11 critical questions about the coronavirus that remain unanswered, 6 months after the first cases were reported - We Are The Mighty
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11 critical questions about the coronavirus that remain unanswered, 6 months after the first cases were reported

In the realm of medicine, what you don’t know can indeed kill you.

Six months have passed since China reported the first coronavirus cases to the World Health Organization. But even now, what experts are still trying to understand sometimes seems to outweigh what they can say for certain.


That is little surprise to any infectious-disease researcher: Highly contagious diseases can move through communities much more quickly than the methodical pace of science can produce vital answers.

What we do know is that the coronavirus seems to have emerged in China as early as mid-November and has now reached 188 countries, infected more than 10.4 million people, and killed around 510,000. Population-level studies using new testing could boost case numbers about 10-fold in the US and perhaps elsewhere as well.

As hospitals around the world care for COVID-19 patients with blood clots, strokes, and long-lasting respiratory failure, scientists are racing to study the coronavirus, spread life-saving information, and combat dangerous misunderstandings.

Here are 11 of the biggest questions surrounding the coronavirus and COVID-19, and why answering each one is critically important.

How did the new coronavirus get into people?

The first coronavirus infections was thought to have emerged in a wet market in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province. But newer research suggests the market may simply have been a major spreading site.

Researchers are fairly certain that the virus — a spiky ball roughly the size of a smoke particle — developed in bats. Lab tests show that it shares roughly 80% of its 30,000-letter genome with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), a virus that also came from bats and triggered an epidemic in 2002 and 2003. It also shares about 96% of its genome with other coronaviruses in bats.

Mounting evidence continues to undercut the conspiracy theory that the virus came from a Chinese laboratory.

Still, researchers still aren’t sure how the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans. In the case of SARS, the weasel-like civet became an intermediate animal host. Researchers have suggested that civets, pigs, snakes, or possibly pangolins — scaly nocturnal mammals often poached for the keratin in their scales — were an intermediary host for the new coronavirus. But it could also be that the virus jumped straight from bats to humans.

A May study suggested that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus’ clinical name) may be a hybrid of bat and pangolin viruses.

Why it matters: Understanding how novel zoonotic diseases evolve and spread could lead to improved tracing of and treatments for new emerging diseases.

How many people have actually gotten COVID-19?

Global tallies of cases, deaths, recoveries, and active infections reflect only the confirmed numbers — researchers suspect the actual number of cases is far, far larger.

For every person who tests positive for the novel coronavirus, there may be about 10 undetected cases. This is because testing capacity lags behind the pace of the disease, and many governments, including in the US, failed to implement widespread testing early on.

New estimates from MIT suggest the world had already seen 249 million coronavirus cases and 1.75 million deaths by June 18. That would make the global case total 12 times higher than official reports, and the global death toll 1.5 times higher.

Other similar research estimated that the US alone may have seen 8.7 million coronavirus cases from March 8 to 28. US researchers also suggested in May that the nation’s official death count may “substantially understate” the actual number of coronavirus fatalities.

Meanwhile, Italian studies suggest that Italy’s coronavirus deaths could be twice as high as the official tally.

Why it matters: An accurate assessment is critical in helping researchers better understand the coronavirus’ spread, COVID-19’s mortality rate, the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers, and other factors. It would also give scientists a more accurate picture of the effects of social distancing, lockdowns, contact tracing, and quarantining.

What makes the coronavirus so good at spreading?

Viruses are small, streamlined particles that have evolved to make many, many copies of themselves by hijacking living cells of a host.

The measurement of a virus’ ability to spread from one person to another is called R0, or R-naught. The higher the value, the greater the contagiousness — though it varies by region and setting. The novel coronavirus’ average R0 is roughly 2.2, meaning one infected person, on average, spreads it to 2.2 people. But it had a whopping R0 of 5.7 in some densely populated regions early in the pandemic.

The seasonal flu, by contrast, has an R0 of about 1.3.

A person’s ability to transmit the virus depends partly on their viral load: the amount of virus particles they release into the environment. Coronavirus patients tend to have high viral loads in the throat, nasal cavity, and upper respiratory tract, which makes the virus highly contagious. Research indicates that there’s little difference in the viral loads between coronavirus patients who show symptoms and those who don’t.

Coughing — a signature symptom of COVID-19 — helps spread viruses in tiny droplets, especially in confined spaces. But the virus can also spread through singing, normal breathing, or even loud conversation.

Just one minute of loud speech can produce over 1,000 coronavirus-containing droplets that linger in the air for eight minutes or longer, according to research from the National Institutes of Health. Studies have shown that just a few hundred copies of a respiratory virus are enough to infect another person.

There’s also evidence the virus may be spread by feces, but that seems to pose less of a transmission threat.

Why it matters: Knowing how a virus gets around can help everyone better prevent its spread. Getting a handle on its behavior may also spur governments to act sooner to contain future outbreaks of this or other similar diseases.

What drives mortality in people infected by the coronavirus?

Studies have outlined a step-by-step path for how the coronavirus kills patients.

First, the virus’ spiky proteins latch onto cell receptors in the lungs called ACE2. Our immune system then senses a threat and responds by activating white blood cells. Among patients who develop severe outcomes, immune systems can overreact by producing a “cytokine storm” — a release of chemical signals that instruct the body to attack its own cells.

The reaction may cause milder coronavirus symptoms like fever, fatigue, muscle aches, or swollen toes. But it can also lead to severe symptoms including blood clots, excessive leaking in the blood vessels, fluid in the lungs, depleted oxygen in the blood, and low blood pressure.

Doctors have linked blood clots to the increased prevalence of strokes among coronavirus patients. An aggressive immune response can also damage the heart, kidneys, intestines, and liver. But most coronavirus deaths are due to respiratory failure, meaning the lungs aren’t supplying enough oxygen to the blood.

The pattern of critical cases is alarming to clinicians, and something they’re still trying to grasp: It’s not just people with apparent risk factors like smoking and chronic illnesses who get severely ill — it’s also some young and seemingly healthy people.

Why it matters: Understanding how the coronavirus does so much harm could lead to more effective treatments in hospitals and make for promising drug targets.

What percent of people infected by the coronavirus die?

Death rates for COVID-19 are not one-size-fits-all. Many factors are at work.

Age is a big one. Older people are more likely to die as a result of lung failure, strokes, heart attacks, and other problems triggered by coronavirus infections, while younger individuals are much less likely to do so. However, people of all ages, including children, have experienced severe symptoms and sometimes death.

Government action matters greatly, too. In places that did not respond forcefully and early to the outbreak, emergency rooms and intensive-care units have been crushed with patients who require care. That can outstrip resources and force doctors to make life-or-death triage decisions.

Recent estimates suggest that the global fatality rate for the coronavirus is about 1%, but may range from 0.4% to 3.6%.

Experts still aren’t sure why some coronavirus patients develop severe symptoms that could lead to death, while other people have mild, if any, symptoms.

One hypothesis is that the answer lies in an individual’s genetic code. People whose genes tell their bodies to make more ACE2 receptors — which the coronavirus uses to invade our cells — could get hit harder.

Why it matters: Variations in death rates help researchers expose flaws in government responses, supply chains, patient care, and more, ideally leading to fixes. Being able to identify the people at higher risk of severe symptoms and treati them accordingly could also lower death rates. However, the early data is clear enough: The coronavirus has the capacity to kill millions of people in a relatively short time.

Why do young people face the least risk of dying?

On a per-capita basis, young people are the most resilient to the coronavirus. But they do get infected and suffer from it. Even blood clots and strokes have emerged among some younger patients.

Between January 22 and May 30, people in their 20s and 30s made up 30% of confirmed cases in the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those age categories represented 10% of hospitalizations and 9% of ICU admissions, but less than 2% of confirmed deaths.

Typically, young kids and older people are in the same risk category for diseases like the flu. But it’s not so with COVID-19: About 70% of US deaths have been people 70 and older. Children, meanwhile, represent less than 2% of confirmed coronavirus infections in China, Spain, Korea, Italy, and the US.

It’s not clear yet whether kids are less likely to contract the virus in the first place, or whether many of their cases are simply being missed because they are often mild or asymptomatic.

The CDC’s largest study of children with the coronavirus to date found that 18% of those studied tested positive but didn’t report symptoms. The report, however, only included kids with confirmed cases, so the breakdown is likely skewed.

Out of more than 2,500 pediatric cases in the CDC study, only three patients died. The study concluded that “most COVID-19 cases in children are not severe.”

One reason for this could be that children have less mature ACE2 receptors — the enzymes that serve as ports of entry for the coronavirus — which could make it more difficult for the virus to infect a child’s cells.

The immune system also becomes more dysregulated as a person ages. So the pediatric immune system may simply be better at battling the coronavirus than the adult immune system.

Why it matters: Understanding why kids don’t often show signs of the disease — either because they’re not as prone to infection or because they more often experience very mild, cold-like symptoms — could have huge ramifications for vaccine development and understanding how the disease spreads.

Can you get reinfected?

The body almost certainly develops short-term immunity in the form of antibodies, and immune-system researchers are reasonably confident that the body will recognize and fight the coronavirus in the future.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah in March that he’d be “willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection.”

There have been a small number of cases in which people tested positive for the coronavirus, were later found to be free of the virus, then tested positive again after that. But these cases are mostly the result of false positives and misinterpretations of test results, since some diagnostic tests can detect leftover pieces of dead virus in the body.

Still, no one is certain about the prospects for long-term immunity. For other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, antibodies seemed to peak within months of an infection and last for a year or more. But a June study found that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may only last two to three months after infection. Asymptomatic individuals also demonstrated a weaker immune response to the virus, meaning they could be less likely to test positive for antibodies.

Researchers also don’t know the specific levels of antibodies required for a person to be fully immune.

A May study from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York showed that most people with confirmed coronavirus cases tested positive for antibodies — but longer or more severe cases didn’t necessarily produce more antibodies than mild ones. Instead, the amount of antibodies a person produces may be related to innate differences in people’s immune responses.

Why it matters: Understanding whether long-term immunity is the norm would have major ramifications for controlling the pandemic and could enable officials to lift social-distancing restrictions for people who have already gotten sick.

How seasonal is the coronavirus?

Warmer temperatures and lower humidity may hinder the virus’ spread, according to research published in June. That could explain why New York City had a higher growth rate of new infections compared to Singapore in March, though other factors like testing and contact tracing likely played a role as well.

An April study found a similar link between the virus’ lifespan and the surrounding temperature. At 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), the coronavirus lasted up to two weeks in a test tube. When the temperature was turned up to 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit), that lifespan dropped to one day.

But warmer temperatures haven’t done much to quell the US outbreak. The nation’s surge in new daily cases has surpassed its prior peak in April.

Why it matters: Knowing how much — if at all — the coronavirus is affected by changing seasons would help governments around the world better deploy resources to stop its spread.

Are there any safe and effective drugs to treat COVID-19?

There is, as of yet, no slam-dunk treatment for the coronavirus or its symptoms. However, 17 leading treatments are being tested.

President Trump has promoted and sought stockpiles of hydroxychloroquine: a relatively inexpensive drug typically used to kill malarial parasites and treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. But it was found to have no significant benefits for COVID-19 patients. The Food and Drug Administration revoked the drug’s emergency use authorization on June 15, noting “serious” heart issues and other side effects in patients taking the medication.

A more promising drug is remdesivir, an experimental antiviral chemical that the FDA approved for emergency use on May 1. Data from the National Institutes of Health suggests that remdesivir helped hospitalized coronavirus patients recover more quickly. Thousands of patients have been treated with the drug through clinical trials and expanded access programs.

Clinical trials have also shown that dexamethasone, a common, cheap, steroid, can reduce deaths in severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Why it matters: Having tools to slow infections or perhaps even stop the coronavirus from harming people could curtail its spread, reduce suffering, ease the burdens on healthcare systems, and save lives.

Will there be a vaccine for the coronavirus, and when?

More than 140 coronavirus vaccines are in development. At least 30 are expected to start human testing in 2020, and 16 leading candidates are already being tested on humans in clinical trials.

Arguably the most promising vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine developed by biotech company Moderna. The company was the first to publish early results in humans after starting its first trial on March 16. It aims to start a late-stage efficacy trial with 30,000 people in July.

Other promising candidates include “vector vaccines” — which use live viruses to teach the immune system how to fight off pathogens — developed by the University of Oxford and Johnson Johnson. The Oxford vaccine is spearheaded by British pharma company AstraZeneca, which will start its own efficacy trial in August. Johnson Johnson aims to enroll more than 1,000 healthy volunteers in a clinical trial in July.

The US government hopes to have hundreds of millions doses of a vaccine ready by January 2021 — a record timeline. But some vaccinologists and industry analysts doubt a vaccine will be ready before 2022 or 2023.

Why it matters: Developing a vaccine would help the world put an end to the pandemic.

What are the long-term consequences for those who survive COVID-19?

It’s not yet clear what the long-term consequences of weathering a severe bout of COVID-19 might be. In severe cases, the virus may cause permanent damage to the lungs and other organs, resulting in chronic, lifelong issues.

Patients who experience blood clots also face a risk of longer-term damage, pain, and loss of function, especially in organs.

While some people’s symptoms seem to clear up after two weeks, even those with milder cases have reported symptoms lasting for several months — including fatigue, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and loss of taste and smell. These symptoms may be the result of lingering inflammation rather than an active infection.

“The symptoms are probably coming from an immune reaction,” Dr. Ramzi Asfour, an infectious-disease doctor in the San Francisco Bay Area, told Business Insider.

“You have to separate the damage from the disease,” he added. “It’s going to be difficult to tell for now what subset is active, ongoing infection and what subset is really just pure immune dysfunction.”

Why it matters: Knowing the extent of lasting damage due to the coronavirus can help governments prepare for long-term strain on healthcare systems, impacts to the workforce, and slower economic recoveries. Governments can also push for more research into the underlying causes of lingering symptoms and effective treatments for them.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The US Army is practicing a new way to get to a fight in Europe

Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team started arriving in Europe this week for a nine-month rotation as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

The 2nd ABCT’s rotation is the fifth one by an armored brigade in support of Atlantic Resolve, which started in 2014 to show US commitment to Europe’s defense after Russia’s interference in Ukraine.

But the unit is the first “in recent memory” to use the port of Vlissingen in the Netherlands, where soldiers, Army civilians, and local workers started unloading the first of three shipments of equipment early on Oct. 11, 2019.


A 2nd ABCT soldier directs an M1A2 Abrams tank as vehicles are offloaded at the Port of Vlissingen, Netherlands, Oct. 11, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

Armored units deployed for Atlantic Resolve rotations are typically stationed in Germany or elsewhere in Eastern Europe and have in the past arrived at ports closer to their bases.

But the 2nd ABCT’s arrival at Vlissingen — like that of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team at the nearby port of Antwerp last spring — is part of an Army effort to practice navigating Europe’s bureaucratic and geographic terrain.

NATO has been trying to operate out of more ports in Europe since around 2015, according to Ben Hodges, who led the US Army in Europe between 2014 and 2017.

There was a need to “to reestablish capabilities in all these ports” and “to demonstrate that we could come [into Europe] at a variety of different places,” Hodges, who is a retired lieutenant general, told Business Insider in 2018.

Vlissingen is the “first main juncture point” for the 2nd ABCT’s current deployment, and its troops and gear will arrive at ports in Poland, Latvia, Belgium, Greece, and Romania throughout October, the Army said in a release.

First Lt. Quanzel Caston, a unit movement officer with the 2nd ABCT, examines M1A2 Abrams tanks at the Port of Vlissingen, Netherlands, Oct. 11, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

In total, the unit will deploy about 3,500 soldiers, 85 tanks, 120 Bradley fighting vehicles, 15 Paladin self-propelled howitzers, 500 tracked vehicles, 1,200 wheeled vehicles and pieces of equipment, and 300 trailers.

Massing forces across the Atlantic Resolve area of operation “displays the US Army’s readiness, cross-border military mobility and speed of assembly,” the release said.

The Army’s 598th Transportation Brigade will move the 2nd ABCT’s gear a variety of ways, including by “low-barge, rail-head, line-haul and convoy operations.”

It’s the first time the Army has used a low-barge inland cargo ship to transport tracked armored vehicles across Europe for Atlantic Resolve.

“The significance of using the low-barge is it enhances readiness in the European region by introducing another method of movement to the Atlantic Resolve mission,” said Cpl. Dustin Jobe, noncommissioned officer in charge of lifting provisions for the 647th Expeditionary Terminal Operations Element.

Sgt. Julian Blodgett, a senior mechanic with the 2nd ABCT directs an M1A2 Abrams tank for loading on a low-barge cargo ship at the Port of Vlissingen, Netherlands, Oct. 12, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

‘Better than it was’

The US Army in Europe shrank after the Cold War. Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014, however, the Army has beefed up its presence with exercises along NATO’s eastern flank and back-to-back rotations of armored units.

But returning to Europe in force has highlighted NATO’s problems getting around the continent, where customs rules and regulations, insufficient infrastructure, and shortages of transports for heavy vehicles inhibit movement.

These obstacles would present issues for any peacetime mobilization effort and led NATO to conclude in a 2017 internal report that its ability to rapidly deploy around Europe had “atrophied since the end of the Cold War.”

A local contractor attaches lift chains to an M1A2 Abrams tank for lowering into a low-barge ship at the Port of Vlissingen, Netherlands, Oct. 12, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

European countries, working through the European Union and NATO, have sought to reduce or eliminate the hurdles.

A new NATO command based in Germany now oversees the movement of alliance forces in Europe, and the EU has set up Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, to address security issues by “integrating and strengthening defence cooperation within the EU framework.”

The logistical skills of the US and its NATO allies will face their biggest test yet next year, during Defender 2020 in Europe — the US Army’s largest exercise in Europe in 25 years. It will range across 10 countries and involve 37,000 troops from at least 18 countries.

The point of Defender 2020 “is to practice the reinforcement of US forces in Europe for the purposes of collective defense of the alliance,” Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the head of US Army Europe, said on Monday during a panel hosted by Defense One at the Association of the US Army’s annual conference in Washington, DC.

A 2nd ABCT M1A2 Abram tank is raised over the pier at Vlissingen to be lowered onto a low-barge ship for transportation to another location in Europe, Oct. 12, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

“That’s something that requires practice, because you’re moving large forces great distances through complicated infrastructure and across a variety of different national lines,” Cavoli added.

“We call this strategic readiness, the ability to strategically deploy and to project a force,” he said. “It’s a significant concatenation of small things that have to go right in order to do this well.”

Asked about Europe’s railways, which vary in rail size and have differing regulations, Cavoli said there were procedural and infrastructural issues that had to be addressed.

“Procedurally, we’ve made a great deal of progress across the alliance. Some countries, they’ve relaxed some of their restrictions, shortening the notification times required,” Cavoli said. “We, as an alliance, have gotten much more practice scheduling and moving and loading rail, and we’re able to move very, very quickly across great distances.”

US Army Reserve Cpl. Dustin Jobe watches a 2nd ABCT M1A2 Abram tank as it’s raised over the pier to be lowered onto a low-barge ship for transport elsewhere in Europe, at Vlissingen, Netherlands Oct. 12, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

But infrastructural problems remain, Cavoli said, pointing specifically to a difference in rail gauge between Poland and Lithuania. But Lithuania plans to buy dual-gauge rail cars for heavy equipment, Cavoli added.

“In addition to that, across the alliance, there’ve been some challenges with bridge classification, with the strength of rail heads … can it take a tank driving off a train there?” Cavoli said. “The EU has really stepped in using prioritized … shopping lists, prioritized by NATO, and it has been investing throughout the alliance in mobility infrastructure.”

Cavoli said recent exercises had exposed challenges to mobility but had also prompted NATO members “to get after those challenges. So I think we’re in a fairly good place right now.”

Asked to assign the alliance a letter grade for mobility, Cavoli demurred, saying only that it’s “better than it was previously.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Israel is going to war with Hamas again

Israel is locked into an insane repetitive cycle with the Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-led government allows missiles to be fired from somewhere in Gaza in an attempt to hit something in Israel. It doesn’t matter if the missiles hit anything, Israel doesn’t play around. They hit back – hard.


Hamas has done it again. Just in time for the latest Israeli election, one that will see if embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can survive the latest corruption allegation levied against him. A long-range rocket fired from Gaza hit a neighborhood north of Tel Aviv. The attack wounded seven Israelis and forced Netanyahu to cut his visit to the United States short.

A factory burns in Sderot, Israel in 2014 during the last Hamas-Israeli War.

The timing is not random. Netanyahu was in the United States visiting President Donald Trump, a celebration of his recognition of the disputed Golan Heights as Israeli territory. In the hours following the rocket attack, Israeli warplanes already struck targets in Gaza, hitting military posts run by Hamas in the middle of the night. Israeli civilians are preparing for the worst in retaliation as bomb shelters open across the country.

Hamas-fired rockets can cause severe damage to whatever they hit, and the random targeting of civilians can be terrifying to the populace. As of Mar. 26, Hamas had fired some 30 or more rockets into Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome defense network intercepted a few of them, but most fell harmlessly in open fields.

A factory in Sderot, Israel burns after taking a direct hit from a Hamas-fired rocket from Gaza in 2014.

Egyptian authorities have tried to broker an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the various factions inside Gaza, but the Israel Defense Forces have already struck back. Aside from a few military posts, IDF planes and artillery have hit the offices of Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ public security offices, and Hamas training and military outposts in the largest and most expansive military response since the Israeli army entered Gaza in 2014.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is Russia’s new standard issue infantry rifle

The Russian military will be replacing its standard issue AK-74M rifle with the AK-12 and AK-15, according to Military Times, citing Russian state-owned media.

The “5.45mm AK-12 and 7.62mm AK-15 are officially approved and recommended by Russian Ministry of Defense for issue to Infantry, Airborne and Naval infantry troops of Russian Armed Forces,” the Russian defense manufacturer, Kalashnikov Concern, which also made the AK-47 and AK-74M, said in a press statement in January 2018.


The AK-12 and AK-15 have 30-round magazines and can shoot 700 rounds per minute, the Kalashnikov statement said. They’re also equipped with “red dot, night and IR sights to underbarrel grenade launchers, forward grips, lasers and flashlights, sound suppressors and more.”

The two new weapons will be part of Russia’s “Ratnik” program, a futuristic combat system that includes modernized body armor, a helmet with night vision and thermal imaging, and more.

The first-generation Ratnik suit was reportedly given to a few Russian units in 2013, and some pieces of the suit were spotted on Russian troops in Crimea.

Russia claims the second-generation suit will be operational in 2020, and the third-generation suit will be operational in 2022.

See more about the AK-12 and AK-15 in the short Kalashnikov video below:

MIGHTY TRENDING

US employee in China may have been victim of ‘sonic attack’

The State Department says a US government employee working in China suffered “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure” that later led to a diagnosis of “mild traumatic brain injury” — resulting in a warning to all US citizens in the country.

The strange incident recalls a similar spate of reports from Cuba, where US officials reported symptoms consistent with a “sonic attack,” or exposure to harmful frequencies.


“The US government is taking these reports seriously and has informed its official staff in China of this event,” the State Department warned in a health alert. “We do not currently know what caused the reported symptoms, and we are not aware of any similar situations in China, either inside or outside of the diplomatic community.”

The State Department went on to advise: “While in China, if you experience any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises, do not attempt to locate their source. Instead, move to a location where the sounds are not present.”

Emily Rauhala, The Washington Post’s China correspondent, reported that the State Department confirmed the US worker’s ailment was diagnosed as a mild traumatic brain injury, something US officials in Cuba also experienced.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba.

The Post reports that Chinese and US officials are looking into the matter. Americans working in Cuba suffered permanent hearing loss, severe headaches, loss of balance, brain swelling, and disruption to cognitive functions.

The US originally called the Cuba incidents “sonic attacks” but later backed off that phrasing as medical experts examined the patients and found their symptoms and conditions to be of mysterious origins.

Medical testing revealed the embassy workers in Cuba developed changes to the white-matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate, officials told the Associated Press.

But a purposeful attack hasn’t been ruled out as the source of the brain injuries now linked to two countries.

“The unique circumstances of these patients and the consistency of the clinical manifestations raised concern for a novel mechanism of a possible acquired brain injury from a directional exposure of undetermined etiology,” a study about the victims in Cuba concluded.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Airmen at Nellis AFB will get cargo shorts for flightline work

The Air Force has just discovered how hot it can be to work in the desert, especially if your work zone requires long periods of time in direct sunlight. This somehow managed to elude Pentagon officials for the past 18 years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention all the other Middle East locales which include Air Force flightlines. Now airmen working the line at Nellis AFB, Nev. will get to wear what is no doubt the latest in cargo short technology.


On Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, the heat can get deadly, often exceeding temperatures of more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. For the airmen who are working aircraft maintenance for long hours in what is often direct sunlight, the heat risk can be even more punishing. The wait for ways to beat the heat is now over – the Air Force will issue its maintainers new cargo shorts for wear during these duties.

The look was released on the popular Air Force Facebook Page Air Force amn/nco/snco in the early days of July 2019, and it did not take long for airmen to weigh in on the new look.

The first response from airmen included a prayer to “Enlisted Jesus” (also known as Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright), for hearing their prayers and responding once again. They also predicted new Air Force uniform instructions regarding leg tattoos and shaved legs, extending the program to USAF Security Forces bike patrols, and how hot it’s going to be when someone sits on a piece of metal equipment that has been sitting in the sun itself all day long.

They also mention how the Air Force will no longer get away with skipping “Leg Day” at the gym.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the new US stealth drone designed for suicide missions

The US Air Force on March 5, 2019, tested the XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, which it calls a “long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle” designed to fight against Russia and China in suicide missions too dangerous for manned fighter jets.

The Air Force tested the Valkyrie as part of its Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology program, which in layman’s terms means a program to create cheap aircraft that can soak up enemy missiles, clearing the way for other jets to follow.


The US has stealth fighter jets like the F-22 and F-35 for the explicit purpose of penetrating heavily defended airspaces, but top adversaries like Russia and China have responded with a wide array of counter-stealth technologies and strategies.

According to Justin Bronk, a combat aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, some threats even these elite jets likely can’t survive.

Chinese HongQi 9 [HQ-9] launcher during China’s 60th anniversary parade, 2009.

(Photo by Jian Kang)

Suicide mission

“Missions which are effectively one way, where there’s a campaign-critical target that is realistically too high threat to expect” jets to survive call for drones, said Bronk.

While the F-22 and F-35 represent true all-aspect stealth aircraft optimized to evade detection, tracking, and interception via missiles, they have a fatal weakness.

To drop bombs or fire missiles, both aircraft must open up their bomb bays, ruining their stealth shaping. Additionally, radar or communications emissions may compromise their operations.

“Even if you get there and deliver munitions, you’re probably not getting out of it,” Bronk said of flying manned aircraft in ultra-high threat scenarios.

The cheapest F-35s the US will ever buy will likely cost million. F-22s, bought in small numbers, cost around 0 million each. Perhaps even more valuable than the jet, is the US pilot manning each system.

Instead, why not send a cheap drone? Or at the stated cost of -3 million a pop, why not a swarm of drones?

The Valkyrie can’t carry many weapons. It’s not meant to carry any air-to-air missiles, it can’t go very fast, and it will never be a dogfighter, said Bronk.

“But if you can pump these out for million at 100 or so a year, you could hugely increase the Air Force’s combat edge,” he continued.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle, completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019, at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The Air Force Research Laboratory partnered with Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems to develop the XQ-58A.

(Air Force Research Laboratory)

The battle plan

With a range of between 1,500 and 2,000 nautical miles, the Valkyrie far outranges US stealth fighters or fighters of any kind.

This lends itself to a swarming attack, wherein dozens or even hundreds of Valkyries come flying in at high subsonic speeds to either drop air-to-ground bombs, jam radars with electronic warfare, spy on enemy missile sites, or even just soak up the first wave of enemy missiles, which incidentally would also likely provide targeting data to other US assets.

Next, the US’s manned aircraft could take on a greatly softened up target, which has just weathered a swarm of jamming, bombing, semi-stealthy drones forcing them to fire millions of dollars worth of missiles at cheap jets essentially meant to be shot down.

“XQ-58A is the first example of a class of UAV that is defined by low procurement and operating costs while providing game changing combat capability,” Doug Szczublewski, the Air Force’s XQ-58A Program Manager said in a release.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Royal Navy welded together a ‘Frankenship’

At the onset of World War I, the warring powers needed all the help they could get on both land and sea. So, when the British Empire lost two of her ships to mines and torpedoes, they did the only logical thing they could think of: welded the remaining pieces together and sent the ship back into the war.


The World War I Naval equivalent of Motrin and clean socks. (HMS Nubian in Chatham Drydock after being torpedoed in 1916)

The HMS Nubian and the HMS Zulu were both Tribal-class destroyers in the service of the Royal Navy. They were also both launched in 1909. Since their range was much too short to go into the open ocean, they were used primarily for home defense, hunting submarines, and protecting England from any seaborne threats. Unfortunately, they both also met similar fates at the hands of the Kaiser’s navy.

Nubian was part of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla, charged with defending England’s east coast. By the outbreak of World War I, she was in the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla hunting German U-boats and hitting German defenses on the coast of Belgium. She was torpedoed by one such submarine during the 1916 Battle of the Dover Straits. None of her crew were killed until the ship ran aground and broke apart while being towed back to port. The bow of Nubian was completely torn off, and a dozen men were killed.

HMS Zulu lost its stern after hitting a German mine.

HMS Zulu was in the same class as the Nubian. The two ships were even part of the same destroyer flotilla before the war started. By the time World War I did kick off, Zulu was in the 6th Destroyer Flotilla operating outside of Dover, where she joined the Dover Patrol, looking for German submarines to prevent them from accessing the Atlantic through the English Channel. Unfortunately for the Zulu, she struck a mine laid by a German sub. The explosion killed three sailors and ripped off the ship’s stern.

A French destroyer helped it limp back to the port of Calais, where it was towed back to England. Once in England, the Zulu and the Nubian would make history: they would become the HMS Zubian.

The Zubian, with no real difference in length, displacement, or firepower.

The portmanteau of the two ships’ names is as accurate as it is appropriate. The Nubian, having lost her bow and the Zulu, having lost her stern, could not simply be written off as a loss during what was then considered “the War to End All Wars.” The two sister ships were so similar that they could exchange parts or whole pieces – and that’s exactly what happened. Instead of scrapping one or the other, the two parts were just welded together. The resulting ship, the Zubian, set sail for vengeance almost immediately.

In the war’s final two years, Zubian saw service in the 6th Flotilla in the Dover Straits throughout the war. In February 1918, she saw a U-boat attempt to surface with its antenna up. Zubian moved to ram the German U-boat, but it submerged before the British could hit her. Zubian dropped depth charge after depth charge on the sub until oil and metal floated to the surface, revenge for the hurt German U-boats put on her previous two ships (and the crews manning them).

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why nuclear subs don’t try to rest on the sea floor

Before getting too deep into the details, let it be known that American nuclear submarines can come to rest on the ocean floor. Even since the early days of the nuclear sub program – dating back to Admiral Hyman Rickover himself – these submarines have been able to touch the bottom of the ocean, so long as that bottom wasn’t below their crush depths.

But the more important question is whether they should touch the bottom or not.


The Navy’s Seawolf-class nuclear submarine first started its active service life in 1997, and while it’s not the latest and greatest class, it is a good midrange representation of the possibilities of a nuclear sub. Like all U.S. nuclear subs, its real crush depth is classified, but it has an estimated 2,400 to 3,000 feet before its time runs out. So the Seawolf and its class can’t touch the very depths of any ocean, but it is able to come to rest in some areas below the surface, those areas in the epipelagic and mesopelagic zones of the ocean. These are the areas where sunlight can still reach the depths.

The problem for U.S. subs isn’t the temperature or pressure in these zones; it’s what is actually on the seafloor that can cause trouble for nuclear submarines. Rocks or other unseen objects can cause massive damage to the hull of a submarine, tearing up its vents, stealth cover, or steering.

Or hitting a mountain like this submarine did.

What’s more, is that the submarine’s engines pull in seawater to cool steam down from its main condensers and those intakes are on the bottom of the vessel. Bottoming a submarine could cause mud and other foreign objects to be pulled into the submarine. The boat could even get lodged in the muck on the seafloor, unable to break free from the suction, like a billion-dollar boot stuck in the mud. This is why the Navy has special equipment and/or submarines for bottom-dwelling.

The U.S. Navy’s NR-1 research submarine was a personal project of Adm. Hyman Rickover, the godfather of the nuclear submarine program. The NR-1 was designed to bottom out to collect objects from the seafloor and was fitted with retractable wheels to be able to drive along the ocean’s bottom. But that’s not all; the second nuclear submarine ever built had a similar capability.

A model of the USS Seawolf with its special operations features deployed.

The USS Seawolf (not of the later Seawolf-class) was eventually fitted with a number of unique intelligence-gathering equipment and devices that would make it very different from other submarines in the U.S. Navy fleet. Along with extra thrusters and a saturation diver dock, she was fitted with retractable sea legs so that she would be able to rest on the bottom for longer periods of time without getting damaged or stuck.

So while any submarine can bottom for evasion and espionage purposes, they really can’t stay for long. Those that are designed to hang out at the bottom aren’t likely to see the light of day anytime soon.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 epic photos from our enemies’ Instagram feeds

We have a history of showing off American military hardware, training, and photos. But we’re not always great about showing the great photographic work of our rivals. (Our “enemies” if you’re feeling aggressive or if you need to make your headline more click-baitey.)


So, we just took a quick walk through the Instagram feeds of the Chinese and Russian militaries as well as their senior leaders and found these seven epic photos that show off their hardware, troops, training, and celebrations.

Because they’re coming from Instagram and we don’t have the rights to download the images and upload them raw, you’ll also see the captions the photos were shared with. Lucky us, the Russian military includes English captions on their photos. The Russian caption comes before the English one, so just scroll until you see some familiar letters.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/Bh-VBjxn5vj/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet expand=1]Chinese Armed Forces on Instagram: “We serve China! – People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Su-30MKK – #中国 #中华人民共和国 #中国人民解放军 #中国人民解放军空军 #中国武装力量 #中华人民共和国武装力量 #plaaf…”

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This Su-30MKK is an export variant of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-30. It’s flown by the China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force and is a capable fourth-generation fighter. It’s primarily used to protect from other fighters or to conduct strikes against targets on the ground like an F-15 does.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B0GHMPIAG5L/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet expand=1]Минобороны России on Instagram: “До Дня ВМФ чуть больше недели, а морпехи Тихоокеанского флота уже целый месяц репетируют эпизоды шоу, которое состоится во Владивостоке в…”

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These armored personnel carriers are Russian BTR-82As. They can race along the ground at about 62 mph and have only been in service since the end of 2009. A three-person crew is needed to operate the vehicle, and seven more can ride in the back. It boasts a 30mm auto-cannon as well as a 7.62mm machine gun.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B0Akdy7ge8o/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet expand=1]Минобороны России on Instagram: “Удивительные кадры первых репетиций Главного военно-морского парада, посвященного Дню ВМФ, прошедших вчера в Санкт-Петербурге. В…”

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A Russian helicopter, most likely the Mi-17, flies over St. Petersburg during rehearsals for a national holiday. Russia’s transport helicopters are some of the best in the world, and their attack helicopters have gotten better and better as well, though the most-modern Apaches and Vipers can likely still clear the sky.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BzS_LkwpVoL/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet expand=1]Instagram post by General Zhuang Dingman • Jun 29, 2019 at 2:15pm UTC

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Chinese troops lift tires filled with water and dump them on themselves. The general who shared this image provided no context, but displays like this are common for Chinese troops, especially special operators, when cameras are nearby to capture the moment.

That may make it sound like these troops are just photo models, but China’s special operators have actually placed highly at recent Warrior Competitions in Jordan, taking first and third in 2017 and second in 2018.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B0gSJnOgC-y/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet expand=1]Минобороны России on Instagram: “Небо Москвы вчера озарили 2500 фейерверков в честь 75-ой годовщины освобождения Бреста от немецко-фашистских захватчиков ⠀ Брест был…”

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The Russian government and its citizens celebrate the liberation of Brest, Belarus, during a party in Moscow. Brest was one of the first Russian cities lost during the German invasion in World War II but Russia re-took the city in 1944, 75 years ago.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BvpAt8NgtSy/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet expand=1]General Zhuang Dingman on Instagram: “Airmen erect air-defense missiles!!!!!”

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Chinese troops prepare to erect an air defense missile. China has a wide selection of air defense missiles including S-300 and S-400 missiles imported from Russia as well as domestically built HQ-9 and HQ-22 missiles.

There’s some speculation about how much technology China might have reverse-engineered from Russia without permission, but the HQ-9, at least, was first deployed before China got access to Russian air defense missiles.

Lists

9 reasons you should have joined the Marines instead

Do you remember that day you arrived at the armed forces recruiting office years ago? Sure, you do.


Every day, young men and women walk in with the prospect of serving their country. While some decide against joining, others sign their name on the dotted line and ship off to boot camp.

Most people didn’t take the time to think about what the military branch can do for them — they were just eager to join.

If you didn’t pick the Marine Corps, you freakin’ messed up, and here are nine reasons why.

Also Read: 9 reasons why you should have joined the Army instead

1. The Marine Corps’ dress blue uniform is hands down the coolest looking one in the military.

(Source: Marines.com)

2. The Marines have the best birthday parties ever, and they take celebrities as their dates.

Sgt. Scott Moore and his guest, actress Mila Kunis attend the 236th Marine Corps birthday ball.

3. The Marine Corps emblem — the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor — is one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. You could be wearing one now if you would’ve joined.

Semper Fi!

4. They have the toughest boot camp in the military. So just graduating says a lot about an individual.

Every recruit loves their DI.

5. Some of the most successful actors served in the Marine Corps. Drew Carey, Gene Hackman, and WATM’s good friend Rob Riggle just to name a few.

Actor and Marine veteran Rob Riggle.

6. You could have been a part of some major military moments in history. Marines have fought in every American conflict since they were created in 1775.

Marines raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.

7. Since all Marines are considered riflemen, you’ll learn to eat concertina wire, piss napalm, and put a round through a flea’s ass at 200 meters.

8. Anyone can claim the title of a sailor if you have been on a boat. Anyone call themselves a soldier if they listen to a lot of rap music. Lastly, anyone can call themselves an airman if you’ve flown once or twice. But the title of a Marine is never just handed out — it’s earned.

Two U.S. Marines guard two local nationals during enemy contact.

9. When there’s a significant conflict poppin’ off anywhere around the world, America sends in the Marines first. It’s best fighting force when you need to settle things down.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US military is starting to get concerned about law enforcement dressing up in Army uniforms

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has made the Trump administration aware of his concerns with the appropriation of the US military’s uniforms by law-enforcement agencies as they face off with protesters in cities like Portland, Oregon, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday afternoon.

“We saw this take place back in June, when there were some law enforcement that wore uniforms that make them appear military,” Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said to reporters, referencing the George Floyd protests throughout the country earlier this year.


“The secretary has a expressed a concern of this within the administration, that we want a system where people can tell the difference,” he added.

The confusion became apparent after video footage and pictures showed law-enforcement officials, many of whom refused to identify themselves or the agency they were working for, wearing the US Army’s camouflage uniform as they confronted demonstrators.

This confusion has been compounded after other activists, such as members of the Boogaloo movement, wore pieces of the same uniform or carried with them military-style gear to the same protests throughout the country.

Customs and Border Protection’s immediate-response force, also known as the Border Patrol Tactical Unit, often wear military uniforms with custom patches.

Members of this group were sent to Portland to quell the protests, which went on for over 50 days and were linked to the defacement of federal buildings, according to CBP. The Border Patrol Tactical Unit’s actions at the protests were scrutinized after video footage showed its agents detaining someone suspected of assault or property destruction and whisking them away in an unmarked minivan. The incident prompted lawmakers to demand an investigation.

US Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, previously highlighted his concerns about the optics of law-enforcement officials dressing like military service members while responding to protests, saying there needs to be clear “visual distinction” between the two organizations.

“You want a clear definition between that which is military and that which is police, in my view,” Milley said during a congressional hearing on July 9. “Because when you start introducing the military, you’re talking about a different level of effort there.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Army is ditching ‘Army Strong’ to reach a younger generation

The US Army is not so strong anymore on its recruiting slogan —”Army Strong.”

The largest of the US military branches is struggling to find new recruits, especially those between the ages of 18 and 24, and is coming to the conclusion that the Army’s brand isn’t resonating with millennials.

“Army Strong” has been the Army’s slogan for a little over a decade, but it began to be fazed out of recruiting ads back in 2015.


The Army— which has nearly 1 million soldiers in the active-duty and reserve forces, and the Army National Guard— is now looking for a slogan that tells more of a story, Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey recently told reporters.

“I think we have to change our marketing strategy as an Army, and we are looking at that right now,” Dailey said.

“Army Strong” has also been the frequent butt of jokes and memes, often used with photos of overweight soldiers.

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“One of the major responses we get when we survey folks who don’t have experience with military service is strength, so we know the ‘Army Strong’ resonates…but I don’t think it tells the story, the full story of being a soldier,” Dailey added.

“‘Army Strong’ is a good, I think, bumper sticker, ad campaign, but it doesn’t tell the story, so I think that we’ve got to do a better job telling the story of being a soldier,” he said.

In this sense, the Army wants a slogan that’s closer to “Be All You Can Be,” which it had great success with in the 1980s and 1990s. Dailey said people continue to tell him they remember the “Be All You Can Be” slogan to this day.

“‘Be All You Can Be’ was a national identity to the Army … it is still today,” Dailey said. “I can say, ‘Be All You Can Be’ and people just — it was the national identity to the Army.”

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Dailey said other Army slogans like “Army of One” have struggled and they want something that not only appeals to young people but also influencers in their lives like parents and other family members.

When parents show enthusiasm for the military their children are more likely to enlist, according to research.

The US Navy has also struggled to find a recruiting slogan that captures the attention of millennials and their influencers. They recently retired their last slogan, “A Global Force For Good,” in favor of, “Forged By The Sea.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.