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Pacific Ocean. (November 18, 2023):  Since the 1950s, the Navy has used catapults to launch aircraft from extremely short distances. In the photo by Seaman Apprentice Joseph M. Paolucci , Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Evan Valdes, from Surprise, Arizona, lubricates a catapult aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz while underway in the Pacific.

The catapult is a slot built into the flight deck that is connected to a large piston below. The piston is attached to the nose gear of the aircraft using a wire rope, or bridle which runs along a track. Different means have been used to launch the catapult, from gun powder to air pressure, but nearly all carriers use steam power today. Steam systems, however, are massive, inefficient, and their extreme temperatures threaten crew safety.

The Navy is currently fielding an alternative to steam, an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, on the USS Gerald R. Ford, America’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier. Electromagnetic catapults eliminate the dangers of steam and the need for large boiler rooms aboard ships, freeing up vital space.

The history of these devices’ dates to 1904 when the Wright Brothers used a derrick style catapult to launch man’s earliest successful flights. The first person to catapult from a Navy vessel was Theodore Gordon Ellyson, nicknamed “Spuds,” who was launched from a stationary barge just before World War I.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 15, 2023) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class Robert Hill, from Kansas City, Kan., operates the jet blast deflector on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Nov. 15, 2023. Theodore Roosevelt, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group Nine (CSG 9), is conducting integrated training exercises in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Craig Z. Rodarte)

Pacific Ocean. (November 15, 2023): Help wanted. Candidate must be willing to redirect 2,300-degree jet aircraft exhaust from a tiny hatch on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Oh, and did I mention the dangerous streams of dust and debris carried by the turbulent air that threatens you and your fellow Sailors? In this photo by MC2 Craig Z. Rodarte, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class Robert Hill operates the jet blast deflector on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt while underway in the Pacific.

The jet blast deflector is a safety device operated by a Sailor from a hatch on the flight deck at the rear of the aircraft catapults. It is part of the flight deck so planes roll over the hatch on their way to the catapult. When the aircraft clears the hatch, a heavy panel is raised into position behind it. Other planes can then move into position and begin their final preparations safe from the dangerous jet exhaust.

U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Benjamin Radeff with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines and Philippine Marine 1st Lt Barahama talk about the next objective during an amphibious landing as part of KAMANDAG 2 in Naval Education Training Command, Philippines, Oct. 6, 2018. KAMANDAG helps maintain a high level of readiness and enhances bilateral military-to-military relations and capabilities. (U.S. Marine corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christine Phelps)

Naval Education Training Command, Philippines. (November 9, 2023): As tensions between the Philippines and China continue to rise, so too does the importance of the Marine Corps strategy of “Standing In” with our friends in the Indo-Pacific. In this photo by Lance Corporal Christine Phelps, Marine 1st Lieutenant Benjamin Radeff with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines discusses the next objective with his counterpart,  Philippine Marine 1st Lieutenant Barahama during exercise KAMANDAG 2, a bilateral event to maintain readiness.

KAMANDAG 2, or “Cooperation of the Warriors of the Sea”, is an exercise between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States that also includes recent participation from Japan. This Philippine-led exercise features military-to-military exchanges, live fire training, close air support, and a joint amphibious landing. The Marines trained alongside Philippine warfighters in jungle survival, urban environments, and combat life saving techniques.

These Marines may very well find themselves fighting side-by-side should war break out. Under a Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951, the United States is pledged to come to the aid of the Philippines if they are attacked and vice versa. This treaty was further strengthened in 2014 when the Philippines agreed to direct access to military facilities under a new Defense Cooperation Agreement. American officials have reassured the Philippines that “an armed attack on the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US Mutual Defense commitments.”

As China has expanded its missile technology, U.S. war planners have focused on increasing the standoff range or the distance needed to keep American forces outside the kill zone.

As is typical for Marines, they have a more aggressive strategy.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Taylor Jenkins, a combat engineer with the Littoral Engineer Reconnaissance Team, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3d Marine Logistics Group, utilizes the Android Tactical Assault System to input reconnaissance findings into an after action report during a littoral mobility and detection exercise on Camp Pendleton, California, Nov. 18, 2021. The ATAK is a tool that allows Marines to rapidly report critical geospatial information to support intelligence requirements for a given objective. During this exercise, 7th and 9th ESB are refining their skills with emerging Marine Corps technologies in order to facilitate follow-on forces’ littoral mobility from shallow water to the objective. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Hailey D. Clay)

Camp Pendleton, California. (November 12, 2023): For the Marines, nothing is more important than knowing one’s position, or situational awareness, in a combat zone. In this photo by Sergeant Hailey D. Clay, Marine Corps Corporal Taylor Jenkins, a combat engineer with Littoral Engineer Reconnaissance Team, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3d Marine Logistics Group, uses the Android Tactical Assault System (ATAK) to input reconnaissance findings. The ATAK is a tool Marines use to report geospatial information among many other uses that are vital in combat.

Developed by scientists and engineers at the Air Force Research Laboratory, the ATAK gives warfighters up-to-the-second situational awareness including visual displays and other analytics. It enables users to navigate using GPS and geospatial map data overlayed with real-time ongoing events.

These tactical feeds allow precision targeting, detail surrounding land information, GPS navigation, and data sharing. Operators can view the location of other Marines which is a great leap in technology compared to hand-held radio transmissions. The ATAK can be downloaded to a phone, tablet, or handheld device and data can be projected onto a large screen in a conference room. For Marines in the field, the ATAK can be attached to an operator’s forearm, thigh, or chest for hands-free use.

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Atlantic Ocean. (November 12, 2023): Pilots call it a “controlled crash landing” and it is one of the most dangerous tasks military aviators face every day. In this photo by MC2 Nicholas Russell, an F/A-18F Super Hornet attached to Strike Fighter Squadron 106 lands aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington while the ship is underway.

Imagine flying a high-speed combat aircraft in foul weather and having to land on a rolling, pitching runway that is only five hundred feet long. Oh, and did I mention this feat is often accomplished at night in total darkness.

The process begins when the Landing Signal Officer aboard the carrier clears the pilot to land. In a normal scenario, various returning planes “stack up” in the skies above the carrier and are granted permission to land by the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center based on their fuel level. Once given the ok, pilots break from their circulating pattern, release their tailhook, and head toward the stern of the ship.

The goal is to grab one of four “arresting” wires or cables strung across the landing area spaced about fifty feet apart and connected to a series of hydraulic pulleys below deck. Pilots typically aim for the third wire as it is the safest target. Aviators avoid the first wire as it is dangerously close to the end of carrier deck and, if they are too low, could cause them to crash into the stern of the ship. To be qualified to fly from a carrier, pilots must demonstrate they can hit the third wire consistently in all weather conditions day and night.

To pull off this “crash landing,” pilots must approach the landing area at exactly the right angle. To do this, pilots rely on a Fresnel Lens Optical System, or “Lens,” that consists of a series of lights mounted to a gyroscope for stability on a pitching deck. The Lens directs these lights at various angles into the sky and pilots will see different lights depending upon their angle of approach. If they are right on target, pilots will see an amber light, colloquially referred to as the “meatball,” along with a row of green lights. If the meatball is above the set of green lights, the plane is coming in too high. If the amber light is below the set of green lights, the plane is coming in too low. If the pilot’s trajectory is way too low, the Lens transmits a red light to the pilot to wave off and come around again.

Senior Airman Yvener Desir, Airman 1st Class Andrew Bankson and Staff Sgt. Michael Rosa, all with the 96th Maintenance Squadron, race side-by-side against other ammo teams to build a Joint Direct Attack Munition GBU-31 prior to the 96th Maintenance Group’s weapons load competition Oct. 27, 2023, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Two ammo teams quickly and precisely built the bombs that would be loaded onto an F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon by weapons loaders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. (November 15, 2023): The year was 1942 and the Japanese fleet prepared to ambush the Americans in the Battle of Midway. Unfortunately for them, their ammo loaders failed at their tasks and the outcome of the battle turned the tide of the Pacific War. History records that U.S. fighters came upon Admiral Nagumo’s fleet as they were switching bombs on their aircraft, explosives lying all around, creating a powder keg that destroyed the Japanese force.

American Airmen today are determined not to repeat that mistake.

In this photo by Samuel King Jr., Senior Airman Yvener Desir, Airman 1st Class Andrew Bankson and Staff Sgt. Michael Rosa with the 96th Maintenance Squadron race against time to best the efforts of other ammo teams to win the annual weapon loading competition. Seen here building a Joint Direct Attack Munition GBU-31,  the ammo teams quickly and precisely build the bombs to be loaded onto an F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon.

This event is designed to evaluate weapon loading teams under the pressure they would experience in actual combat. Affectionately called a “Load Toad,” ammunition loaders are often the uncelebrated key to launching successful strikes against the enemy. In an average day, Load Toads equip ten or more aircraft with a wide variety of weapons in a highly choreographed ballet that requires hours and hours of practice until they know the routine by heart.

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