The mathematician who saved hundreds of flight crews - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The mathematician who saved hundreds of flight crews

Abraham Wald, a Jewish mathematician, was driven out of Romania and Europe by the Nazi advance and emigrated to the U.S. where he would serve in the Statistical Research Group, a bunch of egg heads who used math to make the military better at everything from firing rockets to shooting down enemy fighters. And Wald was the one who convinced the Navy that they were about to armor the completely wrong parts of their planes, saving hundreds of flight crews in the process.


Abraham Wald, a mathematician who helped save hundreds of air crews by writing brainiac papers.

(Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach, CC BY-SA 2.0)

To understand how Wald, sitting in New York for most of the war, saved so many lives, it’s important to understand what role academics and subject matter experts had in the war. The U.S. and Britain especially, but really all the great wartime powers, put some stock in the ability of their academics to solve tricky problems and make warfighters more efficient, more lethal, or more safe.

Some of this was having physicists and engineers create better weapons, like how the Applied Physics Laboratory was created to develop proximity fuses that made artillery and anti-aircraft weapons more effective. Some of this was having mathematicians figure out the best mix of rounds to load into machine guns of different types for the gunners to more quickly kill their targets. One great example is all the physicists and other scientists who worked on atom bombs.

But Wald was a statistician, and his job was to look at wartime processes and figure out how they could be improved. Wald was still, technically, an enemy alien, so he had an odd setup at the Statistical Research Group.

Planes hit in the fuel supply and engines often didn’t make it back to base, throwing off Navy and Army Air Corps data.

(U.S. Air Force)

As Jordan Ellenberg wrote in How Not To Be Wrong, there was a running joke in the SRG that Wald’s secretaries had to rip notepaper out of his hands as soon as he finished writing on it because he didn’t have the clearance to read his own work.

But Wald was an amazing mathematician, and it’s not like he was the type of Hungarian who might harbor sympathies for Hitler. Remember, he had fled Austria because Hitler would have had him killed, same as Albert Einstein and plenty of others. So, Wald used math to try to help the Allies kill the Axis, and he was in the SRG when the Navy came to them with a seemingly straightforward problem.

The Navy, and the Army Air Corps, was losing a lot of planes and crews to enemy fire. So, the Navy modeled where its planes showed the most bullet holes per square foot. Its officers reasoned that adding armor to these places would stop more bullets with the limited amount of armor they could add to each plane. They wanted the SRG to figure out the best balance of armor in each often-hit location.

(Adding armor adds weight, and planes can only takeoff with a certain amount of weight that needs to be balanced between plane and crew, ammo, fuel, and armor. Add too much armor, and you have a super safe bomber that can’t carry any bombs.)

While doomed planes did, sometimes, manage to land, they were usually lost at sea or in enemy territory. Abraham Wald successfully argued that the military should estimate where they were hit when determining what parts of planes they should armor.

(U.S. Navy)

But Wald picked out a flaw in their dataset that had eluded most others, a flaw that’s now known as “survivor bias.” The Navy and, really anyone else in the war, could typically only study the aircraft, vehicles, and men who survived a battle. After all, if a plane is shot down over the target, it lands on or near the target in territory the enemy controls. If it goes down while headed back to a carrier or island base, it will be lost at sea.

So the only planes the Navy was looking at were the ones that had landed back at ship or base. So, these weren’t examples of where planes were most commonly hit; they were examples of where planes could be hit and keep flying, because the crew and vital components had survived the bullet strikes.

Now, a lot of popular history says that Wald told the Navy to armor the opposite areas (or, told the Army Air Corps to armor the opposite areas, depending on which legend you see). But he didn’t, actually. What he did do was figure out a highly technical way to estimate where downed planes had been hit, and then he used that data to figure out how likely a hit to any given area was to down a plane.

What he found was that the Navy wanted to armor the least vulnerable parts of the plane. Basically, the Navy wasn’t seeing many hits to the engine and fuel supply, so the Navy officers decided those areas didn’t need as much protection. But Wald’s work found that those were the most vulnerable areas.

And that makes sense. After all, if you start leaking gas while still far from home, you likely won’t make it home. Have an engine destroyed even a few miles from home, and you likely won’t make it home. So the military took Wald’s work and applied armor to the areas he had defined as most vulnerable, primarily the engines, instead of putting armor on the areas with the most observed hits. And, guess what? Planes started surviving more hits.

Now, it didn’t win the war on its own, of course. Just like giving the Navy proximity fuses to make gunners more effective against enemy planes didn’t stop every Japanese dive bomber or Kamikaze attack, the armor didn’t save every plane and crew.

But winning a war isn’t about winning every engagement. It’s about paying less than you are willing to pay for victory and suffering less than you’re willing to suffer for each defeat. If you can do that, you’ll eventually win.

And Wald had driven down the price of success and the likelihood of failure for airplanes. Ironically, he died five years after the war in a plane crash, robbing us of his expertise in Korea and Vietnam, though his papers written during World War II continued to influence military decisions for decades.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Navy SEAL who shot bin Laden just did stand-up

In case you haven’t heard, David Spade has a new show called Light’s Out with David Spade. And one of the bits on that show is “Secret Stand-up” where he feeds jokes to another person who performs on stage. And he got Robert O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who claims the bin Laden kill, onto the stage at the world-famous Comedy Store.


The Navy SEAL Who Killed bin Laden Makes His Stand-Up Debut – Lights Out with David Spade

youtu.be

The video is available above, and Spade and Whitney Cummings give him some seriously edgy jokes to say, going from his sex life to the raid on Abbottabad to 9/11 with barely a beat. (And children probably shouldn’t watch the clip, but we don’t actually have the power to stop you. If you do watch it and don’t understand a joke, avoid image search when looking for the explanation.)

And you can tell that O’Neill really enjoys some of the jokes, because he hears them through an earpiece right before he has to deliver the line. He sometimes has to fight through his own laughter to deliver the punch line that he’s just heard from the real comedians.

O’Neill has 11 awards for valor and served on SEAL Teams Two and Four before being selected for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (commonly known as SEAL Team Six). He left the Navy in 2012 after 16 years of service and having shot bin Laden. Everyone wants to end their career on that kind of high note.

Now, O’Neill is a media personality and public speaker, usually appearing on Fox News where he provides military expertise.

David Spade is returning to TV. For anyone young enough to not remember him, you probably shouldn’t watch the clip. It includes a lot of adult language. But Spade is probably best known for his roles in Joe Dirt, Tommy Boy, and Saturday Night Live. He’s performed in dozens of other movies and shows including The Hotel Transylvania and Grown Ups series.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Search underway after 2 Marine Corps aircraft crash

Update: One Marine has been recovered alive but a second unfortunately perished. Five Marines are still missing and search-and-rescue operations are still underway.

A search is underway for the crews of two U.S. Marine Corps aircraft involved in an aerial crash near Japan at 2 a.m. on December 6 during aerial refueling operations.


Japanese aircraft are assisting the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in the search which, according to reporting from USNI News and CBS, involved a two-seater F/A-18D Hornet and a KC-130J tanker. The Hornet had two crew onboard and the tanker had five crew members, according to CBS.

JMSDF – MCAS Iwakuni Friendship Day 2018

The Marine Corps released a statement after the incident:

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP BUTLER, Okinawa, Japan – Search and rescue operations continue for U.S. Marine aircraft that were involved in a mishap off of the coast of Japan around 2:00 a.m. Dec. 6.

The aircraft involved in the mishap had launched from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and were conducting regularly scheduled training when the mishap occurred.

Japanese search and rescue aircraft immediately responded to aid in recovery.

The circumstances of the mishap are currently under investigation. There is no additional information available at this time.

The local time of 2 a.m. in Japan translated to approximately noon EST.

The III Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Okinawa, Japan, is the lead agency for media response, so updates should come from the News section of the Marine website or the III MEF Twitter.

Aerial refueling is, naturally, a hazardous activity but the U.S. military practices this capability regularly as safe aerial refueling is a major combat multiplier, allowing strike pilots to extend their range and patrol times. This is especially true for the Navy and Marine Corps as their planes are often launched from carriers or amphibious assault ships where launch weight is a major factor.

Reducing launch weight can mean a reduction in either fuel or weapons load, but this can be countered by launching with limited fuel and then topping off in flight from a tanker like the KC-130J.

Update: One Marine has been rescued, 2nd Lt. Alyssa J. Morales, a spokeswoman for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, told Task Purpose.

Update 2: The Japanese Self-Defense Forces has a second Marine who unfortunately perished in the crash. The Marine rescued earlier is now reportedly in stable condition. An earlier version of this update erroneously said that the second Marine had been recovered alive.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How robots and drones might be used in future wars

The U.S. Army loves robots and wants its soldiers to love them, too. The U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command recently conducted its annual Joint Warfighting Assessment in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the testing at the Yakima Training Center. From late April to May 11, 2019, troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 2-2 Stryker Brigade and 2nd Ranger battalion, along with U.S. Marines from Camp Lejune and Camp Pendleton, tested new weapon concepts for a Pacific war scenario set in 2028.

One of the concepts they were testing was the “optionally manned vehicle,” which would allow leaders in the field to decide to switch their systems to remote operating systems instead of putting their troops on the line.


“The idea is that the robotics could be available, so when they pick that platform you can put the robotics on it, and now you can do the manned (or) unmanned team and push the robotics out on the battlefield,” explained Lieutenant Colonel John Fursmo, the officer commanding the opposing force for the exercise.

The Assault Breacher Vehicle.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Some of the vehicles that have been brought out for testing are actually quite old, brought back to life and stuffed with robotic capabilities by engineers tinkering with them like Frankenstein’s monster. Troops and engineers explain that it’s all about testing, experimentation and soldier feedback. “These are concepts, these are not necessarily the pieces of equipment we would actually use,” said Fursmo. “The Army still has to decide what it wants for this new combat vehicle that will replace some tanks and other armored vehicles.”

Fursmo pointed to an old M58 mobile recon vehicle that’s been retrofitted with remote control capabilities. “It’s a tracked vehicle, it’s been in the Army a very long time, [and] essentially the Army stopped using it several years ago because the mission itself was so dangerous that it was just decided it wasn’t worth it,” he explained. “But make it a robot and now it’s at least conceptually worth looking at it again.”

Robotics and digital tech are already changing the way wars both big and small are being fought around the world every day. What were once science fiction dreams (or nightmares) aren’t as far away as some might think. Some are already here.

An experimental quadcopter mounted on a Stryker during JWA 19.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Eyes in the Sky

Cavalry scouts often call themselves the ninjas of the U.S. Army. Though considered combat troops, their job is more often to scope out the enemy without drawing fire and to report their findings. “A big problem we have is seeing without being seen,” explained Major Dave Scherke, a cav scout squadron leader with the 2-2 Stryker Brigade.

A scout team might move with three troops aboard a Stryker and three dismounted on the ground. They use maps, rulers, and measuring tape to take down mission critical information while conducting route reconnaissance. “It’s very time consuming and, from a security standpoint, can leave you exposed,” Scherken said.

However, at Yakima Training Center, Scherke’s men have been testing the Sensor Enabled Scout Platoon concept. They’ve tested the “Instant Eye” quad copter, an aerial drone surveillance system. “We have that all the way down to the squad level. So instead of just having one of these for each one of my cav troops, now I have six of them, and that massively increases our ability to see over the ridge and see the enemy first,” Scherke explained.

The quad copter itself isn’t particularly unique — you can buy similar models at Best Buy. Drones have already become part of the new normal for warfare. In Iraq and Syria, ISIS militants have used store-bought drones to help them target mortars and have even modified them to drop grenades and other improvised explosives. During the battle of Mosul, frustrated Iraqi troops started purchasing commercial drones of their own to fight ISIS. Robots are everywhere.

However, the small drones the scouts are testing are equipped with the Instrument Set Reconnaissance and Survey (ENFIRE) system that uses software and algorithms that can help measure terrain features, roads, and even calculate how much weight a bridge is capable of supporting. “There’s a bridge classification app that tells you the whole bridge classification,” said Colonel Chuck Roede, the deputy commander of JMC. “It really allows the scouts to do the job we expect them to do.”

ENFIRE connects directly to systems in the Stryker itself, which connects to a larger network. “It takes all that information, aggregates it into a computer, and creates a route overlay,” Scherke explained. “[Plugging] into our mission command systems to send very rapidly [means] our logistics planners and our other maneuver planners can get that information right away. So it speeds up what our scouts can do, and now instead of having six scouts on the ground just doing this while other guys are securing them, you can put fewer scouts on the ground to do that mission.”

Deep purple, the drone utilized by chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist, prepares to lift off on an NBC reconnaissance mission at the Joint Warfighting Assessment 19 training exercise at Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Washington, April 29, 2019.

(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)

The Instant Eye has night vision, infrared, and powerful zoom and camera clarity features for checking out targets, as well as signal tracking. “We can get some eyes on there without exposing our scouts and then bring indirect fires down to win that fight first because we want to be fighting an unfair fight,” said Scherke.

Cav scout Sergeant Joseph Gaska, who was in the field operating the prototype, told Coffee or Die that he was impressed with it. “As long as you’re high enough, you won’t hear it, so it’s not going to be that buzzing sound above your head,” he said of small, nimble drones’ ability to move nearly undetected. It has other ambitious features, too, Gaska noted. For instance, he said that if they were to somehow lose their connection to the drone, it’s programmed to remember where its handlers are and will return to them.

The Joint Warfighting Assessment JWA19 WA, UNITED STATES 04.28.2019

www.youtube.com

Machines Doing The Dirty Work

One of the most difficult things ground troops are asked to do is breaching operations against enemy strongholds. The defending side nearly always has the advantage. Good defenders lay out layers of defense that can include walls, barbed wire, ditches, minefields, and countless other hazards and traps. “It’s a very challenging task because you have to imagine your opponent on the far side of that position ready to destroy you with every weapon system that they have,” Fursmo said. “If you can take humans out of that, you’re going to have fewer casualties — it’s really the most dangerous thing a ground force does.”

Troops in the field trained with various aerial drones for detecting chemical threats and minefields, but more of the efforts focused on ground-based systems. One of the key systems they were testing was the Assault Breacher Vehicle. Their ABV working prototype was built around the hull of an M1A1 Abrams tank armed with mine charges and a .50-caliber machine gun and equipped with plows and dozer blades.

“Basically, the concept of this vehicle is that this one vehicle with two operators can do what an entire platoon of engineers would be required to do in a breach,” U.S. Marine 1st Lt. David Aghakhan explained. “It’s not taking anything away from my capabilities — I can still manually operate it — but it gives me the option of saying ‘I don’t want to expose my Marines in this obstacle belt because it’s too dangerous,’ and I can pull them out and we can robotically operate it.”

A soldier remotely operates a humvee from inside another humvee.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Working from remote controls in command vehicles, soldiers and Marines could also remotely control other vehicles to move in and provide suppressing fire for the ABV as it worked to clear mines, smash berms, and deal with other obstacles. Captain Nicole Rotte, an Afghanistan veteran and commander of the 2-2’s engineer company, said that she was impressed with it.

“The challenge that I have is my planning factor for moving through a breach is 50 percent loss,” said Rotte. “So all these concepts, to be able to take an unmanned vehicle and bring them down the battlefield, to be able save soldiers from being lost in the breach, that’s awesome for me.”

Rotte said they only had minor technical issues that were easily solved by turning the systems off and on again. She added that if anything, she’s excited for the prospect of having more robots available to her and seeing what they can do.

Unmanning the Battlefield?

Some futurists have envisioned a world in which war was waged entirely by robots. The U.S. military and CIA have already used drones with operators in Nevada pulling the trigger to kill enemies as far away as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. However, while the vehicles are referred to as “unmanned,” they require regular maintenance — and usually have a human operator somewhere.

At times, U.S. military commanders have underestimated the strain on personnel in regard to upkeep and the long hours of operation. “The explosion in demand had created a snowball effect that never allowed the […] staff to take a pause and say, ‘Let’s normalize all the processes that we should be doing,'” the Air Force reported in one of its official annual histories from 2012. “Instead, normalization was put off to some future date after the pace of combat operations slowed down.”

But the wars continued, as did the extreme hours. Airmen working six days a week were constantly asked to work extra hours while leave got cancelled. They were never “deployed” but remained almost constantly on duty, remotely fighting wars in several countries that were continents away. “It’s at the breaking point and has been for a long time,” a senior Air Force official told The Daily Beast in 2015. “What’s different now is that the Band-Aid fixes are no longer working.”

A remotely operated humvee with a robotic firing turret.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Even without the logistical hurdles, many commanders (even those that fully embrace a robotic future for war) don’t believe grunts will ever become obsolete. “It’s technologically feasible to fly a drone from Nevada and have it circling over Iraq or Afghanistan. But the demands of the terrain, as Army soldiers we are so tied to the terrain — you need to have leaders on the ground to see and understand the terrain,” Roede said.

Col. Christopher Barnwell, head of the field experimentation division at JMC, said that while he could see a future where commanders could run a war without ever going to the field — adding that at this point communications are advanced enough that senior officers already don’t have to — he doesn’t think a good leader would choose to stay home while war is raging elsewhere.

“No commander I know would do that,” he said. “I feel like I need to be on the ground and see things with my own eyes and get a feel for what’s going. Technically possible? Yes. Likely? I don’t personally think so.”

An Alabama Army National Guard Soldier with the 690th Chemical Company inspects a “deep purple” drone at YTC at Joint Warfighting Assessment 19, May 4, 2019.

(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/ 302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)

Battle Bots

While they don’t see human judgement being removed from the equation, some military planners are excited by the prospect of artificial intelligence to allow vehicles to move on their own on the battlefield.

“As the concept matures, as we bring in elements of AI, as we bring in some measures of autonomy, the ratio of operators to vehicles will drop so that eventually you’ll have one operator who can control maybe a squad or platoon’s worth of vehicles,” said Roede. He suggested that AI could allow vehicles to autonomously navigate terrain and even rally into formations as they haul supplies and weapons.

Barnwell suggested it potentially going even further — he can foresee a day in the future when leaders can delegate to robotic weapons systems in combat and allow them to autonomously pick and engage targets.

“You tell these robotic vehicles, ‘You’ve got this part of the engagement area, and you are free to shoot at enemy vehicles; anything north of the niner-niner grid line is enemy and you are free to shoot it,'” Barnwell said. “And because these vehicles have AI, they know what to shoot […] on their own.”

However, the prospect of robots that can autonomously kill enemies based on algorithms or pre-programmed targets sets has potentially serious ramifications. The recent battles for Mosul and Raqqa proved incredibly bloody. House-to-house fighting and heavy bombing and artillery strikes led to untold deaths of civilians trapped in the cities, and the work of rebuilding the infrastructure since the battles ended has been slow.

Military strategists believe that urban fighting could be the norm for the 21st century. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and that’s expected to grow. In particular, there are concerns about the challenges posed by potentially fighting in massive megacities like Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, or Lagos. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley has pointed out that the entirety of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — isn’t equal to a neighborhood in Seoul.

Conceptual prototypes at Yakima Training Center.

(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)

Heavily armed robots combing the streets of a densely populated megacity picking targets based on algorithms have the potential to cause a lot of unintended collateral death and destruction. Machines feel neither remorse nor pity.

Barnwell said that they’re already considering these potential problems. “Through programming, we would be able to figure out what are appropriate targets, what are not. What is the ROE (rules of engagement), what are we going to allow these things to shoot at by themselves, and what are we not going to allow them to shoot at by themselves,” he explained. “In a megacity, for example, we may not even employ this sort of thing — or we may, depending on what the intelligence tells us the enemy is out there.”

But Roede stressed again that fighting wars is going to remain a fundamentally human endeavor, adding, “I don’t think we’ll ever be at a place where we’ll let the machine make the final decision on anything.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Plane full of US troops evacuated after landing gear catches fire

All flights from Ireland’s Shannon Airport were suspended on Aug. 15, 2019, after a plane carrying US troops was evacuated because of a fire, Irish news outlets reported.

Shannon Airport said an Omni Air International Boeing 763 was halted as it taxied on the runway at 6:20 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET).

There had been reports of fire and smoke coming from the landing gear.

Air-traffic controllers instructed the crew to evacuate the aircraft as a fire on the left landing gear became visible, the Irish newspaper The Journal reported.

The Irish Independent reported that the fire was thought to have been caused by punctured tires.


Shannon Airport tweeted on Aug. 15, 2019: “We can confirm that an incident has occurred at Shannon Airport involving a Boeing 763 aircraft.”

“Emergency services are in attendance,” it said. “All passengers and crew have disembarked. Airport operations temporarily suspended.”

Irish news outlets reported that the Omni Air International, a US charter airline flying out of Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma, was a private charter carrying US military personnel.

Omni Air International tweeted: “We are investigating reports of an incident involving Omni Air International flight 531 at Shannon Airport, Ireland. The Omni Boeing 767-300 aircraft rejected takeoff and was safely evacuated. Initial reports indicate no serious injuries to passengers or crew.”

Shannon Airport said in a later tweet: “We are currently working to remove the aircraft from the scene of the incident so we can resume safe operations on the runway. This may take some time.”

In the wake of the incident, several flights from the airport were canceled.

Shannon Airport is the focus of an antiwar campaign demanding that the Irish government stop letting the US use the airport as a de facto military base. Campaigners say that over 3 million US troops have passed through the airport since 2003.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

These are Britain’s most controversial World War II vets

It’s been 72 years since the end of World War II, and most vets who served have passed away, with many of them honored as being part of the “Greatest Generation.” However, a few of those still alive are fighting for the recognition they believe they are due, including the one of the last surviving aircrew who took part in one of the most famous attacks in World War II.


According to a report by the London Daily Mail, former RAF aircrewman Johnny Johnson, MBE, who took part in Operation Chastise – the attack on the Mohne, Elbe, and Sorpe dams in 1943, is among those campaigning for World War II veterans of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command to receive a medal. And he has some very harsh words for some historians.

RAF Lancasters during a fire-bombing raid. (Wikimedia Commons)

“I have a pet hate of what I call ‘relative’ historians. I ask them two questions: ‘Were you there?’ and ‘Were you aware of the circumstances at the time?’ The answer is no, so keep your bloody mouth shut,” he said.

RAF’s Bomber Command, most famously lead by Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, carried out numerous bombing missions against Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. According to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, 55,573 men who served in that command made the ultimate sacrifice.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, who lead Bomber Command from February 1942 to September 1945. His men were given a difficult and ugly job, only to have politicians give them short shrift after the war. (Wikimedia Commons)

Bomber Command notably launched missions against German cities, most notably the 1945 bombing of Dresden, often sending over a thousand planes to carry out area-bombing missions against targets at night. The Daily Mail noted that the tactic caused heavy civilian casualties, causing the same politicians who ordered the bomber crews to carry out those difficult missions to distance themselves from the bomber offensive after World War II.

A memorial to Bomber Command’s fallen was not commissioned until 2012. A clasp was also awarded to veterans of Bomber Command, but Johnson is not satisfied.

Dresden after RAF Bomber Command visited it in February, 1945. (Deutsche Fotothek)

“All I’m asking for is a Bomber Command medal,” he told the Daily Mail. He also is advocating that ground crews receive recognition for their efforts.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Army just bought a ridiculous number of Bradleys

The Army is massively revving up its fleet of Bradley Fighting Vehicles through a recent deal to add up to 473 of the new infantry carriers, service officials said.

The move represents a key portion of a broader Army push to prepare its arsenal of armored combat vehicles for major power land war — and further pave the way toward a new generation of combat platforms for the 2030s and beyond.

While the Army of course has thousands of Bradleys in its inventory, the size of this buy is extremely significant because, among other things, it it acquires the newest generation of Bradley vehicles — something designed to lay key groundwork for longer-term high-priority ground vehicle modernization plans.


The service acquisition plan, advanced through a large-scale Army deal with BAE Systems, calls for the most modern Bradley M2A4 and M7A4 vehicles. These newest Bradleys are part of a strategic push to bring the Bradley platform into a new era with advanced computing, digital processors, long-range sensors, and a range of new weapons applications.

“After a decade of modifications in response to threats in Iraq, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is at or exceeds Space, Weight, and Power-Cooling limitations,” Ashley Givens, spokeswoman for Program Executive Office, Ground Combat Systems, told Warrior Maven.

Space, Weight, and Power considerations, as Army developers describe it, are an indispensable element of the calculus informing Bradley modernization; this means managing things like weight, mobility, on board electrical power, ammunition storage space, and electromagnetic signatures as they pertain to vehicle protection and firepower.

Essentially, some survivability enhancements needed to counter threats in Iraq wound up maxing the Bradley’s weight and on-power capacity. For instance, Army developers explain that equipping the Bradley with new suspension, reactive armor tiles, and APS can increase the vehicle weight by as much as 3,000-pounds.

In order to address this, the Army decided to execute a series of Engineering Change Proposals for the Bradley, specific technical adjustments to the platform designed to bring a host of new capabilities and enable faster and more seamless integration of emerging systems and technologies.

Givens explained that the newest Bradley A4s include upgrades to the engine and transmission, cooling system modification, electrical system upgrades, and introduction of vehicle diagnostics.

“These improvements buy-back lost mobility, as well as create margin to allow future technologies to be hosted on the platform. As an example, none of the Active Protection Systems currently being explored by the Army could be installed on the A3 Bradley due to its shortage of electrical power. The A4 corrects this shortcoming,” she added.

A Bradley firing a TOW missile
(U.S. Department of Defense photo)

More on-board power can bring the technical means to greatly support advanced electronics, command and control systems, computing power, sensors, networks and even electronic warfare technologies.

The A4 configuration also upgrades the Bradley engine and transmission, Alicia Gray, BAE Systems Combat Vehicles spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.

The Army is also working on a new future A5 Bradley Fighting Vehicle variant possibly armed with lasers, counter-drone missiles, active protection systems, vastly improved targeting sights and increased on-board power to accommodate next-generation weapons and technologies.

Designed to be lighter weight, more mobile, and much better protected, emerging Bradley A5 lethality upgrades already underway as part of a plan to build upon improvements with the A4.

These improvements include integrating 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared sensors for Commanders and Gunners sights, spot trackers for dismounted soldiers to identify targets and an upgraded chassis with increased underbelly protections and a new ammunition storage configuration, Army developers tell Warrior.

Also, while Army Bradley developers did not specifically say they planned to arm Bradleys with laser weapons, such innovation is well within the realm of the possible. Working with industry, the Army has already shot down drone targets with Stryker-fired laser weapons, and the service currently has several laser weapons programs at various stages of development.

This includes ground-fired Forward Operating Base protection laser weapons as well as vehicle-mounted lasers. A key focus for this effort, which involves a move to engineer a much stronger 100-kilowatt vehicle-fired laser, is heavily reliant upon an ability to integrate substantial amounts of mobile electrical power into armored vehicles.

Land War vs. Russian & Chinese Armored Vehicles

The Army is accelerating these kinds of armored vehicle weapons systems and countermeasures, in part because of an unambiguous recognition that, whoever the US Army fights, it is quite likely to encounter Russian or Chinese-built armored vehicles and advanced weaponry, senior service leaders told Warrior.

As part of this equation, recognizing that Army warfighters are often understandably reluctant to articulate war plans or threat assessments, it is indeed reasonable and relevant to posit that service war planners are looking at the full-range of contingencies — to include ground war with Russian forces in Europe, Iranian armies in the Middle East or even Chinese armored vehicles on the Asian continent.

Citing Russian-built T-72 and T-90 tanks, Army senior officials seem acutely aware that the US will likely confront near-peer armored vehicles, weapons systems and technologies.

“If the Army goes into ground combat in the Middle East, we will face equipment from Russia, Iran and in some cases China,” a senior Army official told Warrior. “The threat is not just combat vehicles but UAVs (drones), MANPADs and other weapons.”

Bradley upgrades are also serving as a component to early conceptual work on the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, an entirely new platform or fleet of vehicles slated to emerge in the 2030s.

Next Generation vehicles, for the 2030s and beyond, Army developers say, will be necessary because there are limits to how far an existing armored vehicle can be upgraded. This requires a delicate balancing act between the short term operational merits of upgrades vs. a longer-term, multi-year developmental approach. Each has its place, Army acquisition leaders emphasize.

The emergence of these weapons, and the fast-changing threat calculus is also, quite naturally, impacting what Army developers call CONOPS, or Concepts of Operations. Longer range sensors and weaponry, of course, can translate into a more dispersed combat area – thus underscoring the importance of command and control systems and weapons with sufficient reach to outrange attacking forces. The idea of bringing more lethality to the Bradley is not only based upon needing to directly destroy enemy targets but also fundamental to the importance of laying down suppressive fire, enabling forces to maneuver in combat.

As part of these preparations for future ground warfare, Army concept developers and war veterans are quick to point out that armored vehicles, such as a Bradley or even an Abrams tank, have also been impactful in certain counterinsurgency engagements as well. Accordingly, the term “full-spectrum” often receives much attention among Army leaders, given that the service prides itself on “expecting the unexpected” or being properly suited in the event of any combat circumstance. The Army has now evolved to a new Doctrinal “Operations” approach which places an even greater premium upon winning major power land wars.

“We need to be ready to face near-peers or regional actors with nuclear weapons. It is the risk of not being ready that is too great,” a senior Army official said.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This journalist witnessed the rise of ISIS up close—and now he’s telling the story​

In 2007 I was a fresh-out-to-pasture journalist, trying not to lose my sanity as an Army wife and stay at home mom. I had worked most recently as a reporter for The Fayetteville Observer, but my husband, a Special Forces soldier, kept getting deployed. We couldn’t afford a nanny, and no daycare in town stayed open late enough to watch our son until I could get off work.


The Observer offered me an opportunity to write a blog and two weekly columns from home, and that’s how I came to meet Mike Giglio, a fresh-out-of-college writer for Charlotte Magazine, working on a story about military families at Ft. Bragg.

Giglio has written a book now, “Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate” – an open wound of a book, as raw and bleeding as the conflict itself.

But back in 2007, he came to my house, sat in my living room, made the requisite comments about the adorableness of my toddler, and interviewed me. He has since told me that I was the first person he had interviewed about war. He has interviewed many, many more people since. He wrote then:

Rebekah Sanderlin looks like an Army wife from a movie: the hero pulls out her picture in the opening scene, she has dark hair, engaging eyes, and a warm smile, she’s holding his kid, and you’re already hoping he makes it out of this thing alive.

12 years and as many deployments later, my husband and I are still married and, indeed, he appears to have made it out of this thing alive.

I followed Giglio’s career from a distance after that, watching as his byline hopped up to the big leagues and then across the ocean, first to London and then to Istanbul, and then right into the heart of war.

Now a journalist for The Atlantic, he spent four years living in Turkey and Syria, interviewing members of the Islamic State, their enablers, and legions of others who were pushing back against ISIS’ terror quest for power, embedding with U.S. military units as well as low-level groups of resistance fighters.

(The Atlantic)

His book is part memoir, part chronicle. We see the early movements of ISIS in the form of sources and scoops that grow into defeats and victories. He is unflinching in the descriptions but avoids the war-porn tendencies lesser writers find irresistible. There are no heroes and no villains, only humans showing up, day after day. Characters come and go, lost to war and the swirling chaos of life. There are no neat and tidy endings. This is news – news never ends.

His sparse, direct, writing style is appropriately like chewing on broken glass. A book about ISIS shouldn’t be overwrought. There’s too much gore, too much horror, too much human misery, for a writer in love with adjectives. No one needs those adjectives.

Of an Iraqi Special Forces soldier, he writes:

“So when militiamen kidnapped Ahmed from a checkpoint in Baghdad one day, they didn’t just torture him. They put a circular saw to his forehead and tried to peel off his face. Then they put a hood over his head, shot him five times, and tossed his body in a garbage dump, thinking he was dead. Ahmed survived, though, and was found by an elderly man, who carried him to a hospital. When he recovered, he had gained his nickname – The Bullet, for what couldn’t kill him – and he returned to his turret.

These are not pages to read before bed.

Giglio is captured and nearly executed, and he survives being hit by a suicide bomber. He sets these encounters on the table, like an indifferent dinner party host, as if to say, “Here it is. Make of it what you will.” And, of course, there is only one thing to make of it: ISIS is even worse than you thought.

I read Mike’s book during the vacant, pedestrian, moments of my mom-life. Sitting in my daughter’s gymnastics class, reading about the young Syrian mother who watched helplessly as a wall collapsed on all four of her children during a bombing. In the front seat of my minivan, parked at the high school, waiting for that once-toddler-now-teenager, reading about a man whose seven siblings were all killed by ISIS. Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room while a friend’s wrist was being x-rayed, reading about ISIS fighters gathering body parts from numerous people into one duffel bag, only to leave the bag in the middle of a street.

I read about Mike, being zip-tied and beaten by a jeering mob in Egypt, before being thrown into a prison bus and carted to a sports arena, where sham trials and public executions were being held for political prisoners. And then the zip ties are cut from his wrists and he is inexplicably released. I think about the cub reporter I first met in my North Carolina living room, as eager for adventure as any young soldier.

He is in Iraq, embedded with a battalion from the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force (ICTF) in Mosul when the results of the 2016 election are announced, and Americans of all political persuasions are melting down. He writes:

“I wondered if, when a country was at war for so long but only a select few ever waged it, the rest of society began to go a certain kind of crazy. Some played at civil war while others vowed to flee to Canada as political refugees, and too many Americans seemed to want to pull a bit of conflict into their lives just when so many people around the world were risking everything to escape from it.”

And then he finally escapes it himself, perhaps for good, writing this about then-new President Trump’s premature declaration of victory over ISIS: “As in the past, America was looking to move on from the region before the war was really over – leaving much of Iraq and Syria in ruins and ISIS still a threat. This was an impulse I embodied, too. As Colonel Arkan had once explained, the thing about going to war far from home is that you can always walk away from it.”

If you’re lucky, Mike. Only the lucky get to walk away.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Civil War battalion was just college kids

During the Civil War, an entire battalion was formed by pulling the students of two colleges out of school, putting them under the command of their professors, and shipping them off to war. And these college kids really did fight, possibly firing some of the first and last shots of the war and earning battle streamers for seven different engagements before the war ended.


Citadel cadets recreate the firing on the Star of the West

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The college students were cadets at The Citadel and The Arsenal Academy, both establishments for training future military officers. So, when South Carolina seceded on Dec. 20, 1860, there was obviously a question of roles for these men who had already signaled an interest in military service.

Just a few weeks later, on Jan. 9, cadets were manning artillery emplacements in Charleston Harbor when a merchant ship, Star of the West, loaded with supplies and reinforcements for Fort Sumter, entered the harbor. The Citadel’s superintendent, Col. Peter Stevens, ordered gunners to fire on the ship in an attempt to turn it around.

A single warning shot across the bow failed to deter the ship, but a short volley a few minutes later caused multiple strikes against the ship’s hull and forced it to withdraw.

A later attack by Confederate forces on Fort Sumter in April 1861 is generally regarded as the first attack of the war, but the cadets were awarded a streamer for their January attack.

An illustration of The Citadel during the Civil War.

(Alfred Rudolf Waud)

The next streamer for the academy came in November 1861, at Wappoo Cut, but they didn’t actually meet with Union forces. On Nov. 7, Union naval forces had shelled and seized two Confederate forts near the South Carolina capital, and political leaders worried that the Union would press forward. They called on the cadets to man defenses at Wappoo Cut, but the Union soldiers didn’t press the attack, and the cadets eventually returned to school.

Around the same time, Union forces landed on James and John’s islands, and Confederate counterattacks failed to re-take the beachheads, and on James Island, they were even forced back along a bridge. These were islands key to Charleston’s defense, and the cadets were sent again to hold the line. They brought eight light artillery pieces to James Island and manned them against Union attack.

At this point, though, The Citadel and The Arsenal were still functioning as military academies despite their students and faculty being called away from time to time to perform training, logistics, or even defensive duties. But by June 1862, there was a body of cadets that was ready to go to war without waiting for their commissions at graduation. At least 37 cadets resigned from the school and formed the “Cadet Rangers,” a cavalry unit.

This sort of pattern would continue for the next few years, with the cadets being called out to defend Charleston for a few days or weeks and then being sent back to the school to train, frustrating some of them. In early 1863, cadets manned guns in a defensive battery on a bridge between Charleston and James Island.

Union forces shelled the city during this period, and some of the cadets were sent to guard stores of weapons and supplies. But they returned to school again until the first half of 1864, when they were once again sent to defend James Island.

At the end of 1864, the cadets were called to a defense that would actually result in combat. Union Marines, soldiers, and sailors were sent to break the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, and their attack surprised the infantrymen defending the position. The cadets, stationed a few miles away at the time, rushed to the fight at the double-time.

Union Marines and other troops attacked cadets at the Battle of Tulifinny near Charleston, South Carolina, and the cadets earned praise for their disciplined fire and poise under attack.

(David Humphreys Miller)

During that first night, on Dec. 6, the cadets did little because they arrived as the Union troops were digging into their defensive positions while the Confederate attacks gave way.

But the next morning, the cadets were one of the key components of an attack on the Union positions. They came under rifle fire and responded with a bayonet charge, but were driven back. They secured their wounded and dropped back to their own defenses. In this role, they earned praise from nearby infantry units for their disciplined fire. They even pursued the Marines attacking them during the final Union retreat. During the fight, they suffered eight casualties.

The following year, in May 1865, cadets would once again engage in direct combat with Union forces. They were sent to guard infrastructure in Williamston, South Carolina, when Union forces attempted to reach a bridge over the Saluda River and burn it. The cadets beat back the attack successfully, saving the bridge.

Even as the Confederacy’s prospects in the war suffered under the Union Anaconda Plan, the cadets held their lines when ordered. They never surrendered and were one of the last forces to disband, not doing so until May 9, 1865, one month after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.

Military Life

How US sailors can be confined in the brig with just bread and water

Under the command of Capt. Adam Aycock, the USS Shiloh became known in the Pacific as the “USS Bread and Water.” It seems Aycock’s favorite non-judicial punishment for his junior enlisted was an old but legal punishment that confines the sailor to the brig with nothing but the world’s simplest combo meal.


Works for ducks. Why not you?

According to the Department of the Navy Corrections Manual, “Confinement on Bread and Water (BW)… may be imposed as punishment upon personnel in pay grade E-3 or below, attached to or embarked in a vessel.”

Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice outlines the punishment further:

• It may not be implemented for more than three consecutive days.

• Rations furnished a person undergoing such confinement shall consist solely of bread and water. The rations will be served three times daily at the normal time of meals, and the amount of bread and water shall not be restricted.

• The medical officer must pre-certify in writing that a deterioration of the prisoner’s health is not anticipated as a result of such action.

• Prisoners serving this punishment will be confined in a cell and will be bound by the procedures set forth for disciplinary segregation cells. They will not be removed for work or physical exercise.

While the Bread and Water punishment sucks and does seem rather archaic, it’s hardly the worst punishment that can be handed to a sailor at Captain’s Mast — especially for an E-3 or below.

Captains can send sailors to the brig for 30 days, forfeit their pay, take stripes, assign extra duties and restrictions, or any combination of these. As retired Navy Captain Kevin Eyer pointed out in a Naval Institute article on Bread and Water, the “arcane” punishment of Bread and Water only affects the sailor. This is especially important if the sailor is married because the other potential Article 15 punishments would affect the whole family.

As of December 2017, the elimination of the Bread and Water punishment was up for review by President Trump.

MIGHTY TRENDING

An alligator snuck onto the flight line at MacDill Air Force Base (and how to wrangle an alligator)

Officials at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Bay, Florida reported an unusual obstruction on the airstrip this past Tuesday preventing military aircraft from taking off: a laid back alligator seemingly perfectly content to catch some sun on the warm blacktop of the runway.

While alligators are no stranger to Florida, they are an uncommon sight in places like a military flight line, where perimeter fences and frequent traffic tend to make for an unwelcoming area for wildlife–especially the sort that tends to move at a leisurely pace outside of the water. Alligators are, of course, capable of achieving downright terrifying speeds in short bursts on land, but this gator didn’t seem to have speed on its mind as it was approached by MacDill officials.


MacDill Air Force Base

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MacDill Air Force Base

As luck would have it, wrangling wayward alligators happens to be one of the unusual skill sets I’ve gathered over the years, cutting my gator wrestling teeth in a large animal preserve in Colorado some time ago.

The preserve maintained a sizeable population of wild and rescued alligators, many of which sometimes require medical care for the small wounds they tend to give one another in their sporadic alligator squabbles. Some of the worst gator-on-gator injuries, I came to find, often involved long-term mating pairs going through bad breakups. Despite having the size advantage, it’s often the males that require medical attention after a breakup–and I’ll leave any jokes about the fury of a woman scorned for you to make for yourself.

At MacDill, they were able to get their alligator intruder off the flight line by coaxing it into the bucket of a front loader using a bucket of food, which was probably the safest and most expedient method of dinosaur removal you could come up with on short notice. My experience wrangling alligators was slightly different… as the gators I was after were submerged under waist-deep opaque water and often injured.

Although you can’t see it, there’s an alligator right beneath me here.

Despite the terror associated with wading around in water you know is chock-full of apex predators, alligators can be a surprisingly docile species when approached by humans. Don’t let that fool you. It isn’t a friendly demeanor that keeps them still, but rather a supreme confidence in their ability to manage the threat posed by your squishy, meat-filled body.

Getting a submerged alligator out of the water for treatment is a nerve-racking but surprisingly simple endeavor: you walk barefoot through the water very slowly, being careful not to lift your feet, as a submerged alligator might mistake a raised foot for a swimming fish. As you slowly push your feet forward, you feel for the leathery hide of an alligator resting on the river bed. Maybe it’s their thick skin, maybe it’s their confidence, but alligators rarely react when you nudge them with a toe.

From there, the stress begins: you need to determine which way the head is pointing and step over the alligator’s back, so you’re standing with the submerged gator between your legs, with its head pointing in the same direction as yours. Then it’s as simple as reaching down under the water and carefully looping your rope around the alligator’s neck. Once the rope is secured, you once more very gingerly, step away from the gator with the other end of the rope in hand. Once you’re a few feet away, you’ve got a gator on a leash, and you need to get it to shore: there’s only one way to do that. With one tug of the rope, hell breaks loose. An explosion of water fills the area as the alligator tries to attack with both teeth and tail. There’s nothing left to do now but play tug of war with a dinosaur.

Just like taking your giant, tooth-filled dog for a walk that he really doesn’t want to go on.

Once on shore, the fight has just begun. You pass the rope to your partner to put some tension on it to redirect the alligator’s focus while you circle around. Once you’re sure the alligator has lost sight of you, you move as quickly as you can to get onto the alligator’s back with your feet beneath you, sticking your fingers into its mouth at the rear near the jaw joint and heaving your weight backward as you pull to subdue the monster.

With small alligators, this is a challenge. With big alligators, it’s exactly as scary as you imagine. If the gator bucks you off (as they sometimes do) your partner will need to move quickly to save your life. Alligators attack at angles and with lightning quickness, making their aggressive movements difficult to predict and even more difficult to evade.

Believe it or not, this was still a “small” alligator during training classes.

Once subdued, we used good old fashioned triple antibiotic ointment on small wounds and antibiotic injections for larger injuries before releasing the alligators back into the water.

Fortunately for MacDill, a bucket of food and a bit of heavy equipment did the trick just fine this time… but if these sightings keep up, alligator wrestling could become one heck of a B-billet.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

9 epic photos of riverine sailors preparing for combat

The U.S. Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron 1 is proving itself right now in preparation for mobilization, and its sailors have been showing off at tasks from convoy security to medical aid to speeding around in boats (a fun and major part of their mission) in complex tasks at Camp Pendleton, California.


So, it’s a bunch of badass sailors playing with machine guns and boats in Southern California. Wanna see some photos? Yeah, of course you do.

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

Engineman 2nd Class Christian McCain of Arlington, Texas engages opposing forces while dismounted with a M240 machine gun.

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(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

(U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia threatened Israel over its recent strikes in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin called his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on April 11, 2018, and warned the country against airstrikes in Syria.

The Kremlin released a statement verifying the call, and said Putin “emphasized the importance of respecting Syria’s sovereignty” and called on the Israeli Prime Minister to “refrain” taking action to that could “further destabilize the situation in the country and threaten its security.”


The two leaders discussed the recent aerial attack on military airbase in Homs, Syria, which reportedly killed at least 14 people. Russia has accused Israel of leading the strike, an allegation that Israel has neither confirmed nor denied.

Israeli officials confirmed the phone call, reported Haaretz, adding that Netanyahu said Israel would act to prevent Iran’s military presence in Syria. News of the phone call came as Netanyahu delivered a speech for Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Hashoa) in which he brazenly threatened Iran not to “test Israel’s resolve.”

Vladimir Putin

On April 11, 2018, Netanyahu reportedly told his security officials in a closed-door meeting that he believes the US will order a military strike against Syria in retaliation for a suspected gas attack on April 7, 2018, that killed dozens of civilians.

Russia has aligned itself with Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad, and his government forces, and Israel is trying to curb Iran’s growing influence in Syria, and prevent Iranian fighters from attacking Israel’s border.

Netanyahu and Putin have maintained positive relations in the last few years, and have discussed preventing a military confrontation between their armies in Syria. But the recent call between the two leaders likely signals a growing divide in their approach to the regional conflict.