The US Air Force was forced to terminate an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile July 31, 2018, in response to an unsafe “anomaly” that emerged during a test, according to Air Force Global Strike Command.
The 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California ordered the destruction of the $7 million ICBM early July 31, 2018, eliminating it over the Pacific Ocean. Global Strike Command refused to comment as the incident is under investigation.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, described the test as “perfect,” at least until “somewhere in flight, we saw an anomaly.”
“The anomaly was going to create an unsafe flight condition, so we destroyed the rocket before it reached its destination,” he said at the 2018 STRATCOM Symposium on Aug. 1, 2018, according to Military.com. “It was the smart thing to do.”
Tests occur regularly, but failures are much more infrequent. Hyten told his audience that the last failure happened in 2011, with the one before that occurring in 2009.
Explaining that this is a “rare thing that is in the missile business,” Hyten said that “now we have to go figure out what happened.”
An unarmed U.S. Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:23 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Monday, May 14, 2018, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Aubree Milks)
One possibility, and potentially the most likely given the STRATCOM’s chief’s characterization of the incident as the emergence of an “unsafe flight condition,” is that the missile veered off course, forcing a Mission Flight Control Officer’s hand. The motto among the MFCOs is reportedly “track ’em or crack ’em,” according to Popular Mechanics, which sent reporters to observe one of these tests firsthand.
In the initial phase of flight, the MFCO may have only a matter of seconds to make the critical decision to terminate a missile, making that individual the sole decision maker for the weapon’s fate. In the later phases, the officer might act on the consent of his/her superiors.
If the officer detects that the missile will cross any predetermined safety lines, that individual will reportedly “send a function,” causing the missile to crack and spiral into the ocean.
While July 31, 2018’s decision to destroy the ICBM was purportedly “smart,” not every executed self-destruct sequence is intentional.
Human error, specifically the pressing of the wrong button, caused a test of a US missile defense system to end in failure July 2017. A tactical datalink controller on the destroyer USS John Paul Jones accidentally identified an incoming ballistic missile as a friendly system, resulting in the initiation of a self-destruct sequence for the SM-3 interceptor, Defense News reported at the time.
The initial report from the US Missile Defense Agency said that the interceptor missed the target, revealing that the “planned intercept was not achieved.” During a later test in January 2018, an SM-3 Block IIA interceptor fired from an Aegis Ashore missile defense facility in Hawaii also failed to achieve the desired intercept.
Hyten said that July 31, 2018’s test failure is exactly why the US tests its systems. “We have to make sure that things work. We learn more from failures than we do successes,” he said, adding that the unsuccessful test does not weaken America’s offensive capabilities.
“I have a full complement of ICBMs on alert,” he explained.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
NASA’s administrator warned that the threat of a meteor crashing into Earth is bigger than we might think.
Jim Bridenstine told the International Academy of Astronautics’ Planetary Defense Conference on Monday that “the reason it’s important for NASA to take this seriously is something you call the ‘giggle factor,'” or scientific theories that seem too ridiculous to be likely.
“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood. It’s not about movies. This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life, and that is the planet Earth,” he added.
Bridenstine noted that in February 2013, a meteor measuring 20 meters (about 65 feet) in diameter and traveling at 40,000 mph entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded over Chelyabinsk, in central Russia.
A meteor streaking across the sky in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region in 2013.
Meteorites — smaller pieces broken from the larger meteor — crashed in the region, and a fireball streaked through the sky, the BBC reported at the time.
There was a loud, massive blast that caused a shock wave that broke windows and damaged buildings across the region, Bridenstine said, adding that the meteor’s explosion had 30 times the energy of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
More than 1,400 people were injured. Many were hit by flying glass, CNN reported.
“I wish I could tell you that these events are exceptionally unique, but they are not,” Bridenstine said.
He said that NASA’s modeling had found that such events will take place “about once every 60 years.” He added that on the same day of the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion, another, larger asteroid came within 17,000 miles of Earth but narrowly missed.
Scientific experts at this week’s Planetary Defense Conference are discussing how the world can defend against any potentially hazardous asteroid or comet that looks likely to hit Earth, the conference said in a statement.
In such a scenario, Bridenstine said, NASA would measure the object’s speed and trajectory and decide whether to deflect it or evacuate the area that it would hit.
Watch Bridenstine’s speech, starting at the 2:39 mark, in the video below:
6th IAA Planetary Defense Conference – The Honorable James Bridenstine, NASA Administrator
It’s easy to see American military members in uniform and sort of lump them all in together as a single unit – that’s kind of the point of part of their lives. But it’s only a part of their lives. Once the uniform is off or they’re out of the military, what remains is a person. The Military Fresh Network aims to show that U.S. military members can serve their country while being the unique individuals they were created to be.
The Military Fresh Network provides them a platform to promote their real passions. From music to fitness, active military members and veterans alike turn to the Military Fresh Network to join a family and put their talents to work for them.
(Military Fresh Network)
If you look at Hank Robinson’s (above) ten years of Army infantry service, with his three Bronze Stars and Combat Infantryman Badge, you might be quick to lump him in with the stereotypical infantry grunt and all the baggage which might come along with it. But get to know the person and you’ll see a man who became enamored with metal work – so enamored he started his own engraving business after spending years perfecting his chosen art form. This is a man who now helps others work through PTSD via art therapy.
Then you realize you were too quick to judge. We all are. It’s sometimes hard to see past the decorations and the uniform. The Military Fresh Network is here to help change all that. Jimmy Cox, the founder of the Military Fresh Network, is as passionate about the talents of the people on the network as he is about his own.
Gabrielle Torres funded her college education through Miss America scholarships, but the dual-bachelors student will also be an Army officer upon graduation.
(Military Fresh Network)
“This is finally something we can do and show for ourselves,” says Cox, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Army. “The reason so many people don’t join the military today is the same reason they didn’t join ten years ago – they don’t want who they are to get lost. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your life does not have to be on hold while you wear the uniform. The Military Fresh Network shows them that. “
On the Military Fresh Network’s website, you can see the stories of dozens of America’s finest troops, officer and enlisted, who took the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States out of uniform and in their natural habitat. There, you can read their stories, see the faces of the men and women who serve, and realize their talents and skills in a way never before seen – ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Air Force veteran, Navy spouse, and fitness professional Tarryn Garlington is also a civilian working for the Army.
The site is broken down by branch of service and by the kind of skills and talent on display. Here you can see military members at their finest, playing musical instruments, bodybuilding, giving fitness tips, even showing off their street art and business savvy. It truly is a way to get to know America’s vets as real people, to interact with them, and appreciate people on a new level.
“I had my own following when I started in graphic design,” says Ana Valencia, a U.S. Army senior NCO who is also a Military Fresh Network volunteer. “The Military Fresh Network provided me with a huge platform for my work, so I became a huge advocate.”
In 2019, the Military Fresh Network will even be joining the ranks of the Military Influencer Conference sponsors. If you’re interested in starting your own business and don’t know where to begin, the Military Influencer Conferences are the perfect place to start. There, you can network with other veteran entrepreneurs while listening to the best speakers and panels the military-veteran community of entrepreneurs can muster. Visit the Military Influencer Conference website for more information.
Then you can post your own business skills on The Military Fresh Network.
Anduril Industries, the military tech company founded by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, has unveiled a new kind of attack drone.
Anduril demonstrated the drone, which is capable of locking onto other drones and then knocking them out of the air to Bloomberg and NBC news. The drone seeks out target drones, identifies them, and then asks an operator’s permission to attack.
Anduril cofounder and CEO Brian Schimpf said the Interceptor weighs roughly the same amount as a bowling ball, and can go 90 to 100 mph.
“The only thing that can take out a swarm of fast drones is a bigger swarm of faster drones, and that’s exactly what we’re building,” Luckey told Bloomberg.
A render of Anduril’s Interceptor drone.
The Interceptor is apparently ready to be deployed, as Bloomberg reports the Interceptor drones have already been shipped to military bases and conflict zones. Anduril declined to give any details about where exactly the drones have been sent when contacted by Business Insider.
President Donald Trump gave the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019, to the 116th United States Congress. His speech covered many topics, ranging from bipartisanship to infrastructure reform and veterans affairs to current military operations.
One thing most people skimmed over throughout the night happened during a quick camera pan over the United States Defense Chiefs. Many people were quick to point out that they remained emotionless throughout the entire event because, by military regulation, a service member cannot show political affiliation while in uniform in an official capacity, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
There was a glaringly obvious goof, once you know what you’re looking for. Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, was apparently one of the only ones to catch the mistake on his own uniform. His ribbon rack was put on upside-down.
The accident was made known when he called himself out on Twitter. His ribbon rack, while properly squared away, was in the opposite order of precedence — meaning the rack was organized properly, but placed onto the uniform the wrong way.
The awards of ribbon racks are to be ordered from least prestigious (in the lower right) to the most prestigious (in the upper left). A little life hack for any troops still making their dress uniforms is to place them in the order that it says on your ERB/ORB. As for Gen. Lengyel, his Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon was placed far above his Defense Distinguished Service Medal.
Is this a huge mistake? Not really. But how Gen. Lengyel reacted is worthy of recognition and is an example that all troops should admire.
You took the classiest route possible to address a minor problem. Good job, sir.
(U.S. National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith)
Everyone makes mistakes, from the lowest airman late to formation to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau at the State of the Union. It’s what you do afterward that really matters. You should take the hit on the chin like an adult and get back into the fight.
You own up to your shortcomings and strive to be better next time. Realistically, Gen. Lengyel isn’t going to be doing push-ups until his supervisor gets tired or sent to mop the rain off the flight line. Chances are high that his uniform was prepared by an aide who’s probably beating themselves up for this far more than their NCOs are smoking them.
If this uniform was mistakenly set up by an aide, I say commend that person as well. Gen. Lengyel came out of this debacle looking like far more of a true leader than if he sat there quietly the entire evening. Give them a coin with the stern warning to never mess that up again.
China became the first foreign buyer of Russia’s S-400 in 2014, but the delivery of the air-defense system, considered one of the most advanced the world, was marred when a ship carrying it encountered a storm in early 2018.
According to the CEO of Russian defense firm Rostec, the components damaged were more important than first known.
At the IDEX defense conference in the United Arab Emirates February 2019, Sergey Chemezov said that the gear damaged in the storm included the 40N6E, which is the export version of S-400’s 40N6 missile, according to Stephen Trimble, defense editor at Aviation Week.
The 40N6 is the longest-range interceptor of the S-400’s three missiles. The export version of the missile can reach just under 400 kilometers, or roughly 250 miles. The system also comes with a command-and-control system, a radar system, and a launcher.
Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.
(Flickr photo by Dmitriy Fomin)
While the delivery of the S-400 to China had previously been confirmed, whether the 40N6E was included was not known for sure, which led Trimble to ask Chemezov about it, expecting to get a standard “no comment,” he said on the most recent episode of Aviation Week’s Check 6 podcast.
“He not only confirmed it. He also told us this sort of bizarre story about the fate that befell [the missile] on its way … to China,” Trimble said.
Chemezov made clear that the missiles “were on a ship, and the ship got hit by a bad storm, and … ultimately all the missiles were lost. He didn’t explain exactly how they were lost, but he said that they all have to be replaced and that they are now building the replacements for the missile, because of either damage sustained in the storm, or they were just destroyed in the storm somehow.”
Reports of the damage emerged not long after the delivery started in early January 2018.
An S-400 radar unit.
(Russian Ministry of Defense)
Maritime trackers monitoring ships’ automatic identification systems did notice a vessel that left St. Petersburg with an AIS code indicating it had explosives aboard, Trimble said. That ship hit a storm in the English Channel and returned to port.
Russian state media outlet Tass said in January 2019 that “part of the equipment included in the first shipment” to China had been “damaged by a storm and returned to Russia.”
Around the same time, Russian news agency RIA quoted the spokeswoman for Russia’s military and technical cooperation service as saying parts of the S-400 systems on their way to China were damaged in a storm at sea. The spokeswoman described the components as “secondary” without giving any details.
But the S-400’s missiles are an essential component — the 40N6 even more so.
The revelation “was a very surprising development in this story of this export and completely unexpected,” Trimble said. “I can’t really think of something like this ever happening before, because it’s not just any missile. This is probably one of the most important, strategically, weapon systems in the world right now, and this is the most powerful effector, or missile, within that system.”
“Those missiles now may be at the bottom of the English Channel, which is just an incredible twist in the whole story,” Trimble added.
In May 2018, China received its first regimental set of the S-400 when the third and final ship arrived with “the equipment not damaged during a December storm in the English Channel and the damaged equipment after repairs,” a diplomatic source told Tass at the time.
An S-400 regiment consists of two battalions. Each battalion has two batteries. A standard battery has four transporter erector launchers, each with four launch tubes, as well as fire-control radar systems and a command module. Reports about how many regimental sets China was to get vary from two to six.
Russian S-400 air-defense missile systems.
The South China Morning Post said in the final days of December 2018 that the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force tested the S-400 in November, shooting down a “simulated ballistic target” moving at the supersonic speed of nearly 2 miles a second at a range of nearly 150 miles.
The S-400 and Russia’s efforts to sell it abroad have become a point of contention with the US.
In September 2018, the US hit China with sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, which is meant to punish Russia over its interventions abroad and interference in the 2016 US election.
But other US allies have expressed interest in the S-400, complicating matters for Washington. Despite warnings that the US would rescind F-35 deliveries and that the system wouldn’t work with NATO weapons, Turkey has forged ahead with an S-400 buy, saying in February 2018 that the purchase was a done deal.
India has also agreed to buy the S-400, though Chemezov said New Delhi has yet to make an advance payment, which “was a bit of a surprise,” Trimble said. Buying the S-400 could open India to US sanctions, though there is a wavier process in the CAATSA legislation that could be applied to Delhi.
And despite the Trump administration’s wooing of Saudi Arabia — which includes White House senior adviser Jared Kushner personally negotiating a discount with the Lockheed Martin CEO for the firm’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system — the Kingdom is reportedly still interested in the S-400.
“Chemezov refused to talk about the S-400 and Saudi Arabia, and he was very blunt about why,” Trimble said. “He said that if we talk about these kinds of deals, that gets our potential customers in a lot of trouble with the US government, so what we’re doing is negotiating silently, which isn’t a very silent way of negotiating, but that was how he put it.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known by her initials RBG, fought for equality through her entire 87 years on earth and continued to do so up until her last breath.
America has lost a women’s rights hero.
Born in New York City to a father who was a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine and a mother whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Austria themselves, Ginsburg’s life began with challenges from the onset. Her older sister died of meningitis only 14 months after Ginsburg was born. She was raised during the Great Depression and spent her childhood in the shadows of World War II.
Ginsburg’s mother prioritized RBG’s education, wanting her daughter to have opportunities that she was unable to obtain. During RBG’s high school years, Ginsburg’s mother struggled with cancer and passed away the day before she graduated. After high school, she attended Cornell where she met her future husband, Martin D Ginsburg, at 17 years old. She would later share that he was the only young man she ever dated who cared that she had a brain. They married a month after she graduated from Cornell with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government.
Not long after her graduation from Cornell, her husband was called up for military service. They reported to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he was stationed as a Reserve Officers Training Corps officer in the Army. She was able to work for the Social Security Administration – until she was demoted because she was pregnant.
After RBG’s husband finished his service to the Army, they made the decision to go into law together – since that was one career Ginsburg wasn’t barred from entering. They both enrolled at Harvard Law School, where Ginsburg was one of only nine women in a class of 500. She reported that the dean once called all the women to come to a dinner at his home where he asked them why they were there; why they were taking spots men could be holding. Despite becoming editor of the coveted Harvard Law Review and finishing her education at Columbia, it was difficult for Ginsburg to gain employment following graduation.
She shared that many offices put signs in their windows stating “men only.” In one interview, she shared that she had three strikes against her: she was Jewish, a woman and a mother. Ginsburg was rejected often because of her gender.
Nevertheless, she persisted.
Ginsburg spent time in Sweden as a research associate for Columbia Law School. Her time there would influence her views on gender equality. When she took on a position at Rutgers Law School as a professor, she was told she would be paid less because she was a woman and had a husband who had a well-paying job himself. At the time, she was only one of around 20 female law professors in America.
In 1972, RBG co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. With tenacious and steady work, she changed the landscape for women everywhere. Over the next 20 years, she slowly rose within the ranks and championed equal rights for all. In 1980, she was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Thirteen years later, she would be nominated for the highest court in the land.
Ginsburg was only the second female to hold a seat in the Supreme Court and the first Jewish female. From the moment she began her new role in 1993, she championed equality. In 2002, she was entered into the Women’s Hall of Fame. When Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006, RBG was the only woman left on the Court. It was here Ginsburg found her voice and began her powerful tradition of reading dissents from the bench.
Her devotion to the rule of law and her work was never more obvious than when she continued to serve through multiple cancer diagnoses. Although she lost her battle to pancreatic cancer at 87 years old on September 18, 2020, RBG’s legacy will leave an indelible, everlasting imprint on the lives she impacted through her service to this country.
About her legacy, Justice Ginsburg once said, “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.” From spending her life ensuring equality for women and men, those with disabilities and the LGBTQ community, RBG remains forever known as a hero and champion of equality for all.
James H. Anderson, the assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities, spoke about the 2019 Missile Defense Review at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Jan. 29, 2019. He noted that the strategy covers the Defense Department’s three lines of effort: lethality, partnership and reform.
Here are his main points:
China and Russia are developing advanced cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons that can potentially overcome United States defenses. North Korea has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of reaching the U.S. and could be armed with nuclear warheads. And, Iran’s space program could accelerate development of an ICBM system that might be able to reach the U.S.
2019 missile defense review goal
Diplomacy and deterrence are the primary strategies to protect the nation, deployed forces and U.S. allies from missile attacks. Should that fail, the U.S. is developing a layered missile defense system as well as offensive capability.
The ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee gold crew returns to its home port at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., Jan. 11, 2019, following a strategic deterrence patrol.
(Photo by Bryan Tomforde)
• Upgrade existing radars and sensors
• Increase the number of ground-based interceptors by 20 to 64, along with developing a new kill vehicle for the GBI
• Develop small, high-energy lasers that can be fitted on unmanned aerial systems
• Arm F-35 Lightning II aircraft with tracking capabilities and possible missile intercept at the early boost stage
• Increase the Navy’s fleet of Aegis-equipped destroyers from 38 to 60
• Improve space-based sensors to detect and track missiles
• Conduct a feasibility study of space-based missile intercept capability
• Conduct a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA test against ICBMs by 2020
• Leverage the SM-6 for both defensive and strike operations.
A Standard Missile 3 Block IIA launches from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, Dec. 10, 2018, during a test to intercept an intermediate-range ballistic missile target in space.
(Photo by Ryan Keith)
To address regional threats and protect partners, Anderson said the U.S. will deploy additional terminal high altitude area defense, Patriot and Aegis Ashore platforms.
In turn, partner nations are building up their air and missile defenses, with the possibility of integrating them with U.S. systems. For example, he noted that NATO has an operational Aegis Ashore site in Romania. A second site, to be operational in about a year, is being built in Poland, which will house SM-3 Block IIA missiles. Denmark and the Netherlands have sea-based radar systems that can locate missiles.
DOD must adopt processes and cultures that enable development and procurement of missile defense systems in a streamlined and cost-effective manner, Anderson said.
“We must not fear test failure, but learn from it and rapidly adjust,” he said.
The stunning video below was filmed during Avalon Airshow, Avalon, Australia, and shows a USAF Boeing C-17 Globemaster III experiencing a birdstrike. The airlifter was on its take off roll for its aerial display when an big bird was ingested by the engine. According to HD Melbourne Aviation who filmed the incident, Avalon Airport is notorious for having hawks gliding and hanging around the runways. Indeed, one of them can be seen got sucked into the engine with a consequent fireball and loud bang, the typical behaviour of a compressor stall.
The C-17 aborted its take off and came to a stop on the runway before being taxied to a hangar for inspection. Since it did not fly on the following day, it is possible the damage was significant or required more details inspections.
We have often commented videos of photographs of jets suffering compressor stalls. Compressor stalls (sometimes referred to as afterburner stalls in aircraft with reheat) are not too rare among military aircraft. They can be caused by several factors, including birdstrikes, FOD (Foreign Object Damage), ingestion of turbulent, hot airflow or smoke into the air intake etc.
A compressor stall is a local disruption of the airflow in the compressor whose severity may vary from a momentary power drop to a complete loss of compression. It can be divided into two categories:
Compressor surge: all the rotor blade blades “lose” (i.e. the airfoil stalls like an airplane wing) the airflow at the same time, then get it again, then lose it again, etc.
Rotating stall : only a few blades on the annulus “lose” the airflow, and you get some kind of stalled pockets (you can have several of them) which rotates with a different velocity than the rotor (and in the opposite direction). Usually, you go to rotating stall then to full stall (or surge).
For instance, a compressor surge also occurs when the hot vapour generated by the aircraft carrier’s catapult is ingested by the aircraft air intake thus creating a breakdown in compression resulting in a the compressor’s inability to absorb the momentary disturbance and to continue pushing the air against the already-compressed air behind it. As a consequence, there’s a momentary reversal of air flow and a violent expulsion of previously compressed air out through the engine intake producing some loud bangs from the engine and “back fires”.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Decades before America’s Space Shuttle would roar into the sky, the United States already had plans to field a reusable spaceplane. Born out of Germany’s World War II efforts to create a bomber that could attack New York and continue on to the Pacific, Boeing’s X-20 Dyna-Soar was to be a single-seat craft boosted into the sky atop American rockets.
It would soar in the sky in the blurred line between earth’s atmosphere and the vacuum of space, bouncing along the heavens before releasing its payload over Soviet targets miles below. The X-20 was a 1950s science fiction fever dream born of the nuclear age and the earliest days of the Cold War… And according to some experts, it very likely would have worked.
Operation Paperclip and the burgeoning Cold War
As World War II came to a close, the United States and Soviet Union’s relationship with one another was already beginning to sour. Nazi Germany’s war machine had torn through the continent, often on the backs of Germany’s state-of-the-art military technology, but geopolitics is a game of theater and pragmatism in equal measure. While the world ached for justice, defense officials in both America and the Soviet Union already saw the Cold War looming large on the horizon. Justice mattered in the minds of these leaders, but not quite as much as surviving the next great conflict to come.
Nazi technology had given Germany an advantage on multiple military fronts, and both America and the Soviet Union knew the scientists responsible for these technological leaps would soon be looking for a means to escape prosecution for their roles in the conflict. Both nations, recognizing the strategic advantage their knowledge could offer, quickly set about capturing as many Nazi scientists and researchers as they could. In the United States, this effort to leverage Germany’s scientists came to be known as Operation Paperclip.
In all, Operation Paperclip, which was organized by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) and largely executed by the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, brought some 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians to the United States following the war, where they were given roles in America’s ongoing military and technological efforts. NASA’s famed Wernher von Braun, the man who developed the Saturn V rocket that brought America to the moon, was perhaps the most high profile German scientist to come through Paperclip, but among the others were Walter Dornberger and Krafft Ehricke.
In their newfound roles at Bell Aircraft, an American aircraft manufacturing firm, Dornberger and Ehricke first proposed the concept of a sort of vertical-launched bomber and missile in one. In Germany, they had called this theoretical platform the Silbervogel, or Silver Fish. Today, the plan seems quite logical: The vehicle would be sent aloft atop a rocket booster and propelled all the way into a sub-orbital but exoatmospheric altitude where it would briefly enter space, before gliding down toward the atmosphere and being “bounced” back up thanks to the vehicle’s wings.
Today, the idea of launching a reusable spaceplane into a suborbital altitude practically sounds run of the mill, thanks to similar concepts being leveraged by everything from nuclear ICBMs to the most advanced, cutting-edge hypersonic weapons, but Dornberger and Ehricke’s proposal was submitted in 1952 — five years before the Soviet Union would launch the world’s first man-made satellite into orbit. Operation Paperclip was devised specifically to leverage Germany’s scientists to help kick-start America’s own exotic military programs, and in hindsight, it’s hard to argue that the effort wasn’t a success, regardless of the ethical implications.
Working in the shadow of Sputnik
On October 1, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first man-made satellite. It was a small, metal sphere, measuring only about 23 inches in diameter, with four external radio antennas trailing behind it broadcasting signal pulses back to Soviet scientists, as well as the rest of the world. What followed has come to be known as the “Sputnik Crisis” in the Western world.
America had been the de facto world leader in terms of both military and economic might following the end of the Second World War, but the success of Sputnik placed America’s supremacy into question. The Soviets had matched America’s nuclear weapons with a test of their own in 1949, and again with the hydrogen bomb in 1953. Now, instead of matching America’s success, the Soviets were starting to take an intimidating lead.
The United States had taken to developing Dornberger and Ehricke’s concept in three separate programs: a rocket bomber (RoBo), a long-range reconnaissance vehicle (Brass Bell), and hypersonic weapons research. Just days after Sputnik 1 launched, the U.S. re-organized their efforts, combing all three programs into the new single Weapons System 464L program, also known as Dyna-Soar.
The new Dyna-Soar effort was to mature in three stages. Dyna-Soar 1 would be a research vehicle. Dyan-Soar 2 would add reconnaissance, and Dyna-Soar 3 would incorporate bombing capabilities. America intended to work fast, planning to test the first iteration by 1963 in glide trials, with powered trials to follow the next year. By then, the Dyna-Soar 2 was expected to exceed Mach 18 in powered flight. A missile based on the Dyna-Soar program was expected to enter service by 1968, with the spaceplane itself operational by 1974.
In order to meet these deadlines, proposals were fielded by both Bell Aircraft and Boeing. Despite Bell’s head start, Boeing ultimately secured the contract and set about work on developing what was to be the X-20 Dyna-Soar.
Building a Dyna-Soar
By 1960, the spaceplanes overall design was largely settled, leveraging a delta-shape and small winglets for control in place of a traditional tail. In order to manage the incredible heat of reentry, the X-20 would use super alloys like the heat-resistant René 41 in its frame, and molybdenum, graphite, and zirconia rods all used for heat shielding on the underside of the craft.
“It was a hot-temperature structure using a nickel super alloy,” said Dr. Richard Hallion, former Air Force chief historian.
“The leading edges of the wing would be made of an even more exotic alloy. There was provision for active cooling.”
That same year, astronauts were chosen to fly America’s new space bomber. Among them was a thirty-year-old Navy test pilot and aeronautical engineer named Neil Armstrong, who would go on to leave the program in 1962.
By the end of that same year, the program was given the designation X-20 and it was unveiled to the public in a ceremony held in Las Vegas. America’s mighty B-52 Stratofortress was chosen to air-drop the X-20 for in-atmosphere flight tests, and the first firing of the rocket booster intended for higher altitude drop-tests was also a success. The project was incredibly ahead of its time, while somehow also being entirely feasible with the technology of the day. In the early 1960s, it seemed all but assured that America would soon be flying space bombers.
Once built, the X-20 Dyna-Soar’s first mock-up measured 35 and a half feet long with a 20.4-foot wingspan. It used three retractable struts for landing. Although it would have its own A-4 or A-9 rocket engine to help it reach an exoatmospheric trajectory, it would effectively glide throughout most of its mission, dipping down into the atmosphere just far enough to create lift, which it would use to bounce back up, skipping across the air enveloping the earth like a stone over a pond. It would continue to skip until it had lost enough velocity to prevent another bounce back up, at which point the pilot would glide the craft back down to earth just like the Space Shuttle.
The X-20 Dyna-Soar goes extinct
Although the X-20 concept was quite literally out of this world, it was still technically feasible, and early tests suggested that the Dyna-Soar may indeed work as advertised. However, the program was also incredibly expensive, and with the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration moving forward with its Gemini program, America’s civilian leaders were becoming more interested in fielding an actual spacecraft they could use to compete with the Soviets, rather than a weapon that offered little in the way of international prestige.
“If we had pursued it as a black-world program like the U-2, it might have gone ahead,” explained Hallion. “I never saw any technical issue that would have been a show stopper.”
On December 10, 1963, the X-20 program was canceled. The United States had invested $410 million in its development, or more than $3.5 billion in 2021 dollars, but the Dyna-Soar was still a long way off from being the space bomber it was intended to become. Even per Hallion’s positive recollection of the effort, the X-20 was still at least two-and-a-half years away from working and would have required at least another $370 million to complete. A space bomber would indeed offer global range, but in 1957, the U.S. Air Force had demonstrated that the B-52, the same bomber tasked with helping test the X-20, could circle the globe all on its own, without any need for pricey rockets.
Upon canceling the X-20 program, the U.S. government diverted its remaining funding to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory effort that used Gemini spacecraft to demonstrate the value of a crewed military presence in Earth’s orbit.
But the X-20 was not completely swallowed up by history. Elements of the program could be found in NASA’s Space Shuttle, and of course, the Space Force’s secretive X-37B bears more than a passing resemblance to the X-20. The X-37B is not touted as a space bomber and almost certainly isn’t, but the reusable spaceplane may, in fact, be one of America’s most capable reconnaissance assets.
The Army’s Special Forces command came down to one man during the Vietnam War. His job performance earned him the nod from screenwriter John Milius, who turned retired Army Colonel Robert Rheault’s legacy into something more enduring than he ever imagined. He was immortalized forever by actor Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
Unlike Col. Kurtz, however, there was nothing insane or dark about Col. Rheault.
Rheault shortly after the end of the “Green Beret Case.”
Robert Rheault grew up in a privileged New England family, went to West Point and later studied in Paris, at the Sorbonne. The young Army officer picked up a Silver Star for service in Korea, but it was his time in Vietnam that would change his career forever, devastating the man who only ever wanted the Army life.
In Vietnam, Col. Rheault commanded all of the United States Special Forces. Taking command of the 5th Special Forces Group in July, 1969, it was only three weeks before the darkest incident of his career would put him in the middle of one of the war’s most controversial events – the “Green Beret Case.”
Rheault was an accomplished soldier, a paratrooper, Silver Star Recipient and Korean War veteran by the time he arrived in Vietnam.
The United States had been in Vietnam in force since 1965. By 1969, there were more than a half million U.S. troops in theater. Special Forces A-Teams were operating in 80 or more isolated areas throughout Vietnam. Given their mission and skills sets, the intelligence gathered by Special Forces soldiers was the most solid in the entire war, and the U.S. military estimated that SF components were able to identify, track, and eliminate entire Viet Cong units in their area of responsibility.
At the time, Special Forces operators were in the middle of a project called GAMMA, a similar intelligence-gathering operation targeting the North Vietnamese in Cambodia – and the project was the biggest secret of the war until that point. After SF troops identified NVA or VC units in “neutral” Cambodia, B-52 bombers would illegally hit those Communist targets in defiance of UN conventions.
Rheault commanded a force of Green Berets and South Vietnamese commandos who would lead raids into the neighboring countries to gather intelligence and take out key Communist infiltration, transportation, or storage sites – whatever would cause the most harm to the enemy. Sites they couldn’t take care of themselves were left to the CIA and the U.S. Air Force. The Colonel oversaw five of these “collection teams” and its 98 codenamed agents. It was the most successful intelligence net of the war.
But something kept happening to the Special Forces’ most valuable intelligence assets. They kept ending up dead or disappearing entirely. They began to suspect a double agent in their midst. That’s when a Special Forces team raided a Communist camp in Cambodia. Among the intel they picked up was a roll of film that included a photo of a South Vietnamese GAMMA agent, Thai Khac Chuyen.
He was not long for this world.
After ten days of interrogations and lie detector tests, Chuyen was found to have lied about compromising the GAMMA program. To make matters worse, the double agent might also have been working for the South Vietnamese government. This meant that if the triple agent was released to them, he could possibly walk free, a prospect unacceptable to the Americans. After conferring with the CIA, they decided to handle Chuyen in the way that most double- or triple-agents meet their end. He disappeared.
Chuyen’s American handler, Sgt. Alvin Smith, was not a member of Special Forces, but rather an Army intelligence specialist assigned to the project. It turns out that Smith did not follow protocol when onboarding Chuyen. Smith failed to administer a polygraph test that might have revealed why Chuyen spoke such fluent English, that the agent was from North Vietnam and had family there, and had worked for many other U.S. outfits and left them all in incredible turmoil.
Col. Rheault returns to the U.S. with his wife in 1969.
Smith began to fear for his own safety, having failed the Special Forces and compromising one of the best intelligence networks of the entire war. So he fled, taking refuge with the CIA office in the area and spilling the beans about what really happened to the triple-agent Chuyen. Rheault and seven other officers were arrested for premeditated murder and jailed at Long Binh.
Rheault actually knew about it and lied about the cover story (that Chuyen was sent on a mission and disappeared) to protect the men who served under him. But Rheault took no part in the planning or execution of Chuyen’s murder. Still, he lied to Gen. Creighton Abrams who already had a distaste for the Special Forces. So, when the officers’ courts-martial began, the Army was looking to throw the book at all of them.
Abrams was well-known for hating paratroopers and Special Forces.
The event made national news and soldiers under Rheault’s command were flabbergasted. The colonel had done nothing wrong, and they knew it. Moreover, there was no one more qualified for his position in the entire country, as he was one of very few officers qualified to wear the coveted green beret. But the CIA wouldn’t testify against the soldiers, and by September, 1969, it wouldn’t matter. The Secretary of the Army, Stanley Resor, dropped the charges against the men after succumbing to pressure from President Nixon and American public opinion.
By then, the damage was done. All eight of the officers’ careers were ruined, and Rheault accepted an early retirement. The fallout didn’t stop there. The publicity associated with what became known as the “Green Beret Case” prompted RAND Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg to leak the “Pentagon Papers” to the American Press.
Since World War II, the Army has been using comic books to train soldiers on specific duties and reduce casualties through improved situational awareness.
The trend continued through the Vietnam War. At that time, the Army discovered a training deficiency and produced a comic book to educate soldiers about proper weapon maintenance.
Fast forward to today, the Army is facing a new challenge.
Advancements in cyber and smart technologies have the potential to alter the landscape of future military operations, according to Lt. Col. Robert Ross, threatcasting project lead at the Army Cyber Institute, West Point, New York.
The U.S. military, allied partners, and their adversaries are finding new ways to leverage networked devices on the battlefield, Ross said.
The Army Cyber Institute at West Point, New York, has partnered with Arizona State University Threatcasting Lab to produce a series of graphic novellas such as “1000 Cuts.”
(US Army photo)
“The use of networked technology is ubiquitous throughout society and the leveraging of these devices on future battlefields will become more prevalent; there is just no escape from this trend. Technology is integrated at every level of our Army,” he said.
Keeping with the Army’s legacy of producing visual literature to improve readiness, the ACI has partnered with Arizona State University Threatcasting Lab to produce a series of graphic novellas, Ross said.
The lab brings together military, government, industry, and academia experts to envision possible future threats.
The graphic seen here is from the novella titled “1000 Cuts.”
(US Army photo)
Through their research, the workshop develops potential cyber threat scenarios, and then explores options to disrupt, mitigate, and recover from these future threats.
Each graphic novella considers what cyber threats are plausible in the next 10 years — based on a combination of scientific fact and the imagination of those involved, Ross explained.
“This project is designed to deliver that understanding through visual narrative,” he said. “Technical reports and research papers do not translate as well to the audiences we are looking to influence. Graphic novellas are more influential of a medium for conveying future threats to not only Army organizations at large, but down to the soldier level.”
The graphic seen here is from the novella titled “Insider Threat.”
(US Army photo)
The novella titled “1000 Cuts” depicts the psychological impact that a cyber-attack could have on soldiers and their families. In the story, these attacks were enough to disrupt a deployed unit, leaving them open to an organized attack, Ross said.
“Given the exponential growth in soldiers’ use of [networked] devices … 1000 Cuts presents an extremely plausible threat. It demonstrates how non-state actors can leverage technical vulnerabilities within the cyber domain to their advantage in the land domain,” Ross said.
“The visual conveyance of a graphic novella enables leaders to not only envision these scenarios but retain the lessons that can be drawn from them as well,” he added.
Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy got a shocking view of the future of warfare in 1944 when, as they were moving supplies from ships to the shore, a jet-powered, Nazi bomber ripped past at approximately 460 mph.
The Arado Ar 234 was the first operational jet bomber and flew at up to 540 miles per hour, so quick that no Allied fighter could match it without going into a dive.
For the air crews assigned to protect the American forces landing supplies in Normandy in August 1944, attacking the Arado was essentially impossible. Loaded with reconnaissance gear, it flew over the beaches at 460 mph while taking a photo every 11 seconds.
At that speed, it could fly over all five original D-Day beaches in less than eight minutes. By the time that fighter aircraft made it into the air to hunt the Arado down, it would already be long gone.
That didn’t quite make the Arado invincible, though. Like the slightly slower British de Havilland Mosquito, a prop-driven British bomber and reconnaissance aircraft that go its speed from its light weight, the Ar 234 was left vulnerable when it was forced to maneuver or slow down for bombing runs.
The P-51 is one of the only aircraft to shoot down an Arado Ar 234 in flight. It did so thanks to a group of P-47 Thunderbolts that forced the jet-powered bomber into a speed-bleeding turn. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Philip Bryant)
One of the only Ar 234s ever shot down was caught because it was forced into a sharp turn while coming out of a bombing run.
A group of German jets were bombing Allied bridges on the Rhine when a group of American P-47s came at them. The German jets took a tight turn to avoid the P-47s, losing so much speed that they were left vulnerable. American Capt. Don Bryan was in a P-51 nearby and was able to position himself so that the turning German planes had to fly just underneath him.
Adolf Hitler considered the Ar 234 one of his wonder weapons that would save Germany, but it suffered from a number of shortcomings. First, the fragile engines needed an overhaul after every ten hours of flight and were replaced after 25. The jet also needed long runways and large amounts of fuel, two things that were hard for a Luftwaffe on the retreat to provide with regularity.
In the end, the jets were sent on just a few operational missions. The Normandy reconnaissance was the first, and they also did duty over the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge and in the final defense of Germany, flying first against the bridges over the Rhine and later against Soviet troop concentrations.