Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan — and many people who have trained at sandy places like the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California — know about the beautiful halo of light that surrounds helicopter blades at night when the air is full of dust.
What most people don’t know is that photojournalist and Special Forces veteran Michael Yon learned that these halos didn’t have a name and so decided to give them one. He chose to honor two soldiers, an American and a Brit who died from wounds suffered in Afghanistan in 2009.
Just because we haven’t heard of sporadic shots being fired in the Persian Gulf doesn’t mean everything is going just fine. On April 26, 2021, the U.S. Navy had to fire warning shots at an Iranian boat in the region for the first time in four years.
Iranian ships in the Gulf have a habit of hassling American vessels. The most recent incident is the second in the month of April 2021 alone. The first came when Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fast-attack craft swarmed two U.S. Coast Guard cutters on April 2.
This time, three more Revolutionary Guard fast-attack craft began to head directly for a U.S. Navy patrol boat, the USS Firebolt, and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Baranof while in international waters.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy said the IRGCN boats came into an “unnecessarily close range with unknown intent, coming as close as 68 yards of the ships.”
The Americans issued numerous verbal warnings via radio and other means in an effort to communicate with the Iranians. When they finally got too close without heeding the warnings, the Firebolt opened fire. Only then did the Iranians move away from the Americans.
“The IRGCN’s actions increased the risk of miscalculation and/or collision,” the spokesperson said. “U.S. naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense.”
The incident comes at a time when the United States is trying to re-enter the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. In May 2018, the White House under President Donald Trump unilaterally left the agreement and implemented harsher sanctions on Iran.
Iran officially responded by issuing a statement that required European parties to the agreement to abide by its terms and maintain relationships with Iranian banks and purchase Iranian oil despite U.S. pressure to do the opposite. On the ground, the Iranian Quds Forces in Syria fired rockets at targets inside Israel. Israel has continued its direct and indirect means of sabotaging any Iranian nuclear enrichment.
The United States only heightened tensions with Iran after the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in 2020. Soleimani was the leader of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, one of Iran’s most popular figures. Iran retaliated by launching missiles against U.S. forces in Iraq. No U.S. troops were killed, but 110 were wounded.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have remained high ever since, despite Trump’s failed re-election bid and the Biden Administration’s attempt at rejoining the JCPOA and any proposed concessions to do so.
The entire Persian Gulf region has essentially been an area in crisis since 2019 as tensions between Iran and the west – not just the United States – began in earnest. Iran has been responding to and provoking responses from the U.S. and western allies including the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Israel throughout the area.
While tensions mount, risky incidents like Iranian fast-attack craft provoking warning shots from U.S. Navy ships are likely to continue in the near future until either side takes action to defuse the situation.
Get out your favorite beach volleyball and some tanning oil, because there’s definitely going to be a sequel to the 1980s classic “Top Gun” — with drones.
At a press junket for “Terminator: Genisys” in Berlin, Germany last week, Skydance CEO David Ellison commented on the status of the film and what role Tom Cruise would have, according to Collider.
“Justin Marks is writing the screenplay right now,” Ellison reportedly said. “He has a phenomenal take to really update that world for what fighter pilots in the Navy has turned into today. There is an amazing role for Maverick in the movie and there is no Top Gun without Maverick, and it is going to be Maverick playing Maverick. It is I don’t think what people are going to expect, and we are very, very hopeful that we get to make the movie very soon.”
With his comment about “Maverick playing Maverick,” Ellison confirmed that Cruise would reprise his original role and have a larger part in the next film. He also commented on a plot line about what the Air Force and Navy are facing right now: the last days of manned flight.
“It is very much a world we live in today where it’s drone technology and fifth generation fighters are really what the United States Navy is calling the last man-made fighter that we’re actually going to produce,” he said, “so it’s really exploring the end of an era of dogfighting and fighter pilots and what that culture is today are all fun things that we’re gonna get to dive into in this movie.”
President Trump caught a lot of flak for sharing intel with the Russians last year. Specifically, in May when he shared classified info from Israel with Russian envoys Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov.
What Trump shared was information regarding a new ISIS weapon and the Saudi bomb maker who developed it — laptop computer bombs that are undetectable at airport security.
Vanity Fair detailed how Sayeret Matkal forces — elite Israeli counter-terror troops — flew undetected across Jordan and then north into Syria. The helicopters dropped the troops and Syrian Army jeeps a few miles away from their target. They then drove on toward their objective.
According to latest intel, hey were on their way to a meeting house of an ISIS cell. The Israelis wanted to ensure it was tapped so they could hear every word. An operative in the field guaranteed them valuable information would come from there. At first it sounded like the bug was a bust — no one was saying anything.
Then it happened. The ISIS troops started talking about how to build the laptop weapon that couldn’t be detected at airports. The bombs would cause airplanes to fall from the sky in huge fireballs. Once the Mossad had the info, they quickly shared it with other potential targets, namely the United States.
Al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker in Yemen and Saudi Arabian national Ibrahim al-Asiri was thought to be the mastermind behind the weapon.
That’s what President Trump shared with the Russian Foreign Minister.
Only the Mossad knows what happened to Israel’s inside man in Syria as a result of his location being leaked. An Israeli official told Vanity Fair that, “whatever happened to him, it’s a hell of price to pay for a president’s mistake.”
The Cold War prompted the space race, the nuclear arms race and other weapons races that yielded forward-thinking innovations like fixed-wing planes that can take off vertically—VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) — from any platform or surface.
The technology was already being tinkered with by the Germans before the Nazi collapse and further developed by other nations, including the Brits and the Soviets. The U.S. Navy saw its potential and became interested in high-performance fighter aircraft capable of taking off from small ships.
Lockheed and Convair were awarded contracts in May 1951 to develop VTOL fighters suitable for the military. But the project was canned in 1955 after it became clear that VTOL fighters were too slow and only the most experienced pilots could fly them. So much for the notion of having tactical aircraft on every ship.
The following is video footage of Convair’s XFY Pogo’s takeoff and landing test on May 18, 1955.
America is hooked on true crime stories. One of the most engrossing among those true crime stories is “Forensic Files,” the true stories of murder and intrigue solved by scientific professionals who think of creative ways to link a crime with its perpetrator.
For decades, forensic investigators have used everything from DNA analysis to gas chromatography to determine who killed who and where and with what – like a giant, real-world game of Clue.
Military scientists have been at the same game for around the same amount of time. The only trouble is that these scientists know who killed the dead men and how they died. In the military, they don’t know who the dead men are. For Americans and the U.S. military, that’s the most important puzzle to solve.
In the days of wars past, the quest to identify America’s honored dead was limited by the technology of the times. This is why the United States has Unknown Soldiers from World War I, World War II and Korea. Only the Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War could be identified.
But new forensic technology offers hope to scientists who spend their days trying to identify soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, despite the lack of evidence.
Advanced forensic technology used to catch serial killers along with the rise of publicly available DNA ancestry databases has given them new methods of finding clues that could lead to more positive identifications – even if the dead were killed 70 years ago.
As the New York Times reported in April of 2021, traditional methods used by the POW/MIA Accounting Agency usually use DNA samples from found remains and try to match them with a known relative. But if there are no known relatives from which to draw a sample, the case quickly runs cold. The agency can’t even exhume remains of unknown war dead unless there is a 50% chance of identification.
This means they have to have a known relative to compare the sample. IF there is no known relative, the remains are unlikely to ever be identified.
So some analysts believe all the remains should be exhumed, DNA samples taken, and run through every available DNA database, including those used by the public for ancestry identification.
While this sounds like a good idea, it could also be a massive invasion of privacy. Genetic testing open to the public has done a lot of good, such as finding the true identity of the Golden State Killer. It has also led to the inadvertent discovery of deeply hidden family secrets, such as extra-marital affairs, children who didn’t know they were adopted, and so on.
In World War II alone, more than 73,000 American service members were unaccounted for by the end of the war. An estimated 41,000 of those are considered to be lost at sea. In the years since, researchers at the POW/MIA Accounting Agency have been able to find and identify 280,000 of the 400,000 who died during World War II.
There are also more than 7,800 missing from the Korean War, 1,626 missing from the Vietnam War, 126 from the Cold War and six from conflicts fought since 1991. As technology advances, so does the likelihood of finding and identifying the remains of the missing, but there’s still more work to do for those who gave their lives in the great power conflicts of America’s past.
The Greek tragedian Aeschylus famously wrote: “In war, truth is the first casualty.”
Well, in this new era of so-called “hybrid” or “gray zone” warfare, truth is not only a casualty of war — it has also become the weapon of choice for some of America’s contemporary adversaries.
Recent “deepfake” videos of the actor Tom Cruise illustrate the power of the new technological tools now available to foreign adversaries who wish to manipulate the American people with online disinformation. The three videos, which appear on the social media platform TikTok under the handle @deeptomcruise, are striking in their realism. To the naked eye of the casual observer, it’s difficult to discern the videos as fakes.
Equally as stunning is an artificial intelligence tool called Deep Nostalgia, which animates static, vintage images — including those of deceased relatives. Together, these technological leaps harken back to the famous line by the writer George Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
The technology now exists for America’s foreign adversaries, or other malign actors, to challenge citizens’ understanding of their present reality, as well as the past. Coupled with the historic loss in confidence among Americans for their country’s journalistic institutions, as well as our addiction to social media, the conditions are certainly ripe for deepfake disinformation to become a serious national security threat — or a catalyst for nihilistic chaos.
“The internet is a machine, but cyberspace is in our minds. As both expand and evolve faster than we can defend them, the ultimate target — our brains — is closer every day,” Kenneth Geers, a Cyber Statecraft Initiative senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
According to a September Gallup Poll, only 9% of Americans said they have “a great deal” of trust in the media to report the news “fully, accurately, and fairly.” On the other hand, when it comes to trusting the media, six out of 10 Americans, on average, responded that they had “not very much” trust or “none at all.” Those findings marked a significant decline in Americans’ trust for the media since polling on the topic began in 1972, Gallup reported.
“Americans’ confidence in the media to report the news fairly, accurately and fully has been persistently low for over a decade and shows no signs of improving,” Gallup reported.
That pervasive distrust in the media leads to increased political polarization and is bad for America’s democratic health, many experts say. Americans’ loss of trust in the media could also portend a national security crisis — especially as contemporary adversaries such as Russia and China increasingly turn to online disinformation campaigns to exacerbate America’s societal divisions.
In fact, Russia already used deepfake technology in its disinformation campaign to influence the 2020 US election, said Scott Jasper, author of the book, Russian Cyber Operations: Coding the Boundaries of Conflict. In advance of the election, Russian cybercriminals working for the Internet Research Agency created a fake news website called “Peace Data,” which featured an entirely fictitious staff of editors and writers, multiple news agencies reported.
“Their profile pictures were deepfakes generated by artificial intelligence,” Jasper told Coffee or Die Magazine. “The fake personas contacted real journalists to write contentious stories that might divide Democratic voters.”
A Soviet doctrine called “deep battle” supported front-line military operations with clandestine actions meant to spread chaos and confusion within the enemy’s territory. Similarly, modern Russia has turned to cyberattacks, social media, and weaponized propaganda to weaken its adversaries from within. According to an August State Department report, Russia uses its “disinformation and propaganda ecosystem” to exploit “information as a weapon.”
“[Russia] invests massively in its propaganda channels, its intelligence services and its proxies to conduct malicious cyber activity to support their disinformation efforts, and it leverages outlets that masquerade as news sites or research institutions to spread these false and misleading narratives,” wrote the authors of the State Department report, Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem.
Some experts contend that the cyber domain has become the proverbial “soft underbelly” of America’s democracy. In the past, America’s journalistic institutions served as gatekeepers, shielding the American people from foreign disinformation or propaganda. However, due to the advent of social media and the internet, America’s adversaries now enjoy direct access into American citizens’ minds. Consequently, the ability to manufacture video content indistinguishable from reality is an exponential force multiplier for adversaries intent on manipulating the American people.
The emerging deepfake threat spurred the Senate in 2019 to pass a bill mandating that the Department of Homeland Security provide lawmakers an annual report on advancements in “digital content forgery technology,” which might pose a threat to national security.
According to the Deepfake Report Act of 2019: “Digital content forgery is the use of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, to fabricate or manipulate audio, visual, or text content with the intent to mislead.”
The advancement of deepfake technology has been meteoric. Just a couple of years ago, the casual observer would have been able to rather easily tell the difference between genuine humans and their computer-generated, deepfake doppelgangers. Not anymore. Much like the advent of nuclear weapons, the Pandora’s box of deepfake technology has officially been opened and is now impossible to un-invent.
The potential dangers of this technological leap are practically boundless.
Criminals could conceivably concoct videos that offer an alibi at the time of their alleged crimes. Countries could fabricate videos of false flag military aggressions as a means to justify starting a war. Foreign adversaries could generate fake videos of police brutality, or of racially charged acts of violence, as a means to further divide American society.
“I think it’s a safe assumption that video manipulation is a key short-term weapon in the arsenal of less reputable political-military organizations needing to shape some opinions before the contents can be disputed,” Gregory Ness, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity expert, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
There are certain commercially available artificial intelligence, or AI, tools already available to detect deepfake videos with a fidelity surpassing that of the human observer. Microsoft, for example, has already developed an AI algorithm for detecting deepfakes.
Some cybersecurity experts are calling on social media platforms to integrate these deepfake detection algorithms on their sites to alert users to phony videos. For his part, Geers, the Atlantic Council senior fellow, was skeptical that social media companies would step up on their own initiative and police for deepfake content.
“Social media profits from our negativity, vulnerability, and stupidity,” Geers said. “Why would they stop?”
The overarching intent of disinformation campaigns — particularly those prosecuted by Moscow — is not always to dupe Americans into believing a false reality. Rather, the real goal may be to challenge their belief in the existence of any objective truths. In short: The more distrustful Americans become of the media, the more likely they are to believe information based on its emotional resonance with their preconceived biases. The end goal is chaos, not brainwashing.
“If we are unable to detect fake videos, we may soon be forced to distrust everything we see and hear, critics warn,” the cybersecurity news site CSO reported. “The internet now mediates every aspect of our lives, and an inability to trust anything we see could lead to an ‘end of truth.’ This threatens not only faith in our political system, but, over the longer term, our faith in what is shared objective reality.”
Some experts say the US government should get involved, perhaps by leveraging the power of the Department of Defense, to patrol the cyber domain for deepfake videos being spread by foreign adversaries. The Pentagon, for its part, has already been called in to defend America’s elections against online disinformation.
In the wake of Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election, the Department of Defense partially shouldered the responsibility of defending against foreign attacks on America’s elections. By that measure, it’s certainly within the bounds of national security priorities for Washington to leverage the US military’s resources to root out and take down deepfake videos.
“Governments will inevitably step in, but what we really need is for democracies to step up and create innovative policies based on freedom of expression and the rule of law,” Geers said.
Recently, U.S. Space Force General David Thompson, the Vice Space Operations Chief, sat down for a virtual talk with the Association of Old Crows.
Gen. Thompson emphasized the intraservice utility of the Space Force but also of the branch’s need to create and sustain enduring relationships with the other branches, the intelligence community, and other agencies and departments within the US government.
The Space Force is responsible for capabilities and mission-sets such as navigation, orbital warfare, missile defense, satellite communications, electromagnetic operations, and GPS services, among other tasks.
“We have enduring relationships with the National Reconnaissance Office and the rest of the intelligence community,” said Thompson. “We not only need to maintain those but deepen those as well, especially because we’re now partners with them in the need to defend and protect these capabilities from threats.”
Thompson highlighted that the space in a domain where several countries—and even companies—are looking to expand their presence for economic, civil, public safety, and national security purposes. He suggested that the Space Force might be looking to partnerships where there are common interests and goals.
The Space Force achieved a landmark point in December when General John “Jay” Raymond officially joined the Joint Chiefs of Staff, becoming the 8th member of the highest military council of the US.
“We recognize it clearly as a warfighting domain. And we also know that we, the United States, we’ve got to maintain capabilities in that domain if we are going to continue to deter great power war,” General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during the ceremony. “This is an incredibly important organization for the United States military and for the United States as a country. And it’s really important what we’re doing today, which is [to] induct you as an official member into the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
The commercial sector is another point of interest for the Space Force despite the high-risk it might entail. The ability of private companies to rapidly field and test new technology appeals to the Space Force, which often has to contend with the lengthy test, development, and acquisition timelines found in any bureaucracy.
As for what the Space Force is looking for in future recruits, Thompson said that digitally fluent and cyber-savvy candidates are essential for the Space Force to continue its contribution to the fight but also expand its capabilities.
Headquartered in Virginia, the Association of Old Crows is an international nonprofit professional organization specializing in electronic warfare, tactical information operations, and related disciplines.
In another virtual even, Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten talked about America’s near-peer competitors and their space capabilities and aspirations.
“Russia and China are building capabilities to challenge us in space because if they can challenge us in space, they understand as dependent as we are in space capabilities that they can challenge us as a nation,” said Gen. Hyten during an online event at the National Security Space Association.
Gen. Hyten added that it falls to the Pentagon to continue the education of Americans about US space capabilities but also about the dangers posed by China and Russia and how to best deal with them.
While most drones require an operator to control them, the ones in DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program fly themselves. Although not perfect in its current phase, the program’s first flight test exceeded expectations.
“We’re excited that we were able to validate the airspeed goal during this first-flight data collection,” said Mark Micire, DARPA program manager. “The fact that some teams also demonstrated basic autonomous flight ahead of schedule was an added bonus. The challenge for the teams now is to advance the algorithms and onboard computational efficiency to extend the UAV’s perception range and compensate for the vehicle’s’ mass to make extremely tight turns and abrupt maneuvers at high speeds.”
Advancing algorithms and extending perception range. That’s what we thought.
Now watch this video of DARPA’s first test flight:
The U.S. Navy is now recruiting enlisted servicewomen to serve on submarines in 2016.
This move will take the 2011 decision to integrate female officers into the submarine force one step further, assigning female chief petty officers and senior petty officers to co-ed crews.
Navy officers are reportedly optimistic about the transition process — even despite a video-taped shower scandal that took place aboard the USS Wyoming — one of the first subs to be assigned female officers in late 2011.
On Friday, March 19, a volcano erupted near Fagradalsfjall, a mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula, about 19 miles from the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. The eruption was the first on the peninsula since the 12th century. It shot lava 100 meters into the night sky and covered one square kilometer. The eruption on Friday was preceded by a heavy increase in seismic activity.
In the past four weeks, the peninsula has experienced over 40,000 earthquakes. This is in contrast to the annual average of 1,000 to 3,000 earthquakes that have been recorded since 2014.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office classified the eruption as small. It also announced that the lava posed no danger to people or any critical infrastructure. In fact, residents were driving up to see the volcanic activity.
Aside from the lava flow, the eruption also created a fissure between 500 to 700 meters long from which the lava poured. Although the lava posed no danger, the eruption also released volcanic gas. Residents of the town of Thorlakshofn, downwind of the volcano, were warned to remain indoors.
Unlike the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, which grounded nearly 1 million flights, affected approximately 10 million air travelers over three months, and displaced hundreds of Icelanders, this eruption is not expected to affect air travel or settlements. The ash and smoke from the eruption is not projected to be great enough to cause a flight risk in the atmosphere.
Keflavik International Airport in Reykjavik did not close after the eruption and gave each airline the choice to continue flying or not. The airport reported no disruptions to scheduled air traffic.