The F-35 Lightning, the ultimate result of the Joint Strike Fighter program, is entering service with the Marines and Air Force. Its prototype, the X-35, won the competition in 2001, but it wasn’t the only serious contender. In fact, we were close to going in a very different direction. Boeing had its own entry into the JSF competition, the X-32, which would have been the F-32 had it won.
While the F-35 looks like a single-engine version of the F-22, the X-32 bore a resemblance to the A-7 Corsair, which is affectionately known as the SLUF, or “short little ugly f*cker.” Like the X-35, Boeing’s offering was to be cheaper than the F-22 Raptor and was intended to replace the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, A-10 Thunderbolt, and AV-8B Harrier.
The X-32 taking off from Little Rock Air Force Base during the fly-off.
The X-32 and X-35 were selected to take part in a fly-off in 1996, beating out designs from Northrop Grumman and McDonnell Douglas.
The X-32 was based on reliable technology. To achieve Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing capability, it used a thrust-vectoring system similar to that used by the AV-8B Harrier. It had a top speed of 1,243 miles per hour and a maximum unrefueled range of 979 miles. It packed a M61 20mm gun (again, proven technology) and was capable of carrying as many as six AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles or up to 15,000 pounds of bombs.
The X-32’s big chin inlet, which gave it the appearance of a futuristic A-7, netted it the nickname “Monica.”
Lockheed’s X-35 used a separate lift-fan, much like the failed Yak-141 fighter. That gave it a performance edge over the X-32. As a result, “Monica” ended up losing out.
Both X-32 prototypes survived and have since been sent to museums.
Learn more about the Joint Strike Fighter that could have been in the video below.
China’s rapidly growing fleet of electric buses could be the biggest existential threat to oil demand in the future as more and more vehicles shun fossil fuels.
A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests that China’s electric-bus revolution could kill off oil demand in the future with 6.4 million barrels a day displaced by electric vehicles by 2040.
By the end of 2019, a cumulative 270,000 barrels a day of diesel demand, predominantly from China, will be removed from the market. China’s revolution in electric vehicles has been astonishing and looks set to continue into the future. For example, in the growing mega city of Shenzen, the entire 16,000 strong fleet of buses run on electric engines and taxis will soon follow suit.
Bloomberg estimates that electric buses and cars collectively account for 3% of global oil demand growth since 2011. The market is still small, making up around 0.3% of current consumption, but is set to expand rapidly in the coming years.
Global energy demand is still growing despite the boom in electric vehicles, with the US set to become the world’s largest oil exporter in the coming years.
A number of American cities and universities, such as the University of Utah, have unveiled electric-bus fleets in recent years. And in 2017, 12 major global cities agreed to buy only all-electric buses starting in 2025, according to Electrek.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
China’s state-run news organization is being shamed for flaunting its “incredibly strong soldier morale” in a video showing a People’s Liberation Army service member participating in what appeared to be an obstacle course.
“This is the incredibly strong soldier morale of China’s PLA,” the People’s Daily tweeted in the caption, referring to China’s People Liberation Army. “They fear nothing.”
The service member, wearing a combat helmet and a load-bearing vest, could be seen dunking himself into a hole filled with water amid sounds of gunfire.
People on Twitter, some of whom are former US service members, mocked the People’s Daily’s characterization of the PLA troops:
In its latest report on the Chinese military, the US Defense Department said China continues to reform their armed forces in an effort to become a “world-class” military by 2049.
“In 2018, the PLA focused its training on war preparedness and improving its capability to win wars through realistic combat training during numerous smaller force-on-force exercises and skills-based competition exercises,” the Defense Department said in its annual report to Congress.
Marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in exercise Trident Juncture 18 in Iceland and Norway during October and November 2018. Trident Juncture is the largest NATO exercise held since 2002 and allowed for military forces to operate in a collective defense scenario.
Marines initiated the exercise in Iceland where they executed an air assault and conducted cold weather training to prepare for the live exercise in Norway. The cold weather training allowed Marines to rehearse establishing a bivouac location and familiarized them with their gear in Iceland’s high winds and driving rain.
“We need to exercise our capabilities in different locations so we can plan for different variables,” said Lt. Col. Misca Geter, the executive officer with the 24th MEU. “The weather and terrain of Iceland forces us to plan around those factors.”
After Iceland, the 24th MEU moved on to Norway who hosted the live exercise portion of Trident Juncture. Norway provided another challenging environment for Marines to train in that would not otherwise be possible in the United States. The unique climate and terrain allowed the Marines to demonstrate their proficiency in the cold weather, precipitation, and high altitude.
Marines and sailors offload light armored vehicles from a landing craft air cushion on Alvund Beach, Norway during an amphibious landing in support of Trident Juncture 18, Oct. 30, 2018.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale)
The culminating event for the 24th MEU came Oct. 29-31, 2018, when they executed an amphibious landing and air assault in Alvund and Gjora, Norway, respectively. Eleven amphibious assault vehicles, more than 50 HMMWV’s, and six light armored vehicles were delivered ashore during the amphibious landing. More than 20 other vehicles were moved from ship to shore and approximately 1,000 Marines were transported ashore by surface or air connectors. The air assault saw a company of Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines insert into Gjora, secure the landing zone, and set the conditions for follow on operations. While ashore, Marines rehearsed tactics in conjunction with NATO allies to defeat the notional enemy forces.
“The training Trident Juncture 18 provided is important because we have Marines who have never deployed, been on ship or operated in the cold weather environment that Iceland and Norway have,” said Sgt. Maj. Chris Garza, the 24th MEU Sergeant Major. “We had the opportunity to operate with the United Kingdom Royal Marines, who are one of our NATO partners. The Royal Marines have a history much like ours and it has been a great opportunity to train with them. We now know our capabilities with the Royal Marines and look forward to working with them in the future.”
U.S. Marines secure a landing strip after disembarking from Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion during air assault training at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, Oct. 17, 2018, during Exercise Trident Juncture 18.
(Photo by Sgt. Devin Andrews)
The large-scale exercise validated the 24th MEU’s ability to deploy with the Navy, rapidly generate combat power ashore, and set the conditions for offensive operations under challenging conditions. Trident Juncture strengthened the bond between the Navy-Marine Corps team and integrated NATO allies and partners, particularly the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines, who embarked with the 24th MEU in Iceland.
“It’s been interesting to integrate with U.S. Marines,” said Marine Declan Parker, a heavy weapons operator with anti-tanks 3 troop, 45 Commando. “We have had the opportunity to learn about their weapons systems and tactics. This exercise will aid the troops in future deployments”
The Royal Marines, with X-Ray Company, 45 Commando, worked in conjunction with the 24th MEU and assets from Marine Aircraft Group 29 to rehearse their tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel proficiency. During the TRAP, approximately 30 Royal Marines loaded into two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 while two U.S. Marines served as isolated personnel to be recovered. The Royal Marines were attacked by the notional enemy multiple times which allowed them to maneuver on the enemy while a U.S. Marine called for close air support which was delivered by a UH-1Y Venom with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269. The effective enemy suppression allowed the Royal Marines to deliver both isolated U.S. Marines safely to the awaiting CH-53.
U.S. Navy pilots land the MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter during air assault training at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, Oct. 17, 2018,.during Exercise Trident Juncture 18.
(Photo by Sgt. Devin Andrews)
“The fact that we were able to integrate [the Royal Marines] with Marine Corps aviation is a great training value for both of our forces,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Jacob Yeager, a member of the 24th MEU who was embedded with the Royal Marines during the TRAP. “U.S. Marine Corps aircraft delivered UK Royal Marines into a landing zone to recover two isolated U.S. Marines. That’s significant.”
As the exercise comes to a close, Marines are now more lethal and capable of operating in unique terrain and climate while exposed to the elements that the mountainous terrain presents.
“Trident Juncture has been an extremely beneficial training exercise,” said Cpl. Zachary Zupets, an anti-tank missile gunner with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 24th MEU. “The cold weather [in Norway and Iceland] is not the same back in North Carolina, it gets cold, but it isn’t the same kind of cold. This exercise has taken us out of our element and forced us to apply the things that we have learned and how to operate in this type of environment. We definitely had some fun out there. I think it was an amazing experience and my guys and I really enjoyed it.”
U.S. Army modernization officials defended the rapid prototyping strategy for the service’s Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) system, even though infantry units won’t receive the new light tank until 2025.
The two companies will each build 12 prototypes so the Army can begin testing them in early 2020. The goal is to down-select to a winner by fiscal 2022.
“We are excited about this opportunity,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, head of Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems, told reporters at the Pentagon. “We have an aggressive schedule to take a look at these two companies as they build the prototypes.”
BAE Systems displays an early prototype of its Mobile Protected Firepower at AUSA’s meeting and exposition in Washington. Events such as this provide industry with opportunities to showcase technologies and discuss requirements for new capabilities.
(BAE Systems photo)
GDLS and BAE beat out SAIC and its partner, ST Engineering Land Systems Ltd., but Army officials would not comment on the reason the winners were chosen.
Service officials lauded the contract awards as a major step forward in streamlining Army acquisition and said they plan to use the rapid prototyping approach as a model for future programs.
But even if the Army in 2022 selects one of the companies to build production MPF systems, it likely will take another three years before the service will field the first of 504 of these lightweight tanks to infantry brigade combat teams.
Army officials said it would take longer to field the MPF if they hadn’t used what’s known as “Middle Tier Acquisition Rapid Prototyping (Section 804)” contracts, an acquisition tool designed to streamline testing and development of prototypes.
The process is quicker than other acquisition procedures in that the MPF program will not use time-consuming preliminary and critical design reviews to ensure that platforms meet requirements, Army officials explained.
“For a new system, [going through that process] could add as much as a year-and-a-half to two years onto the whole cycle,” said David Dopp, Mobile Protected Firepower program manager, adding that the Army is pleased it will take just 14 months for GDLS and BAE to produce the 12 prototypes each.
“Fourteen months is very challenging. I don’t think you can find another program that ever got prototypes in 14 months,” he said. “When you build these vehicles and you put them together, [sometimes] they don’t work, or if they do work, we take them out and test them, and there are things that happen, and we need that time to prove it out.”
A General Dynamics Land Systems Griffin II prototype vehicle. GD was selected to produce similar, medium-weight, large-caliber prototype vehicles for the U.S. Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower program.
(General Dynamics photo)
Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, said the Army will use the 14 months to get a headstart on figuring out how infantry units will utilize the MPF to destroy enemy bunkers and other hardened battlefield positions.
“Right now, we are doing experiments and tactical training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with vehicles that have a similar profile of the Mobile Protective Firepower to develop tactics, techniques and procedures for the light forces to work with mechanized vehicles in the close fight,” he said.
The MPF concept emerged several years ago when maneuver leaders started calling for a lightweight, armored platform for light infantry forces equipped with a cannon powerful enough to destroy hardened targets.
Compounding the M16’s troubles was its lack of a proper cleaning kit. It was supposed to be so advanced that it would never jam, so the manufacturer didn’t feel it needed to make them. But the M16 did jam.
“We hated it,” said Marine veteran John Culbertson. “Because if it got any grime or corruption or dirt in it, which you always get in any rifle out in the field, it’s going to malfunction.”
The troops started using cleaning kits from other weapons to unjam their rifles.
“The shells ruptured in the chambers and the only way to get the shell out was to put a cleaning rod in it,” said Wodecki. “So you can imagine in a firefight trying to clean your weapon after two or three rounds. It was a nightmare for Marines at the time.
Towards the end of 1965, journalists picked up on mounting reports of gross malfunctions. The American public became outraged over stories of troops dying face down in the mud because their rifles failed to fire, according to a story published by the Small Arms Review.
Thankfully, the reports did not fall on deaf ears. The manufacturer fixed the jamming problems and issued cleaning kits. The new and improved rifle became the M16A1.
This video features Vietnam Marines recounting their first-hand troubles with the M16:
On July 9, a female National Guard soldier became the first woman to graduate from U.S. Army Special Forces training since Capt. Katie Wilder did so in 1980, earning the coveted Green Beret. The woman, whose identity the Army is withholding for personnel security purposes, joins more than a dozen women who have completed elite schools that were only available to men until the Pentagon opened all combat jobs, including special operations positions, to women in 2016.
Coffee or Die spoke with several men who served in special operations units alongside women in combat to get their thoughts on the historic event.
Special Forces soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct an AAR after Counter Improvised Explosive Device training at Panzer Local Training area near Stuttgart, Germany, June. 10, 2020. Photo by Patrik Orcutt/U.S. Army.
Luke Ryan, right, served as a team leader with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Photo courtesy of Luke Ryan/Coffee or Die.
Retired Army Master Sergeant Jariko Denman served with the 75th Ranger Regiment for 16 years.
“In Afghanistan, women in Cultural Support Teams (CSTs) attached to us and other special operations forces, including Green Berets and [U.S. Navy] SEALs. CSTs were enablers, just like explosive ordnance disposal techs or others whose specialties we needed to support our missions.
“On my last four deployments as a task force senior enlisted advisor, we had CSTs with us, so I’ve been in firefights with women, chasing down bad guys alongside them. There was never a case in my experience of women weighing us down. I can’t say that for every other enabler who attached to us. Women coming into that job realized they were going into that hyperkinetic environment, and they brought their ‘A’ game. They knew they could not be a weak link, so they came in shape, and they were very successful.
“For any leader building a team, we know the team isn’t as strong if everybody looks and thinks the same. You want a diversity of skills and backgrounds because that diversity reflects your needs. High-performing individuals who have vastly different life experiences are an asset in SOF.
“As long as we maintain the same SOF qualification standards for everyone, I think women in SOF are just as capable as men, and I’m glad to see more women joining our ranks and getting the same special designations men have always had the opportunity to attain.”
Joe and Shannon Kent with their sons. Photo courtesy of Joe Kent/Coffee or Die.
Luke Ryan served as an Army Ranger and team leader with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
“I was on the mission where Captain Jenny Moreno was killed in action in October 2013. She was a nurse by trade but was attached to my Ranger platoon as a Cultural Support Team (CST) member. When she saw that several of my Ranger buddies had been seriously wounded, she moved to help them without regard for her own safety. She was killed in the process. That kind of selfless bravery is something I will never forget. I hold her in the same high regard as I hold my Ranger brethren who were killed doing the same thing.
“Women have already been fighting in special operations components for years. That part isn’t new. They were attached to our unit for my four deployments, and I will never doubt the ability of a woman to be courageous and effective on the battlefield. Moreno didn’t have a Ranger scroll, but in my opinion, she earned one. If I see her in the next life, I’ll give her mine.
“As far as integrating into traditional special operations units, I’ve seen the courage of women in SOF tested on the battlefield, and I’m in full support of it. As long as standards are maintained, allowing women in SOF will be a non-issue.”
Rob Garnett in Eastern Afghanistan on his last deployment in 2010. Photo courtesy of Rob Garnett/One More Wave.
Retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joe Kent served as a Ranger and Special Forces operator. His wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed while serving on a special operations task force in the fight against ISIS in 2019.
“My wife trained as an Arabic linguist and signals intelligence collector. In Iraq, special operations forces relied heavily on intelligence professionals who had to work with local Iraqis to develop informants and gather intelligence for our missions. Iraqi women often had intelligence we needed, and women like Shannon stepped up to provide a capability that none of us had. Her contributions gave us a more complete picture of whatever situation we were heading into, which was invaluable.
“As years went on, Shannon gained more and more trust in the SOF community, and her performance in special operations opened doors for other intelligence professionals to try out for special operations forces.
“Anyone who has served alongside women in special operations should know it was just a matter of time before a woman would wear the Green Beret and Special Forces long tab.
“As Americans, our country has decided we’re going to have this all-volunteer force, so we get the military that shows up and volunteers to go fight. Plenty of women have fought and died, and to say they can’t go be combat arms or special operators is wrong. My wife was good enough to die alongside SEALs and operators on her fifth deployment but not have the same opportunity to prove herself in SOF qualification courses? That’s ridiculous.
“I’m very glad the ban on women serving in combat arms and special operations was lifted, and my hat’s off to the woman who completed Special Forces qualification.”
Nolan Peterson has covered conflict around the world. Photo courtesy of Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die.
Rob Garnett served as a Navy SEAL for almost 23 years.
“In Baghdad in 2003, I was waiting with an Iraqi Interpreter at one of the entrances to the Green Zone to escort an Iraqi National inside. As vehicles moved through the ‘s curves’ of the base access point, we heard the guards start shouting ‘Stop!’ at a small car approaching the gate. When the vehicle didn’t stop, the soldier standing next to me began firing at the approaching vehicle, and I began to fire as well. The vehicle slowly came to a stop after the driver was killed. As the soldiers moved to inspect the vehicle, they found the trunk was full of 155 rounds made into an IED.
“When I walked over to the soldier who had first engaged the vehicle to say ‘great job,’ I realized this person was not a soldier but an airman, as well as a female. I remember joking with her and saying, ‘No females in combat, right?’ She just smiled and said, ‘Fuck off.’ She told me she didn’t plan on letting anyone inside that wasn’t supposed to be there.
“From my perspective, we aren’t getting female commandos in SOF now; we are getting MORE commandos. We can engage with more of the population when we include females in SOF operations, and I feel like most folks wouldn’t be as concerned about someone’s gender but more about a new team member’s performance.
“I would guess the soldier who completed SF training doesn’t want to be known as the first female SF soldier; she just wants to be a commando like everyone else.”
Nolan Peterson is a former Air Force special operations pilot who served with the 34th Special Operations Squadron.
“On my first deployment to Afghanistan, I served alongside a woman pilot whose impact I’ll never forget. On a long night mission, orbiting above a Taliban compound, helping good guys kill bad guys, I was pretty stressed and anxious. My greatest fear was I’d screw up somehow and get Americans hurt, or worse.
“They measure a pilot’s worth in hours flown because experience matters most. And, lucky for me, I was copilot to a woman who had years of combat experience. She had actually been one of my instructor pilots and played a big role in training me, and I was able to do my job that night in spite of the nervousness — thanks in no small part to the steady leadership and proficient skills of my pilot. It’s easy to do your job well when you’ve got a good example to follow.
“As we left station and started flying back to Bagram, we could see meteors streaking overhead through our night-vision goggles. Then the sun began to peak over the Hindu Kush.
“‘Pretty cool, isn’t it?’ I remember her saying. Then, as if granted permission, I suddenly stopped being so afraid of screwing up and took a moment to appreciate that, yes, this was, in fact, pretty damn cool. Then she told me I’d done well that night and had turned out to be a fine pilot. She was confident I’d go on and make her proud. Since she’d played a key role in training me, my performance was a reflection on her too. That small compliment she gave me was worth more than any medal.
“More than anything, on that debut deployment I’d wanted to prove myself to the people who’d mattered most — that’s to say, the people who’d been to war before me. And that pilot had been to war a lot. Hell, she’d spent most of the best years of her life either in war zones or training for them. She was a warrior, a professional, a mentor, and a damn good pilot. And getting her stamp of approval was one of my proudest moments.
“So when it comes to the recent news of a woman graduating the Special Forces Qualification Course, I think it’s long overdue. Women have been serving in combat and in special operations forces for years. They volunteer for the same risks, assume the same responsibilities and have had to uphold the same standards as their male counterparts. Once the bullets are flying, all that matters is that you’re good at your job. And without a doubt, to make it through the Green Beret selection process, that woman has clearly proven herself to be among the best of the best.”
Disclosure: Nolan Peterson is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die; Luke Ryan is an associate editor, and Jariko Denman is a contributing writer.
Over the last 40 years, some classic American fighters have been sold to Israel. These jets, which include the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon, have been the backbone of the Israeli Air Force for a while. It seems that fighters sent to Israel are much more likely to be put through the crucible of combat.
That tradition has held true with the F-35 as well.
“I think that we are the first to attack with the F-35 in the Middle East,” Israeli Air Force commander, Major General Amikam Norkin, said during the conference. Norkin also noted that over 100 missiles had been fired at the Israeli planes, which suffered no losses.
Israeli pilots were also the first to take the F-16 Fighting Falcon into combat. This plane has killmarks for six and a half enemy planes and one Iraqi reactor.
(Photo by Zachi Evenor)
The fighting between Israel and the Syrian regime also paved the way for the much-less-successful combat debut of the Russian-designed Pantsir missile system. In what also seems like tradition, Russian systems find a testing grounds in the Middle East — and fail miserably. In 1982, the Syrian military used T-72 main battle tanks in an effort to halt Israeli operations in Lebanon. The T-72s fared poorly in the battle, an initial indication that they would not live up to the hype.
The Israeli use of the F-15 and F-16, however, portended American success in Desert Storm. Could the F-35’s success be the same sort of harbinger as well? Hopefully, we’ll never find out.
The US Supreme Court has lifted an injunction against the Trump administration’s transgender military ban, allowing him to enforce his policy barring certain transgender troops from joining or staying in the military.
President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court in November 2018 to lift injunctions issued by federal court judges, which placed a hold on the policy’s implementation while a legal challenge continues in lower courts.
The conservative majority granted the president’s request on Jan. 22, 2019, essentially allowing the ban to be implemented while lower courts decide on its constitutionality. Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have kept the injunctions in place blocking the policy, Reuters reported.
President Donald Trump.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Along with the request to lift injunctions, the Trump administration also asked the Supreme Court to bypass normal judicial proceedings by deciding the legal merits of the policy. The justices refused, allowing a California-based federal appeals court to issue a ruling.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
There are some planes that hang onto service even though time and technology have long passed them by. One of these planes, which first flew in 1947, is something that could’ve once been considered state-of-the-art… in 1918.
And yet, somehow, this plane is still in service with militaries today. The Antonov An-2 Colt is, arguably, an outdated junk-heap. Even the UH-60 Black Hawk is faster than this fixed-wing plane (the Black Hawk has a top speed of 183 mph, the Colt maxes out at a paltry 160). Additionally, the An-2 can haul a dozen passengers while the UH-60 can, in some cases, carry 22. Can you say “outclassed?”
Only in terms of maximum range does the An-2 take an edge over the ubiquitous Black Hawk (it’s got a range of 525 miles, which is longer than UH-60’s 363). So, how has this plane survived so long?
This recognition drawing shows just how state of the art the An-2 is… for 1918.
As history has proved, there’s strength in numbers. This plane was in production for over 50 years with the Soviet Union, Poland, and Communist China. A production run that long was responsible for the creation of at least 18,000 airframes. No matter what you use them for, that staggering number of planes won’t be simply disappearing any time soon.
As you might have guessed by now, the An-2 is also very popular because it’s extremely cheap, especially second-hand (some are for sale for as little as ,170).
The last thing you’d expect from a cheap, fragile aircraft is a combat role — but over its long career, it’s seen plenty of action. This plane was used primarily by communist forces in the Korean War and Vietnam War. It also played the part of a makeshift bomber in the 1991 Croatian War for Independence.
An-2s are getting upgrades – this An-2-100 has a turboprop engine.
Like the famous C-47 Skytrain, the An-2 has been continually upgraded throughout its storied career to keep it flying for decades to come. Modern Colts make use of turboprop engines and composite wings.
Learn more about this very common (and somewhat antiquated) biplane cargo hauler in the video below!
The Pentagon’s funding of MIT’s “beerbots” is getting some attention lately. Congress, reasonably, has posed the question of, “Why is the Pentagon researching beer delivery robots, especially while hotels and bars are already deploying robot bartenders?”
Well, the answer is a little more logical than you might think. So, Alexa, crack open a cold one and let’s talk about beerbots.
Waiters that are part of MIT’s “beerbot” program go into an office to work with humans.
First off, we think it’s awesome that Congress accepted the possibility that the military was researching beer-delivery robots in order to distribute cold beers more cheaply (and was seemingly okay with it so long as it wasn’t redundant). That being said, the actual MIT program is focused on figuring out how to get robots to best coordinate their actions in uncertain environments, something that could prove vital for everything from future hospitals to underground fighting.
See, MIT was building a system of cooperative robots, robots which could communicate with each other and share sensor data and other observations to work more efficiently. When they designed a complex, real-world situation to test them in, one obvious angle was to have them serve drinks in an office. And, surprise, the drink that graduates students want is beer.
And so, the “beerbots” were born. There’s a “PR2” robot that picks up drinks and places them in coolers which are carried by the “turtle bots,” and the turtle bots act as waiters. The turtle bots move from room to room, taking orders and either filling the orders or marking that the room has no orders.
And here’s the key part: The robots share their data with each other. The PR2 doesn’t know what orders are placed until the turtles get close, and the turtles rely on each other to map out routes and obstacles and to share drink orders to figure out the most efficient path to fill them.
Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, take part in an Army Asymmetric Warfare Group program designed to improve military tactics, techniques, and procedures while fighting underground.
(U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Sonise Lumbaca)
This is actually a complex logic problem for the bots when they also have to deal with humans moving from room to room and constantly creating and changing obstacles in the office.
And this is basically the starter level for robots that could help humans on battlefields of the future. Take subterranean warfare, an area so important that the U.S. is considering naming it as a new warfighting domain, for example. Robots helping humans underground will be physically limited in how they can communicate with one another as concrete or subterranean rocks block electromagnetic signals and lasers. So, robots will need to aid the humans there by carrying loads or ferrying supplies, and then communicate directly with one another to determine what’s going on in each section of the underground network.
Paratroopers with 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, fire during a squad live-fire exercise at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, March 14, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. John Lytle)
Or, take a battle above ground. The Marines think they may be denied conventional radio communications in a war with China or Russia. Any robots helping them will only be able to communicate within a short range or by using lasers. Lasers, obviously, become short range communications when there are a lot of obstructions, like dense foliage or hills, in the way.
So, these robots will also need to complete moment-by-moment tasks while also coordinating their actions whenever they can communicate. All of this requires that the robots keep a constantly updating list of what tasks need completed, what humans haven’t been checked on in a while, and what areas are safe or unsafe for the robots to operate in.
MIT’s PR2 robot loads beers into the cooler of a “turtle” waiter bot as part of a program to improve robots’ ability to coordinate their actions in challenging environments.
Or, as MIT graduate student Ariel Anders said, “These limitations mean that the robots don’t know what the other robots are doing or what the other orders are. It forced us to work on more complex planning algorithms that allow the robots to engage in higher-level reasoning about their location, status, and behavior.”
“These uncertainties were reflected in the team’s delivery task: among other things, the supply robot could serve only one waiter robot at a time, and the robots were unable to communicate with one another unless they were in close proximity. Communication difficulties such as this are a particular risk in disaster-relief or battlefield scenarios.”
So, yeah, at MIT, a beerbot is never just about beer. And the actual tech underlying these social-media-friendly beerbots is actually necessary for the less sexy but more vital missions, like disaster relief. And, potentially, it could even save the lives of troops under fire or wounded service members in the next few years or decades.
Let the military have its beerbots. And, if they sometimes use them for beer instead of medical supplies, well, they would’ve found a way to get drunk anyways.
Not only do Americans love these gadgets, but gosh darn it, the little drones are cool, inexpensive tech toys that provide a platform for everything and anything the user can think up.
But they’re not always used for wholesome activities. Besides their legitimate uses (package delivery, filming, photography, and even firefighting) they’re perfect for illegal activities like spying, theft, drug distribution, prison breaks, IEDs, and even murder (a teen recently test fired a 9mm from a drone successfully and scared the beejesus out of the internet).
Adding to the problem for law enforcement is the fact that drones are practically untraceable. Tracking a signal from the device to the user is virtually impossible with the billions of signals flying around our atmosphere at any given time. So using them for crime or terrorism is a cheap, effective means with little chance of being caught (electroncs don’t talk in interrogation rooms).
Add a chem-bio weapon to the mix and things get downright scary.
The age of the drone and all the ways it can benefit or interfere with your life is upon us, so the next question is, what can we do to defeat them, both on the battlefield and on Main Street? And if you do take one out of the sky, how do you prove the it was spying on you and not the neighbors? And if you destroyed it, do you have to pay for it? What if you shoot down a police drone? Even worse — what if you shoot down one that crashed into a house, a playground, or a car and caused casualties?
Most people turn to one obvious solution for drones – guns. But besides being illegal, shooting blindly into the air can cause casualties when the rounds return to earth. Fortunately some drone-defeating technologies are making their way to the average consumer.
Geofencing programs a set of coordinates into the drone’s software that prevents it from taking off or entering restricted airspace. NoFlyZone.org allows anyone to register an address in a database so the annoying gadgets will avoid flying over it.
If done right, the drone basically refuses to fly into restricted airspace, but this service is voluntary and doesn’t do anything to block the its camera. It can still spy on you from a distance.
2. Acoustic Shields
Several companies use acoustic technology to separate the sounds of birds and other flying objects and alert the user when a drone enters the airspace. But this technology is restricted in the sense that it only detects the flying devices. It doesn’t do anything to defeat them.
Some businesses offer malware that infects approaching drones and drops them out of the air like a bag of hammers. The problem is getting the virus into the onboard computer, which is not that easy.
4. Drones to kill drones
What better way to take out a drone than with a killer drone? Fight fire with a bigger fire. Want a drone with a cattle prod attached to it to zap weaker drones? It’s coming.
On the military front, several technologies are being developed. Battelle’s Drone Defender looks like an M-16 from Flash Gordon and has the ability to disrupt the user’s control link to their drone as well as an ability to sync with a GPS network. It has been deployed in Iraq by US forces.
Openworks Engineering developed Skywall, a bazooka-like shoulder-fired weapon that casts a large net around the flying device to capture it. Airbus has developed a sophisticated jamming system to protect their customers in flight, but jamming is illegal in the U.S., so don’t hold your breath that it will be available here anytime soon.
Dutch police have developed a truly innovative (and badass) way to take out drones – trained eagles.
Obviously there are a lot of legitimate and good uses for UAVs, not just for the hobbyist or the filmmaker, but for law enforcement as well. Police could use UAVs to provide intelligence on dangerous situations, pursue felons, or disseminate riot control agents against violent crowds. Commercial companies can use them to paint houses, deliver aid to injured hikers, spray crops, wash windows on skyscrapers, deliver water or foam to high level fires, and even perform high altitude repairs. Virtually any application you can think of can be accomplished by a drone and a little creativity.
But with that ingenuity comes a price – the evildoer with an equal amount of creativity and a nefarious cause. The drone market is here; hopefully the counter-drone market will catch up soon.
Our first president, George Washington, sold whiskey from one the country’s largest distilleries after leaving office — but reportedly never drank his own supply. Instead, Washington sipped a dark porter style of beer mixed with molasses that was brewed in Philadelphia. His presidential successor, John Adams, loved drinking hard cider, rum, and Madeira wine during his time off. The eighth President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, drank so much whiskey that he earned the nickname, “Blue Whiskey Van.”
Many of our Presidents turned to their alcohol beverage of choice in order to relax after a long day’s work. However, one president flipped the script and decided to start his days by knocking back a shot of his favorite: bourbon.
It’s reported that President Harry S. Truman liked to start his days with a nice, brisk walk and a shot of Old Grand Dad (bourbon).
Truman appreciated a strong Old Fashioned and, reportedly, would complain to his staff if he felt the cocktail was too weak. Although it may seem unhealthy for a person of his position to consume such a potent drink so early in the morning, he actually prided himself on maintaining a nutritious diet.
In a diary entry, dated January 3, 1952, Truman wrote:
“When I moved into the White House, I went up to 185. I’ve now hit an average of 175. I walked two-miles most every morning at a hundred and twenty-eight steps a minute, I eat no bread, but one piece of toast at breakfast, no butter, no sugar, no sweets. Usually have fruit, one egg, a strip of bacon and half a glass of skimmed milk for breakfast, liver & bacon or sweetbreads or ham or fish and spinach and another non-fattening vegetable for lunch with fruit for dessert. For dinner, I have a fruit cup, steak, a couple of non-fattening vegetables, an orange, pineapple, or raspberry for dinner. So, I maintain my waistline and can wear suits bought in 1935!”
On behalf of the veteran community, we say well done, sir.