The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

Artificial Intelligence refers to the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, for example — recognizing patterns, learning from experience, drawing conclusions, making predictions, or taking action — whether digitally or as the smart software behind autonomous physical systems.

The Air Force is utilizing AI in multiple efforts and products tackling aspects of operations from intelligence fusion to Joint All Domain Command and Control, enabling autonomous and swarming systems and speeding the processes of deciding on targets and acting on information gleaned from sensors.


The AI Advantage

vimeo.com

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

An illustration depicting the future integration of the Air Force enabling fusion warfare, where huge sets of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data are collected, analyzed by artificial intelligence and utilized by Airmen and the joint force in a seamless process to stay many steps ahead of an adversary. Illustration // AFRL

Sensors are data collection points, which could be anything from a wearable device or vehicle, all the way up to an unmanned aerial vehicle or satellite. Anything that collects information, across all domains, helps comprise the “Internet of Battlefield Things.”

This mass amount of data is processed and analyzed using AI, which has the ability to speed up the decision-making process at the operational, tactical and strategic levels for the Air Force.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

Dr. Mark Draper, a principal engineering research psychologist with the 711th Human Performance Wing at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, stands in the Human Autonomy Lab where research focuses on how to better interconnect human intelligence with machine intelligence.

“The world around us is changing at a pace faster than ever before. New technologies are emerging that are fundamentally altering how we think about, plan and prepare for war,” said Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper. “Whichever nation harnesses AI first will have a decisive advantage on the battlefield for many, many years. We have to get there first.”

In 2019, the Air Force released its Annex to the Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy, highlighting the importance of artificial intelligence capabilities to 21st century missions.

TACE: Can We Trust A.I.?

www.youtube.com

The strategy serves as the framework for aligning Air Force efforts with the National Defense Strategy and the Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy as executed by the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. It details the fundamental principles, enabling functions and objectives necessary to effectively manage, maneuver and lead in the digital age.

“In this return to great power competition, the United States Air Force will harness and wield the most representative forms of AI across all mission-sets, to better enable outcomes with greater speed and accuracy, while optimizing the abilities of each and every Airman,” wrote then-Acting Secretary of the Air Force Donovan and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein in the annex. “We do this to best protect and defend our nation and its vital interests, while always remaining accountable to the American public.”

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Germans are reusing these invincible Nazi towers

During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.

So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.


The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

​A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.

(German Military Archives)

The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.

Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.

But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.

But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.

(German Military Archives)

Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.

After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.

The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.

Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.

At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.

(Photo by Bwag)

In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.

Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.

In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.

Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.

While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.

Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY MOVIES

How you can visit Disneyland’s Star Wars park a month early

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge may not officially open until the end of June 2019, but for some fans, it could happen even sooner. Nearly a month sooner, to be exact, according to an update from Disneyland on April 22, 2019, which revealed how visitors can snag early passes to the park.

“If you are planning to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at the Disneyland Resort between May 31 and June 23, 2019, a reservation and theme park admission are required,” the resort posted on its website, adding that reservations do not cost extra but that they are “subject to availability.”


Registration will open on May 2, 2019, at 10 a.m. PT on Disneyland.com after more specific instructions are posted two hours prior at 8 a.m. PT. Guests will need to have a Disney account before registering, which Disneyland recommends creating ahead of time.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge | Behind the Scenes at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort

www.youtube.com

Additionally, anyone who wants a guaranteed reservation can book a room at one of the park’s three official hotels (Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel) between May 31 and June 23, 2019. Each guest over the age of three will receive one reservation for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Based on confirmation emails that Disneyland has sent to visitors who have already booked rooms, the hotel reservations are good for strict four-hour time slots. Not only are guests required to leave as soon as their four hours are up but Polygonreports that the email notes, “If you decide to leave Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge before your reservation time is over, you will not be allowed to reenter.”

For anyone who doesn’t get a reservation, the new Star Wars land will open to the general public on June 24, 2019, in Hollywood and on Aug. 29, 2019, in Orlando.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Pentagon has plans for its own mini-space station. Here’s what it would do

Among defense experts the world over, there’s little doubt that warfare in the 21st century will be an orbital affair. From communications and reconnaissance to navigation and logistics, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an element of any modern nation’s military that operates without the use of space-born satellites, and as such, many nations are developing weapons aimed specifically at causing trouble high above our heads.

While the U.S. government may be no exception, as the reigning space-race champ, America has the lead, and as such, much more to lose in orbit than its national competitors. At least one element of the Pentagon has a plan to help keep it that way: an orbiting space station purpose-built to support a fleet of defensive space drones.


The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

Which beats out my proposal to just start dropping bombs from the ISS, I suppose.

(NASA Image)

You might be imagining a space station equipped with the latest defense gadgets, science experiments meant to usher in the next era of orbital weapons, and of course, enough utility to support a wide variety of Pentagon directives in the dark skies around our pale blue dot… and you’d be right on all counts… but where this new initiative breaks from fantasy is in its size. The Pentagon’s proposed space station wouldn’t be built to sustain any kind of manned presence whatsoever, at least for now.

The proposed orbital outpost received a great deal of media attention recently thanks to an industry solicitation posted by the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). Put simply, the solicitation is seeking companies that want to compete for a chance to help launch a self-contained orbital facility that’s “capable of supporting space assembly, microgravity experimentation, logistics and storage, manufacturing, training, test and evaluation, hosting payloads, and other functions.”

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

“Rock, paper, scissors. Winner gets a new space station.”

(Courtesy of NASA)

The DIU envisions an orbital outpost that’s equipped with robotic arms to manage assembly and even potentially repair duties for other orbital assets. That means this unmanned installation could feasibly be used to build autonomous satellite drones in space meant to help protect America’s large and rather undefended constellation of satellites.

The tiny outpost would have a payload capacity of just 176 pounds (or 80 kilograms if you live in a nation that’s never sent people to the moon), and would offer only a small 3 foot by 3 foot by 4 foot enclosure. That may not be enough room to house any members of the space infantry, but it would be enough to work on things like cube-sats, which are small, inexpensive satellites built to serve specific purposes in orbit and beyond.

Because the reality of war in space could be as mundane as simply nudging a satellite out of its orbit, cube-sats and other small platforms could actually play a massive role in orbital combat operations. A fleet of inexpensive satellites could provide system redundancy by temporarily filling service gaps as other assets are destroyed or interfered with by enemy platforms. They could also engage with or deter enemy systems (be they satellites or weapons themselves).

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

The X-37B sits on the Vandenberg Air Force base runway after spending months in space without any grubby human mitts changing the radio station.

(U.S. Air Force photo/ Michael Stonecypher)

Thanks to advances in 3-D printing and a rash of commercial interest in orbital manufacturing in recent years, it seems entirely possible that an orbital outpost like the one proposed by the DIU could eventually support a broader space defense initiative, but it also seems unlikely that this specific enterprise would ever expand far enough to add human support to the equation, but then, humans may need to be present anyway.

Russia and China are both already believed to operate orbital weapons platforms that behave like autonomous satellites and the Air Force’s secretive space plane known as the X-37B operates in orbit for months at a time without any use for human hands. Star Wars may indeed eventually come to fruition, but at least for now, it looks like the fighting will be up to R2-D2, with all of us Skywalkers just watching anxiously from the ground.

MIGHTY FIT

How to train your plank without planking

As an exercise, the plank has some crazy lore surrounding it. If you were an alien from another planet and came to earth to study human society, you would think that planks have replaced the, now extinct, fire-breathing dragon as enemy #1 to Homo sapien survival.

The plank isn’t going to kill you. In fact, it may be unrivaled in its ability to engage a large number of muscle groups in an isometric contraction. So much so that you actually become harder to kill when the plank is trained properly.


That being said, you can’t plank all day and all night. so I’m going to give you four alternative exercises to add to your training program in lieu or in addition to planks.

If you just want to learn more about planking, check this out.

www.youtube.com

1. Seated Straight Leg Lifts

The straight leg lift has gotten more attention thanks to gymnastics strength training picking up popularity in the last few years.

It’s pretty simple you sit up straight, with your legs out straight in front of you, and alternate raising each leg for a set number of reps or seconds. It seems simple, but it lights up your quads (especially the rectus femoris) like no other.

If you find your hips sagging quickly when planking or you know that your quads are a weak point of yours in general, I strongly recommend adding two sets of straight leg lifts to your leg day.

This exercise will help with your plank, the ACFT’s leg tucks, as well as building strength for sprinting and running distances under a mile where you’re pushing for speed.

If you want more quad stimulation, you better be doing this exercise…

youtu.be

2. Quadruped Hand Walk-outs

This is the poor man’s ab wheel exercise. Don’t let that fool you though, at first glance, it may seem easier than a roll-out, but when you focus on the right muscles, you’ll find that it brings a whole new level of muscle recruitment to your core.

Start on all-fours, with your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders. Alternate walking each hand out about a ½ a hands length away from your body. Try to open your hips and your shoulders simultaneously as you walk out. The tendency is to allow the hands to walk away from under your shoulders faster than having the hips move past their starting position, directly above the knees.

Here’s the hard part. Step your hands slowly, and DON’T allow your hips, core, or shoulders to shift from side-to-side as you walk. Instead, keep your core so tightly contracted that it allows you to hold in a balanced position even when you only have one hand supporting you on the ground, while the other is in the air changing position. Walk your hands out as far as you can and then simply walk back.

When doing this exercise, go for time instead of reps. For whatever reason, when people go for reps, they tend to cheat a lot more. Just set your timer for 30 seconds and perform 30 seconds worth of perfect and deliberate movement.

For more on not wasting your time in the gym and practicing deliberate movement, read this thought-provoking article.

To make it even harder, lift your knees slightly off the ground, like the video demonstrates above.

When you’re able to walk all the way out to arms fully extended overhead, holding a plank will feel like child’s play.

youtu.be

3. The Ab Wheel

The ab wheel is basically moving you from a position that’s easier than holding a plank to a position that’s harder than holding a plank. When performing this one, really focus on that position in the middle of the movement that most closely mimics the plank.

The ab wheel has the ability to work every core muscle fully, if you do it correctly. The common cue I give is to “Stay out of your lower back!” meaning that you shouldn’t allow your low back to hyperextend. Instead, I’d rather see you hold a constant position of mild flexion, that doesn’t change throughout the entire movement. When you hyperextend in your low back, you’re basically losing all core tightness and relying on your vertebrae to stop you from arching any further. If that sentence seemed painful to read…imagine how your back feels.

Similar to the previous exercise, I prefer to do the ab wheel for time instead of reps. It prevents cheating and allows you to focus on perfect form rather than trying to hit some arbitrary number of reps that will undoubtedly cause you to throw form out the metaphoric window.

Don’t waste your time in the gym, you can probably do everything you need to in 3 hours a week…

youtu.be

4. Hollow Body Hold

I like to think of the hollow body hold as pull-up junior. The engagement of muscles that a properly performed hollow body hold can achieve is exactly the same as a pull-up minus the lat engagement of pulling yourself to the bar. If that sounds crazy to you, I’m willing to bet you rarely perform beautiful pull-ups.

Yes, your core is the primary muscle of the hollow body hold, but it’s not the same “core” as the one that gets worked during crunches or other dated ab exercises. The hollow body hold allows you to isometrically contract your quads, pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques, lats, seratus, erector spinae (if you’re really good), neck muscles, pecs, psoas, and calves. Basically, every muscle of the front of the body and then some.

I highly encourage you to actively mentally walk through every muscle group I just mentioned the next time you attempt the hollow body hold. If you do, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. A few sets of a solidly executed hollow body hold, and you’ll be begging to just do planks instead.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

Work smarter, not harder…even when you’re trying to work hard do it smart.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Andy O. Martinez)

Go train your core. Before you go though…

Join the Mighty Fit FB group and get in on the conversation. Join the Mighty Fit FB group and get in on the conversation. Everyone there is trying to achieve something new and bigger than they ever have before. If that’s the type of person you want to be surrounded by, I suggest you get in there ASAP.

The New Might Fit Plan is coming soon. Sign up for it here and become one of the few to put the “We” in We Are The Mighty.

Send me a message at michael@composurefitness.com if you hate these core exercises or want to know if you’re doing them right. I get a kick out of hearing gripes from those of you bold enough to message me directly, rather than just screaming into the void that is Facebook comments… or you know, just tell me how you’re training is going and what your goals are. Bringing others in on your challenges and goals is a sure-fire way to ensure you actually overcome and accomplish them.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How old is too old to join the military?

Being in the military is a physically demanding job. If you want to enlist, you can’t be weak, slow, or easily fatigued. There’s an enlistment age limit for that very reason; it’s safe to assume that most 60-year-olds don’t have the endurance or strength they did when they were 24. However, the times, and the people living in them, are changing. 

While obesity and sedentary lifestyles are impacting American health more than ever, people today are decidedly capable of remaining strong and healthy well into middle age and beyond. Because of improvements in our understanding of nutrition, fitness, and healthcare, we can continue to physically kick butt far longer than our predecessors. 

The Federal Law was recently changed to allow for older first-time soldiers to join, but some branches are tougher nuts to crack than others. 

Before 2006, the maximum age for first time enlistment was 35. Then, the Army requested that Congress elevate the age limit to 44. Congress wasn’t fully convinced, so they compromised and changed the maximum enlistment age to a middle ground of 42. Each branch has the option of setting stricter standards, however, and many do. 

The current age limits organized by branch are as follows: 

Active Duty Army – 42

Army Reserves – 42

Army National Guard – 42

Air National Guard – 40

Active Duty Air Force – 39

Navy Reserves – 39

Coast Guard Reserves – 39

Air Force Reserve – 35

Active Duty Navy – 34

Marine Corps Reserves – 29

Active Duty Marines – 28

Active Duty Coast Guard – 27

Logically, the branches that are the most physically demanding have lower enlistment age limits.

Special Operations branches have stricter age limits for the same reason. Still, if a 38-year-old wants to give back to his country through military service, it’s now well within his reach to do so. In some cases, you can be well into your 40s and still serve- if you have what the military needs, that is. Age waivers are occasionally offered if you have critical skills or experience that’s in short supply, but the commanding officer or community manager will have to approve it. Medical and legal professionals, plus religious officials, are the most likely to get approval. 

Joining, or re-joining, the military might be the best decision of your life.

When Pfc. Russell Dilling started basic training, he was about twice the age of the young men training beside him. Most of them were 21, while Dilling just met the age criteria at 42. He had always wanted to join the Army, and he finally had his chance when the age limit was raised. He quickly proved he deserved to be there as much as anyone else. Only 12 out of 60 recruits qualified for a rifle certificate on their first try, and he was one of them. 

While Dilling barely met the age limit for first time enlistment, prior service members can reenlist later in life. Some do so with great enthusiasm. Staff Sgt. Monte L. Gould reenlisted in the Army Reserve after a 10-year break. After a decade devoted to raising his family, he was ready to return to service in hopes of giving back to the next generation of soldiers. The retirement eligibility didn’t hurt, either! 

Gould was especially excited to show the world what “old” men are capable of. He practices jiu-jitsu and runs seven miles a week with a 50-pound rucksack; living proof that becoming weak and tired in your 50s isn’t inevitable. 

While critics have suggested that more young people should be enlisting, the evolving age limit and physical requirements are evidence that the US military is keeping up with the times. To answer the question “how old is too old”; it depends on the person. Americans are living longer, healthier lives. If they’re fit and healthy, they can serve their country longer, too.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army fast tracks new howitzer that can out-reach Russia

The Army is fast-tracking an emerging program to engineer a longer-range artillery cannon able to out range enemy ground forces by hitting targets at more than twice the distance of existing artillery.

The service is now prototyping an Extended Range Cannon Artillery weapons with a larger caliber tube and new grooves to hang weights for gravity adjustments to the weapon — which is a modified M777A2 mobile howitzer.

Existing 155m artillery rounds, fired with precision from mobile and self-propelled howitzer platforms, have a maximum range of about 30km; the new ERCA weapon is designed to hit ranges greater than 70km, Army developers said.


“When you are talking about doubling the range you need a longer tube and a larger caliber. We will blend this munition with a howitzer and extend the range. We are upgrading the breach and metallurgy of the tube, changing the hydraulics to handle increased pressure and using a new ram jet projectile — kind of like a rocket,” a senior Army weapons developer told Warrior Maven in an interview.

The modification adds 1,000 pounds to the overall weight of the weapon and an additional six feet of cannon tube. The ERCA systems also uses a redesigned cab, new breech design and new “muzzle brake,” the official explained.

“The ERCA program develops not only the XM907 cannon but also products, such as the XM1113 rocket assisted projectile, the XM654 supercharge, an autoloader, and new fire control system,” an Army statement said.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

Marines fire an M777A2 155 mm howitzer.

(United States Marine Corps photo)

As part of an effort to ensure the heavy M777 is sufficiently mobile, the Army recently completed a “mobility” demonstration of ERCA prototypes.

The service demonstrated a modified M777A2 Howitzer with an integration kit for the mass mock-up of the modified XM907 ERCA cannon at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.

“Their [user] concern is that when the self-propelled program is done they will be left with a towed cannon variant that they can’t tow around, which is its number one mode of transportation,” David Bound, M777ER Lead, Artillery Concepts and Design Branch, which is part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, said in an Army statement.

The ERCA is currently being configured to fire from an M109a8 Self-Propelled Howitzer, using a 58-Cal. tube; the existing M109a7, called the Paladin Integrated Management, fires a 39-Cal. weapon.

ERCA changes the Army’s land war strategic calculus in a number of key respects, by advancing the Army’s number one modernization priority — long-range precision fires. This concept of operations is intended to enable mechanized attack forces and advancing infantry with an additional stand-off range or protective sphere with which to conduct operations. Longer range precision fire can hit enemy troop concentrations, supply lines and equipment essential to a coordinated attack, while allowing forces to stay farther back from incoming enemy fire.

A 70-kilometer target range is, by any estimation, a substantial leap forward for artillery; when GPS guided precision 155mm artillery rounds, such as Excalibur, burst into land combat about ten years ago – its strike range was reported at roughly 30 kilometers. A self-propelled Howitzer able to hit 70-kilometers puts the weapon on par with some of the Army’s advanced land-based rockets – such as its precision-enabled Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System which also reaches 70-kilometers.

In a modern threat environment, wherein near-peer and smaller-level rivals increasingly possess precision-guided land weapons, longer-range C4ISR technology and drone weapons, increasing range is a ubiquitous emphasis across the Army and other services. Russia’s violations of the INF treaty, new S-500 air defenses, new Armata tanks and fast growing attack drone fleet – all point to a growing need for the US to outrange and outgun potential adversaries.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

An M109A6 Paladin fires a gas propelled 155mm Howitzer round.

In fact, senior Army developers specifically say that the ERCA program is, at least in part, designed to enable the Army to out-range rival Russian weapons. The Russian military is currently producing its latest howitzer cannon, the 2S33 Msta-SM2 variant; it is a new 2A79 152mm cannon able to hit ranges greater than 40km, significantly greater than the 25km range reachable by the original Russian 2S19 Msta – which first entered service in the late 1980s, according to data from globalsecurity.org.

In early 2018 statements from the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation said that 2S19 Msta-S modernized self-propelled howitzers were fielded near Volgograd, Russia. The 2S19 Msta-S howitzers are equipped with an automated fire control system with an increased rate of fire, digital electronic charts, ballistic computers, and satellite navigation systems, the report says.

Therefore, doing the simple math, a 70km US Army ERCA weapon would appear to substantially outrange the 40km Msta-S modern Russian howitzer.

While senior Army weapons developers welcome the possibility of longer-range accurate artillery fire, they also recognize that its effectiveness hinges upon continued development of sensor, fire control, and target technology.

“Just because I can shoot farther, that does not mean I solve the issue. I have to acquire the right target. We want to be able to hit moving targets and targets obscured by uneven terrain,” the senior Army developer said.

Multi-domain warfare is also integral to the strategic impetus for the new ERCA weapon; longer range land weapons can naturally better enable air attack options.

Operating within this concept, former Army TRADOC Commander Gen. David Perkins and Air Force Air Combat Command Commanding General James Holmes launched a new series of tabletop exercises several months ago — designed to to replicate and explore these kinds of future warfare scenarios. The project is oriented toward exploring the kind of conflicts expected to require technologically advanced Army-Air Force integration.

In a previous Pentagon report, Holmes said the joint wargaming effort will “turn into a doctrine and concept that we can agree on.”

Such a development would mark a substantial step beyond prior military thinking, which at times over the years has been slightly more stove-piped in its approach to military service doctrines.

Interestingly, the new initiative may incorporate and also adjust some of the tenets informing the 1980’s Air-Land Battle Doctrine; this concept, which came to fruition during the Cold War, was focused on integrated air-ground combat coordination to counter a large, mechanized force in major warfare. While AirLand battle was aimed primarily at the Soviet Union decades ago, new Army-Air Force strategy in today’s threat environment will also most certainly address the possibility of major war with an advanced adversary like Russia or China.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service

(Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)

In fact, the Army’s new Operations 3.0 doctrine already explores this phenomenon, as it seeks to pivot the force from more than a decade of counterinsurgency to preparedness for massive force-on-force warfare.

Jumping more than 40 years into the future beyond AirLand Battle into to today’s threat climate, the notion of cross-domain warfare has an entirely new and more expansive meaning. No longer would the Air Force merely need to support advancing armored vehicles with both air cover and forward strikes, as is articulated in Air-Land Battle, but an Air Force operating in today’s war environment would need to integrate multiple new domains, such as cyber and space.

After all, drones, laser attacks, cyber intrusions, and electronic warfare (EW) tactics were hardly on the map in the 1980s. Forces today would need to harden air-ground communications against cyber and EW attacks, network long-range sensor and targeting technology and respond to technologically-advanced near-peer attack platforms, such as 5th-generation stealth fighters or weaponized space assets.

In a concurrent related effort, the Army is also engineering a adaptation to existing 155mm rounds which will extend range an additional 10km out to 40km.

Fired from an existing Howitzer artillery cannon, the new XM1113 round uses ram jet rocket technology to deliver more thrust to the round.

“The XM1113 uses a large high-performance rocket motor that delivers nearly three times the amount of thrust when compared to the legacy M549A1 RAP,” Ductri Nguyen, XM1113 Integrated Product Team Lead.” “Its exterior profile shape has also been streamlined for lower drag to achieve the 40-plus kilometers when fired from the existing fielded 39-caliber 155mm weapon systems.”

Soldiers can also integrate the existing Precision Guidance Kit to the artillery shells as a way to add a GPS-guided precision fuse to the weapon. The new adapted round also uses safer Insensitive Munition Explosives.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

popular

This dad asked about his son, and the Bismarck was doomed

In the early days of World War II, battleships were still considered kings and all of the combatants hunted for their enemies’ greatest ships. The battleship Bismarck, the largest battleship in commission at the start of 1941, was the pride of the German Kriegsmarine and an epic combatant. Britain desperately wanted to sink her before she could break into the open Atlantic.

Luckily for Britain, a badly timed, badly encoded radio transmission allowed British warships to find and kill the vessel.


The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
The Bismarck fires during the Battle of the Denmark Straits in May, 1941. It sank the pride of the Royal Navy, the HMS Hood, during the engagement. (German federal archives)

 

In May, 1941, the U.S. and Russia had not yet joined the Allies as combatants, and Britain had already been pushed entirely off the continent. Morale was low in Great Britain, and its control of the seas was challenged by German U-boats that preyed upon convoys from the U.S.

One of Britain’s greatest fears was that Germany would starve the island kingdom out, potentially by sending more and larger ships into the Atlantic to prey on shipping. One of the most frightful possibilities was the Bismarck, a massive craft that was, at the time, the largest battleship in active service in the world (Japan’s Yamato-class and America’s Iowa-class would later beat its records).

The Bismarck had 16-inch guns and thick armor, and it could hit most convoys with impunity if it ever broke out of the Baltic and North seas. In May, 1941, it attempted to do just that.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
Spoilers are above, but this story originally played out over 70 years ago, so you should’ve seen it already by now. (Citypeek, CC BY-SA 3.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Bismarck left port on May 18 and attempted to slip out undetected. It made it through the North Sea with the Prinz Eugen as well as a number of smaller vessels. But when the flotilla passed between Denmark and Sweden into the North Sea, Norwegian resistance members and Swedish forces got a good look at the ships, and someone passed the report to Britain.

It’s unsure how much detail Britain received (Norwegian resistance members only identified “two unidentified major ships”), but British naval officers immediately suspected that the Bismarck was breaking out.

On May 21, the ships were spotted, and the British gave chase. The full story is great, from British cruisers tailing the massive vessel to attackers hiding in fog banks to when the Bismarck sank Britain’s pride and joy, the HMS Hood, with a single hit from the Bismarck’s main guns. The YouTube channel Extra History has a great series on the hunt, available here for all who want to watch it.

But we’re going to skip ahead to the final days of the chase.

By dawn on May 25, the Hood was sunk, the Prinz Eugen had escaped into the Atlantic, and the Bismarck had evaded the British cruisers in pursuit. But the Bismarck had been wounded and was now leaking oil across the ocean, limiting its range and speed.

The British, more desperate than ever to prevent the Bismarck from joining the war in the Atlantic as well to avenge the loss of the Hood, had called every available ship into the hunt.

But the days of naval maneuvering had left the Bismarck hundreds of miles out to sea, and the British didn’t know if the ship would head to Norway or France for repairs. Britain didn’t have enough ships to search both routes.

 

The British commander sent most of the fleet north to search the route to Norway, leaving one battleship and a few other vessels within range of the route to France.

This problem was compounded when the Bismarck made a monumental mistake, sending two 30-minute radio transmissions, but some of the British intercept officers made a mistake and pinpointed the transmission as coming from the route to Norway, when the transmission actually came from the route to France. It would take them hours to catch the mistake.

At this moment, the Bismarck’s path into France was relatively clear. The German vessel had the lead, and the British fleet was headed the wrong way. But the rumors of the Bismarck’s fighting had made it to the continent, and a concerned father made one of the worst mistakes of the war.

The general had a son on the Bismarck, and he asked after his son’s status. The request was transmitted to the Bismarck, and the Bismarck responded. Then, that response was relayed back to the general. It said the Bismarck had suffered no casualties and was now headed to Brest, a port city in France.

When the message was relayed, though, it was done on a Luftwaffe Enigma machine with only four wheels instead of the more secure, five-wheel model used by the Admiralty. The British quickly decoded the message, and the entire British fleet turned back south to intercept the Bismarck before it could reach Brest.

On May 26, the HMS Ark Royal, an aircraft carrier, was chasing down the Bismarck as night came on. It was mere hours till darkness would halt any more attacks. By morning, the Bismarck would be under the protection of Luftwaffe planes taking off from France.

It was now or never, and the Swordfish planes flying from the Ark Royal had just enough time for two attacks. But the first attack was a ridiculous catastrophe. The British planes made a mistake, attacking the British ship chasing the Bismarck instead of the Bismarck itself. Luckily, they were equipped with magnetic detonators that set off the torpedoes as they hit the water.

The Swordfish returned to the Ark Royale to re-arm, and then headed back out for Britain’s last chance at the Bismarck before it was safely in France.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
The HMS Ark Royal sails with its swordfish overhead. (U.K. Government)

 

The planes chased down their quarry, and the Swordfish flew into the teeth of the Bismarck’s guns. The rounds shredded the canvas wings of the planes, but the planes managed to drop a spread of torpedoes anyway.

There were two hits. One struck the Bismarck’s armor belt and did little damage, the other struck low in the water but did no visible damage. The Swordfish pilots turned home in dismay.

But when they landed, they learned glorious news. The Bismarck had been in a hard turn to port when the second torpedo struck, and the strike had knocked out rudder control. Since the Bismarck had been in a hard turn at the time, it was now stuck turning in tight circles in the Atlantic, out of range of Luftwaffe protection.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
The HMS Dorestshire rescues survivors of the Bismarck. Only about 114 sailors made it out. (Royal Navy)

 

The rest of the British fleet barreled down on the stricken foe, and eventually, four battleships and cruisers were circling the Bismarck, pounding it with shell after shell. They knocked out turrets, they shredded the decks, and they terrified the crew.

It only ended when the British fleet ran low on fuel. It was under orders to sink the Bismarck at all costs, so as most of the ships headed to refuel, the HMS Dorsetshire was left to finish the job. It dropped torpedoes into the water, and finally, the Bismarck suffered holes beneath the waterline. The Bismarck sank. The pride of the German fleet was done. Just over 100 sailors survived of the 2,200-man crew.

If the general had loved his son a little less, or, you know, if signals officers had been more careful to use the best available encryption or leave the ship’s destination out of the message, the Bismarck likely would have made it to France without further damage.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 ways your service never really ends after you leave the military

All good things, inevitably, come to an end. Whether you were counting down the days until you had your DD-214 in your hands or you stubbornly got your retirement paperwork after giving everything you had to Uncle Sam, there eventually comes a time for you to lace up your boots for the very last time.

That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing — it’s just a thing. But your time in uniform has forever changed you. What life has in store for you after service is no one’s guess, but wherever you find yourself, know that you’ve still got a fire inside of you that will never die.


The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Aaron S. Patterson)

Being in the military really teaches you that motivating others isn’t always a matter of throwing a flashy office party. It can be something as small as a well-timed “good job” or expressing interest in someone’s well-being.

You’ll still conduct yourself like the troops

The Marines have a saying: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” There’s a lot to that statement, but in one sense, it can be applied to everyone who served in the Armed Forces. There are a lot of things that you pick up in whichever branch you served that just won’t ever fully go away.

You’d be amazed at how far punctuality, polite greetings of the day, and standing up straight will take you. Shy of your ability to do whatever job, employers want someone who’s going to work well with a team, communicate effectively with others, be willing to take charge, and have the guts to make impromptu decisions that will benefit others and the company.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Villarreal)

No pressure, but your guys are all crossing their fingers for your success. Don’t let them down.

Your passion and drive comes from within

It really doesn’t matter what you end up doing for a living after you’ve transitioned back to civilian life. You could get a job doing pretty much the same thing you were doing on the green side, you could use the GI Bill to learn a trade you always wanted to pick up, you could even try your hand at something artistic. It’s your life, and you’ve earned the right to pursue whatever you’re passionate about.

Want to open up an auto shop in your old hometown? Open it and give it your all every single day. Are you gifted in computer work after being a computer guy in the Army? It’s a damn fine job, and you’ll be great at it. Heard the jokes about the LT getting a degree in underwater basket-weaving and want to give it a shot? You will be the best damn underwater basket-weaver the world has ever seen.

Why? Because your leaders instilled in you a mission-oriented mindset. That’s what separates you from the “I might” or the “I could” people of the world. Your NCO made you into an “I will” kinda person.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew Parks)

What seems like simply reaching out your hand to someone will make a world of difference to everyone else.

You’ll never lose that will to help others

Where life takes you still doesn’t really matter. Wherever you find yourself, you’re still going to go out of your way to selflessly impact the life of another person. It doesn’t matter if you open a veteran-owned nonprofit to help the troops or you’re just taking care of the grandkids in your cabin hidden in the woods. You’re always going to strive for something bigger than yourself.

This is because veterans have always been taught to think of “one team, one fight.” Everyone may be fighting to reach the top, but you’ve got to help out your squad if they’re not able to reach the goal.

Whether your metaphorical squad in the outside becomes your coworkers, your family, or the entire veteran community as a whole, you’re always going to fight to help bring them up.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace)

You’ll always find someone new to share a laugh with. Hell, even just telling civilians about some of the funny stuff we did is a great way to break the ice.

Your brotherhood with your fellow troops will last forever

Everyone you’ve ever met, from your squad mates to that admin clerk you occasionally bumped into before formation, will stay with you always. Even if they are no longer with us, the good times you had together will keep bringing a smile to your face whenever you’re alone in the sometimes-unforgiving civilian world.

When times got rough in the military, your brothers and sisters were always just a knock on a barrack’s room door away. Now they’re on, what seems like, the other side of the world. But are they really? It doesn’t matter if it’s been years, we all have someone we served with that we can call at a moment’s notice to talk to. We all swore to give our lives to protect our brothers and sisters in arms — answering a phone call is leagues easier.

Nearly every other veteran will embrace you as their own if you’re in need of a hand. Even civilians can occasionally earn that level of trust and respect if you let them into your new “squad.”

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron Henson)

Stay the course, my friends.

You’re always going to be the flag bearer for the Armed Forces

Fewer people are enlisting in the Armed Forces than ever before. Fewer people have relatives that served, and it’s astounding how many people have never interacted with a veteran. That sucks for Uncle Sam trying to fill out the formations, but that gives you the advantage.

There’s no denying it. Finding your place in the civilian world will be hard, and there’s no road-map to follow. It will get lonely at times. Just keep holding onto that flag and others will see you for your true worth. Just as the flag-bearer in wars of old inspired the troops, you will, too. It will also help other vets find you in hopes of rekindling the camaraderie we all once had in the barracks.

You’re not the first person to ever leave military service, and you’re not going to be the last. Let it be your guide, even if you don’t know where you’re going.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Everything you didn’t know about FDR’s monument

One of the most overlooked monuments at the National Mall, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is located in West Potomac Park between the Tidal Basin along the Cherry Tree Walk and the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. The memorial dedicated to America’s 32nd president is about halfway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

President Roosevelt led the nation during both the Great Depression and WWII during his four terms as president. The sprawling memorial is designed to guide visitors through a walk back through each of those terms. There are more than seven acres of space to explore the FDR Memorial. Each feature at the site is designed to help a visitor understand more about this dynamic president and how he directly impacted modern-day America. 

The memorial was dedicated on May 2, 1997, by President Bill Clinton. 

There are sculptures at the memorial inspired by photographs of DRF seated alongside his dog Fala. There are also scenes from the Great Depression, ranging from bread lines to people gathered at a radio to listen to FDR’s Fireside Chats. A bronze statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt standing in front of the United Nations emblem honors her dedication to the UN and global causes. FDR’s memorial is the only one at the national mall which depicts a First Lady. 

Capstone Achievement for Designer

The memorial was designed and developed by Lawrence Halprin. He called this his crowning achievement because of the difficulty in creating the monument and because of Halprin’s fond memories of listening to Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats. 

Halprin won a design competition to create the memorial back in 1974, but Congress didn’t appropriate funds for more than 20 years. The final design features Halprin’s work and ideas and several other prominent architects and designers, including Leonard Baskin, Robert Graham, Thomas Hardy, George Segal, and Neil Eastern. 

Water features 

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
(Library of Congress)

Running water is an important metaphor that’s carried throughout the memorial. Each of the four rooms contains a waterfall, and as visitors move from one place to the next, the waterfalls become larger and more complex. This is meant to reflect the complexity of the presidency. 

The five main water features all represent something specific.

The single large drop of water represents the economy’s crash, which led the country to the Great Depression.

Stair-stepped water features are meant to pay homage to the Tennessee Valley Authority dam-building project, which was the first of its kind in the country. 

There are also several chaotic waterfalls at sharp angles, all that signify WWII. 

To commemorate President Roosevelt’s death, there’s a still water pool. 

The array of combining waterfalls is intended to be a retrospective of Roosevelt’s presidency.

The memorial is designed to give people options on how they experience it, allowing them to reverse directions, experience different sites, smells, and sounds, pause and reflect, and even be alone. All of these options are meant to indicate some of what Roosevelt did as president. 

Steeped in Controversy

Because of Roosevelt’s disability, the memorial designers wanted to create an experience that would be accessible to all. The memorial includes an area written in braille for people who are blind, and the wide pathways are accessible for those who use wheelchairs. 

However, disability advocates say that the braille is incorrectly spaced and positioned at eight feet, too high for anyone to actually read. 

One of the statues of FDR also stirred controversy. Initial designs planned to showcase FDR in his wheelchair, but the final design depicts the president in his chair with a cloak obscuring the wheelchair. This is often how he maneuvered throughout his day, even though his reliance on a wheelchair wasn’t widely publicized during his lifetime. Historians and disability rights activities wanted the wheelchair to be shown since they believe it depicts his source of strength. Finally, the sculptor decided to add casters to the back of the chair to create a symbolic wheelchair. However, the casters are only visible behind the statue.

In 2001, an additional statue was placed at the memorial entrance that shows FDR seated in a wheelchair. 

This is actually the second memorial

In a conversation with friend and Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1941, Roosevelt said if he were ever to have a monument erected in his honor, it should go in front of the National Archives and be no later than his desk. Roosevelt said he wanted the memorial to be simple, without any ornamentation. 

In 1965, a 3-foot tall, 7-foot long, and 4-foot wide white marble block was dedicated to Roosevelt. This memorial was placed near the southeast corner of Ninth Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The simple stone reads, “In Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” just like the president wanted.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Plane full of US troops evacuated after landing gear catches fire

All flights from Ireland’s Shannon Airport were suspended on Aug. 15, 2019, after a plane carrying US troops was evacuated because of a fire, Irish news outlets reported.

Shannon Airport said an Omni Air International Boeing 763 was halted as it taxied on the runway at 6:20 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET).

There had been reports of fire and smoke coming from the landing gear.

Air-traffic controllers instructed the crew to evacuate the aircraft as a fire on the left landing gear became visible, the Irish newspaper The Journal reported.

The Irish Independent reported that the fire was thought to have been caused by punctured tires.


Shannon Airport tweeted on Aug. 15, 2019: “We can confirm that an incident has occurred at Shannon Airport involving a Boeing 763 aircraft.”

“Emergency services are in attendance,” it said. “All passengers and crew have disembarked. Airport operations temporarily suspended.”

Irish news outlets reported that the Omni Air International, a US charter airline flying out of Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma, was a private charter carrying US military personnel.

Omni Air International tweeted: “We are investigating reports of an incident involving Omni Air International flight 531 at Shannon Airport, Ireland. The Omni Boeing 767-300 aircraft rejected takeoff and was safely evacuated. Initial reports indicate no serious injuries to passengers or crew.”

Shannon Airport said in a later tweet: “We are currently working to remove the aircraft from the scene of the incident so we can resume safe operations on the runway. This may take some time.”

In the wake of the incident, several flights from the airport were canceled.

Shannon Airport is the focus of an antiwar campaign demanding that the Irish government stop letting the US use the airport as a de facto military base. Campaigners say that over 3 million US troops have passed through the airport since 2003.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The iconic PBR was based on a recreational boat and powered by Jacuzzi jets

Picture the brown-water Navy of the Vietnam War and you probably picture Martin Sheen as Capt. Willard floating upriver on a PBR to “terminate Col. Kurtz’s command…with extreme prejudice.” The Patrol Boat, River was a small rigid-hulled patrol boat used extensively in the Vietnam War to navigate the country’s many waterways. Employed operationally from 1966 until 1971, PBRs were used to conduct patrols, disrupt enemy movement, and most notably, insert and extract Special Forces units like Navy SEALs and the fictional Capt. Willard.

As the war in Vietnam escalated, the U.S. military quickly saw the need for a small and agile watercraft that could move quickly on Vietnam’s many rivers. The Navy approached civilian shipbuilder Hatteras Yachts to convert their 41′ fiberglass recreational family boat by shortening it and fitting it with water pump-jets instead of propellers. The pump-jets would allow the boat to operate in extremely shallow water. Willis Slane and Jack Hargrave of Hatteras took on the challenge and delivered the prototype to the Navy for testing in just 7 days.


In 1965, the Navy awarded a contract to Uniflite Boats to build the first 120 PBRs. They were powered by two Detroit 6V53N engines producing 180 hp each (later increased to 216 hp), and two 14YJ water pump-jet drives manufactured by Jacuzzi. With this power, the boats could cruise between 25 and 31 knots. The later Mark II PBR was slightly bigger, increasing from 31′ to 32′ in length and 10′ 7″ to 11′ 7″ beam. Mark II PBRs were also fitted with improved drives to reduce fouling and aluminum gunwales to resist wear.

The PBR was extremely maneuverable, being able to turn within its own length. But the PBRs party piece was its stopping ability. Fitted with thrust buckets, the PBR could reverse its Jacuzzi water pump-jets and go from full speed to a dead stop within a couple of its own length. Because of its fiberglass hull, the boat was also extremely light. This meant that it had a draft of just 2′ when fully loaded and could be slingloaded by a helicopter.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
A CH-54 Tarhe prepares to hoist a PBR (U.S. Army)

PBRs were typically armed with a twin M2HB .50-caliber machine gun turret forward, a single rear-mounted M2HB, one or two M60 7.62mm light machine guns on the port and starboard side, and a Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launcher. However, PBR captains were known to augment their weapons suites with additional M2HBs and 81mm mortars. Some even swapped out their bow-mounted twin .50-cals for a Mk16 Mod 4 Colt 20mm automatic cannon. In addition to all this, the four-man crew was armed with a full complement of M16 rifles, shotguns, M1911 handguns, and hand grenades.

All this lethality came at the cost of protection. Though the .50-cal machine guns had some ceramic armor shielding and the Coxswain’s flat had quarter-inch thick steel armor plating, the fiberglass-hulled boats had little else in the way of armor. Rather, PBRs relied on their acceleration, maneuverability, and outright speed for their survivability. This made them extremely adept at hit and run attacks and special operations. In the latter, the PBR found great success. Not only did the boat serve as an excellent insertion and extraction platform, its heavy armament meant that it could provide direct fire support for special operations teams if necessary.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
A PBR cruises down a river in Vietnam (U.S. Navy)

At the height of production during the Vietnam War, two PBRs were rolling off the assembly line every day. By the war’s end, over 750 had been built. Today, less than three dozen PBRs survive in conditions ranging from stripped hulls to fully operational, of which there are just seven. However, the PBRs legacy is greater than its surviving examples.

The most decorated enlisted sailor in U.S. Navy history, James “Willie” Williams, commanded PBR 105. During a patrol on October 21, 1966, Williams’ and another PBR engaged over 65 enemy boats and numerous well-concealed ground troops in a three-hour running battle. Williams’ actions during the battle earned him the Medal of Honor. His citation notes that he “exposed himself to the withering hail of enemy fire to direct counter-fire and inspire the actions of his patrol” and that he “demonstrated unusual professional skill and indomitable courage throughout the 3 hour battle.”

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
Williams wields an M60 aboard his PBR (U.S. Navy)

To the unknowing tourist looking at a static display, the PBR might just be a greenish grey military boat. A cinephile might recognize it as the boat from Apocalypse Now. But, to the special forces teams that were pulled out of a hot extraction by one, the PBR was a guardian angel. To the sailors that crewed them, a PBR was home.

popular

The story of America’s first secret Space Force

Last year, President Trump drew headlines all over the world with the announcement that he intended to establish a new branch of the American armed forces dedicated solely to orbital and deep-space defense. This new Space Force would be responsible for defending America’s sizeable satellite infrastructure from potential attack and hardening the means by which America has come to rely on orbital technology in day to day life as well as defense.


The concept wasn’t without its critics, with some discounting the very idea of space defense as a flight of fancy and national level competitors accusing America of militarizing an otherwise peaceful theater… but the truth of the matter is, space has been a battlespace since mankind first started lobbing rockets at it.

The Space Race, which was in every appreciable way an extension of the Cold War that benefited from good PR, may have ended with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon in 1969, but the race to leverage space for military purposes continued going strong for decades to come. In fact, one could argue that reaching the moon marked only the end of the public-facing space race, but not the end of the competition between American and Soviet space programs.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
Despite reaching the Moon first, America still had pressing concerns in space. (NASA)

So heated was the race to militarize space during the Cold War that the Defense Department actually already had a Space Force of sorts starting way back in the 1970s. This secretive program was vast, with a .3 billion California-based spaceport meant for secretive space shuttle launches into polar orbit, a secret group of 32 military-trained astronauts, and plans to fly more shuttle flights per year than NASA itself at one point.

The military astronauts weren’t actually called astronauts — they were called Spaceflight Engineers, and in total, the Air Force’s Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program had 134 military officers and civilian experts assigned to it. These men and women worked out of the aforementioned California launch complex as well as the Pentagon’s own version of mission control in Colorado, and a third facility in Los Angeles that housed the Spaceflight Engineers themselves.

In the early days of the program, some of the Pentagon’s astronauts even hitched rides on NASA shuttle missions hoping to increase cooperation and cross-train on flight methodologies.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
Air Force Spaceflight Engineer Maj. Gary Payton (back left) along with NASA crew members Loren Shriver (front left) and Ken Mattingly (front right), with Jim Buchli and Ellison Onizuka (behind). (NASA)

“Between these two agencies, it really was a shotgun marriage,” said retired Air Force Col. Gary Payton, who served as Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs until his retirement in July 2010.

“NASA thought of us as a bunch of snotty-nosed kids, outsiders, almost guests…nothing more than engineers or scientists who tended one particular satellite or experiment, and typically flew just once. We, on the other hand, thought our job was to help bridge the gulf between the military and civilian space agencies.”

The plan was for the Defense Department’s shuttles to launch from California and enter into a polar orbit, which was more beneficial for the Defense Department’s secretive missions than the equatorial orbit commonly reached from Florida launch complexes. The Pentagon’s plans called for an absolutely mind-boggling 12-14 launches per year. That was far more than NASA was prepared to manage, but the result would have been an extremely resilient and redundant space defense infrastructure long before any nation was prepared to present a viable threat to American interests in orbit.

The Air Force uses AI to improve every facet of the service
The Space Shuttle offered a wide variety of mission sets, but with a great deal of risk. (NASA)

 

But then in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven crew members on board. It was a crushing blow to NASA, but hit the Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program even harder. It forced the Pentagon to acknowledge two difficult truths about manned shuttle missions: when they fail, people die — and the whole world notices.

“By 1987, it was all gone,” said William J. Baugh, director of public affairs for the Air Force Second Space Wing at Falcon Air Force Base in Colorado told the New York Times. “By that time, Challenger had its problem, and we decided to get out of the shuttle business.”

The Pentagon opted to transition toward a system of mostly unmanned rocket launches for the deployment of new satellites, leaning on NASA and the Space Shuttle for some classified missions when the payloads were too big or complex for other rockets like the Titan IV.

“It’s disappointing,” Maj. Frank M. DeArmand, a Spaceflight Engineer who never got to fly, said in 1989. “We all had the excitement and expectation of flying on the shuttle. But I’m not bitter. It was the right decision.”

Do Not Sell My Personal Information