Retired from the Navy in 2014, the EA-6B Prowler – one of the United States’ oldest warplanes – is finding new life in the fight against The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by scrambling enemy radios and cell phones.
“We were the first USMC aircraft in Syria on the first wave of strikes, and have continued to support strike packages, air drops, and other electronic warfare requirements as directed by the Combined Force Air Component Commander, ” said Lt. Col. David Mueller, VMAQ’-4’s commanding officer in an interview with Marine Times.
The mission against ISIL may be the military’s final use for the Prowler, since it’s scheduled for retirement from the Marine Corps in 2019.
“It is capable, but the platform itself is aging,” Dakota Wood, a retired Marine officer, told Marine Times. “It’s capabilities are still relevant … but the airplane itself can only have so many flight hours on the airframe.”
Introduced in 1971, the Prowler was made to protect friendly assets from enemy detection by providing an electronic cloak. It’s instruments jam enemy radar signals necessary for launching attacks while allowing friendly signals to pass through. It also detects the location of enemy radar, which it could use to hone in and destroy. Put simply, the Prowler blinds the enemy.
Apart from scrambling ISIL radio and cell phone signals, the Prowler can also block anti-aircraft weapons and devices used to set off roadside bombs. It can even block propaganda broadcasts used to recruit more followers by jamming the Internet and radio airwaves.
This 1970’s video shows the Prowler’s capabilities, minus its current technology:
“We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission,” is a sentence no one should ever have had to say.
That was Harry Schoell, CEO of one of the companies making this robot, after a panic-filled scientific world started rumors of corpse-eating robots. The rest of that statement goes:
“We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous.”
This robot was then given the appropriate acronym, EATR (Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot). The project began in 2003 and is a DARPA-funded venture between Cyclone Power Technologies and Robotic Technology, Inc.
The robot was designed for long-range operations that also require extreme endurance but its designers stress that it can provide material support to units requiring intensive labor or just by carrying the unit’s packs. They also designed it for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition or casualty extraction.
Before we all go crazy – this is an old story, so the internet already did, but still – the desecration of corpses is specifically forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. The designers of the phase I engine stressed heavily that the robot is not going to eat the dead. Instead, it runs on “fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings, and wood chips — small, plant-based items.”
The only problem with that is how many times I’ve watched a vegan/vegetarian order a meat-dipped meat pizza slice with extra cheese after six hours of drinking.
As of April 2009, RTI estimated that 150 pounds of biofuel vegetation could provide sufficient energy to drive the to vehicle 100 miles. The second phase of the project will have the engine determine which materials are suitable (edible) for conversion into fuel, locate those materials, and then ingest them. Basically, the machine is going to learn to eat on its own.
The final phase will determine what military or civil applications a robot that can feed itself by living off the land will actually have and where such a system can be successfully installed.
Carrying identification into battle isn’t something new, but that doesn’t mean Americans haven’t put our own unique spin on it.
Ancient Spartan warriors each designed their own shields so that if they fell in battle, the shield could be retrieved and given to family, which sounds really touching, except imagine having to create a shield from scratch? Sounds like a lot of work that no one has time to do.
Then, the Roman Legionnaires started wearing thin lead disks in pouches around their necks called signalculum. These discs are the first recorded history of what we now know as a dog tag. The disc included the name of the Legionnaire and the legion to which he was a part.
More recently, identification tags were issued to members of the Chinese military in the middle 19th century. These tags were wooden, worn at the belt, and included the servicemember’s age, birthplace, unit, and enlistment date.
A look back at the history of dog tags
During the Civil War, some soldiers pinned identification information onto their uniforms with their names and home addresses. Others wrote identifying info on their rucksacks or scratched it into their belt buckles. Seeing a demand for battlefield identification tags, manufacturers began advertising and marketing to soldiers and service members’ families. These identification tags were often pins in the shape of a branch of service and were engraved with the service member’s name and unit. Machine stamped tags were made from brass or lead and usually had an eagle or a shield on one side, with a list of battles on the other side. However, these tags had to be purchased by the service member or their family, which meant that not everyone had them.
It wasn’t until the early 1900s that tags became a standard part of the American military uniform. In 1906, General Order No. 204 was issued from the War Department, which mandated an aluminum tag be worn at all times. GO 204 stated that the tag could be worn around the neck, underneath clothing, by a cord or throng passed through a small hole in the tab and detailed the tag’s place as part of the standard-issue military uniform. Tags were issued for free to enlisted personnel and at a cost to officers.
By 1916, the Army changed the regulation to include the issuance of two tags – one to stay with a service member and one that would be sent to the person in charge of record keeping. Two years later, the Army adopted the service member system, which we know today as the DoD ID. That didn’t last too long, though. Today’s tags have social security numbers on them instead of DoD identification numbers.
In WWII, the circular discs were replaced with the oval shape still in use today. And that’s where most historians think that the tags got their moniker since the tag looks like a dog collar tag.
What’s on the tag?
Over the years, the information stamped on the tag has changed, and each branch of the military puts different information on them, even now. What’s remained consistent is the name of the service member, religion, and blood type.
During WWII, there were only three religious options a service member could choose – P for Protestant, C for Catholic and H for Hebrew (Jewish). Now, current options are also basically endless, ranging from NRP (No Religious Preference) to D for Druid. There’s no list of approved/official religions.
Marine Corps dog tags also include the size of the gas mask that the Marine wears. Current tags still utilize the historic two-tag system, with one long chain that can be worn around the neck and a tag interlinked with a smaller chain. The dog tags we know today are largely unchanged since the Vietnam War, but there are some talks in place about changing the information shown on a tag, including adding additional tags for soldier data, medical information, and carry records.
New dog tags are expected to contain microchip technology that will also hold a service member’s medical and dental records. That’s a far cry from the ancient Spartan shields, for sure.
The Navy has operated helicopters from ships for a long time — and as early as the 1960s, they briefly operated a drone helicopter. Now, new robot helicopters may soon join the fleet. The MQ-8C Fire Scout completed its first round of initial operational tests and evaluations in June 2018 and could soon see service.
Currently, the Navy operates the MQ-8B Fire Scout, which has been in operational service since 2009. This unmanned helicopter can remain airborne for roughly five and a half hours and has a top speed of 85 knots. In 2010, this system made a drug bust while conducting testing aboard the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate USS McInerney (FFG 8).
The new system, the MQ-8C, is larger, based on the Bell 407 helicopter. This boosts its deliverable payload by two-thirds (up to 1,000 pounds from 600). It also features a substantial boost in range and endurance, according to the U.S. Navy. Its top speed of 135 knots leaves the MQ-8B in the figurative dust.
Tale of the tape between MQ-8B and MQ-8C.
The primary purpose of the MQ-8 series helicopters is to carry out Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The Fire Scout is equipped with electro-optical and infrared sensors and a laser designator. Some also have received radars capable of tracking targets as far as 50 miles away. This advanced equipment allows the Fire Scout to locate, track, and designate targets, providing accurate targeting data to ships and aircraft, and perform post-strike assessments on targets without risking human lives.
A MQ-8B lands on USS McInerney during its evaluation, during which it made a drug bust.
Although it’s looking to be the best iteration yet, the MQ-8C isn’t the first drone helicopter to be used for these types of missions. During the Vietnam War, the QH-50 Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) was used to handle gunfire spotting. It served a total of six years and lasted eight years more in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.
The MQ-8 series, though, is proving to be an extremely versatile, effective piece of technology that’ll likely be around for a long time.
Anything close to the maximum structural speed for a jet is usually just for the glossy brochure—99.9% of the time we don’t come close to reaching it. There was one time, though, that I pushed the F-16 as fast as it could go.
I was stationed in Korea and there was a jet coming out of maintenance; the engine had been swapped out and they needed a pilot to make sure it was airworthy. It was a clean jet—none of the typical missiles, bombs, targeting pod, external fuel tanks were loaded. It was a stripped down hot-rod capable of it’s theoretical maximum speed.
When we fly, we usually go out as a formation to work on tactics; every drop of fuel is used to get ready for combat. This mission, however, called for me to launch as a single-ship and test the engine at multiple altitudes and power settings. The final check called for a max speed run.
Justin “Hasard” Lee in the cockpit of an F-16 (Sandboxx)
I took off, entered the airspace, and quickly started the profile. Topped off, I could only carry 7,000 pounds of internal fuel; never enough with the monster engine behind me burning up to 50,000 pounds of fuel per hour. I knocked out the various tasks in about 15 minutes and then was ready for the max speed run.
I was at 25,000 feet when I pushed the throttle forward, rotated it past the detent and engaged full afterburner—I would have 5 minutes of useable fuel at this setting. I could feel each of the 5-stages lighting off, pushing me forward. I accelerated to Mach 1—the speed of sound that Chuck Yeager famously broke in his Bell X-1—and started a climb. A few seconds later 35,000 feet went by as I maintained my speed. Soon I was at 45,000 feet and started to shallow my climb to arrive at the 50,000 foot service ceiling. This was as high as I could go, not because the jet couldn’t go higher, but because if the cockpit depressurized, I would black out within seconds.
(U.S. Air Force photo by MSgt. Don Taggart)
Looking out at 50,000 feet, the sky was now a few shades darker. I could start to see the curvature of the earth. To my right was the entire Korean peninsula—green with a thin layer of haze over it. To my left, a few clouds over the Yellow Sea separating me from mainland China.
As I maintained my altitude, the jet started to accelerate. At 1.4 Mach, with only about 2 minutes of fuel left, I bunted over and started a dive to help with the acceleration. In my heads-up-display 1.5 Mach ticked by, backed up by an old mach indicator slowly spinning in my instrument console.
Justin “Hasard” Lee (Sandboxx)
At 1.6 Mach, the jet started to shake. I was expecting it—the F-16 has a flight region around that airspeed that causes the wings to flutter. Still, this jet had a lot of hours on the airframe, and if anything were to fail, the breakup would be catastrophic. Similarly, ejecting at that speed would be well outside the design envelop—the air resistance at Mach 1.6 is about 300 times what a car experiences at highway speeds. A few pilots have tried, only to break nearly every bone in their body.
So now, the option was slow down until the vibration stopped, or push though until it smoothed out on the other side. I was running low on fuel, so I elected to increase my dive so I could accelerate faster. Slowly 1.7 Mach ticked by, next 1.8, and then at 1.9, everything smoothed out. I was now traveling 1,500 mph over the Yellow Sea. The cockpit started feeling warm so I took my hand off the throttle and put it about a foot away from the canopy and could feel the heat radiating through my glove, similar to sticking your hand in an oven.
At this point I was entering the thicker air at 35,000 feet which was preventing the Mach from going any higher. I was also nearly out of fuel, so I pulled the throttle out of afterburner and into military-power—the highest non-afterburner power setting. Despite a significant amount of thrust still coming from the engine, the drag at 1.9 Mach caused the jet to rapidly decelerate, pushing me forward until my shoulder-harness straps locked. It took over 50 miles for the jet to slow down below the mach.
Justin “Hasard” Lee (Sandboxx)
Taking a jet to 1.9 mach isn’t any sort of record; in fact, some aircraft have gone twice as fast. It is an interesting feeling, though, to be at the limit of what an iconic aircraft like the F-16 can give you. Thousands of incredible engineers, who I never had the chance to meet, designed the plane and you are now realizing the potential of what they built. The heat and vibration, coupled with being outside the ejection envelope, let you know the margin of safety is less than it normally is.
I’ve since moved on to the F-35 which correctly prioritizes stealth, sensor fusion, and networking over top speed, so that’s likely as fast as I’ll ever go. It was a visceral experience that was a throwback to the 50’s and 60’s—where the primary metrics a plane was judged by how high and fast it could go.
With the announcement of the B-21 Raider, the United States has begun the process of developing a replacement for the B-1B Lancer and the B-52 Stratofortress. But the United States is not the only country looking for a new bomber. Russia wants to get one, too.
According to a Facebook post by Scramble Magazine, the Tupolev design bureau is making major progress on the PAK-DA program. PAK-DA stands for, “perspektivnyi aviatsionnyi kompleks dal’ney aviatsii,” which is Russian for, “prospective aviation complex for long-range aviation.”
The magazine noted that Tupolev has reportedly already delivered a number of production models, including smaller-sized replicas for wind-tunnel tests and a full-scale mock-up. The PAK-DA will reportedly be a flying wing design similar to the B-2 Spirit, which first flew in 1990, with advanced features, like stealth technology and carrying all of its weaponry in internal bays.
According to Russian news, the Kremlin sees this as a potential replacement for the Tu-95 “Bear,” Tu-160 “Blackjack,” and Tu-22M3 “Backfire” bombers in service. Some estimates speculate that Russia is planning to introduce the plane into service as early as 2025, while others estimate 2030. The B-21 Raider is expected to have an initial capability in the 2020s, according to a 2016 Air Force release.
However, the upgraded Tu-160M2 version of the Blackjack will enter serial production in 2020, with the first flight scheduled to take place this year. 50 Tu-160s are on order for Russia, according to World Air Force 2018. The document also notes that the Russian Air Force has a total of 68 Tu-22M3 Backfires, 42 Tu-95 Bears, and 16 Tu-160 Blackjacks currently in service.
Compare these numbers to the United States Air Force’s bomber count. The USAF has a total of 75 B-52H Stratofortresses, 60 B-1B Lancers, and 20 B-2 Spirits on inventory. The Air Force plans to order 100 B-21s.
When America sends its super-secret warriors behind enemy lines, remaining camouflaged can mean the difference between nabbing the bad guy and causing a major international incident if discovered.
But staying in the shadows means more to those types of commandos than Ghillie suits and MultiCam combat uniforms. Instead, for special operators like SEAL Team 6 commandos and Delta Force soldiers, it’s cultural camouflage that keeps them alive and on mission. When they’re on a clandestine op, that means mingling with the population unseen.
While SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force can easily get their operators looking like the natives, it’s proven to be a lot harder to get them sounding like a local in the country they’re deployed to. Learning a language is very difficult skill, and the military has been at pains to get its operators up to speed quickly.
According to most experts, it takes at least six months for Special Forces soldiers to get proficient in one of the European languages like Spanish or French, and up to a year for proficiency in languages like Arabic and Chinese.
With smaller units like those in Joint Special Operations Command, taking operators off the line for that long makes it tough to keep units fully manned.
So SEAL Team 6 has been experimenting using sensory deprivation tanks to cut language learning to a fraction of the time used in traditional methods.
“They’re able to steer operators into a state of optimum physiological and neurological relaxation and then introducing new content. … And one of the examples is learning foreign languages,” says John Wheal, the Executive Director of the Flow Genome Project which works to increase the performance of top-end athletes and business executives.
“By combining these sensory deprivation tanks with next-generation biofeedback they’ve been able to reduce a six-month cycle time for learning foreign languages down to six weeks.”
Basically, sensory deprivation tanks are pod-shaped beds filled with lukewarm salt water that delivers neutral buoyancy. An operator will float in the chamber in pitch dark to remove any distractions and wear a set of specialized sensors that measure various physical readings like heart rate and brain wave activity.
Once the SEAL has gotten into the right state of mind, then the learning starts, Wheal says.
Previously the exclusive purview of rich show business types with money to burn, the nation’s top commandos are now using cutting-edge tools like sensory deprivation tanks to get better at their jobs quicker.
While DARPA and other research institutions declare a robotic revolution, the real geniuses like Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates are letting us know the robotic revolution is really going to be a robot war. While watching videos of robot fails may make humans feel safe, we shouldn’t. The robots are coming and the robots will win.
How? Here are 7 ways robots are preparing for war:
1. They’re reproducing.
The video above is from the University of Cambridge where a robotic “mother” is creating “children.” The robotic arm was given the task of constructing robots from building blocks with motors and glue, designing her own children to move as far across the table as possible. With such simple tools, her children are still relatively harmless. But once she gets chainsaws and gatling guns to attach to them, we’re all in trouble.
2. They’re evolving.
The worst part of the University of Cambridge study isn’t even that researchers are letting robots create robots, it’s that they’re trying to make them evolve. The mother is supposed to keep track of which of her children was most successful and then create the next generation with the best traits of the last. So, even if we beat the robots back in the first few battles, we’ll be facing more effective robots in each skirmish.
3. They can mimic humans.
DARPA has created a robot that can learn human tasks, especially cooking, from watching Youtube. If this programming is put into those creepy robots with the human skin, we’ll never know if a chef is a human making dinner for humans or a robot making humans for dinner.
4. They’re working in teams.
While the internet naively believes the Robo World cup is adorable, they couldn’t be more wrong. This “World Cup” is actually a training regimen where the robots are learning teamwork and “multi-agent collaboration.” This is according to the reports of the human collaborators own reports.
5. They’re learning.
Not only do the robots work in teams in the world cup, they also learn how to move their own bodies and better navigate through space. Even worse, the crackpots at DARPA are encouraging people teach robots how to navigate disaster areas. This would allow robots to navigate the ruins of the cities they destroy. Above, a robot has learned to do laundry without any direct human controls.
6. They’re becoming more mobile.
We always thought the robot wars would take place in the urban jungle, but the robots are preparing for a war in the actual jungle by practicing running through the woods. AlphaDog, the Marines Legged Squad Support System, pioneered the way for robots to run through the woods but even bipedal robots like the Atlas have found their way into the forest. At least we can still hide behind our city walls.
7. They can now open doors.
Except no, we can’t. Robots have learned to open doors. No word on when they’ll learn to kick them in while screaming, “Your democracy is here!” Luckily, this is still limited to certain robot types.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Leslie Alcaraz. (Wikimedia Commons).
As the US military entered the 21st century, its uniforms went digital. The Desert Combat Uniform and Battle Dress Uniform, which were worn by all branches, were replaced with new service-specific pixelated uniforms. The Marine Corps adopted MARPAT, the Army got UCP (ACU is the uniform, UCP is the pattern), the Air Force went to a digital tiger stripe on their ABU, and the Navy adopted the often hated NWU Type I. While these digital camouflage patterns came to represent the military at the turn of the century and into the Global War on Terror, they were not the first digital camos.
A major battlefield technology that evolved during the Cold War was night vision. Although relatively primitive at the time, infrared optics allowed a soldier to easily pick out enemy troops in the dark. In 1967, the Army decided to create a new type of camouflage to defeat Soviet night optical/observation devices.
In the midst of the Cold War, night vision technology advanced rapidly. As a result, solving the problem of how to beat it proved to be quite a challenge to the Clothing Equipment and Materials Engineering Laboratory at Natick, Massachusetts. Testing continued throughout the 70s with emphasis placed on the arid desert environment, where warm-bodied troops stood out in the cold nights like sore thumbs under NODs.
In the early 1980s, the military finally introduced the Desert Night Camouflage pattern. It featured a base color over-dyed with two screens to form a two-color grid pattern with irregular blots. With its odd camouflage, DNC supposedly lived up to its name and was optimized for concealing troops from enemy NODs in the desert. The pattern was used on a parka and trousers intended to be worn at night over the Desert Battle Dress Uniform, also known as 6-color desert or chocolate chips.
It took nearly a decade for DNC to be put to the test in combat. Beginning in 1990, soldiers, Marines, and Special Forces were issued DNC for use in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Initially, the uniform was well-received because it kept the troops warm during the cold desert nights. However, the camouflage itself was outdated by then and no longer effective against the more advanced NODs being fielded in the late 20th century. In fact, one Marine scout sniper section reported that DNC was more easily visible than the DBDU or winter overwhites when viewed through AN/PVS-5 night-vision goggles.
Following this failure, DNC was discontinued in 1991. Still, the camouflage was historical for the military. It was the first pattern designed to defeat artificial imaging technology, the first pattern designed specifically for nighttime use, and of course, the first digital camo. Today, the military uses infrared and thermal treatments on uniforms to reduce their signature when viewed through NODs. Although DNC was ultimately a military failure, the unusual pattern has seen a resurgence in popularity on the private market in both outdoor and fashion circles.
The development of aerial refueling was one of the greatest leaps in fighter lethality. A fighter, just like any aircraft, consists of hundreds of tradeoffs—cost, payload, speed, stealth, size, weight, maneuverability, the list goes on and on. But, the Achilles heel of fighters has always been their fuel consumption.
At the heart of a modern jet like the F-16 or F-35 is an afterburning turbofan engine. The turbofan part is similar to an airliner, however the afterburner is a special section fitted to the aft-tailpipe that injects fuel and ignites it, similar to a flame thrower. This rapidly increases thrust, however the tradeoff is that it burns fuel at an incredible rate.
Members of the 18th Component Maintenance Squadron engine test facility, run an F-15 Eagle engine at full afterburner while checking for leaks and any other issues. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Omari Bernard)
I remember flying in an F-16 in afterburner while supersonic over the Yellow Sea and looking down to see a fuel-flow rate of over 50,000 lbs per hour. To put that into perspective, that’s similar to a fire-hose operating fully open—and that’s just a single engine, a twin-engine jet such as the F-15 or F-22 can double that. The problem is, topped off, I could only carry 7,000 pounds of fuel which was enough for me to fly at that fuel-setting for less than 10 minutes.
The reason we’re able to sacrifice fuel for incredible speed and maneuverability is because we can refuel in the air. The Air Force has over 450 airborne tankers, which are specially modified passenger aircraft that are filled with fuel. The backbone of our tanker fleet, the KC-135 Stratotanker is based on the Boeing 707, which amazingly has been flying aerial refueling operations since the 1950’s.
A 401st Tactical Fighter Wing F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft refuels from a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft as another F-16 stands by during Operation Desert Storm. (USAF Photo)
When we need fuel, we’ll pull up slightly behind and below the tanker. The tanker will then extend it’s boom, which is a 50 foot long tube with small flight control surfaces on it. The boomer, who sits in the back of the aircraft, then steers the boom using those control surfaces into the refueling receptacle of our aircraft.
Once contact is made, a seal forms and fuel starts transferring at several thousand pounds per minute. We’ll then continue to maintain that precise position using director lights on the bottom of the tanker until we’re topped off. The amount of time it takes depends on how much fuel is transferred, but generally takes about 5 to 10 minutes.
A U.S. Air Force pilot navigates an F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Wing into position to refuel with a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 336th Air Refueling Squadron over the northwest coast of Florida. (USAF photo by MSgt John Nimmo Sr.)
Aerial refueling is a common part of most missions. When we take our jets to different exercises around the country, we’ll use tankers so we can fly nonstop. Tankers also allow us to double our training during a flight—we’ll fly our mission, refuel, and then fly it again. When we deploy, tankers allow us to cross vast swaths of ocean in one hop—I remember topping off 10 times on my way to Afghanistan. But, the most critical benefit of air refueling is it allows us to project and sustain air power.
Tankers allow us to fly indefinitely. Even if I was running my power settings as efficiently as possible, I could only stay airborne for about two hours, which translates into a combat radius of just a few hundred miles. That’s not nearly enough range to project power into another country and return home. With a tanker though, our combat radius can extend into the thousands of miles—we’re primarily limited by pilot fatigue.
By breaking the fighter range problem into two components—a fighter and a tanker— engineers were able to massively increase the performance and relevance of fighters in combat. A single formation of fighters can have a near strategic level impact on the battlefield.
Make sure to check back in two weeks for an in-cockpit play-by-play of how we rejoin with the tanker and refuel at 350 mph.
Want to know more about life as a fighter pilot? Check out Justin “Hasard” Lee’s video about a day in the life of a fighter pilot below:
Air Force Fighter Pilots | Ep. 5: A Day In The Life Of An Air Force Fighter Pilot
Weapons that have uncontrollable effects or cause unjustifiable suffering are banned from being used in war. These weapons are so insidious that more than 115 nations have signed The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention.
Despite the CCW and various other treaties that prohibit these weapons, some countries continue to use them. This video shows the types of weapons that are illegal under the CCW and why.
Many great warriors throughout history enjoyed having rare, exquisite weapons. The fictional King Arthur had his “Excalibur.” The real-life Charlemagne had “Joyeuse.” But it was some unknown Inuit tribesman who had the rarest, most magical weapon of all – a spear made from the horn of a Narwhal, tipped by iron from a meteor.
For centuries, the horn of what we know today as the Narwhal was a pretty uncommon sight in European countries. European kings as recent as just a couple of centuries ago believed the “horns” sold to them by Viking traders were from the mythical unicorn and used them in everything from crown jewels to their drinking goblets. In reality, they were actually the tusks of a medium-sized whale; what we know today as a Narwhal. While this didn’t make the tusk any less rare, it did mean the source was less mythical and just really cold – the Narwhal preys on other sea life in the cold Arctic waters of the North.
Meanwhile, much further back in Earth’s history, a particular meteorite collided with Earth. The iron-based ball hit what we know as Cape York, Greenland today. It left a chunk of iron ore that weighed 31 metric tons embedded in the Earth’s surface. The local Inuit called it Saviksoah, or “Great Iron” and used it as a source of metal for hunting and building their communities.
The tusk of the now-endangered Narwhal can grow anywhere from five to ten feet in length and is a sensory organ, covered with nerves on the outer part of the tusk. So that tusk (which is actually a long, spiral tooth) doesn’t just fall out or shed naturally. For every Narwhal tusk, there’s a dead Narwhal out there somewhere. For the Inuit, they use the occasion to make hunting weapons from the tusks, and the length is ideal for making a spear.
To form an arrowhead, the natives need a source of metal, and, being unable to mine iron ore, they used the meteor as a source of the metal. Instead of using the blacksmithing techniques we all know through movies, televisions, renaissance faires, and whatnot, the Inuit had to use cold forging techniques – that means they just stamped the cold metal until it was beat into the shape they needed.
So it’s not impossible that this lance is the only example of a spear-like weapon forged from the cold iron of a million-year-old meteor then wedged atop the rare ten-foot tooth of a near-mythical Arctic whale. It’s just highly unlikely. And while people have been making weapons from the Ivory of Narwhals for decades now, know that killing one for its tusk is just as illegal as killing anything else for its ivory – only the Inuit are still allowed to hunt the creatures.