What started out as a lone dusty airfield in the middle of a remote desert in China is being built up at a furious pace. The airstrip raised eyebrows when the Chinese government landed its first unmanned space aircraft there in 2020. Now intelligence analysts are wondering: is this the Chinese “Area 51?”
Somewhere near Nevada’s Groom Lake and the Nevada Test and Training Range is a top secret U.S. Air Force installation where the most advanced aviation and weapons testing takes place. It was where the U.S. Air Force built and tested the U-2 spy plane used to conduct photographic reconnaissance over the Soviet Union during the Cold War, as well as any number of other unheard-of technologies.
Because of its secretive nature and the wonder tech (likely) developed there, it acquired a reputation and mythology that involved conspiracy theories, UFO sightings, and of course, allegations of alien activity. How much of that is true is open for debate, but what is certain is that some of the greatest Air Force aircraft of the Cold War (and beyond) got their start at Area 51.
The U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the B-2 Spirit and the F-117 Nighthawk were all developed at Area 51. Not a bad track record for any facility. It’s no wonder the area is so top secret the United States wouldn’t even officially admit it existed for around 70 years.
When China landed a reuseable, unmanned spacecraft at a remote area in the Taklamakan Desert, in China’s Xinjiang province, it was the first notable activity anyone ever saw in the area. Now, reconnaissance satellites are detecting a frenzy of activity and new buildings at the site, leading many to believe that it’s a facility designed for China to create and build its own wonder weapons.
The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) outlined a plan to develop commercial satellite launch services and to perfect a reusable space plane at a conference in October 2020. The announcement included plans for lowering the costs and increasing the frequency of space launches.
The month before, China launched an experimental space aircraft with a two-stage Long March 2F launch vehicle that was successfully delivered into orbit. The concept is similar to the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane, which was currently in orbit at the time of the Chinese launch. Not much else was known about the mission until the aircraft landed in Xinjiang.
Like the USAF’s X-37B, no one really knows what the aircraft did while in orbit, but some believe it may have launched a secret satellite or other spacecraft. When the aircraft landed, the Taklamakan Desert facility was little more than the landing strip, but more recent photographs provided to NPR show built up facilities in the form of an equilateral triangle.
Once large hangars that could house experimental aircraft are built, the world may have a better idea of what’s going on in Xinjiang. Until then, everyone outside of the Chinese government is left to speculate.
China has a lot of catching up to do in terms of military power and prowess – and it’s been working on it. On top of creating its own homegrown aircraft carrier and its own fifth-generation fighter, it’s rumored to be creating its own stealth bomber (dubbed the H-20). A remote desert airfield might be exactly what the Chinese Communist Party needs to keep its developments a secret.
Feature image: satellite image of Taklamakan Desert/ Wikimedia Commons
Each culture around the globe has its set of legendary creatures tied to its way of life. Naturally, not scientifically proven, the invulnerability associated with these beasts forms part of different cultures’ folklore. In many cases, real animals have gained attributes with supernatural capabilities and mixed with mythological lore to form invincible hybrids – at least in the mythical world.
With different levels of fame, some creatures have become more obscure while more prominent ones have been featured in stories like The Lord of Rings and Harry Potter. Being utterly indestructible except for one obscure part of the body would have given modern-day troops complete invincibility. The heroes are best known for their most terrifying actions in battle – which beast would you ride into combat?
The Centaur is a mythological creature in Greek culture with the upper human body and lower body of a horse. According to the culture, its origin comes from Lexicon’s attempt to sexually assault Hera, the wife of Zeus.
Upon finding out, Zeus modeled a cloud into a figure called Nephele and brought it near Lxion. Fooled by the nymph, Lxion sexually assaulted the Nephele, an action that angered Zeus and made him tie Lxion to a whirlwind in the underworld. The result of the union was Centaurus, who was born in the form of a hailstorm.
As far as I know, if centaurs were real, going on a foot patrol would be a lot quicker. Hikes would be less taxing because they would also be used as beasts of burden. Additionally, the added psychological effect of a horse-man going Splinter Cell on the enemies of freedom is fun to imagine.
The Chimera is a female monster commonly known to breathe fire and dominating Asia Minor. At a glance, this beast looks like a lion, but with the head of a goat breathing fire and a snake as its tail. Chimera was common for ransacking many villages – slaying innocent people and devouring cattle.
Although she was, for long, perceived to be invincible, her weakness was hidden in her fiery breath. According to mythology, while in battle, Bellerophon rode a winged horse and drove an iron sword into the beast’s fiery mouth, choking her with molten metal.
In pop culture, Chimeras can be experiments gone wrong such as Full Metal Alchemist’s child-dog hybrid. Which deviates from the traditional imagery. Other references such as in the Dungeon and Dragons tabletop game Monster Manual depict Chimeras like the ancient world. Regardless, a multi-headed, fire breathing, can-only-die-from-its-own-weapon kind of monster is exactly what the Pentagon would need.
Medusa is a famous creature in Greek and Romanian folklore and is often associated with powerful evil. She was the only mortal of her two sisters – Stheno and Euryale. Although once a beautiful maiden, her curiosity to open Pandora’s box that had been brought from the underworld to free one of her imprisoned friends turned her into a hideous creature. With the face of an ugly woman, anyone who dared look at her immediately turned into stone. Consumed with hatred, self-pity, and despair, she became as brutal as her outward appearance. Just like my ex-girlfriend.
Any monster that can turn the enemy into stone instantly is definitely going to give the military advantage. Is an enemy who is turned to stone still considered to be covered under the Geneva Convention or is there wiggle room, for let us say, it accidentally “fell” over.
The Minotaur is a half-bull, half-man beast who lived in a cave beneath the court of King Minos. It all began when Poseidon gifted King Minos with a bull he was supposed to sacrifice, but he instead kept the bull to himself. Angered by his selfishness, Poseidon made the king’s wife fall in love with the bull, and in their union, gave birth to the Minotaur.
So, ruthless was the creature that the king had to assort a dozen people each year to be devoured by the beast. Aside from demanding annual human sacrifices to be given to the bull, Poseidon threatened to cause famine in the whole of Greece if the demands weren’t met.
In the Marine Corps we already have minotaurs, they’re called heavy machine gunners. The horned variety was feared in ancient Greece, imagine a modern one with automatic weapons and a Javelin missile system.
5. The Furies
Unlike the kind of furry my staff sergeant is… when Cronus castrated his father and tossed his genitalia into the sea, as is tradition, the blood droplets became the Furies. Being conceived of genitalia blood, there isn’t a doubt that the Furies were particularly full of rage.
The Furies were good at finding people who had done wrong and obliterated their bodies until they died out of excruciating pain. Many stories depict the Furies as having dogs’ heads, snakes for hair, and black bodies, making them more goddesses than monsters. I bet they could find people to show up to duty on time or put to use at NCIS.
6. The Hydra
Perhaps the most ferocious monster Hercules fought with, The Hydra was a sea creature with nine heads who grew two heads every time one was chopped off. The heads looked similar, but it was impossible to identify which one was immortal. At the same time, its blood and breath were incredibly poisonous, and stepping on its tracks or swimming within its territory could instantly kill you. Hercules killed the dragon as part of his tests and put a colossal rock on top of the immortal head before new heads could grow back.
An immortal, amphibious poison dragon would be just the unit to deploy to the south china sea to incentivize the Chinese to play nicer with their neighbors.
History is full of urban legends… The fog of war doesn’t fade when history’s most notorious monster and a gallant British soldier are on both ends of the story.
When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938, he found the German dictator owned a reproduction of a painting by Italian artist Fortunino Matania. The painting depicts a British soldier at the Battle of Menin Crossroads in WWI carrying another to safety.
Chamberlain asked Hitler – a clearly firm German nationalist – why he would choose to have a painting depicting Germany’s WWI enemies in the Berghof, his mountain retreat. Hitler replied that the painting featured a soldier who spared his life in combat.
“That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again,” Hitler is alleged to have said. “Providence saved me from such devilish accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us.”
That British soldier is believed to be Henry Tandey, a Victoria Cross recipient who remembers sparing a German soldier’s life at Marcoing. At just 27 years old, Tandey led a bayonet charge at Marcoing. He and his nine fellow Tommies took out a German machine gun nest and took 37 prisoners before sending the rest of the Germans in retreat.
Tandey fought in the First Battle Ypres in 1914 and the Somme in 1916, where he was wounded. He was out of the hospital in time for the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, and in 1918, was at the capture of Marcoing, where he recalls sparing a German soldier’s life.
“I took aim but couldn’t shoot a wounded man,” Tandey remembered, “so I let him go.” Tandey said the German soldier nodded in thanks, and disappeared.
The accuracy of the story is disputed by historians. Though Hitler’s special interest in the painting is odd, he is known to have owned it as early as 1937, acquired from Tandey’s old regiment.
Historians argue that the faces of both men would likely have been unrecognizable, covered in mud and blood (and who-knows-what-else). They also argue that Hitler, even though he was a message runner, would have been up to 50 miles north of where Tandey was that day. Either that, or the future dictator was on leave.
Later, during WWII, a Coventry-based journalist approached the British WWI vet and asked him about the alleged encounter. As Tandey stood in front of his home, which had just been bombed by the Luftwaffe, Tandey said:
“If only I had known what he would turn out to be… When I saw all the people and women and children he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go.”
Early on the morning of December, 5 NASA launched the Orion rocket — the first American spacecraft designed for manned space exploration since the Saturn V rocket powered the Apollo missions to the moon. According to NASA, the Orion spacecraft – unmanned for this first mission – orbited Earth twice, reaching an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles above Earth before landing in the Pacific Ocean.
“[This mission was] a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.”
And with the success of this mission astronauts once again think about going into space instead of hanging around Houston like a bunch of glorified academics. The sense of purpose that evaporated with the last Shuttle flight is back, and in a big way. We’re on our way to Mars!
You remember Mars, right?
So do you want a chance to be among the first to walk on the Red Planet? Then you need to be an astronaut. And there are two surefire ways to be selected: You can get a Ph.D. in astrophysics or something else equally boring and be selected by NASA as an astronaut mission specialist or you can join the military and go to flight school on the government’s dime and earn your pilot’s wings and be selected as an astronaut pilot.
But there’s more to it than just being a military pilot. According to NASA’s website, candidates must have at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. The website also states that “flight test experience is highly desirable,” which undersells the requirement a little bit in that the fact is that the large majority of the pilots who have ever been selected to become NASA astronauts have been test pilot school graduates.
There are only three sanctioned military test pilot schools in the world: U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California, U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, and Empire Test Pilot School at Boscombe Down in the U.K.
Here’s a video produced by the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School that gives an overview of the command:
Military pilots of various branches and nationalities attend each of these schools, but generally pilots prefer to stick with the school that fully focuses on their warfare specialty, for instance, flying off of aircraft carriers.
Test pilot school is about a year long and very rigorous both in the classroom and airborne. The instruction is designed to teach students how to take the principles of science, math, and engineering into the cockpit and then back again in order that they can quickly and effectively analyze performance characteristics and assist in creating better designs if required. At test pilot school you’ll learn how to take an airplane beyond its design limits without destroying it, and you’ll also learn how to write accurate reports
Like everything else cool and kick-ass, getting into test pilot school is very competitive. Applicants need fleet experience, and they also need to have been graded at the top of their peer group every step of the way. And it’s not a “hard” requirement, but because of the intensity of the syllabus most test pilots schools look for candidates with engineering degrees.
Classes convene twice a year and each class is only comprised of about 20 students.
For more on what being a test pilot is all about read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. Unlike the movie based on the book, the first half of the book provides great insights into the history of what life is like in the world of military test and evaluation.
And here’s a video from World War II era that describes some spin recovery techniques . . . techniques developed by test pilots:
Every time we make a post about the best of military morale patches, our readers prove us wrong with hilarious or otherwise awesome patches that we missed.
Morale patches are patches troops wear on their uniforms designed to be a funny inside joke, applicable only to their unit or military career field. They are usually worn during deployments, but the wear of morale patches is at the discretion of the unit’s commander.
We Are The Mighty’s readers have done it again and we’re happy to share.
The UARRSI — or universal aerial refueling receptacle slipway installation — is what allows an aircraft to be refueled by a boom while in mid-flight.
This one was actually taken from a screen shot on BBC. The patch was immediately identifiable to any fan of the show “Archer.” The best part is that it was actually on a Naval Aviator’s shoulder. Top Gun forever.
The older guys always get some love here because the older patches can go much, much further than commanders will allow these days. The patch above is from a Marine Corps aviator in Korea.
For those who don’t speak Latin, this awesome PsyOps patch translates (loosely) to: “All Your Base Are Belong to Us.” The phrase comes from a poorly-translated 1989 video game called “Zero Wing,” but entered internet and pop culture vernacular around the year 2000.
Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas is where USAF pilots start earning their wings. Training classes start on the T-6 Texan II aircraft. We’re told every training class gets to design its own patch.
Operation Deep Freeze is the U.S. mission to support research operations in Antarctica. As one might expect, they have a unique mission with specific risks. It’s reflected in their service patches.
The Army isn’t about to be left out of the morale patch fun. Their combat aviation brigades also have a great sense of humor.
Fort Rucker is the primary training center for U.S. Army aviators. It looks like Army aviation training classes get to design their own patches as well.
This patch comes from a Naval Aviator who served in Vietnam. Technically, it comes from the back of his flight jacket, but it’s still worth a mention.
Our brothers and sisters up north also seem to have an axe to grind with outdated vehicles and equipment. Thanks for reading, Canadian warriors!
This is one of my personal favorites. While the motto may not inspire the utmost confidence to the civilian viewer, you have to remember, military members have a dark sense of humor.
Air Development Squadron Six was a Navy squadron based at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. First formed in 1955, they formed the critical link between McMurdo and support elements in New Zealand. Ski-equipped aircraft from AIRDEVRON Six were the first planes to land on the continent.
Myth: The way a soldier’s horse is portrayed in an equestrian statue indicates how the soldier died.
This myth, perpetuated by many a tourist guide the world over, simply isn’t true.
(Not unlike how tourist guides around the equator will often tell you that what hemisphere you’re in effects the way the water swirls down the toilet or drain. They’ll even sometimes take you a few hundred meters on one side of the equator and show you water swirling one way, then a few hundred meters from that on the other side of the equator and show it swirling the other. Magic! In fact, of course, what hemisphere you’re in has almost nothing to do with the way water swirls down toilets and drains.)
An example of a tourist guidebook that perpetuates the equestrian myth is the 1987 Hands on Chicago:
At Sheridan Road and Belmont Avenue, the statue of [General] Sheridan beckons troops to battle. The horse General Sheridan rides is named Winchester…Winchester’s raised leg symbolizes his rider was wounded in battle (the legs of [General] Grant’s horse are on the ground, meaning he was not wounded).
This gives a pretty good account of the myth as it is generally stated, but leaving out the third commonly said option of the horse having both front legs in the air, implying the soldier died in battle. Another caveat is that if the rider died of complications from wounds received in battle, but at a later date from the battle, most versions of this myth have it that just one leg should be up as with the people who were wounded but didn’t die of complications from the wound.
According to the US Army Center of Military History, no such tradition has ever existed. This is not surprising considering that examples of multiple equestrian statues of the same person tend to be inconsistent in terms of the horse’s legs positioning. But let’s not take the US Army historian’s word for it, let’s look at some examples.
First, take a walk around Washington DC, which has the largest collection of equestrian statues of any city in the world. From this, you’ll quickly be disabused of the notion that the depiction of the horse’ legs has anything to do with the way the person died, with only about 30% of this city’s statues conforming to the above “rules”. (Given that there are 3 options here, that 30%-ish seems rather fitting.)
One of the oldest known equestrian statues in the United States is the 1853 statue of General Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park, Washington D.C., which was made in celebration of Jackson’s victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
In this statue, the horse has both forelegs in the air. Of course, Jackson did not die in battle, but of tuberculosis. The person who cast that sculpture, Clark Mills, was the first sculptor in the United States to cast a horse with a rider where the horse has some of its legs in the air (in this case both) — at this point it was more of a mark of the skill of the artist to have the horse with legs in the air rather than any sort of tradition relating to battle and death.
In cases where the same sculptor made multiple equestrian statues that could potentially apply to this “rule,” such as the case of world renowned Irish sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, we see that he, at-times, violated the supposed tradition and other times seemed to adhere to it.
One such statue he made of General William Techumsa Sherman has one of the front legs of the horse raised.
Indeed, General Sherman was wounded twice in battle, and even had 3 horses shot out from under him. He did not die in battle, but lived to the ripe old age of 71, and is thought to have died from pneumonia. So from that respect, this one fits. It should be noted, though, that this statue also has one of the horse’s rear legs lifted. The equestrian statue horse legs myth doesn’t seem to cover what that potentially would mean…maybe…just maybe…it means the horse is supposed to look like it’s running and has nothing to do with the rider’s death/wounds…
There is also a major equestrian statue of General Sherman at the General Sherman Memorial in Washington DC. This statue has the horse with all four legs on the ground. (This is a common theme where multiple equestrian statues exist. One would guess the differences have something to do with sculptors wanting theirs to look markedly different than the already existing statue(s).)
The only place where this equestrian statue “tradition” seems to hold with any sort of consistency is with a few statues of soldiers who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. (This is thought to be how the myth got started in the first place.) Of the nearly 500 monuments at Gettysburg, there are 6 equestrian statues. Five of the six conform to the myth and the sixth loosely does, but the problem is the statue of General John Sedgwick, who died at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House- his equestrian statue has all four hooves are on the ground.
(Aside: General Sedgwick’s last words were: “What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” He then took a bullet through his head fired from about 900-ish meters (1000 yards) away.)
Of course, it could be argued that this “tradition” was meant only to refer to what happened at the battle of Gettysburg, in which Sedgwick was not wounded nor did he die in. If that’s the case, then his is correct. However, if that’s the case then the statue of James Longstreet in that collection is not. He wasn’t wounded in Gettysburg, but his statue has the horse with one foot raised.
(He was wounded in the Battle of Glendale, so that would fit there, but not if we’re limiting the statue’s positioning based on the battle of Gettysburg to make the statue of General Sedgwick fit.)
Even then, it seems odd such a code would be created just for 6 statues of prominent people who fought in the battle of Gettysburg, and even more odd that if the code did exist that they would have broken it in one of the statues. Given there is no record of the sculptors having done this intentionally, and the discrepancy, it’s really not clear that this is what they were going for. It’s possible given the small sample size and that this is the only place we find this somewhat consistent correlation, it just randomly happened to work out that way with the way the sculptors decided to make the statues.
So this covers pretty thoroughly the statues in America. What about the equestrian statues across the pond? The Ancient Romans had numerous examples of equestrian statues, but unfortunately nearly all were destroyed or melted down for use in other things. One of the very few surviving equestrian statues from Rome was of Emperor Marcus Aurelius who died in 180 of an illness.
His horse in that statue has one foreleg up in the air. There is no record of Marcus Aurelius ever being wounded in battle and as a prominent Roman and eventual Emperor, it’s unlikely he saw much direct, close-up battle time (though was a part of many battles).
(Aside: funny enough, probably the only reason the statue of Marcus Aurelius survived when most all the others did not is that for a long time it was misidentified as a statue of Emperor Constantine the Great, who was a Christian Emperor. Why is this important to its preservation? Because many of the Roman statues were melted down to make things like church bells, coins, and sculptures for churches. Melting down a statue of Constantine would have been borderline blasphemy.)
There is a surviving equestrian statue of Emperor Constantine with the horse having both front legs up. Constantine did not die in battle, rather of natural causes.
Fast-forward to more recent times, in Medieval Europe and there really aren’t many equestrian statues, as they were (and are) very expensive to make and require a skilled sculptor. The few examples that exist don’t seem to correlate at all with any sort of horse leg tradition. For one brief, slightly more recent example, we have King Louis XIV who had an equestrian statue at Versailles with both forelegs on the horse in the air.
Louis XIV died of gangrene at the age of 77, not in battle.
Given that many a sculptor has worked on equestrian statues throughout history, if there is supposed to be some sort of code, even if not generally followed, there would be documentation of it somewhere — after all, they have to pass that code on. Not surprisingly, there is not.
It’s almost as if the sculptor just chooses the horse’s attitude to suit personal artistic preference…
The United States Navy is investigating how a Trump flag ended up being flown while a SEAL unit was convoying between training locations.
According to reports by the Daily Caller and ABCNews.com, the convoy was spotted outside Louisville, Kentucky this past Sunday. The Lexington Herald Leader reported that the lead vehicle of the convoy flew a blue Trump flag. A Navy spokeswoman told ABC that the flying of the flag was not authorized.
A Department of Defense document titled “Guidance on Political Activity and DoD Support” and dated July 6, 2016, states, “Per longstanding DoD policy, active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause. Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering.”
This is not the first time that SEALs have run afoul of potential political minefields. In November of 2013, the Daily Caller reported that SEALs were ordered to remove patches based on the First Navy Jack, which featured a rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” due to the fact that the very similar Gadsden Flag was used by the Tea Party. The major difference is that the First Navy Jack has red and white stripes as a background, while that of the Gadsden Flag is solid yellow. The rattlesnakes are also posed differently.
A June 2014 report from the Washington Post noted that the orders came about due to a misinterpretation — and that the patches were okay. It also noted the military was ordering more of the patches based on the First Navy Jack.
Imagine, as a fighter pilot, being able to see your enemy without them knowing you’re even in the area. Sounds like some newfangled stealth capability you’d expect to come stock on a fifth generation fighter, like the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II, right?
But what if I were to tell you that the US Air Force possessed such a capability as far back as the early 1970s, far before the F-22 and concepts of its ilk were even on the minds of engineers who’d eventually design them? Heck, more than half of those engineers and designers were probably still finishing off college or hadn’t yet completed grade school.
Called the APX-80, but more popularly known by its codename, “Combat Tree”, this top secret technology was first equipped on McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom IIs, the US Air Force’s primary fighter-bomber aircraft. Today, we call the system involved “Non-Cooperative Target Recognition”, after having developed it for years. Back then, Combat Tree was a next-generation game-changer which would only be equipped on a select number of F-4Ds, which would fly in hunter/killer packs with other F-4Es (Phantoms built with internal rotary cannons). The precise details of how Combat Tree worked are still classified to this very day, but we do know, to an extent, how Phantom aircrews used it.
Instead of activating the powerful radar scanner in the nose of the Phantom, weapon systems officers (WSOs) in the rear cockpit of the fighter would use Combat Tree to look around the sky for specialized transponders built into enemy aircraft flown by the Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF; North Vietnam’s military aerial element). These transponders were actually designed to prevent friendly-fire incidents, where North Vietnamese ground-controlled interception (GCI) stations and surface-to-air missile (SAM) emplacements would accidentally target and hit friendly fighters in a bid to shoot down enemy American aircraft. Referred to as “IFF” transponders or (Identification Friend or Foe), these beacons would relay a code to scanners built into SAM and GCI search radar computers, allowing their crews to distinguish between their own fighters and marauding jets of the USAF, US Navy and Marine Corps.
Combat Tree would “challenge” or “interrogate” each transponder it came across, asking in return whether or not the aircraft mated to the transponder was allied or otherwise. As soon as Combat Tree ascertained the allegiance of the aircraft after receiving the automatic response from the VPAF MiG-21’s transponder (completely unbeknownst to the MiG’s pilot, mind you), it would accurately plot its quarry’s location on a display in the rear cockpit of the F-4, and open up the hunt for the pilot flying in the front seat of the Phantom. Conversely, using the Phantom’s radar would have likely tipped off enemy fighters that they were being “painted” or tracked by other aircraft in the sky, thus losing any edge of surprise that the American fighters would have previously owned. Not only did this make MiG interceptions by Phantoms “stealthier”, it also allowed F-4 pilots to engage VPAF MiG-21s at greater distances, beyond visual range (BVR).
Prior to the existence and fielding of Combat Tree, all US military fighter pilots operating in Vietnamese skies were forced to get closer to VPAF MiG fighters to gain a positive identification on enemy aircraft before attacking them. Since radar only determines whether or not there are other aircraft in the sky ahead of your own, a visual identification is required to figure out whose aircraft those are. While American F-4 Phantom IIs were much more technologically advanced, they were still less maneuverable within the parameters of a close-in dogfight than a MiG-21 or the older MiG-19, also flown by the VPAF. This led to frustratingly high loss rates for American fighters. Combat Tree exponentially enhanced the margin of safety for American pilots by allowing them to gain positive identifications without pushing them into envelopes which greatly favored North Vietnamese MiG drivers.
The North Vietnamese eventually wised up to the presence of such a technology, though, they didn’t quite know what it was or how it functioned. The VPAF’s ranking officers began noticing a sharp increase in attrition rates with their fighter forces, especially those that found themselves tangling with US Air Force fighter jets. Cells of MiG-21s were reportedly being engaged at distances never before seen during the war, and with deadly accuracy. Radio transmissions between pilots, intercepted by picket stations, were able to pinpoint the reason for the suddenly high MiG-loss rate the North Vietnamese were sustaining – their aircraft’s IFF transponders. The VPAF’s pilots were instructed, there on out, to only turn them on when absolutely necessary, but to otherwise fly without any IFF protection, making them vulnerable to their own surface-to-air missiles in addition to the threat posed by American fighters in the area of operations.
Combat Tree’s effectiveness as a device that allowed American pilots to own the first look/first shot/first kill advantage wasn’t completely diminished by this discovery, however. By the end of American involvement in Vietnam in 1975, Combat Tree had earned assists in a number of US Air Force kills against North Vietnamese aircraft. In fact, Combat Tree was was responsible for helping Air Force legends Richard “Steve” Ritchie and Charles “Chuck” DeBellevue reach ace status (achieving five confirmed kills) between May to September, 1972. Since the early 1970s, the APX-80, or at least the lessons learned from Combat tree, has likely been redeveloped and extensively modernized for use with America’s current fighter fleet. Combat Tree, in a way, can be considered the forerunner of the modern sensors you’d find today on an F-35 or the F-22, which allow the aircraft to “see” the enemy before they even enter the playing field.
Originally published on The Tactical Air Network in January 2017.
An old Turkish proverb notes that “coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.” One possible interpretation for this is that you should enjoy your coffee under any circumstance.
Even fighting the Islamic State.
Turkish special forces troops are said to be taking this to the extreme, opening a sort of coffee house on a rooftop overlooking the Syrian city of Al-Bab. The Turks sent their special operators into the area in December, and now the city is said to be surrounded by Turkish forces.
Reddit user “bopollo” posted a few photos of Turkish troops near a sniper overwatch position. While there’s no concrete evidence the photo was taken in Al-Bab, the writing is on the wall.
Bopollo is a frequent commenter and contributor on operations and developments of the Syrian Civil War. The photo above shows directions to both Al-Bab and Kabbasin, both towns in Syria still held by ISIS.
The road between the two cities is also held by the terror organization. It’s fairly common for troops to write graffiti on the walls of buildings they captured and held. It turns out Turkish special operators are no different.
While it’s entirely unlikely that special forces troops opened an actual functioning business, the building is more likely just an area secured by the Su Altı Taarruz, Turkey’s Navy SEALs (you can see the flag with the SAT logo on it above).
But because Turkish people are funny and there are at least 106 Starbucks locations in Istanbul, it’s likely some troops are living it up as best they can on the front lines against ISIS.
The Union Army under the command of general Ulysses S. Grant, which already had control of most of Tennessee, had been slogging up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers for months in early 1862. The ultimate objective was the Mississippi and the prospect of seizing control of the river and splitting the Confederacy in two.
Grant had already scored a pair of major victories by taking Forts Henry and Donelson, and the reeling Confederate forces under general Albert Sidney Johnston were forced to gather in the city of Corinth in northern Mississippi, a vital rail center. Grant planned to rendezvous his army of 49,000 with the 20,000 under general Don Carlos Buell and seize Corinth. Johnston meanwhile had assembled an army of 45,000 men in the vicinity of Corinth and was waiting for reinforcements of his own.
Word reached Corinth that Grant was unloading his army at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee river 20 miles away, near a small church called Shiloh, Hebrew for “Place of Peace.” Johnston’s extravagantly named second in command general Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard urged an immediate surprise attack. If Grant and Buell’s armies combined before battle was joined, there would be little that could stop them in the theatre. Beauregard had a reputation as a tactical expert due to his victory in the war’s first major battle at the First Bull Run, and Johnston agreed to the proposal.
The Confederate army advanced on April 3, but was immediately slowed by pouring rain and poor coordination of units along the washed out roads. These same had the same effect on Buell’s movement to join Grant, and it became a race between the Confederates and the Union reinforcements floundering through the mud. So terrible were the rains and confusion on the march that the Confederates were forced to delay their attack until April 6.
Grant and his subordinate and best friend general William Tecumseh Sherman did not expect an attack so soon. When Sherman received reports of enemy troops approaching on the morning of April 6th, he first dismissed them as jumpy troops reporting nothing. When he incredulously rode out to see for himself, the Confederates main battle line boiled out of the trees, and the first thing Sherman witnessed was his aide getting shot in the head in front of him. The Union troops were not dug in, and many of them were raw recruits who had only just received their rifles. They were taken completely by surprise. What was worse, Grant was 9 miles downriver staying at a mansion, at least two hours away by boat while his army fought for it’s life.
The initial Confederate attack slowly drove the Union army north towards the river, and so intense was the fighting that as many as 10,000 Union troops fled and hid. Grant arrived at around 9 a.m. by steamboat and began to take charge of the defense, but the Union lines gradually collapsed. The fighting began to concentrate on the Union center in a small forest, later called “The Hornet’s Nest” for the sheer intensity of the fire directed at the position. An old wagon trail called the Sunken Road that bisected the forest gained it’s own infamy as it become completely choked with the dead and wounded of both sides.
When Johnston saw Confederate troops hesitating to join the assault in the face of such slaughter, he personally led a charge that broke a Union strongpoint at a spot later known as the Peach Orchard, with terrific slaughter. While riding back from the successful attack, Johnston was shot in the leg and had his femoral artery severed, leaving him dead in minutes. The resulting lull as Beauregard took command gave the Union army a breather, but soon another Confederate assault resulted in the surrender of an entire Union division and the defense at the Hornet’s Nest collapsed.
The surviving Union forces were arranging for a last ditch defense at Snake creek when deliverance arrived in the form of Buell, whose army started crossing the river at sundown. Even so, a final Confederate assault was in the offing when Beauregard, who was unaware of the pending enemy reinforcements, called off the attack until morning. He believed that the Union army was in shambles and only needed to be mopped up. Without the arrival of Buell’s army, he may have been right.
The next morning, the bolstered Union army launched a massive counterattack that eventually drove the exhausted and hopelessly outnumbered Confederates from the field, forcing Beauregard to order a retreat back to Corinth with what was left of his army. It was one of the great reversals of the Civil War.
Despite his “victory,” Grant faced severe criticism for the laxness of his position and for being away from the army, but despite calls for his resignation President Abraham Lincoln famously said “I can’t spare that man. He fights.” The South was stunned at the death of Johnston, who was considered the finest soldier in the South, and Confederate president Jefferson Davis was heartbroken at the death of his old West Point classmate.
The scale of the bloodshed at Shiloh left both sides horrified, with nearly 24,000 casualties from both sides. The previous major engagements had been bloody enough, but the United States had never seen a battle with that level of slaughter before. The battle of Shiloh had resulted in more battle casualties than all of America’s previous wars combined. As all the terrible battles to follow would attest, Shiloh showed that there was not going to be any cheap, easy victory for either side.
Danielle Green learned how to be tough while growing up on the mean streets of Chicago. That outlook served her well during her intercollegiate basketball career at Notre Dame in the late ’90s where she fought to win and racked up enough points to become the Fighting Irish’s sixteenth leading scorer of all time.
But it wasn’t until Green enlisted in the Army that she was made to discover just how tough she really is. She deployed to Iraq in January of 2004 with the 571st Military Police Company. Shortly into that tour she was hit by shrapnel from an RPG that exploded next to her while she was pulling sentry duty on a rooftop in Baghdad.
“That pain was like nothing else,” Green said. “It was so painful I wanted to die.”
Green lost her left arm halfway between the wrist and elbow. After extensive surgeries and rehab, she had to face the reality that her military career was over. “I gave all I could give,” she said. “I realized I wanted to serve in a different way.”
She attended graduate school and studied to be a school counselor, and at some point between getting her degree and her job search a friend suggested she focus on helping service members with the issues that surround the move back to civilian life. “That’s my purpose,” she said. “That’s my mission.”
Green now works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a readjustment therapist at the Veterans Center in South Bend, Indiana. “It’s how I can continue serving my fellow veterans,” she said.
Last week Green was honored with the 2015 Pat Tillman Award for Service at ESPN’s Espy Awards held in Los Angeles.
Marie Tillman, president and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation and Pat Tillman’s widow, said Green was selected for the award because of her resilience and personal efforts that have made her “a voice and advocate for this generation of veterans.”
“Not all of us are Pat Tillman,” Green said during her acceptance remarks in front of a packed house of sports greats and celebrities broadcast to a national TV audience. “But we can all find ways to serve our community. We can all find ways to support the people around us. We can all find a purpose on this earth larger than ourselves.”