A lot of dire warnings about future threats to the United States center around peer or near-peer adversaries. China and Russia are often cited as boogeymen, especially among those advocating for a larger military. In the next echelon down, there are the less-capable, but fanatical: Iran and North Korea, made even more threatening by their potential nuclear arsenals.
In late 2001, I lifted off the USS Bataan in a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter toward Afghanistan as part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. I was one of the first pilots to push into Afghanistan after 9/11. The trip to the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar meant an arduous flight through the mountains, pushing the 35-year-old “Battlephrog” close to its operating limits and range. We had to make a fuel stop at a remote base in Pakistan followed by a long flight across open desert, often flying on instruments through a sandy haze.