Although “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart pulls no punches when talking foreign policy, specifically that which pertains to the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s a strong supporter of the people serving in the military. When American Corporate Partners approached him about mentoring a veteran, he responded by creating the Veteran Immersion Program and taking on 24 veterans instead of one, according to ACP.
The program is a five-week boot camp for veterans looking to break into the entertainment industry. Participants learn first hand about the technical and creative opportunities that exist by working at The Daily Show. The program ends with a career fair with over twenty influential production organizations.
Even though Jon Stewart is ending his run with “The Daily Show,” rumor has it that he’s just getting started with helping veterans.
In the meantime, this video hosted by our very own August Dannehl and Veteran Immersion Program alumni shows the impact the program has had on those who’ve attended.
Medal of Honor recipient and Afghan War Veteran Dakota Meyer recently penned an essay on Trump’s plan to ban all Muslims from entering the country.
Meyer, who fought beside Muslims while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, points out that Trump’s tactics will likely aid ISIS recruiting and threaten American security. It would also keep out the translators whose services saved American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the interpreter who Meyer worked to get into America safely.
During the Vietnam War, American commandos developed an insertion and extraction method for operations in the jungle that is still used by today’s special operators.
The Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction (SPIE) system is designed for small special-operations teams that operate in areas where an enemy presence or the terrain prevents helicopters from landing.
The SPIE technique hasn’t been used operationally for decades, in part because US air superiority and lackluster enemy anti-aircraft capabilities have meant it wasn’t needed.
But as the US military gears up for great-power competition against near-peer adversaries, like China and Russia, the SPIE technique is relevant again, especially in a potential conflict in the Pacific.
Warriors of the jungle
The SPIE system can be traced to the rope insertion and extraction techniques of the Vietnam War. It was the innocuous sounding Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) that invented and used the method.
A highly classified unit, SOG took the fight to the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong, conducting cross-border operations into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam—where US troops officially shouldn’t have been.
Composed of Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, Air Commandos, and indigenous forces, SOG tried to stop the onslaught from the North and give South Vietnam some breathing space.
SOG’s classified operations mainly took place in rough and inaccessible jungle, where the NVA had built the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail complex, over which flowed supplies to their forces in South Vietnam. The terrain restricted operations and often forced SOG teams to create their own landing zones by either detonating explosives or by requesting B-52 bombing runs to create craters where helicopters could land.
But landing wasn’t always an option. Secrecy was paramount for mission success. SOG patrols of six to 14 men didn’t have a chance of survival against hundreds or thousands of NVA in an open battle.
With so few landing zones available in the jungle, and with the NVA always trying to monitor them, SOG operators came up with different techniques that didn’t require landing.
At the time, the SPIE terminology didn’t exist, and operators simply used the term “ropes” to refer to methods such as the STABO Extraction Harness, McGuire Rig, and “Swiss Seat.”
The STABO Extraction Harness, or STABO rig, was one of the most used. Designed for quick infiltration into and exfiltration from the jungle, the STABO rig was a mandatory piece of equipment for every recon member. It was worn throughout the mission since recon team members didn’t know if or when they would be compromised, which would often mean a frantic race to escape from superior forces.
During an extraction by ropes, the helicopter crew chief would throw ropes with a sandbag tied to one end down from a hovering helicopter. SOG commandos would hook the ropes to links on their uniforms. The helicopter would then rise straight up to clear the jungle before flying away.
Throughout the Vietnam War, ropes methods saved several lives, and their use sometimes seemed straight out of a movie.
In June 1967, a reinforced SOG company composed of Green Berets and local troops entered Laos to conduct battle-damage assessment after an airstrike on a North Vietnamese headquarters hub along the Ho Chi Minh trail complex.
The roughly 100-man “Hatchet Force” came upon a strong NVA force, and a fierce battle ensued. The American commandos and their local allies were surrounded and pinned down, but their firepower saved them from being overrun.
The NVA shot down several fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft that tried to exfiltrate or support the battered SOG company. Eventually, some choppers were able to come in and exfiltrate members of the force.
During one of those trips, a Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Stallion was shot down close to the Hatchet Force’s perimeter. Somehow, Sgt. First Class Charles Wilklow survived the crash, though he was badly wounded.
The NVA captured him but, seeing his wounds, thought he only had a few hours to live. They tied him down and used him as bait for a rescue operation. Considering the certain failure of a rescue mission, SOG headquarters didn’t take the bait.
After four days, Wilklow was still alive, despite his grievous wounds. Yet the NVA didn’t guard him, believing he wouldn’t survive. Wilklow managed to free himself and crawl into the jungle at night.
The next day, a SOG forward air controller spotted an almost-dead Wilklow. He was soon extracted by ropes — despite his ordeal, he was still wearing his STABO rig.
As tensions rise with China, and with conflict in Southeast or East Asia a growing prospect, the SPIE method is increasingly relevant, but it remains risky and inconvenient.
“[SPIE] operations are pretty dangerous, with lots of moving parts that can potentially go wrong,” a Marine Raider told Insider. “You have to watch as you exit the aircraft mid-air, and more so if you’re the first man out because you’ve got five, six, sometimes seven guys right behind you while the pilots are trying to hold position midair. You also have to account for the rotor wash in water and desert ops. You can’t see much while landing because of the sea spray or dust in the air.”
Since the SPIE technique can be used for both land and water operations, it provides special-operations units with more choices when planning operations in the Pacific theater.
For example, the SPIE technique can be used to extract Navy SEALs conducting special reconnaissance along the Chinese coast or a Special Forces detachment doing unconventional warfare in support of local forces on China’s borders.
There’s a common misconception of life in the Marine Corps being filled with action-packed activities and explosions. However, reality doesn’t always live up to expectations. For instance, there are things that sound awesome, like the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), which one would expect to be filled with roundhouse kicks and other Street Fighter moves.
And then there’s reality, which involves no roundhouse kicks and a lame peer evaluation.
The boys of Terminal Boots put together this short video with four scenarios showing what Marines expect in a situation followed by what really happens.
Although economic sanctions have all but neutered much of the nation’s military modernization efforts, Russia has managed to keep itself relevant in the 21st century by fielding headline-grabbing exotic weapons, including massive nukes far greater in scale than anything Uncle Sam has to offer. With nuclear weapons like the RS-28 Sarmat ICBM and the Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System submersible drone, Russia can cause greater devastation to its targets today than at any point during the Cold War. The thing is… that just doesn’t really matter anymore.
Mutually assured destruction
While the fighting during the Cold War was largely relegated to comparably small proxy conflicts, the Cold War eclipsed even World War II in terms of stakes. A Nazi victory in World War II would have changed life as we know it worldwide… but a nuclear exchange in the Cold War could have literally ended it. With stakes that high, it wasn’t difficult for both the United States and Soviet Union to convince lawmakers and taxpayers to pour funding into weapons development. The result was nuclear stockpiles so vast and broadly capable that a doctrine of MutuallyAssured Destruction became the only effective means of deterring large scale war between superpowers.
The concept of Mutually Assured Destruction was originally coined in 1962 by Donald Brennan, a strategist working in Herman Kahn’s Hudson Institute. After the Soviet Union tested their first nuclear weapon in August of 1949, tensions between the World War II allies became significantly more pressing, prompting renewed interest and funding into America’s own weapons of mass destruction. Predictably, the more the United States poured money into defense programs, the more the Soviets did in turn. The result was a cycle of nuclear weapon production and development that found its peak in the 1980s, when the two nation’s combined stockpiles of nuclear weapons exceeded60,000 (or about six times the combined stockpiles of these nations today).
This arm’s race also extended well beyond the nukes themselves. Each nation also needed broadly distributed means of delivering these weapons to their targets, so no nuclear first-strike could completely eliminate a nation’s ability to respond in kind. In order to accomplish this, the United States began distributing nuclear weapon capabilities across the methods of delivery and service branches. Today, we’ve come to know this distribution as the nuclear triad. While nuclear weapons of varying uses and sizes emerged as a part of this effort, the backbone of America’s nuclear triad emerged as a combination of land-based ICBMs, aircraft-based bombs, and submarine-based missiles. The Soviets soon fielded a comparable triad, matching America’s ability to respond to any nuclear attack.
The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction remains a prominent part of America’s nuclear deterrence strategy for the Soviet Union’s successor, the Russian government. Today, both nations maintain nuclear stockpiles that are significantly smaller than they did at the height of the Cold War. However, while America has allowed a good portion of its nuclear weapon infrastructure to age toward obsolescence, Russia has continued to lean on its nukes as a means of geopolitical showmanship.
How do Russia’s nukes compare to America’s?
The RS-28 Sarmat
Today, the United States maintains approximately 5,800 nuclear weapons, with 3,800 considered active. Within that stockpile are at least 400 LGM-30 Minuteman III land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The Minuteman III has been in service since 1970, has an operational range of more than 6,000 miles, and is accurate to within 800 feet. These missiles can carry between one and three nuclear warheads, each with a maximum explosive yield of 475 kilotons, giving this weapon a maximum yield of 1.425 megatons. To put it another way, that means each American ICBM can deliver about 95 times the destructive capability of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Sounds pretty big, right? America’s dated Minuteman III missiles certainly pack a punch, but even when carrying three of its most potent warheads, these missiles are utterly dwarfed by Russia’s most advanced (and powerful) ICBM coming into service this year: The RS-28 Sarmat.
The RS-28, sometimes known as the “Satan II,” has been in development since 2014, and was famously described as “capable of wiping out parts of the earth the size of Texas or France,” by Russia’s state-owned media. The missile has a range of 6,385 miles and carries a warhead jam-packed with Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRV) that boast a combined destructive yield of 50 megatons. In other words, the RS-28 Sarmat carries a destructive yield greater than 35 times that of the Minuteman III.
America’s most powerful nuclear bomb in service, the B83, also boasts just a 1.2 megaton yield, and even the most powerful nuclear weapon in American history, the 9 megaton B53, rings in at less than 1/5 the yield of the mighty Sarmat.
But if a missile dubbed the “Satan II” and marketed as a way to remove Texas from the map isn’t massive enough, Russia also boasts another doomsday nuke–one said to match or even double the nuclear yield of the Sarmat, while bolstering its destructive capacity by creating an unnatural, natural disaster.
The Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System
The Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System has gone by a number of names in Western analysis over the years, in part because this weapon was considered something of an urban legend for a long time. Rumors about the Status-6 first bubbled to the surface years ago, largely through vague mentions in Russian news reports, but its existence was confirmed within the past few years–first in a leaked image of a Pentagon intelligence report, and then through official announcements from the Kremlin.
Unlike the submarine-launched nuclear missiles both Russia and the United States maintain as a part of their nuclear triads, the Status-6 (sometimes called “Poseidon” or by its NATO designation of “Kanyon”) is actually a submersible drone. Once deployed by a Russian Navy submarine, the drone can travel autonomously toward its target, covering more than 5,400 miles at depths as low as 3,300 feet. Once it finds its target, the Status-6 simply parks and waits for the command to detonate.
Onboard this submersible drone is an absolutely massive warhead–with some claims saying it carries the same nuclear yield as the RS-28, and others claiming twice that. According to some Russian officials, the Status-6 can be equipped with a 100 megaton weapon… which is two times more powerful than the largest nuclear weapon evereven tested.
A detonation of that magnitude would not only destroy and irradiate a massive area, its positioning under water would result in a radioactive tsunami that would reach far further inland than the blast itself. In no uncertain terms, the Status-6 is intended to serve as a doomsday weapon. It’s the sort of weapon you build not to win wars, but to end them.
What is the strategic value of massive nuclear weapons?
America is amid an arguably overdue effort to modernize its ICBM arsenal in Northrop Grumman’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) platform expected to enter service later this decade. Although the weapon’s W87 Mod 0 thermonuclear warhead’s destructive capacity has not been revealed just yet, it stands to reason that these new missiles will still offer significantly less firepower than Russia’s mighty Sarmat, let alone the terrifying 100 megaton capacity claimed by the Status-6.
To some maintaining the Cold War’s mindset of matching capability to deter war, this may seem like an egregious failure on the part of America’s defense infrastructure. After all, how do you hope to deter a 100 megaton weapon if your own most powerful weapons are tiny by comparison? Well, the truth is, you simply don’t have to.
Way back in 1962, when Donald Brennan first coined the term “Mutually Assured Destruction,” the Soviet Union had only successfully tested their first hydrogen bomb (or thermonuclear weapon) some seven years prior. The Soviets didn’t possess any nuclear tsunami drones as they do today, and yet, as far as America was concerned, a nuclear exchange with the Soviets would all but certainly wipe out life on earth as we know it. It’s almost like you don’t need Bond villain-esque nukes to be scary when run-of-the-mill nukes will do the same job.
And therein lies the practical failing of Russia’s massive nukes: They may be good for a bit of geopolitical theater, but strategically they change nearly nothing about the nuclear deterrence mission or the comparative military standing of each nation. Just like during the Cold War, both Russia and the United States are aware that the launch of a single nuclear weapon is all it takes to start a cascade of retaliatory strikes that, once begun, will usher in a nuclear apocalypse most citizens of each nation (and all others) likely won’t survive. When the result is the end of the world, it really doesn’t matter how big that first explosion might be.
So what value is there in a 50 or 100 megaton weapon like those found in Russia’s arsenal? While they don’t actually offer much in the way of strategic value in a nuclear war, they do however play an important role in helping Russia maintain its global reputation as a force to be reckoned with. That reputation is essential, not only for Russia’s aggressive approach to foreign policy, but also to maintain its footing as the arms dealer of choice for nations on America’s naughty list.
Like their token fleet of a dozen or so fifth-generation fighters, or their frequent claims about robot soldiers or invisibility cloaks, Russia depends on foreign press coverage to help advance the perception that Russia is a cutting edge weapons designer and producer. Russia needs the influx of money from foreign sales if they ever hope to secure adequate funding for their notably promising (but sorely under-funded) programs like their T-14 Armata main battle tank.
Put simply: Russia’s massive nukes aren’t really about strategic capability, so much as they’re about perception, intimidation, and economics. Whether or not this effort will be successful, however, is yet to be determined.
With backing by DARPA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a robot that can run 13 mph and jump over obstacles without guidance from a human. A video of it in action was released yesterday, though it doesn’t appear to be running at full speed.
Looks like it’s time to start training. “Terminator” robots are going to be way faster than we ever imagined.
Some of the technology is explained in the video available below.
For more information on the robot, check out the full article on it over at Wired.
What started out as a lone dusty airfield in the middle of a remote desert in China is being built up at a furious pace. The airstrip raised eyebrows when the Chinese government landed its first unmanned space aircraft there in 2020. Now intelligence analysts are wondering: is this the Chinese “Area 51?”
Somewhere near Nevada’s Groom Lake and the Nevada Test and Training Range is a top secret U.S. Air Force installation where the most advanced aviation and weapons testing takes place. It was where the U.S. Air Force built and tested the U-2 spy plane used to conduct photographic reconnaissance over the Soviet Union during the Cold War, as well as any number of other unheard-of technologies.
Because of its secretive nature and the wonder tech (likely) developed there, it acquired a reputation and mythology that involved conspiracy theories, UFO sightings, and of course, allegations of alien activity. How much of that is true is open for debate, but what is certain is that some of the greatest Air Force aircraft of the Cold War (and beyond) got their start at Area 51.
The U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the B-2 Spirit and the F-117 Nighthawk were all developed at Area 51. Not a bad track record for any facility. It’s no wonder the area is so top secret the United States wouldn’t even officially admit it existed for around 70 years.
When China landed a reuseable, unmanned spacecraft at a remote area in the Taklamakan Desert, in China’s Xinjiang province, it was the first notable activity anyone ever saw in the area. Now, reconnaissance satellites are detecting a frenzy of activity and new buildings at the site, leading many to believe that it’s a facility designed for China to create and build its own wonder weapons.
The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) outlined a plan to develop commercial satellite launch services and to perfect a reusable space plane at a conference in October 2020. The announcement included plans for lowering the costs and increasing the frequency of space launches.
The month before, China launched an experimental space aircraft with a two-stage Long March 2F launch vehicle that was successfully delivered into orbit. The concept is similar to the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane, which was currently in orbit at the time of the Chinese launch. Not much else was known about the mission until the aircraft landed in Xinjiang.
Like the USAF’s X-37B, no one really knows what the aircraft did while in orbit, but some believe it may have launched a secret satellite or other spacecraft. When the aircraft landed, the Taklamakan Desert facility was little more than the landing strip, but more recent photographs provided to NPR show built up facilities in the form of an equilateral triangle.
Once large hangars that could house experimental aircraft are built, the world may have a better idea of what’s going on in Xinjiang. Until then, everyone outside of the Chinese government is left to speculate.
China has a lot of catching up to do in terms of military power and prowess – and it’s been working on it. On top of creating its own homegrown aircraft carrier and its own fifth-generation fighter, it’s rumored to be creating its own stealth bomber (dubbed the H-20). A remote desert airfield might be exactly what the Chinese Communist Party needs to keep its developments a secret.
Feature image: satellite image of Taklamakan Desert/ Wikimedia Commons
Dr. Vince Houghton is a U.S. Army veteran and Historian and Curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. He grew up watching and loving the original Star Wars Trilogy. While in the Army, he served in a sort of intelligence role and after leaving the military, he earned a Ph.D. in Intelligence History with a background in diplomatic military history.
Every year on May 4th, he gives a lecture at the museum, making the argument for Star Wars being a series of spy films.
“People always debate about it,” Houghton says. “Is this fantasy, is this sci-fi, is it a western in space? For whatever reason, I’ve always seen it as a spy movie.”
Houghton argues that the backbone of the original trilogy is a spy operation — a story made into the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. That story is the catalyst for Star Wars IV: A New Hope, which he sees as a classic spy movie.
“You could replace the death star with V2 or V1 or a German atomic bomb or the Iranian atomic bomb or any kind of scientific and technological intelligence and it becomes a spy movie,” he says. “Strip away all the science fiction and it’s a woman with stolen plans for a weapon trying to get them to a group of guerrillas fighting against this totalitarian empire — it could be the World War II resistance.”
But Houghton takes his argument further.
“With Empire Strikes Back, the whole thing is kicked off by the Empire attempting to use imagery intelligence, their drones, their probes, to locate the secret base of the rebels,” he says. “It’s still an intelligence operation, just a different kind.”
Houghton claims Return of the Jedi is a story based on intelligence gathering and counterintelligence.
“That’s also the catalyst behind Return of the Jedi,” Houghton says. “It’s stealing the plans for the second death star. It turns out, that’s actually a big deception operation — another key issue when it comes to intelligence.”
The Spy Museum Curator is talking about Emperor Palpatine allowing the Rebel Alliance to know the location of the second Death Star. Rebel Bothan spies capture the location and plans for the space station, but it’s a ruse for the Emperor to defeat the Rebel fleet on his chosen battlespace; it was a trap, a classic deception operation designed to hide the true strength of his forces.
“You could go all the way back to Mongolians in this case,” says Houghton. “Genghis Khan did everything from tying brooms to his horses’ tails so it would kick up a lot of dust and make sure it looked like there were thousands of soldiers instead of hundreds.”
In the case of Return of the Jedi, the Emperor’s plan just didn’t work because, you know, it’s Star Wars.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters Dec. 16th. You can catch more of Dr. Vince Houghton on the International Spy Museum’s weekly podcast, Spycast, on iTunes and AudioBoom.
As the only sniper attached to Echo Company, the 21-year-old’s mission was to provide cover for the troops on the ground. He killed over 30 enemy fighters in 13 days and terrorized thousands with his M40A3 sniper rifle.
“I didn’t care if it was the second coming of Christ, Santa Claus or the Easter bunny, it didn’t matter,” said Ethan Place. “If they were posing a threat to my fellow Marines I was going to take them out.”
Joy Lofthouse was one of the women who pushed the envelope of what women did in World War II. She was a pilot for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, shuttling fighters between air bases, factories, and maintenance facilities.
Now, 70 years after she last flew a Spitfire, she’s back in the cockpit. Check out the video below:
On June 5, 1944, 150,000 troops were massed in Southern England waiting to begin the world’s largest amphibious assault.
The success of D-Day would open a new Allied front against Nazi Germany, leading to the downfall of Hitler and the Third Reich. On the eve of the assault, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the following statement to all troops taking part in the operation. To hear a recording of Eisenhower reading the statement to the troops, check out the video below the letter.