NASA announced its target date for the first powered, controlled helicopter flight on Mars as no earlier than April 8, 2021. The 4-pound helicopter, named Ingenuity, is attached to the belly of the Mars Perseverance rover which landed on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021. Perseverance is en route to a designated “airfield” where Ingenuity will attempt the historic flight. Upon successful deployment, Ingenuity will have 30 Martian days (equivalent to 31 Earth days) for its test flight campaign.
“When NASA’s Sojourner rover landed on Mars in 1997, it proved that roving the Red Planet was possible and completely redefined our approach to how we explore Mars. Similarly, we want to learn about the potential Ingenuity has for the future of science research,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Aptly named, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration.”
Powered, controlled flight on Mars is significantly more difficult than it is on Earth. The Red Planet’s gravitational pull is about one-third of Earth’s and its atmosphere is 1% of what Earth’s is at the surface. Additionally, the surface of the planet receives only half the amount of solar energy that the Earth receives during the day. Conversely, Martian nights can be as cold as -130°F which poses a serious danger to exposed electrical components.
Luckily, the engineers at NASA have designed Ingenuity specifically for the Martian skies. The helicopter had to be small and lightweight in order to hitch a ride on Perseverance. Engineers also fitted it with internal heaters to keep it from freezing during the night. To test its capabilities, Ingenuity’s systems were subjected to performance trials in vacuum chambers and test labs in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory which simulated the conditions the helicopter would face on Mars.
“Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft,” said Bob Balaram, JPL’s Mars Helicopter chief engineer. “And while getting deployed to the surface will be a big challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it powered, will be an even bigger one.”
When Ingenuity attempts its historic flight on Mars, it will carry another piece of aviation history with it. On December 17, 1903 the first powered, controlled flight took place on Earth. On the dunes of Kill Devil Hill near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville Wright flew 120 feet in 12 seconds at the controls of Wright Flyer. He was joined by his brother, Wilbur. The Wright brothers made a total of four flights that day, each longer than the last.
A piece of the material that covered the Wright Flyer’s wing is now carried aboard Ingenuity. The small swatch of fabric is wrapped around a cable with insulative tape underneath the helicopter’s solar panel. Another piece of Wright Flyer material was carried by the Apollo 11 crew on their historic flight to the Moon in July 1969. The astronauts also brought a splinter of wood from the Wright Flyer with them.
“Ingenuity is an experimental engineering flight test – we want to see if we can fly at Mars,” said MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. “There are no science instruments onboard and no goals to obtain scientific information. We are confident that all the engineering data we want to obtain both on the surface of Mars and aloft can be done within this 30-sol window.” Stay tuned to NASA’s social media for updates on Ingenuity’s historic flight.
Sylvester Stallone’s character of “Rambo” is not going fight against ISIS in an upcoming movie, despite recent reports of that possibility.
A slew of reports circulated in the media that “Rambo: Last Blood” would feature the Vietnam Special Forces hero reprising his role to fight against ISIS terrorists, but a rep completely denied it, according to Rolling Stone. The reports cited comments that Stallone purportedly made at Comic-Con 2015, except there was a big problem: He wasn’t even there.
“Sylvester Stallone did not attend Comic-Con 2015, and consequently there was no official remark from him regarding Rambo made there at the event,” a rep told RS. “This is not an accurate report.”
“Rambo: Last Blood” was originally expected to begin filming last year or early this year, but it was delayed, according to Business Insider.
The Navy needs a new fighter to replace the Super Hornet by the 2030s, and that means moving a whole lot faster than the F-35’s development.
The U.S. Navy joined the Air Force in garnering attention for their Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program recently, but just because they’re using the same acronym as the Air Force doesn’t mean they intend to field the same aircraft. In fact, it seems the Navy is open to looking broadly at potential replacements for its workhorse 4th generation fighter, as well as its electronic warfare counterpart, the EA-18G Growler.
This new fighter, which some have assumed will qualify for a “6th generation” moniker, will have its work cut out for it as the United States military pivots back toward deterring nation-level foes with increasing technological parity like China. In fact, it’s likely that whatever the Navy’s new fighter is, it’ll require support from at least one un-crewed aircraft in order to maximize its capabilities.
“As we look at it right now, the Next-Gen Air Dominance is a family of systems, which has as its centerpiece the F/A-XX – which may or may not be manned – platform. It’s the fixed-wing portion of the Next-Gen Air Dominance family of systems,” Rear Adm. Gregory Harris explained.
Admiral Harris’ suggestion that the Navy’s next fighter might not have a pilot may not be indicative of where the program currently sits developmentally, but rather, it likely suggests that the U.S. Navy is willing to consider a variety of potential solutions to the problems facing the nation’s fleet of flat-top fighters.
China, widely seen as America’s most militarily potent adversary, has already begun fielding hypersonic anti-ship missiles with operational ranges in excess of a thousand miles. Because of the incredible speed in which these weapons fly (greater than Mach 5), the U.S. currently does not have any reliable means of intercepting or defending against such an attack. As a result, America’s supercarriers would have to remain outside the thousand-plus mile reach of these weapons, creating what’s known as an “area denial bubble” extending from Chinese shores with these weapons in place.
Currently, America’s Navy fighters have a combat radius reaching up to 750 or so miles, making them unable to cover the distance required to fly combat sorties over China without putting their carriers at risk of hypersonic missile strikes. You can read a more complete explanation of this area denial bubble and the Navy’s fighter fuel range woes in our in-depth discussion on it here.
But these new jets will need more than just range in order to dominate a 21st-century battlespace. The Navy’s Super Hornet replacements will need to leverage at least some degree of stealth in order to be survivable, and in fact, will likely need improved stealth capabilities over jets like the F-35 and F-22 in order to be seen as a truly 6th generation fighter. Improved avionics and data fusion capabilities are also all but certain–but the element that may make these new fighters really stand out from Lockheed Martin’s existing stealth jets is their use of drones for a variety of support roles.
“But we truly see NGAD as more than just a single aircraft. We believe that as manned-unmanned teaming comes online, we will integrate those aspects of manned and unmanned teaming into that,” Harris said.
“Whether that – we euphemistically refer to it as our little buddy – is an adjunct air-to-air platform, an adjunct [electronic warfare] platform, discussion of could it be an adjunct advanced early warning platform. We’ll have to replace the E-2D [Advanced Hawkeye] at some point in the future, so as we look to what replaces that.”
The U.S. Air Force drew headlines the world over last year when they announced that they had already built and tested a prototype for their NGAD fighter program, prompting many to wonder if a new jet is right around the corner. Of course, the truth is, that prototype was likely a demonstrator for some elements of new fighter technology, like operating while interlinked with a constellation of support drones. In other words, the Air Force’s tests might have been about proving something was possible, moreso than moving into production.
But the progress the Air Force has made in the NGAD realm will almost certainly benefit the Navy’s NGAD efforts, despite both branches being clear that they have no intention of repeating mistakes made during the F-35’s acquisition process. The Joint Strike Fighter program that berthed the F-35 required a single fighter platform that could fill the disparate needs of multiple military branches and allied forces. The result was an incredibly complex, expensive, and slow development process that hasn’t been fully completed to this day, even in its 14th year of flying.
With the Navy’s stable of Super Hornets and Growlers expected to age out of service within the next two decades, the F-35’s timetable just won’t cut it. The Navy needs a new, more capable, longer-range fighter–and it needs it sooner rather than later. That’s where some degree of cooperation between the branches can still be viable, even as the Navy and Air Force pursue different airframes with different specialties.
By using an open system architecture in designing these aircraft, the Navy and Air Force will be able to leverage new sensors and other digital technologies in both aircraft. Fielding the same modular systems would reduce costs, increase interoperability, and importantly, make it similarly inexpensive to replace those systems with newer ones as technology allows.
“So if you think about it, a contractor may have a particular sensor – let’s just use the radar as an example – and over time, perhaps the performance of that radar isn’t what you want, either from a sustainability standpoint or purely from a capability standpoint,” he said.
“With that open mission system architecture, you have an ability to more rapidly replace that without getting into vendor lock. And we’ve seen vendor lock create problems for us before. We firmly believe that competition will give us a better reliability, lower sustainment costs and lower the overall costs.”
The Navy is taking a two-step approach to replacing its 4th generation jets, first focusing on a replacement for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, and then for the EA-18 Growler, which is fundamentally the same or very similar, but is equipped with a suite of electronic warfare systems instead of kinetic munitions. The next-generation platforms in these roles may not be two similar jets. Instead, some roles will likely be filled by drones, as the Navy works toward fielding a larger uncrewed fleet.
The Navy is currently developing the MQ-25 Stingray as part of this very endeavor. Boeing’s prototype was originally intended to serve as a carrier-based UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), but the Navy pivoted toward a fuel carrier in order to begin picking away at China’s area denial bubble. The MQ-25 will be able to refuel manned aircraft in contested airspace, allowing for greater range. It stands to reason, however, that the MQ-25 could find other uses aboard the Navy’s flat tops, including the kinetic one it was originally designed for.
“Right now – notionally – looking at driving towards an air wing that has a 40-60 unmanned-manned split and overtime shift that to a 60-40 unmanned-manned split. So to try to drive an air wing that is at least 50 percent or more unmanned over time,” Harris explained.
“Again, a lot of that’s going to be dependent on the success we see with the MQ-25 Stingray, on our ability to truly learn how to operate around the aircraft carrier and safely execute that both on the flight deck and then airborne.”
Despite an increased focus on using artificial intelligence to aid in decision making aboard drones, it seems unlikely that the Navy’s next fighter will come without a cockpit. Dogfights between aircraft are considered to be among the most complex situations pilots could contend with, and the technology isn’t quite mature enough to hand those life or death decisions off to an AI system yet. Further, before we can field such platforms, America will have to contend with the idea of giving a machine the decision to choose a target and execute. Currently, human operators manage those decisions. However, using drone platforms as “arsenal ships” or “missile magazines” that support stealth aircraft may indeed be feasible.
“Having an unmanned platform out there as an adjunct missile carrier I see as not a step too far, too soon. I could have an unmanned friend. I typically say a flying Dorito chip when I’m thinking about it – doesn’t have to be that, right,” Harris continued.
“An unmanned system with missiles I can clearly in my mind envision a way to say, ‘fine defensive combat spread. Shoot on this target.’ And I will squeeze the trigger or I will just execute – enable that unmanned platform to shoot the designated target. That doesn’t stretch beyond my realm of imagination.”
It seems clear that the next fighters America fields will be just one piece of a larger “family of systems,” blending crewed and uncrewed aircraft, fusing data from air, ground, and sea-based sensors, and engaging targets with its own munitions as well as weapons carried by other assets. This networked interoperability will allow decision makers a broader set of options and pilots a great degree of awareness and capability.
The only question is, can they do it in time to beat the Super Hornet’s final flight off into the sunset?
The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is a slingshot on steroids.
Compared to steam catapults, the new launch system is lighter, smaller and requires less maintenance while increasing controllability, reliability, and efficiency, according to the Naval Air Warfare Center. The system is designed tolaunch up to 25 percent more aircraft – manned or unmanned – with greater precision.
By eliminating the use of steam, the EMALS system may contribute to the quality of life for sailors sleeping below decks. “The water brake has been removed, so from that perspective, the [catapult] will get quieter,” said Donnelly in an interview with Defense Media Network. “You’ll continue to hear the shuttle noise, jet blast deflectors and hooks hitting the flight deck in the arresting gear area.”
The EMALS system is over 15 years in the making. The system was tested from land-based sites, but this video shows the system being tested from the pre-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).
The Secret Service Counter Assault Team — CAT for short — is charged with fighting back if the president ever comes under attack. While the president’s protective detail would be jumping in front of him and quickly getting him to safety, CAT is supposed to turn outward and “lay down an unbelievable amount of suppressive fire,” an agent told The Washington Post.
CAT members are currently outfitted with the Knight’s Armament SR-16 rifle, a variant of the military’s standard issue M-4, according to the book “In The President’s Secret Service.”
Agents who are a members of CAT have to work their way up through the ranks of Secret Service before they ever got a shot in the agency’s equivalent of special ops. There is a grueling training process, which includes many weeks of training that are both physically and mentally demanding.
While some defense contractors might have been concerned that a new presidential administration might lead to budget cuts, order reductions or the end of some programs altogether, they can rest easy on their piles of money now.
President Biden will not only keep many of President Trump’s weapons development programs in place, he’s seeking an expansion in many areas. One of the biggest is a 20 % increase in the proposed budgets for hypersonic weapons.
Since announcing its homegrown sets of hypersonic missiles, Russia has spurred a kind of new arms race with hypersonics. In December 2019, the Russian military announced that it fielded its first regiment of Avangard hypersonic missiles. It also conducted several successful tests on its new Zircon sea-based cruise missile in 2020.
The United States has been eager to catch up in the field of hypersonic weapon development, but its efforts have been hampered by Congress. The Department of the Air Force has six (or more) hypersonic weapon programs in development, according to the Intercept. The House of Representatives has already been highly critical of the Air Force’s hypersonic developments.
That criticism led to the House forcing the Air Force to cancel one of the two prototypes it already had in development.
The chief issue with hypersonic weapons is that all the information popularly known about their capabilities comes from Russia, who has a vested interest in making sure outsiders don’t know the full story about hypersonic possibilities – or limitations.
Researcher Cameron Tracy recently published a research paper in the journal Science & Global Security stating that hypersonic weapons’ capabilities may be more hype than hope. More importantly, the paper says existing Air Force intercontinental ballistic missiles may be faster than the new missiles developed by Russia.
Tracy took the numbers for his research from a publicly available missile vehicle test conducted more than a decade ago, long before Russia revealed the existence of its hypersonics program.
Officials at the Pentagon countered Tracy’s report by saying the most recent data on hypersonic weapons is still classified and that changes in the development of these weapons have revealed the need for further research. They also argued that the United States would use these weapons using different tactics than Russia or China and that technology is much different than ballistic missiles systems.
Russian weapons move so fast – anywhere from Mach 6 and higher – that a plasma cloud forms in front of the missile as it travels. This cloud can absorb radio waves, making it practically invisible to active radar systems.
If the United States’ early warning systems do get wind of a hypersonic weapon, reaction times limit response capabilities. Aegis missile interceptor systems aren’t fast enough to catch up to a theoretical hypersonic attack.
In the case of the Zircon missile, detecting it would give American units just 60 seconds to respond. Most estimate that the United States would need to destroy the weapons at their launch sites or simply place a target in its projected path.
Russia has 15 corvettes in Navy service that could carry up to 25 Zircon missiles. Just six of these missiles could sink a carrier like the USS Gerald R. Ford.
Although the Department of Defense has stated its intent to use different tactics with hypersonic weapons, it has not since revealed how its research could help provide a potential defense against them.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is the perfect example of a dictator. His authoritarian government holds complete power over the North Korean state and its people.
Un was declared supreme leader following his father’s funeral in December 2011, making him one of the youngest dictators in recent history. However, his time in power pales in comparison to the dictators in this video.
Devin Mitchell was trying to get into graduate school as a sociology major, and he needed what he called a “high impact device” to get the attention of the admissions board. Since he was also a freelance photographer, he naturally thought of creating a photo essay as the medium for that sort of impact.
The idea is at once simple and complex. Miller takes a picture of a veteran wearing a uniform of his or her choosing while looking into a mirror. The reflection in the mirror is the same vet dressed in civilian clothes that capture what his or her life is like out of the military.
“The use of a mirror seemed an appropriate device for this subject matter,” Mitchell said. “It screams dichotomy, two different people in one body, and sometimes it screams embodiment and identification.”
Mitchell’s process is simple. “I don’t know any of these people,” he said. “My encounter with any one of the subjects are usually no more than 15 minutes total. They reach out to me online. I vet their military status to make sure I’m not meeting with anyone who’s counterfeit. And I show up at their house. I don’t usually ask questions.”
The subjects decide on the composition of the essay. “Every single time so far they have had something ready,” Mitchell said. “I make the photo and I give it to them and I sit back as an audience member and wonder what the photo meant.
“I call it ‘artistic journalism,'” he said. “These are landmark observations of who these people are in this time period.”
The images provide an amazing range of emotions, especially considering they’re all shot in basically the same setting – a bathroom mirror. In one essay a Marine couple is hugging in the mirror while they stand separate in the foreground, the man still in uniform and the woman in civilian clothes holding a sign that says “PTSD – divorcing but united.” In another a soldier is peeling off the blouse to his camouflage while he’s shirtless in the reflection with “Pride” scrawled across his chest in red lipstick.
“If the photos make people squirm in their chair a little bit, then obviously that’s something they needed to be exposed to,” Mitchell said. “As an artist I couldn’t dream of anything better. Enlightenment through art is the most beautiful thing in the world.”
Mitchell is firm in the desire not to artificially engineer a reality with the Veterans Vision Project.
“This is not a project to propagandize any sense of nationalism whatsoever,” he said. “I’m very early in the project, and I will document the good, bad, and ugly. People should really expect to see everything the veterans have to say. As an artist I’m not scared of walking on anyone’s eggshells.”
Marine veteran Mike Dowling is one of Mitchell’s subjects.
“I knew some friends who had done it and they vouched for him,” Dowling said. “I liked the pictures he’d done, so when he reached out for me I was up for it. He said, ‘I just need you to have a military uniform that fits you and whatever civilian clothes you want. You pose how you want to pose.’ I had full creative control.”
And how did the result impact Dowling? “I look at my photo I realize how significantly my military service has laid the foundation for who I am today,” he said. “No matter what I wear the military is always going to be part of who I am.”
Mitchell is not a veteran, and he describes his military knowledge as “very distant, far-off media consumption.” “But I’m a student,” he added. “I like to learn.”
After 134 photo essays (and an ultimate goal of 10,000 for the project) Mitchell has learned a lot about the military community.
“There’s just as much fragmentation as there is unity among the military,” Mitchell said. “Just like any community. The military is no different. That’s one myth that I’ve demystified for myself since I started this. Everyone does not identify with everyone else in the military community. They’re still people.”
For more about the Veteran Vision Project, including how to participate in the project, go here.
To contribute to the Veteran Vision Project’s Kickstarter campaign go here.
In the United States, November 11th is the day we commemorate the men and women who swore an oath to protect and defend our constitution against our enemies with service in the military. What is now known as Veterans Day was originally observed for a different reasons than it is today.
To begin with, it was called Armistice day in commemoration of the cease-fire between Germany and the Allied Nations during World War I. Although the war didn’t officially end until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, the real fighting stopped on November 11, 1918 — “at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”
Typically, an amputation ends a military career. For a long time, most any level of amputation was considered to make a service member unfit for combat. As of last summer, only 57 amputees had returned to conflict zones and most of those stayed at a desk.
These three men wanted to get back into the fight.
1. The Ranger who swore he’d still be a squad leader
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski was in an armored vehicle when insurgents threw a grenade into it. Kapacziewski survived the blast with serious injuries. After months of surgeries and casts, he attempted to walk on his right leg again and heard the pins holding it together snap. Soon after, he asked doctors to remove it.
Over the months and years that followed, Kapacziewski (a.k.a. “Joe Kap”) relearned how to do the basic tasks required of Rangers . He ran, rucked, parachuted, and completed Army drills with his prosthetic leg. Since his amputation, he has conducted four combat deployments and even earned an Army Commendation Medal for pulling an injured soldier 75 yards during a firefight.
2. The paratrooper who led an airborne platoon with a prosthetic
1st Lt. Josh Pitcher finished relieving himself on the side of the road, closed his fly, and heard the loud pop of a small roadside bomb. Two days later, he was in a hospital in Germany, promising to return to combat despite losing his left leg beneath the knee. Before he could even try and return to active duty, Pitcher had to kick a pill and drinking habit he got trying to deal with the pain after his surgeries. But, he learned how to do his old job with his new leg. Less than two years after his injury, he returned with his unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, to Afghanistan. A few months later, he took over a 21-man platoon and led them for the rest of the deployment, most of it trudging through the mountains in the northern regions of the country .
3. The captain who calmly reported his own double amputation
When then-1st Lt. Daniel Luckett’s vehicle was hit by an IED in Iraq in 2008, a squad leader called up to ask if everything was all right. Luckett calmly responded, “Negative. My feet are gone.” Two years later, Capt. Luckett was with the 101st Airborne Division again; this time in Afghanistan. He uses a small prosthetic to assist what remains of his right leg. A much larger one serves as his left. His second day with his first prosthetic, he attempted to walk away with the leg. Doctors tried to get it back, but Luckett convinced them to let him keep it. He would go on to earn the Expert Infantry Badge during his efforts to prove he was still an asset. After successfully earning the award, the soldier was promoted to captain and allowed to deploy with his unit as part of the Afghan surge.
Long before he played the greatest Starfleet officer of all time and directed the immortal ‘The Voyage Home‘ Leonard Nimoy spent 18 months in the Army reserve. According to Military.com, Nimoy achieved the rank of sergeant and spent much of his army service “putting on shows for the Army Special Services branch which he wrote, narrated, and emceed.”
Nimoy acted in the following instructional film along with future “Davy Crockett” star Fess Parker. It addressed what was then called combat fatigue, or the emotional and psychological toll of warfare. The film shows how Marine Corps psychologists were supposed to treat combat fatigue sufferers, giving a glimpse into how the wartime military of the 1950s dealt into the still-vital question of how to address the mental health needs of its troops. Nimoy appears as the first of the two Marines in the clip to undergo treatment.
This clip was made in 1954, shortly after the Korean War ended and 12 years before Star Trek premiered on NBC.
In 1967, the Space Race was in full swing. The Soviet Union had made a number of historic firsts, but the United States was racing to catch up while making a few firsts of its own.
President Kennedy had challenged America to put a man on the moon within the decade. Long after his death, the memory of that challenge was fresh in the minds of everyone, especially those in the U.S. government who were working hard to make that happen. These include agencies such as NASA, the U.S. military and, not surprisingly, the Central Intelligence Agency.
But the United States wasn’t always so close to winning. In fact, for a time, it appeared to be behind — way behind. So far behind, in fact, the Americans were willing to do anything to catch up, even if that meant stealing the Soviet technology.
Declassified CIA documents describe their initial efforts to do just that. While they never conclusively stole Soviet space technology outright, they did have to make a huge effort to get some time alone with the tech.
Many people know about Sputnik, the first man-made satellite in orbit. Not many others know about Luna (sometimes called Lunik), the first man-made satellite to hit the moon’s surface. Both successful missions took place in 1959. And the Soviets did what any superpower looking to dunk on their Cold War rival would do: they took a victory lap.
The USSR sent Sputnik and Luna on a world tour that included stops in the United States. The U.S. was losing the Space Race because the Soviets had better booster and rocket technology than they did. So the CIA decided it would learn everything it could about Soviet space tech through the traveling showcase.
Specifically, the U.S. wanted a detailed look at the USSR’s upper stage. Most in the CIA assumed the Soviets weren’t bold enough to bring an actual Luna on a world tour for everyone to see, but there were some who realized the USSR really had brought the real thing. One night, after the traveling exhibition was closed, CIA operatives gained access to the room. They discovered it really was an actual Luna module and the lone Soviet guard had disappeared.
The CIA spent a full 24 hours with the Luna, taking what information they could with them, but they wanted more. They wanted to get inside of it. That’s when they concocted a complex, almost absurd scheme that would have been stupid – if it hadn’t worked.
That’s when they hatched a plan to steal Luna, get into it, and return the device before it could be found. They knew it usually had a large guard force posted as sentries at almost all times. They needed to get to it when the guard force was at its lowest number and find a way to get to it when no one would miss it.
The operatives discovered that the Luna went unguarded when moving by train. A guard checked its crate in at the platform, but he didn’t know what was in each of the crates and there was no expected delivery time for its arrival at the show’s next stop.
CIA agents arranged for the Luna to be on the last truck out of an exhibition. When it was on the way, other CIA operatives tailed the truck, looking for when the Soviet guards rejoined their precious cargo. But the Soviets never came. The CIA stopped the truck driver and “held him in a hotel overnight” (the documents don’t mention how he was enticed (booze, guns or prostitutes were likely involved).
With the driver safely dispatched, the truck was parked in a salvage yard and covered up. At the rail yard, the lone guard there didn’t even know the last truck was expected and he knocked off for the night, none the wiser. The CIA kept a tail on him too, just to make sure he didn’t come to work early.
Back at the truck, CIA officers dismantled and photographed the Luna in detail, working through the night to get everything documented so that the Soviet booster technology could be analyzed.
They sealed everything back together, closed the crate and put the original truck driver back on the job. When the rail yard guard checked the crate onto the train in the morning, he suspected nothing and the secret Soviet space technology was on its way to the next stop.
U.S. Air Force courtesy photo/ Air Mobility Command Public Affairs (cropped).
In an August 19th news conference to address the events unfolding in the wake of U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby and U.S. Army Major General Hank Taylor referred on multiple occasions to the ongoing U.S. military operations in theatre as a “non-combatant evacuation operation.” This might sound like a bit of bureaucratic Pentagon-speak, or simply government jargon, but the term actually refers to an established military doctrine, and a systematic government (usually military) operation to evacuate Americans.
Typically shortened to NEO within the U.S. military, non-combatant evacuation operations are emergency military actions executed specifically outside of the continental United States (OCONUS), when crisis conditions in a particular country threaten American personnel located there. Those conditions thus necessitate that the American government mandates — or authorizes — the immediate evacuation of civilian and/or non-essential official U.S. government personnel from that country. In other words, it is what is happening in Afghanistan right now, as the U.S. military tries to get all Americans (and many Afghan non-combatants) out of Afghanistan.
In a situation requiring a NEO, the U.S. government recognizes that conditions present an unacceptable threat to Americans in a particular country, and the U.S. government tells those Americans (via the State Department) that they must leave, or should leave (a voluntary evacuation) immediately. After announcing this order, the U.S. military in whichever theatre of operations the country is located, tasks appropriate units to execute the NEO.
An example of a “typical” NEO (in reality, they are hardly typical, or common) — apart from the current situation in Afghanistan — would be political instability and a resulting crisis in a country in Africa. I am using this example because I was a member, for a time, of a designated NEO force for Africa while I was stationed in Europe shortly after 9/11. This was before the establishment of Africa Command, so European Command (USEUCOM) was tasked with executing any NEO that might occur in Africa. Our designated force consisted of a deployed Navy SEAL Platoon (my platoon), a deployed Marine Corps Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team (FAST) company, various air and navy assets, as required, and then contingency military forces based in EUCOM, as events might necessitate.
If Morocco, for example, politically imploded back in 2001, and all of the thousands of Americans located there — civilian, military, and official — were ordered to depart, some would make it out on commercial flights, some would no doubt choose to hunker down (whether the evacuation was voluntary or not), and the rest would likely attempt to find refuge at the U.S. Embassy or some other location deemed secure (an American consulate, for example, or a friendly, third-country embassy). The U.S. military (EUCOM) would then coordinate with U.S. Embassy personnel in Rabat, Morocco, to effect the evacuation via military assets of those remaining personnel.
My SEAL platoon and the FAST company would have arrived at the embassy, secured it, and held it until all Americans were evacuated. U.S. military aircraft, ground convoys, naval assets, and/or any other useful mobility platform would have been utilized for the evacuation.
NEO is an inherently fast-changing and flexibility-demanding operation, and we trained for it extensively while stationed in Europe. We were on standby for quick response, as a NEO always demands rapid execution to have the greatest chance of success. Once completed, and all Americans are accounted for, senior American military and political leaders would then have decided if the NEO force would remain to hold the embassy/U.S. government facility, or exfiltrate the country and effectively terminate America’s official presence there.
We are still in the execution phase of the current Afghanistan NEO, as the U.S. military works to evacuate Americans and designated Afghans from the country. As is every NEO — by definition — the current operation in Kabul is fluid, challenging, and likely prone to escalate in risk at a moment’s notice. The American forces deployed as the NEO force there face a challenging task and no one should doubt that they will execute it to the best of their ability, in a manner they have likely trained for prior to this deployment. We should all wish them Godspeed in completing their mission.