Combat roles offered to women

The Australian – By Mark Dodd

WOMEN will be allowed to serve in frontline combat roles after the Gillard government ordered the Australian Defence Force to bring forward the removal of bans that have stopped women from applying for the most dangerous and demanding military jobs.

The historic decision by Defence Minister Stephen Smith means women who meet the tough physical standards required of their male counterparts will now be able to serve in elite special forces units such as the SAS, work as naval clearance divers and join general infantry and armoured units.

The decision to fast-track women into combat roles coincided with the announcement of a raft of reviews and inquiries into the treatment of women in the defence force spurred by the Skype sex scandal.

About 93 per cent of all jobs in the military are currently open to women, including serving in submarines and piloting fighter jets, with the 7 per cent of jobs closed to women mostly in the army.

The changes mean Australia will soon join New Zealand, Canada and Israel, which have no restrictions on any defence jobs, including forward combat units.

Mr Smith and the head of the defence force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, yesterday said that as long as women met the physical and academic requirements, any job was now open to them. However, meeting the rigorous entry standards for combat formations is likely to prove challenging. The Australian Defence Association lobby group remains sceptical about the use of women in combat, as does Keith Payne, the nation’s oldest surviving holder of the Victoria Cross for gallantry.

Mr Payne said that aside from the demanding physical requirements of combat infantry, a big concern for commanders would be responding to women wounded in action or captured.

“If you’re in a tight situation and one of the ladies goes down – and one of the blokes stops to pick her up – then that is the wrong thing to do,” he said. “You’re priority is to fight your way through to the bloody objective and then you come back and look after the casualties later.”

…No date was set for achieving the fast-tracked timetable. Air Chief Marshal Houston said it was imperative that women were able to apply for all ADF jobs. “What we’re looking at here is the last 7 per cent (of roles), which are all combat-related and mainly in the Australian army,” he said. “We are all 100 per cent unanimous that this has to happen if we are to be a truly women-friendly organisation. We should have all positions open to women.”

Mr Smith said any military opportunity for women “should be determined on the basis of physical and intellectual capacity, not on gender. So the Chief of the Defence Force will bring forward that matter as a matter of priority.”

Defence was already assessing the physical requirements of all military roles in a $2.5 million study as a precursor to removing gender bars on combat roles.’

…Entry selection to the SAS requires at least one year served in an army unit, typically the commando regiment or combat engineers. What follows is a combination of some of the most gruelling physical and mental tests designed to weed out all but the most dedicated.

Tests vary, but can involve carrying an 80kg pack on endurance marches lasting several days. A test this year required entrants to each carry two 20-litre jerry cans of water in addition to their combat rucksacks.

Psychological tests involved long question-and-answer sessions to test cultural sensitivities, being woken in the middle of the night to write essays or ordered to strip in the presence of women.

Shooting turns strangers into ‘family for life’

Air Force Times Staff report

Maria Soto and Amanda Schneider didn’t know each other a month ago. Today, they’re what Amanda Schneider calls “family for life” after all the pain they’ve suffered through together — the shooting of their loved ones, both airmen, at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla, the son of Soto, and Staff Sgt. Kris Schneider, the husband of Amanda Schneider, are recovering from injuries they suffered March 2 when a gunman boarded an Air Force bus from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and opened fire.

Two airmen, Airman 1st Class Zachary R. Cuddeback and Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, died in the attack. Cuddeback was the bus driver, and Alden was one of 15 security forces airmen on their way from RAF Lakenheath, England, to Ramstein before they deployed to Afghanistan. The alleged shooter, apprehended by the German police shortly after the assault and now in jail awaiting trial, wounded Veguilla and Schneider so seriously that the doctor overseeing their treatment describes them as “the miracle of Frankfurt.”

‘God’s grace’

“They were really, really lucky,” Dr. Kai Zacharowski told Air Force News Service. “It’s a combination of God’s grace and God giving us the ability to treat patients who are so severely sick, injured and almost dead basically.” The airmen have been released from Frankfurt’s Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Hospital, but U.S. Air Forces in Europe is not disclosing their whereabouts.

Neither Veguilla’s mother nor Schneider’s wife knew just how badly their loved ones had been hurt, they told Air Force News Service in an exclusive interview. Air Force Times requested to speak with the women as well, but they declined. Soto learned the news from Maj. Joe Wildman, commander of the 82nd Security Forces Squadron, who traveled from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, to her home in Wichita Falls, Texas. A day and a half later, she was with her son.

“I didn’t know how critical he was, but knew he was hurt,” she said in the interview with Air Force News Service. Amanda Schneider had been patiently waiting in England for her husband to let her know he had landed safely in Germany when she read a story about the attack on the Internet. Within minutes, she received a visit from a security forces team.

“All I wanted, at that time, was to learn something about whether or not Kris was safe,” she said. It seemed like an eternity, but Amanda Schneider arrived at the hospital in less than 10 hours from the time she heard the news, according to Air Force News Service.

Until Soto arrived, Amanda Schneider stood watch over Veguilla as well as her husband. Once at the hospital, Soto and Amanda Schneider took turns standing guard. “We’ve had each other to lean on, get some emotions out and vent to one another,” Amanda Schneider said. “We’re family now. I think that’s helped everybody through this situation. [We] are ‘family for life’ because of this shared experience.”

The women praised the hospital staff members for their professionalism and support, they told Air Force News Service. “It’s just amazing,” said Soto, who works in a hospital. “There is a doctor here who lent me his phone because I hadn’t talked to my other children in a few days.” Added Amanda Schneider: “They’re unbelievable. They’re compassionate, have a great work ethic and are friendly. … They were supportive and went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable, and the boys were safe and had everything they needed.”

Soto helped the doctors and nurses care for her son, too, she told Air Force News Service. She gave him hand massages, love — and pep talks. “I don’t want him to give up,” Soto said, looking at her son and holding his hand. “I will keep encouraging him to make things better even when he wants to give up.” Veguilla’s response to the attention — “Typical mom” — made Soto laugh. “I know he likes it,” she said, “and is taking advantage of it.”

Amanda Schneider is convinced a healthy dose of humor is a big reason behind her husband’s speedy recovery. “He’s been joking and being sarcastic ever since he woke up,” she said. “He is still able to crack a joke or two, even with all the pain he is in. I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.” Even Zacharowski, the doctor, believes in the healing power of a positive attitude. Schneider and Veguilla, he told Air Force News Service, are proof.

“Both were smiling, and they both made it happen consciously,” he said. “That was a great sign for me.” The airmen’s first order of business out of the hospital is to simply have some “quiet time.” “Honestly,” Veguilla said, “I just want to sit down for a bit in a quiet room.” Then, the airmen contend, they’ll be ready to go back to work and be with their team again. Schneider wants his co-workers to know he’s doing fine and he’s grateful for their encouragement…

MLD Test Moves Navy a Step Closer to Lasers for Ship Self-Defense

By Geoff S. Fein, Office of Naval Research

ARLINGTON, Va. — Marking a milestone for the Navy, the Office of Naval Research and its industry partner on April 6 successfully tested a solid-state, high-energy laser (HEL) from a surface ship, which disabled a small target vessel.

The Navy and Northrop Grumman completed at-sea testing of the Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), which validated the potential to provide advanced self-defense for surface ships and personnel by keeping small boat threats at a safe distance.

“The success of this high-energy laser test is a credit to the collaboration, cooperation and teaming of naval labs at Dahlgren, China Lake, Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, Calif.,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Nevin Carr. “ONR coordinated each of their unique capabilities into one cohesive effort.”

The latest test occurred near San Nicholas Island, off the coast of Central California in the Pacific Ocean test range. The laser was mounted onto the deck of the Navy’s self-defense test ship, former USS Paul Foster (DD 964).

Carr also recognized the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s High Energy Joint Technology Office and the Army’s Joint High Powered Solid State Laser (JHPSSL) program for their work. MLD leverages the Army’s JHPSSL effort.

“This is the first time a HEL, at these power levels, has been put on a Navy ship, powered from that ship and used to defeat a target at-range in a maritime environment,” said Peter Morrison, program officer for ONR’s MLD.

In just slightly more than two-and-a-half years, the MLD has gone from contract award to demonstrating a Navy ship defensive capability, he said.

“We are learning a ton from this program—how to integrate and work with directed energy weapons,” Morrison said. “All test results are extremely valuable regardless of the outcome.”

Additionally, the Navy accomplished several other benchmarks, including integrating MLD with a ship’s radar and navigation system and firing an electric laser weapon from a moving platform at-sea in a humid environment. Other tests of solid state lasers for the Navy have been conducted from land-based positions.

Having access to a HEL weapon will one day provide warfighter with options when encountering a small-boat threat, Morrison said.

But while April’s MLD test proves the ability to use a scalable laser to thwart small vessels at range, the technology will not replace traditional weapon systems, Carr added.

“From a science and technology point of view, the marriage of directed energy and kinetic energy weapon systems opens up a new level of deterrence into scalable options for the commander. This test provides an important data point as we move toward putting directed energy on warships. There is still much work to do to make sure it’s done safely and efficiently,” the admiral said.

Newest F-22 upgrade set for later this year

Air Force Times – By Dave Majumdar

The F-22 Raptor is a work in progress. The Air Force is pushing hard to upgrade the planes to Increment 3.1, a hardware and software upgrade scheduled to be operational later this year.

Increment 3.1 will:

• Add synthetic aperture radar.

• Add the ability to drop Small Diameter Bombs.

• Add electronic attack capabilities.

The operational test force has been putting Increment 3.1 through its paces at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., since November. But even once Increment 3.1 is installed, the F-22 still will only be able to designate two targets in total for its eight SDBs. And the upgrade will not resolve the Raptor’s basic inability to connect with other aircraft.

A future upgrade, Increment 3.2, was originally supposed to include the Multifunction Advanced Data-link developed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but the Air Force canceled funding for the F-22 data link last year. Canceling it was a huge mistake, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the service’s former intelligence chief.

“It’s doesn’t do a whole lot of good to build the world’s most advanced aircraft, and not then be able to share the data automatically with other aircraft in the constellation,” he said. “That’s penny-wise but pound-foolish.”

The B-2 is also supposed to receive the MADL upgrade, which would have enabled the entire Air Force stealth aircraft fleet to be connected during operations inside hostile airspace. Other capabilities planned in the Increment 3.2 include:

• The ability to independently retarget eight SDBs at eight separate targets.

• Support the AIM-9X air-to-air missile, which allows pilots to target enemy aircraft off axis to the aircraft’s direction of flight.

• Integrate the new longer-range AIM-120D missile that improves upon the current AIM-120C.

That upgrade is included in the Air Force’s 2012 budget, and would upgrade all 150 F-22s currently coded for combat use.