Here's one of the hardest Army courses you've never heard of - We Are The Mighty
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Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

In the thick heat of a Missouri summer, the number of Army Engineer Dive School dropouts rises faster than the steamy temperature.

“Does anyone want to DOR (drop out on request)?” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Holdner, as soldiers in soaked combat uniforms push through the pool’s waters in the early hours of a muggy July morning.

Holdner, a diving cadre instructor, looks over at the soldiers struggling in the pool. Two raise their hands. Four leave the class before noon.


Army has divers?

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By the time the physical training session finished in the late afternoon, another five followed.

One day into the first week of Engineer Diver Phase I course, a class of 12 has dwindled to two: the first, a soldier who had already passed the course two years ago. He left the Army and worked his way back. The other: a soldier who struggled swimming the endurance laps necessary to be a deep-sea diver but passed other aspects of the course, including the classroom lessons and physical training exercises.

The cuts come swiftly. Some quit out of their own accord. Others simply did not meet the rigid standards of the course. The Army designed it this way; to weed out the weak-minded, weak-willed and those unable to remain calm during extended hours underwater. In maritime conditions, Army divers must be prepared to act in seconds; they must react to sudden changes in currents, waves and the elements.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

Staff Sgt. Andrew Holdner pours water on students as they attempt to complete flutter kicks. The water simulates the sensations of drowning. The exercise tests students’ ability to perform under extreme duress.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

More than 90 percent of students won’t advance past the school’s first phase at Fort Leonard Wood. Among those who didn’t make the first week: recruits who had years of competitive swimming experience and former high school athletes.

The instructors know oceans, rivers and lakes can be a brutally cold, unforgiving places.

They attempt to make the course as unforgiving. At Davidson Fitness Center’s 25-meter pool, divers face two crucial initiation tests. Holdner said the majority of students don’t make it past these two exercises.

The first, students must swim the width of the pool in a single breath — underwater. Then the new recruits jump off a high dive board, surface, and swim to the far side of the pool and back and tread water for 40 minutes.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

Pfc. Nolan Hurrish, right, emerges from the pool with other students during an Army engineer diving training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

During the first half, students keep their heads out of water while using their hands and feet. During the second 20 minutes, they perform the “dead man’s float” — a survival technique where soldiers bend at the waist facing the water with arms out while holding their breath, simulating a floating corpse. When they need to breathe, they collapse arms and legs at the same time to raise their head above the water before dipping their faces back in the water.

In the second test, soldiers must swim 500 yards in 12 minutes and 30 seconds using breast stroke or side stroke, then do 50 pushups, 50 curl ups and six pullups. Finally, they must run a mile and a half in 12:30 or less.

As students attempt each exercise, they face the possibility of being dropped from the course and being reclassified into another career field.

“Every single time I’ve got to drop somebody,” said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Bailey, the lead instructor. “I feel bad because I know that they got into something that they knew nothing about. Because we’re a small field, very few people know that we exist.”

Students spend up to three and a half hours per day in the water, but also spend time in the classroom, learning about diving physics and how to maintain their equipment.

Dive instructors put students through a series of rites of passage, and ultimately test whether students can remain calm in situations that often cause heightened panic. The first such test came on the third day of training.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

In addition to remaining calm underwater and developing breathing skills, diving school students must maintain rigid physical fitness standards.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

Test of Wills

A soldier’s exasperating screams echoed in the swimming complex as he struggled to retrieve his equipment at the bottom of the pool. Instructors removed the diver’s mask, fins and air regulator and tossed them into the deep end of the pool. When the course began earlier that week, he lagged behind classmates during endurance laps.

Now at 1:30 p.m., the weather conditions in central Missouri hovered at around 95 degrees.

Inside the swimming complex the heat and humidity make the poolside area feel like a pressure cooker, not making the training any easier. During the test, instructors rip off pieces of the students’ scuba gear. soldiers must descend 14 feet and retrieve the gear in a single breath.

Holdner and Bailey bobbed at the surface, shouting instructions. They slapped water into the faces of the two remaining students in an attempt to simulate the unpredictable sway of an ocean current.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

Pfc. Stephen Olinger dons swimming fins before a training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in July 2018.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

Here both instructors attempted to escalate the stress level to a fever pitch. Their screams, combined with the splashing water, simulate what instructors call a “rough sea state.” On missions, a diver’s rig might fail and they would no longer be able to breathe. Or divers may get bumped by an obstruction, falling debris, marine life or land they didn’t see. The current can also knock their air regulator off their suit.

When faced with the possibility of drowning, the diving instructors said water fills a swimmer’s nostrils, invoking feelings of nausea and sometimes vomiting. It can cause extreme panic, breaking down even the best of athletes and the most confident swimmers.

“We say water is the great equalizer,” Bailey said. “We have plenty of people that come here that are great physical specimens … They can do everything on land … But then, you put them in the water and guess what? They fall apart. They become two different people.”

Water can create extreme panic causing soldiers to lose their bearing, forcibly shoving fellow swimmers out of the way in order to reach for the shore. The violence of the water currents can push some soldiers to the edge.

“If you’re not comfortable,” Bailey said. “Water will bring out the worst in people.”

Bailey, a soldier with a neatly-combed crew cut and a stocky, fit build, teaches the class with a cool demeanor. He barks instruction with stern authority, but minutes later will crack a joke to put the students at ease.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

Army divers must be able to communicate with the crew above before going on a deep-sea dive. Though they must operate underwater with little instruction, a deep-sea diver will have the only view of the operation.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

An experienced veteran diver of 13 years, he tested his mettle at sea on a diverse array of maritime missions across the globe. He faced one of his most difficult challenges during a deployment to Iraq along a river. A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device had damaged a bridge and infantry units needed engineer divers to perform reconnaissance underwater.

At the river’s center in the shadow of the bridge, Bailey, then a young soldier, entered the water. He and another diver descended nearly 40 feet into the river’s depths. Almost immediately after he entered the river’s pitch black waters, disaster struck.

“As soon as I hit that water, I lost my grip,” Bailey said. “The current took me and immediately just threw me back.”

As he felt the pull to the bottom, the river broke his helmet’s seal. Cold water rushed into his head gear. His suit remained attached to an umbilical air supply cord, restricting his movement. He waited for a teammate to pull him back to shore while calming his nerves in the face of extreme conditions.

“I couldn’t swim to the shore,” he said. “I wasn’t moving. The only way I was getting out of there is if I was getting pulled out. And now my helmet was flooded. So what would have happened if I had panicked or I was not able to remain calm?”

Soldiers must face the fear of drowning and their own mortality on each mission. And each time, Divers must tame their emotions or lives will be at stake. In the worst conditions, soldiers will operate with limited visibility while carrying up to 80 pounds of underwater gear.

“I’ve been in situations where I’m using my hands as my eyes,” Holdner said. “One little mistake can be an injury for you. It’s not an environment that’s going to go easy on you.”

Holdner, a youthful-looking staff sergeant with slicked back dark hair who sports a cascade of tattoos on his right arm, graduated from the course in 2010. He entered with a larger class — 96. Only six made the cut and advanced to Phase II. Holdner said the mental hurdles the course poses can be the most difficult to overcome.

Even the second-time student looked visibly rattled as the two jockeyed for position before descending below. Athletically built with a wide upper body, the student easily passed the physical fitness tests and he seemed likely to survive to the next phase in Panama City, Florida.

Then the unexpected happened.

Inexplicably, he swam to the poolside and signaled to the instructors he wanted to drop out. He decided he had enough.

One student remained.

The private’s panicked expression reflected his extreme duress. Of the 12 students who attempted the course, he was the only remaining soldier. The shortest student in the class, this soldier struggled to finish the swimming endurance drills earlier in the week. But he persevered to make it to the third day.

But his chances have dimmed.

As the private spent more time bobbing his head above the surface, he lost valuable time that could have been spent underwater searching for equipment.

An instructor then blew his whistle. The soldier didn’t make the cut.

Slowly, the soldier swam toward the pool’s edge. Still breathing heavily, he gingerly exited the pool and walked toward his gear. He must now wait for the Army to reclassify him into a new career field.

About 12 to 20 students begin each class. Only 1 to 3 normally graduate. Sometimes, as with the July 2018 students, none make it.

Although instructors must cut the majority of the students, they don’t take each decision lightly. Often before they pull recruits from the course, they have counseling sessions. They sit down with each student and explain why they cannot advance to the next phase.

Often, emotions spill.

“They’re in tears,” Bailey said. “This is something that they’ve wanted to do for a long time or this is something that they’ve told their family about and everyone is rooting for them and they don’t want to disappoint their family.”

Bailey said recruiters and drill sergeants often don’t have accurate accounts of engineer diver training. Soldiers then arrive at Fort Leonard Wood with misconceptions about the realities of training.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

Navy instructors check Soldiers’ scuba equipment. Equipment management and maintenance is critical for diver safety, instructors said.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

Promising Pair

Two Phase I diving school graduates joined the class of students who trained here in the July heat. Instead of sporting the black Army shirts with gold letters, they donned white shirts and brown swimming trunks to distinguish themselves from the current class. They continued to train with incoming classes to keep their skills fresh as they waited for Phase II in Panama City.

Pvts. 1st Class Stephen Olinger and Nolan Hurrish are only months into their Army careers.

Olinger, a bright-eyed recruit who was raised partially overseas, carries a swagger and self-confidence as he approaches each exercise. He graduated in March. Hurrish, a soft-spoken but diligent recruit from Wisconsin, has quietly passed each test. They don’t know if they will survive the next six months at Panama City. But they remain optimistic that in less than 16 weeks they will join the fewer than 150 Army divers worldwide.

“I have an attitude like ‘this is it,” Olinger said. “This is what I came here to do. If I fail out, I fail out. But I’m going to give it everything.”

The world’s five oceans, where many of the 12 dozen or so Army divers throughout the world must perform, can be ruthless.

The sea is an unpredictable, faceless adversary unlike any other soldiers face in the battlefield, and no less deadly.

Students will get their first taste of that adversary off the shores of the Florida Panhandle in Phase II of the diving school.

(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on the Army’s engineer diver training. For part two, click here.)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy battleships pulled off the biggest military deception of Desert Storm

The Desert Storm portion of the 1990-1991 Gulf War lasted only 100 hours, not only because the combined land forces of the Coalition gathered against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was overwhelming and talented – it was – but it was also the contribution of two of the U.S. Navy’s biggest floating guns that drew a significant portion of Saddam’s army off the battlefield.


Shelling from the 16-inch guns of the USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin made it all possible, playing a crucial role in a conflict that would end up being their last hurrah.

 

Here comes the boom.

 

Everyone knew a ground assault on Iraqi-occupied Kuwait was coming and had been for months. The only question for the Iraqis was where it would come from. Iraqi forces had been on the receiving end of a Noah’s Ark-like deluge of bombs and missiles for the past 40 days and 40 nights. Iraq believed the Coalition would make an amphibious landing near Kuwait’s Faylaka Island, when in reality the invasion was actually going into both Iraq and Kuwait, coming from Saudi Arabia.

If the Coalition could make the Iraqis believe an amphibious invasion was coming, however, it would pull essential Iraqi fighting units away from the actual invasion and toward the Persian Gulf. It was the ultimate military rope-a-dope.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
Here’s what really happened.

 

The best way to make Saddam believe the Marines were landing was to soften up the supposed landing zone with a naval barrage that would make D-Day look like the 4th of July. The USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin were called up to continuously bombard the alleged landing beaches – and they sure made a spectacle of it. The Iraqi troops were supposedly shocked and demoralized, surrendering to the battleships’ reconnaissance drones as they buzzed overhead, looking for more targets.

It was the first time anyone surrendered to a drone. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of another Iowa-class barrage. But the Marine landing never came. Instead, the Iraqis got a massive left hook that knocked them out of the war.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These are the 6 Marines lost in crash near Japan

The US Marine Corps has identified the six Marines who were killed when their planes crashed off the coast of Japan early December 2018.

On Dec. 6, 2018, an F/A-18 Hornet collided with a KC-130 aerial refueling tanker, sending both aircraft into the sea. Only one of the two fighter pilots walked away from the crash, and all five of the tanker crew members were lost. The lone survivor was released from the hospital Dec. 13, 2018.

Capt. Jahmar F. Resilard, a 28-year-old F/A-18 pilot, was declared deceased last Dec. 7, 2018, while American and Japanese forces continued to search for the KC-130 crew members, who were officially declared dead Dec. 11, 2018, when military search and rescue efforts concluded.


The five Marines who were killed serving aboard the aerial refueling tanker were Lt. Col. Kevin R. Herrmann, 38, Maj. James M. Brophy, 36, Staff Sgt. Maximo A. Flores, 27, Cpl. Daniel E. Baker, 21, and Cpl. William C. Ross, 21. The oldest member had served in the Marine Corps for 16 years. Three were married, two with children.

The Marines released the following video honoring the dead.


In Memoriam

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“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the names of our fallen Marines,” U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Mitchell T. Maury, the commanding officer for the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152), said in a statement Dec. 12, 2018. “They were exceptional aviators, Marines, and friends whom will be eternally missed. Our thoughts and prayers remain with their families and loved ones at this extremely difficult time.”

The Corps has suffered a number of deadly aviation mishaps in recent years, including a KC-130T crash in Mississippi last year that killed 15 Marines and a sailor.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

popular

4 times Canada was more moto than the US

America’s neighbor to the north is known for their politeness, medical care, maple syrup cartels, Ryan Gosling, hormone-free cows, and love for Kraft Mac and Cheese.


Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
Also, have you tried a double double and a Maple Dip? Holy hell, they are good.

None of these facts should come as a surprise. Canadians are just a hair’s breadth away from being Americans. In fact, we wanted Canada so bad the Articles of Confederation stated that Canada could join the United States at any time, just by asking. Everyone else needed a nine-state agreement. We settled for Vermont instead.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
Vermont: Canada Lite. (Wikimedia Commons)

But don’t be fooled by their overwhelmingly nice disposition, their Prime Minister who takes public transit to work, or that Alex Trebek shaved his mustache. Outnumbered Canadians beat the crap out of us in the only war we ever fought.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
We burned Toronto, so they burned Washington. They also gave the Canadian soldier better sideburns in their War of 1812 monument. (Wikimedia Commons)

Canadian Forces are still deployed around the world, often alongside American counterparts. And historically, Canada has been just as hyped as the U.S. to take the fight to the fascists, the Communists, or the terrorists.

Maybe it comes from being the world’s largest consumer of Budweiser. Don’t drink too much of that stuff, guys. You’ll be buying hummers and spreading freedom in no time.

1. Canada just built a Civil War monument.

At a time when the U.S. is removing some Civil War monuments, an Ontario-based Civil War re-enactors group erected one. It’s a monument to the Canadian soldiers who died in the American Civil War.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
They call themselves the Grays and Blues. (Courtesy of the Grays and Blues of Montreal)

Though Canada was still in the British sphere during the time period, some 6,000 Canadians headed south (and some further south) to fight on both sides of the war.

“We don’t have any far-right maniacs, racists or anti-Semites, we’re just town folks who are interested in history,” Grays and Blues president Bob McLaughlin told Postmedia News.

2. They were the first to declare war on Japan.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Canadian Parliament was adjourned. But in the hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Prime Minister Mackenzie King and his cabinet decided that war with Japan was inevitable and called it then and there. The Japanese had also hit Malaya and Hong Kong – possessions of the United Kingdom – on Dec. 7th.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
In the long run, sucker punching is not a sustainable strategy.

The United States didn’t declare war until the next day. When Parliament reconvened on Jan. 21, 1942, King let them know that Canada was at war with Japan…and also Finland, Hungary, and Romania.

Canada
Mackenzie King will freaking kill you…then have a seance and ask your ghost for political advice. (Wikimedia Commons)

3. Canada took in Vietnam Draft Dodgers…then replaced them.

It wasn’t official or anything. Canada didn’t exchange unwilling participants with willing ones. While an estimated 30,000 would-be conscripts fled the draft for Canada (and were warmly welcomed), 30,000 Canadians fled peace-ridden Canada for the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Canada
Canadian Rob McSorley, left, is pictured in March 1970 with two members of his U.S. Army Ranger regiment after a dangerous reconnaissance mission. McSorley was killed in action only weeks after this photo was taken. (L Company Ranger 75th Infantry Archives)

The Canadian government outlawed such volunteerism, but the 30,000 Canadians still managed to sign up for Vietnam service. Those that did received the same treatment as every other soldier, including the assignment of social security numbers. That is, until, after the war, when they got none of the post-service benefits. It wasn’t until 1986 that they got the same treatment…in Canada.

The Canadian Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is called “The North Wall” and can be found in Windsor, Ontario.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
The North Remembers. (Wikimedia Commons)

4. Canada took in Americans during the 9/11 attacks.

Flights bound for the U.S. that day were diverted or grounded — except in Canada, where they were welcomed by Operation Yellow Ribbon. Canada wanted to help get any potentially dangerous flights on the ground as soon as possible. They even opened up their military airfields to the 255 flights diverted to their airspace.

In all, some 30,000 people were left displaced inside Canada. And if you have to be a refugee somewhere — even temporarily — Canada is the place to be. If hotels, gyms, and schools were full, Canadians started taking Americans into their own homes and putting them up.


Feature image: U.S. National Guard photo

MIGHTY TRENDING

6 things you didn’t know about the DEA

The Drug Enforcement Administration is the premier law enforcement agency on the front lines fighting the War on Drugs. The mission of the (DEA) is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminals involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the United States.

This Federal Law Enforcement Agency recruits, trains, and deploys America’s elite agents into the world’s harshest environments to combat cartels and disrupt their operations. Due to the dangerous nature of their job, 85 agents have sacrificed their lives in service to the United States. Here are 6 things you didn’t know about these clandestine operators fighting the evils of narco-terrorism.


Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
No one:
Nixon: That’ll teach those hippies!

It was founded by President Richard Nixon

On July 1, 1973, President Nixon merged the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) and over 600 Special Agents from the Customs bureaus into the consolidated force we know today.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
“Why is the DEA storming the lobby, Karen?” (U.S. Air Force photo)

They provide oversight of legal drugs too

The Drug Enforcement Administration licenses anyone who prescribes or dispenses drugs. However, the license must be renewed every three years. The DEA has strict rules on prescription authority and record keeping. Prescribing personnel who, in the view of the DEA, abuse their privilege, are subject to the full extent of the law and loss of said license.

To date, over 60 doctors and counting have been charged with pushing opioids and healthcare fraud by the Department of Justice. This greed is the root cause of today’s opioid epidemic exacerbated by secondary and tertiary problems as well.

You can rest assured, when medical professionals behave like drug dealers, the Department of Justice is going to treat them like drug dealers. – Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
Operation Albatross in Afghanistan, 2007 (usdoj.gov)

 

They were trained for combat by the Army

The drug trade also funds actual terrorists in the middle east, and their source of income had to be destroyed. The U.S. expanded its counter-narco mission in Afghanistan in 2005 with the DEA at the helm. The U.S. military provided air support and cargo planes to the DEA, as well as intelligence and logistics support.

The Army trained agents in spotting IEDs, combat maneuvers, and weapon systems.

 

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
“Leyenda” means legend in Spanish. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Enrique S. Camarena was a Marine

If you’re familiar with the hit Netflix series Narcos, you’ll remember that one of the main characters in season 4 is Enrique S. Camarena, also known as Kiki. The series did not emphasize that he was a U.S. Marine. Oorah.

Prior to joining DEA, Special Agent Camarena served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He worked in Calexico as a fireman and then as a police investigator, and was a narcotics investigator for the Imperial County Sheriff Coroner. Special Agent Camarena was survived by his wife, Geneva and three children, Enrique, Daniel and Erik. – dea.gov

This special agent was part of the DEA’s Guadalajara Mexican cartel investigation. He was kidnapped and tortured by drug traffickers on February 7, 1985, for over 30 hours. He was also injected with drugs to ensure he remained conscious. He was a tough one, but even Marines aren’t immortal.

In the wake of his death, Operation Leyenda was formed to solve his murder and was the largest homicide investigation ever conducted by the DEA.

Kiki Camarena was posthumously awarded the Administrator’s Award of Honor, the highest award given by the DEA.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
“I don’t know but I’ve been told, Eskimo p-“
“-STFU CARL!” (U.S. National Guard)

 

They have Spec Ops all over the nation

Special Response Team (SRT) program was created in 2016. The SRT was designed to bridge the gap between tactical operations conducted by field agents and those requiring specialized tactics due to elevated mission risks. SRT operators are highly trained in breaching tactics and an array of weapon systems.

Considered one of the most covert outfits in federal law enforcement, very little is known about DEA SRT capabilities and its operator selection process. – dea.gov

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
“This is your new partner, Special Agent Dogg.” (Tech Crunch via Flickr)

The DEA wants to double marijuana production…for research

The agency has increased the amount of marijuana from 978 pounds in 2017 to more than 2,500 pounds in 2018. In 2019, the agency proposed a cannabis quota to more than 5,400 pounds — that’s a lot of weed.

This move is to support federally-sanctioned research in preparation for nationwide legalization — whenever that will be is uncertain.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Taiwan is ready to push back against China’s aggression

Tensions between the Peoples Republic of China and Taiwan have recently flared up as China held the largest show of naval force in its history in April 2018, and made new threats directed towards Taipei.

“We would like to reaffirm that we have strong determination, confidence and capability to destroy any type of ‘Taiwan independence’ scheme in order to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ma Xiaoguang, a spokeswoman for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, recently said.


The Chinese also flew bombers around Taiwan in a show of force as well, and though tensions decreased a bit when promised live-fire drills were scaled back, the events are a reminder to analysts and policymakers that one of the worlds oldest Cold War-era conflicts remains unsolved, and could escalate to war.

A war of nerves

Much of that has to do with Chinese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi Jinping, who has taken a much more aggressive stance on Taiwan than his immediate predecessors.

“Xi Jinping has essentially linked rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation to the retaking of Taiwan,” Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider.

“We were in a period of relative quiet with the Taiwan issue, and now it’s in a more primary place on the agenda as far as Beijing is concerned,” Glaser said.

At the core of the issue is that the Peoples Republic of China wants Taiwan, known officially as the Republic of China, to return to the fold to create one country that is unified under the rule of the Communist Party of China.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
Chinese President Xi Jinping.
(Photo by Michel Temer)

But Taiwan, with the help of the US, has so far managed to resist the PRC’s attempts to isolate it politically and economically, and has even shown signs of moving further away from the PRC and towards official independence — a move that would almost certainly provoke an armed response from the mainland.

“The current situation in the Taiwan [Strait] is a war of nerves,” Ian Easton, a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute and the author of “The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia,” told Business Insider in an email.

“Taiwan is winning. They have not compromised under pressure, but tensions are running high and are likely to get much worse.”

Taiwan’s military has advantages — and problems

Taiwan’s military has a few advantages if it comes to war. First and foremost, Taiwan has been training to defend the island for decades.

For a country of only 23 million people, its military is quite capable. It has an active force of around 180,000 troops, with 1.5 million reservists — putting its size on par with the militaries of Germany and Japan, despite having a much smaller population.

Some of its equipment is relatively high-end. Its air force operates around 100 US-made F-16s, and 100 indigenously made F-CK-1A/Cs. Its Army maintains a number of AH-64 Apache gunships, and AH-1W SuperCobras.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
An F-16 fighter jet

Taiwan’s navy has roughly eight destroyers and 20 frigates in service, mostly former Oliver Hazard Perry-class and Knox-class ships. But they also have six French-built La Fayette-class frigates. The navy also sails a large number of fast missile boats, and two modified Zwaardvis-class attack submarines.

On top of that, Taiwan has a lot of anti-air and anti-ship defenses, and hundreds of cruise missiles that can strike mainland China.

Taiwan’s geography also provides another advantage. Crossing the Taiwan Strait would take up to 7-8 hours by sea, and during that time Taiwan could prepare for an invasion, and use its navy and air force to attack incoming Chinese ships, and set up anti-ship mines along the Strait.

The PRC also does not currently have the capability to transport the required number of troops (once estimated to be as high as 400,000) needed to take the island.

Furthermore, Taiwan is very mountainous, and does not offer a lot of landing zones where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could establish solid beachheads. Roughly only 10% of its shoreline is suitable for the large-scale amphibious landing that the PLA would have to make.

All of this means an invasion of Taiwan by the PRC would be extremely costly. “China has no obvious starting move that guarantees that they don’t absorb a lot of risk from this,” Scott Harold, the associate director of the RAND Corporation’s Center for Asia Pacific Policy, told Business Insider.

But Taiwan’s military has two large problems — a lack of advanced equipment, and problems with its transition from compulsory service to a fully volunteer force.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of
The ROC Army’s CM-11 Tank at the Hukou Army Base.

Much of the military equipment needs to be modernized, especially its tanks and ships, and this can’t be done for diplomatic reasons. Only around 20 nations officially recognize Taiwan, and the PRC puts a lot of pressure on other countries to not do business with the island, especially in terms of defense.

The only nation that is willing to sell Taiwan complete weapon systems is the US, but they have “been slow to provide the weapons that Taiwan has been requesting, especially over the past 10 years,” according to Easton.

The military is also having difficulty making hiring quotas, which is affecting overall capability and performance because they are trying to replace its largely conscript service with professional soldiers.

“China has a massive military, so Taiwan must maintain its advantage in quality,” Easton said.

An uncertain future

A war between the PRC and Taiwan would also risk involving the US, which, while not under legal obligation, has opposed to any use of force against Taiwan in the past.

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

It deployed carrier battle groups to the Strait in 1995 to prevent war from breaking out, and relations between the two countries remain strong. One analyst Business Insider spoke to calculated that US submarines could sink 40% of a PLA invasion force.

War between the two Chinas, then, would be catastrophic. “In short, it would be extremely complex and fraught with risk for both China and Taiwan,” Easton said, adding that “both sides would stand to lose hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives, and the U.S. would almost certainly join the fight on Taiwan’s side.”

Such a quagmire could turn into a war of attrition, and if it were it to result in failure for the PLA, it would be devastating to the Chinese Communist Party.


“It is inextricably tied to the legitimacy of the Communist Party,” Glaser said. “I think that that is the belief in the leadership — that they can never be seen as soft on Taiwan. They cannot compromise.”

She pointed to Xi’s comments at the 19th Party Congress in October 2017; “We will resolutely uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity and will never tolerate a repeat of the historical tragedy of a divided country,” he stated to wild applause.

“We have firm will, full confidence, and sufficient capability to defeat any form of Taiwan independence secession plot. We will never allow any person, any organization, or any political party to split any part of the Chinese territory from China at any time or in any form.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These two NATO allies may be inching closer to all-out war

Turkish warplanes harassed a helicopter carrying Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis on April 17, 2018, Greek newspaper Ekathimerini reports.

The helicopter was flying from the Greek islet of Ro to Rhodes, another Greek island in the Aegean Sea.


The Turkish jets, which were flying at approximately 10,000 feet, contacted the pilot of the Greek helicopter and asked for flight details. The Hellenic Air Force responded by sending its own jets, which caused the Turkish fighters to veer off and leave.

Ro and Rhodes are two of the hundreds of islands in the Aegean Sea that are controlled by Greece, but they are geographically closer to the Turkish mainland than to Athens. Rhodes is just 29 miles from the Turkish port of Marmaris.

Ro is even closer to the Turkish mainland, and has been the site of territorial disputes in the past. The Hellenic Army does have a presence on the small island, and in early April 2018, they fired tracer rounds at a Turkish helicopter that flew over its airspace.

The episode comes just over a week after a HAF pilot died after his Mirage 2000-5 fighter jet crashed near the island of Skyros. The pilot was returning from intercepting two Turkish Air Force F-16 fighters that had intruded into Greek airspace.

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A Hellenic Air Force Mirage 2000EG

The crash does not appear to be due to the Turkish mission, but made the situation in the region more tense.

Just a few hours before the incident, Tsipras was speaking to a crowd at the island of Kastellorizo, pledging that Greece would defend its principles “in any way it can … and will not cede an inch of territory.”

The speech appeared to reference Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that the Treaty of Lausanne, which recognized the sovereignty of the Republic of Turkey and defined its borders after the Turkish War of Independence, needed to be “updated.”

“Our neighbors do not always behave in a manner befitting good neighbors,” Tsipras said, but added that he was sending Ankara “a message of cooperation and peaceful coexistence, but also of determination.”

Relations between Greece in Turkey have always been turbulent, but recent events make some analysts worried that the two NATO allies may be inching towards a war.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s what the Coast Guard is cutting back on during the shutdown

While the Coast Guard is not slowing down in its most important national security operations as the U.S. enters its fifth week of a government shutdown, some activities have been halted or curtailed, and many newly minted Coasties find themselves stuck at recruit training, without funding to head to their first duty stations.

Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a Coast Guard spokesman, told Military.com that recruits whose new units are not well suited to support them during the shutdown or lack the means to return home in the interim “will remain attached to the Training Center [in Cape May, New Jersey] for the duration of the lapse.”


“There have been no immediate operational impacts related to recruit training; however, it is difficult to project the impact that the lapse in appropriations will have on mission readiness months or years from now,” he said Jan. 23, 2019.

There are currently 395 recruits in training. Seventy-six new Coasties graduated Jan. 18, 2019, he said.

Those who have the option to return home may receive a stipend from the government even as the shutdown continues.

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Coast Guard cutter Bertholf on a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2018.

(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Trees)

“While the partial government shutdown prevents our ability to provide advance payment of reimbursable transfer expenses, it does not prevent us from issuing plane tickets for recruits to travel directly to units with the capacity to support them during the shutdown,” McBride said.

Often, recruits have the opportunity to return home for leave before reporting to their first assigned unit.

“In these cases, we have been able to coordinate temporary hometown recruiting assignments that allow graduates to make their desired trip home for leave, assist the workforce recruiting effort and temporarily defer execution of their permanent transfer and associated costs,” McBride said. “For those who choose this option, there may be out-of-pocket costs, if the cost of a ticket home exceeds the cost allowance of government transportation to their new unit.”

The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the situation but said that it does not plan on letting recruits leave Cape May without an approved transfer plan with appropriately allocated resources.

Elsewhere in the Coast Guard, the shutdown is also taking a toll on operations.

Boardings for safety checks, the issuance or renewals of merchant documentation and licensing, fisheries enforcement patrols and routine maintenance of aids to navigation have been delayed or downsized, McBride said.

Other modified operations include administrative functions, training, and maintenance for surface and aviation fleets, he said in an email.

“The Coast Guard will continue operations required by law that provide for national security or that protect life and property,” he said, including monitoring coast lines, ports, harbors and inland waterways, as well as maritime intercept and environmental defense operations.

But for the men and women conducting these high-stress operations or deploying, the pressure is mounting as they go without paychecks, not knowing how they can provide for their families back home, said Steven Cantrell, who served as the 12th master chief petty officer for the service.

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Family and friends reunite with crew members on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s flight deck upon the cutter’s after a 90-day deployment, Sept. 4, 2018.

(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

“They still have to go out and do their job and focus on the mission when sometimes it’s a very unforgiving environment,” he said in an interview with Military.com on Jan. 23, 2019. He retired from the position in 2018.

“I wouldn’t presume to think that anybody wouldn’t give it 100 percent,” Cantrell said, adding that the current situation does “weigh on people.”

Members of the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, missed their first paychecks Jan. 15, 2019. If the shutdown continues, they will miss their second at the end of the month.

While shutdowns have occurred before, support services for members and families “will have to expand if it goes any longer,” Cantrell said.

Coasties have been relying on donations, loans and even food pantries to sustain their families as they take on necessary duties such as search-and-rescue operations.

“It’s one thing to sit back and go, ‘Wow, why would I want to do that?’ Because they don’t have the option to say, ‘Well, I’m just going to go home.’ They’ve been deemed essential,” Cantrell said, adding that morale is “probably low” in places around the country.

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(Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons)

Cantrell said he is hopeful the next generation of service members’ desire to serve will outweigh the current problems.

“People know it’s not the Coast Guard that’s doing this. And I’m 100 percent sure [leaders] have prepped the battlespace for those recruits to know what’s going on in the service. And they do a really good job… at the Training Center … [to get them] excited about the Coast Guard,” he said.

While frustrations remain, Cantrell said he thinks it’s unlikely there will be a significant or long-term national security impact, given the service has seen fluctuating or dwindling budgets before and was still able to press on.

But “it’s a bitter pill to swallow even as a retiree, and I just can’t imagine the young folks out there worrying about things that they shouldn’t have to worry about,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Marine Corps plans to replace LAV with new ‘transformational ARV’

The Marine Corps plans to begin replacing its legacy Light Armored Vehicle with modern Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle late in the next decade.

The ARV will be highly mobile, networked, transportable, protected and lethal. The capability will provide, sensors, communication systems and lethality options to overmatch threats that have historically been addressed with more heavily armored systems.

“The ARV will be an advanced combat vehicle system, capable of fighting for information that balances competing capability demands to sense, shoot, move, communicate and remain transportable as part of the naval expeditionary force,” said John “Steve” Myers, program manager for MCSC’s LAV portfolio.


Since the 1980s, the LAV has supported Marine Air-Ground Task Force missions on the battlefield. While the LAV remains operationally effective, the life cycle of this system is set to expire in the mid-2030s. The Corps aims to replace the vehicle before then.

Marine Corps Systems Command has been tasked with replacing the vehicle with a next-generation, more capable ground combat vehicle system. In June 2016, the Corps established an LAV Way-Ahead, which included the option to initiate an LAV Replacement Program to field a next-generation capability in the 2030s.

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U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicle.

Preliminary planning, successful resourcing in the program objectives memorandum and the creation of an Office of Naval Research science and technology program have set the conditions to begin replacing the legacy LAV with the ARV in the late-2020s.

“The Marine Corps is examining different threats,” said Kimberly Bowen, deputy program manager of Light Armored Vehicles. “The ARV helps the Corps maintain an overmatched peer-to-peer capability.”

The Office of Naval Research has begun researching advanced technologies to inform requirements, technology readiness assessments and competitive prototyping efforts for the next-generation ARV.

The office is amid a science and technology phase that allows them to conduct advanced technology research and development, modeling and simulation, whole system trade studies and a full-scale technology demonstrator fabrication and evaluation.

These efforts will inform the requirements development process, jump-start industry and reduce risk in the acquisition program.

The office is also supporting the Ground Combat Element Division of the Capabilities Development Directorate by performing a trade study through the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center in Michigan. This work will help to ensure ARV requirements are feasible and to highlight the capability trade space.

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U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicles with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division standby to be armed with ammunition to conduct a platoon level gunnery range at Fort Irwin, California, March 22, 2019.

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Smith)

ONR has partnered with industry to build two technology demonstrator vehicles for evaluation. The first is a base platform that will comprise current, state-of-the-art technologies and standard weapons systems designed around a notional price point. The second is an “at-the-edge” vehicle that demonstrates advanced capabilities.

“The purpose of those vehicles is to understand the technology and the trades,” said Myers.

In support of acquisition activities, PM LAV anticipates the release of an acquisition program Request for Information in May 2019 and an Industry Day later in the year to support a competitive prototyping effort. The Corps expects a Material Development Decision before fiscal year 2020.

“We will take what we’ve learned in competitive prototyping,” said Myers. “Prior to a Milestone B decision, we’ll be working to inform trade space, inform requirements and reduce risk.”

The Corps believes the ARV will support the capability demands of the next generation of armored reconnaissance.

“This vehicle will equip the Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion within the Marine Divisions to perform combined arms, all-weather, sustained reconnaissance and security missions in support of the ground combat element,” said Myers. “It’s expected to be a transformational capability for the Marine Corps.”

This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This anti-aircraft Stryker is really good at killing tanks

The Army is pursuing a new variant of the Stryker wheeled armored fighting vehicle, the Stryker Initial Maneuver Short-Range Air-Defense system, or Stryker IM-SHORAD. As the name implies, this vehicle will specialize in knocking nearby airborne targets out of the sky — but it’s not exclusively a threat to drones, helicopters, and tactical jets. Tanks and armored vehicles will need to watch their step, too.

According to reports, this vehicle is going to pack a lot of firepower options. At the heart of the Stryker IM-SHORAD is the Reconfigurable Integrated-weapons Platform from Moog — a versatile turret that can be configured to support a wide range of weapons options.


The loadout that the Army has selected will feature a 30mm M230 chain gun (similar to that on the AH-64 Apache), a M240 7.62mm machine gun, four FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, and a pair of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. What this means, in short, is that just about any main battle tank or armored vehicle can be killed by Stryker IM-SHORAD.

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This configuration of the Reconfigurable Integrated Weapons platform packs a M230 chain gun, a M240 machine gun, and the BGM-71 TOW.

(Moog)

The Army is reportedly planning on buying four battalions’ worth of these vehicles — a grand total of 144 — by 2022. That distills down to 36 vehicles per battalion — yeah, that number seems a little low to us, too. The fact of the matter is, in a potential fight with a peer competitor (like Russia or China), the Army will need some sort of air defense alongside maneuver units on the ground. This would not be the first vehicle the Army has tested with both anti-air and anti-tank capability. The Air Defense Anti-Tank System, or ADATS, was developed but never purchased by the Army.

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The ADATS system was tested by the Army in the 1980s.

(US Army)

This may not be the only setup the Army goes with for the short-range air-defense mission. The Army is looking to adopt new, innovative weapons systems (these could range from electronic warfare to lasers weaponry) by as early as 2023.

Only time will tell if these futuristic weapon options make the Stryker IM-SHORADs look like a primitive solution.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

There are a lot of valid criticisms of most weapon programs while they’re in development, but some get hit with the dreaded title of “boondoggle,” a massive waste of taxpayer funds that should be canceled. But some boondoggles prove the naysayers wrong and go on to have successful careers protecting U.S. troops and killing enemies. Here are 5 of the weapons that ascended:


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Abrams tanks roll down Norwegian streets

(U.S. Army Sgt. Williams Quinteros)

M1 Abrams tank

The M1 Abrams was famously seen as a failing, expensive program in its early days. It was an heir to two failed tank programs, the MBT-70, and the XM803. Both programs cost billions but failed to produce a suitable weapon, largely because they were too complex and didn’t quite work. So, when the Army pursued a turbine-powered tank with the XM1 program, there were a lot of naysayers.

And the initial prototypes kept the laughter going. The Abrams was massive and heavy and burned through fuel, and many thought it was clear that the Army had made another misstep. But then the Abrams went to its first war game and devastated more conventional tanks. Then Desert Storm came and 2,000 Abrams tanks slammed their way through Iraqi forces with losses of only 18 tanks and zero lost crews.

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Kadena F-15C Eagle takes off like the glorious beast she is…

(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Matthew Seefeldt)

F-15

The F-15 was a response to the Air War over Vietnam where multi-role F-4s were struggling against older MiGs. The Air Force decided they needed a dedicated air superiority fighter once again. But the program was expensive, leading to the press and Congress saying the service was buying too many of an overpriced, overly complex aircraft when they could just buy Navy F-14s instead.

But the F-15 has a legendary combat history with 104 enemy shootdowns for only two combat losses, both to ground fire. No enemy force has been able to prove an air-to-air victory over the F-15 (though some have claimed it).

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An F-14D Tomcat flies during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. The plane was retired in 2006.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael D. Gaddis)

F-14

But back to the F-14, the Tomcat was designed to defend carrier fleets and beat out other planes during a fly-off before the Navy picked it. But during development, test pilots encountered multiple stalls in the plane and had to eject multiple times. In order to sidestep criticism, especially from then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the Navy rushed the fighter into production. It came under fire again in 1989 as Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney tried to cut purchases to save other programs.

But the F-14 ended up proving itself in U.S. service over Libya, Iraq, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, but it really dominated in Iranian service back when they were a U.S. ally. In all, the F-14 is thought to have a 164-to-1 record of air-to-air kills and losses. The number is a little soft, though, since it takes data from multiple services including Iran.

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F/A-18 Cleaning

(U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Donell Bryant)

F-18

Yeah, there are a lot of planes on the list. And the F-18 was the Navy’s answer to the high and rising costs of the F-14. Congress told it to find a cheaper plane to fill some slots that would otherwise require the F-14, but then the cost of the F-18 program ballooned from billion to billion despite the F-18 having less range, speed, and ordnance carrying capability.

The F-18 would prove itself though, later leading the Navy to brag that it had broken “all records for tactical aircraft in availability, reliability and maintainability.” During Desert Storm, individual planes could shoot down Iraqi jets and take out ground targets on the same mission. It was the Navy’s primary air combatant for decades.

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The B-1B Lancer

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Emily Copeland)

B-1

The B-1 Bomber bucked the trend of bomber design in the late 1960s. Most were focused on faster, higher-flying bombers that could fly over enemy air defenses and outrun fighter taking off for intercepts. But the B-1 was envisioned as a low-flying bomber that would maneuver through air defenses instead. But the costly development was controversial, and the B-1 bomber was canceled in 1977.

But Reagan revived the program in 1981, and the requirements of the plane were changed, slowing it to Mach 1.2 and increasing the required payload. The production B-1B debuted in 1984 and “holds almost 50 world records for speed, payload, range, and time of climb in its class,” according to Airman Magazine. It has flown over Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and accounts for 40 percent or more of bombs dropped during some periods of conflict in those countries.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Borne the Battle: Benefits breakdown

In episode 157, we spoke with Army veteran Ursula Draper about her role in the development of an Assistive Technology (AT) program. In this week’s Benefits Breakdown, we take a deeper dive into how this program works and who is able to access it.

The AT program will sound familiar to those who know Darwin’s Theory of Adaptation. The adaptation theory — also known as survival theory, or survival of the fittest — is an organism’s ability to adapt to changes in its environment and adjust accordingly. The Assistive Technology program helps veterans to do just that.


The AT program, which began in 2008, aims to improve the lives of disabled veterans by allowing them to maintain independence by completing everyday tasks. It helps veterans with computer use and accessibility, voice activated technologies, drive control for wheelchairs, and even giving them the ability to turn lights on and off.

Helping Veterans Become Whole

www.youtube.com

VA created four main hubs for instructing those granted into the program: Minneapolis, MN; Tampa, Fl; Richmond, VA; and Palo Alto, CA.

In this episode we look at:

  • How the program started.
  • How a Veteran can apply to the program.
  • Some Examples of the technology being developed.

Enjoy.

#BtBattle Veteran of the Week: Marine Corps veteran Meredith Keirn.

Check out the full episode.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

SpaceX just launched a full-size Starship rocket prototype hundreds of feet above Texas

SpaceX is one giant grain-silo launch closer to reaching Mars.

The aerospace company, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, launched and landed an early prototype of a potentially revolutionary rocket system called Starship at 7:57 p.m. ET on Monday. The flight occured at SpaceX’s expanding rocket factory, development, and test site in Boca Chica, a relatively remote region at the southeastern tip of Texas.


“Mars is looking real,” Musk tweeted shortly after the flight of roughly 492 feet (150 meters) into the air, later adding: “Progress is accelerating.”

SPadre.com, which has a camera trained on SpaceX’s launch site from about 6 miles away on South Padre Island, captured the entire launch from start-to-finish with a 24-hour live feed on YouTube. In the background audio of a livestream hosted by NASASpaceFlight.com (which caught yet another view with a different camera and angle), audible cheers could be heard coming from on-site SpaceX employees and contractors.

The clip below shows a profile of the whole flight from SPadre‘s feed.

giant.gfycat.com

In the movie, the prototype takes off using a single Raptor rocket engine, translates across the launch site, deploys a set of short landing legs, and touches down on a concrete pad.

Musk later tweeted that Starship’s next set of landing legs “will be ~60% longer” and that a version farther down the line “will be much wider taller” like the legs of a Falcon 9 rocket booster, “but capable of landing on unimproved surfaces auto-leveling” — in other words, optimized to landing on the moon or Mars.

LabPadre, which hosted a live feed of SpaceX’s launch site featuring multiple camera views, also recorded the flight.

Below is that YouTube channel’s edited recording of the experimental launch.

SN5 Successfully Hops!!!

www.youtube.com

If Starship and its Super Heavy rocket booster end up being fully reusable, Musk has said, the system may reduce the cost of launching anything to space by about 1,000-fold and enable hypersonic travel around Earth.

But first, SpaceX has to see if its core designs for Starship work. To that end, the company is moving briskly to build, test, and launch prototypes.

Monday’s “hop” flight — Musk said ahead of the flight that SpaceX was targeting an altitude of 150 meters (492 feet) — represents the first flight of any full-scale Starship hardware. It’s also a crucial step toward informing future prototypes and, ultimately, launches that fly Starships into orbit around Earth.

SpaceX had hoped to attempt a flight of SN5 on July 27, but Hurricane Hanna damaged a component that had to be fixed, Musk said. A previous notice to airmen, or NOTAM, suggested the company would try to fly SN5 on Sunday — the same day as its attempt to land two NASA astronauts in the Gulf of Mexico — but the launch window came and went. (SpaceX’s Demo -2 was an historic test flight of the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship, a vehicle developed with about .7 billion in NASA funding.)

Prototyping toward Mars

The above photo shows the SN5 prototype from above during a test-firing of its engine on July 30.

SN5 is the latest of several full-scale Starship prototypes that SpaceX has built in Texas. The previous versions have either crumpled during tests or, as was the case on May 29, catastrophically exploded.

Each failure has taught SpaceX valuable lessons to inform design and material changes — tweaks that Musk says are already being worked into SN6, SN7, and SN8 prototypes, which are in various stages of assembly within the company’s expanding and bustling work yards in South Texas.

The steel vehicles don’t have wing-like canards or nosecones attached, in case something goes wrong in their earliest phases of testing, so they look more like flying fuel tanks or grain silos than rocket ships.

However, as last year’s test launch of an early Starship prototype called Starhopper showed, the flights of even experimental vehicles (shown above) can impress: On August 27, Starhopper soared to a similar height as SN5, translated across a launch site, and landed on a nearby concrete pad.

thumbs.gfycat.com

SpaceX obtained a launch license from the FAA to send Starship prototypes on a “suborbital trajectory,” meaning the experimental rocket ships could reach dozens of miles above Earth before returning and landing. However, it’s uncertain if SpaceX eventually plans to launch SN5 on such an ambitious flight path after Monday’s “hop.”

The company couldn’t attempt more ambitious flights until late August at the soonest, though. On July 23, SpaceX asked the FCC for permission to communicate with prototypes flying as high as 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) within the next seven months. The earliest date noted on the request, which is still pending, is August 18.

Musk said after the flight of SN5 that the next phase of testing won’t fly prototypes very high, at least initially.

“We’ll do several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

SpaceX is also pursuing a launch license for full-scale, orbital-class Starship-Super Heavy vehicles. Musk hopes Starship will launch a cargo mission to Mars in 2022, send a private crew around the moon in 2023, return NASA astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024, and even begin sending people to Mars the same year.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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