such a limited goal, and the inability to achieve it, contrasts with the Iraqi security forces that existed when U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011. The U.S. military left behind a 350,000-strong Iraqi army and a 450,000-strong national police force that “was assessed as a relatively well-trained and disciplined force,” according to a recent U.S. report. But it didn’t last. “The soldiers that we helped to train, when [ISIS] came in, they basically took the uniforms off and ran,” Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., told Carter and Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This good-guy-trained body count is more important than the bad-guy-killed body count, for several reasons:

— It highlights a strong Iraqi reluctance to get involved in the fight against the Islamic State. “Our training efforts in Iraq have thus far been slowed by a lack of trainees—we simply haven’t received enough recruits,” Carter said. “As I’ve told Iraqi leaders, while the United States is open to supporting Iraq more than we already are, we must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government.”

— It suggests the U.S has had poor intelligence about just how willing the Iraqis are to fight. While Dempsey called the training effort the “centerpiece” of the U.S. strategy, only now is the U.S. getting serious about training Sunni fighters, largely located in western Anbar Province. “We determined that our training efforts could be enhanced and thus are now focusing on increasing participation in and throughput of our training efforts, working closely with the Iraqi government and stressing the focus on drawing in Sunni forces, which, as noted, are under-represented in the Iraqi security forces today,” Carter said.

—It calls into question the placement of the four U.S. training camps currently inside Iraq. The U.S. is dispatching 450 more trainers to Anbar to operate a fifth camp. “The numbers [of trainers] are not as significant as the location,” Carter said. “It’s in the heart of Sunni territory, and I think it will make a big difference in the performance of the train-and-equip program as regards recruiting Sunni fighters.” In fact, he predicted the new camp will be generating new Sunni fighters to battle ISIS within “weeks.”

—It confirms that much of the eight years and $25 billion training Iraqi security forces during the first such effort accomplished little. “At a personal level, the most frustrating part of going back to Iraq in February was seeing so much of what we had fought for and achieved during the surge really gone to waste,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who served four tours in Iraq as a Marine.

—It reinforces Carter’s observation last month that the Iraqi forces driven out of Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, lacked the “will to fight.”

So long as the Iraqis lack even the will to sign up to fight, the “long, hard slog” that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted for Iraq 12 years ago shows little sign of speeding up.

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