Nathan Aldaco is twelve years old and suffers from hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare defect. Because his biggest wish in life is to become a United States Marine, the Marines from the 7th Engineer Support Battalion at Camp Pendleton were happy to oblige him.
“It’s a true honor to do this for Nathan,” said 1st Lt. Ernesto Gaudio, 2nd platoon commander, Bravo Company, 7th ESB, 1st MLG. “We wanted to make him feel like he was a part of the Marine family. We are in service to the United States of America and Nathan is a citizen of the United States. We were just making his wish come true.”
The Marines decked Aldaco in his own MARPAT Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform and gave his family a tour of the explosives ordnance disposal site at Pendleton. He was taken through a demolition range in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. The team demonstrated their EOD robots and then detonated TNT, C4, dynamite, and blasting caps. The youngest Marine even shared MREs with his fellow Marines while out in the field.
“The bombs were cool,” Aldaco said in an interview with the Marines’ official website. “I like working with robots. It was fun controlling them and picking stuff up with them.”
He was awarded the Master EOD badge in an official ceremony by Col. Jaime O. Collazo. It is the highest badge an EOD Marine can receive. Aldaco saluted the colonel before marching off.
A CIA K-9 unit left “explosive training material” on a school bus in Virginia after a routine training exercise last week, according to a statement posted on the agency’s website.
In a monumental error, the bus was used to transport children on Monday, March 28th, and Tuesday, March 29th, with the explosive material still sitting under the hood, according to the statement.
The CIA and the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office stressed that the children were not in any immediate danger.
“The training materials used in the exercises are incredibly stable and according to the CIA and Loudoun County explosive experts the students on the bus were not in any danger from the training material,” the Loudon County Sheriff’s office told The Washington Post.
The CIA placed the explosive material — a putty — under the hood of the school bus and in locations around a local school to test a dog’s ability to sniff it out. The dog successfully found the material, but some of it fell deeper into the engine compartment and became wedged beneath the hoses. The material was found when the bus was taken in for a routine inspection, after ferrying 26 children to school, reports The Washington Post.
The CIA said it will take “immediate steps to strengthen inventory and control procedures in its K-9 program,” and “conduct a thorough and independent review” of its procedures, according to the statement.
“We’re all very upset by what happened, but we’re going to review everything that did happen,” Wayde Byard, the Loudon County schools spokesman told The Washington Post. “Obviously we’re concerned. The CIA really expressed its deep concern and regret today, and it was sincere.”
In the summer of 2009, Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl walked off his post in Afghanistan and was later held captive by the Taliban until May 2014 when he was returned to U.S. custody.
This week, the now-Army sergeant pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and is expected to face sentencing in late October 2017.
Blumhouse Television and military media brand We Are The Mighty are proud to announce that they are teaming up to produce a documentary titled “Searching for Bergdahl” that chronicles the untold story of the soldiers involved in the multi-year campaign to find the missing sergeant.
The operation to locate Bergdahl is considered one the most significant manhunts in military history.
Former Army combat videographer and Emmy award-winner Robert Ham is set to direct the film. In 2009, Ham was assigned to the same unit as Bergdahl and witnessed the events firsthand.
“I am excited to partner with Blumhouse to work on a story that, for me, started on a base in Afghanistan in 2009 when I heard: ‘we’ve lost a soldier,'” Ham states.
The documentary’s release date has not yet been set. Stay tuned for more
The current NATO force structure in Eastern Europe would be unable to withstand a Russian invasion into neighboring Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, a new think tank study has concluded.
After conducting an exhaustive series of wargames wherein “red” (Russian) and “blue” (NATO) forces engaged in a wide range of war scenarios over the Baltic states, a Rand Corporation study called “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank” determined that a successful NATO defense of the region would require a much larger air-ground force than what is currently deployed.
In particular, the study calls for a NATO strategy similar to the Cold War era’s “AirLand Battle” doctrine from the 1980s. During this time, the U.S. Army stationed at least several hundred thousand troops in Europe as a strategy to deter a potential Russian invasion. Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that there are currenty 30,000 U.S. Army soldiers in Europe.
The Rand study maintains that, without a deterrent the size of at least seven brigades, fires and air support protecting Eastern Europe, that Russia cold overrun the Baltic states as quickly as in 60 hours.
“As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members. Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options,” the study writes.
“AirLand” Battle was a strategic warfighting concept followed by U.S. and allied forces during the Cold War which, among other things, relied upon precise coordination between a large maneuvering mechanized ground force and attack aircraft overhead. As part of the approach, air attacks would seek to weaken enemy assets supporting front line enemy troops by bombing supply elements in the rear. As part of the air-ground integration, large conventional ground forces could then more easily advance through defended enemy front line areas.
A rapid assault on the Baltic region would leave NATO with few attractive options, including a massive risky counterattack, threatening a nuclear weapons option or simply allowing the Russian to annex the countries.
One of the limited options cited in the study could include taking huge amounts of time to mobilize and deploy a massive counterattack force which would likely result in a drawn-out, deadly battle. Another possibility would be to threaten a nuclear option, a scenario which seems unlikely if not completely unrealistic in light of the U.S. strategy to decrease nuclear arsenals and discourage the prospect of using nuclear weapons, the study finds.
A third and final option, the report mentions, would simply be to concede the Baltic states and immerse the alliance into a much more intense Cold War posture. Such an option would naturally not be welcomed by many of the residents of these states and would, without question, leave the NATO alliance weakened if not partially fractured.
The study spells out exactly what its wargames determined would be necessary as a credible, effective deterrent.
“Gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states,” the study writes.
During the various scenarios explored for the wargame, its participants concluded that NATO resistance would be overrun quickly in the absence of a larger mechanized defensive force posture.
“The absence of short-range air defenses in the U.S. units, and the minimal defenses in the other NATO units, meant that many of these attacks encountered resistance only from NATO combat air patrols, which were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The result was heavy losses to several Blue (NATO) battalions and the disruption of the counterattack,” the study states.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia could be likely Russian targets because all three countries are in close proximity to Russia and spent many years as part of the former Soviet Union
“Also like Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia are home to sizable ethnic Russian populations that have been at best unevenly integrated into the two countries’ post-independence political and social mainstreams and that give Russia a self-justification for meddling in Estonian and Latvian affairs,” the study explains.
While the Pentagon’s European Reassurance Initiative calls for additional funds, forces and force rotations through Europe in coming years, it is unclear whether their ultimate troop increases will come anywhere near what Rand recommends. Pentagon officials would not, at the moment, speculate as to whether thoughts and considerations were being given to raising forces levels beyond what is called for in the initiative.
At the same time, the Pentagon’s $3.4 Billion ERI request does call for an increased force presence in Europe as well as “fires,” “pre-positioned stocks” and “headquarters” support for NATO forces.
Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that more solidarity exercises with NATO allies in Europe are also on the horizon, and that more manpower could also be on the way.
“We are currently planning the future rotations of units through Europe. The heel-to-toe concept will increase how often they’re here for the Armored BCT mission, but it won’t increase how many are here at once — that will remain just one at a time. We currently have some aviation assets on a rotation here but plans aren’t yet firm on what that looks like going forward. We’ve requested additional funding for National Guard and Reserve manpower which may come in the form of full or partial units or even individuals,” Cathy Brown Vandermaarel, spokeswoman for U.S. Army Europe told Scout Warrior in a statement.
Increased solidarity exercises would be designed to further deter Russia by showing allies cooperation along with an ability to quickly deploy and move mechanized forces across the European continent, Vandermaarel added.
The Rand study maintains that, while expensive, adding brigades would be a worthy effort for NATO.
Buying three brand-new ABCTs and adding them to the U.S. Army would not be inexpensive—the up-front costs for all the equipment for the brigades and associated artillery, air defense, and other enabling units runs on the order of $13 billion. However, much of that gear—especially the expensive Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles—already exists,” the study says.
The Russian Military
Russia’s military maneuvers and annexation of the Crimean peninsula have many Pentagon analysts likely wondering about and assessing the relative condition of the former Cold War military giant’s forces, platforms and weaponry.
Russia has clearly postured itself in response to NATO as though it can counter-balance or deter the alliance, however expert examination of Russia’s current military reveals it is not likely to pose a real challenge to NATO in a prolonged, all-out military engagement.
Russia’s economic pressures have not slowed the countries’ commitment to rapid military modernization and the increase of defense budgets, despite the fact that the country’s military is a fraction of what it was during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s.
While the former Cold War giant’s territories and outer most borders are sizably less than they were in the 1980s, Russia’s conventional land, air and sea forces are trying to expand quickly, transition into the higher-tech information age and steadily pursue next generation platforms.
Russia’s conventional and nuclear arsenal is a small piece of what it was during the Cold War, however the country is pursuing a new class of air-independent submarines, a T-50 stealth fighter jet, next-generation missiles and high-tech gear for individual ground soldiers.
During the Cold War, the Russian defense budget amounted to nearly half of the country’s overall expenditures, analysts have said.
Now, the countries’ military spending draws upon a smaller percentage of its national expenditure. However, despite these huge percentage differences compared to the 1980s, the Russian defense budget is climbing again. From 2006 to 2009, the Russian defense budget jumped from $25 billion up to $50 billion according to Business Insider – and the 2013 defense budget is listed elsewhere at $90 billion.
Overall, the Russian conventional military during the Cold War – in terms of sheer size – was likely five times what it is today.
Overall, the Russian military had roughly 766,000 active front line personnel in 2013 and as many as 2.4 million reserve forces, according to globalfirepower.com. During the Cold War, the Russian Army had as many as three to four million members.
By the same 2013 assessment, the Russian military is listed as having more than 3,000 aircraft and 973 helicopters. On the ground, Globalfirepower.com says Russia has 15-thousand tanks, 27,000 armored fighting vehicles and nearly 6,000 self-propelled guns for artillery. While the Russian military may not have a conventional force the sheer size of its Cold War force, they have made efforts to both modernized and maintain portions of their mechanized weaponry and platforms. The Russian T-72 tank, for example, has been upgraded numerous times since its initial construction in the 1970s.
Analysts have also said that the Russian military made huge amounts of conventional and nuclear weapons in the 80s, ranging from rockets and cruise missiles to very effective air defenses.
In fact, the Russian built S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft air defenses, if maintained and modernized, are said to be particularly effective, experts have said.
In the air, the Russian have maintained their 1980s built Su-27 fighter jets, which have been postured throughout the region by the Russian military.
Often compared to the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 Eagle fighter, the Su-27 is a maneuverable twin engine fighter built in the 1980s and primarily configured for air superiority missions.
While many experts maintain that NATO’s size, fire-power, air supremacy and technology would ultimately prevail in a substantial engagement with Russia, that does not necessarily negate the Rand study’s findings that NATO would be put in a terrible predicament should Russia invade the Baltic states.
Joe Hooper had two U.S. military careers. He first enlisted in the Navy in 1956 but after just shy of three years, he found himself a civilian once again. It’s not that he was bad at his job or was a bad sailor — the Navy just wasn’t the career path for him.
Six months later, he was back in the military. This time, he chose the United States Army. It was a choice that would completely change the rest of his life. He found himself training to become a paratrooper, serving first with the 82nd Airborne and later the 101st Airborne. Within three years, Hooper was an NCO.
But all was not perfect. He faced a number of Article 15 hearings related to disciplinary issues. By 1967 he had been demoted to Corporal and promoted to Sergeant once more. His promotion came just in time to deploy to Vietnam, where he would spend the first months of 1968 – meaning he was in country for the Tet Offensive.
The Tet Offensive and the subsequent effort to recapture the ground the communists captured would take the first few months of 1968 in some places. One of those areas was the old imperial capital of Hue. It was during the Battle of Hue that Joe Hooper earned his Medal of Honor – and the insane citation reads like the plot summary of the greatest Hollywood action movie of all time:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Staff Sergeant (then Sgt.) Hooper, U.S. Army, distinguished himself while serving as squad leader with Company D.
“Company D was assaulting a heavily defended enemy position along a river bank when it encountered a withering hail of fire from rockets, machine guns and automatic weapons. S/Sgt. Hooper rallied several men and stormed across the river, overrunning several bunkers on the opposite shore. Thus inspired, the rest of the company moved to the attack.
“With utter disregard for his own safety, he moved out under the intense fire again and pulled back the wounded, moving them to safety. During this act, S/Sgt. Hooper was seriously wounded, but he refused medical aid and returned to his men. With the relentless enemy fire disrupting the attack, he single-handedly stormed 3 enemy bunkers, destroying them with hand grenade and rifle fire, and shot 2 enemy soldiers who had attacked and wounded the Chaplain.
“Leading his men forward in a sweep of the area, S/Sgt. Hooper destroyed 3 buildings housing enemy riflemen. At this point he was attacked by a North Vietnamese officer whom he fatally wounded with his bayonet. Finding his men under heavy fire from a house to the front, he proceeded alone to the building, killing its occupants with rifle fire and grenades.
“By now his initial body wound had been compounded by grenade fragments, yet despite the multiple wounds and loss of blood, he continued to lead his men against the intense enemy fire.
“As his squad reached the final line of enemy resistance, it received devastating fire from 4 bunkers in line on its left flank. S/Sgt. Hooper gathered several hand grenades and raced down a small trench which ran the length of the bunker line, tossing grenades into each bunker as he passed by, killing all but 2 of the occupants.
“With these positions destroyed, he concentrated on the last bunkers facing his men, destroying the first with an incendiary grenade and neutralizing 2 more by rifle fire. He then raced across an open field, still under enemy fire, to rescue a wounded man who was trapped in a trench. Upon reaching the man, he was faced by an armed enemy soldier whom he killed with a pistol. Moving his comrade to safety and returning to his men, he neutralized the final pocket of enemy resistance by fatally wounding 3 North Vietnamese officers with rifle fire.
“S/Sgt. Hooper then established a final line and reorganized his men, not accepting treatment until this was accomplished and not consenting to evacuation until the following morning. His supreme valor, inspiring leadership and heroic self-sacrifice were directly responsible for the company’s success and provided a lasting example in personal courage for every man on the field. S/Sgt. Hooper’s actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.”
Air Force fighter jet mission data, sensors, missiles, intelligence information, precision guidance technology, data links and weapons targeting systems are all increasingly integrated with computer systems in today’s fast-moving high-tech warfare environment — a scenario which simultaneously upgrades lethality, decision-making and combat ability while also increasing risk and cyber-vulnerability, senior service leaders explained.
With this paradox and its commensurate rationale in mind, senior Air Force leaders unveiled a comprehensive “cyber campaign plan” designed to advance seven different lines of attack against cyber threats.
While faster processing speeds, advanced algorithms and emerging computer programs massively increase the efficiency, accuracy and precision of combat networks and weapons systems, increased computer-reliance also means weapons systems themselves can become more vulnerable to cyber-attack in the absence of sufficient protection.
For instance, how could Joint Direct Attack Munitions pinpoint targets in a combat environment where GPS signals have been destroyed, hacked or knocked out? What if navigation and geographical orientation were destroyed as well? How could an F-35 use its “sensor fusion” to instantly integrate targeting, mapping and threat information for the pilot if its computer system were hacked or compromised? How could drone feeds provide life-saving real-time targeting video feeds if the data links were hacked, re-directed, taken over or compromised?
These are precisely the kind of scenarios Air Force future planners and weapons developers are trying to anticipate.
Seven Lines of Attack
Speaking at the annual Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, National Harbor, Md., Gen. Ellen Marie Pawlikowski Commander, Air Force Materiel Command, delineated the inspiration and direction for the 7 lines of attack.
A key impetus for the effort, as outlined in the first line of attack, is working to secure mission planning and recognized cyber vulnerabilities, Pawlikowski explained.
For instance, she explained the prior to embarking upon a global attack mission, an Air Force F-16 would need to acquire and organize its intelligence information and mission data planning – activities which are almost entirely computer-dependent.
“We did some mission planning before we got that in the air. Part of that mission planning was uploaded into a computer,” Pawlikowski said. “An OFP (operational flight plan) is developed using software tools, processors and computers. When you lay out a mission thread it takes to conduct a global mission attack, you find that there are cyber threat surfaces all over the place. How do you make sure your F-16 is secure? We need to address each and every one of those threat surfaces.”
The second line of attack is described in terms of technology acquisition and weapons development procedures. The idea, Pawlikowski said, was to engineer future weapons systems with a built-in cyber resilience both protecting them from cyber-attacks and allowing them to integrate updated software and computer technology as it emerges.
“We want to understand cyber security as early as we can and develop tools that are needed by program managers. We want to engineer weapons systems that include cyber testing in developmental and operational tests,” she said.
Brining the right mixture of cyber security experts and security engineers into the force is the thrust behind the third line of attack, and working to ensure weapons themselves are cyber resilient provides the premise for the fourth line of attack.
“We can’t take ten years to change out the PNT (precision, navigation and timing) equipment in an airplane if there is a cyber threat that negates our ability to use GPS,” Pawlikowski explained.
Part of this equation involves the use of an often-described weapons development term called “open architecture” which can be explained as an attempt to engineer software and hardware able to easily accommodate and integrate new technologies as they emerge. Upon this basis, weapons systems in development can then be built to be more agile, or adaptive to a wider range of threats and combat operating conditions.
In many cases, this could mean updating a weapons system with new software tailored to address specific threats.
“Open mission systems enable me in avionics to do more of a plug-and-play capability, making our weapons systems adaptable to evolving cyber threats,” she explained.
The fifth line of effort involves establishing a common security environment for “classification” guides to ensure a common level of security, and the sixth line of attack involves working with experts and engineers with the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop built-in cyber hardening tools.
For instance, Pawlikowski explained that by the 2020s, every Air Force base would have cyber hardening “baked” into its systems and cyber officers on standby against potential cyber-attack.
Preparing to anticipate the areas of expected cyber threats, and therefore developing the requisite intelligence to prepare, is the key thrust of the seventh line of effort.
“We planned and built our defenses against an expectation of what our adversary was able to do. We need to understand where the threat is going so we can try to defend against it,” Pawlikowski said.
The most notable Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine – albeit for her fictional exploits – is headed for retirement. Well, actually, recycling. USS Dallas (SSN 700) completed her final deployment on Nov. 22 of this year.
The submarine is best known for its appearance in the 1984 novel “Hunt for Red October” by Tom Clancy, and its 1990 film adaptation. In Clancy’s story, USS Dallas, under the command of Commander Bart Mancuso, played a critical role in the successful defection of Captain First Rank Marko Ramius of the Soviet Navy and many of his officers, who brought along a modified Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarine, the Red October. USS Dallas also made an appearance in the novel “Cardinal of the Kremlin,” where she evacuated the wife and daughter of KGB Chairman Nikolay Gerasimov.
In real life, USS Dallas had a distinguished career. The ship twice received the Meritorious Unit Commendation and also two awards of the Navy Unit Commendation. She was awarded the Battle Efficiency “E” seven times, and in 1993, received the Battenberg Cup as the best ship in the fleet. Commissioned in 1981, she served for 35 years. In 1984, the year the novel that made her famous came out, she carried out a seven-month deployment in the Indian Ocean, during which she went around the world.
In 1986, USS Dallas took part in Operation ELDORADO CANYON, when the U.S. retaliated against Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya for sponsoring a terrorist attack in Berlin that killed an American soldier outright and caused another to die from his wounds two months later. The submarine completed a North Atlantic deployment in 1988, the year the novel Cardinal of the Kremlin came out.
Ironically, USS Dallas did not play herself in the 1990 film. Instead, that honor fell to USS Houston (SSN 713) and USS Louisville (SSN 724). Her most memorable scene is here:
While many Los Angeles-class submarines have been slated for the scrapheap (the common euphemism being “recycling”), there are efforts underway to save at least some parts of USS Dallas and use her as a museum in her namesake city.
After years of being featured at trade shows and trotted out for high-ranking Marine Corps officials, the Marines’ barrel-chested Legged Squad Support System — known affectionately as the robotic mule — has been put out to pasture.
The machine, which resembles a headless pack mule made of metal, came about through a $32 million, two-and-a-half year contract between the Pentagon’s research arm, known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Google Inc.’s Boston Dynamics, of Waltham, Massachusetts.
DARPA teamed up with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to create an autonomous four-legged creature that could lighten troops’ load by carrying 400 or more pounds of weight, according to reports about the 2010 contract.
A second contract worth almost $10 million was awarded in 2013 for an additional phase of the LS3 program that would demonstrate how the legged robot would work by following troops on foot through rugged terrain, carrying their gear, and interpreting verbal and visual commands. The contract also provided for the construction of an enhanced version of LS3 that featured a quieter power supply and better survivability against small arms fire.
In 2012, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos attended a demonstration of the prototype’s capabilities at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. At the time, Amos expressed pride in the developing technology and said it was getting close to something the Marines might use, according to reports.
The robo-mule had its big moment in summer 2014 at Rim of the Pacific, the largest military exercise in the Pacific region. It was featured in high-profile field tests with Marines who put it through its paces on patrols and demonstrated its ability to respond to commands and cross rugged ground.
But the experiment also exhibited the shortcomings of the prototype, Kyle Olson, a spokesman for the Warfighting Lab, told Military.com.
“As Marines were using it, there was the challenge of seeing the potential possibility because of the limitations of the robot itself,” Olson said. “They took it as it was: a loud robot that’s going to give away their position.”
In addition to the lawnmower-like noise of the mule’s gas-powered engine, there were other challenges without clear solutions, including how to repair the hulking robot if it breaks and how to integrate it into a traditional Marine patrol.
With the final funds remaining in the second Boston Dynamics contract, the DARPA-Warfighting Lab team built “Spot,” a robotic quadruped the size of a large dog that functioned on quieter electric power. Last September, Marines put the smaller robot to the test in the woods of Quantico, Virginia.
But while Spot eliminated the noise problem, its slighter frame could only carry loads of 40 pounds or so and didn’t display the advanced autonomous technology that LS3 had.
“I see Spot right now as more of a ground reconnaissance asset,” said Capt. James Pineiro, the Ground Combat Element branch head for the Warfighting Lab. “The problem is, Spot in its current configuration doesn’t have the autonomy to do that. It has the ability to walk in its environment, but it’s completely controller-driven.”
For now, both Spot and LS3 are in storage, with no future experiments or upgrades planned. Pineiro said it would take a new contract and some new interest from Marine Corps top brass to resurrect the program.
While it may seem as though years of work with the robot quadrupeds has wrapped up without a tangible result, Warfighting Lab officials said the Marine Corps did gain important insights about autonomous technology and its potential.
“We tend to play with things that are fanciful and strange,” Olson said. “Learning from it was a big part, and we’re still learning.”
Meanwhile, the lab has ongoing experiments featuring drones and other unmanned vehicles and are exploring uses for them including medical resupply and reconnaissance.
It is not Iron Man. It isn’t even Iron Fist. Lockheed Martin’s newest exoskeleton is more like Iron Leg. But for a soldier humping his weapons, ammo and body armor up a mountain in Afghanistan or a high-rise building in a future urban battle, a device to take the load off would be welcome. And, unlike science fiction supersuits, we can build it now.
Exoskeletons are part of the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy, which seeks to use robotics and artificial intelligence to enhance humans on the battlefield, rather than to replace them. There’s no area where the need is more acute than in the infantry, which takes the vast majority of casualties.
One particularly persistent problem: weight. US foot troops have been overburdened since at least D-Day, where some men drowned in shallow water under their heavy packs. The problem has become especially acute since 9/11, with US troops in body armor laboring to chase Taliban in flip-flops. The military is constantly looking at ways to make equipment lighter, but those improvements are mainly on the margins, a pound shaved here or there. It’s also experimenting with wheeled or tracked robots that can carry some of a squad’s equipment, but these robotic mules can’t yet keep up with nimble infantrymen over rough terrain.
So if you can’t lighten the soldier’s load, and you can’t take it off him, can you make him stronger? Nowadays, the answer is yes: We have the technology.
How It Works
The Lockheed exoskeleton’s full and unwieldly designation is FORTIS Knee-Stress Relief Device (K-SRD), which makes it sounds like a piece of molded plastic your insurance would refuse to cover. In fact, it’s a sophisticated synthesis of multiple technologies:
a rigid load-bearing framework to transfer weight off the wearer to the ground; compact actuators at the knee to increase strength (future models may add actuators at the hip as well); soft materials that buffer between the human being and the rigid frame, helping translate analog human movements into digital signals to the actuators; and an artificial intelligence that adjusts the machinery to move seamlessly with the wearer — unlike past earlier exoskeletons that often resisted the body’s natural movements.
In tests, elite Tier One special operators wearing K-SRD found they could do twice as many squats lifting 185 pounds of weight, going from an average of 20-25 reps to over 50. There were similar improvements climbing stairs carrying a 185-lb simulated casualty, said Lockheed product manager Keith Maxwell, a former Navy and “Other Government Agency” operator himself. “It literally pushes you up flights of stairs,” he told me. “(You) do it faster, with much less fatigue.”
However, the gains are greatest with vertical movement and least on level ground, Maxwell emphasized. On a 15-degree slope, he said, the device reduces the human’s energy expenditure — the “net metabolic cost” — by only about 9 percent. On level ground, it doesn’t save any energy, he said. Why? Humans evolved over millions of years for long-distance chases across the savannah: The theory of persistence hunting suggests our ancestors, lacking bows and arrows, simply ran after prey until it collapsed from exhaustion. Nothing modern technology can make is likely to improve on human performance over level ground, at least any time soon.
With K-SRD on level ground, said Maxwell, “what we’re able to do is break even” — which is a marked improvement over past exoskeletons. Lockheed spent years on an 85-lb rigid exoskeleton called HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier), which was good at carrying heavy weights but lousy at matching human movements. “The problem was that terrain is irregular and human gait is infinitely variable,” Maxwell said, so HULC’s computer kept misunderstanding what the wearer wanted to do and moving the wrong way. Overall, Maxwell said, walking around in a HULC actually cost 15 to 25 percent more energy than having no exoskeletal “help” at all.
Lockheed moved on to the less ambitious FORTIS, essentially a rigid support frame — it doesn’t require electricity because it doesn’t have actuators — that could help factory and shipyard workers handle heavy tools without fatigue. The wearer has enough mobility to relocate, tools in hand, to another worksite within 100 yards, but the industrial FORTIS far too awkward for the battlefield.
The FORTIS K-SRD, by contrast, uses its mix of rigid and flexible components, and a much more sophisticated set of algorithms than HULC, to move with the wearer’s body. Testers were able to operate it with only 15 minutes of training, Maxwell said, and some of the special operators didn’t bother with the training at all.
“They can run, they can climb, they can squat,” Maxwell said. They can hit the dirt, take cover, and crawl, then jump up and dash forward and take cover again. They can even walk along a balance beam although for such precision movements he recommends turning the strength-magnifying actuators off, done with a simple thumb movement on the controls. One tester even found his K-SRD comfortable enough to sleep with it on.
The Case Against Iron Man
After decades of exoskeleton development, Lockheed wants to get this device out into the field soon. The K-SRD team is working mostly closely with the Army’s Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., which they expect to buy a number of K-SRDs for test purposes and institute a Cooperative Research Development Agreement (CRADA) in the next 30-60 days. Other partners include the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad initiative. Lockheed is even working with theDepartment of Homeland Security and some foreign fire departments on potential firefighting and rescue applications, since those also involve heavily burdened humans climbing up and down with life and death and stake.
Maxwell did not mention Special Operations Command, whose TALOS program envisions a full-body suit of mechanical armor able to resist point-blank gunshots — what then-SOCOM chief Adm. William McRaven compared to Iron Man’s suit.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) relies on the JARVIS artificial intelligence to help pilot his Iron Man suit — the kind of “human-machine teaming” that increasingly intrigues the Pentagon. (Marvel Comics/Paramount Pictures)
“Can we have an up-armored solution that’s capable of breaching and entering and being relatively invulnerable to 7.62 AP (armor piercing) bullets at point-blank range? Yeah, we can do that,” said Maxwell. That said, it’d probably be heavy and slow, far from the flight-capable suit in the comics.
“Iron Man has…hurt exoskeleton development,” Maxwell said, because it’s created impossible expectations — literally impossible, since the CGI suit in the movies routinely violates the laws of physics. When Iron Man drops from the sky to a neat three-point landing, in particular, the sudden deceleration would liquefy Tony Stark inside the suit.
Nevertheless, Maxwell said, while real-world exoskeletons may not copy the comic books, they’re still a marvel. When our best troops put them on, he said, “they become something more than human.” They become something more than mere machines, as well, he said: “The man in the machine will beat the machine (by itself) every time.”
That’s the so-called centaur model of human-machine teaming at the heart of the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy. It’s the synergy of a human imagination and agility controlling the strength and speed of a machine, like the mythical centaur combining rider and horse into a single being.
“As long as there’s judgment (required) in situations in which the person is going to have to make a call, we’re going to want a human in the loop. Eventually, if we can get machines to do that for us…we’ll just make these robots,” Maxwell told me. “Until then…you take the absolute best human beings and combine them with the absolute best in machines.”
Bizarre, seemingly impossible anachronistic historical matchups aren’t just for wargaming or Sid Meier’s Civilization. There’s at least one instance in recorded history where European regular infantrymen were called on to take down some of Japan’s elite samurai warriors: the Battle of Cagayan.
In 1573, Japanese pirates, known as wokou, sailed into Cagayan, a city on the Philippine island of Luzon. The pirates were made up of ronin (samurai without a feudal master), soldiers of fortune and sailors from Japan and China. When their flat-bottom boats entered Caguyan, they demanded the locals submit to their will.
At the time, Cagayan was an important gold and silver trading area between the Japanese and Spanish, who controlled the Philippines. The pirates were looking to take control of the precious metal trade – and they were reasonably successful.
The Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa, wrote to King Phillip back in Spain that the pirates were becoming a nuisance, carrying not just the traditional weapons of the ronin, but also gunpowder weapons like arquebusiers and artillery, weapons he believed were built by the rival Portuguese.
King Phillip dispatched Juan Pablo de Carrión of the Spanish Navy to deal with the problem. Almost immediately, Carrión sank a wokou ship while sailing the South China Sea. That got the pirates’ attention. They responded by sending a fleet of ships to Cagayan, 18 flat-bottomed sampans, led by a junk.
When Carrión learned of the incoming attack, he assembled the best force he could manage; 40 soldiers on a total of seven ships, with a Spanish galleon at its head. The only advantage they had was that they were much better with firearms than their oncoming enemy. The Spanish had been proficient with them for decades, and made much better weapons and gunpowder than the Japanese carried.
Carrión and his ships arrived at Cagayan in time to catch the pirates abusing the natives of the town from a sampan. He and his men headed straight for it, and boarded the ship with rodeleros, shield-carrying swordsmen. Once on board, the rodeleros went into combat against sword-carrying Japanese sailors.
The Spaniards lost the first act of the fight, being forced back to their ships but came back twice as hard. The decks of the ships were a mess of men, bodies and sharp weapons. But the Spanish turned the tide with gunpowder weapons, forcing the Japanese pirates to abandon ship and swim for safety.
With the first sampan effectively out of the fighting, the flotilla of Spaniards sailed up the Cagayan River. It wasn’t long before they found the pirate fleet near a newly-constructed fortress. The turn of events didn’t deter them; they quickly opened up on the wokou ships with their ships’ artillery.
After blasting their way through the enemy ships, they managed to land on shore and bring that artillery to bear on the pirates from hastily-dug trenches. The pirates called for a cease-fire and asked to be compensated for the gold they would lose by leaving. Carrión refused and the pirates determined they would hit the Spanish with an overwhelming force.
They assembled a pirate army of 600 men to attack the Spanish trenches and hit them in successive waves. The first and second were easily repelled by superior firepower, but by the third wave, the Spanish were running low on powder. The samurai ran at them with full force, katanas glinting in the sunlight and almost forced the Spaniards out of their defensive positions.
But the pirates never managed to dislodge their Spanish enemy. The third wave was devastating for the attackers, so the Spanish left the trenches and finished the pirates off with long pikes. Those Japanese soldiers who could run away did, leaving their weapons and booty behind.
The victorious Spanish troops kept the strange Japanese weapons and armor they found scattered on the battlefield as war trophies.
This is often done by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, attached to the 403rd Wing, based out of Keesler Air Force Base near Biloxi Mississippi.
According to a release by the 403rd Wing, WC-130J Super Hercules weather reconnaissance planes have already made 10 flights into Hurricane Harvey, presently a Category 2 storm slated to reach Category 3 when it makes landfall in Texas.
Each plane has a crew of five: a pilot, co-pilot, a weather reconnaissance officer, a navigator, and a loadmaster.
During the flights through Harvey, the Airmen made dozens of passes through the eye of the hurricane, braving the strong winds in the center of the storm. On each pass, a device known as a “dropsonde” is released, providing data on dew point, pressure, temperature, and of course, wind speed and direction.
That data is sent out immediately to the National Hurricane Center.
“As the Hurricane Hunters, our data is time sensitive and critical for the [National Hurricane Center],” Maj. Kendall Dunn, 53rd WRS pilot explained. “This storm is rapidly intensifying.”
You’d think these pilots would be full-time Air Force, but you’d be way off. These gutsy crews who brave the wrath of nature are with the Air Force Reserve – meaning that many of them are taking time off from their regular lives to serve their country. You can see them in action monitoring Hurricane Harvey in the video below.
The Department of Defense identified a sailor killed in action on Nov. 24 during Operation Inherent Resolve as Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton.
The 42-year-old from Woodbridge, Virginia, died when an improvised explosive device detonated in northern Syria, near Ayn Issa, according to a release from the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve, which is coordinating the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Dayton was killed north of Raqqa, a key battleground pitting Syrian government forces, rebel units and militants aligned with ISIS against one another.
Dayton was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Two, based out of the Norfolk area. According to the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command website, explosive ordnance disposal personnel specialize in rendering explosive hazards safe, and have done anything from dismantling IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan to helping secure the Olympics to supporting a local police department.
Navy bomb technicians like Dayton often are assigned to special operations teams like SEAL Team 6, which is known to be operating with rebel units deep inside war torn Syria.
EOD is one field that can be very busy, even in peacetime, often due to unexploded ordnance from past wars. In recent years, BALTOPS exercises have come across live mines left over from World War II, and some Civil War souvenirs have caused major kerfluffles in the United States.
“I am deeply saddened by the news on this Thanksgiving Day that one of our brave service members has been killed in Syria while protecting us from the evil of ISIL. It is a painful reminder of the dangers our men and women in uniform face around the world to keep us safe,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said in a statement released by the Defense Department.
Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said, “The entire counter-ISIL Coalition sends our condolences to this hero’s family, friends and teammates.”
Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, members of the anti-ISIS coalition launched a total of 90 strikes, 19 of which were around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Those nineteen strikes destroyed or damaged a number of targets, including fifteen mortar systems, eight vehicles, four vehicle-borne IEDs, 22 supply routes, five caches and two heavy machine guns.
Six strikes took place near Ayn Issa, engaging four ISIS “tactical units” and destroying a vehicle storage facility, a vehicle-borne IED, a vehicle-borne IED facility and damaged fighting position.
For many Americans, military service was their pathway to citizenship. For their service during the Revolutionary War, three foreign generals have been declared honorary citizens of the United States. Citizenship can only be granted by an act of Congress or by a proclamation issued by the President. Although purely ceremonial, the awarding of citizenship highlights the enormous contribution that these men made to the United States of America in its struggle for independence.
1. Marquis de Lafayette
Arguably the most important foreign national in American history, Lafayette was born into one of the oldest and most distinguished French families. Following family tradition, he commissioned as an officer in the Musketeers. In 1776, the 19-year-old Lafayette was put in contact with American agents by King Louis XVI. The French hoped to regain influence in North America and exact revenge against the British for the Seven Years’ War by covertly supporting America in its revolution. However, Britain learned of these backroom dealings and threatened France with war if support was provided to the colonies. Against the orders of his commanding officer (and father-in-law) and a decree by the king, Lafayette was determined to join America’s fight and bought a ship with his own money for the trip across the Atlantic. Agreeing to serve without pay, he was commissioned by Congress as a major general on July 31, 1777. During the revolution, Lafayette was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine and endured the harsh winter at Valley Forge. His commands at the Battles of Rhode Island and Yorktown were instrumental in America’s victory and independence. Lafayette was awarded honorary citizenship in 2002.
2. Casimir Pulaski
Another foreign military officer who served in the Continental Army, Casimir Pulaski was a Polish nobleman and skilled cavalryman. He was involved in the revolution within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for which he was exiled. Upon Benjamin Franklin’s recommendation, Pulaski traveled to America to help in its own revolution. After arriving in America, he wrote, “I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.” Like Lafayette, Pulaski served alongside General Washington at the Battle of Brandywine. When the Continental Army was forced into a retreat, Pulaski led a charge that prevented a British encirclement and saved Washington’s life. For this action, Congress commissioned him as a brigadier general in the Continental Army cavalry. Pulaski was a strong believer in the superiority of cavalry over infantry. He organized the Continental Army’s cavalry units and wrote the first doctrine on its formations. For this, he is known as the father of the American cavalry. Pulaski was killed leading a charge at the Battle of Savannah on October 11, 1779. For his service to the nation, Pulaski was made an honorary citizen in 2009.
3. Bernardo de Gálvez
Like France, Spain had strategic interest in helping America achieve its independence from Britain. On January 1, 1777, General Gálvez was appointed governor of Luisiana (the colony’s name under Spanish rule). Under his command, the Spanish practiced an anti-British policy by inhibiting British smuggling in the region and promoting trade with France. Moreover, Gálvez sold desperately needed supplies like gunpowder, muskets, uniforms, and medicine to Americans. Although the British blockaded the colonial ports, Gálvez allowed the patriots use of the Mississippi River via New Orleans. The city also served as a safe haven for American raiding parties after attacking British ships. Following Spain’s declaration of war on Britain in 1779, Gálvez carried out an impressive military campaign against the British. He scored major victories at Fort Bute, Baton Rouge, and Natchez that year. This campaign eliminated the British presence in the lower Mississippi Valley. At the Battle of Fort Charlotte in 1780, he recaptured Mobile from British control. His most important victory was the land and sea campaign that captured Pensacola. This left the British with no military bases on the Gulf Coast. Although his contributions are not commonly taught in American history, his campaigns against the British and support for the patriots on the Southern Front were vital in America’s victory over Britain. Gálvez was awarded honorary citizenship in 2014.
Feature image: Charles Henry Jeans/ Wikimedia Commons