Bob Hoover is one of history’s greatest aviators. His career spanned from barnstorming in prop planes, to dogfighting in World War Two and then on to flight testing supersonic jets and performing spectacular aerobatic demonstrations. As an experimental test pilot, he flight tested the Navy FJ-2 jet fighter and the USAF F-86 and F-100. Hoover was the backup pilot for the Bell X-1, and flew the chase plane as his friend Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier on October 14th, 1947. Smithsonian’s Air Space Magazine named Hoover Number Three on their list of all-time great pilots. In this special two-part episode, Bob Hoover takes us through his long, illustrious career in flight.
The Lockheed F-35 Lightning is replacing the F-16 in many countries. For the most part, if a country is flying F-16s, then it’s a safe bet that they will get the F-35. There may be some exceptions to that rule, of course, but for the most part, it rings true.
One country slated to receive the F-35 is Belgium. F-16.net reports that, at one point, the Belgian Air Component had as many as 160 F-16A/B Fighting Falcons. Many of these planes were manufactured as part of a consortium with Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands.
Today, that total stands at 45 F-16AM and nine F-16BM Fighting Falcons. These planes are divided into four operational fighter squadrons primarily equipped with F-16AMs, and one operational conversion unit equipped solely with F-16BMs. This comes out to roughly 11 F-16AMs per squadron.
According to a release on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency website, Belgium will begin to replace its F-16s with F-35s. The planned purchase total, coming in at just over $6.5 billion, is 34 F-35A Lightnings and 38 F135 engines (one for each F-35, plus four spares). This comes out to eight and a half F-35s per squadron.
Now, this may just be the first batch of planes, in which case, it comes out to a more reasonable 17 planes per squadron. A Belgian media report in 2016 noted that the Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet were also considered by the Belgian government.
In what seems to be a repeat of history, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark are all buying the F-35 to replace the F-16. In recent years, the Belgian Air Component has seen action in the War on Terror, the NATO intervention in Libya, and has also taken part in the Baltic Air Policing mission, often using F-16AMs.
Military analysts say North Korea doesn’t have either the capability or the intent to attack US bombers and fighter jets, despite the country’s top diplomat saying it has every right do so.
They view the remark by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and a recent propaganda video simulating such an attack as tit-for-tat responses to fiery rhetoric by US President Donald Trump and his hardening stance against the North’s nuclear weapons program.
By highlighting the possibility of a potential military clash on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea may be trying to create a distraction as it works behind the scenes to advance its nuclear weapons development, said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Another possibility is that North Korea is trying to win space to save face as it contemplates whether to de-escalate its standoff with Washington, he said Sept. 26.
Speaking to reporters before leaving a UN meeting in New York, Ri said Trump had “declared war” on his country by tweeting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “won’t be around much longer.” Ri said North Korea has “every right” to take countermeasures, including shooting down US strategic bombers, even when they’re not in North Korean airspace.
Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!
The US frequently sends advanced warplanes to the Korean Peninsula for patrols or drills during times of animosity. Last weekend, US bombers and fighter escorts flew in international airspace east of North Korea to the farthest point north of the border between North and South Korea that they have in this century, according to the Pentagon.
Hours after the flights Sept. 24, a North Korean government propaganda website posted a video portraying US warplanes and an aircraft carrier being destroyed by attacks. The video on DPRK Today, which was patched together from photos and crude computer-generated animation, also included footage of North Korean solid-fuel missiles being fired from land mobile launchers and a submarine. The North was clearly trying to claim it has the ability to conduct retaliatory strikes against US attacks, said Hong Min, an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.
Moon Seong Mook, a former South Korean military official and current senior analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said it’s highly unlikely North Korea has the real-world capability to match Ri’s words. North Korea’s aging MiG fighters won’t stance a chance against much more powerful US fighters escorting long-range bombers. And while North Korea touted in May that it’s ready to deploy new surface-to-air missiles that analysts say could potentially hit targets as far as 150 kilometers (93 miles) away, it’s questionable how much of a threat the unproven system could pose to US aircraft operating far off the country’s coast, Moon said.
It’s also unclear whether North Korea would be able to even see the advanced US warplanes when they come. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing on Sept. 26 that the North’s inadequate radar systems failed to detect the B-1B bombers as they flew east of North Korea.
The last time North Korea fired on a US aircraft was in 1994 when it shot down a US Army helicopter around the heavily armed inter-Korean border, killing one of the pilots and capturing the other. The surviving pilot said after his release he was pressured by North Korean officials to confess that the helicopter had crossed into North Korea. In 1969, a North Korean fighter jet shot down an unarmed US reconnaissance plane and killed all 31 crewmembers on board.
It’s highly unlikely North Korea would attempt a similar attack now, experts say. Amid tension created by the North’s nuclear weapons tests and threat to detonate a thermonuclear missile over the Pacific Ocean, such an attack would pretty much guarantee retaliation from the United States that could lead to war, Cha said.
“The most obvious reason Ri made those comments was because North Korea simply can’t tolerate such high-profile insults to its supreme leadership,” Cha said. It’s also possible that the North is trying to fan concerns about a potential military clash in the region now so that it can win room to save face later when it tries to de-escalate, he said.
“If Kim Jong Un ever offers a moratorium on his missile tests or makes whatever other compromise, he could say he made a big-picture decision to reduce military tension in the Korean Peninsula,” Cha said. He said Ri’s comments also allow China and Russian to restate their calls for a “dual suspension” of North Korean weapons tests and displays of military capability by the US and South Korea.
The Trump administration’s stance on North Korea has been hardening in recent months as the North has been stepping up the aggressiveness of its nuclear and missile tests. It conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, which it said was a thermonuclear weapon built for intercontinental ballistic missiles. It tested two ICBMs in July, displaying their potential ability to reach deep into the continental United States. North Korea has also fired two powerful midrange missiles over Japan in recent weeks.
Trump in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week said the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if provoked, which prompted Kim to pledge to take the “highest-level” action against the United States. Ri then said North Korea might conduct the “most powerful” atmospheric hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean, but added that no one knew what Kim would decide.
Russia is sending what NATO thinks is thousands of troops into Belarus – and the transatlantic alliance is worried the Russians may not leave. The move would pose a counter to the recent movement of NATO forces into the area, including former Soviet states Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, and Poland.
The Russian and Belorussian response, they claim, is purely defensive. The Russians say it emulates a terrorist threat with external support – that support comes from the West, which the Russian military will move to counter.
Just as Americans embrace the fictional countries the U.S. military uses to train its troops, fictional Twitter and Facebook accounts representing Veishnoriya’s various official ministries have popped up around the war games. There are even fictional seals, flags, and histories surrounding the fictional country. You can even apply for a Veishnoriyan passport.
One Facebook discussion boasted that Veishnoriya has never lost a war, while detractors say, “It’s not Vesbaria, it’s not Lubenia. Volodya, your soldiers will be torn to pieces!”
An estimated three thousand to 100,000 Russian troops are involved (depending on who you ask), along with the Russian 1st Guard Tank Army. It’s an exercise they’ve been running every four years since the 1970s, except for the decade or so after the fall of the Soviet Union.
NATO experts believe the game represents what Moscow thinks is a scenario most likely to come from Western efforts to undermine the Russian sphere of influence.
If the war game did have upwards of 100,000 troops and tanks, the Russians would be required to report the exercise and submit to having foreign observers monitor the exercise, according to the Vienna Document, a 2011 security agreement.
Colonel Charles Bussey courageously flew P-51 Mustangs as a fighter pilot in World War II. His training came with the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the all black Army Air Corps unit. Bussey also went on to serve as a decorated Commander of Army engineers during the Korean War. Charles Bussey was a war hero, but his first struggle wasn’t in a combat zone overseas. His first battle was at home in what you might call the fight for the right to fight. This is his dramatic story, in his own words.
This year the GI Film Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary of sharing the military experience in and out of the arena of war. The festival is the first in the nation to exclusively celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the service member through the medium of film.
Over the last 10 years, the GIFF has presented films from new and established international and domestic filmmakers that honor the heroic stories of the American military and the universal lessons of war and conflict. All of them in some way express the courage and selflessness of our fighting men and women and the value of their work.
The GI Film Festival is open to filmmakers of every experience level, from first-timers to veteran directors and producers. Prizes are awarded annually to winners in three main categories: feature, documentary, and film shorts.
Here are the trailers of 7 of this year’s best. Watch them and be moved:
The Last Man Club is a story about four World War II veterans who served together on a B-17 Bomber. After losing touch over the years they each find themselves trapped in life circumstances and are all too compliant to live out their last days in their own “private little hell”. Pete is dying in a veteran’s hospital and it’s his nurse, Ripley who helps him find the last known address of Eagle, his captain and the pilot of their beloved B-17.
Pete’s letter finds Eagle living in his son’s home, stripped of his privileges and housebound. The letter informs him that he is the last man after Pete passes and he must fulfill the oath they had all taken after the war. What Eagle first sees as impossible, he is jarred from his fears when he learns that he will soon be going to a retirement home.
Dressed in his reunion military uniform he steals the battery from his son’s car and escapes in his late wife’s 1958 Ford Fairlane. At the start of his journey, Eagle meets up with the most unlikely of accomplishes. Romy is an attractive young woman on the run from her abusive gangster boyfriend. Through a series of happenstances, Romy becomes Eagle’s unwilling tour guide. As they travel cross country Eagle teaches Romy to respect herself and through Romy’s friendship, Eagle conquers his own limitations, finds vitality and a life worth living. They venture through the backroads of America, in a race to complete their mission, as the police, the FBI, a dangerous gangster and Eagle’s family try to figure out this band of geriatric’s next move.
As they travel cross country Eagle teaches Romy to respect herself and through Romy’s friendship, Eagle conquers his own limitations, finds vitality and a life worth living. They venture through the backroads of America, in a race to complete their mission, as the police, the FBI, a dangerous gangster and Eagle’s family try to figure out this band of geriatric’s next move.
Ride The Thunder is the true heroic story of a friendship between American military legend and recipient of the Navy Cross, John Ripley and one of South Vietnam’s most decorated Heroes, Le Ba Binh. The film is based on a book by the same name by Richard Botkin, former Marine Infantry Officer (1980-1995) The storyline follows Ripley’s and Binh’s fight together against the communists at the Battle for Dong Ha during the Vietnam War and the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, as Ripley goes home to a divided America while Binh is imprisoned in a communist re-education camp. After the war, their wives struggle to adjust to their changed lives. Immersed in this true story are interviews and rare historical footage that educates the moviegoers on the truth of the war along with the heroes who fought in it, while exposing the opportunists who betrayed them. The main Vietnamese actors in the film are Vietnamese refugees.
The U.S. military faces a mental health crisis of historic proportions. Thank You for Your Service takes aim at our superficial understanding of war trauma and the failed policies that have resulted. Director Tom Donahue interweaves the stories of four Iraq War veterans with candid interviews of top military and civilian leaders. Observing the systemic neglect, the film argues for significant internal change and offers a roadmap of hope. Interviews include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, Generals David Petraeus and Loree Sutton, Sebastian Junger, Nicholas Kristof, Dexter Filkins, Senator Patty Murray, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Colonels Lawrence Wilkerson and Dave Sutherland.
At the time of filming, Peter Ertel is 95 years old. He is a published author and an avid pianist. Using his skill as a riveting storyteller, Ertel recounts his experiences as a soldier in the German army – from his early days as an “unsoldierlike” recruit who was deemed an “unreliable follower of the Fuhrer” to his becoming a highly respected platoon leader, who routinely risked his life to save the lives of his men, as well as the lives of the enemies he encountered on the battlefield. Though Peter takes us through the hell of front-line combat in both France and Russia, perhaps the most ‘unimaginable’ part of his journey begins after he becomes a prisoner of war. The Unimaginable Journey Of Peter Ertel is a documentary portrait of a man who maintained his humanity despite being thrust into a world of hatred, destruction and death. Peter Ertel tells his own story as only he could tell it – with unflinching honesty and raw emotion.
Marine Ryan Taylor is given a phone number by a pretty, mysterious girl. Believing it’s hers, he calls and it detonates a bomb in downtown Pittsburgh. The marine then becomes the main suspect in the bombing. Now, he must evade the authorities and hunt down the people who set him up before they can launch a second attack. Rising Fear is an indie action thriller boiling with twists, turns, and a deadly conspiracy that threatens to destroy the US government–and freedom itself. Buckle in as writer director Tom Getty takes you on a roller coaster ride that starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until its explosive finale.
Noah Cass was a machine gunner for the Marine Corps during the 2005 Operation Spear in Iraq. During an over-watch mission, his team was ambushed and a mortar round hit his truck leaving him with permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. When Noah returned home, he dealt with issues common to veterans transitioning into civilian life: aggressive behavior, alcohol addiction, depression, difficulty keeping a job, and relationship problems. Noah eventually hit rock bottom and was desperate for a change. He decided to get sober and started running in the woods nearby. Noah, now a father and husband, enters the 50-mile wilderness race having only completed one 26-mile marathon. This race represents the journey a young soldier faces to help cope with a past that haunts him every day.
Chaplain Justin David Roberts served 6 years active duty as an Army Chaplain. Before he left the Army in 2015, he found that beneath the collar of ministry he was struggling with depression and PTS. Wondering what kind of father he would be if he didn’t face his issues, he set out on a journey to meet up with members of his old unit. Along the way, they recall their tour of duty. In total, 17 soldiers were killed in action and over 200 were wounded during the deployment. Almost all of the men lost died while either trying to save someone or protect others. The common thread in every one of these stories of valor is love. This film layers the footage Roberts shot on missions in Afghanistan with heartfelt interviews of the men he served with, as well as surviving family members. Through telling these stories, the soldiers that deployed with the legendary No Slack battalion are finding healing and purpose after combat.
For show times for these films and a complete rundown of the other films and events going on at this year’s exciting GI Film Festival go here. If you’re in the greater DC metro area you’re not going to want to miss it.
Know what’s fun? Troops surprising their families and friends. Know what’s more fun? When they surprise their loved ones with engagement rings. Check out these 8 troops who managed to pull off amazing surprise engagement proposals:
(Use the links embedded in each description to see the full videos.)
1. This sailor asks his pastor for the chance to propose in front of the entire congregation
The Marine then got down on his knee in his full dress uniform and proposed in front of three floors filled with spectators.
5. This soldier proposes in the middle of the airport.
The Army trooper had just made it through the gates when he kissed his girlfriend. After he interrupts the kiss to get down on one knee, she senses what’s up and says, “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” But she eventually says yes (when she gets her voice back).
6. This airman proposes during a “Welcome Home” ceremony
8. This sailor proposes to a soldier on Independence Day in front of the Lincoln Monument in Washington D.C.
There are quite a few “Merica!” sentences on this website, but this one might take the cake: A sailor went with his soldier girlfriend to the Lincoln Memorial in uniform to stage a special proposal video on Independence Day. The soldier says yes and the crowd congratulates them both.
If you want to create a magical moment like these 8, check out engagement rings on Shane Co.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
U.S. Air Force Capt. Raymond Whisenhunt, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing chief of protocol, tumbles to the ground as a military working dog locks onto the bite suit he is wearing at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Dec. 30, 2016. MWD’s are highly motivated canines utilized for patrol, drug and explosive detection, and other specialized mission functions.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 134th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron performs preflight checks at the 407th Air Expeditionary Group, Dec. 29, 2016. The 134th EFS is flying combat missions for Operation Inherent Resolve to support and enable Iraqi Security Forces’ efforts with the unique capabilities provided by the fighter squadron.
Nevada National Guard soldiers patrol the Las Vegas Strip last night as part of Operation Night Watch, an annual law enforcement mission supporting the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department during the annual New Year’s Eve celebration.
U.S. Army U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, United States Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard Service members conduct an Armed Forces Full Honor Farewell Ceremony for for the departing commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama at Comny Hall on Joint Base Myer – Henderson Hall, Va., Jan. 4, 2016.
NORFOLK (Dec. 30, 2016) Sailors man the rails aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) as it returns to homeport. Dwight D. Eisenhower and its carrier strike group conducted a 7-month deployment to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.
VENICE, Italy (Jan. 3, 2017) Sailors man the helm aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) as it departs Venice, Italy. Porter, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.
Marines with Alpha Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 4th Marines, conduct an M777 Howitzer live-fire night fire mission during Exercise Alligator Dagger, Dec. 18. This nightscape was taken as a single, long exposure photograph. The chaos of different colored lights are red-lensed headlamps worn by the artillery Marines moving and operating the different gun positions around the M777. The unilateral exercise provides an opportunity for the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to train in amphibious operations within the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
Marines with Tank Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 4th Marines, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct tank maintenance during Exercise Alligator Dagger, Dec. 8, 2016. Maintenance checks are done around the clock to ensure equipment is operating safely and efficiently and to ensure the safe conduct of training. The unilateral exercise provides an opportunity for the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and 11th MEU to train in amphibious operations within the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. The 11th MEU is currently supporting the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation’s mission to promote and maintain stability and security in the region.
Two kayakers recover from the seas and weather aboard a Coast Guard Station Maui 45-foot Response Boat-Medium Dec. 15, 2016. Coast Guard crews responded to a call for assistance from the kayakers when they were beset by weather off Maui.
Members of the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard stand at parade rest during the Pearl Harbor Remembrance ceremony on Coast Guard cutter Taney in Baltimore Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The pilots in the U.S. Air Force fly a bunch of planes. The F-15 Eagle, the C-17 Globemaster, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and the Mirage 2000D… Wait, that can’t be right. The Mirage 2000D is a French plane, and not in service with the Air Force.
Yet, that list is accurate. Right now, Maj. Raymond “Banzai” Rounds of the U.S. Air Force is based out of Ochey Air Base in France, flying with the Armee de l’Air. The French have three squadrons of Mirage 2000Ds.
In one sense, the Mirage 2000D is like the F-15E. Both are multi-role fighters that are based on air-superiority planes (the Mirage 2000C and the F-15).
According to Military-Today.com, the Mirage 2000D is capable of carrying a wide variety of air-to-surface weapons, including dumb bombs, laser-guided bombs, Exocet anti-ship missiles, APACHE and SCALP missiles, the AS-30L missile, and rocket pods. It can also carry Magic 2 air-to-air missiles.
The Air Force has a program that enables pilots like Rounds to do exchange tours with other countries’ militaries. But that’s not the only exchange.
There are also inter-service exchanges, where members of American military services fly with a unit in another American service. Perhaps the most famous of those pilots is Marine John Glenn, who scored three MiG kills while flying with the Air Force’s 51st Fighter Wing.
Rounds’s exchange tour will last for two years. After that, he will return the Air Force and bring over lessons he’s learned from the French.
You can see a video from the Joint Forces Channel that not only discusses Rounds’s exchange tour, but also what it takes to support the airmen who taken on these tours, below.
Whatever is harming US diplomats in Havana, it has eluded the doctors, scientists, and intelligence analysts scouring for answers. Investigators have chased many theories, including a sonic attack, electromagnetic weapon, or flawed spying device.
Each explanation seems to fit parts of what’s happened, conflicting with others.
The United States doesn’t even know what to call it. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used the phrase “health attacks.” The State Department prefers “incidents.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo from US Embassy Consulate in Korea.
Either way, suspicion has fallen on Cuba. But investigators also are examining whether a rogue faction of its security services, another country such as Russia, or some combination is to blame, more than a dozen US officials familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press.
Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the investigation. The AP also talked to scientists, physicians, acoustics and weapons experts, and others about the theories being pursued.
Perhaps the biggest mystery is why the symptoms, sounds, and sensations vary so dramatically from person to person.
Of the 21 medically confirmed US victims, some have permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others suffered nausea, headaches, and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall, the AP has reported. Some felt vibrations or heard loud sounds mysteriously audible in only parts of rooms, and others heard nothing.
Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Chargé d’Affaires at US Embassy Havana. Photo from US State Department.
“These are very nonspecific symptoms. That’s why it’s difficult to tell what’s going on,” said Dr. H. Jeffrey Kim, a specialist on ear disorders at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, who isn’t involved with the investigation.
To solve the puzzle, investigators are sorting symptoms into categories, such as auditory and neurological, according to individuals briefed on the probe.
There can be a lag before victims discover or report symptoms, some of which are hard to diagnose. So investigators are charting the timeline of reported incidents to identify “clusters” to help solve the when, where, and how of the Havana whodunit.
While Cuba has been surprisingly cooperative, even inviting the FBI to fly down to Havana, it’s not the same as an investigation with the US government in full control.
“You’re on foreign soil,” said David Rubincam, a former FBI agent who served in Moscow. “The quality of the information and evidence you collect is limited to what the host government will allow you to see and hear and touch and do.”
Especially when you don’t even know what you’re looking for.
The first signs pointed to a sonic attack. But what kind?
Some victims heard things — signs that the sounds were in the audible spectrum. Loud noise can harm hearing, especially high-decibel sounds that can trigger ear-ringing tinnitus, ruptured ear drums, even permanent hearing loss.
But others heard nothing, and still became ill. So investigators considered inaudible sound: infrasound, too low for humans to hear, and ultrasound, too high.
Infrasound often is experienced as vibration, like standing near a subwoofer. Some victims reported feeling vibrations.
And it’s not impossible that infrasound could explain some of what diplomats thought they heard.
Though infrasound is usually inaudible, some people can detect it if the waves are powerful enough. For example, individuals living near infrasound-generating wind turbines have described pulsating hums that have left them dizzy, nauseous, or with interrupted sleep. Such effects have prompted fierce scientific debate.
The balance problems reported in Havana? Possibly explained by infrasound, which may stimulate cells in the ear’s vestibular system that controls balance, scientists say.
But there’s little evidence infrasound can cause lasting damage once the sound stops.
And the pinpointed focus of the sound, reported by some? Infrasound waves travel everywhere, making them difficult to aim with precision.
“There’s no efficient way to focus infrasound to make it into a usable weapon,” said Mario Svirsky, an expert on ear disorders and neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine.
If not infrasound, maybe ultrasound?
At high-intensity, ultrasound can damage human tissue. That’s why doctors use it to destroy uterine fibroids and some tumors.
But ultrasound damage requires close contact between the device and the body. “You cannot sense ultrasound from long distances,” Svirsky said. No victim said they saw a weird contraption nearby.
None of these sound waves seems to explain the concussions. Usually, those follow a blow to the head or proximity to something like a bomb blast.
“I know of no acoustic effect or device that could produce traumatic brain injury or concussion-like symptoms,” said Juergen Altmann, an acoustic weapons expert and physicist at Germany’s Technische Universitaet Dortmund.
It may sound like Star Wars fantasy, but electromagnetic weapons have been around for years. They generally harm electronics, not humans.
The electromagnetic spectrum includes waves like the ones used by your cellphone, microwave, and light bulbs.
And they can be easily pinpointed. Think lasers. Such waves can also travel through walls, so an electromagnetic attack could be plausibly concealed from afar.
There’s precedent. For more than a decade ending in the 1970s, the former Soviet Union bombarded the US Embassy in Moscow with microwaves. The exact purpose was never clear.
What about the sounds people heard?
Microwave pulses — short, intense blasts — can cause people to “hear” clicking sounds. According to a two-decade-old US Air Force patent, the American military has researched whether those blasts could be manipulated to “beam” voices or other sounds to someone’s head.
But when electromagnetic waves cause physical damage, it usually results from body tissue being heated. The diplomats in Cuba haven’t been reporting burning sensations.
The stress and anxiety about the disturbing incidents could be complicating the situation. Diplomats may be taking a closer look at mild symptoms they’d otherwise ignored.
After all, once symptoms emerged, the US Embassy encouraged employees to report anything suspicious. Many of these symptoms can be caused by a lot of different things.
At least one other country, France, tested embassy staffers after an employee reported symptoms. The French then ruled out sonic-induced damage, the AP reported .
Not knowing what’s causing the crisis in Cuba has made it harder to find the culprit. If there is one at all.
The Cuba Theory
It was only natural that American suspicion started with Cuba.
The attacks happened on Cuban soil. The two countries routinely harassed each other’s diplomats over a half-century of enmity. Despite eased tensions over the past couple of years, distrust lingers.
Diplomats reported incidents in their homes and in hotels. Cuban authorities would know who is staying in each.
But what’s the motive?
When symptoms emerged last November, Cuba was working feverishly with the US to make progress on everything from internet access to immigration rules before President Barack Obama’s term ended. Officials still don’t understand why Havana would at the same time perpetrate attacks that could destroy its new relationship with Washington entirely.
Cuban President Raul Castro’s reaction deepened investigators’ skepticism, according to officials briefed on a rare, face-to-face discussion he had on the matter with America’s top envoy in Havana.
Predictably, Castro denied responsibility. But US officials were surprised that Castro seemed genuinely rattled, and that Cuba offered to let the FBI come investigate.
Cuban President Raúl Castro (left) shakes hands with former US President Barack Obama, 2015. Photo courtesy of the White House.
Then, Canadians got ill. Why them?
The warm, long-standing ties between Cuba and Canada made it seem even less logical that Castro’s government was the culprit.
If not Castro, could elements of Cuba’s vast intelligence apparatus be to blame? Investigators haven’t ruled out that possibility, several US officials said.
It’s no secret that some within Cuba’s government are uneasy about Raul Castro’s opening with Washington.
“It’s entirely possible that hard-line elements acted,” said Michael Parmly, who headed the US mission in Havana until 2008.
But mounting unauthorized attacks, tantamount to aggression against a foreign power, would be a risky act of defiance in a country noted for its strong central control.
Cuba’s surveillance of US diplomats in Havana is intense. The government tracks US diplomats’ movements and conversations.
So at a minimum, if Americans were being attacked, it’s difficult to imagine Cuba’s spies being left in the dark.
Who else would dare?
US investigators have focused on a small group of usual suspects: Russia, Iran, North Korea, China, Venezuela.
Cuban President Raúl Castro (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.
Russia, in particular, has harassed American diplomats aggressively in recent years.
Moscow even has a plausible motive: driving a wedge between the communist island and “the West” — nations such as the United States and Canada. Russia also has advanced, hard-to-detect weaponry that much of the world lacks and might not even know about.
None of the officials interviewed for this story pointed to any evidence, however, linking Russia to the illnesses. The same goes for the other countries.
Spying Gone Awry?
Maybe no one tried to hurt the Americans at all.
Several US officials have emphasized the possibility the culprit merely surveilled the US diplomats using some new, untested technology that caused unintended harm.
You might think eavesdropping devices simply receive signals. But the world of espionage is full of strange tales.
During the Cold War, the US Embassy in Moscow discovered Russia listening to conversations through a wooden plaque that the American ambassador received as a gift. The plaque had a tiny “microphone” and antenna embedded, but no power source, making it hard to detect even when the room was swept for bugs.
The Russians had developed something novel. They remotely beamed electromagnetic waves to activate the device, which then transmitted sound back via radio frequencies.
Yet if the Cubans or anyone else were equally as innovative, it’s unclear why the incidents would have continued once the United States and Canada complained.
Eager to invade France, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler demanded a new weapon that could easily pierce the concrete fortifications of the French Maginot Line — the only major physical barrier standing between him and the rest of western Europe.
In 1941, German steelmaker and arms manufacturer Krupp A.G. built Hitler the “Gustav Gun,” the largest gun ever used in combat, according to Military Channel’s “Top Secret Weapons” documentary.
The four-story, 155-foot-long gun, which weighs 1,350 tons, shot 10,000-pound shells from its mammoth 98-foot bore.
The massive weapon was presented to the Nazi’s free of charge to show Krupp’s contribution to the German war effort, according to historian C. Peter Chen.
In the spring of 1942, the Germans debuted the mighty “Gustuv gun”at the Siege of Sevastopol. The 31-inch gun barrel fired 300 shells on Sevastopol.
However, as the Nazi’s would soon find out, the ostentatious gun had some serious disadvantages:
Its size made it an easy target for Allied bombers flying overhead
Its weight meant that it could only be transported via a costly specialized railway (which the Nazi’s had to build in advance)
It required a crew of 2,000 to operate
The 5-part gun took four days to assemble in the field and hours to calibrate for a single shot
It could only fire 14 rounds a day
Within a year, the Nazi’s discontinued the “Gustav gun,” and Chen notes that Allied forces eventually scrapped the massive weapon.