Bergdahl’s attorneys claim he was trying to reach a nearby base to report troubling conditions in his unit, while many soldiers he served with believe him to be a deserter responsible for lives that were lost while they searched for him.
All of this is ripe material for Serial host Sarah Koenig’s Rashomon approach to investigative journalism, which she deftly applied to the case of Adnan Syed, a man currently serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of his high school ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.
Koenig went to great lengths to examine the case from every possible angle—interviewing witnesses whose testimonies were never heard in court, and pursuing other leads abandoned during the investigation that led to Syed’s conviction.
First debuted in 2014, the “Serial” podcast quickly rocketed to the top spot as the most popular podcast of all time. According to Maxim’s reporting, reporters from “Serial” have been seen inside the courtroom at Bergdahl’s trial.
After two decades of counter-terror operations, America’s Department of Defense, or DoD, is pivoting back toward great power competition with a slew of new programs and proposals that seemingly blur the line between science fiction fantasy and legitimate military capability.
America’s combat operations in places like the Middle East have afforded its defense apparatus a great deal of experience, but that benefit doesn’t come without a price. Aside from the significant wear and tear on equipment (and the associated maintenance costs), America’s defense apparatus has also offered its competition in nations like Russia and China a perfect opportunity to study and assess Uncle Sam’s military capabilities. While neither Russia nor China currently possesses truly peer-level military capabilities when compared to the United States, it’s important to remember that they don’t need to in order to pose a significant risk to American interests, or indeed its very safety.
With America’s combat playbook open for all to see, China and Russia have both devoted significant portions of their defense spending to leverage gaps in the U.S.’s proverbial armor. As a result, the United States now finds itself falling behind the technological power curve in a number of important ways, including hypersonics and potentially even anti-satellite weapons.
But despite the strategic advantage America’s defense commitments have offered its competitors in recent years, it wouldn’t be wise to count the U.S. out quite yet. In fact, the DoD already has a number of groundbreaking programs underway, and in recent months, the Defense Department has gone even further, soliciting proposals for advanced technology so unusual that practically read like science fiction.
Of course, soliciting proposals and even funding programs doesn’t mean every one of these efforts will result in an operational weapon or mature strategic capability. Some of these programs are sure to fail or to be pulled apart and devoured by other broader reaching efforts. Like SOCOM’s Ironman-like TALOS armor or the stealth RAH-66 Comanche, a DoD program doesn’t have to cross the finish line to benefit the force.
Here are 6 crazy-seeming DoD programs that are currently in development.
Fusion Reactors and “Spacetime Modification” weapons
In 2019, the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) filed a number of seemingly out of this world patents that could, in theory, revolutionize not only military aviation, but just about everything. Among these filings were patents for a High Energy Electromagnetic Field Generator, which if functional, could produce massive amounts of power with far-reaching military and commercial implications and would practically result in the world’s first highly efficient fusion reactor.
But if near-limitless clean energy isn’t crazy enough, another offshoot of this work led by U.S. Navy aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais would see the creation of a “spacetime modification weapon” that would, in his words, “make the Hydrogen bomb seem more like a firecracker, in comparison.”
You can read a thorough breakdown of Pais’ work, as well as a similar effort led by Lockheed Martin, in our coverage of this story here.
Plasma Holograms that can fool missiles (and maybe even people)
New technology under patent by the U.S. Navy could shift the odds of survival further into the favor of stealth aircraft by leveraging lasers to produce plasma bursts that could trick inbound missiles into thinking they’ve found a jet to chase that would actually be little more than a hologram.
According to their patent, the laser system could be installed on the tail of an aircraft, and upon detection of an inbound missile, could literally project an infrared signature that would be comparable to a moving fighter jet’s exhaust out away from the fighter itself. Multiple systems could literally project multiple aircraft, leaving inbound missiles to go after the decoy plasma “fighters” instead of the actual aircraft itself.
These “laser induced plasma filaments,” as researchers call them, can be projected up to hundreds of meters, depending on the laser system employed, and (here’s the part that’ll really blow your mind) can be used to emit any wavelength of light. That means these systems could effectively display infrared to fool inbound heat seeking missiles, ultraviolet, or even visible light.
You can read more about this effort in our full coverage of it here.
Drone Wingmen and “Skyborg”
The 2005 movie “Stealth” depicts a team of 6th generation fighter pilots who are assigned a new wingman: an AI-enabled drone. The movie may not have gotten much right about military aviation, but the premise has proven not just viable, but likely. With programs underway like the Air Force Research Laboratories Skyborg and Boeing’s Loyal Wingman, it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing data-fusing jets like the F-35 flying with their own constellations of support drones that can be used to extend their sensor reach, engage targets on the fighter’s behalf, or even sacrifice themselves to prevent a missile from reaching the crewed aircraft.
Recently, the U.S. Air Force successfully flew a Kratos Valkyrie UCAV alongside both of America’s 5th generation fighters, with an active data link connecting the F-35 to the drone. While still a rudimentary test, this flight was truly just the beginning.
You can learn more about this effort in our coverage here.
Artificial Intelligence in the cockpit
In August of last year, Heron Systems’ incredible artificial intelligence pilot system defeated not only its industry competitors, but went on to secure 5 straight victories against a highly trained U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, without the human pilot even scoring a single hit. It was a significant success for the endeavor to get AI into the cockpits of American fighters, even if the competition was technically stacked in the AI’s favor.
The intent behind the competition wasn’t to embarrass a human pilot, but rather to improve both the AI’s ability to make decisions and develop a level of trust between human operators and future AI co-pilots. By outsourcing some tasks to a highly capable AI, pilots can focus more of their bandwidth on situational awareness and the task at hand.
You can read more about this effort in our coverage of it here.
6th Generation Fighters
Last September, the U.S. Air Force shocked the world with the announcement that they had already designed, built, and flown a prototype of the next generation of fighters. Details released by the DoD are scarce, but there are a number of assertions we can make about this program based on publicly available information.
In order to justify the creation of a new fighter generation, this new jet will need to offer all the capabilities found in 5th generation jets like the F-35, along with a slew of entirely new capabilities. It seems feasible that the fighter that has already been tested by not be a mature platform destined for service, but may instead be a technology demonstrator used to assess the efficacy of some of these state-of-the-art systems.
You can learn more about what exactly makes a 6th generation fighter in our coverage here.
Using shrimp to track enemy submarines
DARPA’s effort to track undersea life’s behavior as a means to detect enemy submarines has just entered its second phase. In the first phase, DARPA’s Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program sought to prove that sea life would respond to the presence of a submarine in a measurable way. With that seemingly confirmed, the second stage of the program will focus on developing sensors that can identify that behavior and relay a warning back to manned locations aboard a ship or onshore.
Undersea life tends to behave in a certain way when it senses the presence of a large and foreign object like a submarine. By broadly tracking the behavior of sea life, PALS aims to measure and interpret that behavior to make educated guesses about what must be causing it. In other words, by constantly tracking the behavior of nearby wildlife, PALS sensors can notice a significant change, compare it to a library of known behaviors, and predict a cause… like an enemy submarine, even if a submarine was stealthy enough to otherwise evade detection.
You can read more about this program in our full coverage here.
The technology behind these rifles takes a shooter’s experience, skill, and environment factors out of the equation. Simply tag your target and squeeze the trigger. It’s that simple. The same tracking and fire-control capabilities found in advanced fighter jets are incorporated into these rifles, according to TrackingPoint.
“Being proficient at Call of Duty or Battlefield takes more practice and skill than firing a weapon in the real world does now,” reported Timothy for Engadget. “This is the future we live in.”
The rifle also has a password-protected firing mechanism, which doesn’t fire until you’ve aligned the rifle with your target. It also features the ability to video stream, which allows you to share the view from the scope to any device connected to the Internet.
This three-minute video demonstrates how the rifle works:
AK-variant rifles are among the most reliable and easy-to-use rifles in the world, and this mesmerizing video of one firing in slow motion helps explain the reason why.
The strength of the AK is in its simplicity and its ability to fire in just about any environment. Smaller in size and weight than its AK-47 big brother, the AK-74 fires a 5.45x39mm cartridge instead of the 7.62x39mm. But just like the AK-47, the 74 has very few parts, has simple functionality, and is very easy to use.
This video from Vickers Tactical shows you what it’s like firing in extremely slow motion:
Charissa Littlejohn was an aspiring model before joining the Air Force, but it wasn’t until she left the service that her modeling career really took off. In this spotlight episode, Charissa tells her unconventional transition story of becoming a fashion model after serving as an Air Force medic.
When all of her roommates in Las Vegas in 2009 were sent to Korea through the Air Force, Charissa was inspired to join as well. She was trained as a medic, a field she enjoyed, and was sent to Tokyo, Japan.
After four years, she separated and moved back to Florida where her family lived, but on a trip to visit a friend in California, she fell in love with Los Angeles and the Newport Beach area. She also met with some managers at modeling agencies, and her interest in modeling quickly grew.
Modeling became her day job. She did monthly shoots for a local magazine honoring veterans, and wants to remind the people who see her work that veterans are not only defined by their military careers. Once they leave service, they can be whatever they want to be.
She also holds a Masters in Healthcare Administration, further annihilating any stereotypes that might come to mind when you think of the modeling industry.
Now, she’s shifted her focus mostly to entrepreneurship; she runs LittleGat, a holster and apparel manufacturer, with her husband, and holds the title of CEO. It just goes to show that Charissa will make anything happen.
Situated between Area 51 and the Nevada Test and Training Range is a place called “Coyote Summit” which offers a perfect spot for watching air traffic coming out of Nellis Air Force Base.
Photographer Eric Bowen went to the spot in August for Red Flag, the Air Force-sponsored exercise which simulates an air war between aggressors and aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marines, Air National Guard, and Royal Air Force units.
A typical RED FLAG exercise involves a variety of attack, fighter and bomber aircraft (F-15E, F-16, F/A-18, A-10, B-1, B-2, etc.), reconnaissance aircraft (Predator, Global Hawk, RC-135, U-2), electronic warfare aircraft (EC-130s, EA-6Bs and F-16CJs), air superiority aircraft (F-22, F-15C, etc), airlift support (C-130, C-17), search and rescue aircraft (HH-60, HC-130, CH-47), aerial refueling aircraft (KC-130, KC-135, KC-10, etc), Command and Control aircraft (E-3, E-8C, E-2C, etc) as well as ground based Command and Control, Space, and Cyber Forces.
Bowen spent a few nights at the Summit filming at night, and produced this awesome video. Watch:
Vice News journalist Lucy Kafanov traveled to Russia to learn about soldiers who fought in Ukraine, and she found graves and families of fallen soldiers willing to talk with her about Russia’s “ghost war.”
She spoke with different Russians impacted by the secret deployments to the region, including a mother who lost her son, an uncle whose nephew was crippled, opposition leaders who have been beaten or silenced, and activists. In this emotional documentary, the truth is revealed about a war the Kremlin denies is even happening.
You can read more at Vice News. The full documentary is available below:
With the recent hack of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management affecting approximately 22 million people, there’s plenty of reason to worry about cybersecurity.
Adversaries are engaging the U.S. in cyber-war on hidden battlefields where they target military, government, banks and private businesses. The greatest threats come from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, according to The New York Times.
Sometimes hackers are backed by nation states. Sometimes hackers are individual actors — lone wolves who get their jollies from creating digital mayhem. This video picked out five hackers as “the most dangerous of all time.”
Based on Boston Dynamics’ PETMAN humanoid robot, ATLAS will most likely go through an I, Robot puberty stage before reaching Terminator adulthood. The robot is being developed with some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world through DARPA’s Robotic Challenge. The competition’s goal is to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters, according to DARPA.
Inspired by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a robot like ATLAS could mitigate future accidents by sending in a machine where it would otherwise be hazardous to humans. Like in I, Robot, these humanoids should be capable of opening doors, move debris, turn valves, and perform other human tasks.
The fact these robots are being developed to provide relief has done little to mollify the concerns over the threat of killer robots. “At the end of the day people need to remember what the D in DARPA stands for. It stands for Defense,” said Peter Singer, in an interview with NPR. Singer is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century:
Singer argues that if researchers build a robot that can drive cars, climb a ladder and operate a jackhammer that they can also be used for war. “That means that that robot can manipulate an AK-47,” Singer told NPR.
The challenge finals will take place from June 5-6, 2015 at Fairplex in Pomona, California where robots will be judged on their ability to perform semi-autonomous tasks. The winning team will receive a $2 million prize; runner-up will be awarded $1 million and $500,000 for third place.
Here’s a short of video of the robot’s current capabilities:
Andrew Jackson’s future as a badass started at the tender age of 13 during the Revolutionary War. He joined the Continental Army as a courier and was taken prisoner along with his brother Robert in April 1781.
When a British officer ordered him to spit shine his boots during captivity, Jackson refused. Not amused by the boy’s defiance, the redcoat drew his sword and slashed Jackson’s left hand and head, which left him with a permanent scar. The brothers were released from captivity after two weeks as part of a prisoner exchange, but Robert died within days due to an illness contracted during detention. Another one of Jackson’s brothers and his mother died before the war ended, leaving him with a lifelong hatred toward the Brits.
Jackson earned the nickname “Old Hickory” because he used to carry a hickory cane, which doubled as a weapon. He dished out his most famous cane beating to Richard Lawrence, who attempted to assassinate him while Jackson was serving as President. Lawrence approached Jackson with two pistols —plan A and plan B—both of which misfired. After noticing he was out of danger, Jackson proceeded to beat Lawrence to a bloody pulp.
Jackson was known for being a serial duelist; historians estimate “Old Hickory” participate in anywhere between 13 and 100 duels. (That is too many duels by any standard.) Jackson fought his most famous duel in 1806 against Charles Dickinson, who was an excellent shot. Despite knowing about Dickinson’s pistol prowess, Jackson insisted that he fire first. This American Heroes Channel video illustrates the events leading to the duel and why he gets our vote for ‘most badass American president.’
The TP-82 pistol was included in the Soyuz Portable Emergency-Survival Kit after two cosmonauts crash-landed into a forest in Siberia in 1965. They struggled to hunt prey, build shelter, and send a distress signal and thus, the “space gun” was born to shoot rifle bullets, shotgun shells, and flares.
During flight, the gun is stowed in a metal canister and if all goes well, the canister is never opened, NBC News space analyst James Oberg reports. “At the end of the mission, after landing, the gun is usually presented as a gift to the Soyuz spacecraft commander,” Oberg reports.
Astronomer Matija Cuk at Harvard University explains that the only difference between shooting a gun on Earth and in space is that the bullet will keep traveling forever. “The bullet will never stop, because the universe is expanding faster than the bullet can catch up with any serious amount of mass,” Cuk told LiveScience.
Astronomer Peter Schultz at Brown University also notes that in space you could technically shoot yourself in the back.
“For example, while in orbit around a planet, because objects orbiting planets are actually in a constant state of free fall, you have to get the setup just right. You’d have to shoot horizontally at just the right altitude for the bullet to circle the planet and fall back to where it started (you),” Shultz told LiveScience.
Russia replaced the gun with the semi-automatic Makarov pistol because all the in-stock ammunition for the TP-82 had expired.