As DARPA and other military research organizations create crazy new technologies for the battlefield, the military will have to start training service members to start using and maintaining these capabilities. Here are five jobs that the military doesn’t need today but will tomorrow.
1. Beekeepers and trainers
The military began training bees to detect explosives and defeat IEDs, but they will also be useful for finding mines when the U.S. is fighting other nation states. Bee keepers will work in anti-mine and counter-IED teams to identify probable buried explosives. Since the bees’ training wears off after after a certain period, trainers will stay on forward operating bases to re-certify colonies. The bees move around the battlefield on their own, so these troops will rarely leave their bases.
The military already has cyber defenders and has discussed the possibility of some of those troops conducting limited counter-attacks to network incursions. This won’t be enough for long. Future enemies will have robust networks and drones. Maneuver commanders will need intelligence that can be stolen from enemy networks and will need enemy drones taken out as part of a planned assault.
They won’t need network defenders for this, they’ll need network attackers. These troops will likely stay on a well-defended base, possibly in theater for faster connection to the enemy’s network.
3. Forward drone controller
Every U.S. military branch has dedicated drone pilots with the Air Force’s being the most famous. But as drones become more intelligent, a second branch of drone operators will be needed. Rather than piloting the machines, they will input simple commands for the drone to move to a point or patrol a designated area.
These service members will go forward with patrols and control semi-autonomous drones in support of a platoon leader’s commands. There will be both walking and flying drones capable of ferrying supplies, surveilling key terrain on a battlefield, or carrying indirect fire radar or sensors to detect enemy muzzle flashes.
4. Robotic systems maintainer
With the military getting robotic pack mules, robotic hummingbirds, and robotic people, they’re going to need dedicated mechanics to service the equipment in the field. Robotics systems maintainers will mostly replace whole parts and send damaged pieces to vendors for repair. They’ll likely operate like vehicle and generator mechanics do now: small teams will deploy to outposts when required while most maintainers will stay on forward operating bases or larger installations.
5. Powered armor maintainer
Currently, damaged body armor is simply replaced from stocks in supply. For expensive and complicated suits like the TALOS, this won’t be a viable option. Powered armor maintainers will operate like computer/detection systems repairers, working in a secure location to replace and repair damaged components. Powered armor maintainers may even be able to focus on the mechanical parts of the system while allowing computer/detection systems repairers, who already maintain a wide variety of electronic systems, handle any software or electronic issues.
Bonus: Jetpack qualifier
While it won’t be a separate job, certain units will field new DARPA jetpacks to allow soldiers to quickly move on the battlefield or for scouts to break contact if discovered on a mission. Going to jetpack school will be a privilege new recruits could enlist for or re-enlisting soldiers could choose. Like airborne or air assault schools, some graduates would go on to serve in units where they actually need to know jetpack warfare while others would just attend training for the cool skill badge and promotion points.
A longtime saying in war is that artillery is the king of the battlefield.
But some artillery are better than others, but the best are those that can drive themselves to battle.
For a long time, all artillery was towed. First the towing as done by horses, then by trucks or other vehicles. But there was a problem. The artillery took a while to set up, then, when the battery had to move — either because troops advanced or retreated – or the enemy found out where the artillery was located, it took time to do that.
Fighter pilots say, speed is life.” Artillerymen would not disagree. Towed artillery had another minus: It had a hard time keeping up with tanks and other armored fighting vehicles.
The way to cut the time down was to find a way a howitzer could propel itself. The advantage was that these guns not only could support tanks and other armored units, but these guns often had an easier time setting up to fire. They could also be ready to move much faster, as well.
This ability to “shoot and scoot” made them much harder to locate.
Most self-propelled howitzers fire either a 152mm round (usually from Russia and China, but also from former communist countries like Serbia) or a 155mm round (NATO and most other countries). Often these guns are tracked, but some have been mounted on truck chassis, gaining a higher top speed as a result.
Some of the world’s best self-propelled howitzers include the American-designed M109A6 Paladin, the Russian 2S19, the South Korean K9 Thunder, and the German PzH-2000.
You can see the full list of the ten deadliest self-propelled howitzers in the video below.
[ad-box path=”/41755326/300x250_button” width=”250″ height=”300″]Now that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is a thing of the past, the U.S. military accepts that homosexuality doesn’t affect combat readiness or battlefield performance. In fact the RAND Corporation studied this in 1993 and found no impact on allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
But there was a time when military leaders actually thought the opposite – that purposely forming a unit of gay couples would enhance their combat effectiveness. For 40 years, it seemed the theory was right on.
The Sacred Band of Thebes was a hand-picked unit of 300 Greek soldiers that were chosen for their abilities and merit, not on their social class. They were also 150 couples, male lovers devoted to the Greek god Eros, and – according to the Macedonian author Polyaenus’ book “Stratagems,” they were “devoted to each other by mutual obligations of love.” They trained constantly in all areas of classical combat, including horsemanship and unarmed combat.
What this translated to on the battlefield was that this hand-picked group of foot soldiers did a lot of ass kicking.
After the 2006 movie “300,” many tended to think of the Spartans as the most elite warriors of the Bronze Age. The Greek historian Plutarch actually records the first instance of the Sacred Band in combat in a fight against Spartan leaders Gorgoleon and Theopompus at the Battle of Tegyra. The Spartans outnumbered the Thebans 2-to-1 and advanced on the Theban force. The Sacred Band immediately killed the Spartan leaders then cut through the Spartans like a warm knife through butter. The rest of the Theban force flanked the Spartan army as it fell apart.
It was the first time in history where a Spartan force was defeated by a numerically inferior enemy.
This led to a sharp rise in Thebes’ power and a general peace treaty between major city-states. Of course, that doesn’t mean the fighting ended there. Four years later, Sparta and Thebes were again at war. By this time, the mission of the Sacred Band in combat was to form at the head of the army to fight and kill the best warriors and leaders of the enemy force, just like they did at Tegyra. At the Battle of Leuctra, 12,000 Spartans were pitted against 8,500 Thebans. As the Spartans tried to end the battle by flanking the Thebans, the Sacred Band smashed into the entire Spartan right wing and held them in place until the rest of the Theban army could move in. The Spartan army was decimated, their king killed, and the city-state severely weakened.
Thebes maintained its independence for 40 years because of the Sacred Band’s combat skill. They didn’t lose a single battle in that time. It would all come crashing down when Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander invaded Greece in 338 BC. The Macedonians brought a new battlefield innovation, the long-speared phalanx. Greek Hoplites were no match for the phalanx and when Philip met the Thebans at the Battle of Caeronea, the Greeks quickly broke and fled – except for the Sacred Band.
The Band was long-thought to be invincible, but they died where they stood, to the last man. Their last commander fell with them. Plutarch, in his work “Lives,” wrote that Philip II wept when came upon the bodies of the Sacred Band of Thebes when he realized who they were.
Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly – Philip II of Macedon
Clint Eastwood’s Oscar darling “American Sniper” opened wide this weekend with a record-smashing $90.2 million haul.
“American Sniper” stars Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. The film has been exceeding expectations since it opened in limited release in just 4 theaters on Christmas Day, taking in an impressive $850,000 with a per-theater-average of $152,500, which ranks the 11th best p.t.a of all time.
On Thursday, the film nabbed six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for star Bradley Cooper, so the timing of its wide-release this weekend could not have been better.
“American Sniper” is now the highest grossing January debut of all time, more than doubling last January’s “Ride Along,” which took in just $41.5 million. More notably, the film had the second highest debut ever for an R-rated film, a record held by “The Matrix Reloaded” that took the spot all the way back in 2003 with $91.7 million. When final numbers are released tomorrow morning, “Sniper” might actually overtake it.
It is also the biggest debut for Clint Eastwood, a record previously set by 2008’s “Gran Torino” at just $29.5 million. “American Sniper” bested that on Friday alone with $30.5 million. Not only that — the film now holds the title for the biggest debut weekend for a Best Picture Oscar nominee ever.
The Pentagon says a military raid last month killed the head of the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan.
In a statement May 7, the Pentagon confirmed the death of Abdul Haseeb Logari. At the time of the raid officials said they thought Logari had been killed, but were not certain.
U.S. officials said Logari was among several high-ranking Islamic State in Afghanistan leaders who died in the April 27 raid. It was carried out by Afghan Special Security Forces in partnership with U.S. forces.
The sand invades every crevice and fold in your skin and clothing like a kind of unfinished cement mixture hellbent on rubbing your exposed patches of water-softened skin until they chafe and bleed. Just when the bright southern California sunshine dries you out, and you feel that blessed warmth that you remember so well from before you started Navy SEAL training, the BUD/S instructors once again order you into the surf zone like maniacal dads gleefully throwing their children into a pool for the first time. Learn to swim, or die.
“This will make you hard, gents,” they growl, tongues firmly in cheeks. They know they are making a bad pun while also telling us that all of this, in effect, is for our own good. We do it grim-faced and resigned to another onslaught of sandy wetness because we want to make it through the training. And the training is designed to figure out which of us will not quit, even when our physical selves want nothing more than warmth, blessed dryness, and physical comfort.
Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, San Diego, Calif. (Jan. 31, 2003) – As an instructor monitors a training evolution, Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) Class 244 receives instructions on their next exercise as they lay in the surf. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class John DeCoursey.)
Some will eventually give in to the effect of this relentless physical tribulation. Those that make it through do so because they find their way to that state of consciousness in which the brain overrides the assault on the body, and that all-powerful and mysterious mass of grey matter residing inside our skulls takes over and drives the machine of blood and bone known as our bodies forward in a state of semi-autonomy. That is the mental state one must achieve to make it through the training; that state in which the primeval mind overcomes the objections and weaknesses of the fragile body.
Three of my blood relatives made it through BUD/S before me. One made it through after me. Five of us in total. Each of us set out not knowing if we had that ability to put mind over body. We hoped we did. We suspected we did, since we had the same genetic make-up as those who had come before us. We each knew that if our father, brother, and cousin could do it, we could do it too. Still, you never really know until you do it. Until you face it.
SEAL candidates for basic underwater demolition cover themselves in sand during surf passage on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Calif. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Russell)
The physical preparation is important — critical, even. You have to reach a certain level of physical preparedness to allow your body to complete that journey. That is a necessary condition to making it through, but not a sufficient condition. The physical preparation alone will not guarantee you success. The mindset is the thing. You have to get your mind to that place in which quitting is an impossibility.
Sure, you might fail or be ejected from the training for some performance inadequacy. That happens even to the most physically prepared of us. I saw it happen in my own class on multiple occasions. But you have to get to the state of mind in which they will have to kill you or fail you to stop you from making it. Never quit. Never contemplate quitting. Never allow that thought to worm its way into your head. Once it does, all is lost.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trevor Welsh/Released)
That is the one piece of advice I give, and have given, to all those who have asked over the years about making it through BUD/S: just tell yourself you will never quit. Tell yourself that you will prepare the best you can by swimming, running in boots and pants in the sand, doing thousands of push-ups and pull-ups and flutter kicks, and practicing all of the breath holding.
Once you reach that threshold of preparedness, you must then fortify your mind. Obsess over making it. Find your inner demon. Harness it, and hold on tight and ride that supernatural force straight through to the end. The human brain and the power it wields is a force of nature. You have to channel that power — all of it — to propel you forward to the end.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony W. Walker)
It will end, after all. At some point, you know that about 20 out of 100 of you will be left standing at graduation. They will have thrown everything they have at you to get you to quit. They will make it their mission to break you. It is up to you to stand fast and repel that assault. If I can do it, then you can do it too.
There was a time when the only Westerners who sported tattoos were sailors.
Tattoos in Western culture can be traced back to Captain James Cook’s visit with the Maori people in the 1700s. His crew decided to get them as souvenirs, and the Western tattoo culture started from there, according to Steve Gilbert in his book Tattoo History.
Traditional sailor tattoos symbolized experiences such as travel, achievements, rank, status, significant life events, superstitions, and more. These are a few examples of the meaning behind traditional sailor tattoos:
Anchor: associated with the Boatswain’s Mate rate or Chief rank, but also symbolizes safety and stability
Dragon: associated with service in Asia
Nautical Star: symbolizes the North star and guide for a safe return home
Lighthouse: symbolizes safe passage to home port
Old sailor or captain: symbolizes life experiences
Rudder: symbolizes control of a destiny
Sailor tattoos fell out of style for several decades but made a comeback thanks to pop culture. Today, sailor tattoos are more popular than ever — and not just with sailors. Celebs, musicians, sorority girls, homemakers, techies — everybody’s getting inked.
Here are some of the coolest Navy-inspired designs recently sighted around the web:
During my first week in Ranger Battalion, I joined my platoon during a live fire. I wasn’t even allowed real bullets because I was so new. For a portion of the exercise I was on a hill watching the training of another platoon. I was in earshot of an old Ranger first sergeant. The Rangers in training were assaulting a constructed plywood building and were preparing to conduct an explosive breach on the plywood door. The team leader quickly applied the charge with double sided sticky tape and stepped back into the stack, pulling both detonators. “Failed Breach, Failed Breach!” was yelled. It was obvious the detonation cord was faulty.
Before anything else happened, the team leader barreled full speed into the plywood door, obliterating it from the hinges, and providing an entry point into the building. Without any hesitation, all three members of his team followed their leader right into the breach. The training mission went on and was completed successfully. The company commander was scowling about the breach technique but the first sergeant was grinning from ear to ear and bellowed, “That’s some good ole fashioned Rangering right there!” The company commander stopped scowling.
I didn’t know much then, but I knew whatever this Rangering was, I wanted to try it and whatever a Ranger was, I wanted to be it. There’s a big difference between telling your friends, your family, or even your recruiter you want to be a Ranger, and then suddenly seeing a defining act of Rangering in front of you. It was an automatic sensation of knowing that you want to join the pack and you want to be the wolf. Rangers were never sheepdogs, they have always been wolves hunting the herd of treachery and I wanted to hunt.
We all touched down in a C-17 on a faraway land. Many of us landed in the C-17 by soaring over the mountains or screaming into the desert. Rarely did anyone go but once; in fact, many of our brothers are still going. What is special about Rangers is that on each of the thousands of deployment hours is someone who went to war months ago and is back again. A man, a team, a platoon, a battalion fully knowing the hazards of their chosen profession.
Running the gambit, sparking the fight, reliving the horror, noting the beauty, enduring the sacrifice, all this is symbolized by a simple scroll on your right sleeve that may as well be tied to your heart. There was a transformation taking place within me, within us all. Rangering made me hear the sound of valor and see the light of courage. The sound I could hear as I followed the drums of war and the light I could see in the enemy across the street.
Although this Rangering was a lifestyle, it came with the price of vanquishing what boyish innocence remained in my gaze upon the earth. I was now grown in ways that I could not possibly understand. It was magical and despicable what we were capable of. We flew across night skies, landed in fields, slinked over walls, eviscerated doors, and introduced ourselves to those souls who had lost the evening’s lottery in scumbaggery.
Whenever I returned from a mission, danger or not on that night, there was levity in the brotherhood. We had such little time to ourselves for being anything beyond Rangers and do anything beyond Rangering that when we did – it created exuberance for life that could not be contained. There was never a day without Rangers that I did not smile or laugh.
It’s for this reason that now when I look back, though I hated certain parts, though I despised endless training, though I constantly made other plans for outside of the military; I now feel nostalgia for those times with honorable men, I now feel pride in our shared struggle for our piece of war. I miss being John Wayne when everything was black and white. I miss being a note on the album Appetite for Destruction; I miss seeing the whites of the unsuspecting eyes. Goddamn it, a platoon of Rangers could do anything!
The irony is that for all the Regiments glory, it’s not built for you to stay. So for me, and those like me, we fade back to which we came or we populate other military units. A small number stay, but the glory days of war hammer team leading and SpecFour Mafia mayhem, seem to disappear as the burden of leadership widens and the loss of lives grows vast. It was great while it lasted and the irony of that is that we all could have gone back had we really wanted to.
If it was so great, then why didn’t we? Probably because at this point it is better to tell these incredible stories, it’s good to drink this beer with war in the rear view, and it’s okay I never had a last shoot out at the Alamo. Rangering created more brothers than I ever could have wanted, but the pain of burying a brother is still the pain of burying a brother, no matter how many stand behind you. I still have the Ranger Creed. I still have my friends. I still have the sorrows of war; I still hear the sirens of action. And every now and then I can still be the teeth in the night, I can still laugh when things really suck, I can still run in short shorts.
“Rangering” was something I did, but I will always be a Ranger; you just have to look at my soul now instead of my sleeve.
The British Army suffered its worst losses in a single day with over 57,000 casualties on Jul. 1.
The Allied Powers received little in exchange for all this blood, taking bits of German-held territory but falling short of their main objectives. The British were forced to rethink their tactics because of their stunning losses during the fight.
Now, 100 years after the battle ended, YouTube user MC C has released a video with classic Somme footage superimposed on the modern spots where the footage was originally filmed.
Check out the full video below. It’s all gripping footage, but our favorite moments are at 18:02, one of the most massive explosions of the war; 27:12, a group of fusileers preparing for what would end up being their final attack; 31:05, artillery crews pounding German lines; and 36:30, a group of cheering soldiers marching together.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) was decommissioned on Feb. 3, marking the next step on her journey to the “Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – what a 2012 National Review article dubbed a sanitized way of saying “the scrapyard.”
Her predecessor, the Yorktown-class carrier with the hull number CV 6, also was a victim of this alleged crime against naval history.
Sgt. Henry Johnson received the Medal of Honor for his actions taken on May 15, 1918, when he beat off a German attack with grenades, his rifle, a knife and, finally, his bare hands to protect a fellow soldier and his unit, the “Harlem Hellfighters.”
The Harlem Hellfighters were a “colored unit” attached to French forces because segregationist policies at the time discouraged allowing black and white U.S. forces to serve side by side. Pvt. Henry Johnson was assigned to sentry duty on the night of Feb. 12 with his fellow soldier, Pvt. Needham Roberts. The pair were attacked by a raiding party of at least 12 Germans. The attackers quickly gained the upper hand against the two soldiers.
This directly threatened not only Johnson and his friend but the Harlem Hellfighters and the French soldiers they were with.
Johnson fought bitterly to protect himself and his friends even after he and Roberts were wounded. Roberts fed Johnson hand grenades as Johnson made it rain on the enemy fighters. Johnson also used his rifle to hold the enemy off until he ran out of both grenades and rifle rounds.
The Germans even tried to abduct Roberts and Johnson protected him with just a knife and personal grit. Johnson was eventually wounded 21 times in the fight but still managed to bring down a few Germans and stab one of them through the head with a bolo knife.
Yeah, even severely wounded he had the strength to shove a knife through a man’s head.
Still, his actions were a big deal when they happened. Johnson’s deeds inspired a lithograph depicting his bravery and Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, the head of the American Expeditionary Force and one of America’s highest-ranked generals, personally praised him and Roberts:
Pte. Henry Johnson and Pte. Roberts, while on sentry duty at some distance from one another, were attacked by a German raiding party estimated at twenty men who advanced in two groups, attacking at once from flank and rear.
Both men fought bravely in hand-to-hand encounters, one resorting to the use of a bolo knife after his rifle jammed and further fighting with bayonet and butt became impossible.
President Theodore Roosevelt was a fan of Johnson as well, calling him “one of the five bravest American soldiers in the war.”
After the war, the Winston-Salem, North Carolina native returned to New York where he had been living since his teens. He lived there until his death in Jul. 1929 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Author’s note: This story originally stated that Henry Johnson’s valorous actions took place on Feb. 12, 1919. Johnson actually saved his unit on May 15, 1918. He received France’s highest valor award, the French Croix de Guerre, on Feb. 12, 1919. We regret the error.
“Would you like to spend 30 days on an island where the fishing is good, food is excellent, housing quarters are modern and free movies are shown every night?” That was the Air Force’s pitch to attract volunteers to serve aboard the Texas Towers, a series of offshore early warning radar platforms built in the 1950s off the coast of Cape Cod and Long Island. These bizarre-looking structures, named for their resemblance to Texas oil rigs, were built to give our air defenses an additional 30 minutes of warning time in the event of an attack by Soviet bombers.
The call for volunteers, which appeared in The Airman magazine, brought a rush of applications. To further sweeten the deal, Airmen who served aboard the Towers were given two weeks of leave for every six at sea. But the reality of life aboard was nothing like what the Air Force had promised. The Air Force never found a safe way to take men on and off the towers, even in calm seas (which are rare in that part of the Atlantic). Supplying the towers was a logistical nightmare. It wasn’t long before the boarding procedures had cost the lives of two airmen and caused untold injuries.
Emergency plans and procedures were woefully inadequate. The same stability issues that would eventually lead to disaster earned Texas Tower 4 (TT4) the nickname “Old Shakey” among the crew.
Five towers were planned, three were built, one was doomed.
On the night of January 15, 1961, Texas Tower 4 toppled over in heavy seas and was swallowed by the North Atlantic, taking 14 Airmen and 14 civilian contractors to the bottom with it.
This is a story of WTF?!? Cold War engineering.
It’s a story of leaders who had all the warnings and ignored them.
And it’s the all too common story about what happens when service members are put in harm’s way by blatantly flawed technology and lowest-bidder contracts.
Design, Construction, and Good Intentions
The Texas Towers were designed to take anything the North Atlantic could throw at them. Probability studies at the time established a criterion of 125 mile-per-hour winds and 35-foot breaking waves, so they were expressly designed to withstand that.
No such structure had ever been built in the open Atlantic or anywhere in a depth of 185 feet. For reference, TT2’s legs measured only 160 feet long; the first 48 feet settled snugly into the seabed, the middle 55 feet were immersed in water, and the top 60 feet rose above the water’s surface.
The DeLong Corp — an engineering and construction company specializing in the design and construction of docks and similar structures — evaluated all the problems of TT4, installing in 180 feet of water, and formatted a fair estimate for all three towers. Their estimate for TT4 was a million dollars more than TT1 or TT3, given TT4’s greater depth. J. Rich Steers Inc., a competing engineering and construction company, submitted an estimate in the competition of DeLong and outbid them. Steers’ bid for TT4 was less than a quarter-million higher than their bid for TT3. DeLong would later testify that he assumed lack of knowledge on Steers’ part was the reason for this bid–which failed to consider the depth difference between the two towers. (See the table below.)
J. Rich Steers, Inc. and Morrison-Knudsen, Inc.
Raymond Concrete Pile ad DeLong Corp
Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corp
“The sea doesn’t get tired…”
In a hearing following the disaster, Delong testified the K-bracing for TT4 was the best-known construction method for the situation. He further explained any bracing generates additional resistance against the structure from the sea. To work properly, bracing needs to be left out of the water motion zone, meaning they had to keep bracing below any wave action. He said the use of pins in the legs of the tower would cause trouble because,
“The sea works on it at all times, causing an impact at the clearance. There is one thing we can all be sure of, the ocean is not going to get tired. You will get tired, or metal, or anything else will tire, before the ocean will get tired.”
According to Mr. DeLong’s testimony, the base of TT4 was not moored deep enough into the seabed. TT2’s bases were sunk 48 feet into the substrate. This was sufficient, based on DeLong’s experience in the Gulf of Mexico. TT4’s base extended just 18 feet into the sand bottom. He would testify, “you are on awful shaky assumptions that 18 or 20 feet is enough.”
J. Rich Steers built TT3 and TT4, and Mr. Rau, as the Vice President and chief engineer of J. Rich Steers, Inc., testified he was fully aware of the construction of TT3 and TT4. In addition, the Navy had a representative present during tower construction and erection. Captain Foster was a U.S. Naval Civil Engineer Corps commander who oversaw many large-scale projects before becoming responsible for Texas Tower 4. The legs, with their bracing, and platform were all constructed in Portland, Maine. The contractor, J. Rich Steers, requested an increase in the space between pins and the holes on the leg braces, originally designed to be 1/64inch. Pin tolerance increases to 1/16-inch for above water pins and expansions to 1/8 inch below water. The request for larger holes underwater was because the water made them difficult to insert. Upon consulting the design engineers, Captain Foster agreed to all of the tolerance increases.
Not the Navy’s Problem
TT4 would be damaged by the sea before it was even in position. After floating the legs into position out at sea, the construction crew had to ride out a storm. The rough weather damaged the legs’ diagonal braces. One brace broke off entirely.
There were only two options:
Sail the legs back to Portland, put the legs in dry dock, and install braces properly.
Or an engineer could rig braces underwater.
The Navy representatives managing the construction decided to upend the legs and design and install permanent underwater braces. The underwater braces were supposed to fit exactly as the originals had. But because only a stub against the leg remained when the brace broke off, the new braces were attached to the leg by two half sleeves, forming a collar which had to be bolted underwater around the joint.
These retrofitted braces didn’t solve the tower’s stability issues. A December 4, 1958 report detailed a series of underwater inspections called “Texas Tower No. 4; Stability and Deficiencies.” It explained that approximately half of the bolts were loose and could be extracted by hand. Immediate details established that the bolts were not of design diameter and length, something Captain Foster approved, and some holes were oversized. Effective July 1, 1959, Commander Foster was detached from his duty associated with TT4, and the Navy was no longer directly involved in any of its problems.
Tower Operations & Life Aboard
By the end of 1955, the first Tower, TT2, began radar operations. Its three radar domes protected an FPS-3A and twin FPS-6 height radars that were programmed to detect “targets of B-47 size, flying about 50,000 feet, up to 200 nautical miles away.”
Unfortunately, It was only after the tower was in place that the Air Force found low-altitude radar gaps in the tower’s range. The same targets flying at low altitudes, around 500 feet, were only noticeable by radar up to 50 nautical miles away. Airborne Early Warning and Control, also known as AEW&C, aircraft needed to patrol the oceans to provide adjunct coverage to the Texas Towers.
TT2 and TT3 stood firmly in waters that were 56 and 80 feet from their installation, respectively. TT4 was different in its design because it had underwater bracing to compensate for the extra stresses of being in 185 feet of water. Despite constant reports of excessive wobbling aboard TT4 and the crewmembers’ nicknaming it “Old Shaky,” in the summer of 1960, the contractor reported the original design strength restored. Each of the towers was different as each had its unusual movement. The crewmembers on TT2 reported the platform had a juggling motion, while TT3 was a twisting motion. TT4, however, weaved, wobbled, and lurched like a living thing.
On September 12, 1960, Hurricane Donna produced winds of 132 miles per hour and breaking waves over 50 feet, forces that exceeded all of the design specifications of up to 125 miles per hour and breaking waves up to 35 feet. These surpassing forces broke part of the below water bracing. The post-storm damage estimates afforded an overall strength of 55% of what it was before the hurricane.
Storm damage after Donna forced the Air Force and its construction contractor to begin renovating TT-4 on February 1, 1961. Donald Slutzky was a technical representative with the Burroughs Corp., who serviced computer data for a year on TT4. After the November hurricane, Slutzky and others aboard the Tower decided to leave, believing that the structure was unsafe.
The tower would shake, and the noise aboard was constant, and then there were the Russians. “Some nights, the lights were so thick you thought you were back at Coney Island,” one airman remembers thinking about the fleets loitering of Russian fishing trawlers swarming the towers.
There were even rumors of infiltration by Soviet frogmen. “A body of legends grew up telling of “damp footprints encountered in passageways and of mysterious strangers furtively sipping coffee in the mess hall at 3 a.m.”
What the towers lacked in comfort, they made up for in food, beer, movies, and calls home
The Airforce spared no expense in making life aboard the towers comfortable. Funds were 70% above their parent squadron, and food allowances were 14% over stateside allowances. The towers had hobby shops, pizza parties, barbeques, daily beer rations, and movies every night, but weeks aboard the platforms was enough to give even the most stable airman “tower fever.”
The isolation, bone-chilling cold, and screaming wind didn’t help, and unbearable noises were built into the tower. Diesel engines roared incessantly while air blowers whined, and radios echoed unnervingly down the steel hallways. In foggy weather, the world’s largest blow horn blasted every twenty-nine seconds. The horn of TT2 once hollered for three weeks straight while hidden in the fog.
Communication was essential for the towers and the shore. Not only was it vital for the radar reports to be transmitted back to the SAGE system, but without this line of communication, the tower would be incapacitated. Unlike so much about the towers, comms actually worked as intended.
Point-to-point tropospheric scatter systems, officially called FRC-56 but known as the troposcatter, transmitted and received messages from shore and were generally unaffected by atmospheric disturbances. They worked well for SAGE communications and the telephone circuits patched in. Voice communications through the troposcatter were reliably maintained, and anyone could call home after duty hours by merely dialing the Otis Operator through the troposcatter.
Supply and Evacuation
The 4604th Texas Support Squadron had its headquarters at Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod. It provided the Texas towers with staffing and controlled the towers’ activity. In addition, a supply ship, the USNS New Bedford or AKL-17, under Captain Manguel’s supervision, supported the Air Force Islands.
Getting to and from the tower was a significant problem encumbered by New England Weather. Calm days with good visibility are the exception, not the rule, in this corner of the Atlantic.
The escape procedures were limited to methods that were dangerous on a good day. Knotted ropes could be suspended over the side, and crewmembers could climb the ropes to get from the tower’s platform to ships floating in the sea below. Many crewmembers preferred helicopter transport to and from the tower, but Atlantic wind and weather ultimately dictated the service. The mission of flying to the towers was so dangerous that the helicopters only flew in pairs, so if one of them went into the sea, the other could begin rescue operations. Therefore, when one helicopter landed on the platform’s deck, the other had to hover overhead.
The only other way off the tower was referred to by tower members as the “Doughnut.” Nothing in nautical or aeronautical history resembles this device used to transfer personnel between the tower and supply ships, ninety feet below. A colossal aircraft tire innertube was inflated and picked up by the tower’s cargo crane and suspended over the black water. With passengers clinging for dear life, the tube was then lowered or plummeted straight down and onto the pitching and rolling ship. The trip was, in the words of one airman, “enough to make a paratrooper queasy.” Most mariners on the supply ships declined the invitation to come aboard after seeing the doughnut.
Too slow for missiles
Simultaneously, on November 16, 1960, the Airforce ceased the tower’s radar operations and reduced the crewmembers aboard from about 75 to 28, consisting of 14 Air Force and 14 civilian maintenance personnel. By that time, the invention of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) had rendered the towers obsolete, reducing their early warning advantage from 30 minutes to around 30 seconds.
Though their strategic usefulness was behind them, a major reason to keep the towers crewed was to prevent the Soviets from taking claiming them through salvage rights.
The collapse of Texas Tower 4
Captain Gordon Phelan was the Officer in Charge of TT4, and he made a special effort to communicate to the crewmembers onboard the day-to-day structural condition of the tower. His superiors cited his leadership for maintaining the high morale of fellow officers and subordinates aboard the doomed platform. He was recommended for the Legion of Merit when he prevented hysteria aboard the fully staffed tower during Hurricane Donna.
Phelan’s superiors would testify that the captain aboard the tower had the authorization to evacuate if he deemed conditions unsafe effective January 7. However, in a tragic miscommunication, this policy was not relayed to Captain Phelan until hours before the collapse.
Early on the morning of January 14, 1961, TT4’s weather advisory changed, calling for winds from 40 to 60 knots. At about 1330 hrs that afternoon, the AKL-17 completed its loading 202 tons of bulky equipment but no passengers from TT4 and cast off from the tower. Anticipating a North Atlantic Gale, Captain Phelan advised Captain Manguel to stay near the tower for possible evacuation as he would contact the 4604th Support battalion. Captain Manguel replied that if the evacuation was to remain an option, it needed to start while the weather was still good. Soon after, Captain Phelan informed Captain Mangual that the personnel would remain on the tower with the AKL 17 standing by. In other words, if evacuation became necessary, it would be too late to evacuate.
Texas Tower 4, as seen from the supply ship USNS New Bedford (AKL-17) PHOTO/ DOD
Major Stark, the officer in charge at the 4604th Support battalion, who could order an evacuation of the tower at any time, was back on Otis at the time and later testified that he was in a bowling tournament on base from 1300 to 1400. However, he felt confident no telephone call in from Captain Phelan because it would have been reported.
That evening, at 2130 hrs on Otis AFB, Major Stark briefed Major Sheppard that he did not believe the weather forecast was severe enough to warrant the tower’s evacuation. He spoke to Captain Phelan a couple of times during the day and thought there was no reason for alarm or concern of any kind, and that everything was going fine. Major Sheppard was not aware of the worsening forecast of 60-knot winds for TT4. Had he been, he would have directed the evacuation of the tower. Major Sheppard was not particularly concerned because the tower had “just gone through the same situation six days before without any difficulty or motion.” They concluded that Major Sheppard had no need to contact the tower, and he did not communicate until 1600hrs the following day.
On January 15, at 1018 hrs, the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office issued TT4 a wave warning beginning at 1900 hrs, calling for easterly seas 17 to 20 feet. Neither TT4 nor the 4604th support squadron ever acknowledged this receipt. The sea had continued its turbulence and the wind was forecasted for gusts of 60 knots most of the day. At 1000 hrs, Captain Phelan was asked if he was concerned about getting off the tower and he replied, “Well, you know as well as I that we can’t get off now.”
At approximately 1300 hrs, Captain Phelan called his wife, who lived near Otis Airforce Base in Falmouth, MA. They had a long conversation. He told her that the tower was “gyrating,” a word Mrs. Phelan said her husband never used to describe the tower’s behavior. Captain Phelan told her it was rough on board, and she believed he was especially concerned about the wind and waves.
She asked him what would happen if the tower collapsed. He told her that it would not float.
She asked if there were any watertight compartments, and he replied, “absolutely not.”
Captain Phelan thought it was asinine for the AKL-17 to be around because it would be impossible to use the doughnut in such rough seas. If the tower fell, Phelan told his wife, no one would be saved, and the AKL or any other craft would be useless.
She asked if the tower would float for a short time to allow them to use the boat. He said,when it went in, it would go in real fast.
Finally, he called the Skipper of the AKL-17 and told him to go back home or his vessel would soon be swamped.
The Wasp or the bottom of the sea
Around 1530 hrs, Lieutenant Roberts amended the weather forecast to maximum gusts of 75 knots. When Captain Phelan had reported one gust of 72 knots, he said, “Well, now maybe they will do something about it.” Lieutenant Roberts testified that he interpreted this remark to mean that Captain Phelan had been previously trying to contact someone without success.
At approximately 1600, Captain Phelan reported to Major Sheppard that he heard a loud noise, and the tower sway increased. He thought another brace had broken, and there could be trouble if wind direction shifted.
Captain Phelan was concerned with a second storm on its way. When he suggested it would be wise to evacuate during a predicted lull between the two storms, Major Sheppard told him that as Tower OIC, he had discretionary authority to evacuate whenever he felt it was necessary. Captain Phelan then requested helicopters for the evacuation. Some time before 1745 hrs, Mr. Sheppard Called Captain Phelan and told him that the USS Wasp, an aircraft carrier, was being diverted and would arrive sooner than choppers from shore.
At about 1800, Captain Phelan called his wife and told her they were finally sending the USS Wasp and evacuating his crew with choppers. Safes containing classified materials were being thrown overboard. All hands were on deck, clearing the way for the helicopters. He told her the waves were 35 feet, and the wind was blowing 85 knots. The tower was breaking apart, he said. At approximately 1910 hrs, Captain Phelan advised Captain Mangual on the AKL-17 supply ship of their intent to be evacuated by air and that Captain Mangual should proceed to the nearest safe port.
At approximately 1915 hrs, Mr. Schutz called Otis to inform him all hands were still clearing the deck to receive choppers and then stated, “My next call to you will either be on the Wasp, or I will be in the sea. So long.”
At about 1920 hrs, Captain Manguel observed the tower’s signal on his radar screens aboard the AKL-17 when it suddenly disappeared.
He switched to another radar screen and was still unable to locate the structure. Captain Manguel, using the radio he had been in contact with Captain Phelan, called the radar station but received no response.
At 1933 hrs, he transmitted a “Triple X” message to the Coast Guard that “Texas Tower #4 had disappeared from radar contact, and he presumed that it was lost.”
Major search and rescue efforts recovered no survivors. One body was recovered from the radio room of the sunken Tower.
The exact cause of the tower’s collapse is unknown, but the most probable cause is the failure of the leg structure due to the ineffective bracing system between the A and B legs.
TT4’s platform leg design would never pass modern code checks, even for dead load only. Many structural members were loaded beyond yield, explaining the extensive damage TT4 suffered during Donna.
It was nothing short of a miracle that TT4 hadn’t gone down during Donna.
A recent inquiry into the collapse has yielded hindsight calculations that tell a more accurate story of what was going on structurally before and during the collapse. Design engineers had totaled the mass around 7500 tons, but current predictions automatically generate masses and include the hydrodynamic added weight of the water in flooded members. Therefore, design engineers omitted the extra 3,200 tons, and the structure’s predicted mass is a total of about 10,800 tons. Using pin connections over fully welded joints to eliminate secondary bending in joints, an accumulation of wear happened at the pin connections, causing the holes to enlarge.
Another weak point in the tower’s construction was the point where the legs met the seabed. TT4s legs were steel tubes with an outer diameter of 12.5 ft, reinforced with stiffening concrete to 50 feet below the surface. The lower part of the leg was hollow and used as ballast during transportation and installation and as a fuel tank after installation. This section is the weak part of the leg which broke near the footings during the fatal storm. The design engineers likely overlooked the possibility of the legs buckling.
TT 2 and 3
After the collapse of TT4, the remaining towers, TT2 and TT3, were inspected for safety, and their practicality was reassessed. New policies were drafted, but the lingering threat from the Soviet trawlers that loitered around the towers had to be accounted for. From 1961 on, if extreme weather conditions were forecasted, a tower evacuation down to a seven-member standby crew was to be ordered.
The purpose of the standby crew was to guard against the Soviet Sailors attempting to board the platform and claim possession on the grounds of salvage rights.
Considering the towers’ safety issues and their obsolescence, the Air Defense Command decided to phase out TT2 and TT3. A newer system, the Automatic Long Range Input (ALRI), would become fully operational by radars mounted on AEW&Con aircraft based out of Otis AFB, Massachusetts.
These planes already flew constant missions to scan the Texas tower radar web gaps, so they only had to increase their flight time to replace the coverage from the towers. The EC-121 aircraft flew countless radar surveillance missions by their nineteen-member crews in the 1950s and 1960s. The EC-121H Super Constellation, or the “Warning Star,” carried more than six tons of radar and computer communications equipment.
In 1963, ALRI stations became operational, and the towers were no longer needed. On January 15, 1963, TT2 was decommissioned, stripped of its communication and electronic equipment. The next phase would be to dynamite the legs and float the platform to shore. When the legs were dynamited, however, the platform plunged into the ocean and sank to the bottom.
Salvage was not possible. Like TT4, TT2 sits on the bottom of the ocean. TT3 was filled with urethane foam to make it buoyant, floated home, and scrapped.
Fall of the warning stars
On March 2, 1965, the 551st Wing at Otis AFB celebrated “more than 350,000 hours of early warning radar surveillance missions over the North Atlantic without an accident involving personal injury or a fatality.” Thse were the “warning star” early warning aircraft that had supplemented and eventually replaced the Texas Towers.
Less than 19 weeks later, on July 11, 1965, their good safety record was shattered when one of the Super Constellation aircraft developed fire, and the crew ditched the plane in the North Atlantic, approximately 100 miles from Nantucket. Of the 19 crew, there were three survivors, nine bodies were recovered, and the remaining seven were missing and presumed dead.
A similar accident happened the following year on Veterans Day when another Super Constellation crashed in the same general area as the first one. All 19 crew members were killed, and their bodies were never recovered.
Five months later, on April 25, 1967, the 551st AEW’s commander, Colonel James P. Lyle, was piloting another EC-121H when an engine fire broke out. The aircraft went down in the North Atlantic one mile south of Nantucket while attempting an emergency landing. There were fifteen fatalities and one survivor. Only two bodies were recovered. Colonel Lyle had presented folded flags to the next-of-kin of the men under his command from the previous crashes. Now it was his family’s turn to receive one.
The EC-121H aircraft was phased out, and the 551st Wing was deactivated on December 31, 1969. In total, 50 service members died in these three plane crashes, bringing the death toll of the North Atlantic Advanced Early Warning mission to over 78.
Image: U.S Air Force Museum
“You either drown, or you don’t.”
When Captain Phelan and the men of TT4 went down, there was no helm to command, no wheel or tiller to steer, and there was nothing they could have done on the night of January 15, 1961, to save themselves. They died in a structure that was built more like a building than a ship, and it certainly wasn’t watertight. As the captain told his wife on the telephone hours before the tower did this, if it goes in, it will go in real fast.
As he did during Hurricane Donna, Captain Phelan likely maintained command of the military and civilian men on board. There’s no evidence of panic, even though there was nothing to do but panic. The Airmen and civilians fought for each other and their lives to keep the helicopter landing area clear, but the helicopters had not taken off from the Wasp yet when the legs buckled and the tower went down.
We will never know if tower leadership was trying to contact Major Stark between 2 and 3 p.m., while the Major was occupied at a Bowling Tournament on Otis Air Force Base. All we know is that no action was taken by his command until it was too late.
The Texas Towers themselves are relics of the scrapheap of forgotten Cold War technology. But, this sort of preventable catastrophe, where military brass has all the warnings and fails to act, has repeated itself again and again.
Most recently, in July 2020, eight Marines and a sailor drowned when their twenty-six-ton amphibious assault vehicle sank off a California island. The incident resulted from inadequate training, a vehicle in “horrible condition,” and lapsed safety.
Untrained for the situation, in forty-five minutes after water first leaked inside, most service members hadn’t shed their combat gear and body armor. “The key moment in the mishap was when water was at ankle level… and the vehicle commander failed to order the evacuation of embarked troops, as required by the Common Standard Operating Procedures for AAV Operations,” the investigation officer wrote. “Instead, the vehicle commander was more focused on getting back to the ship, vice evacuating the embarked personnel.”
Water flooded the troop compartment, causing the AAV’s nose to rise, and then it quickly sank with eleven men still inside. Only three Marines made it to the surface — and only two of them survived. After the Navy recovered it from a depth of three-hundred and eighty-five feet of water, technical inspections and analyses of the amtrac revealed anomalies, loose or missing parts, and worn seals.
Sebastian Junger writes in The Perfect Storm, “everyone takes their chances, and you either drown or you don’t.”
It is that stark simplicity that makes seafaring professions so alluring and so deadly.
Men and women who earn their living at sea, in the military or as civilians, have long embraced the superstition that some among them are marked and that the sea will reclaim them eventually.
Whether it was nautical providence or just bad luck, the Atlantic had marked many among the original crew of the Texas Towers. After Hurricane Donna, the Air Force had ceased radar operations on TT4 and scaled the crew back from 75 to just 14, supported by an additional 14 civilian support personal. These were the 28 who went down that night in January 1961. Of the 50 fatalities from the subsequent “Warning Star” crashes, many had been survivors of Hurricane Dona, chosen by deep to join their fellow airmen another day.
About the authors:
Joshua Maloney served in the First Cavalry Division as an M1A2 SEP V2 loader and driver and as an HMMWV driver, dismount, and gunner. He has been a part of numerous combat and humanitarian aid missions. He has since gone on to advocate for student veterans as president of the Student Veterans of America Chapter at Cape Cod Community College.
Charles Daly is the co-author of Make Peace or Die: a life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares.
The 48th Fighter Wing held an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot,” at RAF Lakenheath, England, on Sept. 26, 2019.
The Turkey Shoot is an operational competition that tests the preparation and performance of fighter pilots, intelligence professionals, aircraft maintainers, and air battle managers.
“The event takes the newest flight leads, instructors and wingmen from each squadron, puts them together into one four-ship formation to represent that squadron, and then hands them a demanding tactical problem to solve,” said Capt. Sam Wozniak, 492nd Fighter Squadron weapons system operator flight lead.
The competition is executed as a Defensive Counter Air mission. Competition planners, known as “White Forces,” set the parameters for each fighter squadron’s “blue air” team.
“The White Forces provided the special instructions, rules of the competition, and a point system matrix,” Wozniak said. “For example, successful target defense equated 20 points and achieving missile kills equated 5 points and the team with the most points at the end wins.”
The scenario pitted four blue air F-15s against 14 “red air” F-15s to defend specified targets.
In preparation, blue players had to determine the desired combat air patrol locations, distance triggers to advancing enemy forces, and inter-flight contacts for each formation to optimize mission success.
An F-15C Eagle from the 493rd Fighter Squadron prepares for takeoff in support of an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot” competition at RAF Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)
“From the mass brief, each formation splits off for flight-specific briefs to discuss the execution plan and expectations/responsibilities for each flight member during the fight,” Wozniak said.
In this iteration of the Turkey Shoot, the squadrons had the opportunity to incorporate interoperability tactics to enhance the effectiveness of their pre-coordinated strategy.
An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 492nd Fighter Squadron kicks off the Turkey Shoot competition at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)
An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 494th Fighter Squadron, takes flight in support of an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot” competition at RAF Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)
An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 494th Fighter Squadron, launches in support of an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot” competition at RAF Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)
“Broadly speaking, fighter pilots and fighter weapons systems officers need three things to survive and thrive … readiness, competition, and camaraderie,” said Col. Jason Camilletti, 48th Operations Group commander.
“Turkey shoots advance our wing’s readiness by stressing our newest flight leads and wingmen in a very challenging high-end scenario, and the adrenaline rush of competing to win is the closest thing we can do short of actual combat,” Camilletti said.
An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 494th Fighter Squadron, launches in support of an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot” competition at RAF Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)
As US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa’s premier combat wing, complex exercises such as this ensure the 48th Fighter Wing remains ready to defend sovereign skies and deter any aggressor.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.