From homemade tanks to nuclear land mines kept warm by chickens, war brings out the engineers in people. When a weapons system works, it’s made by the thousands, and sometimes used for decades. But when it doesn’t, it’s quickly added to the dustbin of bad ideas. Many of these ridiculous, odd, and exceptionally weird weapons were developed by militaries all over the world, but either proved impractical, or never even got past the prototype stage.
These spectacularly ridiculous weapons systems, vehicles, and concepts all made it at least to prototype, though whether they proved to be effective is up for debate. Most of these strange weapons are from World War II, when desperate countries threw together whatever they had to rally their people. The United States, Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union all had their fair share of oddball ideas they each thought could help win the war. In all historical fairness, there were also no shortage of stupid weapon ideas during The Civil War. A few items on this list are modern weapons that are actually in use today.
What are the weirdest military weapons ever built? From weaponized animals to square bullets, engineers and weapons designers have come up with some crazy stuff over the years. Some of these weapons are so absurd, it’s funny to think that anyone ever thought they could work. Other weapons, while impractical, were inventive and innovative attempts to give soldiers a unique advantage. Either way, these weapons are strange. But what were the strangest weapons made? Read on to find out!
When author Robert B. Baer asked his boss at the CIA for the definition of assassination his boss replied, “It’s a bullet with a man’s name on it.” Baer wasn’t sure what that meant so he started to research the topic beyond what he already had experienced around it in his role at the CIA. The end of that process became his insightful and provocative new book, The Perfect Kill, in which he outlines 21 laws for assassins. Here are 11 of them:
Law #1: THE BASTARD HAS TO DESERVE IT
“The victim must be a dire threat to your existence, in effect giving you license to murder him. The act can never be about revenge, personal grievance, ownership, or status.”
Law #2: MAKE IT COUNT
“Power is the usurpation of power, and assassination its ultimate usurpation. The act is designed to alter the calculus of power in your favor. If it won’t, don’t do it.”
Law #5: ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP FOR EVERYTHING
“Count on the most important pieces of a plan failing at exactly the wrong moment. Double up on everything — two set of eyes, two squeezes of the trigger, double-prime charges, two traitors in the enemy’s camp.”
Law # 7: RENT THE GUN, BUY THE BULLET
“Just as there are animals that let other animals do their killing for them — vultures and hyenas — employ a trusted proxy when one’s available.”
Law #8: VET YOUR PROXIES IN BLOOD
“Assassination is the most sophisticated and delicate form of warfare, only to be entrusted to the battle-hardened and those who’ve already made your enemy bleed.”
Law #9: DON’T SHOOT EVERYONE IN THE ROOM
“Exercise violence with vigilant precision and care. Grievances are incarnated in a man rather than in a tribe, nation, or civilization. Blindly and stupidly lashing out is the quickest way to forfeit power.”
Law #15: DON’T MISS
“It’s better not to try rather than to try and miss. A failed attempt gives the victim an aura of invincibility, augmenting his power while diminishing yours. Like any business, reputation is everything.”
Law #16: IF YOU CAN’T CONTROL THE KILL, CONTROL THE AFTERMATH
“A good, thorough cleanup is what really scares the shit out of people.”
Law #17: HE WHO LAUGHS LAST SHOOTS FIRST
“You’re the enemy within, which mean there’s never a moment they’re not trying to hunt you down to exterminate you. Hit before it’s too late.”
Law # 19: ALWAYS HAVE AN ENCORE IN YOUR POCKET
“Power is the ability to hurt something over and over again. One-offs get you nothing or less than nothing.”
Law #21: GET TO IT QUICKLY
“Don’t wait until the enemy is too deeply ensconced in power or too inured to violence before acting. He’ll easily shrug off the act and then come after you with a meat cleaver.”
For the rest of Robert B. Baer’s 21 laws for assassins, buy his amazing book here.
One by one, the veterans made their inaugural trip up the steep mountainside armed with harnesses and ropes. For most of them, rock climbing was a brand new experience, yet they were scrambling up and repelling down the cliff face at Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, Colorado, with barely a semblance of a beginner’s nerves. Amid shouts of encouragement and good-humored banter, the Airmen were bonding. While they’d been strangers just the day before, they’d already become a team.
Traveling from different areas of the U.S., the eight Air Force wounded warriors, sponsored by Team Racing for Veterans’ (R4V), arrived at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colorado, to participate in three unfamiliar sports: rock climbing, fly fishing and mountain biking. The biannual camps give wounded veterans a chance to prove to themselves they can adapt to and overcome any current limitations, from amputations to post-traumatic stress.
For those attending the camp, it was a chance to network with other wounded warriors who wanted to get out of their comfort zones, take on new challenges, and pursue a sense of normalcy.
In addition to sharing their common goals and adaptive sports experiences at the camp, the wounded warriors had a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed setting during their down time. Instead of staying in a hotel where they would be scattered throughout the building, the Airmen stayed in a large ranch-style home that was donated for the camp’s use. During some of their meals and at the close of each day, the wounded warriors could gather in a common area and talk.
Military veterans share their individual stories during dinner at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. Each night of the camp ended with reflection and therapeutic conversations. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.
While engaging in one such casual conversation in the living room with four other veterans, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly, a 175th Wing chaplain assistant with the Maryland National Guard, found himself smiling and feeling at ease. The openness he displayed was something new, because Connelly had grown up building walls around himself that no one could get through.
As a child, his experiences in the foster care system left him unwilling to depend on others. Though he was eventually taken in by his aunt and uncle, Connelly still found himself disappointed after witnessing his relatives getting robbed by other children they had adopted.
“Watching those kids grow up, how cruel and jagged they could be, it just pushed my trust in people away a lot more,” Connelly said.
“Before these guys,” he indicated the other wounded warriors, “you had no shot for me to trust you.”
Unexpectedly, the injuries that brought Connelly into the wounded warrior family were causing him to change for the better, he said.
On July 5, 2011, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly’s life took an abrupt turn after a motorcycle accident on the streets of Baltimore. As a result of the crash, Connelly lost his left leg below the knee, his right knee required a partial replacement, and his right arm had to be artificially restructured.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard W. Rose Jr. (Ret.) and Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly celebrate after climbing a 50-foot mountain. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.
“The first couple years were hard,” he said. “It was like gut-wrenching pain in my arm when I was lifting weights, curling, or anything like that, just because there wasn’t much muscle around the metal.”
Eventually he was able to build his strength back up, but by the time the doctors could take out the hardware in his arm, bone had grown over it and become fused to the metal. Because of this, Connelly opted not to have it removed.
“I’ve adapted to it,” he said. “I’ve adapted with my leg, my knee, and the arm was another thing. I just had to get over it. Cold affects it, but you move your wrist around a little bit and keep going. I’m all about adapting and overcoming everything. I’m not going to let anything stop me from doing what I want to do.”
Three years after his injury, Connelly became involved in the world of adaptive sports and attended an AFW2 camp. Striving for more, he was also selected to represent the Air Force during the 2014 Warrior Games in shot put, discus, and the 100- and 200-meter sprints. It was at this competition that he met a group of wounded warriors and began to finally let down his guard.
Two years later, his wounded warrior family remains important to him – it is a group of people he keeps in touch with nearly every single day.
Although Connelly is busy training in pursuit of his dream of running track at the Paralympic Games, he leapt at the opportunity to try new sports at a Team R4V mountain adventure.
“Mountain biking: that was the sport that brought everybody together today,” Connelly said. He found it inspiring to watch the guys zooming down the mountain tracks on hand cycles.
“The trails are probably 20 inches wide – the same as their wheel base – and they are just flying,” he added. “Watching them struggle, but still make it up and down the hills, it was awesome! It was definitely team building and it brought us that much closer together.”
Ricky Rose Jr. knew that the sports therapy aspect of Team R4V’s camps would help him physically, but he hesitated to participate.
After being medically discharged from the Air Force as a staff sergeant, Rose thought about attending a wounded warrior camp. It was an idea that had run though his mind many times before but what always stopped him were questions: Did he deserve to go? Would he even fit into the group?
When Team R4V invited him to their fall camp, Rose decided to set those doubts aside and give it a go.
At first he was nervous, but after realizing many people in the house shared the same medical conditions he did, Rose began to feel more comfortable. He found there was relief in being surrounded by people who’d gone through tough situations — from battling cancer to being shot in Afghanistan – because they could all relate to one another.
“While each individual’s circumstances are different in the grand scheme, we’re all fighting the same demons,” Rose said. “That’s been the most beneficial part of this camp; you feel comfortable talking to somebody that you know has been there and done that.”
At the camp, much of the conversation and bonding begins over food.
With a focus on overall wellness, Team R4V cooks healthy meals for the wounded warriors each day, and encourages them to eat breakfast and dinner together. At the kitchen table, sharing a meal and talking about the day’s events, the Airmen got to know each other better. As they talked, Rose felt a sense of camaraderie return, one that he’d missed since the last day he’d hung up his Air Force uniform.
“I wasn’t expecting us to come together as a family as quickly as we did,” he said. “We all realized pretty quickly that we’re all Airmen and we’re all in this together.”
Surrounded by people who could empathize with his journey, Rose spoke about his experiences in the Air Force and the daily challenges he continues to face as a wounded warrior.
During his time in service, Rose deployed three times, once to Kuwait and twice to Iraq. Employed as a combat photographer, his objective was to document the war through the experiences of the troops with whom he was embedded – the good times, the bad times, and everything in between.
“They didn’t send us on missions where we would just sit on base all day,” he said. “They’d send us on missions where crap was going to hit the fan, or there was a really good chance of it. More times than not, we were attacked … we got blown up what seemed like almost every mission. It felt like almost every day could have been the day you died because we lost a lot of people too. War is just nasty, and I got to help show that as honestly as I could to people.”
While deployed, Rose captured thousands of images, braving firefights and mortar attacks to accomplish his job. In 2007, Rose was named one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, in part for his dedication in the combat zone – a place seared into his memory by the very tool he used to perform his mission.
“The hardest thing, and I didn’t know this until after a lot of therapy and a lot of different doctors, but I didn’t realize, as a photographer, how many of those images I took were just going to stay in my brain,” Rose said. “I just kind of thought I’d take a picture and then they’d go away, but they don’t.”
Even at home, he was unable to turn his mind away from the combat zone. Feeling unstable, Rose asked for help. He went to see a doctor and was ultimately diagnosed with a TBI and PTSD.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that presents a variety of negative effects, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts and memories. Military members with PTSD can become hyper-vigilant, angry and depressed. Sights and sounds, such as large crowds, random crazy noises, and sudden flashes of light – can mentally bring them back to the combat zone and trigger an unconscious response.
“PTSD is horrible,” Rose said. “Imagine never being able to feel comfortable or like everything is alright. Every day is a challenge because I don’t know how my body and mind will react to whatever happens that day. Will I see, touch, or smell something that will give me an instant flashback and turn me into a different person? Will my conversations lead to nightmares? Do I feel like killing myself today? That’s what it’s like.”
The temporary home in Colorado is quiet and isolated from outside stimuli. The intensity and focus needed to learn new sports is designed to wear the Airmen out and give them the ability to be calm.
“I haven’t really had a bad thought since I’ve been here, other than being exhausted and tired (from the day’s activity),” he laughed, adding, “I haven’t really had a trigger or nightmare or anything since I’ve been here. It’s been peaceful, very peaceful.”
The physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular exercise have been proven time and time again, which is why Team R4V staff said they provide support to veterans through a wide variety of physical activities. Rehabilitation though adaptive sports has been an idea at the forefront of the organization since its conception.
Inspired by a friend who coached the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program’s team for the Warrior Games, a Defense Department competitive adaptive sports event for injured, ill and wounded service members, Bethany Pribila, Team R4V’s founder and CEO, decided to start a non-profit organization that would enable veterans from every branch of the military to benefit through participation in sports.
Team R4V provides wounded warrior athletes with funding for races and events, but it is their own sports camps, which they host in partnership with the Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center, that holds a special place in the heart of the organization.
At the camp’s end, Pribila reflected that everything had gone as envisioned. She had witnessed the wounded warriors supporting one another, cheering each other on, and forming lasting bonds. Though the Airmen had arrived as strangers, when they left, it was as friends and as family.
The weapons arrived on an Air Serbia flight and were scheduled to fly on another plane from Belgrade to Portland, Oregon. The Lebanese military said in a statement that they were sending the missiles to Portland so that they could be turned in as part of a deal with the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin.
Air Serbia operated the aircraft where the missiles were found and has assisted in the investigation.
AGM-114 Hellfire missiles can be launched from aircraft, boats, and land vehicles and is primarily designed to defeat enemy armor. It carries either an 18 or 20-pound warhead and can travel up to five miles at 995 mph to destroy a target.
The Army and General Dynamics Land Systems are developing a Stryker-mounted laser weapon aimed at better arming the vehicle to incinerate enemy drones or threatening ground targets.
Concept vehicles are now being engineered and tested at the Army’s Ft. Sill artillery headquarters as a way to quickly develop the weapon for operational service. During a test this past April, the laser weapons successful shot down 21 out of 23 enemy drone targets.
The effort marks the first-ever integration of an Army laser weapon onto a combat vehicle.
“The idea is to provide a solution to a capability gap which is an inability to acquire, track and destroy low, slow drones that proliferate all over the world,” Tim Reese, director of strategic planning, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The weapon is capable of destroying Group 1 and Group 2 small and medium-sized drones, Reese added.
The laser, which Reese says could be operational as soon as 11-months from now, will be integrated into the Fire Support Vehicle Stryker variant designed for target tracking and identification.
General Dynamics Land Systems is now working on upgrading the power of the laser from two kilowatts of power to five kilowatts. The laser weapon system uses its own tracking radar to acquire targets in the event that other sensors on the vehicle are disabled in combat and has an electronic warfare jamming system intended to jam the signal of enemy drones. Boeing is the maker of the fire-control technology integrated into the laser weapon. The laser is also integrated with air-defense and field artillery networks
“The energy of the laser damages, destroys and melts different components of the target,” Reese explained.
The Army is now in research and test mode, with a clear interest in rapidly deploying this technology. Reese added that GDLS anticipates being able to fire an 18-kilowatt laser from the Stryker by 2018.
One of the challenges with mobile laser weapons is the need to maintain enough exportable power to sustain the weapon while on-the-move, developers have explained.
“As power goes up, the range increases and time to achieve the melt increases. You can achieve less than one-half of the burn time,” he said.
This initiative is of particular relevance given the current tensions in Europe between Russia and NATO. US Army Europe has been amid a large-scale effort to collaborate with allies on multi-lateral exercises, show an ability to rapidly deploy armored forces across the European continent and up-gun combat platforms stationed in Europe such as the Stryker.
Lasers at Forward Operating Bases
The Army is planning to deploy laser weapons able to protect Forward Operating Bases (FOB) by rapidly incinerating and destroying approaching enemy drones, artillery rounds, mortars and cruise missiles, service leaders told ScoutWarrior.
Forward-deployed soldiers in places like Afghanistan are familiar with facing incoming enemy mortar rounds, rockets and gunfire attacks; potential future adversaries could launch drones, cruise missiles, artillery or other types of weapons at FOBs.
Adding lasers to the arsenal, integrated with sensors and fire-control radar, could massively help U.S. soldiers quickly destroy enemy threats by burning them out of the sky in seconds, Army leaders said.
Laser weapons have been in development with the Army for many years, Mary Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Research and Technology, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
“We’ve clearly demonstrated you can takeout UAVs pretty effectively. Now we are not only working on how we take out UAVs but also mortars and missiles–and eventually cruise missiles,” she said.
The emerging weapons are being engineered into a program called Indirect Fire Protection Capability, or IFPC Increment 2. Through this program, the Army plans to fire lasers to protect forward bases by 2023 as part of an integrated system of technologies, sensors and weapons designed to thwart incoming attacks.
At the moment, Army soldiers at Forward Operating Bases use a system called Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar – or C-RAM, to knock down incoming enemy fire such as mortar shells. C-RAM uses sensors alongside a vehicle-mounted 20mm Phalanx Close-in-Weapons-System able to fire 4,500 rounds per minute. The idea is to blanket an area with large numbers of small projectiles as a way to intercept and destroy incoming artillery, rocket or mortar fire.
Also, lasers bring the promise of quickly incinerating a wide range of targets while helping to minimize costs, Miller explained.
“The shot per kill (with lasers) is very inexpensive when the alternative is sending out a multi-million dollar missile,” Miller said.
Boeing’s Avenger Laser weapon successfully destroyed a drone in 2008 at White Sands Missile Range. Army weapons developers observed the test.
The Army is also developing a mobile high-energy solid-state laser program called the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, or HEL MD. The weapon mounts a 10 kilowatt laser on top of a tactical truck. HEL MD weapons developers, who rotate the laser 360-degrees on top of a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, say the Army plan is to increase the strength of the laser up to 100 Kilowatts, service officials said.
“The supporting thermal and power subsystems will be also upgraded to support the increasingly powerful solid state lasers. These upgrades increase the effective range of the laser or decrease required lase time on target,” an Army statement said
In November of 2013, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command used the HEL MD, a vehicle-mounted high energy laser, to successfully engage more than 90 mortar rounds and several unmanned aerial vehicles in flight at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
“This was the first full-up demonstration of the HEL MD in the configuration that included the laser and beam director mounted in the vehicle. A surrogate radar (Enhanced Multi Mode Radar) supported the engagement by queuing the laser,” an Army statement said.
Miller explained how the Army hopes to build upon this progress to engineer laser weapons able to destroy larger targets at farther ranges. She said the evolution of laser weapons has spanned decades.
“We first determined we could use lasers in the early 60’s. It was not until the 90’s when we determined we could have the additional power needed to hit a target of substance. It took us that long to create a system and we have been working that kind of system ever since,” Miller added.
Iraqi armed forces have pushed out Daesh from Tal Afar city while some parts of the district bearing the same name remain under the terrorist group’s control, a senior army official said Aug. 27.
“Joint forces of the army and the Hashd al-Shaabi — a pro-government Shia militia — have liberated two neighborhoods of Al-Askari and the Al-Senaa Al-Shamaliya, as well as the Al-Maaredh area, Tal Afar Gate, and the Al-Rahma village in the eastern part of the city,” Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, Mosul operation commander, said in a televised statement.
While all parts of the city have been recaptured, fighting for control of some parts of Tal Afar district continues.
Yarallah said only the Al-Ayadieh area and its surrounding villages in the district now remain in Daesh’s grip, adding the armed forces were advancing “towards the last targets in order to liberate them”.
On Aug. 27, the Iraqi government launched a major offensive to retake Tal Afar, involving army troops, federal police units, counter-terrorism forces and armed members of Hashd al-Shaabi — a largely Shia force that was incorporated into the Iraqi army last year.
Ministry of Displacement and Migration official Zuhair Talal al-Salem told Anadolu Agency 1,500 people fled the district’s surrounding villages and areas.
“The displaced people were transferred from security checkpoints to Nimrod camp, where they are receiving relief assistance,” Al-Salem said.
Nimrud camp in the southeast of Mosul is said to have a capacity to house 3,000 families.
The ministry transferred some 500 displaced families to the camp after checking their names August 26 in the district of Hamam al-Alil, south of Mosul.
Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas as a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 miles per hour. Over four feet of rain has been dumped on the Gulf Coast of Texas, and Houston is flooded — and it may be as bad as Katrina.
Below are some of the photos showing the rescue efforts by the National Guard, which has been, as you might imagine, very busy.
This is what they are dealing with: An aerial view shows severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey near Rockport, Holiday Beach and Port Aransas, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo)
Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron prepare to deploy from the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Aug. 27 for Texas, where they will assist with rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The Airmen are specialists in swift-water and confined-space rescue. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton)
U.S. Air Force 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawks take-off, Aug. 26 at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. The 23d Wing launched HC-130J Combat King IIs, HH-60G Pave Hawks, aircrew and other support personnel to preposition aircraft and airmen, if tasked to support Hurricane Harvey relief operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Snider)
In this aerial view, an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter hovers over the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey near Rockport, Holiday Beach and Port Aransas, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo)
Texas National Guardsmen drive military vehicles down flooded streets while searching for stranded residents impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)
Texas National Guardsmen work with emergency responders in assisting residents affected by Hurricane Harvey flooding during search and rescue operations near Victoria, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle)
Texas National Guard soldiers aid a citizen in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD)
A Texas National Guardsman carries a resident from her home during flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)
Texas National Guard soldiers assist residents affected by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Aug. 27. (National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)
A Texas Task Force responder helps hoist a stranded resident to a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during search and rescue near Rockport, Holiday Beach and Port Aransas, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo)
A Texas National Guardsman shakes hands with a resident after assisting his family during Hurricane Harvey flooding in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)
To donate $10 to the American Red Cross, text REDCROSS to 90999. The donation will be reflected in your next cell phone bill. You can also donate by going to the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster for a list of national charities assisting those whose lives have been altered by Hurricane Harvey.
The moment Otto Catalan had waited almost two decades for had finally arrived. Sitting in a small office, surrounded by his doctors and other medical staff, the blind U.S. Navy Veteran could only hope for one thing: to see the face of his teenage son for the first time.
“I see a lot of flashes, and they’re getting brighter,” he said. “Wow. It’s amazing.”
He turned his head to the right and saw bright flashes of light reflecting off the white coat of Miami VA Chief of Ophthalmology Dr. Ninel Gregori. When he turned to the left to talk with his son, he paused and began to cry. Gregori hugged him.
“Thank you very much, guys,” he said. “I’ll work hard, so I can see. It’s been 19 years, and I have been able to see my son. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Catalan is keeping true to his word and continuing to work hard to learn how to use his new Argus® II prosthesis or “bionic eye.” Even though he struggled for years to come to terms with the loss of his sight, Catalan now feels optimistic about moving forward and beginning a new life.
“I’m learning something new everyday,” he said. “This prosthetic will help me be more successful in life. It’s already helping me be more mobile at home, and it’s going to make a big difference for me at work.”
Catalan’s struggles with vision loss began in 1989, when he was serving as a ship serviceman in the U.S. Navy. While he was on guard duty aboard a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, everything suddenly went dark.
“It felt like I was walking in the dark,” he said. “I told my superior officer, and he sent me to a doctor, but they couldn’t find out what it was. We went back to Virginia. They did extensive tests, and that’s when they found out I had retinitis pigmentosa.”
Catalan was scared when he heard the diagnosis. He never heard of retinitis pigmentosa and didn’t know what it would mean for his future. He was immediately removed from the ship and sent to rehab, and would eventually be medically separated from the military.
What is retinitis pigmentosa?
“Retinitis pigmentosa is one of the most common inherited diseases we see in ophthalmology,” Gregori said. “For people with this condition and certainly in Mr. Catalan’s case, the retina becomes very thin, and the photoreceptors, which convert light into electrical signals, gradually die off over time. Initially, peripheral vision, or the side vision, goes away, and then finally the central vision disappears.”
Catalan’s eyesight continued to deteriorate. Still needing to make money, he took a job as a cook. As his conditioned worsened, he struggled to tell if food was cooked and even burned himself multiple times. It was at this point that Catalan knew he needed help, so he went to the Northport VA Medical Center in New York.
“My doctors told me I needed to start preparing because I was going to be permanently blind soon,” he said. “After I heard that, I remember crying all the time. I couldn’t even hear someone say the word ‘see’ because I would burst into tears.”
The Northport VAMC referred Catalan to the VA Connecticut Healthcare System to participate in its Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Service’s three-month training program. While sitting through the training sessions and listening to the instructors and other Veterans, Catalan unexpectedly learned a valuable life lesson.
“Once I met other blind Vietnam Veterans at VA Connecticut and saw how well they were dealing with their situation, I never cried about my own condition again,” he said.
Throughout the program, he also learned to perform everyday tasks, such as shave his face, eat with utensils, identify clothing and walk with a cane. He stayed an additional two months to learn to use a computer and screen-reader technology.
Moving to Florida
In 2005, Catalan heard about ophthalmology research being conducted at the Miami VA Healthcare System and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, which serves as the ophthalmology department of the University of Miami Health System. He moved his family to Cutler Bay, Florida and transferred his care to the then Miami VA Medical Center—where he worked with Roberta Goldstein, now retired Miami VA visual impairment services team coordinator.
“Roberta was great,” he said. “She referred me to the prosthetics department at the West Palm Beach VAMC, so I could get equipment to help me go back to work. She’s the best.”
Shortly after receiving his prosthetics equipment, Catalan landed a job as a resource specialist with Marriott Hotels—where he still works today. He says Marriott has been accommodating to his condition, and he hopes to be considered for promotion one day.
In March 2015, he received a phone call that would help his chances of getting that long-awaited promotion and also change his life.
One of my hopes was to see my son’s face for the first time
When he heard about the “bionic eye,” Catalan requested an evaluation for the device at the Miami VA Eye Clinic. With the help of the low vision Miami VA team, Gregori selected him for the Argus II® screening evaluation and personally called his home to ask if he was still interested.
“He was a perfect candidate,” Gregori said. “His personality was extremely important. With artificial vision, the patient must have the patience to learn to interpret the lights and images he or she is seeing. Learning to use the Argus II is like learning a new language, so individuals with both an optimistic personality and a strong willingness to work hard are the best candidates for the technology.”
Dr. Gregori is the Miami VA chief of ophthalmology and an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. In 2004, she was part of the surgical team that implanted the first Argus II® retinal prosthesis in a Florida patient, a non-Veteran from Tampa. She was eager to bring the new technology to the Miami VA, where she proudly serves South Florida Veterans and has lead the ophthalmology department for the past 10 years.
“Miami VA Medical Center Director Paul Russo and Chief of Surgery Dr. Seth Spector both enthusiastically welcomed the idea of making the bionic eye available to our Veterans. It would not have been possible without their support,” Gregori said.
It felt like I had just given somebody the best Christmas present
Catalan underwent surgery to implant the Argus® II, a new prosthesis approved in 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration to treat people with end-stages of retinitis pigmentosa, at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute on Nov. 24, 2015. Catalan’s bionic eye was activated Dec. 11 by the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s biomedical engineers, under the supervision of Miami VA’s Dr. Ninel Gregori. Even though Gregori and her team had already been through the experience of turning on the prosthesis with a previous patient, Catalan’s moment was emotional nonetheless.
“When it was turned on, Mr. Catalan started crying, and it brought tears to my eyes,” Gregori said. “It felt like I just gave somebody the best Christmas present I had ever given to anybody in my life. That’s why I went into ophthalmology.”
“After 19 years, the first thing I saw was my son’s face,” Catalan said. “I could also see Dr. Gregori, and when we walked around the hall, I was able to tell where the door and window frames were for the first time. That might not mean a lot to other people, but it meant so much to me.”
Catalan continues to work with the Miami VA Blind Rehabilitation Team, lead by optometrist Dr. Kasey Zann, to learn how to use the Argus II® in his everyday life. Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Linh Pham visits his home and trains him to use the device in his home environment and in public. He also works regularly with Gregori and her team at the Miami VA Eye Clinic.
“The Miami VA Healthcare System has amazing low vision and blind rehabilitation resources for Veterans. It is an ideal setting for rehabilitation after Argus II implantation,” Gregori said.
At home, Catalan now sees objects and walls, and can even see lights and motion on his television for the first time. His next goal is to learn to use his new computer at work. After his training, he will be able to see shapes, the different windows and letters on his computer screen.
During an outing with his family in early 2015, Catalan was surprised to see a sight he had not seen in years.
“On New Year’s Eve, I was able to see the fireworks outside for the first time in 19 years. My mouth stayed open for a while,” he said. “Now, when I’m walking on the grass, I can see the lines where the grass is versus where the sidewalk is. The fact that I’m walking outside and can see the lights makes it all worth it.”
About the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System
The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System—made by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc.—is an artificial retina, or bionic eye, that converts images into light and uses a miniature video camera that is mounted on a pair of glasses, said Gregori. Once the images are converted, they are wirelessly transmitted to a surgically implanted prosthesis located in the patient’s eye. The implant then stimulates the retina to produce an image that is sent to the brain for interpretation.
Over the past few decades, the character of military conflict has changed substantially as “front lines” and “rear areas” have blurred into a single, full-spectrum operational environment. That increasing complexity is reflected in the tactical vehicles that commanders need to address that spectrum of operations. When the Army looked to replace the venerable Jeep, the July-August 1981 issue of RDA magazine, Army ALT’s predecessor, described the new vehicle it sought to acquire, the High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, this way:
“The HMMWV will be diesel powered and have an automatic transmission. It will carry a 2,500-pound payload, have a cruising range of 300 miles, accelerate from 0 to 30 MPH within 6 to 8 seconds and achieve a maximum speed to 60 MPH. Since the HMMWV will be operated in forward areas, it will feature run-flat tires and ballistic protection up to 16-grain fragments traveling at 425 meters per second, as well as explosion-proof fuel tanks for some models. The vehicle will use off-the-shelf civilian hardware and military standard parts wherever possible.”
It was, essentially, a better Jeep. There was nothing in that description about blast resistance or networking. It would have been hard to imagine a tactical network such as today’s in 1981. Nor was any consideration given to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Contrast that with the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which is currently in low-rate initial production.
JLTV is an Army-led, joint-service program designed to replace a portion of each service’s light tactical wheeled vehicle fleets while closing a mobility and protection gap. The intent is to provide protected, sustained, networked mobility for warfighters and payloads across the full range of military operations.
Willys-Overland was awarded the contract for the 1940 Willys Quad Original Pilot, the Jeep’s precursor, which began production in 1941. The vehicle underwent countless modifications and upgrades, and remained in service for the next 44 years.
During World War II, the Jeep was considered the workhorse for logistical and support tasks. The early vehicles were used for laying cable and hauling logs, and as firefighting pumpers, field ambulances and tractors. However, the vehicle didn’t include armoring, a radio, seatbelts—or even doors. After the war, the Jeep went through many modifications and upgrades and remained in service for the next 44 years.
The HMMWV was fielded in 1985, a couple of years later than anticipated back in 1981, and they have been used since as troop carriers, command vehicles, ambulances, for psychological operations and as weapon platforms. In the early 2000s, HMMWVs faced an entirely new threat in the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—the IED—and they proved vulnerable. DOD responded with up-armoring and the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, which was designed specifically to resist and deflect IED explosions.
JLTV gives the current warfighter significantly more protection against multiple threats while increasing mobility, payload and firepower, something that Soldiers and Marines from past conflicts could only envision in their wildest dreams.
“The JLTV has been designed to keep pace with the fast-changing nature of today’s battlefield,” said Dave Diersen, vice president and general manager of Joint Programs at Oshkosh Defense, which won the JLTV contract. Diersen added that JLTV offers “a leap forward in performance and capability that can only come from a vehicle that is purpose-built for a spectrum of light vehicle missions.”
BIGGER, STRONGER, SAFER
Army leaders from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command tested a production model of the JLTV, right, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, on May 2. The JLTV bridges the capability gaps in protection, performance and payload of the HMMWV on the left.
The JLTV has two variants, to cover the requirements of both the Army and Marine Corps, and can be transported by a range of lift assets including rotary-wing aircraft. It can traverse rugged and dangerous terrain including urban areas, while providing built-in and supplemental armor against direct fire and IED threats. The JLTV features advanced networking, by being wired for current and future command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.
JLTV was purposely built for the Army’s tactical network and designed to have MRAP-like protection, but also to improve fuel efficiency, increase payload and provide greater maintainability, reliability and performance—and the potential for continuous improvement to meet future mission requirements.
The first production vehicles are intended to serve as the first assets for JLTV’s performance and operational testing programs. Roughly 40 vehicles have been delivered to test sites thus far, and will undergo complete reliability, transportability, survivability, network and other testing to verify the production vehicles’ ability to satisfy the program’s requirements. The most important outcome of this testing is to ensure that Soldiers can effectively interact with the JLTV and all of its integrated equipment.
As the Jeep and HMMWV did on past battlefields, JLTV will no doubt face challenges of 21st century military operations that the Army and DOD can scarcely imagine today, as well as provide a much-needed tactical vehicle capability for the Army and Marine Corps that doesn’t compromise among payload, mobility, performance or protection.
Two months ago Rear Admiral Richard Williams was found guilty of violating orders and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman after evidence showed that he’d spent numerous hours viewing porn on a government computer during a training exercise aboard a Navy ship.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Williams implied during testimony that he didn’t start off with the intention of viewing porn but that he was drawn there by pop-up advertisements. “It started as pop-ups, but then I navigated,” Williams told investigators.
Data gathered during a routine computer sweep conducted by the Navy Information Operations Command showed that during the six days Williams was aboard the USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the summer of 2015 he watched four hours of porn. Later, in December, he was on the ship for five days and watched in five hours of porn.
When confronted with those stats Williams replied, “I didn’t know it was this much.”
Williams was serving as the commander of Carrier Strike Group 15 at the time of his infractions. He earned his commission in 1984 after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology and served as a surface warfare officer for much of his career.
Along with being removed from his post, Williams was also issued a punitive letter of reprimand, an extra level of discipline that indicates the Navy considers moral crimes more egregious than professional errors like running a ship aground or causing a collision at sea.
The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, a $684 million Legend-class cutter, the second longest of its kind, nabbed an estimated $748 million worth of cocaine in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2015, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson released in a statement. Its single largest bust saw it catch 7.5 tons of the drug in a narco-sub off the coast of Central America.
To put the Bertholf’s haul in perspective, a Coast Guard task force seized a fast boast laden with cocaine in early November 2015, hauling 22 packages worth a paltry $17 million in comparison. Her crew probably has bragging rights for the next decade.
In the early days of the Atomic Era, American scientists were fascinated by the idea of sending an entire colony of humans to Mars using an engine propelling a ship with a series of controlled atomic bomb blasts behind the craft. They called the project Orion, after the constellation featuring man in the stars.
The project itself, led by physicists Ted Taylor and Freeman Dyson, began in 1958 at General Atomics and was ended only after the United States signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 with the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.
Taylor was the leading nuclear weapons designer at Los Alamos. His idea for the Orion engine protected the capsule from the explosions by a large, flat “pusher plate,” that was 1,ooo tons, 100 feet in diameter, and one foot thick.
The Orion project required a high-thrust and high efficiency impulse engine, expected to be gained from the nuclear explosions. Chemical-fueled engines of the time produced high thrust but had low efficiency. Electric ion engines are the opposite, producing low thrust, but are very efficient. Scientists felt the Orion engine provided the best opportunity for travel to another planet.
The bigger the rocket, the more fuel it needs to lift off. Many are mostly fuel tanks attached to a small ship. The ship would ride like a saucer, on top of the bomb’s mushroom cloud. Atomic bombs give a million times more energy than rocket fuel. If a ship could survive the blast, it would be easy to lift it into space.
“The space exploration of those days was looking at the universe through a keyhole,” Dyson said in an interview in the 1990s. “We wanted to open the door.”
The size of the vehicle used would be directly proportionate to the bomb yields. The smallest proposed diameter was 17-20 meters in size with the largest having a mass of 8 million tons, the size of a small city.
Dyson’s designs for the thermonuclear powered Orion proposed a top speed of 3-5 percent of light speed, which would require 44 years to reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own.
In the earliest versions, scientists proposed the ship take off from the ground, causing significant nuclear fallout, radio active dust and ash blown into the atmosphere and left to fall back to Earth. Excessive fallout was one of the driving reasons for the signing of the Test Ban Treaty.
There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who get the appeal of floating fortresses, bristling with guns and missiles and all manner of things awesome – and those who drive Priuses. There is no middle ground. And if there were, most of the ships on this list would turn it into a giant, smoking crater.
Yes, there’s definitely something about a big military ship that takes us back to the most primal part of ourselves. There’s a bit of romance to that part; maybe a bit of the old idealist, who appreciates the aesthetic appeal of naval warfare. Maybe it’s the risk-taker, the gambler who understands that all that lay between sailor and sea is one well-placed shot to the stern. Maybe it’s just the fact that big guns are cool, and ships carry the biggest guns of them all.
But no matter what the appeal, you would have to be of a pretty small group not to find something to love about these cool military surface ships. And if you’re one of those people, please park your Prius on the beach…we’re working up a firing solution… Vote up the coolest military surface ships below, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comment section!