The Air Force plans to fire off new prototype ICBMs in the early 2020s as part of a long-range plan to engineer and deploy next-generation nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles by the late 2020s — by building weapons with improved range, durability, targeting technology, and overall lethality, service officials said.
The service is already making initial technological progress on design work and “systems engineering” for a new arsenal of ICBMs to serve well into the 2070s — called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD.
“GBSD initial operating capability is currently projected for the late 2020s,” Capt. Hope Cronin, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven.
Northrop Grumman and Boeing teams were awarded Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction deals from the Air Force in 2017 as part of a longer-term developmental trajectory aimed at developing, testing, firing and ultimately deploying new ICBMs.
Following an initial 3-year developmental phase, the Air Force plans an Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase and eventual deployment of the new weapons.
“Milestone B is currently projected for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. This represents the completion of technology maturation and risk reduction activities and initiates the engineering and manufacturing development phase,” Cronin said.
A Minuteman III ICBM test launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, United States.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The Air Force plans to award the single EMD contract in late fiscal year 2020.
Overall, the Air Force plans to build as many as 400 new GBSD weapons to modernize the arsenal and replace the 1970s-era Boeing-built Minuteman IIIs.
The new weapons will be engineered with improved guidance technology, boosters, flight systems and command and control systems, compared to the existing Minuteman III missiles. The weapon will also have upgraded circuitry and be built with a mind to long-term maintenance and sustainability, developers said.
“The GBSD design has not been finalized. Cost capability and trade studies are ongoing,” Cronin added.
Initial subsystem prototypes are included within the scope of the current Boeing and Northrop deals, service developers said.
Senior nuclear weapons developers have told Warrior that upgraded guidance packages, durability and new targeting technology are all among areas of current developmental emphasis for the GBSD.
The new ICBMs will be deployed roughly within the same geographical expanse in which the current weapons are stationed. In total, dispersed areas across three different sites span 33,600 miles, including missiles in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Minot, North Dakota, and Great Falls, Montana.
The Paradox of Strategic Deterrence
“GBSD will provide a safe, secure and effective land-based deterrent through 2075,” Cronin claimed.
If one were to passively reflect upon the seemingly limitless explosive power to instantly destroy, vaporize or incinerate cities, countries and massive swaths of territory or people — images of quiet, flowing green meadows, peaceful celebratory gatherings or melodious sounds of chirping birds might not immediately come to mind.
After all, lethal destructive weaponry does not, by any means, appear to be synonymous with peace, tranquility and collective happiness. However, it is precisely the prospect of massive violence which engenders the possibility of peace. Nuclear weapons therefore, in some unambiguous sense, can be interpreted as being the antithesis of themselves; simply put — potential for mass violence creates peace — thus the conceptual thrust of nuclear deterrence.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
The U.S. military is prepping for anti-surface warfare to make a comeback, and it’s moved one step closer with another successful test of the latest air-launched, Long Range Anti-Ship Missile.
Lockheed Martin Corp., the missile’s manufacturer, recently launched the AGM-158C LRASM from a B-1B Lancer at Point Mugu Sea Range, California, the company said.
The aircrew “simultaneously launched two LRASMs against multiple maritime targets, meeting the primary test objectives, including target impact,” Lockheed said in a release.
Once launched from the aircraft, the missile — based on the, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range, or JASSM-ER — will be able to autonomously sensor-locate and track targets while avoiding friendly forces.
“This continued success with LRASM provides confidence in its upcoming early operational capability milestone, putting a proven, unmatched munition into the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force inventories,” said David Helsel, LRASM program director at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.
“The successful flight demonstrates LRASM’s continued ability to strengthen sea control for our forces,” he said in the release.
“The B-1 is the only Air Force platform scheduled to receive this, and we are the threshold platform for [it],” Maj. Jeremy Stover, B-1 program element monitor and instructor weapons systems officer, told Military.com in July.
The weapon will enhance not just the B-1, but the U.S. military’s targeting capabilities while protecting at-risk assets in a high-threat environment, Stover said. The B-1 may be capable of carrying more than 20 LRASMs at a time.
The Air Force is scheduled to integrate LRASM onboard the B-1B in 2018 and the Navy on its F/A-18E/F in 2019, the release said.
“The captain goes down with the ship” is a maritime tradition suggesting that a captain is honor-bound to stay on a sinking ship until all passengers and crew members have been safely evacuated.
In 2012, Captain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia came under fire for allegedly leaving the ship while passengers were still on board when the vessel crashed off the coast of Italy. Thirty-two passengers died, and Schettino was sentenced to sixteen years in prison: ten years for manslaughter, five years for causing the shipwreck, and one year for abandoning his passengers.
The expectation that a ship’s captain would stay on board until everyone had been evacuated developed in the mid-19th Century, but it could be argued that the sentiment has gone too far. What about ship captains that go down with their ship even after they’ve ordered it abandoned?
Here are four notable cases of captains who went down with the ship:
Rear Admiral Giovanni Viglione
On May 30, 1918, the U-boat UB-49, captained by Kapitänleutnant Hans von Mellenthin, torpedoed the Pietro Maroncelli, an Italian steamer ship off the coast of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. Rear Admiral Giovanni Viglione, who was on board as the convoy commodore, ordered all the survivors into the lifeboats, then chose to stay aboard and go down with the ship.
Capitano di Corvetta Lorenzo Bezzi
On June 27, 1940, an Allied destroyer group spotted the Italian submarine Console Generale Liuzzi while she was on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea. Her captain, Capitano di Corvetta Lorenzo Bezzi, determined that the submarine was unable to flee nor fight the destroyers, so he therefore, ordered his crew to abandon and scuttle the ship. Bezzi, however, decided to go down with the Console Generale Liuzzi, for which he would be posthumously awarded the Gold Medal.
Captain Ryusaku Yanagimoto
On June 5, 1942, U.S. naval forces launched an attack against the Japanese Imperial Navy that would turn the tide of World War II in the Pacific. The Japanese carrier fleet was crippled with multiple losses, including the Akagi and Kaga, and later the Hiryu, but it was the loss of the Soryu — and her beloved captain — that would strike at the hearts of the Japanese sailors.
After Captain Ryusaku Yanagimoto gave the order to abandon the burning ship, it was discovered that he had remained aboard. When Chief Petty Officer Abe was chosen to retrieve the captain, Abe found Yanagimoto standing on the Soryu’s bridge, sword in hand. Abe reported that the “strength of will and determination of his grim-faced commander stopped him short.” Abe left Captain Yanagimoto, who calmly sang Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem.
He watched with the other survivors as the Soryu sank along with the bodies of 718, including her captain.
Commander Howard W. Gilmore
On Feb. 7, 1943, a Japanese gunboat attacked the American submarine USS Growler, captained by Commander Howard W. Gilmore, who gave the order to clear the bridge. Two Americans were shot dead while Gilmore and two others were wounded — and time to save the crippled sub was running short. When the survivors entered the sub, Commander Gilmore gave his final order: “Take her down.”
His executive officer closed the hatch and submerged the USS Growler to safety. Commander Gilmore posthumously received the Medal of Honor:
“For distinguished gallantry and valor above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Growler during her Fourth War Patrol in the Southwest Pacific from 10 January to 7 February 1943. Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and anti-submarine patrols, Comdr. Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading severe depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. Comdr. Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 11 knots and bursting wide her plates.
“In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat’s heavy machine guns, Comdr. Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge, and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final living moments, Comdr. Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, ‘Take her down.’ The Growler dived; seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead captain.”
Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro on Feb. 27, 2019, tweeted a 40-minute-long livestream on Periscope about the government’s carnival preparations as the country further spirals into crisis.
Carnival — or “Carnaval” as known in Venezuela — is a big celebration celebrated before Lent every year, in which people dress up in costumes, dance, and attend parades with floats.
Maduro’s video came after a weekend of violent clashes when state forces barred activists from bringing in aid through the Colombian and Brazilian borders.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro discussed plans for Venezuela’s upcoming Carnaval celebrations while the country continues to crumble.
Police fired tear gas and pellets on protesters, killing at least two and injuring at least 300, The Associated Press (AP) reported. More than 300 Venezuelan soldiers defected and fled to Colombia after the unrest, the AP added.
But in his lengthy stream, Maduro primarily focused on his plans for a “safe carnival” in 2019. The video showed Venezuelans in costumes dancing and celebrating, as the president calls on ministers, governors and mayors to explain how the government will ensure smooth festivities.
Maduro then mused about cute children in costumes before announcing that he will also dress up and join the celebration.
The leader is often criticized for organizing big celebrations and performances, like salsa dancing, as a distraction from the humanitarian and economic crisis plaguing the nation.
Feb. 23, 2019, he was slammed for dancing at a concert while government forces blocked the entry of food and medicine at the borders.
Maduro addressed his critics in his Feb. 27, 2019, livestream, saying: “The imperialists were mad that I was dancing. We [Venezuelans] always dance because we are a happy people and this is a revolution of joy.”
The video also showed images of pro-government rallies, with Maduro saying that the majority of Venezuelans oppose international intervention.
Maduro and his allies around the world — like Russia, China, and Syria — have opposed foreign support for his opponent Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim government in January 2019.
Maduro also mocked Guaidó’s slogan while discussing Carnaval plans. “Vamos bien,” he said — Spanish for “we are making progress.”
Venezuelan “interim president” Juan Guaidó.
Guaidó is currently exiled in Colombia, and has met with US Vice President Mike Pence and the Lima Group, a regional bloc established to end the Venezuelan crisis.
Guaidó told his supporters via video on Feb. 26, 2019, that he is currently planning his return to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas to mobilize his supporters. The exact date of his arrival and next steps will be made public in the coming days, he added.
He said he refuses “this compromise of having to fight from abroad,” referring to Colombia, and said that Maduro is “alone and desperate.”
Guaidó also posted an audio message, urging his supporters to keep mobilizing and and announcing unspecified actions to garner support from military and government workers.
When Gen. “Stormin'” Norman Schwarzkopf was preparing for a counter-offensive against Iraqi invaders in Kuwait, he was disappointed by the initial plans put forward by his staff. The plans looked, to him, like they might fail — or at least require many more lives, time, and lost equipment than any coalition nation would be happy losing.
The SAMS graduates were like this — except for the mask and the lightsaber and the robes.
(Photo by Simon King)
The story started in September, 1990, when Schwarzkopf put out the call for new blood on his planning team. Four recent SAMS graduates were sent straight to him, arriving in theater within weeks of the call. When they were assembled, Schwarzkopf gave them a seemingly impossible task: Draft a new offensive war plan within two weeks while not telling anyone what they were doing or asking any questions that could expose their purpose. For the four top planners, led by Col. Joseph Purvis, this presented a series of challenges. They couldn’t tell any lower-level staff why they needed to know details, like exactly how many trucks a unit had or how quickly their slowest vehicles could move on sand up a hill.
I mean, everyone was glad for the help, but the more tank types you bring, the more details you have to keep track of.
(Photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. H. H. Deffner)
If that wasn’t challenging enough, someone up their chain (many civilian and military leaders have claimed credit since the war) had envisioned a “Left Hook” attack that required an entire corps to secretly move through the massive desert with limited ability to resupply while facing a numerically superior force.
But this was the exact challenge that the year-long SAMS program prepared graduates for, infusing into them a deep understanding of strategic planning. Purvis’s team at Central Command reached out to other SAMS graduates at both American corps and every subordinate division they could find and set up a backdoor network for asking their detailed questions about equipment numbers and unit strengths.
What emerged from the planning cell, working with troops at Third Army, VII Corps, and XVIII Airborne Corps, was a plan for forces that focused on breaking the Republican Guard units and other forces and had little emphasis on holding ground. ‘Envelope and destroy,’ not ‘clear and hold.’
In other words, rather than focusing on liberating Kuwait and destroying Iraqi forces in the process, the coalition would focus on breaking Iraqi forces and allow liberation to naturally follow. Coalition units wouldn’t need to stay in place and hold ground.
The SAMS graduates across the force worked with the four planners at top to create realistic timelines for movements, emphasizing speed but acknowledging environmental facts, like how an armored column needs time to re-form, refuel, and rearm for attacks after long drives through the desert.
The “Left Hook” was a massive undertaking that needed to be accomplished with secrecy and finesse so the Iraqis would keep their attentions to the east until it was too late.
(Photo by U.S. Navy PHC D. W. Holmes II)
They recommended a large logistics buildup to support a “short duration, high tempo, high consumption ground offensive.”
Translation: If you throw everything at them in the first week, there won’t be anything left to fight against (or with) in the second.
Plans were drawn up that utilized most divisions for their specific strengths. Airborne forces moved throughout the battlefield, guarding supply lines and keeping isolated Iraqi forces cutoff. Air assault soldiers used their helicopters to strike deep into Iraqi territory and disrupt defenses.
Throughout the Pacific Theater, US military units must overcome jungle terrain riddled with cliffs, poisonous creatures, dense foliage yielding mere yards of visibility, and muddy slopes that threaten to launch anyone down 30-foot ravines of twisted roots and jagged rocks.
Welcome to the jungle.
US Army Green Berets from 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), invited Team Kadena airmen to train with them at the US Marine Corps Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC) at Camp Gonsalves, Okinawa, Japan.
“The Special Forces detachment incorporated airmen from around Okinawa to attend a training exercise to bridge the gap in small unit tactics, communication techniques, and patient extraction procedures between our airmen and the Green Berets,” said US Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Triana, an independent duty medical technician paramedic (IDMT-P) from the 67th Fighter Squadron.
“Each airman is trained in a different specialty providing various perspectives to achieve the tactical objectives presented by the detachment in the jungle.”
A US Army Green Beret and Air Force Staff Sgt. Mike Triana establish a security perimeter during a small unit tactics exercise, at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 21, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
The Kadena airmen’s familiarity and experience with deployments to countries such the Philippines and Thailand enabled them to withstand the Green Berets’ jungle training program. The training enabled Triana and other airmen to expand their deployment skillsets in a severely restrictive jungle environment.
“As an IDMT-P the didactic aspect of the training improved our capabilities to deliver immediate medical care at the point of injury,” said Triana. “Learning patient extraction techniques provides the capability to safely gain access to an injured patient and remove them from an adverse situation such as a cliff or ravine.”
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
This integration enabled the airmen to train in basic US Army Infantry squad and platoon tactics for the first time while simultaneously allowing the Special Forces detachment to hone its combat lethality and readiness posture for high intensity conflict against a near-peer adversary, according to a 1-1 SFG (A) command vision document.
“Small unit tactics and patient extraction training provided the skills necessary to perform the duties required in a tactical element or combat scenario,” said Triana. “This training opportunity has enhanced our readiness to respond to humanitarian relief efforts and deploy to a declared theater of armed conflict.”
Team Kadena airmen receive weapon familiarization training from a US Army Green Beret after a land-navigation course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 20, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
US Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Donahue establishes a security perimeter during a small unit tactics exercise at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 21, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
They are capable of conducting the full spectrum of special operations to identify and target threats to US national interests.
“We deploy to countries throughout the INDOPACOM area of responsibility to bilaterally train with partner nations. This partnership enhances capabilities to combat internal threats from violent extremist organizations or other hostile actors,” said a Special Forces detachment commander.
“This enables us to enhance not only our readiness and lethality to respond to a contingency or crises scenario, but also provides our foreign counterparts the skills they need to protect their sovereignty.”
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
The Special Forces detachment is optimizing the joint training opportunities present on Okinawa, Japan. Working with adjacent military units from the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army allows the detachment to enhance its advisory capacity and maintain readiness before deploying to a foreign country.
“Training with these airmen opens different channels in terms of capabilities, resources, and training value,” said a Special Forces medical sergeant.
“For our Air Force counterparts, it provides a valuable opportunity for them to learn tactical skills they may never have been taught. For us, seeing them motivated, aggressively engaging in these drills, and advancing in their understanding of small unit tactics is valuable feedback for an instructor and adviser on our skills.”
US Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force service members conduct intravenous hydration during a multi-day training event at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 22, 2019.
(US Army/1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group)
The Marine Corps JWTC further enhances the Green Berets’ mission capabilities, offering a low cost, highly versatile training platform across more than 8,700 acres of heavily vegetated, mountainous terrain, according to the JWTC cadre.
“In preparation for high-intensity conflict against a near-peer adversary, our training methodology must adapt from our experiences conducting counter terrorism and counter insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said the Special Forces detachment company commander.
“The opportunity to enhance our relationship with the Marine cadre at the JWTC has enabled my teams to train in the jungle, reinforcing the skills we require for this near-peer high intensity conflict.”
US Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Shelton guards his fire team’s retreat during a break-contact combat exercise as part of a multi-day training event at the Jungle Warfare Training Center at Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 22, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
A US Army Green Beret coordinates fire-team movements during a break-contact combat exercise as part of a multi-day training event at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 22, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
US Army Green Berets conduct a multi-day field training event with Team Kadena airmen at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 21, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
“Every country we operate in, we enhance our partnerships and alliances with our foreign counterparts,” said the SF detachment commander.
“When it comes to security, we are the preferred partner choice that shares their values and principles. The US is ready to assist them in preserving their sovereignty, and will maintain the rules-based free and open Indo-Pacific that has assured an unparalleled prosperity in the last 30 years,” the commander said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Russia reportedly plans to arm its most advanced fighter jet with a powerful hypersonic air-to-air missile that can take aim at aircraft nearly two hundred miles away, making them a potential threat to critical US air assets.
The Su-57 multipurpose fighter jet, a fifth-generation stealth fighter built for air superiority and complex attack operations that is still in development, will be armed with the new R-37M, an upgraded version of an older long-range air-to-air missile, Russia Today reported Sept. 27, 2018, citing defense officials.
The Russian Ministry of Defense is reportedly close to completing testing for this weapon, the development of which began after the turn of the century.
With a reported operational range of 186 to 248 miles and a top speed of Mach 6 (4,500 mph), the R-37M is designed to eliminate rear support aircraft, critical force multipliers such as early warning and aerial refueling aircraft. Russia asserts that the missile possesses an active-seeker homing system that allows it to target fighter jets during the terminal phase of flight.
While Russia initially intended to see the weapon carried by the MiG-31 interceptors, these missiles are now expected to become the primary weapons of the fourth-generation Su-30s and Su-35s, as well as the next-generation Su-57s. The weapon’s specifications were modified to meet these demands.
The Russians are also apparently developing another very long-range air-to-air missile — the KS-172, a two-stage missile with a range said to be in excess of the R-37M’s capabilities, although the latter is reportedly much closer to deployment.
Mockup of the KS–172 in front of a Sukhoi Su-30.
China, another US competitor, is also reportedly developing advanced long-range air-to-air missiles that could be carried by the reportedly fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter. The China Daily reported in January 2017 that photos of a J-11B from the Red Sword 2016 combat drills appeared to show a new beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.
“China has developed a new missile that can hit high-value targets such as early-warning planes and aerial refueling aircraft, which stay far from conflict zones,” the state-run media outlet reported, citing Fu Qianshao, an equipment researcher with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Slow, vulnerable rear-support aircraft improve the overall effectiveness of key front-line fighter units, such as America’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which just conducted its first combat mission. The best strategy to deal with this kind of advanced system is to “send a super-maneuverable fighter jet with very-long-range missiles to destroy those high-value targets, which are ‘eyes’ of enemy jets,” Fu told the China Daily, calling the suspected development of this type of weapon a “major breakthrough.”
The missiles being developed by US rivals reportedly have a greater range than the American AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), giving them a potential edge over US military aircraft.
The Russian Su-57 is expected to enter service in 2019, although the Russian military is currently investing more heavily in fourth-generation fighters like the MiG-29SMT Fulcrum and Su-35S Flanker E, which meet the country’s air combat needs for the time being. Russia canceled plans for the mass production of the Su-57 in July 2018 after a string of development problems.
There is some evidence the aircraft may have been active in Syria in early 2018, but the plane remains unready for combat at this time. Military analyst Michael Kofman previously told Business Insider that the Su-57 is “a poor man’s stealth aircraft,” adding that it doesn’t quite stack up to the F-35 or F-22.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The M60 Patton was America’s first main battle tank and a heavy-lifter for the U.S. from its adoption in 1960 to its final retirement in 1997. It’s still in service in allied countries around the world and Raytheon has come out with a modernization kit to get it ready for 21st-century combat.
The Raytheon M60A3 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) features a 950-horsepower engine (a 200-horsepower improvement), a 120mm main gun, new fire control and targeting systems with thermal and day sights, and more reactive motors to move the turret and main gun.
Replacing the old, 105mm M68 rifled gun with the L44 120mm smoothbore cannon is probably the most visible and important part of the SLEP upgrades. The L44 is also known as the M256, the main gun on the M1 Abrams main battle tank that America uses today. It features greater range and penetrating power than the M68 it is replacing.
The upgraded electric motors will allow crews to respond more quickly to enemies spotted on the battlefield than the old hydraulic motors. They also do their job more quietly, reducing the chances that the Pattons will be spotted as quickly in combat.
Meanwhile, the new, 950-hp engines will allow the tanks to reach more places more quickly, giving commanders better tactical and strategic options on the battlefield.
Finally, the sights on the tank are a leap forward for it, allowing crews to quickly and reliably engage targets with their larger cannon.
The tanks featured in a Raytheon video about the SLEP also seem to feature armor upgrades, but Raytheon hasn’t commented on what new capabilities the armor gives.
Of course, this is still an old dog learning new tricks and M60s would struggle against the most modern tanks on the battlefield. For Raytheon, it seems to be about giving customers who can’t afford new tanks an upgrade option rather than making the M60 a peer to Abrams, Leopard, or Armata tanks.
For countries who field the M60 and aren’t yet ready for a tank acquisition program, the SLEP offers a chance to deter aggressive neighbors without breaking the bank.
The SR-71 Blackbird is the fastest and highest-flying production aircraft ever to exist. It holds all of the world’s airspeed and altitude records, even after its retirement from the Air Force in the late 1990s.
It’s an incredible accomplishment considering the spy plane was developed during the 1950s and 60s without the help of computers.
The long-range, supersonic Blackbird was capable of flying at Mach 3 for more than an hour unlike its closest competitor, the Russian-made MiG-25 Foxbat, which could do it for a few minutes, according to the TechLaboratories video below.
The SR-71 was only about 45 feet shorter than the Boeing 727 passenger airliner. From nose to tail, the sleek jet measured 107.4 feet long, had a wingspan of 55.6 feet, stood 18.5 feet high and weighed about 140,000 pounds — including a fuel weight of 80,000 pounds.
Remarkably, the Blackbird had better gas mileage traveling at three times the speed of sound than at slower speeds. But it was still extremely expensive to operate, which is why Congress finally decommissioned the bird in 1998.
From its engines to its airframe, this TechLaboratories video explains the incredible engineering magic behind the SR-71 Blackbird:
The universe has been finding ways to mess with people long before Edward A. Murphy uttered his famed statement in the aftermath of Dr. John Paul Stapp strapping himself onto a rocket powered sled. One of the earliest instances of this “law” being stated explicitly happened in 1877 where Alfred Holt, in an address to the Institution of Civil Engineers, said, “It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later…”
By 1908, it had become a well-loved maxim among magicians as well, as explained by Nevil Maskelyne in The Magic Circular: “It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion . . . everything that can go wrong will go wrong…”
This was reiterated by Adam Hull Shirk in The Sphinx in 1928, “It is an established fact that in nine cases out of ten whatever can go wrong in a magical performance will do so.”
This all brings us to our unsung hero of the hour, Dr. John Paul Stapp — a man whose work has saved hundreds of thousands of lives since, and who Joseph Kittinger — who famously did a high altitude jump from 102,800 ft — called the “bravest man I’ve ever met… He knew the effects of what he was getting himself into… And he never hesitated.”
Dr. John Paul Stapp.
Born in Brazil, the son of American missionaries there, Stapp eventually became an English major in college, but he changed career paths due to a traumatic incident that occurred during his Christmas break of 1928 when a 2 year old cousin of his was severely burned in a fireplace. Stapp helped to try to nurse the child back to health, but efforts failed and, 63 hours after getting burned, the toddler died. Said Stapp, “It was the first time I had ever seen anyone die. I decided right then I wanted to be a doctor.”
Unable to afford to go to medical school initially, after he earned a Master’s Degree in Zoology, he instead started teaching chemistry and zoology at Decatur College in Texas while he saved up money. Two years later, he attended the University of Texas where he got a PhD in Biophysics. Next up, he went to the University of Minnesota Medical School and got a Doctor of Medicine degree while working as a research assistant there.
Initially planning on becoming a pediatrician, Stapp changed career paths after joining the Army Medical Corps during WWII. While working as a flight surgeon, among other things, he was heavily involved in designing high altitude oxygen systems as well as studying the effects of high altitude/high speed flight on the human body. The end goal of all of this was to create better safety systems for pilots. During this time, he became puzzled at how some people would survive crashes, even extreme ones, while others in similar or lesser crashes would receive fatal injuries.
This all brings us around to Project MX-981 at the Edwards Air Force Base in 1945.
Up until this point, the prevailing theory was that a human body could not withstand more than 18Gs of force without suffering a fatal injury. The problem here was that airplanes of the age were flying faster and higher than ever. As such, the military wanted to know if their pilots could safely eject at these high velocities without being killed, as well as to try to design the safest possible system for doing so.
Testing towards this end was overseen by Dr. Stapp, using a rocket powered sled called the “Gee Whiz”. This was placed on rails on a 2000 foot track, at the end of which was an approximately 50 foot long section where a hydraulic braking system would stop the 1500 lb sled in its tracks.
Stapp rides the rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base.
The passenger aboard the cart was to initially be a 185 lb dummy named Oscar Eightball and then later chimpanzees. Stapp, however, had other ideas. He wanted to see what an actual human could handle, stating of Oscar Eightball at the project’s onset, “You can throw this away. I’m going to be the test subject.”
David Hill, who was in charge of collecting the test data throughout the experiments and making sure all the telemetry gear stayed working, said of this, they all thought Dr. Stapp must be joking as “We had a lot of experts come out and look at our situation. And there was a person from M.I.T. who said, if anyone gets 18 Gs, they will break every bone in their body. That was kind of scary.”
Dr. Stapp, however, used his extensive knowledge of human physiology, as well as analyzing various crashes where people must have survived more than 18Gs of force, and determined the 18G limit was absurdly low if a proper restraint system was designed and used.
That said, Dr. Stapp wasn’t stupid, but rather an excellent and meticulous researcher, who would soon earn the nickname, “The Careful Daredevil”.
Thus, step one was first to design a proper restraint system and work out all the kinks in the testing apparatus. Towards this end, they conducted nearly three dozen trial runs using the dummy, which turned out to be for the best. For example, in test run number one, both the main and secondary braking systems didn’t work owing to the triggering teeth breaking off, and, instead of stopping, Gee Whiz and Oscar Eightball shot off the tracks into the desert. Funny enough, after the teeth were beefed up, the braking cams engaged, but themselves immediately broke…
In yet another catastrophic failure, the forces were so extreme that Oscar broke free from his restraints. The result of this was his rubber face literally being ripped off thanks to the windscreen in front of his head. As for the rest of his body, it went flying through the air well over 700 feet (over 200 meters) from where the Gee Whiz stopped.
This brings us to about two years into the project on December 10, 1947 when Dr. Stapp decided it was his turn to be the dummy.
Initially strapping himself in facing backwards — a much safer way to experience extreme G-forces — the first run with a human aboard was a rather quaint 10Gs during the braking period.
After this, they continued to improve the restraint system as Dr. Stapp slowly ramped up the Gs all the way to 35 within six months of that first run. He stated of this, “The men at the mahogany desks thought the human body would never take 18 Gs; here we’re taking twice that with no sweat!”
And by “no sweat”, of course, he no doubt meant that throughout the tests, he’d suffered a hemorrhaged retina, fractured rib, lost several fillings from his teeth, got a series of concussions, cracked his collarbone, developed an abdominal hernia, developed countless bloody blisters caused by sand hitting his skin at extreme velocities, severe bruising, shattering his wrists, and fracturing his coccyx. But, you know, “no sweat”.
While recovering, if further tests needed conducting in the interim, he did begin allowing other volunteers to do the job, but as soon as he was healthy enough again, Dr. Stapp was back in the seat instead. One of his coworkers on the project, George Nichols, stated that Stapp couldn’t bare the idea of someone being seriously injured or killed in experiments he was conducting, so whenever possible made himself the guinea pig instead.
Of course, in order for the research to be as useful as possible and for other scientists to believe what Dr. Stapp was managing to endure, extremely accurate sensors were needed, which is where one Captain Edward A. Murphy comes in.
For a little background on Murphy, beyond very briefly helping out on this project, the highlights of his career included working on the SR-71, XB-70 Valkyrie, X-15 rocket plane, and helping to design the life support system for the Apollo missions.
Going back to Dr. Stapp’s project, at the time Murphy was working on a separate project at Wright Field involving centrifuge, including designing some new sensor systems in the process. When Dr. Stapp heard about this, he asked if Murphy wouldn’t mind adapting the sensors for use in Project MX-981, to which Murphy happily complied. More specifically, Murphy’s sensor system would allow them to directly measure the G forces on the passenger, rather than relying on measuring the G forces on the sled body itself.
Now, before we go any further, we should point out that exact details of what occurred over the two days Murphy was directly involved in the project have been lost to history, despite many first hand accounts from several people. You might think it would make it easy to sort out given this, but human memory being what it is, the accounts from those who were there vary considerably.
This acrobatic airplane is pulling up in a +g maneuver; the pilot is experiencing several g’s of inertial acceleration in addition to the force of gravity.
Illustrating this point in the most poignant way possible we have a quote from Chuck Yeager, who was good friends with Dr. Stapp. In the quote, Yeager was responding to the widely reported idea that Yeager had sought out Dr. Stapp to clear him for his famous flight where he broke the sound barrier. As to why he chose Dr. Stapp, Yeager supposedly felt that no other doctor but Stapp would clear him on account of Yeager’s supposedly broken ribs.
Yeager’s response to this almost universally reported story is as follows: “That’s a bunch of crap!… That’s the way rumors get started, by these people…who weren’t even there…”
He goes on,
that’s the same kind of crap…you get out of guys who were not involved and came in many years after. It’s just like Tom Brokaw’s book if you’ll pardon the analogy here, about the best of the breed or something like that. Well, every guy who wrote his story about World War II did it fifty years after it happened. I’m a victim of the same damn thing. I tell it the way I remember it, and that’s not the way it happened. I go back and I read a report that I did 55 years ago and I say, hmm, I’d better tell that story a little bit different. Well, that’s human nature. You tell it the way you believe it and that’s not necessarily the way that it happened. There’s nothing more true than that.
During this impressive and extremely accurate rant about how difficult it is to get an accurate report of some historic event, even from those who were there, he notes of those writing about these things after, “Guys become, if you’ll pardon my expression, sexual intellectuals. You know what the phrase is for that? Sexual intellectuals. They’re fucking know-it-alls, that’s what.”
And, we’re not going to lie, we mostly just included that little anecdote because we’re pretty sure “Sexual Intellectuals (Fucking Know-It-Alls)” is the greatest description of the staff and subscribers of TodayIFoundOut we’ve ever come across, and we kind of wish we’d named the channel that (and are pretty sure we’re going to make a t-shirt out of it…)
In any event, that caveat about the inherent inaccuracy of reporting history out of the way, this finally brings us around to the story of how Murphy and his law became a thing.
The general story that everybody seems to agree on is that Murphy or another worker there installed Murphy’s sensors and then a chimpanzee was strapped into the sled to test them out. (Note here, that years later in an interview with People Magazine, Murphy would claim it was Dr. Stapp that was strapped in.) After the test run, however, they found the sensors hadn’t worked at all, meaning the whole expensive and dangerous test had been run for nothing.
As to exactly why the sensors hadn’t worked, there are a few versions of this tale. As for the aforementioned David Hill, he states that it was one of his own assistants, either Jerry Hollabaugh or Ralph DeMarco, he couldn’t remember which, who installed the sensors incorrectly. As Hill explained in an interview with Nick T. Spake, author of the book A History of Murphy’s Law, “If you take these two over here and add them together. You get the correct amount of G-forces. But if you take these two and mount them together, one cancels the other out and you get zero.”
Cover of “A History of Murphy’s Law.”
George Nichols, however, claimed Hill and DeMarco had both double checked the wiring before hand, but had missed that it had been wired up backwards. That said, Nichols stated it wasn’t DeMarco nor Hill’s fault, as the wiring had been done back at Wright Field by Murphy’s team.
Said Nichols, “When Murphy came out in the morning, and we told him what happened… he was unhappy…” Stating, “If that guy [his assistant] has any way of making a mistake… He will.”
Nichols, however, blamed Murphy as Murphy should have examined the sensor system before hand to ensure it had been wired correctly, as well as tested the sensors before they were ever installed in the sled, and on top of it all should have given them time to test everything themselves before a live run on the sled. However, as Murphy was only to be there for two days, he’d supposedly rushed them. Nichols stated this inspired the team to not repeat Murphy’s mistakes.
Said Nichols, “If it can happen, it will happen… So you’ve got to go through and ask yourself, if this part fails, does this system still work, does it still do the function it is supposed to do? What are the single points of failure? Murphy’s Law established the drive to put redundancy in. And that’s the heart of reliability engineering.”
Hill also claims this ultimately morphed into the mantra among the group, “if anything can go wrong, it will.”
As for Murphy himself, years later in an interview with People Magazine, he would state what he originally said was, “If there’s more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way.” He then claimed when Dr. Stapp heard this, directly after the failed sled run, he shortened it and called it “Murphy’s Law”, saying “from now on we’re going to have things done according to Murphy’s Law.”
In yet another interview, Murphy painted an entirely different picture than accounts from Hill and Nichols’, stating he’d sent the sensors ahead of time, and had only gone there to investigate when they’d malfunctioned. He stated when he looked into it, “they had put the strain gauges on the transducers ninety degrees off.”
Importantly here, contrary to what the other witnesses said of how Murphy had blamed his assistant, in the interview, Murphy said it was his own fault, “I had made very accurate drawings of the thing for them, and discussed it with the people who were going to make them… but I hadn’t covered everything. I didn’t tell them that they had positively to orient them in only one direction. So I guess about that time I said, ‘Well, I really have made a terrible mistake here, I didn’t cover every possibility.’ And about that time, Major Stapp says, ‘Well, that’s a good candidate for Murphy’s Law’. I thought he was going to court martial me. But that’s all he said.”
Murphy then went on to explain to the interviewer that he actually didn’t remember the exact words he said at the time, noting “I don’t remember. It happened thirty five years ago, you know.”
This might all have you wondering how exactly this statement that nobody seemed to be able to remember clearly came to be so prevalent in public consciousness?
John Paul Stapp Fastest man on Earth – rocket sled Pilot safety equipment 1954
It turns out, beyond being incredibly brave, brilliant, and hell-bent on saving lives, even if it cost him his own, Dr. Stapp was also hilarious from all accounts from people describing him. He even wrote a book with jokes and various witty sayings called For Your Moments of Inertia. For example, “I’m as lonely as a cricket with arthritis.” or “Better a masochist than never been kissed…”
Or how about this gem from an interview where he was asked about any lasting effects on him as a result of the experiments — Dr. Stapp wryly responded, the only residual negative effect was “all the lunches and dinners I have to go to now…”
Beyond all this, he was also a collector of “Laws”, even coming up with one of his own, Stapp’s Law — “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”
When collecting these laws, he would name them after the person he heard them from, though often re-wording them to be more succinct, which, for whatever it’s worth, seems to align most closely to Murphy’s own account of how “his” law came about.
And as for this then becoming something the wider public found out about, during one of his interviews about the project, Dr. Stapp was asked, “How is it that no one has been severely injured — or worse — during your tests?”
It was here that Stapp stated, he wasn’t too worried about it because the entire team adhered to “Murphy’s Law”. He then explained that they always kept in mind that whatever could go wrong, would, and thus, extreme effort was made to think up everything that could go wrong and fix it before the test was actually conducted.
Going back to Project MX-981, having now reached 35 Gs after 26 runs by himself and several others by 11 volunteers, Dr. Stapp needed a faster sled. After all, at this point humans were flying at super sonic speeds and whether or not they could survive ejecting at those speeds needed to be known.
Enter the Sonic Wind at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. This sled could use up to 12 rockets capable of producing a combined 50,000 pounds of thrust, resulting in speeds as high as 750 mph. The track was about 3,550 feet long, with the braking system using water scoops. The braking could then be varied by raising or lowering the water level slightly.
This now brings us to December 10, 1954, when Dr. Stapp would pull off his most daring and final experiment.
Previous to this run, Dr. Stapp stated, “I practiced dressing and undressing with the lights out so if I was blinded I wouldn’t be helpless”, as he assumed he would probably be blind afterwards, if he survived at all. He would also state when he was sitting there waiting for the rockets to be fired, “I said to myself, ‘Paul, it’s been a good life.'”
In order to stop his arms and legs from flapping involuntarily in the wind during the test, they were securely strapped down and a mouth guard was inserted to keep his teeth from breaking off.
All set, he then blasted off on his 29th and final sled run, using nine solid fuel rockets, capable of producing 40,000 pounds of thrust.
As an interesting aside here, beyond ground based cameras, none other than Joe Kittinger piloted a T-33 over head with a photographer in back filming it.
As for the sled, it accelerated from 0 up to 632 miles per hour (1,017 kilometers per hour) in a mere 5 seconds, resulting in about 20 Gs of force on the acceleration phase. Then, in the span of just 1.4 seconds, he came to a full stop, experiencing 46.2 G’s of force in the other direction, meaning his body weighed almost 7,000 pounds at the peak G force! In the process, he had also set the record for highest landspeed of any human.
Col. John Paul Stapp aboard the “Gee Whiz” rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base.
(Air Force photo)
Said Kittinger of watching this, “He was going like a bullet… He went by me like I was standing still, and I was going 350 mph… I thought, that sled is going so damn fast the first bounce is going to be Albuquerque. I mean, there was no way on God’s earth that sled could stop at the end of the track. No way. He stopped in a fraction of a second. It was absolutely inconceivable that anybody could go that fast and then just stop, and survive.”
Nevertheless, when he was unstrapped from the chair, Dr. Stapp was alive, but as Nichols would observe, “His eyes had hemorrhaged and were completely filled with blood. It was horrible. Absolutely horrible.”
As for Dr. Stapp, he would state, it felt “like being assaulted in the rear by a fast freight train.” And that on the deceleration phase, “I felt a sensation in the eyes…somewhat like the extraction of a molar without anesthetic.”
He had also cracked some ribs, broken his wrists, and had some internal injuries to his respiratory and circulatory systems.
And on the note of his eyes, he was initially blind after, with it assumed that his retinas had detached. However, upon investigation, it was determined they had not, and within a few hours his sight mostly came back, with minor residual effects on his vision that lasted the rest of his life.
Apparently not knowing when to quit, once he had healed up, he planned yet another experiment to really see the limits of human endurance via strapping himself to that same sled and attempting to reach 1,000 mph this time…
When asked why, he stated, “I took my risks for information that will always be of benefit. Risks like those are worthwhile.”
To lead up to this, he conducted further experiments, going all the way up to 80Gs with a test dummy, at which point the Sonic Wind itself ripped off the tracks and was damaged.
It is probably for the best that it was here that his superiors stepped in. As you might imagine given his end goal was seemingly to figure out the extreme upper limit of G forces a human could survive with a perfected restraint system, and to use himself as the guinea pig until he found that limit, Dr. Stapp had previously run into the problem of his superiors ordering him to stop and instead to use chimpanzees exclusively. But while he did occasionally use chimpanzees, he went ahead and ignored the direct order completely. After all, he needed to be able to feel it for himself or be able to talk to the person experiencing the effects of the extreme Gs to get the best possible data. And, of course, no better way to find out what a human could take than use a human.
Rather than getting in trouble, he ultimately got a promotion thanks to the extreme benefits of his work. However, after his 46.2G run, they decided to shut down the experiment altogether as a way to get him to listen. After all, he had already achieved the intended goal of helping to develop better restraint and ejection systems, and proved definitively that a human could survive ejecting at the fastest speeds aircraft of the day could travel.
Now, at this point you might be thinking that’s all quite impressive, but that’s not Dr. Stapp helping to save “hundreds of thousands” of lives as we stated before. So how did he do that?
Well, during the experiments, Dr. Stapp became acutely aware that with a proper restraint system, most car accidents should be survivable, yet most cars of the age not only didn’t have any restraint systems whatsoever, they also were generally designed in ways to maximize injury in a crash with unforgiving surfaces, strong frames and bodies that would not crumple on impact, doors that would pop open in crashes, flinging occupants out, etc.
In fact, Dr. Stapp frequently pointed out to his superiors that they lost about as many pilots each year to car accidents as they did in the air. So while developing great safety systems in the planes was all well and good, they’d save a lot of lives simply by installing a restraint system into the cars of all their pilots and requiring they use them.
The military didn’t take this advice, but Dr. Stapp wasn’t about to give up. After all, tens of thousands of people each year in the U.S. alone were dying in car accidents when he felt many shouldn’t have. Thus, in nearly every interview he gave about his famous experiments almost from the very beginning of the project, he would inevitably guide the conversation around to the benefits of what they were doing if adopted in automobiles.
Not stopping there, he went on a life-long public campaign talking to everyone from car manufacturers to politicians, trying to get it required that car manufacturers include seat belts in their vehicles, as well as sharing his team’s data and restraint system designs.
Beyond that, he used his clout within the Air Force to convince them to allow him to conduct a series of experiments into auto safety, test crashing cars in a variety of ways using crash test dummies and, in certain carefully planned tests, volunteer humans, to observe the effects. This was one of the first times anyone had tried such a scientifically rigorous, broad look into commercial automobile safety. He also tested various restraint systems, in some tests subjecting the humans to as high as a measured 28 Gs. Results in hand, in May of 1955 he held a conference to bring together automobile engineers, scientists, safety council members and others to come observe the tests and learn of the results of his team’s research.
He then repeated this for a few years until Stapp was reassigned by the Air Force, at which point he requested Professor James Ryan of the University of Minnesota host the 4th annual such event, which Ryan then named the “Stapp Car-Crash and Field Demonstration Conference”, which is still held today.
Besides this and other ways he championed improvement in automobile safety, he also served as a medical advisor for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, in both heavily pushing for better safety systems.
It is no coincidence that not long after Dr. Stapp started these campaigns, car manufacturers started installing seatbelts as a matter of course, as well as started to put much more serious thought into making cars safer in crashes.
In the end, while Dr. Stapp got little public credit for helping to convince car manufacturers to prioritize automobile safety, and provided much of the initial data to help them design such systems, he was at least invited to be present when President Johnson signed the bill that made seat belts required in cars in 1966.
Besides ignoring direct orders to stop using himself as a guinea pig, other ways Dr. Stapp apparently used to frequently flout the rules was to, on his own time, freely treat dependents of people who worked at Edwards’ who were nonetheless not eligible for medical care. He would typically do this via doing house calls to airmen’s homes to keep the whole thing secret, including apparently attending to Chuck Yeager’s sons in this way according to Yeager.
It turns out Murphy was also good friends with none other than Lawrence Peter, remembered today for the Peter Principal — people inevitably get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. According Murphy’s son, Robert, at one point Peter and Murphy tried to get together with Cyril Northcote Parkinson of Parkinson’s Law — “Work expands to meet the time and money that is available.” However, Robert claims that fateful meeting ended up getting canceled when other matters came up to prevent the get together.
One other strong safety recommendation Dr. Stapp pushed for, particularly in aviation, was to turn passenger seats around to face backwards, as this is drastically safer in crashes. And, at least in aviation would be simple to do on any commercial airline, requiring no modification other than to turn the seat around in its track. As Stapp and subsequent research by NASA shows, humans can take the most G-forces and receive fewer injuries overall with “eyes back” force, where the G-forces are pushing you back into your seat, with the seat cushions themselves also lending a hand in overall safety. This also insures tall people won’t smack their heads and bodies against anything in front of them in a crash. Despite the massive safety benefits here for people of all ages, outside of car seats for babies and toddlers, nobody anywhere seems interested in leveraging the extreme benefits of rear facing passengers to increase general safety.
If you’re wondering about the safest place on a plane to sit, funny enough, that’s the rear. In fact, you’re approximately 40% more likely to survive a plane crash if you sit in the back of the plane, rather than the front. The other advantage to the rear is that most passengers choose not to sit in the back. So unless the plane is full, you might get a row of seats to yourself. (Of course, a bathroom is also often in the rear on planes, soooo.) Another factor to consider is where the closest exit is. As a general rule, studies examining accidents have shown you’ll want to be within six rows of an emergency exit to maximize your survival chances. So if the plane doesn’t have a rear exit, that’s something to be factored in.
During Joe Kittinger’s then record leap from about 102,800 feet on August 16, 1960, the following happened during the ascent:
At 43,000 feet, I find out [what can go wrong]. My right hand does not feel normal. I examine the pressure glove; its air bladder is not inflating. The prospect of exposing the hand to the near-vacuum of peak altitude causes me some concern. From my previous experiences, I know that the hand will swell, lose most of its circulation, and cause extreme pain…. I decide to continue the ascent, without notifying ground control of my difficulty… Circulation has almost stopped in my unpressurized right hand, which feels stiff and painful… [Upon landing] Dick looks at the swollen hand with concern. Three hours later the swelling disappeared with no ill effect.
His total ascent took 1 hour and 31 minutes, he stayed at the peak altitude for 12 minutes, and his total decent took 13 minutes and 45 seconds, so his hand was exposed to a near vacuum for quite some time without long term ill effects. Incidentally, during his fall, he achieved a peak speed of 614 mph, nearly as fast as Dr. Stapp had managed in his little rocket sled. His experience, however, was very different than Dr. Stapp’s. Said Kittinger,
There’s no way you can visualize the speed. There’s nothing you can see to see how fast you’re going. You have no depth perception. If you’re in a car driving down the road and you close your eyes, you have no idea what your speed is. It’s the same thing if you’re free falling from space. There are no signposts. You know you are going very fast, but you don’t feel it. You don’t have a 614-mph wind blowing on you. I could only hear myself breathing in the helmet.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.”
As the sun set on the blood-stained beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s message to the thousands of Allied troops dispatched to carry out the largest amphibious landing in military history rang true.
The invasion, codenamed Operation Neptune and remembered as D-Day, sent roughly 156,000 British, Canadian, and American troops to the Nazi-occupied French coast by air and sea, beginning the multi-month Battle of Normandy and the liberation of Western Europe from Hitler’s Wehrmacht. This week, as millions gather in Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, National WWII Museum senior historian Rob Citino emphasized that the impact of the landings came at a tremendous human toll. By the end of the Normandy campaign, hundreds of thousands of Allied and Axis soldiers and civilians had died and been wounded, with those involved in the initial landings suffering disproportionately.
“Certain sectors and certain minutes, casualties were 100 percent,” Citino said.
Citino described the most perilous jobs American troops performed to help make the D-Day landings a World War II turning point. “It was bad enough but would have been worse,” he says.
A paratrooper with a Thompson M1 submachine and heavy equipment.
(The National WWII Museum)
1. The Pathfinders
The earliest paratroopers of the US Army’s 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions jumped into enemy territory in the dark, facing unrelenting attacks with little back-up and a lot of pressure to light the way.
Strategy and scope: Upwards of 13,000 American paratroopers would jump in the early days of Operation Neptune, the Allied invasion of well-guarded Normandy.
Minutes after midnight on June 6, around 300 101st Pathfinders, nicknamed “the Screaming Eagles,” went in first. Paratrooping in lean, highly-trained formations, the Pathfinders were not out to engage in combat. They were to quickly set up lights and flares to mark drop zones for paratroopers and landing paths for the gliders preparing to land.
General Eisenhower’s advice to the 101st ahead of D-Day? “The trick is to keep moving.”
Pathfinders with the 82nd Airborne Division jumped from C-47 transports into occupied France under the cover of darkness.
(The National WWII Museum)
The Pathfinders paved the way for waves of paratroopers to follow, but paid a heavy price.
Threats and losses: The equipment they carried — from parachutes and life jackets to lighting systems they were to set up once on the ground — made their packs so heavy that they had to be helped onto the planes.
Then there was the jump.
Amid the bad weather and limited visibility that night, some were blown wildly off course after leaping from the C-47 Skytrains. Even those who managed textbook landings into the intended locations were at risk.
“It’s the loneliness — out there all by yourself with no one riding to your rescue in the next 10 minutes if you get in trouble. You’re against all the elements,” Citino said.
Impact: While the Pathfinders saw heavy losses, they ultimately enabled more accurate, effective landings and ability for Allied troops to withstand counterattacks.
They climbed 100-foot cliffs under fire to take out key German artillery pieces aimed at the beaches.
2. The Ranger Assault Group scaling Pointe du Hoc
Strategy and scope: Once dawn broke on June 6, 1944, a force of 225 US Army Rangers of the 2nd and 5th Ranger battalions began their attempts to seize Pointe du Hoc. Their mission: Scale the 100-foot rock and upon reaching the cliff top, destroy key German gun positions, clearing the way for the mass landings on Omaha and Utah beaches.
The multifaceted naval bombardment sent the highly trained climbers hauling themselves up the cliffs using ropes, hooks, and ladders. Two Allied destroyers would drop bombs onto the Germans in an attempt to limit the enemy’s ability to simply shoot the Rangers off the cliffs.
The sheer cliff walls the Rangers scaled, shown about two days after D-Day when it because a route for supplies.
The Rangers climbed the cliffs in sodden clothes while Germans above them shot at them and tried to cut their ropes.
Threats and losses: Beyond the challenging mountain climbing involved in getting into France via the cliffs along the English Channel, the Rangers faced choppy waters and delayed landings, which increased the formidable enemy opposition.
Nazi artillery fire sprayed at the naval bombardment. Landing crafts sank. Those who made it to the rocks were climbing under enemy fire, their uniforms and gear heavy and slippery from from mud and water. Germans started cutting their ropes. Rangers who reached the cliff top encountered more enemy fire, along with terrain that looked different from the aerial photographs they had studied, much of it reduced to rubble in the aftermath of recent aerial bombings. And they discovered that several of the guns they were out to destroy had been repositioned.
Impact: The Rangers located key German guns and disabled them with grenades. They also took out enemy observation posts and set up strategic roadblocks and communication lines on Pointe du Hoc. The 155mm artillery positions they destroyed could have compromised the forthcoming beach landings.
US soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division aproach Omaha Beach in a landing craft.
(The National WWII Museum)
3. The first troops on Omaha Beach
Members of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions and the US Army Rangers stormed the beach codenamed “Omaha” in the earliest assaults. These were the bloodiest moments of D-Day.
Strategy and scope: Beyond enemy fire, the Allies were up against physical barricades installed to prevent landings onto the six-mile stretch of Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall.”
To break through, infantry divisions, Rangers, and specialist units arrived to carry out a series of coordinated attacks, blowing up and through obstacles in order to secure the five paths from the beach and move inland.
American troops approach Omaha Beach on June 7.
(The National WWII Museum)
A fraction of the first assault troops ever reached the top of the bluff.
Threats and losses: In pre-invasion briefings, troops were told there would be Allied bombing power preceding them and that the Germans would be largely obliterated and washed ashore, Citino said.
While there were aerial bombings, the impact was not as planned. Some of the B-24s and B-17s flying overhead missed their targets. German troops sprayed guns and mortars with clear views of the soldiers, stevedores, porters, and technical support charging the narrow stretch of beach. Men waded through rough, cold water from Allied landing crafts under withering heavy fire. The dangers continued with mines in the sand.
The scene was similarly gruesome for combat engineers moving in with Bangalore torpedoes to blow up obstacles. Meanwhile, amphibious tank operators tried to shield Allied infantry and medics came ashore to try to administer emergency care while facing counterattacks and navigating around the dead and wounded.
Impact: A fraction of those who landed reached the top of the bluff. Some company headcounts went to single digits. But the troops who helped secure Omaha and the five paths off the beach in the coming days cleared the way for massive tanks, fuel, food, and reinforcements important to the rest of the campaign.
Soldiers prepare to deploy a barrage balloon on Utah Beach during the Normandy invasion.
(The National WWII Museum)
4. The 320th Balloon Barrage Battalion
These combat troops landed on Utah Beach and set up key lines of defense to prevent Luftwaffe raiders from strafing the incoming army of troops and supplies.
Strategy and scope: The Allies knew that as soon as the landings began, German air attacks would present a major threat to the masses of troops arriving in thousands of landing crafts. To defend against air raids, they turned to defensive weaponry units, including the 621 African-American soldiers in the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, to land with 125-pound blimps and work in teams to anchor them to the ground. Each blimp was filled with hydrogen and connected to small bombs that could denote if enemy aircraft made contact with the cables.
Threats and losses: They came ashore on Utah Beach from some 150 landing crafts on the morning of June 6, facing the dangers of fellow infantry and the added threats that came with maneuvering heavy cables and balloon equipment on the beach under fire. They set up barrage balloons, digging trenches to take cover as waves of fellow soldiers landed.
The landings would have been even more deadly without the defensive balloons set up by the 320th.
(Army Signal Corps)
The air cover allowed Allied troops to move inland with less threat of being bombed or strafed by German planes.
Impact: As landing craft after landing craft came ashore on and after D-Day, the 320th’s balloons gave Allied troops and equipment some protection, allowing them to move inland with less threat of being blown into the sand by German fighters.
The hydrogen-filled balloons they deployed along the coast created barriers between the Allied troops and the enemy aircraft out to decimate them. Citino said that their actions setting up the defensive balloons under enemy fire were “as heroic as it gets.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It turns out that around the same time Russia claimed that its MiG-31 successor would fly in space, it also claimed that not only its next generation T-14 Armata tank, but the entire Armata armored vehicle series, will be able to run on Mars.
“Magic Starter: Armata Engines Make It Fit For Martian Temperature” was the headline of an article from Sputnik in late August.
“Russia’s Armata tanks and armored vehicles are to receive mobile power stations to ensure immediate and smooth engine starts at temperatures of even minus 50 degrees Celsius,” Sputnik, a Russian state-owned media outlet, said.
The Armata Universal Combat Platform is a new series of Russian tracked armored vehicles that have interchangeable hulls and parts. The vehicles have not been mass produced yet, but the series, which was unveiled in 2015, supposedly includes the T-14 tank, the T-15 (the next generation “Terminator”), the T-16, the huge Koalitsiya-SV, and maybe more.
Essentially, Sputnik is claiming that the Armata engines will run on Mars because they have new super-condensers, similar to start-stop technology, that allow the engines to start in temperatures as low as -58 Fahrenheit.
But, as The National Interest pointed out, not only is the average temperature on Mars at -80 Fahrenheit, and it can even get as low as -195 Fahrenheit, but the internal-combustion engine would also probably not be able to handle the Martian atmosphere.
To back up their claim, Sputnik cited an article from Izvestia, in which a spokesperson for Renova, the Russian company that made the engines, was quoted saying the engines started with dead batteries in -50 degree temperatures.
Neither Izvestia, nor the spokesperson for Renova — which are both private Russian companies, unlike MiG, which is majority owned by the Russian government — said that the engines or vehicles would run on Mars.
Yahoo News even reported on Sept. 11 that the FBI is investigating whether Sputnik is “an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin.”
Still, back in the real world, these super-condensers might be a beneficial advancement, as they free up a lot of space in the Armata vehicles for more ammunition and will obviously make them well-suited for cold climates, like the Arctic.
And it’s not exactly clear if the US’ M1 Abrams engine has comparable technology, The National Interest reported.
For nearly half a decade, life seemed to contain three certainties: death, taxes, and Star Wars movies making ungodly amounts of money at the box office. But a year ago, that all changed when Solo, the origin story of the smuggler-turned-hero of the rebellion, came to theaters and failed to make an impression at the box office, struggling to cross $200 million at the domestic box office. It was an unprecedented financial failure for the franchise, causing Disney to halt several planned spin-offs, including the long-rumored Obi-Wan movie starring Ewan McGregor.
Yet despite flopping at the box office, Solo was a critical hit that clearly resonated with at least some of the massive Star Wars fanbase. And on the anniversary of the film’s release, fans decided to take to Twitter and advocate for a second dose of everyone’s favorite stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder with the hashtag #MakeSolo2Happen.
Before long, thousands of users were expressing their support for the hypothetical sequel.
Several fans speculated about a potential plot for Solo 2, such as Han and Lando teaming up to do a dangerous job for Jabba the Hutt.
Some suggested making it into a TV show on the upcoming Disney+ streaming service.
A few people even admitted that while they didn’t enjoy Solo at first, they’d come to appreciate it upon rewatch.
And, of course, many people just wanted a chance to see Darth Maul back in action after his surprise cameo in Solo.
Is it likely that this hashtag activism will actually help a Solo sequel get made? Probably not but it’s still nice to see this forgotten Star Wars film get some love from fans and, at the very least, it’s clearly not destined to become a cultural punchline like the highly divisive prequels.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.