For the past few years, DARPA has been working on a system called ARGUS-IR, or Autonomous Real-Team Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Infrared, which can take video over an area that is so super high resolution — 1.8 gigapixels — it would take a fleet of 100 Predator drones to produce the same images.
A PBS documentary last year explored the program, which uses hundreds of cell phone cameras linked together into a sophisticated rig. Mounted underneath an RQ-4 Global Hawk for example, ARGUS could loiter over an area at 17,500 feet and capture images as small as six inches square on the ground, effectively being able to tell the color of the shirt you are wearing.
It’s pretty incredible — and somewhat scary — stuff.
Current infrared systems either have a narrow field of view, slow frame rates or are low resolution. DARPA’s Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Infrared (ARGUS-IR) program will break this paradigm by producing a wide-field-of-view IR imaging system with frame rates and resolution that are compatible with the tracking of dismounted personnel at night. ARGUS-IR will provide at least 130 independently steerable video streams to enable real-time tracking of individual targets throughout the field of view. The ARGUS-IR system will also provide continuous updates of the entire field of view for enhanced situational awareness.
In July, the Air Force made the first step toward making ARGUS a reality with the implementation of the Gorgon Stare Increment 2 pod on the MQ-9 Reaper.
Here’s the view from an ARGUS system from 17,500 feet. It can capture a very wide area.
When an operator wants to zoom in, the system places boxes over cars, people, and other objects and tracks them in real time.
Now check out the PBS Nova documentary on the project:
There are a lot of G.I. Joes in the Joe organization. While every commando unit needs people to run the administration of the unit, not all of them need to pretend to be useful on the battlefield. We covered the least intimidating G.I. Joes so it makes sense to look at their arch-nemesis: Cobra.
Cobra is just as big as G.I. Joe, with just as many people. It’s bound to have some dead weight Cobras, or those least likely to help take over the world.
1. Sludge Viper
I can’t list all of the short-lived eco-warriors. I wish I could, because on both sides, they’re absolutely ridiculous.
The most absurd on the Cobra side is Sludge Viper, whose sludge gun (yeah, sludge gun) has unlimited ammo because it degrades whatever is around it into more sludge and shoots WEAPONS GRADE SLUDGE at high velocity. You know, laser weapons weren’t real (yet) when GI Joe was on TV, but we bought it because we all know they will be.
But no one has ever thought of weaponizing sludge. EVER.
The weapon is just as dangerous to Cobra as it is to their enemies and has the added benefit of giving off methane. So the only way to defeat Sludge Viper is to get him to shoot himself or smoke a cigarette within 50 feet of him.
2. Lt. Clay Moore
Before the new millennium, Cobra wasn’t really an organization that prided itself on diversity. As a matter of fact, Lt. Clay Moore was Cobra’s only non-Caucasian member before 2001, and even then, Cobra Commander gave the guy’s command to a GI Joe traitor, and when Moore protested, he forced the two to fight to the death. FOR A LIEUTENANT’S SLOT.
Calm down and take a long tour to Korea or something, you two. It’s not worth a death match. I get that his name is a play on on claymore mines but Lt. Moore doesn’t get a cool code name (or any code name at all) and dresses like any regular Cobra soldier. His special training includes losing at death matches. My guess is that the L-T is most likely to defect to the Joes – and for good reason.
I’m forming an army of evil super soldiers, each with special abilities that will help me take over the world. Obviously, I need an “ex-yuppie tax consultant.” Why is a terrorist army paying taxes? Who are they paying them to? Where the hell did Raptor learn to specialize in these kinds of taxes?
Raptor spends most of his time – and this is not a joke, it’s on his file card – dressed like a bird and sitting in the bottom of a large cage. He is also Cobra’s falconer, because of course someone who is unnaturally obsessed with birds of prey would find the one job which demands time alone with falcons. I bet they’re super useful in laser combat with the Joes.
4. Big Boa
Big Boa is Cobra’s resident drill instructor and asshole. His bullhorn-like voice kicks open the barracks door at 0500 and forces some awful PT on Cobra recruits. He demands the most out of the trainees but dresses like he’s a member a Daft Punk/Queen Tribute Band but still demands to be taken seriously.
On top of being able to change his skin to fit in with any environment, which is great for infiltrating the enemy (I mean, probably), Zartan’s file card also lists that he’s really awesome with makeup and is a great ventriloquist.
Unfortunately, when you need a deep infiltration agent, you probably don’t want to depend on someone who dresses like Alice Cooper and is a paranoid schizophrenic suffering from multiple personality disorder. This is also the last person who should be sporting a bow and arrow.
6. Croc Master
This genius tried to popularize the use of crocodiles and alligators as home invasion deterrence and was surprised when people didn’t really go for it. If a Brinks guy came to my house and suggested I build a moat, I’d call the cops.
But of course Cobra went for the idea. This is the terror organization who once thought a telethon would be the best way to raise money to conquer the world. And now Croc Master spends his free time in the bathtub pretending to be a crocodile. Why is Cobra full of cosplayers who have creepy relationships with animals?
Speaking of cosplayers, the biggest offender of all is Serpentor, who is an all-out furry and talks like a high school drama teacher. If everyone should dress for the job they want, why is the Cobra organization trying to replace Cobra Commander with someone who dresses like he wants to be the Mascot for the Cobra Football Team?
They cloned history’s best military minds and all it can think to do is throw live snakes at people. The Simpsons has a character like this but she’s not in charge and she’s infinitely more likeable.
I can’t even imagine what this guy thinks when he puts his snake head on in the morning and looks in the mirror. “Yeah. That’s a good look. Go get ’em today Serpentor.”
8. Major Bludd
Major Bludd has all the makings of a villain’s villain. Eyepatch? Check. Snidely Whiplash mustache? Check. Villainous name? Check. Unfortunately, he has no real-world villainy skills.
His card says “Terrorist.” Well, welcome to Cobra, Bludd, WHERE EVERYONE IS A TERRORIST. His secondary specialty is “weapons and tactics.” Weapons and tactics are pretty much all Cobra is ever supposed to do. What else do you have, Major? Poetry. POETRY. HE’S A POET. AN EVIL POET.
Not even good poetry. He’s actually more of a bad rapper. Published in prison newsletters, he outs himself as Cobra’s resident Blue Falcon (a term that probably gets Raptor all hot and bothered): “My ruthless tactics keep you on your toes/’Cause I fight ’em all, whether friends or foes!”
Dishonorable Mention: Cobra Commander
Speaking of what Cobra is supposed to be doing all the time, Cobra Commander makes this list for being one of the worst possible commanders of all time. This is the guy who thought rigging a local election, destroying the Ozone Layer, trying to destroy all the plants on Earth, and starting a rock band were the ways to beat the Joes for good.
If Cobra’s mission was to annoy liberals, they can raise a big ol’ Mission Accomplished banner. No, their mission is to kill Joes and under Cobra Commander, they were never able to kill a single Joe. Not one.
The only good plan he ever had was to kill Serpentor, the only commander more worthless than he was. And guess what? He botched that too.
Since the earliest days, humans have employed bioweapons both invisible and nefarious: killers on two legs, four, six, eight – and plenty with no legs at all. All of these agents of biological warfare, fresh with the fury of nature, have taken their turns inspiring terror in enemy forces, and turning the tide of unwinnable battles.
In the modern day, just as many bio-weapons have been employed by terrorists and monsters, “humans” who barely qualify for the title. Yes, history is filled with deadly organisms – viruses, bacteria, harmless looking flowers, and even playful sea mammals. All have seen their fair share of battle, and some were admittedly pretty awesome. But if this otherwise terrifying bioweapons list anything to teach, it may be that nature’s most brutal creations are those dogs of war called “man.”
A Maryland-based company claims it can take control over an enemy drone while in flight without the use of jamming, a potential game-changer for the US military, prisons, and airports.
Started in 2010, Department 13 came out of DARPA-funded research into radio frequencies and Bluetooth technology. That was when CEO Jonathan Hunter realized his work could have real effects in mitigating radio-controlled drone aircraft — a frequent, and growing nuisance to militaries as well as the private sector.
“We’ve learned how to speak drone talk,” Hunter told Business Insider. Though D13’s technology has often been described as “hacking” a drone, he likes to describe it differently. Instead, his black box of antennas and sensors, called Mesmer, is able to take over a drone by manipulating the protocols being used by its original operator.
Let’s say someone is trying to fly a commercial drone over the walls of a prison complex to drop off some goodies for inmates — a problem that is increasing as off-the-shelf drones get better and less expensive. The prison can use Mesmer to set up an invisible geofence around its physical walls that stops a drone in its tracks, or takes complete control and brings it into the prison and lands it.
“If I can speak the same language as the drone, I don’t need to scream louder, i.e. jamming” Hunter said.
D13 was one of eight finalists last year in a counter-drone challenge at Quantico, Va., where it stopped a drone out to one kilometer away, though the company didn’t win first place (the winner, Skywall 100, uses a human-fired launcher to shoot a projectile at a drone to capture it in a net). D13 also demonstrated the ability to safely land a hostile drone with its technology at a security conference in October.
Besides setting up an invisible wall for drones, Mesmer can sometimes tap into telemetry data the drone would normally send back to the operator, or tap into its video feed. In some cases, Hunter said, it could even track down the person flying it.
The system does have its drawbacks: It only works on “known” commercial drones, so the library of drones it’s effective against only covers about 75% of the marketplace, according to Scout. That number is also likely much less for non-commercial drones made for foreign militaries.
Still, once a commercial drone makes it into Mesmer’s library, it’s unlikely that a future software update would help it overcome D13’s solution. That’s because Mesmer focuses on the radio signals, not the software.
“There is not a single drone that we haven’t been able to crack,” Hunter said. “We’re working our way through the drone families.”
The company plans to have the system on the market this month.
So check out our list of how the military upgrades your personal style.
1. Physical training
It’s not every service member’s goal to go out and win the Mr. Olympia body building contest — we get it. But since we get physically tested nearly on a daily basis depending on your occupation, we tend to build a little muscle here and there.
Plus, members of the opposite sex tend to like a guy or gal that’s in shape — just saying.
We guess she liked that. (Image via Giphy)
Although the military doesn’t provide service members cosmetic dental work, getting your cavities filled for free is a much better option than walking around with a big a** hole in your #2 mural.
They declare war on cavities. (Image via Giphy)
3. Dress uniform
Since women love a man in uniform, all service members are in luck because you have to wear one practically every single day. Having a dress uniform ready to go in your closet can also save you a bunch of money from having to rent or buy a tux for your upcoming wedding.
See, it’s all in the uniform. (Image via Giphy)
Many of us join the military to escape an unsatisfying life back home. Most of the newbies will end up living in the barracks their first few years in the service until they get married or promoted. In recent years, the government has spent a lot of dinero to improve base housing.
This is a huge step up from when you were sharing a room with your little brother back home.
Base housing in the Air Force. (Image via Giphy)
If you have crappy vision heading into the military, you’re going to end up wearing BCGs at least through boot camp. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can upgrade your spectacles once you graduate and even put in a request to get a Lasik procedure through your chain of command.
2. The French and Spanish Siege of Gibraltar in 1779
The Siege and Relief of Gibraltar. Painting: Public Domain/John Copley
France and Spain attempted to invade England via the English Channel and the Rock of Gibraltar. The English Channel fleet never bothered to attack anything the Gibraltar campaign was an abysmal failure.
Starting in 1779, the Franco-Spanish fleet attacked the Rock of Gibraltar for nearly four years, losing 6,000 lives and 10 ships without taking a bit of ground.
But logistical failures and mismanagement slowed the German army’s advance despite a series of battlefield successes. The Soviets capitalized with a series of counterattacks and by raising 200 new divisions, four times what the Germans planned for. The Axis lost nearly a million men of the 4.5 million it sent to Russia and was then stuck in a two-front war.
Instead, Castro knew about the operation ahead of time, American involvement was exposed the morning of the first attacks, and the Cuban forces captured and killed nearly all of the Cuban exiles assaulting them.
5. Japanese invasion of Midway
In the summer of 1942, Adm. Yamamoto Isoroku attempted to draw the surviving American aircraft carriers into a trap by invading Midway Atoll, a U.S. island near Hawaii.
But U.S. Navy had intercepted the Japanese plans and laid their own ambush. In the resulting battle Jun. 4, Japan lost all four carriers involved in the battle and a heavy cruiser while the U.S. suffered the loss of one carrier. The battle was a tipping point in the overall Pacific Theater of World War II.
6. U.S. invasion of Canada in 1775
In its first major offensive, the Continental Army sent two major forces to take Quebec and convince the rest of Canada to join the rebellion.
Early successes were followed by catastrophe at the siege of Quebec City. One commanding general was killed and the other wounded before a hasty retreat gave the British back all the territory the Americans had taken.
Though the Soviets would achieve victory in the Winter War of 1939-1940, their first thrust into Finland was a disaster. 450,000 Soviets with approximately 4,000 planes and 6,000 tanks and armored vehicles were stopped by 180,000 Finnish troops operating 130 outdated aircraft and 30 armored vehicles.
Several key organizations recently came together to advance exoskeleton technology for the soldier during an intensive three-day Operations and Maneuver and Technology Interchange meeting.
The User Technical Touch Point Exoskeleton event was a three-day living classroom, hands-on experience. It offered an interactive forum for operational and technology immersion on both infantry maneuvers and technology demonstrations. Groups of several Military Operational Specialties, or MOS’s, were represented, laying down their kits and equipment and walking observers through a day “in the field, on the job.”
Operational vignettes and subject interviews offered context on the physiological and cognitive demanding infantry tasks, before, during, and after operations. Vendors, requirement developers, and engineers discussed “what they are and what they aren’t” in the current exoskeleton marketplace, debunking the Hollywood “iron man” effect and focusing on real-time products: the Dephy Exo Boot and Lockheed Martin’s ONYX.
Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division show some of the equipment that they use during everyday tasks and learn how an exoskeleton can help.
(Photo by David Kamm, RDECOM Soldier Center)
Soldiers were encouraged by the endurance improvement, mobility, and lethality benefits of donning the systems. Those who wore the systems commented on how it felt to wear an exoskeleton and the relationship between a new user and the system. Their candid feedback regarding form, fit and function will help developers prioritize and make modifications to the systems in preparation for a Fall 2019 VIP demonstration.
Observers commented on the flexibility of use as the systems were adjusted with minimal effort from one user to the next over three days. User comments, such as those made by field artillery soldiers, emphasized the potential value of having an exoskeleton or exoskeleton-like system to provide enhanced endurance during operations, which means a positive impact on lethality and combat effectiveness.
“The importance of this User Touch Point event was two-fold: it gave those involved in developing this technology the ability to better understand the physical aspects of the tasks and duties of the soldiers and gain an understanding of the soldier’s perspective in how this capability can be of value,” said James Mingo, a senior military analyst at TRADOC. “They understand it.”
“It provided hand-on experience to the movement and maneuver soldiers of some of the top seven combat MOS’s,” said Raul Esteras-Palos, Robotics Requirements Division, Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate, or CDID, Maneuver Center of Excellence, or MCoE. “This event is an effective way to gain valuable feedback necessary for the advancement of the Army’s exoskeleton program.”
Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division show some of the equipment that they use during everyday tasks and learn how an exoskeleton can help.
(Photo by David Kamm, RDECOM Soldier Center)
Soldiers believe that endurance translates into improved lethality while preserving the body from the effects of what is already strenuous work. Comments included discussion on injuries (lower back, neck, shoulder and leg) directly related to both training and combat conditions, impacts that are well documented in the medical community.
The RDECOM Soldier Center is preparing soldier touch point events with 82nd and 101st Airborne, followed by meetings with requirement developers, stake holders and senior leadership. The data from these User Touch Point events will be made available to the Lethality Cross-Functional Teams.
“Major General Piatt, CG 10th MTN DIV’s support has allowed us to tap into the expert knowledge of some of the most experienced Army professionals of our Nation,” said David Audet, branch chief, Mission Equipment and Systems Branch at the RDECOM Soldier Center. “This was a unique opportunity for developers and engineers. We are indebted to the troops for their selfless service and owe them the opportunity to listen to their concerns and take action.”
Teams from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Soldier Center, Program Executive Office Soldier, the Maneuver, Aviation, and Soldier Division at ARCIC/TRADOC, requirement developers from the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Army Research Labs, exoskeleton developers from Dephy Inc. (Massachusetts) and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control (Florida), and other support contractors attended the event.
Though the Navy is dancing in the end zone over its newest destroyer, the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), the futuristic ship has already lost one of the major pieces of its arsenal.
To be more precise, the 155mm Advanced Gun Systems will need a new round to fire.
The future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) transits the Atlantic Ocean during acceptance trials April 21, 2016 with the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of DDG 1000, the future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000). Following a crew certification period and October commissioning ceremony in Baltimore, Zumwalt will transit to its homeport in San Diego for a Post Delivery Availability and Mission Systems Activation. DDG 1000 is the lead ship of the Zumwalt-class destroyers, next-generation, multi-mission surface combatants, tailored for land attack and littoral dominance. (U.S. Navy/Released)
According to a report by Popular Mechanics, the Navy has cancelled the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP). This round, guided by GPS satellites, was to have been used to hit targets as far away as 60 miles. One of the biggest issues came about because of the cut in the buy of the Zumwalt – from 32 ships to only three. The Daily Caller noted that cutting the size of the Zumwalt buy caused the per-unit cost to go up from $4.1 billion to $7 billion. That meant that the cost per shell went up to $800,000, largely because the RD cost is being borne by far fewer rounds than originally thought. As a result, the program met the Pentagon chopping block.
Now, this does not mean that the Zumwalt’s AGS is reduced to an ornament. The good news about the 155 round is that there are a host of options aside from the proverbial spitballs. Here are a few:
M107 High-Explosive: This is a conventional round – but there are a lot of them in stock, and it can still do a lot of damage. The M549 adds rocket assistance to increase range. Newer shells like the XM1113 and XM1128 will provide longer range and near-precision capability.
M864 Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM): Think of this as a very small cluster bomb. The bomblets can take out armor or infantry, and it allows room for error. On a ship, these rounds could do a lot of damage to exposed antennas for radars and radios.
M712 “Copperhead”: This is a laser-guided artillery round. And a lot of UAVs have laser designators, including the MQ-8 Fire Scout (which can be operated off ships). While intended for land use, it should be noted that the Navy has used laser-guided weapons at sea, notably AGM-123 Skippers against the Iranian frigate Sahand during Operation Praying Mantis.
The M982 Excalibur 155mm round leaves the barrel of an M777 Howitzer during a live fire shoot conducted by Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, at Oro Grande Range Complex, N.M., Dec. 5. The shoot was the first of its kind conducted outside of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., and combat. (US Army photo by Sgt. Sean Harriman, 2nd BCT, 1st AD, Public Affairs)
M982 “Excalibur”: This is a GPS guided shell already in service with the Army. Costing $68,000 a shell, it doesn’t have the range that LRLAP would have brought to the table, but it is combat-proven in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Vulcano: The Vulcano from OTO Melara uses infra-red guidance to hit its targets at ranges of about 50 miles. The Italian firm offers this shell in 76mm and 127mm versions as well as its 155mm version. Laser guidance is also an option for these shells. Vulcano might be a better bargain than LRLAP, since it is also capable of being used as an anti-ship weapon.
Russian hackers have been a source of controversy in recent months. But Russian hacking has gone far beyond the realm of computers. In fact, the Russians recently got their hands on a French armored vehicle and hacked it. This time, however, the outcome wasn’t holding some network for ransom, but the creation of a very lethal, wheeled infantry fighting vehicle.
A VBCI takes part in the 2014 Bastille Day parade.
(Photo by Pierre-Yves Beaudouin)
How did this happen? Well, prior to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, France and Russia were collaborating on a number of defense projects. One such project was the development of a new infantry fighting vehicle — one based off a very recent acquisition by the French military.
The ATOM packs a modified S-60 anti-aircraft gun, giving it 57mm firepower.
(Photo by Ural Vagon Zavod)
The Véhicule Blindé de Combat d’Infanterie, also known as VBCI, was acquired by France to replace the AMX-10P, a tracked infantry fighting vehicle that had seen decades of service. The VBCI packs a 25mm autocannon and a 7.62mm machine gun. It has a three-man crew and can haul nine troops. A newer version, the VBCI 2, is entering service soon and has incorporated a number of changes based on lessons learned doing combat with radical Islamic terrorists in Mali.
So, what happened when the collaboration ended, leaving Russia wanting the VBCI schematics? You guessed it: they stole ’em.
Russia copied the VBCI chassis and, with it, created the ATOM. This is, essentially, a VBCI with a modified turret that packs a S-60 57mm anti-aircraft gun as the main armament. The ATOM has a crew of three and can hold eight grunts — about the size of a Russian infantry section.
Currently, the Russians are in the process of developing versions of the vehicle armed with anti-tank missiles and 120mm mortars. There are also ambulance, riot-control, and engineering versions of the ATOM in the works.
Learn more about this Russian-hacked French vehicle in the video below:
In 2011, Libyans took arms against the 40-plus year rule of Muammar Gaddafi. The dictator tried to brutally crush a demonstration against his regime in Benghazi. The response from the Libyan people was a nearly nine-month-long civil war which ended with the death of the dictator near his hometown of Sirte. But it was a victory that almost never was. The Libyan Rebels needed to level the playing field when it came to air superiority – they needed to be able to call in airstrikes.
That’s where Twitter came in.
Some people swear by it.
By mid-March 2011, Gaddafi’s loyalist forces were pushing the rebels back fast. All their hard-won gains liberated more than half of Libya from the dictator who promised to make the streets of Benghazi run red with rebel blood. Gaddafi’s air power was proving to be a decisive advantage in the civil war. Luckily for the rebels, there was a NATO task force assembling offshore.
American, French, British, and Canadian ships had all joined each other off the Libyan coast and began to hit Gaddafi’s positions with the full might of their respective sea-based air forces. They also began to enforce a no-fly zone. This was enough to turn the tide of the rebels, who were battle-hardened veterans, fighting for their lives. It was a strategic win for them, no doubt, but the tactical use of NATO air power proved problematic.
“I can just call a jet fighter and one will come kill these tanks? This must be what being a U.S. soldier is like.”
Many wondered how NATO fighters could know where to drop tactical missiles and bombs when their own JTACs are not on the ground with rebel forces, and NATO has no direct communications with the fighters it’s supporting. The answer is that the Twitter social media network became part of NATO’s overall “intelligence picture.” NATO allies began analyzing data gleaned from Twitter posts to understand Gaddafi’s movements but also to assist rebel fighters in pushing down pro-Gaddafi attacks.
Rebel fighters using their cell phones would gather coordinates from Google Earth and then tweet those coordinates to NATO, who would then come in and light up the loyalist forces. The top NATO brass says it’s a normal step any military would take.
That’s how Gaddafi would meet his end, and where his death would be posted for the world to see.
“Yes, right up his butt. It’s on YouTube.”
“Any military campaign relies on something that we call ‘fused information’,” said Wing Commander Mike Bracken, a NATO spokesman. “We will take information from every source we can… The commander will assess what he can use, what he can trust, and the experience of the operators, the intelligence officers, and the trained military personnel and civilian support staff will give him those options. And he will decide if that’s good information.”
Since NATO had no boots on the ground but deems it vital to support the Libyan rebels, extrapolating the information needed by commanders seems like a totally legitimate means of intelligence gathering – and an effective one to boot. NATO airplanes decimated Libyan air defenses and made the critical difference in the war for the Libyan people to liberate themselves from a terrible dictator.
Iran has tested an advanced high-speed torpedo in the Strait of Hormuz. The test is not only a provocation, but the torpedo is also a new threat to vessels in the international choke point.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the torpedo in question is called the Hoot, and appears to be a variant of the Russian Shkval, a rocket-powered torpedo capable of reaching speeds of 250 miles per hour, with a range of six miles. This torpedo could cover that distance in about a minute and a half.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, Russia designed the Shkval as a “revenge weapon” for use by submarines to take out a ship or submarine that fired on them. The original Shkval was tipped with a nuclear warhead. The 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World notes that an export version has about a 450-pound high-explosive warhead. Combat Fleets reported Iran was developing a variant of the Shkval known as the Dalaam.
The torpedo is a particular threat given the confined nature of the Strait of Hormuz, which is as narrow as 21 nautical miles.
The Shkval can be fired from any 21-inch torpedo tube — which means that the entire Iranian submarine force, three Kilo-class submarines and at least 16 Ghadir-class minsubs based on a North Korean design, plus another class of minisub called the Qa’em, can use this weapon.
In March 1941, over 500 British and Allied commandos, sappers, and sailors launched a daring four-pronged raid against Norwegian towns occupied by the German Army. Despite the German forces spotting the commandos 24 hours before the attack, the British suffered only one casualty.
An officer accidentally shot himself in the thigh.
The islands are 100 miles into the Arctic Circle and guarded by a force of over 200 German troops. The commandos expected potentially heavy resistance and spent about a week in the Orkney Islands rehearsing their assault plan.
On March 1, they began a three-day journey through rough seas to the targets. Two days later, they were spotted by a German aircraft but pressed forward, risking the possibility of hitting beaches with prepared and dug-in Nazi defenders.
In fact, the local Norwegians watched the British coming at them like it was a small show, and the commandos made it into the buildings before they even began to see German uniforms. With many of the defenders separated or still asleep, the attackers were able to quell resistance with few shots fired.
They captured 225 prisoners while taking every one of their objectives. Despite the attack force having been spotted by the German plane, none of the defenders were ready.
The grateful locals brought out coffee and treats for the attackers, the sappers planted charges against the fish oil tanks, and the Norwegians started recruiting the citizens into the Free Norwegian Forces.
There was an additional lucky break for the commandos. They hit a German-held trawler and killed 14 of the defenders.
The mission was a huge success, but as mentioned above, the British did suffer a single casualty when an officer accidentally shot himself in his thigh with a revolver.
The British knew how well the mission had gone, and got a bit cocky about it.
One group sent a telegraph to Hitler with the captured communication gear asking him where his vaunted German soldiers were. Another group hit a nearby seaplane base and took all their weapons, just for additional giggles.
The German commander, who probably should’ve been grateful that he and his men weren’t added to the 225 prisoners the British had captured, later complained to his fuhrer that the commandos had displayed “unwarlike” behavior.
(Pretty sure the dudes captured without a shot fired were the “unwarlike” fellows, but whatever.)
As an international relations scholar who studies space law and policy, I have come to realize what most people do not fully appreciate: Dealing with space debris is as much a national security issue as it is a technical one.
Considering the debris circling the Earth as just an obstacle in the path of human missions is naive. As outer space activities are deeply rooted in the geopolitics down on Earth, the hidden challenge posed by the debris is the militarization of space technologies meant to clean it up.
To be clear, space debris poses considerable risks; however, to understand those risks, I should explain what it is and how it is formed. The term “space debris” refers to defunct human-made objects, relics left over from activities dating back to the early days of the space age. Over time that definition has expanded to include big and small things like discarded boosters, retired satellites, leftover bits and pieces from spacecraft, screwdrivers, tools, nuts and bolts, shards, lost gloves, and even flecks of paint.
A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95 percent of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item. The orbital debris dots are scaled according to the image size of the graphic to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth. The image provides a good visualization of where the greatest orbital debris populations exist.
From the 23,000 pieces of debris in Earth orbit that are larger than 5-10 centimeters that we can track and catalog, to the hundreds of millions that we cannot, there is little question that both big and small objects whizzing around at lethal speeds endanger the prospects for civilian, commercial and military missions in outer space. You may pick apart what the movie “Gravity” got wrong, but what it got unforgettably right was the sense of devastation wrought by an orbital debris cloud that destroyed equipment and killed three astronauts on impact. No matter its size, space debris can be lethal to humans and machines alike.
As of early 2018, the European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that there have been about 500 break-ups, collisions, explosions or other fragmentation events to date that yielded space debris. Some of these events are caused by accidents. NASA reported the first-ever known collision between two objects in space in July 1996, when a European booster collided with a French spacecraft. That incident created one new piece of debris, which was itself promptly cataloged. Yet accidents can also have a big impact on increasing the debris cloud. In 2009, for the first time ever, a functioning U.S. communications satellite, Iridium-33, collided with a non-functioning Russian one, Cosmos-2251, as they both passed over extreme northern Siberia. This single crash generated more than 2,300 fragments of debris.
Natural fragmentation versus deliberate destruction
Space debris may also be affected by the breakup of older spacecraft. In February 2015, a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP-F13) spacecraft, called USA 109, which had gone up 20 years earlier, blew up due to a battery malfunction. It may have contributed 100 debris pieces that were tracked by military radars on Earth, and possibly also 50,000 shards larger than 1 millimeter that defied tracking because they are too tiny. Because of the satellite’s original high altitude, all those fragments will remain in orbit for decades, posing risks for other spacecraft. In November 2015, again due to a possible battery failure, another decommissioned U.S weather satellite, NOAA-16, crumbled adding 136 new objects to the debris cloud.
Notably, debris itself can also fragment. In February 2018, a discarded tank from the upper stages of a Ukrainian-Russian Zenit-3F rocket fragmented.
Fuel tank of an Iridium satellite launched in 1997-1998 re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and crashed in a California orchard where it was discovered in late October 2018.
Debris can also fall back down on Earth, whether from natural orbital decay or controlled re-entry. Fortunately most such falling debris lands in the Earth’s oceans. But sometimes it does not, and these rare events may become a bigger hazard in the years ahead as the size of the debris cloud grows, and as the projected fleet of commercial small satellites becomes a reality. Recently, parts of Zenit rocket debris are reported to have ended up crash-landing in Peru. One of the most recent such events just took place in October 2018. The U.S. military identified a fuel tank from a decade-or-so-old Iridium satellite that crashed in a walnut orchard in Hanford, California.
Then there are the highly publicized deliberate events that add to the debris cloud. In 2007, China used a ground-based direct-ascent missile to take out its own aging weather satellite, the Fengyun-1C. This event created an estimated 3,400 pieces of debris that will be around for several decades before decaying.
China’s actions were widely seen as an anti-satellite test (ASAT), a signal of the country’s expanding military space capabilities. Having the ability to shoot down a satellite to gain a military advantage back on Earth exposes the basic nature of the threat: Those who are most dependent on space assets – namely, the United States, with an estimated 46 percent of the total 1,886 currently operational satellites – are also the most vulnerable to the space debris created deliberately. There is no doubt that the aggressor will also lose in such a scenario – but that collateral damage may be worthwhile if your more heavily space-dependent rival is dealt a more crippling blow.
Saudi officials inspect a crashed PAM-D module in January 2001.
Stealth ‘counterspace race’
The set of government or commercial solutions to counter orbital debris – whether lasers, nets, magnets, tethers, robotic arms or co-orbiting service satellites – have only fueled the prospects for a stealthy race for dominance in outer space.
The same technology that captures or zaps or drags away the debris can do the same to a functioning spacecraft. Since nobody can be sure about the intent behind such proposed “commercial” space debris cleanup technologies, governments will race to get ahead of their market competitors. It matters how and with what intent you counter space debris with dual-use technologies, and more so at a time of flux in the world order. Both the old and new space powers can easily cloak their military intentions in legitimate concerns about, and possibly commercial solutions to, debris hazards. And there are now a number of open assessments about space junk removal technologies that can double up as military programs, such as lasers or hunters.
This fusion of the market and the military is not a conspiracy but a reality. If you are a great power like the United States that is heavily dependent on space assets in both the economic and military realms, then you are vulnerable to both orbital debris and the technologies proposed for its cleanup. And both your allies and your rivals know it.
This is how we have ended up in a counterspace race, which is nothing like your grandfather’s space race. In a fundamental way, this new race reflects the volatile geopolitics of peer or near-peer competitors today, and there is no getting away from it in any domain. Just as on Earth, in the cosmos the world’s top space powers – the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India – have moved from merely space situational awareness to all-out battlespace awareness. If things stay the course, accidental or deliberate events involving orbital debris are poised to ravage peaceful prospects in outer space.
How then do we move forward so that outer space remains safe, sustainable and secure for all powers, whether big or small? This is not a task any one single nation — no matter how great — can carry out successfully on its own. The solutions must not only be technological or military, either. For peaceful solutions to last, deterrence and diplomacy, as well as public awareness, will have to be proactively forged by the world’s space powers, leaders and thinkers.