Urban legends, old wives tales, myths, and folklore all come from somewhere. In the 20th century, the military was an important facet in the lives of many, especially during WWII and the Cold War years. Some of the lore was bound to find its way into civilian life, here are just a few you may have heard:
1. Carrots help your night vision
While it’s true carrots are good for your eyes, because they’re loaded with beta carotene and thus vitamin A. That’s where the ocular benefits end. In the thousands of admonished children and thousands of unfinished dinner plates between WWII and today, the idea of carrots being good for you morphed into a super power where you gain the ability to see at night.
The myth started in WWII, as German bombers struck British targets at night during the Blitz. British authorities ordered city wide blackouts in an attempt to lead the bombers off course or hope they would strike off target. The British fought off the German Blitz because of a new technology which allowed them to see the bombers coming from far off. It wasn’t carrots, it was radar.
The radar RAF fighter pilots had on their planes allowed them to detect bombers before they crossed the English Channel. One pilot, John Cunningham, racked up and impressive 19 kills at night.In an effort to keep the radar technology under wraps, the British Ministry of Defence told reporters pilots like Cunningham ate a lot of carrots.
The British public ate it hook, line, and sinker. Victory gardens began producing carrots to augment food supplies and alleviate shipping issues. BBC radio would broadcast carrot dessert recipes (this is why carrot cake is a thing, when it definitely should not be) to get the public behind carrots as a sweetener substitute.
2. You lose most of your body heat through your head
Your mother never let you out of the house on a cold day without warning you to wear a hat, but this old wives’ tale comes from an experiment the military conducted on body heat loss. They put people in arctic survival suits and put them in Arctic conditions. The survival suits only covered the people from the neck down, so there was nowhere for the heat to escape, except up through the head (You try explaining this to your mom).
The amount of heat loss from your body depends on the temperature outside, how much surface area your skin has and how much skin you have exposed to the elements.
3. The military puts saltpeter in food to curb sex drives
This one even made it to the lore of boarding schools and colleges. You had no problems before you went to boot camp or boarding school. Now it seems like your libido took a vacation. What changed? It must be the food!
The logic for this is astounding. If there really is saltpeter in the food at basic training, then this must mean Taco Bell is an aphrodisiac (pro tip: it’s not, though the food quality standards are probably similar). The problem has less to do with the food and more to do with the campaign hat. It’s your drill sergeant is stressing you out.
Even if the services put saltpeter in the food, the medical truth is saltpeter doesn’t even suppress sex. It doesn’t help your libido either. Saltpeter is an ingredient in gunpowder and in that way it helps things go bang but it will never help or hurt your ability to go bang.
4. Civilians tie yellow ribbons to support the troops
At least it didn’t start out that way. There was a John Wayne film produced in 1949 called “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” in which the female lead actually did wear a yellow ribbon for her cavalry officer lover. But the real custom of tying a yellow ribbons around things came from the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis.
In 1972, Tony Orlando and Dawn produced a song called Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree, which was pretty popular. by 1979 the symbolic act resurfaced en masse as the hostages were held for 444 days. The practice came around again in 1991 during Desert Storm and was associated with deployed U.S. troops ever since.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Firefighters from the 151st Civil Engineer Squadron extinguish a simulated airplane fire June 7, 2016, at the Salt Lake City Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighters Training Center. The state-of-the-art facility is equipped with a simulator, which allows for interior and exterior training and includes a multitude of various fire scenarios.
An A-10C Thunderbolt II assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron performs a low-angle strafe during the Hawgsmoke competition at Barry M. Goldwater Range, Ariz., June 2, 2016. The two-day competition included team and individual scoring of strafing, high-altitude dive-bombing, Maverick missile precision and team tactics.
U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, carry equipment through a pond during the team obstacle course at the French Jungle Warfare School near Yemen, Gabon, June 9, 2016.
A U.S. Army Soldier, assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, provides security during Decisive Action Rotation 16-06 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., May 16, 2016.
DILI, Timor Leste (June 8, 2016) Crew members assigned to the Blackjacks of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 move an MH-60S helicopter into the hangar aboard hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). Deployed in support of Pacific Partnership 2016, Mercy is on its first stop of the 2016 mission. Pacific Partnership has a longstanding history with Timor Leste, having first visited in 2006, and four subsequent times since. Medical, engineering and various other personnel embarked aboard Mercy will work side-by-side with partner nation counterparts, exchanging ideas, building best practices and relationships to ensure preparedness should disaster strike.
PACIFIC OCEAN (JUNE 4, 2016) An F/A-18E from the Flying Eagles of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-122) launches from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) flight deck during night flight operations (left) while an EA-18G Growler from the Vikings of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ-129) taxis onto a catapult (right). The ship is underway conducting command assessment of readiness and training (CART) II off the coast of Southern California.
Marines with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division conduct military operations on urban terrain during a field exercise (FEX) at Camp Pendleton, California, May 24, 2016. FEX is designed to sharpen the battalion’s combat capabilities.
Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division advance down range during the Eager Lion 16 final exercise in Al Quweyrah, Jordan, May 24, 2016. Eager Lion is a recurring exercise between partner nations designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, increase interoperability, and enhance regional security and stability.
Flight Mechanics serve a dual role in the aircraft. First, they help the pilots monitor performance and flight instruments. Their knowledge of the aircraft and technical expertise make them invaluable resources for identifying and troubleshooting aircraft malfunctions. Second, they are responsible for operating the helicopter’s hoist. This entails both physically manipulating the hoist as well as providing conning commands to the pilot at the controls.
The pilots at Air Station Savannah come from a myriad of backgrounds. For some, this is their first operational aviation tour. Others have completed multiple tours around the country in places like Kodiak, AK and Puerto Rico. We also have a large number of Direct Commission Aviators who transferred over to the Coast Guard from other services such as the Army and Marines.
Every “Movember,” dudes worldwide grow mustaches (and more) to support the foundation dedicated to fighting prostate cancer. But in the history of military grooming standards, few cohorts can hang with that of the Civil War. Check out these looks that would make a modern-day hipster weep:
After masterminding the attacks at Pearl Harbor, Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto knew that his country’s dominance of the Pacific Ocean would not last against the U.S.’s industrial might.
He began forming plans for a weapon that could terrify the U.S., especially eastern cities like New York and Washington D.C. He thought a campaign of vicious attacks on the east and west coasts would convince the U.S. to quickly sue for peace.
At the time, some submarines carried a reconnaissance plane. Yamamoto asked his engineers if they could devise a submarine that would instead carry three bombers each and have range to carry the bombers around South America to the east coast of the U.S.
The planes landed on the water and were recovered using a crane on the deck. The M6A1 Seiran torpedo-bombers were designed for the I-400. They had wings that rotated and folded along the fuselage and even the tail folded down to fit in its tiny hangar.
In addition to their aircraft, the subs carried a 140mm cannon, 4 anti-aircraft guns, and had 8 torpedo tubes.
To help the subs avoid U.S. Navy sonar, the subs were coated in a rubber and asphalt blend that absorbed sound waves.
By the time the first sub took to the water at the end of December 1944, Japan was in rapid retreat across the Pacific. The original I-400 mission to attack the U.S. mainland had been scrapped long before.
The idea of using the planes to deliver biological weapons was considered, and then a Kamikaze attack on the Panama Canal was planned and canceled.
Finally, the I-400 and I-401 were sent to destroy the U.S. carrier fleet at Ulithi Atoll before they could invade the Japanese mainland. The subs were to send their six bombers on Kamikaze attacks against the 15 carriers there.
To maximize the chance that the planes would reach their targets, the Japanese admiralty ordered the planes be painted silver with U.S. markings. Though the pilots protested, the illegally camouflaged planes were placed in the subs and sent to sea.
Luckily, Japan surrendered while the subs were staging for the attack. Both subs were captured by the U.S. Navy. American officers studied the ships but then sank them before Soviet officers could ask to see them. There was concern that the Soviet Union would develop its own version if it saw the I-400.
With the apparently successful test of an ICBM by North Korea, questions arise about what can be done about the regime of Kim Jong Un. This is understandable. After all, he did threaten Sony over the 2014 movie “The Interview.”
Also, the whole humanitarian crisis thing.
According to an op-ed in the Washington Times, there are some high-tech options that could shut down the North Korean threat. Investigative reporter Ronald Kessler stated that the Pentagon was looking at a cruise missile that could fry electronics. He reported that the Pentagon is also exploring micro-robots capable of delivering a lethal toxin to the North Korean dictator.
The cruise missile is known as the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project, and it comes from Boeing’s Phantom Works — a lesser-known advanced aerospace projects division than the Lockheed Skunk Works. The missile uses microwaves to knock out radios and other electronic equipment. Boeing released a video about a 2012 test that you can see here.
Kessler also mentioned the use of insect-sized robots as potential weapons. While assassinations are currently prohibited by an executive order signed by President Gerald R. Ford, such a policy could be reversed by President Trump “with a stroke of the pen.” The advantage of using the micro-drones to bump off Kim Jong Un would be the fact that no American lives would be put at risk for the operation.
FoxNews.com reported that since the North Korean test, the United States tested the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense system in Alaska. The system continued a perfect record on tests when a battery stationed in Alaska took out a missile launched from Hawaii. Two launchers from a battery of six have been deployed in South Korea.
The Defense Department on Tuesday denied it tried to quash a 2015 study that found it could save $125 billion in noncombat administrative programs but admitted it has so far only found a small fraction of those savings.
The department hopes to save $7.9 billion during the next five years through recommendations in the study of back-office waste, which itself cost about $9 million to complete, the Defense Departments acting deputy chief management officer told a House panel.
The study’s original findings as well as a perceived lack of action from the Defense Department riled members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held the hearing on the fate of the report as President Donald Trumps administration plans a $54 billion boost in defense spending by cutting other federal programs such as foreign aid.
“I think the one thing I would take unequivocal issue with is that the report was in any way suppressed,” said David Tillotson III, who is acting as the Defense Department deputy chief management officer. “It was actively discussed within the department at the time and it has formed the basis of discussion since that time.”
The study found more than one million Defense Department employees perform noncombat related work, such as human resources, finances, health care management and property management, and $125 billion could be saved by making those operations more efficient. The study was conducted by the Defense Business Board, an advisory body to the Pentagon, and included work by two contracted groups.
The saved money could be enough to fund 50 additional Army brigades or 10 Navy carrier strike group deployments, the Defense Business Board found.
So far, most of the projected $7.9 billion in savings will come from information technology purchases and services contracts, according to Tillotson.
He said finding more savings might be difficult due to the Pentagons long-running resistance to efficiency and audit efforts, and that lawmakers could help with legislation such as a new round of base realignments and closures to help the department shed excess and costly real estate.
“There is an internal challenge, that is our job, we will go fight those battles and in some instances we are assisted by actions on The Hill,” he said.
The Washington Post reported in December that the Pentagon tried to shelve the findings because it feared Congress might use them to slash its budget.
At the time, the chairmen of the Senate and House armed services committees, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said the report of $125 billion in potential waste was not surprising and both had been working for years to trim back the growth in headquarters staff, civilian workers and contractors.
Lawmakers on Tuesday wanted to know why the department has not used the report to find more savings.
“Did we waste $8-9 million dollars of the taxpayers money on a report on identifying waste in the Pentagon and if we didnt waste it, what have been the savings that came out of this report,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., arguably America’s greatest fighter pilot of World War I, was finally downed after taking out 14 German observation balloons and four combat planes. But he took as many Germans with him as he could, strafing ground troops as he crashed and unloading his pistol into the infantry trying to capture him.
Luke enlisted in the Army on Sept. 25, 1917, for service in the aviation field. He took his first solo flight that December, received his commission the following January, and was in France by March.
After additional instruction there, Luke was ready to go on combat patrols. In an April 20, 1918, letter home, Luke described a severely injured pilot who later died and the constantly growing rows of graves for pilots. In between those two observations, he talked about what fun it is to fly.
Luke claimed his first kill in August, but the reported action took place after Luke became separated from the rest of the flight and few believed that the mouthy rookie had actually bagged a German.
Flying on Sept. 12, 1918, Luke found one of the heavily defended balloons while chasing three German aircraft. He conducted attack passes on the balloon and it exploded into flames on Luke’s third pass, just as the balloon was about to reach the ground.
The flaming gas and bladder fell upon the ground crew and the winch mechanism that held the balloons, killing the men and destroying the site. Two more American officers at a nearby airfield confirmed Luke’s balloon bust.
Two days later, the Arizona native brought down a second balloon in a morning patrol, but he still wasn’t liked by other members of his unit. The same afternoon, he was designated to take the risky run against another balloon as the rest of the formation fought enemy fighters. One, a friend of Luke’s named 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, would cover Luke on his run.
Luke once again downed the enemy balloon and was headed for a second balloon when eight enemy planes chased him. His guns were malfunctioning so he ran back to friendly lines rather than risking further confrontation.
Wehner and Luke became a team and specialized in the dangerous mission of balloon busting. Over the following weeks, they pioneered techniques for bringing down the “sausages.” The pair grew so bold that they scheduled exhibitions for well-known pilots like then-Col. William Mitchell, inviting the VIPs to witness German balloons going down at exact times along the front.
On Sept. 18, the two men scored one of their most productive days including the balloon downing that made Wehner an ace, but Wehner was shot down during the attack on the second balloon. Luke responded by charging into the enemy formation, killing two, and then heading for home and killing an observation plane en route.
Luke was distraught at the loss of his partner and took greater risks in the air. His superior officers attempted to ground him, but Luke stole a plane and went back up anyway.
On his final flight on Sept. 29, he dropped a note from his plane that told the reader to “Watch three Hun balloons on the Meuse. Luke.”
The pilot flew across the battlefield, downing all three but attracting a patrol of eight German fighters. Sources differ on exactly what happened next, but the most important details are not in dispute.
Luke’s plane was damaged and he himself was hit, likely from machine gun fire from the ground. As he lost altitude, he conducted a strike against German troops, most likely with his machine guns, though locals who witnessed the fight reported that he may have used bombs dropped by hand.
All of Luke’s confirmed victories had taken place in September 1918. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Sept. 12-15, a second for his actions on Sept. 18, and the Medal of Honor for his final flight on Sept. 29.
Technology helps give American troops an advantage on the battlefield, and DoD is working on new stuff all the time. Here are 11 of the coolest things they’re working on right now:
1. Drones that can fly 45 mph
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants drones that can race their way through enemy-held buildings or disaster areas without hitting anything, and they’re pretty successful so far. A modified drone hit 45 mph in a test and the drones can navigate obstacle courses at lower speeds.
2. Robot cockroaches
Real cockroaches can squeeze through tiny gaps and scurry quickly through hard to reach areas. A lab in Berkeley is working on the Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms, a robot based on cockroaches. At Harvard, researchers are working on tiny microphones, cameras, and antennas so the robot could beam intelligence to soldiers.
3. Self-steering parachutes that don’t need GPS
Units in the field sometimes have to rely on air drops for supplies and they need the drops to be as accurate as possible. To make sure supplies arrive on target, the Army is developing the Joint Precision Airdrop Progam that uses small motors to steer a parachute. The onboard computer figures out how to navigate to the target location by scanning the ground below and comparing it to an onboard map, no GPS required.
Close air support allows troops to call in airplanes and helicopters to attack enemy ground forces. With the current tactics and resources, it generally takes 30 to 60 minutes for pilots to get to the fight and drop their bombs. Persistent Close Air Support, or PCAS, looks to drop this to six minutes by allowing ground fighters to tap a point on a digital map and have the pilot immediately receive the geo coordinates along with a flight plan and bombing solution.
6. On-demand satellite launches
Airborne Launch Assist Space Access is a convoluted name for a program, but it has a tantalizing promise: satellites in orbit within 24 hours of a request for less than $1 million. The satellites would be placed in a rocket attached to a jet. The jet would then fly to the upper atmosphere and release the rocket, and its satellite, into orbit.
7. Soldier super senses
Squad X core technology services aims to give troops better situational awareness by linking them into all the sensors on the battlefield, including new ones mounted on the troops themselves. Squad leaders would be able to see the status of their squad, video feeds from nearby drones and aircraft, and targets in the area.
8. Intuitive prosthetics
HAPTIX, Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces, is working to make prosthetics that not only work like biological limbs, but feel like biological limbs. This should allow amputees to do more things more quickly with their prosthetics and even allow more amputees to return to combat. (The video above shows a soldier testing a prototype arm while climbing a rock wall.)
9. Firefighting robots
The Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, or SAFFiR, is designed to work on Navy ships fighting fires and identifying hot spots before they light off. In testing last November, SAFFiR successfully fought a small fire on a decommissioned ship.
10. Drones that hunt in packs
The Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment, or CODE, is designed to reverse the human to robot ratio, taking it from multiple humans per drone to multiple drones per human.
11. Electricity as medicine
The human body is designed to heal itself, but sometimes extreme trauma can cause the electrical impulses that control healing processes to go haywire. ElectRx will allow doctors to record nerve processes in healthy bodies and then prescribe stimuli to correct the electrical storm in patients with post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, autoimmune disorders, or even physical injury.
The elite Russian special forces who took over Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 are now doing the same thing in Aleppo, Syria.
The number of Russian special ops troops in Syria is likely in the “low hundreds,” but they are the eyes and ears on the ground to carry out precision airstrikes, and have been used to directly target rebel leaders, according to experts who spoke with the Wall Street Journal.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, has been the site of a bitter battle for control between pro-government forces and rebels since the war broke out in 2011. Meanwhile, millions of innocent civilians have been caught in the middle, recently cut off from receiving aid such as food, water, and medicine, as Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies besieged the city.
There are also anywhere from 100 to 300 US special operations forces operating in Syria and Iraq, though they are focused on advising Iraqi army forces in Mosul, and targeting ISIS leadership.
According to the Journal, Russian military chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov visited the headquarters of US Special Operations Command in 2012 for a meeting, intent on learning how Russia could build a special operations force similar to the United States’.
Makarov previously signed a framework of understanding with then-Navy Adm. Mike Mullen in 2009 that offered military-to-military exchanges and operational events, orientation at the West Point military academy for Russian cadets, and sharing of ideas among both countries’ combined arms academies.
At the time, US military officials were hopeful for the reestablishment of military-to-military bonds with Russia. Four years later, however, that framework and sharing of information may come back to haunt them.
“From the helmets to the kit,” the Russian special forces “look almost identical” to their US counterparts, a US military official told the Journal.
In early 2014, Russian special forces infiltrated Ukraine’s Crimea region and seized control after the pro-Russian government was ousted from power in Kiev. The heavily-armed men — which some nicknamed “little green men” — wore no identifying insignia and denied that they were Russian.
Russian President Vladimir Putin later acknowledged he had deployed the Russian soldiers, and Russia instituted a national holiday called “Special Forces Day” to commemorate the invasion the following year.
Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee, a Green Beret in the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group, was presented the Silver Star for actions in Afghanistan in 2013. California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn’t think the Silver Star is enough for Plumlee and is appealing to Army Secretary Eric Fanning to review the award.
According to the Washington Post, Rep. Hunter believes McHugh downgraded Sgt. 1st Class Plumlee’s Medal of Honor because the Special Forces NCO faced a criminal investigation for illegally selling a rifle scope online.
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor for heroism in repelling a Taliban ambush. The nomination was downgraded to the Silver Star by then-interim SECARMY John McHugh with a recommendation from the Senior Army Decorations Board. The Silver Star is two levels below the Medal of Honor, which an Inspector General report deemed appropriate.
In August 2013, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) touched off a complex Taliban attack on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ghazni. The FOB is home to the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team and a fortified NATO base housing about 1,400 people.
The VBIED blew a hole in the perimeter wall. Insurgents dressed as Afghan National Army soldiers poured into the breach. Unfortunately for them, the other side of the wall contained the 1st Special Forces Group, including one Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee.
Four operators, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Colbert, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Busic, then-Staff Sgt. Earl Plumlee, and Sgt. 1st Class Nate Abkemeier drove a truck to blast site as fast as possible. Once there, all dismounted from the truck and started returning fire.
While the others moved for cover, Plumlee walked right into Taliban attack. He hit one insurgent in the chest with a round from his sidearm and the man exploded – the fighters were all rigged with suicide vests.
The fighters had the men surrounded. Busic recalls Plumlee killed four or five insurgents then moved back to Busic’s position to clear the rest. They searched the surrounding area for anything or anyone that might be part of the attack.
Plumlee even pulled a severely wounded soldier out of harm’s way, conducted proper first-aid, and directed an Army civilian and soldier to get the wounded to a surgical center.
Four Afghan civilians, three police officers, 10 Taliban fighters, and one soldier, Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, were killed in the attack. Ten Polish soldiers were also wounded. It could have been a lot worse. One Special Forces officer told the Army that Plumlee and the other special operators who rolled up on the attackers saved the base that day.
“It’s no exaggeration when I say they saved FOB Ghazni,” the Special Forces officer said. “If they would have arrived 10 seconds later than they did, the insurgents would have been in the more densely populated part of FOB Ghazni.”
Rep. Hunter requested that the Defense Department explain how it came to the conclusion to downgrade the award, to justify the Secretary of the Army’s authority to downgrade the award, and to determine if Plumlee’s criminal investigation was the reason for the downgrade. An Inspector General report on Hunter’s requests was obtained by Military Times.
“The review process… found that the nominee’s valorous actions did not meet the MOH criteria outlined in Army Regulation (AR) 600-8-22, “Military Awards,” dated June 24, 2013. By majority vote, the SADB recommended the SS.”
One member of the Senior Army Decorations Board told the IG that Plumlee was doing his job as an NCO and the standard to receive the Medal of Honor should be higher for someone of that rank.
“… a senior NCO, versus a private who would be seized by the moment and take extremely valorous and courageous action; there’s a difference between those two. One’s a leader. One’s a Soldier. And so when I looked at the circumstances and, although the battle was ferocious and unfortunately a couple members were killed, I just thought that it wasn’t a sufficient level for the Medal of Honor based off of the individual and the circumstances and that, I just felt there was an expectation of a leader who did a phenomenal job, that there was something more that [the nominee] needed to have done in order to, in my mind, to make a recommendation for a Medal of Honor.”
The board member specifically mentioned to the IG that even though Plumlee took out almost half of the attacking insurgents, that fact wasn’t in the eyewitness statements supporting Plumlee’s Medal of Honor award.
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor three months after the battle. His nomination was even approved both the JSOC commander and by Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time. Dunford wrote that Plumlee’s actions “clearly meet the standard” for the Medal of Honor.
For now, Plumlee’s Silver Star award will stand. At their own Silver Star ceremony, Busic and Colbert told Stars and Stripesit wasn’t about the recognition anyway.
“We don’t do our job for awards or accolades,” he said. “We just do it to serve.”
These days, it seems like countries don’t invade each other like they used to. It just seems like they’d rather do small, covert raids or just outright overthrow a hostile government.
Countries do still invade one another. Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006. Israel invaded Lebanon that same year. America invaded Iraq because… well, just because. But the world’s most recent invasions weren’t really conducted with the idea of actually annexing territory.
Still, there are plenty of powder kegs out there: India vs. Pakistan, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia, or China vs. all of its neighbors. And then there’s the Korean Peninsula – the most volatile country vs. country situation in the world.
After almost 70 years of animosity, a constant state of war (there was never a real end of the war, only an armistice… and North Korea pulled out of that in 2013), and the continued acts of violence between the two, here’s a situation that could blow up at any time.
It’s actually that threat of widespread mutual destruction that keeps the conflict from boiling over. The 1950-1953 Korean War was a disaster for both sides, and that fact is largely what drives North Korean military policy. It’s what keeps the people supporting the regime: animosity toward the U.S. and South Korea.
North Koreans either remember the war firsthand or through the stories from their grandparents. Fighting between North and South Korean forces was particularly brutal and as a result, there is no reason to believe either side would pull punches today.
“Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — 20 percent of the population,” Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984.
Both countries have significant military power. South Korea has one of the most powerful militaries in the world, with 3.5 million troops. North Korea has 5 million troops with another 5 million who can fight in a protracted war. The North Korean Songun policy means the military comes first in terms of food, fuel, and other materials before any are given to the population at large. Mandatory conscription (for a 10-year enlistment) means that most North Koreans have some form of military experience.
The North also boasts 605 combat aircraft and 43 naval missile boats, but the (North) Korean People’s Air Force’s most numerous fighter is the subsonic MiG-21, which first debuted in 1953. Their latest model is the aging MiG-29, and it dates back to the 1970s. And they’re all armed with Vietnam War-era ordnance.
In terms of military technology, North Korea’s pales in comparison to the South. South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.
The South’s GDP is 50 times greater than the North’s and they spend almost five times as much as North Korea on defense. Since it can’t keep up in traditional combat arms, the North is beefing up its unconventional warfare capabilities, including chemical and nuclear weapons, along with the ballistic missiles to deliver them. It can’t deliver the weapons by air because their antiquated air forces would be easy pickings for the U.S. F-22 Raptor squadron on the Peninsula.
The North is also hampered in terms of alliances. During the Korean War, the Korean Communists were pushed all the way to the Yalu River. It was only after the Chinese intervened with massive manpower and materiel that the Communists were able to form any kind of counterattack. Chinese intervention for the North these days is questionable at best, given its extensive overseas economic ties.
In fact, it might even be in China’s best interest to invade North Korea itself, to give a buffer zone between China and a collapsed North Korean government or worse, U.S. troops right on the border.
Whereas South Korea maintains a tight alliance with the United States, who has 30,000 troops of their own stationed there, 3,800 in Japan, and 5,700 on Guam, along with significant air and naval forces in the region.
A North Korean attack on the South would give the north a slight advantage in surprise and initiative… for a few days. Allied forces will respond instantly, but the North will still have the initiative.
Retired Army General James Marks estimates they would have that initiative for four days at most. When the first war was launched across the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ wasn’t quite as defended as it is today. No one was expecting the attack and the bulk of U.S. forces had been withdrawn to Japan.
Today, an assault across the 38th parallel (the North-South border, along which the lines are divided) is tantamount to slow, grinding, probably explosive death.
North Korea will open with artillery and rocket fire from positions on the North slopes of the mountains just across the border. The North has the world’s largest artillery force with 10,000 pieces in their arsenal. The bulk of these forces are at the border, with much of the rest around Pyongyang and near Nampo, the site of their electricity-producing dam.
It is likely that the South Korean capital of Seoul, just 35 miles from the border, would be the first target and would be devastated in the opening salvos. With the artillery on the North side, hidden in the mountains, there would be little warning of an attack and U.S. and South Korean air forces would have trouble penetrating the North Korean air defenses.
Air operations would be tricky because the North keeps tight interlocking lines of antiaircraft guns and surface-to-air missile systems. Pyongyang itself is a “fortress.” North Korean special operations forces would be inserted via submarines along both coasts and through tunnels dug under the DMZ (many have been found in previous years).
The North would also activate sleeper agents in the South to direct missile and artillery fire. South Korean intelligence estimates up to 200,000 special operators are in the North Korean military, trained to fight Taliban-like insurgencies.
The U.S. air assets in the area will establish air superiority over the region, destroy air defenses, attempt to take out the artillery and missile batteries, and then destroy Northern command and control elements.
Allied airpower will target infrastructure like bridges and roads, especially the unification highway linking the capital at Pyongyang with the border, to keep Northern forces from being able to move effectively inside their own country. The U.S. would also make humanitarian air drops outside of major cities to draw noncombatants out of the cities and make targeting regime figures much easier.
After the conventional fighting, the question is if North Korea will use its nuclear weapons. It is estimated to have up to eight weapons and ballistic missile technology capable of reaching U.S. and South Korean forces in the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and all the way to Guam.
However, experts cannot confirm that the North has ever successfully used a warhead on any of its missiles. If the North does use its nuclear arsenal, nuclear retaliation from the U.S. isn’t a forgone conclusion, especially if U.S. forces have the opportunity to destroy most of the North’s nuclear weapons.
A recent Pentagon war game against the fictional country of “North Brownland,” a country whose dynastic family regime had nuclear weapons that had to be recovered during a regime collapse, found that U.S. troops didn’t fare well in retrieving those weapons. V-22 Osprey aircraft were cut off from the rest of the allied forces and surrounded by the enemy.
The result was the United States would have to fight through the countryside to the North’s estimated 100 nuclear-related sites. In all, it took the U.S. 46 days and 90,000 troops to secure those weapons.
In the end, the North – despite some early successes – would lose. They would be able to inflict massive devastation with conventional weapons in Seoul and near the border areas. The toll on civilians would likely be massive if they used their biological and chemical stockpiles, and even more so if they used the nuclear arsenal. Special forces would likely detonate their nukes in the border areas for fear of being caught trying to move South.
The U.S. would quickly establish air superiority while ground forces bypassed the heavily defended DMZ area. Once the artillery and missile batteries were taken out, the advanced technology, mobile armor, helicopter support, and airpower would quickly overwhelm the large infantry formations and their associated WWII-era tactics. The hardest part of subduing North Korea would be unifying the Korean people and taking care of the North’s backward and likely starving populace.
The hardest part of subduing North Korea would be unifying the Korean people and taking care of the North’s backward and likely starving populace.
The U.S. and South Korean governments might want to just keep the North at bay instead of overrunning the government completely. A 2013 RAND Corporation research paper estimated the cost of unification to be upwards of $2 trillion dollars. This is not only to pay for the
This is not only to pay for the war but for food for the population and the restoration of all the infrastructure the Kim regime neglected over the past sixty-plus years. Gen. Marks believes the North and South will continue to only use short, contained attacks on each other, making a full-scale war unlikely.
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Enemy combatants lurking in tunnels have attacked US troops throughout history, including during both world wars, Vietnam, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Detecting these secretive tunnels has been a challenge that has been answered by the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s engineers at the Geotechnical and Structural Laboratory in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
The lab developed the Rapid Reaction Tunnel Detection system, or R2TD, several years ago, according to Lee Perren, a research geophysicist at ERDC who spoke at the Pentagon’s lab day in May.
R2TD detects the underground void created by tunnels as well as the sounds of people or objects like electrical or communications cabling inside such tunnels, he said. The system is equipped with ground penetrating radar using an electromagnetic induction system.
Additionally, a variety of sensors detect acoustic and seismic energy, he added.
The detection equipment data can then be transmitted remotely to analysts who view the data in graphical form on computer monitors.
The system can be carried by a soldier or used inside a vehicle to scan suspected tunnel areas, he said.
R2TD has been deployed overseas since 2014, he said. Feedback from combat engineers who used the system indicated they like the ease of use and data displays. It takes just a day to train an operator, Perren said.
Jen Picucci, a research mathematician at ERDC’s Structural Engineering Branch, said that technology for detecting tunnels has been available for at least a few decades.
However, the enemy has managed to continually adapt, building tunnels at greater depths and with more sophistication, she said.
In response, ERDC has been trying to stay at least a step ahead of them, continually refining the software algorithms used to reject false positives and false negatives, she said. Also, the system upgraded to a higher power cable-loop transmitter to send signals deeper into the ground.
The improvements have resulted in the ability to detect deeper tunnels as well as underground heat and infrastructure signatures, which can discriminate from the normal underground environment, she said.
Picucci said ERDC has shared its R2TD with the Department of Homeland Security as well as with the other military services and allies. For security reasons, she declined to say in which areas R2TD is being actively used.
Besides the active tunneling detection system, a passive sensing system employs a linear array of sensors just below the surface of the ground to monitor and process acoustic and seismic energy. These can monitored remotely, according to an ERDC brochure.
While current operations remain classified, ERDC field engineers have in the past traveled in to Afghanistan according to members of the team.
In 2011, for example, ERDC personnel set up tunnel detection equipment to search the underground perimeter of Camp Nathan Smith, Afghanistan, said Owen Metheny, a field engineer at ERDC who participated in the trip.
His colleague, Steven Sloan, a research geophysicist at ERDC in Afghanistan at the time, said the goal was to ensure safety at the camp.
“We make sure nobody is coming into the camp using underground avenues that normally wouldn’t be seen and wouldn’t be monitored,” Sloan said. “We check smaller isolated areas — usually areas of interests and perimeters.”
The researchers did a lot of traveling around Afghanistan.
“We travel to different regional commands and help out in the battle spaces of different military branches,” Sloan said. “We use geophysical techniques to look for anomalies underground. We look for things that stick out as abnormal that might indicate that there is a void or something else of interest. As we work our way through an area we look for how things change from spot to spot.”
“I really enjoy my job,” Metheny said. “I’m doing something for my country and helping keep people safe. Plus, where else could a bunch of civilians get to come to Afghanistan and look for tunnels?”