In 2011, the U.S. government spent about $718 billion on defense. That’s nearly half of all military spending on the planet. The other top 13 nations combined spent $695 billion.
While the yearly budget is spread out according to defense needs, some projects take the lion share. Case in point are weapon systems like the Virginia Class Submarine with a procurement cost of $76.6 billion and the V-22 Osprey at $95.2 billion. Although costly, they aren’t the most expensive military mega-projects of all time. Here’s the list:
1. Nazi Germany’s Atlantic Wall
Final cost: unknown
Although the final cost was never determined, the French portion alone would have cost $200 billion when adjusted for inflation.
The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force is arguably the second-most powerful navy in the Pacific. With four small aircraft carriers (the Izumo- and Hyuga-class vessels are technically destroyers but, let’s be honest, they’re really carriers) and a good number of modern destroyers, this fleet can kick a lot of butt. But with so much eye-drawing firepower, it’s easy to overlook one particularly important ship.
That ship is the Abukuma-class destroyer escort.
In World War II, American destroyer escorts, the forerunners of the modern frigate, served primarily as anti-submarine assets. The Abukuma-class ships (all bearing the names of Imperial Japanese Navy cruisers from World War II) have the same mission. Now, if you think a destroyer escort can’t do much, we invite you to have a look at what USS England did in about two weeks’ time.
There’s a reason Japan works very hard in the anti-submarine warfare arena: American submarines feasted on the waters surrounding Japan during World War II, starving the country and making life at sea a waking nightmare. Don’t just take our word for it — ask the Kongo or Shinano, two of the most notable kills American subs notched during World War II.
Three of Japan’s six anti-submarine frigates at the dock.
(Photo by Luck-one)
The 16th Edition of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World notes that the Abukuma packs a single 76mm gun, two twin Mk 141 launchers for the RGM-84 Harpoon, an eight-round Mk 112 ASROC launcher, a Mk 15 Phalanx, and two triple 324mm torpedo tube mounts. She packs no surface-to-air missiles and has no helicopters.
JS Abukuma (in the rear) escorting the helicopter carrier JS Ise.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Denver Applehans)
Japan planned to build 11 of these ships, but only bought six. Still, these vessels are equipped with sonar and have crews trained in hunting (and sinking) submarines.
Watch the video below to learn more about this Japanese sub-hunting ship!
A special MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and one of the oldest and most famous helicopters in the Air Force’s inventory has officially retired. A 32-years-old helicopter with more than 11,000 flight hours and dozens of combat deployments, the MH-60G Pave Hawk with tail number 009 flew for the last time in early May.
Its final flight was broken down into two phases. During the first phase, Captain Tanner Bennett, from the 66th Rescue Squadron, flew the chopper from Nellis Air Force Base, in Nevada, to Pensacola Naval Air Station, in Florida. Then, for the second phase, Major General Chad P. Franks, the commander of the 15th Air Force, flew the 009 from Pensacola Naval Air Station to nearby Hurlburt Field.
As a captain, Franks had flown the 009 in Bosnia during Operation Allied Force and had participated in the mission to rescue a downed F-117 Nighthawk pilot in 1999.
“This Pave Hawk represents the hard work and accomplishments of the men and women of the 55th Special Operations Squadron who took great care of 009 when I flew it in 99’. It is an honor for me to fly this retirement flight,” Major General Franks said in a press release.
The venerable MH-60G chopper has participated in a plethora of combat and humanitarian operations, including Operation Just Cause (invasion of Panama), Operation Desert Shield (Saudi Arabia), Operation Desert Storm (Kuwait, Iraq), Operation Provide Comfort (Haiti), Operation Northern Watch (Iraq), Operation Allied Force (Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo), Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq). In addition to conventional search-and-rescue operations, the chopper supported special operations units.
“The maintenance team was jobbing it. With as many hours 009 has, they made sure that it was safe for everyone,” Captain Tanner Bennett, an MH-60G aircraft commander who flew the 009’s last flight, said. “It’s pretty awesome in terms of rescue history. For us to take her home, with Maj. Gen. Franks flying the last part, and knowing it will be on display for future pilots, is an honor to be a part of. I’m just honored. It’s lucky that this MH-60 gets to ride out into the sunset.”
The Air Force plans to display the aircraft at the Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park.
No matter where you try to hide, Army Special Forces will find you.
That message is clear by watching this video. Special Forces soldiers catch up with some insurgents in what looks like the only structure in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, it’s like finding Luke Skywalker’s house on Tattooine.
However, Skywalker didn’t have SF hunting him down. The door opens and all hell breaks loose. ISIS should know that, especially since they just freed 70 hostages from their clutches.
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Soldier Center at Natick is testing new Army Combat Boot (ACB) prototypes at three different basic training and active duty installations over the next four months. The effort will gather soldier feedback toward development of improved footwear.
The Army’s current inventory of boots includes seven different styles designed for different environments and climates. The boots issued initially to recruits are the Hot Weather and Temperate Weather Army Combat Boots. Requirements for these are managed by the Army Uniform Board as part of the recruit “Clothing Bag.” The Program Executive Office Soldier’s Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment maintains and updates the specifications for both boots.
The current generation of Army Combat Boots has not undergone substantial technical or material changes since 2010. New material and technologies now exist that may improve physical performance and increase soldier comfort.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
“Great strides have been made recently in the Army’s environment specific footwear, for jungle, mountain, or cold weather locations, but there is substantial room for improvement in the general purpose boots which are issued to new recruits,” explains Anita Perkins, RDECOM Soldier Center footwear research engineer and technical lead for the Army Combat Boot Improvement effort. “Most components of these combat boots have not been updated in almost 30 years.”
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
Surveys conducted by the Soldier Center report soldier satisfaction with ACBs is lower than that with commercial-off-the-shelf, or COTS, boots, leading many soldiers to purchase and wear COTS boots.
“The survey of over 14,000 soldiers world-wide discovered that almost 50% choose to wear COTS combat boots instead of Army-issued boots,” Perkins said. “Many soldiers reported choosing combat boots from the commercial market because the COTS boots are lighter, more flexible, require less break-in time, and feel more like athletic shoes than traditional combat boots or work boots.
Unfortunately, these characteristics often come at the cost of durability and protection.”
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
The Soldier Center’s Footwear Performance team believes new technologies can bridge the gap between the lightweight, comfortable, COTS boots and the durable, protective, Army boots. Recent advancements in synthetic materials and rapid prototyping can produce a boot with potentially the same protection, support, and durability of current Army boots, but lighter and more comfortable out of the box. To reach this goal, the Soldier Center is evaluating new types of leather and even some man-made materials which are much more flexible than the heavy-duty, cattle hide leather used in the current boots.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
“Also included in the prototypes we are testing are new types of rubber and outsole designs, which are more than 30% lighter than the outsoles on the current boots,” said Al Adams, team leader for the Soldier Clothing and Configuration Management Team at the Soldier Center.
When working with industry to develop the prototype boots for this effort, Adams and Perkins put an emphasis on cutting weight. The boots being tested are up to 1.5 pounds lighter per pair than the ACBs currently being issued.
“In terms of energy expenditure or calories burned, 1-pound of weight at the feet is equivalent to 4-pounds in your rucksack,” Adams said.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
The test boots will be fitted and fielded to 800 basic trainees at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and Fort Jackson, South Carolina, followed by 800 pairs going to infantry Soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas. The Soldier Center team will be hand-fitting each pair of prototype boots throughout the month of January 2019 and then return in March and April 2019 to collect surveys and conduct focus groups to gather specific feedback.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
“Soldiers live in their boots and many will tell you that there is no piece of equipment more important to their lethality and readiness,” said Adams. “A bad pair of boots will ruin a soldier’s day and possibly result in injuries, so we really believe that each of these prototype boots have the potential to improve the lives of soldiers”.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
Simultaneous to the field testing, lab testing will be conducted on the boots at the Soldier Center to quantify characteristics like flexibility, cushioning, cut/abrasion resistance, and breathability. The combination of lab testing and soldier recommendations will identify soldier-desired improvements to the boot prototypes and rank the state-of-the-art materials and designs for soldier acceptance, durability, and safety. The Soldier Center will then provide recommendations to PM SPIE and the Army Uniform Board to drive the next generation of Army Combat Boots.
(Photo by Mr. David Kamm, RDECOM)
“The development of new boots take advantage of the latest materials technology, and are functional and comfortable, is critical to ensuring that our soldiers are ready to fight and win in any environment,” said Doug Tamilio, director of the RDECOM Soldier Center. “Soldiers are the Army’s greatest asset, and we owe it to them to make them more lethal to win our nation’s wars, and then come home safely.”
The Marine Corps wants to know whether the defense industry can transform its heavy weapons-mounted Joint Light Tactical Vehicles into mobile air defense systems for tracking and killing enemy drones, helicopters and fighters.
Marine Corps Systems Command recently invited defense firms to submit ideas for creating the Direct Fire Defeat System being developed by Program Manager Ground Based Air Defense, according to a March 27 request for information.
The program is designed to arm Marine air-ground task force commanders with JLTVs equipped with anti-aircraft missiles, 30mm cannons and electronic warfare technology to “detect, track, identify, and defeat aerial threats,” the solicitation states.
“This system will provide new and improved capability to mitigate the risk of attacks from Unmanned Aerial Systems and Fixed Wing/Rotary Wing aircraft while maintaining pace with maneuver forces,” according to the document.
The U.S. military has begun to beef up its air defense capabilities as it prepares for a possible future war against near-peer militaries with sophisticated aviation capabilities.
The Army is in the process of modernizing its air-defense units with the Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD) system, which will feature Stryker combat vehicles armed with Hellfire missiles, a 30mm chain gun, a 7.62 machine gun and four Stinger missiles.
The Army is also working on equipping a platoon of four Stryker vehicles with 50-kilowatt lasers that are capable of engaging drones and combat aircraft, as well as rockets, artillery and mortars in fiscal 2022.
The Marine Corps’ direct fire system will be part of the initial phase of the Marine Air Defense Integrated System, or MADIS, which will feature the command-and-control software integrated into Mk1 and Mk2 variants of the Corps’ JLTV Heavy Guns Carrier, according to the document.
The MADIS Mk1 features turret-launched Stinger missiles, multi-functional electronic warfare capability and a direct-fire weapon such as a 30mm cannon on a remote weapons station. The MADIS Mk2 will be the counter-UAS variant, with a 360-degree radar and command-and-control communications equipment, in addition to a direct-fire remote weapons station and electronic warfare tech.
The Mk1 and Mk2 form a complementary pair and are the “basic building block” for modernizing the service’s Low Altitude Air Defense Battalions, according to Marine Corps Systems Command’s website.
Companies have until April 13 to submit proposals, including proof that they are capable of delivering 26 systems in support of low-rate initial production in the third quarter of fiscal 2021, as well as 192 systems in the third quarter of fiscal 2022, according to the document.
Noted astronomer and satellite expert Ralf Vandebergh of Nijswiller, Limburg, Netherlands, spent months searching the skies for one of the Holy Grails of sky spotting, the secretive U.S. Air Force Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. In May 2019, he finally succeeded.
Remarkably, on June 30 and July 2, 2019, that Vandebergh finally captured some rare photos of the secret military spacecraft. Fifty-year veteran space journalist and author of the new book, “Moon Rush: The New Space Race”, Leonard David broke the story about Vandebergh’s sighting and photos on Saturday, July 6, 2019 on LiveScience.com. The photos are now being republished and shared around the world.
Journalist Leonard David quoted astronomer Ralf Vandebergh in his story on LiveScience.com as saying, “When I tried to observe it again [in] mid-June, it didn’t meet the predicted time and path.” Vandebergh went on to tell Leonard David in his article that, “It turned out to have maneuvered to another orbit. Thanks to the amateur satellite observers’ network, it was rapidly found in orbit again, and I was able to take some images on June 30 and July 2.”
The Air Force’s X-37B began as a test project with NASA in 1999 but was acquired by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2004. Most sources list two operational X-37B spacecraft and a single X-37A. The fact that only three exist, their missions and roles are classified and they operate in space makes them incredibly difficult to get photos of, especially when performing an active mission as in Vandebergh’s photos.
Even more remarkably, according to Vandebergh’s photo analysis, he may have actually captured the X-37B with its cargo bay door open, performing some type of experiment or operation.
Vandebergh told reporters, “It is really a small object, even at only 300 kilometers [186 miles] altitude, so don’t expect the detail level of ground-based images of the real space shuttle. We can recognize a bit of the nose, payload bay and tail of this mini-shuttle, with even a sign of some smaller detail.”
Vandebergh used a 10-inch F/4,8 aperture Newtonian telescope fitted with an Astrolumina ALccd 5L-11 mono CMOS camera to capture his photos. He tracked his elusive quarry across the sky by hand using a small 6×30 spotting scope to line up his telescope for the photos.
Official USAF photo of X-37B (left) and astronomer Ralf Vandebergh (right).
(USAF and Ralf Vandebergh)
Little is known about the current role of the two X-37Bs and the single X-37A. Most likely the X-37Bs are in some form of “operational test” use with the USAF while the X-37A reportedly remains a combined Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA spacecraft with an equally secretive role.
While most information in the public domain lists both the X-37B and X-37A as “test” vehicles, the X-37B has performed unusually long duration space flights for testing. Remarkably, the current mission being performed by the X-37B in Vandebergh’s photos is designated “Mission OTV-5”. This mission began 670 days ago on September 7, 2017 when it was boosted into orbit on the SpaceX Falcon 9 orbital delivery spacecraft that launched from the NASA facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
While little is known about the actual mission of this current X-37B flight, author Leonard David may provide some insights in his report for LiveScience.com where he wrote:
“X-37B missions are carried out under the auspices of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, and mission control for OTV flights is handled by the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. This squadron oversees operations of the X-37B and is tagged as the Air Force Space Command’s premier organization for space-based demonstrations, pathfinders and experiment testing, gathering information on objects high above Earth and carrying out other intelligence-gathering duties.”
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Over the weekend, you may have heard that the Argentinean submarine ARA San Juan, and its crew of 44 sailors, has gone missing. This is not unusual. In 1968, the Skipjack-class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN 589) went missing – and was declared “overdue and presumed lost.”
Let’s be honest about submariners. They are doing a very dangerous job – even in peacetime. They are taking a ship and deliberately going underwater – where immense forces are acting on the vessel. When submarines sink – either by accident or due to an act of war, the usual outcome is that all hands are lost.
Sometimes, though, the crews beat the odds, like for about half the crew of USS Squalus (SS 192). They survived the sinking of their vessel, and were later rescued. In fact, one device first developed and proven in the rescue of the Squalus survivors, the McCann Rescue Chamber, is still in service today.
According to a release from Southern Command, this chamber can reach a submarine as far as 850 feet below the surface of the ocean. Six sailors can be brought to the surface at a time. While this is a good start, keep in mind, some submarines can have as many as 155 personnel on board.
That said, there are parts of the ocean that are a lot deeper than 850 feet where a submarine could still maintain enough integrity to keep crews alive. For those rescues, the Navy can turn to the Pressurized Rescue Module. This can reach submarines as far down as 2,000 feet, and it can retrieve 16 personnel at a time. These are known as the Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System. Both systems have been deployed to render aid to any survivors on the San Juan, assuming the sub can be located in time.
Now, you may be wondering, “Where are the DSRVs?” Well, that’s the bad news. The United States had two Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles, named Avalon and Mystic. Those vessels could go as far down as 5,000 feet and could pull up 24 personnel at a time.
The United States sent a NASA P-3 and a Navy P-8 to help look for the San Juan. Hopefully, the sailors can be found and rescued.
Unless you’re an avid shooter, there tends to be only a handful of ammunition types a person can list off the top of their heads, and even fewer if we’re talking specifically about rifles. Although there’s a long list of projectiles to be fired from long guns, the ones that tend to come to mind for most of us are almost always the same: 5.56 and 7.62, or to be more specific, 5.56×45 vs. 7.62×39.
National militaries all around the world rely on these two forms of ammunition thanks to their range, accuracy, reliability, and lethality, prompting many on the internet to get into long, heated debates about which is the superior round. Of course, as is the case with most things, the truth about which is the “better” round is really based on a number of complicated variables — not the least of which being which weapon system is doing the firing and under what circumstances is the weapon being fired.
This line of thinking is likely why the United States military employs different weapon systems that fire a number of different kinds of rounds. Of course, when most people think of Uncle Sam’s riflemen, they tend to think of the 5.56mm round that has become ubiquitous with the M4 series of rifles that are standard issue throughout the U.S. military. But, a number of sniper platforms, for instance, are actually chambered in 7.62×51 NATO.
The new M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle chambered in 5.56 during the Marine Corps’ Designated Marksman Course
(Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Levi Schultz)
So if both the 5.56×45 vs. 7.62×39 rounds are commonly employed by national militaries… determining which is the superior long-range round for the average shooter can be a difficult undertaking, and almost certainly will involve a degree of bias (in other words, in some conditions, it may simply come down to preference).
For the sake of brevity, let’s break the comparison down into three categories: power, accuracy, and recoil. Power, for the sake of debate, will address the round’s kinetic energy transfer on target, or how much force is exerted into the body of the bad guy it hits. Accuracy will be a measure of the round’s effective range, and recoil will address how easy it is to settle the weapon back down again once it’s fired.
The NATO 5.56 round was actually invented in the 1970s to address concerns about the previous NATO standard 7.62×51. In an effort to make a more capable battle-round, the 5.56 was developed using a .223 as the basis, resulting in a smaller round that could withstand higher pressures than the old 7.62 NATO rounds nations were using. The new 5.56 may have carried a smaller projectile, but its increased pressure gave it a flatter trajectory than its predecessors, making it easier to aim at greater distances. It was also much lighter, allowing troops to carry more rounds than ever before.
7.62×39 (Left) and 5.56×45 (Right)
The smaller rounds also dramatically reduced felt recoil, making it easier to maintain or to quickly regain “sight picture” (or get your target back into your sights) than would have been possible with larger caliber rounds.
The 7.62x39mm round is quite possibly the most used cartridge on the planet, in part because the Soviet AK-47 is so common. These rounds are shorter and fatter than the NATO 5.56, firing off larger projectiles with a devastating degree of kinetic transfer. It’s because of this stopping power that many see the 7.62 as the round of choice when engaging an opponent in body armor. The 7.62x39mm truly was developed as a general-purpose round, limiting its prowess in a sniper fight, however. The larger 7.62 rounds employed in AK-47s come with far more recoil than you’ll find with a 5.56, making it tougher to land a second and third shot with as much accuracy, depending on your platform.
Hard to beat the ol’ 5.56 round.
(Official Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Julio McGraw)
So, returning to the metrics of power, accuracy, and recoil, the 7.62 round wins the first category, but the 5.56 takes the second two, making it the apparent winner. However, there are certainly some variables that could make the 7.62 a better option for some shooters. The platform you use and your familiarity with it will always matter when it comes to accuracy within a weapon’s operable range.
When firing an AR chambered in 5.56, and an AK chambered in 7.62, it’s hard not to appreciate the different ideologies that informed their designs. While an AR often feels like a precision weapon, chirping through rounds with very little recoil, the AK feels brutal… like you’re throwing hammers at your enemies and don’t care if any wood, concrete, or even body armor gets in the way. There are good reasons to run each, but for most shooters, the 5.56 round is the better choice for faraway targets.
Lambos aren’t exactly known for the rugged durability required by American military vehicles. So, the reason they specially made the Lamborghini Cheetah for the U.S. military would have to be pretty far out there.
Well, not that far, actually: the company was struggling economically from a global recession and an ongoing oil crisis. They were bleeding money, so they decided to start taking design contracts. One of those contracts was actually a subcontract for the American military.
The Cheetah was born.
It debuted in 1977 and was a failure from the start. The large rear-mounted engine ruined the weight distribution (and thus, the vehicle’s handling). After making three expensive prototypes the U.S. Army just wasn’t interested in, the damage was done. Lamborghini even went out of business for a while.
Besides the handling, there were a number of reasons the Lamborghini and the Army just weren’t going to match. A major reason was that Lamborghini’s design was actually a ripoff they received from an Army subcontractor – but Lamborghini didn’t know that.
When the Cheetah bombed during testing for the military, the contract for the new vehicle went to the Humvee.
Even though the Cheetah’s massive failure caused other contractors to pull their money from Lamborghini, sending the company into a death spiral, it gave them time to lick their wounds and reconvene later. The concept of a Lambo SUV never fully died, either.
Lamborghini engineers revisited the idea later, conceiving a civilian version of the vehicle, the Lamborghini Militaria No.1, or LM001, and its more popular, later iteration, the LMA002.
The latest Lamborghini SUV features a V12 engine (the Cheetah only had a V8), souped-up and superior to its 70s-era ancestor in every possible way.
We don’t know when and where it was filmed, but the following video surely shows a pretty weird accident occurred to a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter. Indeed, the short clip shows the heavy Marine chopper (whose empty weight is more than 10 tons – 23,628 lb) with folded tail boom being towed aboard a ship using a “system” made of a tug towing another tug coupled to a tow bar attached to the Super Stallion’s nose landing gear.
At a certain point, the tow bar disconnects from the helicopter that starts to slide backwards towards the pier. The end of the story is that no one seems to be hurt by the giant chopper that comes to a stop when the folded tail hits the ramp that was being used to board it.
Here’s the video, shared by the always interesting Air Force amn/nco/snco FB page:
Many have criticized the way used to board the helicopter, saying that the one shown in the footage is not a standard procedure. Others have highlighted the fact that no one was in the cockpit riding the brakes during the operation. We don’t know what the procedure called for in this case, whatever, based on the footage, it is safe to say that the ending could have been worse: despite a significant risk for all those involved or observing the boarding, perhaps the Super Stallion got (minor?) damages and an unscheduled inspection…
Thanks to its impressive lift capacity the Super Stallion is able to carry a 26,000-pound Light Armored Vehicle, 16 tons of cargo 50 miles and back, or enough Marines to lead and assault or humanitarian operation. For this reason it is used for a wide variety of tasks.
The latest version of the iconic CH-53, designed CH-53K King Stallion, will replace the current E variant in the coming years and will feature a lift capacity three times that of the Super Stallion retaining the same size of its predecessor.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
If you thought that air warfare was reserved for a time after airplanes were invented, you thought wrong. During the American Civil War, the Union troops used hot air balloons to spy on Confederate troops.
The idea to use balloons was the brainchild of Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Joseph Henry, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. They suggested that the military should create the balloon corps under the command of Thaddeus Lowe to do some “aerial reconnaissance” for the Union.
On June 17, 1861, Lowe demonstrated his balloon in front of President Abraham Lincoln. He went up to the lofty height of 500 feet and flew the balloon the short distance between the Washington Mall to where the National Air and Space Museum now stands. Lincoln had doubtless seen hot air balloons do such things at fairs for years; what made this journey special was that the balloon was hooked up to a cable that linked an air bound Lowe to the War Department.
In the first air-to-ground communication in America, Lowe sent the following telegram to Lincoln from his balloon: “The city, with its girdle of encampments, presents a superb scene…”
Soon after, Lincoln wrote to General Winfield Scott about Lowe’s abilities. However, when Lowe presented himself to the general, he found that Scott was less than impressed. Lincoln ultimately had to personally intervene to get the general to accept Lowe into the ranks.
In August 1861, the first army balloon was constructed and named The Union. The balloon depended on tapping into Washington D.C.’s natural gas lines, so it wasn’t able to go very far. However, the next month Lowe was able to take his balloon up to 1000 feet and spy on the Confederate troops residing at Fall’s Church, VA. With his direction, Union troops were able to accurately aim at enemy troops without actually seeing them. This was a military first, and the success resulted in the establishment of the Balloon Corps.
The first order of business was to hire more aeronauts. Around October 1861, a number of balloons were tethered along the Potomac River. From their vantage point, the people manning the balloons were able to see any Confederate activity up to a day’s march away, giving the Union time to prepare a plan of defence.
After a short period of time, balloon technology advanced. Lowe himself invented a way to make gas portable: a wooden tank lined with copper, set up on a wagon that also carried water, iron, and sulfuric acid. Combined, these wagons produced hydrogen gas which lifted the balloons up. The army had twelve wagons built to aid the balloons in long-distance missions. Each of them weighed 1000 pounds.
Throughout 1862, Lowe continued to go on reconnaissance missions, noting on maps where Confederate troops were located. When he travelled at night, he would count campfires. It wasn’t all good news, though. The Confederate troops quickly caught on to what was happening and started shooting at the balloons with guns and cannons. Luckily for the people in the balloons, it was pretty difficult for soldiers on the ground to actually hit them—and it was easy for the soldiers in the balloon to gun down anyone who took a shot.
When shooting failed, the Confederates learned how to cloak their positions with camouflage and blackouts, making Lowe’s job more difficult. If Confederates made fewer fires, then Lowe’s estimates of their forces would be low, and the Union troops would underestimate the South’s strength. They would also paint fake cannons black and set them up around camp, so that if a balloon happened to fly over while it was still light, the North would think that they had too many resources to chance a fight. These fake cannons were called “Quaker guns” because they were, like the pacifist Quakers, completely harmless in war.
Two of the hydrogen gas generators assigned to each balloon for inflating on the battlefield.
The South did set out to copy the balloons’ success at one point, but they lacked the technology and resources required to make their balloons practical. The first Confederate balloon was difficult to control, as it was made out of varnished cotton and kept aloft with hot air. The balloonist did manage to draw a map of Union positions around Yorktown despite the difficulties, however. A second attempt was less successful. A balloon made of silk (said to have been sewn from the gowns of Southern Belles) was tied to a tugboat and dragged along the James River before the tugboat crashed and Union troops took control of the balloon.
The Union Balloon Corps met its demise before the end of the Civil War. With a switch of command in 1863, funding was cut to the program which meant that the balloonist could no longer continue staying aloft. On top of that, Lowe himself was accused of “financial impropriety” and forced to resign. Lowe had become the driving force behind the entire campaign, and without him to advocate for the corps, it disbanded.
In addition to the technology of balloons, the Civil War saw a significant use of telegraph machines on both sides. The Union sometimes handled upwards of 4500 telegrams a day reporting on Confederate movements. Both sides encrypted their messages with ciphers, and both sides learned how to tap telegraph machines. Sometimes, messages would become unreadable due to mistakes made on behalf of the people sending them. Robert E. Lee hated telegraphs and even ordered his officers not to send anything, lest the Union find out what the messages contained.
Before he was appointed Chief Aeronaut, Lowe was simply an aeronautic scientist. A week after the fall of Fort Sumter, which kicked off the Civil War, Lowe could be found on a nine hour balloon trip from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Union, South Carolina. When he landed, Confederate troops accused him of spying for the Union. They were eventually convinced of his innocence—something they regretted later—and Lowe returned to the North, where he learned that Mr. Henry wanted to talk to him.
Lowe continued to be passionate about flying. He also made the “railway into the clouds” in California, which took passengers to the summit of Echo Mountain. But one of his biggest legacies is that of his granddaughter, the remarkable Pancho Barnes, who also caught the flying bug.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Nuclear technology for power is not a new concept; we’ve been doing it for decades through fission. Fission occurs when an atom is split into smaller fragments, creating small explosions resulting in the release of heat energy. Fusion, on the other hand, is the process by which gas is heated up and separated into its ions and electrons. When the ions get hot enough, they can overcome their mutual repulsion and collide, fusing together, hence its name — fusion. When this happens, the energy released is three to four times more than that of a fission reaction, according to Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin aims to mimic the fusion process within a small magnetic container designed to release its hundreds of millions of degrees of heat in a controlled fashion. These devices will be small enough to be used on planes and other vehicles.
Its compact size is the reason for which the engineers and scientists at Lockheed Martin believe they can achieve this technology so quickly. A small device size allows them to test and fail quickly under budget.
In this video Tom McGuire, a research engineer and scientist at Lockheed Martin explains how they plan to bottle the power of the sun within a decade: