An experimental Pentagon program has already developed two types of a highly advanced, Terminator-like prosthetic arm.
What’s more, a quadriplegic woman with sensors implanted onto her brain controlled one of the robotic limbs to grab a cup, shake hands and eat a chocolate bar. She even flew an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter simulator using just her thoughts.
Now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to expand on that cutting-edge work to build other potential breakthrough medical technologies, including a pacemaker-sized device that might someday improve the memory of troops who suffered a traumatic brain injury. Think of it as a hard drive of sorts for the brain.
“We know we need a next-generation device that doesn’t exist today,” said Justin Sanchez, who manages DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office in Arlington, Virginia. “That’s what these new programs are all about — not only understanding the brain and these conditions, but building the hardware that enables us to address those issues. You need both.”
Over more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, roadside bombs and other explosive devices took a toll on the U.S. military. An estimated half to two-thirds of the more than 7,100 Americans killed or wounded in combat were victims of such blasts and some 1,800 lost limbs, according to USA Today. Hundreds of thousands more suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
While researchers have been scanning the brain for years, very little is known about memory, which is stored in the side parts of the brain known as temporal lobes, Sanchez said. Like epileptic patients, troops who damage this part of the brain can suffer from memory loss and other issues.
One of DARPA’s newer projects, Restoring Active Memory, seeks to build a prosthetic device that could aid in the formation and recall declarative memory, a form of long-term memory that can be recalled such as a fact. For example, a future experiment might involve a patient who is asked to identify a series of faces and names with the aid of an implant.
“The twist on this is he or she will be interacting with a prosthetic device,” Sanchez said. “So at some face and name presentations, maybe we’ll stimulate the part of the brain that is involved in the memory formation and see if there are particular patterns of stimulation that can facilitate the formation and recall of that memory.”
The research builds on the work of a precursor program, called Revolutionizing Prosthetics, which dates back almost a decade and reflects the cornerstone of the agency’s research into neural signaling.
Jan Scheuermann, one of two patients in the program, in 2012 agreed to let surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center implant a pair of pea-sized electrodes onto her left motor cortex — which controls movement — and connects her to a robotic arm. She hoped she might feed herself for the first time in a decade. She did that and more.
Scheuermann, a 55-year-old mother of two who became paralyzed in middle-age due to a rare neurological disorder known as spinocerebellar degeneration, became so adept at manipulating the arm developed by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory that her participation in the study was extended until October, when the electrode arrays were removed.
“That is the first program in the agency where you have humans interacting with really advanced prosthetic devices to do something extremely useful,” Sanchez said.
Reading the Mind
The sensors on Scheuermann’s brain measured just four-millimeters long, yet included hundreds of contact points designed to pick up signals from individual brain cells called neurons.
“When you intend to move your arm, for example, there are certain places in your brain that become active, the neurons that are there become active, and that activity can occur when you physically move your arm or even if you imagine moving your arm,” Sanchez said.
The signals were relayed to a computer running software that matched the activity to patterns associated with physical movements, such as raising or lowering an arm. Scientists used vector mathematics to build algorithms that determined the intended motion of the not only the arm, but also the wrist and fingers. The code translated into operating instructions for the robotic prosthesis.
“Neurons in this particular part of your brain are tuned to certain movement directions,” Sanchez said. “You can imagine how you can use that information to operate a robotic arm. Once you know those associations, you can say, ‘Oh, whenever I see that guy firing, I’m trying to go in this direction.”
Flying the F-35
While the program’s potential real-world applications aren’t limited to prosthetics, patients won’t be flying drones into combat anytime soon. When Scheuermann piloted the F-35 simulator, she didn’t drop bombs or launch missiles. Rather, she simply cruised along — sometimes erratically — and tried to bank the aircraft on simple flight patterns.
The process of linking her brain to the aircraft’s motion was similar to the robotic arm. Scientists would tell her to imagine trying to steer the plane to the right and left, and then would have to figure out how the neural activity would connect to control of the rudders.
“You have to try to find this functional mapping,” Sanchez said. “This is a real core part of this from a science perspective: How do you learn what those signals in the brain mean when you intend to do something and how do they relate to the device you’re trying to actuate, whether it’s a robotic arm or an airplane?”
Scheuermann also virtually piloted a small Cessna plane around the Eiffel Tower in Paris — an experience she found “liberating,” Sanchez said.
“That’s a really powerful statement,” Sanchez said. “We think of neurotechnology as hardware, but we don’t often think about it in terms of how it can improve somebody’s life or change somebody’s life.”
Bringing Back Sensation
The next and final phase of the program will seek to reverse the signaling process by understanding the patterns for sensation in the central nervous system.
“It’s really easy to say, ‘We want to bring sensation back,’ but it’s really difficult to actually do it,” Sanchez said. “You have to go to a different part of the brain that’s involved in the perception of touch — the primary central cortex — and again the challenge is the same: You have an electronic device that is measuring something and we need to translate that into signals that the brain understands.”
His office is working to identify potential civilian patients for the program. The agency doesn’t perform experiments on troops, even though the research is designed to help those who serve.
“Military personnel make the ultimate sacrifice,” Sanchez said. “They serve our nation and their lives often are changed through their injury. The very least we can do is develop a technology that will help to improve their quality of life. We have to stay true to that. It’s essential.”
In the early 2000s, connecting a brain to a robotic prosthesis would have required multiple rooms full of computers, cables and other hardware. While its recent work proved it could be done with more advanced systems and less space, the agency still wants much smaller components.
“All of the new programs have fundamentally by their design the goal of developing medical devices that are fully implantable — the size of a cardiac pacemaker that could be implanted somewhere in the body,” Sanchez said.
Under another new effort called Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (Subnets), DARPA is funding the development of implantable devices designed to more precisely identify and treat psychiatric diseases.
“All of these procedures, at least the ones we’ve talked about thus far, are reversible,” he added. “Neurotechnology is being designed in such a way that it’s reversible, so if it’s not providing a benefit for you, you don’t use it. You just take it out.”
The Pentagon has shifted its focus in the battle against Islamic State (IS) and now is aiming to “annihilate” the extremist group’s foreign fighters so they cannot return home to the West, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis says.
Mattis told reporters on May 19 that U.S. President Donald Trump approved a Pentagon recommendation for a “tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS.”
The Pentagon believes that strategy will lead to fewer terrorist attacks like the ones in Paris, Belgium, and elsewhere by IS militants and sympathizers, which killed hundreds of people.
“The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters,” Mattis said. “The foreign fighters are the strategic threat should they return home to Tunis, to Kuala Lumpur, to Paris, to Detroit, wherever.
“Those foreign fighters are a threat. So by taking the time to de-conflict, to surround and then attack, we carry out the annihilation campaign so we don’t simply transplant this problem from one location to another,” he said.
Moreover, the battle for Raqqa, the group’s self-proclaimed capital, has barely begun.
To further the “annihilation campaign,” Trump made the controversial decision this month to arm Kurdish forces in Syria that have been the most effective U.S. allies in the battle against IS. The decision caused consternation in Turkey, which views the Kurdish forces as “terrorists.”
The Pentagon’s move to encircle IS in Syria also appears to have contributed to an incident this week where U.S. forces bombed a convoy carrying Syrian and Iranian-backed militia forces engaged in Syria’s civil war, killing eight of the fighters.
Marine General Joseph Dunford, who Trump reappointed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on May 19, said the Pentagon had made a proposal to Russia to try to avoid such conflicts in areas where both countries are operating in the future.
“We have a proposal that we’re working on with the Russians right now,” Dunford said. “I won’t share the details, but my sense is that the Russians are as enthusiastic as we are to de-conflict operations and ensure that we continue to take the campaign to ISIS and ensure the safety of our personnel.”
Russia reacted with outrage to the U.S. air strike on Syrian and Iranian-backed forces near Al-Tanf on Syria’s border with Jordan, calling it “illegitimate” and a “flagrant violation of Syria’s sovereignty.”
Famed science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic. Some of the tech the Army and other scientists are working on aren’t quite in the realm of magic, but given the incredible nature of the work they’re doing, there are many reasons to be excited about the future if you’re a U.S. servicemember. There’s no telling how long it will take to apply these ideas to military life, but the possibilities seem endless.
The U.S. Army is working on a new airdrop system it calls JPADS – Joint Precision Airdrop System. JPADS is intended to be used to drop critical supplies to troops in dangerous locations without endangering more troops by using a truck convoy. Current systems use GPS guidance systems that are prone to the same errors as any satellite system, such as satellites being out of place and their vulnerability to hacking. The new JPADS doesn’t use GPS. It drops the pallet from 25,000 feet at distances up to 20 miles. The JPADS optical sensors analyze the local terrain and compare it to preprogrammed satellite imagery so the chutes move the cargo to its programmed destination.
2. Stealth Coating
It turns out stealth aircraft technology isn’t 100 percent fail proof. Radar works by bouncing electromagnetic waves off of objects to pinpoint their locations. Original stealth technology scrambled the returning waves using “destructive interference,” solid layers of material that would amplify the waves so that they effectively cancel out the returning waves. It doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, however. Scientists have created a polarized crystal material that absorbs radar waves to prevent them from bouncing back instead. Hexagonal boron nitride captures 99.99 percent of radar waves and prevents refraction. Researchers will now need to create a thin coating to be able to apply it to current aircraft.
3. Smart Tanks
DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the military’s premier think-tank for future weapons, is developing a light armor all-terrain tech for vehicles called “Ground X-Vehicle Technology.” This next-gen tank is lightweight, highly mobile, and hard for the enemy to spot on any spectrum, visual, infrared, or electromagnetic. The “crew augmentation” system on the X-Vehicle gives the tank “semi-autonomous driver assistance and automation of key crew functions.” The external sensors on the vehicle allow for the tank not only to avoid being spotted by enemy tanks but to dodge incoming fire if they are.
4. Space Drones
DARPA strikes again. The new XS-1 space shuttle doesn’t go into space but rather boosts a payload into low-Earth orbit as it flies to the edge of space. The new shuttle has no pilots, but will be so reusable that it could fly ten times in ten days. A flight to boost something into space will still run as high as $5 million, but DARPA is working with private contractors Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, Northrop Grumman, and the Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin to make the trips faster, smoother, and cheaper. DARPA already developed a space drone for military purposes, the X37-B, but few details are available, as the X37-B is classified.
5. Jetpack-Assisted Running
The Wearable Robotics Association conference opened in Phoenix last Wednesday and featured there were Arizona State University students who developed a jetpack that enhances a troop’s ability to run in combat. Using compressed air, the pack can boost running speeds up to 15 mph.
We all love Rob Riggle. He’s the Marine-officer-turned-comedian who started his military career in aviation, moved over to public affairs then maneuvered himself into a career in show business.
We’ve interviewed him before and got some awesome insight into his career, but he recently sat down with six-time Emmy Award winner John Brenkus to talk about his unlikely path into comedy.
During this episode, Riggle talks about his time in elementary and high school — a late bloomer who was bullied and used his whit to joke his way out of trouble — and how he dreamed of being a cast member on Saturday Night Live. Riggle said when he asked his Marine squadron commander to move out of aviation and into the ground side so he would be better set up for a career in show business, his CO gave him a tongue lashing he’d never forget.
“If I saw him today I would tell him he’s a piece of shit,” Riggle tells Brenkus.
That “counseling” became what the podcast host calls a “Brink of Midnight” moment — when one decision, one event changes everything that comes after.
Be sure to find out more about Riggle’s winding path into comedy by listening to the latest episode of the Brink of Midnight podcast.
I enlisted in the Army in 2007 as a combat correspondent/videographer. During my time in the Army, I traveled all over the world and was allowed to do missions that gave me a sense of purpose and earned me two Emmys, three DOD Military Videographer of the Year awards and a handful of military decorations.
I also deployed to Afghanistan with the 4th Brigade Combat Team 25th Infantry Division (Airborne) for a year. I covered dozens of different types of stories there including Black Hawk medic evacuations, combat hospitals, combat aviation, engineers and EOD technicians and K-9 units. But I spent most of my time with the Infantry.
During my time on the ground, I worked very closely with an Afghan interpreter (who I’ll leave anonymous because of ongoing concerns for his safety as well as that of his family). He was one of the kindest and most courageous men I’ve ever met, and we couldn’t have done our mission without him.
This interpreter would commute secretly from his village to our base every day until finally it became so dangerous that he had to move on base with us while at the same time he moved his family to Kabul. He and I weathered many mortar and rocket attacks together in those days.
He had submitted his visa three times during his service. He is now unemployed because the base he worked at is closed. He is now in hiding from the Taliban and in grave danger. Every day he has to wait for a visa it gets worse. If he doesn’t get it he will have no choice but to attempt the treacherous journey to India through Pakistan with his family. If he survives the journey it will cost him most of the money he made with the Army.
There is a government program for giving visas to Afghan nationals, but the process is taking too long and too few visas are being issued. Because of this reality and because I know the power of creating awareness through storytelling, I’m part of a team producing a short narrative film called The Interpreter.
The Interpreter is a short film that functions both as a stand alone piece to assist advocacy efforts, and also as a proof of concept for the feature film currently in development. The Interpreter is being produced by Her Pictures in Los Angeles in association with USC Media Institute for Social Change and Interpret America with most of the film’s proceeds going to the non-profit No One Left Behind. I’m directing the film, Jenna Cavelle wrote the screenplay and is producing, with Michael Taylor executively producing. Our technical advisory team consists of Afghan interpreter, Fahim Fazli, the founders of No One Left Behind, Matt Zeller and Jason Gorey, and the founders of Interpret America, Barry Olsen and Katharine Allen.
The costs of war are multi-fold and unforeseen at the outset, and the plight of Afghan interpreters is one such element. For years these brave men saved the lives of American service members while hazarding their own. America now needs to accelerate the process of doing right by them.
Robert Ham is an Army veteran and a frequent contributor to The Mighty TV, We Are The Mighty’s video channel.
Over a period of several years and 21 meetings with CIA case officers in Moscow, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer overseeing a radar development lab at a Soviet state-run defense institute, passed the US information and schematics the revealed the next generation of Soviet radar systems.
Tolkachev struggled to convince the CIA he was trustwory: He spent two years attempting to contact US intelligence officers and diplomats, semi-randomly approaching cars with diplomatic license plates with a US embassy prefix.
When the CIA finally decided to trust him, Tolkachev transformed the US’s understanding of Soviet radar capabilities, something that informed the next decade of US military and strategic development.
Prior to his cooperation with the CIA, US intelligence didn’t know that Soviet fighters had “look-down, shoot-down” radars that could detect targets flying beneath the aircraft. Thanks to Tolkachev, the US could engineer its fighter aircraft — and its nuclear-capable cruise missiles — to take advantage of the latest improvements in Soviet detection and to exploit gaps in the enemy’s radar systems.
The Soviets had no idea that the US was so aware of the state of their technology. Tolkachev helped tip the US-Soviet military balance in Washington’s favor. He’s also part of the reason why, since the end of the Cold War, a Soviet-built plane has never shot down a US fighter aircraft in combat.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman’s newly published book “The Billion Dollar Spy” is the definitive account of the Tolkachev operation. It’s an extraordinary glimpse into how espionage works in reality, evoking the complex relationship between case officers and their sources, as well as the extraordinary methods that CIA agents use to exchange information right under the enemy’s nose.
It’s also about how espionage can go wrong: In 1985, a disgruntled ex-CIA trainee named Edward Lee Howard defected to the Soviet Union after the agency fired him over a series of failed polygraph tests. Howard was supposed to serve as Tolkachev’s case officer. Instead, he handed him to the KGB.
Business Insider recently spoke with Hoffman, who won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for The Dead Hand, an acclaimed history of the final decade of the Cold War arms race.
Hoffman talked about some of the lessons of the Tolkachev case. Successful espionage, he said, is like a “moonshot,” an enormous effort that only works when cascades of unpredictable variables are meticulously kept in check.
And as Hoffman notes, his book is a unique glimpse into how such an incredibly complex undertaking unfolds on a day to day basis.
“You can read a lot of literature about espionage but rarely do you get to coast along on the granular details of a real operation,” Hoffman says, in reference to the over 900 CIA cables relating to the Tolkachev case that he was able to access. “That’s what I had.”
The archive, along with the scores of interviews Hoffman conducted in researching the book, yielded unexpected insights into the realities of spycraft: “I was really surprised by both the sort of quest for perfectionism” among the agents who handled the Tolkachev case, says Hoffman, “but also by the enormous number of things that can and did go wrong.”
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
BI: Your book the story of a CIA triumph: They run this source in the heart of Moscow for 5 or 6 years and get this bonanza of intelligence. But it’s also a story of organizational failure — about how this asset was eventually betrayed from within the CIA’s own ranks.
Is there a message in these two interrelated stories about the nature of intelligence collection and the challenges that US intelligence agencies face?
David E. Hoffman: On the first point, I think the big message, which is still very valid today, is the absolutely irreplaceable value of human source intelligence.
We live in an era when people are romanced by technology, the CIA included. Between what you scoop up from people’s emails and what satellites can see and signals intelligence, there always seems to be a new technological way to get various kinds of intelligence.
But this book reminded me that there is one category of espionage that is irreplaceable, and that is looking a guy in the eye and finding out what the hell is going on that isn’t in the technology — that can’t be captured by satellites. Satellites cannot see into the minds of people. They can’t even see into a file cabinet.
Even in the cyber age, it seems to me that you still have to get that particular human source, that spy that will do what nobody else will do: to let you sort of bridge the air gap, plug in the USB thumb drive if that’s necessary, to tell you something that nobody has written down …
Tolkachev was that kind of human source, an absolutely sterling example of someone who could bring stuff that you couldn’t get any other way.
The second point is, you called it institutional dysfunction but I think there’s a larger factor here which is counterintelligence …
[Intelligence] cannot simply be a matter of collection. You also have to have defenses against being penetrated by the other guys.
We live in a world where the forces of offense and defense are in perpetual motion. Counterintelligence is part of that. And counterintelligence is what really failed here.
I think it was also institutional dysfunction in the way they treated Howard. That wasn’t a counterintelligence problem so much it was a sort of incompetence: They fired a guy, they said get lost, and he was vengeful.
But I also think that — maybe not particularly in this case but just generally — the CIA did not value counterintelligence highly enough for a long time. Really the events that followed Tolkachev — [Aldrich] Ames [see here], [Robert] Hanssen [see here], that whole period of the 1985-86 losses [see here] — were a failure of counterintelligence …
There were really some big vulnerabilities there. In the end Tolkachev was exposed and betrayed by a disgruntled, vengeful fired trainee. But there were other losses soon to follow that were caused by essentially not having strong enough counterintelligence in place.
BI: It’s interesting how much the success of the operation had to do with these agents understanding Tolkachev’s state of mind based on these very short meetings that would be spaced months and months apart.
And from that they would have to build out some kind of sense of who this guy was. From the looks of it they did so fairly successfully for awhile.
DEH: That’s my toughest question. Espionage at its real core is psychology. You’re a case officer, you’re running an agent — what is in the soul of that man? What’s in his heart, what motivates him?
These are all questions that you have to try to answer for headquarters but also for yourself, in trying to play on his desires and understand them. Sometimes it can be a real test of will as you saw in this particular narrative. This psychological business can be very difficult …
A couple of times early in the operation Tolkachev revealed his deep antipathy towards the Soviet system. He said I’m a dissident at heart, he describes how fed up he is with the way things were in the Soviet Union.
He gives only a very very skimpy factual account of his wife’s parents travails, but I was able to research them in Moscow and discovered that his wife grew up without her parents. Her mother was executed and her father was imprisoned for many years during Stalin’s purges. And Tolkachev was bitter about that.
He also came of age in the time when [Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn] and [Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist and activist Andrei Sakharov] were also sort of coming of age as dissidents.
All of that rumbled around behind these impassive eyes. It’s not as if he handed over a book saying, I’m a dissident and here’s my complaint. Instead he handed over secret plans and said, I’m a dissident and I want to destroy the Soviet Union.
This psychological war and test of nerves of constantly trying to read a guy is really the most unpredictable and most difficult part of espionage. In this case, I’m not sure it was always successful.
The case officers did grasp that Tolkachev was determined. He expressed this sort of incredible determination, banging on the car doors and windows for 2 years to get noticed.
And when he’s working for the CIA he gives them his own espionage plan that takes years and multiple stages that he had mapped out. He’s a very, very determined guy. But what’s driving that isn’t always clear to the case officers.
BI: How does Tolkachev’s story fit in to the larger story of the end of the Cold War arms race?
I don’t think you could make the extravagant claim that he ended the Cold War or that he ended the arms race. But that’s not to minimize what Tolkachev did do. One of the things I discovered was how uncertain we were about Soviet air defenses in that period at the end of the Cold War …
There was always a funny thing going on with the Soviet Union. They had a lot of resources and were a very large country and the state and the military industrial complex was a big part of it. They always built a lot of hardware.
In fact they had a huge number of air-defense fighters and bases positioned all around their borders. [Air defense] wasn’t such a big deal for us but for them, the enemy was at their doorstop, right in Europe. They also had the world’s longest land borders. They had a lot to defend.
Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s.
The US saw all the deployments but there was also evidence that Soviet training was poor, that the personnel who manned all these things were not up to it, [and] that there was a goofy system where pilots were told exactly what to do by ground controllers and had very little autonomy.
The intelligence about whether the Soviets had look-down shoot-down radar was very uncertain. Some people said no, they don’t have it, some said yeah. And here’s were Tolkachev stepped into the breach.
Within a few years of his work, we knew exactly what they had and what they were working on. Tolkachev was also bringing us not only what ws happening now but what would be happening 10 years from now. A
nd if you think about it in real time, if you were in the Air Force and thinking about how you were going to deal with Soviet air defenses, getting a glimpse of their research and development 10 years ahead was invaluable …
There was also a fine line between [air defenses] and the nuclear issue. There were two aspects to strategic nuclear weapons that depended on air defenses and the kind of stuff Tolkachev brought us.
One was obviously bombers. In the early days of the Cold War [the US had] a high altitude strategy. B-52s would fly at a very high altitude and bomb from 50,000 or so feet.
Then we made a switch and we decided that the Soviets’ real vulnerability was at low altitudes. And it’s true. They did not have good radars at low altitude …
The strategic cruise missile scared the living daylights out of the Kremlin, because they knew they could fly right under their radars.
BI: Much of this book consists of reconstructions of scenes that were top-secret for many years but that you put together through researching the cable traffic and conducting interviews.
What do you see as the biggest challenge of writing about these dark spaces in American national security?
There are all kinds of missing jigsaw pieces in these narratives that we think we know, say, about terrorism, or about WMD. One of the things you find out if you’re one of those people who go with a pick and shovel at history and try to unearth rocks and tell stories is that pieces are missing — tiny little pieces, and also important things.
In this story there were a bunch of gaps that I had to report. I had enough to tell the story, but you never feel at the end that you know the whole story …
I still think there are big parts of what Tolkachev meant that are still in use and that are legitimately still classified. Even though this case is three decades old, it’s quite likely that some of that stuff is still considered pretty valuable intelligence.
Hollywood has suffered yet another loss. Iconic TV and film actor Sam Shepard recently passed away at the age of 73 from complications with ALS. The Oscar-nominated and award-winning playwright’s career lasted almost five decades, and he’s accredited with over 65 movies roles.
The Illinois native was the son of Army officer, Samuel Shepard Rogers Jr., who served during World War II as a bomber pilot — which probably contributed to the longtime actor’s acumen in military roles.
Here are the four times Shepard played an outstanding military officer.
In 2005, Shepard played Capt. George Cummings, a “mission before the man” thinker, in charge of three radical Navy pilots picked to team up with a new fourth wing man — an independently thinking stealth jet.
After a fierce lightning strike, the AI stealth jet begins to create havoc and now must be taken down and destroyed at all costs.
2. Black Hawk Down
In 2001, Ridley Scott decided to cast Shepard as Maj. Gen. William Garrison, the overall commander of Task Force Ranger and the chief of Joint Special Operations Command. According to most accounts, Garrison did everything in his power to retrieve his men from the battlefield after a raid in Mogadishu quickly went south.
3. One Kill
Shepard starred as Maj. Nelson Gray alongside Anne Heche in 2000’s crime drama”One Kill.” The two actors played Marine officers who began an affair with one another in this TV movie directed by Christopher Menaul.
4. The Right Stuff
In 1983, Shepard took on the role of legendary Air Force test pilot Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager who became the first man to exceed the speed of sound during flight. In the film, Yeager has to help the original Mercury 7 astronauts get prepared for their upcoming space mission.
Military working dogs are some of America’s hardest working service members. They find IEDs, drugs, victims of natural disasters, and dozens of other things. They also serve beside special operators and engage enemies with their human counterparts.
Unfortunately, they also live shorter lives than their humans.
That means that nearly every human handler will one day have to say goodbye to their friend and partner. The military allows handlers to go through a process that ensures the humans get one last day of bonding with their animals and the dogs receive a dignified sendoff.
First, a decision is made about who will handle the canine during their final day. This is often the current handler assigned to the dog or the person who adopted them upon their retirement, but it could also be someone who spent a long time with the animal or who bonded most strongly with them.
This handler and other service members who love the dog will spend time playing together one last time.
Then, the canine is taken for a “Final Patrol” or, sometimes, a “Final Walk.” Depending on the installation and the dog, this can be anything from a low-key walk around some of the greener parts of the base to a full-fledged parade down the base’s main drag.
Sometimes, the dogs may be too sick or old to conduct the final patrol on their own. In those circumstances, the units will arrange an escort with handlers and other people who loved and respected them.
At the end of the final patrol, a human with close ties to the dog will walk them past a final salute.
Service members line the walk to render honors to the animals who have served faithfully. This will be the last chance for many of the humans to express their gratitude.
Inside the clinic, veterinarians will begin the euthanization process while handlers comfort the dogs.
The handlers stay with the dogs until the end.
Once it is done, the dog is draped with the flag and prepared for their final rest. Usually, the dogs are cremated.
Handlers and other members of the unit will then hold a memorial ceremony with a display of a kennel, a tipped dish, a collar and leash, and sometimes the dog’s ashes.
Pvt. Kaitlin Haines, a handler with the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment and a native of Sacramento, Calif., salutes during a Feb. 9, 2015, memorial service at Miesau Chapel for Cak, a local military working dog who was put to rest in December. (Photo and cutline: Elisabeth Paqué)
The handlers then have to overcome their grief and find a new partner to work with.
Let’s face it. As 2016 has shown, we live in a dangerous world.
Furthermore, there are real problems and challenges at the Pentagon, like $125 billion in “administrative waste” over the last five years.
In less than a month, a new team takes charge, which is to be lead by retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to serve as Secretary of Defense.
So, what are some of the challenges that “Mad Dog” and his team will face?
1. Getting the nuclear house in order
Most of America’s strategic delivery systems are older than music superstar, sometime actress, and veteran serenader Taylor Swift.
Of the two that are younger than her, only one isn’t “feeling 22” as the hit song puts it. In fact, in some case, very outdated tech is being used. How outdated? Try 8-inch floppy disks in an era when a micro SD card capable of holding 128 gigabytes costs less than $40.
Don’t get us wrong, most civilian employees at the Department of Defense do a lot of good. But as the active duty military dropped from 1.73 million in Sep. 2005 to just under 1.33 million in Sep. 2016, the civilian workforce increased from 663,866 to 733,992, according to Pentagon reports.
California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert noted in a Washington Examiner op-ed that the ratio of civilian employees to uniformed personnel is at a historical high.
There was $125 billion of “administrative waste” over the last five years. That money could have bought a lot of gear for the troops. This needs to be addressed as soon as possible, with Iran and China, among other countries, getting a little aggressive. The DOD’s business is to fight wars, and a little refocusing on military manpower might be needed.
3. Acquisition Reform
It is taking longer to deliver weapon systems to the troops, and they are getting more expensive.
Do we have to look to the 1970s for acquisition reform? (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The Air Force announced the B-21 Raider earlier this year. But it might not be in service until the mid-2020s at the very earliest — and the B-52 isn’t getting any younger. The F-35 has taken almost 15 years to reach an initial operational capability after the winner was chosen in 2001.
By comparison, Joe Baugher notes that the F-111 took about five years from the selection of General Dynamics to the first planes reaching operational squadrons — and that drew controversy back then.
4. Cyber warfare
With some of the hacks that have gone on, it’s amazing that so many people find this a snoozer. Keep in mind, this October, a massive cyberattack cost companies over $110 million — enough to buy a F-35B.
And the Pentagon needs to tighten its defenses — this past June, over 130 bugs were found when DOD offered “bug bounties” to so-called “white hat” hackers. While it’s nice a lot of the bugs were found… did the “white hats” miss any?
5. Old Equipment
Age isn’t just striking the nuclear force. Many of the systems used for conventional warfare are old as well. In a commentary for the Washington Examiner, Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA) noted that many F-15 Eagle fighters are over 30 years old. To put this into context, take a look at how old three music superstars are: Taylor Swift is 27, Ariana Grande is 23, and Ke$ha is 29. It’s past time for recapitalization.
The front line of WWI was a dangerous place. From bullets to bombs to poison gas, the death that could be dealt on the battlefield came from many directions.
Mother nature included.
Excessive rains made mobility difficult as troops were forced to navigate through the mud-choked battlefields, making resupply and transport nearly impossible. With both sides bogged down, tanks were thought to enable a breakthrough, but they too soon succumbed to the clutches of mud.
Known as “Mark 1,” the first tank was constructed with 105hp Daimler engine and carried two Hotchkiss six-pound (57mm) guns. The crew consisted four gunners and three drivers, and the tank maneuvered on caterpillar tracks with separate gearboxes.
Soldiers had to endure intense heat in the crew compartment, extreme noise and would sometimes be trapped for days if the tank got stuck.
After multiple design failures, the British considered canceling their tank program, but supporters kept them in the Empire’s arsenal.
Lockheed Martin is developing a successor to the storied U-2 spy plane, Flightglobal reports.
Lockeed Martin’s “Skunk Works,” the office in charge of developing the company’s high-end future defense systems, is in the planning stages for a spy plane that combines the best features of both Lockheed’s U-2 and Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk drone.
The RQ-4 and the U-2 already perform similar operational roles. But the Global Hawk is more difficult to detect than a U-2 and is unmanned.
Ideally, Skunk Works would combine the best features of the Global Hawk with the U-2 to create an optionally-manned high-altitude surveillance aircraft with the latest sensors.
The U-2 is a high-altitude manned surveillance plane. With a service ceiling of up to nearly 85,000 feet, the plane is capable of flying for 8 hours at a time at speeds of 500 miles per hour.
The RQ-4 is also a high-altitude surveillance craft, although it is unmanned and flown by a team of remote operators. It was originally designed to complement manned surveillance craft such as the U-2, although US military planners have long intended to replace the U-2 with the Global Hawk.
The Air Force has determined that its U-2s can be kept capable of flying until 2045. But due to a shrinking budget, the U-2 is slated to be retired by 2019. This looming deadline has prompted Lockheed to try to develop an updated version of its iconic spy plane.
“Think of a low-observable U-2,” Lockheed’s U-2 strategic development manager, Scott Winstead, told Flightglobal. “It’s pretty much where the U-2 is today, but add a low-observable body and more endurance.”
By being optionally manned, Lockheed hopes that the U-2 successor could offer a wider mission range than either a solely manned or unmanned aircraft, Winstead told Flightglobal.
Alongside the B-52, the U-2 is the longest serving aircraft in the US Air Force. Both planes were introduced in 1955 and have been in the US fleet ever since.
Because of the plane’s ability to operate at extremely high altitudes, the Air Force maintains that the U-2 is one of the most effective reconnaissance platforms ever built. The U-2 is generally cheaper to operate than surveillance drones, and it has become a staple aircraft in the monitoring of the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
We see a lot of FLIR footage showing bad guys blowing up, but what really goes into schwacking ISIS on a regular and persistent basis? Here’s a quick look at the life of a bomb from birth to boom.
1. After the bomb is manufactured it is trucked to a military ammo depot.
2. When the aircraft carrier is ready to go to sea, it loads some of the ordnance — tailored for the planned mission — pierside.
3. The rest of it is loaded closer to the war zone using underway replenishment.
4. As the aviators plan the strikes in the carrier’s intelligence center, the “ordies” in the magazine many decks below build the bombs they’ve requested, adding the appropriate fin kits and fuses to the bodies of the weapons.
5. Once built, the bombs are wheeled to the ordnance elevator and taken up to the hangar bay.
6. The bombs are inventoried and then taken to the flight deck and staged behind the carrier’s island.
7. As launch time approaches, squadron ordies wheel the ordnance to their jets.
8. Bombs are uploaded onto the airplane’s weapons racks using good ol’ fashioned muscle power.
9. Aircrew check with the ordies to make sure everything’s good-to-go before cranking the jets up for launch.
10. Once the jet is positioned on the catapult for launch, pilots show their hands above the canopy rail while ordies pull the arming pins.
Ordie pulls the pin arming a laser Maverick hanging from an F/A-18 Super Hornet. (Photo: U.S. Navy)