US customs officials are eyeing facial-recognition technology that could be used with border patrol agents’ body cameras, according to a request for information filed by US Customs and Border Protection Oct. 16, 2019.
The agency is exploring technology “for body-worn cameras, software for video management and redaction, and cloud storage supporting an Incident Driven Video Recording System at CBP.” A full copy of the agency’s request for information was first published by The Register’s Katyanna Quach on Oct. 17, 2019.
CBP described facial-recognition software as a “feature of potential interest” and requested information on whether the software is currently available, when it will be fully operational, and why a vendor chose not to offer the technology. The request for information is exploratory and doesn’t mean any government action will necessarily be taken. CBP has already tested body cameras, but they are not standard across the agency.
In its request for information, CBP expressed interest in using facial-recognition software to build a database of people’s faces and run images against that database. It also requested information about the possibility of running comparisons between a person’s ID and an image of their face in real-time.
MQ-9 Predator B UAS operated by United States Customs and Border Protection.
Facial identification is already used widely by law enforcement agencies across the US. However, some lawmakers have begun to take steps to curb that trend: facial recognition is banned for use by police in certain cities, and on Oct. 18, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill suspending the use of facial-recognition technology by law enforcement for the next three years.
Human rights advocacy groups have decried the use of facial recognition by law enforcement, arguing that it constitutes overly-aggressive surveillance tactics.
“Body cameras were promised to communities as a tool for officer accountability and should not be twisted into surveillance systems to be used against communities,” Chris Rickerd, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters regarding the CBP filing.
A spokesperson for CBP did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Marines can fight in the air, on the ground and at sea – and soon they’ll have a robot that can tag along for at least two of those. Pliant Energy Systems’ Velox robot can track you on both land and sea. Snow, sand, ice, mud, it doesn’t matter the terrain; the Velox can follow you anywhere. But its true “natural” habitat is underwater, where its undulating propulsion system and efficient electrical drive can keep up with any target.
Its official designation is the Agile Amphibious Swimmer, and it first appeared at the 2017 Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo in Washington, D.C. What’s special about it is that its undersea mode is not driven by the usual propeller system, but rather a pair of versatile, undulating fins that glide through the water, acting as both thrust and guidance systems.
What’s amazing is how the robot performs when it makes an amphibious landing, moving just as mobile on difficult terrain as it does in the water.
To the Brooklyn-based designers of Pliant Energy Systems, the smoothly undulating fins are a step far ahead of current, propeller-based systems. Undulating drives mean a lower environmental impact and a lower rate of entanglement in aquatic plants and animals. The fins create movement underwater in much the same way that manta rays do while crawling over land like a snake. This is its biggest selling point to the Office of Naval Research: it can handle any terrain during a single mission.
“The robot’s swimming performance alone is unprecedented outside of the natural world,” claimed Benjamin Pietro Filardo, founder, CEO, and CTO of Pliant. “But that’s only half the story because it can deploy its swimming fins to travel over various land topographies in ways that don’t seem to have been explored yet in the field of terrestrial robotics.”
The robot’s biomimic propulsion is just the beginning. Future versions of the robot could feature a propulsion system that can recharge itself in wind and in waters at sea. The secret is in the substance that makes up the robot’s fins, electroactive polymers. As it expands and contracts, it generates electricity. When an electrical current is applied to the material, the material moves, much like biological muscles.
In the future, Pliant looks to create electrical generators powered by the movement of water in waves, rivers, and streams from the same materials that power the Velox drone (like in the video above).
The scenes of John Rambo wasting bad guys with an endless supply of ammunition isn’t so unrealistic after all.
While military blog Task and Purpose nailed it with its recent article on what military movies get wrong, the U.S. Army is actually fielding a new backpack that will give soldiers 500 rounds to fire downrange.
The Rapid Equipping Force (REF) has created the IRONMAN backpack, which bring soldiers closer to the infinite ammo Rambo status. It holds 500 rounds of ammo connected to a feeder that attaches directly to the M240B or Mark 48 machine gun. It eliminates the need for an ammunition bearer, although hiking with that much ammo could get pretty rough.
This video explains how the apparatus works, with the firing demonstration beginning at 5:00. Check it out:
It was a common sight in World War I – the image of a machine gun spewing bullets from a barrel protruding from what looks like a giant canister. That canister is a healthy indication that the barrel of the machine gun in question is being cooled by water in the canister and that the water will soon be as hot as the barrel.
For the troops who wanted to continue using the machine guns to keep wave after wave of enemy troops in their own trenches and not coming into yours and sweeping you all out with shotguns, this was going to become very important, very fast.
“The Kaiser says this will not be a problem!” The Kaiser was wrong.
Water-cooled machine guns, as it turned out, required water to cool them. And the more you used them, the more they needed that water changed out. This may not have been terribly difficult during World War I, when movement along the front was restricted to just crossing no man’s land into the next series of trenches a hundred yards away. Unfortunately for everyone’s infantrymen, the water-cooled MG lived well past the Great War. So, the infantry were stuck hauling water for the guns, well into the Korean War.
But eventually, the guns were replaced with the less efficient but more manageable air-cooled guns. The problem with those was the barrels did not disburse heat quite as well as water-cooled weapons. So if a gunner isn’t shooting in bursts to prevent overheating, there is a chance the barrel could melt or become deformed during use. The solution? Interchangeable barrels. Watch U.S. troops do it:
That video is sixteen seconds long. So as efficient as water cooling those barrels really is, asking machine gunners to carry the weapon, its ammo, and tanks of water on a journey to Mordor is just not as effective as swapping out the actual problem: the barrel.
With the passing of Gene Cernan, a retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut on Jan. 16, 2017, the last man to walk on the moon has left us. While many remember him for that, it should be noted that Cernan was also a naval aviator.
According to his NASA biography, Cernan had over 5,000 flight hours in jets. While NASA notes that Cernan served with VA-26 and VA-112, his Popular Mechanics obituary has him flying with VA-126 and VA-112, and his memoirs place him with VA-126 and VA-113. According to airportjournals.com, during his basic flight training, Cernan flew the T-34, T-28, and F9F Panther.
John Glenn standing beside the damage to the tail of his F9F Panther from antiaircraft fire after a mission during the Korean War. Gene Cernan flew the F9F Panther during flight training. (Ohio State University)
According to seaforces.org, VA-126 was a Fleet Replacement Squadron, and equipped with the FJ-4B Fury, and the F9F-8 and F9F-8T versions of the Cougar. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the F9F-8 Cougar was quickly rendered obsolete as a front-line jet due to new designs, but it did provide service as a fighter-bomber.
The F9F-8T was a two-seat trainer version of the F9F-8, Baugher notes that it stayed in service far longer than its single-seat counterpart. They were later re-designated F-9J and TF-9J in 1962.
The FJ-4B Fury was a modification of the FJ-4 Fury, which was a navalized version of the famed F-86 Saber, the air-superiority fighter that controlled the skies over the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War. According to Baugher, the FJ-4B was a fighter-bomber, armed with four 20mm cannons and able to carry up to 6,000 pounds of bombs and missiles, including the AGM-12 Bullpup. The FJ-4B could also carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder.
When he was assigned to the fleet, Cernan flew the legendary A-4 Skyhawk with either VA-112 or VA-113, depending on the source. According to seaforces.org, both squadrons were equipped with the A-4B Skyhawk (then designated the A4D-2) when Cernan deployed on board USS Shangri-La in 1958 and in 1960.
Joe Baugher notes that the A-4B was capable of carrying a Mk 28 nuclear warhead. It also could carry the AGM-12 Bullpup, had two 20mm cannons, and the ability to haul up to 5,000 pounds of bombs.
As a NASA astronaut, Cernan also flew T-38 Talon supersonic trainers. According to a NASA release, the T-38s are used to keep astronauts current, and pilots are required to have 15 hours per month of flight time.
Gene Cernan walked on the moon, but let’s not forget the fact that he also flew a lot of cool planes much closer to Earth.
In 2001, Mark Giaconia was a Green Beret patrolling the border areas between Kosovo and Serbia. His counterparts were Russian troops, many of which were airborne. Their mission was to disrupt the movements of Albanian UCPMB rebels in the area. For six months, he and his Russian allies worked side-by-side, in the forests and mountains around Kosovo.
Then one day, his coworkers put on what they called a “Spetsnaz Show” – and Giaconia realized who his tactical buddies really were.
To be clear, the “Spetsnaz” aren’t any single part of the Russian military apparatus. They are any special operations unit of the Russian military, including the Russian Navy, Airborne troops, and FSB (formerly the KGB). Most often, when westerners refer to the Spetsnaz, they’re referring to the special operations section of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.
Giaconia’s experience with the Russians was his first – and it was the first time American Specials Forces and Russian special operators worked together. The height of their mission in Kosovo was rolling on a rebel base that had killed one of the Russians’ soldiers. The team captured a young rebel while on a patrol and extracted the location of the rebels’ base of operations.
American and Russian Special Forces troops in Kosovo alongside Swedish Jaegers, 2001.
Giaconia describes his time in Kosovo with his ODA in his book, One Green Beret: Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and beyond: 15 Extraordinary years in the life – 1996-2011. He describes the joint US-Russian Special Forces outfit arriving in an area called Velja Glava, where the rebel camp was supposed to be. After dispatching the sentries, the joint team dismounted from their armored vehicles and moved through the forest to assault the camp. The Russians deftly traversed through the vegetation while Giaconia laid the forest bare with a Mk 19 grenade launcher.
The Russians captured the Albanian rebels that were still able to be captured, and the UCPMB camp was taken out of action permanently. When it came to the performance of the Spetsnaz in combat, Giaconia says they were keen on tactics and had great intuition and instinct. They could shoot well, took care of their weapons and equipment, and were in great shape, and were very well-disciplined.
In short, he says he had a lot of respect for these “badasses in spirit.”
The U.S. Army on Thursday awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth $580 million to make the service’s next service pistol.
Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc., FN America and Beretta USA, the maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol.
“I am tremendously proud of the Modular Handgun System team,” Army Acquisition Executive Steffanie Easter said in a Jan.19 press announcement. “By maximizing full and open competition across our industry partners, we have optimized private sector advancements in handguns, ammunition and magazines, and the end result will ensure a decidedly superior weapon system for our warfighters.”
The Army did not offer any details about what caliber the new Sig Sauer pistol will be.
The service launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. One of the major goals of the effort is to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm. The U.S. military replaced the .45 caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 in 1985 and began using the 9mm NATO round at that time.
Army weapons officials informed Beretta USA and FN America at SHOT Show 2017 that they had been dropped from the XM17 Modular Handgun System in a recent down-select decision, according to a service source who is not authorized to speak to the press.
The decision formally ends the Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market.
Beretta has fought hard to remain to remain the Army’s pistol maker. In December 2014, Beretta USA submitted its modernized M9A3 as a possible alternative to the Army’s Modular Handgun System program.
But the Army rejected the improved M9A3 which featured new sights, a rail for mounting lights and accessories, better ergonomics and improved reliability.
Beretta was not finished yet. It developed a new striker-fired pistol, the APX and entered it into the APX.
The Army began working with the small arms industry on MHS in early 2013, but the joint effort has been in the works for more than five years. It could result in the Defense Department buying nearly 500,000 new pistols.
Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 handguns, according to Program Executive Office Soldier officials. The Army also plans to buy approximately 7,000 sub-compact versions of the handgun.
The other military services participating in the MHS program may order an additional 212,000 systems above the Army quantity.
“As MHS moves forward into operational testing, the due diligence taken by all of the stakeholders will ensure a program that remains on-budget and on-schedule.” Easter said.
Even the most innocuous data posted to a social media feed can be married up with other publicly available information to provide online criminals the tools they need to exploit members of the military or general public, an Army special agent said.
Special Agent Deric Palmer, program manager for the Digital Personal Protection Program, part of the Major Cybercrime Unit at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, explained how those who aren’t careful or aren’t paying attention can unwittingly provide scammers and other online criminals all the information they need to exploit them.
Social media accounts, Palmer said, serve as fertile ground for digging up the kinds of information that can be used to impersonate someone, steal identities or break into other online accounts, such as banking or insurance.
A Facebook page, for example, might contain current and past physical addresses where a person has lived, phone numbers, email addresses, names of pets, significant events such as birthdays and anniversaries, hobbies and other interests. Just browsing a Facebook page, Palmer said, he can figure out your favorite music, books, TV shows, political and religious leanings.
All that, he said, serves as “an attack vector” that an unscrupulous person can use to communicate with users further and gain their trust. Additional communications can bring out even more details that might later be used to break into online accounts or exploit users in other ways. Some social media users, Palmer added, even volunteer critical information that could be used to access their online financial accounts that they’d never divulge if they were asked by a stranger.
Some online memes, he noted, pose as games that get users to volunteer information that, coupled with other easily obtainable information, can be used to exploit them. A quick search online reveals a simple graphic meme that purportedly allows users to choose “your new cat name” and then post the results, along with the meme itself, on their own social media feed.
For the “cat name” meme, users would use the last digit of their phone number as a selector for any of nine name prefixes, their zodiac sign to choose from a list of 12 middle names, and their favorite color to choose from a list of eight potential last names.
A user might end up with “Count Sassy Pants” as a silly name for their cat. When they post that on their social media feed, along with the meme image itself, would-be criminals will know their phone number ends in 8, they were born in either August or September, and that their favorite color is yellow. Coupled with data already on their social media feed, and with data that can be obtained from data brokers, the information makes it easier to exploit users, Palmer explained.
Image memes such as this one ask users to construct and share on their social media feeds new, “fun” information that is constructed from their personal information.
Military personnel also are candidates to be impersonated online — malicious users might opt to use imagery of real-world service members available online to exploit other users. The U.S. military is one of the most trusted institutions in the nation, and online criminals, Palmer said, take advantage of that.
“The U.S. military is viewed as a prestigious club … It’s an indicator of prestige,” Palmer said. “It’s instant respect. If I can pretend to be a U.S. general, unwitting people will respect me immediately.”
With that respect, he said, a criminal can exploit other users while pretending to be a member of the U.S. military. Palmer’s advice to service members: don’t post your picture in uniform with the name tape visible. “It immediately makes you a target,” the special agent said.
Palmer offered some tips to avoid being scammed:
Immediate red flag! Be suspicious if you are asked for money or a wire transfer to pay for a purported service member’s transportation, medical bills, communication fees or marriage-processing charges.
Be suspicious if the person with whom you are corresponding wants you to mail anything to a foreign country.
Be aware that military members at any duty location or in a combat zone have access to mail, cyber cafes, Skype and other means of communicating with their families, and they have access to medical and dental treatment.
The military will ensure that family members are notified should a service member is injured.
Insist on a “proof of life.” The scammers will not video chat with you, because they know you will catch them in their lie.
Trust your instincts! If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The special agent also provided eight points for better security online, and to make users less likely to be victimized by online criminals:
Permanently close old, unused accounts.
Enable two-factor authentication on any platform that allows it.
Use strong passwords, and use different passwords for every account.
On social media, accept friend requests selectively.
Configure the strongest privacy settings for each social media account.
Think before you post.
Limit use of third-part applications on social media applications, read the license agreement, and be sure exactly what those applications want to be able to access.
Change answers to security questions, and use false answers so that online criminals can’t use information they gather online to gain access to your accounts.
When you think ‘sherpa,’ the first thing that comes to mind is probably the folks who help people climb Mount Everest, not an Army aircraft. Unless you’re a pro, you’re probably not thinking about the Army’s C-23 transport plane.
Wait, the Army has a transport plane? That’s right. You see, the Army operates unarmed, fixed-wing aircraft. After the Army and Air Force split, the Air Force got the armed aircraft in the divorce settlement.
One of the unarmed transports the Army flies is the C-23 Sherpa. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Sherpa was acquired to serve as an intra-theater transport between U.S. Army bases in Europe. However, the plane soon took on responsibilities beyond that limited role. The C-23 can haul up to 30 troops or three pallets of cargo. The plane is also capable of using smaller runways than the C-130 Hercules and is cheaper to operate than a CH-47 Chinook. With a top speed of 281 miles per hour and a range of 771 miles, this particular aircraft soon found work outside Europe as well.
According to a 2014 United States Army release, the C-23 was used in the American peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula. The plane was also a valuable asset during Operation Iraqi Freedom, moving cargo to places where C-130s couldn’t land, which was particularly valuable in humanitarian relief missions.
Ultimately, the United States bought 62 airframes and, aside from losing one in a crash, the planes remained in service until it was retired in 2014 to be replaced by the C-27J Spartan. Still, the C-23 isn’t going away just yet. Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the Philippines are receiving some of these short-haul airlifters as second-hand assets. As for the C-27J, it was retired by the Air Force and Air National Guard without replacement.
To learn more about this aircraft, check out the video below:
It is one of the sneakiest, most insidious things in warfare. It can creep up on you, and you’ll suddenly find out that you no longer can do all that you wanted to do. It’s called “virtual attrition,” and while it doesn’t make many headlines, it matters more to military operations than you’d think.
So, what exactly is “virtual attrition?” Well, plain old attrition is defined by the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary as “the act or process of weakening and gradually defeating an enemy through constant attacks and continued pressure over a long period of time.” In war, these are the planes that are shot down, the ships that are sunk, the tanks that go “jack in the box,” the troops that are killed. In other words, you lost them for good.
An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 conducts a captive carry flight test of an AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. (U.S. Navy photo by Greg L. Davis/Released)
Virtual attrition, therefore involves “losing” the assets. Only it doesn’t involve actually destroying the asset. Here’s a couple of examples:
Scenario One: There is a factory complex in Bad Guy Land that you want to remove from the landscape. It will take 16 Joint Direct Attack Munitions to destroy. Now, four F/A-18E Super Hornets from one of the squadrons in the air wing of USS Enterprise can each carry four JDAMs, that should put enough bombs on target, right?
Well, not quite. You see, Mr. Sleazebag Swinemolestor, the dictator of Bad Guy Land, just got some brand new Russian S-300 missile systems (the SA-10 Grumble). He’s got one defending the factory complex you want to go away. He also got some brand new J-11 Flankers from China that he’s using to protect the place.
Now, sending planes into the teeth of air defenses doesn’t work out so well. We found that out the hard way in more than a couple wars.
So now, you may need some escorts. Well, we can add a couple more F/A-18Es with AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles and AGM-154A Joint Standoff Attack Weapons to deal with the S-300s, and two more loaded with a ton of AIM-120 AMRAAMs for the Flankers.
Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to the Diamondbacks of Strike Fighter Squadron One Zero Two (VFA-102), load a CATM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation (HARM) missile on one of their squadrons F/A-18F Super Hornets aboard the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). The CATM-88 is an inert training version of the AGM-88 HARM missile, which is a supersonic air-to-surface tactical missile designed to seek and destroy enemy radar-equipped air defense systems. Kitty Hawk and embarked Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5) are currently conducting operations in the Western Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 3rd Class Jonathan Chandler)
Only those four additional Super Hornets have to come from somewhere. On a carrier (or even a land base), there are only so many airframes. The S-300s and the Flankers just forced the United States to double the size of the “package” they are sending to service the target.
A carrier usually has 24 Super Hornets. Some will be down for maintenance. Some will be needed to provide air cover for the carrier or planes like the E-2 Hawkeye or EA-18 Growler. There will be other targets to hit, like bridges, air bases, headquarters buildings… you get the picture.
Now, you can’t hit all the targets you want to hit, because you need to not only make the factory go away, you need to make the defenses go away. You have lost the use of the planes as strike assets. In essence, other missions get shortchanged. That is one way virtual attrition works.
Scenario 2: China’s DF-21 has gotten a lot of hype as a threat. That ignores the fact that the RIM-161 SM-3 Standard Missile is already capable of defeating it. But the DF-21 still inflicts the “virtual attrition.”
Let’s assume that BadGuyLand’s dictator, the aforementioned Sleazebag Swinemolestor, has bought 30 DF-21s. Now, while the SM-3 has proven reliable (a success rate of about 90 percent in tests), the usual practice will be a “shoot-shoot look” approach — firing two missiles at each target, and looking to see if you got it. That is a quick way to eat up missiles, especially when you miss.
An SM-3 Block 1B interceptor is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) during a Missile Defense Agency test and successfully intercepted a complex short-range ballistic missile target off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. (U.S. Department of Defense photo/Released)
So now, the Enterprise’s escorts have to load more SM-3s into their Mark 41 Vertical Launch Systems. The problem being, of course, they only have 96 cells each. And if you are carrying more SM-3s, you have to take other missiles out, like BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-66 SM-2 Standard Missiles, and RUM-139 Vertical Launch ASROCs.
Now, you could fix this by adding the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (originally planned for a WESTPAC deployment), with her escorts, the Bunker Hill, the Winston S. Churchill, the Harmon Rabb, and the Cole. But that carrier group has to come from somewhere… so you now have to make up for that or pray that the region stays calm.
The Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), steams in formation with ships from Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) during Exercise Invincible Spirit. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)
The other alternative is to add more escorts. You could strip the Mac Taylor from anti-piracy duty off Somalia, or call in the John S. McCain from her Freedom of Navigation exercise in the South China Sea, or maybe even have the Dave Nolan detach from the replenishment ships. But then you take risks by pulling those ships from those missions.
In essence, virtual attrition means you have to pull in extra assets – and the assets you pull in, no matter how good they are, cannot be in two places at once. It is not spectacular. It doesn’t make headlines, but virtual attrition is a real problem that the military has to address.
Scientists have claimed that computers would replace humans in the cockpit for some time, but artificial intelligence simply hadn’t reached the point where it could compete successfully against a human opponent.
But now, at least in simulators, it has. ALPHA, the AI, bested a retired Air Force fighter pilot repeatedly while running on a tiny, cheap Rasberry Pi computer that is often used to teach children coding basics.
Retired Air Force Col. Gene “Geno” Lee helped guide ALPHA’s programming and flew against ALPHA in a series of air battles in a computer simulator, battles that he lost every time when flying against the mature version of ALPHA.
At first, ALPHA was being used as a tool to create better simulators for training pilots and testing tactics. ALPHA took control of “Red” fighters flying against a “Blue” force. Red typically held a numerical advantage while Blue typically had a technological advantage with longer range missiles, a larger payload, and an AWACS flying in support.
The AWACS is a radar system that gave Blue forces better situational awareness and targeting data.
In the initial matchups, ALPHA’s Red team won more than it lost but took heavy losses. Then Lee and the programmers at Psibernetix, the company that created ALPHA, began making adjustments to its programming and ALPHA begin to win. Soon, it won every engagement.
So, Lee decided to take control of a Blue fighter personally to try and give the other team an advantage. He flew engagement after engagement against ALPHA.
ALPHA won every fight and, whenever Lee stayed in the air for a protracted period, Lee was shot down.
Lee told the researchers that ALPHA was “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI (he’s) seen-to-date.”
Lee later told UC Magazine reporter M.B. Reilly that, after flying missions against ALPHA, “I go home feeling washed out. I’m tired, drained and mentally exhausted. This may be artificial intelligence, but it represents a real challenge.”
Now, ALPHA does have some advantages of its own. First, it utilizes a “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” system. GFT systems work closer to the way a human brain works than most computers. Rather than try to calculate every variable when computing a solution, it keeps track of key bits of data and forms generalities.
But it can form decisions based on those generalities 250 times faster than a human can blink. When controlling four aircraft, it can take in all available sensor data, create a new plan of action, and adjust each jet’s controls to implement that plan every 6.5 milliseconds.
This allows ALPHA to constantly choreograph the jets’ movements to cover one another. If one pair of Red planes are forced to evade and are in danger, ALPHA can direct a second pair to move into position on the attackers instantly.
Researchers believe that if ALPHA was split among two computers, one handling sensor data and the other computing actions, ALPHA could adjust its plans and adjust flight paths 1,100 times per second.
The success of ALPHA is impressive, but the system isn’t exactly ready for combat. While ALPHA receives sensor data with “noise” incorporated, errors and missing data that would occur in a real fight, it hasn’t flown in a situation where the signals between planes were jammed. This would make its coordination between planes more challenging.
In the 1950s France, in the midst of dealing with insurgencies in its colonies in Algeria and Indochina, recognized a military need for easily transportable artillery that could quickly be deployed to the front lines. It happened upon one very novel solution: a militarized Vespa scooter with a built-in armor-piercing gun.
The Vespa 150 TAP, built by French Vespa licensee ACMA, was designed expressly to be used with the French airborne special forces, the Troupes Aéro Portées (TAP).
The Vespa TAP was designed to be airdropped into a military theater fully assembled and ready for immediate action. This high level of mobility made the TAP the perfect anti-guerilla weapon, since enemy irregulars could appear at a moment’s notice even in remote locations.
Outfitted with an M20 recoilless rifle, the TAP proved more than capable of destroying makeshift fortifications used by guerrillas in Algeria and Indochina. The M20 was designed as an anti-tank recoilless rifle that was outfitted with a high-explosive anti-tank warhead. Under ideal circumstances, the rifle could penetrate 100mm of armor from 7,000 yards away.
The M20 outfitted on the Vespa was never actually meant to be fired while the vehicle was in motion. Instead, the Vespa frame functioned as a way of transporting the artillery to the front line. Once there, the rifle would be removed from the Vespa and placed on a tripod for accurate firing.
Remarkably, aside for a slight overhaul of the engine, plus the inclusion of the rifle and ammunition mounts, the standard Vespa and the TAP were designed almost identically. The TAP had a strengthened frame and lower gearing, but besides that it drives just as any Vespa would.
About 500 total TAPs were produced throughout the 1950s.
However ingenious the TAP was, the vehicle was never used outside of the French military during engagements in Algeria and French Indochina.
The distinctive and venerable OH-58 Kiowa helicopter, mothballed and grounded in the dry desert of Arizona, after being retired from US Army service with almost 50 years of service, is finding its wings again in Greece.
For an Army aviator, this was also a chance to get back into the seat of a historic platform and to share his knowledge and flying skills to a new generation of Hellenic pilots.
“I lucked out with this (foreign military sales) case as I was an instructor pilot in the Kiowa prior to switching to the Apache,” Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Meadows, a military aviation trainer from the US Army Security Assistance Command, said of his selection.
Chief Meadows is assigned to USASAC’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and is the team lead for the initial Greek OH-58D training program as well as the first OH-58D Technical Assistance Fielding Team deployed to Greece.
Thirty-six aircraft wait to be loaded onto the transport ship at the port in Jacksonville, Florida.
(John Zimmerman/Army Futures Command)
A total of 70 Kiowa Warrior aircraft were granted to Greece in early 2018 under the foreign military sales program administered by USASAC.
The helicopters were unloaded at the Greek port of Volos on May 16, and then flown by US and Greek crews to the Hellenic Army Aviation air base at Stefanovikio where pilot and maintainer training is being conducted.
Loading of one of the six flyable aircraft into the transport ship at the port in Jacksonville, Florida.
(John Zimmerman/Army Futures Command)
“The procurement of the Kiowa Warrior helicopters by Greece helps build partner capacity by covering an immediate gap in Greece’s attack or observation helicopter requirement,” said Andrew Neushaefer, USASAC’s country program manager for Greece.
The Kiowa helicopters had been invaluable to the Army as a light observation and reconnaissance aircraft since it was first received in 1969 and saw immediate action supporting the US war efforts in Vietnam.
Five OH-58D aircraft sit on Greek military ramp ready for training at the Hellenic Army Aviation air base at Stefanovikio, Greece.
(John Zimmerman/Army Futures Command)
In 2013 almost 350 aircraft were retired under an Army-centric effort to modernize their aviation fleet. The newer and more complicated AH-64 Apache was chosen to fulfill the Kiowa’s role until a future vertical lift aircraft could be fielded.
According to Bell Helicopter, as of 2013, the OH-58 airframe had more than 820,000 combat hours in its decades of service. During the wars following 9/11, the OH-58D version, known as the Kiowa Warrior, accounted for nearly 50% of all Army reconnaissance and attack missions flown in Iraq and Afghanistan, the highest usage rate of any Army aircraft.
Greece saw an opportunity to upgrade its defensive capabilities and acquired the helicopters at a reduced cost as it was only required to pay for packing, crating, handling and transportation, as well as any refurbishments, if necessary.
But bringing any new aircraft into a military’s service, even as seemingly uncomplicated as a 60’s-era helicopter, requires a well-trained and highly qualified team of aviators and maintainers to fly and manage the aircraft.
After serving faithfully for more than 40 years, the OH-58 Kiowa Warriors assigned to 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, took to the skies for the last time at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, April 15.
(US Army/Sgt. Daniel Schroeder)
Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Meadows, left, stands with the battalion commander of the Greek Army helicopter training unit at the Greek port of Volos, before flying the newly arrived helicopters to the Hellenic Army Aviation air base at Stefanovikio, Greece.
(US Army Security Assistance Command)
Chief Meadows was involved with the Greek’s OH-58D case from the early stages and has had many challenges to overcome in bringing the program together.
“I made frequent drives to Fort Eustis in Virginia to assist in the regeneration of the Kiowas and began flying them again in order to support the training mission,” Meadows said.
Although assigned initially as a Contracting Officer Representative and the government flight representative, Meadows had the skills and experience to do much more and was selected to be an instructor as well.
An OH-58D Kiowa flies off at Fort Polk, Louisiana, November 9, 2015.
(US Army/Capt. Joe Bush)
Once Meadows and his team got the program on the ground in Greece they faced a number of challenges, mostly associated with maintenance and logistics.
“The Greek system of maintenance and logistic support, although effective, is very different than the US systems,” Meadows said. “If we had something break, and it wasn’t a common issue, any parts needed had to be shipped from the US to Greece, which adds substantial time from parts demand to replacement. That being said, the Greek maintainers are excellent. They are doing a superb job at learning this aircraft and maintaining it.”
An OH-58D Kiowa flies off at dusk over an AH-64 Apache at Fort Polk, Louisiana, November 9, 2015.
(US Army/Capt. Joe Bush)
Meadows also knew that providing this aircraft to Greece would greatly contribute to their national security interests.
“Seeing Greece gain this capability and being part of it is amazing,” said Meadows. “The mission set of the Kiowa and the pilots it produces will greatly complement the already robust Hellenic Army.”
To date, under the FMS program, at least 10 countries have OH-58s in their inventory with Croatia, Tunisia and Greece being the latest.
Editor’s Note: The OH-58 is a single-engine, single-rotor military helicopter used primarily for observation, utility, and direct fire support. The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior version is primarily used as a light attack and armed reconnaissance helicopter to support troops fighting on the ground.