Charred weapons recovered from the wreckage of an Arrow Air DC-8 commercial aircraft are stored in a Gander Airport hangar for analysis by members of the Canadian Air Safety Board. The aircraft crashed at the airport with no survivors on December 12, 1985, while carrying 248 members of the 3rd Bn., 502nd Inf., 101st Airborne Div. They were returning to the United States after participating in peacekeeping duty with the Multi-national Force and Observers in the Sinai Desert. (Wikimedia Commons)
On Dec. 12, 2020, the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division will mark the 35th anniversary of the day it took its worst single-day loss of life in a single event, ever. Arrow Air Lines flight 1285 was carrying 248 members of the unit back home to Fort Campbell from Egypt when it suddenly crashed after a layover in Canada.
There were no survivors from the Screaming Eagles or from the flight crew. The Canadian Aviation Safety Board would also become a casualty of the accident.
And the crash was ruled an accident. The flight was chartered by the U.S. government to take members of the 101st back to their home base of Fort Campbell, Kentucky after a six-month deployment as part of a multinational peacekeeping force in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The plane would make two stops before landing in Kentucky, the West German capital of Bonn and Canada’s Gander Airfield in the province of Newfoundland.
It had no issues taking off from both Cairo and Bonn, but shortly after its takeoff at Gander airfield, the plane had trouble getting aloft. The plane began to rapidly descend, hitting trees and breaking up until it smashed into an empty building. Full of jet fuel, the plane exploded.
There were no survivors. It remains the deadliest plane crash in Canadian history and the Army’s single deadliest peacetime crash.
When the Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB) investigated, they found the pilots had not asked for the plane to be de-iced, even though icy conditions existed and the wings could have been iced over.
“… shortly after lift-off, the aircraft experienced an increase in drag and reduction in lift which resulted in a stall at low altitude from which recovery was not possible. The most probable cause of the stall was determined to be ice contamination on the leading edge and upper surface of the wing.”
At least, that was the majority opinion of the CASB. Four dissenting members of the board announced their own conclusion that there was no evidence of ice on the wings. They also cited witness reports of glowing red and/or exploding pieces of the fuselage during the takeoff attempt. Combined with other evidence they say ice can’t explain, they were apt to believe the cause was a terrorist attack.
To make matters worse, the terror group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the crash as a terror attack that same day. American and Canadian intelligence agencies denied their claim as an attempt to bolster recruiting numbers. At least one member of the CASB maintains it was a terror attack caused by an onboard explosive.
The two opinions of the CASB satisfied no one, especially the government of Canada, who liquidated the agency and replaced it with a new agency, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
In reality, the crash was caused by numerous factors, and terrorists were not one of those factors. The first is that ice could have been present on the plane, but went unnoticed by both pilots and ground crew. This kind of thin but significant ice would later cause another crash in 1989, that of Air Ontario flight 1363. That crash led to a change in Canada’s deicing procedures.
Another cause was human error. The pilots did not check the functionality of the cockpit voice recorder, so not much is known about what was going on in the cockpit prior to the crash, but officials believed the pilots may have misjudged how heavy the plane was, due to the amount of material each soldier carried aboard.
While not the only determining factor, combined with other possibilities, the misjudged weight would be more than enough to keep the plane from achieving proper lift, and thus causing it to crash.
Today there are memorials to the men and women who died in the Gander plane crash, both at the crash site in Newfoundland and on Fort Campbell.
Scientists have reproduced in the lab how the ingredients for life could have formed deep in the ocean 4 billion years ago. The results of the new study offer clues to how life started on Earth and where else in the cosmos we might find it.
Astrobiologist Laurie Barge and her team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are working to recognize life on other planets by studying the origins of life here on Earth. Their research focuses on how the building blocks of life form in hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.
To re-create hydrothermal vents in the lab, the team made their own miniature seafloors by filling beakers with mixtures that mimic Earth’s primordial ocean. These lab-based oceans act as nurseries for amino acids, organic compounds that are essential for life as we know it. Like Lego blocks, amino acids build on one another to form proteins, which make up all living things.
A time-lapse video of a miniature hydrothermal chimney forming in the lab, as it would in early Earth’s ocean. Natural vents can continue to form for thousands of years and grow to tens of yards (meters) in height.
“Understanding how far you can go with just organics and minerals before you have an actual cell is really important for understanding what types of environments life could emerge from,” said Barge, the lead investigator and the first author on the new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Also, investigating how things like the atmosphere, the ocean and the minerals in the vents all impact this can help you understand how likely this is to have occurred on another planet.”
Found around cracks in the seafloor, hydrothermal vents are places where natural chimneys form, releasing fluid heated below Earth’s crust. When these chimneys interact with the seawater around them, they create an environment that is in constant flux, which is necessary for life to evolve and change. This dark, warm environment fed by chemical energy from Earth may be the key to how life could form on worlds farther out in our solar system, far from the heat of the Sun.
“If we have these hydrothermal vents here on Earth, possibly similar reactions could occur on other planets,” said JPL’s Erika Flores, co-author of the new study.
Barge and Flores used ingredients commonly found in early Earth’s ocean in their experiments. They combined water, minerals and the “precursor” molecules pyruvate and ammonia, which are needed to start the formation of amino acids. They tested their hypothesis by heating the solution to 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) — the same temperature found near a hydrothermal vent — and adjusting the pH to mimic the alkaline environment. They also removed the oxygen from the mixture because, unlike today, early Earth had very little oxygen in its ocean. The team additionally used the mineral iron hydroxide, or “green rust,” which was abundant on early Earth.
The green rust reacted with small amounts of oxygen that the team injected into the solution, producing the amino acid alanine and the alpha hydroxy acid lactate. Alpha hydroxy acids are byproducts of amino acid reactions, but some scientists theorize they too could combine to form more complex organic molecules that could lead to life.
“We’ve shown that in geological conditions similar to early Earth, and maybe to other planets, we can form amino acids and alpha hydroxy acids from a simple reaction under mild conditions that would have existed on the seafloor,” said Barge.
Barge’s creation of amino acids and alpha hydroxy acids in the lab is the culmination of nine years of research into the origins of life. Past studies, which built on the foundational work of co-author and JPL chemist Michael Russell, looked at whether the right ingredients for life are found in hydrothermal vents, and how much energy those vents can generate (enough to power a light bulb). But this new study is the first time her team has watched an environment very similar to a hydrothermal vent drive an organic reaction. Barge and her team will continue to study these reactions in anticipation of finding more ingredients for life and creating more complex molecules. Step by step, she’s slowly inching her way up the chain of life.
Laurie Barge, left, and Erika Flores, right, in JPL’s Origins and Habitability Lab in Pasadena, California.
This line of research is important as scientists study worlds in our solar system and beyond that may host habitable environments. Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, for example, could have hydrothermal vents in oceans beneath their icy crusts. Understanding how life could start in an ocean without sunlight would assist scientists in designing future exploration missions, as well as experiments that could dig under the ice to search for evidence of amino acids or other biological molecules.
Future Mars missions could return samples from the Red Planet’s rusty surface, which may reveal evidence of amino acids formed by iron minerals and ancient water. Exoplanets — worlds beyond our reach but still within the realm of our telescopes — may have signatures of life in their atmospheres that could be revealed in the future.
“We don’t have concrete evidence of life elsewhere yet,” said Barge. “But understanding the conditions that are required for life’s origin can help narrow down the places that we think life could exist.”
This research was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s JPL Icy Worlds team.
Featured image: An image of Saturn’s moon Enceladus backlit by the Sun, taken by the Cassini mission. The false color tail shows jets of icy particles and water that spray into space from an ocean that lies deep below the moon’s icy surface. Future missions could search for the ingredients for life in an ocean on an icy moon like Enceladus.
Virginia’s role in the War of 1812 is largely forgotten unless you’re a military historian. Most of us recall that this conflict was primarily fought on the Canadian border. But the truth is, if it weren’t for a few forward-thinking Freemasons (and eventual presidents), America’s role in the War of 1812 might have been very different.
Way back in 1794, Congress authorized President Washington to build a series of forts along America’s coastlines to protect our harbors. Fort Norfolk was originally built with clay and wood, mainly because those were the building materials available. Of course, clay and wood aren’t the best defenses, so eventually, Fort Norfolk got a facelift. Now the installation is the last remaining fortification initiated by Washington as part of American’s harbor defenses. In light of his forward-thinking, Washington expected to have to defend fledgling America at some point. So in true Freemason fashion, he called on some of his fellow Masons to help out.
Norfolk Lodge No. 1
Norfolk Lodge No. 1 was one of the earliest Masonic Lodges in Virginia. In fact, this Lodge can be directly traced to the development of Fort Norfolk. The Lodge opened in 1732 and within years, some of the most prominent members of Virginia society were members. As a matter of fact, three such members were instrumental in prepping Virginia for war. They were General Thomas Mathews, Major Thomas Newton Jr. and President James Monroe, all of whom were quite close.
These three Freemasons realized long before the War of 1812 the area was a vulnerable spot that needed to be reinforced. First things first, they transferred the Gosport Shipyard from Virginian to US government control. Just like Washington saw that America’s shorelines needed defense, these Freemasons thought the same. The transferring of the shipyard meant that Fort Norfolk could finally get some much-needed updates.
The Masons knew conflict was coming, they just didn’t know when. In 1807, the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair set off alarm bells. War between America and the British was about to pop off. The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair was a naval conflict involving the British HMS Leopard. HMS Leopard attacked the USS Chesapeake off the coast of Norfolk. Of course, the Freemasons were having none of that. So they stepped in and started to prepare for Norfolk’s eventual bombardment. Gone were the clay and mud fortifications from Washington’s original design. For two years, Fort Norfolk underwent serious renovations. Everything was basically torn down and the installation was rebuilt with solid (and safe!) masonry.
After the rebuilding in 1809, Fort Norfolk could house two full companies. Not too bad for what was originally just a bunch of mud and wooden buildings. The Masons in charge of reno took it a step further. They reinforced the defensive sea wall to reach 12 feet high and made it 20 feet thick. In addition, the Masons added a ravelin to the east side in prep for a land assault. Nine 18-pound cannons were at the ready for the war.
VA Citizens Ready to Go
On top of that, 60,000 Virginians took up arms and were ready to defend America. They helped defeat the British and protect Virginia in the Battle of Craney Island, just across the river from Norfolk. Fort Norfolk went from a super basic instllation to super-charged in just a matter of a few years. During the war, it was one of the key defneses to Norfolk’s inner harbor. It was even home to the frigate Constellation.
Of course, as we all know, there were no clear victors in the War of 1812. That’s despite the fact that so many American citizens were up in arms. We’d just been through war a few decades previously and were ready to go again. The Freemason involvement in preparing Fort Norfolk for war might have helped save this important historic landmark for future generations.
After the war, the installation’s value was eclipsed with the building Fort Monroe. That makes it one of the first installations to feel the stress of a BRAC. The Navy took over command in 1849 and established the 19th century equivalent of naval weapon stations. By 1923, the US Army Corps of Engineers called Fort Norfolk home.
Few people have lived a life as hardcore and fulfilling as that of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow. He attended college and became the first member of his tribe to obtain a master’s degree. While working on his doctorate, he taught at the Chemawa Indian School. Then, World War II broke out and everything changed. Before he knew it, he was a full-fledged war chief.
Medicine Crow started working at a naval shipyard in Washington before enlisting in the Army in 1943. He became an infantry scout assigned to the 103rd Infantry Division and was almost immediately sent to Europe. In keeping with Crow traditions, he went into battle donning red war paint under his uniform and a sacred eagle feather under his helmet- a chief in character just as much as battle prowess.
(PBS: The War)
Also in line with tradition, he set out to complete the four required tasks in becoming the “War Chief of the Crow Indians,” a title reserved for only the most hardened warriors who have proved their worth with death-defying feats of combat. The requirements were as follows:
Lead a successful war party on a raid.
Capture an enemy weapon.
Touch an enemy without killing them.
Steal an enemy’s horse.
The first task was nearly inevitable for any competent platoon leader or sergeant, but Pvt. Medicine Crow didn’t have such a rank. After fighting hard on the western border of France, Medicine Crow proved himself fearless among his peers. He finally got an opportunity when his CO told him to stealthily clear out a German bunker with seven men and some TNT. He was told by his CO,
“If anyone can do this, it’s probably you.”
His CO was right. Not only did they cross German machine-gun and artillery fire, they got into the bunker and blew a hole right through the Siegfried Line without losing a single man. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions — and he completed the first of his four tasks. Rumor has it that after Medicine Crow destroyed the defenses, he jumped through the breach and was the first American GI to step foot into Nazi Germany.
As the 103rd made its way into Germany, it wasn’t uncommon for forward scouts to get separated and flanked by the enemy. One night, Medicine Crow was alone when a Nazi soldier got the jump on him and charged headlong into combat. He charged right back, leading to a helmet-to-helmet collision that quickly devolved into a fist fight.
Medicine Crow beat the Nazi bloody and had his hands around the Nazi’s near-lifeless neck. The Nazi chose “momma” as his almost last words. Medicine Crow didn’t kill him. Instead, he took the German as a POW and confiscated his rifle, completing the next two tasks on his list.
The last task, to steal an enemy horse, seemed implausible on a battlefield dominated by tanks. Chief Medicine Crow got his chance, however, in early 1945 when his recon team found a camp for senior German staff officers. With them were nearly 50 thoroughbred race horses.
Medicine Crow snuck into the camp in the dead of morning with nothing but some rope and his 1911. He tied the rope into a makeshift bridle and took the best horse of the group. He let out a mighty Crow war cry to herd the rest out of the corral, which woke the Germans. He had successfully gotten away with 50 horses and sang a traditional Crow war song as he returned to his men.
Joe Medicine Crow returned to his tribe after the war ended as a war hero and assumed the mantle of war chief. He was knighted in the French Legion of Honor, finished his doctorate along with three honorary PhDs, wrote almost a dozen books on military and Crow history, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for his military service and work done to improve the lives of his people. Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow passed on April 3rd, 2016 at the age of 102 and was given full military honors.
In the early 1960s, international communications were limited to transmissions through undersea cables or occasionally unreliable radio signals bounced off of the ionosphere. As you might imagine from this, many in the Western world weren’t too keen on the state of the situation given that were to someone, say, the Soviet Union, cut those cables before launching an attack, international communications with overseas forces and foreign allies would have to rely on the mood of said ionosphere.
For those unfamiliar, the ionosphere is a layer of the upper atmosphere about 50 to 600 miles above sea level. It gets its name because it is ionized consistently by solar and cosmic radiation. In very simple terms, X-ray, ultraviolet, and shorter wavelengths of radiation given off by the Sun (and from other cosmic sources) release electrons in this layer of the atmosphere when these particular photons are absorbed by molecules. Because the density of molecules and atoms is quite low in the ionosphere (particularly in the upper layers), it allows free electrons to exist in this way for a short period of time before ultimately recombining. Lower in the atmosphere, where the density of molecules is greater, this recombination happens much faster.
What does this have to do with communication and radio waves? Without interference, radio waves travel in a straight line from the broadcast source, ultimately hitting the ionosphere. What happens after is dependent on a variety of factors, notable among them being the frequency of the waves and the density of the free electrons. For certain types of radio waves, given the right conditions, they will essentially bounce back and forth between the ground and the ionosphere, propagating the signal farther and farther. So clearly the ionosphere can potentially play an important part in the terrestrial radio and communication process. But it is the constantly shifting nature of the ionosphere that makes things really interesting. And for that, we’ll have to get a little more technical, though we’ll at the least spare you the math, and we’ll leave out a little of the complexity in an effort to not go full textbook on you.
To begin with, the ionosphere’s composition changes most drastically at night, primarily because, of course, the Sun goes missing for a bit. Without as abundant a source of ionizing rays, the D and E levels (pictured right) of the ionosphere cease to be very ionized, but the F region (particularly F2) still remains quite ionized. Further, because the atmosphere is significantly less dense here then the E and D regions, it results in more free electrons (the density of which is key here).
When these electrons encounter a strong radio wave of certain types, such as AM radio, they can potentially oscillate at the frequency of the wave, taking some of the energy from the radio wave in the process. With enough of them, as can happen in the F layer, (when the density of encountered electrons is sufficient relative to the specific signal frequency), and assuming they don’t just recombine with some ion (which is much more likely in the E and D layers in the daytime), this can very effectively refract the signal back down to Earth at sufficient strength to be picked up on a receiver.
Depending on conditions, this process can potentially repeat several times with the signal bouncing down to the ground and back up. Thus, using this skywave certain radio signals can be propagated even thousands of miles and, most pertinent to the topic at hand, across oceans.
Of course, given the unpredictability of this form of communication, and potentially even times when communication would be impossible, military brass during the Cold War wanted another option.
Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Labs, the project was initially called “Project Needles” by Professor Walter E. Morrow in 1958 when he first dreamed up the idea. It was later re-named “West Ford”, presumably after Westford, Massachusetts, a nearby town. The idea was to place potentially even billions of tiny (1.78 centimeters 0.7 inches long and microscopically thin) copper antennae or dipoles in a medium Earth orbit to be used for communication signals at 8 Ghz.
The first set of well over a hundred million needles was launched on Oct. 21, 1961, but unfortunately this test failed when the needles didn’t disperse as planned.
On a second attempt in May 9, 1963, a batch of 350 million needles was placed on the back of an Air Force satellite and sent into orbit. Once dispersed, properly this time, the needles spread to form a sparsely concentrated belt with approximately 50 dipoles per cubic mile.
Needles from “Project Needles” compared to a stamp.
While you might think surely this wouldn’t be dense enough to be effective for use in communication, in fact early results of the experiment were extremely promising, with communication established using the needle array from California to Massachusetts, some 3K or so miles or 4,800 km apart. As such, there were reports that the Air Force was considering launching two more belts to be placed more permanently in orbit.
There was a problem, however. Beyond the Soviets, allies and even Americans opposed the further deployment and continuance of this program.
Why? Astronomers, in particular, were afraid that the belt would interfere with their observations. The outrage of scientists and the reason for it was perhaps best expressed by Sir Bernard Lovell of the Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory who said: “The damage lies not with this experiment alone, but with the attitude of mind which makes it possible without international agreement and safeguards.” After all, the space above the Earth is not the United States’ alone to do with as it pleases without consulting other nations of Earth.
While you might consider this a bit of an overreaction, it’s important to understand the context here, with the U.S. up to and around this point having done a series of things in space without oversight that the international community was more than a little upset about. For example, consider that also smack dab in the middle of this time, the United States was busy accidentally nuking Britain’s first satellite, among many, many others.
The satellite in question was the Ariel-1, which was developed as a joint-venture between the United States and Britain, with Britain designing and building the core systems of the satellite and NASA launching it into orbit via a Thor-Delta rocket.
Around nine months after the launch of the first batch of needles, on July 9, 1962, mere weeks after Ariel-1 was put into orbit and had successfully begun transmitting data about the ionosphere back to Earth, British scientists were shocked when the sensors aboard Ariel-1 designed to measure radiation levels suddenly began to give wildly high readings.
As it turned out, as Ariel-1 was happily free-falling around the Earth, the US military had decided to detonate an experimental 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon named Starfish-Prime in the upper atmosphere as part of Project Fish Bowl.
The explosion, which happened on the other side of the planet to Ariel-1, sent a wave of additional radiation around the Earth that ultimately damaged some of the systems on Ariel-1, particularly its solar panels, killing it and about 1/3 of the rest of the satellites in low-Earth orbit at the time.
Most pertinent to the topic of communications, this famously included the Telstar satellite, which was the first commercial communication relay satellite designed to transmit signals across the Atlantic and managed around 400 such communications before the U.S. accidentally nuked it. Funny enough, the Telstar actually wasn’t in orbit at the time of the explosion, being put there the day after the Starfish-Prime detonation. However, the additional ionizing radiation created by the explosion took years to dissipate and was not anticipated by the designers of this particular satellite. The immediate result being the degradation of Telstar’s systems, particularly the failure of several transistors in the command system, causing it to stop working just a few months after being placed in orbit. They were eventually able to get it back online for a short period via some clever software workarounds, but it didn’t last thanks to the extra radiation further degrading its systems.
It’s also noteworthy here that The Starfish explosion was actually supposed to have happened a couple weeks earlier on June 20th, but the rocket carrying it failed at about 30,000 feet. Once this happened, the self-destruct on the nuclear warhead was initiated and it broke apart, raining its radioactive innards down on Johnston and Sand Islands, as well as in the ocean around them.
It should also be noted that the effects of Starfish-Prime weren’t just limited to low orbit.
The electromagnetic pulse created by the blast ended up being much larger than expected and, in Hawaii some 900 or so miles away from the blast, the pulse ended up knocking out a few hundred street lights and damaged the telephone system. Today in our digital world, of course, a similar electromagnetic pulse would have much more catastrophic effects, especially if near more populated centers, potentially even revealing the Lizard people’s Matrix, which would be catastrophic to our Draconian overlords’ (may they reign forever) plans…
The flash created by The Starfish explosion as seen through heavy cloud cover from Honolulu 1,445 km away.
Needless to say, this, the needles in space, and other such projects had many in the international community concerned with the lack of any oversight on the United States’ activities in space. (Presumably it would have been even worse had everyone realized the United States had, a few years before this, planned to nuke the moon, more or less just because they could…)
Going back to the needle issue, a compromise measure was reached thanks to incorporating a sort of planned obsolescence; that is, none of the needles would remain in orbit longer than five years. (Or so they thought, more on this in a bit.)
Thinking more long term, several groups of scientists, including the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) demanded access and consultation in this and other such projects in the future. Ultimately an agreement was reached which granted the scientists the ability to participate in the planning and evaluation of space projects.
Of course, this particular issue quickly became moot as shortly after the second group of needles was dispersed, the military deployed its own first communication satellite system in 1966, making the needle system, while effective, obsolete. With this deployment of one object instead of hundreds of millions, the furor died down and people, for the most part, forgot about West Ford.
That said, while the project is largely forgotten, its effects are not with the consultation provisions of the original West Ford agreement with the IAU included in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, an agreement entered into by ninety-nine countries, that was designed to protect against the militarization and degradation of outer space. Among other things, in a nutshell, it provides that no country can claim ownership of space nor any celestial bodies; all countries will avoid contaminating both and are liable for any damage they cause; no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) will be deployed or placed in orbit or on any celestial body; and no military bases may be placed on any celestial bodies, including the Moon, something that unfortunately saw a planned military installation by the U.S. fully scrapped, as we covered in our article: That Time the U.S. was Going to Build a Massive, Death Ray Equipped, Military Moon Base.
On the bright side, the treaty also includes a Good Samaritan law that provides that astronauts are “envoys of mankind in outer space and [all] shall render to them all possible assistance in the event of accident, distress, or emergency landing.”
Going back to the needles, in case you’re wondering, despite the planned obsolescence, as of 2019, a few dozen clumps of them remain in orbit and are closely tracked to make sure they don’t cause any problems with all the other stuff floating around our little beautiful home space craft known as Earth.
Given AM radio signals can propagate for thousands of miles via the aforementioned skywaves, particularly at night, this can become a major problem as there are only a little over 100 allowed AM radio frequencies (restricted to keep signals interfering too much with one another), but around 5,000 AM radio stations in the United States alone. As a result, at night, AM stations in the United States typically reduce their power, go off the air completely until sunrise the next day, and/or possibly are required to use directional antennas so their specific signal doesn’t interfere with other stations on the same frequency. On the other hand, FM stations don’t have to do any of this as the ionosphere doesn’t greatly affect their signals, which has the side benefit (or disadvantage, depending on your point of view) of severely limiting the range of the FM signals, which rely on groundwave propagation.
Speaking of Radio and space, while not a job ever mentioned by my school career counselor, it turns out “Space DJ” is a thing, if you work at NASA, going all the way back to 1965 during the Gemini 6 mission on December 16th, likely initially as a joke. During this mission, astronauts Walter Schirra and Tom Stafford were woken up by a recording of singer Jack Jones and Hello Dolly. This musical wake-up call quickly became a regular occurrence intended as a way of bolstering morale while allowing astronauts a few minutes to wake up slowly before having to respond to ground control. Over the years, wake-up calls became one of NASA’s most beloved traditions, with the role of picking the songs given to the mission’s Capsule Commander (CAPCOM)… Yes, just to be clear, not only do these people get to put CAPCOM for NASA on their resume, but they can also add in “Space DJ”. Thanks Career Councilor… If you’re wondering, the songs chosen over the years have been wildly eclectic, ranging from classical music by composers like Bach and Beethoven to Metallica and the Beastie Boys. Thanks to the extensive records NASA keeps, we not only know every song played for astronauts in orbit since 1965, we also have the astronaut’s responses to some of the more unusual choices played. For example, for a 2008 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, officially designated as STS-123, CAPCOM played a brief snippet of the theme song from the presumably epic film Godzilla VS Space Godzilla as well as part of the Blue Oyster Cult song, Godzilla, for Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, signing off by saying:
Good morning Endeavour. Doi san, ohayo gozaimasu, from mission control here in Houston, take on today like a monster.
An amused Doi responded that he was “happy to hear Godzilla,” before himself signing off to get to work. According to Fries’ extensive archives, Godzilla’s iconic theme song is apparently a popular choice for Japanese astronauts, as are the themes from other well-known films like Star Wars, Star Trek and Rocky.Predictably, songs with a space theme are also popular choices, with David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Elton John’s Rocket Man being noted as some of the most commonly played.In addition to songs, NASA has, at various points, played private messages recorded by the astronauts’ loved ones (including the occasional singing of “Happy Birthday” where applicable) and even occasional messages from celebrities. Notable examples of the latter include personalised greetings from William Shatner, Paul McCartney and Elton John, a skit performed by Jim Henson involving Miss Piggy, and even a song sung by Darth Vader set to backing music from The Beatles.Perhaps best of all was the crew of Atlantis on November 25, 1991 being woken to none other than Patrick Stewart stating (with Star Trek: The Next Generation theme music playing in the background),
Space: the final frontier. This is the voyage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Its ten-day mission: To explore new methods of remote sensing and observation of the planet Earth… To seek out new data on radiation in space, and a new understanding of the effects of microgravity on the human body… To boldly go where two hundred and fifty-five men and women have gone before!Hello Fred, Tom, Story, Jim, Tom, and especially Mario — this is Patrick Stewart, choosing not to outrank you as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, saying that we are confident of a productive and successful mission. Make it so.
As for today, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, this wake-up call tradition has partially been left in the dustbin of history, though occasionally is still observed on the International Space Station, and presumably will be reinstituted as a regular activity once NASA begins sending people to space themselves again.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The Saudi-led coalition launched a major assault on Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on June 13, 2018, killing 250 Iranian-backed Houthi fighters, according to UPI.
The coalition’s initial assault on Hodeidah, which the UN has warned could end up killing 250,000 civilians and exacerbate the already terrible humanitarian condition, included several airstrikes and also led to the capture of 140 Houthi fighters, UPI reported.
The Houthis at the same time reportedly hit a coalition warship with two missiles, according to Jane’s 360. The Saudis and the United Arab Emirates — the two major actors in the coalition — have not commented on the claim.
Almasirah Live, a Houthi media outlet, has broadcasted purported footage of the coalition ship on fire:
“When our Corps goes in as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby. “Or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty. There can be no compromise.” It was the Golden Age of the Gangster, when bank robbers were folk heroes, cheered on by citizens who were suffering under the weight of Prohibition and the Great Depression. But when the mail started getting robbed by these hoods, the Postmaster General asked President Harding to send in the Marines.
In October 1921, gangsters hit a mail truck in New York City, making off with .4 million in cash, securities, and jewelry – million dollars when adjusted for inflation. That wasn’t the only high-stakes robbery. Between April 1920 and April 1921 alone, thieves stole more than six million dollars in U.S. mail robberies – million when adjusted for inflation. So when the Postmaster asked the President for the Marines, the Commander-In-Chief was happy to oblige.
Harding instructed Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby to meet with Commandant of the Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Lejeune to “detail as guards for the United States mails a sufficient number of officers and men of the United States Marine Corps to protect the mails from the depredations by robbers and bandits.”
Marines guarding a Chicago mail train.
Marines from both coasts were activated and armed with trench guns, M1911 pistols, and the M1903 Springfield rifle to stand watch as high-value mail deliveries were moved between institutions, large cities, banks, and government offices. They rode mail trucks and trains, often seated with the driver and in with the valuable cargo. The Navy Secretary told his new detachment of 50-plus Marines and officers:
“To the Men of the Mail Guard, you must when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand and, if attacked, shoot and shoot to kill. If two Marines are covered by a robber, neither must put up his hands, but both must immediately go for their guns. One may die, but the other will get the robber, and the mail will get through. When our Corps goes in as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered, or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty. There can be no compromise.”
That was the spirit of the orders. The orders themselves were just as intense.
1. To prevent the theft or robbery of any United States mails entrusted to my protection.
2. To inform myself as to the persons who are authorized to handle the mails entrusted to my protection and to allow no unauthorized persons to handle such mails or to have access to such mails.
3. To inform myself as to the persons who are authorized to enter the compartment (railway coast, auto truck, wagon, mail room, etc.) where mails entrusted to my protection are placed, and to allow no unauthorized person to enter such compartment.
4. In connection with Special Order No. 3, to prevent unauthorized persons loitering in the vicinity of such compartment or taking any position from which they might enter such compartment by surprise or sudden movement.
5. To keep my rifle, shotgun, or pistol always in my hand (or hands) while on watch.
6. When necessary in order to carry out the foregoing orders, to make the most effective use of my weapons, shooting or otherwise killing or disabling any person engaged in the theft or robbery, or the attempted theft or robbery of the mails entrusted to my protection.
The FAQ section of the Mail Guards’ training manual tells you everything you need to know about how Marines would respond to this robbery problem, once the gangster tried to break in:
“Q. Suppose he [the robber] is using a gun or making threats with a gun in trying to escape? A. Shoot him.
Q. Suppose the thief was apparently unarmed but was running away? A. Call halt twice at the top of your voice, and if he does not halt, fire one warning shot; and if he does not obey this, shoot to hit him.
Q. Is it permissible to take off my pistol while on duty; for instance, when in a mail car riding between stations?
A. Never take off your pistol while on duty. Keep it loaded, locked, and cocked while on duty.
Q. Is there a general plan for meeting a robbery?
A. Yes; start shooting and meet developments as they arise thereafter.
Q. If I hear the command ‘Hands Up,’ am I justified in obeying this order? A. No; fall to the ground and start shooting.
Q. Is it possible to make a successful mail robbery? A. Only over a dead Marine.”
Marines in a mail car.
Robberies stopped entirely. For four months, the Marines guarded the U.S. Mail, and for four months, there were zero successful robberies. After a while, the Post Office was able to muster its own guard forces, and the Marines were withdrawn from mail duty. By 1926 robberies shot up again and the Marines were called back.
The second time the Marines were withdrawn, people stopped trying to rob the U.S. mail.
When the USS Emory S. Land, one of the Navy’s two submarine tenders, sailed into the Ulithi Atoll on Dec. 7, 2019, it was a return to a major hub for US operations in World War II and yet another sign the US military is thinking about how it would fight a war in the Pacific.
Only four of the atoll’s 40 small islands are inhabited, but they all surround one of the world’s largest lagoons, which was a vital jumping-off point for the Navy as it island-hopped closer to the Japanese mainland during the war.
“It was the logistical hub for the invasions in the Philippines, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa — all of those operations were launched from the base at Ulithi,” Capt. Michael Luckett, commanding officer of the Emory S. Land, said in a release. “At the height, there were as many as 700 ships anchored there in the lagoon, including dry docks, repair ships, tenders, battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, and sea planes.”
The Philippines, which includes Leyte Gulf, and the Japanese islands, including Okinawa, are part of the Pacific’s first island chain, of which Taiwan is also part.
Farther east is the second island chain, comprising Japan’s volcanic islands, which include Iwo Jima, and the Mariana Islands, which are administered by the US and include Guam, where the Land and fellow tender USS Frank Cable are stationed.
The approximate boundaries of the first and second island chains in the western Pacific.
(US Defense Department)
The island chain strategy has been around for some time, developed with the Soviet Union in mind. It has gained renewed attention as China’s influence has risen.
The first island chain is now within reach of Chinese naval and land-based weapons, while the second island chain is an important strategic line of defense for the US. Ulithi, west of Guam, has an important place between the two.
“It’s a convenient place to operate that’s relatively close but not so close that you’re going to be exposed to large numbers of either Chinese forces or Chinese missile attack, potentially,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
While underway replenishment is common for the Navy today, calm waters inside atolls like Ulithi still make them valuable spots to resupply submarines and surface ships.
“One thing you can’t do while you’re underway is rearming. So a ship that launches a bunch of missiles … they can’t just send the missiles over and reload them at sea,” said Clark, who was a Navy submariner and led development of strategy as special assistant to the chief of naval operations.
“You pretty much have to pull into port” to rearm, Clark said. “So this would be a way to have the ship pull into the atoll, have the tender load up the missiles in the [vertical launching system] magazine, and then the ship can go back out rearmed,” Clark added.
In a conflict, the release said, Ulithi “could again represent a logistical hub capable of supporting the fleet.”
Sailors aboard submarine tender USS Emory S. Land look on as submarine tender USS Frank Cable departs Apra Harbor in Guam for sea trials, December 16, 2019.
(US Navy photo by MCS 2nd Class Heather C. Wamsley)
Not just submarines
The Land and Cable, usually working out of Guam or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, provide maintenance and logistical support to US ships in the 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operation.
“They’re designed mainly for submarines because submarines have more maintenance requirements, but they actually do maintenance on surface ships as well,” Clark said.
They mostly do minor repairs, but they can work on more complex systems like nuclear reactors. Tenders also have dive teams that can do perform repairs on the hull and its coating in the water.
“They can do welding. They can do hull repair. They can do replacement of components. They can remove interference that’s in the way of replacing a pump or something,” Clark added. “So they can do lots of relatively heavy maintenance that just doesn’t require dry-docking.”
These kinds of fixes can extend how long a warship is suited for combat before it must return to an industrial hub for an overhaul.
The Land’s visit to Ulithi was meant “to demonstrate the submarine tender’s ability to return to Ulithi and successfully anchor within the lagoon,” the release said. Luckett said it showed the Land could “do all of the things needed inside the lagoon without any support from external sources.”
“The idea,” Clark said, is that the tenders would provide support “not just for submarines but also for surface ships. That’s probably the the bigger purpose of putting it into the atoll … to support surface combatants.”
An unmanned aerial vehicle delivers a 5-pound payload to the the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Hawaii during a training exercise off the coast of Oahu, October 10, 2019.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Michael B. Zingaro)
Keeping the fight going
The Pentagon’s shift to “great power competition” with Russia and China has put renewed emphasis on logistics networks in Europe and the Pacific, the latter of which, a vast ocean dotted with far-flung islands, presents a particular challenge for resupply and reinforcement.
The Navy has “been putting time and research into how you might do it. They actually haven’t been making that many investments changing how they do the logistics,” Clark said, but there have “been analyses and studies and some technical research on different techniques.”
One of those was illustrated in October, when sailors used a small drone to deliver a 5-pound package to a sub about a mile off the coast of Oahu in Hawaii.
“What started as an innovative idea has come to fruition as a potentially radical new submarine logistics delivery capability,” a Navy officer said at the time. “A large percentage of parts that are needed on submarines weigh less than 5 pounds, so this capability could alleviate the need for boats to pull into ports for parts or medical supplies.”
The drone’s payload and its range put limits on the additional capability it can provide to the fleet right now, Clark said.
But it would still provide some safety benefit and save time by obviating the need for a sub to sail into port to get those supplies — and in a conflict in the western Pacific, where China could sortie a lot of subs quickly, timing could make all the difference.
Plus, success with a small drone now could lead to bigger advantages in the future.
“If you take that and extrapolate,” Clark said, “a larger drone could cover a longer distance and maybe do the same operation, so now I do get a more distributed supply network.”
“If you had a bigger UAV, like a Fire Scout or something, that could go for three hours and might cover a couple of hundred miles. Well, then maybe … that’ll allow you to spread out your logistics networks,” Clark added, referring to an unmanned helicopter the Navy wants to use aboard littoral combat ships.
“Now the ship with a couple of Fire Scouts can cover a lot more area than it could if it was just doing it by itself.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Inscribed on the CIA’s original headquarters in Langley is a passage from the Gospel of St. John: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” This unofficial Agency motto alludes to the truth and clarity that intelligence provides to decision-makers, similar to the “knowledge is power” mantra.
But what happens when the craft of intelligence is disrupted or diluted by the politics (read: politicians, journalists, sensationalists, etc.) and policymakers it is designed to inform? What happens when it is dismissed, falls upon deaf ears, or is blatantly ignored?
Below is a quick list of the top four issues with intelligence I have encountered as an intelligence professional, along with completely hypothetical examples of how these issues materialize. Armed with this knowledge, you will have four keys to help you better understand the craft of intelligence.
Disclaimer: The concepts here are all 100-percent true — it is the specific examples and stories that have been altered for their sensitive and ongoing nature. And no, this list is not comprehensive.
1. Intelligence is an extension of politics, which suck.
As SOFREP has previously discussed, the purpose of intelligence is to inform decision-making, plain and simple. People or technology gather the information. That information is then processed and analyzed, disseminated to the consumers, and decision-making is informed. For more on how that works, see the Intelligence Cycle.
Roughly paraphrasing Clausewitz here, “War is politics by other means.” Well if war is politics and intelligence is an extension of politics, then intelligence is total political war — or something like that. Point being, the practice of managing intelligence (or information writ large) can oftentimes be a bit of a monstrosity.
I have observed that the problem with intelligence is not that you do not have it — although that oftentimes is the issue. Rather, what is critical is intelligence’s proper management: who to share it with, how to share it, when to share it, etc. These considerations are what I would consider appropriate “coordination” of the information. Not only managing it but providing the necessary context for the information (as an analyst, this is paramount) and emphasizing what must be emphasized. Some do this well, others not at all — even when they should.
You are an intelligence professional working to counter various extremist threats to U.S. interests in Beirut, Lebanon. It’s not a nice place, so there’s plenty of nefarious activity and you’re gainfully employed. You receive information that a local Hezbollah cell has imminent plans to conduct a suicide attack at a popular south Beirut café that’s frequented by American citizens, other Westerners, and even a few foreign dignitaries. You’ve got a timeline, a method of attack, and maybe even some perpetrator names if you’re lucky. Because you’re a professional, you’ve done your homework and know that what you see is legitimate. It’s now your duty to get the machine in gear. You’ve got credible threat information that must be rapidly disseminated so the proper warnings can be issued, the appropriate authorities can be notified, and the would-be attackers thwarted.
But hold on there. One simply cannot hit “Forward All” and pass this information to 100 of your closest friends and neighborhood-friendly consumers. Forget the mass dissemination technique, however strong. How about just sending it to a handful of people? Better, but still not ideal.
Try this on for size: Send it to one or two overworked and undermanned bureaucrats who demand complete control over the information (i.e. no further sharing or exchanges until they’ve “worked the issue”). They then sit on it for an excruciating period of time, hold an extensive meeting about it with their closest friends at their (not-quite-earliest) convenience, and finally reluctantly pass it out to a limited audience with various caveats that downplay the significance of what you assessed to be time-sensitive and credible information. Never mind that you are intimately familiar with the threat and the environment and confident in your analytical abilities.
As stated above, there is always a time and place for appropriate coordination and processes for managing the information received. However, the caveat is that such management should not be completely sidetracked by politics. Give the information to those who need it, and inform the decision-making of those who have the power to alter the environment and ultimately save lives. It does not take a comms blackout, a strongly worded email, a committee, hours of deliberation, and lackluster dilution downplaying the credibility of the threat to share the information.
2. Information-sharing in the intelligence business is key.
Most people are familiar with the “need to know” principle, wherein if you do not have a legitimate requirement in your mission to know the information, you do not need to know it or even have access to it in the first place. But what about the need to share?
“The need to share” principle stems from the aftermath of 9/11 when the U.S. intelligence community decided it needed to do a better job of ensuring communication amongst the entities responsible for our national security. It spurred the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, among others, whose sole purpose in life is to facilitate interagency analysis and operations.
This example is less clear, but hopefully still gets the message across. You are back in Beirut. A certain Lebanese government official has decided to get in bed with an ISIL-affiliated extremist group planning to target the restaurant of a ritzy hotel frequented by French expats in Beirut, as some kind of follow-up to the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. This government official has worked extensively to pass information regarding French activity at the restaurant to his extremist contact. He has had access to the information as a Lebanese government official and resident of northern Lebanon, an area where ISIL maintains an active presence. The attack is only in the conceptual stages at this time, but the one fact remains: the government official is in bed with the wrong crowd and must be stopped.
The ever-vigilant professional, you learn of this government official’s treachery and seek to notify those working at the U.S. embassy of his ongoing activity so that they may appropriately handle the issue through diplomatic channels. You have a legitimate need to share this information with appropriate contacts and eagerly share it with your supervisor so that it may gain higher-level visibility. After doing so, you are instructed not to share your findings with anyone else.
“Why?” you ask. Well, for one, it is being handled at higher levels, or so it is claimed. This is a downward-directed order to let the issue die. Second, further disclosure of any such information — through appropriate channels or not –regarding the government official could negatively impact U.S. relations with the Lebanese government, something the politicians are not willing nor ready to manage at this time. So you let the issue slide and do not ask questions because you trust it is being handled at the appropriate level.
You later learn that not only was the issue not handled, but that widespread orders were issued to not discuss, mention, or allude to the treachery of the Lebanese government official once it became “public” knowledge in high-level leadership circles. Lower-level U.S. and Lebanese officials continue to maintain interaction with this official, completely unaware of his treachery. Relationships continue to develop, all the while ignoring the fact of his true allegiances.
Given the issue was deemed too sensitive to address nation-to-nation, it has now become an unspoken afterthought, one that is known by various parties on both sides, but not to those to whom it matters most. The issue remains unaddressed and unknown second- and third-order implications develop as time passes.
If something must be said, and there are indisputable facts to support it, say it. Do not hide behind careerism, fear of reprisal, or — again — politics. The truth, however uncomfortable, is best digested as soon as the information is available to be shared (and under the right and appropriate circumstances).
3. Sometimes people go “native.”
The term going “native” is applied to a situation where individuals take on some or all of the cultural traits of those around them. The term is most often mentioned in relation to people visiting or residing in foreign countries. Think Colonel Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now” or the character Kurtz from the “Heart of Darkness,” only less insidious and without the rivers. In intelligence, someone goes native when they blatantly ignore or otherwise disregard the body of information that refutes that which they have been provided by a source. I use the term “native” very loosely here, but it best transmits the concept.
You have a friend who is employed by the U.S. embassy in a position of some importance, a position that requires him to frequently travel to liaise with Lebanese security forces operating in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Given your friend’s consistent contact with Lebanese forces in a turbulent region, you receive frequent updates from him on the situation in the Valley. These updates are fairly accurate given your friend’s access to the Lebanese forces, but clearly possess some bias given the single source of his information and its limited perspective.
One day, you learn of an incident that transpired when a female American aid worker narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt while working at a children’s school for refugees near the Syrian border. Having seen the information the aid worker had provided to various U.S. embassy personnel, who debriefed her when she reported the kidnapping attempt, you are aware of every minute detail the professional debriefers were able to obtain from her and associated witnesses.
When inquiring as to the details of this kidnapping attempt with your friend, the information he provides greatly conflicts with that of the debrief and witness statements. Your friend dutifully informs you the information you possess is incorrect and proceeds to identify all the reasons why. Citing his sources in the Lebanese security forces, your friend directly refutes, point by point, the official and agreed-upon information provided firsthand to the embassy personnel. Try as you might, your friend completely discounts this information and places his faith in his Lebanese contacts, contacts that were not there, and did not even possess secondhand access to the information or associated incident. Your friend has gone native.
While your friend clearly has the access to obtain and provide relatively accurate information regarding the security situation in the Bekaa Valley, his information only comes from the one source to which he has access. Your friend runs the risk of going “native,” and becoming too reliant on that one source. While it is undoubtedly a valuable one, his reference and adherence to the single source of the Lebanese security forces is one that must be taken into account.
This holds true especially if it conflicts with information provided firsthand by members involved in the incident, and obtained by qualified professionals who have gathered such information previously in their lengthy careers. Use all sources: do not refute that which comes from a better source, even when it conflicts with your prized single source. Do not go native.
4. People flat-out ignore the truth.
The final problem I have witnessed is when credible intelligence is completely disregarded by various persons — and ones in leadership positions, especially. Never mind that the information was deemed credible by multiple entities, or that said entities had already implemented various changes in response to the information. This disregard can happen even if there have been multiple warnings, both verbally and in writing, (thus invalidating any claims of ignorance) regarding the intelligence’s importance.
While intelligence can appear alarmist at times, if not presented accurately or appropriately (and with the right amount of emphasis and context), it is designed to properly inform decision-making. Intelligence removes the veil of doubt and the unknown and provides you with the truth. So listen to it and the recommendation that comes with it.
You are back in south Beirut. The threat you have been tracking, regarding imminent plans by a local Hezbollah cell to conduct a suicide attack at a south Beirut café, must be actioned upon. The proper notifications are made. The U.S. embassy is made cognizant of the information and it releases a security notice to all American citizens in Lebanon to avoid the target in question, and travel to various south Beirut neighborhoods is restricted. The threat information has been passed to the appropriate decision-makers and the right people are now aware that they should avoid the café. As a professional, you have done your due diligence and can hope the Lebanese authorities will move quickly to disrupt the plot. You can rest easy, having fulfilled your duty.
But then you learn that one of the decision-makers, one who was informed numerous times of this specific threat information, has allowed various personnel under his office to travel through various south Beirut neighborhoods. Not only that, but two groups of his personnel have even visited — on two separate occasions — the very same café that is being actively targeted. You want to provide the benefit of the doubt: perhaps the decision-maker was simply unaware of the ongoing attack plans or was not notified of the travel restrictions. Unfortunately for him, plausible deniability does not work in this scenario. When questioned as to why his personnel made these visits, the decision-maker claimed he was unaware that the threat notification or travel restrictions were permanent measures, and thought that they only lasted for the day they were issued.
When a decision-maker provides a weak and transparent excuse as to why he knowingly authorized the travel of his personnel to a specific location that is being actively targeted by terrorists (something he was aware of), he knowingly places the lives of his personnel at risk. He completely disregards all of the hard work that was performed in order to provide the intelligence to him in a timely and accurate manner to boot.
Intelligence is not contrived. It is a dynamic product and continuous effort. Listen to what intelligence is saying. Do not disregard it or claim ignorance of it after it has been provided to you. Use it as the tool it is designed to be.
The September 11, 2001, attacks saw numerous acts of bravery and courage from Americans from many walks of life — be they ordinary citizens, emergency services personnel or members of the military.
Of special note was the sacrifice this National Guard fighter pilot and her comrades were willing to make when their fighters were sent up without any armament to protect the nation’s capital soon after word of the attacks spread.
Among the many fighter pilots sent to the skies in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York was Heather “Lucky” Penney, a fighter pilot with the District of Columbia Air National Guard. At the time a 1st lieutenant with the 121st Fighter Squadron, Lucky was the only female in her fighter training class, and the only female pilot serving with the squadron.
When air traffic controllers in Cleveland, Ohio, saw a potential hijacking aboard a United Airlines flight, Penney and her flight lead, Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville, were called into action.
Launching from Andrews AFB near Washington, D.C., at 10:42 local time, the pair saw smoke billowing out from Arlington, Virginia, the site of the Pentagon. A second pair of fighters piloted by Brandon Rasmussen and Daniel Caine – also of the DCANG – were sent up as well.
The Secret Service and defense sector controllers responsible for watching over the airspace surrounding the capital requested an aerial presence to ward away or destroy any other hijacked airliners, lest they attack juicier targets like the White House or the Capitol, or hit crowded civilian areas.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon – the fighters these four pilots flew – is very capable in the air-to-air arena. However, in the rush to get airborne, none of the four DCANG F-16s were armed with missiles or live rounds for their cannons – not that any were immediately available.
Sasseville and Penney briefly discussed a plan of action, noting that their lack of armament would make downing a larger airliner considerably more difficult. The two agreed that the only option would be using their aircraft as rams, where Sasseville would hit the cockpit and Penney the tail.
Though, hypothetically, the two pilots could have aimed their fighters for the engines of the aircraft and ejected quickly after, they knew that the only way they could be sure of bringing down their quarry was if they stayed with their F-16s all the way through.
Word came in over their radios that an aircraft was heading at a low altitude over the Potomac River, possibly towards the White House. This ultimately proved to be a false alarm, though military and Secret Service operations officers initially concluded that the inbound aircraft was United 93, a Boeing 757 similar to the American Airlines jet which had slammed into the Pentagon earlier in the day.
United 93 never showed up in Washington. After recovering at Andrews AFB, the four DCANG pilots would learn that United 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania. Penney, Sasseville, Rasmussen and Caine would soon refuel and have their aircraft armed with weaponry before returning to the skies for their second sortie on Sept. 11.
This time, Penney and Sasseville were directed to fly as escorts for Air Force One, carrying President George W. Bush from Offutt AFB to Andrews AFB. The duo were almost engaged in combat yet again when a Learjet approached Air Force One at high speed, though the event was short-lived with the private aircraft diverted, having been on its way to finding a suitable airport to land.
Both Penney and Sasseville went on, post-9/11, to fly combat missions overseas in support of the Global War On Terror. Penney has since left the DC ANG and works with Lockheed Martin in a senior position.
Most people have heard of Jet-Assisted Take-Off, also known as “JATO.” Unfortunately, it’s usually in connection with a story involving a Chevrolet Impala and a Darwin Award that may or may not have actually happened. Despite this blemish on its reputation, JATO was in use for almost a half-century before the infamous award — and is still used today.
A Lockheed P-2 Neptune is launched from the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV 42) with the use of JATO rockets.
First of all, the “jet-assisted” part of JATO is actually a misnomer. There’s no jet involve. JATO systems actually use a rocket – or several rockets. These rockets were capable of cutting the takeoff run by almost 60 percent. That sort of advantage is huge when your airfield has been bombed and the runways have been dotted with potholes. It’s also important for taking off in a heavily loaded plane, whether it’s full of cargo or bombs.
Perhaps the most prominent use of JATO: When the Blue Angels’ C-130 Hercules takes off.
Early jet engines didn’t have good performance during takeoffs and landings. As a result, they needed long runways to safely operate. This made the early jet fighters vulnerable to propeller-driven planes. For example, P-51s would often lurk around the bases used by Me-262s and hit the Nazi jets as they took off. JATO systems were designed to get jets off the ground faster — and they help with performance.
Early jets were tricky to fly (those who flew the YP-80 reported that the engine would sometimes cut out mid-flight — not a good situation to be in). America’s ace of aces, Major Richard Bong, was killed in an accident involving a prototype P-80 Shooting Star, and the top ace of the Korean War, Joseph McConnell, was killed while test-flying the F-86H. A JATO rocket provided assistance to early-model jet engines during takeoff, allowing the plane’s ejection seat to function properly.
Congressional decision-makers are working with the Navy to explore massively speeding up construction of its emerging fleet of new amphibious assault ships as part of an urgent push to expand the overall fleet faster and address an enormous deficit of available amphibs.
A July 3, 2018 Congressional Research Service report, titled ” Navy LPD-17 Flight II (LX[R]) Amphibious Ship Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” says the currently proposed Navy plan to buy the second LPD-17 Flight II Amphib in 2020 may need to be accelerated to fall within the services’ 2019 budget.
The Navy currently has slightly more than 30 amphibious assault ships the fleet, and plans to reach 38 in coming years; However, the current plan still falls short of meeting the global requirements of combatant commanders, Navy leaders say.
While Navy officials are clear to tell Warrior Maven that the service does not comment on pending legislation related to Congressionally-authorized funding, service leaders have been quite vocal about the Navy and Marine Corps need for more amphibs for many years now.
“Navy and Marine Corps officials have testified that fully meeting U.S. regional combatant commander requests for day-to-day forward deployments of amphibious ships would require a force of 50 or more amphibious ships,” the Congressional report states.
The first LPD-17 Flight II ship, formerly called the LXR, is being acquired this year. Speeding up procurement of the second ship of this new class of amphibs helps address the Navy’s shortage of amphibious assault ships and further expedites the Navy’s planned fleet expansion to 355-ships.
LX(R) concept based on the LPD-17 design
The Navy plans new LPD-17 Flight II amphibs to replace its current fleet of Dock Landing Ships, or LSD 41s, which have functioned for years as a support ship in an Amphibious Ready Group. This strategic move to replace Dock Landing Ships with an LPD 17-like hull seems to speak to a Navy effort to expand amphibious capability to adjust to a new, fast-changing threat environment.
The demand for amphibs is in part so great, because the versatile ships are needed for combat and a wide range of humanitarian and non-combat missions.
“Although amphibious ships are designed to support Marine landings against opposing military forces, they are also used for operations in permissive or benign situations where there are no opposing forces. Due to their large storage spaces and their ability to use helicopters and landing craft to transfer people, equipment, and supplies from ship to shore without need for port facilities,” the CRS report writes.
New Navy LPD-17 Flight II — future amphib strategy
The Navy hopes to add much greater numbers of amphibious assault ships to the fleet while simultaneously adjusting to a modern threat landscape which will require more dis-aggregated operations and require single Amphibious Ready Groups to perform a much wider range of missions. Modern near peer adversaries increasingly posses long range sensors and precision-guided munitions, a phenomenon which will require much more operational diversity from ARGs.
The Navy used to be able to deploy up to five ARGs at one time, however the fleet is no longer the size it used to be in the 1980s and the service is working on a strategy to get by with fewer ARGs and as fewer amphibs overall. As a result, the Navy needs more ships that have the technological ability to operate independently of an ARG if need be.
LCAC-55, a Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Sarah E. Ard)
The modern threat environment contains a wider range of contingencies to include counterterrorism operations, counter-piracy, humanitarian missions, disaster response, and full-scale amphibious combat operations against near-peer adversaries. This requires that the three ships in an ARG have an ability to disperse when necessary and operate independently. The Navy and Marine Corps increasingly explains that modern missions require more split or dis-aggregated operations.
A lead Amphibious Assault Ship, a Dock Landing Ship, or LSD, and the San Antonio-class LPD 17 amphibious transport dock are both integral to an Amphibious Ready Group, which typically draws upon a handful of platforms to ensure expeditionary warfighting technology. The ARG is tasked with transporting at least 2,200 Marines and their equipment, including what’s called a Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU.
The 684-foot long LPD 17s can hit speeds of 22 knots and carry four CH-46 Sea Knights or two MV-22 Osprey aircraft. The LSD, or Dock Landing Ship, also travels around 20 knots however it is only 609-feet long and not equipped to house aircraft.
Both the LPD 17 and the LSDs have well-decks for amphibious operations along with the ability to launch Landing Craft Air Cushions, or LCACs. However, the LPD17 weighs close to 25,000 tons and the LSD is only 16,000 tons.
The 1980’s-era LSD dock landing ships consist of eight Whidbey Island-class 609-foot long ships. The 15,000-ton ships, configured largely to house and transport four LCACs, are nearing the end of their service life, Navy developers say.
While the mission of the existing Dock Landing Ship (LSD) is primarily, among other things, to support an ability to launch Landing Craft Air Cushions, or LCACs, for amphibious operations, the new LPD-17 Flight II ship will have an expanded mission to include more independent missions. LCACs are ship to shore connector vehicles able to transport Marines and equipment from ship-to-shore beyond the horizon. LCACs can even carry M1 Abrams tanks over the ocean.
An Amphibious Transport Dock, or LPD, is designed to operate with greater autonomy from an ARG and potentially conduct independent operations as needed. An LSD is able to operate four LCACs and the more autonomous LPD 17 can launch two LCACs.
USS Saipan LHA-2 amphibious assault ship
(U.S. Navy photo)
Developers explain that the LPD-17 ship will have a much wider mission set than the fleet of LSD ships it is replacing.
As a result of this wider mission requirement for the LX(R), the ship is being engineered with greater aviation and command and control technologies that the LSD 41 ships it is replacing.
Additional command and control capabilities, such as communications technologies, will allow the ship to reach back to the joint force headquarters they are working for, stay in with the parent ship and control the landing force, Navy and Marine Corps developers added.
Having more amphibs engineered and constructed for independent operations is seen as a strategic advantage in light of the Pacific rebalance and the geographical expanse of the region. The widely dispersed territories in the region may require a greater degree of independent amphibious operations where single amphibs operate separately from a larger ARG.
Corps officials explain that the greater use of amphibious assault ships is likely as the Marine Corps continues to shift toward more sea-based operations from its land-based focus during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the same time, Navy and Marine Corps leaders are quick to acknowledge that there is a massive shortfall of Amphibious Assault Ships across the two services. In recent years, senior service leaders have said that if each requirement or request for amphibs from Combatant Commanders worldwide were met, the Navy would need 50 amphibs.
The Navy currently operates only roughly 30 amphibs and plans to reach 38 by the late 2020s.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
A missile malfunction aboard German navy frigate FGS Sachsen on June 21, 2018 scorched the ship’s deck and injured two sailors.
The Sachsen, an air-defense frigate, was sailing with sub-hunting frigate Lubeck in a test and practice area near the Arctic Circle in Norwegian waters, according to the German navy.
The Sachsen attempted to fire a Standard Missile 2, or SM-2, from the vertical launch system located in front of the ship’s bridge. The missile did not make it out of the launcher, however, and its rocket burned down while still on board the ship, damaging the deck and injuring two crew members.
“We were standing in front of a glistening and glowing hot wall of fire,” the ship’s captain, Thomas Hacken, said in a German navy release.
Sachsen class frigates are outfitted with 32 Mark 41 vertical launch tubes built into the forward section of the ship. Each SM-2 is about 15 feet long and weighs over 1,500 pounds.
It was not immediately clear why the missile malfunctioned; it had been checked and appeared in “perfect condition,” the German navy said. Another of the same type of missile had been successfully launched beforehand.
While the ship’s deck and bridge were damaged, the effects were likely limited by the design of the Mark 41 launcher, which is armored, according to Popular Mechanics.
The two ships sailed into the Norwegian port of Harstad on June 22, 2018, before returning to their homeport in the German city of Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea.
Damage on the vertical launch system aboard the German navy frigate Sachsen, June 2018.
(Photo by German Navy)
“We have to practice realistically, so that we are ready for action in case of emergency, also for the national and alliance defense,” Vice Adm. Andreas Krause, navy inspector, said in the release. Despite the risks, Krause said, “our crews are highly motivated and ready to do their best.”
Germany’s military has hit a number of setbacks in recent years, like equipment shortages and failures. Dwindling military expertise and a lack of strategic direction for the armed forces have contributed to these problems.
The navy has been no exception. The first Baden-Württemberg frigate, a program thought up in 2005, was delivered in 2016, but the navy has refused to commission it, largely because the centerpiece computer system didn’t pass necessary tests.
At the end of 2017, it was reported that all six of the German navy’s submarines were out of action— four because they were being serviced in shipyards with the other two waiting for berths.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.