During World War II, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were responsible for leading their nations to victory and jointly planned strategies for the cooperation and eventual success of the Allied armed forces. Roosevelt and Churchill had already agreed early in the war that Germany must be stopped first if success was to be attained in the Pacific. They were repeatedly urged by Stalin to open a “second front” that would alleviate the enormous pressure that Germany’s military was exerting on Russia. Large amounts of Soviet territory had been seized by the Germans, and the Soviet population had suffered terrible casualties from the relentless drive towards Moscow. Roosevelt and Churchill promised to invade Europe, but they could not deliver on their promise until many hurdles were overcome.
Initially, the United States had far too few soldiers in England for the Allies to mount a successful cross-channel operation. Additionally, invading Europe from more than one point would make it harder for Hitler to resupply and reinforce his divisions. In July 1942 Churchill and Roosevelt decided on the goal of occupying North Africa as a springboard to a European invasion from the south.
In addition to the troops, supplies, ships, and planes were also gathered. One photograph shows some of the equipment that was stockpiled in this manner. Countless details about weather, topography, and the German forces in France had to be learned before Overlord could be launched in 1944. In November American and British forces under the command of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower landed at three ports in French Morocco and Algeria. This surprise seizure of Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers came less than a week after the decisive British victory at El Alamein. The stage was set for the expulsion of the Germans from Tunisia in May 1943, the Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy later that summer, and the main assault on France the following year.
Because of this success, Eisenhower was named commander of all Allied forces in Europe in 1943. When in February 1944 he was ordered to invade the continent, planning for “Operation Overlord” had been under way for about a year. Hundreds of thousands of troops from the United States, Great Britain, France,Canada, and other nations were assembled in southern England and intensively trained for the complicated amphibious action against Normandy.
General Eisenhower’s experience and the Allied troops’ preparations were finally put to the test on the morning of June 6, 1944. An invasion force of 4,000 ships, 11,000 planes, and nearly three million soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors was assembled in England for the assault. Eisenhower’s doubts about success in the face of a highly-defended and well-prepared enemy led him to consider what would happen if the invasion of Normandy failed. If the Allies did not secure a strong foothold on D-Day, they would be ordered into a full retreat, and he would be forced to make public the message he drafted for such an occasion. View a large version of the letter here.
Here’s what it says: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
As the attack began, Allied troops did confront formidable obstacles. Germany had thousands of soldiers dug into bunkers, defended by artillery, mines, tangled barbed wire, machine guns, and other hazards to prevent landing craft from coming ashore. Document 3 featured with this lesson shows some of the ferocity of the attack they faced. About 4,900 U.S. troops were killed on D-Day, but by the end of the day 155,000 Allied troops were ashore and in control of 80 square miles of the French coast. Eisenhower’s letter was not needed, because D-Day was a success, opening Europe to the Allies and a German surrender less than a year later.
This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.
US ‘Hurricane Hunter’ aircraft have been flying in and out of Hurricane Dorian, capturing wild photos of a storm that devastated the Bahamas and appears to be heading toward the US.
Dorian, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in history, has been downgraded from a Category 5 storm to a Category 2, as winds have decreased to around 110 mph from their earlier 185 mph, but this hurricane remains a cause for concern.
The U.S. Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters fly in the eye of Hurricane Dorian, Aug. 31, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Diana Cossaboom)
The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit located at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi., gathered weather information during a mission into Hurricane Dorian Sep. 2, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Carranza)
The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit located at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi., gathered weather information during a mission into Hurricane Dorian Sep. 2, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by U.S. Navy Midshipman First Class Julia Von Fecht)
The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron shared this photo from a mission on Sept. 1, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“We’ve made it back home to Keesler Air Force Base,” the squadron tweeted on Sept. 1, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
This image shows the “stadium effect” seen from the eye of the hurricane.
This image shows another view of the “stadium effect” seen inside Hurricane Dorian.
While Hurricane Dorian is not as strong as it was, it is still considered a very dangerous storm. The National Hurricane Center, a division of NOAA, sent out a notification Sep. 3, 2019, explaining that the storm may actually be getting worse given its growing size.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
We here at SOFREP recently made the acquaintance of Dave “Bio” Baranek. We were interested in doing a review of his upcoming book “Tomcat RIO.” Baranek agreed to send us his book for review, but as a bonus he recently also sent us a copy of his previous book “Topgun Days” for us to look over.
Baranek was an F-14 RIO (Radar Intercept Officer). He not only flew Tomcats in real-world missions but became an instructor at the Navy’s Topgun school. He also worked closely on the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun.” (An interesting footnote is the Navy has Topgun as one word while Hollywood had it as two.)
When Baranek’s book arrived in the mail, I was scanning the movie channels for an action film and Top Gun popped up. Was it fate? So, switching off the television, I sat in a chair, where’d I remain for the next several hours, because once you begin reading the book, it puts its hooks into you right away and you won’t be able to put it down. This move much irked my wife who was expecting yours truly to be helping put stuff away from our recent move.
One of the first chapters deals with Baranek ejecting from the Tomcat’s GRU-7A into the Indian Ocean. The ejection subjects pilots to forces of 20 Gs which makes them blackout for a few seconds. Baranek was heavily entangled in his parachute lines and silk but managed to free himself, and — in testimony to the speed and professionalism of the rescue choppers — spent only about three minutes in the Indian Ocean.
Baranek went through Topgun school in 1982. He was the only one from his class of 451 pilots, from the flight school of 1980, to be chosen. One of the things that was interesting is that Baranek stated that the Topgun instructors were not arrogant or swaggering but delivered their lectures with enthusiasm and a seemingly limitless amount of knowledge on the subject matter.
After his graduation, he returned to his squadron. He was then selected to return to Topgun, this time as an instructor. For Navy combat pilots, that is the pinnacle.
Nearly all fighter pilots have very cool nicknames or call-signs. Baranek chose “Bionic” because it sounded like Baranek. But being thin, the Navy pilots didn’t believe he looked very bionic so it was shortened to “Bio.”
Of course, he was an instructor at Topgun when the Hollywood people came around in 1985 to begin filming the movie which made the Tomcats and the school so famous with the public.
The F-5 fighters, which were the ones the instructors flew as aggressor aircraft for the school, were normally painted in camouflage patterns that Navy pilots might encounter on deployment somewhere in the world: They would either be of a green and brown camouflage, similar to the Soviet-style, or painted in a tan that would blend in with the desert environment in the Middle East.
But for the Tony Scott film, the producers had the F-5s painted flat black with a red star on the tail. The planes were called MiG-28s — a fictional aircraft that did not exist. The film director and cameramen got some incredible footage from the F-14s. The quality and dramatic effect of the shots even impressed the Tomcat pilots.
Baranek’s wife got to kiss Tom Cruise on the cheek and they met some of the other actors including Anthony Edwards (Goose), Michael Ironside (Jester), and Tom Skerrit. I remember my own wife being similarly star-struck meeting Mark Wahlberg and Flash Gordon on the set of Ted 2 in Boston. Seeing those pictures and remembering these moments reinforces how our families are a big part of what we do.
The Navy officially retired Tomcats from active service in 2006, but due to Tom Cruise’s film, they live on as one of those iconic aircraft in the public’s imagination. An interesting fact is that most of the naval aviators of today weren’t even born when Cruise, Anthony Edwards, and Val Kilmer rocked across the screen in 1986. And Cruise has just recently finished another Top Gun film.
Baranek completed a 20-year career in the Navy, starting with assignments to F-14 Tomcat squadrons and the elite Topgun training program, and a later assignment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. 7th Fleet. He commanded an F-14 Tomcat fighter squadron, with nearly 300 people and 14 aircraft worth about 0 million. He completed his career with 2,499.7 F-14 Tomcat flight hours and 688 carrier landings. His logbook also records 461.8 flight hours in the F-5F Tiger II.
As Special Forces guys, we always joked about fighter pilots: “What’s the difference between God and a fighter pilot?” Answer: “God doesn’t think he’s a fighter pilot.” Pilots would also poke fun at us. One of the pilots I knew would always ask if we picked the gravel out of our knuckles. But the respect is always there.
A particularly gripping aspect of “Topgun Days” is the fantastic aerial photography that Baranek took. The book is peppered with some great pictures that put the reader right smack in either an F-14 or F-5.
Baranek’s “Topgun Days” is a page-turner and comes very highly recommended. Its 322 pages with awesome photography will zip by in the blink of an eye. “I feel the need…the need for speed.”
Alright, that headline is a bit misleading. The knights were depicted fighting giant snails. But the mystery remains – why? And were snails really that big back then?
Apparently, it’s a common sight in English scrolls dating from the 13th and 14th centuries: armored knights engaging in medieval combat with giant snails. Medievalists at the British Library began to wonder the same things we all are – WHY.
Two reasons might explain the ubiquitous depictions (but not fully). The first is that the snails are the enemy of the person writing the manuscripts. Many famous families and villains could have fit the bill. The only problem is that this doesn’t explain why the knights are always losing to the villain. If this was propaganda, shouldn’t the good guy win?
Another reason is that it could be a depiction of the common folk rising against an unwilling aristocracy. These slimy creatures from the garden weren’t welcome guests in the manor houses and castles of the Middle Ages. Neither were peasants.
There’s no way it could be a depiction of actual knights fighting real giant snails, right?
There were, in fact, snails as large (perhaps larger) than humans. But not in the middle ages. Fossils of Pachydiscus Seppenradensis – giant cephalopods – have been found in temperate climates from the USA and across Europe. This puts the snails in the area where they could have fought medieval knights, but the timing doesn’t work out.
Fossil records date Parapuzosia back to the early-to-late Cretaceous period of Earth’s history. This means these snails walked with dinosaurs like the Ankylosaurus and some species of dinosaur bipeds.
As far as history is concerned, knights couldn’t have been fighting giant snails because snails just didn’t grow that big back in the middle ages. Not even close. These days, the max size a “giant” snail grows can still fit in your hand.
So if they’re not fighting actual giant snails, what’s up with all the imagery of knights fighting giant snails?
If you have the answer, I’m sure the British Library would be interested in knowing.
An essential part of filmmaking is acknowledging the audience’s familiarity with the subject matter and the themes common to the genre.
Unfortunately for screenwriters, dialogue that may have once been clever and poignant becomes cliche and induces eye-rolling laughter when we hear the same lines repeated ad nauseam from one movie to the next.
Well, yeah, no sh*t. We’re fighting a war. Plus, the word “company” evokes the same feelings as the arrival of a house guest. Try something like, “We’ve got opposing forces! Ahhhh!” I’m just spit-balling here.
(Warner Brothers’ Dunkirk)
6. “You just don’t get it, do you?”
This line typically precedes some terribly narrated flashback or montage.
It’s an excuse for one character to plainly explain to movie-goers what they already know because the studio doesn’t respect the intelligence of its audience. When you hear this line, brace yourself while some secondary character inanely spews out backstory.
5. Some variation of, “We can do this the easy way — or the hard way.”
This one happens a lot… but I’ll admit it is a little fun watching various directors reimagine this trope.
4. “You look like sh*t.”
What? Yeah, well, maybe you look like sh*t, too!
(Sony Pictures’ Black Hawk Down)
3. “Is that all you’ve got?”
The character who drops this line almost always immediately dies or watches the opposing force bust out their biggest gun. It’s like a curse.
2. “I got a bad feeling about this.”
Do you really? Was there something unsettling about the fact that you’re about to go to shoot at guys who are shooting at you?
It’s no secret that the only reason North Korea managed to survive so long after the fall of the Soviet Union is because of China’s patronage. There are a number of possible reasons it’s in China’s best interest to prop up the Hermit Kingdom. Long story short: China will intervene for North Korea just as it did in 1950.
The DPRK is a buffer zone between Communist China and the pro-Western ally in South Korea. More than that, the sudden fall of the Kim regime would essentially open the 880-mile border between the two to roving parties of North Korean refugees, suddenly freed, looking for a future.
The highest estimates indicate some 30 million internally-displaced persons – refugees in their own country – would suddenly be looking for a better life. Beyond the human toll, the cost of the reunification of the Korean Peninsula could be as high as $3 trillion, as one expert told the Independent.
China is certainly not going to share that cost. Nor will it take in refugees. The people of China are not fans of North Korea either. They resent the North Korean nuclear tests and the effect it has on China’s foreign policy – and its relationship with the United States.
Chinese people take to Quora to answer the same question over and over, “How do Chinese people feel about North Korea?” Time and tie again, the answer is that they are “sympathetic” to the people of the DPRK (though sometimes they use the word “pity”) because the country reminds them of when China was underdeveloped. In general, however, they mock Kim Jong-Un “mercilessly.”
The North Korean leader is believed to be losing trust in his relationship with the Chinese, and acts out in an effort to embarrass Beijing. In return, there is less trust in China for the leadership in Pyongyang. But as for the United States, the Chinese have less trust in President Trump.
Despite all this, the 1961 Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty is still in effect, and is renewed automatically every 20 years. Article 2 of the treaty states that the two nations will jointly oppose any country or coalition that might attack either nation. The treaty is valid until 2021. But it also stipulates that both sides are to “safeguard peace and security.”
Some former Chinese military officers believe North Korea’s nuclear proliferation is a violation of that treaty and China is no longer on the hook to defend the Kim Regime. Many Chinese intellectuals believe the North Korean state is no longer their partner in arms, but more of a liability.
“Many in China don’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons because nuclear weapons are, first, threatening to China,” Chinese scholar Shen Zhihua – an expert on the Korean War – told the New Yorker. “We must see clearly that China and North Korea are no longer brothers-in-arms, and in the short term there’s no possibility of an improvement in Chinese-North Korean relations.”
But the state’s view remains the same. Just after the Kim regime threatened to attack the U.S. island of Guam, the Global Times, a state-run newspaper said China will “firmly resist any side which wants to change the status quo of the areas where China’s interests are concerned.”
Essentially, the Communist Party mouthpiece is saying that China will intervene if the United States escalates the conflict to a shooting war. However, if North Korea starts the war, China will remain neutral.
“The Korean Peninsula is where the strategic interests of all sides converge, and no side should try to be the absolute dominator of the region.”
U.S. citizen Michael White, pictured here with his mother, Joanne, had been detained in Iran since 2018. (Free Michael White Campaign)
U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who has been detained in Iran for nearly two years, is returning home as part of a prisoner swap between Washington and Tehran.
White’s release on June 4 is part of a back-channel deal involving the release of an American-Iranian doctor prosecuted in the United States, U.S. and Iranian officials said.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter he had spoken by phone with White, who took a Swiss plane to Zurich on his way to the United States.
“Thank you to Iran, it shows a deal is possible!” Trump wrote, in an apparent olive branch to Iran.
White was sentenced to 13 years in prison last year for allegedly insulting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and posting private information online.
In March, he was temporarily released on medical grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic to the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.
The navy veteran was detained in July 2018 while he was visiting a woman he had met online and fallen in love with.
White’s mother, Joanne White, said in a statement that “the nightmare is over, and my son is safely in American custody and on his way home.”
The AP news agency quoted U.S. officials as saying his release was part of an agreement involving Majid Taheri, an Iranian-American physician prosecuted by the Justice Department.
Taheri served 16 months for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and on June 4 a federal judge released him to go see family in Iran.
The developments follow the deportation to Iran this week of Sirios Asgari, an Iranian scientist detained in the United States.
U.S. and Iranian officials have denied that Asgari’s release was part of a prisoner swap.
Switzerland, the intermediary between the U.S. and Iranian governments, has facilitated months of quiet negotiations over prisoners, reports said. Qatar, which has good relations with both the United States and Iran, reportedly also facilitated the prisoner swap.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter he was pleased the two Iranians and White will join their families.
“This can happen for all prisoners. No need for cherry picking. Iranian hostages held in — and on behalf of — the U.S. should come home,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iranian authorities had been “constructive” on freeing White but urged the release of three other U.S. citizens, all of Iranian descent, who are detained in Iran.
Observers have speculated that prisoner swaps can offer a rare opportunity for back-channel diplomacy between the two adversaries to start official dialogue, but few see any serious progress before the U.S. election in November.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have become increasingly hostile since 2018, when Trump withdrew the United States from a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
At the end of a long day of antiwar protests in Washington on Oct. 21, 1967, beat poet Allen Ginsburg was leading the crowd in a Tibetan chanting in an effort to psychically levitate the Pentagon into space. The protests were in a bizarre new phase, having already turned violent, injuring dozens of protestors as well as the soldiers defending the building.
By the time of this protest, the United States had been increasing its presence and roles in South Vietnam while the draft and the body count was taking its toll on the American psyche. There was no precedent in American history for the level of government defiance and protest that was about to take place. With 500 American troops dying in Vietnam every month and no end to the war in sight, groups all over the country decided to convene on Washington – specifically the Pentagon.
It was organized by many groups – it was almost a “who’s who” of the antiwar movement – but the primary organizer was antiwar activist Jerry Rubin. Rubin believed the Pentagon was now the real seat of power in the United States and wanted to make a showing there, instead of the White House or Capitol Building. Also arriving among the tens of thousands of people there that day were Dr. Benjamin Spock, Norman Mailer, and antiwar activist Abbie Hoffman.
The younger people might remember his likeness from a scene in “Forrest Gump.”
Hoffman was one of the co-founders of the Yippies, or Youth International Movement. The Yippies were an anti-establishment anarchist group whose antics bordered on the theatrical when not outright ridiculous. They became known for displays of symbolic protests and street pranks, and often, some kind of merger of the two. Hoffman was present at the October 1967 Pentagon protests as were many of his fellow future Yippies.
The day began with a series of speeches on the National Mall, one of which saw Dr. Benjamin Spock declare President Lyndon Johnson to be the real enemy of the people. The crowd then marched across the Arlington Bridge to the Pentagon, where they were met by members of the National Guard and the 82nd Airborne who firmly stood their ground on the steps of the building. This is where one hippie, calling himself “Super Joel,” famously put a flower in the barrel of one of their rifles.
Hoffman and the Yippies began to call for the Pentagon to levitate, using psychic energy to lift the building 300 feet into the air and to end the war. They even got a permit for it from the General Services Administration, but the permit only allowed them to levitate the building 10 feet. They wanted to circle the building, arm-in-arm, and perform an exorcism ritual on it, to flush out the demons and end the war. They never made it that far.
When they arrived at the Pentagon, the crowd became unruly in some areas, and a group of 3,000 attempted to break the barricade and enter the building. Some of them were actually successful but were beaten back to their protest or arrested. Hoffman and the Yippies stayed put for the duration of their 48-hour permit. They never did finish the exorcism.
Lt. Gen. Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix De Guerre with Palm to Col. Jimmy Stewart for exceptional services in the liberation.
(U.S. Air Force)
Stewart was actually drafted into the Army Air Corps as an enlisted man in March 1941. It should be noted that he was already a prominent actor with a number of movies, mostly romantic comedies, under his belt. As an enlisted man, he took extension courses in order to attain his commission and got his lieutenant bars a month after the Pearl Harbor attacks.
After nine months as an instructor pilot, Stewart got a billet in a unit training up for deployment to England, the 703rd Bomb Squadron. They flew across the Atlantic in late 1943 in new B-24Hs and began raining Hell down on the Third Reich.
Maj. Jimmy Stewart confers with a B-24 crew member.
(U.S. Air Force)
Stewart briefed bomber pilots before missions he wouldn’t fly in, and many of the crews reportedly found it amusing to get their instructions from a famous actor, sort of like if Hugh Grant went through crew drills with you before your convoys.
Stewart flew 20 combat missions with the 703rd as the squadron hit oil, ammunition, and chemical plants as well as German air bases and other military positions. He was promoted up the ranks until, by war’s end, he was chief of staff of the 2nd Combat Wing.
Growing up, learning about World War I usually involved learning about three things: trench foot, poison gas, and bloody stalemate. Right before the history teacher moves on to World War II, we learn the old mnemonic device — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, ‘The War to End All Wars’ ended with an armistice.
Then, there was one kickass, worldwide party.
Obviously, glossing over one of the deadliest, most expensive, and most avoidable wars in American history does the Doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force an injustice. We need to remember that World War I was more than just a prelude to World War II. The horrors of WWI led to the annual recognition of those the who had to fight it. The day The Great War ended came to be remembered thereafter as Armistice Day.
But, when the 11th day of the 11 month rolls around, we all celebrate Veterans Day. What happened?
This is what Armistice Day 1938 looked like in Omaha, Nebraska.
The first public celebration of Armistice Day came in November, 1920. Much like how we celebrate Veterans Day today, the occasion was marked by speeches, parades, and exchange of drinks and stories between veterans of the war. The exception came when that 11th hour rolled around. For a moment, there was a pause in all activities across the country.
In that moment, mere years ago, millions of armed men stopped butchering each other over control of several yards of No Man’s Land.
In 1926, Congress made Armistice Day official, resolving that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace between nations.” In 1938, Armistice Day became a Federal Holiday.
As we all know, the “War to End All Wars” didn’t actually end all wars — or any wars. It actually led very directly to the next war, World War II. Which led to the next war, the Korean War, which was part of a greater war, the Cold War. You get the point. By the time the Korean War ended, there was a whole new generation of war veterans who felt deserving of recognition for a job well done.
Veterans of those war lobbied Congress to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954, in order to honor veterans of every war. Congress agreed and President Eisenhower signed on to it, too.
Gerald Ford, the voice of reason.
In 1968, Congress acted again. This time, they wanted to give federal employees a couple of three-day weekends throughout the year, so they changed the dates of some major holidays to fall on certain Mondays. Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Washington’s Birthday were all given Mondays. And Veterans Day was moved from the historic date of November 11 to “the fourth Monday in October.”
The states rightly thought that was a stupid idea and refused to recognize the movement of Veterans Day until President Ford changed it back in 1975.
Veterans Day is currently celebrated nationally on November 11, as it has been for decades. When the day was originally changed to Veterans Day in 1954, it was just in time for then-104-year old Albert Woolson, the last surviving veteran of the Civil War, to celebrate it. With him were two veterans of the Plains Wars, veterans of the Spanish-American War, and vets from the Philippines War.
States, local municipalities, and other governments have declared their own Veterans Days, some dating as far back as the end of World War II, recognizing the courage and sacrifices of every U.S. citizen who answered the country’s call to arms.
As part of a strategy to develop and deliver new robotics capabilities to future soldiers, Army researchers have partnered with world-renowned experts in industry and academia.
The University of Pennsylvania hosted a series of meetings in Philadelphia, June 5-7, 2018, for principal investigators and researchers from the Army’s Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance, or RCTA.
“We are coming together to tell each other what we’ve done over the last year,” said Dr. Stuart Young, a division chief in the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Adelphi, Maryland, and the RCTA’s collaborative alliance manager.
(U.S. Army photo by David McNally)
The group formed in 2009 to bring together government, industrial and academic institutions to address research and development required to enable the deployment of future military unmanned ground vehicle systems ranging in size from man-portables to ground combat vehicles.
• General Dynamics Land Systems – Robotics • Carnegie Mellon University – The Robotics Institute • Massachusetts Institute of Technology • Florida State University • University of Central Florida • University of Pennsylvania • QinetiQ North America • Cal Tech/Jet Propulsion Lab
Young said the laboratory is focused on transitioning new capabilities to industry partners so they can continue to mature them.
“Since this is a basic and applied research program, we’ll transition it to them so they can get it into an experimental prototype in development,” he said. “Certainly the problem that we are working on is very hard. It is difficult to operate robots in the wild, anywhere in the world, but that’s the kind of problem the Army has to solve.”
(U.S. Army photo by David McNally)
The Army’s vision is to make unmanned systems an integral part of small unit teams.
“We’re trying to go from tools to teammates so you can work side-by-side with them,” Young said, continuing with, “In order for robots to be teammates, they must operate in unstructured, complex environments.
“And then in order for the robots to be a useful teammate, they have to communicate naturally like a human does,” Young said. “We’re doing a lot of work in human-robot relationships, understanding concepts in the same way that humans do, trying to get the robots to understand those concepts in the same way so that the teaming can occur more naturally.”
Over the eight years of the alliance, researchers have achieved many milestones in the robotics field.
“New methods for robots to autonomously interact with and perceive the outside world have been developed to improve reasoning, situational awareness, trust and mobility in challenging battlefield environments,” said Dr. Jaret Riddick, director of the lab’s Vehicle Technology Directorate. “In the past eight years, researchers have teamed with academia and industry supported by the Robotics CTA to establish robotics technology critical to next generation Army objectives for multi-domain operation.”
(U.S. Army photo by David McNally)
The alliance conducts research in four technical domains:
Perception: Perceive and understand dynamic and unknown environments, including creation of a comprehensive model of the surrounding world
Intelligence: Autonomously plan and execute military missions; readily adapt to changing environments and scenarios; learn from prior experience; share common understanding with team members
Human-Robot Interaction: Manipulate objects with near-human dexterity and maneuver through 3-D environments
Dexterous Manipulation and Unique Mobility: Manipulate objects with near-human dexterity and maneuver through 3-D environments
“We’ve certainly come a long way, and yes, we have a long way to go,” Young said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding and developing new theory and techniques for communicating between the robots and the humans. We must generate more novel techniques to be able to address those types of problems.”
Researchers said the meetings in Philadelphia were a valuable experience as they continue to plan for a capstone event at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in 2019, where they will demonstrate the culmination of their research achievements to Army leaders.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.
The M247 Sergeant York was officially designated as a “self-propelled anti-aircraft gun” but was for all intents and purposes a tank chassis with anti-aircraft guns attached to the top. The vehicle was named for one Alvin York, a famous and highly decorated WWI hero who captured over 100 German soldiers pretty much single-handedly. Unfortunately for the U.S. tax payers who spent just shy of $2 billion on it (about $4.8 billion today or, humourously enough, after appropriately adjusting for inflation to make the dollar values match, about 1/11th what the entire Apollo program cost), the final version of the weapon ended up being so useless its automatic targeting system couldn’t distinguish between a toilet vent fan and a jet plane, the vehicle itself couldn’t keep up with the tanks it was designed to protect, and it was made obsolete by advances in enemy weaponry after only a few dozen faulty units were made. Here now is the story of the forgotten M247.
This particular weapon was developed by the defunct off-shoot of Ford known as Ford Aerospace in response to a contract put out by the U.S. Army in 1977 requesting what they referred to as an, “Advanced Radar-directed Gun Air Defense System.” This was later re-dubbed, “Division Air Defense” which was itself shorted to DIVAD in official documentation.
In a nutshell, the Army wanted a drivable anti-aircraft system that was to serve alongside their newly developed M1 Abrams and M2 Bradley tanks in battle. The contract was put out in direct response to a battle tactic known as “pop-up” which essentially involved helicopters harassing tanks from a distance by hiding behind cover and then popping up briefly to let loose a volley of anti-tank missiles (which themselves were a newly developed technology) before hiding once again.
The U.S. Army found that the tactic was almost impossible to counter with the ground-based weapons it had available at the time as their leading anti-aircraft weapons system, the M163 Vulcan, only had a range of 1.2 KM (3/4 of a mile), while newly developed anti-tank missiles, such as the 9K114 Shturm used by the Soviets, could hit from a range almost five times greater than that. To add insult to injury, the Soviets had no problem countering the pop-up attack method thanks to their ZSU-23-4 Shilka, which is essentially what the United States wanted to copy.
To minimize production time and cost, the Army specified that the basis of the newly developed system had to be mounted atop an M48 Patton tank chassis (something the Army had in great surplus). Further, the system had to more or less use off-the-shelf parts, rather than anything being developed from scratch.
As to the final specific capabilities it was supposed to have, it had to be able to keep up with the M1 and M2’s cruising speed and be able to lock onto any target within 8 seconds, all with a minimum 50% chance to hit a target from 3 KM (1.9 miles) away with a single 30 second volley. It also had to be able to continually track up to 48 moving aerial targets, automatically identifying enemy aircraft, and intelligently prioritizing which should be shot down first. All the gunner had to do then was to select the target from the generated list and fire.
Several companies responded to the request with proposed systems, with the Army ultimately narrowing it down to two entrants- one developed by Ford Aerospace and one by General Dynamics, with both companies given $79 million to develop prototypes.
After extensive testing of two prototypes made by each company, in which General Dynamics’ reportedly shot down 19 drones vs. Ford’s 9, Ford was awarded the contract…
As you might have guessed, this decision was controversial, not just because the General Dynamics prototype outperformed Ford’s by a considerable margin, but because, unlike every other entrant, the M247 used more costly 40MM shells instead of 35MM ones which were extensively used by NATO at the time. Rumour had it that Ford stood to make more money from the use of 40MM rounds due to a business deal they had with the manufacturer. However, it should also be noted that the Army may have had good reason to favour the 40MM given its larger size and a newly developed 40mm round that had a proximity sensing fuse built in.
Whatever the case, Ford Aerospace won the lucrative contract and began immediate production of M247s in 1981.
Every M247 Ford produced had problems, mainly centered around their automatic targeting system. This ultimately led one soldier to speculate that the only way the M247 would manage to take out an enemy would be by “driving over the top of it.”
As an example of some of the issues here, in 1982 Ford was set to demonstrate the M247 to a gathered crowd of VIPs and military brass. However, the moment the M247’s tracking system was turned on, it immediately targeted the stands the gathered people were sitting in, resulting in complete chaos as those present trampled one another to get out of the way. Of course, the M247 required the operator to tell it to fire, so there was no real danger here, but one can imagine staring down a pair of 40mm cannons in a live demo would be a tad frightening.
After a while, the engineers thought they’d managed to fix the issue and the demo resumed, only to see the M247 shoot into the ground rather than the drone target it was “locked on” to.
In the aftermath, a Ford Aerospace executive claimed the “glitch” had been caused by the M247 being washed before the demonstration, damaging the targeting system. This explanation didn’t sit well with military brass or the many journalists present, one of whom, Gregg Easterbrook, mused that perhaps Ford Aerospace didn’t realize that it rained in Europe where the M247 was to be deployed.
Other problems with the M247’s targeting system included its seeming inability to tell the difference between helicopters and trees and its penchant for locking onto random other ground-based objects as threats. The most infamous example of this was that time an M247 ignored a passing drone it was supposed to be targeting and instead locked onto a nearby latrine exhaust fan, marking it as a low priority, slow-moving target.
The M247’s targeting system was so poor that even when presented with an unrealistically favorable scenario, such as a helicopter hovering completely still in mid-air, it still missed and took an agonizing 12 seconds just to acquire the target.
How was this targeting system so bad, given that it was developed using off-the-shelf parts that were shown to be reliable already? Mainly because the radar was one designed for the F-16 fighter jet. (In fact, it worked very well in the open air.) However, despite the efforts of the Ford and Army engineers, the random objects on the ground continually wreaked havoc on the radar’s ability to track low flying aerial targets like pop-up attacking helicopters. It also had significant problems tracking high flying targets because when the turrets were raised up they got in the way of the radar… (*queue Yakety Sax*).
On top of all this, the M247’s turret also couldn’t turn fast enough to track fast-moving targets and the hydraulics leaked in even marginally cold weather. Not a problem, of course, given it’s always balmy in the regions that were once the former Soviet Union… (In truth, even if it was balmy, it turns out the tracking system also struggled in high ambient temperatures and had trouble dealing with vibrations, such as generated continually when the M247 moved over the ground.)
Another major problem, as previously mentioned, was that the M247’s top speed wasn’t sufficient to keep up with the M1 and M2’s cruising speed, meaning it literally couldn’t drive fast enough to travel with the things it was specifically designed to protect. You might at this point be thinking that one’s on the Army because they’re the ones that made Ford use the M48 Patton tank as the base, and that’s not an entirely unfair thought. However, it should be noted that the M48 was previously capable of keeping up here, but Ford added about 17 tons to the original 45 in their modifications of the turret, making the tank much slower than it had previously been.
Despite all these problems to units being delivered, the Army continued to pump money into the project, mostly because there wasn’t a backup option and there was a very pressing need for such a weapon. However, rumors of the Army faking positive results for the M247 via putting it in unrealistically favorable conditions (such as hovering the drones and attaching radar reflectors), including Oregon state representative Dennis Smith going so far as to publicly accuse them of this, ultimately led to something of an inquiry on the matter. Specifically, in 1984, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger decided to oversee a set of amazingly expensive tests costing $54 million ($144 million today) to better determine what this weapon could and couldn’t do.
The tests did not go well. When the system utterly failed to hit any realistically flown drones, they resorted to having them fly in a straight line. After further failures to actually hit a target, the drones were made to hold still and equipped with radar reflectors… (Rather ironic for a weapon named after a famed WWI soldier known for his incredibly sharpshooting ability.)
All was not lost, however. In one of the rounds of tests where a drone was moving the M247 did manage to slightly damage it, knocking it off course, at which point the safety officer remotely self-destructed it as he was supposed to do if a drone did such a thing. Nevertheless, this was interpreted by the press as the military trying to make it look like the M247 had actually managed a kill, leading to even more outcry that the Army was just trying to fake the results to make the massively expensive M247 look good.
(As to that cost, while it’s widely reported today that the project cost close to $7 billion (about $18 billion today), in fact, that number includes about three decades of anti-aircraft weapon development leading up to and including the actual figure of about $1.8 billion (about $4.8 billion today) spent on the development of the M247s.)
In any event, around the same time of the debacle that was the 1984 tests, the Soviet Union were deploying longer-range anti-tank missiles that were capable of being fired outside of the then current range the M247 could effectively counter the attacks, even if the system did aim properly.
Thus, despite the pressing need for such a system with little in the way of a backup, Weinberger, with support from Congress, some members of which had been present at the test, canceled the project rather than trying to sink more money into it to fix it. In the coming years, most of the M247s found their way onto target ranges where they were destroyed in various tests by weaponry that could actually aim properly. Today, only a handful of M247s still exist, one of which can be found at the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park.
Everyone wants something from their friendly neighborhood medic: opiates, tourniquets, a quick peek at that rash on their junk. But French Foreign Legion troops could get an additional bit of medicine from their quartermaster or doc: absinthe or quinine-laced wine.
So, was it just that the French knew how to party better than any other army? Or was it that the Legion just gave zero sh*ts and did whatever it wanted?
The female mosquito sucks so hard.
(Center for Disease Control)
Well, the French propensity to drink and the Legion’s outcast status both played roles. At that time, the wine that was part of a soldier’s daily ration was increasing while most other militaries were cutting back. The reason being that France thought drinking that wine was a good way to cut down a troop’s chances of contracting malaria.
Quinine was known to have anti-malarial effects as far back as the late 1600s when King Charles II was successfully treated with it. Slipping it into the wine of legionnaires and others operating in tropical heat (in places like Africa and Mexico) just made sense.
“The Green Muse” was the lady who visited you and gave you all your good ideas when you were all messed up on absinthe. She’s also known as the “Green Fairy,” but prefers Samantha, if anyone would ever bother to ask.
Ballers on a budget were only sucking down absinthe when they received it in their ration — that is, if they didn’t sell it instead.
Still, it must’ve made the quartermaster pretty popular. Any medics in charge of giving out anti-malarial pills should feel free to take on a new nickname: The “Green Fairy” of absinthe lore.