When France asked Germany to open negotiations for an armistice and peace treaty during the Battle of France, Germany was quick to agree — but Hitler had one petty and symbolic gesture that he demanded be part of any negotiations.
The rail car that had belonged to French Marshal Ferdinand Foch on display in the 1920s. It would later be dragged back into the forest on Hitler’s demand as a final insult to the conquered French army.
Foch was a French hero in World War I. Despite setbacks in some offensives, like the Battle of the Somme for which he lost prestige, he was credited as one of the primary contributors to the plans that won the first and second battles of the Marne. By the end of the war, he was the Supreme Allied Commander and the Marshal of France.
It was in this role that he went with his train car to the Compiegne Forest in 1918 to oversee the start of the armistice negotiations. After the reading of the preamble, Fochs stepped outside in what was seen as a direct insult to the German officers within.
French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, second from right, and other officers from the French and German forces stand outside Foch’s rail car following the end of armistice negotiations ending hostilities in World War I. The armistice went into effect six hours later.
Some of the Treaty of Versailles most restrictive clauses were drawn from the armistice negotiated in the train car. Foch asked for the farm and got everything. Well, except for the exact number of submarines and locomotives he had demanded. Germany simply had less equipment than Foch desired, but they did sign over what they had.
And it didn’t end there. While some of the worst items from the armistice were left out of the Treaty of Versailles, Foch took a public stance on wanting the most restrictive terms possible on Germany, calling for territory to be remitted to France and decades of occupation. Other negotiators and Allied government leaders refused, largely due to worries that strengthening France too much at the expense of Germany could lead to conquest by France.
French and German soldiers, mostly German, look at the Ferdinand Foch Railway Car in June 1940 as the officers prepare to sign the armistice that will withdraw most French forces from World War II.
For his part, Foch thought the final terms of the treaty were too lenient and declared that the final deal was, “not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.”
Hitler and other German leaders, apparently still seething from their drubbing and Foch’s treatment at the end of World War I, invaded France less than 21 years after the Treaty of Versailles was signed.
During the invasion, France, gambling heavily that the Ardennes Forest was impassable for panzers and that the Maginot Line was nearly unassailable, sent its best units north. But while the Maginot Line would largely hold for a few weeks, panzers actually found fairly easy passage through the Ardennes, allowing the blitzkrieg to grab large sections of French territory.
The top tier units sent north, meanwhile, were unable to quickly turn and face the new threat and were largely enveloped, forcing the surrender of most of France’s strongest and most modern units. The blitzkrieg marched towards Paris, which was then declared an “Open City,” a city that has given up resisting so that it won’t be destroyed in the war.
The invasion had begun May 10, 1940. Largely because of the Ardennes gamble and the overwhelming force of the blitzkrieg, the negotiations for the armistice began less than six weeks later.
The Compiegne Forest, which Germany demanded be the site of negotiations, meanwhile had grown into a sort of park celebrating France’s World War I victory. A statue of Foch overlooked the rail car, monuments to French dead, and a large statue celebrating the defeat of Germany.
Hitler looks at the statue of Ferdinand Foch in the Compiegne Forest before going into Foch’s former railway car to negotiate France’s surrender to Germany.
(U.S. War Department)
Germany destroyed it all, except for the statue of Foch. Where it had once overlooked a forest filled with monuments to France’s victory, it now looked over only a wasteland. For the rest of the war and the first few months of peace, Foch’s statue sat largely alone in an empty forest, all other symbols of triumph stripped away.
But with the end of the war, money was gradually allocated to rebuild the monuments. The train car was burnt and destroyed by Germany in Berlin in 1945, but another car from the same train was found and rebuilt to appear exactly like the Ferdinand Foch Railway Car. It sits like its predecessor in the Compiegne Forest.
It was one of the most audacious special operations raids ever launched. Nearly 30 hostages were being held for close to a week in the heart of Britain’s capital city — the target of an assault by a Middle Eastern separatist group who stormed the Iranian embassy.
And in broad daylight, after six days of fruitless negotiations in April and May of 1980, one of the world’s most skilled counter-terrorist units assaulted the target in front of news cameras who broadcast the daring operation live around the globe.
In the end, only one of the hostages was killed and two wounded and the nearly three dozen commandos from the British Special Air Service cemented their place as some of the most fearsome and capable operators the world had ever seen.
That dramatic story will be retold this summer in the movie “6 Days.” Directed by Toa Fraser and starring Jamie Bell, Abbie Cornish and Mark Strong, the movie recounts the drama of the Iran embassy takeover and the rescue mission, dubbed “Operation Nimrod,” from the perspective of the SAS team, a BBC reporter and the police negotiator trying to get the terrorists to surrender their prisoners.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the story is that the SAS assault took place in broad daylight in front of dozens of TV cameras — exposing for the first time the secretive world of Britain’s most elite warriors and making them instant heroes in the eyes of their countrymen.
“6 Days” is scheduled to open in the England in August. No U.S. release date has been set so far.
On Sept. 14, 2019, a swarm of drones and cruise missiles struck the world’s largest oil processing facility inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There was little doubt in the Saudi’s minds as to who the culprit could be. Their American allies agreed: the attack came from the Islamic Republic of Iran, their neighbor across the Persian Gulf. But the attack on the Saudi Aramco facility was less about making the Saudis pay and more about making their American allies pay.
The regime in Tehran was still pissed about the United States leaving the 2015 nuclear deal.
According to Reuters reporters, the Iranian regime wanted to punish the Americans for leaving the deal and reimposing crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. These sanctions have caused widespread hardship and unrest inside Iranian borders. Just four months prior, the head honchos of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps met in Tehran to figure out a way to do just that. They even considered attacking American bases in the Middle East. Of course, they didn’t go that far, but they had to do something.
One senior official took the floor to tell the room, “It is time to take out our swords and teach them a lesson.”
The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, approved the operation on the condition that the IRGC didn’t kill any civilians or Americans. With that nod from their leader, the Revolutionary Guards, experts in covert warfare and missile strikes, began planning.
Both the Saudi government and the Iranian government have refused to comment on the attack, with the exception of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations who vehemently denies any involvement, any planning, or any meeting taking place. American military and intelligence representatives also refused to comment. But the Houthis in Yemen, the Iranian-backed rebel group who has defied a Saudi-led invasion for years, claimed responsibility for the attacks. No one believed them because it was an attack intelligence agencies believed could only have come from Iran.
If it was supposed to be an attack on the Kingdom itself, it was a success. The September attack was just in time to disrupt projections for state-owned Aramco’s coming IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. If the Iranians wanted the United States to stick up for its Middle Eastern ally, however, the timing was terrible. After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, and the years of destruction causing a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, no one in Washington was quick to stick up for Riyadh.
For 17 minutes, swarms of drones and low-flying missiles hit the Khurais oil installation and the Abqaiq oil processing facility, cutting the Kingdom’s oil production by half and knocking out five percent of the world’s oil. Oil prices soared by 20 percent as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hit Iran with another round of sanctions. Everyone pointed fingers at everyone else, but the blame ultimately ended up in Iran’s lap, despite its refusals. Iran remained steadfast and despite increased sanctions and threats against further violence, largely got away with it.
Iran believed President Trump would not risk an all-out war to protect Saudi oil companies, Reuters quoted Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group as saying. “Hard-liners [in Iran] have come to believe that Trump is a Twitter tiger,” Vaez said. “As such there is little diplomatic or military cost associated with pushing back.”
The insiders believe Iran is already planning its next attack.
A 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-1B Lancer conducts a training mission in the vicinity of Japan where they integrated with Japan Air Self Defense Force assets, May 12, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman River Bruce)
The Air Force‘s B-1B Lancer bomber is about to move front and center in the U.S. military’s power-projection mission in the Pacific.
As part of its mission “reset” for the B-1 fleet, the Air Force is not only making its supersonic bombers more visible with multiple flights around the world, it’s also getting back into the habit of having them practice stand-off precision strikes in the Pacific, a dramatic pivot following years of flying close-air support missions in the Middle East.
The “nice thing about the B-1 is it can carry [the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile], and that’s perfectly suited for the Pacific theater,” Maj. Gen. Jim Dawkins Jr., commander of the Eighth Air Force and the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, said in an interview Tuesday.
“Not only are we resetting the airplane’s mission-capability rates and the training done for the aircraft, we’re also resetting how we employ the airplane to get more toward great power competition to align with the National Defense Strategy,” added Dawkins, who supports the warfighting air component to U.S. Strategic Command, as well as operations within Air Force Global Strike Command.
According to the 2018 NDS, “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea.”
Former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson stated that China has become “a pacing threat for the U.S. Air Force because of the pace of their modernization” in the region.
The Pentagon’s strategy prioritizes deterring adversaries by denying their use of force in the first place.
During a simulated strike, crews “will pick a notional target, and then they will do some mission planning and flying through an area that they are able to hold that target at risk, at range,” Dawkins said.
Close-air support, the B-1’s primary mission in recent years, is a much different skill set than “shooting standoff weapons like JASSM-ER and LRASM,” he said, referring to the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile and Joint Air to Surface Stand-Off Missiles-Extended Range.
While Dawkins wouldn’t get into specifics of how crews are conducting the practice runs in the Pacific, the non-nuclear B-1s have been spotted recently carrying Joint Air to Surface Stand-Off Missiles.
Photos recently posted on DVIDS, the U.S. military’s multimedia distribution website, show Dyess’ 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons crew members loading a JASSM into the belly of a plane. The B-1 is capable of carrying 75,000 pounds — 5,000 pounds more than the B-52 Stratofortress — of both precision-guided and conventional bombs.
The JASSM’s newer variant, JASSM-ER, has a higher survivability rate — meaning it’s less likely to be detected and shot down — due to low-observable technology incorporated into the conventional air-to-ground precision-guided missile. It is said to have a range of roughly 600 miles, compared with the 230-mile reach of JASSM, according to The Drive.
The LRASM, a Navy missile integrated on both the B-1 and F/A-18 Super Hornet, is able to autonomously locate and track targets while avoiding friendly forces.
Joint air-to-surface standoff missiles are loaded into a 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-1B Lancer on the flightline at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, May 9, 2020. The B-1Bs carry the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman River Bruce)
The precision-guided, anti-ship standoff missile was first tested on a B-1 in August 2017. A single B-1 can carry up to 24 LRASMs, or the same number of JASSM-ERs. The LRASM missile achieved early operational capability on the bomber in 2018.
The vast expanses of the Pacific are well-suited for training with these kinds of missiles, Dawkins explained. Stateside ranges, which may lack surface waters or enough distance between two points, depending on location, cannot always accommodate the needs of bomber crews training with these long-range weapons.
Also, “[when] we deploy, for instance to Guam, taking off from [the U.S.] and going to the Pacific, it allows us to do some integration with our allies, as well as exercise the command-and-control … and also allows us to practice our long-duration flights and work with the tankers,” he said.
The flight was part of the Air Force’s new unpredictable deployment experiment to test crews’ agility when sending heavy aircraft forces around the world, since the need to improve the bombers’ deployability rate is also crucial, Dawkins said.
Mission-capability rates refers to how many aircraft are deployable at a given time. The B-1 has been on a slow and steady track to improve its rate — which hovers around 50% — after being broken down by back-to-back missions in the desert, officials have said.
The B-1 could become the face of the Pacific for the foreseeable future, Dawkins said.
“We want … to be the roving linebacker, if you will, particularly in the Pacific,” he said, adding the mission could also pave the way for incorporating hypersonic weapons into the bomber’s arsenal.
Gen. Tim Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, has expressed support for the B-1 as a future hypersonic weapons platform.
“Basically, the configuration we’re seeking is external hardpoints that can allow us to add six Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapons [ARRW, pronounced “Arrow”], and then you still have the bomb bay where you can carry the LRASM or the JASSM-ER,” Ray told reporters last month. LRASM or JASSM-ER could also be carried externally, he added.
“They’re not doing any testing with the hypersonic on the B-1, but that’s definitely in the mix,” Dawkins said.
If configured with that payload in the future, that would be “quite a bit of air power coming off that airplane, whether it’s JASSMs, JASSM-ERs or some combination of those, and hypersonics,” he said.
For the soldiers in the trenches of World War I, safety from artillery came from lines of trenches and a network of tunnels to keep the ever-present artillery off their heads. But sometimes the very fortifications that served to protect them, were just as life threatening as the incessant bombardment.
That was the reality for the countless men and some children who were assigned to fight in the trenches of WWI.
With all those thousands of miles of trenches, both sides of the fight faced overwhelming odds and challenges like flooding, disease-carrying rats, malnourishment, and the constant mental strains of battle fatigue.
In many areas, the zig-zag trench construction placed the opposing forces as little as 50 yards away from one another, making it extremely difficult to watch the enemies’ activity while peering over the trench’s wall without the taking an incoming shot.
Since trenches had little overhead coverage, artillery shells frequently landed inside the emplacements. The distinct whistle of an incoming artillery round gave troopers just a few seconds to seek cover.
At a moment’s notice, the troops who occupied those trenches had to be prepared to defend themselves or leap out and race across No Man’s Land.
This was the dangerous area in between the enemy fronts which was covered with razor sharp barbed wire and plenty of enemy land mines.
With the help of the 374th Operations Group, Yokota Air Base C-130J Super Hercules aircrews are always ready for potential chemical and biological threats.
By using the Aircrew Eye/Respiratory Protection Equipment, aircrews can safely fly and execute their mission under any real-world chemical scenario.
The current mask, the Mask Breathing Unit-19/P (MBU-19/P), is nearing the end of its lifespan and has been found to have many faults during its service. Its successor, the Joint Service Aircrew Mask, or JSAM, Strategic, is scheduled to be available for Yokota AB’s C-130Js in 2021.
Maj. George Metros, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130J Super Hercules evaluator pilot, puts on a M50 gas mask, allowing communication during a flight, Feb. 5, 2019, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Juan Torres)
The standard issue M50 gas mask, a newer, more portable option for chemical protection, can be modified for use in-flight by adding communication-enabled wiring. With these modifications, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130J crewmembers and 374th Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment Airmen can use the M50 gas mask as a cost-efficient, user-friendly stopgap during the transition.
Yokota AB Airmen are now leading the way, reviewing the tactics, techniques and procedures for other large-frame aircraft units across the Air Force on the use of the M50 gas mask by aircrew.
Learning how the M50 gas mask works alongside other Air Force assets is a top priority for 374th OG Airmen.
“We’re making sure the equipment is flight-worthy, there are no difficulties flying and seeing how well it integrates with our other AFE equipment,” said Tech. Sgt. David Showers, 374th OSS AFE lead trainer. “We want know what can we keep and what we can make better. By reducing the components and the kits we’ll be giving back time to our people, our training and our mission.”
Maj. George Metros, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130J Super Hercules evaluator pilot, connects a M50 gas mask during a training flight, Feb. 5, 2019, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Juan Torres)
By making this integration possible, 374th OG Airmen are saving the Air Force time and money.
Maintenance on the older, more complicated MBU-19/P could take anywhere from three to four hours to a full day depending on the inspection and what kind of fixes the technician needs to make. With the introduction to the M50 gas mask on flights, inspection and maintenance times could be cut to approximately 30 minutes per mask freeing up valuable time to complete other tasks.
“By switching to the M50 gas mask we’ll increase our workflow and mission flow,” said Airman 1st Class Matthew Wilson, 374th OSS AFE technician. “With this switch we’ll avoid a lot of maintenance hours and we could have our aircrews running missions more effectively.”
One of the biggest threats that never materialized in World War II was the Axis using chemical weapons on the battlefield. This possibility constantly haunted the minds of Allied planners. After all, Germany had widely used chlorine gas, phosgene, and mustard gas on Allied troops in the trench warfare that defined World War I.
As a result, Allied troops were thoroughly trained on what to do in the event of a Nazi gas attacks. However, while the Nazis discovered tabun and sarin, a pair of lethal nerve agents, neither of them were used against Allied troops. The Nazis did make some limited use of chemical weapons in fighting around the Black Sea in 1941, but never used them on a wide scale in combat.
A number of drums holding chemical weapons are stashed in this shelter. The Allies never used chemical weapons, but did maintain stocks in case they needed to retaliate.
(Imperial War Museum)
One of the big reasons they didn’t use it on a wide scale against the Allies was because there was a good chance that they’d respond in kind. In essence, it was deterrence that prevented poison gas from being used against troops. Instead, it was used against concentration camp prisoners. Adolf Hitler, a World War I veteran who had survived chemical attacks himself, ordered the withdrawal or destruction of chemical weapons after reverses in Italy and the Battle of Stalingrad.
Perhaps the worst damage inflicted on American troops with chemical weapons came when the merchant ship John Harvey, which carried mustard gas for use if the Germans had crossed the chemical threshold, was sunk. The gas was released and caused over 600 casualties, of whom 69 died. Many of the losses were due to the fact that medical personnel weren’t told about the presence of the gas.
The ruthlessness of the Nazis led the Allies to thoroughly prepare for chemical weapons attacks.
Allied troops were also trained in procedures to protect themselves from chemical weapons. The technology you’ll see in the video below isn’t quite up to today’s MOPP suits, but some of the stuff is still informative and, unfortunately, relevant. After all, chlorine gas and sarin have been used in Syria recently.
Longtime politician Bob Dole, who was severely wounded in World War II by German gunfire, was honorably promoted to colonel May 16, 2019, in a private ceremony at the WWII Memorial.
Dole, 95, served as a captain in the 10th Mountain Division before pursuing a political career that included nearly 30 years as a U.S. senator for Kansas and the Republican presidential nominee in 1996.
Surrounded by the memorial’s pillars and arches, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley promoted Dole in front of a crowd of Dole’s friends and family and other Army leaders.
In its 244-year history, Milley noted, the Army has only honorably promoted three former officers. First, George Washington was promoted to general of the Armies, and then Lt. William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was promoted to captain.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, left, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, right, present former Sen. Bob Dole a wooden box with colonel rank in it during a honorary promotion ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Dole is the only living recipient of such an Army promotion.
“I’ve had a great life and this is sort of icing on the cake. It’s not that I have to be a colonel; I was happy being a captain and it pays the same,” Dole said, jokingly.
While a student at the University of Kansas, a 19-year-old Dole volunteered for the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps in 1942. Six months later, he was called up to active duty and commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1944.
He later deployed to Europe where he served as a platoon leader fighting against Nazi Germans in the hills of Italy.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, left, with his childhood friend, Bub Dawson, in 1944. Dole received an honorary promotion at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2019.
On April 14, 1945, Dole’s company launched an attack, but a stone wall and a field of land mines trapped them in an exposed area, according to an excerpt on his 1996 presidential campaign website.
As a German sniper began to fire on his unit, Dole selected a group of soldiers to go with him to take out the sniper when his radioman was hit.
Dole, now on his stomach, pulled the wounded soldier across the battlefield into a foxhole. Seconds later, an enemy shell exploded, ripping into his right shoulder, shattering his collarbone and part of his spine while leaving his arm dangling.
Former Sen. Bob Dole addresses the crowd during his honorary promotion ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“I lay face down in the dirt,” Dole said in the excerpt. “I could not see or move my arms. I thought they were missing.”
At first, Dole was paralyzed from the neck down and the Army sent him to a military hospital in Kansas so he could die near his home. Sensation slowly returned to his legs and left arm, but then he caught a fever of almost 109 degrees.
To save his life, doctors performed an emergency kidney operation.
“His war was over against the Nazis, but his fight was really just beginning,” Milley said.
Former Sen. Bob Dole stands at attention along with his wife, Elizabeth Dole, left, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley during the playing of the National Anthem at Dole’s honorary promotion ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
It took nearly three years and nine operations for Dole to recover from his wounds, which left him without the use of his right arm and limited feeling in his left arm. He improvised ways to strengthen his arms, and even learned to write left-handed, according to the website.
Dole earned two Purple Heart medals and two Bronze Stars with valor and, in 1947, he was medically discharged from the Army as a captain.
“As we know, he persevered and healed and he went on to distinguish himself in the service of his country many, many times over in both the House of Representatives and the Senate,” Milley said.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, lower right, and his wife, Elizabeth Dole, pose for a photo with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey before Dole’s honorary promotion ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Some of Dole’s legislative legacies, the general noted, include passing laws that made it easier for families to access food stamps, improvements to the Social Security program, extending the Voting Rights Act, and passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In April, President Donald Trump signed legislation to authorize Dole’s promotion after Army leadership was asked to review his service record and contributions to the nation’s defense.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, left, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, right, present former Sen. Bob Dole a framed copy of the legislation to promote him to colonel during a ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Dole was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in January 2018 for his service to the nation as a “soldier, legislator and statesman.”
“Thank you all for being who you are and what you stand for,” Dole told the crowd, “and that you love America and you’re willing to fight for America, regardless of the consequences.”
Bob Hicks was spending a cold December night in his barracks 53 years ago at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City when the phone rang.
It was the chief of his missile maintenance team, who dispatched Hicks to an incident at an underground silo.
“The warhead,” the team chief said, “is no longer on top of the missile.”
Hicks eventually learned that a screwdriver used by another airman caused a short circuit that resulted in an explosion. The blast popped off the missile’s cone — the part containing the thermonuclear warhead — and sent it on a 75-foot fall to the bottom of the 80-foot-deep silo.
The courageous actions Hicks took that night and over the next several days were not publicized. The accident was not disclosed to the public until years later, when a government report on accidents with nuclear weapons included seven sentences about it. The report listed the accident as the nation’s first involving a Minuteman missile.
Further details are reported publicly for the first time here, drawn from documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Journal and others, and from Hicks himself, who is now 73 years old and living in Cibolo, Texas.
When Hicks was sent to the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he was only 20 years old, and the cryptic statement from his team chief was the only information he was given.
“That was enough,” Hicks recalled, “to cause me to get dressed pretty quickly.”
The trouble began earlier that day when two other airmen were sent to a silo named Lima-02. It was 60 miles northwest of Ellsworth Air Force Base and 3 miles southeast of the tiny community of Vale, on the plains outside the Black Hills.
Lima-02 was one of 150 steel-and-concrete silos that had been implanted underground and filled with Minuteman missiles during the previous several years in western South Dakota, where the missiles were scattered across 13,500 square miles. There were hundreds more silos in place or soon to be constructed in North Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, eventually bringing the nation’s Minuteman fleet to a peak of 1,000.
The original Minuteman missiles, called Minuteman I, were 56 feet tall and weighed 65,000 pounds when loaded with fuel. The missiles were capable of traveling at a top speed of 15,000 miles per hour and could reach the Cold War enemy of the United States, the Soviet Union, within 30 minutes.
Each missile was tipped with a thermonuclear warhead that was many times more powerful than either of the two atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan during World War II. One government agency reportedly estimated that the detonation of an early 1960s-era Minuteman warhead over Detroit would have caused 70 square miles of property destruction, 250,000 deaths, and 500,000 injuries.
The two airmen who visited the Lima-02 silo on Dec. 5, 1964, were part of a young Air Force missile corps that was responsible for launching and maintaining the missiles. The two airmen’s names are redacted – as are many other names – from an Air Force report that was filed after the accident.
At noon that Saturday, the airmen received orders to troubleshoot and repair the Lima-02 security system. They made the long drive and arrived at 2 p.m.
The rectangular, north-south aligned, 1-acre silo site was surrounded by a chain-link fence that was topped with strands of barbed wire. The unremarkable-looking place consisted mostly of a flat expanse of gravel. Toward the south end were several low-slung tops of underground concrete structures.
One of the structures was a 3½-foot-thick, 90-ton slab that covered the missile and would have been blasted aside during a launch. A couple of paces away from that was a circular, steel-and-concrete vault door, about the diameter of a large tractor tire. The door concealed a 28-foot-deep shaft leading to the underground work area known as the equipment room.
Working in 24-degree conditions above ground, the airmen began a series of steps with special tools and combination locks that allowed them to open the massive vault door. Next, they climbed the ladder down to the equipment room, which encircled the upper part of the silo and missile like a doughnut.
The airmen worked in the roughly 5 feet of space between the steel launch tube and the equipment-room wall, among racks of electronics and surfaces painted mostly in pale, institutional green. Though the launch tube was between them and the missile, the missile was not much more than an arm’s length away.
According to the Air Force report on the accident, one of the airmen removed a fuse as part of a check on a security alarm control box. The report says the airman was “lacking a fuse puller,” so he used a screwdriver to pry the fuse from its clip.
When the fuse was re-inserted, the report says, it was supposed to click. The sound of a click indicated good contact with the holder. But there was no click, so the airman repeated the procedure. Still not certain he heard a click, he pulled the fuse out a third time and pushed it back into the holder again.
“At 1500 hours MST,” the report says, referencing 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, “simultaneously with the making of this contact, a loud explosion occurred in the launch tube.”
Hicks arrived at the silo later and heard a simpler story from his team chief. According to that story, it was merely the removal of the fuse with a screwdriver – not the pushing-in of the fuse – that caused the problem. Hicks said the metal of the screwdriver contacted the positive side of the fuse and also the fuse’s grounded metal holder, causing a short circuit that sent electricity flowing to unintended places.
“It would be just like you taking your car battery and you touch a screwdriver to the positive terminal on the battery and you touch the frame of the car,” Hicks explained in a recent interview. “You have just put voltage potential on your entire car.”
Hicks and the accident report agree that the wrong tool was used. In the language of the report, “The technician did not use the authorized, available tool to remove the fuse.”
The resulting short circuit might not have been problematic had it not been for some wiring in one of the missile’s retrorockets that was later found to be faulty. According to Hicks, some weakly insulated or exposed wiring may have been in contact with the metal casing of a retrorocket, allowing for a jolt of electricity that caused the retrorocket to fire.
The retrorockets were housed below the cone of the missile. They were supposed to fire when the missile was in outer space, to separate the third and final fuel stage from the cone, allowing the cone and its warhead — which were collectively called the “re-entry vehicle” — to fall toward the target.
When one of the retrorockets fired inside the missile in the Lima-02 silo, pressure built up in the space where the retrorockets were housed, and the cone of the missile — which was about 5 feet tall, nearly 3 feet in diameter at its base, and about 750 pounds in weight — burst off and fell down in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall.
The cone hit the wall of the silo, bounced back toward the missile and grazed it in two spots along the second fuel stage, hit two of the three suspension cables that supported the missile, and finally crashed to the concrete floor of the silo and came to rest on its side. Luckily, the cone did not do enough damage to the missile to cause the missile to explode.
Neither of the airmen immediately knew what had happened. The bureaucratically written accident report says they “expeditiously evacuated” after hearing the explosion, as the silo filled with gray smoke.
In later years, Buddy Smith, who now lives in Texas and is a friend of Hicks, received training about the South Dakota accident before working in the missile fields of Wyoming.
“I wasn’t there,” Smith said of the explosion, “but I know there were two technicians who ruined their underwear. ‘Cause that ain’t supposed to happen.”
Bob Dirksing, who was Hicks’ roommate at Ellsworth and now lives in the Cincinnati area, said the two airmen who were in the silo when the explosion happened were lucky to survive.
“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Dirksing said. “If the short had gone to the missile instead of to the retrorockets, it would’ve been a completely different story. I’m sure there would’ve been fatalities. The boys who were down there would’ve been fried.”
The explosion triggered a flurry of activity over the next seven hours. A potential “broken arrow” was declared, which is military-speak for an accident involving a nuclear weapon. A strike team was deployed to set up a 2,000-foot cordon around the silo, including a roadblock. Medics were dispatched to the scene. Three sergeants were flown in by helicopter.
The sergeants went down to the equipment room after the smoke cleared and made two observations: Everything was covered in gray dust, and the missile was missing its top.
A radiation-monitoring team went down next and did not detect alarming radiation levels but did find the missile’s cone, which contained the warhead, damaged and lying at the bottom of the silo.
By about 10 p.m., the scramble to assess the situation was over. Nobody was injured. The missile was slightly damaged but otherwise intact. The warhead was safe inside its cone, although the cone was damaged. And except for some Vale-area residents who probably saw the commotion and wondered what was going on, the public knew nothing.
The emergency was over, and it was time to plan a salvage operation. Sometime before midnight at Ellsworth, the phone rang for Bob Hicks.
Into the silo
Hicks had enlisted less than two years earlier as a skinny, 6-foot-tall, 19-year-old farm boy from Somerset, Texas, a small town about 20 miles south of San Antonio. He was the youngest in a family of 13 children, which included six boys who served more than a combined 90 years on Air Force active duty from World War II to Vietnam and beyond.
After basic training, Hicks had been sent to nuclear weapons maintenance school in Colorado. By October 1963 – eight months after his enlistment – he was installing warheads and guidance packages atop Minuteman missiles in the silos of western South Dakota.
The silos had been rushed into existence after a groundbreaking ceremony in 1962, with Americans still reeling from the shock of seeing the Soviets launch their Sputnik satellite in 1957. If the Soviets could put a satellite into orbit, American leaders reasoned, it would not be long until they could launch a missile on an arcing path through outer space to the United States.
When Hicks got the call about the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he and another airman jumped into the specially equipped truck-and-trailer rig that they typically used to transport warheads. They sped into the night, traveling on the newly constructed Interstate 90 toward Sturgis. It wasn’t long before Hicks had to pull over when he saw a state trooper’s cruiser lights flashing in his rear-view mirrors.
“He said, ‘Ya’ll seem to be in a hurry,'” Hicks recalled.
Hicks did not divulge that he was en route to a potential nuclear disaster, and the trooper inquired no further.
But the trooper did mention some smoke emitting from one of the rig’s wheels. Hicks and his companion traced the problem to some bad brake hoses. They made an impromptu fix and sped off again toward Sturgis.
After passing through Sturgis and heading east, Hicks steered the rig north around the hulking, dark mass of Bear Butte and motored across the quiet countryside to Vale before finally reaching the silo.
There were perhaps a dozen people at the scene.
“As we later joked,” Hicks recalled in his slight Texas drawl, “They were standing around not knowing whether to scratch their watch or wind their butts.”
According to Hicks, the missile had not yet been rendered safe, and his team chief said somebody had to do it. Hicks volunteered.
When he saw the missile was fully upright, Hicks was relieved. If it had fallen against the silo, the missile might have been weakened to the point of a collapse and explosion. But that disaster had been avoided.
Incredible as it may sound to a civilian, Hicks said he spent no time worrying about the thermonuclear warhead. He had been convinced by his training that it was nearly impossible to detonate a warhead accidentally. Among other things, he said, the warhead had to receive codes from the launch-control officers, had to reach a certain altitude, and had to detect a certain amount of acceleration and G-force. There were so many safeguards built in, Hicks later joked, that a warhead might have been lucky to detonate even when it was supposed to.
That’s not to say his trip down the silo was without danger. The missile, which contained a load of fuel, had been grazed and damaged by the falling cone. And with only a few years of history behind the Minuteman missile program and no known nuclear accident involving a Minuteman until the one Hicks was confronting, he was heading into the unknown.
Nevertheless, he climbed down the shaft and into the equipment room that encircled the upper part of the underground silo. Next, he lowered the so-called “diving board,” which extended from the launch tube toward the missile and allowed Hicks to essentially walk the plank at a height of about 60 feet above the silo floor.
He also installed a work cage, which was a man-sized steel basket that could be hung from motorized cables on the inner wall of the launch tube. The cable assembly not only moved the cage vertically but could also move horizontally on a track around the launch tube, allowing airmen to access every part of the missile.
Hicks maneuvered the cage down the side of the missile and started the procedure to “safe” it. At each point between the missile’s three fuel stages, Hicks inserted a long metal rod with a socket-like head and turned the rod to break the electrical connections between the stages, rendering them incapable of firing.
With the missile “safed,” it was time to figure out what to do about the warhead.
‘Up very slowly’
Hicks said there was a particularly high-ranking officer at the scene who’d been flown in by helicopter. After Hicks had rendered the missile safe, Hicks came back to the surface and heard the officer asking some other men how to retrieve the warhead.
Hicks heard no response, so he piped up. Cargo nets were sometimes used to move heavy equipment in and out of the silo, he said. He suggested that a net could be lowered to the bottom of the silo, and the cone with its warhead could be rolled into the net. The net could then be hoisted up on a cable by a crane.
The officer did not appreciate the boldness of Hicks, whose rank was airman second class.
“He said, ‘Airman, when I want an opinion from you, I’ll ask you,'” Hicks recalled.
Hicks retreated to his truck and awaited further orders. Later, Hicks said, he was recalled to the officer’s side and asked to explain the idea again.
The cargo-net method was eventually chosen as the plan, but Hicks said the Air Force wanted the procedure to be practiced in another silo. The practice proceeded over the next couple of days.
Following the practice, the operation was green-lighted, and a crew assembled at Lima-02 on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1964 – four days after the accident – to retrieve the damaged missile cone and its thermonuclear warhead.
First, some jagged edges on the cone that were caused by its violent separation from the missile were covered in padding, and the cone was hoisted about a foot off the silo floor while a mattress pad was slid underneath it. Next, two cargo nets, which were layered one on top of the other under the pad, were pulled up around the cone and hooked to the cable.
Then began the painstaking process of raising the cone up out of the 80-foot-deep silo, in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall, without hitting the missile and causing an explosion. The crane did the lifting, but three men also held tight to a hemp rope that was connected to the cone in case of any problems with the crane, cable or net.
“Up very slow,” reads a portion of a minute-by-minute account of the operation, as printed in the later accident report. “Dead slow. Stop. Up very slow. Stop. Up slow. Stop ”
And on it continued like that for about two hours until the cone emerged from the silo late that afternoon. The cone and its inner warhead were placed on top of some mattresses, Hicks said, in a truck-and-trailer rig. There the cone and warhead sat overnight, in the trailer.
The next day – Thursday, Dec. 10 – a convoy assembled to escort the truck to Ellsworth Air Force Base. According to Hicks, he drove the truck, in part because nobody else at the scene seemed to know how.
The warhead was eventually transported to Medina Annex at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for disassembly. The written record is not as clear about the fate of the missile, but the accident report indicates it may have been removed from the silo the next day, Friday, Dec. 11.
Also on Dec. 11, 1964, the Air Force appointed a board of officers to investigate the accident. The board filed its report seven days later, on Dec. 18, and listed “personnel error” as the primary cause. The report said the cost of the damage was $234,349, which would equate to about $1.85 million in inflation-adjusted 2017 money.
Large sections of the report’s findings and recommendations are redacted, and the non-redacted portions do not disclose the fate of the two airmen who were at the silo when the explosion happened.
Several months after the accident, in March 1965, Hicks was selected as the maintenance man of the month for his division. A short article about the honor in the base newspaper did not disclose that a missile accident had occurred, but it vaguely referenced Hicks’ role in rendering a missile safe and transporting “damaged components.”
That same month, Hicks was awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal for acts of courage. The written citation with the medal briefly summarized the accident and the role Hicks played in responding to it.
“By his personal courage and willingness to risk his life when necessary in the performance of dangerous duties,” the citation said, in part, “Airman Hicks has reflected credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
The accident did not scare Hicks away from dangerous jobs. Shortly after receiving his medal, he trained in explosive ordnance disposal and was eventually sent to Guam during the Vietnam War, where he disarmed and extracted bombs that failed to release from B-52 planes.
Hicks went on to work for the Office of Special Investigations, which is the Air Force equivalent of the FBI. He retired from active duty during the 1980s and was hired to work as a civilian agent for OSI until his final retirement in 2005. Along the way, he and his wife, Janet, had two sons.
The missile silos in western South Dakota were decommissioned following the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the United States and the Soviet Union. By 1996, all but one of South Dakota’s silos had been imploded. The last remaining silo, called Delta-09, is now host to an unarmed missile and is part of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which includes three attractions spread out along Interstate 90 east of Wall – the silo, a preserved launch-control center called Delta-01, and a visitor center.
The former Lima-02 silo site near Vale has passed into private ownership and is now home to a honey-extracting business. The fence that formerly surrounded the silo complex is still there, kept intact by the landowner.
Although South Dakota’s Minuteman missiles now belong to history, the United States still has 400 Minutemans ready to launch from silos in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. Each of the missiles is a Minuteman III – two generations advanced from the Minuteman I that was in the Lima-02 silo in 1964.
The Minuteman III fleet is just one part of the US nuclear-weapons triad, which comprises 5,113 nuclear warheads in all, including some in storage and others that are deployed and ready for use from land, sea, or air.
To opponents of nuclear armament, that’s a lot of accidents waiting to happen. The US government has officially acknowledged 32 accidents involving nuclear weapons since the 1950s, while additional accidents, incidents, mishaps, and close calls have been uncovered by journalists and activists.
And accidents continue to happen. In 2014, three airmen were conducting maintenance on a Minuteman III missile at a silo in Colorado when an accident caused $1.8 million worth of damage to the missile – roughly the same amount of damage, taking inflation into account, as the 1964 accident in South Dakota. The few known details of the 2014 accident were revealed only after persistent requests for information from The Associated Press.
None of the accidents suffered by the nation’s nuclear-weapons program has ever caused a nuclear detonation. That there was not a detonation at Lima-02 in 1964 is an indication of the safety and reliability of the Minuteman missile program, according to Bob Hicks, who did not sour on nuclear weapons after the accident.
Hicks views the nuclear triad as a necessary and effective deterrent against attacks from nations such as North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un is provoking worldwide anxiety about his development of nuclear weapons.
As the future of nuclear weaponry unfolds, the world may need more unflappable people like Hicks, who considers himself lucky rather than unfortunate to have been called to the site of a nuclear missile accident.
“A career is made up of opportunities,” Hicks said. “Being in the right place, at the right time.”
China has built the world’s first stealth amphibious assault drone boat for island warfare, the developer revealed recently, and Chinese military experts believe it could eventually be headed to the disputed South China Sea.
Built for island assault operations and capable of operating on land and at sea, the “Marine Lizard” amphibious drone ship was developed by the Wuhan-based Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC).
The 40-foot drone ship operates as a trimaran hydrojet in the water but switches to tracked propulsion as it treads ashore. The company claims it can maintain stealth at speeds up to 50 knots in the maritime domain. On land, though, the assault vehicle is limited to a little over 12 mph. Modifications, specifically increasing the size of the tracks, could offer improved mobility on land.
The vessel’s capabilities have not been publicly demonstrated.
The Marine Lizard, which carries its own onboard radar system, is equipped with two machine guns and vertical launch system cells capable of firing anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.
It is capable of “rapid assault and beach landings in accordance with operational requirements,” CSIC explained, adding that it is able to “complete missions such as special operations troop transport, border patrol, near-shore warning operations, and island/reef airport protection.”
The Chinese military has eyes fixed on island warfare, be it a future fight for Taiwan or the contested islands and reefs in the East and South China Seas.
China’s Global Times, citing a Chinese military expert, wrote recently that “this amphibious drone boat is suitable for island assault operations as a swarm of such drone ships could lead an attack following a first wave of artillery and air strikes.”
Observers suspect the Marine Lizard could play a key role in a regional conflict. “In the South China Sea, it can be used to either seize a reef or guard a reef, both offensive and defensive,” Chinese military analyst Song Zhongping told the South China Morning Post.
He added that the craft could be used to launch a surprise attack on an enemy island outpost.
CSIC claims that its new stealth amphibious assault drone, which has an operational range of 745 miles, has the unique ability to lie dormant for up to eight months, activated remotely at ranges of up to 30 miles, and immediately called into action.
The Marine Lizard can also, according to the developers, integrate into Chinese networks for combined arms operations with other unmanned systems relying on China’s Beidou satellite navigation system.
Much like the US, China is preparing for the possibility of high-end conflict. But while Chinese warfighting has traditionally been characterized by the sacrificing of waves of Chinese troops in hopes of overwhelming an enemy, the country is now investing heavily in long-range weapons and unmanned combat systems, challenges that the American armed forces are actively working to counter.
Recently, US and Philippines troops participating in the annual Balikatan exercises practiced repelling an attempt by a foreign military power to seize an airfield on a small island, a not unfathomable possibility given persistent tensions in the South China Sea.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A U-2 spyplane captured a strange photo in 1960; the Soviets had built a massive new antenna near a missile test range. The CIA and others immediately suspected that the array was part of a new radar system and wanted to figure out what its capabilities were, but it was deep in defended space.
So the CIA, after they ruled out further collection by aircraft, decided for a literal moonshot. They would train highly sensitive antennas on the moon and wait for the Soviets to scan an object in front of the moon. When the radar energy that passed the target struck the moon and bounced back to the earth, the CIA could collect information from it to figure out how the new radar worked.
But the effort required truly massive receiving antennas. Most of the available antennas that would suffice were 150 feet wide and the best was a proposed 600-foot dish that was never completed. Even then, the CIA needed to get lucky and be looking at the same moment that the Soviet Union was using the radar in the direction of the moon.
They would get insanely lucky.
The first break came in 1962 when the Soviet Union inadvertently reflected radar data out, not from the moon, but from their own atomic testing. The nuclear detonation created an ionized cloud that reflected signals and allowed some limited intercept.
In 1964, the CIA was able to start regularly collecting data from the Soviet site, dubbed the “Hen House Site,” after it reflected off the moon. A specially modified receiving station in Palo Alto, California, picked up the signals.
We expected to see a regular scanning, or “search” mode, and a tracking mode, where the beam follows a target. Both of these have been observed. In the latter, the Soviets, apparently just for practice, have set the radar to track the moon for as much as half an hour. This makes the intercept job much easier, as we then see the signal continuously rather than in short bursts as the beam swings by the moon.
The radar system was estimated to be quite sophisticated, capable of not only identifying and tracking individual targets but of tracking multiple targets and quickly switching focus between them. The system was so fast that the CIA felt confident it was controlled by a computer.
All in all, it made the system a serious threat to American efforts. It would later come to light that the system was designed to track and potentially defeat ballistic missiles. If successful, it could have negated the American nuclear deterrent.
Thanks to the efforts of the CIA, though, America was able to get a jump on the Russians and steal back the advantage.
The USS Gerald R. Ford, the first-in-class aircraft carrier that’s been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns, got the first of its 11 advanced weapons elevators on Dec. 21, 2018, “setting the tone for more positive developments in the year ahead,” the Navy said in January 2019.
That tone may be doubly important for Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who has promised the elevators would be ready by the end of the carrier’s yearlong post-shakedown assessment summer 2018. Spencer staked his job on the elevators, which were not installed when the carrier was delivered in May 2017, well past the original 2015 delivery goal.
Advanced Weapons Elevator Upper Stage 1 was turned over to the Navy after testing and certification by engineers at Huntington Ingalls-Newport News Shipbuilding, where the carrier was built and is going through its post-shakedown period after testing at sea.
The elevator “has been formally accepted by the Navy,” Bill Couch, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, said in a statement.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer being briefed by the USS Gerald R. Ford’s commanding officer, Capt. John J. Cummings, on the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator on the flight deck.
(US Navy photo Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Kiana A. Raines)
The testing and certification “focused on technical integration of hardware and software issues, such as wireless communication system software maturity and configuration control, and software verification and validation,” Couch said.
The Ford class is the first new carrier design in 40 years, and rather than cables, the new elevators are “commanded via electromagnetic, linear synchronous motors,” the Navy said in a news release. That change allows them to move faster and carry more ordnance — up to 24,000 pounds at 150 feet a minute instead of Nimitz-class carriers’ 10,500 pounds at 100 feet a minute.
The ship’s layout has also changed. Seven lower-stage elevators move ordnance between the lower levels of the ship and main deck. Three upper-stage elevators move it between the main deck and the flight deck. One elevator can be used to move injured personnel, allowing the weapons and aircraft elevators to focus on their primary tasks.
The Ford also has a dedicated weapons-handling area between its hangar bay and the flight deck “that eliminates several horizontal and vertical movements to various staging and build-up locations” offering “a 75% reduction in distance traveled from magazine to aircraft,” the Navy said.
Chief Machinist’s Mate Franklin Pollydore, second from left, reviewing safety procedures for the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator with sailors from the USS Gerald R. Ford’s weapons department.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Jeff Troutman)
The upper-stage 1 elevator will now be used by the Ford’s crew and “qualify them for moving ordnance during real-world operations,” Couch said.
The amount of new technology on the Ford means its crew is in many cases developing guidelines for using it. The crew is doing hands-on training that “will validate technical manuals and maintenance requirements cards against the elevator’s actual operation,” the Navy said.
James Geurts, the Navy assistant secretary for research, development, and acquisition, told senators in November 2018 that two elevators had been produced — one was through testing and another was “about 94% through testing.”
The other 10 elevators “are in varying levels of construction, testing, and operations,” Couch said. “Our plan is to complete all shipboard installation and testing activities of the advanced weapons elevators before the ship’s scheduled sail-away date in July.”
“In our current schedule there will be some remaining certification documentation that will be performed for 5 of the 11 elevators after [the post-shakedown assessment] is compete,” Couch said. “A dedicated team is engaged on these efforts and will accelerate this certification work and schedule where feasible.”
Spencer during a tour of the USS Gerald R. Ford.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Kiana A. Raines)
That timeline has particular meaning for Spencer, the Navy’s top civilian official.
The Navy secretary said at an event this month that at the Army-Navy football game on Dec. 8, 2018, he told President Donald Trump — who has made his displeasure with the Ford well known — that he would bet his job on the elevators’ completion.
“I asked him to stick his hand out — he stuck his hand out. I said, ‘Let’s do this like corporate America.’ I shook his hand and said the elevators will be ready to go when she pulls out or you can fire me,” Spencer said during an event at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC.
“We’re going to get it done. I know I’m going to get it done,” Spencer added. “I haven’t been fired yet by anyone — being fired by the president really isn’t on the top of my list.”
An F/A-18F Super Hornet performing an arrested landing aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford on July 28, 2017.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Elizabeth A. Thompson)
The weapons elevators have posed a challenge to the Ford’s development, but they are far from the only problem.
Trump has repeatedly singled out the carrier’s new electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS, which uses magnets rather than steam to launch planes. Software issues initially hindered its performance.
“They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out,” Trump told Time magazine in May 2017, referring to the new launch system. “You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good.”
Spencer said he and Trump had also discussed EMALS at the Army-Navy game.
“He said, should we go back to steam? I said, ‘Well Mr. President, really look at what we’re looking at. EMALS. We got the bugs out,'” Spencer said at the event in January 2019, according to USNI News. “It can launch a very light piece of aviation gear, and right behind it we can launch the heaviest piece of gear we have. Steam can’t do that. And by the way, parts, manpower, space — it’s all to our advantage.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Before the advent of stealth aircraft, the U.S. military had a very different approach on how to operate its planes in contested airspace. That approach could be summarized in two words:
In those early years of air defense system development, the U.S. was less interested in developing sneaky aircraft and more concerned with developing untouchable ones– utilizing platforms that leveraged high altitude, high speed, or both to beat out air defenses of all sorts — whether we’re talking surface to air missiles or even air superiority fighters.
Lockheed’s legendary Kelly Johnson, designer of just about every badass aircraft you can imagine from the C-130 to the U-2 Spy Plane, was the Pentagon’s go-to guy when it came to designing platforms that could evade interception through speed and altitude. His U-2 Spy Plane, designed and built on a shoestring budget and in a span of just a few months, first proved the concept of flying above enemy defenses, but then America needed something that could also outrun anything Russia could throw its way. The result was the Blackbird family of jets, including the operational SR-71 — an aircraft that remains the fastest operational military plane ever to take to the sky.
You could make a list of 1000 amazing facts about the SR-71 without breaking a sweat — but here are three even a few aviation nerds may not have of heard before:
The Blackbird had over 4,000 missiles fired at it. None ever hit their target.
The SR-71 Blackbird remained in operational service as a high speed, high altitude surveillance platform for 34 years — flying at speeds in excess of Mach 3 at altitudes of around 80,000 feet. This combination of speed and altitude made it all but untouchable to enemy anti-air missiles, so even when a nation knew that there was an SR-71 flying in their airspace, there was next to nothing it could do about it. According to Air Force data collected through pilot reports and other intelligence sources more than 4,000 missiles were fired at the SR-71 during its operational flights, but none ever managed to actually catch the fast-moving platform.
Its windshield gets so hot it had to be made of quartz.
Flying at such high speeds and altitudes puts incredible strain on the aircraft and its occupants, which forced Lockheed to find creative solutions to problems as they arose. One such problem was the immense amount of heat — often higher than 600 degrees Fahrenheit — that the windshield of the SR-71 would experience at top speeds. Designers ultimately decided that using quartz for the windshield was the best way to prevent any blur or window distortion under these conditions, so they ultrasonically fused the quartz to the aircraft’s titanium hull.
The SR-71 was the last major military aircraft to be designed using a ‘slide rule.’
There are countless incredible facts about the SR-71 that would warrant a place on this list, but this is one of the few facts that pertains specifically to the incredible people tasked with developing it. Not long after the SR-71 took to the sky, the most difficult mathematical aspects of aircraft design were handed off to computers that could crunch the numbers more quickly and reliably — but that wasn’t the case for the Blackbird. Kelly Johnson and his team used their “slide rules,” which were basically just specialized rulers with a slide that designers could use to aid them in their calculations in designing the mighty Blackbird. Years later, the aircraft was reviewed using modern aviation design computers only to reveal that the machines would not have suggested any changes to the design.
Just for fun, here’s Major Brian Shul’s incredible “Speed Check” story about flying the Blackbird.
Major Brian Shul, USAF (Ret.) SR-71 Blackbird ‘Speed Check’