Discipline, self-control, and honor are just some of the defining characteristics of a U.S. Marine who serves as a member of the 24-man silent drill team. Also known as the “Marching Twenty-Four,” the drill team’s function is to demonstrate the outstanding professionalism of the Marine Corps.
In 1948, they first performed at the Sunset Parades at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. Their perfectly executed movements received such an amazing response from the crowd, the drill team was born.
Serving on the team requires extensive discipline, so finding new recruits is a challenge.
The Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon executes their refined movements with hand-polished, 10.5 pounds, M1 Garand rifles with fixed bayonets during the Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Each fall, the drill team prospects are hand-selected from the School of Infantry located in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif. After a detailed interview process and rifle drill audition conducted by experienced personnel, those Marines who are selected are assigned a position and will serve a two-year ceremonial tour.
In addition to their ceremonial duties, the drill team members train alongside infantry Marines in the field to maintain their skills during the offseason.
When experienced team members request to move up in ranks and become rifle inspectors, they will go through a series of inspections graded by rifle inspectors who served in the previous season.
When you’re forward deployed to the front lines of Afghanistan, you will experience a new culture, taste some delicious flatbread, and meet a variety of different people. Ever since the U.S. became involved with GWOT, we’ve teamed up with the Afghan National Army, training alongside Afghan soldiers and even teaching them in order to help make Afghanistan a safer place.
Afghan troops are a one-of-a-kind type of people and, like us, they all joined their military for a reason — but not all of them are necessarily patriotic. In fact, it’s pretty rare when they go above and beyond like our troops do.
Depending on where you are stationed, you can work with a squad of them or an entire company; however, within that group of soldiers you’ll notice a few surprising personalities that will easily stick out.
Even though English-speaking Afghan soldiers are rare, you can usually find one or two of them out and about. Many of the troops who speak our language aren’t typically native to the front lines. Most come from a larger city like Kabul, where they went to school.
They probably aren’t fluent, but they can hold their own during a conversation.
The ones who don’t want to listen
Unfortunately, many of the troops didn’t join to fight to help regain control of their country. They did it to earn some cash for their family, which we can respect. Now, because of their lack of patriotism, those guys are less likely to give a sh*t when a firefight breaks out or when one of their Afghan troops gets injured. Their brotherhood isn’t nearly as strong as ours becomes.
Most notably, they don’t listen to allied forces when it comes to making important suggestions because they flat out don’t want to hear what we have to say.
It gets annoying.
The one who legitimately cares
In contrast to number two on this list, this soldier does give a f*ck and wants to do his part. He takes initiative and wants to become a better soldier.
Unfortunately, in our experience, these motivators don’t stay around long. They end up getting promoted and leaving their frontline duties. It’s a bummer.
The trigger happy one
This guy is cool in his own right but he is unpredictable. You aren’t quite sure when he will open fire. But rest assured, he will squeeze that trigger when the time comes.
The one you’re convinced is a bad guy
It’s hard not to stereotype Afghan soldiers, especially when there have been documented times when friendly fire has broken out between them and us. Because of that, it’s hard to build trust. The truth is, it’s not unrealistic to suspect that the Taliban has infiltrated the Afghan National Army.
The Afghan soldiers who are rarely ready-to-go
99.9 percent of the time, U.S. troops are ready for patrol once they step outside the wire. In contrast, many Afghan troops aren’t well-trained and therefore sometimes forget to bring specific gear or familiarize themselves with the mission route.
It’s annoying, but that’s the world we live in these days.
The most important thing when working with any foreign military is to reach across the divide and get to know the men and women who share your mission. Building trust is key.
As Russian propaganda blows up the internet with the unveiling of a new laser weapon, this is just a friendly reminder of a couple things. First, Russia lies about new tech all the time. Second, it hasn’t shown the weapon fire. And, most importantly, this weapon was originally announced in a press conference filled with other over-hyped weapons.
Russia originally released footage of its Peresvet Combat Leaser System a few months ago, and it actually showed the weapon in more detail than what came out in December. Neither video actually shows the weapon in action.
(YouTube/Russian Ministry of Defence)
That’s not to say that the Russians can’t build a functioning laser weapon or that America shouldn’t be prepared for its enemies to deploy lasers, but it is to say that we should take our time while pricing mirrored caps for our bomb shelters (save money by cutting old disco balls in half!).
Peresvet has been teased one time since the annual address but is now receiving a lot of publicity as Sputnik, a Russian propaganda outlet, has released a new video of the laser “in service.”
Except, as everyone buzzes about the laser, we all seem to forget that the video is only showing the foreskin of a tent being pulled back to reveal a shiny laser head as a Russian with no face takes a firm grasp of the stick. That is literally as sexily as I can possibly describe this actually very boring video.
Is this a new laser weapon? Probably, but it could just as easily be the trailer for a professional gamer who only uses Apple keyboards and discount joysticks while playing his flight sims on the road.
Assuming it is a weapon, could it tip the balance in a ground war with the U.S. as it shoots down incoming missiles, drones, jets, and helicopters by the thousands? Again, sure. Anything is possible. But lasers are actually super hard to make work as weapons, and they require a ton of energy per each shot.
A U.S. Air Force C-130 flies with an experimental laser in 2009. The laser was later canceled because it couldn’t engage enemy missiles at a significant range.
(U.S. Air Force)
They require somuch energythat America’s first few laser prototypes barely used electricity because the battery and power-generation requirements were technically infeasible. Instead, we filled a C-130 with vats of chemicals that could, yes, create a laser of sufficient strength to down a missile, but not at ranges sufficient to work in a real-world scenario.
With advances in electronics, it is now possible to create lasers powered by electricity that have sufficient strength to bring down objects in the sky or destroy targets on the ground. How can I be so sure? Well, the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Army prototypes have all been publicly demonstrated and fired.
A target at sea is destroyed by the prototype laser mounted on the Navy’s USS Ponce during a 2015 test. Note that the fireball comes from explosives in the target, not the energy from the laser.
(U.S. Navy video screenshot)
They’ve even been demonstrated working on actual combat platforms like the Army Stryker and the Navy’s amphibious transport dock, USS Ponce. The Air Force demonstrated the aforementioned chemical laser on a C-130 years ago and currently has a contract with Lockheed for high-energy lasers for fighter jets, a weapon it wants combat ready by 2021.
So yeah, there’s no reason to think that Russia can’t develop a similar weapon. And warfighters, especially drone operators, should begin training to operate in environments where Russian lasers can shoot them down (but only when using massive trailers). But America still, obviously, has the edge in laser technology. And we don’t need to panic because Russian propaganda has made an impressive claim.
Remember, Russian leaders also claimed that the Su-57 and T-14 Armata were game-changing weapons that they could build relatively cheaply and would tip the worldwide balance of power. Spoiler: Both weapons are too expensive for Russia to afford and neither appears to work as well as advertised.
The saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Sometimes, however, it’s both. There are times in life when knowing the right person can give you knowledge that can change your outlook. Occasionally, we meet someone interesting who inadvertently gives us rules to live by that can change our lives. Here are seven rules for life I learned from a conversation with a former intelligence officer:
Never take anything for granted or at face value. I get it, this sounds paranoid. Think about it, though, how many times in life have you simply believed what someone told you only to find out later that it was complete and utter BS? How many times have you been hurt because you believed a lie? On the surface, it might sound paranoid, but it can save you a lot of trouble and heartache.
Never tell all you know.
It’s important to not show all your cards. By giving someone almost all you know, but not everything, you then protect yourself. Sometimes it’s okay to hold back a little bit.
Never rely on one source.
This is the same as when someone tells you not to settle on the first car you look at or the first house you view. You should shop around when it comes to major purchases. In the same way, you should do your own research on things. Never simply believe the word of one person. There are always three sides to a story: view one, view two and the truth that lies somewhere in the middle.
Constantly re-evaluate and revise.
The validity and integrity of facts can change, so it is important to constantly re-evaluate a situation, and be ready to revise your stance. If you’re truly paying attention at any given time, you will be able to see these changes and be prepared for them. Sometimes this can mean you have to re-evaluate everything you thought to be true.
Always remain objective.
This is important in so many aspects in life. By remaining objective, your view on any given situation can’t be clouded. If you train yourself to always be objective, then you can enter into any circumstance with a clear head.
Trust no one you’re not absolutely certain is trustworthy.
There are few people in life we can be absolutely certain we can trust. When it comes to anyone else, you should approach everything with a questioning opinion, circling back to the “question everything” rule. Protect yourself by not just assuming everyone you meet is trustworthy.
Rely on your gut.
This might be the most important rule on this list, at least in my opinion. Too often we second guess ourselves, and it’s almost always a mistake. “Rely on your gut feeling, it’s very rarely wrong.” This is true when it comes to test taking. It’s true when it comes to making decisions. It is especially true when it comes to your judgement of other people. If your gut is telling you something isn’t right, 9 times out of 10, it isn’t right. Trust your instincts, they won’t steer you wrong.
Each of these is a rule that those in the intelligence world live by and swear by. They live out these rules both professionally and personally, they aren’t something that can just be turned off. By implementing even part of these rules into your own life, you could quite possibly save yourself pain and heartache in the future. Always be objective. Always be alert. And always, always trust your gut.
On June 12, a Northern California high school principal issued a public apology and handed a diploma to an Army reservist who was not allowed to wear his military uniform at his graduation ceremony last week.
Liberty High School Principal Patrick Walsh apologized to a Harland Fletcher, a private first class reservist in the U.S. Army, and took full responsibility for the mishap at a ceremony where many waved American flags.
Fletcher sat out the June 9th ceremony at Liberty High School after the principal told him he would have to wear a cap and gown over his uniform if he wanted to participate.
“I made a mistake last Friday night, and I don’t mince words. I deeply regret what occurred,” Walsh said.
Walsh held a private ceremony at the high school in Brentwood, California that was attended by Fletcher’s family and about 100 people, many of them military veterans in uniform who came out to support their fellow serviceman.
Fletcher said he wants to send a message that the military shouldn’t be disrespected and that servicemen stand together. “The uniform for me means honor, respect, integrity, and it stands for America’s freedom,” he said.
The 18-year-old high school graduate said he did not want to make the ceremony about him, but rather highlight what the military is about.
“I didn’t really need the apology, but I wanted to send a message that the military is about friendship — brothers and sisters standing together, not just letting someone trample over us,” Fletcher said.
Sgt. Duane Edwards, a Vietnam War veteran, attended the ceremony with the rest of the Marine Corps League of Brentwood. He said he wanted to show his support to the graduating senior after he heard about what had happened on the news.
“What was done was completely in violation of the law,” Edwards said. California law gives Fletcher the right to wear his uniform during graduation.
Fletcher’s wife, Valentina Fletcher, and their 6-month-old son shared in the special moment.
“I think the support is tremendous,” Valentina said. “It shows how everyone is here to make sure that the uniform doesn’t get disrespected again.”
Fletcher is uncertain what he will do in the near future but said he plans to have a long career in the military.
The KGB—or Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti— was the Soviet Union’s main security agency from 1954 until its break up in 1991.
Conventional media and entertainment paint the organization as the Soviet version of America’s CIA. However, a more realistic description of the KGB includes the roles of the NSA, FBI, and state media along with the CIA. Its responsibilities included intelligence gathering, border security, and propaganda enforcement. Additionally, the KGB served as the state’s secret police and was a military service governed by military laws and regulations; the CIA, on the other hand, is a civilian foreign intelligence service.
A 1983 Timearticle called “The KGB: Eyes of the Kremlin,” reported that it was the world’s most effective information-gathering organization at its peak. The USSR liked to keep things simple; information flowed freely throughout the agency, which avoided any hiccups that may occur between multi-agency cooperation.
After the Soviet collapse, the KGB was succeeded by the Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK) of Russia, which was in turn succeeded by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). Although the KGB doesn’t officially exist, many argue that its mode of operation lives on under former KGB agent and current Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Case in point is the mysterious poisoning of former KGB and FSB agent Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko by radioactive polonium-210 that resulted in his death. Litvinenko and other FSB officers publicly accused their superiors of ordering the assassination of Russian tycoon and oligarch Boris Berezovsky. After being arrested and acquitted, he defected to the United Kingdom in 2000 until his suspected murder in 2006.
In January 2016, the BBC reported that Putin ‘probably’ approved Litvinenko’s murder after years of personal antagonism. This TestTube News video explains the KGB’s evolution and why it was so feared.
The US military spokesman for the coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria acknowledged on Wednesday that American military advisors have been knee deep in the offensive to retake the city of Mosul.
“They have been in the city at different times, yes,” Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters, according to ABC News. Though, he said, “they’ve advised Iraqi Security Forces as they’ve moved forward. They remain behind the forward line of troops.”
The battle to retake Mosul began in October, and Iraqi forces have encountered fierce resistance and significant casualties. For example, Iraq’s elite “Golden Brigade” of special operations troops have suffered upwards of “50 percent casualties” in the fight, which could eventually make them combat ineffective, according to a Pentagon officer who spoke with Politico.
Casualties have also hit US forces as well. Since October, the number of Americans wounded in combat has nearly doubled since OIR kicked off in August 2014.
That’s likely due to US forces working more closely with their Iraqi counterparts. Though US officials have often downplayed the role of American troops in the region as merely training, advising, and assisting Iraqi forces, the latest situation report from the Institute for the Study of War says that US and coalition forces have “embedded their advisors at lower-levels in the [Iraqi Security Forces].”
In other words, US special operations forces are often not remaining behind the front lines — especially considering a “front line” in the anti-ISIS fight is murky at best — but instead, are right in the thick of it with Iraqi troops.
The military has more than 5,000 troops on the ground in Iraq currently, a number which has steadily crept up since roughly 300 troops were deployed to secure the Baghdad airport in June 2014.
Members of the 900th Contracting Battalion played a key role in revolutionizing the future of airborne operations at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with the Aug. 10, 2018 contract award for the Caster Assisted A-Series Delivery System.
In recent years, the 900th CBN embedded soldiers from its 639th Contracting Team into the 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters to better support their customer.
“The 639th CT is embedded with 82nd Airborne Division and remains empowered to prudently apply their contracting support expertise to help meet mission readiness,” said Lt. Col. Jason Miles, deputy director of the Mission and Installation Contracting Command-Fort Bragg contracting office and 900th CBN commander.
The Caster Assisted A-Series Delivery System, or CAADS, is a new door bundle dolly system that has been in development and testing since early 2018. Modeled after a similar door bundle system used by French airborne forces, CAADS is specifically designed to increase the number of door bundles that can be rapidly deployed from a DOD transit aircraft while reducing deployment time. The 82nd AD spearheaded the successful testing, and on June 5 interim airdrop rigging procedures and training manuals were published for the innovative system.
Capt. Colton Crawford and Capt. Lesley Thomas conduct a technical inspection of the Caster Assisted A-Series Delivery System at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as representatives from Carolina Material Handling Inc. look on.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Gregory Gunn)
“The acquisition of the Caster Assisted A-series Delivery Systems for the 82nd Airborne Division will help reduce jumper fatigue as well as triple the amount of supplies and equipment on a drop zone simultaneously with paratroopers exiting an aircraft” said Capt. Colton Crawford, 82nd AD parachute officer.
Equally impressive as the testing was the procurement process. The 639th CT was able to award a contract for the delivery of more than 948 units in less than 14 days after receipt of a funded purchase request. Fully involved in the acquisition planning since late 2017, the contracting team was able to conduct extensive market research and find a number of responsible vendors able meet the requirements the division.
Capt. Colton Crawford, third from right, discusses specifications with Cape Terrell during a technical inspection of the Caster Assisted A-Series Delivery System at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Gregory Gunn)
“The 639th Contracting Team and the Acquisition Corps seem to have a unique skill to increase readiness on demand. They are paramount to meeting the Army’s ability to ‘fight tonight and win,'” Crawford added.
As the first samples are delivered and inspected for quality assurance by division parachute riggers, the 82nd AD moves onto the next operation armed with increased delivery capabilities.
“It is always impactful when a requirement you’ve been working on for months satisfies the customers’ needs and directly impacts the mission,” said Capt. Lesley Thomas, a contract management officer for the 639th CT.
Contracting Soldiers from the 639th Contracting Team were joined by members of the 82nd Airborne Division and 82nd AD Sustainment Brigade as well as vendor representatives from Carolina Material Handling Inc. to conduct a technical inspection of the Caster Assisted A-Series Delivery System at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Gregory Gunn)
About the MICC: Headquartered at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command consists of about 1,500 military and civilian members who are responsible for contracting goods and services in support of soldiers as well as readying trained contracting units for the operating force and contingency environment when called upon. The command is made up of two contracting support brigades, two field directorates, 30 contracting offices and nine battalions. MICC contracts are vital in feeding more than 200,000 soldiers every day, providing many daily base operations support services at installations, facilitate training in the preparation of more than 100,000 conventional force members annually, training more than 500,000 students each year, and maintaining more than 14.4 million acres of land and 170,000 structures.
The government’s main auditor wants each of armed service branches to prove how military bands accomplish the stated objectives of inspiring patriotism and raising morale.
Military bands have declined over recent years during funding drawdowns and some attacks from fiscal hawks, but a few of the services have actually increased spending on bands while band rosters shrink, according to the Government Accountability Office.
“The military services have not developed objectives and measures to assess how their bands are addressing the bands’ missions, such as inspiring patriotism and enhancing the morale of troops,” the GAO wrote in a report released August 10.
Military bands have a long and distinct tradition in the US that the GAO admits is difficult to quantify. They are part of the military’s outreach to communities, playing in parades and for patriotic holidays and events. Several recruiters reported an increase in queries about joining the military after a band played for a school.
Bands have a civic function in performing at presidential events, and a diplomatic function in playing for foreign leaders, both in the US and abroad. The Navy told the GAO that bands can also be “an initial step towards improving relationships with foreign nations.”
All those approaches to proving the value and effectiveness of military bands “do not include measurable objectives nor exhibit several of the important attributes performance measures should include,” the GAO said.
The services the GAO contacted for its report stressed the difficulty of creating metrics to measure increased patriotism and troop morale from military bands, but the GAO says that through surveys and focus groups, the military could quantify how military bands achieve their mission.
All that would take resources, the band leaders told the GAO, which is part of why military bands are under fire in the first place.
The Pentagon spends about $437 million a year on the 137 bands throughout the five military branches. Even though that’s a fraction of the military’s $1.11 trillion budget, some in Congress think that money would be better spent elsewhere.
Most of a bands operating cost goes to travel, and the remainder goes to buying top quality instruments. The Air Force found a $75,000 Gagliano cello last fall that it determined was the only acceptable instrument for musical missions.
“After playing over 50 similar instruments, this is the only one that meets the rigorous demands required by USAF band,” the Air Force said in the contract solicitation. “This world-class instrument is an ideal choice for members of The USAF Band and the demanding standards required for our daily mission preparation and execution.”
Military bands have declined in size in every service since 2012, which has mostly led to reduced cost. Overall, the Air Force and the Navy, however, spent more on bands in 2016 than in previous years.
“The Navy and Air Force reported that their total operating costs for bands over this period increased by $4.1 million and $1.6 million” respectively, the GAO reported. Band costs for the Marine Corps, Army, and National Guard decreased during the same period by less than a million for each service.
The Navy attributed the $4.1 million increase to inadequate band funding between 2012 and 2014, and one-time costs like a $749,000 renovation on the band offices in 2016. The Air Force said that local commands are now responsible for their funding, “so bands may have had unique circumstances that led to increases in costs over time.”
Military bands will face more scrutiny for years to come. The defense spending budget for the remaining 2017 fiscal year asked the secretary of defense to “ensure that only the critical functions of military bands are supported while minimizing impacts on funding for essential readiness, military personnel, modernization, and research and development activities,” Military Times reports.
The GAO noted that as it conducted the review, Pentagon officials met with military bands and officials to “establish standard metrics to collect on events performed by bands.”
So check out these six reasons why you need a sense of humor in the infantry
1. You have to find a way to laugh off the rough times.
Being deployed to a combat zone means you’re more than likely going to live through and see some crazy shit. After surviving a close call, it’s natural for troops to crack a dark joke or two in order to mentally settle themselves after a serious situation. Laughter is the best medicine.
It may not look healthy at first, but it works. (Image via Giphy)
Combat zones can be intense and traumatic. Humor makes everything better!
Sometimes just being immature takes some of the pressure off. When you’re stationed out in the middle of nowhere, you don’t have much except the comedy that you come up with in your head. Fart and d*ck jokes are a great go-to comedy tools.
I just recorded the battalion commander peeing. (Image via Giphy)
3. We prank each other to help pass the time.
Grunts usually have a crap ton of downtime if they aren’t patrolling or manning a post. This allows us to come up with plenty of ways to prank another troop with what we have on hand — which isn’t much.
It takes awhile to come up with the pranks, but some troops are better than others.
Some troops just have it. (Image via Giphy)
4. We play “grab ass” all the time.
After living, training, and being deployed for months on end, troops develop a bond that earns us the right to “ball tap” or play “grab ass” without much legal consequence. But if you play “grab ass” with another troop, you better sleep with one eye open as playful revenge is coming.
Someone is going to get themselves some payback later. (Image via Giphy)
This game is typically controlled under false pretenses as getting your mark into proper position can be challenging.
5. It boosts everyone’s morale.
When you’re deployed, the days tend to blend. Fridays feel like Mondays because no one is keeping track — we have the same routine every single day. Like we said before, laughter is the best medicine so if you can’t learn to laugh — it sucks to be you.
6. We constantly give each other shit because it’s our way of bonding.
Grunts don’t typically volunteer to talk about their hopes and dreams that often. Instead, we tell stories of being back home and the people we slept with (not sparing any details), as well as, how much beer we’re going to drink when we get home.
Joking and shit talking builds us pretty tight bonds. So if you can’t do that, once again, that sucks for you.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy had some of the most advanced weapons available, like artillery shells with proximity fuses that detonated at set distances from their target. But they also had a secret weakness: Many of their torpedoes would explode too early, would swim under their targets without exploding, or might even circle back around to hit them.
Submarine officers and representatives of the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance pose with a Mk. 14 torpedo in 1943.
It wasn’t the only flawed torpedo, but most of the Navy’s torpedo problems centered around the Mk. 14. It was supposed to be the most advanced and deadly anti-ship weapon in the U.S. fleet. They ran on steam and could travel over five miles and hit speeds of almost 53 mph and then detonate under an enemy ship’s hull with up to 643 pounds of high explosives.
In tests and in theory, this would break the keel of an enemy ship, ripping it in half or opening massive holes in the hull, quickly sending it to the deep.
American submarine commanders headed out with their boats filled with Mk. 14s. They were supposed to use their deck guns as much as possible, since they carried a limited number of torpedoes and each cost ,000 (about 1,000 in today’s money). But when the tactical situation called for firing a torpedo from stealth, like when facing a destroyer or launching a surprise attack against a convoy, they were supposed to fire a few torpedoes and watch the show.
The Mk. 14 torpedo began its career as a deeply flawed weapon, but a series of changes in 1943 would get it fit to fight.
But submarine commanders quickly began reporting problems with their weapons after Adm. Harold Rainsford Stark ordered unrestricted submarine warfare. The Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance thought the weapons should work 98 percent of the time. Submarine commanders were seeing much different results.
The older Mk. 10 was two for two while the Mk. 14 had failed completely. This wasn’t the Seawolf’s first issue with the Mk. 14, either. It had six previous tours under its belt, all plagued by torpedo issues, including that time it fired eight Mk. 14s, which accounted for seven misses and a dud hit.
The USS Tullibee was destroyed when it fired a torpedo at a Japanese ship in World War II only for it to swim in a circle and hit the submarines instead of the enemy in March, 1944.
Worse, the Mk. 14s had a pesky habit of detonating properly when they circle ran, the worst possible situation. A circle run occurs when a torpedo follows a curved instead of straight path. And uneven drag, propulsion, or warping of a torpedo can cause a circle run and, like the name implies, it sends the torpedo in a circle, back to its starting point.
The Bureau of Ordnance dragged their feet about assessing the problem, and then it took a while to get definitive solutions. So, for two years, submarines went on patrols with faulty weapons that could swim right under the target, pierce it without detonating, or even sink their own submarine.
But the Navy did eventually find the causes of the faults. The circle runs were caused by faulty gyros that failed to straighten the path. The torpedo sometimes swam right under the target because the torpedoes had been tested with faulty depth-measuring equipment and with warheads that didn’t reflect their real buoyancy. The failures to detonate were caused by faulty magnetic and mechanical initiators.
In fact, the mechanical initiator was an especially galling failure as far as submarine commanders were concerned, because they had been told for years that the real problem was them firing from bad angles while a 90-degree hit was most effective. In reality, the mechanical failures were most common at exactly 90 degrees, failing 70 percent of the time in later lab tests.
The Mk. 14 had been in the fleet for nearly 20 years by this point, so it might seem impossible that these faults hadn’t been discovered earlier. But it had been developed during the Great Depression when budget constraints severely constricted the tests and experiments scientists and engineers could do.
Changes were eventually made. The torpedoes were re-calibrated for the proper depth and the magnetic initiators were thrown out entirely. The mechanical ones were faulty thanks to heavy firing pins that couldn’t achieve the right momentum when the torpedo was at full speed, so they were replaced with a lighter metal alloy.
As an international relations scholar who studies space law and policy, I have come to realize what most people do not fully appreciate: Dealing with space debris is as much a national security issue as it is a technical one.
Considering the debris circling the Earth as just an obstacle in the path of human missions is naive. As outer space activities are deeply rooted in the geopolitics down on Earth, the hidden challenge posed by the debris is the militarization of space technologies meant to clean it up.
To be clear, space debris poses considerable risks; however, to understand those risks, I should explain what it is and how it is formed. The term “space debris” refers to defunct human-made objects, relics left over from activities dating back to the early days of the space age. Over time that definition has expanded to include big and small things like discarded boosters, retired satellites, leftover bits and pieces from spacecraft, screwdrivers, tools, nuts and bolts, shards, lost gloves, and even flecks of paint.
A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95 percent of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item. The orbital debris dots are scaled according to the image size of the graphic to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth. The image provides a good visualization of where the greatest orbital debris populations exist.
From the 23,000 pieces of debris in Earth orbit that are larger than 5-10 centimeters that we can track and catalog, to the hundreds of millions that we cannot, there is little question that both big and small objects whizzing around at lethal speeds endanger the prospects for civilian, commercial and military missions in outer space. You may pick apart what the movie “Gravity” got wrong, but what it got unforgettably right was the sense of devastation wrought by an orbital debris cloud that destroyed equipment and killed three astronauts on impact. No matter its size, space debris can be lethal to humans and machines alike.
As of early 2018, the European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that there have been about 500 break-ups, collisions, explosions or other fragmentation events to date that yielded space debris. Some of these events are caused by accidents. NASA reported the first-ever known collision between two objects in space in July 1996, when a European booster collided with a French spacecraft. That incident created one new piece of debris, which was itself promptly cataloged. Yet accidents can also have a big impact on increasing the debris cloud. In 2009, for the first time ever, a functioning U.S. communications satellite, Iridium-33, collided with a non-functioning Russian one, Cosmos-2251, as they both passed over extreme northern Siberia. This single crash generated more than 2,300 fragments of debris.
Natural fragmentation versus deliberate destruction
Space debris may also be affected by the breakup of older spacecraft. In February 2015, a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP-F13) spacecraft, called USA 109, which had gone up 20 years earlier, blew up due to a battery malfunction. It may have contributed 100 debris pieces that were tracked by military radars on Earth, and possibly also 50,000 shards larger than 1 millimeter that defied tracking because they are too tiny. Because of the satellite’s original high altitude, all those fragments will remain in orbit for decades, posing risks for other spacecraft. In November 2015, again due to a possible battery failure, another decommissioned U.S weather satellite, NOAA-16, crumbled adding 136 new objects to the debris cloud.
Notably, debris itself can also fragment. In February 2018, a discarded tank from the upper stages of a Ukrainian-Russian Zenit-3F rocket fragmented.
Fuel tank of an Iridium satellite launched in 1997-1998 re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and crashed in a California orchard where it was discovered in late October 2018.
Debris can also fall back down on Earth, whether from natural orbital decay or controlled re-entry. Fortunately most such falling debris lands in the Earth’s oceans. But sometimes it does not, and these rare events may become a bigger hazard in the years ahead as the size of the debris cloud grows, and as the projected fleet of commercial small satellites becomes a reality. Recently, parts of Zenit rocket debris are reported to have ended up crash-landing in Peru. One of the most recent such events just took place in October 2018. The U.S. military identified a fuel tank from a decade-or-so-old Iridium satellite that crashed in a walnut orchard in Hanford, California.
Then there are the highly publicized deliberate events that add to the debris cloud. In 2007, China used a ground-based direct-ascent missile to take out its own aging weather satellite, the Fengyun-1C. This event created an estimated 3,400 pieces of debris that will be around for several decades before decaying.
China’s actions were widely seen as an anti-satellite test (ASAT), a signal of the country’s expanding military space capabilities. Having the ability to shoot down a satellite to gain a military advantage back on Earth exposes the basic nature of the threat: Those who are most dependent on space assets – namely, the United States, with an estimated 46 percent of the total 1,886 currently operational satellites – are also the most vulnerable to the space debris created deliberately. There is no doubt that the aggressor will also lose in such a scenario – but that collateral damage may be worthwhile if your more heavily space-dependent rival is dealt a more crippling blow.
Saudi officials inspect a crashed PAM-D module in January 2001.
Stealth ‘counterspace race’
The set of government or commercial solutions to counter orbital debris – whether lasers, nets, magnets, tethers, robotic arms or co-orbiting service satellites – have only fueled the prospects for a stealthy race for dominance in outer space.
The same technology that captures or zaps or drags away the debris can do the same to a functioning spacecraft. Since nobody can be sure about the intent behind such proposed “commercial” space debris cleanup technologies, governments will race to get ahead of their market competitors. It matters how and with what intent you counter space debris with dual-use technologies, and more so at a time of flux in the world order. Both the old and new space powers can easily cloak their military intentions in legitimate concerns about, and possibly commercial solutions to, debris hazards. And there are now a number of open assessments about space junk removal technologies that can double up as military programs, such as lasers or hunters.
This fusion of the market and the military is not a conspiracy but a reality. If you are a great power like the United States that is heavily dependent on space assets in both the economic and military realms, then you are vulnerable to both orbital debris and the technologies proposed for its cleanup. And both your allies and your rivals know it.
This is how we have ended up in a counterspace race, which is nothing like your grandfather’s space race. In a fundamental way, this new race reflects the volatile geopolitics of peer or near-peer competitors today, and there is no getting away from it in any domain. Just as on Earth, in the cosmos the world’s top space powers – the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India – have moved from merely space situational awareness to all-out battlespace awareness. If things stay the course, accidental or deliberate events involving orbital debris are poised to ravage peaceful prospects in outer space.
How then do we move forward so that outer space remains safe, sustainable and secure for all powers, whether big or small? This is not a task any one single nation — no matter how great — can carry out successfully on its own. The solutions must not only be technological or military, either. For peaceful solutions to last, deterrence and diplomacy, as well as public awareness, will have to be proactively forged by the world’s space powers, leaders and thinkers.
Dodging enemy gunfire in close-quarter urban combat, seeking to destroy enemy fighters hiding behind walls, rocks and trees and firing ammunition especially engineered to explode at a particular, pre-planned point in space – comprise the highly sought-after advantages of the Army’s XM25 “airburst” weapon.
However, despite the initial promise of prototypes of the technology in combat in Afghanistan as an emerging way to bring a decisive advantage to soldiers in a firefight, the future of the XM25 is now uncertain due to ongoing Army needs, requirements, weapons inventory assessments, and budget considerations, service officials told Scout Warrior.
The Army’s XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement airburst weapon system, in development for several years, was used to destroy Taliban fighters hiding behind grape-growing walls in Afghanistan during a Forward Operational Assessment of the weapon several years ago. Extensive analysis and adjustments to the weapon followed this operational combat evaluation, Army officials explained.
Part of the calculus regarding a production decision about the weapon relates to the possibility of the weapon “misfiring,” several news reports said. Army officials did not comment on this, however a 2015 news report in the Economist said a US soldier was slightly injured during training with the XM 25 when it misfired. It does now, nonetheless, appear as though this problem was pervasive or persistent with the weapon – but it could be a factor amidst ongoing plans for the weapon’s future.
Army and Pentagon weapons developers and budget planners are now deliberating plans for the weapon, which could be formally produced and deployed within the next several years – or passed over due to fiscal constraints.
While the XM25 would clearly be useful in a major force-on-force engagement or great power conflict, airburst attacks have particular value in a counterinsurgency type-fight wherein enemies seek to use terrain, building, rocks, ditches or trees to protect themselves from being targeted.
By attacking with an “airburst” round, soldiers do not have to have a linear view or direct line of sight to an enemy target; if they know an enemy is behind a rock or tree (in defilade) – the weapon can explode above or near the location to ensure the target is destroyed.
The weapon uses laser-rangefinder technology to fire a high-explosive airburst round capable of detonating at a specific point near an enemy target hidden or otherwise obscured by terrain or other obstacles, Army developers have explained.
Program managers had been seeking to expedite development of the system, refine and improve the technology, and ultimately begin formal production by the fall of 2014, however its current trajectory is now unclear.
“The XM25 brings a new capability to the soldier for the counter-defilade fight, allowing him to be able to engage enemy combatants behind walls, behind trees or in buildings,” former XM25 program manager Col. Scott Armstrong previously explained in an Army statement.