With the increasing number of forest fires on the West Coast, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has had to ask the California National Guard for help containing the blazes.
Soldiers of the National Guard have been called in to assist both on the ground and in the air. Chinook crews have been flying missions to drop water from nearby lakes onto the wildfires. Here’s what they see while completing their mission.
Helicopter crews pick up water from lakes in Bambi Buckets, large water carriers with remote-operated valves.
Once they have the water, the crews target areas where the fire is attempting to spread.
The crews map out nearby water features and plan their flights so they can refill and return to the fire as quickly as possible.
The pilots’ navigation equipment was designed for war and provides more than enough information for them to navigate on the objective.
The crew assist the pilots in targeting the fire and aiming the water.
These images and the below video were taken from the California Rocky Fire which burned for 16 days and consumed over 69,000 acres. 96 buildings were destroyed and 8 damaged before it was contained.
Check out the video below to see the California National Guard crews go through their mission.
Pentagon budgets are shrinking (or growing at a smaller rate than they had during the previous few decades). And while there’s not a lot of money to procure new weapons systems, the threats to the nation aren’t going away. The U.S. military still has a job to do. There are no bucks, but the American public still expects Buck Rogers.
Here are six improvements — “tweaks,” if you will — to existing platforms that would improve military readiness without breaking the increasingly small bank:
1. An internal gun for the F-35B/C variants of the Lightning II
The Air Force’s F-35A has a gun — the GAU-22, a 25mm Gatling Gun, with 182 rounds. The GAU-22 is based off the AV-8B’s GAU-12, and it gives the F-35A an offensive edge. But the F-35B and F-35C don’t have an internal gun (only a gun pod with 220 rounds).
The same situation existed with the F-4 Phantom – probably America’s first real joint strike fighter, which saw action during the Vietnam War with the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. As Navy ace (and convicted congressional felon) Randy Cunningham noted in his memoir, Fox Two, the lack of a gun cost him kills.
2. The Penguin anti-ship missile for the MH-60R Seahawk
This chopper is an advanced version of the SH-60B. Equipped with a choice of lightweight torpedo (either Mk 46, Mk 50, or Mk 54), and Hellfire missiles, it serves as additional eyes and ears for surface combatants. But the Hellfire has only a 20-pound warhead and a range of about five nautical miles.
The SH-60B, though, had the Penguin anti-ship missile. This weapon had a 265-pound warhead and a range of 15 nautical miles. In other words, it can handle bigger targets – and would be very useful additions to the MH-60R’s arsenal.
3. More bomb capacity for the B-1B Lancer
While the B-1B already has the largest bombload of any American combat plane, it could have even more. Presently, it has a bomb bay that can hold 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs. The venerable B-52 can only carry 51 such bombs. In other words, the B-1 can deliver about 60 percent more hurt to the bad guys.
But it could be even more. The B-1B, when designed, had the capability to carry up to 14 cruise missiles or 44 more Mk 82s on external pylons. Restoring those external pylons would give the B-1 50 percent more firepower.
4. Harpoon launchers for the Flight IIA and III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers
While the Flight IIA and Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are very capable vessels in anti-air warfare and anti-sub warfare. But the earlier Flight I and Flight II versions of this destroyer have something the later ships don’t: A pair of Mk 141 launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Boeing’s latest version of the Harpoon has a range of 130 nautical miles and a 300-pound warhead. The Mk 141 launchers don’t take up a lot of space, and it never hurts to have more anti-ship firepower as China and Russia are adding modern ships to their naval arsenals.
5. Laser-guided bombs for the B-2 Spirit
What more could you want on America’s most advanced bomber in service? The B-2 Spirit has stealth technology and the ability to deliver precision-guided weapons including the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, as well as nuclear weapons – excuse me, “special stores.” It’s also expensive – a flyaway cost of just over $700 million per plane caused the production run to stop at 21 airframes.
That said, they have a couple of gaps in their capabilities. All of the B-2’s weapons are either dumb bombs or GPS-guided. So, perhaps the best upgrade they could get would be to give the B-2 the ability to drop laser-guided bombs like the GBU-24 and to use Harpoon anti-ship missiles and the Standoff Land-Attack Missile, giving them more options to target ships like the Chinese Type 52C destroyer.
6. Bushmaster cannon for the M1126/M1127 Stryker
The Stryker’s proven itself in combat operations during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The M1126 and M1127 have a remote weapons station that can use an M2 heavy machine gun or a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher.
But now, it could be asked to help fight Russian aggression against NATO allies. Here it has a problem. The Stryker is outgunned by the BMP-3 or BTR-90, Russia’s most modern infantry fighting vehicles. The former has a 100mm gun and a 30mm coaxial cannon. The latter has a 30mm cannon and an AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missile.
So, to give the Stryker a better chance in a fight against the Russians, the best option would be to give it the same chain gun that the M2 and M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles carry: the 25mm Bushmaster cannon.
These six weapons systems serve with our troops – and have done so with excellence. But some small improvements to each of them would give our troops even better odds on battlefields around the world.
A zombie outbreak in pop culture usually starts in the United Kingdom or the United States. However, western countries do not keep quiet for long when it come to a worldwide threat. Communist countries have time and again chosen to suppress information until it is no longer deniable. In 1986, when the Chernobyl disaster happened, the Soviet Union refused to acknowledge a problem until other countries had irrefutable proof something was wrong.
China continues this motif of lies and propaganda to save face when they mess up. In Chinese culture, losing face is worse than the actual mistake. Worse yet is owning up to it because it is seen a sign of weakness.
China would suppress news of an out break
By refusing to admit the truth of the zombie outbreak to the world, the Communist Chinese government aided its spread due to misinformation about what was actually happening.
Zombiepedia, World War Z by Max Brooks
Digging deeper into the cultural phenomena of losing face, the Chinese people, not just the government, would actively deny they are powerless. The country as a whole would lose face if the world called out the CCP when caught in a lie. They would rather invent a scenario where the cause of the outbreak was natural rather than criminal negligence. The Chinese not knowing how the virus is spreading would be another losing face situation. To be seen as ignorant of that knowledge is shameful in Chinese culture.
While the Chinese government is squabbling over how to present the situation on the world stage, the Z virus would spread exponentially. China’s population is around 1.4 billion people – that’s a lot of zombies. In 2019 Chinese “authorities deliberately sacrificed health workers to maintain their lies.” We know what the first thing the CCP would do if there was a zombie virus: lie.
They would use a zombie vaccine as leverage
The civilized world would put politics aside and band together to achieve a common goal. Yet, the Chinese government would use the zombie outbreak as an excuse to profit from the vaccines, blackmail countries to do their bidding and deny them life saving medicine. Once they can no longer deny that there is a problem, they will do everything in their power to make the rest of the world suffer the consequences.
A weaponized Z virus
China’s bioweapons ambitions are no secret. They actively pursue diseases, then engineer deadlier versions. Regardless of whether a zombie virus was manmade or developed in a lab, the cat is out of the bag. Conveniently, the CCP has been trying to cleanse China of undesirables. All they would have to do is do nothing, as the wanton destruction of the Communist Zombies eats away their political enemies.
Instead of China having a Resident Evil Umbrella Corporation-like deliberate response to a zombie outbreak, they would most likely fall flat on their faces. The politicians at the top would continue their caricature-like information suppression tactics. The poor and disenfranchised would suffer the most. Eventually, the rest of the world would have to clean up their mess like always. When you deal with a problem when it’s small, it stays small. Bad news doesn’t get better with time. The Communists will always deny, deflect and lie until it’s too late. The zombie apocalypse is most likely to start in China, not because of deliberate evil, but because of President Winnie the Pooh’s hubris.
Throughout the history of modern warfare, the record for longest confirmed sniper kill is one that has steadily gotten more and more extreme as technology has progressed. At the time of writing this, the holder of that record is British sniper Craig Harrison, who notably broke the previous record twice on the same day by hitting two enemy targets on two consecutive shots an astounding 2,474 metres away.
For our friends across the pond, that’s 8,116.8 feet or 1.54 miles or about 22.5 NFL football fields (including end zones) away. The shot was from such an extreme range that it took the bullet about three seconds to reach the target.
Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison made his record breaking shot in November of 2009 while stationed in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Harrison personally didn’t find out about its record breaking nature until after he returned home in 2010. The distance from which he took the shot, which was measured and confirmed via GPS, amazed his superiors in the Ministry of Defence so much that they published the details of his shot almost as soon as he got back to the UK, and even granted him permission to give interviews about it to the world’s media.
If you’re wondering about the circumstances surrounding the shot, Harrison was providing cover fire for his commanding officer and members of the Afghan National Army, who’d been ambushed by two insurgents. According to Harrison, the insurgents were armed with a PKM machine-gun and had pinned down the soldiers, giving him only a short time to assess the situation and subsequently line up a shot to ruin the attackers’ day.
With a help from a spotter, Cliff O’Farrell, and 9 test shots to nail down the exact distance, Harrison lined up his shot and squeezed the trigger for a 10th time, firing a .338 Lapua Magnum round and striking the machine-gunner in the gut, killing him. The remaining insurgent, who wouldn’t have even heard the shot coming, reached out to take command of the now free machine-gun only to be hit by a second round launched by Harrison. With both insurgents down, Harrison pulled the trigger one more time to disable the machine-gun itself.
Thus, Harrison not only broke the previous record (7,972 feet set in 2002 in Afghanistan) held by Canadian Rob Furlong using a McMillan-Tac 50, but he made the shot essentially three times in a row without missing- hitting the two insurgents and their machine-gun. This means he technically broke the record twice within a few seconds of one another.
As if all that wasn’t impressive enough, the actual shots were noted as being about 3,000 feet beyond the L115A3 rifle’s effective range. Needless to say, as Harrison said, “Conditions were perfect, no wind, mild weather, clear visibility.”
Interestingly, despite the interviews he gave over the matter, we shouldn’t really know Harrison’s real name. Official Ministry of Defence rules state that the identities of snipers, regardless of interviews of this nature, should never be disclosed publicly, as they would quickly become prime targets. Harrison was well aware of this rule and reportedly only agreed to speak with the media about his record shot on the understanding that his identity wouldn’t be disclosed or that they’d give him a pseudonym.
However, for reasons that aren’t clear, the MoD never passed this restriction onto any of the media outlets Harrison spoke with and they all released stories crediting Harrison under his real name, with some sources even noting where he lived.
The police quickly warned Harrison and his family that they were in danger after the story was printed. To protect his wife, daughter, and himself, Harrison was left with no choice but to uproot his family, which in turn resulted in his wife losing her job and his daughter being pulled from school mid-year. We’re also guessing that for the following few months, Harrison ensured that his wife and daughter were always within 8000 feet of his location, just in case.
Understandably, Harrison got pretty upset about his identity being printed in the news when he was explicitly told it wouldn’t be. Thus, he asked the MoD for compensation for drawing a bullseye on his family’s backs and to cover moving expenses. He was later awarded £100,000 (about $156,000) for his trouble.
Just a few weeks after making the longest kill shot in sniper history, Harrison was shot in the head while under enemy fire, but luckily his helmet took the brunt of the blow and the bullet did not penetrate his skull. Shortly thereafter, he had both his arms broken when the vehicle he was travelling in drove over a roadside bomb. He not only managed to make a full recovery after this devastating injury, but insisted on being sent back to the front line as soon as he was fit, stating that the explosion hadn’t affected his “ability as a sniper”.
The spotter Harrison used to make the shot was a military driver with no formal training in the spotting, making the shot that much more impressive.
After losing Frank Levingston, who died at the age of 110 last week, the veteran community now has another supercentenarian: World War II vet Richard Overton now assumes the title of oldest living American military veteran, just in time for his own 110th birthday.
Overton was born in Bastrop County on May 11th, 1906. He lives in Austin, Texas. According to his wikipedia page, he enlisted in the Army at 36 years old on September 3, 1942. He was a corporal in an all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion in the South Pacific and made stops in Hawaii, Guam, Palau and Iwo Jima.
Overton retired from the Arm
y as Sergeant in 1945 and moved to East Austin, Texas. He worked at local furniture stores and then took a position with the Texas Department of the Treasury. He has lived in the same home – which he bought for $4,000 – for 71 years. He was married twice, and did not have children. He outlived all of his 10 siblings – and wives.
A documentary, Mr. Overton, has been produced on his life and profiles his daily routine, thoughts on longevity, and military service. According to the film’s Facebook page, it will be available at the Short Film Corner Cannes Court Metrage for the duration of the Cannes Film Festival, which starts today.
The candid combat vet has been interviewed numerous times. Here’s what he had to say on a variety of subjects:
“War’s nothing to be into,” said Overton in a 2013 interview with USA Today. “You don’t want to go into the war if you don’t have to. But I had to go. I enjoyed it after I’d went and came back, but I didn’t enjoy it when I was over there. I had to do things I didn’t want to do.”
“They tried to kill me in the Army, but God wouldn’t let ’em. I stayed for nearly five years and I didn’t get a scratch on me.”
“You put a taste of whiskey in your coffee in the morning, and it’s like medicine,” he advised Cigar Aficianado in 2015. He later told local paper My Statesman that he also uses it to sleep: “at night when I go to bed, I put two tablespoons in my 7 Up. It makes you sleep soundly.”
“You don’t ever leave a bullet under the trigger. Leave it empty. You got to clean your gun every day. You got to keep that barrel clean, because you got to use it every day.” (Watch his interview with Guns.com here)
He had his first cigar at 18, and has been a regular ever since. Cigar Aficianado observed “he prefers them mild and on the smaller side—he doesn’t enjoy the fat cigar trend, doesn’t like a cigar that’s too big to hold comfortably in your mouth.”
“I don’t inhale them,” Overton said. “It’s the good taste. Cigars are my friend,” he added. “They keep me company.”
“You’ve got to stir around a lot—your muscles get dry, your blood gets slow,” he told Cigar Aficianado last year. “You need to get up and move around. If your muscles get sluggish, it slows your blood down.”
Meeting President Obama in 2013:
“When I come back, everybody wants to know what he said. But I ain’t said one word. I ain’t no tattletale and I don’t talk tales.” he told My Statesman.
“And everywhere I go now, somebody know me,” he says. “Every time I go to a store, somebody say, ‘I seen you on TV.’ I say, ‘No, you didn’t.’ ‘Yes I did, too,’ they say.”
“I feel good,” Richard Overton told NBC News. “A little old, but I’m getting around like everybody else.”
The Pentagon office in charge of outfitting America’s secret warriors is asking industry for new technologies that will allow commandos to target and track bad guys through goggles or a head’s up display in their weapon sights, see colors at night and fly small surveillance drones that are nearly undetectable.
The new technologies sound like something from science fiction, but the spec ops gear buyers want to see what industry has in the works that could get to troops behind enemy lines in places like Syria, Iraq and Libya.
According to an official industry solicitation, U.S. Special Operations Command will hold a so-called “Military Utility Assessment” at Camp Blanding, Florida, in mid-November to see what capabilities are out there to enhance special operators’ ability to see the enemy in adverse conditions, surveil bad guy positions at great distances and tag and track targets without detection.
Current night vision equipment either enhances available light like stars or the moon or uses thermal imaging to see heat. Both technologies can be digitally modified to present the images in limited color, but the detail is usually poor.
The special operations community wants to see if there are options out there that help commandos identify objects and people in the dark with better resolution.
The command is looking for night optics “that aid in target discrimination, mobility, combat identification, identify friend or foe, or situational awareness via a natural appearing manner.”
“The need is from clear sky no moon to daylight conditions,” USSOCOM says. “A capability that allows true color at higher illumination and switch or transition to black and white at the lowest illumination is of interest.”
The special operators will consider systems that either attach to existing goggles, scopes or optics or entire new night vision equipment that can replace them. The key is keeping down the weight and increasing battery life, the command says.
SOCOM also wants to see if there are options out there for passive targeting scopes that will allow commandos to move a cursor to their target and share that data with other assaulters and snipers. They even want to be able to call in air strikes using the embedded targeting capability.
Clearly, unmanned aerial vehicles have become an important part of warfighting these days, and SOCOM wants to see how it can take advantage of the bleeding edge of technology for unmanned systems. The command has asked industry if it can field drones that are unseen and unheard above a target and can see details like vehicle license plates or the types of bombs loaded on a parked plane.
The special operators want “technologies that can be programmed to orbit or perch and stare at an area or object of interest,” it said. “Technology should be visually and acoustically undetectable by persons or systems resident at an observed area or object of interest, while providing users VNIIRS 9 or better video quality in real time.”
SOCOM is asking for technology proposals that are either on the drawing board or have prototypes ready for field testing.
At the onset of World War II, writing letters was the preferred communication between soldiers and family members. In fact, oftentimes it was the only form of communication. Phone calls were few and far between, and usually, technology like telegrams were reserved for internal military communication. When it came to talking with loved ones, letters were their bread and butter. On average, each soldier wrote six letters per week — almost one every day — with each one taking up to four weeks to make it to their delivery address. If they were lucky, letters would be delivered in a single week. The process was long, tedious and expensive logistically, but also incredibly reassuring for those on the receiving end.
In June of 1942, the U.S. Government announced a change in the way they delivered mail. Rather than collecting and delivering physical letters, they created Victory Mail. Shortened to V-Mail, it was a technology that took images of letters, then shipped the films — rather than sacks and sacks of paper — then re-printed smaller versions back in the U.S. The service was discontinued on November 1, 1945.
The benefits of V-Mail meant reducing plane cargo space; a film was 1/37th the space and weight of a paper letter. Films recorded up to 40 letters per minute, holding 1,600 on each roll of film. V-Mail letters could also be delivered quickly. As this was considered the number one morale booster to soldiers, there was heavy motivation to make V-Mail a success.
V-Mail thwarted espionage
However, space wasn’t the only benefit to V-Mail, it also helped eliminate traitor and/or spy efforts against the U.S.
It did so in two ways:
First, all letters that went through V-Mail were censored. Sensitive information was deleted or removed from the correspondence altogether. There were folks whose entire job was to read letters and remove anything offensive or sensitive. Therefore, someone — willingly or not — sharing confidential information would have parts of their message redacted, ensuring nothing classified was transmitted.
Second, because V-Mail took images of letters, many spy tactics were made moot, to include invisible ink, microdots and microprinting. The latter two involved very small writings or codes that could only be deciphered by someone who knew what to look for, usually with a magnifying glass. But as V-Mail re-prints were at a quarter of the size of the original, tiny artifacts could not be identified. (It’s also likely that the image qualities were not clear enough to pick up such details.)
Original copies of letters were kept by the receiving Post Office, assigning numbers so that “no V-Mail letter could ever be lost.” However, this meant copies with secret ink, etc. would not be seen by its intended recipient.
Along with the speed of delivery, the ability to fight espionage was marketed as a patriotic way for V-Mail to help the war. In total, more than a billion V-Mail letters were sent until the end of the war in 1945.
Featured image: Left, National Archives; Right, WWII Museum
A photo posted by Robert Kugler (@robkugler) on Jul 25, 2016 at 4:59pm PDT
Kugler was getting ready to graduate college on the GI Bill in 2015 when he heard the news that Bella had bone cancer. A May 2015 amputation of Bella’s front left leg bought her some time, but veterinarians were still pessimistic about her chances. That’s when Kugler decided that he wanted to give her a proper send-off.
“I just was kind of looking at her, and just imagining her being gone when I came home from work,” he told WATM. “I just said, ‘You know what? Let’s take off for a little while.'”
Since that decision, Bella and Kugler have been traveling together around the country. Like Kugler, Bella loves being in nature.
“We were in the Adirondacks, in upstate New York,” Kugler said. “That has been some of our best nature time together during this period. … Our hikes in the Adirondacks are probably some of my favorite times that we’ve had together, like near Lake Placid.”
Bella, who Kugler adopted in 2007 with his then-wife, is great with people and is known for enthusiastically greeting almost anyone she meets.
“Bella’s still very independent,” Kugler said. “She wants to meet new people, but she’s also just very curious about how they smell, if they have food for her. ‘You got food? Who’s got food? Do you have food for me?’ She gets a little spoiled.”
This has allowed Kugler to meet and help encourage people he wouldn’t have connected with otherwise.
“We meet a little girl in a wheelchair that just falls in love with Bella before she even realizes that she has three legs. Bella stands up, and the girl is like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s like me,’ ” Kugler said.
As Kugler describes it, he and Bella are just, “Out exploring the world with my dog, and encouraging people to get outside and drop their social barriers and their boundaries, to just live on this tiny blue speck together as one.”
While Bella has done brilliantly on their trip, staying active and outgoing despite her cancer, Kugler says that traveling with Bella has helped him nearly as much as it has helped her.
“When I’m with her, and I’m paying attention to her, I’m outside myself, and I’m focusing on giving her the best life, I feel at that point in time that I am the best version of myself,” he said. “That is one of the reasons I like really spending time with her and doing our thing.”
Kugler is overjoyed that Bella has been able to fight for so long and has helped so many people, but he keeps people updated on her progress in his Instagram feed where he acknowledges that Bella is still facing death.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
F-22A Raptors with the 94th Fighter Squadron drop joint direct attack munitions during the 95th anniversary of when Gen. William Billy Mitchell bombed the Ostfriesland, a captured German warship, at Langley Air Force Base, Va., July 21, 2016. Mitchell and the 1st Provisional Air Brigade demonstrated to the world the superiority of airpower by sinking the reputedly unsinkable Ostfriesland.
Members of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons and 176th Security Forces Squadron, along with the 163rd SFS from the California Air National Guard, participated in a mass casualty exercise on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, July 20, 2016. During the exercise, the rescue operators located, assessed, treated and evacuated numerous casualties while engaging and eliminating multiple attacks from opposition forces.
A CH-47 Chinook helicopter crews conduct mass casualty evacuation during a training mission at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Operations Group, JRTC and Fort Polk, La., July 23, 2016. The aviation units from the New York Army National Guard and Maryland National Guard joined more than 5,000 Soldiers for a training rotation aimed at increasing readiness and support capabilities to the homeland when needed.
A crew chief, assigned to the Arizona National Guard, directs German Bundeswehr soldiers off a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to an assembly area during Operation Stalwart Strike III, a Polish, Hungarian, German and U.S. exercise conducted by Kosovo Forces at Camp Vrelo, Kosovo, July 27.
PACIFIC OCEAN (July 31, 2016) The nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) conducts helicopter operations at sunset during Rim of the Pacific 2016. Twenty-six nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 30 to Aug. 4, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2016 is the 25th exercise in the series that began in 1971.
ARABIAN GULF (July 31, 2016) – A pilot performs pre-flight checks on an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Wildcats of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 131 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike). Ike and its Carrier Strike Group are deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
Marines from 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division, attached to Australian 1st Armoured Regiment, 1st Brigade, help support their M-88A2 Hercules Armoured Recovery Vehicle during Exercise Hamel in Cultana Training Area, South Australia, Australia, July 3-12, 2016. Exercise Hamel is a trilateral training exercise with Australian, New Zealand, and U.S. forces to enhance cooperation, trust, and friendship.
An unlucky Marine sits under a tarp to keep dry from the rain at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii July 15, 2016. Marines with III Marine Expeditionary Force are participating in Rim of the Pacific 2016, a multinational military exercise, from June 29 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands.
Piper has made it to Grand Haven, Michigan for the Coast Guard Festival!
The last 41-foot UTB to be retired from service welcomes visitors to Grand Haven, Michigan.
With the advent of “net-centric” warfare — highly-integrated and extremely complex next-generation aircraft, warships, and even infantry soldier systems — the US military has invested a good deal of effort into finding something that eases the workload and burden on troops tasked with maintaining these processes and systems, and fixes issues as they appear.
SparkCognition, a startup in Texas with a rapidly growing funding base and ties with big-name defense contractors like Boeing, aims to put a speedy end to this search with the development of an artificial intelligence “fixer” with a broad range of functions, from diagnosing complex issues with military hardware to preventing ships from colliding at sea.
Much like everybody’s favorite Star Wars robot mechanic, R2D2, this new AI system will be able to function on its own, learning the mechanical ins and outs of warships, fighter jets and everything in-between. When something goes wrong — a glitch, a software failure, or a hardware malfunction — the AI can pinpoint the exact problem, then direct maintainers and technicians on solving the issue at hand.
Pilots, don’t get your hopes up just yet… the AI probably won’t look anything like the beeping white and blue barrel on wheels from Star Wars, nor will it come with a cattle prod that can somehow do anything from fixing a busted spaceship to picking the lock on a door. And it definitely won’t slot into a compartment behind the cockpit of your aircraft to keep you company on extended sorties.
Instead, it’ll likely be a series of servers and computers that stream information from sensors planted at critical locations around vehicles and other machines, keeping a watchful eye out for any red alerts or potential causes for concern, and reporting it back to a centralized system overseen by a maintenance team.
The US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will soon begin fully fielding a far-less involved diagnostics system for the F-35 Lightning II stealth strike fighter known as the Autonomic Logistics Information System. ALIS, for short, is designed to give ground crews and support personnel a wide range of metrics and data on the functionality of the F-35.
If new parts are needed, or something is damaged, inoperable, etc., ALIS lets support crew know quickly and efficiently in order to keep the F-35 out of the hangars and in the skies.
SparkCognition hopes that they can also put their AI to sea with the Navy’s surface warfare fleet, especially aboard Littoral Combat Ships which have been experiencing a plethora of engineering troubles over the past few years. By observing and storing information on LCS powerplants, the AI would be able to accurately predict the failure of an engine component before it even happens, allowing for preventative maintenance to keep the ships combat-ready and deployable.
Self-diagnosing and healing systems have already been predicted as an integral part of the future of military aviation, especially as the Air Force and Navy both look towards designing and developing a 6th generation fighter to begin replacing its current air superiority fleet some 15 to 20 years down the road.
By fielding AI systems and hardware which allow an aircraft to fix itself or re-optimize its configuration while in-flight after sustaining damage, fighters and other types with the technology built-in can remain on mission longer, or can promise a safe return of the pilots and other aircrew in the event that the aircraft needs to return to base. While we’re a ways off from these ultra-advanced systems, however, SparkCognition’s AI is still fairly achievable within the next five to seven years.
Let’s just hope that, should the DoD decide to pick up SparkCognition’s AI, it stays more like R2D2 and doesn’t turn into something along the lines of Skynet from the Terminator movies.
You’ve seen those photos from the Civil War era of generals loaded with facial hair. We’re talking mustaches that make the one legendary fighter pilot Robin Olds wore look puny and beards that were awesome AF.
For many decades, though, the beards have been verboten. This is because of World War I – or more specifically, the use of chemical weapons during World War I. The gas mask became a crucial piece of kit, and if you had a beard, the gas mask wouldn’t seal properly. This is not a good thing when the enemy uses anything from mustard to VX. In fact, to quote Egon Spengler, “It would be bad.”
According to the Army Times, though, that could be changing. One of the reasons is to accommodate some religions, notably Sikhs, who are forbidden to cut their hair. But another reason is the popularity achieved by special operations troops who have put the hurt on terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
And it’s not only “operator chic” that drives some to adopt the whiskered look. These days it seems if you’re a man under 35 and you don’t have tats and some facial shag, you just ain’t cool.
“Authorizing the wear of beards in the Army, in addition to approved religious accommodations policy, is a topic that soldiers have inquired about recently across the force,” Sgt. Major of the Army Dan Dailey said in a statement to the Army Times. “As of now, there are no plans to change the policy. Army leaders and researchers are currently reviewing the wear of beards by soldiers in the Army. Any potential change in policy will be made with careful consideration to the professionalism, standards, discipline, readiness and safety of all of our soldiers.”
The big hurdle, though, remains the fit of gas masks. The Army tested not only the current respirator, the M50 Joint Service General Purpose Mask, but also the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology and the gear worn by the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives specialists in the Army.
“The baseline folks passed,” Lamar Garrett, of the Army Research Laboratory said. “Everyone else degraded in some form or another.”
“If we really wanted to do some serious analysis, we could look at what was the degradation of an individual with a beard that’s an inch-and-a-half, two inches, etc.,” Garrett added.
The Army Times note that the special operations troops have a specialized gas mask that does seal with beards, but the cost is very high – and the budget doesn’t have room for that to be sent to all soldiers.
At this time, the Soldier Research Development Engineering Center is doing more research into not only beards, but other forms of religious headgear and large amounts of hair. This first round of testing will go through June.
Army and industry weapons developers are working with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to explore the feasibility of precision-guided rounds for a man-portable, anti-personnel and anti-armor weapon known as the Carl Gustaf, officials said.
Current innovations involve a cutting-edge technology program, called Massive Overmatch Assault Round or MOAR, aimed at exploring the prospect of precision guided rounds for the weapon.
While the shoulder-fired infantry and Special Operations weapon currently uses multiple rounds and advanced targeting technologies, using a precision “guided” round would enable the weapon to better destroy enemy targets on the move by having the technology to re-direct with advanced seeker technology.
“We are exploring different kinds of seekers to pursue precision engagement capabilities,” Malcolm Arvidsson, Product Director, Carl-Gustaf M4, Saab, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The weapon, called the Multi-Role Anti-Armor, Anti-Personnel Weapons System, known as the Carl-Gustaf, was initially used by Special Operations Forces. Several years ago, it was ordered by the Army in response to an Operational Needs Statement from Afghanistan.
These innovations are still in early conceptual, research and testing phases. However, they are being pursued alongside a current Army effort to acquire an upgraded 84mm recoilless shoulder-fired Carl Gustaf weapon able to travel with dismounted infantry and destroy tanks, armored vehicles, groups of enemy fighters and even targets behind walls, Army and industry officials said.
Acquisition efforts for the weapon began when the Army was seeking to procure a direct fire, man-portable, anti-personnel and light structure weapon able, among other things, to respond to insurgent rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG, fire, service officials said.
The Carl Gustaf get its name from the Swedish weapons production factory known as Carl Gustafs Stads Gevärsfaktori (“Rifle Factory of Carl Gustaf’s town”). | US Army photo
Designed to be lighter weight and more infantry-portable that a Javelin anti-tank missile, the Carl Gustaf is built to help maneuvering ground units attack a wide range of targets out to as far as 1,300 meters; its target set includes buildings, armored vehicles and enemy fighters in defilade hiding behind rocks or trees.
Following the weapon’s performance in Afghanistan with soldiers, Army weapons developers moved the weapon into a formal “program of record” and began to pursue an upgrade to the Carl Gustaf to include lighter weight materials such as titanium, Arvidsson said.
The upgraded M4 Carl-Gustaf, introduced in 2014, shortens the length and lowers the weight of the weapon to 15 pounds from the 22-pound previous M3 variant, he said. The first M3 variant of the weapon was introduced in the early 1990s.
“We use a steel that is half the weight and half the density. For the barrel, we have improved the lining pattern and added a more efficient carbon fiber wrapping,” Arvidsson added.
The lighter weight weapon is, in many ways, ideal for counterinsurgency forces on the move on foot or in light vehicles in search of small groups of enemy fighters – one possible reason it was urgently requested for the mountainous Afghanistan where dismounted soldiers often traverse high-altitude, rigorous terrain.
At the same time, the anti-armor function of the weapon would enable infantry brigade combat teams to attack enemy vehicles in a mechanized, force-on-force kind of engagement.
The Carl-Gustaf is engineered with multipurpose rounds that can be used against armored vehicles and soft targets behind the walls. There are also pure anti-structure rounds to go through thick walls to defeat the targets behind a wall, Army and Saab developers explained.
The weapon fires High-Explosive air burst rounds, close combat rounds, and then the general support rounds, like the smoke and battlefield elimination, developers said.
Airburst rounds use programmable fuse to explode in the air at a precise location, thereby maximizing the weapon’s effect against enemy targets hiding, for example, behind a rock, tree or building.
Air burst rounds can detonate in the air or in general proximity to a target. For instance, an airburst round could explode just above an enemy fighter seeking cover behind a rock or wall.
“I want to penetrate the target. I want to kill a light armored vehicle. I want to kill a structure. I want to kill somebody behind the structure. With the gun, soldiers can decide how to affect the targets. Really, that’s what the Carl-Gustaf brings to the battlefield is the ability to decide how they want to affect the battlefield — not call in air support and mark targets,” Wes Walters, Executive Vice President of Business Development, Land Domain, Saab North America, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The Army is evaluating a wide range of new technologies for its newer M4 variant to include electro-optical sights with a thermal imager, magnification sights of durable-optical sights, Saab officials explained.
Sensors and sights on the weapon can use advanced computer algorithms to account for a variety of environmental conditions known to impact the trajectory or flight of a round. These factors include the propellant temperature, atmospheric conditions, biometric pressure and terrain inclination,
“There are a number of parameters that the sight can actually calculate to give you a much harder first round probability of hit,” Walters said.
Some weapons use a laser rangefinder which calculates the distance of an enemy object by computer algorithms combing the speed of light with the length of travel – to determine distance.