This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history - We Are The Mighty
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This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history

Before the advent of stealth technology, the variable that mattered more than any other in terms of tactical aircraft survivability and lethality was speed. So in 1955 the U.S. Air Force issued a request for a high-altitude, long-range bomber that could go Mach 3 while carrying either a conventional or nuclear payload.  After a few trips to the drawing board and some mods to the Air Force’s requirements, North American Aviation was awarded a developmental contract based on their submission.


This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
The Valkyrie XB-70 (U.S. Air Force photo)

Enter the B-70 Valkyrie, a revolutionary scream-machine that was nearly four times as fast as the legacy B-52s it was designed to replace. The Valkyrie was huge — 185 feet long and 30 feet tall with a maximum takeoff weight at a whopping 542,000 pounds. The bomber was powered by six General Electric J-93GE turbojet engines that could each deliver 30,000 pounds of thrust in full afterburner. But it’s massive size and power was belied by sleek lines that made it arguably the most aesthetically-pleasing aircraft ever built.

The B-70 had a crew of four — a pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and defense systems operator each seated in comfortable cocoons with clamshell doors. In the event of an emergency each cocoon could rocket away from the aircraft individually.

The Valkyrie used “compression lift” — a phenomenon that occurs when a conical body (the fuselage) under the center of a wing pushes air to the sides, which increases pressure and therefore lift — to travel upwards of 7,500 nautical miles supersonic. At takeoff the wingtips were straight, but a high speeds they’d angle down as much as 65 degrees to create the necessary compression.

The bomber had a number of unorthodox moving parts including movable canards on the nose and a ramp in front of the windscreen that would raise at high speed to create a more aerodynamic airframe (and it also gave the pilot very poor visibility in that regime).

Mach 3 creates a lot of air friction, and friction creates heat, so the Valkyrie was built with honeycomb stainless steel and (sparingly, like 9 percent) titanium, which was expensive and in short supply back in those days.

North American was funded to built a single test aircraft — designated the XB-70 — at a cost of $750 million. The inaugural test flight was delayed by maintenance and other technical issues by three years. All of the Valkyrie’s revolutionary subsystems came with their own problems — honeycomb structures broke, hydraulic systems hemorrhaged fluid, and control surfaces didn’t fit right.

At the same time the tactical world began to change.  Better ICBMs made Air Force planners wonder whether they needed long-range bombers at all. And the introduction of the Soviet-made SA-2 surface-to-air missile rendered even the speedy B-70 vulnerable. Based on these factors as well as the projected cost of the Valkyrie, the Eisenhower administration grew sour on the program. The Air Force reduced the program funding to a single asset that would be used for experimental research testing only.

But the presidential election of 1960 changed the landscape. President Kennedy believed the Valkyrie was important in the arms race. The program budget was upped by $265 million and the test plan was reworked to include warfare capabilities and not just research.

A year later the Kennedy administration understood the Eisenhower administration’s issues with the airplane, and the Valkyrie was once again relegated to a research program — however the requirement was reworded with the caveat that if the Air Force requirement necessitated the need for the B-70 the program would be quickly modified to also test for combat operational capabilities.

The Valkyrie’s maiden flight occurred on May 11, 1964 out of Edwards Air Force Base. The plan was to take the airplane supersonic on the first flight, but a landing gear problem kept them subsonic. The XB-70 also had a minor hydraulic fire but managed to land safely.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
North American XB-70A Valkyrie in flight. (Official USAF photo)

The airplane finally went supersonic on it’s third test flight and eventually broke a number of speed records including 70 sustained minutes of supersonic flight, 50 of them at greater than Mach 2.

But the test team also discovered that extended supersonic flight punished the airframe beyond its existing design limits, and they had to modify parts of the intake system and fuselage as the test plan went forward.

The first XB-70 reached Mach 3 only once — on it’s 18th test flight on October 14, 1965 — and that speed did substantial damage to the leading edge of one of the wings. (Luckily nothing was sucked into the intakes.) After that the airplane was limited to no greater than Mach 2.5.

A second XB-70 was built after comprehensive wind tunnel testing that yielded a modified design of the intake system, the hydraulics, and the wings. The new design made the airplane more stable, especially at high speeds. On May 19, 1966 the second Valkyrie flew Mach 3 for 33 minutes.

But test problems persisted. One flight forced test pilot Joe Cotton to jump a circuit breaker with a paper clip to get the landing gear to come down. (Basically, a $750 million airplane was saved with a 39 cent paperclip.)

Then one of the contractors pushed the notion of a “family photo,” an idea that proved to be the true beginning of the end for the Valkyrie. General Electric wanted to use a private Learjet to shoot both film and still photos of the XB-70 flying in formation with a T-38, F-4, F-104, and an F-5 — all GE-powered jets.

The requisite approvals were obtained, and on June 8, 1966 the four Air Force test jets launched to rendezvous with the XB-70 at the end of a test event. The five-jet formation flew around the Edwards AFB airspace for about 40 minutes without incident while the Learjet got the desired footage and photos. But as the formation was breaking up to return to base, disaster struck.

The F-104 drifted left until its left wing hit the XB-70’s right wing. At that point the Starfighter flipped over and rolled inverted over the top of the Valkyrie, striking the vertical stabilizers and left wing of the bomber. The F-104 exploded, destroying the Valkyrie’s rudders and damaging its left wing. With the loss of both rudders and damage to the wings, the Valkyrie entered an uncontrollable spin and crashed into the ground north of Barstow, California. NASA Chief Test Pilot Joe Walker (who was flying the F-104) and Carl Cross (the XB-70’s co-pilot who was on his first Valkyrie flight) were killed. Al White (XB-70 pilot) ejected, sustaining serious injuries, including one arm crushed by the closing clamshell-like escape crew capsule moments prior to ejection.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
F-104 in flames after hitting the XB-70 during a PR formation flight over Edwards Air Force Base on June 8, 1966. (Official U.S.A.F. photo)

The investigation concluded that Walker was unable to properly perceive his motion relative to the Valkyrie, leading to his aircraft drifting into contact with the XB-70’s wing. The accident investigation also pointed to the wake vortex off the XB-70’s right wingtip as the reason for the F-104’s sudden roll over and into the bomber. There was also a lot of CYA and finger-pointing among Air Force leadership regarding who had actually approved the “family photo,” and ultimately the punishment for improperly vetting the event fell to the lowest levels of the chain of command.

Although the remaining Valkyrie continued to fly test events, the mishap crushed any chance of the airplane being used as an operational asset. On February 4, 1969 the XB-70 flew to Wright-Patterson AFB to be made into an exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force — the final flight for a powerful and visually stunning airplane the likes of which will never be seen again.

Here’s a video that shows the Valkyrie in action:

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The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

The battle to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State terror group is a fight increasingly without front lines.


The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have breached the old city and control about a quarter of the terror group’s de facto capital, say American officials, but holding what has already been seized is proving a struggle.

Disputes between the SDF and some Free Syrian Army militias who have started to participate in the battle isn’t helping the advance, but the biggest obstacle remains the determined defense of IS fighters, who are using similar urban warfare tactics seen in the past nine months in the terror group’s fight to delay the retaking of Mosul by Iraqi security forces.

A month into the Raqqa assault, improvised explosive devices, sniper fire, and the use of an elaborate network of tunnels to mount ambushes — as well as exploiting civilians as human shields — are all being deployed by the militants. IS militants have also been using drones to drop explosives on SDF militiamen.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
SDF fighters at the mouth of a tunnel used by ISIS at Jabar Castle. (Photo from Voice of America.)

A watchdog rights organization says in the assault’s first month it has documented 650 deaths — 224 of them civilians.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that relies on a network of activists for its reporting, 311 IS fighters, including a handful of commanders, and 106 fighters of the American-backed “Euphrates Wrath” forces have died so far.

“In addition, airstrikes left hundreds of civilians injured, with various degrees of severity, some of whom had their limbs amputated, some were left with permanent disabilities and some are still in a critical condition, which means that the death toll is still likely to rise,” the observatory says.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
SDF fighters among the rubble Raqqa. (Photo from Voice of America.)

Long battle ahead

Despite being only a tenth the size of Mosul, US officials say they expect the house-to-house fighting to last several weeks. Estimates on how many militants remain in the city range from between 2,000 to 3,000. Most of them are thought to be from eastern Syria or foreign fighters drawn mainly from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

According to local activists, some Raqqa-born IS fighters have defected and are providing intelligence to the SDF. Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a Washington-based think tank, and co-author of the book “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” says local fighters have proven less than committed in the battle.

“The Islamic State will likely have to rely on the city’s still likely large population of foreign fighters as well as a new generation of young fighters brainwashed by the group’s ideology who typically fight viciously to the end,” Hassan argues in the current issue of CTC Sentinel, a publication of the West Point military academy.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
YPJ and YPG forces work together. (Photo from Flickr user Kurdishstruggle (CC by 2.0)

Despite the participation of experienced, battle-hardened Kurdish fighters, private security advisers say the SDF doesn’t have the same capabilities and training as the elite Iraqi units who have been confronting IS militants in Mosul since August.

“They are spread much thinner,” one European security adviser told Voice of America. “They are also not as well equipped and lack the armor the Iraqis have been able to use,” he added.

Keeping the advance going, and trying to pin the militants into smaller and smaller pockets, is proving grueling, he said.

On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to declare his security forces had wrested the wrecked city from the Islamic State, despite some continued fighting in at least one west Mosul neighborhood. Some US officials are reckoning IS fighters may be able to hold out in Raqqa for up to three months.

In a bid to disrupt the SDF momentum, IS is now more regularly using suicide bombers driving reinforced vehicles packed with explosives — although not to the same degree as seen in the battle for Mosul. Last week, one suicide bomber managed to destroy a forward HQ used by the SDF.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
A fighter with the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces sits atop a vehicle before a battle. (Photo from SDF via Facebook.)

Civilian casualties

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled, braving mines and savage IS sniper fire. Local activists estimate the number of civilians remaining in the city at about 60,000. They fault the international coalition for failing to have prepared for the handling of large numbers of displaced families.

Civilians have been gathering in nearby camps lacking basic amenities such as healthcare, clean drinking water, and food,” says the activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

The group has accused the attacking forces of using a scorched-earth strategy, utilizing indiscriminate aerial bombardment in order to force militants to withdraw. US officials admit there have been civilian deaths but say they are doing all they can to minimize casualties among non-combatants.

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This is how the first Asian-American Marine officer saved 8,000 men

Brutal cold, rough terrain, and intense firefights were just some of the dangers the Marines dealt with on a daily basis while engaging enemy forces in the Korean War.


Now, imagine possibly sharing the same bloodline with an enemy force your orders say you must fight and kill. That’s the real narrative for Kurt Chew-Een Lee, who served as the first Asian-American Marine officer during the multi-year skirmish.

Although he stood only at 5 feet 6 inches tall and 130 pounds, Lee was out to prove his leadership to his men and himself.

Lee would do just that.

Related: China just deployed troops to its first overseas base alongside US outpost

On the night of Nov. 2, 1950, while the San Francisco native was in charge of a machine-gun platoon in Baker company, chaos broke out as Chinese forces shot curtains of gunfire at the 8,000 men stationed in the area.

Lee’s Marines found themselves stuck in the middle of an incredibly loud and hectic situation.

Then, an eerie silence fell over the battlefield. Lee instructed the Company Gunny to keep his eyes peeled and be ready to take contact.

Lt. Lee then ventured out deep into the thick darkness to locate the Chinese’s position.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Lt. Chew-Een Lee would be awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery. (Source: Smithsonian Channel/ YouTube/ Screenshot)

“Too many people think they can save lives hiding behind a boulder and not firing,” Lee explains in an interview. “In order to accomplish the mission, you got to keep moving forward.”

As Lee courageously went on his single man reconnaissance mission, he managed to fool the Chinese by firing his weapon at different cyclic rates from a variety of locations making it appear as if a massive force were advancing.

The plan worked. The Chinese returned fire exposing their fortified position. As Lee continued his approach, he used a weapon that none of his fellow Marines possessed — a second language.

Also Read: This is how SEAL Team 6 could stop North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un

By speaking Mandarin, he confused the enemy and earned himself enough of a distraction to toss his remaining hand grenades. Amidst his improvised plan, Lee discovered an enemy post that led to a single victory, saving countless Marine lives.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video to hear this epic story from the Marine legend himself.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
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The US is sending some BRRRRRT! to Putin’s backyard

US European Command announced August 4 that 10 A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, an MC-130J Commando II, and approximately 270 Air Force personnel will deploy to Estonia to train with allied air forces.


“We are strong members of the NATO Alliance and remain prepared with credible force to assure, deter, and defend our Allies,” Maj. Gen. Jon K. Kelk, Air National Guard assistant to the commander, US Air Forces in Europe Air Forces Africa, said in an August 4 EUCOM press release. “When we have the opportunity to train with coalition air forces, everyone benefits.”

The airmen and aircraft will deploy from bases in the US and Europe to Amari Air Base from August 4 to 20 to participate in the Forward Training Deployment, or FTD.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
A-10C Thunderbolt II with the 188th Fighter Wing, Arkansas Air National Guard conduct close-air support training Nov. 21, 2013, near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jim Haseltine)

The A-10s are from the 175th Wing, Warfield Air National Guard Base, Maryland. The MC-130J is from the 352nd Special Operations Wing, RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom.

While deployed, the A-10s are scheduled to train with Finnish air force F/A-18 Hornets in Finland, Spanish air force F/A-18 Hornets in Estonia, and multinational joint terminal air controllers in Latvia, according the release.

Known officially as the Thunderbolt II and more commonly as the Warthog, the A-10 entered military service in the late 1970s and has flown in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

The twin-engine aircraft is designed to decimate tanks, vehicles, and other ground targets with its GAU-8 Avenger, a 30mm seven-barrel gatling gun, and up to 16,000 pounds of ordnance, including Mk-82 and Mk-84 bombs, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and laser-guided munitions.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
US Air Force MC-130J Commando IIs. USAF photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier.

The Air Force has made several attempts to retire the decades-old aircraft beginning in fiscal 2015 in an effort to save money, but congressional opposition has forced the service to reset the date for the earliest possible retirement of the A-10 to 2021.

The MC-130J Commando II is designed to fly clandestine, or low visibility, single, or multi-ship low-level air refueling missions for special operations helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft.

It can perform infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply missions for special operations forces in hostile territories.

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Russia to unleash ‘Satan 2’ mega-nuke

Russia has unveiled images of a new super-heavy intercontinental ballistic missile that media reports claim could wipe out France, Britain or the entire state of Texas.


Dubbed the “RS-28 Sarmat” but carrying the NATO codename SS-X-30 “Satan 2,” Russia is the only country to really deploy any type of super-heavy ICBM. The intention behind those missiles was to take out American ICBMs before the National Command Authority could order a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.

 

The first such missile Moscow had of this type was the R-36, known to NATO as the “SS-9 Scarp.” The Scarp had a range of up to 9,600 miles on land targets, and could also be used as the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, with a range of up to 24,850 miles. It carried a single nuclear warhead, but that warhead had a yield of 18 or 25 megatons, based on the version of the missile.

The next super-heavy Russian ICBM was the R-36M, known as the SS-18 “Satan.” Some versions of this missile carried the single 25 megaton warhead. Others carried up to 10 multiple independently-targeted re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs. With a range of almost 10,000 miles, this missile was bad news for whoever it targeted.

The RS-28/SS-X-30 reportedly has a shorter range (about 6,200 miles), but it has the ability to carry as many as 15 MIRVs. It can swap out the MIRVs for a single 40-megaton warhead.

That would make it the most powerful warhead on an in-service missile. The Soviet Union did detonate a 50-megaton warhead, the Tsar Bomba, in 1961 on Novaya Zemlya. The Tsar Bomba was delivered by a modified Tu-95 “Bear” bomber, but was only an experimental system.

The closest an American missile came to the punch that these Soviet or Russian super-heavy ICBMs had was with the LGM-118 Peacekeeper missile. The Reagan-era Peacekeeper (also known as the MX) had a range of 8,700 miles, and could carry up to 10 MIRVs — usually equipped with W87 warheads capable of delivering a 475-kiloton yield. The Peacekeeper was deactivated in 2005 in accordance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The SS-X-30 is slated to enter service in 2020, replacing the SS-18.

Makes the NATO codename of “Satan 2” seem pretty appropriate, doesn’t it?

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The 13 funniest military memes of the week

Still feeling the St. Patrick’s Day hangover? These memes are better than a 1-quart canteen and 800mg of Motrin.


1. You sleep soundly in your bed at night because dashing men are willing to ride horses on the beach for your freedom (via Coast Guard Memes).

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Seriously though, top 10 military jobs stuff right here.

2. The only missions that got volunteers were the ones that went near a Green Beans-equipped base (via Air Force Nation).

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history

SEE ALSO: America’s ‘concrete battleship’ defended Manila Bay until the very end

3. To spread democracy, squeeze trigger (via Military Memes).

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Always keep your weapon pointed up and downrange. Really, you could accidentally destroy a car with this thing.

4. Not even for a Rip-It?

(via Marine Corps Memes)

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Would you do it for two Rip-Its?

5. Wait, Skateteers can get “Leave” rings?

(via Air Force Nation)

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Screw combining powers for SrA Scumbag, I would just rock my leave ring every morning.

6. Ain’t Ready to be a Marine Yet (via Sh-t my LPO says).

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
And you never have to be ready. The Army is here for you.

7. False promises. You know he isn’t going to paint (via Coast Guard Memes).

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
It’s a miracle he even walked on deck.

8. 75,000 pounds of Freedom at full load (via Air Force Nation).

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history

9. You can get a whole other layer of Marines on top of that one (Via Marine Corps Memes).

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Send another squad over here.

10. When you have something in common with the galley vending machine:

(via Sh-t my LPO says)

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history

11. Yeah! The fascist overlord thinks your Facebook game is on point!

(via Artwork of Armies)

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history

12. A one-item aid kit would be simpler (via Artwork of Armies).

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Hopefully, DARPA will figure something out soon.

13. The more important question is probably, “Why were you wearing a dress?”

(via Military Memes)

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
But hey, good on you for making formation.

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This impostor was hanged for being the biggest Jody ever

In the 16th century a Frenchman named Martin Guerre from the Pyrenees region of Southern France suddenly left his wife and children and disappeared. This sparked the most infamous incident of imposture, when one person tries to slip into another’s life, in recorded history. The story has been retold and sensationalized in fiction since it happened, from Alexandre Dumas’ stories, to “Mad Men,” to “The Simpsons.”


In exhaustive research on the origions of this impostor story, Natalie Zemon Davis referenced contemporary reports from relatives and locals indicating Guerre left to ultimately join the Army of Pedro de Mendoza where he participated in the attack St. Quentin during the Italian War of 1551-1559.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Siege of St. Quentin

Guerre, a peasant, married the daughter of a local landowner, Bertrand, when both were 14 in the year 1527. They had a child eight years later. In 1548, Guerre disappeared after being accused of stealing grain from his father.

In 1556, a man claiming to be Martin Guerre appeared in the village. He had similar features and knew much of Guerre’s life and that was good enough for his wife and most of the townsfolk. For three years the new Martin Guerre lived with his wife. They had two more children and Martin would claim the inheritance of his father, much to his Uncle’s Pierre’s chagrin.

Pierre tried to convince Bertrand, Martin’s wife, that the new Martin wasn’t Martin at all, but an impostor. A soldier passing through the village claimed the new Martin couldn’t be the real Martin because the real one lost his leg in battle. Uncle Pierre and his sons attacked the would-be impostor with clubs, but Bertrande intervened on his behalf. The new Martin was put on trial for falsely claiming the identity of Martin, but with Bertrande on his side he was found innocent.

Pierre wasn’t finished. He launched a full-scale investigation and found the impostor was really Arnaud du Tilh, a drifter with a terrible reputation from a nearby village.

At a new trial, Bertrande accused the new Martin of being an imposter. But then Martin shared an intimate story from their relationship before Martin disappeared. Bertrande confirmed to the court that the story was accurate. Despite her corroborating the memory, 150 witnesses testified that the new Martin was really Arnaud du Tilh. The man was sentenced to death by beheading.

Tilh appealed his case to a Parliament in Toulouse and Bertrande and Pierre were arrested for perjury and bearing false witness. The judges in the new trial tended to believe the New Martin’s story more than seemingly-greedy Pierre’s.

That’s when the real Martin Guerre showed up at the trial. He had a wooden leg and was positively identified by Pierre, Bertrande, and his own four sisters. Arnaud was sentenced to death for adultery and fraud.

After he had left his family in 1548, the real Martin had joined a Spanish militia, guarded a cardinal, and then entered Mendoza’s army. That’s when he went to St. Quentin, a city on the French border with modern-day Belgium.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history

After the Battle of St. Quentin Guerre spent years living in a monastery before returning to his wife. Guerre did not initially accept Bertrande’s apologies, because he believed she shouldn’t have been with another man.

The night before his execution, Arnaud du Tilh confessed he learned about Guerre and his life after two men confused him with Guerre. He was hanged in front of the real Martin Guerre’s house days later. Bertrande, Davis hypothesizes, agreed to the fraud because she needed a husband and was unable to remarry in a strictly Catholic society.

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Navy developing capabilities for rail gun to fire from Army Howitzer

An Army Howitzer is now firing a 5,000-miles per hour, high-tech, electromagnetic Hyper Velocity Projectile, initially developed as a Navy weapon,  an effort to fast-track increasing lethal and effective weapons to warzones and key strategic locations, Pentagon officials said.


Overall, the Pentagon is accelerating developmental testing of its high-tech, long-range Electro-Magnetic Rail Gun by expanding the platforms from which it might fire and potentially postponing an upcoming at-sea demonstration of the weapon, Pentagon and Navy officials told Scout Warrior.

While initially conceived of and developed for the Navy’s emerging Rail Gun Weapon, the Pentagon and Army are now firing the Hyper Velocity Projectile from an Army Howitzer in order to potential harness near-term weapons ability, increase the scope, lethality and range ability to accelerate combat deployment of the lethal, high-speed round.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
One of two electromagnetic railgun prototypes on display aboard joint high speed vessel USS Millinocket (JHSV 3) in port at Naval Base San Diego on July 8, 2014. | US Navy photo

The rail gun uses an electromagnetic current to fire a kinetic energy warhead up to 100 miles at speeds greater than 5,000 miles an hour, a speed at least three times as fast as existing weapons.

Firing from an Army Howitzer, the rail gun hypervelocity projectile can fire a 5,000-mile and hour projectile at enemy targets to include buildings, force concentrations, weapons systems, drones, aircraft,vehicle bunkers and even incoming enemy missiles and artillery rounds.

“We can defend against an incoming salvo with a bullet. That is very much a focus getting ready for the future,” Dr. William Roper, Director of the Pentagon’s once-secret Strategic Capabilities Office, told Scout Warrior among a small group of reporters.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
In this image, provided by the U.S. Navy, a high-speed video camera captures a record-setting firing of an electromagnetic railgun, or EMRG, at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va., on Thursday | US Navy

Pentagon weapons developers with the Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO, are working to further accelerate development of both the gun launcher and the hypervelocity projectile it fires. While plans for the weapon’s development are still being deliberated, ongoing work is developing integration and firing of the projectile onto existing Navy’s deck-mounted 5-inch guns or Army M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer (a mobile platform which fires 155mm artillery rounds).

The Strategic Capabilities Office, a high-level Pentagon effort, is aimed at exploring emerging technologies with a mind to how they can be integrated quickly into existing weapons systems and platforms. Part of the rationale is to harness promising systems, weapons and technologies able to arrive in combat sooner that would be the case should they go through the normal bureaucratic acquisition process. In almost every instance, the SCO partners with one of the services to blend new weapons with current systems for the near term, Roper explained.

Part of the calculus is grounded in the notion of integrating discovery and prototyping, being able to adjust and fix in process without committing to an official requirement, Roper said.

Roper further explained that firing the HVP out of a 155m Howitzer brings certain advantages, because the weapon’s muzzle breach at the end of its cannon is able to catch some of the round’s propellant – making the firing safer for Soldiers.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Soldiers with Charlie Battery, 1-377 FA fire an M198, 155mm howitzer during a recent combined live-fire exercise. | U.S. Army photo

“Its design traits were all based with dealing with extreme electromagnetic fields – that projectile could be fired out of an existing weapon system. Its whole role is to just keep the hot gas and propellant from rushing past. You don’t want it eroded by the hot material,” Roper explained.

The goal of the effort is to fire a “sub-caliber” round that is aerodynamic and able to fly at hypersonic speeds. We can significanly increase the range and continually improve what powder guns can do, he added.

“We’ve been looking at the data and are very pleased with the results we are getting back,” Roper said. One Senior Army official told Scout Warrior that firing a Hyper Velocity Projectile from a Howitzer builds upon rapid progress with targeting technology, fire-control systems and faster computer processing speeds for fire direction.

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This company wants F-35-style helmets in future tanks

A top U.S. military technology company has announced that it’s working on new technology to give tank and armored vehicle crews a 360-degree view of the outside even when they’re buttoned up in armor with no windows.


Basically, crews will be able to see a virtual view of the world through the steel-plated sides of their tanks.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
It’s going to be a brave new world for armor crews. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Rebecca L. Floto)

The new helmet technology being developed by Raytheon BBN Technologies is part of a project initiated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, to develop futuristic survivability tools for armored vehicles.

“Our team is developing a virtual experience that gives the crews of armored military vehicles greater awareness of what’s going on outside the vehicle, while also reducing their vulnerability to attack,” David Diller, a program manager for Raytheon BBN Technologies, said in a press release. “We’re creating a three-dimensional model of the environment in real time that gives users views of their outside environment that would not normally be possible from inside the vehicle.”

The team aims to incorporate trackers for friendly forces, hostile fire, and known threats into the crew’s displays so the troops can concentrate on maneuver and tactics.

The system aims to use lidar, the same laser-imaging science that is in Google’s self-driving cars, to create the map of the surroundings while high-definition video lets the crew see what is going on around them.

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
A Paladin crew member inspects the firing chamber of his vehicle. Armored vehicles like the Paladin are cramped with few windows and openings, but new technologies could let the crew see the battlefield around them. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Hector Corea)

Pilots who fly the F-35 Lightning II currently have a system that uses that plane’s sensors to achieve a similar effect, allowing the pilot to “see” through the aircraft. While the F-35 program has come under fire for cost overruns and delays, pilots and program managers have pointed at the tactical awareness the helmet gives as a game-changer in future fights.

If tank crews can get similar awareness when they’re going toe-to-toe with enemy armor, that could tip the scales in their favor during a decisive battle.

Raytheon BBN Technologies is owned by the Raytheon Company and is working on DARPA’s Grond X-Vehicle Technologies program, which aims to improve America’s vehicles by enhancing mobility, agility, crew augmentation, and signature management.

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US military veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching

The sun has set over the scrubby Savannah. The moon is full. It is time for Ryan Tate and his men to go to work. In camouflage fatigues, they check their weapons and head to the vehicles.


Somewhere beyond the ring of light cast by the campfire, out in the vast dark expanse of thornbushes, baobab trees, rocks and grass, are the rhinos. Somewhere, too, may be the poachers who will kill them to get their precious horns.

The job of Tate, a 32-year-old former US Marine, and the group of US military veterans he has assembled in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa is simple: keep the rhinos and the rest of the game in the bush around their remote base alive.

The men are not mercenaries, or park rangers –they work for Tate’s Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (Vetpaw), a US-based nonprofit organization funded by private donations. All have seen combat, often with elite military units, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

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DoD Photo by Staff Sgt. Shejal Pulivarti

Though equipped with vehicles, trail bikes, assault rifles, sniper suits, and radios, the most important weapons in the war against poaching, Tate believes, are the skills and experiences his team gained on successive deployments in conflict zones over the last decade and a half.

“We are here for free. We are not going anywhere. Whether it is cold or hot, day or night… we want to work with anyone who needs help,” Tate says.

The initiative is not without controversy. Some experts fear “green militarization” and an arms race between poachers and gamekeepers. Others believe deploying American former soldiers to fight criminals in South Africa undermines the troubled country’s already fragile state.

But the scale of the challenge of protecting South Africa’s rhinos is clear to everyone, with a rise in poaching in recent years threatening to reverse conservation gains made over decades.

Though rhino horns are made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, a kilo is worth up to $65,000. The demand comes from East Asia, where rhino horn is seen as a potent natural medicine and status symbol, and is met by international networks linking dirt-poor villages in southern Africa with traffickers and eventually buyers. Patchy law enforcement, corruption and poverty combine to exacerbate the problem.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In South Africa, home to 80% of the world’s wild rhinos, only 13 were poached in 2007. In 2015, the total was nearly 1,200, though losses have declined slightly since.

“These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth, well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing,” a South African government spokesman said in February.

Tate founded Vetpaw after seeing a documentary about poaching and the deaths of park rangers in Africa. His team now works on a dozen private game reserves covering a total of around 200,000 hectares in Limpopo, the country’s northernmost province. One advantage for local landowners is the protection heavily armed combat veterans provide against the violent break-ins feared by so many South Africans, particularly on isolated rural farmsteads. The team has also run training courses for local guides and security staff.

But if one aim of Vetpaw is to counter poaching, another is to help combat veterans in the US, where former servicemen suffer high levels of unemployment and mental illness.

“Everyone gets PTSD when they come back from war … you are never going to get the brotherhood, the intensity again … [There are] all these veterans with billions of dollars of training and the government doesn’t use them. I saw a need in two places and just put them together,” says Tate.

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Vetpaw operates primarily in Limpopo, the northern-most province of South Africa (in red). Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Vetpaw base in the bush in Limpopo, though considerably less spartan than most “forward operating bases”, is familiar to anyone who has spent time with US forces. There is a rack of helmets and body armor, a detailed map pinned to the wall, and banners with the insignia of US Special Forces hung above a dining table. There is the banter, and the jargon. The team talks of tactical missions, intel, and “bad guys”.

Despite lines on a whiteboard reading, “In the absence of a plan move towards the sound of gunfire and kill everything,” Tate says he has selected combat veterans because they will resist the temptation to use lethal force. Poachers are told to put down their arms, and then handed over to the police.

“This is textbook counterinsurgency here. It’s unconventional warfare,” says Kevin, a British-born veteran who quit US Elite Special Forces last year after a decade and a half largely on active duty, frequently in close quarter combat. “Shooting and killing is easy. The hardest thing is not shooting but figuring stuff out… if you kill someone do you turn a family, a village against you?” Like other members of Vetpaw, Kevin did not want to be identified by his full name.

The thinking is rooted in the “hearts and minds” approach developed by the US military a decade ago when senior officers realized their massive firepower was winning battles, but not campaigns.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Tate says poachers coerce local communities into providing safe houses or other support – much as US army officers once explained assistance given to insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Francois Meyer, who grew up in northern Limpopo and runs a local conservation NGO that works with Vetpaw, says villages vary. “In some, the poachers are seen as heroes. They give out money. There is a kind of Robin Hood syndrome. Taking from the rich white man to give to the poor. But in others, the poachers get the living shit kicked out of them,” Meyer said.

There is little consensus on what response to the problem of poaching might work best, and fierce debate rages among conservationists, farmers, and officials.

A moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn in South Africa implemented in 2009 was controversially overturned by a court in April. Though there has been an increase in arrest of poachers, there are few convictions and “a lack of political will” means many of the “kingpins” remain untouched.

The complexities of the issue seem distant to the veterans out on patrol in remote northern Limpopo, high on a rocky crag, listening to the grunt of a leopard or the cough of the baboons in the gathering night.

“After what I’ve done, I couldn’t just go and do a nine to five. I’ve never had nightmares or flashbacks or anything … [but] after years of doing what I’ve done, this is good for the soul,” says Kevin, the former Green Beret. “It’s in a good cause and you get to watch the African sunset.”

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This pilot defected with the Soviet Union’s most advanced plane

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

 


Lieutenant Viktor Belenko decided he had had enough. Despite being considered an expert fighter pilot with one of the Soviet Union’s elite squadrons, with all the perks that went with it, Belenko was tired of the shortages and propaganda that defined much of life in the USSR. He feared that reports of plenty in the U.S. were also exaggerated, but he decided to take a chance. On September 6, 1976 during a routine training mission, he switched off his radio and bolted to Hakodate airport in Japan. After nearly running out of fuel, barely avoiding a civilian jetliner, and overshooting the runway, he set down in Japan with only a busted landing gear. It turned out to be one of the great intelligence coups of the Cold War.

Given this gift, including a flight manual that Belenko had helpfully brought along, Western intelligence agencies proceeded to tear the plane to bits analyzing the fighter whose capabilities up until now were only an assumption. When the Soviet Union demanded its return, Japan agreed on the condition that they recoup shipping costs. The plane showed up at a docked Soviet vessel in dozens of crates, and when the Soviets realized at least 20 key components were missing, they demanded $10 million in compensation. As befitted the Cold War, neither ever paid.

The MiG-25 “Foxbat” was the newest and most advanced fighter the Soviet Union possessed. The United States and its allied NATO countries were genuinely concerned over its capabilities, and it was generally assumed to be an advanced fighter bomber that could outfly anything NATO had. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Mig-25 was very cutting edge in its way. It was one of the fastest fighters ever produced, with a theoretical top speed of mach 3.2 at the risk of engine damage, putting it near the vaunted U.S. SR-71 spy plane. It’s radar was one of the most powerful ever put on a plane of its size.

 

This ill-fated PR flight kept the Valkyrie from changing Air Force history
Viktor Belenko

 

But those strengths were where it ended. The MiG-25 was built around its extremely heavy engines, and it showed. It had a ridiculously short combat range, and even its unarmed cruising range was too short, as Belenko’s journey could attest. It was so specialized in high-altitude interception that flying it at low altitude and speed could be very difficult. It could not carry weapons for ground attack, did not have a integral cannon, and the large wings NATO interpreted as making it a formidable dogfighter were simply meant to keep its heavy airframe in the air. In reality, it was maneuverable and would be mincemeat in a conventional dogfight once it closed to short range. Its electronics were still vacuum tube technology, and its airframe would literally bend itself out of shape if the pilot was not careful. It was made to be a high speed missile carrier targeting bombers or U.S. high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft like the U-2 inside Soviet airspace, and not much more.

Despite its flaws, the Soviet Union built over a thousand of them, and it was widely exported to a number of countries, where its combat record in several wars was mixed at best. An updated version called the MiG-31 was later built that shared aspects with the original, including many of its shortcomings.

Belkov, for all his doubts, received a welcome beyond his skeptical hopes. In an old saw that applied to many Soviet visitors, he was flabbergasted by his first visit to an American supermarket, and wondered if it was a CIA hoax. He was granted citizenship by an act of Congress in 1980, and he co-wrote an autobiography called MiG Pilot that had some success. He reportedly works as an aerospace engineer to this day. His daring escape still stands as one of the defining moments of the Cold War.

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5 fairy tales as told by your platoon sergeant

Platoon sergeants aren’t just managers and leaders, they’re also mentors — proxy parents even.


But they’re (in)famously gruff about it. After all, they didn’t father any of these kids, and they didn’t pick them either. And their primary job isn’t to turn them into beautiful snowflakes but honed weapons.

So, below are 5 classic fairy tales as recited by cigar-chomping and dip-spewing platoon sergeants:

1. Red Riding Hood Learns to Secure Her Logistics Chain

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Photo: Public Domain

So, this little girl was getting ready for a trip to her grandma’s house. Red Riding Hood started by doing a map recon and checking with the intel bubbas to see what was going on along her route. After she heard about the increase in wolf-related activity in the area, she requested additional assets like a drone for overwatch and more ammunition for the mass-casualty producing weapons systems.

When a wolf attempted to hit her basket carriers and then fled, she had her drone operator follow the wolf to the cave. Red and her squad conducted a dynamic entry into the cave and eliminated the threat. Now, they conduct regular presence patrols to deter future wolves from operating in their area of operations.

2. Goldilocks and the Three Tangos

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Photo: Israeli Defense Forces

Goldilocks was moving tactically through the forest when she spotted a large wooden structure with a single point of ingress/egress. Since she wasn’t an idiot, she didn’t just burst inside to try out the beds. Instead, she practiced tactical patience and established an observation post.

After tracking patterns of life for a few days, she was certain that the structure housed three bears of various sizes. In her head, she rehearsed the battle dozens of times before engaging. When the dust settled from the firefight, she found herself in possession of a defendable combat outpost deep in the woods.

3. Hansel and Gretel Learn About SERE

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Photo: Public Domain. Cartoon bubbles by WATM Logan Nye

When two privates were led by their evil stepmother to play deep in the woods, they brought a compass and map. The stepmother then attempted to abandon them in the forest. Since they knew their stride counts and checked their azimuth often, the kids were able to quickly move back to their home.

Near the house, the kids prepared a number of traps normally used to hunt game for food. These traps were positioned on areas the stepmother was known to frequent and the kids waited. When she trapped herself in a snare near the river, the kids bundled her up and sent her to a black site hidden under a candy cottage. The HUMINT guys got valuable information about witch operations and everyone else lived happily ever after.

4. Jack Gives the Army Instant Cover and Concealment

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GIF: YouTube/loverhole

Jack was a pretty forgettable little science nerd in his high school but he went on to join DARPA and invented some techno-wizardry-magical device that allowed soldiers to plant a single bean and create a towering observation post from which to cover the surrounding battlefield.

So soldiers began tossing these things all over the place to create forests overnight. Then, they’d slip into one of the beanstalks to get eyes on roads and other important battlefield objectives. The height of the stalks ensured them a clear line of sight for miles and since they could be grown overnight, troops could plant their own cover and concealment ahead of major operations.

5. The Three Little Pigs Use Concentrated Combat Power

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Photo: Public Domain

Three little pigs were preparing for an imminent invasion by a big, bad wolf when one proposed that each pig should fall back to their own home, the senior pig got pissed. “What are you, some kind of dumb boot!?” he asked. “We should concentrate our forces in the most defensible territory we have.”

That pig led his brothers to his house made of brick where they took shelter behind the thick walls. When the wolf arrived, the oldest pig engaged him from a second-floor window while his brothers maneuvered behind the enemy. Then, the pigs established fire superiority and cut the wolf down.

If you have your own platoon sergeant fairytale, share it with us on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #PltSgtFairyTales.

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11 legends of the US Marine Corps

Thousands of heroes have emerged since the U.S. Marine Corps was founded on November 10, 1775. Here are 11 among them who became Leatherneck legends:


1. Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller

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Photo: US Marine Corps

Lewis “Chesty” Puller joined the Marines during World War I, but that war ended before he was deployed. He saw combat in Haiti and Nicaragua before the outbreak of World War II.

In the Pacific theater of World War II, Puller led an American advance that succeeded against a huge Japanese force at Guadalcanal. During the Korean War Puller and his Marines conducted a fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir that crippled seven Chinese divisions in the process. He remains one of America’s most decorated warriors with 5 Navy Crosses and numerous other high-level awards.

2. Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly

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Photo: US Marine Corps

Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly was called “the fightinest Marine I ever knew” by Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler. He is possibly most famous for leading outnumbered and outgunned Marines in a counterattack at the Battle of Belleau Wood with the rallying cry, “Come on, you sons of b-tches, do you want to live forever?”

He also received two Medals of Honor. The first was for single-handedly holding a wall in China as Chinese snipers and other soldiers tried to pick him off. The second was awarded for his role in resisting an ambush by Caco rebels in Haiti and then leading a dawn counterattack against them.

3. Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler

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Photo: US Marine Corps

Like Daly, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler is one of the few people who have received two Medals of Honor. His first was for leading during the assault and occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1914. Eighteen months later he led a group of Marines and sailors against Caco rebels holed up in an old French fort. For his bravery during the hand-to-hand combat that followed, he was awarded his second Medal of Honor.

Butler also led troops in combat during the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion in China, Nicaragua, and World War I France.

4. Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone

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Photo: US Marine Corps History Division

John Basilone first served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines but switched to the Marine Corps in time for World War II. He served with distinction in the Pacific Theater and received a Medal of Honor for his actions at Guadalcanal and a posthumous Navy Cross for actions at Iwo Jima.

At Guadalcanal he emplaced two machine gun teams under fire and then manned a third gun himself, killing 38 enemy soldiers before charging through enemy lines to resupply trapped Marines. He later destroyed a Japanese blockhouse on his own and then guided a tank through a minefield and artillery and mortar barrages at Iwo Jima. While escorting the tank, he was struck by shrapnel and killed.

5. Col. John Glenn

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Photo: US Marine Corps History Division

Col. John Glenn is probably more famous for being the first American to orbit the earth than he is for his Marine Corps career. But he is a decorated Devil Dog with six Distinguished Flying Crosses, 18 Air Medals, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

He flew 122 combat missions in World War II and Korea and had three air-to-air kills to his credit. During a particularly harrowing mission in Korea, Glenn’s wingman experienced engine trouble immediately before 6 enemy MiGs attacked him. Then-Maj. Glenn turned into the enemy jets and drove them off, killing at least one while giving his partner time to return to base.

6. Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock

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Photo: Marine Corps Archives

Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock is one of America’s greatest snipers. He joined the Marine Corps on his 17th birthday in 1959. He distinguished himself as a marksman in basic training, set a record that was never beaten at the “A” course at USMC Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and defeated 3,000 other shooters to win the coveted Wimbledon Cup for snipers.

He was originally deployed to Vietnam as a military police officer in 1966 but was soon sent on reconnaissance patrols and then employed as a sniper.

In Vietnam he was credited with 93 confirmed kills including that of an NVA general deep in enemy territory, a female interrogator known for brutal torture, and the record-breaking 2,500-yard kill of a guerrilla with an M2 .50-cal. machine gun in single-shot mode.

7. Master Gunnery Sgt. Leland Diamond

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Photo: US Marine Corps History Division

Master Gunnery Sgt. Leland Diamond was possibly the world’s saltiest and most gung-ho Marine recruit when he joined at the age of 27 in 1917. He quickly became known for being loud, not caring about rank or uniform regulations, and always being ready to fight.

He was well-known for his skill with mortars and made a name for himself in World War I at battles like Belleau Wood and St. Mihiel. He fought twice in the Sino-Japanese War and again in World War II. At Guadalcanal, the then 52-year-old mortarman drove off a Japanese cruiser before he was forced to evacuate due to “physical disabilities.”

8. Brig. Gen. Joe Foss

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Photo: US Marine Corps

Joe Foss joined the Marine Corps before America joined World War II and earned his aviator wings in March of 1941. After Pearl Harbor, he was deployed to the Pacific Theater and spent three months defending American-occupied Guadalcanal. Foss was shot down while strafing Japanese ships in 1942. He later tied Air Force Legend Eddie Rickenbacker’s record of 26 aerial kills.

Foss was awarded the Medal of Honor for his World War II exploits. After that war, he helped organize the American Football League and the South Dakota Air National Guard. He deployed to Korea with the Air National Guard and rose to the rank of brigadier general before retiring.  He died in 2003.

9. Cpl. Joseph Vittori

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Photo: US Marine Corps History Division

Cpl. Joseph Vittori made his mark on Hill 749 in Korea on Sep. 16, 1951. Vittori and his fellow Marines were securing a hill they had just taken from Chinese forces when a counterattack forced a 100-yard gap that could’ve doomed the U.S. forces. Vittori and others rushed into the opening with automatic rifles and machine guns.

After hours of stubborn resistance, Vittori was shot through the chest but continued fighting. The Marines suffered more casualties and when Vittori was shot for a second time, he told his friend to run back to the ridge behind them. Vittori and his friend stopped one more wave before a shot to the face finally killed the young corporal. Vittori posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

10. Sgt. Charles Mawhinney

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Photo: US Marine Corps Pfc. Garrett White

Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney may not have the name recognition of Carlos Hathcock, but he has 10 more confirmed kills with 103. Mawhinney’s work in the Vietnam War was almost forgotten until a book, “Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam” revealed that he had the most confirmed kills in Marine Corps history.

One of the scout sniper’s greatest engagements came when an enemy platoon was attempting to cross a river at night on Valentine’s Day to attack an American base. Mawhinney was on his own with an M-14 and a starlight scope. He waited until the platoon was in the middle of crossing the river, then dropped 16 NVA soldiers with 16 head shots.

11. Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson

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Photo: US Marine Corps

Gilbert Johnson served in both the Army and Navy for a total of 15 years before joining the Corps. When he began Marine Corps basic training, he was nicknamed “Hashmark” because he had more service stripes than many of his instructors.

He was one of the first African-Americans to join the Corps, to serve as a drill instructor, and to be promoted to sergeant major. During World War II he requested permission to conduct combat patrols and later led 25 of them in Guam.

(h/t to the U.S. Marine Corps for their 2013 “Ultimate Marine’s Marine” competition. Their bracket fueled the rankings for this article, and the cover image of this post is from their blog.)

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