On January 7, 1970, Lt. Cdr. Michael Hoff flew his Sidewinder A7A Corsair off the USS Coral Sea on an armed reconnaissance mission over Laos. After completing a strafing run near the city of Sepone, he came under heavy enemy automatic weapons fire and went down. An observer reported seeing a flash, which may have been the ejection seat leaving the aircraft, but search teams located neither a parachute nor a survivor.
Lt. Cdr. Michael Hoff was pronounced MIA that same day, promoted to commander while missing, and, sadly, was declared dead on November 16, 1978. His grieving wife, Mary Hoff, wanted the world to know that he and every other troop captured or declared missing in action would not be forgotten.
Who says randomly cold-calling the right people to get what you want never works?
Soon afterward, Mary Hoff joined the National League of POW/MIA Families, an organization founded by two wives of POW/MIA troops, Karen Butler and Sybil Stockdale. The group was quickly gaining traction in Washington, fighting for the U.S. government’s recognition of the importance of returning troops listed as either prisoners of war or missing in action.
As the group grew larger, Mary noticed that they were missing a symbol — something easily identified and immediately understood. She had an idea: a flag. Instead of going through the proper channels, she simply cold-called Annin Flagmakers, the oldest and largest flag-making corporation in the United States.
As prominent as the flag is in military culture, it only took two revisions from the original to get the version we know today.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)
The vice president of sales at Annin, Norm Rivkees, had no clue who the League of Families were at the time. During the phone call, Hoff explained everything, from who they were to what the flag should look like. Rivkees was impressed by her dedication and brought it up to the president of the company who immediately gave the idea the green light.
Rivkees contracted the job of designing the flag to Hayden Advertising who gave the task to graphic artist Newton F. Heisley. Heisley was an Army Air Corps veteran himself who flew a C-46 twin-engine transport during World War II. He drafted several designs, all in black and white, of a man’s profile with guards behind him.
His son, Jeffery Heisley, was serving in the Marine Corps and had recently returned home on leave. The younger Heisley had unfortunately been struck with hepatitis and was looking very sickly. The elder Heisley turned the misfortune into a positive as his son would make the perfect model for his design. The frail male profile that adorns today’s flag is that of Jeffery Heisley.
Newton, as a pilot, remembered his own fears from his flying days. He added the famous words, “You are not forgotten,” to the flag, to offer the reassurance he wished he had while serving. The design was then ready for approval.
That also makes the POW/MIA flag the only non-national flag to ever fly over a nation’s capitol building.
(Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Mary Hoff and the League of Families loved the design and adopted it in 1972. Keep in mind that at this point, the flag was only intended to be used for the organization. Its prominence quickly grew within the military community throughout the 1970s and, by 1982, it was flown over Ronald Reagan’s White House.
The flag became an official national symbol through the 1998 Defense Authorization Act, which requires that the flag be flown outside most major government buildings, all VA medical centers, and all national cemeteries on POW/MIA Recognition Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day.
Few weapons are more closely associated with World War II than the M3 Submachine Gun – also known as the “Grease Gun” for its distinctive shape. The Grease Gun actually saw service for decades after the war, becoming the standard-issue weapon for crews manning the M-48 through M-60 battle tanks. It was the longest-serving SMG, from 1942 to 1992.
Its World War II use of the .45 round, already in use by the Thompson submachine gun and the M1911 pistol, made it a weapon that could be easily adapted for more situations and more troops. Sadly, it was also the weapon’s ultimate undoing.
A U.S. soldier from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division fires an M3 submachine gun during a training exercise.
By many accounts, the M3 was still in use by the 1990s. Unlike many of its contemporary weapons, the Grease Gun did not have adjustable sights and was mainly intended for tank crews to use in close quarters so they could get back in the tank and continue firing the big gun. The stopping power of a spray of .45-caliber rounds will go a long way toward making that possible.
Its main competitor was the Thompson submachine gun, but the Thompson had problems of its own. It was heavy and expensive to build. The U.S. wanted a more lightweight model for tankers and paratroopers, but didn’t want to spend all the money per item. The M3 was the answer, despite a few shortcomings.
A U.S. troop in Vietnam carrying the M3 SMG.
The short barrel, while making it possible for crews to carry around the cramped quarters of a tank, also added to its inaccuracy. The real trouble comes after a tanker has to expend all of his pre-loaded magazines. The M3 submachine gun has a magazine that appears to be longer than its barrel. A large magazine is a great thing for a fully-automatic weapon like the Grease Gun, but as anyone who’s sprayed an automatic before knows, the bullets run out really fast.
Tankers were issued four magazine for the tank’s two grease guns. Once they were out, the magazines would have to be reloaded. Now imagine trying to fully reload an M3 submachine gun magazine, especially when it’s almost full.
The M3 cost around .00 to produce in 1942, equal to about 0.00 today.
Eventually, the M3 was phased out by more efficient weapons for anyone who might need a personal weapon on the battlefield as the .45 round gave way to the 5.56 and 9mm standards.
After the 1991 Gulf War, the M3 began to disappear from the U.S. Military altogether after some 50 years in service.
Early on in your military career, you learn that the equipment you’re issued is very cheaply made. The Kevlar helmets everyone gets are no exception. This invariably leads troops toward the same, common question: “Can this thing really stop a bullet?”
Dr. Matt Carriker, a veterinarian and YouTuber, had the same thought, and he decided to put the helmets to the test. Of course, the helmets our troops wear are thoroughly tested before being issued, but we have to wonder where they drew the line between cost efficiency and bulletproofing.
Now, we’ve all heard of cases where these helmets have saved lives of our troops in-country, so it’s safe to say that the protective gear can stop 7.62x39mm bullets, but what about other rounds? That’s exactly what Dr. Carriker decided to test.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
Demolition Ranch is a YouTube channel that is, if nothing else, known for putting our favorite firearms through insane tests to see how they perform. He’s even done a reliability test for a Hi-Point Model JCP. Now, if you know anything about firearms, then you know Hi-Point is notorious for their cheaply made firearms.
But he also does bulletproof tests to see how just about anything, including Legos, airplane windows, and even a solid bar of silver, stand up against firearms. In this test, he decided to examine how effective our standard issue helmets are at stopping rounds from lever-action rifles.
For the sake of thoroughness, Dr. Carriker uses an arsenal that spans of the gamut of calibers. His collection includes a .22 LR, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .30-30 Winchester, and, finally, a .45-70 Xtreme Penetrator. He starts small and steps up to see exactly what deals some damage.
Of course, because this is Demolition Ranch we’re talking about, he eventually moves on to test his AK-47 and Barrett M107A1 .50 BMG against these helmets. Why? Because, America and science!
Now, just to be clear, we know these helmets aren’t designed to stop bullets entirely — they’re mostly designed to protect your brain from shrapnel and keep your skull from smacking against hard surfaces. Even if they’re not meant to bring bullet to a dead stop, wearing one is better than nothing, so be sure to put yours on and keep your watermelon intact!
Check out the video below to see helmets get put to the ultimate test!
Let’s face it, while Russia and the United States are potential adversaries, they’re not very likely to fight it out on the high seas. This is mostly because the Russian Navy is a bit of a basket case. But there is a more likely opponent on the high seas for the United States Navy: Communist China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Communist China has been pursuing a rapid naval modernization over the last 15 years. As a result, we’ve seen a number of modern guided-missile destroyers emerge as the backbone of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. While Communist China calls the three major iterations the Type 52B/C/D, NATO calls them the Luyang I/II/III.
So, how would one of the most modern Chinese Communist destroyers fare in a one-on-one fight with a Zumwalt-class destroyer?
The Luyang III is a formidable opponent. It has two 32-cell vertical-launch systems for the HHQ-9 surface-to-air missile (a Chinese copy of the Russian SA-10/SA-N-6 Grumble surface-to-air missile), YJ-18 anti-ship missiles, a 130mm gun, a 30mm close-in weapon system, torpedo tubes, and a launcher with 24 HHQ-10 missiles. It displaces 8,000 tons and has a top speed in excess of 30 knots. The YJ-18s will be the Luyang III’s primary weapon against a Zumwalt. These missiles have a range of 290 nautical miles and can hit a speed of Mach 3 on their final approach.
The Zumwalt, though, carries its own heavy firepower – two 155mm Advanced Gun Systems and 20 four-cell Mk 57 vertical launch systems capable of carrying Tomahawk cruise missiles or RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles. Its stealth technology also makes it hard to see.
Ultimately, as was the case when we pitted the Zumwalt against a Kirov-class battlecruiser, it will come down to which ship sees the other first. The big difference is that the YJ-18 doesn’t have the oomph of the SS-N-19 Shipwrecks aboard the Kirov. With a number of options for her 155mm guns, like Vulcano rounds or Copperhead laser-guided shells, the Zumwalt could do some serious damage to the Luyang III.
This photo shows a bow-on view of USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000). The two 155mm Advanced Gun Systems offer a variety of shells, including Vulcano and copperhead, that can make quick work of a Chinese destroyer. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics / Bath Iron Works)
When the fight is over, the Zumwalt will likely make its way to a friendly port to repair damages, but the Chinese ship could very well be on the bottom of the South China Sea.
The winner of this naval skirmish would likely be the American vessel.
In response to the crisis in Korea, the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment was brought up to full strength and made a Regimental Combat Team on Aug. 1, 1950. The Rakkasans – a nickname of the 187th, from the Japanese word for “falling”– conducted two combat jumps in Korea. During the heavy fighting seen by the regiment, three members were awarded the Medal of Honor.
Beginning on Oct. 20, 1950, the 187th Regimental Combat Team began landing on drop zones around Sukchon and Sunchon as part of the larger Battle of Yongju. Richard Wilson, a combat medic attached to I Company, landed on Drop Zone William south of Sukchon.
The next morning, October 21, Wilson along with the rest of I Company moved out to clear the railway between Sukchon and Yongju. That afternoon the company was ambushed by a battalion-sized element of North Koreans.
As mortars and machine gun fire rained down on the paratroopers from three sides, numerous Americans became casualties. Wilson undauntingly began administering first aid to the wounded, ignoring the furious fire surrounding him. Disregarding his own safety, he continually treated casualties and assisted wounded men from the field.
When the company commander ordered the unit to withdraw, Wilson continued to evacuate the wounded and assured himself that no living men had been left behind.
However, word soon reached Wilson that a fellow soldier, thought to be dead, was seen trying to crawl to safety. Disregarding the protests of the other soldiers and his own safety Wilson returned to the battlefield to retrieve his stricken comrade.
He never returned.
Two days later, a patrol returned to the area and found Wilson lying beside the man he had returned to help. He had been shot several times attempting to administer aid and provide comfort. The two men died together.
On Mar. 23, 1951 the 187th Regimental Combat Team once again donned parachutes and dropped into enemy territory. A week after landing, Company G was ordered to occupy Hill 420. That evening, the inevitable onslaught of Communists came for the paratroopers.
Bearing the brunt of the assault was the platoon of Cpl. Rodolfo Hernandez. As the enemy swarmed the hill under a barrage of artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire, Hernandez held his ground and poured fire into the oncoming enemy.
The withering enemy fire wounded many of the men and forced the paratroopers to fall back. But Hernandez held firm. He exchanged grenades with the infiltrating enemy – receiving a painful wound in the process – and kept up the fire with his rifle.
As Hernandez continued to blast Communists with his rifle, a round exploded in the chamber, rendering his rifle inoperable. But Hernandez was undeterred. He fixed his bayonet and charged headlong into the enemy.
In the brutal hand-to-hand combat that ensued, Hernandez was indomitable. Shot and bayoneted multiple times, he dispatched his foes with bayonet and buttstroke. After killing six – and looking for more – he was finally taken out when an enemy grenade exploded nearby, delivering a grievous head wound and knocking him unconscious.
Hernandez’s sacrifice had halted the enemy advance. When friendly troops retook the position, they initially thought Hernandez was dead, but a medic noticed him moving his fingers and realized he was still alive.
Hernández in 2009.
Hernandez was presented the Medal of Honor by President Truman in 1952.
In June 1951 the 187th left Korea for Japan where it would serve as the strategic reserve. But the Rakkasans were called back to Korea in 1952 to assist with quelling the Goeje POW camp uprising. After securing the camp, the paratroopers were recommitted to combat operations.
Sent to the hill fights near the 38th Parallel, the 187th began conducting combat patrols in support of operations there. On Aug. 14, 1952, a six-man patrol left for a deep penetration of enemy lines. Manning the radio that day was Cpl. Lester Hammond.
After going some 3,500 meters into enemy territory, the patrol made contact with a large hostile force. It was nearly surrounded and taking heavy fire. The men returned fire and attempted to break contact. They made their way to a small ravine that offered at least some cover but could go no further. They were trapped and several among them were wounded – including Hammond.
As the rest of the patrol sought shelter in the ravine, Hammond made the decision to stay in the open where he could observe the enemy and use his radio to massive effect. He began calling for fire on the encroaching enemy.
As the Communists picked up his position, Hammond held fast and continued to call for deadly accurate fire, breaking up several attempts by the Communists to overrun the paratroopers’ position. Hammond was wounded again but still refused to leave his position. His friends were in danger and he held their best chance for survival.
As friendly forces worked their way towards the beleaguered patrol, Hammond kept pounding the enemy with artillery. But the enemy was closing in and would soon overrun him and his teammates.
With no other choice, Hammond sent one last fire mission – on his own position. Maj. Walter Klepeis was on the other end and asked Hammond if he knew what he was asking for. Hammond knew full well what his actions would mean but his friends would have a chance at escape.
The final fire mission rained down on Hammond’s position and broke up another attack. A platoon from A Company soon arrived and evacuated the remainder of the patrol and recovered Hammond’s body.
When looking at Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade, you might notice a few striking similarities — the yellow enlisted chevrons seem a lot like the the yellow chevrons on old Army greens, for example. Before the Iranian Revolution, their unit insignia looked a lot like the De Oppresso Liber crest that signifies the United States Army Special Forces.
The distinctive green beret worn by the Iranians may not be the same shade of green worn by today’s U.S. Army Special Forces, but Iranian special operators wear green for a reason — they were trained by Americans.
In the 1960s, the United States sent four operational detachments of Army Special Forces operators to Iran to train the Shah’s Imperial military forces. The Mobile Training Teams spent two years as Military Assistance Advisory Group Iran. Before they could even get to Iran, the soldiers had to pass the Special Forces Officer course at Fort Bragg, then learn Farsi at the Monterey, Calif. Defense Language Institute. Only then would they be shipped to Iran to train Iranian Special Forces.
It’s been a long time since the 65th was a part of the Imperial Iranian Special Forces. Now called 65th NOHED Brigade (which is just a Farsi acronym for “airborne special forces”), the unit’s mission is very similar to the ones the U.S. Special Forces trained them for in the 1960s. They perform hostage rescue, psychological operations, irregular warfare, and train for counter-terrorism missions both in and outside of the Islamic Republic.
Inside the Iranian military, the unit is known as the “powerful ghosts.” The nickname stems from a mission given to the 65th in the mid-1990s. They were tasked to take buildings around Tehran from the regular military – and were able to do it in under two hours.
Since their initial standup with U.S. Special Forces, Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade survived the 1979 Iranian Revolution, then they survived the brutal Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and now advise the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as they fight for the Iran-dominated Assad regime in Syria against a fractured rebellion.
NOHED members operating a machine gun in highlands of Kordestan during Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s.
The legacy of the harsh but thorough training with American Green Berets continues in Iran. The current training includes endurance and survival in desert, jungle, and mountain warfare, among other schools, like parachute and freefall training, just like their erstwhile American allies taught so long ago.
A notebook written in English that may have belonged to an ISIS fighter was reportedly found in a jail in Raqqa, according to the National, which exclusively obtained the notebook from an unnamed source.
The notebook reportedly details the inner workings of the militant group, including their future plans, military shortcomings, and issues foreign fighters faced within the group.
According to pictures of the purported notebook provided by the National, the pages appear to be written in English by one author who used American spelling of words and numbers. A second author wrote in French, and Arabic was used in some of the text as well.
The author details ISIS’s core strategies for maintaining control in the region.
On one page, the author describes how to prevent defectors from leaving ISIS territory: “We should push civilians who want to flee to our centers of gravity in Mosul and Raqqa.” The author added: “The enemy might try to break our control over an area and allow civilians to escape.”
The notebook describes a solution, written in large letters “THE BIG SOLUTION” which explains that ISIS should not use “conventional military power against a much stronger foe,” and suggests the group focus on “insurgency” until their “political situation allows for a more conventional approach.”
Another page compares several types of guns and their cost in dollars using hand drawn pictures.
The author also discusses expanding efforts to other countries, including Saudi Arabia. A page reportedly questions: “How to make Saudi like Syria? Can we get people to hate Their [sic] rulers?”
The author continues: “Mecca and Medina are a priority for the [caliphate] to actually influence world Muslims. But to get there we need to destabilize Al-Saud. Direct action against Al-Saud from Iraq will likely fail militarily and attract US ground troops so the best way to do this is internally, with the support for Yemen and Iraq.”
The writings also appear to show that ISIS fighters kept up with international news, and often monitored global political cycles.
The author offers suggestions on how to pull “the USA to another major war to exhaust its economy.” The writer also extensively followed the US presidential elections, and said key decisions would depend on US political action.
“The US decisions are very important, and they depend on the Presidential elections.”
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
“However, if democrats lose, a Republican administration would be more likely to bring US boots on the ground, and cooperation with Iran will likely stop,” the author reportedly wrote.
The journal also reportedly layed out a strategy for confronting the US on the battlefield: “Fighting the USA might be more dangerous militarily, but it will grant IS respect in muslim [sic] eyes.”
The notebook also reveals the innermost thoughts of what appears to have been a foreign ISIS fighter. At the bottom of a page detailing “important” military issues “to study,” the author asks himself: “Who am I? What should I do? Why am I here? How did I reach this place?”
According to the report, the author bemoans several limitations within the group, including lack of training time to militant fighters and notes there were “problems created by different languages.”
Associate Professor at the Naval War College Monterey, Dr. Craig Whiteside, told the National that there were notable similarities between the strategies laid out in the book and the strategies taught in western military training.
“The author has studied topics we study in a war college, such as the differences between policy and strategy.”
“If this is a foreign fighter, not studying their own country for military facilities but instead learning about Iraq and Syria, the goal is to encourage them to stay,” he added.
Figures from October 2017 show more than 40,000 fighters from more than 110 countries flocked to Syria and Iraq after its establishment in 2014. Reports indicate that roughly 129 US nationals joined the caliphate. Of those foreign fighters, at least 5,600 citizens or residents from 33 countries who have returned home.
The first woman to lead a military op might not meet your stereotype. Instead, envision the Civil War, and a woman who has been working as a spy for the Union Army. She has been gathering valuable information to help the Union turn the tide in the war. She has come to be relied on by generals for the information that she supplies. And with that, she is given the opportunity to lead a military operation called the Combahee Ferry Raid.
Do you have the woman pictured in your mind?
Her name is Harriet Tubman and you might have learned her story as one of the leaders of the Underground Railroad. Even referred to as the “Moses of her people,” but being a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad is just part of her story.
Harriet was born into slavery between 1820 and 1825. In 1844, even though it wasn’t allowed, she married a free, Black man named John Tubman. She was ready to escape slavery in 1849, but her husband did not want to leave Maryland. She left anyway and eventually he remarried in 1851. It was after she was freed from slavery that she began to go back countless times to help other slaves find their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad. She is remembered in history for never being caught or losing a passenger on the road to freedom.
But this is only the beginning of her story.
Because of her extensive knowledge of the South due to the Underground Railroad, Tubman became a key informant for the North (Union Army). She knew the towns and transportation routes of the South and long before GPS or reliable maps, this made her insight an invaluable tool. Not only would she dress up as an aging woman and wander Confederate streets and talk to enslaved people and gather information such as troop movement/placement and supply lines, but her work made her a respected guerrilla operative. So much so that in 1963 she began to plan a military operation under the command of Colonel James Montgomery.
The Union officers knew that the people of the South didn’t trust them, but did trust Harriet. Her demeanor and way with people were just part of the asset she provided to the military. Although she was illiterate, she was able to capture intelligence with her memory. To make the Combahee Ferry Raid a success, they traveled upriver in three boats: the John Adams, Sentinel and Harriet A Weed. They relied on Harriet’s memory where the slaves were at strategic points to collect the fleeing slaves while also using those points as places; they could destroy Confederate property. She also helped them navigate around known torpedoes.
At around 2:30 AM on June 2, they were down to two ships as the Sentinel had run aground early on in the mission. The two remaining ships split up to conduct different raids. Harriet Tubman led 150 men on the John Adams toward the fugitives. Once the signal was given, there was chaos. Slaves running everywhere. Angry slave owners and rebels tried to chase down the slaves, even firing their guns on them. As the escaped slaves ran to the shore, black troops waited in rowboats to transfer them to the ships. In the chaos, Tubman broke out into popular songs from the abolitionist movement to help calm everyone down. That night, more than 700 slaves escaped. The troops also disembarked near Field’s Point, torching plantations, fields, mills, warehouses, and mansions. Overall, it was a huge success and caused a humiliating defeat for the Confederacy.
The first story written by a Wisconsin State Journal noted Harriet as the “She Moses,” but didn’t actually include her name. A month later Franklin Sanborn, the editor of Boston’s Commonwealth newspaper picked up the story and named Harriet Tubman, a friend of his, as the heroine.
Even with the mission’s success, Harriet was not paid for her contribution. She petitioned the government many times and was denied because she was a woman.
After the war, she dedicated her life to helping impoverished former slaves and the elderly. She also continued to petition for recognition from the military with a military pension. She also remarried a Black Union soldier, Nelson Davis. And eventually, Tubman received military compensation after his death. Although she often found herself in financial constraints, she was always giving her time and money.
If you would like to learn more about Harriet Tubman you can check out these resources and books:
For most Americans, Kazakhstan evokes images of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character, driving across America, uttering timeless quotes about his wife, his neighbor Ursultan, or those a**holes in Uzbekistan. Those interested in military history might want to look beyond Borat’s neon green bikini – it was a Kazakh who hoisted the Soviet flag over the Reichstag during World War II after all and until it was absorbed into the Soviet Union, Kazakh tribes remained largely undefeated in military history.
In 1969, a burial mound was discovered near Issyk in what was then the Kazakh SSR of the Soviet Union. The mound contained an ancient skeleton along with warrior’s gear and funeral treasures belonging to a long-dead Scythian soldier, estimated to be buried around the 5th Century BCE. Based on the funerary treasures, the skeleton was considered to be that of a noble, a prince or princess. Among those treasures was what has come to be called the “Golden Man” amongst Kazakhs – a suit of ornate armor made of more than 4,000 pieces of gold.
The suit is so ornate and valuable, the Kazakh government will only show replicas of the Golden Man in museums. The original is said to be housed in the main vault of the National Bank of Kazakhstan in Almaty.
The Prince is from a tribe of ancient Scythian warriors called the “Saka” who lived in the lands north of what is today Iran. While the ancient historians called all tribes living in the Asian steppe Scythian, the ancient Persians referred to those Scythian tribes at their northern border as the Saka. These nomadic peoples likely fought against Alexander the Great as his forces moved west. They also engaged Cyrus the Great’s Persian forces, killing him in battle around 530 BCE.
The Scythian tribes of this time were not dominated by men, and like their modern-day Soviet Kazakh armies, women would fight alongside their men. It was their Empress Tomyris who led the army that killed Cyrus. Descendants of these same tribes would resist incursions from early Russian, Chinese, and Roman armies.
So while it’s very possible the “Golden Man” wasn’t a man at all, the ancient, cataphract-style armor – armor used by nomadic-style cavalry units – is a beautiful historical work of art. The gold works depict snow leopards, deer, goats, horses, and majestic birds. These are all depicted on the likely ceremonial armor and form a clear basis for the modern style of tribal jewelry-making in the Central Asian country.
As for the bones of the ancient warrior, they were reinterred using the customs of the Scythian warriors of the time. The people of this area are still so very close to their tribal origins that they all know from which of the three tribes of Kazakhstan they descend.
Russia’s armed forces are gearing up for Vostok-18, or East-18, a massive military exercise in the country’s far east from Sept. 11-15, 2018.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in August 2018 that about 300,000 troops and 1,000 aircraft would participate, using all of the training ranges in the country’s central and eastern military districts. Russia’s Pacific and Northern fleets and its airborne forces are also expected to join.
Shoigu said 2018’s iteration of the Vostok exercise would be “unprecedented in scale, both in terms of area of operations and numbers of military command structure, troops, and forces involved.”
But the size of the forces involved is not the only feature that has turned heads.
Forces from China and Mongolia also plan to take part. Beijing has said it will send about 3,200 troops, 30 helicopters, and more than 900 other pieces of military hardware.
China’s Defense Ministry said the drills were meant to strengthen the two countries’ strategic military partnership and increase their ability to respond to threats and ensure stability in the region.
The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said China’s participation “speaks about the expansion of interaction of the two allies in all the spheres.”
Chinese forces have already joined their Russian counterparts in some military exercises.
Chinese warships have drilled with their Russian counterparts in the Pacific Ocean and the Baltic Sea. In summer 2018 Chinese warplanes were in Russia for International Army Games 2018, a multinational event.
August 2018, Chinese forces are taking part in Peace Mission 2018, an exercise organized by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional bloc led by Russia and China. (It’s the first exercise to include all eight SCO members.)
China’s Jian-10 fighter jet
But including China in the Vostok exercise hints at a significant geopolitical shift.
“China was seen as the potential threat or target in exercises like Vostok,” Alexander Gabuev, an expert on China at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told The New York Times.
“But it is now being invited to join as a friend and even a quasi-ally,” Gabuev added. “This is really unprecedented.”
The Soviet Union clashed with China along their shared border several times in the 1960s — once in a deadly Chinese raid on a Soviet border outpost that almost kicked off a full-scale war in early 1969.
The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev normalized relations with China in 1989, and some 6 million Russians in Siberia now live alongside roughly 100 million Chinese in northern China, where trade relations have grown.
But eastern Russia’s vast expanse and sparse population make it a vulnerable area, and Russians there have expressed frustration with the growing Chinese presence and with concessions to Chinese commercial interests.
Amid heightened tensions with the West, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a concerted effort to build ties with China. Beijing, for its part, has also embraced Russia. Both have done so with an eye on the West.
United States President Donald Trump and Russian President Valdimir Putin.
The two have said they are building a “strategic partnership” and expressed shared opposition to what they describe as a “unipolar” world dominated by the US.
China’s defense minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe, went to Moscow early 2018 on his first trip abroad, saying the visit was meant to “let the Americans know about the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.”
“I am visiting Russia as a new defense minister of China to show the world a high level of development of our bilateral relations and firm determination of our armed forces to strengthen strategic cooperation,” Wei said.
That rhetoric and statements about close ties don’t mean that Russia has dropped its guard, Gabuev said, noting that Chinese troops at Vostok-18 may be limited to training areas near the countries’ shared border with Mongolia, allowing Russian forces deployed elsewhere to carry out exercises designed with China in mind.
The Russian military “is not so naive that it is not preparing a contingency plan,” Gabuev told The Times.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Western models of spycraft are failing. Traditional models of spycraft seek to inform decision-making based on predictive analysis, but this is no longer effective in today’s environment. By nature, closed and authoritarian regimes, such as Russia and China, have an easier job of spying on their more progressive and open adversaries — the United States and the West — and currently possess the advantage. What follows is the author’s abridged philosophy of intelligence on this revolution in spycraft.
Last year, Foreign Policy magazine introduced a provocative thought piece highlighting the ongoing revolution in espionage: namely, that intelligence agencies must adapt (or die) to disruptive changes in politics, business, and technology.
At the risk of irrelevance, Western intelligence agencies are learning that traditional models of spying are outdated and losing out to more nimble, collaborative, and less fragile adversaries. As the article adeptly notes, “the balance of power in the spy world is shifting: closed societies now have the edge over open ones. It has become harder for Western countries to spy on places such as China, Iran, and Russia and easier for those countries’ intelligence services to spy on the rest of the world.”
Circumstances such as unprecedented levels of legislative and judicial scrutiny, technological advances in mobile phones and electronic data, public skepticism of domestic and international intelligence activities, and general political scrutiny in liberal democracies are symptomatic of such difficulties. They represent an underlying revolution that is significantly disrupting traditional notions of Western spycraft.
Standards of Cold War-era surveillance detection disintegrate when applied to modern cities rife with CCTV cameras, such as Beijing or even London. The absence of an online “footprint” (i.e. social media or other publicly available data) instantly warrants additional scrutiny.
Thus, we must examine several philosophical nuances of this intelligence revolution, based on the premise that the Western way of spying is indeed losing out to oftentimes less sophisticated but more effective adversaries, who possess fundamentally less fragile models of spycraft than do Western counterparts.
Lest the author receive undue credit, it must be noted that the framework for this analysis is derived from several schools of thought, ranging from the Roman Stoics to economist-turned-philosopher Nassim Taleb. Indeed, the reader may be familiar with the latter’s concept of anti-fragility, or things that gain from uncertainty, chaos, or randomness. Western models of spycraft certainly do not fit this notion and are, in the author’s opinion, quite fragile.
Western intelligence, and other such similarly traditional systems, are based largely on the value of predictive analysis that can be used to inform decision-making and thereby shape understanding and policy. But what if, as we are now seeing, environments far outmatch capability in complexity, speed, or scope? It is the author’s opinion that the U.S. Intelligence Community is designed on an outdated and fragile premise and, in the face of overwhelming environmental dissonance, must be re-assessed in the framework of anti-fragility.
Put differently, the present U.S. model of spycraft plays to the margins. Western spycraft invests inordinate amounts of manpower and resources into its Intelligence Community only to yield arguably disproportionate and marginal gains in understanding. It is not enough that the intelligence is gleaned in the first place (which remains an altogether impressive feat and a testament to the dedication and professionalism of its practitioners).
Alas, it is growing increasingly challenging to properly inform policy-making in an aggressively partisan and politicized environment. One only need reflect on the overall character of the ongoing Russian bounties discussion as evidence of this model and its debatable effectiveness. And such debatable effectiveness is certainly not for a lack of trying. The effectiveness of the Intelligence Community is a reflection of the broader environment in which it operates.
In the spirit of ancient Roman Stoic philosophers, we must acknowledge that environments cannot be changed and that at best significant national effort is required to “shape” them (and even then, with limited “control” of the exact outcome). In this instance, it is perhaps useful to examine U.S. strategy (or lack thereof) over the course of 20+ years of engagement in Afghanistan in an effort to reflect on any unilateral or coalition efforts taken to shape any semblance of “success” in the country.
Let us introduce a more tangible instance: That brief electronic communication from a foreign diplomat’s privileged conversation? That was probably the result of many factors: Of 17 years of technological research and development; of several successful (and more failed) recruitments to identify and gain sufficient placement and access for an exploit; and immeasurable bureaucratic “churns” to actually manage and manipulate the complex systems and processes in place designed to collect, process, analyze, exploit, and disseminate the information to its consumers. Entire professional careers are the substance of such churns.
While environments cannot be changed, one’s disposition within an environment most certainly can be. Thus, it is perhaps more useful to explore an intelligence model that divorces success from the ability to accurately predict the future. But then, what does this model look like and how is it employed?
In the author’s opinion, an effective spycraft model would maintain the intent to inform policy-making but disregard traditional models of operational risk management in favor of a more aggressive operational culture. In short, the change intelligence agencies must make is largely cultural, but also procedural.
Rather than embark on “no-fail,” highly sensitive (read: events that would cause inordinate damage if learned, i.e. fragile) operations, and futile attempts to accurately predict the future (read: failure to predict or act upon 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and countless other so-called intelligence failures), it is more useful to focus efforts on intelligence activities that have, in Taleb’s words, more upsides rather than downsides.
This model would remove, within reason, attempts to mitigate risk and would instead truly accept failure and mistakes — regardless of their perceived damage if made public — as a natural feedback mechanism. Rather than the frenetic New York banking system, we have Silicon Valley’s “fail fast” mentality. Rather than the Sword of Damocles, we have Hydra. Rather than post-traumatic stress, we have post-traumatic growth. Instead of isolated muscle hypertrophy, we have complex, multi-functional movements. The comparative benefit of this model is clear and can apply to intelligence systems as well.
So what does this new model of spycraft look like?
For one, it harnesses the power of publicly available data and information to leverage the power of public opinion and access to technology. What previously was known only to few becomes known to many, and with that knowledge comes the ability to influence. Information, which is the bane of closed societies, but also its favorite weapon against open ones, is harnessed to dismantle closed societies from within.
Here’s the bombshell: such a system, albeit in incomplete and slightly “impure” form, already exists in the form of the Russian intelligence apparatus. Indeed, there is a benefit to be gained by examining the nature and relative effectiveness of this chief U.S. adversary.
While far from a perfect comparison, the oftentimes blunt nature of Russian security services does lend itself to a somewhat anti-fragile system. Namely, despite numerous “failures” (in the sense that its operations are consistently made public), the Russian model is such that its public mistakes do not appear to significantly impact the system’s ability to continue to iterate, adapt, and pester its Western opponents.
An additional example can also be found in the spirit of the CIA’s historical predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Known affectionately as the “glorious amateurs,” the OSS was the first of its American kind that weathered many failures but also effectively operated in complex environments. By nature of relative American intelligence inexperience, the OSS succeeded in exploiting the upside of its activities simply by being a young, nimble, and discovery-based (i.e. tinkering, iterating, or “risk-bearing”) organization. The OSS was an anti-fragile organization.
Thanks to many of the same advances in technology, politics, and business that challenge Western espionage efforts, Russian spies have been caught on CCTV footage, publicly outed or arrested, appropriately accused of dastardly acts, and of possessing an intolerable appetite for disinformation targeting open societies and liberal democracies. However, it was presumably in Russia’s best interests that, knowing full well the possibility of such downsides, it chose to pursue such activities given the major upsides they produce (discord, division, polarization, etc.).
Indeed, as Foreign Policy magazine adeptly wrote, and as the reader can observe by way of reflecting on other seeming successes reaped by Russian active measures, there is an unrefined yet effective nature to the blunt manner in which Russian security and intelligence services operate.
It must be stated that this model does not advocate for recklessly “burning” any sources and methods, nor for engaging in renegade covert activity that lacks oversight or grounding in well-formed policy. However, it does require a significant cultural paradigm shift that will provide more space for downsides that have not been historically well-received (e.g. temporary injury to bilateral relationships, strained diplomatic interactions, etc.).
The U.S. Intelligence Community is already a complex system, comprised of 17 unique agencies that seek to inform policy-making. It is a long cry from the “glorious amateur” days of the OSS. Thankfully, we do not require complicated systems, regulations, or intricate policies to ensure the community’s success. The more complicated a system, the more we experience “multiplicative chains of unanticipated effects.” In other words, less is more; simpler is better.
The competitive edge of traditional, risk-based intelligence operations is growing smaller. The state of affairs is such that closed societies find it easier to spy on open adversaries more than the opposite. As such, it benefits Western intelligence to undergo aggressive changes that evolve or significantly alter this paradigm. It is time for the Intelligence Community to become a risk-bearing system, rather than a risk management system. It must experience a culture shift that will make it open to accepting failures. This may create short-term downsides for U.S. statecraft but will allow the system to iterate and improve. In the end, it must become anti-fragile.
Most of us would quietly go home after losing limbs, our eyesight, or other vital capabilities while in service to our country.
But for these six badasses, grievous physical injury was just the warm up:
6. French Legionnaire Jean Danjou led one of the Legion’s most famous fights after losing a hand
French Foreign Legion sappers (Image: Imgur)
French Foreign Legion Capt. Jean Danjou was working as a staff officer in Mexico in April 1863 after losing his left hand while fighting rebels in Algiers. When the command needed an officer to lead a convoy of pay for legionnaires, Danjou volunteered.
Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski asked doctors to remove his leg after it failed to heal from a grenade blast, then conducted four combat deployments with his prosthetic. Airborne 1st Lt. Josh Pitcher led a 21-man platoon through a deployment to the Afghan mountains with one leg. And Capt. Daniel Luckett came back from a double amputation to earn the Expert Infantry Badge and deploy with the 101st.
4. Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez defied doctors to go to Vietnam, then kept fighting after dozens of potentially lethal wounds
Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez walked onto a mine in 1965 and suffered an injury that was supposed to stop him from ever walking again. Against the orders of doctors, he rehabilitated himself in secret at night and walked out of the ward on his own power instead of accepting his military discharge.
He was rolled up in a body bag but spit in the doctor’s face to let him know he was alive.
3. Canadian Pvt. Leo Major lost an eye, broke his back, then earned three Distinguished Conduct Medals in two wars
Canadian sniper Leo Major liberated a Dutch town on his own during World War II. (Photo: Jmajor CC BY SA 3.0)
Canadian Army Pvt. Leo Major was severely wounded during the D-Day invasions when a phosphorous grenade took part of his vision. He also could have turned back later in 1944 when a mine broke his back.
His last DCM came during the Korean war when he lead a group of snipers to take and hold a hill from the Chinese Army for three days.
2. Douglas “Tin Legs” Bader lost both legs in an air show accident and then became a stunning flying ace in World War II.
As a young pilot in 1931, Douglas Bader was a bit showy and lost both of his legs after an accident during an airshow caused him to lose both of his legs. He begged to stay in the service but was denied with the suggestion that he try again if war broke out.
Despite this handicap, he fought a massive Spanish fleet in 1797 and managed to capture two of their man-of-wars, using the first one captured to attack the second. But then he lost his right arm at the Battle of Tenerife later that year.
The US Army on Feb. 6, 2019, announced that it would buy an Israeli missile-defense system to protect its soldiers in a de facto admission that existing US missile defenses just don’t work.
“The U.S. Army has announced its intent to procure a limited number of Iron Dome weapon systems to fill its short-term need for an interim Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC),” a US Army statement sent to Business Insider read.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, indigenously designed with a 9 million US investment backing it, represents the world’s only example of working missile defense.
While the US, Russia, and China work on high-end missile systems meant to shoot down stealth aircraft in ultra-high-tech wars with electronic and cyber warfare raging along the sidelines, none of these countries’ systems actually block many missiles, rockets, or mortars.
Iron Dome launches during operation Pillar of Defense, November 2012.
On the other hand, Israel’s Iron Dome has shot down more than 1,200 projectiles since going operational in 2011. Constant and sporadic attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria have turned Israel into a hotbed of rocket and mortar activity, and the system just plain works.
Not only do the sensors and shooters track and hit targets reliably, the Iron Dome, unlike other systems, can tell if a projectile is going to miss a target and thereby save a 0,000 interceptor fire.
While the system does not run entirely without error, US and Israeli officials consistently rate the dome as having a 90% success rate on the Gaza border, one of the most active places in the world for ballistic projectiles.
But the US already has missile defenses for its forces.
The US, unlike Israel, which is surrounded by enemies bent on its ultimate destruction, doesn’t get many enemies firing ballistic missiles at its forces. Still, to protect its soldiers, the Army typically deploys Patriot defenses to its bases to protect against short-range missile attacks. In Iraq, the US Army also experimented with a Phalanx gun system that would rapid fire 20mm rounds at incoming rockets and mortars.
Overall, the US Army’s statement announcing the Iron Dome purchase made it clear that this would just be a short-term buy while the US assesses its options.
“The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats… it should be noted that the U.S. Army will assess a variety of options for” the long term, the statement continued.
But the Army is well aware of its own Patriot system and any planned or possible updates.
By buying an Israel system with a great track record and overlooking a US system with a checkered past, the US may have finally admitted its shortcomings in missile defense.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.