21 facts about the First Gulf War - We Are The Mighty
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21 facts about the First Gulf War

Remember The First Gulf War? Persian Gulf War? Desert Storm and/or Desert Shield? They’re all the same war. Whatever we call it now, it was the war which expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait, checked a decade of Saddam Hussein’s aggression toward his neighbors, and broke the looming spectre of Vietnam that hung over the U.S. military.


U.S. troops had seen smaller actions in before that time, but nothing like the scale and scope of a real “mother of all battles,” pitting Saddam’s Iraq vs. the United States and its UN-mandated coalition partners.

“Yours is a society which cannot accept 10,000 dead in one battle.” — Saddam Hussein, July 25, 1990.

“This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.” — President George H.W. Bush, Aug. 6, 1990.

21 facts about the First Gulf War

The invasion of Kuwait is now just over 25 years old. It probably seemed like a quick victory, one unlikely to have lasting effects in the annals of history, but little did we know it was just setting the stage for the region’s next 30 years. There was no way to predict this war would even happen. In 1990, President Bush (41) was unable to shake off the “wimp” moniker bestowed on him by Newsweek in 1987.

21 facts about the First Gulf War

In the post-9/11 world, the events leading up to and after the conflict came to lasting importance. Today, U.S. troops have come and gone, come and gone, come and gone from Iraq. The country has become America’s enduring sidepiece. Then Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch gave way to Operation Iraqi Freedom and with it Bayonet Lightning, Red Dawn and countless others who themselves gave way to Operation Inherent Resolve. There are troops in Iraq today who weren’t yet born when Saddam first captured the Kuwaiti oil fields, and Saddam himself didn’t live to see this day.

Here are 21 facts about your daddy’s Iraq War.

1. The Iran-Iraq War led to Iraq invading Kuwait.

Iraq owed $80 million in foreign debt from its 1980-1988 war with Iran. Saddam Hussein demanded Saudi Arabia and Kuwait forgive $30 billion in Iraqi debt, which he saw a result of protecting Kuwait from Shia Iranian forces for eight years. He then accused Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil through slant drilling.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
This also makes Saddam Hussein the first person to think of an idea before the Simpsons.

Since Iraq’s economy depended on oil sales, Saddam hoped to repay its debts by raising the price of oil through OPEC oil production cuts, but instead, Kuwait increased production and repeatedly produced more than its quota, lowering prices in an attempt to leverage a better resolution of its border dispute with Iraq.

2. In 1991, Iraq had the fifth largest army in the world.

It’s true, Iraq’s armed forces boasted more than a million men in uniform in 1991, but only a third of those were skilled professional fighting forces. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait with 120,000 of these and 2,000 tanks. After the Gulf War started, he concluded Iraq’s peace with Iran and raised his occupying force levels to 300,000. Iraq conscripted three fourths of men between ages 15 and 49. Even so, Iraq’s Air Force was large but weak and its Navy was “virtually nonexistent.”

21 facts about the First Gulf War

3. Saddam thought the United States gave him the okay to invade Kuwait.

President Bush’s Ambassador to Iraq was April Glaspie, who, in a meeting with the Iraqi dictator, stressed to him that the U.S. did not want a trade war with Iraq. Saddam reiterated his commitment to peace in the region, so long as the Kuwaitis agree to meet OPEC production standards. Ambassador Glaspie told Saddam:

“But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 1960s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”

When nothing changed in Kuwait and Egyptian diplomacy failed, Saddam began the invasion. Saddam, frequently emphasizing a desire for U.S. friendship, was surprised to find his actions condemned by President Bush. When asked later why she said that to Saddam, Glaspie said: “We had no idea he would go that far.”

21 facts about the First Gulf War

4. Saddam thought Arab states would be okay with Iraq annexing Kuwait.

The invasion happened during the first Palestinian Intifada, which enjoyed wide Arab support. As Palestinians tried to shake off Israeli occupation, Saddam tried to appeal to pan-Arab nationalism by being the strongman who would stand up to the West and Israel. He reasoned that the British illegally cut Kuwait out of greater Iraq in the 19th century and he was trying to right a Western wrong. The Arab League was not okay with this.

21 facts about the First Gulf War

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tried to negotiate a treaty to avert a war, but Saddam walked out after two hours. His forces invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Two-thirds of the Arab League states joined the UN in a resolution condemning the invasion as King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and Kuwaiti leaders asked NATO for help. Iraq annexed Kuwait as its 19th province with Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka “Chemical Ali) as governor.

5. Iraq rolled over Kuwait in two days.

Unlike the Iran-Iraq War (which went on for eight years), Iraq’s Elite Republican Guard (with names which sound like they were made up by an American teenager, like the 1st Hammurabi Armored Division or the 4th Nebuchadnezzar Motorized Infantry Division) swiftly defeated Kuwaiti forces, reaching Kuwait City in an hour.

They either overran Kuwaitis on the ground or forced them (like 80% of the Kuwaiti Air Force) into neighboring Saudi Arabia or the island of Bahrain. Kuwait had not mobilized for war despite Saddam’s constant threats.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
A Kuwaiti M-84 main battle tank in Operation Desert Shield. (Wikimedia Commons)

Whenever possible, Kuwaitis resisted fiercely, even establishing an underground resistance movement, though it was largely untrained and incapable. In trying to capture Kuwait’s Emir, Iraqis assaulted Dasman Palace even though the Emir had already left. The Emir’s brother was killed after leading a 12-hour defense of the palace, outnumbered by an entire Iraqi division. His body was placed in front of a tank and run over.

6. Iraq occupied Kuwait between August 1990 and January 1991 — and it was brutal.

In that time, the Iraqi forces committed at least sixteen crimes against the Laws of Armed Conflict as outlined in the Geneva and Hague Conventions. Those crimes include running of at least two dozen torture sites in Kuwait City alone, torturing civilians to the point of death and disfigurement. Kuwaiti women were taken hostage and raped repeatedly. Iraqi occupation forces killed at least 1,082 Kuwaiti civilian noncombatants, including women, children, and the mentally handicapped. Then they rigged the oil wells to explode if they were attacked.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
UN Photo

Coalition Forces didn’t begin to expel Iraqis from Kuwait until January 1991, after the UN-mandated January 15th withdrawal deadline. Once Coalition forces and Iraqi forces met in the field, the Iraqis committed more war crimes. Among them, they pretended to surrender to U.S. Marines, then opened fire on them. Iraqis would disguise themselves as civilians and then ambush Coalition forces. Iraqi troops also tortured prisoners of war.

7. The U.S. could not have prevented Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia.

Shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the UN passed resolutions condemning it, calling for the removal of Iraqi troops, and the nullification of Iraq’s annexation. Desert Shield began as the U.S. and the Coalition took six months building up air and naval forces in the region, enforcing the UN blockade of Iraq and U.S.-imposed sanctions. Until the buildup, however, Iraqi forces would have easily overwhelmed the Saudi defenses. Why Saddam didn’t immediately press his advantage is unknown.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
These guys may have had something to do with it. (U.S. Army photo)

Iraqi forces invaded Saudi Arabia at the January 1991 Battle of Khafji, capturing the city on the night of 29 January. By this time, however, it was far too late. Coalition forces had more than enough troops and hardware to repel the Iraqis. The attacks were fought off by U.S. Marines, Army Rangers, and Coalition aircraft and the city was soon recaptured by Saudi and Qatari forces, backed by U.S. airpower.

8. The Coalition built fake bases and units to dupe Iraqis into defending the wrong area.

The coalition used deception cells to create the impression that they were going to attack near the Kuwaiti “boot heel,” as opposed to the strategy actually implemented. The Army set up FOB Weasel near the opposite end of the Kuwaiti border, which was a network of fake camps manned only by several dozen soldiers. With computer-controlled radios, messages were passed between fictitious headquarters sections. Smoke generators and loudspeakers playing prerecorded tank and truck noises were used, along with inflatable Humvees and helicopters.

9. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf commanded a force larger and more complex than the D-Day invasion in WWII  and didn’t want a ground war.

“Stormin’ Norman,” as he came to be known, was a highly-decorated and respected Vietnam War veteran. He commanded a Coalition of 670,000 personnel from 28 countries, along with combined Naval and Air Forces, with 425,000 troops from the United States. According to his memoirs, he implemented his operational plan to defend Saudi Arabia and expel Iraq from Kuwait using Gen. Colin Powell’s (then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) doctrine of overwhelming force and incorporated Montgomery’s desert armor tactics from the second battle of El-Alamein in World War II, all in an effort to minimize casualties on both sides.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
With Gen. Colin Powell in Saudi Arabia (U.S. Army Photo)

“I hate war. Absolutely, I hate war,” he once said. “When the war started, we were hoping that they’d come to their senses and stop right then,” he said. “After 38 days, we got to a point where we could launch the ground war and, by that time, they hadn’t withdrawn.” Once begun, the ground war lasted only 100 hours before Iraq capitulated.

10. Desert Storm was a relatively cheap war.

Though the U.S. was the primary supplier, 39 countries contributed men and/or materiel to the Coalition in some significant way. Yeah, that’s Afghanistan in blue down there.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Coalition in blue vs. Iraq in orange

The U.S. Department of Defense has estimated the cost of the Gulf War at $61 billion. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states covered $36 billion while Germany and Japan covered $16 billion. Still, as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (0.3%), Desert Storm was the cheapest war fought in U.S. history. The greater cost of the war to the region was likely more than $676 billion.

11. Saddam Hussein declared a jihad against the U.S.-led coalition.

Saddam began to convey a more Islamic, religious appearance in Iraqi media, showing himself praying at mosques and supporting the Palestinian cause, hoping to reframe the war as a struggle against Western imperialism and Israeli scheming.

21 facts about the First Gulf War

The plan didn’t work. Sheik Abdul-Aziz Bin Baz, the Saudis’ leading interpreter of Islamic law, called Saddam Hussein the “enemy of God.”

12. Desert Storm helped secure a Bill Clinton presidency.

The Iraqi invasion already caused the price of oil to more than double, which led to a worldwide recession in the 1990s and the defeat of George H.W. Bush at the hands of Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, despite being a popular, successful wartime President. Bill Clinton’s election team famously coined the term “It’s the economy, stupid” as their campaign mantra.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Also, mean sax solos became policy.

13. Iraq used oil as a weapon.

Smoke plumes from burning oil fields were intended to disrupt coalition aircraft and the heat from fires was expected to slow the advance of coalition troops. Iraqi combat engineers dug trenches filled with oil and ignited them to slow Coalition advances and spilled oil into the Persian Gulf in an effort to keep U.S. Marines from making an amphibious landing. Estimates of Iraqi oil spilled into the Gulf range from 4 to 11 million barrels, several time the size of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and was never cleaned up on Saudi Arabian shores. The 610 oil fires set by Iraq destroyed 85% of Kuwaiti oil wells. The total amount of oil burned is an estimated 1 billion barrels, worth $2.8 billion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L77BSBKvMJk

The oil fires took down a Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) C-130, killing 92 Senegalese soldiers and the 6 Saudi crew members. They allowed Iraqi Republican Guard units to get the jump on Americans at the Battle of Phase Line Bullet, one of the few Iraqi victories of the war.

14. Israel had the third largest casualty count, despite not being in the war.

Iraq fired Scud missiles at Israel in an attempt to draw the country into the conflict, a move that would force many Arab states in the Coalition to choose between withdrawing or fighting alongside Israel, neither of which were appealing to the Arabs. In response, the U.S. and Netherlands deployed Patriot Missile Battalions to Israel and Turkey to keep Israel from retaliating (The Gulf War marked the first mid-air missile-to-missile interception).

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Israelis  in their home in Tel Aviv. Many feared Iraqi chemical attacks would come with the Scuds.

Seventy-four Israelis died as Iraq fired Scud missiles toward Tel Aviv. Many hit the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Gan which was, oddly enough, a neighborhood of Iraqi expatriates. Strangely, only three Israelis died from the missiles — the rest died of heart attacks or similar ailments as a result of the bombing. Iraq launched some 88 Scud missiles toward Israel and Saudi Arabia over the course of the war.

15. The Air War was one of the most massive, effective air campaigns ever.

The Iraqi Air Force was almost completely annihilated, and was never fully effective. The Coalition massed more than 3,000 airplanes leading up to the January 15th withdrawal deadline. It was the largest airlift effort in history, surpassing even the Berlin Airlift. The U.S. Air Force launched more than 100,000 sorties (air missions) starting on Jan. 17th, 1991 and dropped more than 88,500 tons of bombs.

Iraqis lost 38 MiGs to Coalition air forces, while the rest fled to Iran rather than be shot down. There they were captured and held for years and Iran kept the planes. Coalition laser-guided “smart bombs” still caused hundreds of civilian casualties, even hitting a civilian air raid shelter, then hitting the civilian al-Fallujah neighborhood in Baghdad. When relatives and first responders rushed to the area in the wake of the bombing, they were bombed too.

16. One American pilot was believed missing in action for 18 years after the war.

Coalition forces captured some 70,000 Iraqis throughout the course of the war. At the end of the war Iraq was known to have held a total of 26 allied prisoners: 22 Americans, two Britons, an Italian and a Kuwaiti. Iraq also is believed to have abducted 30-40,000 Kuwaiti civilians. According to Marine Col. Jim Acree, the Iraqis followed the Geneva Convention “for all of 20 minutes.” American POWs were tortured, beaten, and starved. Many of these POWs forcefully appeared in Iraqi Propaganda.

For years afterward, U.S. Navy Lt. Col. Scott Speicher remained missing in action after his FA-18 Hornet was shot down over Iraq, and his flight suit was found near the crash site. Speicher’s remains were found in 2009, and returned home.

“Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be,” said Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, in a statement at the time. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Captain Speicher and his family for the sacrifice they have made for our nation and the example of strength they have set for all of us.”

17. President Bush didn’t press on to Baghdad to abide by the UN Mandate.

President Bush only wanted to do what the UN Security Council authorized. Coalition forces expelled the Iraqi Army from Kuwait by February 27th and President Bush halted all offensive operations. This would be controversial until his son George W. Bush’s presidency, when we learned to respect our elders.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
(photo from the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library)

“Had we taken all of Iraq,” Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf wrote in his memoirs, “we would have been like a dinosaur in the tar pit — we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of that occupation.” In 2007, Colin Powell remarked, “In recent months, nobody’s been asking me about why we didn’t go to Baghdad. Pretty good idea now why Baghdad should always be looked at with some reservations.”

18. More Americans died from HIV infection in 1991 than in Operation Desert Storm.

An estimated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the conflict, while the United States had only 383 fatalities in the region. 1991 was the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as infection rates increased 15.3% over the previous year. HIV/AIDS was the ninth highest cause of death in the U.S. that year, killing 29,850 Americans. The number of infected and dead from HIV/AIDS would double by 1993.

19. The First Gulf War brought about the rise of cable news, and thus, cable television.

Media Coverage was very restricted as Coalition commanders feared the horrors of war would lead to another Vietnam syndrome, where the imagery turns the public against war in general. The Pentagon gave regular briefings but few journalists were allowed to visit the front. At the same time, satellite technology allowed for live video of missiles firing off of aircraft carriers and airstrikes on Iraqi targets while night vision camera technology gave the war a futuristic, almost video game like feel. So much so, it came to be dubbed “The Nintendo War.”

Oil covered birds, Coalition war briefings, videos of rockets being shot down chimneys and immediate responses from Kuwaiti and Saudi civilians all made for great television imagery. CNN’s live reporting from a hotel in downtown Baghdad became the main driver of its viewership, as it was the only network broadcasting the war 24 hours a day. Since CNN was only available through cable, subscriptions spiked and pay TV became a permanent facet of American life, the first step in ending the dominance of the “Big Three” networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
So yes, Saddam Hussein is kind of responsible for Don Lemon

20. The U.S. encouraged uprisings against Saddam’s regime.

President Bush gave speeches hinting the U.S. would support factions fighting against the Iraqi Ba’athist regime. A Shia rebellion began in Southern Iraq in 1991, but was not supported militarily by the U.S. or Coalition forces — even allowing pro-regime helicopters to brutally suppress the rebellion — despite the Southern No-Fly Zone. In the North, Kurdish fighters staged an uprising of their own, but since no U.S. help was forthcoming, Iraqi generals stayed loyal and massacred the Kurds.

21. Saddam Hussein publicly apologized for the Invasion of Kuwait

Sort of. The Iraqi information minister, Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf (who became known as “Comical Ali” or “Baghdad Bob” during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq), who also announced in 2003 that there were no U.S. troops in Baghdad as U.S. troops were rapidly capturing most of the city, read a statement:

“We apologize for what happened to you in the past,” he read for the Iraqi dictator. “The devoted and the holy warriors in Kuwait met with Iraqi counterparts” under their common creator against the “infidel armies” of “London, Washington and the Zionist entity.”

21 facts about the First Gulf War

If we’ve learned anything, it’s to be careful about who you call a “wimp.”

21 facts about the First Gulf War

NOW: 17 Wild Facts About the Vietnam War

OR: 15 Unforgettable Photos from Operation Desert Storm

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The Battle of the Crater turned a brilliant plan into self-inflicted defeat

21 facts about the First Gulf War


During one of the final and most important sieges of the Civil War, a combination of racism towards black troops, concern for appearances, and sheer blinding incompetence and cowardice led to the bloody disaster that was the Battle of the Crater.

The Confederate Army was engaged in a last ditch defense of Petersburg, Va., the logistics and rail hub that supplied the forces defending their capital at Richmond, against the Union Army under command of General Ulysses S. Grant. Once Petersburg fell, the war was as good as over.

The siege had turned into trench warfare that presaged World War I. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s mastery of field fortifications and defense in depth had made offensive operations by the Union against entrenched Confederate troops a terribly bloody endeavor. The siege was at a stalemate, and new tactics were called for.

The Union 48th Pennsylvania Regiment was largely drawn from coal country, and its commander, Col. Henry Pleasants, was convinced they could dig a long mine under the rebel lines and use blasting powder blow to a large hole in their fortifications. A four-division assault force would then seize the heights overlooking Petersburg, greatly shortening the siege. His corps commander, Gen. Ambrose Burnside, endorsed the plan.

The operation was conducted with a strange mix of brute force labor and a strategic lassitude from higher command, and suffered from a chronic lack of logistical support. Most of the Union leadership, from Grant on down, was skeptical of the plan, and saw it as a way to keep the soldiers busy at best.

The 4th United States Colored Troops (USCT) under Gen. Edward Ferraro was specially trained to lead the assault, specifically to flank the crater on both sides. But Gen. George Meade, commander of the Union Army at the battle of Gettysburg, thought little of the plan and the abilities of the black troops to carry it out.

He also voiced concerns to Grant that if the attack failed, it would look as if black soldiers had been thrown away as cannon fodder. Grant agreed, Burnside inexplicably had his division commanders draw lots, and Brigadier Gen. James Ledlie drew the short straw.

It was bad enough that the last minute change brought in badly unprepared troops for a tricky attack, but Ledlie had the distinction of being one of the most drunken cowards in the Union officer corps. This was to have terrible consequences.

Union troops operating north of Petersburg had drawn off most of the Southern troops, leaving the line weakened, and the time was ideal for the assault. After months of labor and the emplacement of more than four tons of blasting powder under the Confederate fortifications, the attack began with triggering the explosives at 4:45 a.m. on June 30, 1864.

The resulting blast was the largest man-made explosion in history up to that point. A massive mushroom cloud, which sent men, horses, artillery, and huge amounts of earth flying into the air, left a crater 130-feet long, 75-feet wide, and 35-feet deep. The explosion killed a full third of the the South Carolina unit defending the strongpoint, over 200 men, in an instant. The concussive force of the explosion left the rest of the brigade stunned for at least 15 minutes.

Despite the spectacular success of the mine blast, the assault started to go wrong from the beginning. Ledlie was drunk and hiding in a bunker in the rear, and his leaderless division ran into the crater instead of around it, milling about uncertainly.Other units pouring into the attack only added to the chaos.

The recovered Confederate troops laid a kill zone around the crater, keeping the Union troops pinned down, and fired everything from rifles to mortar shells into the packed troops stuck in the blast zone. The 4th USCT, despite being relegated to the second wave, penetrated farther than anyone, but suffered severely in the process.

After holding out for hours, a final counterattack by a Confederate brigade of Virginians routed the still numerically superior Union forces, which suffered appalling casualties, and many were taken prisoner.

There are many Southern eyewitness accounts of black prisoners being summarily shot down by Confederate troops, and the particularly severe casualty rates suffered by the black units seem to bear this out. Even some Union soldiers were reportedly involved in the killings, driven by fear of the Confederate warnings of reprisals for fighting alongside black soldiers. The shouting of “No Quarter!” and “Remember Fort Pillow!” by the black troops during their charge was also later cited as a justification for the executions by the Confederacy.

Burnside and Ledie were both relieved of duty after the disaster, though Burnside was later cleared by Congress since it was Meade who decided to replace the USCT at the last moment. Burnside never held a significant command again.

The supreme irony of the battle was that despite the efforts to spare the lives of black troops from politically inconvenient slaughter, the utter failure of the lead wave to force the breach lead to terrible casualties for the black units they had replaced. Gen. Grant later said “it was the saddest affair I witnessed during the war.”

The siege would drag on for another eight months, and Petersburg’s fall led to the prompt surrender of Richmond, precipitating Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. The Crater remains a prime example of a brilliant plan spoiled by incompetent execution.

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The Spectacular CIA Screwup That Probably Helped Iran Build A Nuke

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


For the past seven years, New York Times journalist James Risen has been embroiled in a legal battle with two presidential administrations over his refusal to reveal an inside government source.

It turns out he will not be called to testify at a leak trial scheduled to begin this week.

The story that almost sent the two-time Pulitzer winner to jail for not identifying confidential sources is one of the most spectacular CIA screwups in the history of the agency.

A full excerpt from his book “State of War” was published by The Guardian in 2006. Here’s a rundown:

In February 2000, the CIA went forward with a covert operation called Operation Merlin to stunt the nuclear development of Iran by gifting them a flawed blueprint of an actual nuclear weapon.

It all started when the CIA persuaded a defected Russian nuclear engineer (who was granted citizenship and a $5,000-per-month income) to hand over technical designs for a TBA 480 high-voltage block or “firing set” for a Russian-designed nuclear weapon. The designs would allow the holder to build the mechanism that triggers a nuclear chain reaction, one of the most significant hurdles to successfully building a nuclear weapon.

The plan was for the Russian to pose as a greedy scientist trying to sell the designs to the highest bidder, which was to be Iran. The Russian was sent to Vienna to sell the designs to the Iranian representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (that is, the UN body created to regulate nuclear technology).

The key to the plan was that the designs supposedly carried a serious design flaw the Iranians would be unable to recognize until they had already tried building the design.

When the Iranians tested the design, the bomb would fizzle, and Iran would have been set back years in its nuclear quest. At the same time, the US would be able to watch what the Iranians did with the blueprints and learn more about what they knew of nuclear technology.

It all sounded like a fine plan, except that it was wildly reckless and included huge missteps. The first was that, within minutes of looking at the plans, the Russian identified the design flaw. Granted he was more versed in nuclear designs than the Iranians to whom he was giving the designs, but CIA officers were shocked — they didn’t expect him to be able to find it.

The CIA went forward with the plan anyway, handing the Russian a sealed envelope with the blueprints and instructing him to deliver them without opening the envelope. The Russian got cold feet and, of course, opened the envelope. Not wanting to be caught in the crossfire between the CIA and Iran, the Russian included a letter noting that the designs contained a flaw and that he could help them identify it.

The Russian dropped off the blueprints at the agreed location, without even meeting the officials from Iran, and fled back to the US. Within days, the Iranian official in Vienna headed home, most likely with the blueprint.

What makes the operation so reckless is that, according to former CIA officials to whom Risen spoke, the “Trojan horse” plan had been used before with America’s enemies but never with a nuclear weapon. Handing over any weapons designs is a delicate operation, and any additional information could result in the country’s accelerating its weapons program, not stunting it.

Between Iran’s stable of knowledgeable nuclear scientists, and the fact the country had already obtained nuclear blueprints from a Pakistani scientist, giving them even flawed designs was extremely reckless. According to Risen, nuclear experts say Iran could compare the two blueprints to identify the flaw and then glean dangerous information from the blueprints anyway.

Operation Merlin failed on all accounts. Add in the fact that four years later, the CIA screwed up again, revealing its entire Iran spy network to a double agent, and the US was flying blind on Iran during a period in which the country was most likely making serious inroads on its nuclear program.

Check out Risen’s more detailed account of this fascinating episode in the CIA’s history here.

Also from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2014. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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The 6 greatest military heroes you’ve never heard of

 1. The Polish Resistance Agent who got himself sent to Auschwitz — on purpose

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Witold Pilecki Photo: Wiki Commons


Nazi concentration camps were one of the most hideous and disturbing tragedies to arise out of the second world war, but few countries were aware of their existence before the Allied liberation in 1945. Fewer still had any idea what atrocities were taking place within their gates — which is exactly why Witold Pilecki, a Polish resistance agent, decided to see the inside for himself. How’d he do it? By getting himself arrested and sent to the worst death camp of them all: Auschwitz.

He gathered intelligence inside Auschwitz and sent it to the underground Polish army for two years, enduring brutal conditions and near-starvation to detail Nazi execution and interrogation methods. When the Allies continued to put off any aid (some even accused him of exaggerating his reports, according to NPR) he broke out of the camp and escaped. Pilecki continued to gather intelligence throughout the war, and didn’t let up afterwards either, though now it was against a different government — the Soviet regime in Poland.

Sadly, Pilecki was later captured by the communists, arrested for espionage in 1948, and issued not one, but three death sentences. The communists also wiped his name from the public record after his execution, and no accounts of Pilecki’s bravery were known until after the fall of the Berlin wall.

2. The Middle Eastern soldiers of France’s Free Army

On the whole, France gets a pretty bad rap when it comes to military valor. Some of the jokes actually ring true — when France fell to the Nazi regime during World War II, Gen. Charles De Gaulle struggled to gather soldiers who were ready and willing to drive out the Fuhrer’s army … not exactly the kind of bravery you write home about. Which is exactly why a frustrated De Gaulle set his sights outside of France to raise an army, recruiting instead from French colonies in Africa. Arabic, African and Tahitian volunteers rallied to the French cause, and the French Free Army was born.

Amazingly, this rag-tag militia, many of whom had never stepped on French soil before, kicked ass in the war against Hitler, wining several battles. So why haven’t you heard of them? Sadly, the Allies weren’t too thrilled with these guys, and when The Free French Army geared up to liberate Paris, the Allies actually refused to fight with them — unwilling to go into battle with dark-skinned foreigners.

As much as this sucks, it was typical for the time — U.S. military units were still segregated between blacks and whites in the 1940s. The Allies then essentially told De Gaulle if he wanted their help, he needed to white-wash his army, which he did — by calling a bunch of Spaniards to fight and sending the original French Free Army back to Africa. The colonists who fought for their Mother country never received any military recognition, and France would later cut off their military pensions, effectively removing them from its history.

3.  The Real-Life Rambo who beat the U.S. military at its own job

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Richard Marcinko in uniform Photo: Wiki Commons

Sylvester Stallone graced us with one of the most iconic military characters ever when he played man-of-few-words and probable-sociopath John Rambo in  “Rambo: First Blood,” and then again in “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” “Rambo III.” Well, you get the drill. Stallone may have jumped the shark with the franchise, but the story of this real-life Rambo will never get old.

Richard Marcinko, nicknamed “Demo Dick,” was a teletype operator who dreamed of transferring to UDT, or Underwater Demolitions Team — a unit that would eventually evolve into the Navy SEALs. When he kept getting rejected, Marcinko decided he would find an alternative way into the unit — by clocking some guy in the face. Just as he’d planned, Marcinko got sent to the UDT as punishment.

During his time with the UDT and later with the SEALs in Vietnam, Marcinko became so notorious amongst the Viet Cong that there was actually a 50,000 piaster reward for whoever was brave enough to bring back his head. Yikes.

Marcinko survived Vietnam but continued his testosterone-fueled lifestyle, searching out conflict in Cambodia before being asked by the U.S. military to carry out a program called Red Cell. The mission? Infiltrating American bases all around the world to find their weak spots. Not surprisingly, Demo Dick took his job a little too seriously, and ended up mock-kidnapping a lot of officers and even their families to see if they would crack under interrogation.

Marcinko also founded SEAL Team 6 in response to the U.S. military’s failed attempt to extract Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis. He was the leader of the anti-terror detail, and would largely shape the elite force into what it is today.

The U.S. military still hadn’t let go of his Red Cell shenanigans, however, and later sent Marcinko to jail for conspiracy. But Demo Dick didn’t go down without a fight, and ended up writing best-selling book “Rogue Warrior” during the year he was behind bars, detailing his escapades while in uniform and humiliating the the military. What a guy.

4. The Oskar Schindler of Japan

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Chuine Sugihara Photo: Wiki Commons

21 facts about the First Gulf War
A transit visa that Sugihara issued Photo: Wiki Commons

As the Nazi regime began tightening its chokehold on Europe, Japanese Consul-General Chiune Sugihara and his wife Yukiko watched with increasing concern as Lithuanian Jews were persecuted, driven out of their businesses, and forced away to “labor camps.” Finally, Sugihara decided enough was enough, and set out to bring the Jews of Europe onto Japanese soil and out of Hitler’s reach. The Japanese government, however, didn’t approve of the idea, and shut down Chiune’s request to issue visas for the fleeing Jews. In response — and in true Liam Neeson fashion — Sugihara essentially told them to shove it, and began to write the visas by hand.

He and his wife ended up writing what some estimate to be around 6,000 visas for Lithuanian Jews, an incredible feat that’s even more unbelievable when you compare it to Oskar Schindler’s record of 1,200 saved through his work program. The last foreign officials to remain in Kuanas, Lithuania, save for a Dutch consul, Sugihara and his wife worked round the clock, issuing close to 300 visas a day and distributing them to the refugees who gathered outside of the Japanese consulate gates.

When Sugihara was finally ordered to leave, he continued to write visas and throw them from the train as he departed, and left his official visa stamp with one of the refugees so they could continue his work in his absence. It is estimated that he saved nearly all of the people who received visas, and after arriving in Japan, the Jewish refugees called themselves the Sugihara Survivors in honor of his bravery.

So why hasn’t his story been broadcasted like Schindler’s? Unfortunately, Japan was still operating under the samurai code of honor during this time, and to defy a superior was considered unforgivable. So rather than award their comrade for his contributions to the war, he was removed from his government position and forced to live in dishonor until his death in 1986.

5. The British Lt. Col. who fought with a sword, longbow and bagpipes

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Jack Churchill Photo: Wiki Commons

Lt. Col. John Malcom Thorpe Fleming Churchill, or “Mad Jack” as he would later be known, may have been the most badass person to walk the earth. He joined the British military in 1926 at age 20, only to leave shortly after to pursue professional bagpiping and compete in the World Archery Championship in 1939 — because why not. But when WWII rolled around, Churchill was more than ready to jump back into the fray, and racked up a war record so unbelievable we’re shocked the guy doesn’t have his own movie yet.

Churchill stormed the beaches of Normandy carrying a Scottish sword, wore his bagpipes in battle and made many of his kills with a longbow he wore on his back. During a night raid on the Nazi lines, Churchill led his men to capture 136 enemy soldiers — and he himself captured 40 plus Germans at sword point. During a different battle on the Nazi-controlled island of Brac, “Mad Jack” fought until he was the last of his men standing. Then, when he ran out of ammo, he stood his ground, playing his bagpipes on top of a hill until a grenade knocked him out and he was captured by the Germans.

Churchill would later escape his POW camp and meet up with American troops, only to find out — to his profound disappointment — that two atomic bombs had been dropped, and the war was essentially over. According to Vice, Churchill reportedly complained, “If it hadn’t been for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going for another ten years!”

7.  The Scottish soldier who went full “Braveheart” on Nazi soldiers

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Tommy Macpherson Photo: Wiki Commons

“Mad Jack” may have donned Scottish bagpipes to fight in WWII, but Sir Tommy Macpherson had the balls to go full “Braveheart” on the battlefield, sporting a kilt while he raised hell with the Scottish commandos. Nicknamed “The Kilted Killer,” Macpherson’s flashy battle attire and relentless tenacity earned him a 30,000 Franc bounty on his head for whichever German could kill him first.

Amazingly, Macpherson made it through the entire war despite the Germans’ determination to take him out — even orchestrating the surrender of 23,000 German troops at the Das Reich Headquarters by bluffing that the Royal Air Force would unleash hell if they didn’t cooperate. In reality, Machpherson was alone and the RAF had no idea he was there, but he still managed to convince German Gen. Botho Henning Elster to give up his men and vehicles.

Macpherson walked away from World War II as the The UK’s most decorated living soldier in history, earning the Military Cross for his escape from a Nazi prison camp in Poland, a papal knighthood and two bars for his valiant — and unusual — service.

NOW: 7 crazy facts you didn’t know about the D-Day invasion

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11 movies every soldier needs to see

Whether it inspired them to enlist, or kept them entertained while serving downrange, there are certain movies that all soldiers know and love.

Super quotable lines, great stories, or intense combat scenes are just some of the reasons why we picked the following nine films as “must-watch” for soldiers.


These are our picks:

1. To Hell and Back (1955)

Plot: The true WWII story of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in U.S. history. Based on the autobiography of Audie Murphy who stars as himself in the film.

Reason to watch: Instead of settling for actors trying to recreate battlefield heroics, why not watch the real-life soldier do it? That’s what you’ll see in “To Hell and Back,” the film that follows the life of Audie Murphy, the most-decorated soldier of World War II. Murphy stars as himself in this film, which kicked off a 21-year acting career after his Army service.

2. The Longest Day (1962)

Plot: The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view.

Reason to watch: “The Longest Day” is an epic film, and one of IMDB’s 100 greatest war films. It also stars John Wayne, need we say more? Although it’s not perfect, the film gives insight into the incredible events of Operation Overlord, from all sides of the battle.

3. Patton (1970)

Plot: The World War II phase of the career of the controversial American general, George S. Patton.

Reason to watch: George C. Scott gives a masterful portrayal of the controversial Army general during World War II. The opening speech alone is worth watching, with Patton giving a rousing speech to troops that opens with the line, “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

4. Glory (1989)

Plot: Robert Gould Shaw leads the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices of both his own Union army and the Confederates.

Reason to watch: Matthew Broderick plays Col. Robert Gould Shaw in this real-life tale of the first company of all-black soldiers in the Civil War. The film, which won three Oscars, also has memorable performances from Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. It explores themes that all soldiers can learn from: Courage, honor, and doing the right thing, even if it’s the unpopular decision.

5. Hamburger Hill (1987)

Plot: A very realistic interpretation of one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

Reason to watch: Somewhat overshadowed by Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” this film follows the lives of one squad of Airborne soldiers during a battle to take Hill 937 in Vietnam — an unremarkable piece of real estate that became known as “Hamburger Hill” after casualties mounted in multiple assaults. The film realistically depicts soldiers at war in Vietnam, the dynamic between soldiers in battle, and the heroism some soldiers display in such extreme circumstances.

6. The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Plot: A U.S. Army Major is assigned a dozen convicted murderers to train and lead them into a mass assassination mission of German officers in World War II.

Reason to watch: Another classic World War II film, “The Dirty Dozen” hosted an incredible cast of stars: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, and many more. Unlike other World War II flicks that often followed real-life events, this movie had an interesting premise: An Army major recruits 12 felons for a suicide mission behind enemy lines, and if they succeed, they will have their sentences reduced.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE-m6zUNKH0

7. A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Plot: A historical telling of the failed attempt to capture several bridges on a road to Germany in World War II, in a campaign called Operation Market-Garden.

Reason to watch: The film recounts the unsuccessful allied Operation Market Garden, which was the largest airborne operation at the time during World War II. Based on the book by Cornelius Ryan (who also wrote “The Longest Day”), the film is loaded with big-name stars. Though the film is a bit long (nearly 3 hours), it shows an allied battle that unfortunately did not end with “the good guys winning.”

8. Black Hawk Down (2001)

Plot: 123 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis.

Reason to watch: Based on the book by journalist Mark Bowden (which is an absolute must-read), “Black Hawk Down” details the failed attempt to capture a Somali warlord — an operation that should have lasted 15 minutes — that unfortunately does not go according to plan. After two helicopters are shot down, soldiers are shown reacting and adapting to the changing events, often in heroic fashion. From depicting soldiers preparing for a mission, how they respond to irregular warfare, and the actions of Medal of Honor recipients Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, this film is a must-see.

9. Saving Private Ryan

Plot: Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.

Reason to watch: Just the first ten minutes with the film’s incredible depiction of the Normandy landings on D-Day in 1944 make this a must-watch. After this sequence, however, there is plenty to stick around for: Tom Hanks wonderful portrayal of Capt. Miller, the banter of soldiers as they search the French countryside, and the heroic “last stand” at a bridge the troops need to keep the Germans away from.

10. Platoon (1986)

Plot: A young recruit in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man.

Reason to watch: Told from the perspective of Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen), “Platoon” gives an inside look at what it was like for a grunt on the ground in Vietnam. Besides showing infantry life and all its hardships, the film also boasts incredible performances from Willem Dafoe as Sgt. Elias, and Tom Berenger as Staff Sgt. Barnes. It’s also worth noting that this film had an extra level of realism to it, with its director (Oliver Stone) and military technical advisor (Dale Dye) both having served in Vietnam.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3Wih7Q0DVs

11. We Were Soldiers (2002)

Plot: The story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War and the soldiers on both sides that fought it.

Reason to watch: Mel Gibson brilliantly portrays then-Lt. Col. Hal Moore as he leads his unit in the first major battle of the Vietnam war. But there are so many great performances in this film (based on the book “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young,” which opens by saying that “every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong.” From the portrayal of the gruff combat veteran Sgt. Maj. Plumley and pilot and Medal of Honor recipient Bruce Crandall, to the hardship endured at home by the Army wives, this film gets it right.

ALSO CHECK OUT: 9 movies every Marine needs to watch

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Special Forces are testing the tiniest drone ever

Designed by a former toy maker, the Black Hornet UAV fits in a human palm and weighs the same as three pieces of paper. But don’t be fooled by its size. It has impressive capabilities as a reconnaissance drone, which is why Special Forces and U.S. infantry have begun testing it.


The tiny drone feeds surprisingly clear video to the pilot from as far as kilometer away and can bear different sensors including thermal cameras for night assaults. The video is stored on the small user station on the operator’s belt, so enemies lucky enough to catch the Hornet will not be able to see what video the pilot has captured.

See this amazing little drone in action in this video:

To learn more, check out this article at Defense One.

NOW: DARPA is building a drone that can tell what color shirt you’re wearing from 17,500 feet

OR: The 9 weirdest projects DARPA is working on

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3 things to know about Sig Sauer and the future of Army handguns

For nearly 10 years, the Army has been on the search for a replacement to the Beretta M9, which has been in the hands of soldiers since 1985.


In a press release, the Army announced they had awarded a $580 million contract to Sig Sauer for the Modular Handgun System, “including handguns, accessories and ammunition.”

1. The military already uses Sig Sauer weapons

The new contract is not the first time Sig Sauer has outfitted members of the armed forces. After losing the Army bid to the Beretta M9 in 1984, the SIG-Sauer P226 was adapted by the Navy SEALs as the MK25 to replace the 9 mm SW M39 pistols. The MK25 was built with corrosion-resistant parts, a necessary requirement when serving a SEAL.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
A Coast Guard member is seen firing a Sig Sauer P229R DAK pistol at an indoor range located on Joint Base Cape Cod, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi)

Related: This suppressed pistol was custom made for Navy SEALs

Additionally, though the Army has widely issued the M9 to most soldiers, Military Police and members of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) often use the SIG-Sauer P228, a smaller version of the P226, known for its compact style and designated as the M11.

The Coast Guard adapted the SIG-Sauer P229R DAK after their M9’s bit the dust in 2004. As many Coast Guardsmen carry and use weapons on a daily basis while policing the nation’s borders, the wear and tear on the handgun took a toll quicker than the other branches. Because the USCG falls under the Department of Homeland Security, the branch was able to use non-Geneva compliant JHP ammunition with a non-NATO standard caliber (40SW).

21 facts about the First Gulf War
A soldier fires an M9 pistol. | U.S. Army photo

2. The P320 was named ‘Handgun of the Year’ by an NRA magazine

The P320 is rumored to be the handgun the Army will model their version after. One of the biggest complaints by soldiers about the M9 is its grip size, which is a significant problem for small-handed users. The P320 handgun can be ordered with changeable grips, which would accommodate all soldiers and can changed without incident in the field.

The Sig Sauer P320 was recognized in June 2016 as the Handgun of the Year by the National Rifle Association publication ‘American Rifleman.’ If the Army has chosen to model its next signature weapon after the SIG-Sauer P320 handgun, the upgrades, accessories, and features are numerous, and will provide soldiers a much more modern and up-to-date feel than the current M9.

3. Sig Sauer beat out nine other bids for the lucrative contract

The Army is poised to expand its numbers as the incoming presidential administration has indicated a larger military is on the horizon, a good sign for the pistol company. The $580 million contract extends through 2027 and includes the cost of weapons, ammunition, and accessories. The win showed Sig Sauer coming out ahead of other prestigious gun makers, including Glock, Beretta and Smith Wesson.

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Air Force jets will control small groups of drones

The Air Force Chief Scientist said F-35 pilots will be able to control a small group of drones flying nearby from the aircraft cockpit in the air, performing sensing, reconnaissance and targeting functions.


At the moment, the flight path, sensor payload and weapons disposal of airborne drones such as Air Force Predators and Reapers are coordinated from ground control stations.

In the future, drones may be fully operated from the cockpit of advanced fighter jets such as the Joint Strike Fighter or F-22, Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an interview.

“The more autonomy and intelligence you can put on these vehicles, the more useful they will become,” he said.

This development could greatly enhance mission scope, flexibility and effectiveness by enabling a fighter jet to conduct a mission with more weapons, sensors, targeting technology and cargo, Zacharias explained.

For instance, real-time video feeds from the electro-optical/infrared sensors on board an Air Force Predator, Reaper or Global Hawk drone could go directly into an F-35 cockpit, without needing to go to a ground control station. This could speed up targeting and tactical input from drones on reconnaisance missions in the vicinity of where a fighter pilot might want to attack. In fast-moving combat circumstances involving both air-to-air and air-to-ground threats, increased speed could make a large difference.

“It’s almost inevitable people will be saying – I want more missiles on board to get through defenses or I need some EW (electronic warfare) countermeasures because I don’t have the payload to carry a super big pod,” he explained. “A high powered microwave may have some potential that will require a dedicated platform. The negative side is you have to watch out that you don’t overload the pilot,” Zacharias added.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
US Air Force

In addition, drones could be programmed to fly into heavily defended or high-risk areas ahead of manned-fighter jets in order to assess enemy air defenses and reduce risk to pilots.

“Decision aides will be in cockpit or on the ground and more platform oriented autonomous systems. A wing-man, for instance, might be carrying extra weapons, conduct ISR tasks or help to defend an area,”  he said.

Advances in computer power, processing speed and areas referred to as “artificial intelligence” are rapidly changing the scope of what platforms are able to perform without needing human intervention. This is mostly developing in the form of what Zacharias referred to as “decision aide support,” meaning machines will be able to better interpret, organize, analyze and communicate information to a much greater extent – without have humans manage each individual task.

“A person comes in and does command and control while having a drone execute functions. The resource allocation will be done by humans,” Zacharias said.

The early phases of this kind of technology is already operational in the F-35 cockpit through what is called “sensor-fusion.” This allows the avionics technology and aircraft computer to simultaneously organize incoming information for a variety of different sensors – and display the data on a single integrated screen for the pilot.  As a result, a pilot does not have the challenge of looking at multiple screens to view digital map displays, targeting information or sensory input, among other things.

Another advantage of these technological advances is that one human may have an ability to control multiple drones and perform a command and control function – while drones execute various tasks such as sensor functions, targeting, weapons transport or electronic warfare activities.

At the moment, multiple humans are often needed to control a single drone, and new algorithms increasing autonomy for drones could greatly change this ratio.  Zacharias explained a potential future scenario wherein one human is able to control 10 – or even 100 – drones.

Algorithms could progress to the point where a drone, such as a Predator or a Reaper, might be able to follow a fighter aircraft by itself – without needing its flight path navigated from human direction from the ground.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
US Air Force

Unlike ground robotics wherein autonomy algorithms have to contend with an ability to move quickly in relation to unanticipated developments and other moving objects, simple autonomous flight guidance from the air is much more manageable to accomplish.

Since there are often fewer obstacles in the air compared with the ground, drones above the ground can be programmed more easily to fly toward certain pre-determined locations, often called a “way-points.”

At the same time, unanticipated movements, objects or combat circumstances can easily occur in the skies as well, Zacharias said.

“The hardest thing is ground robotics. I think that is really tough. I think the air basically is today effectively a solved problem. The question is what happens when you have to react more to your environment and a threat is coming after you,” he said.

As a result, scientists are now working on advancing autonomy to the point where a drone can, for example, be programmed to spoof a radar system, see where threats are and more quickly identify targets independently.

“We will get beyond simple guidance and control and will get into tactics and execution,” Zacharias added.

Wargames, exercises and simulations are one of the ways the Air Force is working to advance autonomous technologies.

“Right now we are using lots of bandwidth to send our real-time video. One of the things that we have is a smarter on-board processor. These systems can learn over time and be a force multiplier. There’s plenty of opportunity to go beyond the code base of an original designer and work on a greater ability to sense your environment or sense what your teammate might be telling you as a human,” he said.

For example, with advances in computer technology, autonomy and artificial intelligence, drones will be able to stay above a certain area and identify particular identified relevant objects or targets at certain times, without needing a human operator, Zacharias added.

This is particularly relevant because the exorbitant amount of ISR video feeds collected needs organizing algorithms and technology to help process and sift through the vast volumes of gathered footage – in order to pinpoint and communicate what is tactically relevant.

“With image processing and pattern recognition, you could just send a signal instead of using up all this bandwidth saying ‘hey I just saw something 30-seconds ago you might want to look at the video feed I am sending right now,'” he explained.

The Army has advanced manned-unmanned teaming technology in its helicopter fleet –successfully engineering Apache and Kiowa air crews to control UAS flight paths and sensor payloads from the air in the cockpit. Army officials say this technology has yielded successful combat results in Afghanistan.

Senior Air Force leaders have said that the services’ new next-generation bomber program, Long Range Strike Bomber or LRS-B, will be engineered to fly manned and unmanned missions.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has said that the service’s carrier-launched F-35C will be the last manned fighter produced, given the  progress of autonomy and algorithms allowing for rapid maneuvering. The Air Force, however, has not said something similar despite the service’s obvious continued interest in further developing autonomy and unmanned flight.

Also, in September of 2013, the Air Force and Boeing flew an unmanned F-16 Falcon at supersonic speeds for the first time at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The unmanned fighter was able to launch, maneuver and return to base without a pilot.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
US Air Force

At the same time, despite the speed at which unmanned technology is progressing, many scientist and weapons’ developers are of the view that human pilots will still be needed – given the speed at which the human brain can quickly respond to unanticipated developments.

There is often a two-second long lag time before a UAS in the air can respond to or implement directions from a remote pilot in a ground station, a circumstance which underscores the need for manned pilots when it comes to fighter jets, Air Force officials said.

Therefore, while cargo planes or bombers with less of a need to maneuver in the skies might be more easily able to embrace autonomous flight – fighter jets will still greatly benefit from human piloting, Air Force scientists have said.

While computer processing speed and algorithms continue to evolve at an alarming pace, it still remains difficult to engineer a machine able to instantly respond to other moving objects or emerging circumstances, Air Force scientists have argued.

However, sensor technology is progressing quickly to the point where fighter pilots will increasingly be able to identify threats at much greater distances, therefore remove the need to dogfight. As a result, there may be room for an unmanned fighter jet in the not-too-distant future, given the pace of improving autonomous technology.

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The Coast Guard and Navy just saved real-life castaways from a desert island

It’s not a movie this time.


The U.S. embassy in the Federated States of Micronesia’s city of Kolonia reported via Facebook that two castaways were rescued on the remote Pacific island of East Fayu after being lost at sea for 11 days.

The merchant vessel British Mariner reported seeing a flashlight signal them as they passed the otherwise uninhabited island on August 24.

The U.S. Navy overflew the island the next day in P-8A Poseidon aircraft. The Navy reported seeing a help message from castaways to the U.S. Coast Guard at the Guam Command Center.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
(U.S. Navy photo)

Navy observers saw “SOS” written in the beach sands by Linus and Sabina Jack, who left nearby Wenu Island on an 18-foot boat with limited supplies and no emergency equipment. They never reached their reported destination.


 

The pair left on August 17th and the Coast Guard began its search two days later when they failed to arrive at Tamtam Island. The multi-agency team searched some 16,571 square miles before the British Mariner saw their flashlight.

A patrol boat picked the castaways up on August 26.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
(U.S. Navy photo)

The international search for the couple lasted seven days and used a Coast Guard-sponsored ship reporting system designed to assist vessels under these exact conditions. Called AMVER, the Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System, the network is voluntary but is used worldwide. With AMVER, users can identify ships in the area of distress and ask them to respond or assist.

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This study of Iraq fighters reveals what makes people prepared to die for a cause

When ISIS launched its attack on Mosul in 2014, they were outnumbered by opposition forces by almost 40 to one – yet they took the city. Now a group of scientists working on the frontline in Iraq have analysed what motivates such fighters in research they say could help combat extremists.


While predicting the will to fight has been described by the former US director of national intelligence James Clapper as “imponderable,” researchers say they have begun to unpick what leads members of groups, including ISIS, to be prepared to die, let their family suffer, or even commit torture, finding that the motivation lies in a very different area to traditional ideas of comradeship.

“We found that there were three factors behind whether people were willing to make these costly sacrifices,” said Scott Atran, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and the research institution Artis International.

Those factors, he said, are the strength of commitment to a group and to sacred values, the willingness to choose those values over family or other kin, and the perceived strength of fighters’ convictions – so-called “spiritual strength” – over that of their foes.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Kurdish PKK Guerilla. Photo from Flickr user Kurdishstruggle

The findings support the idea, put forward by previous research, that the will to fight lies not in rational action but in the idea of the “devoted actor” – individuals who consider themselves strongly connected to a group, fighting for values considered to be non-negotiable, or “sacred.”

Writing in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, Atran and an international team of colleagues describe how they came to their insights by travelling to the frontline in Iraq.

As well as speaking to captured ISIS fighters, the team carried out in-depth interviews with Arab Sunni combatants, as well as Kurdish fighters from the PKK, Peshmerga, and members of the Iraqi army. The frontline approach, the authors note, was crucial to capturing the sacrifices individuals actually make for their values, rather than merely what they claim they might do.

The results revealed that all followed the model of “devoted actors”, but that the level of commitment to making costly sacrifices, such as dying, undertaking suicide attacks, or committing torture varied between groups. With the sample size of fighters small, the team also quizzed more than 6,000 Spanish civilians through online surveys.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
February 15, 2015 – ISIS militant stands with a knife. Photo credit: News Pictures/Polaris

The results revealed that the majority of civilians placed their family above a value they considered sacred. However, in a finding that echoed evidence from the frontline, the team discovered that those who placed their sacred value above their group said they were more willing to make dramatic, costly sacrifices such as dying, going to prison or letting their children suffer.

Surveys of the Spanish population also revealed that they made links between spiritual – but not physical – strength and the willingness to make sacrifices.

But the team stress that decisions made by devoted actors on the frontline were not made without emotional turmoil.

“One particular Peshmerga fighter had to make a decision when the Islamic State guys decided to enter his village – he wasn’t in a position to take his family with him and escape and get in front of the ISIS fighters, and so what he did was he left his family behind,” said Richard Davis, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and Artis International.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Photo from Flickr user Kurdishstruggle

While being interviewed, the fighter received a phone call from his wife behind ISIS lines, knowing the penalty if caught would be death. “You could see the man getting emotional, and as he gets off the phone, he begins to lament the decision that he had to go through to leave his family behind, but he indicated that fighting for Kurdistan was more important, and that he hoped that God would save his family,” said Davis. “When you hear things like that and you see a broken man – then you recognise how difficult this was for people.”

The team note that understanding the willingness to fight and die among devoted actors could prove valuable in fostering forces against ISIS, including in exploring ways to elicit deeper commitment to, and willingness to sacrifice for, values such as democracy and liberty.

“Instead of just taking volunteers into an army, we might be able to screen who we put into the army based upon the types of values they commit to, and this would create an entirely different fighting force than the one that melted in Mosul in 2014, ” said Davis, adding that the study could also inform efforts attempting to prevent fighters from joining ISIS.

Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews welcomed the research, adding that it contributed to the understanding of terrorists as “engaged followers”. “The fundamental finding is that those prepared to kill – and die – for a cause are to be understood not in terms of a distinctive personality but in terms of their immersion in a collective cause and their commitment to the ideology of that cause,” he said.

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The Marine Corps’ F-35B is practicing in Nevada for future combat

For the first time ever, Marine Corps aviators will fly their short-takeoff and vertical landing version of the F-35 Lightning II in one of the world’s most intense aerial combat training exercises, the Red Flag Exercise in Nevada.


The F-35Bs will be focusing on flight safety and how to best employ the plane’s current suite of weapons and tools and will not seek to engage targets within visual range, 2nd Lt. Casey Littesy, a 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing spokesperson, told the Marine Corps Times.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
A US Marine Corps F-35B conducts a short take-off and vertical landing exercise in Oct. 2013. Photo: US Air Force Samuel King

All friendly fighters in the exercise go up against American jets and surface-to-air missiles tweaked to provide realistic training that simulates a war with a near-peer rival such as Russia or China. These advanced threats from rival nations are the exact adversaries that the F-35 — and its sibling, the F-22 Raptor — were designed to fly against.

A hot debate rages over whether the F-35s will work as advertised against advanced fighters, like Russia’s PAK FA, China’s J-20 and ground threats like the S-400 and HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems. Red Flag — which runs from July 11-29 — represents one of the Corps’ best chances to see how the F-35B can play in airspace that an enemy is trying to control or take.

Red Flag trainers have even begun folding cyber attacks into the exercise, meaning F-35B pilots will have to deal with attacks on their network. But this could actually be a prime area for the F-35 to shine.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
The F-35 can connect to most any friendly force on the battlefield, feeding information from its sensors to friendlies and grabbing information from other planes and sensors. (Graphic: Lockheed Martin)

The Lightning II is outfitted with top-tier sensors, advanced software that sorts and compiles information and network capabilities that allow it to connect to other combatants. That means the F-35B may be able to ferry information for others when the battlefield network is attacked.

This isn’t the first time the Marines have taken the F-35B out of the stable and put it through its paces. The plane has been folded into the Marine Corps Weapons and Tactics Instructors course, an intense school for elite pilots that tests the F-35B and its operators.

During a recent test, 30 F-35Bs ran an exercise against 24 aggressor aircraft. Legacy aircraft that have attempted the test suffered losses of between 33 and 50 percent of their aircraft, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said during Congressional testimony on July 6. The F-35B chewed through the enemy instead, killing all 24 without suffering a single loss.

Detractors of the program believe that these battlefield exercises are either stacked in the F-35’s favor or that the results were tweaked or outright fabricated. The debate will likely continue until the Lightning II is first sent to war. Until then, it’s the Marine Corps’ job to make sure F-35B aviators are ready for that call.

(h/t Marine Corps Times)

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The Centurion tank was tough enough to survive a nuclear blast

The British-made Centurion tank was first developed in 1945 but came much too late to be used in World War II. The British needed a larger, heavier version of the Comet. The Centurion also had sloped armor and a more powerful main turret.


21 facts about the First Gulf War
The British Centurion in Korea. (Australia War Memorial photo)

The tank was also an effective deterrent in postwar Western Europe. NATO planners saw it as a perfect counter to the Russian T-34. The Centurion served in the Korean War, a dominant partner in the UN forces’ breakout from Pusan. The tank operated in the subzero temperatures and even on the tops of mountains. Australians in the Vietnam War also used the Centurion, as did India and Pakistan (their wars pitted Centurion tanks against other Centurion tanks), Sweden, South Africa, Jordan, and Israel. The British used the Centurion through the 1991 Gulf War.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
Centurions of the Israeli Defence Forces in the Negev (photo by Fritz Cohen)

The Nuclear Test

Besides powering through the high mountains and subzero temperatures in North Korea and fighting through the dense, sweltering jungles of Vietnam, the biggest testament to the Centurion’s toughness came in Australia in 1953. An Australian Army Centurion Mark 3 was left at ground zero of a 9.1 kiloton nuclear detonation — engine running and loaded down with ammo, supplies, and a mannequin crew.

When test crews inspected the tank after the blast, they found the vehicle intact, if heavily sandblasted. The only reason the engine stopped was because the tank ran out of fuel. While the blast wave would have killed a real tank crew at that distance from the epicenter, the researchers realized they could have driven the tank off the test site.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
The actual post-blast Atomic Tank

The actual tank that withstood the nuclear blast, naturally nicknamed The Atomic Tank, was used by the Australians in the Vietnam War. It took an RPG and stayed in the fight during an engagement with the North Vietnamese.

Israel, Jordan, Libya, and South Africa still use variants of the Centurion today.

Articles

This Marine legend went from the beaches of Iwo Jima to the fields of the Negro League

21 facts about the First Gulf War


The Rev. Dr. William “Bill” Greason’s voice echoed from the curved white ceiling of Bethel Baptist Church. Direct and robustly musical, Greason’s message pulsed around his congregation.

“I didn’t buy this breath,” he said. “Somebody gave it to me.”

Greason, 90, still measures in at a lanky 5’10” and, other than a smattering of grey, resembles his 1948 Birmingham Black Barons rookie card. His eyes retain their youthful charm and twinkle with wisdom and humor.

He is slow to talk about himself and his accomplishments, but his story is one that begs to be told.

The tale of Bill Greason begins long before he was scouted as a baseball wunderkind by the Negro American League, and contains more substance than a beefy ERA.

Greason was born in 1924 and grew up in Atlanta, Ga., on Auburn Avenue, across the street from playmate Martin Luther King, Jr. Auburn Avenue, also known as Sweet Auburn, was a historically black neighborhood deep in the heart of the segregated South.

Greason explained that he and his four siblings were aware of racial inequality, but were not defined by their circumstances or overcome by anger.

“My parents taught us ‘you are somebody,’ Greason said. “Don’t let anybody make you feel that you’re not. If anybody doesn’t like the color of your skin, tell them to talk to God. But your character — that’s on you.”

Greason’s character and sense of identity fortified him when he joined the Armed Forces in 1943 after graduating from high school.

In the midst of World War II, Greason was called to enlist and serve among the first black Marine recruits, The Montford Point Marines. These exceptional men had been denied access to full democratic freedom at home and were prepared to die for their country, yet Greason and his comrades continued to experience prejudice from their white counterparts during service.

“We were told in the beginning that we weren’t wanted in there,” Greason said. “So we had to prove ourselves.”

This is exactly what they did. In what became one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, Greason and fellow Marines took to the shores of Iwo Jima, Japan to win a decisive victory for the United States, despite heavy casualties.

On Nov. 23, 2011, President Barack Obama signed legislation to award a collective Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines, the highest civilian honor.

“As the Congressional Gold Medal for the Montford Point Marines is issued, it is a special privilege to extend our fullest appreciation to Reverend William Greason and salute his exceptional life and service to his community and his country,” said U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus in a tribute to Greason in 2012.

“Surviving the island,” Greason said, “was a miracle that had an everlasting impact.”

“When I was on the island of Iwo Jima, with the Marines dying all around and two of my best friends were killed, I promised the Lord that if he saved me, if I was able to get off that island, anything He wanted me to do I would do it,” he said.

Greason left Iwo Jima unscathed, but memories of the island remain with him and he is eager to share their lessons.

“It taught you something about life and how precious it is,” Greason said. “You don’t want to destroy anybody — you want to help wherever you can.”

After occupational duty in Japan for 13 months, Greason returned stateside with a rekindled passion for life and a new talent: baseball.

21 facts about the First Gulf War

Most of the literature on Greason’s remarkable baseball career concerns itself with statistics: his 3.61 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 1953, the pennant he led the Black Barons to in ’48, his snappy curving fastball and his nickname, “Double Duty,” earned for his workhorse mentality on the mound and at the plate.

The numbers provide a chill, sterile glance — a press box view — of a history won in grit, nerve and determination.

When the undefeated Black Barons suffered their only loss to the Asheville Blues at the hands of 24-year-old Greason in 1948, player-manager Lorenzo “Piper” Davis was in the process of scouring the Negro League for raw talent to add to his unrivaled team. Recruiting Greason was a no- brainer.

Black players in America’s favorite pastime had a special burden according to Greason.

“We were blessed to be part of this great history of Negro League Baseball,” he said. “Wherever we would go and play, they recognized us as being gentlemen.”

The Birmingham Black Barons and other Negro League teams seemed to understand that baseball, unlike other sports at the time, held national significance. They stepped up to bat and they represented not only themselves, but also the hope of equality for their entire race.

“We were taught to retain and maintain our dignity,” Greason said. “We didn’t disgrace our parents. We didn’t disgrace the people we worked for. We didn’t disgrace the city.”

1948 proved to be the last year of the Negro League World Series, and though the Barons lost the championship in the final hour to the Homestead Grays, Greason’s physical talent and emotional maturity preceded him.

He pitched two years in the Mexican League (1950–1951); eight in the minors (1952–1959), as the first black player for the Oklahoma City Indians; and five years in the winter leagues (1951; 1954- 1958), where he notably played against Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba.

After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, there was a major decline in support for the Negro Leagues. As the players were scouted into minor and major leagues, fans followed, ultimately sealing the Negro League’s fate.

In 1954, after returning from serving in the Korean War, Greason was scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals as the team’s first black pitcher. He was honored September 2014 with a Living Legend Award.

21 facts about the First Gulf War

“It was a blessing in disguise,” Greason said. “It gave our players opportunity to earn more money in ‘organized ball’ as they called it.”

It is the entrepreneurial spirit of the Negro League players that Ora Jerald, executive director of the American Negro League Baseball Association, is striving to inspire in Birmingham youth.

Along with Greason and other Black Barons legends, Jerald established the legacy initiative Project HELP (History Entrepreneurs Leadership Program).

What started out as baseball camps and demonstrations developed into a pointed effort to prepare economically compromised children for brighter futures.

“The spirit of entrepreneurship and leadership is very much a part of the overall history of the Negro Leagues,” Jerald said. “And the legacy then is to make sure that something profound is left in the lives and hearts of the children.”

Jerald explained that the historical impact of Greason’s life has helped inspire children beyond the baseball diamond.

“We’ve developed something that we think — entrepreneurship and leadership, certainly — is reflective of what the Negro League baseball history stands for and what it represented at the time when Greason was at his peak as a player,” Jerald said.

21 facts about the First Gulf War
In addition to Project HELP, Greason, in collaboration with members of his congregation at Bethel Baptist, has curated a museum depicting not only his life in baseball: uniforms, trophies and awards, but also the lives of outstanding community members, including Michael Holt.

“We want our community to see that your circumstances don’t define who you are,” said Holt, who spent 31 years in government service as the assistant director for Homeland Security.

The Rev. William “Bill” Greason Museum of Legends is currently open to the public and is most easily accessed on Sundays after church at Bethel Baptist.

When asked what he wishes his legacy to be, Greason smiles and says, “Humility. The way up is down. It’s a paradox. Popularity wanes, but character is retained.”

Wise words from a man with much to be proud of.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Market Magazine.