British Army recruiters have embraced 360-degree videos, where the viewer can decide what direction they want to look at any given moment, and are using them to let potential recruits see different army jobs.
“Army Urban Ops” follows a squad as the men clear a series of buildings. It is the most watched of the 360-degree videos despite the big yellow blank adapters.
The tanker video is also great. The default view is down the gun as a Challenger II Tank races through the countryside, but swipe your finger on your phone or click and drag with your mouse to look left and see another tank firing its cannon and machine guns.
The airborne version puts the viewer into the middle of a paratrooper drop and a mountaineering one allows them to climb along a narrow ridge with soldiers.
Attack helicopters are fierce predators that go after enemy troop formations and guard friendlies. Here are the 9 that most effectively prowl the battlefield:
1. Ka-52 “Alligator”
Capable of operating at high altitude and speed, the two-seater Ka-52 snags the top spot from the usual winner, the Apache. The Alligator’s anti-ship missiles have better range than the Apache and the helicopter boasts similar armor and air-to-air capability. A one-seat version, the Ka-50, is also lethal.
2. AH-64 Apache
The AH-64 is armed with a lot of weapons including Hellfire missiles, 70mm rockets, and a 30mm automatic cannon. Its tracks and prioritizes 256 contacts with advanced radar and targeting systems. Optional Stinger or Sidewinder missiles turn it into an air-to-air platform. The newest version, AH-64E Guardian, is more efficient, faster, and can link to drones.
3. Mi-28N “Havoc”
The night-capable version of the Mi-28, the “Havoc” carries anti-tank missiles that can pierce a meter of armor. It also has pods for 80mm unguided rockets, five 122mm rockets grenade launchers, 23mm guns, 12.7mm or 7.62mm machine guns, or bombs. It also has a 30mm cannon mounted under its nose.
4. Eurocopter Tiger
The Tiger minimizes its radar, sound, and infrared signatures to avoid enemy munitions and still has thick armor, just in case. It carries a 30mm turret, 70mm rockets, air-to-air missiles, and a wide variety of anti-tank missiles as well as countermeasures for incoming missiles .
The Z-10 has an altitude ceiling of nearly 20,000 feet and carries capable anti-tank missiles, TY-90 air-to-air missiles, and a 30mm cannon. The Z-10 was originally considered a triumph of the Chinese defense industry, but it was actually designed by Russian manufacturer Kamov, the company behind the Ka-52 and Ka-50.
An upgraded version of the Italian A-129, the T-129 is a Turkish helicopter carrying robust UMTAS anti-tank missiles, rockets, and Stinger missiles. Its cannon is relatively small at 20mm, but it can zip around the battlefield at 150 knots, rivaling the newest Apaches.
7. Mi-24 Hind
The Mi-24 carries understrength anti-tank missiles by modern standards, but it’s great against infantry. Multiple machine guns up to 30mm chew up enemy troops while thick armor grants near-immunity from ground fire up to .50-cal. It also doubles as a transport, carrying up to eight infantrymen or four litters.
8. AH-1Z Viper
A heavily upgraded version of the first attack helicopter, the Viper still has a lot of bite. Hellfire missiles destroy enemy tanks and ships while a 20mm cannon picks off dismounts and light vehicles. Sidewinder missiles allow it to engage enemy air from a respectable distance.
9. AH-2 Rooivalk
The AH-2 is a South African helicopter that uses a stealthy design, electronic countermeasures, and armor to survive threats on the battlefield. While it’s there, it fires a 20mm cannon, TOW or ZT-6 Mokopa anti-tank missiles, or rockets at its enemies. There are plans for it to gain an air-to-air capability.
And there’s more; you can also rent and fire .50 caliber rifles, machine guns, miniguns, and flamethrowers. Feel and see the destruction of an M134 minigun up close. At 6,000 rounds per-minute, it’s the ultimate machine gun.
The flame thrower may be banned as a weapon of war by the Geneva Conventions but you can check one out from this armory.
And if that’s not enough, they’ve also got anti-tank guns, artillery, and mortars. Fire an M2A1 light howitzer, the workhorse of towed American field artillery from World War II to the Vietnam War. You can physically reshape the ranch’s 18,000 acres with that kind of firepower.
Aside from all of these incredible adult toys, they’ve got a plethora of outdoor activities that include hunting, offroading, kayaking and more. But perhaps the most remarkable out of these activities is the park’s photo safari tour. They’ve got giraffes, zebras, scimitar oryx, and other free-ranging wildlife not native to Texas, let alone the rest of America.
This video shows the range of outdoor activities Ox Ranch offers on its 18,000 acres of Texas hill country property.
Shortly after he became an officer in the Marines, John Kelly met a captain who told him that he should approach his new position as “a real professional.”
“A doctor who doesn’t read peer articles and stay attuned to the developments in his field is not the kind of doctor you would want to go to, and the same is true for officers in the Marine Corps,” the captain told him.
“He got me going on reading, specifically focused on military things, and I just never stopped,” Kelly said.
The Wall Street Journal reported August 4 that Kelly picked up C.S. Forester’s 1936 novel “The General” after accepting the role of chief of staff, just as he did after accepting the role of DHS chief six months prior — and just as he did every time he was promoted during and after his military career, since he was 25 (he is now 67).
It’s essentially a parable about the dangers of patriotism and duty unaccompanied by critical thinking. Kelly went through it again to remind himself “of what to avoid as a leader,” the Journal reported.
“The General” tells the fictional story of General Sir Herbert Curzon, a leader in the British Army during World War I. Curzon is an unremarkable man who attained his position of power largely through luck and the failings of the superiors who preceded him. He is eventually put in charge of 100,000 men during WWI, where he leads many of them to their death and loses his leg in the process. Despite his failings as a leader, he is lauded in his retirement as a military hero.
When Kelly read the book as a young officer, he thought of his captain’s words on leadership.
Describing Curzon, Kelly wrote in “The Leader’s Bookshelf,” “He is a brave guy, a dedicated guy, a noble guy, but a guy who in the end has become a corps commander — a three-star general — and when presented with an overwhelming German attack couldn’t figure out how to deal with it because he’d never developed himself intellectually.”
Every time Kelly has read the book, he wrote, he’s noted where he was at that point in his life, and how the novel’s lesson resonates with him.
He wrote that, “depending on as you get older and higher in rank, it’s a different book every time you read it. When a lieutenant reads that book it’s different from when a lieutenant general reads it. … So it’s just kind of a fun thing I’ve done over the years and with this book in particular just to remind me of the critical importance of thinking.”
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Airmen from the 755th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work together to remove the panel on the right horizontal stabilizer of an EC-130H Compass Call at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 30, 2016. The 755th AMXS plans and executes all equipment maintenance actions for 14 EC-130Hs.
The Shockwave Jet Truck fires up its 12,000 horsepower jet engine on the flightline during the Thunder Over Georgia Air Show on Robins Air Force Base, Ga., Oct. 1, 2016.
An F-22 Raptor from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., sits on the ramp at Rickenbacker International Airport, Ohio, Oct. 7, 2016. The aircraft sheltered at the airport during Hurricane Matthew.
U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, maneuver their M1A2 Abrams tank to avoid indirect fire during training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Oct. 7, 2016.
A 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment-Blackhorse Soldier provides suppressing fire with a M249 machine gun against 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers attending training at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., Oct. 4, 2016.
SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 8, 2016) U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, perform an Echelon Parade at Fleet Week San Francisco Air Show. The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform 56 demonstrations at 29 locations across the U.S. in 2016, which is the team’s 70th anniversary year.
SOUTH CHINA SEA (Oct. 8, 2016) U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class David Coburn stands by as Landing Craft, Utility 1634, assigned to Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7, embarks the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) during Philippine Landing Exercise 33 (PHIBLEX). PHIBLEX 33 is an annual U.S.-Philippine bilateral exercise that combines amphibious landing and live-fire training with humanitarian civic assistance efforts to strengthen interoperability and working relationships.
Marines remove a tree from main road aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, Oct. 8. Marines and sailors with MCAS Beaufort worked to return the air station and Laurel Bay to normal operations. They removed debris and cleaned up main access roads to establish infrastructure after Hurricane Matthew.
A U.S. Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One engages targets during an urban close air support exercise at Yodaville, Yuma, Arizona, Sept. 30, 2016. The urban close air support exercise was part of Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) 1-17, a seven-week training event, hosted by MAWTS-1 cadre, which emphasizes operational integration of the six functions of Marine Corps aviation in support of a Marine Air Ground Task Force.
Coast Guard crew members from Air Station Clearwater, Florida, prepare an HC-130 Hercules airplane Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, for an overflight. The crew flew to areas north of Daytona, Florida, for an assessment of Hurricane Matthew’s damage and Vice Adm. Karl L. Schultz, commander Coast Guard Atlantic Area, held a press briefing when they landed.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Luis Martinez points to a training mannequin in the water Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, during a man overboard training exercise in Jacksonville, Florida. Martinez is one of several Coast Guard reservists from units throughout the 7th Coast Guard district attending a weeklong 45-foot Response Boat—Medium school at Coast Guard Station Mayport, Florida, to help sharpen their boat crewmember skills.
After the close of the Great War, the former race-car driver got into business. At first, it was automobiles and racing but he returned to aviation and ran Eastern Air Lines. In Feb. 1941, he was riding on one of the company’s planes when it crashed on a hill near Atlanta.
Rickenbacker was severely injured in the crash. His pelvic bone, a leg, and multiple ribs were broken and an eyelid was torn.
In spite of his injuries and the fact he was pinned down by a dead body and the wreckage, he took control of the situation and sent a group to call for help. He kept everyone safe and calm for the nine hours it took for rescue workers to arrive and get him out of the wreckage.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t done with plane crashes. In 1942 Rickenbacker had mostly recovered from his earlier crash, though he continued to limp. The Army Air Force asked the aviation pioneer, then 52 years old, to consult on operations in the Pacific theater.
With a $1 a day salary, he set out for a tour of the Pacific. He first visited Hawaii en route to bases from Australia to Guadalcanal. On a B-17 with 7 other men, Rickenbacker departed Hawaii for Canton Island, but the B-17 got lost en route.
Rickenbacker again took command, even though he was technically outranked by a colonel who was accompanying him as an aide. Floating in the ocean on three smalls rafts, the Army airmen were subjected to extreme cold at night and blistering heat in the day.
Despite these small successes, Sgt. Alexander Kaczmarczyk died on the 13th day. He had been returning to Australia after recovering from illness and had drank a large quantity of seawater on the escape from the plane. The added toll being soaked with sea water and exposed to extreme temperatures for nearly two weeks overcame him.
A few days later, on the 17th day, the group spotted a scout plane flying about 5 miles away. Efforts to flag it down failed, as did attempt to flag down the next six planes that appeared over the the two days after that.
Luckily, the plan worked. One raft found land where the natives and an English missionary nursed them while waiting on doctors to arrive. The other dispatched raft was spotted by a Navy patrol plane who picked them up. The survivors told the Navy where to look for Rickenbacker’s raft.
Rickenbacker had lost 40 pounds, developed a number of sores from the salt water, and was severely dehydrated, but he spent only two weeks recovering in a Navy hospital before insisting on completing his mission.
Last year Wing Nut Wick published a compilation of the best Naval aviation footage captured from the cockpits of Navy jets called Hornet Ball 2014. This year a similar video compilation surfaced from Navy West Coast squadrons published by Joe Stephens.
In similar fashion, some of the most incredible Hornet footage was captured in HD and paired with some of the sickest EDM beats (Electronic Dance Music). The latest version features precision video editing and could stand on its own as a music video. Too bad MTV no longer plays that sort of stuff; it would surely give any artist in the top 20 list a run for their money.
It opens with a breathtaking flyover of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) that perfectly displays the might of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. There’s nothing like a floating fortress of freedom that projects power over any horizon.
It follows the Aviation Ordnancemen (AOs) — the sailors in red jerseys — loading the Hornets with bombs.
The plane captain — sailors in brown jerseys — gives the pilot a greeting salute before the officer proceeds to his final plane check before climbing into the cockpit. It is the plane captain’s responsibility to have the jet ready to fly. These men and women are usually some of the youngest in a squadron.
After all of the preflight inspections, the Hornet is handed off to the ship’s aircraft handlers in yellow jerseys for launch positioning.
Final flight systems check.
Full afterburners and FIRE!
The footage is awesome! Here’s a screen grab from the cockpit.
Refueling in mid air.
Refueling up close.
Super slo-mo firing.
You’ll never see a sunset quite like this.
Approaching the flight deck.
A breakaway into the sunset.
A missile launch from a destroyer.
A daring landing in thick fog.
An incredible flyby viewed from the air.
A view of Mount Fuji.
From the flight deck to the insane aerial acrobatics from our finest men and women, this video truly captures the Navy fighter experience. The video is 13 minutes long but it’s worth watching.
An experimental Pentagon program has already developed two types of a highly advanced, Terminator-like prosthetic arm.
What’s more, a quadriplegic woman with sensors implanted onto her brain controlled one of the robotic limbs to grab a cup, shake hands and eat a chocolate bar. She even flew an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter simulator using just her thoughts.
Now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to expand on that cutting-edge work to build other potential breakthrough medical technologies, including a pacemaker-sized device that might someday improve the memory of troops who suffered a traumatic brain injury. Think of it as a hard drive of sorts for the brain.
“We know we need a next-generation device that doesn’t exist today,” said Justin Sanchez, who manages DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office in Arlington, Virginia. “That’s what these new programs are all about — not only understanding the brain and these conditions, but building the hardware that enables us to address those issues. You need both.”
Over more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, roadside bombs and other explosive devices took a toll on the U.S. military. An estimated half to two-thirds of the more than 7,100 Americans killed or wounded in combat were victims of such blasts and some 1,800 lost limbs, according to USA Today. Hundreds of thousands more suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
While researchers have been scanning the brain for years, very little is known about memory, which is stored in the side parts of the brain known as temporal lobes, Sanchez said. Like epileptic patients, troops who damage this part of the brain can suffer from memory loss and other issues.
One of DARPA’s newer projects, Restoring Active Memory, seeks to build a prosthetic device that could aid in the formation and recall declarative memory, a form of long-term memory that can be recalled such as a fact. For example, a future experiment might involve a patient who is asked to identify a series of faces and names with the aid of an implant.
“The twist on this is he or she will be interacting with a prosthetic device,” Sanchez said. “So at some face and name presentations, maybe we’ll stimulate the part of the brain that is involved in the memory formation and see if there are particular patterns of stimulation that can facilitate the formation and recall of that memory.”
The research builds on the work of a precursor program, called Revolutionizing Prosthetics, which dates back almost a decade and reflects the cornerstone of the agency’s research into neural signaling.
Jan Scheuermann, one of two patients in the program, in 2012 agreed to let surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center implant a pair of pea-sized electrodes onto her left motor cortex — which controls movement — and connects her to a robotic arm. She hoped she might feed herself for the first time in a decade. She did that and more.
Scheuermann, a 55-year-old mother of two who became paralyzed in middle-age due to a rare neurological disorder known as spinocerebellar degeneration, became so adept at manipulating the arm developed by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory that her participation in the study was extended until October, when the electrode arrays were removed.
“That is the first program in the agency where you have humans interacting with really advanced prosthetic devices to do something extremely useful,” Sanchez said.
Reading the Mind
The sensors on Scheuermann’s brain measured just four-millimeters long, yet included hundreds of contact points designed to pick up signals from individual brain cells called neurons.
“When you intend to move your arm, for example, there are certain places in your brain that become active, the neurons that are there become active, and that activity can occur when you physically move your arm or even if you imagine moving your arm,” Sanchez said.
The signals were relayed to a computer running software that matched the activity to patterns associated with physical movements, such as raising or lowering an arm. Scientists used vector mathematics to build algorithms that determined the intended motion of the not only the arm, but also the wrist and fingers. The code translated into operating instructions for the robotic prosthesis.
“Neurons in this particular part of your brain are tuned to certain movement directions,” Sanchez said. “You can imagine how you can use that information to operate a robotic arm. Once you know those associations, you can say, ‘Oh, whenever I see that guy firing, I’m trying to go in this direction.”
Flying the F-35
While the program’s potential real-world applications aren’t limited to prosthetics, patients won’t be flying drones into combat anytime soon. When Scheuermann piloted the F-35 simulator, she didn’t drop bombs or launch missiles. Rather, she simply cruised along — sometimes erratically — and tried to bank the aircraft on simple flight patterns.
The process of linking her brain to the aircraft’s motion was similar to the robotic arm. Scientists would tell her to imagine trying to steer the plane to the right and left, and then would have to figure out how the neural activity would connect to control of the rudders.
“You have to try to find this functional mapping,” Sanchez said. “This is a real core part of this from a science perspective: How do you learn what those signals in the brain mean when you intend to do something and how do they relate to the device you’re trying to actuate, whether it’s a robotic arm or an airplane?”
Scheuermann also virtually piloted a small Cessna plane around the Eiffel Tower in Paris — an experience she found “liberating,” Sanchez said.
“That’s a really powerful statement,” Sanchez said. “We think of neurotechnology as hardware, but we don’t often think about it in terms of how it can improve somebody’s life or change somebody’s life.”
Bringing Back Sensation
The next and final phase of the program will seek to reverse the signaling process by understanding the patterns for sensation in the central nervous system.
“It’s really easy to say, ‘We want to bring sensation back,’ but it’s really difficult to actually do it,” Sanchez said. “You have to go to a different part of the brain that’s involved in the perception of touch — the primary central cortex — and again the challenge is the same: You have an electronic device that is measuring something and we need to translate that into signals that the brain understands.”
His office is working to identify potential civilian patients for the program. The agency doesn’t perform experiments on troops, even though the research is designed to help those who serve.
“Military personnel make the ultimate sacrifice,” Sanchez said. “They serve our nation and their lives often are changed through their injury. The very least we can do is develop a technology that will help to improve their quality of life. We have to stay true to that. It’s essential.”
In the early 2000s, connecting a brain to a robotic prosthesis would have required multiple rooms full of computers, cables and other hardware. While its recent work proved it could be done with more advanced systems and less space, the agency still wants much smaller components.
“All of the new programs have fundamentally by their design the goal of developing medical devices that are fully implantable — the size of a cardiac pacemaker that could be implanted somewhere in the body,” Sanchez said.
Under another new effort called Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (Subnets), DARPA is funding the development of implantable devices designed to more precisely identify and treat psychiatric diseases.
“All of these procedures, at least the ones we’ve talked about thus far, are reversible,” he added. “Neurotechnology is being designed in such a way that it’s reversible, so if it’s not providing a benefit for you, you don’t use it. You just take it out.”
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has introduced a defense bill that would increase the U.S. Army by 45,000 soldiers.
Rep. Mac Thornberry’s version of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Bill would provide money to add 20,000 soldiers to the active Army’s end-strength, bringing it to 480,000.
The bill would also add 15,000 to the National Guard and 10,000 to the Reserves, resulting in a Guard strength of 350,000 and a Reserve strength of 205,000. The panel was expected to approve the measure on Wednesday.
Under the President Barack Obama’s current proposed defense budget, the Army projects its end-strength to be at a total of 980,000 soldiers by fiscal 2018, including 450,000 for the active force, 335,000 for the Army National Guard and 195,000 for the Army Reserve.
“The Chairman’s Mark halts and begins to reverse the drawdown of military end strength, preserving the active duty Army at 480,000,” according to summary of the proposed bill.
The size of the Army has been a major concern among lawmakers, many of whom have stated that the active force is too small to deal with the growing number of threats facing the U.S.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has testified that there is a “high-military risk” if the service continues to operate at its current size, but also told lawmakers that growing end-strength without additional funding would lead to a hollow force.
Thornberry’s revised budget earmarks just over $2 billion in additional funding for the troop increase, according to language in the bill. That’s about $2.5 billion short of what the Army would need, according to Army senior leaders that have testified it will cost about $1 billion for every 10,000 soldiers.
“Where possible, Chairman Thornberry’s proposal cuts excessive or wasteful expenditures and rededicates those resources to urgent needs,” according to the bill’s summary. “Even with a vigorous re-prioritization of programs, the Committee was unable to make up essential shortages in the President’s budget and simultaneously provide a full year of contingency funding.
“The proposal is designed to restore strength to the force through readiness investments and agility through much needed reforms, while providing a more solid foundation for the next President to address actual national security needs,” it states
The proposal also would increase the strength of the Marine Corps by 3,000 and the Air Force by 4,000.
“Perhaps it is also true every year, that when it comes to overall spending levels for defense, we are presented with only difficult, imperfect options,” Thornberry said in his opening remarks at Wednesday’s committee-wide markup session within the House Armed Services Committee.
“But, the bottom line for me this year is that it is fundamentally wrong to send service members out on missions for which they are not fully prepared or fully supported,” he added. “For that reason, I think that it is essential that we begin to correct the funding shortfalls that have led to a lack of readiness and to a heightened level of risk that we have heard about in testimony and that some of us have also seen for ourselves.”
The bill, currently in its draft form, will have to be passed by both the House and the Senate. Obama could also choose to veto the bill after passage.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis threatened an “effective and overwhelming” response by the US and its allies if North Korea ever uses nuclear weapons.
His remarks came on his first overseas trip to South Korea, where he met with his counterpart in the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Defense and other government officials.
“North Korea continues to launch missiles, develop its nuclear weapons program and engage in threatening rhetoric and behavior,” Mattis said. “Any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.”
He also praised South Korea — which has nearly 30,000 US troops stationed there — as a “lynchpin of peace and stability” in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mattis’ stern warning to the North is likely to be taken seriously, since Pyongyang often responds to the slightest provocation. For example, North Korea regularly threatens total war against its southern neighbor whenever the US and South Korean forces train together during annual exercises, which are regularly scheduled and known well ahead of time.
The secretary’s overseas trip was also another chance to push the South to continue with its deployment of the US’s powerful THAAD missile defense system, which would blanket the country with protection from conventional or nuclear-tipped missiles fired from the north.
The future is coming, and if you’re in the military that means a return to the wars of the past where troops fought in large armies and task forces for bits of land on far flung battlefields.
With an ever more aggressive China and Russia pushing against America and its allies around the world, Pentagon planners believe troops have to be ready to fight near-peer rivals the next time the balloon goes up.
Here are six things American troops need to be ready for if this generation’s Cold War turns into World War III:
1. Patrols will have to deal with enemy surveillance at all times
One of the worst things for the average Joe on the ground will be avoiding an enemy’s persistent surveillance. Near-peer rivals have a blanket of drones, satellites, and electromagnetic sensors that will spot Marines and soldiers and their radio transmissions.
Patrols will have to attempt to avoid detection when possible, but be ready to move quickly and often even when the enemy is looking. Because a single, low-flying drone can provide up-to-the-second targeting data to an enemy mortar team, automatic weapons teams and riflemen won’t be able to stay in one place for long.
2. Every firefight will become a multi-dimensional slugfest within minutes
In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, U.S. troops had to deal with the fact that enemy spotters could quickly feed their locations to air and artillery assets, triggering an air battle overhead and an artillery duel on the ground.
In a future conflict, this will be even worse as both sides employ drones and automatic sensors that find enemy troops and relay targeting data to supporting planes, artillery units, and electromagnetic warfare specialists.
Any fight larger than a couple of squads duking it out will likely see an air battle develop overhead and an intense duel to jam the opponent’s communications in the electromagnetic spectrum.
3. Leaders must be ready to go completely analog
Speaking of which, all the high-tech bells and whistles will become nearly useless if the jamming on each side gets too intense. Soldiers and Marines are already practicing land nav with pencils, compasses, and paper maps while the sea services are digging up old sextants for celestial navigation.
Headquarter companies will now need to plant their antennas far from the operations center so that missiles which hunt electromagnetic transmissions won’t home in on communication arrays and wipe out the command team.
Expect buried phone lines, mobile radios with whip antennas, and redundant systems to make a comeback.
4. Cooperation between branches will be more challenging — and essential
All this will make it harder for the different military services to talk to one another, but they have to be able to coordinate quickly since ubiquitous sensors and fast-moving weapons mean that forces in trouble need help in seconds to survive.
Marines fighting ashore at the next Battle of Guadalcanal can’t wait for Chesty Puller to get to the ships and personally direct naval artillery. Whether or not the radio operator can find an unjammed radio channel and get a coded message out will decide whether air and artillery support will arrive in time to matter.
5. Medics and physician assistants will have to treat patients for hours or days in the field on their own
With the dynamic fighting on the front, troops will likely be wounded and killed at staggering rates not seen since the Vietnam War. While China and Russia are more likely to observe the Geneva Conventions than insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan were, the military can’t count on being able to quickly and safely evacuate the wounded.
To deal with the increased risk to injured personnel, the Army is spearheading a “telemedicine” effort that would allow medics in the field to send data and photos to surgeons in hospitals who would then walk the medic through necessary treatment options.
6. Mission loads will be heavier, and forces will have to be more self-sufficient
Medical evacuations won’t be the only missions that become more challenging. Aerial resupply will be a risky maneuver when top-tier missile systems are hunting American planes and helicopters. To adapt to this, ground pounders will need to carry extra gear with them through the jungles of the Pacific or across the plains of Eastern Europe.
Chemical treatments for water will help keep liquid weight from climbing too high, but troops will need extra food, batteries, and ammo in case the helicopters can’t get in. The Pentagon is looking into some high-tech gizmos like powered armor to help with this increased weight, but most of it will rest on the muscles and bones of the troops.
It is not Iron Man. It isn’t even Iron Fist. Lockheed Martin’s newest exoskeleton is more like Iron Leg. But for a soldier humping his weapons, ammo and body armor up a mountain in Afghanistan or a high-rise building in a future urban battle, a device to take the load off would be welcome. And, unlike science fiction supersuits, we can build it now.
Exoskeletons are part of the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy, which seeks to use robotics and artificial intelligence to enhance humans on the battlefield, rather than to replace them. There’s no area where the need is more acute than in the infantry, which takes the vast majority of casualties.
One particularly persistent problem: weight. US foot troops have been overburdened since at least D-Day, where some men drowned in shallow water under their heavy packs. The problem has become especially acute since 9/11, with US troops in body armor laboring to chase Taliban in flip-flops. The military is constantly looking at ways to make equipment lighter, but those improvements are mainly on the margins, a pound shaved here or there. It’s also experimenting with wheeled or tracked robots that can carry some of a squad’s equipment, but these robotic mules can’t yet keep up with nimble infantrymen over rough terrain.
So if you can’t lighten the soldier’s load, and you can’t take it off him, can you make him stronger? Nowadays, the answer is yes: We have the technology.
How It Works
The Lockheed exoskeleton’s full and unwieldly designation is FORTIS Knee-Stress Relief Device (K-SRD), which makes it sounds like a piece of molded plastic your insurance would refuse to cover. In fact, it’s a sophisticated synthesis of multiple technologies:
a rigid load-bearing framework to transfer weight off the wearer to the ground; compact actuators at the knee to increase strength (future models may add actuators at the hip as well); soft materials that buffer between the human being and the rigid frame, helping translate analog human movements into digital signals to the actuators; and an artificial intelligence that adjusts the machinery to move seamlessly with the wearer — unlike past earlier exoskeletons that often resisted the body’s natural movements.
In tests, elite Tier One special operators wearing K-SRD found they could do twice as many squats lifting 185 pounds of weight, going from an average of 20-25 reps to over 50. There were similar improvements climbing stairs carrying a 185-lb simulated casualty, said Lockheed product manager Keith Maxwell, a former Navy and “Other Government Agency” operator himself. “It literally pushes you up flights of stairs,” he told me. “(You) do it faster, with much less fatigue.”
However, the gains are greatest with vertical movement and least on level ground, Maxwell emphasized. On a 15-degree slope, he said, the device reduces the human’s energy expenditure — the “net metabolic cost” — by only about 9 percent. On level ground, it doesn’t save any energy, he said. Why? Humans evolved over millions of years for long-distance chases across the savannah: The theory of persistence hunting suggests our ancestors, lacking bows and arrows, simply ran after prey until it collapsed from exhaustion. Nothing modern technology can make is likely to improve on human performance over level ground, at least any time soon.
With K-SRD on level ground, said Maxwell, “what we’re able to do is break even” — which is a marked improvement over past exoskeletons. Lockheed spent years on an 85-lb rigid exoskeleton called HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier), which was good at carrying heavy weights but lousy at matching human movements. “The problem was that terrain is irregular and human gait is infinitely variable,” Maxwell said, so HULC’s computer kept misunderstanding what the wearer wanted to do and moving the wrong way. Overall, Maxwell said, walking around in a HULC actually cost 15 to 25 percent more energy than having no exoskeletal “help” at all.
Lockheed moved on to the less ambitious FORTIS, essentially a rigid support frame — it doesn’t require electricity because it doesn’t have actuators — that could help factory and shipyard workers handle heavy tools without fatigue. The wearer has enough mobility to relocate, tools in hand, to another worksite within 100 yards, but the industrial FORTIS far too awkward for the battlefield.
The FORTIS K-SRD, by contrast, uses its mix of rigid and flexible components, and a much more sophisticated set of algorithms than HULC, to move with the wearer’s body. Testers were able to operate it with only 15 minutes of training, Maxwell said, and some of the special operators didn’t bother with the training at all.
“They can run, they can climb, they can squat,” Maxwell said. They can hit the dirt, take cover, and crawl, then jump up and dash forward and take cover again. They can even walk along a balance beam although for such precision movements he recommends turning the strength-magnifying actuators off, done with a simple thumb movement on the controls. One tester even found his K-SRD comfortable enough to sleep with it on.
The Case Against Iron Man
After decades of exoskeleton development, Lockheed wants to get this device out into the field soon. The K-SRD team is working mostly closely with the Army’s Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., which they expect to buy a number of K-SRDs for test purposes and institute a Cooperative Research Development Agreement (CRADA) in the next 30-60 days. Other partners include the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad initiative. Lockheed is even working with theDepartment of Homeland Security and some foreign fire departments on potential firefighting and rescue applications, since those also involve heavily burdened humans climbing up and down with life and death and stake.
Maxwell did not mention Special Operations Command, whose TALOS program envisions a full-body suit of mechanical armor able to resist point-blank gunshots — what then-SOCOM chief Adm. William McRaven compared to Iron Man’s suit.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) relies on the JARVIS artificial intelligence to help pilot his Iron Man suit — the kind of “human-machine teaming” that increasingly intrigues the Pentagon. (Marvel Comics/Paramount Pictures)
“Can we have an up-armored solution that’s capable of breaching and entering and being relatively invulnerable to 7.62 AP (armor piercing) bullets at point-blank range? Yeah, we can do that,” said Maxwell. That said, it’d probably be heavy and slow, far from the flight-capable suit in the comics.
“Iron Man has…hurt exoskeleton development,” Maxwell said, because it’s created impossible expectations — literally impossible, since the CGI suit in the movies routinely violates the laws of physics. When Iron Man drops from the sky to a neat three-point landing, in particular, the sudden deceleration would liquefy Tony Stark inside the suit.
Nevertheless, Maxwell said, while real-world exoskeletons may not copy the comic books, they’re still a marvel. When our best troops put them on, he said, “they become something more than human.” They become something more than mere machines, as well, he said: “The man in the machine will beat the machine (by itself) every time.”
That’s the so-called centaur model of human-machine teaming at the heart of the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy. It’s the synergy of a human imagination and agility controlling the strength and speed of a machine, like the mythical centaur combining rider and horse into a single being.
“As long as there’s judgment (required) in situations in which the person is going to have to make a call, we’re going to want a human in the loop. Eventually, if we can get machines to do that for us…we’ll just make these robots,” Maxwell told me. “Until then…you take the absolute best human beings and combine them with the absolute best in machines.”