Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, the costly stealth jet considered to be pinnacle of US military aviation, “would have no chance” if pitted against a drone that is remotely piloted by a human.
At the US Air Force’s Air Warfare Symposium in Florida, Musk said there should be a competitor to the F-35 program, according to a tweet by Lee Hudson, the Pentagon editor at Aviation Week.
Musk responded in his own tweet, saying that the “competitor should be a drone fighter plane that’s remote controlled by a human, but with its maneuvers augmented by autonomy.”
“The F-35 would have no chance against it,” he added.
The F-35, variants of which are used by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, has had its critics since its inception. Lawmakers have scrutinized it over multiple delays in production and its price tag, which at 6.5 billion, makes it the costliest weapons program in US history.
The Defense Department in October announced a billion contract that includes delivery of 478 F-35s, according to CNBC.
Problems with the F-35 surfaced soon after it joined the fleet. Over 800 flaws riddled the software, according to a recent report by the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, which also said the 25 mm cannon on the Air Force’s F-35A, the most common variant, displayed an “unacceptable” level of accuracy.
The F-35 was also unable to meet a branchwide goal set by the previous defense secretary, James Mattis, in 2019. Mattis wanted 80% of F-35s and other stealth aircraft to be “mission-capable” 80% of the time.
The Nazi propaganda ministry assigned the term Wunderwaffe – German for “wonder-weapon” – to some of their most evil creations.
From sonic cannons that can rip a person apart from the inside out, to a gun that harnesses the power of the sun from space, these weapons were so outlandish in their design that most believe they could never exist beyond the realm of fantasy.
The following video by Strange Mysteries put it best: “The Nazis were a band of f–king insane evil geniuses developing s–t so crazy it’s like they had literally traveled in time 75 years into the future where they discovered games like Call Of Duty and Halo, which is where they got most of their ideas from.”
When you look at South Korea, this is a country that has a need to be very ready to fight for its survival. This is particularly true for the pilots in the Republic of Korea Air Force. If South Korea were to lose a war with North Korea, the ones who survive the war and who are captured will be unluckier than those who are killed in action.
Hyperbole? Well, just look at the “re-education camps” that the North Vietnamese used after they conquered South Vietnam. The stakes are at least that high for South Korean military officers should South Korea fall to the North.
South Korean P-51 Mustangs. (AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM)
As you can imagine, these pilots train a lot. South Korea has often taken part in Red Flag Alaska, where American and allied pilots train for war. But the Republic of Korea’s Air Force is also very powerful in its own right – flying high-tech fighter jets that are made in South Korea. That is a far cry from when it was flying second-hand P-51 Mustangs during the Korean War.
According to FlightGlobal.com, South Korea has 169 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons, 59 F-15K Slam Eagles (comparable to the F-15E Strike Eagle), 71 F-4Es, 158 F-5Es, 20 FA-50s, 80 T-50s, and 36 F-5Fs in service. This is one of the most modern air forces in the world. By comparison, North Korea has 35 MiG-29s, 56 MiG-25s, and still relies on nearly 200 J-5 and J-6s, which are Chinese copies of the MiG-17 Fresco and MiG-19 Farmer, respectively.
The combination of good planes and well-trained pilots is a very difficult one to defeat. South Korea stands a very good chance of being able to take control of the air should hostilities break out with North Korea.
During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.
So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.
A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.
(German Military Archives)
The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.
Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.
But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.
But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.
German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.
(German Military Archives)
Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.
After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.
The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.
Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.
At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.
A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.
(Photo by Bwag)
In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.
Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.
In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.
Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.
While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.
Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.
As stories continue to bubble to the surface regarding the health and potential demise of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, social media has already taken to making memes about the leader of the reclusive state, celebrating the death of a man many see as a modern day tyrannical despot.
To be clear, I’ve spent years covering North Korea (and some other modern despots) in the defense news-sphere, and while I could happily provide a long list of Kim’s failings as a leader and a human being, I can’t help but feel as though we, as a people, should be careful what we wish for.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you should lose any sleep over the potential death of a tyrant… but it’s important to consider the ways Kim Jong Un’s death could affect the Korean Peninsula, North Korea’s relations with the United States, and the future of the region as a whole.
Kim Jong Un shown with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Kim Jong Un has proven to be a cunning tyrant
While it fashionable to dismiss the acts of evil doers as inherently evil and therefore wrong, the truth is, as former Secretary of Defense and legendary Marine general James Mattis once put it, America has no preordained right to victory on the battlefield. In other words, simply coloring this conflict in shades of black and white, good guys and bad guys, doesn’t do a whole lot of good from a strategic standpoint. From the vantage point of many within North Korea and its government, they are the good guys, and America is the “imperial bully” responsible for their misfortune.
While we in America often chuckle at North Korea’s ham fisted military propaganda, Kim has proven in the years since he took power in 2011 that, despite his nation’s ailing economy and reclusive foreign policy, he’s capable of accomplishing quite a bit with his limited resources.
Kim Jong Un (bottom right) inspecting a long range ballistic missile.
While it’s all but certain that North Korea’s population is suffering under Kim’s decision to continue his pursuit of nuclear weapons even under a myriad of international economic sanctions, many mistake Kim’s nuclear efforts for nuclear intent. The truth is, it seems clear the Kim Jong Un does not want to develop nuclear weapons to use them, he wants a nuclear arsenal so other nations are forced to engage with him.
As a non-nuclear state with minimal conventional military power, it was only through the development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles that can carry them to far away targets that Kim was able to secure a meeting with the President of the United States and commence talks that could lead to lifting North Korean sanctions.
Kim Jong Un meets with American President Donald Trump
(White House Photo)
Kim’s nukes are about leverage, not war
As a nuclear power, Kim Jong Un has enjoyed more positive exposure from an American president in recent years than either of his predecessors managed. Some may contend that Trump tends to buddy up with tyrants like Kim, but once North Korea’s tests demonstrated that they were rapidly positioning themselves to be capable of launching nuclear strikes on the American mainland, there’s little a U.S. president can do outside of opening negotiations. The only alternative, at that point, would have been kinetic intervention (military action), as sanctions alone have proven insufficient to deter North Korea’s nuclear program.
Kim has not ordered another test since sparse talks with Trump commenced, which can be credited to open diplomatic channels between the Trump administration and North Korea, but in a number of ways, it may also benefit North Korea to put these tests on hold.
Previous tests showed that while North Korea may be able to reach American shores with missiles, they still seemed to be struggling with the survivability of their nuclear re-entry vehicle. They have also failed to demonstrate how effective their targeting apparatus is at such long ranges. In other words, North Korea may not be as nuclear capable as they are perceived to be by many around the world… and Kim likely wants to keep perceptions right where they are. Continued tests increase the opportunity for malfunction, and a loss of some of the credibility his government has gained.
Let there be no mistake, a nuclear North Korea is bad for everyone, but in Kim’s hands thus far, his nuclear weapons have appeared to be a means to gain leverage, rather than a means to initiate war.
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo receives photos from his meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Un from Chairman Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, in Pyongyang, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on October 7, 2018.
[State Department photo/ Public Domain]
There seems to be no clear line of succession
While many may want to celebrate the potential passing of Kim Jong Un, it remains unclear exactly who would take the lead of the reclusive state upon his death. Many contend that Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, would be next in line for Supreme Leader, which would mark the first female leader in modern North Korean history. Questions remain about whether the North Korean system would readily accept a female leader, as well as what damage the premature death of Kim Jong Un could do to the popular North Korean sentiments about the near-deity role of their supreme leader.
While Kim Jong Un is a bad guy, he’s a fairly stable one with a firm grip on the North Korean populace. If questions arose regarding who is supposed to be in charge, North Korea runs the very real risk of seeing entire facets of its system collapse under competing claims over the role of Supreme Leader… and that would be bad news for just about everyone on the planet.
(Image courtesy of North Korea’s KCNA)
A nuclear arsenal with new hands on the button
If Kim Jong Un passes away, the United States will be faced with the daunting challenge of re-initiating nuclear talks with a person that is far less predictable, at least early on, than Kim–who has served as the “devil you know” for nearly a decade. A new leader may not share Kim’s sense of self-preservation when it comes to nuclear war, and may choose aggression over Kim’s theatrics. While we tend to scoff at many of North Korea’s efforts to garner attention on the world stage, the truth is, those efforts are in many ways better than taking overt and aggressive action that could lead to bloody war.
A more aggressive leader may push harder for an end to sanctions by using the threat of nuclear attack–which in all likelihood would end in war, rather than an end to said sanctions… but even that would be a better alternative than a breakdown of the North Korean system altogether.
Despite stalled talks with President Trump, North Korea has not restarted ICBM testing.
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
There are many lingering questions about North Korea’s nuclear chain of command, but in the event North Korea finds itself with multiple potential leaders jockeying for position — the person with their hand on the nuclear button will almost certainly gain a significant leg up. Worse still, if civil conflict breaks out, the chance of nuclear launch or even losing nuclear weapons entirely as they’re sold to nefarious third parties becomes a very real possibility.
A nuclear North Korea is bad, but North Korean nukes falling into the hands of an extremist organization that aims to attack the United States would be worse.
North Korean troops peering over the border into South Korea
A refugee crises in the making
Unrest in North Korea, prompted in part by the diminishing standard of living many of North Korea’s citizens have experienced under Kim’s rule, could result in an absolutely massive refugee crises on both South Korean and Chinese borders.
In 2017, a North Korean soldier named Oh Chong-Song defected by fleeing across the heavily guarded demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. North Korean soldiers opened fire on Oh, ultimately hitting him five times. He was soon rescued by South Korean troops who airlifted him to a nearby hospital, where he underwent lifesaving surgery.
Actual shot of North Korean defector xx making a break for the border under fire.
The results of that surgery, however, also gave us important insights into the conditions within the reclusive state. Because of the high profile troops stationed on the border receive, North Korea tends to provide them with the best of supplies and resources. Oh was found to have little more than hardened corn kernels in his stomach, alongside large parasitic worms. If Oh’s condition was better than many within North Korea, it stands to reason that many inside Kim’s nation are truly desperate, and currently held at bay by the nation’s strict governmental rule.
If that rule were to waiver, or the system were to become unstable, many North Koreans could see that as the opportunity they need to seek a better life elsewhere, prompting millions to pour over the borders into neighboring states. Such a refugee crises would put nations like China and South Korea under incredible strain. As such, China, who can be seen as North Korea’s closest ally of sorts, is already invested in securing the stability of the nation by sending doctors to assist with whatever is going on with Kim Jong Un.
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
The devil you know
There is no debate about whether Kim Jong Un is a villain from the vantage point of the Western world, but the devil you know offers some advantages over one you don’t. Kim Jong Un may be a despot, but in many ways, he’s a fairly predictable one. A new leader could make things better, but losing Kim could potentially make things much worse… provided a more aggressive leader were to take his place or worse still, no clear leader emerges.
In many ways, preventing war with North Korea is a balancing act… and while few may weep for Kim if is dead, it’s hard to say if a North Korea without Kim will tip toward a better future, a worse future, or no future at all.
Nuclear technology for power is not a new concept; we’ve been doing it for decades through fission. Fission occurs when an atom is split into smaller fragments, creating small explosions resulting in the release of heat energy. Fusion, on the other hand, is the process by which gas is heated up and separated into its ions and electrons. When the ions get hot enough, they can overcome their mutual repulsion and collide, fusing together, hence its name — fusion. When this happens, the energy released is three to four times more than that of a fission reaction, according to Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin aims to mimic the fusion process within a small magnetic container designed to release its hundreds of millions of degrees of heat in a controlled fashion. These devices will be small enough to be used on planes and other vehicles.
Its compact size is the reason for which the engineers and scientists at Lockheed Martin believe they can achieve this technology so quickly. A small device size allows them to test and fail quickly under budget.
In this video Tom McGuire, a research engineer and scientist at Lockheed Martin explains how they plan to bottle the power of the sun within a decade:
While other senior citizens were enjoying a quiet life in retirement, 71-year-old Billy Waugh was hunting for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and blowing Taliban fighters to smithereens.
As a member of a CIA team sent in shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Waugh battled militants at Tora Bora and helped bring about the collapse of the Taliban. It seemed a pretty good ending to a career that featured combat in Korea and Vietnam, surveilling Libya’s military, tracking international terrorists, and God-only-knows-what-else for the CIA.
Waugh was born in 1929 in Texas and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948. After completing airborne school he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. But he was eager to get into combat, and he reenlisted in 1951 so he could get to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in Korea. Then the Korean war ended, and his career veered off into “black ops” territory once he joined the Special Forces in 1954.
His life after that reads like the most badass resume we’ve ever seen: Five tours with Special Forces “A” teams in Vietnam and Laos where he was wounded multiple times, working for the CIA’s Special Activities Division in Libya, preventing the Russians from stealing classified missile secrets on the Kwajalein Atoll, and helping to hunt down the infamous terrorist Carlos “The Jackal,” which he later detailed in a book.
In that same book, “Hunting The Jackal,” Waugh also writes of the time he survived a major North Vietnamese Army attack in Vietnam, where he was shot in the head.
“I took another bullet, this time across the right side of my forehead. I don’t know for sure, but I believe the bullet ricocheted off the bamboo before striking me. It sliced in and out of a two-inch section of my forehead, and it immediately started to bleed like an open faucet,” Waugh wrote. “It sounds like the punch line to a bad joke, but you know it’s a bad day when the best thing about it is getting shot in the head.”
The bullet had knocked him unconscious, and the NVA soldiers who later inspected his body thought he was dead. Though the enemy soldiers had taken his gear, clothing, and Rolex watch, he was left alone where he was hit, and his comrades later landed on a helicopter and saved his life.
“If you were going up there, you were either going to die or get shot all to hell,” Waugh told The Miami New-Times of his team’s work in Vietnam. “Everyone in the outfit was wounded once, twice, three times.”
He officially retired from the Army at the rank of Sergeant Major in 1972, though he had been working for the CIA since 1961 and would continue to work for the agency over the years as an operative or contractor. His military awards include the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, four Army Commendation medals, and eight Purple Hearts for wounds in combat.
Waugh has often lived in the shadows at the forefront of America’s wars. Long before Osama bin Laden would be known as U.S. public enemy number one, he was tracking the terror mastermind’s every move in Sudan and put forth several plans to take him out.
“I was within 30 meters of him,” Waugh told Air Force journalist Nick Stubbs in 2011. “I could have killed him with a rock.”
In between his time in uniform and paramilitary garb, Waugh earned a Bachelor’s and Masters Degree, and he still lectures young soldiers on the art of surveillance, according to Dangerous Magazine. But it’s apparently not all PowerPoint and boredom for the now-85-year-old.
Waugh, who now lives in northwest Florida, still lists himself as a “contractor for my present outfit” on his website. So the next time something bad happens to America’s enemies, he may be part of the reason why.
“If the mind is good and the body is able, you keep on going if you enjoy it,” Waugh told Stubbs. “Once you get used to that [life of adventure], you’re not about to quit. How could you want to do anything else?”
European researchers have concluded that a radioactive cloud that drifted over Europe in 2017 likely originated in Russia, possibly from a plant that was the site of an infamous nuclear disaster.
Meteorologists and researchers detected the burst of radioactive isotopes in October 2017, and have struggled to determine its origins.
At the time, prevailing winds and other evidence pointed to Russia, but authorities denied responsibility for the release of the ruthenium-106 isotopes. The dispersed isotopes were harmless to human health, but noticeable by monitoring equipment.
The chief of police of Washington D.C’s Metropolitan Police Department, Peter Newsham, visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Aug. 14 with many of his senior leaders and police officers and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony and other events, giving us a good chance to see how American and foreign dignitaries are allowed to show their respect for the tomb and all it represents. Here are 15 photos from that visit, all taken by Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery.
The Israeli Air Force has long been dominant over the skies of the Middle East. They have superbpilots and they use their planes very well. There was a time, however, when that dominance was challenged – and it was arguably Israel’s darkest hour.
In 1973, Israel stood triumphant in the Middle East. For a quarter-century, it had fended off efforts to wipe it off the map. But on Yom Kippur, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched an attack. To protect their armored forces, the Egyptian-Syrian forces used a combination of two Soviet-designed systems: The SA-6 “Gainful” surface-to-air missile and the ZSU-23-4 “Shilka.”
The latter system was truly deadly, considering Israeli tactics. Radar-guided and with four 23mm cannon capable of firing as many as 1,000 rounds per minute, the ZSU-23-4 was able to hit targets almost two miles away. Many Israeli pilots in A-4 Skyhawks, Mirage IIIs, Neshers, and F-4 Phantoms soon found out the hard way that flying low to avoid surface-to-air missiles was hazardous. In one strike, six aircraft were lost taking out a missile battery.
The Israelis eventually came up with workarounds to defeat the SA-6/ZSU-23 combo, but they needed aircraft replacements from the United States, due to losing roughly 100 aircraft. The Israelis would learn their lesson, and in 1982, Syrian forces found themselves on the wrong end of a turkey shoot.
Having proven itself in combat, the ZSU-23-4 was widely exported. As of 2014, 39 countries use this system to provide tactical air defense for their forces. Russia has since replaced the ZSU-23 in front-line units with the 2S6 Tunguska and the Pantsir gun-missile combo systems but this mobile gun will forever be known for the time it almost chased one of the best air forces in the world from the skies over a battlefield.
There you are, marching in a perfectly structured formation when you hear the command to halt. Along with the rest of your platoon, you stop on a dime. The whole unit looks well-disciplined as each service member stands up straight, assuming the position of attention.
You stand proudly in front of all your friends and family with your chest out and eyes forward. Then, suddenly, something weird begins to happen. You start to feel weak and your legs give out. You fall directly to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
The next thing you know, your eyes open, you see the medic, and you realize you just passed the f*ck out in front of everyone. How freakin’ embarrassing, right?
Well, you just experienced what medical professionals call “syncope,” which is the loss of consciousness due to decreased blood pressure. During bouts of hypotension (lowered blood pressure), our brains aren’t getting the oxygen or glucose they need, so it shuts down as it tries to recover.
So, why would someone pass out in formation? Well, it could be one of several happenings within the body.
Fainting can be a reaction to intense stress triggers, like seeing something crazy, being exposed to heat, or standing for long periods of time. This is called a vasovagal syncope, and it occurs when the part of your brain that governs heart rate malfunctions in response to an external trigger. So, if you’re standing completely still in the heat for long enough and you start to feel lightheaded, this might be what’s happening behind the scenes.
A sudden change of position may also be to blame. Our blood vessels change width to make sure every part of our body is getting the supply it needs. Sometimes, however, our vessels can’t keep up with the rapid changes to the body’s position. If you’re laying or sitting down, our heart rates are low. If we then quickly stand, our hearts have to speed themselves up in mere moments — sending blood rushing to the brain. This can cause momentary lightheadedness — and, in extreme cases, you might pass out.
Hunger may also be a factor in why your body shuts down. Your brain needs glucose to function — and glucose comes from eating. So, remember to snack before you take on those high-impact activities you like to do on the weekends.
Lastly, not properly hydrating is also to blame. Without enough water, your blood becomes thicker than usual. This causes your heart to work overtime to supply your brain with the oxygen and glucose it continually needs to sustain itself.
In general, some people are prone to passing out due to poor circulation while others may sometimes experience episodes of vasovagal syncopes. Unless injured by the fall, typically, no treatment is required. Most cases of syncope only last a few seconds, but if this event begins to happen more frequently, that person might have a cardiac condition.
Believe it or not, movies usually get the alarms and alerts in fighter jets wrong. (I know, this is shocking information coming from a website that once specialized in identifying mistakes in movies like Basic, The Hunt for Red October, and The Marine.) The fact is, the worst alarms are rarely loud chimes or claxons. Setting off a bunch of horns in the cockpit while a pilot is already stressed would create more problems than it solved.
(U.S. Air Force)
Instead, the worst alarms are usually announced by a calm voice. And pilots often hate that voice.
So here, in a nutshell, is what’s going on. As engineers started making fourth-generation jet fighters, it became apparent that they needed too many alarms to do it all with lights and sounds. No, it would be much faster and more precise to have a human voice say the exact thing that the pilot needs to know.
And also, experiments had shown that pilots losing consciousness could respond to oral instructions for a longer period than they could understand other auditory or visual alarms.
But the last thing a pilot needs in the emotional roller coaster of a dog fight over Eastern Europe or an engine failure over the ocean is someone emotionally screaming at them through their controls. So jet manufacturers hired voice actors to do careful and calm voice recordings. The first was an actor named Kim Crow.
It was Crow’s job to warn pilots that they were about to crash into the ground, that a missile is in the air and hunting them, or that radar on the ground has a lock on them.
So, pilots should love that little voice that calmly alerts them to an emergency, right?
Well, no. And for a few good reasons once you give it a good thought. First of all, these alarms usually go off when things are going very badly. No matter how calm the voice is, you’re going to have an emotional reaction to a voice you only hear when there’s a risk you’re about to die, crash, or accidentally destroy a multi-million dollar aircraft.
But, worse, pilots can’t always spare a hand to turn off the alarm when things are going wrong. Obviously, if you’re dodging Iraqi missiles in Desert Storm and get too close to the deck, you’re going to be too busy escaping the missiles and gaining altitude to toggle off an alarm. But that easily means that some of the most stressful three minutes of your life has a soundtrack, and it’s a woman saying, “Missile alert,” over and over even though you already know there’s a missile.
And so pilots started giving the voices in their planes nicknames, usually derogatory ones. America’s became known as “Bitchin’ Betty.” Britain is known for calling theirs “Nagging Nora.” And Australia reportedly uses “Hank the Yank” because their country apparently thought pilots could quite easily respond to a male voice.
Or maybe Hank is a female nickname in Australia. We’ve never been fighter pilots in Australia.
But while military pilots have mixed feelings toward the voices in their planes, they seem to work. And many of the same tactics are used in civilian planes and helicopters for the same role and for the same reasons.
But just imagine if Siri, Alexa or Cortana only spoke to you when everything was going horribly wrong and wouldn’t shut up during your crises. Yup, you wouldn’t like them much either.
Luke T. asks: How many times can you shoot a bulletproof vest before it stops working?
To begin with, it should probably be noted that the name “bulletproof vest” is a misnomer with “bullet resistant vest” being more apt. Or to quote John Geshay, marketing director for body armor company Safariland, “…nothing can be bulletproof, not even a manhole cover. In an extremely small percentage of cases, a round can even go through a vest that it is rated to stop. The round itself could have an extra serration on it or something.”
Furthermore, body armor designed to protect the wearer from high caliber guns can still be penetrated or compromised by smaller caliber bullets. For example, armor designed to stop a round from a .44 Magnum (the kind of round Dirty Harry claims can blow a man’s head clean off) could theoretically be pierced by a 9mm round if the latter is fired with a high enough muzzle velocity, with distance to the target also playing a role. Or as Police Magazine notes, “There’s a tendency among gun enthusiasts to dismiss the lethal potential of certain calibers of handguns. Don’t believe it. A small round traveling at high speed can punch through body armor.”
Similarly, in part because shot from shotgun shells have highly varying velocities, shotguns are deemed very dangerous even to otherwise extremely robust body armor. That’s not to mention, of course, that even should the vest do its job, the spread out nature of the shot gives a higher probability of unprotected areas being hit as well.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by LCpl. Angel D. Travis)
With that preamble out of the way, let’s discuss the differing levels of protection offered by various types of body armor and how many times they can be shot before they stop offering an acceptable level of defense. In the United States most all body armor is ranked according to standards set by the National Institute of Justice, or the NIJ, with their ratings pretty much considered the gold standard the world over in regards to levels of ballistic protection offered by a given piece of armor.
As for those ratings, the NIJ assigns a generalised level rating between 1 and 4 to all kinds of armor. In the most basic sense, the higher the level of the armor, the more protection it provides. For example, a rating of anywhere from Level 1 through 3a will stop bullets fired from the majority of handguns. For comfort’s sake, body armor at these levels are usually made from some sort of soft fiber material, such as Kevlar, though at the higher levels may use additional materials. On the extreme end, level 4 armor is the only kind capable of potentially stopping armor piercing rounds, and is usually made of some hard material, sometimes with a soft material like Kevlar reinforcing it.
On that note, although all kinds of armor are held to the same standards by the NIJ, a distinction is drawn between “hard” and “soft” types. For anyone unfamiliar with the terms, “soft” body armor is usually created by weaving ultra-strong fibres together in a web-like pattern, with the armor stopping bullets much in the same way a net slows and stops some object like a baseball, distributing the force over a larger area in the process.
“Hard” body armor on the other hand is usually created by inserting solid plates of either ceramic or special plastic into a vest or other housing.
Although hard armor generally provides more protection than soft armor, it has its own shortcomings that need to be considered. For example, ceramic armor plates are often only designed to protect the area around the heart and lungs owing to the drawback of hindered maneuverability if covering over other areas, as well as the fact that they are relatively heavy, with a 10 by 12 inch plate typically weighing about 7 or 8 pounds. So a combined front and back plate weight of roughly 15 pounds or 7 kilograms even when just protecting the heart and lung area.
This all finally brings us around to how many bullets a piece of body armor can absorb before it is rendered useless. Well, as you might imagine given how many different types of body armor there are out there, this depends. For example, on the extreme end we found some manufacturers who claimed their Level III body armors were capable of taking literally hundreds of rounds before failing.
United States Navy sailors wearing Modular Tactical Vests.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth W. Robinson)
As for some general examples, we’ll start with soft armor. The moment these are hit by a bullet, the fibers around the area of impact are compromised and lose some of their ability to absorb and dissipate the energy of a bullet. Thus, if another shot were to hit reasonably close to where the first hit, the bullet has a good chance of penetrating, even if the vest would have normally been able to handle it fine. Thus, while it is possible they can take multiple hits in some cases, and even be rated for such, depending on the caliber of bullet, way the armor was made, etc. it’s generally deemed unsafe to rely on this.
Moving on to ceramic plate armor, in most cases these plates are designed to shatter when hit by a bullet, dissipating the force of the impact via breaking up the bullet so that the smaller pieces can be absorbed by some backing material like Kevlar or some form of polymer or sometimes both. However, a side effect of this is that a large portion of the plate is then completely useless against a second shot similar to our previous example with soft armor. That said, there are types of ceramic armor that are designed to take multiple rounds, just, again, relying on this is generally considered unwise in most cases. And certainly with armor piercing rounds and level IV ceramic armor, the NIJ only requires it to work for one shot to receive that rating, though manufacturers do their own testing and we did find examples of companies that claimed to exceed that with their level IV ceramic armor, even with armor piercing rounds.
This brings us to polyethylene armor plating. In this case the impact of the bullet actually melts the plate which then re-hardens, trapping the bullet within it. Due to this, polyethylene armor can survive being shot numerous times without losing its ballistic integrity and we found examples of manufacturers that claimed their polyethylene armor could take hundreds of rounds before failing. Polyethylene plates also have the advantage of being roughly half the weight of ceramic for the same level of protection.
Metropolitan Police officers supervising World Cup, 2006.
Hybrid body armor is also quite common at the higher levels, meaning your mileage may vary from a given piece of body armor to another, with the NIJ’s ratings giving a decent overview of what it’s capable of and often the manufacturer’s testing giving even more insight onto how many rounds of a given type of bullet the vest can take before failure.
All this said, again, while a given piece of body armor may pass the tests and even be claimed by the manufacturer to protect against much more, most manufacturers recommend replacing body armor even after a single shot. And, beyond that, even in some cases if you just drop your armor on the floor. This is because although body armor is designed to stop bullets, some types are surprisingly fragile. For example, ceramic plates can easily crack if dropped, sometimes in ways that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
Moving on to soft body armor, stretching or deforming the fibers in some way, again in ways that are sometimes not obvious to the naked eye, also can compromise their integrity. Some manufacturers even advise replacing Kevlar-based body armor if you just get it wet as this potentially weakens the fibers. On that note, because daily, otherwise innocuous, activities can sometimes compromise body armor, the standard in the body armor industry (set by the NIJ) is also to replace a given vest a maximum of every 5 years, even if it’s never been hit by a bullet.
For the fashionably minded individual who might need some protection from getting shot, it turns out bulletproof suits are not just a thing in the movies, but a real product that makes military and police body armor look like something made from an era when hitching up your covered wagon to go to the market was a thing. Perhaps the most famous manufacturer of these is the Colombian company Miguel Caballero, founded in 1992 by, you guessed it, a guy named Miguel Caballero. What exact materials he uses to make his line of bullet proof clothing isn’t clear, though he states it’s a “hybrid between nylon and polyester”. The advantage of his material is it is significantly lighter and thinner than Kevlar at equivalent protection levels. And, indeed, if you go check our their website, their undershirt body armor looks pretty much like any other undershirt unless you look really closely. As for price tag, this isn’t listed on the website, but it would appear a basic suit top made by the company will run you upwards of about ,000-,000, though you can get other product, such as an undershirt for less, apparently starting at around ,000. Funny enough, one of Caballero’s favorite ways to advertise is in fact to put the clothing on someone and then personally shoot them, leading to the company’s slogan, “I was shot by Miguel Caballero” with apparently a few hundred people shot by the man himself to date. They even have a youtube channel where you can go and see him shoot his wife in the stomach. Not just stopping bullets, some of Caballero’s product are also rated to stop knives, be fireproof, waterproof, etc. Essentially, think the type of snazzy and robust clothing seen in most spy movies and that’s pretty accurate in this case.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.