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The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

In the opening days of the 2003 Iraq War, automated Patriot Missile batteries downed a British Tornado fighter, killing both pilots. A few days later, another Patriot shot down an American F/A-18 over Southern Iraq, killing that pilot. The people manning the automated missile launchers trusted that the system would work as advertised. Why didn’t it?


Benjamin Lambeth wrote in his exhaustive Iraq memoir The Unseen War that “many allied pilots believed that the Patriot posed a greater threat to them than did any [surface-to-air missile] in Iraq’s inventory.”

“The Patriots scared the hell out of us,” one F-16 pilot remarked. In one case an Air Force pilot actually fired a HARM anti-radar missile at a Patriot battery, destroying its radar dish. No one in the Patriot crew was hurt, and the airman said, “they’re now down one radar. That’s one radar they can’t target us with any more.”

When asked if the error was human or mechanical, Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, then-director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said “I think it may be both.”

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

A software malfunction in 2008 caused US. Army robots to aim at friendly targets. No one was killed because a human was at the trigger. Those robots were still in Iraq with troops as of 2009.

An analysis of the U.S. Navy’s own data on the development of automated weapons says “with hundreds of programmers working on millions of lines of code for a single war robot, no one has a clear understanding of what’s going on, at a small scale, across the entire code base.”

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

An Air Force unit called the Human Trust and Interaction Branch — that interaction being between humans an automated equipment — based out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio is looking to study this interaction to develop new types of recon and intelligence tools via a propose research contract called “Trust in Autonomy for Human Machine Teaming.”

On FedBizOpps (the official government contracting website with a domain name as trustworthy as any payday lender) the Air Force listed a contract for research in understanding “the most significant components driving trust and performance within human-robotic interaction. We need research on how to harness the socio-emotional elements of interpersonal team/trust dynamics and inject them into human-robot teams.”

The $7.5 million contract listing continues with this: “These human-machine teaming dynamics can involve research studying the interplay of individual differences, machine characteristics, robot design, robot interaction patterns, human-machine interaction, and contextual facets of human-machine teaming.”

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

In plain language, the research is focused on how humans use machines, when they trust the machines and when they don’t. In the cases of when Patriot missiles shot down friendly pilots, an automated system notified the human crews via a popup that warned the machine would fire if no one stopped it. When no one did, the Patriot intercepted the allied aircraft, just as programmed.

The Air Force contract is another example of the military “not knowing what’s going on.” As the Air Force explores our trust issues with robots, the Navy is warning us that “early generations of such [automated] systems and robots will be making mistakes that may cost human lives.”

Humans do come to trust their machines. Previous studies found that humans will bond with machines. U.S. Army Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians have been found to form emotional attachments to their bomb-disposal robots. They are awarded homemade medals and given names, ranks, and sometimes funerals. This level of trust could be misplaced as the bots are armed and the stakes of malfunctioning become higher.

Other current automated units in the U.S. military arsenal include Air Force Predator and Reaper drones, the Navy’s Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, the Army’s tracked, unmanned ground vehicle called TALON (or SWORDS) and the Marines’ unmanned ground vehicle called the Gladiator.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
USMC Gladiator: Are you not entertained?

Recent news about the increased ability of machines to deceive their human masters and the warnings from the scientific and computing community about the overdevelopment of artificial intelligence (AI) as weapons don’t seem to be a concern, even though the Army is developing an automated RoboSniperCopter and is trying to remove humans from the battlefield altogether. This 2013 Gizmodo piece listed the robots debuted for the Army at a Fort Benning “Robotics Rodeo,” featuring an entry from the company who brought you the Roomba:

Major commercial and scientific computer experts believe AI weaponry would be the third revolution of warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms. An open letter from this community expressed the concern that unchecked arms races of automated death robots would result in drones becoming the new AK-47 (presumably meaning cheap, deadly and ubiquitous).

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

The UN is urging the world’s nations to ban the development of automated weapons, citing the “legal and ethical questions” the use of such a weapon would raise.The aforementioned U.S. Navy report recommended building a “warrior’s code” into the weapons to keep them from killing us all once Skynet becomes self-aware.

 

NOW: 7 Ways Drones Are Ruining Everything

OR: The Use of Military Drone Aircraft Dates Back to WWI

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A future Kentucky governor attempted biological warfare in the Civil War

Dr. Luke Blackburn was a respected medical doctor and philanthropist until he allegedly attempted to create a yellow fever outbreak targeting Northern civilians and soldiers during the Civil War. Despite widespread outrage at the time, he later won a landslide victory to become the governor of Kentucky.


The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Governor of Kentucky Luke Blackburn is best remembered for having fought many outbreaks of yellow fever and other diseases. (Photo: Kentucky Historical Society)

Blackburn was a native Kentuckian who began working as a physician after receiving his medical degree from Transylvania University. Early in his career, he implemented a quarantine to shut down a cholera epidemic and he later led another that successfully stopped an outbreak of yellow fever in the Mississippi River Valley. He gave an encore performance against another outbreak in 1854.

But when the tide of the Civil War started going against the South, he found that his loyalty to the Southern cause was greater than his dedication to the Hippocratic Oath.

The vaunted doctor allegedly traveled to Bermuda in 1864 when an epidemic of yellow fever broke out. During this time in the Civil War, the disease was known for striking down cities, killing thousands.

Blackburn helped treat the sick in Bermuda, but he also stole the clothing and bedding of those who died of either yellow fever or smallpox. He then sent trunks of these items to auction places in the North where they were sold and distributed among civilians.

Godfrey Hyams, an Englishman who met Blackburn in Canada, was one of the men paid to smuggle the tainted clothing and bedding into the North. He was promised $100,000 for his services, almost $1.5 million in current dollars.

Hyams was able to sell five trunks of clothing through auctioneers, but only one Union soldier death was attributed to the men and that one was circumstantial. The soldier had died from smallpox after buying clothes at a consignment store that held Blackburn clothing.

The reason that no one died of yellow fever due to Blackburn’s actions is that the disease can not be transmitted via the clothing or bedding of its victims, though no one knew it at the time. Oddly enough, the Transylvania-trained doctor would have been more successful if he had recruited more bloodsuckers into his organization. Specifically, he needed female mosquitoes.

Yellow fever is a blood-borne virus spread by certain female mosquitoes. If Blackburn had succeeded in bringing a few victims North for mosquitoes to bite, he may have succeeded in his dark quest. But it wasn’t until 1901 that a team led by Maj. Walter Reed proved the connection between mosquitoes and yellow fever, so Blackburn didn’t know in 1864 and 1865 that his plan could never work.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
The female yellow fever mosquito spreads the disease by biting into humans. The left and center illustrations show the female. The one on the right is male. (Illustration: Public Domain by E. A. Goeldi in 1905)

But Blackburn was dedicated to his plan. He returned to Bermuda to fill three more trunks with infected clothing and bedding. He contracted a man there, Edward Swan, to send these trunks to the North the following Spring, but Swan was found out and tried.

Meanwhile, Hyams had still not been paid. Hyams finally got tired of waiting and went to the U.S. counsel’s office in Toronto to sell out his employer in early April 1865. A public trial filled the newspapers in Canada and throughout the U.S., but Blackburn was eventually acquitted on a technicality.

The trunks had been shipped to Nova Scotia before entering the U.S., and the court that was trying Blackburn did not have jurisdiction over crimes committed there. Meanwhile, the three other trunks from Bermuda were never on Canadian soil.

Blackburn, for his part, did not testify at his trial but said years later that the entire plot was too preposterous for gentlemen to even believe it existed. After his Canadian acquittal, he avoided the U.S. for a time to avoid prosecution, but he went south in 1868 to fight a yellow fever outbreak in Texas and Louisiana.

Prosecutors allowed him to work unmolested and Blackburn went on to fight yellow fever in Tennessee, Florida, and then back in his hometown of Kentucky over the following 10 years. His success fighting the outbreak in Kentucky caused his public image to drastically improve there.

In 1879, he won the gubernatorial election in Kentucky and became the governor. Much of his efforts in that position were aimed at easing prison crowding and bad conditions through pardons and the construction of a new prison. These measures proved unpopular and Blackburn failed to secure the Democratic nomination in 1883. He returned to private life and died in 1887.

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This is what a war between China and Japan would look like

China and Japan have a long and violent history between each other that’s resulted in a deep-seated mistrust, and in recent years two of the Western Pacific’s greatest powers have been preparing for what would likely be the flashpoint of World War III if it got out of hand.


China and Japan are in a battle of wills over the China Sea that could become a real battle as they build up their militaries, as Defense One wrote in September. But, what would a knock-down fight between Japan and China look like?

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Japanese soldiers with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force move the F470 Combat Rubber Raiding Craft off the beach during a beach raid as part of training for Exercise Iron Fist 2016, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 24, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan Kierkegaard)

China currently has a much larger and stronger military than Japan. It has an active military of over 2.3 million people and a drilling reserve of another 2.3 million. All those troops are equipped with approximately 3,000 aircraft, 14,000 armored vehicles and tanks, and 714 ships.

The Chinese military has also been increasing its military presence in the most likely area that the two countries would fight, the South China Sea. That area of the Pacific is crucial to Japanese trade. Since Japan is an island nation, China could cut off most commercial trade with Japan and force shortages of food and materiel in the country.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
A Chinese tanker soldier with the People’s Liberation Army sits while the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff comes aboard his tank at Shenyang training base, China, Mar. 24, 2007. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen)

But, Japan is no slouch. It could quickly muster over 300,000 fighters to defend the Japanese islands against attack. And it has over 3,500 armored vehicles and tanks with 1,590 aircraft and 131 ships backing them up. While these numbers pale in comparison to China, they’re still large enough to mount a strong defense of Japan’s homeland.

Unfortunately, Japan’s forces likely aren’t big enough to maintain open sea lanes and trade routes if China tried to blockade them. But Japan fields a relatively small military because it has an ace up its sleeve: a mutual defense agreement with the U.S.

America acts as a guarantor of Japanese forces, meaning that a protracted war would likely lead the U.S. to join the fight. America boasts the world’s most capable military and it is skilled at expeditionary warfare, projecting power across vast seas to far away areas.

If a war broke out in the South China Sea, that expeditionary strength would be vital. The American Marine Corps and Navy would send Marine Expeditionary Units to flash points and strategic priorities. Each MEU contains thousands of Marines — ready to fight tooth and nail — plus the logistics necessary to support them and the armored and air assets needed to protect them.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Marines with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit conduct a beach assault in Feb. 2014. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Austin Hazard)

The Navy would likely dispatch a carrier group to provide additional air support, giving the Marines their capabilities such as increased electromagnetic warfare assets, better surveillance, and a lot more bombs and fighters.

Meanwhile, the Army maintains a 4,000-soldier airborne brigade combat team in Alaska which is capable of airdropping their forces onto strategic islands to reinforce Marines or to establish blocking positions and defenses ahead of predicted Chinese advances.

If called upon, the paratroopers are also prepared for joint, forcible entries. These are operations where the Army and Air Force work together to seize an enemy-held airfield, kill and capture all of its defenders, and then begin using the airstrip for American operations.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Paratroopers with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, move to an assembly area at the end of a joint forcible entry exercise in Alaska in Aug. 2016. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Justin Connaher)

The Army had slated the Alaska-based unit — the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division — for reduction, but decided to keep the 4th BCT because of increased tensions in the Arctic and potential threats to Japan and South Korea. You know, threats like China.

But China has the defenses in place to make an American intervention costly. First, it has militarized man-made islands in the South China Sea and built mutually supporting bases on them, significantly increasing the costs in blood and ships to an attacker if China has to defend them.

Quartz wrote an excellent piece in September that shows how the islands work together to establish Chinese control.

America and Japan would still likely win the war if they decided to fight it, at least for the next few years. But growing Chinese investment in the military, plus constant industrial espionage, is allowing China to pull closer and closer to American strength. So much so that the RAND Corporation has said that a 2025 war could be costly and unwinnable for both sides.

There is some optimism that the war will never take place. While a recent Pew Research Center poll shows that China and Japan still deeply distrust one another, the countries still maintain an extensive trade relationship. Plus, each side is capable enough to make a war too bloody and expensive for the other side to benefit.

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13 photos showing the incredible determination of wounded warriors

The Department of Defense Warrior Games began in 2010 as a way to celebrate the the talents of injured or ill warrior-athletes. The 2015 games showcased some of the finest talent of the American and British wounded warrior communities. Showcased below are 13 of the most inspiring photos from the games.


While the games are about celebrating recovery and the warrior spirit, there are winners and medals. The Warrior Games closed on Sunday with the Army winning the overall competition. Check out the the final medal counts and more photos at Defense.gov.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Mark Watola

1. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Marcus Chischilly takes off during the swimming finals at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Va., June 27, 2015. Chischilly is a member of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games All-Marine Team. The 2015 DoD Warrior Games, held at Marine Corps Base Quantico June 19-28, is an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill, and injured Service members and veterans from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command, and the British Armed Forces.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Jared Lingafelt

2. Lance Cpl. Charles Sketch is presented with a gold medal during a standing ovation from spectators from around the world at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials. Competition provides opportunities for the Marines to train as athletes, while increasing their strength so they can continue their military service or develop healthy habits for life outside the service. The Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment enables wounded, ill, or injured Marines to focus on their abilities and to find new avenues to thrive.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt Ezekiel R. Kitandwe

3. A member of Team Air Force throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 DOD Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Sgt. Fareeza Ali

4. Retired Marine Cpl. Ray Hennagir, an Orlando, Florida native, keeps his eyes on the ball during sitting volleyball practice at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Terry W. Miller Jr.

5. U.S. and British athletes compete in the 100-meter sprint at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Owen Kimbrel

6. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Ray Hennagir prepares to shoot the ball during the wheelchair basketball championship game at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: DoD News EJ Hersom

7. Army visually impaired cycling teams finish together to take gold, silver and bronze during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 21, 2015.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Owen Kimbrel

8. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Peter Cook practices swim form during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 21, 2015.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Owen Kimbrel

9. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jenae Piper prepares to serve during the bronze medal volleyball game during the 2015 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico, Va, June 26, 2015.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: DoD News EJ Hersom

10. Army Staff Sgt. Monica Martinez, left, And Army Staff Sgt. Vestor ‘Max’ Hasson compete, but in separate 1,500 meter wheelchair race categories during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas April 1, 2015.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Ashley Cano

11. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Clayton McDaniels’ son receives a gold medal on behalf of his father whose team won the wheelchair basketball championship game at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Army Spc. Garry Abidin

12. U.S. Army Sgt. Blake Johnson, Bethesda, Md., attempts to block the shot of his Air Force opponent while playing a wheelchair basketball game during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games at Barber Fitness Center, on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 20, 2015.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt Ezekiel R. Kitandwe

13. A member of Special Operations Command throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 DOD Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.

NOW: Ronnie Simpson created a non-profit that teaches wounded veterans to sail

OR: The US military took these incredible photos in just one week-long period

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Iran just shot a barrage of ballistic missiles into Syria

Iran says its ballistic missile strike targeting the Islamic State group in Syria was not only a response to deadly attacks in Tehran, but a powerful message to arch-rival Saudi Arabia and the United States, one that could add to already soaring regional tensions.


The launch, which hit Syria’s eastern city of Deir el-Zour on June 18th, appeared to be Iran’s first missile attack abroad in over 15 years and its first in the Syrian conflict, in which it has provided crucial support to embattled President Bashar Assad.

It comes amid the worsening of a long-running feud between Shiite powerhouse Iran and Saudi Arabia, with supports Syrian rebels and has led recent efforts to isolate the Gulf nation of Qatar.

It also raises questions about how US President Donald Trump’s administration, which had previously put Iran “on notice” for its ballistic missile tests, will respond.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force in charge of the country’s missile program, said it launched six Zolfaghar ballistic missiles from the western provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan. State television footage showed the missiles on truck missile launchers in the daylight before being launched at night.

The missiles flew over Iraq before striking what the Guard called an Islamic State command center and suicide car bomb operation in Deir el-Zour, over 370 miles away. The extremists have been trying to fortify their positions in the Syrian city in the face of a US-led coalition onslaught on Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital.

Syrian opposition activist Omar Abu Laila, who is based in Germany but closely follows events in his native Deir el-Zour, said two Iranian missiles fell near and inside the eastern town of Mayadeen, an Islamic State stronghold. He said there were no casualties from the strikes. The IS group did not immediately acknowledge the strikes.

Iraqi lawmaker Abdul-Bari Zebari said his country agreed to the missile overflight after coordination with Iran, Russia, and Syria.

The Guard described the missile strike as revenge for attacks on Tehran earlier this month that killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 50, the first such IS assault in the country.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo released by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency on Monday, June 19, 2017. (IRIB News Agency, Morteza Fakhrinejad via AP)

But the missiles sent a message to more than just the extremists in Iraq and Syria, Gen. Ramazan Sharif of the Guard told state television in a telephone interview.

“The Saudis and Americans are especially receivers of this message,” he said. “Obviously and clearly, some reactionary countries of the region, especially Saudi Arabia, had announced that they are trying to bring insecurity into Iran.”

June 18th’s missile strike came amid recent confrontations in Syria between US-backed forces and pro-government factions. The US recently deployed a truck-mounted missile system into Syria as Assad’s forces cut off the advance of America-backed rebels along the Iraqi border. Meanwhile, the US on June 18th shot down a Syrian aircraft for the first time, marking a new escalation of the conflict as Russia warned it would consider any US-led coalition planes in Syria west of the Euphrates River to be targets.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams

The Zolfaghar missile, unveiled in September 2016, was described at the time as carrying a cluster warhead and being able to strike as far as 435 miles away.

That puts the missile in range of the forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command in Qatar, American bases in the United Arab Emirates, and the US Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

The missile also could strike Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. While Iran has other ballistic missiles it says can reach longer distances, the June 18th strike appears to be the furthest carried out abroad. Iran’s last foreign missile strike is believed to have been carried out in April 2001, targeting an exiled Iranian group in Iraq.

Iran has described the Tehran attackers as being “long affiliated with the Wahhabi,” an ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. However, it stopped short of directly blaming the kingdom for the attack, though many in the country have expressed suspicion that Iran’s regional rival had a hand in the assault.

Since Trump took office, his administration has put new economic sanctions on those allegedly involved with Iran’s missile program as the Senate has voted for applying new sanctions on Iran. However, the test launches haven’t affected Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Israel is also concerned about Iran’s missile launches and has deployed a multilayered missile-defense system. When Iran unveiled the Zolfaghar in 2016, it bore a banner printed with a 2013 quote by Khamenei saying that Iran will annihilate the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa should Israel attack Iran.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

On June 19th, Israeli security officials said they were studying the missile strike to see what they could learn about its accuracy and capabilities. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

“We are following their actions. And we are also following their words,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “And I have one message to Iran: Do not threaten Israel.”

Iranian officials meanwhile offered a series of threats of more strikes, including former Guard chief Gen. Mohsen Rezai. He wrote on Twitter: “The bigger slap is yet to come.”

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13 memes showing how it feels to get your DD-214

For the uninitiated, the DD-214 is the Department of Defense form issued when a military service member retires, separates, or is otherwise discharged from active-duty service.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

Sometimes the wait seems like forever.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

When it’s so close to your hands, some units try to convince you to reenlist.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

But you’ve done your job and it’s time to move on.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

You might “drop your pack” a little while waiting for that day.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

You’ll never forget the day you first lay eyes on it …

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

… Looking at that glorious golden ticket.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

And then you become a civilian, which comes with its own set of problems.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

Not everyone handles it well.

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

But you won’t be deterred:

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

But even so, this is true for all branches:

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots

NOW CHECK OUT: Amazing WWII photographs you’ve never seen before 

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7 gifts for the moto veterans in your life

Christmas is right around the corner and time is running out to get something great. Here’s a quick primer for anyone still shopping for that special veteran.


1. Toys

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GIF: Youtube/RCSparks Studio

You can take a second to pretend your grown, bad-ss service member doesn’t love toys if you need, we’ll wait. All done? Cool. On the upper end of the price spectrum there are remote-control tanks that fire pellets while on the lower side model A-10 Warthogs are available.

2. Vintage gear

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Any World War II gear could be cool, but a motorcycle would win Christmas. Photo: Wikipedia/Terry Whalebone

Most vets embrace the history of their unit, making vintage military items a great gift. Soldiers and Marines may appreciate this antiqued compass or sailors could go for a telescope. Airmen can try the classic bomber jacket.

3. Military movie memorabilia

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: Youtube screenshot/MBS-MoviesBestScenes

Speaking of bomber jackets, Maverick’s jacket from Top Gun is available for movie buffs and movie weapons can be fun. Of course, getting the actual movies can be a great gift too.

4. Rucks and other bags

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: US Army National Guard Master Sgt. Paul Wade

Former soldiers and Marines hate their heavy rucksacks while they’re marching around the desert, but love gear bags for everything from camping to running around town.

Surplus stores will usually have the real deal while good military-inspired bags are available all over the place. Make sure to match camouflage patterns to the service member. Marines don’t want to wear Army digital, soldiers don’t want to wear MARPAT, and no one wants to wear aquaflage.

This is especially important if the veteran is still in the service. The military branches usually only allow black bags or those with matching camouflage to be worn while in uniform.

5. Books

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: Courtesy Adam and Brian Makos

Bookworms always have a lot of great options from the military. The new novel “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War” generated a lot of buzz this year, and Marine Phil Klay’s “Redeployment” is a brilliant collection of short stories. Former paratrooper Michael MacLeod’s memoir, “The Brave Ones” follows a 41-year-old enlistee in the War on Terror from recruitment through two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

WATM has previously covered quadruple amputee and 82nd Airborne Division veteran Staff Sgt. Travis Mill’s new book, “Tough as they Come” as well as history writer Adam Makos’ “Devotion,” the true story of a Medal of Honor recipient who crashed his plane behind enemy lines in Korea to try and save his best friend.

6. Swag

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
Photo: NavyChief.com

Troops love them some stickers, t-shirts, and other swag so that everyone knows how cool they are. Nearly all units and branches are represented at shops like cafepress.com, but check first to see if the service member’s unit sells items directly.

Purchases made from a unit typically support that unit’s morale fund, helping them pay for events at home and overseas. There are also vet-owned companies that make awesome military gear like Grunt Style, Ranger Up, and Article 15.

7. Weapons

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Photo: Public Domain/Nicolas von Kospoth

Uncle Sam’s gun clubs love their weaponry, both in the professional sphere and at home. Obviously, match the gift to the vet. If they don’t already have a knife or gun, maybe get something else off the list.

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This is the world’s military handgun of choice

The U.S. military kindly asks you to trust its death robots
A British soldier aims a Browning Hi-Power 9 mm pistol on a shooting range in Basra, Iraq. (Photo: Ministry of Defense)


For more than seven decades, if a soldier carried a 9mm pistol into battle as part of his weaponry there was a good chance it was a Browning Hi-Power.

The Hi-Power is a pistol that has been on both sides of almost every world conflict during the 20th Century, wielded by the good, the bad, and almost certainly by the opposing force.

Even during the current age of pistols made of polymers and exotic metals, the Hi-Power is still in the holsters of many warriors.

It was once the standard NATO sidearm. In fact, more than 90 nations used weapons genius John Moses Browning‘s last pistol design – at least 50 countries still have it in their arsenals.

“Soldiers will continue to face one another with a Hi-Power in their hands,” said Doug Wicklund, senior curator at the NRA National Firearms Museum in Virginia. “It happened during World War II, it happened during the Falklands, and it will happen again.”

It seems like everyone wanted a Hi-Power.

Saddam Hussein carried one that he frequently fired into the air to excite crowds of his Iraqi followers. Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi owned a customized, gold-plated Hi-Power that had an image of his face etched into the grips.

During World War II, both the Waffen-SS and the special operators who opposed them such as agents of the Office of Strategic Services or the Special Operations Executive often carried the pistol. When the British and the Argentines faced off during the Falklands War in 1982, both sides carried the Hi-Power – and frequently captured the pistols and its ammunition from each other.

There is even a version of the Hi-Power with an adjustable tangent sight and detachable shoulder stock that transforms the pistol into a pint-sized carbine.  The combination has its flaws (the pistol’s attachment to the stock is wobbly at best) but in the hands of a skilled marksman the Hi-Power could hit even distant targets.

The Hi-Power is really history’s first high-capacity pistol – and you can thank the French Army for the idea .

During the early 1920s, the French army sought a new pistol that would have a high-capacity magazine of least 10 rounds and chamber 9 mm Parabellum ammunition. Impressed with the power and reliability of the M1911 .45-caliber pistol designed by Browning, the French generals in charge of new ordnance established a standard they called grande puissance – literally “high power” – that the new pistol would have to meet.

In 1923, Browning filed a patent for a prototype pistol that was the forerunner of the Hi-Power. However, he died in 1926 before he refined the design.

Dieudonné Saive of the Belgian weapons company Fabrique Nationale Herstal took up the project and completed the pistol’s design. By 1934, FN began production of the Hi-Power in earnest – too late, though, for the fickle French who decided to adopt another pistol.

But the Belgian Army seized the opportunity and adopted the gun. The pistol’s magazine capacity set it apart:  A Hi-Power magazine holds 13 rounds of 9 mm Parabellum ammunition, 14 rounds if it is a Canadian-made Inglis magazine.

“That’s quite a bit more than a Luger,” Wicklund said, noting that no other combat handgun in the world at the time could compare.

After occupying Belgium in 1940, German forces took over the FN plant. German airborne and SS troops often used the Hi-Power pistols manufactured under German control. Those weapons have the designation Pistole 640(b) (“b” for belgisch, “Belgian”) and are highly-desired collector’s items today.

A number of FN designers and engineers escaped Belgium ahead of the Nazi invasion with the plans for the Hi-Power. Canadian manufacturer John Inglis and Co. in Toronto re-tooled their factory and began production of the pistol, which were issued to a variety of British imperial forces.

But there were also large batches of Inglis-produced Hi-Powers made for a special purpose – as so-called “sterile weapons.” Made without serial numbers or other markings, they were issued to covert operators as one more ruse that could protect the cover of the agent or commando who carried the pistol as a sidearm.

In fact, many of those sterile pistols remained in the inventory of the British SAS well into the 1980s.

By the 1990s, the Hi-Power was beginning to show its age. One name began to make world militaries think twice about maintaining the venerable weapon as their main battle pistol: Glock.

“The polymer-framed pistol captured imaginations around the world,” Wicklund said. “The Hi-Power really had its heyday during the period of steel-framed pistols from the 1940s to the 1980s. It is still sought after, but it is just not in the same demand.”

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Canadian soldiers of Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Regiment, Canadian Royal Army, inspect their Browning Hi-Power 9 mm pistols prior to training on the firing range at Camp Blanding, Fla., in support of Partnership of the Americas 2009. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher J. Gallagher.

However, there are good reasons why the Hi-Power is still in use. It is robust and reliable, capable of withstanding battlefield abuse, and its 9mm ammo is widely used around the world.

What’s more, it is easy to field strip and clean, a feature always beloved by the common soldier who has to clean his or her weapon.

The Hi-Power’s magazine capacity, ergonomics, ease of maintenance, reliance on a commonly produced ammunition and solid construction virtually guarantee it will stay in use throughout the 21st Century.

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A-10s buzz the Carolina Panthers but spare Charlotte the ‘BRRRRRT’

The sight of a low-flying Warthog — the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II tank killer — may strike fear into the hearts of ISIS in Syria. But in Charlotte, North Carolina, it just raises questions.


 

 

Air Force blogger JohnQPublic says the A-10s were from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. The Air Force grounded the pilots after receiving FAA complaints about the August 29, 2016 low-altitude flyover. Regulations say aircraft must be at least 1,000 feet higher than the highest structure.

The Warthogs flew over the stadium in the middle of a practice game August 29. The Panthers were understandably surprised.

The pilots took the time to tilt over the field and give the Carolina Panthers a wave, head coach Ron Rivera told the Charlotte Observer.

“Oh yeah, we most certainly were caught off-guard. You kind of see everybody wondering what’s going on,” Rivera also reportedly said.  

Rivera added it was “pretty awesome.”

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It was not so awesome to the citizens of Charlotte, who were perplexed and frightened.

That’s the sound of freedom, Charlotte. If the Panthers win the Super Bowl this year, it will be because they started the season the way the Air Force ends gunfights – with an A-10 flyover.

Moody will likely keep an eye on the mail for its thank you card.

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Female Army aviator bringing vet voice to media

To say that Amber Smith comes from a military family is an understatement. Her great-grandfather was in World War I, her grandfather was in World War II, and her father was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. Both of her parents were pilots. Both of her sisters are military pilots.


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Her parents’ love of flying sparked her interest, and she started flying private planes at a young age. As she got older she started considering a career in aviation, specifically military aviation. Then in 2003, she was introduced to a future she didn’t know was possible.

“I talked to the Marines, I talked to the Air Force, and I talked to the Navy because I didn’t even know the Army had aviation,” Smith says. “I grew up in fixed wings. Never once did the thought of helicopters cross my mind.”

The other three branches told her the same thing: get a college degree and then come talk. But Smith just wanted to join the military as an aviator. When she spoke to the Army they told her could still be a pilot, just flying helicopters instead of planes. Smith’s experience as a civilian pilot allowed her to join before finishing her degree through the Warrant Officer Flight Training Program.

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While still in college and before joining the Army, Smith met her parents at an air show where helicopter rides were offered. She hopped in to see if a helicopter was really something she wanted.

“I went on this helicopter flight and I was immediately hooked,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘this is for me. I love it!’ I didn’t even want planes anymore, give me a helicopter.”

After basic training and Warrant Officer Candidate School, she went to flight school where she met her bird: the OH58 Kiowa Warrior Helicopter. The Kiowa Warrior is a light attack reconnaissance helicopter; a two-seater carrying a fifty cal machine gun and 7-shot 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra-70 rocket pods, configurable for Hellfire missiles.

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An OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter from the 1st Infantry Division takes off on a mission from Forward Operation Base MacKenzie, Iraq. It is armed with an AGM-114 Hellfire and 7 Hydra 70 rockets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Cuomo)

“I loved my time flying the Kiowa,” Smith recalls. “I knew that was the best and most bad ass flying I would ever do in my life.”

Her mission was direct support for ground forces, looking for IEDs, providing aerial security for convoys, and responding to troops in combat (TICs). Smith deployed with her unit, the 101st Airborne Division, to Iraq from 2005, where she made Pilot in Command. She went to Afghanistan in 2008, where she made Air Mission Commander, seeing combat in a combat arms role years before the ban on women in combat ended.

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“Before they lifted the restriction, aviation was the only branch within what was called Combat Arms – now it’s maneuvers, fire, and effects – but it was the only Combat Arms branch that allowed women,” Smith says.

Her views on women in combat is simple: there needs to be a mission standard, not a gender standard.

“As long as the standards remain the exact same as today, I think women should be given the opportunity to try it,” Smith says. “I don’t believe in quotas or lowering standards but I don’t think it should matter if you’re a man or a woman. If you can do the job and contribute to the mission that’s what matters.”

The Army’s proposed integration plan includes first adding female officers to leadership roles within combat units. Amber Smith think it’s a smart move but the plan for and acceptance of women in combat jobs will take time.

“Reducing the standards creates resentment,” she says. “When I got to my unit in 2004, women were very rare in the Kiowa Warrior community. I worked very hard to do my job and contribute to the mission. As soon as they realized that, I was a part of the team.”

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Smith left the military in 2010, but while she was in, she completed a Bachelor’s in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. After transitioning, she earned her Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management with a specialization in Homeland Security from Eastern Kentucky University.

While in graduate school, she noticed that too often the media lacked a credible veteran’s point of view.

“It’s important the American people need to hear the perspective of people who have been on the operational side of national security,” she says. “People who have been to war and have seen the enemy everyone talks about on TV every day.”

Smith started a blog and got published wherever she could. Within three months, the calls for television appearances started. Her career just took off from there. She just completed her first book, Danger Close: One’s Woman’s Epic Journey as a Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“2015 was the year of my book,” Smith says. “I wrote it myself, I didn’t have a ghostwriter or anything. I wanted to preserve my voice. The Kiowa Warrior is an incredibly effective tool on the battlefield, essential in the two theaters of war. Nobody knows about it, all anybody knows about is the Apache. So I want people to know who we are and what we did.”

Smith is now a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and Senior Military Advisor for Concerned Veterans for America. She is also a writer and television commentator on national security issues, foreign policy, and military operations. She regularly appears on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, and MSNBC.

Her book is due out in September and is available for preorder on Amazon.

Follow Amber Smith on Twitter

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Warriors in their own words: Battle of the Bulge

The Battle of the Bulge was a Hail Mary pass by a führer who was quickly running out of options. Hitler desperately needed a decisive victory on either his Western or Eastern front. Remembering his series of victories after sneaking through the Ardennes forest in 1940, he went for a repeat in 1944.

On Dec. 16, 200,000 German troops and 1,000 tanks slammed into 80,000 Allied troops. Listen to troops who were there explain what it was like to turn away Hitler’s desperate gambit.


1. Over 1 million men were involved in the battle.

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The fighting started with an assault by 200,000 Germans against 80,000 Allied troops. But, as Patton’s Third Army swung north to hit the German flank and other Allied units rushed to the aid of the defenders, 600,000 Allied soldiers pushed back the German force that grew to 500,000 men.

2. The Allied troops who were attacked were primarily there to rest or train.

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Pfc. Frank Vukasin of Great Falls, Montana, stops to load a clip into his rifle at Houffalize, Belgium on Jan. 15, 1945. Photo: US Army courtesy of the Eisenhower Archives

The Ardennes was used as a training ground for green units and a recovery area for those coming off the frontline. The Americans in the area were expected to quickly fall or retreat. Hitler’s entire strategy depended on it.

Instead, rookies became veterans overnight and fatigued veterans dug deep to slow the German advance. Anti-tank teams targeted choke points in villages and mountain passes, creating flaming barricades of destroyed German armor that slowed the Blitzkrieg to a crawl.

3. The famous “NUTS!” response to a surrender request was basically bored paratroopers joking around.

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Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe and Col. Harry Kinnard II at Bastogne after the battle. Photo: US Army courtesy of the Eisenhower Archives.

One of the most famous responses in history to a surrender request took place during the battle. Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe responded with “N U T S” centered on a typewritten piece of paper.

McAuliffe had twice said, “Nuts,” when briefed on the surrender request, first to his acting chief of staff that woke him and then to his headquarter staff. When it came time to draft the formal response, McAuliffe couldn’t think of what to write. His men, who had found the “nuts” comments funny, urged him to just respond with those four letters.

4. German soldiers illegally wore American uniforms to sneak behind enemy lines.

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A major part of Hitler’s gamble was the belief that he could sow disorder in the American lines by sneaking English-speaking Germans in and having them sabotage equipment.

Instead, American G.I.s quickly discovered some of the imposters and began asking everyone trivia questions about American life to suss out the rest.

5. One of the worst war crimes committed against Allied troops in World War II took place during the battle.

The Malmédy Massacre occurred Dec. 17, 1944, when a group of over 100 Americans, mostly artillerymen with the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, were captured by German SS troops taking part in the German attack.

While the exact details are still argued by historians, approximately 84 American soldiers being held as prisoners of war were killed when German machine gunners opened fire on them. At least 21 other prisoners escaped and reported the murders, but the ongoing battle made a proper investigation impossible.

6. Hitler’s generals cautioned strongly against the entire operation.

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Hitler began amassing the troops needed for the offensive as far back as Aug. 1944, even though his generals thought the troops could be better used in the fight against Russia. Hitler refused to listen and stayed the course.

Ultimately, the Battle of the Bulge failed and the Americans continued their advance. With the large losses of both men and material Germany suffered in the Battle of the Bulge, the Third Reich was doomed. Hitler would go on to kill himself Apr. 30, 1945 (or, maybe not) and Germany surrendered May 8.

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7 chow line nightmares that will make you hug your woobie

Military food is notorious for earning the right to be nicknamed a “mess.”


Sometimes it’s because the recipe is fundamentally flawed, other times it’s because the supplies available meant a substitution (read: mistake) was made.

Or maybe the people working in the kitchen decide to put spaghetti on top of your mashed potatoes, despite all the room on the rest of the plate (looking at you, Fort Meade).

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Carbs! (Photo from the Just DFACs Maam Blog)

Think of this list as more of a hat tip to the kitchen staffers who go above and beyond to make sure the food we all eat is a force multiplier – and not a tool of the Dark Side of the force. Here are a few recipes for disaster collected by the WATM staff.

1. Powdered Eggs – Tent City, Saudi Arabia

Military kitchen staffs the world over will vehemently deny ever using powdered eggs, but one look at the yellow-gray-green muck that might be looking back at you will make you think twice about believing them. Sure, a hot meal probably beats a field ration but in this case, not by much.

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What, no ham?

The eggs pair well with pieces of lettuce. This is great because if anyone arrived to the chow line later than 20 minutes after it opened for midnight meal, lettuce was their only side dish option.

2. Basically everything served at MIDRATS – USS Kitty Hawk

Burnt, crispy rice is a delicacy in some places – like Iran – but it shouldn’t be the norm on a Navy ship during midnight rations, even if the ship is in the Strait of Hormuz.

Yet, there it is. Although sometimes, the burnt rice would be rolled into meatballs and go by the name “hedgehogs.”

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Syrup is the new ketchup.

If the U.S. Navy’s tadig (google it) isn’t your thing, MIDRATS also offers boiled hot dogs, cardboard burger patties, and teflon bread.

That’s OK, because it all tastes the same with enough hot sauce.

3. KBR Steak and Seafood Night – Victory Base Complex, Iraq

The chief chow hall supplier for Operation Iraqi Freedom tried to build a little morale with luxury food items once a week. This ended up being the day you could smell exactly what the chow hall was cooking, long before you got anywhere near the place.

Kinda like the dumpster behind a Red Lobster.

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Boiling steaks ensured no one got sick from undercooked meat while also guaranteeing no one enjoyed them.

The fried shrimp had the consistency of poker chips and the King Crab legs were… there.

The Subway probably did good business on these days.

4. Fish. Forever. – FOB Fenty, Afghanistan

After a U.S. friendly fire incident killed 24 Pakistanis, American troops in Afghanistan were cut off from supplies coming across the Hindu Kush.

For members of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade stationed at FOB Fenty near Jalalabad, this meant a deep dive into the frozen food section.

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This pic from DFAC Cambridge shows the UK didn’t fare much better. (Photo by TripAdvisor user ShootermcGavin1)

Specifically, the frozen fish section.

For months until Pakistan received an official apology, FOB Fenty ate frozen fish for three meals a day until the convoys started rolling in again.

5. Brown Patties – Camp Geiger

The “breaded brown patty” was made of an unknown meat and trying to determine which animal – or animals – it came from might only raise more questions than it answered. The only hint that animals were involved in the brown patty process was the layer of fat congealing at the bottom of the tray.

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In the Army, at least you can get PID on that corn. (photo by Tumblr user JamesPhan)

The taste was primarily salt, and the texture resembled that of a warm kitchen sponge. One bite was enough to make any Marine content with a roll and a glass of milk.

6. Pasta Carbonara – Camp Victory, Iraq

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a delicious dish with ground egg, pecorino Romano cheese, pancetta bacon, and black pepper. But that’s not what happened in Iraq.

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It could always be worse.

Now, no one truly believes the chow hall is going to carry Romano cheese or pancetta. But the recipe found in one of the chow lines on Camp Victory included a ketchup-based red sauce, egg slices, bologna cubes, and frozen peas.

7. Everything at Camp Eggers, Afghanistan

The food at Eggers was so notoriously bad, it warranted a mention in the New York Times.

“Given the selection, most meals ultimately degrade into some combination of cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and saltine crackers,” said the author, Navy Lt. Andrew Sand, who would be driven to risk his life for a plate of French cheese.

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Everything looks more appetizing next to a watermelon. Fact.

One infantryman gained notoriety while cooking for his unit at Camp Bala Hissar near Kabul. Army Sgt. Troy Heckenlaible said the 100 or so soldiers he cooked for preferred his cooking to the food at Eggers. His secret? Unit Group Rations.

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Sheridan versus Stryker: Which comes out on top in a light tank face off?

The M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System has made its mark. You can see why in this video, where a slight hiccup with the main gun is overcome, and the gun goes off. However, does it truly match up with the M551 Sheridan light tank?


Well, technically, the Sheridan was an Armored Reconnaissance/Airborne Assault Vehicle that was first introduced in 1966. Its main gun was the M81, a 152mm gun that could also fire the MGM-51 Shillelagh missile.

The Shillelagh had a range of 3,000 meters. It didn’t work that well, and is only combat experience was being used against bunkers during Operation Desert Storm. A Sheridan could carry nine Shillelaghs and twenty “normal” rounds for the M81 gun.

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The M551 Sheridan tank firing a Shillelagh missile. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The Sheridan did see a lot of combat in Vietnam, where it was both loved and hated. Its gun was very good at providing fire support, but it had a much slower rate of fire than the M48 Patton. Still, the Army bought over 1,600 Sheridans. The Sheridan was also the only armored vehicle that could be dropped in with the 82nd Airborne.

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Armor Soldiers assigned to 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, fire their Main Gun Systems (MGS) Stryker’s 105 mm main gun during a live fire range 28 March 2011, at Yakima Training Center, Wash. (US Army photo)

Now, let’s look at the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System. Like the rest of the Stryker family, it is an eight-by-eight wheeled vehicle. It fired the same M68 gun used on the M60 Patton and early versions of the M1 Abrams tank. It holds 18 rounds.

The gun is also mounted on an external weapons station with an autoloader. The M1128 can’t be air-dropped, though, but it can be flown in on a C-130.

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A M1128 Stryker Mobile gun System awaits transportation to war-fighters in Afghanistan, in an airfield staging area in southwest Asia in 2008. (US Army photo)

Both vehicles have a .50-caliber machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun to handle infantry threats. Neither are capable of resisting anything more powerful than a 14.5mm machine gun, although the Stryker can take additional armor (at the cost of mobility).

Both gave the Army’s lighter forces some extra firepower. But the Sheridan had some clear advantages over the Stryker, while the Stryker offers some improvements over the Sheridan.

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The XM8 Armored Gun System. (US Army photo)

Really, though, the best of both worlds was probably the XM8 Armored Gun System. This was a light tank that had a XM35 105mm gun, and could hold 30 rounds for its main gun (plus the .50-caliber and 7.62mm machine guns). The system was also able to take add-on armor to protect it against a number of battlefield threats. Sadly, it was cancelled in 1997.

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