Our first president, George Washington, sold whiskey from one the country’s largest distilleries after leaving office — but reportedly never drank his own supply. Instead, Washington sipped a dark porter style of beer mixed with molasses that was brewed in Philadelphia. His presidential successor, John Adams, loved drinking hard cider, rum, and Madeira wine during his time off. The eighth President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, drank so much whiskey that he earned the nickname, “Blue Whiskey Van.”
Many of our Presidents turned to their alcohol beverage of choice in order to relax after a long day’s work. However, one president flipped the script and decided to start his days by knocking back a shot of his favorite: bourbon.
It’s reported that President Harry S. Truman liked to start his days with a nice, brisk walk and a shot of Old Grand Dad (bourbon).
Truman appreciated a strong Old Fashioned and, reportedly, would complain to his staff if he felt the cocktail was too weak. Although it may seem unhealthy for a person of his position to consume such a potent drink so early in the morning, he actually prided himself on maintaining a nutritious diet.
In a diary entry, dated January 3, 1952, Truman wrote:
“When I moved into the White House, I went up to 185. I’ve now hit an average of 175. I walked two-miles most every morning at a hundred and twenty-eight steps a minute, I eat no bread, but one piece of toast at breakfast, no butter, no sugar, no sweets. Usually have fruit, one egg, a strip of bacon and half a glass of skimmed milk for breakfast, liver & bacon or sweetbreads or ham or fish and spinach and another non-fattening vegetable for lunch with fruit for dessert. For dinner, I have a fruit cup, steak, a couple of non-fattening vegetables, an orange, pineapple, or raspberry for dinner. So, I maintain my waistline and can wear suits bought in 1935!”
On behalf of the veteran community, we say well done, sir.
You might know that a guidon represents a unit and its commanding officer. And you might know that when the commander is inside the office or building, their guidon is displayed for everyone to see, and when the day is done, the guidon is retired for the evening.
Guidons are part of military culture, but you might be surprised to know the history of them. Let’s take a look at how guidons came to be part of our military and their storied history.
During change of responsibility ceremonies or change of command ceremonies, the passing of the guidon is an important step and key signifier that something significant is taking place. If you’ve spent any time on a military installation, chances are you’ve seen this ceremony (or something like it):
Four people stand in formation, with a guidon bearer at the front. The guidon bearer is usually the senior enlisted member or first sergeant of a unit, and that person generally stands behind three officers. At an appointed time, the guidon bearer hands the guidon to the outgoing commander who presents it to the presiding officer after saying something along the lines of, “Sir/Ma’am, I relinquish command.”
Then there’s a quick hustle and change of positions and the presiding officer passes the guidon to the incoming commander, who hands it back to the guidon bearer and says something like, “Sir/Ma’am, I accept command.”
Listening to this kind of ceremony will undoubtedly reveal this the passing of the guidon is a ceremony which goes back hundreds of years and that the guidon itself was once an essential part of a battlefield posture. Flags and guidons proclaiming unit colors and insignia date back hundreds of years. Today’s guidons used by our military trace their heritage to the small flags used by cavalry units in Europe during the late 1700s and early 1800s.
History of the guidon and the Army Guidon
As we know it today, the guidon came to the military in 1834 with the first cavalry units called dragoons. The top half of the Hudson was red, and the bottom half was white with the letters “U.S.” stitched in white. The company letter was stitched in red.
Guidons remained unchanged for the U.S. military until 1862 during the Civil War. The shape of the cavalry guidon didn’t change, but the colors were altered to a stars and stripes pattern. This change stayed in place until 1885 when the guidon was changed back to the red over white design.
Just one year later, artillery companies were authorized use of guidons. Engineer units were allowed to carry guidons in 1904. Also, in 1904, the Army standardized the design and use of colors and branch insignia. For example, the scarlet background and yellow crossed cannons came to represent artillery, just like the semaphore flags on orange backgrounds represent Signal Corps.
Headquarters elements of Army commands, along with garrisons, centers, schools, and elsewhere are authorized guidons of specific design and color. These usually follow the design of the unit’s Organizational Flag.
Air Force Guidons
The first aviation guidon was authorized in 1916 for use by the 1st Aero Squadron while in service on the Mexican border. Since aviation was part of the Signal Corps, the first Air Force guidon was orange with the Signal Corps crossed flags stitched above an outstretched eagle. These two elements were used for early military aviator badges, and the design was officially announced in a special regulation change to the wartime uniform of WWI. A recommendation in 1919 was to make the Air Force guidon green piped in black with a wing propeller and the letters/numbers of the unit stitched in white. That change was rejected because it was feared the black flag might be associated with “piracy.” As we know it, the yellow eagle in use on Air Force guidons came into being in 1962 and has remained unchanged since.
Marine Corps Guidons
Marine Corps guidons are always rectangular with a scarlet field and gold lettering with an eagle, globe, and anchor centered in the middle. Recruit training units don’t have any branch of service indicated on their guidons. Boot camp platoons only display the platoon number. Fleet Marine Forces units have “FMF” about the Marine Corps emblem.
All non-infantry and artillery reserve units display “USMCR” on their guidons, while all infantry, artillery, and active units show “USMC” on their guidons. Regimental level numbers are displayed on the lower-left corner, unless a higher/lower command numeral provides better identification.
One of the only units authorized a second guidon is Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. C-Company 1/7 is authorized a white guidon with a skull and crossbones. Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines are authorized white markings on a black guidon, with a crossed rifle and shattered paddle and Ka-Bar inset behind a black heart logo.
Unlike the Army, no additional attachments are authorized, like streamers or bands.
Navy ships and squadrons are authorized a unit guidon while ashore that must be swallowtail shaped with a blue background and white text. The Navy guidon shows a fouled anchor within a diamond, which is the same insignia as the Naval Infantry Flag. Before WWII, the Navy used a red flag for artillery ships. OCS companies carry blue guidons with white lettering that shows a white bulldog.
When viewing flags in a military setting, the order is important. First is the national flag, next to the U.S. Army flag, the USMC flag, the Navy flag, then the Air Force flag, and finally the flag of the Coast Guard. However, when the Coast Guard is operating as part of the Navy (as in during war), the Coast Guard flag comes before the Air Force flag.
Guidons are an integral part of the military culture, not just because they represent the commander’s presence or were once used as a sight-point on the field. They represent the shared history of our military and our culture.
Yes, you read that correctly. No, this isn’t a headline at The Onion. In what seems like a fever dream cross between “The Scarlett Letter” and a Tom Clancy novel, two Montana men were ordered, by a judge, to wear “I am a liar” signs. Here’s the catch: that’s not the only creative punishment in store for the duplicitous men.
Judge Greg Pinski holds up the text for the “I am a liar” signs.
Judge Greg Pinski, of Cascade County District Montana, delivered the unorthodox sentence two weeks ago. The two men on the receiving end of the punishment, Ryan Patrick Morris (28) and Troy Allan Nelson (33), were also instructed to wear signs saying “I am a liar. I am not a veteran. I stole valor. I have dishonored all veterans” at the Montana Veterans Memorial. According to The Great Falls Tribune, they were also ordered to write down the names of Americans killed in the line of duty.
The two men had recent prior convictions from the same judge: Morris with a felony burglary charge, and Nelson with a felony possession charge. However, the two were ordered back to court for violating the conditions of their release. According to The Military Times, the two men lied about their military involvement in order to have their cases moved to a veterans court. Morris falsely claimed that he had done multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was afflicted with PTSD from an IED that supposedly exploded and injured him. While Nelson was falsely enrolled in a Veterans Treatment Court.
It was then that Judge Pinski offered them early parole, ifand only if they cooperated with a slew of stipulations. Pinski stipulated that every year, during the suspended portions of their sentences, they were to wear the signs about their necks, and stand for 8 hours on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day at the Montana Veteran’s Memorial.
Pinksi cited a Montana Supreme Court case that he said gives him jurisdiction for his unconventional punishment on account of his justified suspicion of stolen valor.
Judge Greg Pinski at the Montana Veterans Memorial on Veteran’s Day, 2015.
(Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)
In addition, both men were required to hand-write the names of all 6,756 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as write out the obituaries of the 40 fallen soldiers from Montana.
The buck didn’t stop there. Judge Pinski also ordered the men to hand-write out their admissions of guilt and apologize in letters to: American Legion, AMVETS, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, The Vietnam Veterans of America, and The Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The buck didn’t even stop there. In addition to all of the aforementioned tasks, the men were also required to perform 441 hours of community service each—one hour for each Montana citizen who died in conflict since the Korean War.
The men agreed to the terms, and if they complete all of the given tasks, they will be eligible for early release.
Morris was sentenced to 10 years with three years suspended in Montana State Prison, and Nelson was sentenced to five years, two years suspended.
According to The Military Times, Judge Pinksi was quoted saying “I want to make sure that my message is received loud and clear by these two defendants […] You’ve been nothing but disrespectful in your conduct. You certainly have not respected the Army. You’ve not respected the veterans. You’ve not respected the court. And you haven’t respected yourselves.”
China has launched a new “world-leading unmanned warship” that is supposedly ready for combat, Chinese media reports.
The JARI multi-purpose unmanned combat vessel, a new product of the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, is 50 feet in length and displaces 20 tons. Chinese media reports that this ship is capable of conducting the same missions as China’s Type 052 destroyers, namely air-defense, anti-ship and anti-submarine missions.
Chinese military observers refer to China’s latest development as a “mini Aegis-class destroyer” because of its radars, vertically-launched missiles and torpedoes, the Global Times reports, referencing the US Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, many of which are equipped with powerful Aegis radars, surface-to-air missiles, and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
“This is [People’s Liberation Army] vaporware,” Bryan Clark, a US defense expert and former naval officer, told Insider, referencing technology that is a bit more conceptual than meaningfully applicable.
“The boat is very similar to commercially-available unmanned harbor patrol vessels,” he said.
“Like those boats, there is a mount on the forward deck that would normally carry a machine gun. It may also have some vertically-launched rockets or small missiles in cells on the rear deck or behind the gun.”
China has yet to say what type of missions this vessel might conduct. “This boat doesn’t have the range for operations very far from Chinese territory. Therefore, it may only be good for patrolling around China’s islands in the South China Sea or around Chinese ports,” he said.
China first revealed a model of the JARI unmanned warship last year in South Africa at the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition, where a China industry representative explained to Navy Recognition that the medium-sized vessel is propelled by a single water jet, has a maximum speed of 42 knots, and has a maximum range of 500 nautical miles.
The model showed a 30mm main gun with eight vertical launch systems behind the cannon and two light torpedo launchers on each side of the superstructure.
Another model was again showcased at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi back in February, where Defense News noted that the vessel included an electro-optical sensor, a phased array radar, a dipping sonar, and a rocket launcher, among the previously-mentioned features.
It is unclear how many of these features have been effectively incorporated into the final design. There are actually quite a few uncertainties surrounding this technology.
Seth Cropsey, a seapower expert at the Hudson Institute, told Insider that China is getting better and better at technology but said there are questions of “how soon the Chinese can field this, what its real capabilities are versus what its advertised capabilities are and, this is important, how many of these things they are going to put out to sea.”
The JARI can, the Global Times reports, be controlled remotely or operate autonomously, although more testing is required before it can fully do the latter. Chinese military analysts have talked about this vessel being used with other drone ships to create a swarm.
The US military has experimented with small crewless swarm boats, as well as medium-sized unmanned surface vessels like the Sea Hunter.
Earlier this month, the US Navy expressed an interest in the development of a large unmanned surface vessel, “a high-endurance, reconfigurable ship able to accommodate various payloads for unmanned missions to augment the Navy’s manned surface force.”
The Navy has said that it is pursuing “a balance of high-end, survivable manned platforms with a greater number of complementary, more affordable, potentially more cost-imposing, and attritable options.”
Expert observers suspect the new revelation is a response to US Navy plans. “I believe one of the drivers for this rollout from the PLA is the US Navy’s recent announcement of its proposed Large USV,” Clark told Insider.
Cropsey explained that “this is a start” for the Chinese, but added that “it doesn’t really compare to what we’re planning.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Contrary to what some science fiction and superhero movies might have you believe, the KGB – the Soviet Union’s state security and intelligence service – didn’t grow its agents in laboratories. They didn’t have superpowers and they didn’t have supernatural combat training.
What they did have was exceptional intelligence, training, and preparation. Jack Barsky was born Albrecht Dittrich in Soviet-dominated East Germany. He trained as a chemical engineer and chemistry professor before he was recruited by the KGB in 1969. In his book, Deep Undercover, he recalls the process by which he learned to be a KGB “illegal” living in the United States.
While studying for his PhD in chemistry, the KGB sent him to East Berlin to learn to adapt to a new, unfamiliar environment. While there, he decided to join permanently. He left his family behind to learn Morse code, short wave radio, cryptography and a language. Dittrich chose English. While in East Berlin, he also learned how to recognize and ditch a surveillance team.
He was so good at avoiding detection, only one KGB surveillance team ever got the best of him. It led to the new agent’s belief that he was smarter than everyone else in the intelligence organization. He could also decrypt messages at the rate of 100 words per minute.
The KGB also taught him an advanced means of using invisible ink to send letters through the mail. It began with writing an “open letter,” to a false family member or friend. This is the letter one would read upon opening.
He would then use a piece of contact paper and a pen to write the secret message, one that could only be read if someone knew the secret message was there. It was sent to one of many flagged KGB addresses. Only KGB headquarters, called “The Center,” would know how to develop it.
They also taught him how to recruit Americans sympathetic to the Soviet Union.
On top of the spycraft, he also had to learn to adapt to his new environments, wherever they would be, with whatever means he had at his disposal. He learned the nuances of American English watching TV. His “legend” – the background narrative of his American life – said that his mother, an immigrant, spoke German at home, which is why he had a slight German accent.
An American working for the KGB in Moscow blessed his American English well enough that the KGB decided to send him to the U.S. to be an illegal, a sleeper agent living under an assumed identity in the United States.
To enter the United States, he would first have to get a real identity, beginning with a real birth certificate. KGB illegals would use birth certificates from recently deceased Americans who were roughly their same age, requesting the certificates through the mail. Once they had the birth certificate, they could get other legal documents.
Dittrich’s first attempt to enter the U.S. involved getting the birth certificate of an American named “Hank” while posted in Montreal, Canada. He learned a lot of American English while watching U.S. television in Canada, which gave him a more believable American accent. Although that mission was a bust, The Center had an authentic one waiting for him in Moscow.
His new identity was that of American Jack Barsky. Within weeks of obtaining that official document, KGB agent Jack Barsky was living in New York City and had received a library card, a driver’s license and was working as a bike messenger.
The KGB’s biggest goal was an authentic American passport. An illegal with a real U.S. passport would be used to bring the entire system down, Barsky says. But it was not to be. Barsky not only never received a passport, he was eventually recalled to Moscow under the penalty of death.
By this time he had a family in New York (he also had a family in East Berlin). But the birth of his daughter in the United States prompted him to ignore Moscow’s warning. To find out how Jack Barsky managed to stay in New York without retribution from the Soviet Union, read his book, Deep Undercover.
When Henry Flipper arrived at West Point, there were already three other black cadets attending the famed Military Academy. When it came time for Flipper to graduate, those three would be long gone, rejected by their classmates. An engineer, he reduced the effects of Malaria on the U.S. Army by creating a special drainage system that removed standing water from camps. Flipper’s life would take him from being born into slavery to becoming the first black commander of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Henry Flipper was born a slave in Georgia in 1856. After he was liberated in the Civil War, he remained in Georgia, attending missionary schools to get a primary education. He requested and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1873 through Congressman Thomas Freeman. When he arrived, he found he was not the only black student there, but the constant harassment and insults forced the other cadets to drop out. Flipper persevered and graduated in 1877. He was the first African-American West Point grad and the first African-American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.
Though his specialty was engineering, Flipper was a more than capable officer. He was sent to bases in Texas and the Oklahoma Territory, where he served as quartermaster and signals officer. As an engineer, he was second to none, laying telegraph lines and building roads, and constructing a drainage system known today as “Flipper’s Ditch,” which removed standing water to prevent the proliferation of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. He would fight Apaches alongside his fellow soldiers, as brave in combat as he was competent in peacetime.
But just like the way he was ostracized by his classmates as a cadet at the Military Academy, he would soon find resistance to his service as a Second Lieutenant in the regular Army. In 1881, his commanding officer at Fort Davis would accuse him of stealing ,791.77 from the installation’s commissary fund. In his subsequent court-martial, he was found not guilty of stealing the money, but he was found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer. He was then kicked out of the Army after some four years of service.
He would spend the rest of his life trying to restore his name.
The closest he came was when a bill was introduced by Congress to reinstate him into the Army in 1898. He had the full support of some Congressmen, including the Chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs, but it was tabled. As was every subsequent attempt to exonerate himself. He died in 1940, but eventually, step by step, his reputation was restored after his death. In 1976, he was given an honorable discharge by the Army, and in 1999, he was pardoned by the then-Commander-in-Chief, President Bill Clinton.
During World War II, The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard were tasked with ruining the days of any and every Nazi submarine they could find, but those underwater dongs of death were notorious for staying hidden until they spied a convoy of merchant ships and oil tankers moving on their own.
The USS Big Horn fires Hedgehog depth charges, an anti-submarine warfare system.
(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)
How were the big, bad naval services supposed to counter the insidious “wolf packs?” By dressing up as sheep until the wolves got close, and then revealing themselves to be sheepdog AF.
The Navy purchased used merchant vessels, mostly oil tankers, and converted them for wartime service. Anti-submarine weapons were cleverly hidden across the deck while the holds were filled with additional ammunition as well as watertight barrels to provide additional buoyancy after a torpedo strike. The resulting vessels were known as “Q-ships.”
(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)
One Q-ship, the USS Horn, carried five large guns on the deck of which only one was typically visible. There was a 5-inch gun visible, four 4-inch guns concealed behind false bulkheads, and “hedgehogs,” depth charge systems that would quickly fire a series explosives into the ocean.
In 1944, the ship was transferred to Coast Guard control and assigned to weather patrols, still heavily armed to challenge any U-boat that exposed itself. The new Coast Guard crew sailed across the Atlantic, looking for targets and relaying weather information until March 1945, when they were sent to actually move oil across the Pacific, supporting operations like the capture of Okinawa.
U.S. Navy sailors conduct gunnery drills on the USS Big Horn.
Unfortunately, the Coast Guard crew never got to go on a true submarine hunting mission like their U.S. Navy brethren, but they were able to contribute to victory in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters by safeguarding convoys and moving oil to where it was needed.
All Q-ships were released from the fleets in the years following World War II. While the modern Coast Guard has some anti-surface capability, it lacks any weapons effective against long-endurance diesel-electric or a nuclear submarines. Either type could dive well outside of the cutters’ ranges, fire torpedoes, and sail away without ever exposing themselves.
Basically, if it’s more dangerous than a narco submarine, the Coast Guard has to be careful about attacking it.
Operation Aphrodite was a top-secret attempt by the Army and Navy to turn old airplanes into suicide drones during World War II. B-17s and B-24s that were past their service life would be packed with several tons of Torpex, an explosive with twice the power of TNT, and then piloted into heavily-fortified targets.
The planes would take off under control of a pilot and flight engineers before they bailed out. The drones would then be remotely piloted to targets in Nazi Germany via a “mother-plane,” a specially outfitted bomber with remote control of the drone. The hope was that the concentrated mass of explosives would be successful in cracking bunkers and other defenses that survived standard bombing runs.
The program ran from August 1944 to January 1945 but was a massive failure: More Allied service members were killed than Germans and more damage was done to England than to Germany.
Navy Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy had completed his quota of missions months before, but he and his crew had stayed in theater to support the D-Day invasions and the beginning of the advance across Europe. They served primarily in anti-submarine patrols. By the end of July 1944, Kennedy’s crew was headed stateside.
Kennedy again volunteered to stay and joined Operation Aphrodite where he was assigned to fly drones to 10,000 feet before bailing and allowing the mother-plane to take over.
Kennedy and Lt. Wilford J. Willy flew a BQ-8, the designation for the converted B-24s, on August 12, 1944. Kennedy and Willy never made it to their bailout point. The cause of the mishap was never discovered, but the explosives on the Liberator detonated prematurely, killing both pilots and destroying the plane instantly.
Kennedy was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and the Air Medal.
The failed missions of Operation Aphrodite would continue until the following January when the program was indefinitely suspended and never restarted.
Ever since the first UH-60 took off in 1974, America’s Black Hawk helicopter has done a lot for the United States military. But let’s face it, even with the upgrades it has received over the years, it’s still been 43 years, and technology hasn’t been standing still.
Sikorsky, though, has been teaming up with Boeing to develop a replacement, the SB1 Defiant. In some ways, this helicopter looks familiar. That’s because it is a scaled-up version of the S-97 Raider, a technology demonstrator that’s been flying for a couple of years.
The S-97 has a top speed of at least 253 miles per hour and can carry six troops. It also has a number of options to haul a fair bit of firepower, including AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 2.75-inch rockets, 7.62mm machine guns, and .50-caliber machine guns. The S-97 uses X2 technology – in essence, a pair of contra-rotating rotors (much like the Kamov helicopters) with a push propeller. This allows it to hover 10,000 feet above the ground when the temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Defiant adds the X2 technology to an airframe roughly the size of the UH-60. The Defiant would be able to haul at least a dozen troops in its cabin, as well as a crew of four. It also features retractable landing gear (to reduce drag), fly-by-wire controls, a composite fuselage, and advanced rotor system.
The concept of a push propeller has been tested before by the United States military. The AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter also used a push propeller to achieve high speed — up to 245 miles per hour, according to MilitaryFactory.com.
The Army is reportedly going to ask for proposals from industry for a medium-lift aircraft in 2019. The SB1 Defiant will likely form the basis for one of the responses.
The bow often takes center stage in period pieces any time before the invention of gun powder. From modern portrayals in the Hunger Games series to those in a Roman epic, the bow is a weapon that has shaped the course of human history more than any other weapon. You would be hard-pressed to find a roleplay video game without one. Even Greek Gods wielded them in battle. The family tree of this weapon grows at the crossroads of human warfare.
Origin of the bow and arrow
Bow and arrow, a weapon consisting of a stave made of wood or other elastic material, bent and held in tension by a string. The arrow, a thin wooden shaft with a feathered tail, is fitted to the string by a notch in the end of the shaft and is drawn back until sufficient tension is produced in the bow so that when released it will propel the arrow. Arrowheads have been made of shaped flint, stone, metal, and other hard materials.
Like other weapons of war, the bow started with the humble beginning as a hunting tool. It was invented in Africa 71,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found bows on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. The Native Americans in North America are believed to invented the bow and arrow independently and it spread south to the rest of the Americas. Arrows are expensive and only wealthy countries could reasonably keep their armies equipped. This was true until the bow took its logical next step in its evolution.
The Long Bow
The Longbow first arrived in Europe around 3,000 B.C. and appeared in the battle of Somerset, England in 2,690 BC. The weapon gets its name from, well, being long. At six feet, it was as tall as the archer wielding it. It had a max effective range of 320 meters. They were the armor-piercing rounds of their day, able to penetrate anything up to and including plate armor. The weapon has become synonymous with the English although it was invented by the Welsh. It is romanticized in literature, movies and video games because it is a good weapon. Its biggest disadvantages were that it took years for a soldier to learn to use effectively and the cost of training.
The Composite Bow
Composite bow is a type of traditional bow made of horn, wood, and sinew which are laminated together and is similar to the “laminated bow” which is made only of layers of wood. Most of the composite bows are recurve bows (when not stringed they curve opposite of the archer) that have wooden core with horn on the belly, facing the archer, and sinew on the back. Wooden core is made of multiple pieces, joined with animal glue in V-splices. Horn is used on the inside because it can store more energy than wood in compression. Sinew, placed on the back of the bow is soaked in animal glue. It is obtained from the lower legs and back of wild deer and is used because it will stretch farther than wood which again stores more power.
The invention of the composite bow is believed to have been ushered in the 1700s B.C. by the Shang Dynasty in China. Parallel thinking and engineering saw a proliferation of composite bows across the Mediterranean and Europe. The Mongol composite bow changed the course of history in one fell swoop in the hands of Genghis Khan. His version of the bow was designed to be shot on horseback. Everything in the Mongol culture was centered around the horse. The world wasn’t ready when the Great Khan forged the largest empire in history with it. You could either join the Mongols or have total war upon your people: The original “Plata o Plomo”.
The crossbow, leading missile weapon of the Middle Ages, consisting of a short bow fixed transversely on a stock, originally of wood; it had a groove to guide the missile, usually called a bolt, a sear to hold the string in the cocked position, and a trigger to release it.
There is a lot of debate whether crossbows are bows in the modern era especially when it comes to hunting. In the United States, some hunting seasons in different states prohibit the crossbow when bows are allowed. Other states restrict them to when rifles are allowed or restrict them altogether. Historians are also conflicted on when a crossbow was a bow and when it split into two separate categories. Crossbows are usually just as regulated as firearms and bows are considered sports equipment.
So, at this point in the evolutionary timeline of the bow, we can see it has become something new. While it may not fall under archery perfectly because even though it is a kind of bow, it is not a bow itself. It shares more history with the bow but the function of a crossbow is closer to rifle – with matching laws. Crossbows also have a PR problem across borders. In Brazil they’re considered a toy yet in the U.K. they’re associated with poachers but in America they’re used for hunting or zombies.
After nearly two decades of counter-terror operations the world over, the United States military is now shifting its focus back toward great power competition with the likes of China and Russia. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the past two decades have left the U.S. military particularly well suited for the war at hand, but not very well positioned for the wars that are feasibly to come.
During this era of counter-terror operations, China has had the opportunity to seek higher degrees of technological and tactical parity, while having the benefit of not being actively engaged in expensive combat operations on the same scale. That has allowed China’s sea-faring power to grow at an exponential rate in recent years, with an active fleet of more than 770 vessels sailing under the banners of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy, their militarized Coast Guard, and a maritime miitia that takes its orders from the Chinese military as well.
Chinese Navy on parade (Chinese state television)
The addition of China’s massive ballistic missile stockpile, including hypersonic anti-ship platforms the U.S. Navy currently has no means to defend against, has further established China’s advantage in the Pacific. Even if the U.S. Navy leveraged every vessel in its 293-ship fleet, American forces would still be outnumbered by Chinese ships by more than two to one. Importantly, however, the United States likely couldn’t devote its entire fleet to any single conflict due to its global commitments to security and stability, especially regarding essential shipping lanes.
Today, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are both actively seeking ways to mitigate China’s numbers advantage, as well as the area-denial bubble created by China’s anti-ship platforms. Multiple possible solutions are being explored, ranging from hot-loading Marine Corps F-35Bs on austere airstrips on captured islands in the case of the Marines, to the Navy’s ongoing development of the MQ-25 aerial refueling drone that aims to extend the reach of America’s carrier-based fighters. Still, thus far, there has been no magic bullet. In fact, concerns about a near-peer conflict with China has even prompted several high-ranking defense officials to question the practicality of America’s fleet of super-carriers, both because of their immense cost, and because of the likelihood that they could be sunk by China’s hypersonic missiles long before they could get close enough to Chinese shores to begin launching sorties of F-35Cs and F/A-18 Super Hornets.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mohamed Labanieh/Released)
The fundamental challenges a war with China would present are clear: Finding a way to mitigate the risks posed by advanced anti-ship missiles and offsetting the significant numbers advantage Chinese forces would have within the region. In the past, we’ve discussed the possibility of arming commercial cargo ships with modular weapons systems in a “missile barge” fleet as a means to bolster American numbers and capabilities. Another feasible option that could even work in conjunction with this strategy would be issuing “letters of marque” to private operations, effectively allowing non-military forces to serve as privateers for the U.S. government.
The Capture of a French Ship by Royal Family Privateers by Charles Brooking
American Privateers or Pirates?
The concept of issuing letters of marque to American privateers was recently discussed by retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian and Brandon Schwartz in the U.S. Naval Institute’s publication, “Proceedings.” Although the idea seems almost ridiculous in the 21st Century, the legal framework outlined by Cancian and Schwartz is sound, and one could argue that their assertions about the viability and strategic value of privateer fleets are as well.
Cancian and Schwartz argue that privateering is not piracy, as there are laws governing it and precedent for the practice established in past U.S. conflicts, including the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
“Privateering is not piracy—there are rules and commissions, called letters of marque, that governments issue to civilians, allowing them to capture or destroy enemy ships. The U.S. Constitution expressly grants Congress the power to issue them (Article I, section 8, clause 11).” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
However, despite their argument being technically right, it’s difficult to dismiss how the piracy narrative would almost certainly affect public perception of the use of privateers, and potentially even the conflict at large.
While the United States could argue that privateers operate with specifically outlined rules and commissions, even the American public would likely see American privateers as pirates. And because America has found itself trailing behind nations like China and Russia in terms of manipulating public narratives, that narrative could indeed hurt not only public support for the conflict; it could even jeopardize some international relationships.
The Pride of Baltimore, left, and the Lynx, two privateer vessels, reenact a battle of the War of 1812 in Boston Harbor during Boston Navy Week 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elisandro T. Diaz/Released)
Privateers are not pirates in the literal sense only because a government is sanctioning their piracy. In the eyes of those who don’t recognize America’s authority to grant such permissions in far-flung waterways, the two terms would be interchangeable.
Regardless of vernacular, the United States has used this approach to great success in the past. Although the last time American privateers set sale was more than 200 years ago, their approach was modern enough to set precedent for a return to the concept.
“The privateering business was thoroughly modern and capitalistic, with ownership consortiums to split investment costs and profits or losses, and a group contract to incentivize the crew, who were paid only if their ship made profits. A sophisticated set of laws ensured that the capture was ‘good prize,’ and not fraud or robbery. After the courts determined that a merchant ship was a legitimate capture, auctioneers sold off her cargo of coffee, rum, wine, food, hardware, china, or similar consumer goods, which ultimately were bought and consumed by Americans.” -Frederick C. Leiner in “Yes, Privateers Mattered“
In the event of a large-scale conflict with a nation like China, that potential narrative blowback may be a necessary evil. However, the ramifications of that evil could be mitigated through a concerted narrative effort to frame privateer actions in the minds of the populous as an essential part of a broader war effort that has the American people’s best interests in mind.
In the War of 1812, privateering saw such public support (in large part thanks to the profits it drove) that some took to calling the conflict the “War of the People.” Managing the narrative surrounding American privateers could make the concept far more palatable to the American people.
As for the legal aspects of privateering, you can read a thorough legal justification for the practice in a separate piece written by Schwartz called “U.S. Privateering is legal.”
(Italian Center for International Studies)
The role of American privateers at war
China’s massive fleet of vessels in the Pacific can be broken down into their three command groups, all of which ultimately answer to China’s People’s Liberation Army. China’s maritime militia accounts for approximately 300 vessels, the militarized Coast Guard has 135 more, and the PLA-Navy itself boasts an ever-growing roster expected to reach 450 surface vessels by the end of the decade.
In the event of a war with China, the American Navy would have more than its hands full engaging with such a massive force, limiting its ability to cut China off from one of its most significant revenue sources, overseas trade. China’s reliance on shipping products to other nations has helped its economy grow rapidly, but it also represents a strategic disadvantage, as Cancian and Schwartz point out, if America can find the means to disrupt this exchange.
“Thirty-eight percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) comes from trade, against only 9 percent of U.S. GDP. Chinese social stability is built on a trade-off: The Chinese Communist Party has told the people they will not have democratic institutions, but they will receive economic prosperity.” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
In 2018, China’s merchant fleet was already approaching 2,200 total vessels, thanks to massive external demand for inexpensive Chinese exports. America’s Navy would likely be stretched too thin to actually blockade such an expansive merchant fleet. Like with aircraft, America’s preference for large and expensive ships that are capable of fulfilling multiple roles has offered increased capability but significantly decreased numbers. At its peak during World War II, the U.S. Navy boasted more than 6,000 ships. Today, the Navy has 293 far more capable vessels, but none can be in more than one place at a time.
American Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, for instance, are too big and expensive to task with waiting out Chinese ships hiding in foreign ports, and would likely largely be assigned to Aegis missile defense operations. This is where American privateers could offer an important service.
American privateers wouldn’t be tasked with engaging the Chinese Navy or even with sinking merchant ships. Instead, they would be tasked with capturing Chinese cargo vessels, offering them a multi-million dollar bounty on each, and quickly compromising China’s ability to sustain its export sales.
“Since the goal is to capture the hulls and cargo, privateers do not want to sink the vessel, just convince the crew to surrender. How many merchant crews would be inclined to fight rather than surrender and spend the war in comfortable internment?” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
Of course, despite Cancian and Schwartz’ dismissive take on how apt Chinese crews would be to fight to maintain control of their ships, it’s important to remember that these privateers would likely be engaging in close quarters fighting with Chinese crews or security on board. As American privateers proved more costly to the Chinese government, an increased emphasis on protecting these cargo ships would almost certainly follow.
This begs an essential question: Where do you find privateer crews?
Private security contractors in Iraq (DoD photo)
Private infrastructure already exists
While the concept of American privateers seems borderline fantastical, the truth is, the United States has already leveraged the premise of using non-military personnel for security and defensive operations the world over. American security firm Blackwater (now Academi) is perhaps the highest-profile example of America’s use of private military contractors. In fact, contractors in Iraq have reached numbers as high as 160,000 at some points, nearly equaling the total number of U.S. military personnel in the region. At least 20,000 of those private contractors filled armed security roles.
So while the term “privateer” or even pirate suggests an entirely unconventional approach to modern warfare, the premise is already in play. Terminology may dictate perception to a significant degree, but in practice, privateering wouldn’t be all that different from existing relationships the United States maintains with private security outfits. Further, private security firms, including Blackwater, have already operated at sea in a similar manner to privateers, from Blackwater’s armed patrol craft policing Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa to countless armed and privately owned boats patrolling the Indian Ocean today.
In 2007, Blackwater acquired the McArther from the NOAAS. (WikiMedia Commons)
Many such organizations, with existing infrastructure and established relationships with the U.S. government, would likely seek and win contracts, or letters of marque, in the early days of a burgeoning Sino-American war, and stand up their own forces far more quickly than the United States could expand its naval force in the same volume. Rather than building ships and enlisting crews, the United States could simply authorize existing ships with existing crews to go on the offensive against China’s commercial fleets.
The American government’s experience with military contractors throughout the War on Terror means these relationships would not be as without precedent as they may seem, and the existing private military industry would make American privateers a quick and effective means to grow America’s offensive capabilities.
China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea (shown in red). A conflict with China would undoubtedly play out here. (WikiMedia Commons)
A complicated solution to a complex problem
Of course, there are many variables at play when discussing a future conflict with China. Incorporating privateers into such a strategy admittedly seems rather extreme from our vantage point in 2020, but it’s important to note that there is no precedent for what something like a 21st Century Sino-American war might look like. The massive sea battles of World War II may offer some sense of scale, but the rapid advancement of technology in the intervening decades creates a hypothetical war that is simply incongruous with the World War II models.
America does boast the largest and most powerful military in the world, but China’s rapidly expanding and modernizing force has not been growing in a vacuum. From space operations to warship construction, China has been developing its war-fighting apparatus with America specifically in mind. China isn’t interested in competing with the United States on its terms and instead has been focused on identifying potential American vulnerabilities and tailoring new capabilities to leverage those flaws.
China’s Type 002 Aircraft carrier (Tyg728 on WikiMedia Commons)
Large scale warfare between technological and economic giants would play out differently than any conflict we’ve ever seen. In order to emerge from such a conflict successfully, America has to do much more than win. Once the price of victory begins to compromise America’s ability to sustain its way of life thereafter, that victory becomes less pronounced.
In order to win in such a conflict, the United States will need to dig deep into its bag of tricks. On the home front, it would mean finding ways to rapidly expand America’s industrial base to replenish vehicles, supplies, and equipment as they’re expended or destroyed on the front lines. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, and Space Force will all be required to communicate and rely on one another in ways never before accomplished on a battlefield.
And China’s massive numbers advantage would have to be mitigated somehow. American privateers, or pirates as the press would surely call them, might just do the trick.
In 1917, British codebreakers intercepted a message from the German Foreign Minister bound for the German Legation to Mexico. The infamous message, now known as the Zimmerman Telegram, offered Mexico the territory it “lost” to the United States if they joined the ongoing World War I on the German side should the Americans join with the British. They very nearly did when one border clash almost sparked a full-scale war.
The U.S. never forgot the message (once the British showed it to them… and it was published in the United States press). It would turn President Wilson’s sentiment against Germany and help lead the Americans into the European war.
At home, it exacerbated tensions in towns on the American-Mexican border, which were already feeling tense because of Pancho Villa’s raids across the border and Gen. John J. Pershing’s “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico.
Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (left) and Nogales, Ariz., USA in 1899. Arizona was not yet a U.S. state. (National Archives)
In 1918, the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Division began receiving reports of “strange Mexicans” explaining military tactics and movements to the Federal Mexican garrison stationed in and around Nogales. After the publishing of the Zimmerman Telegram, these reports warranted seriously attention.
Even some of Pancho Villa’s former troops, who were disgusted by men they called Germans, addressed crowds and agitated the Mexican populace against the United States. The Army began to suspect German influence was at work and moved elements of the 10th Cavalry – the Buffalo Soldiers – into Nogales.
The tension boiled over on Aug. 27, 1918, when a Mexican carpenter was trying to cross the border. He ignored U.S. customs officials who ordered the man to stop (because he was listening to Mexican customs officials ordering him to continue).
Shots were fired by the Americans. The Mexicans returned fire. The Battle of Ambos Nogales had begun.
Between two and five Mexican customs officers and an Army private were killed (the carpenter was not) as citizens in Mexico ran to their homes to grab their weapons and ammo. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Soldiers arrived and captured the hills overlooking the city. Mexican snipers also began to take shots in the streets of American Nogales.
Mexican troops began to dig trenches as American troops began to move house-to-house. By this time, the American soldiers were taking heavy fire from the Mexicans, both regular troops and citizens. So, American citizens took to their homes – and their guns – to take firing positions near the border. The U.S. 35th Infantry even fired a machine gun into the Mexican positions.
Suddenly, a lone figure walked among the bodies of Mexicans and U.S. troops in the street, waving a white handkerchief tied to a cane, the mayor of Mexican Nogales tried to de-escalate the situation by pleading with his citizens to put down their arms. He was shot from the Arizona side of the border.
It wouldn’t be until 7:45 that day, after just over three hours of fighting, that the Mexicans waved a white flag from their customs house. American buglers sounded “Cease Fire” and order was, eventually, restored.
In order to prevent such violence from happening again, the town constructed the first-ever border fence between Mexico and the United States.
Okay, when you first saw the headline, you were probably wondering how the heck a howitzer can be a sniper rifle. Sniper rifles are precision instruments, designed to dish out extremely concentrated hurt while howitzers are meant to do big damage — it seems like a contradiction, right? Wrong.
With the right ammo, there’s a howitzer out capable of being a giant sniper rifle with an extremely long reach. How long? Try 22 miles.
The M777 Ultralight Field Howitzer is a towed 155-millimeter gun that’s been in service since 2005 and is capable of hitting targets from remarkable distances. Over the last decade, it’s been slowly replacing the M198 towed 155-millimeter howitzer.
But here’s where the M77 has the M198 beat: It weighs in at just 8,256 pounds, according to MilitaryFactory.com. That might sound like a lot, but it’s nothing next to the 15,792 pounds of the M198. That’s a nearly 50 percent reduction in weight, making the M777 a superb option for units like the 82nd Airborne Division and the Marines.
Marines fire a M777 howitzer at 29 Palms to prepare for the real thing.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen)
Now, to achieve that 22-mile reach and sniper-rifle accuracy, the shell of choice is the M982 Excalibur round. This GPS-guided round can hit within about 30 feet of the aim point — a level of precision that’s proved extremely useful.
Australian troops fire their M777 to support Marines during a training mission.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Sarah Anderson)
In 2012, the Marines manning a M777 howitzer received word that some Taliban were up to no good. So, the artillery crew fired a round from their base, which was in Helmand Province, and hit the Taliban who were in Musa Qala. The Taliban were accurately dispatched from miles away before any of their plans could take root.
Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Fires Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., fire 155mm rounds using an M777 Howitzer.
(US Army photo by Specialist Evan D. Marcy)
The M777 is currently in service with the United States Army and United States Marine Corps. Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia, and India have all bought this cannon as well.
Learn more about this over-sized sniper rifle in the video below!