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This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier


Historian Alexander Rose aim’s to give a grunt’s perspective on some of the bloodiest battles in American history in “Men of War: The American Soldier in Combat at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima.” Rose takes material from memoirs and interviews with the men who survived those battles and puts those experiences into the broader contexts of their respective battles and wars to create a portrait that’s decidedly different from most war histories.

Rose is perhaps best known as the author of “Washington’s Spies,” the book that inspired the AMC drama series “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” but he also wrote the excellent “America’s Rifle,” a book that uses the history of firearms to tell the story of the United States.

Rose says Men of War was inspired by John Keegan’s 1976 classic “The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme,” which tells the story of British soldiers by examining three of the most critical battles in English military history. Rose has the advantage of being an engaging writer. This is properly distilled military history for readers who don’t have the patience to wade through original sources and long-winded academic treatises on American history.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier

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This article originally appeared at Military.com Copyright 2014. Follow Military.com on Twitter.

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15 of the most expensive projects abandoned by the US military

The US military is unquestionably the world’s strongest force with the world’s largest defense budget.


But throughout the 2000s, the Pentagon spent $51.2 billion on 15 major programs “without any fielded systems to show for it,” according to a new Center for Strategic and International Studies report.

The abandoned projects are largely the result of a lack of funding attributed to the Budget Control Act and sequestration.

Sequestration, indiscriminate budget cuts across the board that affect every portion of the military equally, is currently the greatest threat to the US military, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Business Insider.

Below are a series of the military’s modernization projects that were canceled partially because of a lack of funds:

Future Combat Systems

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
U.S. Army

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $18.1 billion

Follow-On: The project was ultimately superseded by the Ground Combat Vehicle program, which was also ultimately canceled.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

RAH-66 Comanche Armed Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopter

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
U.S. Army

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $7.9 billion

Follow-On: The helicopter was superseded by the later canceled Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter project.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
An artist’s concept drawing. | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Branch: Air Force and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Sunk-Costs: $5.8 billion

Follow-On: The program was replaced by the now canceled Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). The DWSS is slated to be restarted as the Weather Satellite Follow-on.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Airborne Laser

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
U.S. Missile Defense Agency

The Airborne Laser in flight with the mirror unstowed.

Branch: Air Force

Sunk Costs: $5.2 billion

Follow-On: The project was canceled without an identified replacement.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

VH-71 Presidential Helicopter

A conceptual drawing.

Branch: Marine Corps

Sunk Costs: $3.7 billion

Follow-On: The project was restarted as the VH-92A Presidential Helicopter.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier

US Marine Corps

Branch: Marine Corps

Sunk Costs: $3.3 billion

Follow-On: The project was ultimately superseded by the Amphibious Combat Vehicle program.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

XM2001 Crusader Self-Propelled Howitzer

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
U.S. Army

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $2.2 billion

Follow-On: The project was superseded by the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System, which was also canceled.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

E-10 Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
An E-8, which was intended to be replaced by the E-10. | U.S. Air Force photo

Branch: Air Force

Sunk Costs: $1.9 billion

Follow-On: The program was superseded by the Joint Surveillance Target and Attack Radar System program.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Space Based Infrared Systems-Low

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
An artist’s rendition. | U.S. Air Force

Branch: Air Force

Sunk Costs: $1.5 billion

Follow-On: The program was superseded by the Space Tracking and Surveillance System.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Advanced SEAL Delivery System

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier

An SDV is docked into place by Navy SEALs. | U.S. Navy Photo

Branch: Navy

Sunk Costs: $0.6 billion

Follow-On: The project was superseded by the later canceled Joint Multi-Mission Submersible.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
U.S. Army

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $0.5 billion

Follow-On: The project was deferred following the US Army’s decision to field a mix of drones and AH-64Es instead.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Aerial Common Sensor

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
U.S. Navy

The Aerial Common Sensor was replaced with the P-8 (above).

Branch: Army and Navy

Sunk Costs: $0.4 billion

Follow-On: The project deferred in favor of the US Navy’s P-8 program and upgrades to Army aircraft.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

CG(X) Next Generation Cruiser

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
A DDG 51 destroyer, which was bought instead of the CG(X). | U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Patrick Reilly

Branch: Navy

Sunk Costs: $0.2 billion

Follow-On: The project was deferred, and the Navy bought additional DDG 51 destroyers instead.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

CSAR-X Combat Rescue Helicopter

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
The HH60 Pave Hawk, produced as part of the Critical Rescue Helicopter program. | Airwolfhound/Flickr

Branch: Air Force

Sunk Costs: $0.2 billion

Follow-On: The project was ultimately restarted as the Combat Rescue Helicopter.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Next-Generation Bomber

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
The B-2 Spirit, the project that replaced the Next Generation Bomber. | Photo by U.S. Air Force

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $0.1 billion

Follow-On: The project was restarted as the Long Range Strike Bomber.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

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How a one-armed Gurkha fought 200 Japanese troops with a bolt-action rifle

The martial tradition, training, and dominating warrior spirit of Gurkhas means they will do things in a fight that wouldn’t occur to even the most seasoned combat veterans. Gurkhas will fight outnumbered; they will fight outgunned. They hold their positions against impossible odds and often come out on top.


One of these stories of Gurkha heroism comes from Lachhiman Gurung in Burma after he was taken by surprise when Japanese troops opened up on him and his men and lobbed some grenades into their trench. Gurung picked up two of the grenades and threw them back to the 200 Japanese soldiers waiting in the darkness.

The third grenade blew up in Gurung’s hand.

Related video:

He lost a few fingers, most of his right arm, and took shrapnel in his face and leg. Partially blind, bleeding profusely, and struggling to move, Gurung did something only a Gurkha would do: he pulled his Kukri knife with his good hand, stabbed the ground, and told the Japanese in a booming voice that none of them would make it past that knife.

Related: The Gurkha Kukri is designed for absolute devastation

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier

He then picked up his rifle — a bolt-action Lee-Enfield Mk. III — chambered a round, and invited the enemy to “come fight a Gurkha.”

With his friends dead or dying, Gurung fought for hours, firing his bolt-action Lee-Enfield with one hand and killing anyone who entered his trench. He would lie down until the Japanese were on top of his position, kill the closest one at point-blank range, chamber a new round with his left hand, and then kill the enemy’s battle buddy.

Gurung killed 31 Japanese soldiers this way, fighting until morning the next day.

At the end of the battle, he was shouting “Come and fight. Come and fight. I will kill you!”

Gurung was hospitalized through the end of the war, losing partial vision in his right eye and the use of his right arm. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Great Britain’s highest military honor, and was the only recipient still alive when his command presented medals for the battle.

Gurung’s only complaint after the fighting was that his wounded arm had flies swarming around it.

He eventually moved to the U.K. to live out his life in peace. But he reemerged in 2008 when a controversial policy revoked the rights of some Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 to live in the country. The government said the Gurkhas failed to “demonstrate strong ties to the U.K.”

Lachhiman Gurung put on his medals rack, went over to Britain’s High Court, and made another “last stand” — this time for his fellow WWII-era Gurkhas, and he pleaded to the Court and to the Queen to be allowed to stay.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier

In a yet another demonstration of Gurkha tenaciousness, the British high court struck down the law that same year. It turns out Gurkhas have a special place in British hearts.

Lachhiman Gurung died 2010. He was 92.

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Here’s why the Army’s going to buy a lot of missiles and bombs next year

If Congress enacts the Trump administration’s 2018 budget request, many in the Army will be ecstatic. Weapons contractors, maybe not so much.


The $137.2 billion request ( $166.1 billion including overseas contingency operations funds) is up by 5 percent from a year ago. It would be the most money the Army has gotten since 2012.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
Spc. Alan Yearby, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, makes sketches of the terrain while manning a mortar fire position near Mosul, Iraq, Feb. 28, 2017. A global Coalition of more than 60 regional and international nations have joined together to enable partner forces to defeat ISIS. CJTF-OIR is the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Manne)

The budget is in tune with the priorities set by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: Fix near-term readiness, but also make progress toward a more “modern, capable and lethal force,” said Army Budget Director Maj. Gen. Thomas A. Horlander.

The 2018 funding request is about “closing vulnerability gaps,” he said today at a Pentagon news conference. “This budget arrests Army readiness decline and sets conditions for future improvements.”

As expected, most of the money is going to personnel, operations and maintenance. The personnel account grows by $2.5 billion in 2018, and OM gets a $3.2 billion boost. Weapons modernization continues to be squeezed, with a modest increase of $600 million: procurement is slipping by $400 million but research and development is up by $1 billion from 2017.

Army personnel and readiness accounts increased significantly over 2017, while procurement declines slightly.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier

Horlander ran through long list of modernization priorities, which mirror those cited in recent months by the Chief of Staff, Gen, Mark Milley, and senior Army leaders: Air and missile defense, long-range fires, munitions, mobility, active protection, protection of GPS navigation, electronic warfare, cyber warfare, communications and vertical lift. These capabilities are needed for the “A2/AD fight,” said Horlander, using the Pentagon’s codeword for Chinese and Russian weapons and tactics designed to deny U.S. forces their traditional advantages.

“Air missile defense and long-range fires are the most pressing capability needs,” Horlander said.

The budget, for instance, funds 131 Patriot missile modification kits, upgrades to the Avenger and Stinger air defense systems, 6,000 guided multiple-launch rockets, a 10-year service life extension for 121 expired ATACM surface-to-surface tactical missiles, 88,000 Hydra-70 rockets, 480 war reserve Excalibur precision-guided artillery rounds, and 998 Hellfire missiles.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. John Portela)

The Army also seeks funds to overhaul and modernize the Holston ammunition plant in Tennessee. The RDTE request funds next-generations systems such as high-energy lasers. These are the type of weapons that will “enable the Army to retain advantage against advanced adversaries and address a broader range of threats, as well as deter or defeat near-peer adversaries,” said Horlander.

To fund a surge of missiles and munitions production, the Army has had to make tradeoffs. It cut Abrams modernization from 60 tanks last year to 20 in 2018. And aviation spending — helicopters and drones — drops from $5.2 billion last year to $4.5 billion.

Aircraft procurement dropped while missiles, tracked vehicles, and other weapons rose.

The major target of all these new munitions is the Russians, and the Army plans to continue spending big bucks on the European Reassurance Initiative, started by the Obama administration to shore up U.S. allies against an increasingly aggressive Russian posture. The 2018 OCO budget seeks $3.2 billion for ERI, a $400 million bump. The money would fund rotations of Army forces, including a full armored brigade, a combat aviation brigade, a divisional mission command element and logistics support units.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
The Army’s budget is aimed in part at bolstering defenses against Russia.

The ERI and overall military support of European allies has become a rising concern on Capitol Hill. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry has directed thePentagon to study the cost of stationing Army brigades in Eastern Europe permanently, as opposed to rotating units there. “I’m not convinced it’s cheaper to rotate,” Thornberry said yesterday at the Brookings Institution. Rotations also create huge burdens on families, he said. Director of Force Structure, Resources and Assessment on the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardisaid the Pentagon has not begun to study that yet. “These are important questions we need to answer regarding ERI and our support of European allies,” he told me.

A growing concern going forward is how the Army will manage the elephant in its budget: its personnel account that continues to drain resources from everywhere else. With help fromCongress last year, the Army grew the active-duty ranks from 450,000 to 476,000. The addition of 26,000 troops inflates personnel costs by $2.8 billion per year. The kind of buildup that Trump has floated would bring 50,000 more soldiers into the force.

How would the Army cope financially? That’s a discussion now underway, said Horlander. After a strategic review is completed this summer, “we’ll have more information on what the true size of the force should be.”

Intel

This US Army general was rescued from Vietnam as a young boy

Brig. Gen. Viet X. Luong, who now oversees the training of Afghan forces, was only 9 when his father, a major in the South Vietnamese Marines, told the family that Saigon would soon fall to the North Vietnamese and they must escape.


A reporter friend was able to get them papers to evacuate through Tân Sơn Nhứt Airport.

Arriving just as it came under artillery and rocket bombardment, Luong recalls laying on the ground, listening to the groans of the wounded and praying for salvation. U.S. Marines flew the family to the USS Hancock where, as Saigon fell, Luong decided to join the U.S. military.

Hear the full story at NPR 

OR: These are a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander’s favorite books

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Here are 5 things the ‘Harlem Hellfighters’ did that cemented their place in history

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
Wikimedia commons


The 369th Infantry Regiment isn’t a fixture in history textbooks. It should be. Nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters” by the Germans, they were the first African-American infantry unit to fight in World War I. They were also one of the most decorated. Here are 5 reasons why the “Harlem Hellfighters” are the ultimate American heroes:

1. They were the first African-American infantry unit to fight in World War I

Approximately 380,000 African-Americans served in the U.S. Army during the Great War. Although there was no specific segregation policy outlined in the draft legislation, African-American volunteers were told to “tear off one corner of their registration cards so they could easily be identified and inducted separate.” Translation: The military was willing to accept black troops as long as they didn’t mix with the white population. Most of the African-American soldiers who volunteered were confined to labor battalions. Shipped to France in December 1917, the 369th Infantry Regiment was initially going to be kept on the sidelines. Their fortunes changed when Gen. John Pershing assigned them to the16th Division of the French Army. Unlike their American allies, the French were happy to accept any soldier willing to fight on the front lines, regardless of race.

2. The got their nickname from the Germans

The 369th soon became one of the most feared units in the Allied forces. Famous for never ceding an inch of ground, they were nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters” by the Germans. Since over 70 percent of the unit hailed from Harlem, the name stuck. That wasn’t the only nickname they earned during the war: The French were so impressed by their general badassery that they dubbed them the “Men of Bronze.”

3. They introduced the French to American Jazz

Bet you didn’t see this one coming. When they weren’t scaring the bejesus out of the Germans, the369th made some pretty boss music. Led by James Reese Europe, the 369th Infantry Jazz Band, also known as the “Hellfighters,” introduced the French to the sweet stylings of American ragtime. Largely forgotten now, Europe became an international sensation. After the war, the Hellfighters performed for more then a million people when they marched up Fifth Avenue during the World War I victory parade.

4. They saw more combat than any other American unit

The 369th spent 191 consecutive days on the front lines. Which means they saw more action than any other American regiment. They were also the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
YouTube

5. They broke down racial barriers

The “Harlem Hellfighters” helped combat racial stereotypes at home and abroad. When they returned home, the soldiers were welcomed as heroes. Unfortunately for America, this new period of racial tolerance didn’t last. During the “Red Summer” of 1919, anti-black race riots erupted in twenty-six cities across America. Tragically, lynching increased from fifty-eight in 1918 to seventy-seven in 1919. At least ten of the victims were war veterans, and some were lynched while in uniform. The U.S. military remained segregated until 1948.

Interested in learning more about the “Harlem Hellfighters”? Make sure to watch William Miles’s Men of Bronze. Filmed in 1977, the eye-opening documentary features interviews with four veterans of the 369th.

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Today in military history: Siege of Fort Morgan

On Aug. 23, 1864, Fort Morgan fell to Union forces.

Mobile Bay, the Confederacy’s largest port on the Gulf of Mexico, fell into the control of the North two weeks before, with Fort Gaines surrendering shortly thereafter.

Fort Morgan, however, held strong. 

On Aug. 9, the Union turned its guns on the fort and maintained heavy and consistent artillery fire, siege mortars, and a 30-pound rifled gun barrage until August 23rd, when Confederate General Richard L. Page finally surrendered unconditionally. 

Indignant, Page then allegedly broke his sword over his knee rather than relinquish it to the Union. 

Whatever ya gotta do to feel better, bruh.

The Civil War continued for another year and a half, killing more American troops than any other war. The number one cause of death for troops in the Civil War was disease, claiming more than two-thirds of those killed. The most prevalent were dysentery, typhoid fever, malaria, pneumonia and simple childhood troubles like measles and mumps. Flies, mosquitoes, ticks, lice, maggots and fleas were rampant and germ theory was not yet accepted in medical practice.

An estimated 625,000 people were killed in the Civil War, and that number only includes those who died fighting. There are an estimated 225,000 civilian casualties, which would set the total as high as 850,000.

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This filmmaker is the first Post-9/11 vet to be nominated for an Oscar

Henry Hughes deployed twice to Afghanistan as an airborne infantry officer and is now hoping his debut short film, “Day One” will bring home an Oscar on February 28.


This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier

Day One, which follows a female Afghan-American interpreter named Feda on her first day of patrols in Afghanistan, is Hughes’ first movie.

“I didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” Hughes told WATM about being nominated for an Oscar for his first film. “It’s a wonderful, serendipitous, golden ticket-type thing.”

In the film, the interpreter and the infantry platoon she works with go to the home of a suspected insurgent. At the house, the mission quickly gets complicated as the insurgent’s pregnant wife goes into labor. The interpreter, the platoon leader, and the insurgent all have to navigate the needs of the mother, the child, and the social and religious customs of Afghanistan.

It’s complicated stuff and very intense.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
Henry Hughes and his interpreter purchase items from a stall in Afghanistan during a deployment. (Photo courtesy Henry Hughes)

The story is inspired by real events, and most of the details come from Hughes’ experiences in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He decided to focus on the interpreter instead of the platoon leader so the movie would feel fresh to audiences used to seeing things from a soldier’s point of view.

“On my second tour I had a female interpreter,” he said. “She is an American, an Afghan-American. And I kind of just realized that if I was going to tell a story about our community, about our experiences, we needed a new way to get into it.”

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier

Following this woman who was new to the war gave him a chance to show the dual nature of combat.

“I thought, maybe we hadn’t seen something that was as enlightening as some of the moments in combat felt to me,” Hughes said. “Very sublime, hyperbolic. Where things are beatiful and kind of harsh at the same time. And I thought a way to do that would be to go through this woman who has to deal with both these gender issues and the culture issues.”

Learn more about the movie at its website and check out the trailer below. “Day One” will be available as a streaming movie for rental or purchase March 15th on Vimeo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV3IgCTIDYkfeature=youtu.be

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3 at defense firm admit defrauding US by $6M on Humvee parts

Two brothers who formerly owned a Pennsylvania defense contractor and their former chief financial officer have pleaded guilty in a $6 million scheme to overcharge the U.S. Defense Department for Humvee window kits.


The Butler-based contractor, Ibis Tek LLC, removed the former co-owners, Thomas Buckner, 68, of Gibsonia, and John Buckner, 66, of Lyndora, in January along with former CFO Harry Kramer, 52, of Pittsburgh.

The three pleaded guilty on May 31st in Pittsburgh to charges of major fraud against the government and income tax evasion for filing returns that didn’t include the illegal income, and other irregularities. The Buckners will be sentenced Oct. 10 and each faces a likely prison sentence of 41 to 51 months, while Kramer will be sentenced Oct. 18 and faces a likely sentence of 24 to 30 months, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nelson Cohen told the judge.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
DoD Photo by Staff Sgt. Teresa Cleveland

“Ibis Tek was not and will not be charged” in the scheme, Cohen said. The company released a statement when the criminal charges were announced in March, saying, “Our company was cleared in the related investigation which dates back to activities eight years ago and we, the over 250 employees of the new Ibis Tek, continue forward on our mission, which is to proudly serve the warfighter and our various government customers.”

The Buckners have agreed to repay more than $6 million to the government, and have already repaid nearly $900,000 in income tax losses, according to their attorneys who spoke in court, but declined comment after May 31st’s proceedings. Thomas Buckner has agreed to forfeit $5,085,709 to cover his share of the losses and has already paid $1 million of that debt, defense attorney Alexander Lindsay Jr. said. John Buckner will repay the government $1 million.

Additionally, Thomas Buckner has already repaid more than $423,000 in federal income tax losses, and John Buckner has repaid nearly $457,000, their attorneys said.

The target of the fraud was the Warren, Michigan-based U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, or TACOM, an arm of the Defense Department which procures military vehicles from contractors.

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
DoD Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Natalia Murillo

The brothers scammed the government by purchasing emergency escape window kits for $20 each from a Chinese firm, but selling them to TACOM through a shell company they created called Alloy America, Cohen said. Alloy America was located at Ibis Tek’s address and “served little purpose other than to commit this fraud,” Cohen said. Kramer kept the books for Ibis Tek and Alloy America, Cohen said.

The Buckners and Kramer not only passed on the bogus $70-per-frame cost to TACOM, they also sold scrap aluminum relating to the manufacture of the frames, but kept the money. The Buckners and Kramer were supposed to credit the scrap revenue to TACOM as a way of helping the government agency control costs, Cohen said.

Kramer was charged because he helped the Buckners by filing false tax returns that understated Ibis Tek’s income in 2009 and 2010. The Buckner brothers’ personal tax returns for those years also understated their income because they owned the company 50-50 at the time, Cohen said.

Ibis Tek was sold in February to investors who say the new company had nothing to do with the scam.

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The Army is building futuristic robots (which is awesome and terrifying)

If you ever watched “The Jetsons,” an animated sitcom (1963-1964) about a family living in fictional Orbit City in the 2060s, you likely remember the iconic depiction of a futuristic utopia complete with flying cars and robotic contraptions to take care of many human needs. Robots, such as sass-talking housekeeper Rosie, could move through that world and perform tasks ranging from the mundane to the highly complex, all with human-like ease.


In the real world, however, robotic technology has not matured so swiftly.

 

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
WIRED FOR DISCOVERY. Earl Shamwell, one of the authors, sets up a multisensor robotics testbed to collect images, LIDAR data and inertial measurements. Researchers aim to improve robotic performance by closing the gap between what a robot expects to happen and what actually happens. (Photo by Jhi Scott, ARL)

What will it take to endow current robots with these futuristic capabilities? One place to look for inspiration is in human behavior and development. From birth, each of us has been performing a variety of tasks over and over and getting better each time. Intuitively, we know that practice, practice, and more practice is the only way to become better at something.

We often say we are developing a “muscle memory” of the task, and this is correct in many ways. Indeed, we are slowly developing a model of how the world operates and how we must move to influence the world. When we are good at a task—that is, when our mental model well captures what actually happens—we say the task has become second nature.

‘WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS A MAN’

Let’s consider for a moment several amazing tasks performed by humans just for recreational purposes. Baseball players catch, throw, and hit a ball that can be moving faster than 100 miles per hour, using an elegant fusion of visual perception, tactile sensing, and motor control. Responding to a small target at this speed requires that the muscles react, at least to some degree, before the conscious mind fully processes visually what has happened.

Related: Army developing robots to remove casualties from combat

The most skilled players of the game typically have the best mental models of how to pitch, hit, and catch. A mental model in this case contains all the prior knowledge and experience a player has about how to move his or her body to play the game, particularly for the position.

The execution of an assumed mental model is called “feed forward control.” A mental model that is incorrect or incomplete, such as one used by an inexperienced player, will reduce accuracy and repeatability and require more time to complete a task.

We can assume that even professional baseball players would need significant time to adjust if they were magically transported to play on the moon, where gravity is much weaker and air resistance is nonexistent. Similarly, another instance of incorrect models can be observed in the clumsy and uncoordinated movements of quickly growing children; their mental models of how to relate to the world must constantly change and adapt because they are changing.

Nevertheless, humans are quite resilient to change and, with practice, they can adapt to perform well in new situations.

A major focus of much current research going on now at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is moving toward creating a robot like Rosie, capable of learning and executing tasks with the best precision and speed possible, given what we know about our own abilities.

NOT QUITE ‘INFINITE IN FACULTY’

In general, we can say that Rosie-like robot performance is possible given sufficient advances in the areas of sensing, modeling self-motion, and modeling interactions with the world.

Robots “perceive” the world around them using myriad integrated sensors. These sensors include laser range scanners and acoustic ranging, which provide the distance from the robot to obstacles; cameras that permit the robot to see the world, similar to our own eyes; inertial measurement sensing that includes rate gyroscopes, which sense the rate of change of the orientation of the robotic device; and accelerometers, which sense acceleration and gravity, giving the robot an “inner ear” of sorts.

All these methods of sensing the world provide different types of information about the robot’s motion or location in the environment.

Sensor information is provided to the algorithms responsible for estimating self-motion and interaction with the world. Robots can be programmed with their own versions of mental models, complete with mechanisms for learning and adaptation that help encode knowledge about themselves and the environment in which they operate. Rather than “mental models,” we call these “world models.”

This new book shows what it’s really like to be a soldier
Army researchers brief a Japanese industry delegation on a unique robot with strong, dexterous arms during an Oct. 5, 2016, visit to the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo by David McNally)

‘IN FORM AND MOVING HOW EXPRESS AND ADMIRABLE,’ SORT OF

Consider a robot acting while assuming a model of its own motion in the world. If the behavior the robot actually experiences deviates significantly from the behavior the robot expects, the discrepancy will lead to poor performance: a “wobbly” robot that is slow and confused, not unlike a human after too many alcoholic beverages. If the actual motion is closer to the anticipated model, the robot can be very quick and accurate with less burden on the sensing aspect to correct for erroneous modeling.

Of course, the environment itself greatly affects how the robot moves through the world. While gravity can fortunately be assumed constant on Earth, other conditions can change how a robot might interact with the environment.

For instance, a robot traveling through mud would have a much different experience than one moving on asphalt. The best modeling would be designed to change depending on the environment. We know there are many models to be learned and applied, and the real issue is knowing which model to apply for a given situation.

Robotics today are developed in laboratory environments with little exposure to the variability of the world outside the lab, which can cause a robot’s ability to perceive and react to fail in the unstructured outdoors. Limited environmental exposure during model learning and subsequent poor adaptation or performance is said to be the result of “over-fitting,” or using a model created from a small subset of experiences to maneuver according to a much broader set of experiences.

CONCLUSION

At ARL, we are researching specific advances to address these areas of sensing, modeling self-motion, and modeling robotic interaction with the world, with the understanding that doing so will enable great enhancements in the operational speed of autonomous vehicles.

Specifically, we are working on knowing when and under what conditions different methods of sensing work well or may not work well. Given this knowledge, we can balance how these sensors are combined to aid the robot’s motion estimation.

A much faster estimate is available as well through development of techniques to automatically estimate accurate models of the world and of robot self-motion. With the learned and applied models, the robot can act and plan on a much quicker timescale than what might be possible with only direct sensor measurements.

Finally, we know that these models of motion should change depending on which of the many diverse environmental conditions the robot finds itself in. To further enhance robot reliability in a more general sense, we are working on how to best model the world such that a collection of knowledge can be leveraged to help select an appropriate model of robot motion for the current conditions.

If we can master these capabilities, then Rosie can be ready for operation, lacking only her signature attitude.

Also read: The Air Force had giant robots in the 1960s

For more information about ARL collaboration opportunities in the science for maneuver, go to http://www.arl.army.mil/opencampus/.

DR. JOSEPH CONROY is an electronics engineer in ARL’s Micro and Nano Materials and Devices Branch. He holds a doctorate, an M.S. and a B.S., all in aerospace engineering and all from the University of Maryland, College Park.

MR. EARL JARED SHAMWELL is a systems engineer with General Technical Services LLC, providing contract support to ARL’s Micro and Nano Materials and Devices Branch. He is working on his doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Maryland, College Park, and holds a B.A. in economics and philosophy from Columbia University.

This article will be published in the January – March 2017 issue of Army ALT Magazine.

Subscribe to Army ALT News, the premier online news source for the Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ALT) Workforce.

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The CIA declassified these 11 Russian jokes about the Soviet Union

In January 2017, the CIA release a large number of newly-declassified documents about information collected on the Soviet Union. One of those documents included two pages of Russian jokes about the Soviet Union.


Headed “Soviet Jokes for the DDCI” (Deputy Director of Central Intelligence), the jokes make reference to Mikhail Gorbachev, so they date from at least as late as the 1980s. The jokes are surprisingly directed at all Soviet leaders, from Lenin to Brezhnev.

It’s good to know there were chances for levity behind the Iron Curtain. One thing’s for sure, people didn’t love Communism as much as the Russians led us to believe.

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A worker standing in a liquor line says, “I have had enough, save my place, I am going to shoot Gorbachev.” Two hours later he returns to claim his place in line. His friends ask, “Did you get him?” “No,” he replied. “The line there was even longer than the line here.”

Q: What’s the difference between Gorbachev and Dubcek*?

A: Nothing, but Gorbachev doesn’t know it yet.

*(Alexander Dubcek led the Czech resistance to the Warsaw Pact during the Prague Spring of 1968, but was forced to resign)

Sentence from a schoolboy’s weekly composition class essay: “My cat just had seven kittens. They are all communists.” Sentence from the same boy’s composition the following week: “My cat’s seven kittens are all capitalists.” Teacher reminds the boy that the previous week he had said the kittens were communists. “But now they’ve opened their eyes,” replies the child.

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A Chukchi (a tribe of Eskimo-like people on Russia’s northwest coast) is asked what he would do if the Soviet borders were opened. “I’d climb the highest tree,” he replies. Asked why, he responds: “So I wouldn’t get trampled in the stampede out!” Then he is asked what he would do if the U.S. border is opened. “I’d climb the highest tree,” he says, “so I can see the first person crazy enough to come here.”

A joke heard in Arkhangelsk has it that someone happened to call the KGB headquarters just after a major fire. “We cannot do anything. The KGB has just burned down!” he was told. Five minutes later, he called back and was told again the KGB had burned. When he called a third time, the telephone operator recognized his voice and asked “why do you keep calling back? I just told you the KGB has burned down.” “I know,” the man said. “I just like to hear it.”

A train bearing Stalin, Lenin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev stops suddenly when the tracks run out. Each leader applies his own, unique solution. Lenin gathers workers and peasants from miles around and exhorts them to build more track. Stalin shoots the train crew when the train still doesn’t move. Khrushchev rehabilitates the dead crew and orders the tracks behind the train ripped up and relaid in front. Brezhnev pulls down the curtains and rocks back and forth, pretending the train is moving. And Gorbachev calls a rally in front of the locomotive, where he leads a chant: “No tracks! No tracks! No tracks!”

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You try finding photos of Russians laughing.

Ivanov: Give me an example of perestroika*.

Sidorov: (Thinks) How about menopause?

* The literal meaning of perestroika is “restructuring” – usually referring to economic liberalization by Gorbachev.

An old lady goes to the Gorispolkom* with a question, but by the time she gets to the official’s office she has forgotten the purpose of her visit. “Was it about your pension?” the official asks. “No, I get 20 Rubles a month, that’s fine,” she replies. “About your apartment?” “No, I live with three people in one room of a communal apartment, I’m fine,” she replies. She suddenly remembers: “Who invented Communism? –– the Communists or scientists?” The official responds proudly, “Why the Communists of course!” “That’s what I thought,” the babushka** says. “If the scientists had invented it, they would have tested it first on dogs!”

* Gorispolkom is the local political authority of a Soviet city.

** A babushka is another term for older woman or grandmother.

An American tells a Russian that the United States is so free he can stand in front of the White House and yell “To hell with Ronald Reagan.” The Russian replies: “That’s nothing. I can stand in front of the Kremlin and yell, ‘to hell with Ronald Reagan’ too.”

A man goes into a shop and asks “You don’t have any meat?” “No,” replies the sales lady. “We don’t have any fish. It’s the store across the street that doesn’t have any meat.”

A man is driving with his wife and small child. A militiaman pulls them over and makes the man take a breathalyzer test. “See,” the militiaman says, “you’re drunk.” The man protests that the breathalyzer must be broken and invites the cop to test his wife. She also registers as drunk. Exasperated, the man invites the cop to test his child. When the child registers drunk as well, the cop shrugs and says “Yes, perhaps it is broken,” and sends them on their way. Out of earshot the man tells his wife, “See, I told you is wouldn’t hurt to give the kid five grams of vodka.”

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What just happened in Yemen is ‘a nightmare’ for the US military

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons


The unfolding situation in Yemen is a huge geopolitical challenge for the US. A number of US allies, including Saudi Arabia, are attacking a rebel movement trained and supplied by Iran.

At the same time, the US is desperate for a nuclear deal with Tehran, reportedly giving ground on Iran’s demand that it be able to operate advanced uranium centrifuges in a heavily fortified, bomb-proof nuclear facility carved into the inside of a mountain even after a deal is signed.

At the same moment the US is wiling to retreat on major nuclear demands in the hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran, the US’s own allies are launching a military coalition aimed at restraining Iranian power.

The US has been trying to triangulate, aiding Operation Decisive Storm with logistical and intelligence support while attempting to reassure Iranian negotiators, who are currently meeting with their US counterparts in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Yemen conflict presents an even more immediate problem for the US. As the Los Angeles Times reported on March 25th, Iran-allied Houthi rebels obtained US intelligence files left behind after raiding an air base in Sana, the capital.

The files were then passed on to Yemeni “officials” sympathetic to the Houthis, who are in turn suspected of relaying them to Tehran, according to the Times.

“This is a disaster for US counterterrorism efforts across the Horn of Africa,” Robert Caruso, a former US Navy intelligence officer, explained to Business Insider by email. “While it would be irresponsible to say what may have been compromised, this is a nightmare for our military and especially our counterterrorism forces in the region.”

Basically, the Houthi advance through Yemen may have just delivered crucial information about US intelligence operations in the Middle East to a US-listed state sponsor of terrorism. And that may complicate the US’s efforts in both Switzerland and the Arabian Peninsula.

The US may want to reassure Iran that it is willing to spare it the embarrassment and potential strategic cost of an even greater escalation against the Houthis, like an Egyptian and Saudi ground invasion. US negotiators also may be hamstrung by the Iranian possession of fresh US intelligence.

“News reports that Iranian military advisers now have classified information about US military and intelligence operations is extremely disconcerting and could be used to harm Americans if the nuclear deal fails,” Caruso wrote. “I think we will find later on that Iran deliberately targeted the airbase and the US facilities there to gather and exploit intelligence that could be used as leverage or to target Americans later on.”

The problem of balancing the nuclear negotiations against other aspects of the US relationship with Iran unique to Yemen. The US has troops in Iraq fighting ISIS and providing air cover to Iranian-allied militant groups. Meanwhile Hezbollah, and Iranian proxy, has a presence on every continent and Iran has plotted against targets inside the US as recently as 2011, when an Iranian effort to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US at an upscale Washington, DC restaurant was uncovered.

The US and Iran are strategically intertwined in Iraq, while Iran has the capability and perhaps even the intention of seriously undermining US interests around the world. Tehran realizes that it has plenty of potential leverage over its US negotiating counterparts.

That might explain why Tehran has demanded so many concessions in the nuclear negotiations — and gotten them.

More From Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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That time the entire Dutch naval fleet was captured by French dudes on horses

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In the winter of 1795, a French cavalry regiment captured 14 Dutch ships and 850 guns without a fight. How’d they do it? They simply trotted across the ice. Universally regarded as one of the strangest victories in the history of warfare, the Battle of Texel is the only documented occurrence of a “naval” skirmish between warships and cavalry.

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Capture of the Dutch fleet by the French hussars, Léon Morel-Fatio | Public Domain

Why were the French at war with the Dutch?

By 1792, Revolutionary France was looking to pick a fight with Europe’s monarchist powers. On 20 April, the Legislative Assembly declared war against the King of Bohemia and Hungary (meaning the Hapsburg Empire). Their plan worked. They ignited a twenty-three year conflict between France and the rest of the continent. In January 1795, the French Revolutionary Army invaded the Dutch Republic. They were met with little resistance.

What went down during the battle?

The winter of 1794-5 was particularly brutal. Stationed near the village of den Helder, the Dutch fleet was immobilized when the Zuiderzee bay froze overnight. It didn’t take long for the French commander to take stock of the situation—all the calvary had to do was gallop across the ice. The Dutch admiral was left with the embarrassing task of surrendering his ships to a handful of soldiers on horseback. A.G.M. Macdonell describes the French advance in his book Napoleon and his Marshals:

The ragged men carried the Three Colours and sang the terrible song of Marseilles from Fleurus to the Rhine, and captured the fortresses of Flanders and the fortresses of Holland and Brabant…and entered Antwerp and Rotterdam and the Hague, and thundered on their horses across the ice to capture with naked swords the battlefleet of Holland.”

What happened afterwards?

The United Provinces of the Netherlands became the Batavian Republic. The French puppet state lasted until 1806, when it was replaced by the Kingdom of Holland after Napoleon decided to put his brother Louis on the throne.

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