In the 1950s and 60s the U.S. Air Force tested flying rockets and ramjets powered by nuclear reactors.
If it weren’t for breakthroughs in chemical propulsion that occurred at about the same time, the nuclear missiles based throughout the U.S. and Europe could well be nuclear warheads sitting atop nuclear reactors.
At its most basic level, rockets and ramjets work by superheating air and propelling it out the back of the engine. Conventional rockets and ramjets use chemical combustion to heat the air. The nuclear engines were designed to superheat the air using a heat exchanger hooked to a nuclear reactor.
The research into the rocket engines was dubbed “Project Rover,” and the ramjet research was dubbed “Project Pluto.”
Project Rover’s initial successes allowed NASA engineers to briefly consider nuclear power for the first manned missions to the Moon, but the vibration problems were not worked out in time. Rover’s engine then got the nod for a possible mission to Mars, but the mission was canceled. Without any immediate mission requirements, Rover was declared a technical success and shut down.
The nuclear rocket engine idea has been revived a few times since then, mostly when engineers start to seriously strategize manned missions to Mars. It was also briefly revived as a method of getting the Strategic Defense Initiative ballistic missile shield into orbit.
Project Pluto was even more successful from a technical standpoint. Each ramjet test reactor achieved every one of its major goals, and a number of the tests were declared flawless.
Like the Rover, all the tests were conducted on the ground. Also like Project Rover, Pluto was shut down in favor of chemical propulsion. America had found a way to strike the Soviet Union from across the world without having to fly nuclear reactors over their own land and troops.
Both concepts and their accompanying research are mothballed, waiting for a mission to potentially revive them.
U.S. Marines arrived in Syria Wednesday to begin the first phase of President Donald Trump’s plan to expel the Islamic State from its capital of Raqqa, The Washington Post reports.
The Marines reportedly from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit based in San Diego will provide artillery support to the Syrian Democratic Forces, and accompanying U.S. special operators in the assault on the city. The type of artillery base must be within 20 miles of its intended target to be effective, the Post notes. Some infantry Marines accompanied the unit to provide force protection on the mission.
Trump, along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, will also likely lift the current cap on U.S. special operators embedded with local forces in tandem with the deployment. The U.S. has approximately 500 special operators in the country currently. Their proposal would also include the use of U.S. attack helicopters, U.S. artillery, and increased arms sales to U.S.-backed forces.
The main recipient of U.S. aid and artillery support will likely be the Syrian Democratic Forces, an anti-ISIS force largely composed of Syrian Kurdish fighters. American reliance on Syrian Kurds will likely spark major tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, who regard the Kurdish forces as an existential threat on par with ISIS. The Kurdish forces have proven the only reliable, large-scale U.S.-backed force capable of fighting the terrorist group effectively.
New strategic plans for Raqqa are likely just a small facet of a new overall strategy to eradicate ISIS. Trump ordered a 30-day review of U.S. strategy, along with options to increase operations tempo, which the Pentagon delivered to the White House Monday.
“This plan is a political-military plan,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told a think tank audience in late February. “The grievances of the [Syrian] civil war have to be addressed, the safety and humanitarian assistance that needs to be provided to people have to be addressed, and the multiple divergent stakeholders’ views need to be addressed.”
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As Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 3, controversy erupted when he mentioned the service’s plans to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II, affectionately known to troops as the “Warthog” and largely regarded as the most effective close air support aircraft in the inventory today.
For years, the USAF fought with congressional leaders about the fate of the Warthog. Congress laid down the law in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, requiring that the Air Force find a viable replacement for the airframe’s close-air support role before they would be allowed to retire it.
Originally, the Air Force tried to wedge the F-35 program into the CAS requirement, but Congress flat-out rejected it as an option. Thus, the A-10 was given a stay of execution until a congressionally-mandated, independent study determined the Air Force has such a suitable replacement.
In his recent testimony, Gen. Welsh told the Senate the USAF will use the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-15E Strike Eagle to fly close air support missions; however, those options didn’t work for the SASC, especially not the chairman, Senator John McCain, a former Navy attack pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam and spent six years as a POW in Hanoi.
“You have nothing to replace [the A-10] with, General,” McCain shot back. “Otherwise you would be using F-15s and the F-16s of which you have plenty of, but you’re using the A-10 because it’s the most effective weapons system. This is really, unfortunately disingenuous.”
As well as being the most tailored for the CAS mission, the A-10 also has the lowest cost per flight hour at $19,051 compared to the F-35 at $67,550, the F-16 at $22,470, and the F-15E at $41,921.
When Welsh tried to press the issue, McCain called his testimony “embarrassing.”
“Every Air Force pilot that I know will tell you that the most effective close air support system is the A-10,” McCain said.
Representative Martha McSally, R-Az., an Air Force veteran, launched into the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing in the Capitol after they testified that manning levels were too low and budget cuts were too high. According to a story posted at Air Force Times, McSally called their logic the “newest excuse” for prematurely retiring the venerable A-10 “Warthog” attack aircraft, and she questioned if it wouldn’t be wiser to cut non-essential personnel like “the hundreds of people playing tuba and clarinet.”
“If we really had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would really tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or a gun,” McSally said during the hearing. “But we’re not at that place, and I’m just concerned over these conflicting statements.”
“We’ve mothballed the equivalent of four A-10 squadrons since 2012, we have only nine remaining, and there are actually less airplanes in them than we used to have,” McSally said.
“It’s not just a platform issue, it’s a training issue,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, CJCS, replied. “As the advocate for close-air support and joint capabilities, I absolutely believe we need a transition plan, and there needs to be a replacement for the A-10 before it goes away.”
“We need a fifth-generation fighter, but when it comes to close-air support, the F-35 having shortfalls in loiter time, lethality, weapons load, the ability to take a direct hit, to fly close combat … and … needs evaluation,” she said.
McSally knows a thing or two about the topic of military aviation. She graduated from the Air Force Academy and then spent 22 years serving as an attack pilot, including commanding an A-10 squadron. In 2001 she famously sued DoD over the policy of making female service members wear veils while stationed in Saudi Arabia. She retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel and spent a year as a college professor in Germany before running for Congress. She lost a close race for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District in 2012, and then won a close race two years later.
And, for the record, the Air Force says it currently has about 540 enlisted airmen and 20 officers assigned to band billets.
“It is with our deepest sympathy that we tell you both service members on board the air craft are deceased, our thoughts and prayers are with their family,” CW5 Glen Webb of the Texas Army National Guard said in a statement.
The AH-64 Apache is the Army’s helicopter gunship. According to a fact sheet released by the United States Army, it entered service in 1984, and can carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 70mm Hydra rockets, and is also armed with a M230 cannon holding 1,200 rounds of ammunition. The Army plans to manufacture 690 Apaches for service.
Apache crashes are not unheard of, with ArmyAirCrews.com listing 43 incidents involving 73 fatalities over the last 36 years, to include one during a test flight. The list includes seven combat losses due to enemy fire (six during Operation Iraqi Freedom, one during Operation Enduring Freedom).
The cause of the crash is under investigation, but KHOU.com reported that bystanders were taking photos of parts from the stricken attack helicopter that were lying near the crash site off the Bayport Cruise Terminal.
For thousands of years, mankind has been telling stories using various forms of communication. Some passed verbal stories down from generation to generation, as others carved visual symbols deep into solid rock surfaces — cave art.
Fast forward to the battlegrounds of France during WWI where nine members of an Indian tribe from Point Pleasant, Maine, called the Passamaquoddy proudly served and carved images in the cave’s wall to represent their heritage during their trench warfare days.
Even though these carvings exist, the question remains:what stories were the Passamaquoddy Indians trying to tell us?
Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to explore the caves and learn the stories behind stories.
(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)Fun Fact: Nearly 99 years later, the families of 6 men from the Passamaquoddy tribe who volunteered to fight during the WWI conflict finally received official recognition and honored for their heroic contributions.
In light of the controversy over the announced names of new fleet replenishment oilers, including one after Korean War veteran and gay rights activist Harvey Milk, here some other suggestions for future U.S. Navy ships:
Suggested America-class Amphibious Assault Ships
USS The Battle of Fallujah
During the Global War on Terror, the Marines have been fighting far from the ocean. However. those battles have featured just as much valor as was seen during Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, or Tarawa. Notable among these was the Battle of Fallujah in November of 2004. Perhaps the most iconic picture of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the one of First Sergeant Bradley Kasal gripping his M9 Beretta as he was assisted out of the house where he heroically protected a wounded Marine. No matter what you think of the Iraq War, the valor American forces showed during the battle should be honored.
USS Battle of Khe Sanh
During the Vietnam War, the Marine outpost at Khe Sanh was besieged for nearly three months as part of a six-month battle. Unlike the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Marines at Khe Sanh held out – with the aid of massive air power. This is one proud moment of Marine Corps history that deserves to be remembered – and it should not have taken nearly five decades to honor.
USS Battle of Khafji
One of the biggest fights the Marines had during Operation Desert Storm, the Battle of Khafji lasted three days. The Marines worked with Saudi and Qatari forces to free the city from its brief occupation by Saddam Hussein’s forces, knocking out at least 80 armored vehicles. That heroism is well worth remembering.
Suggested John Lewis-class replenishment ship
USS Joe Foss
He’s a Medal of Honor recipient, and either a Zumwalt or a Burke would seem more fitting, but Joe Foss was more than a Marine Corps ace. He was governor of South Dakota for four years, the first commissioner of the American Football League (now the AFC), and he was President of the National Rifle Association for two terms – leading America’s foremost defender of the Second Amendment.
Suggested Zumwalt-class destroyer
USS Robert A. Heinlein
While best known as the best American science-fiction author of all time, Robert Anson Heinlein graduated from the Naval Academy. While his career ended due to tuberculosis, Heinlein worked with Isaac Asimov at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard during World War II. This is a cultural giant of American literature and deserves to be recognized with the Navy’s most advanced surface combatant.
Suggested Arleigh Burke-class destroyers
USS Tom Clancy
The inventor of the techno-thriller genre made the United States Navy the big star in his first two novels. His iconic character, Jack Ryan, was a former Marine. Clancy was one of the few civilians to receive the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement from the Navy League.
USS Joe Rochefort
Rochefort is the unsung hero of the Battle of Midway. His code-breaking efforts gave Admiral Chester W. Nimitz the advance warning needed to send Raymond Spruance and Frank Jack Fletcher to ambush the Japanese fleet. Rochefort waited over 30 years to see his story told, and a decade afterward to be officially recognized.
USS Edwin T. Layton
There was one officer that Nimitz kept by his side throughout World War II. Edwin T. Layton was retained when Nimitz took over for Husband E. Kimmel and stayed until Japan signed the surrender documents in Tokyo Bay. If Rochefort was the unsung hero of Midway, Layton is the man who ensured Rochefort got some of the official recognition he deserved.
USS Brian Chontosh
Brian Chontosh received the Navy Cross for heroism during the initial invasion of Iraq. During a firefight on March 25, 2003, he personally cleared over 200 meters of trench and killed over 20 enemy troops. Sheer awesomeness (that arguably should have resulted in him receiving the Medal of Honor).
USS Justin Lehew
Then-Gunnery Sergeant Justin Lehew received the Navy Cross for his actions during March 23 and 24. On the 23rd, he led a team that rescued some of the members of the 507th Maintenance Company. The next day, he continuously exposed himself to enemy fire during an attack on a bridge, then while recovering Marines from an Amphibious Assault Vehicle that was hit.
USS Bradley Kasal
During the Battle of Fallujah, a photograph featuring then-First Sergeant Bradley Kasal being helped out of a building, clutching his M9 Beretta became an iconic image of Operation Iraqi Freedom. What happened before the photo, though, was the real awesome story: Kasal had shielded a fellow Marine from an insurgent’s grenades with his own body after both had been wounded. Kasal then refused evacuation until the other Marines in the house were safe. He got the Navy Cross. It should have been the Medal of Honor.
USS Justin A. Wilson
Corpsmen have long had a tradition of valor when it comes to treating wounded Marines on the battlefield. Justin Wilson is just one of the latest. He earned the Navy Cross by leaving his position, despite the threat of IEDs, to treat a wounded Marine explosive ordnance disposal tech, then did so again to find other wounded.
USS Arthur D. Struble
It is rare that a Vice Admiral is awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, but Stuble is one of two who got that honor. Struble received the Army’s second-highest decoration for valor for helping oversee the mine-clearance operation at Wonsan during the Korean War. Not too many people know about Admiral Struble’s service, and naming a ship after him would be a suitable way to change this.
The Taiho launched on April 7, 1943, and was commissioned on March 7, 1944. With the Japanese Navy in retreat across most of the Pacific, the admirals held the Taiho in reserve until it could be sent where it would make a significant difference.
The ship was committed to combat in June as part of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the largest carrier battles in history. The goal of the Japanese forces was to force a confrontation with the U.S. and wipe out the greater American numbers.
But the Taiho only participated in part of the defeat. In the opening hours of the battle, the USS Albacore spotted the carrier and launched a spread of six torpedoes right as the second wave of planes was taking off.
The blast rocked through the ship, blowing out the sides and opening holes that stretched down below the waterline. So Komatsu’s actions were one of the more heroic moments in warfare history, but it wasn’t enough to save his friends or his ship.
Dr. Randy Lovelace was a Harvard-educated flight surgeon with the U.S. Army who became a pioneer in aeromedicine and aviation physiology — particularly with the issues surrounding high-altitude flight. He was instrumental in developing the first oxygen masks and other adaptive equipment that allowed aviators to survive in low space.
In 1940 Lovelace met Jackie Cochran, a record-holding air racer who petitioned First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to use women as pilots on the homefront in a variety of non-combat missions. That idea turned into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, better known as “WASPs,” during World War II. These female aviators served in crucial roles — test pilots, ferry pilots and maintenance check pilots — that freed up more male pilots to fight the battles that were raging across the globe. A few years later Cochran, by virtue of her friendship with Chuck Yeager, became the first woman to break the sound barrier. After that, she became the first woman to land an airplane on an aircraft carrier.
So when NASA started fielding candidates for what would eventually become the Mercury 7 astronauts, Lovelace and Cochran started a parallel effort that mirrored NASA’s rigorous testing — doable because Lovelace was a key player in designing the official program for the space agency. Along the way they asked another record-breaking female aviator, Jerrie Cobb, to join the effort. The three of them scrubbed the veteran WASP community — a population of over 700 pilots — and came up with 13 qualified females willing and able to go through their NASA-like testing.
Cobb dubbed the group “Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees” or “FLATs.” The 13 went through a series of stressful evaluations designed to see if they could hold up under the conditions in space. Ice water was injected into their ears to induce vertigo. Painful electric shocks were administered to test reflexes. Weighted stationary bicycles were used to rapidly push candidates to exhaustion. And that was just Phase I of the testing.
All 13 of the women passed Phase I, but because of family and job commitments, only three of them — Jerrie Cobb, Rhea Hurrle, and Wally Funk — were able to travel to Oklahoma City for Phase II. Phase II involved psychological evaluations — including one that had them sit in an isolation tank for an extended period. All three woman passed.
After Jerrie Cobb passed Phase III, which included actual flights in military jet aircraft, the rest of the FLATs were invited to follow suit. But before they could gather at Naval Air Station Pensacola, the designated location, U.S. Navy officials at the base sent a telegram to the candidates that informed them that support for the project had been withdrawn because the request hadn’t come through NASA channels.
That ruling infuriated Cobb, and in 1962 she flew to Washington, D.C., to petition lawmakers to make the FLATs program an official part of NASA. Her efforts led to Rep. Victor Anfuso, R-NY, convening public hearings before a special Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. Cobb’s testimony introduced gender discrimination into the Hill’s conversation well before the Civil Right Act of 1964 made it illegal.
But the way forward for the FLATs was plagued by infighting among the principals more than unresponsive congressmen. Jackie Cochran, of all people, sensing she was losing clout among her peers, testified that setting up a special program to help women would hurt NASA. Cochran’s negative view was multiplied by the opinions of a handful of Mercury 7 astronauts, including John Glenn, who said that the absence of women in the program was “a fact of our social order.”
Glenn also pointed out that astronaut candidates were required to be graduates of one of the military’s test pilot schools, something women were not qualified to apply for in 1962, and NASA had already indicated it had no desire to waive the requirement by giving females credit for the massive amount of flight experience they had — in some cases many more flight hours than the Mercury 7 selectees. Although some in congress were sympathetic to the FLATs’ plight, Cobb’s Capitol Hill visit didn’t result in any meaningful support.
Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963. In response, “Life” magazine published an article criticizing NASA and American decision makers. The article included photographs of all 13 FLATs, which made the entire group of women public for the first time.
NASA did not select any female astronaut candidates until 1978. Astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983, and in 1995 Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle. At Collins’ invitation, seven of the surviving FLATs attended her launch.
In 1995, while working on a film adaptation of the FLATs’ story, Hollywood producer James Cross coined the label “Mercury 13” for the FLATs. (Look for that title in a theater near you in the years to come.)
The Air Force has just escalated its response to efforts by the airlines to hire away military pilots. They’re throwing huge retention bonuses to the pilots and boosting flight pay to $1,000 a month.
According to a report by BreakingDefense.com, the flight pay boost will add an additional $1,800 a month to the paychecks of officers. Enlisted men will see their flight pay go from $400 to $600 a month, a 50 percent increase, and taking their pay up $2,400 a year.
“We need to retain our experienced pilots and these are some examples of how we’re working to do that,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in an Air Force release. “We can’t afford not to compensate our talented aviators at a time when airlines are hiring unprecedented numbers.”
In addition to announcing the increased flight pay, Secretary Wilson announced the creation of an “Aircrew Crisis Task Force” under Brig. Gen. Michael G. Koscheski. This task force’s formation is a sign that the pilot shortage the Air Force is facing has not improved. The Air Force release noted that at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, the Air Force was short 1,555 pilots overall, including 1,211 fighter pilots.
The Air Force is looking to bring back 25 retired pilots to fill staff positions through the Voluntary Rated Return to Active Duty program, allowing pilots who are still current to be returned to front-line duties. The staff positions are non-flying, but retired pilots could have sufficient expertise to handle them.
This past June, the Air Force increased its Aviation Bonus cap from $25,000 a year to $35,000. These bonuses are paid to pilots who commit to stay past their service commitment for up to nine years.
The Air Force was also seeking to reduce the number of non-flying assignments for pilots, including headquarters positions and developmental opportunities. The Air Force is also trying to reduce additional units and add more flexibility for Airmen with families and children.
A 200-strong force of U.S. special operators, led by the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force, recently arrived in Iraq. Until now, the bulk of U.S. efforts against the terror organization have been through aerial operations, bombing and air support for Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground. The United States now has this significant ground combat force in the country, the first combat troops on Iraqi soil since the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2011.
Taking a page from General Stanley McChrystal’s special operations playbook from the Iraq War circa 2004-2006, today’s operators established internal intelligence networks to tackle the ISIS networks working against Iraqi and American forces. This strategy led to the death of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (what would become ISIS) most notorious leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006. Now, the strategy has led to the capture of a “significant” ISIS operative in Iraq and is currently questioning him for intelligence information.
This isn’t the first time an ISIS (or Daesh, as the group loathes to be called) fighter has been captured but it is the first time a “significant” member of the terror group has been captured. It is also the first time the “network vs. network” strategy yielded such a result – just weeks after it was was raised. The high value detainee has not been identified. The “key operative” has been moved to Irbil, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq, where, eventually he will be handed over to Iraqi authorities.
The ground force is known as a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” at the Pentagon, and their missions will include intelligence gathering through raids on ISIS strongholds, grabbing papers, hard drives, and capturing operatives. The presence of the U.S. special operators also gives the United States the ability to conduct hostage rescue raids. These raids will continue and will look like the May 2015 raid that killed Abu Sayyaf, the ISIS oil minister, along with mobile phones, laptops, and other intel.
The exact timing of the latest raid was not disclosed.
U.S. Army Delta Force soldier Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler was killed by enemy gunfire during a raid to rescue 70 hostages from an ISIS compound in Iraq in 2015. His death was the first American combat fatality since the U.S. returned to Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve.
Individuals suffering from PTSD may lose their families, careers, or even commit suicide. These were the challenges JJ Selvig was facing as it crept into his life seven years into his service.
And the death of his friend put Selvig over the edge.
“An unauthorized absence and an other than honorable discharge, I went home,” Selvig said in the video below. “I blamed the Marines, my family, myself, my destroyed relationships; then Sam committed suicide, and my narrative changed.”
Building on his military service as a foundation, he deployed to Hurricane Sandy with Team Rubicon to honor his friend’s death.
“The cuts and scrapes from broken wood and shingles covered me while uncovering me at the same time, a light began to flicker inside,” he said.
With each Team Rubicon deployment, the feelings of sadness and anger faded as he as he became a leader again. He was creating positive change in people’s lives, and it was helping him become a better person inside and out.
“I’m still human; I’m never going to not have rough edges,” he said. “But Team Rubicon helped sand them down as much as possible.”
Watch Selvig tell his uplifting story in this short three-minute video: