5 'boondoggles' that actually slaughtered enemy troops - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

There are a lot of valid criticisms of most weapon programs while they’re in development, but some get hit with the dreaded title of “boondoggle,” a massive waste of taxpayer funds that should be canceled. But some boondoggles prove the naysayers wrong and go on to have successful careers protecting U.S. troops and killing enemies. Here are 5 of the weapons that ascended:


5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Abrams tanks roll down Norwegian streets

(U.S. Army Sgt. Williams Quinteros)

M1 Abrams tank

The M1 Abrams was famously seen as a failing, expensive program in its early days. It was an heir to two failed tank programs, the MBT-70, and the XM803. Both programs cost billions but failed to produce a suitable weapon, largely because they were too complex and didn’t quite work. So, when the Army pursued a turbine-powered tank with the XM1 program, there were a lot of naysayers.

And the initial prototypes kept the laughter going. The Abrams was massive and heavy and burned through fuel, and many thought it was clear that the Army had made another misstep. But then the Abrams went to its first war game and devastated more conventional tanks. Then Desert Storm came and 2,000 Abrams tanks slammed their way through Iraqi forces with losses of only 18 tanks and zero lost crews.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

Kadena F-15C Eagle takes off like the glorious beast she is…

(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Matthew Seefeldt)

F-15

The F-15 was a response to the Air War over Vietnam where multi-role F-4s were struggling against older MiGs. The Air Force decided they needed a dedicated air superiority fighter once again. But the program was expensive, leading to the press and Congress saying the service was buying too many of an overpriced, overly complex aircraft when they could just buy Navy F-14s instead.

But the F-15 has a legendary combat history with 104 enemy shootdowns for only two combat losses, both to ground fire. No enemy force has been able to prove an air-to-air victory over the F-15 (though some have claimed it).

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

An F-14D Tomcat flies during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. The plane was retired in 2006.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael D. Gaddis)

F-14

But back to the F-14, the Tomcat was designed to defend carrier fleets and beat out other planes during a fly-off before the Navy picked it. But during development, test pilots encountered multiple stalls in the plane and had to eject multiple times. In order to sidestep criticism, especially from then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the Navy rushed the fighter into production. It came under fire again in 1989 as Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney tried to cut purchases to save other programs.

But the F-14 ended up proving itself in U.S. service over Libya, Iraq, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, but it really dominated in Iranian service back when they were a U.S. ally. In all, the F-14 is thought to have a 164-to-1 record of air-to-air kills and losses. The number is a little soft, though, since it takes data from multiple services including Iran.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
F/A-18 Cleaning

(U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Donell Bryant)

F-18

Yeah, there are a lot of planes on the list. And the F-18 was the Navy’s answer to the high and rising costs of the F-14. Congress told it to find a cheaper plane to fill some slots that would otherwise require the F-14, but then the cost of the F-18 program ballooned from billion to billion despite the F-18 having less range, speed, and ordnance carrying capability.

The F-18 would prove itself though, later leading the Navy to brag that it had broken “all records for tactical aircraft in availability, reliability and maintainability.” During Desert Storm, individual planes could shoot down Iraqi jets and take out ground targets on the same mission. It was the Navy’s primary air combatant for decades.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

The B-1B Lancer

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Emily Copeland)

B-1

The B-1 Bomber bucked the trend of bomber design in the late 1960s. Most were focused on faster, higher-flying bombers that could fly over enemy air defenses and outrun fighter taking off for intercepts. But the B-1 was envisioned as a low-flying bomber that would maneuver through air defenses instead. But the costly development was controversial, and the B-1 bomber was canceled in 1977.

But Reagan revived the program in 1981, and the requirements of the plane were changed, slowing it to Mach 1.2 and increasing the required payload. The production B-1B debuted in 1984 and “holds almost 50 world records for speed, payload, range, and time of climb in its class,” according to Airman Magazine. It has flown over Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and accounts for 40 percent or more of bombs dropped during some periods of conflict in those countries.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Soldiers to get Army’s new uniforms in 2020 after finalized design

The Army plans to begin issuing its newly announced Army Greens to new soldiers beginning in summer 2020, the service’s senior enlisted leader said Nov. 19, 2018.

Army Secretary Mark Esper approved the Nov. 11, 2018 adoption of the much-discussed Army Greens, which all soldiers must wear by 2028. The new uniform, recently renamed by service brass, is a version of the iconic pinks-and-greens uniform Army officers wore during World War II.

“This uniform is still in the minds of many Americans. This nation came together during World War II and fought and won a great war,” Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey said in a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon. “That’s what the secretary and [Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley] wanted to do, is capitalize on the greatest generation because there is another great generation that is serving today, and that is the soldiers serving in the United States Army.”


Soldiers currently serving in the active duty, National Guard and Reserves will be able to purchase the new uniform in summer 2020, but they do not have to buy it until 2028, Army officials have said. The current blue Army Service Uniform (ASU) will become the service’s optional dress uniform.

“I know it seems like a long time,” Dailey said, explaining that the extended phase-in period is designed to give enlisted soldiers time to save up their annual clothing allowance to pay for the new uniform. “We’ve got to give the soldier ample time to be paid for those uniform items prior to it being required for them to wear it.”

He said it would be “premature” to release the estimated cost of the new uniform.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

Soldier Models of the proposed Pink and Green daily service uniform display the outfits overcoat, as they render the hand salute during the National Anthem at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the Army-Navy Game Dec. 9, 2017.

“We have an estimated cost,” he said. “We are not done with any contracting at this point, so it would be premature to give you any of those costs. What we do know is that, because of the measures we are taking, it is going to be cost neutral to the taxpayer and the soldier in the long run.”

Dailey justified the cost of the new, more-expensive Army Greens uniform by saying it will last longer than the current-issue ASU.

“The estimated cost of the new [Army] Greens uniform is higher than that of the current service blue uniform … because it is a higher-quality uniform,” he said. “We could easily make it the same cost, but that’s not the intent here. The intent here is to increase the quality of the uniform, and that is why we extended the life of the uniform.”

The new Greens jacket will be made of a 55-percent/45-percent “poly-wool elastique.” The pants will feature a gabardine weave made of a 55/45 poly-wool combination as well. The shirt will be made of a 75-percent/25-percent cotton-poly blend, said Army officials, explaining that service life of the Army Greens is six years compared to the ASU’s four years.

“We went for a higher-quality fabric. The uniform costs more as a result … but we intended to do that because one of the chief of staff of the Army’s directives to us was build a higher-quality uniform, which inherently costs more,” Dailey said. “And the way you offset that is you capitalize on the life of that uniform based upon its higher quality.”

Despite the recent adoption announcement, the Army Greens design is not yet finalized.

“There were some design changes all the way up until the week before the secretary made the decision,” Dailey said.

The uniform prototype Dailey wore recently at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting in October 2018 featured a jacket belt with a gold buckle, he said, adding that the final design will be more subdued.

“The chief of staff has made a slight change on the length of the collar on the male jacket,” Dailey said. “From a design perspective, it’s the right decision the chief made.”

The jacket buttons will also feature an antique finish instead of a brass color, Army officials said.

“The next set of photographs we want to get out to the media, we want them to be accurate” to show the final design, Dailey said.

Before the Army starts issuing the redesigned uniform to the force, the service intends to field 200 sets of Army Greens for a final evaluation.

“We are in the process of being able to produce about 200 uniforms that we want to issue out to designated forward-facing units … and when I say ‘forward-facing units,’ I’m really talking recruiters,” said Col. Stephen Thomas, head of Project Manager Soldier Protection Individual Equipment. “Then, what we will do is get feedback from those soldiers on how to better refine the uniform so that when we go to final production … we have a comprehensive uniform design that soldiers like.”

Officials from Program Executive Office Soldier said the process should be complete by summer 2019.

“This is a great day to be a solder,” Dailey said. “As I go around and have talked to soldiers in the last few days … they are very excited about it, and the overwhelming majority are just truly excited about the new uniform.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Everything wrong with the Targaryen air force right now

This article contains spoilers from “Game of Thrones” Season 8 Episode 4: “The Last of the Starks.”

Really, though, if you haven’t seen “The Last of the Starks” go watch it, call a loved one, and then come back because we’re going to break down the military failures tactics from the episode. You should know going into this that I’m pretty pissed off about it.

Here we go.


5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

King’s Landing would later be built upon the site of the Aegonfort, but this map shows the distance from there through Blackwater Bay to Dragonstone is estimated at under 500 miles.

Atlas of Ice and Fire Blog

In the final twenty minutes of last night’s episode, Euron Greyjoy’s fleet managed to ambush Daenerys Targaryen in broad daylight about 400 miles from the last known location of her enemy. Worse, Greyjoy’s first volley took out Rhaegal, one of her surviving two dragons. This should never have happened. Ever.

At the very least, Daenerys should have prepared for an ambush from the castle of Dragonstone or its surrounding waters.

She knew her enemy would expect her to return there to stage her attack on King’s Landing.

She knew her enemy had developed weapons capable of attacking the dragons.

She knew her enemy not only had access to wildfire, but the will to use it at sea and against the population as needed.

Advancing on Dragonstone should have been conducted with caution. Where the f*** were her advanced scouts? And more importantly, where was her ISR???

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aD11KvGV1jY
Euron Attacks Daenerys | Rhaegal Death | Game of Thrones S08E04

www.youtube.com

Euron Attacks Daenerys | Rhaegal Death

From 100 feet high, Daenerys and her dragons could see twenty miles in the distance. They didn’t think it might be important to do some aerial reconnaissance from a safe height and keep a weather eye for the Iron fleet which has already ambushed their allies once before?

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

This stupid WW1 pigeon is more useful than two of the most dangerous predators on the planet and a cognitive human with ancestral powers and multiple battles under her belt…

Intelligence, Reconnaissance, and Surveillance are some of the most critical military components if one hopes to achieve victory against the enemy. You have to know where your enemy is if you want to defeat them.

Daenerys has global air superiority and she can literally see her enemy from dozens and dozens (if not hundreds — I don’t know how high the dragons can fly) of miles away — well beyond the range of medieval SAMs.

I would think that after the scorpion missile struck Drogon during the Loot Train Attack, Daenerys would have been more cautious against the Lannister threat.

She should have surveilled Dragonstone and Blackwater Bay from a safe distance for the Iron Fleet and scanned Dragonstone for signs of scorpion sites or occupation. Then an amphibious insertion of Unsullied should have infiltrated Dragonstone under the cover of darkness and cleared every damn room and cave of personnel and wildfire.

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Or here’s an idea! Bring this Greensight goober along with you and get real-time updates on the position of your enemy.

“Hey creepy version of Bran? Where’s Euron rn?”

“Oh that guy? He’s around the corner waiting to shoot your pretty green dragon in the f***ing throat and ruin your Sunday.”

You know what two dragons could have done to the Iron Fleet? Baited them like velociraptors and blown them to the bottom of The Gullet with dragonfire up their ass.

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Yes, I am.

Here’s why this episode doesn’t sit well:

When Tyrion was outmaneuvered at Casterly Rock and Highgarden was taken, his enemy defeated his good plan with a better one.

When Yara’s fleet was ambushed by Euron’s, it was because he built a stronger naval force and attacked her when she was overconfident and vulnerable.

When Viserion was killed, it was shocking and painful — but earned. It established the White Walker’s physical strength and the threat they posed to the dragons — just as the scorpion did in the highlands.

But this? Eleven ships sitting in the open on a clear day in contested waters somehow managed to sneak up on an air force? It’s cheap. It does a disservice to clever characters and it makes the viewing experience unsatisfying.

Still, I remain hopeful that the showrunners have set up our heroes as the underdogs at their lowest so their upcoming victory will feel that much more gratifying.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

Then again, it’s Game of Thrones and we’re not allowed to have nice things.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Texas Revolutionary was the original ‘Maverick’

In the later days of 1835, Samuel Maverick and his two friends were held on house arrest in what would one day be called San Antonio, Texas. The Texas Revolution was in full swing and the local Mexican military commander, Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos, didn’t trust the former Americans one bit, holding them prisoner in their own homes. They still somehow managed to inform the incoming Texian army about Mexican movements in the city. On the first day of December, Cos finally allowed the men to leave.

The first thing they did was join the Texian forces and lead an attack on the town.


By the time Maverick and his friends reached the Texians, the army was ready to retreat. Instead, the men offered to lead a series of attacks against their former city. After rousing a few hundred volunteers to join them, they headed back to San Antonio de Bexar. Four days after being forced out of the city, the men were leading attacks against its garrison commander, Gen. Cos. Maverick guided Col. Ben Milam’s troops into the city, while Maverick’s friend John Smith led the other detachment.

Milam was killed minutes into the fighting and Maverick was forced to lead the rest of the men into the streets and the house-to-house fighting that followed their entrance into the city. For five days, the revolutionaries fought Mexican government regulars in fierce urban combat. The Mexicans would surrender on the sixth day.

Since Milam had fallen early in the fighting, Maverick took his place at the surrender ceremony. He stayed around the San Antonio area, eventually joining the defenders of the Alamo. While in garrison at the famed citadel, Maverick was elected as one of two San Antonio delegates to the Texas Independence Convention. Maverick would not be able to leave the Alamo until March 2, 1836, because it was surrounded by Mexican troops. When he finally got away, the garrison commander, William Travis, begged him to ask the convention for reinforcements.

They would, of course, be too late. The day a special session of the convention was to be held was also the day of the Battle of the Alamo. All of the fort’s defenders were then dead. Maverick signed the Texas Declaration of Independence the next day.

He left Texas briefly to get married and have a baby, but soon returned to a state still considered to be in rebellion by the Mexican government. He became the Mayor of San Antonio and joined the city militia to fight off Comanche raids. But raids weren’t the biggest threat to San Antonio. Mexico was still bent on recovering its lost land. Eventually, the Mexican Army arrived outside San Antonio. The Anglo citizens of the city mustered a defense but were captured and forcibly marched back to Mexico. Despite being in prison, Maverick was still elected to the Texas Congress. He was released by Mexico the same day as his daughter’s birthday, after refusing repeatedly to publicly back Mexico’s claim to Texas. He served in the Texas legislature even after annexation by the United States – but none of this is how the word “Maverick” came to have its accepted meaning.

Maverick refused to brand his cattle because he was against the pain it caused the animals. He cared very little for his herd of cattle which was given to him as payment for a debt in lieu of cash. He transferred the care of the herd to a family in another part of Texas. It’s said that stragglers from Maverick’s herd were often found roaming. The unbranded cows were known as “mavericks” and often returned.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Taliban went from international pariah to U.S. peace partner in Afghanistan

In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.


It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.

Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.

Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”

Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.

Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.

Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.

But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.

On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.

The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.

Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.

The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.

“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”

The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.

During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.

“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Radicalized In Pakistan

The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.

The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.

The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.

Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.

The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.

War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.

But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.

The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.

Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.

‘We Were All Scared’

Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.

Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.

“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”

Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.

“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”

During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.

U.S.-Led Invasion

The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.

By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.

By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.

The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.

Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.

Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.

Negotiating An End To War

In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.

But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.

For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.

Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.

“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.

“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”

Road Map For Afghanistan

The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.

More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.

But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.

“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.

But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.

Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.

There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.

The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.

The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.

“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”

Red Lines

The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.

Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.

But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.

Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.

Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.

“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”

Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.

“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why 3/2 Marines call themselves ‘the Betio Bastards’

After relieving the 1st Marine Division and securing the defeat of the Japanese at Guadalcanal, the 2nd Marine Division prepared for the first major assault of the Pacific island-hopping campaign. Their target was a small coral atoll called Tarawa.


The Japanese garrison on Betio, an island of the Tarawa atoll, stood in the way of communications lines between Hawaii and other objectives in the Central Pacific.

The operation, codenamed Galvanic, combined an assault by the 27th Infantry Division on Makin Island and a later landing on Apamama would clear the Gilbert Islands and, according to Admiral Nimitz, “[knock] down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific.”

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
The briefing before the landing on Betio.

Unfortunately for the Marines, their earlier diversionary raid against Makin Island had alerted the Japanese to the importance of the Gilbert Islands. They had fortified Betio accordingly.

The island was small, only about three miles long and no wider than 800 meters, but within that confined space the Japanese had constructed some 500 pillboxes, four eight-inch gun turrets, and numerous artillery and machine gun emplacements. A coral and log seawall ringed most of the island and 13mm dual-purpose anti-boat/antiaircraft machine guns protected the most likely approaches.

The impressive defenses led one Japanese officer to remark “a million Americans couldn’t take Tarawa in 100 years.”

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
The Japanese defenses on Betio.

The Marines were bringing one division. Leading the way would be the 2nd Marine Regiment under Col. David Shoup. Aimed at Red Beach 1 and leading the charge for the regiment were the men of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. To their left, hitting Red Beaches 2 and 3, were their sister battalion 2/2 Marines, and 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines.

On the morning of Nov. 20, 1943, after a scant three-hour naval bombardment, the Marines headed for shore.

Immediately issues began to develop. First, the naval gun fire ceased at approximately 0900 while the Marines in their Landing Vehicles, Tracked (LVT) were still 4,000 yards off shore. Second, an unexpected neap tide had failed to cover a reef in the lagoon. The LVTs could easily crawl over it, but the Higgins boats carrying later waves would not have sufficient depth to clear the reef.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
The Marines land at Betio.

As the Marines approached the shore, they realized the naval bombardment had been rather ineffective. They started taking heavy fire from the Japanese as they made their way across the lagoon. One Marine recalled a Japanese officer holding a pistol and defiantly waving the Americans ashore.

The Marines of the Amphibious Tractor Battalion battled back, blasting over 10,000 rounds at the Japanese from their .50 caliber machine guns. But the exposed gunners paid a heavy price.

Finally, at 0910, LVT 4-9 carried the first Marines from 3/2 onto the beaches of Betio. The driver slammed it into the seawall in hopes of scaling it but stalled out.

A Marine sergeant jumped up to lead his men into the fray and was immediately cut down by gunfire. The remaining Marines jumped out and assaulted several Japanese positions before they all became casualties.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
U.S. Marines of the 2nd Marine Division run through fire at Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll.

As the successive waves of the 3rd Battalion landed they fared even worse. Fully alerted to the incoming Americans, Japanese gunners now targeted the approaching LVTs. The unarmored vehicles offered little protection and many were sunk or damaged beyond repair.

The initial assault companies, K and L, suffered over 50 percent casualties in the first two hours of the assault. The following waves were in even more trouble. Embarked in landing craft, they had no choice but to unload at the reef due to the neap tide. This meant wading ashore some 500 yards under heavy fire.

This was how the men of L company under Major Mike Ryan made it ashore. Rather than leading his men directly into the carnage of Red Beach 1, Ryan followed a lone Marine he had seen breach the seawall at the edge of Red Beach 1 and Green Beach, the designated landing area that comprised the western end of the island.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Marines climbing over the seawall on Betio.

Ryan’s landing point caught the eye of other Marines coming ashore who diverted towards his position.

As more Marines from successive waves and other survivors worked their way to the west end of the island Ryan took command and began to form a composite battalion from the troops he had. These men would come to be known as “Ryan’s orphans.”

Adding to the chaos for 3/2 was the fact that their commanding officer had still not landed. Seeing his assault forces shattered on the beach and following waves cut down in the water he radioed Shoup for guidance. When Shoup directed him to land at Red 2 and work west he simply replied, “We have nothing left to land.”

On the beach, the Marines of 3/2 continued to fight for their lives. After managing to wrangle two anti-tank guns onto the beach they realized they were too short to fire over the seawall. As Japanese tanks approached their positions cries went up to “lift them over!” Men raced to get the guns atop the seawall just in time for the gunners to drive off the Japanese tanks.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
A destroyed M4A2 on Betio after the fighting ended.

Meanwhile Maj. Ryan’s composite battalion of 3/2 Marines and others had acquired a pair of Sherman tanks. Learning on the fly, the Marines coordinated assaults on pillboxes with infantry and tank fire. This gave the Marines on Betio their most significant advance of the day as Ryan’s orphans were able to penetrate 500 meters inland.

3rd Battalion was badly mauled in the initial assault on Betio. Surrounded by strong Japanese fortifications the survivors on Red Beach 1 would fight for their lives for the remainder of the battle.

Ryan’s orphans made a significant contribution to the battle in opening up Green Beach so men of the 6th Marine Regiment could come ashore to reinforce the battered survivors.

Now reformed, 3/2 would take part in one of the final assaults to secure the island helping to reduce the dedicated Japanese fortification at the confluence of Red Beaches 1 and 2. The island was declared 76 hours after the first Marines had landed.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Betio after its capture by 3/2 Marines.

The Marines suffered over 1,000 men killed and over 2,000 wounded.

Col. David Shoup summed up the experience, “with God and the U.S. Navy in direct support of the 2d Marine Division there was never any doubt we would get Betio. For several hours, however, there was considerable haggling over the exact price we were to pay for it.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

B-2 stealth bombers just sent unmistakable message to Russia

In a clear message to Russian forces, three US B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flew an extended sortie over the Arctic Circle for the first time on Sept. 5, 2019, the Air Force’s 509th Bomb Wing confirmed to Insider.

“This familiarization was the B-2’s first mission this far north in the European theater,” according to a Facebook post from the US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa.

Details about the sortie over the Norwegian Sea are scarce, but the aircraft involved completed a night refueling over the Arctic Circle as part of Bomber Task Force Europe. In March, Norway accused Russia of jamming its GPS systems and interfering in encrypted communications systems.


“Training outside the U.S. enables aircrew and airmen to become familiar with other theaters and airspace, and enhances enduring skills and relationships necessary to confront a broad range of global challenges,” US Air Force spokesman Capt. Christopher Bowyer-Meeder told Insider.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

A B-2 Spirit assigned to Whiteman AFB, Missouri, approaches to receive fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to RAF Mildenhall over the Norwegian Sea, Sept. 5, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Castelan)

The B-2s are part of the 509th Bomb Wing from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. They are deployed to Royal Air Force Base Fairford near Gloucestershire, England where last month they flew with non-US F-35s for the first time. RAF Fairford is the forward operating location for US Air Force in Europe’s bombers.

Four KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft from the 100th Air Refueling Wing stationed at RAF Mildenhall joined the B-2s on the mission over the Norwegian Sea.

A spokesperson from the 509th Bomb Wing told Insider that no other NATO aircraft were involved in the mission, and the bombers did not have any ammunition on board.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops

A B-2 Spirit assigned to Whiteman AFB, Missouri, approaches to receive fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to RAF Mildenhall over the Norwegian Sea, Sept. 5, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Castelan)

Last month, the B-2 also made its very first visit to Iceland, establishing the Air Force’s presence in a region Russia considers its dominion. Iceland’s Keflavik Air Base was established during the Cold War as a deterrent to the Soviet Union, and the B-2s’ brief stopoff there demonstrated its ability to operate in cold-weather conditions.

In the past year, US forces have completed several missions from the region to deter Russian aggression against NATO allies, including B-52 training near the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia forcibly took in 2014. That aggression kicked off the European Deterrance Initiative to ensure quick reaction to threats and assure NATO allies of the US’s commitment to defense.

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

popular

Here’s how one soldier got payback on the Iraqi version of Charlie Brown


Editor’s note: Graybeard Publishing, a company owned and operated by military veterans, was planning on putting together a book of humorous combat stories called “SNAFU”. While it’s unclear whether the book was published, the following excerpt from SNAFU was submitted by an anonymous lieutenant who came up with a unique way of dealing with belligerent civilians in Iraq:

Charlie Brown by Lieutenant Anonymous

I was about to hit the road from Baghdad to Al Jaber Air Base one day and stopped by the TOC to get the latest intel updates. When I got there I found another Lieutenant freaking out about an incident he’d just had. He was driving through Safwan when he approached a bridge and saw a bunch of kids holding hands blocking the road. This Lieutenant stopped his convoy and suddenly got ambushed by citizens throwing bricks down onto his convoy from the bridge overhead. But that wasn’t the worst part. While his troops were covering up from the bricks, a bunch of Haji’s dropped grappling hooks and took everything they could off the vehicles. Rucksacks, boxes of MREs, you name it, they got it. And some were even bold enough to run up to the Hummers and steal stuff straight off them.

So before I left I told my guys “when we get to that bridge, we’re going to blow right through anyone there. I don’t care who’s on the road, we keep going.” They all nodded and away we went. Sure enough, we were driving down MSR Tampa and got to that bridge and a bunch of kids were holding hands blocking the road.

“Keep going!” I yelled at my driver, knowing they would move if he hit the gas. “Don’t slow down!”

But he did. He slowed and stopped dead under the bridge, which was the wrong place to be.

Next thing I know bricks and cinder blocks were raining down from above, which could have killed my guys since we weren’t in armored Humvees. In seconds we we’re surrounded by a bunch of Haji’s who were trying to steal stuff off the vehicles.

One guy in particular was wearing a yellow Charlie Brown shirt. He reached into my window and tried to steal my radio right in front of me until I punched him square in the face four times. I nearly stabbed the fucker, but I hit him solid in the face enough that he backed away.

Finally we get going again and I’m fucking livid. I yelled at my driver repeatedly all the way to Al Jaber Air Base and then spent the next few days steaming mad about the incident. We got punked. Our vehicles were damaged, we lost some shit, and the worst part was we didn’t have to. We knew it was coming and still they got us.

So I’m sitting there for days wondering how to get back at those fuckers until one night I had to take a piss. The latrine was too far away, so I got out of my hooch and pissed in a water bottle. A big one too, something like a gallon. And then it hit me. An idea. For the next few days I filled that thing with as much piss as I could muster then went to the chow hall to get as much powdered grape drink mix that I could find. I mixed it up, found myself a cooler and iced it down for a day before we were scheduled to leave.

The next day we hit the road and I’ve got this big bottle of purple piss in my cooler and a whole shitload of skittles and candy packs. I made my guys secure everything inside the trucks so nothing else would get stolen and told my driver to go ahead and slow down when we hit that bridge.

So we approached the bridge and sure enough the crowds came out to stop us. I immediately threw out all the skittles bags to keep the kids away and looked for Charlie Brown because I knew he only owned one t-shirt and would be wearing it again. It took a minute, but sure enough I spotted him, his shirt, and the bruises I gave him a few days ago. When he ran up to my vehicle I pulled out the ice-cold bottle of purple piss, gave it to him, and told my driver to take off.

As the convoy started rolling I watched him like a hawk in my rear view mirror. Charlie Brown lifted the frosty bottle high above his head and drank my piss. And he didn’t just take a swig and spit it out, but he kept drinking, probably thinking it was some exotic tasting American energy drink that would give him vim and vigor. I watched him as long as I possibly could and laughed my ass off for the next ten miles.

He may have puked it out a few minutes later. He may have fallen ill and been in agony for days. Or he may have died. I really don’t care either way. All I know is I went past that spot at least three more times before I redeployed, but never saw Charlie Brown again.

If you have a funny story to tell or are a veteran trying to get published, send a note to Kelly Crigger at kcrigger@graybeardbooks.com.

MIGHTY GAMING

World War I gamers held their own ceasefire on 100-year anniversary

Gamers playing “Battlefield 1,” a game set in World War 1, stopped shooting to participate in a ceasefire during an online match at 11 a.m. Canberra time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which marks the end of the first World War.

The ceasefire in the game took place on the same day and same time that the annual World War 1 commemoration typically occurs around the globe: On November 11 at 11 a.m.


The player who helped arrange the ceasefire posted a short video of the event on Reddit, but it’s hard to tell from the video everyone actually stopped shooting. It looks like some players either didn’t hear about the planned ceasefire at the specified time or they ignored the effort altogether. The game’s background audio and effects, like loud explosions and artillery from battleships were also still ongoing, which diminished the silence. There’s also a player in a plane who performs a strafing run on a bunch on players who are partaking in the ceasefire, which somewhat ruins the moment.

EA/Dice developer Jan David Hassel posted the video on Twitter:

Still, you can tell that some players abided to the ceasefire by the fact that the player recording the video was surrounded by enemy players (with red icons above their heads) and didn’t get shot. Any other day and time and the player recording the event would have been killed in seconds when surrounded by so many enemy players.

Ultimately, however, the player recording the event was stabbed and killed. The player doing the stabbing apparently apologized for doing so.

“Battlefield 1” players like myself will know how surprising it is that anyone partook in the event, considering how difficult it is to communicate with others in the game.

The player, known as u/JeremyJenki on Reddit, who helped set up the event and recorded the video posted on Reddit how they did it:

“At the start of the game, me and a couple others started talking about having a ceasefire. We made it known in the chat and many people were on board with it, deciding that this armistice should be held on the beach (This didn’t seem like a great idea to me at the time). Players started heading down to the beach early and for a few minutes it was amazing. When editing the video I cut out most of the in between, only showing the beginning and end. But hey, against all odds, we did it, and while short it was the coolest experience in Battlefield I had ever had.”

Featured image: Electronic Arts

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Royal Navy is testing jet pack assault teams

For decades, science fiction has been telling us that jet packs are right around the corner. But, while it seems there’ll still be some time before any of us are using them to get to work, the UK and US have been experimenting with jet suits for a number of applications, including defense.


Twitter

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Of course, this isn’t the first time Gravity Industries’ jet packs have been spotted flying around Royal Navy ships. That’s fitting, seeing as Gravity Industries’ founder Richard Browning served in the British Royal Marines prior to beginning his new life as a jet pack mogul. Last year, he had the opportunity to fly his 5-engine jet pack suit around the pride of the Royal Navy, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Take on Gravity Jet suit demo with HMS Queen Elizabeth

www.youtube.com

While the Royal Navy hasn’t announced any plans to adopt these jet packs for military purposes, both the Royal and U.S. Navies have acknowledged that they’ve been in contact with Gravity Industries. According to Browning himself, he’s already met with members of the U.S. Special Operations command — specifically, the Navy SEALs — to discuss what capabilities his jet packs could offer.

“We are always working with the brightest minds in Britain and across the world to see how emerging technology might support our military to keep them safe and give them the edge in the future.”
-UK Ministry of Defense statement

Last month, the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), a UK-based charity that provides helicopter emergency services, began testing jet suits from Gravity Industries to see if they might allow paramedics to fly directly up to hard-to-reach locations where hikers and mountain climbers find themselves injured.

Paramedic Mountain Response!

www.youtube.com

As GNAAS pointed out, “The undulating peaks and valleys can often mean the helicopter is unable to safely land close to the casualty, forcing travel by vehicle or foot.” That’s not optimal for emergency situations and could potentially even put rescue workers in danger. That’s where these jet packs could come in.

“In a jet pack, what might have taken up to an hour to reach the patient may only take a few minutes, and that could mean the difference between life and death,” GNAAS director of operations Andy Mawson explained.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


Articles

The world’s most expensive bomber traces its roots to World War II

The B-2 Spirit is the most expensive bomber ever built, with a $500 million fly-away cost that climbs much higher when the RD costs are taken into account. The B-2’s story, though, really starts in World War II – because the B-2 was the culmination of an idea.


Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that Jack Northrop, the founder of Northrop Aviation, had been pursuing the flying wing since 1923. By 1940, he got a technology demonstrator up.

The next year, the U.S. Army Air Force was looking for a long-range bomber that could hit Europe from bases in the U.S. in the event England were to be knocked out of the war.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
XB-35. (USAF photo)

Northrop submitted a four-engine propeller-driven design that the Army Air Force designated the B-35. It was to have a range of 8,150 miles, a top speed of 391 miles per hour, and a maximum bomb load of 51,070 pounds. Production versions were to have up to 20 .50-caliber machine guns for defense.

The plane had a difficult development, and fell behind schedule. The Army Air Force, though, saw potential and kept it as a research project. Northrop was asked to develop a jet-powered version known as the YB-49, replacing the propeller-driven engines with eight jet engines. While this increased the top speed to 493 miles per hour, it cut the range down to about 4,000 miles.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
YB-49 takes off. (USAF photo)

The plane had its share of problems. Keeping the plane steady was very difficult in the best of times, and it was missing targets when it dropped bombs. Then, one of the YB-49s crashed on June 5, 1948, killing all four crew, including United States Air Force Capt. Glenn Edwards.

There were also hot disputes over the plane’s manufacturing. Northrop insisted on having his company build the B-49 and its variants, while the Air Force wanted Northrop to work with Convair, which had designed and built the B-36 Peacemaker and B-32 Dominator bombers. Jack Northrop would later claim that the Secretary of the Air Force had demanded that Northrop agree to a merger of his company and Convair.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Photo by U.S. Air Force

Northrop would abruptly retire and sell off his interest in the company he founded. However, shortly before his death in 1981, he was returned to Northrop, where Air Force officials took the extraordinary step of showing him a scale model of what would become the B-2 Spirit. The B-2 would be able to reach operational status in 1997, largely because by this time, the technology to address the stability issues had been developed.

Today, 20 B-2s are in service with the Air Force, and the service plans to buy another flying wing, the B-21 Raider.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

Kelly Johnson wasn’t the first man to build an airplane, nor was he the first to push the limits of what an airplane could do, but few men have played a more vital role in shaping mankind’s ascent into the skies.

According to the latest expert estimates, human beings just like you and I have been walking on earth for over 200,000 years. That figure gets even tougher to wrap your head around when you consider that a mere 200 years ago, mankind had yet to develop matches or typewriters. A century ago, we didn’t have antibiotics or movies with sound. These, along with countless other advancements, played a roll in a technological revolution that continues to this day, like a snowball rolling down hill, enveloping everything in its path.

Of course, mankind didn’t come by these incredible advancements by accident (most often, anyway) and behind each groundbreaking technology is a man or woman, dedicated to solving the problems of their day, and to getting out in front of those coming tomorrow. Nowhere is this human-driven rapid advancement of technology more prevalent than in one of our species most recent civilization-altering breakthroughs: aviation.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Lockheed engineer Kelly Johnson with famed aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. (Lockheed Martin)

In 1903, the Wright Brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk. Less than forty years later, the first B-29 took to the skies with a pressurized cabin and a wingspan that stretched further than the length of Orville Wright’s entire first flight. A mere 19 years after that, Yuri Gagarin flew in space.

There’s no doubt that countless hands, hearts, and minds played vital roles in our rapid progression from the steam engine to the SpaceX Starship, but even amid this sea of engineers and aviation pioneers, some names stick out. Because while millions may have helped mankind reach the sky, some men’s contributions stand head and shoulders above the rest; Men, like Kelly Johnson.

Forged in the fires of World War II

Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers changed the world in Kitty Hawk. The son of Swedish immigrants, Johnson would win his first prize for aircraft design at the age of 13. By the time he was 22 years old, he was working as an engineer at the legendary aviation firm Lockheed.

At 28, Kelly Johnson’s role at Lockheed would bring him to London, where the island nation was preparing for the onslaught of Nazi Luftwaffe fighters and bombers that were to come just three years later in the Battle of Britain. The British were unconvinced that such a young man could produce an aircraft that could turn the tides of an air war, but the fruit of Kelly Johnson’s labor, dubbed the P-38 Lightning, would go on to become one of the most iconic airframes of the entire war.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Steve Hinton flies “Glacier Girl,” a P-38 Lightning dug out from 268 feet of ice in eastern Greenland in 1992. The aircraft was part of a heritage flight during an air show at Langley Air Force Base, Va., on May 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)

At the start of the fighting in Europe, many Allied air units were still operating bi-planes. By the end of World War II, Kelly Johnson and his team delivered the United States its first ever operational jet-powered fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Johnson had been tasked with building an aircraft around the new Halford H.1B turbojet engine that could compete with Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. In just an astonishing 143 days, Kelly had gone from the drawing board to delivering the first operational P-80s.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star (WikiMedia Commons)

The original Skunk Works

It was during World War II that Kelly Johnson and fellow engineer Ben Rich first established what was to become the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works. Today, the Skunk Works name is synonymous with some of the most advanced aircraft ever to take to the skies, but its earliest iteration was nothing more than a walled-off portion of a factory in which Johnson and his team experimented with new technologies for the P-38, developing the first 400 mile-per-hour fighter in the world for their trouble, in the XP-38.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
XP-38 (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Later, Kelly’s secretive team again came through with the P-80, and again with the design and production of the C-130 Hercules, which remains in service for the U.S. and a number of other Air Forces around the world today. Then, in 1955, they received yet another seemingly impossible assignment: The United States needed an aircraft that could fly so high it could avoid being shot down, or potentially even detected.

Soviet Radar and intercept fighters of the era were limited to altitudes below 65,000 feet, and the highest any American aircraft could reach was just 48,000. In order to continue keeping tabs on the Soviets, the Air Force solicited requests for an airplane that could fly at an astonishing 70,000 feet with a long 1,500 mile fuel range.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, chief designer at Lockheed’s secret “Skunk Works” facility, initially designed the U-2 around the F-104 Starfighter fuselage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works responded with a design that they claimed could fly as high as 73,000 feet with a range of 1,600 miles, based on the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, a slender and supersonic intercept fighter. The Air Force rejected his design… but it caught the attention of America’s secretive spy agency, the CIA.

President Eisenhower wanted eyes on the Soviet nuclear program, and Johnson’s unusual aircraft design with long slender wings and no retractable landing gear seemed like it could do the job, despite its shortcomings. Johnson and his team were given a contract to design and build their high-flying spy plane, and in just eight months, they delivered the U-2 Dragon Lady.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

In order to test this incredible new aircraft, Kelly Johnson needed a remote air strip, far from the prying eyes of the American public. He chose a dry lake bed in Nevada for the job, and it proved particularly well suited for testing classified aircraft. Eventually, that little airstrip and accompanying hangars and office buildings would come to be known popularly as Area 51.

Taking spy planes to the next level

The U-2 may have been an immense success, but just as aviation advancements were coming quickly, so too were air defenses. In 1960, Soviet surface-to-air missiles finally managed to get a piece of a CIA operated U-2 flown by pilot Gary Powers. The aircraft was flying at 70,000 feet, higher than the Americans thought could be spotted or targeted by Soviet radar, when it was struck by an SA-2 Guideline missile. Powers had to ride the Dragon Lady down from 70,000 feet to 30,000 feet before he could safely eject, and as the secretive spy plane plummeted to the ground, Kelly Johnson and his team at Skunk Works were already developing a platform to replace it.

With spy satellites still more than a decade away, the United States needed a new aircraft it could rely on to keep tabs on the Soviets. It would need to not only fly higher than the U-2, but faster–much faster, so even if it was detected, no missile could reach it.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
SR-71 Blackbird (NASA)

Johnson and his team designed a twin-engine aircraft with astonishing capabilities in the A-12, which then led to the operational SR-71 Blackbird — an aircraft that retains the title of fastest operational plane in history to this very day. Lockheed’s SR-71 could sustain speeds in excess of Mach 3.2, flying at altitudes higher than 78,000 feet. During its 43 years in service, the SR-71 had over 4,000 missiles fired at it from ground assets and other aircraft. Not a single one ever found its target.

Another aviation revolution

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
(USAF Photo)

Kelly Johnson and the team at Skunk Works were on the cutting edge of speed and power, but as the Cold War raged on, it was Johnson and his team that recognized how the battle space was shifting. For years, the United States had focused on developing aircraft that could fly ever faster and ever higher, but with the advent of computer-aided engineering, yet another technological leap was within Lockheed’s grasp.

Johnson and his team needed to develop an aircraft that could defeat detection from not only enemy radar, but also other common forms of detection and targeting, like infrared. Using the most advanced computers available at the time, Skunk Works first developed an unusual angular design they dubbed “the hopeless diamond,” as it seemed unlikely that such a shape could ever produce aerodynamic lift.

Undaunted, development continued and by 1976, they had built a flyable prototype. The aircraft was called Have Blue, and it would lead to the first operational stealth aircraft ever in service to any nation, the legendary F-117 Nighthawk.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Have Blue flying in testing (WikiMedia Commons)

The F-117, or “stealth fighter” as it would come to be known, played a vital role in America’s combat operations over Iraq in Desert Storm and elsewhere, but this program produced more than battlefield engagements. The technology developed for the F-117 directly led to America’s premier stealth fighters of today: the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The latter of those two is expected to serve as the backbone of America’s air superiority strategy for decades to come.

“The damn Swede can actually see air.”

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
Kelly Johnson (Lockheed Martin)

In total, Kelly Johnson had a hand in the design and development of some 40 aircraft for commercial and military purposes, with seemingly countless awards and credits to his name for his engineering prowess. The man had a genuine affection for his work, to the degree that he turned down the presidency of Lockheed on three separate occasions to retain his role within the Skunk Works he helped to found.

Kelly’s boss at Lockheed, Hall Hibbard, once exclaimed, “The damn Swede can actually see air,” as he tried to understand how one man managed to play such a pivotal role in so many aircraft, and in turn, in how the Cold War unfolded. Finally, Kelly retired in 1975, but remained a senior advisor to Skunk Works for years thereafter.

He passed away in 1990 at age 80, just one year before the United States, with all its incredible military technology, would emerge the victor of the Cold War.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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This American tractor became the world’s first-ever tank

Benjamin Holt was a proud industrialist creating tractors and other farming equipment when World War I broke out. While he prided himself on innovation, he stuck to creating better and better farming equipment rather than trying to create arms for the war effort.


But it turns out his farming equipment was actually destined to become one of the greatest innovations of war to emerge from that conflict.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
The original Caterpillar Tractor from Holt. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

That’s because Holt had developed a new tractor design in 1904, the “Caterpillar,” which used treads instead of wheels, allowing it to stay above the mud of the San Joaquin River Delta near Sacramento, California.

Holt replaced the steam engines of his original design with gasoline power ones in 1908, and the design took off. When World War I opened, horses butchered in front line fighting were slowly replaced with tractors, including Holt’s.

His design was actually a favorite on the front lines because the amazing grip of his caterpillar treads allowed the tractor to operate in heavy mud and to pull itself out of shell craters.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
An early Caterpillar Tractor from Holt pulls artillery in World War I. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

So there was little surprise when the British government placed an order for about 1,000 Holt Caterpillar tractors.

But when those same tractors rolled onto the battlefield, there was plenty of reason for German soldiers to sh-t their pants.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
(Newspaper: Evening Public Ledger/Library of Congress)

That’s because those tractors had undergone the “Mad Max” treatment courtesy of the Royal Navy, who covered them in thick metal plates, packed them with machine guns and cannon, and sent them crawling across the battlefield at a whopping 4 mph.

And that’s how the first-ever tank was born.

5 ‘boondoggles’ that actually slaughtered enemy troops
(Photo: Public Domain/British Government)

The British Mark I Tanks, built on the Holt Caterpillar tractor, were custom-made to end the stalemate of trench warfare. Their long bodies and treads allowed them to roll over many trenches and barbed wire obstacles like they weren’t there while their guns wiped out enemy defenses and infantry.

Behind them, infantrymen poured through the gaps created by the tanks and quickly seized German trenches and territory.

While the first attack at Flers Courcellette had its issues — mostly that the tanks broke down and were too slow to reposition themselves after the advance to prepare for the German counterattack — their rapid drive toward the objective served as their proof of concept.

British Gen. Douglas Haig, the commander of Allied forces at the Somme, requested hundreds more of the makeshift tanks, and armored warfare quickly became a new standard.

Better French and British tank designs soon followed the Mark 1, but it was an American tractor that carried the first tanks to fight in war.

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